The Persecution of Galileo

"The Earth is firmly fixed; it shall not be moved."
-Psalms 104:5

    This bible verse shackled the minds of men for thousands of years, and held back the advance of science.  It was this verse that was used as evidence against Galileo, who argued for the theory of Copernicus, that the earth is not immovable, but rotates around the sun.  It was for teaching this that he was called to Rome in 1633, and tried for the crime of heresy.  The aged Galileo, in his 70's, was taken down into the dungeons of the church and shown the instruments of torture that were going to be used on him if he did not recant.  Fearing the torture, and fearing that he might share the fate of Giordano Bruno, whom the church burned at the stake a generation earlier for the same crime, Galileo recanted the truth.  He was confined to his home under house arrest, neither allowed to leave or to receive visitors, for the last seven years of his life.

"But to affirm that the Sun is really fixed in the center of the heavens and that the Earth revolves very swiftly around the Sun is a dangerous thing, not only irritating the theologians and philosophers, but injuring our holy faith and making the sacred scriptures false."

Robert Bellarmine, Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and the foremost Vatican theologian of the seventeeth century.

"Facts which at first sight seem improbable will, even on scant explanation, drop the cloak which had hidden them and stand forth in naked and simple beauty."


"Freedom of belief is pernicious.  It is nothing but the freedom to be wrong."

Cardinal Bellarmine, on a separate occasion

"The doctrine that the earth is neither the center of the universe nor immovable, but moves even with a daily rotation, is absurd, and both psychologically and theologically false, and at the least an error of faith."

Formal Church declaration in its indictment of Galileo

To which Galileo replied:

"The doctrine of the movements of the earth and the fixity of the sun is condemned on the ground that the Scriptures speak in many places of the sun moving and the earth standing still... I think that in the discussion of natural problems we ought to begin not with the Scriptures, but with experiments and demonstrations."


"To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin."

Cardinal Bellarmine, during the trial of Galileo, 1615

"One Galileo in two thousand years is enough."

Pope Pius XII

"Because I have been enjoined, by this Holy Office, to abandon the false opinion that the Sun is the center and immovable, ...I abjure, curse, and detest the said errors and heresies...contrary to the said Holy Church."

Galileo Galilei, recanting his beliefs under threat of torture and death by the Holy Church, June 22, 1633

It wasn't until 1832 that Galileo's work was removed from the list of banned books that Catholics were forbidden to read. That's two hundred years after his trial... and well after Isaac Newton established the truth of the theory!

Pope Pius IX wrote, in the 1864 Syllabus of Errors, that:

"Divine revelation is perfect and, therefore, it is not subject to continual and indefinite progress in order to correspond with the progress of human reason.... No man is free to embrace and profess that religion which he believes to be true, guided by the light of reason...  The church has the power to define dogmatically the religion of the Catholic Church to be the only true religion...It is necessary even in the present day that the Catholic religion shall be held as the only religion of the state, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship... The civil liberty of every mode of worship, and full power given to all of openly and publically manifesting their opinions and their ideas conduce more easily to corrupt the morals and minds of the people...  The Roman Pontiff cannot and ought not to reconcile himself or agree with progress, liberalism and modern civilization."

In 1992, Pope John Paul II (reluctantly) formally apologized for the persucution of Galileo. They finally admitted that they, the Catholic Church and all the Popes since the beginning of the Church, were wrong, and that Galileo was right. For fifteen hundred years they had argued that every word in the bible was true-- that it was the perfect word of God, true in it's history and in all of its sciences. They were wrong. They threatened, tortured and killed people who disagreed with this error in the most brutal ways imaginable.

I for one think that we should not let the church forget their crimes, lest they be repeated.  If the Church still had the power of sword and firebrand, and the power to cross national borders at will, I believe that they would even now return to their policy of world conquest through threat, torture and murder.

Catholics are not the only guilty party, however. The Protestants insisted upon holding the same ignorant error as truth.