Galileo and the History of the Catholic Church

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Galileo and the History of the Catholic Church In the history of the Catholic Church, no episode is so contested by so many viewpoints as the condemnation of Galileo. The Galileo case, for many, proves the Church abhors science, refuses to abandon outdated teachings, and is clearly not infallible. For staunch Catholics the episode is often a source of embarrassment and frustration. Either way it is undeniable that Galileo’s life sparked a definite change in scientific thought all across Europe and symbolised the struggle between science and the Catholic Church. In 1543 Nicholas Copernicus, a Polish Canon, published “On the Revolution of the Celestial Orbs”. The popular view is that Copernicus discovered that the earth revolves around the sun. The notion is as old as the ancient Greeks however. This work was entrusted by Copernicus to Osiander, a staunch Protestant who though the book would most likely be condemned and, as a result, the book would be condemned. Osiander therefore wrote a preface to the book, in which heliocentrism was presented only as a theory which would account for the movements of the planets more simply than geocentrism did, one that was not meant to be a definitive description of the heavens--something Copernicus did not intend. The preface was unsigned, and everyone took it to be the author’s. That Copernicus believed the helioocentric theory to be a true description of reality went largely unnoticed. In addition to the preface, this was partly because he still made reassuring use of Ptolemy's cycles and epicycles; he also borrowed from Aristotle the notion that the planets must move in circles because that is the only perfect form of motion. At the time, the geocentric theory , endorsed by A... ... middle of paper ... ...of mechanics. By that time he was an old man, and was blind. He died in 1642, the same year Isaac Newton was born. It is no question that Galileo was unjustly punished; even three of the inquisitors decided not to sign the punishing document, (although one of them for purely political reasons) thinking it was too harsh. However, for the time period he was quite lucky. It could have been much worse. Galileo’s struggle with the Catholic Church is the essence of the problems people had introducing new ideas to the world. This was a time period during which people were often killed for what they believed by either the state or the church. Perhaps by not killing Galileo outright the church showed that times were starting to change, or maybe not. The episode will no doubt go down in history, however, as a turning point in science, and in religious thought.

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