The Roman Inquisition: Trying Galileo

The Roman Inquisition: Trying Galileo

The Roman Inquisition: Trying Galileo

The Roman Inquisition: Trying Galileo

Excerpt

As the popular historian Dava Sobel put it without much exaggeration, “no other process in the annals of canon or common law has ricocheted through history with more meanings, more consequences, more conjecture, more regrets” than Galileo’s. And as Adriano Prosperi, a dean of historians of the Inquisition, well says that processo is “more intricate and problematic” than most historians think. One of the most serious problems in understanding what happened to Galileo is that his trial has almost never been treated as a legal event. Without an understanding of both how the Roman Inquisition worked and how the law it applied was constantly modified, grasping how Galileo came to be condemned is impossible. Building on my earlier work on both points, this book marks the first full-length attempt to study Galileo’s trial as such, and one of a handful of any size

Galileo’s case resonates far outside academe. Dan Brown’s Angels and De mons, like his Da Vinci Code, spins yarns about the Vatican’s inner workings. It also partly concerns Galileo’s trial. Although most of what Brown says about both is purely fictional, he agreed about the trial’s importance with no less an authority than Stephen Hawking. Like many others, both make Galileo an icon of modern Western culture, the heroic scientist martyred by a reactionary church for daring to claim that the earth moved and the sun did not. Even for those who do not draw the lines so starkly, Galileo stands at the watershed of the divide between science and religion, notably in Wade Rowland’s recent Galileo’s Mistake, a widely reviewed book and almost as fictional as Brown’s. To Brown, Hawking, and Rowland, Galileo’s trial lacks intrinsic interest. They are as wrong on that score as they are about its significance.

Synopsis

Few legal events loom as large in early modern history as the trial of Galileo. Frequently cast as a heroic scientist martyred to religion or as a scapegoat of papal politics, Galileo undoubtedly stood at a watershed moment in the political maneuvering of a powerful church. But to fully understand how and why Galileo came to be condemned by the papal courts--and what role he played in his own downfall--it is necessary to examine the trial within the context of inquisitional law.

With this final installment in his magisterial trilogy on the seventeenth-century Roman Inquisition, Thomas F. Mayer has provided the first comprehensive study of the legal proceedings against Galileo. By the time of the trial, the Roman Inquisition had become an extensive corporatized body with direct authority over local courts and decades of documented jurisprudence. Drawing deeply from those legal archives as well as correspondence and other printed material, Mayer has traced the legal procedure from Galileo's first precept in 1616 to his formal trial in 1633. With an astonishing mastery of the legal underpinnings and bureaucratic workings of inquisitorial law, Mayer's work compares the course of legal events to other possible outcomes within due process, showing where the trial departed from standard procedure as well as what available recourse Galileo had to shift the direction of the trial. The Roman Inquisition: Trying Galileo presents a detailed and corrective reconstruction of the actions both in the courtroom and behind the scenes that led to one of history's most notorious verdicts.

Excerpt

The Roman Inquisition showed interest in Galileo several times before formal proceedings began in 1615. His mother may have denounced him to the Holy Office in Florence for calling her names. Next, one of his household servants in Padua denounced him for practicing judicial astrology. The Venetians quashed the proceedings. In 1611 during its protracted investigation of Galileo’s Paduan friend the Aristotelian philosopher Cesare Cremonini, the Congregation ordered its archives searched to see what it had against Galileo. The Inquisition’s most serious interest came in 1612–1613 when it somewhat unusually subjected Galileo’s Sunspot Letters to prepublication censorship. It objected most seriously to Galileo’s attempt to interpret scripture. As always, Galileo paid the Inquisition’s interventions only as much heed as he had to and seems to have taken away nothing whatever by way of a lesson. The pattern for his trial was set.

Almost as soon as Galileo arrived in Florence from Padua in 1610, opposition arose to him and his ideas. It reached critical mass about eighteen months after the publication in 1613 of Sunspot Letters, its target. The conspiracy grew among a tight-knit group of Florentine Dominicans, probably with ramifications to the top of the Florentine social and economic hierarchy. The conspirators used two basic approaches: preaching, the Dominicans’ forte; and denunciation to the Inquisition in Rome, an institution they dominated.

Pride of place in launching the campaign from the pulpit against Galileo has always gone to Tommaso Caccini (see the next chapter), but priority probably belongs to his fellow Florentine Dominican Raffaelo delle Colombe (1563–1627). Luigi Guerrini calls Delle Colombe “the most important Dominican active in Florence in the first two and a half decades of the seventeenth century” as well as “one of the principal collaborators” of Archbishop Alessandro Marzi Medici in both his general efforts to control Florentine culture and more specifically to rein in Galileo. His brother Ludovico delle Colombe, a more obscure figure, has usually been taken as the ringleader of the Florentine cabal. Raffaello Delle Colombe entered the Dominican order on 6 November 1577 at Santa Maria Novella, studying theology in Perugia before preaching there, in Rome, and elsewhere in the Roman province. He authored or contributed to three books, all of them about saints. He probably spent considerable time in Santa Maria Novella before taking up permanent residence in 1612. Elected prior in 1620, he resigned in 1623. The convent’s library benefited greatly from monetary donations he arranged from his brothers and the 7,000 books Archbishop Francesco Bonciani of Pisa bequeathed in late 1619.

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