Retrying Galileo, 1633-1992

By Blackwell, Richard J. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Retrying Galileo, 1633-1992


Blackwell, Richard J., The Catholic Historical Review


Retrying Galileo, 1633-1992. By Maurice A. Finocchiaro. (Berkeley: University of California Press. 2005. Pp. xii, 485. $50.00.)

This book is an important addition to the literature on the Galileo affair. Finocchiaro is already weE known for his indispensable English anthology of the documents of Galileo's trial and its background. Now he turns his attention to the very complex history of how the results of that trial were received, interpreted, refuted, reinforced, misinterpreted, and mythologized in the next three and a half centuries up to, and including, Pope John Paul II's "rehabilitation" of Galileo in 1993.There is no other book which attempts to synthesize this history, and Finocchiaro's presentation of it is so well done that it shows every promise of being the basic foundation for any further research in this area for many years to come. The emphasis throughout is primarily on objective history rather than interpretation (the latter is promised in a later volume). The former is unusuaEy extensive in coverage, minutely researched and documented, and based on many largely inaccessible and neglected primary sources, many of which are translated at length into English (the longest being twenty pages).An extensive bibliography and detailed index allows the reader to use the book almost as one would use an encyclopedia.

The seventeen chapters of the book are arranged in chronological order. Some of the main topics discussed are how the result of the trial was promulgated and received up through the Enlightenment; Pope Benedict XIV's qualified removal of the ban against publication of the works by Copernicus and Galileo; the removal of these books from the Index in 1835 after the Settele affair in 1820; the opening of the Vatican file on the case in the 1870's and the subsequent flood of Galileo interpretations; the tricentennial attempt to rehabilitate Galileo which culminated in the Pio Paschini affair at Vatican Council II; and the Vatican Commission Report in 1992.

The long historical journey also provides the author an opportunity to debunk the large accumulation of myths about the Galileo affair, arising from numerous sources and motives, by showing when and how they originated in later years. Examples are the "but still it moves" comment which was supposedly made by Galileo immediately after his condemnation (which could well have then led to his execution as a relapsed heretic); a detailed examination of the claims that he was tortured; his being blinded by his captors; his supposed five years in prison; and whether some key documents in the case were forged.

Also of special value for scholars is Finocchiaro's lengthy history of the adventures of the Galileo file, which was located originally in the Vatican secret Archives, but which was later included in the very large coEection of church records which Napoleon's army stole in 1810 and removed to Paris, where many of the documents were lost or destroyed for making cardboard. However, after diligent efforts by Rome the Galileo file ultimately was found and was returned to the Vatican in 1843. …

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