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Retrying Galileo, 1633–1992

Maurice A. Finocchiaro

Publication Year: 2005

In 1633, at the end of one of the most famous trials in history, the Inquisition condemned Galileo for contending that the Earth moves and that the Bible is not a scientific authority. Galileo's condemnation set off a controversy that has acquired a fascinating life of its own and that continues to this day. This absorbing book is the first to examine the entire span of the Galileo affair from his condemnation to his alleged rehabilitation by the Pope in 1992. Filled with primary sources, many translated into English for the first time, Retrying Galileo will acquaint readers with the historical facts of the trial, its aftermath and repercussions, the rich variety of reflections on it throughout history, and the main issues it raises.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-xii

I first became seriously interested in the Galileo affair in October 1980, by way of the fortuitous coincidence of two events: the Vatican announcement that a papal commission was being appointed to reexamine the affair and the publication of my Galileo and the Art of Reasoning. That book was an...

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Introduction. The Galileo Affair from Descartes to John Paul II: A Survey of Sources, Facts, and Issues

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pp. 1-6

In 1633 the Inquisition condemned Galileo for holding that the earth moves and the Bible is not a scientific authority. This condemnation ended a controversy that had started in 1613, when his astronomical ideas were attacked on scriptural grounds and he wrote a letter of refutation to his disciple...

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1. The Condemnation of Galileo (1633)

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pp. 7-25

On 22 June 1633, at the convent of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, the Inquisition concluded the trial of Galileo by pronouncing a sentence that condemned him for various transgressions. The sentence was immediately followed by the culprit’s abjuration, in which he retracted previous...

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2. Promulgation and Diffusion of the News (1633–1651)

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pp. 26-42

In the summer of 1633 all papal nuncios in Europe and all local inquisitors in Italy received from the Roman Inquisition copies of the sentence against Galileo and his abjuration, together with orders to publicize them. Such publicity was unprecedented in the annals of the Inquisition and never...

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3. Emblematic Reactions: Descartes, Peiresc, Galileo’s Daughter (1633–1642)

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pp. 43-64

Reception of and reactions to Galileo’s condemnation continue to this day. Although this process is obviously subject to chronological periodization and analytical subdivision, it is only at the end of our historical survey that we can be sure of those chronological stages and analytical principles. In...

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4. Polarizations: Secularism, Liberalism, Fundamentalism (1633–1661)

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pp. 65-85

Descartes’s reaction to Galileo’s condemnation points up an important and clear distinction between condemnations issued by a Roman congregation of cardinals and pronouncements of either the pope speaking ex cathedra or an ecumenical Church council. The former did not have the binding status...

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5. Compromises: Viviani, Auzout, Leibniz (1654–1704)

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pp. 86-107

In this chapter I examine what might be called a third wave of reactions to Galileo’s trial, covering the period between 1654 and 1704 and most significantly represented by the figures of Vincenzio Viviani (1622–1703), Adrien Auzout (1622–1691), and Gottfried W. Leibniz (1646–1716). In...

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6. Myth-making or Enlightenment?: Pascal, Voltaire, the Encyclopedia (1657–1777)

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pp. 108-125

The subsequent Galileo affair is too interdisciplinary, international, longstanding, and far-reaching a controversy to be susceptible of any neat chronological periodization, monotonically progressive development, or analytically simple taxonomy of problems. Thus, we now need to examine a...

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7. Incompetence or Enlightenment? Pope Benedict XIV (1740–1758)

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pp. 126-153

In 1740 Prospero Lambertini, from Bologna, was elected pope Benedict XIV; he reigned until 1758. He was widely respected and liked by Catholic, non-Catholic, and non-Christian rulers, scholars, and common people.1 For example, Voltaire exchanged letters, compliments, and gifts with Benedict...

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8. New Lies, Documents, Myths, Apologies (1758–1797)

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pp. 154-174

The partial unbanning of Copernicanism embodied in the 1758 Index was noticed by a few people. For example, in 1765, while visiting Rome, the French astronomer Joseph Lalande1 attempted to have Galileo’s Dialogue taken off the Index by exploiting the fact that the 1758 edition had withdrawn...

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9. Napoleonic Wars and Trials (1810–1821)

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pp. 175-192

The French Revolution affected the Galileo affair not only in the general and indirect ways that might be expected,1 but also in a very specific and concrete way. For in 1810 Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte decided to transfer to Paris all Church archives in Rome, paying special attention to certain...

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10. The Inquisition on Galileo’s Side? The Settele Affair (1820) and Beyond (1835)

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pp. 193-221

In 1820 a controversy raged in Rome that came to be called the Settele affair.1 The surface issue was whether to allow the publication of an astronomy textbook in which Guiseppe Settele treated the earth’s motion as a fact. The Inquisition sided with him, but both were opposed by the chief...

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11. Varieties of Torture: Demythologizing Galileo’s Trial? (1835–1867)

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pp. 222-240

In the middle part of the nineteenth century, Galileo’s trial started receiving an unprecedented amount of attention. Sustained discussion spread from Italy and France to England, Ireland, America, and Germany. Key issues started to be seriously debated with a critical dialogue of arguments...

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12. A Miscarriage of Justice? The Documentation of Impropriety (1867–1879)

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pp. 241-258

We have seen that in 1755 Church officials created a special file of proceedings of Galileo’s trial by removing the relevant documents from one of the regular volumes of the Inquisition archives. We have also learned that Napoleon was the first to have made a serious plan (between 1810 and...

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13. Galileo Right Again, Wrong Again: Hermeneutics, Epistemology, “Heresy” (1866–1928)

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pp. 259-274

During the last third of the nineteenth century, the most important developments in the Galileo affair were those discussed in chapter 12: the publication of the Vatican file of trial proceedings and other directly related documents; the interpretation and evaluation of these documents; and the...

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14. A Catholic Hero: Tricentennial Rehabilitation (1941–1947)

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pp. 275-294

In the early 1940s, the tricentennial of Galileo’s death occasioned a series of reassessments of Galileo’s trial that may be regarded as a semi-official rehabilitation. The rehabilitation was not formal or official because it was not proclaimed either by the pope or by the Congregation for the Doctrine...

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15. Secular Indictments: Brecht’s Atomic Bomb and Koestler’s Two Cultures (1947–1959)

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pp. 295-317

At about the same time that Galileo was being implicitly rehabilitated by various Catholic persons and institutions as a result of the tricentennial of 1942, he became the subject of unprecedented criticism by various representatives of secular culture. It was almost as if a reversal of roles was occurring...

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16. History on Trial: The Paschini Affair (1941–1979)

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pp. 318-337

We have seen that in 1941, to mark the tricentennial of Galileo’s death, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences commissioned Pio Paschini to write a book on Galileo’s life and work and their historical background and significance. We have also seen that although in 1943 Paschini managed to make a small...

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17. More “Rehabilitation”: Pope John Paul II (1979–1992)

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pp. 338-357

In 1978, for the first time in the two-thousand-year history of the Catholic Church, a compatriot of Copernicus was elected pope. He was also the first non-Italian to occupy the post since the condemnation of Galileo. Karol Wojtyla took the name of John Paul II, partly to commemorate his short-lived...

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Epilogue: Unfinished Business

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pp. 359-365

Many people were disappointed or dissatisfied with the process or the ending of Pope John Paul II’s rehabilitation of Galileo in 1979–1992.1 Some have gone so far as to claim that the primary effect of the whole episode has been to generate a new myth about the Galileo affair, the myth that the...


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pp. 367-427


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pp. 429-466


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pp. 467-485

E-ISBN-13: 9780520941373
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520253872

Page Count: 497
Publication Year: 2005