Thursday, November 27, 2008

Vatican seeks to rehabilitate Galileo Galilei

The Vatican is considering publishing the full record of the 17th century trial of Galileo Galilei for heresy as part of its rehabilitation of the great astronomer.

Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said at the start of the council's annual meeting that only parts of the 1633 trial proceedings had been published, and this had given a false impression.

He said it was not widely known for example that the then pontiff, Pope Urban VIII, had never signed the Inquisition's condemnation of Galileo.

Monsignor Ravasi said publishing the full trial proceedings would help to "purify" the past through a "rigorous" examination of the historical record.

However there was no point in using the past to continue "polemics". The aim was rather to "look to the future" and achieve greater harmony between science and faith.

Next year marks the four hundredth anniversary of Galileo's development of the telescope, and a series of celebrations is planned.

The Vatican is to erect a statue of the astronomer in the Vatican gardens, close the apartment in which he was incarcerated while awaiting trial in 1633 for advocating heliocentrism, the Copernican doctrine that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Earlier this year Nicola Cabibbo, head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and a nuclear physicist, said: "The Church wants to close the Galileo affair and reach a definitive understanding not only of his great legacy but also of the relationship between science and faith."

2009 events include a Vatican conference on Galileo to be attended by 40 international scientists, and a re-examination of his trial at an institute in Florence run by the Jesuits, who were among Galileo's fiercest opponents.

The Catholic Church long ago abandoned its opposition to Galileo's theories, and in 1979 John Paul II apologised for the Inquisition's treatment of him.

However in January Pope Benedict XVI called off a visit to Rome University after staff and students accused him of defending the Inquisition's condemnation of Galileo.

They cited a speech the Pope made in 1990, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in which he quoted a description of the trial of Galileo as "fair".

Born in Pisa in 1564, Galileo Galilei built his first telescope in 1609 after a Dutch optician invented a device called the spyglass. He used his telescope to observe the Moon, which he found to be "uneven, rough, full of cavities and prominences", and then in 1610 Jupiter and its satellites.

His subsequent Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, in which he asserted categorically that the Earth revolved round the Sun, led to his trial for heresy in 1633, at which his views were found to be "absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical because expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures".

He recanted, and lived under house arrest until his death in 1642.

In his recantation Galileo said: "Wishing to remove from the minds of your Eminences and all faithful Christians this vehement suspicion reasonably conceived against me, I abjure with sincere heart and unfeigned faith, I curse and detest the said errors and heresies, and generally all and every error and sect contrary to the Holy Catholic Church. And I swear that for the future I will neither say nor assert in speaking or writing such things as may bring upon me similar suspicion; and if I know any heretic, or one suspected of heresy, I will denounce him to this Holy Office, or to the Inquisitor and Ordinary of the place in which I may be."

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(Source: TO)