Galileo Galilei – letter to Duchess Christina

Posted: September 5, 2013 in media-culture, reading
Tags: , , ,

For those who know already what this is about, this post won’t bring anything new. Personally, my limited knowledge in history and culture makes me enjoy (re)discovering some interesting facts of the past.

For example, yesterday I was reading Galileo’s Letter to Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, granddaughter of Catherine de Medici. It has about 10 pages (773 lines, as numbered in my version), and it shows the astronomer’s response to people criticising his theory on Sun being the centre of the known Universe, on Earth revolving around the Sun and around itself. People were criticising this theory in his absence, at a dinner gathering in Duchess’ house (unsure about the place, though). Apparently the Duchess and another guy were the only ones arguing with Galileo’s opponents. Galileo has later found out about this discussion and sent a long letter to Christina, defending in a humble and argumentative way his theory, not claiming it to be the absolute truth, but also dismissing accusations of his theory being “against the Bible”. I enjoyed reading his well-constructed arguments on Copernicus’ history with the Church, and pointing out something that many of the religious people I know today still don’t see:

297          But I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who
298   has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to
299   forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge
300   which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny
301   sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes
302   and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations.

A nice website summarising facts around Galileo and his creations in the Galileo Project.

Even though it’s nice to see Duchess Christina supported Galileo with this discussion, at least off-the-record, and with other personal matters (like finding a job for his brother-in-law), she finally made a mess out of Tuscany, by doubling the clergy and banning Tuscans from education outside the state (during her reign in Tutrici with her daughter-in-law). Nevertheless…

751       Therefore let these men begin to apply themselves to an
752   examination of the arguments of Copernicus and others, leaving
753   condemnation of the doctrine as erroneous and heretical ‘ to the
754   proper authorities. Among the circumspect and most wise Fathers,
755   and in the absolute wisdom of one who cannot err, they may never
756   hope to find the rash decisions into which they allow them selves
757   to be hurried by some particular passion or personal interest. With
758   regard to this opinion, and others which are not directly matters of
759   faith, certainly no one doubts that the Supreme Pontiff has always
760   an absolute power to approve or condemn; but it is not in the
761   power: of any created being to make things true or false, for this
762   belongs to their own nature and to the fact. Therefore in my
763   judgment one should first be assured of the necessary and
764   immutable truth of the fact, over which no man has power. This is
765   wiser counsel than to condemn either side in the absence of such
766   certainty, thus depriving oneself of continued authority and ability
767 to choose by determining things which are now undetermined and
768 open and still lodged in the will of supreme authority. And in brief,
769 if it is impossible for a conclusion to be declared heretical while
770 we remain in doubt as to its truth, then these men are wasting their
771 time clamoring for condemnation of the motion of the earth and
772 stability of the sun, which they have not yet demonstrated to be
773 impossible or false ….

I wished in school we would have had more classes on reasoning and debate, than pure copy-paste book-to-brain “history lessons”.

Just FYI: Galileo died (without being executed by Inquisition or anything) at the age of 77. Fast-forward to how Church decided he is not supposed to have a nice burial, because of his suspicion of heresy… he finally got buried in Basilica of Santa Croce (in Florence), next to his fellow kin Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Rossini.

His right middle finger though rests separately, in the Galileo Museum of Florence. I haven’t yet visited Italy, not to mention Florence, but I’ll definitely check that museum out. Nasty dorky hope: I hope his finger points upwards and lots of the clergy visits it. So much for Earth being the centre of the Universe and hanging people for saying it revolves around the Sun.


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