Bellarmine and Galileo

In 13 History on 2011/05/18 at 8:06 AM

St. Robert Bellarmine was to Pius V what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was to Pope John Paul II: in charge of the Holy Office and chief theologian.

This renowned and distinguished Jesuit theologian, writer  and cardinal was brought up at the newly-founded Jesuit college and  entered the Society of Jesus.

Having studied philosophy at the Roman College, he later taught humanities at Florence, and theology at Padua before going to Louvain to become acquainted with the character of the currents of heresies.

His reputation both as a professor and a preacher  drew both Catholics and Protestants from all Christendom.

Later, holding the chair of Controversies at the Roman College, Bellarmine’s powerful lectures grew into the work OF CONTROVERSIES which won him great renown.  His book has never been superseded as the classical book on its subject matter.

His monumental work was the first attempt to systematize the controversies of the time, and made an powerful impression throughout Europe. It dealt such a severe blow to Protestantism that in Germany and England special chairs were founded in order to provide replies to it.

One major controversy he settled was that concerning the nature of the concord between efficacious grace and human liberty.

Bellarmine also sat on the final commission for the revision of the Vulgate text of the Bible which was ordered by the Council of Trent.

From his post as Rector of the Roman College he was called in 1597 by Pope Clement VIII to be his personal theologian as well as Examiner of Bishops and Consulter of the Holy Office. When made a Cardinal, it was said of him that “the Church of God had not his equal in learning”.

In 1615  Bellarmine took part in the earlier stages of the Galileo case but had died before it reached its later more serious stages. Bellarmine had always shown great interest in the Galileo’s discoveries  and frequently corresponded in friendship with him.

The Jesuit, Christopher Clavius, the greatest mathematician of the times and maker of the Gregorian Calendar had written to Galileo that Jesuit astronomers had confirmed his discover with the new telescopes and urged Gailele to go to Rome and promote them.  Fr. Clavius assured  Cardinal Bellarmine that the discoveries were real and confirmed by some telescopic observations of his own.

Caccini, a Dominican, maintained that Joshua’s command to the sun could not have been done according to the Copernican theory! The reality was that he and his followers were unprepared to recognize that a universe generally governed by physical laws could still accommodate miracles due to the direct action of God (they limited God by their own standards).

The sun standing still at Joshua’s command was not an action that can be explained by natural laws and did not need to be so explained.  The miracle could not be seen as disproving a theory about those laws.  God can override His laws when it serves His purposes (miracles of Christ).  He could make the sun stand still in the sky for Joshua just as he made the sun dance and drop in the sky over Fatima in 1917.

The judicious Cardinal Bellarmine wrote that the Copernican theory might be true, but was not yet proved, and should not be applied to the interpretation of Scripture until it was proved.  This position justly accommodated both sides of the Galilean controversy.

Cardinal Bellarmine had said it might eventually be proven true. He consistently favored teaching it as a theory, because he knew it might turn out to be true, though not yet proven.

Galileo was a very good Catholic.  He submitted at once, had a forty-five  minute audience with the pope who assured him of his continued admiration and support.

Galileo produced Cardinal Bellarmine’s affidavit that he, Galilieo at his first deposition before the Inquisition had not been required to abjure any false doctrine and had not been given any penance.  He did not mention  any prohibition against teaching the Copernican theory as an hypothesis.

Unfortunately, by this time Bellarmine was dead.  The committee deemed the affidavit was irrelevant and gave the verdict that he was “vehemently suspected of heresy”.


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