Science and Invention


Why was Galileo tried for heresy by the Inquisition?

The trouble began for Galileo (1564–1642) in 1613 when he published Letters on the Solar Spots, in which he advocated the Copernican system of the universe, which proposed that Earth (along with other galactic bodies) revolves around the sun. This view ran contrary to the accepted beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, whose doctrine was based on Ptolemy’s theory that Earth was the center of the universe and that all the planets (including the sun) revolved around it. Thus, in 1616 the Pope issued a decree declaring the Copernican system to be “false and erroneous,” and Galileo was ordered not to support it.

When a new pope, Urban VIII, was coronated in 1624, Galileo traveled to Rome to make an appeal that the edict against the Copernican theory be revoked. The pope declined to do so, but he did give Galileo permission to write about the Copernican system under the condition that he not give it preference over the church-sanctioned Ptolemaic model. So, in 1632, Galileo published again: Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, however, contained unconvincing objections to the Copernican view. The church saw through it and summoned the author to Rome to stand before the Inquisition (church interrogators). Galileo was accused of violating the original edict of 1616, put on trial for heresy, and found guilty. Though he was ordered to recant, at some point he uttered the famous statement: “And yet it moves,” a reference to the Copernican theory that Earth rotates on its axis.

Galileo was supposed to be imprisoned, but the pope commuted this sentence to house arrest at Galileo’s home near Florence, where he died blind at the age of 78.


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