Ideological differences lead to conflict
Galileo declared: “Of all the hatreds, none is greater than that of ignorance against knowledge”. “I believe in reason’s gentle tyranny over people.” “Nobody who isn’t dead can fail to be convinced by proof”.
In his play, Like of Galileo Bertolt Brecht depicts Galileo Galilei’s confrontation with the Roman Catholic church during the 16th century. At stake, was the doctrine of the Scriptures that deemed the Earth at the centre of the universe; the Sun was in motion. The Church eventually censored the significant milestone work of Nicolaus Copernicus whose naked-eye astronomical studies led him to the theory of the heliocentric model, in which the Earth orbits the Sun. Published in 1543 shortly before his death, his book, The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, laid the foundations of modern astronomy and led to Galileo’s trial and persecution in 1616.
Copernicus had noticed that the stars and the planets moved in such a way that the Earth could not possibly lie at the centre of the universe or “heavenly spheres”. His theories contradicted Aristotle’s concept of the Unmoved Mover (that no movement was possible unless initiated by an unseen hand), which complemented the Christian theological view that God created the world and guided all actions. Thus any attack on Aristotle’s science was also an attack upon Christianity.
In Revolutions Copernicus asserted:
- that the Sun lay at the centre of the universe and that the Earth orbits the Sun,
- that the distance between the Earth and the Sun is almost insignificant compared to interstellar distances,
- that the revolution of the Earth on its axis accounts for the apparent daily rotation of the stars, and
- that the apparent annual cycle of movements of the Sun is caused by the fact that the Earth orbits the Sun.
It was censored by the Catholic Church, because its Pythagorean doctrine of the motion of the Earth and the immobility of the Sun was opposed to Holy Scripture.
Galileo published the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1629): it took him five years to complete. In the Dialogue, various characters took a point of view and argued over the topics: Gianfranceso Sagredo is half convinced that Copernicus was right; Filippo Salviati, is a confirmed Copernican and the voice for Galileo’s opinions; Simplicio, a naïve but likeable man is the fall guy, whose characterisation enraged Pope Urban VIII (formerly Cardinal Maffeo Barberini) which precipitated Galileo’s summons to the Inquisition in Rome in 1632. They key to the prosecution (also foregrounded in Brecht’s play) was that Galileo had defied the commands of the Church not to teach or write in support of Copernicanism unless his work was treated merely as a hypothesis.)
In Brecht’s play, Life of Galileo, the scientist pursues his interest in science, because he believes that eventually the authorities will be forced to recognise the truth. He wants people to understand which is “why I go on working and buying expensive books instead of paying the milkman”.
In The Life of Galileo, Bertolt Brecht foregrounds the ideological clash that occurs when progressive views held by individuals threaten the status quo. In this case, Brecht suggests, powerful social, political and religious institutions may react brutally and swiftly as they seek to defend their traditional and conservative views and values. They are quick to stifle dissenting views.
What appears to be a simple clash between science and religion is more complicated. It becomes a clash between the Catholic church that is desperate to protect its power base, and a world-renowned scientist who wants to empower the peasants and encourage them to take an interest in, and gain knowledge of, a world of ideas that directly affects them. It is a clash between the individual and the state, between reason and faith and knowledge and ignorance.
Often this clash leads to violent threats and personal or professional smear campaigns; this involves a high degree of pain, grief and suffering on behalf of notable individuals such as Galileo.
According to Brecht, it would seem that individuals in a position of power (church authorities) cling to outdated or traditional views because they fear the erosion of power. The church authorities seek to protect their power base and fear that scientific knowledge may erode their status. The Inquisitor knows that if the earth is more vast than one originally believes, then “a cardinal might get lost in such vast distances and the Almighty might lose sight of the Pope himself” so it is important to remain “close to your great father whom we all esteem so highly, my dear child”.
In the 16th century, the officials of the Catholic Church fear any threat to their earth-centric notions that they believe best support faith in the Catholic system and faith in God. Whilst the earth is static, they effortlessly peddle the belief that the Pope lies at the centre of Earth/universe and from this position the religious hierarchy is fixed and rigid.
The Inquisitor adopts an antagonistic view towards the “wretched Florentino”, “this fellow Galileo” and this “evil man” who is encouraging a “sudden interest in an obscure subject like astronomy”. The “pointing of telescopes” at the sky and the reliance on machines such as “brass balls” may challenge Aristotle’s “unmoving earth” theories and other such “incontrovertible” facts, that would be extremely dangerous to the unquestioned authority of His Holiness. The challenge to Aristotle’s theories, which would occur if things started working in and by themselves (“the plectrum plays the zither of its own accord”), and not as a consequence of God’s miracles, may subvert the established social order.
For this reason, the Inquisitor frets over the fact that should the “stable boy start gossiping about the phases of Venus” he may not obey his lord and master. In addition, Galileo is determined to facilitate the spread of knowledge. He is writing his theories in the “idiom of fishwives” and not Latin.
As Arthur Miller so aptly depicts in The Crucible, fear of change is contagious. It is no accident that the witch-hunt in Salem takes place during a time when the “balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom”. Likewise, the Inquisitor also fears the consequence of change and in particular a culture of scepticism which would threaten one’s faith. “Are we to base human society on doubt and no longer on faith?” he asks. He suggests that fear may lead to a grab for land and power, just as it happens in Salem.
Furthermore, the Philosopher and the Mathematician are also unwilling to support and defend Galileo’s theories because they could compromise their own academic status in the 16th century theocracy.
Likewise, the wealthy landowners also fear change and upheaval as presented by the scientific challenge of Galileo’s theories because they, too, rely on the religious and social hierarchy to protect their economic status. Ludovico and the ballad singer reject scientific views espoused by Galileo because they would also influence the social and economic hierarchies.
Brecht: conflict and access to knowledge/language
Even more specifically, individuals in a position of power fear access to knowledge and access to ideas, as represented by a change in the language of the bible.
The authorities are annoyed that Galileo writes his theories of astronomy in the “idiom of fishwives and merchants”. (92) They believe that if the peasants start talking about the “phases of Venus” they may even start to question the work of God. They may not see God as responsible for all miracles. ((92) Their world view could change. “Have we got to look after ourselves, old, uneducated, and worn out as we are? Our poverty has no meaning: hunger is no trial of strength, it’s merely not having eaten: effort is no virtue, it’s just bending and carrying”.
The authorities interpret Galileo’s writings as a “heretical” act of subversion (undermining authority). The church prefers the exclusive language of Latin because they can control the outcome; they can control and restrict the dissemination (spread) of knowledge. After all, most peasants cannot read Latin.
Brecht focuses on Galileo’s desire to write in the “language of the people” and in order to make his scientific discoveries accessible to the common people. He believes that knowledge should not be “owned” by the authorities and should be available to all those who are curious about their environment. Galileo believes that reason must triumph which will be the ultimate “victory of people”. Even the peasants must be “prepared to reason”. “Unless they get moving and learn how to think, they will find even the finest irrigation systems won’t help them.” (68)
Galileo hopes that if he continues his work quietly he will be unnoticed by the authorities. He underestimates the extent of his threat to the authorities. (“I’ve written a book about the mechanics of the universe, that’s all. What people make of it or don’t make of it isn’t my business.” (88))
Ludovico explains the perspective of the landowners and farmers. They do not want the peasants talking about the change to the universe. They believe that it would disrupt their livelihood and the status quo. (normal divisions): “They could be upset if they heard that frivolous attacks on the church’s sacred doctrines were in future to go unpunished” (79) Mockingly, even the ballad singer states “for independent spirit spreads like foul diseases … Who wouldn’t like to say and do just as he pleases?” (84)
The Little Monk agonises over the fact that change could upset stability and the established order. His parents were “simple people”, peasants in the Campagna, but even though they suffered, faith offered a way to justify their misfortunes. They gained strength from the fact that their sufferings had a purpose and that they were “performers” who had their own “greater or lesser” roles.
“They are badly off, but even their misfortunes imply a certain order … There is a regularity about the disasters that befall them. .. They draw the strength they need to carry their baskets sweating up the stony tracks, to bear children and even to eat, from the feeling of stability and necessity that comes of looking at the soil, at the annual greening of the trees and at the little church, and of listening to the bible passages read there every Sunday. They have been assured that God’s eye is always on them – probingly, even anxiously – that the whole drama of the world is constructed around them so that they, the performers, may prove themselves in their greater or lesser roles.”
What would my people say if I told them they happen to be on a small knob of stone twisting endlessly through the void round a second-rate star?.. I can see how betrayed and deceived they will feel. so nobody’s eye is on us, they’ll say.”
Personal and professional dilemmas: principles versus life
Andrea: “Unhappy the land that has no heroes”!
Galileo: “Unhappy the land where heroes are needed.” (98)
Andrea: “Someone who doesn’t know the truth is just thick-headed. But someone who does know it and calls it a lie is a crook.” (95)
Brecht depicts Galileo as a character who admits that, when faced with the instruments of torture, he, like most people would sacrifice their principles and favour survival. He believes that he has diminished his status in society and he no longer counts himself as a “member” of the “world of science” . He believes that if scientists are brought “to heel by self-interested rulers” then this will “cripple” science.
Galileo believes that he shamefully compromises his principles and betrays the scientific profession. He admits that “I recanted because I was afraid of physical pain.” (107). “They showed me the instruments.”
“From the street outside we hear the crier reading Galileo’s recantation”. The Crier calls: “I Galileo Galilei, teacher of mathematics and physics in Florence, abjure what I have taught, namely that the sun is the centre of the cosmos and motionless and the earth is not the centre and not motionless. I foreswear, detest and curse, with sincere heart and unfeigned faith, all these errors and heresies as also any error and any further opinion repugnant to Holy Church”. (98)
Galileo admits: “I betrayed my profession” (108-9) “A man who does what I did cannot be tolerated in the ranks of society.” “As a scientist I had a unique opportunity to change things.” He believes he had a unique opportunity to use his power to change the way people think.
“If one man had put up a fight it might have had tremendous repercussions.” (109)
“His work could have been as important as the doctor’s Hippocratic oath – a vow to use their knowledge exclusively for mankind’s benefit” (109)
However, Brecht also suggests that often our actions are complicated: we may act in contradictory ways
- However, Brecht suggests that there may be unintended consequences of our actions. Andreas provides a different perspective on Galileo’s recantation. In this case, the message seems to be that we may sacrifice our principles but this might turn out for the best. Galileo completes his life’s work.
Background: political and religious context: the danger of heretics
Until the 16th century the Catholic Church was all-powerful and any dissent was quickly and ruthlessly crushed. Heretics were hunted down, their work banned and their opinions silence.
The Roman Inquisition was established by Pope Paul III in 1542, 22 years before Galileo’s birth. Its sole aim was to eradicate all serious opposition to the Catholic Church. The organisation exterminated more than one million men, women and children. Inquisitor Conrad Tors once declared, “I would burn a hundred innocents if there was one guilty amongst them”.
In February 1600, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in Rome after having endured seven years of imprisonment and torture in the dungeons of the Inquisition. His crimes had been to refute the notions of the Holy Trinity and the Immaculate Conception, to oppose Aristotelian science and to propose the idea that intelligent life might exist on planets far from Earth.
The Catholic Church also exterminated whole communities whose spiritual views were considered heretic. One example is the Cathars who lived in the South of France between the 11th and early 13th centuries. They were Gnostics who believed in personal spiritual development. In 1209, the town of Bezier was besieged by the army of the papal legate, the Abbot of Citeaux. When he was asked how he could distinguish a Cathar from a Catholic, he is reputed to have replied: “Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own.”
Likewise Pope Paul III gave the Inquisition draconian powers; it used a variety of mental and physical torture.
Just as in Arthur Miller’s Crucible, fear preceded the trained investigators as they swept through European towns; the procession included the Inquisitor and his band of hooded monks who would round up the “heretics” on the hearsay of two informants- evidence that often could not be substantiated. The proceedings were conducted in total secrecy.
Historical background: confrontation between science and the church
Firstly, there was Aristotle, born in 384 B.C. in Chalcidice, pupil of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. He wrote a collection of influential tracts, whose rediscovery by European scholars during the 14th century heralded a return to learning and the emergency of the Renaissance.
To Aristotle, the earthly realm was composed of a blend of the four elements, which if left to settle, would form layers: water, air; fire and solid earth. he would have explained the fall of an apple as being due to the earthy and water parts of the solid apple trying to find their natural place in the universe, falling through air to reach the ground.
Aristotle’s astronomical ideas: he stated that the universe and the Earth were a perfect shape. All substances moved naturally towards the centre of the Earth and so the planet was therefore a perfect sphere. the Earth could not be flat because as one travelled north or south the stars that could be observed changed.
He pioneered the concept of the “Unmoved Mover”. This is an omnipotent being who, he believed, maintained the movement of the heavens, keeping the Sun and the planets travelling around the Earth.
The first century Roman philosopher Claudius Ptolemy’s model of the cosmos based upon Aristotle’s astronomical writings were sanctioned by successive popes. The Earth is placed at the centre of the cosmos. It is fixed in position and around it, in what Ptolemy called epicycles, move the stars, the planets, the Moon and the Sun. Ptolemy formulated a mathematical description fo his model to support his arguments.
Then there was Nicolaus Copernicus, who published De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium shortly before his death in 1543.
Some background about Galileo’s conflict with the church
In 1614, the Dominican friar, Tommaso Caccini, a fire-and-brimstone preacher, in Florence condemned Galileo, and took to the pulpit. Quoting Joshua 10:12-14 he stated “in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon .. And the sun stood still .. until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies … And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of man.” Caccini claimed that God’s words were proof against anti-Aristotelian troublemakers. He condemned the blasphemous views of Galileo that the cosmic model could be described in mathematical language, and that without knowing this language it was impossible to comprehend the universe. He said, “geometry is of the devil and mathematicians should be banished as the authors of all heresies”.
Caccini’s sermon led to Galileo’s first direct clash with the religious authorities.
They condemned Galileo because:
- he placed science above the interpretation of Scripture (the bible)
- he continued to write in Italian so as to reach as many ordinary people as possible
- he insisted upon supporting Copernicanism and held an anti-Aristotelian stance.
The more Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (known as the “Hammer of Heretics” who was largely instrumental in the torture and execution of Giordano Bruno in 1600) was exposed to Galileo’s ideas, the more suspicious he became. He played a pivotal role in Galileo’s later life. He gathered a committee to investigate the nature of Galileo’s scientific claims.
To the Cardinal, faith was everything. Truth was provided by God as “insight”, a product of Faith; in his universe there was really no need for Galileo’s innovations.
The Committee deemed that the view that the “Sun is the centre of the world and completely immovable of local motion is foolish and absurd in philosophy and formally heretical, inasmuch as it contradicts the doctrine of the Holy Scripture in many passages… and that the “assertion that the Earth moves receives the same censure in philosophy and, as regards theological truth, is at least erroneous in Faith”.
Cardinal Bellarmine insisted that Galileo make clear that his descriptions of the real world were nothing more than a hypothesis.
Galileo was furious that the Church sought to censor science.
According to the biographer, Michael White in Galileo: Antichrist, Galileo’s trial before the inquisition was the greatest crisis to face humanism during the Renaissance. (The Renaissance is a period in history usually associated with the reawakening of art and literature between the 14th and mid-16th centuries and centred upon the cultural explosion that took place in Italy and other European states. Humanism is an ancient philosophy and is based on the idea that human existence may be understood through rationality. Humanists claim that they do not need divine texts to guide their ideals, morals and ethics. They believe that we are responsible individuals who are answerable to our own drives.)
Galileo argues that the ancient theory of a perfect heavenly sphere is untenable.
The 47-year-old German priest, Melocher Inchofer was part of the Special Committee of Inquiry tasked with briefing the Pope. He was vehemently anti-Copernican and anti-Galilean.
Whilst Brecht depicts the clash between Galileo and the Church based on the scientist’s defence of the heliocentric model of the universe, he would have been unaware of a more inflammatory conflict simmering underneath, namely, Galileo’s challenge to the concept of the Eucharist which lies at the core of the Roman Catholic belief system.
Versions of the Life of Galileo were written between 1940 and 1950. It was not until the historian Pietro Redondi discovered critical evidence in 1982 that it seemed the Church was concerned with an ever more pressing problem.
Inchofer stumbled upon the anonymous denunciation of Galileo’s book, The Assayer, lodged in 1624. In this letter, the author claimed that Galileo described an atomic theory which cast doubt on the miracle of the Eucharist, a core principle of the Catholic faith. In this ritual, Catholics believes that one unites with God; it is a ceremony in which the bread and the wine become the body and the blood of Christ; this is the essence of transubstantiation. (A key point of difference with Protestants is that there is no transubstantiation; the bread and wine symbolise or represent the body of Christ.)
During the years 1545-1563, the Council of Trent elevated the doctrine of the Eucharist: “If any deny that, in the venerable sacrament of the Eucharist, the whole of Christ is contained within each species and within each portion of each species after it has shared out let him be anathema”.
“Let him be anathema” were the favourite words of the Inquisition. Those who disagreed with Catholic dogma were evil, antichristian.
Galileo’s explanation for the structure of matter in The Assayer makes it clear that transubstantiation is impossible. He claimed that all substances had properties such as taste and colour and if they changed into other substances their characteristics also changed. Salviati in Dialogue also echoes this belief. According to Michael White, this challenge is more critical than Galileo’s defence of the Copernican model of the universe.
Inchofer’s detailed report which was submitted to the Holy Office was sealed up in the vaults of the Vatican and was not discovered until 1999 by Mariano Artigas. In 1632, Pope Urban realised that to put Galileo on trial for his new scientific ideas about matter and the nature of the Eucharist he would be opening up a Pandora’s box. He could think of nothing more dangerous.
The Inquisitor tells him, “and he was told to tell the truth; otherwise one would have recourse to torture”. Galileo replies, “I am here to obey”. Earlier he states, “I do not hold this opinion of Copernicus, and I have not held it after being ordered by injunction to abandon it. For the rest, here I am in your hands; do as you please.”
White draws a distinction between Bruno and Galileo. Bruno, he says, had been prepared for self-sacrifice, and believed that his destiny was to change religion, to make it a better thing. Galileo harboured no such pretensions or fantasies. He wished for the cardinals to understand his philosophical ideas and to accommodate the new rationality for which he was the leading spokesman; he had no intention of dying for his cause.
Another important distinction exists in that Bruno was kept in a rat-infested cell and subjected to repeated torture. Contrastingly, Galileo was a famous and important national treasure, famed for his genius and well known throughout Europe. He was held in lavish quarters and served fine food.
Initially the Inquisition sought to gag and discredit Galileo by getting him to admit that he had obtained the papal imprimatur by deception (i.e. approval to publish his controversial work, Dialogue, which overlooked Galileo’s constant struggle to gain official approval) and that he had lapsed in his behaviour as a good Catholic.
White suggests that Galileo would have been overwhelmed by a vision of his beloved daughter and a devout Catholic Maria Celeste who loved
and respected him. “What would she think if he declared to the world and to history that he had not acted as a good Catholic? Galileo stood his ground and had the statement corrected which related to his heretical views about the movement of the Earth.
In her turn, as a devout Catholic, Maria Celeste must have had moments of torment contemplating possibly heretical views of her father. She struggled to resolve the conflict between paternal love and her religious feelings. She died in 1633, aged 33 years of age. “I feel immense sadness and melancholy, together with extreme inappetite”, Galileo told his relative Geri Bocchineri.
It was not until 1822 that Pope Pius VII finally gave his approval to a book entitled Elements of Optics and Astronomy by Canon Giuseppe Settele which supports the Copernican model as proof, not just as hypothesis.
Until 1835, Copernicus’s treatise, De Revolutionibus and all of Galileo’s works remained on the Index of Prohibited Books.
Just as Galileo challenged the status quo during the 16th century, and stated that the earth was round (not flat), so too have many politicians and climate-deniers been labelled “flat-earthers”. This is because many scientists believe that they dogmatically cling to outdated views and values and refuse to recognise the challenges of science and a changing world. Whilst 300 scientists recently confirmed in the Interpanel on Climate Change report that man-made events are catastrophically changing the environment, many believe that the environment is just “changing”. Such a clash is often the case when new ideas challenge the status quo.
Tim Yeo, chairman of the United Kingdom’s parliamentary select committee on energy and climate change, described those who question the science of climate change as “the flat earthers of the 16th century”.
In 1988, Ms Thatcher (herself a scientist) placed climate change on the global agenda: “It is mankind and his activities which are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways,” she said. Lord Deben criticised Mr Abbott: “Australia’s Mr Abbott is not talking about leaving a better world than before. That is not Conservative. And it is a distorted market that makes people rich today at the cost of people tomorrow.”
Agreeing that climate change is the greatest “moral challenge” of our time, President Obama urges action on climate change
While our environment literally burns, the powerful, the wealthy, and many billionaire-miners are dictating their priorities and peddling, what many commentators believe, are their misinformed views. Scientist and former Australian of the Year Tim Flannery says, “there’s a lot of money on the other side (the coal and mining industries) – billions of dollars of vested interests and they are quite keen to keep people misinformed”. He sarcastically reminds us, they are like the pesticide industry telling us how great pesticides are.
Evidently, the debate in Australia reflects that between scientists and creationists, which alarms Adam Frank, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester. He believes that the climate deniers take “pages from the creationists’ PR playbook” and manufacture doubt about fundamental issues in climate science that were decided scientifically decades ago. He says “creationism” has rebranded itself as “creation science” and has infiltrated classrooms across America. It is “transparently unscientific” and sets out to deny evolution at the highest levels. States such as North Carolina have banned state planners from using climate data in their projections of future sea levels.
Such a conflict shows how, once again, the church is trying to occupy centre stage with the debate, as it did in 1670.
Similarly, in many Muslim countries such as Pakistan, individuals are charged with blasphemy if they question the teachings of the Koran.
In 2011, Asia Bibi from Pakistan was ordered to bring some water for her fellow workers; however on her return, the workers declined saying that she had contaminated the water by being a Christian. The workers continued to pressure her into converting to Islam at which she replied that ‘she did not believe that Mohammed was a true prophet’, a statement for which she was sentenced to death.
Likewise, Latif Masih was killed by Islamic extremists after allegedly desecrating a Koran; however, the man who made the allegations later admitted that the accusations were false and that he only made it so that he could take over his shop.
The ‘Organisation of the Islamic Conference’ (OIC) champion the so-called “blasphemy law” that makes it a criminal offense for anyone to insult, criticize, offend or denigrate a person’s religion.
This is contrary to our system of beliefs in Australia and in indeed in all western democratic countries wherein we champion freedom of expression and freedom of speech.
A modern-day conflict with the Catholic church Likewise, Father Greg Reynolds, the founder of Inclusive Catholics, was recently excommunicated because of his support for women priests and homosexual parishioners. During three Masses he spoke of his belief that it was God’s will to have women priests and that denying women the right was “obstructing the work of the Holy Spirit”. He stated “some things you just know in your heart, in the core of your being”. He was the first Australian Catholic priest since Mary McKillop to be defrocked and excommunicated. Like Galileo, Father Reynold’s treatment proved that it is almost impossible to challenge conservative, powerful institutions. However, he stands by his decision. Quoting Thomas Aquinas he states: “I would rather be excommunicated than forced to act outside my conscience.”
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