From Galileo to the Scrolls monopoly

Suppression of ideas has a long pedigree in the history of Christianity. Pope Paul IV formalized the process in 1559, though by then it already had a thousand-year history. He established the Index of prohibited books which made it a crime to read any work listed on the Index. The practice of proscribing books was abolished by his namesake Paul VI only in 1966. By that time the Index had become wholly ineffective.

Before I get to Galileo and the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is worth noting that suppression of dissent goes on as before though without the physical violence of former limes. Cardinal Ralzinger, the modern day Grand Inquisitor, is as busy as any of his predecessors keeping his bishops in line. Priests, theologians and teachers are dismissed for deviating from the official line. In all this Ratzinger was doing no more than following the official practice and recent history. As de Rosa records:

J.H. Ignaz von Dollinger was Professor of Church History at Munich in the middle of the nineteenth century. Just prior to Vatican I [1869-70], he published The Pope and the Council in which he tried to show how false and exaggerated were the claims to infallibility. He was put on the Index less than two weeks before the Council had its first session. Rome has always found it easier to stifle arguments than to answer them.

The Index was finally discontinued after more than four centuries by Paul VI. The year was 1966.

In recent years, two of the most distinguished theologians and Church historians -Edward Schillebeeckx and Hans Kung - have faced the wrath of the present Pope for questioning papal infallibility. Kung, widely regarded as the world's greatest Catholic scholar, was removed from the Catholic faculty of the Universily of Tubingen at the express command of Pope John Paul II. But the university, unwilling to lose so eminent a scholar as Dr Kung offered him a position outside the Catholic faculty. Not everyone however is as fortunate as Kung who can command a prestigious position at almost any university in the world. The basic fact is that the present Pope has been free in using his power and influence to muzzle theologians and other scholars. But this is only to be expected of an instilution that muzzled one of the greatest scientists of all time - Galileo Galilei.

Galileo, born in 1564 - the same year as Shakespeare - had slarted out as a medical student but soon switched to mathematics. He was also a skilled experimenter and designed many useful instruments including one for determining the centre of gravity of irregular bodies. He was appointed professor of mathematics at Padua in 1589 but later moved to Pisa. As late as 1609 he was an obscure figure toiling in a relatively undistinguished university; many others in Europe like Paris, Prague, Vienna, Oxford and Cambridge enjoyed higher reputations. He was then already forty-five, and there was nothing to suggest that he was the man destined to bring about the scientific revolution.

Late that year, upon receiving news that a Dutch optician had built a telescope, he went on to build a much better one of his own. After a good deal of trial and error, he built a telescope with high enough magnification to observe the planets of the solar system. (De Rosa mentions a magnification of a thousand which seems incredible.) This suggests that Galileo, in addition to being a brilliant mathematician, must have been an instrument designer of genius. The two skills seldom go together.

Its first application was military. He sold it to Venice receiving in return a life appointment at the universily at double his previous salary. He next turned his telescope to the skies when a whole new world was revealed to him. Being a skilled mathematician, it did not take him long to realize that the heliocentric theory of Copernicus - in which all the planets including the earth revolve around the sun -was the only one that made sense both mathematically and observationally.

But this went against the teachings of the Church which held the earth to be the centre of the universe. It was a classic case of conflict between dogma and science that was to be repeated over and over again in the next three centuries, though never so dramatically as in the case of Galileo.

Galileo was not altogether a naive man and yet he underestimated the political power of the Church acting in the guise of religion. He came from a family of some distinction. His father Vincenzo Galilei was a musician and composer of note. Vincenzo was a member of a group known as the Camareta which was responsible for major reforms in musical style and practice that was to lead to one of the great achievements of Western civilization - the opera. It was an age when Church dominated life, and Galileo was wise to the ways of the world. He knew that his discoveries had to be presented in a manner that would not offend Church authorities. And yet he blundered.

Galileo had many friends and admirers among the clergy. Cardinal Bellarmine seemed at first like one of them. When Galileo visited him in Rome, Bellarmine cautioned him not be rash, and also told him to present his findings merely as a new hypothesis rather than a proven fact. The same advice was repeated by Cardinal Barbereni. But Galileo, believing that he had strong supporters in Rome, threw caution to the wind, and went ahead and published his discoveries. In his publications he attacked and ridiculed old theories, noting that the Bible was not a scientific text. Most unwisely, he quoted a wit known as Cardinal Baronius pointing out that "The aim of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how heaven goes." The Church was not amused.

Soon Galileo began to get worried. He found that Cardinal Bellarmine who had been so cordial in his meetings in Rome was not prepared to be flexible with Church dogma and look favorably upon his new discoveries. In addition, he was of the opinion that mathematics was an abstract discipline that bore no relation to physical reality. Of course, he had no competence to express an opinion on these matters, but that made little difference as long as he held a high position in the Church. Like any British bureaucrat in colonial India, a high Church official was considered an expert on everything and his opinions carried weight.

Galileo was dismayed: how could they possibly ignore evidence that he had brought right before their own eyes? But they refused to look through his telescope because Scripture had already told them what the heavens were like: earthly laws of nature, after all, did not apply to the heavens. Some clerics called out for Copernicus' blood, but were disappointed to learn that he had been dead more than sixty years. More ominously, one of Galileo's books made its way to Casa Santa - the office of the Holy Inquisition. Peter de Rosa, who has given a vivid account of the episode writes:

His Eminence [Cardinal Bellarmine] was telling him not to meddle with Scripture while he was pontificating on science without any training at all. He [Galileo] knew now that Bellarmine would not scruple to silence him by summoning him before the Inquisition. (p.315)

And that was exactly what happened. Pope Paul V authorised the Congregation of the Index - one of the offices of the Holy Office (Inquisition) - to deal with Galileo and his writings. It ruled that his theory was 'foolish and absurd, philosophically false and formally heretical'. It was also 'erroneous in faith'. The Pope sent word to Galileo through Bellarmine that he was not to defend or teach his views. Otherwise, he would be jailed.

Galileo, tired by the ordeal and in poor health agreed. He had been more fortunate than most others in his position despite his humiliation at their hands; these were the 'princes of ignorance' in the words of Nostradamus - another believer in Copernicus' model who, in the century before Galileo, had also been called to appear before the Inquisition. Galileo's work was put on the Index of prohibited works. At the same time he was left free to pursue his researches as long as his public statements did not contradict Church dogma. This point is important: he was not forbidden to pursue his theoretical and experimental studies.76

It was not the end of his travails however. In 1623, his 'friend' Cardinal Maffeo Barbereni ascended the Holy See as Pope Urban VIII. By then Galileo was living in retirement in Florence, working on a book that he was to call a Dialogue of the Two Systems of the World on the Copernican and the older Aristotelian system favored by the Church. This was to be a non-committal account of the two theories cast in the form of a Platonic dialogue. He visited the Pope in Rome in 1630 and requested him to contribute a preface. The Pope apparently agreed.

There was the inevitable delay in publication, and Galileo went ahead and published it on his own in 1632 without the papal imprimatur or the preface. Written in elegant Italian the book was an instant success. But the usual intrigues started with the Jesuits poisoning the Pope's mind by claiming that despite its non-committal title, it was heretical and posed a greater danger to Church teachings than 'Luther and Calvin combined'. It was also insinuated that in Simplicius, the defender of the old system of Aristotle and Plolemy, Galileo had caricatured Pope Urban himself. This made Ihe Pope furious and he ordered Galileo's prosecution.

In poor health, Galileo had to journey to Rome in February 1633 to stand trial. There was no evidence against him for he had not violated the earlier injunction. So the Inquisitors, following the time-honoured Church method, produced a forged document in which Galileo was said to have been enjoined in 1616 from 'teaching or discussing Copernicanism in any way'. It was a lie: he had only been told not to teach or defend the new doctrine; he was free to discuss it as a 'mathematical and logical supposition' and conduct research. And that was all he had done in his Two Systems. But he was judged guilty for being in violation of the forged document.

He still had friends in high places - even in the Holy Office itself. The commissary general of the Inquisition recommended that he be let off with a reprimand, but the congregation insisted that he should be sentenced. He was found guilty of having 'held and taught' the Copernican doctrine and ordered to recant.

On June 21 of 1633, an old and infirm Galileo, the greatest scientist to appear on the world stage in the two thousand years from Archimedes to Newton, was made to kneel before the 'princes of ignorance' and confess that he 'abjured, cursed and detested' his past errors. The sentence carried imprisonment, bue it was commuted to house arrest and seclusion for the rest of his life by his 'friend' Pope Urban VIII. Galileo died on January 8, 1642. At that time he was still under house arrest for a crime that he had not committed even by the arbitrary rules of the Inquisition; he had been framed with the help of a forged document. In his forced seclusion, even his daughter could not visit him without official permission. The dispute was not

76 This appears monstrous to a modem scientist - that some self-appointed body should presume to tell him what to think and study. But by the standards of the day, Galileo's treatment must be regarded as mild. His contemporary, Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was not so fortunate. He was burnt at the stake for holding views similar to Galileo's.

about truth but authority.

Peter de Rosa summed up the whole sordid episode in these poignant words:

The Founder of Modern Science, at the behest of the Roman Inquisition, was forced to affirm, in accordance with the Catholic faith, that the earth is the motionless centre of the universe. A scholar who, in any list of the world's great men, would figure in the first twenty, was condemned by a group of clerics, none of whom would figure in the first million. (p.320)

What wounded Galileo most was the disgrace. It had been visited on him for no reason he could understand. He thought of himself as a devoted Catholic. ...Small-minded Vatican clerks had humiliated him but they could not stop the progress of science. His was the classic case of truth being crushed by power, genius being silenced by petty bureaucracy. It showed Rome's fear and hatred of the enquiring mind which was to be repeated time after time in the succeeding centuries. ...It made war on Darwin and Freud, on biblical scholarship, on attempts to understand the world on its own terms... (pp. 321-2)

And this brings us back to the Dead Sea Scrolls, to modern day Grand Inquisitors like Cardinal Ratzinger and his minions like Father de Vaux, with their belief that only suppression of all dissent can save the Church from collapsing. This brings us also to the Biblical scholar John Allegro and his futile efforts to make public the findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This of course posed a serious threat to the Scrolls' monopoly, which the Church could never tolerate.

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