Galileo Galilei had won the title of the "Archimedes of his Time." Having established the first principles of Dynamic Science, he won the bitter enmity of the Aristoteleans of the Sixteenth Century. He even lost the favor of the Medici rulers at Florence for condemning a machine that one of the family had invented. He became distinguished at Padua by inventing the proportional compasses still in use in drawing, and constructing the first thermometer. His lectures in the Chair of Mathematics at the university, for eighteen years, drew large audiences, and it was necessary to have a hall capable of holding 2,000 persons set apart for them.
The theory of the Solar System, having the sun for its center, had been taught in the crypts of Egyptian temples and in the School at Krotona in Italy. It was afterward denounced by a stoic philosopher at Athens, who insisted that a Pythagorean teacher who had promulgated it ought to be arrested and punished, like Sokrates, for impiety. For centuries the knowledge was held in abeyance till the monk Kopernik ventured to put it forth anew. Then it met with denunciation. Luther himself spoke of it with derision. It was, however, again taken up by Kepler, whose sacred fury had inspired him to "think God's thoughts after him." Bruno followed, and expiated his boldness at the stake at Rome in the year 1600.
Galileo also adopted the theory, but for fear of being ridiculed, kept silence except in his letters. But a Dutch optician, Lipper Shey, invented the telescope, and Galileo, taking advantage of this new opportunity, constructed instruments for himself with excellent magnifying power. With these he explored the sky, solving conjectures which had been entertained, unfolding the secrets of the galaxy, and showing conclusively that the sun was the great star of the solar cosmos, having the earth for one of its dependencies. He was called to account in February, 1616, and officially admonished, by the authority of Paul V., not henceforward to hold, touch or defend the doctrine.
A new Pope treated him with personal favor, but would not remove the prohibition. In 1632 his book appeared, the Dialogo del duo Maximi Sistemi del Mondo. It was placed on the Prohibited Index, and Galileo cited by the Inquisition to appear at Rome to answer for his offending. On the 22nd of June, 1633, under the menace of torture, he delivered a recantation of the doctrine. The judgment of the Holy Office was pronounced in these words:
"Invoking the holy name of our Lord Jesus Christ and that of His most glorious mother Mary ever Virgin, by this our definite sentence, we say, pronounce, judge and declare that you, the said Galileo, on account of the things proved against you by documentary evidence, and which have been confessed by you as aforesaid, have rendered yourself to this Holy Office vehemently suspected of Heresy — that is, of having believed and held a doctrine which is false and contrary to the sacred and divine Scriptures: to wit, that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from East to West, and that the earth moves and is not the center of the universe."
Galileo was in his seventieth year, the age of Sokrates when he drank the hemlock to appease the rage of Athenian orthodoxy. Whether he had been put on the rack or otherwise maltreated, we are not definitely informed. But Rome had not got through with the practice of burning men alive, and many men would deny much in order to escape such a doom. So did Galileo. He was sentenced to imprisonment at the pleasure of the Holy Office, and to recite the seven penitential songs once a week for three years. Some months later he was permitted to go home to Florence, on condition of spending his life in retirement.
He was born on the day that Michael Angelo died, and he died the year that Isaac Newton was born. The decree of the Inquisition might silence him, but it was unavailing to arrest the motion of the earth or depose the sun from its place in the sky.
Three centuries have passed since Galileo first uttered his belief. Another witness has arisen, and again the attempt has been put forth to silence him. The day of the stake and the torture-chamber has passed, and only the anathema is left, as bootless in its force as the effort of Mrs. Partington with her broom to drive back the ocean. St. George Mivart, the English scientist and scholar, has ventured upon the liberty of speech and interpretation, which has been denied for so many centuries. Some years ago he published an article in The Nineteenth Century, entitled "Happiness in Hell," in which he set forth that there was nothing in the Catholic faith to prevent one from believing that Hell is not a place of torment, but rather a place of "natural beatitude," in which souls are merely separated forever from the final "beatific vision" of the Godhead. The Curia lost no time in placing the article and several others upon the Index. Dr. Mivart submitted like a sincere Catholic, but requested a specific condemnation which should indicate the utterances that were disapproved. To this no reply was given. He accordingly withdrew his submission, and in two articles, one in the Fortnightly Review of January, 1900, and another in the Nineteenth Century for the same month, affirms his sentiments anew. "I still regard," he declares, "the representations as to Hell which have been commonly promulgated in sermons and mediatations as so horrible and revolting that a Deity capable of instituting such a place of torture would be a bad God, and therefore, in the words of the late Dr. W. G. Ward, a God 'we should be under the indefensible obligation of disobeying, defying and abhorring.' "
He follows up the subject by criticising the antagonistic attitude of the Roman Church to the revelations of natural science. He considers this aversion to scientific truth to be a great peril, and affirms that enormous changes have already taken place in religious belief among Catholics. He enumerates among these changes the assertion in its most literal meaning that "out of the church there is no salvation." Now, he adds, it is admitted by the most rigid Roman theologians, that men who do not accept any form of Christianity, if only they are theists and lead good lives, may have an assured hope for the future, similar to that of a virtuous Christian believer.
In regard to the lawfulness of taking interest for money, twenty-eight Councils and eleven Popes have condemned the practice, but their decisions have been explained away so completely that no Pope, priest or ecclesiastical body now hesitates to accept the best interest for any capital that may be at their disposal.
He also affirms that the Bible contains a multitude of statements which are scientifically false. He knows "devout Catholics of both sexes, well-known and highly esteemed, weekly communicants and leading lives devoted to charity and religion, who believe Joseph to have been the real and natural father of Jesus." They do not think it necessary to alter a word of the creeds or the devotions now in use, but merely to alter the sense of the words.
Little time was lost in calling the bold writer to account. One might imagine that his assailants were watching for an opportunity, they sprang upon him so suddenly. Every Romanist periodical had an article upbraiding him. The Tablet, the mouthpiece of the Cardinal Archbishop Vaughan, declared that sameness of principle in the Catholic faith is essentially in meaning and not merely in wording. It also taunts Dr. Mivart with saying nothing original, but carefully refrains from any attempt to dispute his statement in regard to the Scriptures or the beliefs of Catholics. Being itself an oracle, it seems to regard any attempt at such refutation unnecessary. Indeed, it has been usual with the Roman clergy not to interrogate individuals with regard to their beliefs, so long as they do not speak out loud. To believe as the church believes is satisfactory, even when there is no intelligent conception in the matter.
The Guardian, an organ of the Church of England, admits the truth of Dr. Mivart's statement. It declares that "there is no doubt much truth in his statement of the modifications of belief which have become current among Roman Catholics as to the fate of those outside their church, and among educated Christians generally as to the nature and scope of the inspiration of the Scriptures.
The Cardinal, as was foreshadowed, hastened to impose his requirements upon the recusant professor. He demanded of Dr. Mivart that he should sign a formula or profession of faith which affirmed without qualification the various dogmas of Roman orthodoxy, and to condemn and revoke his utterances in the two articles recently published and in other of his writings contrary to the teaching of the church according to the determination of the Apostolic See: In all such matters submitting himself to the judgment of the said See, receiving all that it receives and condemning all that it condemns.
Dr. Mivart shows in his reply that he is not terrified. He had professed the creed of Pius IX., he explains, but he had no recollection of ever having made or having been asked to make the profession required in respect to the books of the Old and New Testament with all their parts. "In my judgment," says he, "an acceptance and profession of the above-cited portion of the document sent me would be equivalent to an assertion that there are no errors or altogether false statements, or fabulous narratives, in the Old and New Testaments, and that I should not be free to hold and teach, without blame, that the world was not created in any six periods of time; that the story of the Serpent and the Tree is altogether false; that the history of the Tower of Babel is mere fiction, devoid of any particle of truth; that the story of Noah's Ark is also quite erroneous, or again that of the Plagues of Egypt; that neither Joshua nor Hezekiah interfered with the regularity of solar time; that Jonah did not live within any kind of marine animal; that Lot's wife never turned into a pillar of salt; and that Balaam's ass never spoke. I only put these forward as a few examples of statements which it seems to me any one who holds that 'the books of the Old and the New Testaments, with all their parts, were written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost and have God for their author,' ought not and could not logically or rationally make.
"If, however, your Eminence can authoritatively tell me that divine inspiration or authorship does not (clerical errors, faults of translation, etc., apart) guarantee the truth and inerrancy of the statement so inspired, it will in one sense be a great relief to my mind, and greatly facilitate the signing of the document; your Eminency's decision being publicly known and also the conditions under which I sign it."
The Cardinal, however, refused any answer to this stipulation. He passed judgment without delay, issuing his inhibition of the distinguished scientist, denying to him the sacraments of the church till he should recant the opinions he had sent forth.
Dr. Mivart, in reply, lamented that the Cardinal had said neither yes nor no. He then states the issue unequivocally.
"It is now evident," says he, "that a vast and impassable abyss yawns between science and Catholic dogma, and no man with ordinary knowledge can henceforth join the communion of the Roman Catholic Church if he correctly understands what its principles and its teaching really are, unless they are radically changed. For who could profess to believe the narrative about the Tower of Babel, or that all species of animals came up to Adam to be named by him? Moreover, among the writings esteemed 'canonical' by the Catholic Church are the Book of Tobit and the Second Book of Maccabees, and also the story which relates how, when Daniel was thrown a second time into the lion's den, an angel seized Habakkuk of Judea by the hair of his head and carried him, with his bowl of pottage, to give it to Daniel for his dinner. To ask a reasonable man to believe such puerile tales would be to insult him. Plainly the Councils of Florence, Trent, and the Vatican have fallen successively into greater and greater errors, and thus all rational trust in either Popes or Councils is at an end."
Nevertheless, Dr. Mivart, while refusing to sign the profession of faith, declares himself attached to Catholicity, and regarding religious worship as the highest privilege of a rational nature, continues to attend at the rites.
To an American reader the action of the Cardinal indicates clearly that modern science and the church are in direct conflict, and cannot make terms till one party or the other gives way. But English readers do not see such absolute incompatibility. They perceive only that with Catholics the liberty of speech is limited, and that there is a possibility that only a question of expediency is involved.
To Galileo the peril of his course was torture and the stake; to Mivart, exclusion from the sacraments and a possible anathema. As a writer in the London Times remarks: "The threat of excommunication, terrible in the tenth century, has a touch of the ridiculous in the twentieth; and ridicule kills."
Formerly the recusant had no right to receive shelter, food, fire, or any rite of hospitality; now he only suffers the withholding of a few rites that he can do very well without.
"But," says the great apostle, "I show unto you a more excellent way."