Thursday, September 17, 2015

St. Robert Bellarmine, Galileo, and Speculation

Today is the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine in the Catholic Church.  St Robert was born in 1542 in Tuscany and died in 1621.  He was a Jesuit priest and a theologian.  Pope Clement VIII elevated him to the office of cardinal in 1599.  He is most famous for his book volumes titled “Disputations about the Controversies of the Christian Faith against the Heretics of the Age,” which was a theological response to Protestantism.   Protestantism had taken shape earlier in the same century.  These volumes initiated thousands of pages of response and counterarguments from Protestants.  So his work was obviously not without controversy.

His life coincided with the life of Galileo (1564-1642), the famous Italian (and Catholic) astronomer who proved the theory of Copernicus that the earth revolved around the sun instead of the reverse.  Of course, there was a great deal of controversy over Galileo’s work, since it conflicted with the accepted theory of the time that the earth was the center of the universe.  Galileo’s ideas were seen as in conflict with especially with the Book of Genesis in the Bible and so he was thought of as a problem scientist who was not to be believed.  In fact, St. Robert, who was a friend of Galileo, played a role in the case against Galileo, saying that his ideas were only a theory not to be believed until proven beyond doubt.  He went on to say that when and if this theory is shown to be absolutely true, then the Church would have to come up with an alternate explanation of Scripture.

There are all sorts of stories about how Galileo was treated badly by the Church.  In my mind, these are mostly speculation.  Some take the stories a bit too far, as if we know all there is to know about the conflict and the personalities involved.  These people seem to enjoy criticizing the Church for the way Galileo was treated.  How can we really know how the story came down without actually being there and making our own personal observations.  I prefer to hold both Galileo and St. Robert in high regard in the matter.  One wanted to uphold the dignity of science and the other wanted to uphold the dignity of the Church.  Of course, I am both a scientist and a devoted Catholic.  What else would you expect from me?

Here in 2015, of course, we know that Galileo was right – the earth does indeed revolve around the sun and today, there are indeed alternate explanations of the Scriptures.  Today, both men are held in high esteem, Robert being named a saint and a Doctor of the Church and Galileo a famous scientist having proven beyond doubt that the earth does indeed revolve around the sun.  

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