Galileo Galilei was born on this day, February 15th in 1564. Albert Einstein called him the Father of Modern Science. Though famous for his scientific achievements in astronomy, mathematics, and physics, and infamous for his controversy with the church he was, in fact, a devout Christian who saw not a divorce of religion and science but only a healthy marriage: “God is known by nature in his works, and by doctrine in his revealed word.”
When science and religion fight, it’s an unnecessary war. It was Christ who said that truth would make us free, and the truth is never threatened by investigation. Shine a light on truth and it only shines brighter. Lean hard on truth and it only stands firmer. All true things fit together, and all truth is God’s truth.
The proper response to discovery is humility and wonder. It should not surprise us that God is great. How big would He be if we could wrap our minds around Him? The Bible says that God has revealed Himself in creation and that we understand that. Within our hearts, we know God is real when we see the stars or a magnificent sunrise, but we get into trouble when we fail to give thanks and worship Him.
Our hearts become darkened
when we think it’s about the creation
rather than the Creator.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Art: The Passage Boat by Aelbert Cuyp , 1650
A ‘passage boat’ is an old-fashioned word for a ferry: this one is probably the regular passenger service between Dordrecht and Rotterdam, part of the network of waterborne public transport which was such a remarkable feature of life in seventeenth-century Holland. This vessel is a pleyt – a single-mast, sprit-rigged, shallow draught, broad-hulled tub, very similar to a smalschip – adapted to carry large numbers of passengers slowly in calm inland waters. The two pleyten here are made to look as if successive views of the same vessel and show how the sail is lowered as the boat drifts towards the jetty. A drummer announces the arrival of the service and a man fends off with a bargepole. This is a remarkably large scale image of a boat, but there is nothing remarkable about the boat itself or the function it is performing. There are some burghers aboard the pleyt and the rowing-boat but no obvious dignitary; there are many ships in the background but nothing to suggest that this is a review of the Dutch fleet. What we see here is literally a daily occurrence. The drama of presentation here does not just depend upon the isolation of the ferry and its scale. The water-skimming viewpoint means that the hull stands out against the horizon, which glows like a halo as the setting sun catches the mist coming off the sea; it also pushes the mast up into the clouds. These clouds are shaped rather like those in Rembrandt’s Three Trees (British Museum) to suggest the forms of angels or zephyrs surrounding the light of the sky. Hoogstraten later advises artists to ‘Observe the lovely gliding of the clouds, and how their drift and shapes are related to one another, because the eye of the artist must always recognise things by their essence while the common folk see only weird shapes.’ ‘Peopled clouds’ were familiar from allegorical prints, like that depicting the Dutch ‘ship of state’, produced in 1620 to celebrate the Synod of Dordrecht (1618-9) and showing the Stadholder, Prince Maurice of Orange, at the tiller, surrounded by the Seven Provinces, lit from the sky by a figure of Truth holding the States Bible, while the Pope drowns. This Passage Boat appears too ordinary to be a ‘ship of state’, yet the image carries the same visionary enthusiasm. This is probably intended to be a more private allegory of salvation of the type which a spiritual person reads in the ordinary fabric of the world. It would certainly be unlikely for a contemporary viewer to look at this boat without noticing that the mast and sprit-pole make a cross. Signed on the rudder A. cüyp (Text adapted from Dutch Landscapes, London, 2010)
Literature & Liturgy: The Galileo Affair
Pope John Paul II reopened “the Galileo Affair” at a plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1979. He urged theologians, scholars, and historians to study the Galileo case more deeply and to recognize “wrongs from whatever side they come,” so as to “dispel the mistrust that still opposes a fruitful concord between science and faith.”
He appointed several scholars to study the case, including then-bishop Paul Poupard. After more than a decade of meetings, Poupard presented the group’s findings. He first defended the church’s actions. As Galileo had not yet “proved” the heliocentric system, he wrote in the October 1992 issue of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the church was right to give biblical passages describing the earth as immobile more weight than Galileo’s theories. But Poupard also admitted that Galileo’s judges made an “error of judgment” by failing to distinguish Christian faith from “age-old cosmology,” and that they quite wrongly assumed Copernicus’s revolution would undermine the church.
On October 31, 1992, Pope John Paul II pronounced the church’s position in a speech to the Pontifical Academy. He admitted, albeit indirectly, that the church had erred on that day, 360 years ago, when it condemned the great Italian astronomer: “The majority of theologians did not recognize the formal distinction between Sacred Scripture and its interpretation, and this led them unduly to transpose into the realm of the doctrine of the faith a question which in fact pertained to scientific investigation.”
The standard edn. of his works is the ‘Edizione nationale’ by A. Favoro (20 vols., Florence, 1890–1909; repr. 1968). Eng. trs. include Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, tr. S. Drake (Garden City, NY, 1957; tr. of Siderius Nuncius and Lettera a Madama Cristina di Lorena, with extracts from other works); Siderius Nuncius, tr. A. van Helden (Chicago, 1989); Dialogo sopra i Due Massimi Sistemi del Mondo, tr. S. Drake (Berkeley, Calif., etc., 1953); and Discorsi e Dimostrazioni, tr. id. (Madison, Wis., 1974). The secondary bibl. is vast; E. McMullin (ed.), Galileo: Man of Science (New York and London ) incl. convenient updating of bibls. of Carli, Favaro and Boffito (see below). Useful biogs. by L. Geymonat (Turin, 1957; Eng. tr., New York and London, 1965), S. Drake, Galileo at Work: His Scientific Biography (Chicago and London, 1978), and, on an introductory level, id., Galileo (Past Masters, Oxford, 1980). S. M. Pagano (ed.), I Documenti del Processo di Galileo Galilei (Collectanea Archivi Vaticani, 21; 1984). Eng. tr. of various primary docs., with introd., by M. A. Finocchiaro, The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History (Berkeley, Calif., etc. ). Secondary works dealing with Galileo’s relations with the Church include G. de Santillana, The Crime of Galileo (1958); J. J. Langford, Galileo, Science and the Church (New York, 1966; 3rd edn., Ann Arbor, ); P. Poupard (ed.), Galileo Galilei: 350 ans d’histoire 1633–1983 (Tournai ); O. Pedersen, ‘Galileo and the Council of Trent: The Galileo Affair Revisited’, Journal for the History of Astronomy, 14 (1983), pp. 1–29; G. V. Covne, SJ, and others (eds.), The Galileo Affair: A Meeting of Faith and Science. Proceedings of the Cracow Conference, 24 to 27 May 1984 (Vatican City, 1985); R. S. Westfall, ‘The Trial of Galileo: Bellarmino, Galileo, and the Clash of Two Worlds’, Journal for the History of Astronomy, 20 (1989), pp. 1–23, repr., with other material, Essays on the Trial of Galileo (Vatican City, 1989); A. Fantoli, Galileo: Per la Copernicanesimo e per lit Chiesa (Studi Galileani, 2; ibid., 1993; Eng. tr., ibid. 3 ; 2nd edn., 1996). P. Redondi, Galileo eretico (1983; Eng. tr., Princeton, NJ, 1987; London, 1988), argues provocatively that the underlying cause of Galileo’s condemnation was his espousal of an atomism that was seen as inconsistent with the doctrine of *transubstantiation. Bibl. covering the period 1568–1895 by A. Carli and A. Favaro (Rome, 1896); 1896–1940 by G. Boffito (ibid., 1943); and 1942–1964 by E. Gentili (Milan, 1966). S. Drake in Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 5 (1981 edn.), pp. 237–49, s.v.; U. Baldini in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, 51 (1998), pp. 473–86, s.v.
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 654.