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By Rev. Baden Powell

Theological Persecution.

The persecution of Galileo has been oftener de claimed against than fully reflec ted on.  Galileo maintained the positions of the advancing inductive philosophy, on the grounds of demonstration and ex periment; but beyond the strict limits of either, he reasoned and generalised on the broad basis of sound analogy in a manner utterly subversive of the re ceived Aristotelian dogmas, which, at all events, had no better ground to stand upon, without any regard to ulterior consequences or existing prejudices. He boldly proclaimed the most unpalatable truths: he asserted the motion of the earth round the sun, de grading it from its high central supremacy to the humble position of a very secondary member of a system of many tributary worlds. 

Heresies of Galileo. 

He affirmed its rotation on its axis, thus destroying the notion of up and down in the universe, of a heaven above, or a hades beneath; in both propositions directly contra dicting numerous passages of Scripture and the es tablished creed of the Church, besides maintaining many minor doctrines negativing points of the scholastic philosophy, which had become incorporated, with the ecclesiastical system, and the denial of which perilled the most sacred dogmas. And in the mechanical and physical points, as well as by the aid of his telescope, he aggravated the matter by urging, not vague speculations, but unassailable facts. 

At all this, the spirit of orthodoxy necessarily took alarm. Some of its most favourite tenets and cherished pretensions were directly assailed. The words of Scripture and the decrees of the infallible Church were equally set at nought. The earth was displaced from its proud position as the "central hearth" of the world, which even pagan philosophers had assigned to it; and still more, it was in great danger of losing the higher title demanded for it as the seat of moral supremacy, the sole centre and fountain of spiritual blessing in the whole universe. 

These and other not less heretical positions Galileo had openly proclaimed and defended, in defiance of the authority of the Church and to the disparagement and subversion of its claims. But he did more; by questioning one part he opened the door to questioning others; he unsettled men's minds and sowed the seed of future unknown heresies, whose evil fruits might be beyond calculation. 

Case of Galileo Not Peculiar

That he was subjected to the power of the Inquisition, and escaped worse consequences only by a forced nominal submission and recantation, is then neither to be wondered at nor to be regarded as an isolated case of the ignorance and barbarism of the age, or of the tyranny of the Roman Church resenting an attack on its particular assumptions. It is simply the true exemplification and  type of the antagonism of all arbitrary religious systems, strengthening themselves upon error and invested with power, against every successive advance in philosophical discovery and enlightenment of the public mind: --against a progress which the upholders of such systems with good reason dread as dangerous to their assumptions. It is but a significant instance of the hostility which must always result, while either established priesthoods, or the more independent pro phets of fanaticism and expositors of popular prejudice, continue to ally themselves and their cause with darkness and ignorance rather than with light and knowledge, to associate religious truth with physical error, and thus expose the doctrines of Christianity to the reproach of being an appeal rather to the blindness and infirmity, than to the information and higher sense of mankind; tacitly confessing that it is unable to stand the test of advancing inquiry, rather than seeking to identify it with all that tends to enlighten, to elevate, and to benefit the human race. 

The question has been discussed with some curiosity, why Copernicus was not subjected to the same persecution as Galileo ? and reasons have been found by some writers in the comparatively abstract nature of his speculations, the calm tone in which he pro posed them, his own high position in the Church, his deference to those in authority, and the like con siderations. But a truer solution probably may be found in the fact that the first copy of his work was only laid before him in his last illness, and nature did but forestall the persecutors. 

Attempts at Compromise

The glosses of Foscarinus to torture the text of Scripture into accordance with the fact of the earth's motion were as empty as ineffectual, and the retro grade movement of Tycho (even though a Protes tant) was simply an absurd renunciation of philoso phical truth from a desire to conciliate prejudices, which after all never will be nor can be conciliated. Like all such compromises, it satisfied neither party, and was speedily consigned to oblivion. It is only worth alluding to in connection with the first-men tioned scheme, as both were the very counterparts, and ought to have been the warning, of the similar attempts of those who, down to the present day, are continually aiming at the very same thing as to the other parts of science which equally contradict the expressions of Scripture. 

Remains of Mysticism 

The mysticism of numbers was a superstition which had infected philosophy from the days of Pythagoras.  Galileo's announcement of the satellites of Jupiter was denied, because it would invade the sacredness of the number 7, which hitherto included the planets. But at a much later period even Huyghens, when he had discovered one satellite of Saturn, declared the system complete, because 6 primary and 6 secondary planets made up the perfect number 12. These are curious exemplifications of the tendency of the human mind to repose on false analogies, and speculate on grounds utterly remote from all real physical conceptions. 

Philosophy of Montaigne

 The Order of Nature






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First Ideas ] Idea of Cosmos ] Relations of early Christianity ] Disputes verbal ] Writings of Sebonde ] Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon ] [ Inductive & Theological ] Philosophy of Montaigne ] Bacon (RAW TEXT) ] IV-SOURCE ] Natural History ] Modern Pantheism ] Rationalism ] Positivism ] Recent Natural Theology ] Celebrity of Hobbes (RAW) ] Conclusion ]

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