The abjuration (1633)
I, Galileo Galilei, son of the late Vincenzio Galilei of Florence, aged 70 years, tried personally by this court, and kneeling before You, most Eminent and Reverend Lord Cardinals, Inquisitors-General throughout the Christian Republic against heretical dep ravity, having before my eyes the Most Holy Gospels, and laying on them my own hands; I swear that I have always believed, I believe now, and with God's help I will in future believe all that is held, preached and taught by the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. But since - after having been admonished by this Holy Office entirely to abandon the false opinion that the Sun is the centre of the world and immoveable, and that the Earth is not the centre of the same and that it moves, and that I must not hold, defend, nor teach in any manner whatever, either orally or in writing, the said false doctrine, and after it had been notified to me that the said doctrine was contrary to Holy Writ - I wrote and caused to be printed a book in which I treat of the said al ready condemned doctrine, and bring forward arguments of much efficacy in its favour, without arriving at any solution: I have been prono u nced to be u nder vehement suspicion of heresy , that is, of having held and believed that the Sun is the centre of the wo rld and immo veable, and that the Earth is not the centre and moves.
Therefore, wishing to remove from the minds of your Eminences and of all faithful Christians this vehement suspicion justly conceived against me, I abjure with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith, I curse and detest the said errors and heresies, and generally all and every error and sect contrary to the Holy Catholic Church. And I swear that for the future I will never again say nor assert in speaking or writing such things as may bring upon me simila r suspicion; and if I know any heretic, or person suspected of heresy, I will denounce him to this Holy Office, or to the Inquisitor or Ordinary of the place where I may be.
I also swear and promise to adopt and observe entirely all the penances which hav e been or may be imposed on me by this Holy Office. And if I contravene any of these said promises, protests or oaths (which God forbid!), I submit myself to all the pains and penalties imposed and promulgated by the Sacred Canons and other Decre es, genera l and particular, against such offenders. So help me God and these His Holy Gospels, which I touch with my own hands.
With these words, of intrinsic significance, Galileo, wearing a white gown, a symbol of penitence, and genuflecting in sign of humiliation before the cardinals of the Inquisition who 'burned his book in his face', was forced to disavow not a faith, but a truth, laboriously won through the work of a lifetime. In his stubborn, solitary battle for the independence of scientific research, he had been totally defeated. Leaving aside vindictiveness and personal rancour - the negative attitude of the Pope and the conspiring of the Jesuits - all of which weighed on the course of events, Galileo's condemnation for suspected heresy and the abjuration of his scientific convictions created a precedent. From that time on, the Church claimed for itself the right to legislate in matters unconnected with matters of faith, sanctioning the supremacy of the holy texts and their theological interpretation over any other source of knowledge. The search for truths alternative to those of faith was evidently more to be feared than any form of religious heterodoxy. For, far from opposing one dogma to another, it embodied an attitude always critical of acquired knowledge and denied any value to tradition, the age-old bulwark for the control of conscience. To keep silent, to ask no questions, to accept - it was now obligatory by law to comply with this concept of man's function. Galileo had experienced this in person, forced to acknowledge the sad fact that the Dialogue was considered 'abhorrent and more pernicious to the Holy Church than the writings of Luther and Calvin.'
Whether the trial was formally correct or not in the end has no importance, since it was based on the fallacious premise that the beliefs of some can become a norm for mankind as a whole. And to demonstrate the falsity of this premise, there was, fortunately, Europe. Fortunately for Galileo, who thanks to his international fame was spared even worse punishment, and fortunately for mankind, which has been able to broaden its horizons thanks to the freedom of thought enjoyed in places where the power of the Church of Rome was slight or non-existent. In countries where science could be truly science, with no accommodating pretence or coercion to believe, opinion sided overwhelmingly with Galileo and against his condemnation. The blame was laid especially on the Jesuits, deemed chiefly responsible for his persecution. And it came from influential figures: Descartes, Grozio, Gabriel Naudé, Nicholas Fabri de Peiresc, Hobbes, Mersenne, and Gassendi, to mention only a few.
In Italy, however, owing to the weakening of Galileo and the Italian proclivity for backing the winner, albeit a provisional one, there was a flourishing of anti-Copernican writings of all colours. Catholics, orthodox Aristotelians suspected of libertinism, minor academics (and even those of Pisa) cried out with one rancorous voice against a man who no longer had a chance to fight back. To the abjuration and its injunctions the Inquisition soon added a prohibition on all Inquisitors to issue opinions favourable to the printing of any text by Galileo, whether new works or re-editions. Naturally, this prohibition was respected only in Italy, while abroad translations proliferated, even of texts that had hitherto remained unpublished, such as the Mechanics or the Letter to Christine of Lorraine. 'I am thus obliged,' lamented Galileo, his morale at its lowest point, 'not only to remain silent in the face of scientific opposition but, which is even worse for me, to succumb to the mockery, the mordancy and the abuse of my opponents, who are not few in number.' Unable to reply in public as was his custom, Galileo could not refrain from replying in the seclusion of his study. He annotated with a pen like a sharpened knife the volumes of those who attacked him, shielding themselves behind the same old arguments now completely refuted, and who continued to oppose their false 'way of philosophising ... pure and simple physics' to his own way, based in science, 'dressed with a squeeze of mathematics,' albeit now violently destroyed. Another safety valve was provided by his friends and pupils, with whom he discussed the replies of his adversaries, scattered with senseless exaggerations, and he made stinging comments in his correspondence. Vincenzo Renieri thus kept him updated on the extravagant opinions of Scipione Chiaramonti, a professor of philosophy at the University of Pisa, who had justified his attacks on whoever rejected his inviolable Ptolemy with the unanswerable argument that the Earth could not rotate in perpetual motion because, like all other living beings, it would have become tired and been obliged to stop to rest at some point. And Renieri dedicated to Chiaramonti a sonnet in mock praise, hypothesising that his idea of heaven, 'all, all of glass', made up of perfectly round, smooth circles, could have been inspired only by daily contemplation of a urinal. He even called upon the Sun to confer on Chiaramonti on Helicon, as a well-deserved prize, 'a crown consisting of tripe.' But was mocking sarcasm, a typically Tuscan defence, enough to raise the spirits of a man so deeply mortified as Galileo?
Texts by Sara Bonechi
English translation by Anna Teicher
Last update 24/apr/2009