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Vol. XI • 1989

The Galileo Affair:
Cardinal Bellarmine’s Letter to Father Foscarini

Ed. Note: In 1615 the Galileo affair was heating up. A certain monk named Foscarini had spoken out in support of Galileo. In response a well respected official of the Catholic hierarchy, Cardinal Bellarmine, wrote the following cautionary letter to Father Foscarini. Cardinal Bellarmine's position on the relation between Biblical revelation and scientific evidence is timely today in the context of the creation vs. evolution controversy. The letter and background information comes from the December 1981 issue of The Bulletin of the Tychonian Society. (p. 7-8).

"My Very Reverend Father,

It has been a pleasure to me to read the Italian letter and the Latin paper you sent me. I thank you for both the one and the other, and I may tell you that I found them replete with skill and learning. As you ask for my opinion, I will give it as briefly as possible because, at the moment I have very little time for writing. I

First, I say it seems to me that your Reverence and Signor Galileo act prudently when you content yourselves with speaking hypothetically and not absolutely, as I have always understood that Copernicus spoke. For to say that the assumption that the Earth moves and the Sun stands still saves all the celestial appearances better than do eccentrics and epicycles is to speak with excellent good sense and to run no risk whatever. Such a manner of speaking suffices for a mathematician. But to want to affirm that the Sun, in very truth, is at the centre of the universe and only rotates on its axis without travelling from east to west, and that the Earth is situated in the third sphere and revolves very swiftly around the Sun, is a very dangerous attitude and one calculated not only to arouse all Scholastic philosophers and theologians but also to injure our holy faith by contradicting the Scriptures...

Second, I say that, as you know, the Council of Trent forbids the interpretation of the Scriptures in a way contrary to the common agreement of the holy Fathers. Now if your Reverence will read, not merely the Fathers, but modern commentators on Genesis, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Joshua, you will discover that all agree in interpreting them literally as teaching that the Sun is in the heavens and revolves round the Earth with immense speed and that the Earth is very distant from the heavens, at the centre of the universe, and motionless. Consider, then, in your prudence, whether the Church can support that the Scriptures should be interpreted in manner contrary to that of the holy Fathers and of all modern commentators, bath Latin and Greek...

Third, I say that, if there were a real proof that the Sun is in the centre of the universe, that the Earth is in the third sphere, and that the Sun does not go round the Earth but the Earth round the Sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and we should rather have to say that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true. But I do not think there is any such proof since none has been shown to me. To demonstrate that the appearances are saved by assuming the sun at the centre and the earth in the heavens is not the same thing as to demonstrate that in fact the sun is in the centre and the earth in the heavens. I believe that the first demonstration may exist. but I have very grave doubts about the second, and in case of doubt one may not abandon the Holy Scriptures as expounded by the holy Fathers..."

"The Galileo Affair: Cardinal Bellarmine’s Letter to Father Foscarini"
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