Galileo and Jesuit Jealousy

by cheri block

If I had been a guest at the Florentine Court presided over by her Most Serene Highness the Grand Duchess Christina de’ Medici, I surely would have been treated to one of Galileo’s post-dinner debates, billed as “entertainment.”

Such debates with the ultra-scholarly  Jesuits (God’s Marines)  or the Dominicans of the day were, as author Mario Biagioli characterized them, “dangerous games.” Why?

In the competitive religious and political environment of Florence and Rome in 1615 or so, winning debates helped clients find important patrons, who had the scudi to improve a client’s soci0-political status. Losing debates reflected poorly on your patron, especially if he was a religious rather than secular “prince”. Both Cosimo de’ Medici and Maffeo Barberini (his buddy, later to become Pope Urban VIII) were patrons.

At first, Galileo must have been the biggest ticket in Florence. He dazzled guests with his discovery of Jupiter’s four moons, which he named the Medicean Stars, after his patrons. Besides taking his audience into the skies and beyond, his wit must have amused even the stuffiest of Friars. Or did it?

In these debates, Galileo relished in making mincemeat out of high-profile Aristotelian philosophers and Jesuit mathematicians . He debated Ludovico delle Columbe over why bodies, like ice, float in water. He took on one of the most respected astronomers of the day,the Jesuit Christoph Scheiner, in a debate over who discovered sunspots and how to interpret them. He bickered publicly or in writing with Jesuit Orazio Grassi about the nature of comets and with Francesco Ingoli about the Copernican system.

Guys like Galileo often evoke the deepest jealousy on the planet.

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in Writing and Teaching and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Galileo and Jesuit Jealousy

  1. sledpress says:

    Holy smoke! He was a Science Rock Star!

    And we thought it started with Stephen Hawking.

  2. In those years, it was bad form to cross a Jesuit. Galileo had one big fault, he was right.

  3. Philippe says:

    I love your picture of the sun setting over the ocean. I hope it symbolised the end of a perfect day for you?

    It put me in mind of this lovely song by Mark Knopfler (formerly of Dire Straits), called *Shangri-la*, about the sun setting at the end of a perfect day.

    …..It’s the end of a perfect day
    for surfer boys and girls
    The sun’s dropping down in the bay
    and falling off the world
    There’s a diamond in the sky
    Our evening star
    In our Shangri-la…….

    • Cheri says:

      Thank you, Philippe.
      That photo was just plain luck and the orange and blue are exactly the colors I saw–no photo enhancement.
      We’ve had very exciting weather in the Bay Area and on the Central Coast with snow, hail, fierce rain storms, intense sun, and wind. Such weather tends to yield wonderful photo opportunities.

      I always feel better about things in Nature. How about you?

  4. Artswebshow says:

    Sounds like the kind of dinner where i’d turn on my I-pod and keep out of it. lol

  5. Cheri says:

    Ha! You weren’t allowed to remain uninvolved at these dinners. With your iPod on, you might have been banished to the kitchen!

  6. Cyberquill says:

    If bodies really floated in water, then why don’t I ever see any floating in the East River?

    You used another zero in place of an o. You’re obviously sending encrypted messages via your posts. I don’t think this one is about Galileo at all.

  7. zeusiswatching says:

    Galileo was taking on all that was understood as “settled law.” Remember, the Roman Church wasn’t alone in the condemnation of the Copernican System. Luther and Calvin rejected it too. The Ptolemaic System had been around for a long time before Christianity. It was part of the Grecco-Roman learning absorbed and transformed by the adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire. Now, along comes a guy with a telescope, an attitude, and a willingness to advance a bizarre theory of the heavens. Keep in mind that before the development of optics, a system of the heavens had been worked out with a precision that actually made the celestial bodies extremely useful to humanity.

    Calendars, clocks, navigation, agriculture, are just a few of the things for which the seemingly obvious motions of the celestial objects according to the Ptolemaic model were put to use with great success. Galileo was the rather obnoxious upstart who suggested that everything was not as the revered ancients believed. For the Jesuits, and the Dominicans too, defenders of all that the Western Christians believed ancient and venerable, the man and his ideas were a serious threat.

    • Cheri says:

      Thank you, Zeus, for adding this perspective to the discussion. These things are precisely what we have been reading in our class in an effort to understand the entire picture here.

      As you can see, I am beginning to formulate some of my own opinions. You might consider reading Finocchiaro’s translations of all the letters and court documents leading up to Galileo’s condemnation. Also, within the last 15 years two small files, G3 and another, have been found that have added mystery to exactly what happened during the time that Galileo gave his four depositions.
      The summary of the trial, most likely written by a court clerk, left out some key pieces of information, in addition to making mistakes in the summary.

      It appears that someone (more than likely Inchofar) was out to get Galileo.

      Interestingly, a number of the Jesuit astronomers had already looked through Galileo’s telescope…they saw what he saw.

  8. Richard says:

    How we take our freedoms of thought and expression for granted, and how easily we could lose them! Equivalent closed minds, preconceptions and prejudices remain in high places to this very day.

    I like your new Gravatar – but no hat?

    • Cheri says:

      Also in the context of the evolving civil law we see here in the US…

      That’s right. This is my first gravatar without a hat. Since I am studying Galileo, I chose a picture from our trip to Italy 3 years ago. That was taken on the rooftop garden of the Hotel Minerva, right by the piazza where poor Galileo was tried. In Inquisition offices were there. I am sure Giovanni could go over there today and take some pictures for us.

      I say “poor” Galileo after having read the letters from his daughter, Suor Maria Celeste.

  9. wkkortas says:

    I can’t help and reflect a little on the debates at the Florentine Court and “debate” as it is represented by Messrs. Beck, O’Reilly, Olbermann et al. The stakes are certainly not as high, but I’m guessing the bar is now a lot lower.

  10. Cheri says:

    Oh yes. You would fit in nicely around our Thanksgiving table, wk.

    Just the mention of O’Reilly should send Cyberquil to this blog within seconds.

  11. zeusiswatching says:

    I posted this entry in ’09. You might find it an interesting contribution to your posts and studies.

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