Catholic Church and Heliocentrism

In 1633, Roman Catholic Church prosecuted Galileo Galilei for his heliocentric belief, making him a martyr to science. Under the light of the Darwinism and Creationism debate, many hold the opinion that Christians are science illiterate and that they are the oppressor of scientific progress. While the debate on the origin of species can be deferred to another time, we want to clarify a few things about Roman Catholic Church and its relation with heliocentrism.

The Roman Catholic Church has long sponsored research in astronomy, for the purpose of calendar reform and maritime navigation. This research directly resulted in Copernicus's work in heliocentrism, elements of which were incorporated in the Gregorian calendar. However, the theory also suffered inconsistencies with well-established evidences at the time, so Copernicus cautiously ceded that he was making a mathematical argument, and not an argument about universal truth. Even though his work provides a more elegant and precise framework for calculating planetary positions, heliocentrism was not scientifically tenable because Copernicus had to appeal to divine omnipotence to resolve the star size problem.

The Roman Inquisition on Galileo reiterated the scientific controversies at that time, but it was not because the scientific discovery was religiously inconvenient. The attack on Galileo appeared to be political in nature unrelated to science. At that time, the church was under attack in both religious fronts (the Lutheran Church as a result of Martin Luther's Protestant reform) and secular fronts (power struggle with local authority, e.g. the Republic of Venice), and sought to secure its authority. Even so, the consequence of Galilei's martyrdom was a house arrest, for ridiculing Pope Urban VIII in his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.

Another martyr to heliocentrism, Giordano Bruno, was executed by secular authority of the Republic of Venice, not by the Church. Bruno had a rancor with the Mocenigo family, a prominent family of Doge of Venice, after being their family tutor for two months. The family denounced him to the Roman Inquisition. After Bruno refused a full recantation, the Inquisition declared him a heretic and dismissed him to secular authority in Venice who burned him alive.

Although Copernicus maintained a friendly relationship with the Church as well as his colleagues in the Catholic universities, the importance of his work was not recognized until much later after his death. He was buried in an anonymous grave as a Church canon in 1543. In May, 2010, his remains were reburied by Poland's highest-ranking clerics in recognition to his significance.

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