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Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Date Posted:

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

Part 3. Galileo, The Roman Inquisition and Ecclesia de Eucharistia

Dr Clive Gillis

In the heart of the Vatican, and on the eve of the Glorious Reformation, the Stanza della Segnatura (The Room of Signatures) became the opulent new study of Pope Julius II.

Decorated by Raphael between 1508 and 1511, it was here that Christ’s Vicar on earth signed, on Christ’s behalf, the blasphemous papal bulls which exalted the papacy to equivalence with God Himself and ruthlessly demanded of Kings and Princes, on pain of interdict, that they purge their lands of Hussite, Waldensian and Lollard heretics.  These despoilers of Roman Catholicism’s “exquisite perfection” were to be hunted down and killed as swine defiling the beauty of the Lord’s vineyard – so one papal medal testifies.

The basis of this “exquisite perfection” of the Church of Rome is all portrayed here in symbolic form on the walls of the Room of Signatures.  Protestants easily miss it.  Art students are usually the most interested visitors.  The author who has visited this room frequently, and seldom failed to notice some new blasphemy, would advise Protestant readers with only one visit to the Vatican museums to arrive before opening time, close their eyes to the prior attractions, and go directly to this room armed with binoculars.  Within an hour the crush and flow of the crowds makes lingering study impossible.

The Dispute

On one wall, the School of Athens shows how Rome swallowed up Greek Philosophy and Ancient Science.  Here are Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras and the astronomer Ptolemy and many others whom Galileo unwittingly threatened.  Turning clockwise, the Emperor Justinian represents Roman Law subsumed into Canon Law.  Then we see Gregory IX receiving the Decretals, now proven to be forgeries.  These documents were produced to bolster the false claim of the Pope that his temporal power in the 8th century was the gift of the Emperor Constantine some four centuries earlier.  Next, the godly virtues of Rome are represented by “perfect” women.  But crowning all, and facing the School of Athens is the Triumph of Faith in the Sacrament.  Here we get the first hint of disharmony in this “perfection”, for this painting is more usually called the Dispute over the Holy Sacrament.

Christ is seated between Mary and John in heaven, the Father is above and the Spirit as a dove below.  Saints and angels surround them.  On earth all the popes, famous church fathers and monks, surround an altar.  They include Dominic (‘Hound of the Lord’), founder of the Inquisition, whose hounds now bayed for Galileo’s blood.  This altar is plainly the terrestrial focal point of the people portrayed.  The sole link between heaven and earth is a monstrance longer than a man’s arm upon the altar.  (A monstrance consists of a frame of gold or silver rays, in the centre of which is a receptacle with a glass window through which the host, that is the wafer, can be seen by the people.)  Using binoculars, the host within the glass chamber may be seen to bear Christ’s face. Not easily reproducible in a photograph is the light radiating from the transubstantiated host and identical and continuous with light from heaven.  Rome calls it, “Julius II’s aspiration to a universal order centred upon papal Christian Rome reborn to the grandeur of ancient (pagan) Rome”.  A more succinct summary of the Protestant Continuous Historical Interpretation of the Book of Revelation would be difficult to find.

As the paint on this fresco dried, the Fifth Lateran Council met and declared universal assent to this “exquisite perfection” of the Church of Rome.  Jam nemo reclamat, nullus obsistit (Now no one cries out, not one objects).

God’s judgement soon fell.  In 1517 Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenburg.  Exactly ten years later the Sack of Rome saw troops plundering this very room.  With more spiritual perspicacity than many people have today, the soldiery singled out the Dispute to vandalise with graffiti including Luther’s name.

The Counter Reformation

But the Lord tarried.  Crafty Paul III pulled the papacy together again with the Counter Reformation.  This advanced on three fronts, the anathematising Council of Trent, the sanctioning of the revitalised Roman Inquisition and most deadly of all, the official recognition of a group of fanatical Romanist Spaniards headed by Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuits.  The Jesuits exalted the central doctrine of Transubstantiation in Romanism to fresh heights.

The Jesuits would brook no “dispute” over transubstantiation.  The matter was settle beyond appeal, for all time, by the Council of Trent, as if by unanimous consent.  A dispute over Transubstantiation was underway.  The men in “The Dispute” are arguing.  The binoculars confirm the impression of a contemporary 17th Century description, “One sees in their faces a certain curiosity and anxiety in trying to find certainty upon that which they are in doubt … by their arguing with their hands, and by certain movements of their bodies, pricking up their ears and knitting their brows …”.  Transubstantiation, far from being settled in the Roman Church from time immemorial was a continually evolving matter within Rome before the Reformation.

Painted over

Raphael’s final sketch for the Dispute is in the British Museum.  It does not show a sunburst monstrance with a host within bearing Christ’s features.  It shows a chalice surmounted by a circular wafer in harmony with the standard depictions of communion since art began to portray these things.  It is similar to that used by the protesting Hussites.  At some stage, at or around the time of Reformation, the chalice and wafer in the Dispute was either discarded or painted over to glorify an ornamental sunburst monstrance, a contraption found nowhere in Scripture.  The monstrance dispenses with the wine altogether.  After all, with Transubstantiation, the consecrated wafer provides both the body and the blood of Christ.  What need is there for the chalice?

Transubstantiation crept in towards the end of the first millennium.  It was proposed by certain monks and disputed by others.  This disharmony continued right up to the Reformation.  Since the whole notion is so fantastic, it was inevitable that there would be disagreements within Rome.  One could also predict that the simplest explanation and the one that placed the least demand on the overstretched imagination of even superstitious believers would win.  This is just what we find by the eve of Reformation.

Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, which is really a Christianising of Aristotle, overcame the opposition and put an end to the controversy.   Questions 73 to 83 set for his views.  Henceforth the theory of Aquinas, the Dominican Inquisitor, reigned supreme.

Put very simply, Aquinas taught that rather as a person possesses a body and a soul, so inanimate objects possess an accident (’body’) and substance (‘soul’).  In the ritual of the mass the substance is changed (‘transubstantiated’) into the body and blood of Christ, while the accident remains that of bread and wine, so the appearance is unchanged.

The Counter Reformation elevated Aquinas theory of transubstantiation to a dogma protected from dissenters by the anathemas of God.  At the Council of Trent, Aquinas’ Summa reposed on the high altar, enjoying equal status with the Scriptures placed alongside it.  Trent pronounced: “If any deny that, in the venerable sacrament of the Eucharist, the whole of Christ is contained within each species and within each portion of each species after it has been shared out let him be anathema”.

However Aquinas writings were heavy going, and some did not wish to grant the feared Dominican Inquisitors too much kudos, so one has to turn to the Catechism of The Council of Trent Pt 2 Chapter IV Q XLIII to read about ‘accidents’.  The “accidents cannot adhere in the body and blood of Christ … above the order of nature they sustain themselves, supported by nothing else”.

The Scotists

The same section concludes with the amazing statement: “This has been the uniform and constant belief of the (Roman) Catholic Church …”.  Even a cursory inspection of the Dispute with binoculars in the Vatican Museum shows the many books open and the widespread dissension.  The Franciscan order developed quite different explanations, as much from dislike of the Dominican monopoly as in a quest for truth.  The rivalry became quite intense in the 12-14th centuries.  The parties were dubbed the Thomists and Scotists.  Four Franciscans – Duns Scotus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon and particularly William of Occam/Ockam in Surrey – were distinguished in the field and can be picked out in the Dispute.

Ockham completed with Thomism.  He resurrected the views of Aristotle’s rival Democritus, who had suggested that matter was composed of individual particles or atoms.  Despite his attempts to remain a loyal son of the Church, just as Galileo would try to do later, the implications of this atomic theory in his Tractatus Sacramento Altaris (Tract on the Sacrament of the Altar) saw him dragged before an Inquisition at the papal palace, then in Avignon.

What had so disturbed the authorities?  It was Ockham’s inversion of Thomist theory, suggesting an atomic structure to matter.  Although trying to be careful, the intellectual Inquisitors soon realised that Ockham was stating that the ‘accident’ had atomic structure and besides qualitative properties such as colour smell and taste were also ‘quanta’. (see not at end)  And, if possessing quantity they were not ‘extension’ but ‘matter’.  And if matter, something of bread remained in the consecrated wafer.  And this was rank heresy as Rome was fast becoming wedded to a single notion, “accidents without subject”.

Now supposing the astute, astronomy-mad Jesuits who shielded Galileo at his first trial were to discover subsequently, to their horror, that Galileo’s other scientific writings on the structure of matter, which carried increasing weight as his scientific reputation grew, could pose a similar but even more severe threat than Ockham’s to transubstantiation?   This threat was all the more embarrassing as progressive education was one of the Jesuits principle proselytising strategies.  The Roman Church was generally committed to Trent and in the splendour of their own Baroque churches, the Jesuits were elevating the theory of Transubstantiation to new heights with 30-foot sunbursts.  Galileo had to be neutralised.   And he had to be neutralised in such a way that the Society of Jesus, and their motive for neutralising Galileo, would never be suspected.  (…To be continued)

NOTE: Aquinas’ theory of Transubstantiation

Briefly, Aristotle proposed the theory of hylomorphism.  Substance, he said, is composed of matter and form.  Matter concerns quantity, and form is concerned with qualities.  What we observe is however only the extension (Latin extendere to spread out) of substance.  Extension manifests itself by means of accidents (Latin accidere to happen) producing what the eye sees and the nose smells etc.  Accidents “just happen” and are non-essential to substance which is by definition what lies underneath.  Aquinas won out in the Dispute because his theory required only one single miracle, the detachment of a substance from its extension and accidents.  The change from breaden wafer to the body of Christ then takes place, a change of substance or transubstantiation, independently of the extension and accidents which remain unchanged.

Aquinas states in Q.77 that in the “sacraments, it is not by virtue of their own essence that accidents are able to be without a subject, but through divine power which sustains them … accidents acquired their individual existence in the substance of the bread and the wine; and when the latter is converted into the body and blood of Christ, divine  power preserves the accidents in the same individual existence which they had before …”

“Accidents without subject” is Rome’s doctrine to this day.  Other theories of transformation would be quite unwieldy in comparison, as one miracle is required to change substance of the wafer and further miracles to change the accidents proper to the body of Christ back into those proper to a wafer.

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