The church history trail easily goes cold.
Nevertheless if enough people are asked, someone will usually know.
Tracking down the villa in Arcetri on the southern
hillsides of Florence was no exception. Here Galileo was a
virtual prisoner for the last nine years of his life by order of the Pope and
the Holy Roman Inquisition.
Il Gioiello, as the villa is still called, is now a
private property. My wife, who speaks some Italian, had several animated and
waving encounters before we providentially parked right outside it. Each
helpful bystander tried to point out that we were way off track. Each
forcefully insisted that the famous telescope is in the Galileo museum by the
River Arno in the city centre. This we well knew having been there several
times. No! we want to see Il Gioiello.
Il Gioiello is situated a mile or so from the crowds
thronging the centre of Florence. The lanes are narrow, the walls are high, and
the villas behind those walls belong to the super rich. A few locals were
braving the heat at siesta time. Down in Florence city centre one school party
after another and thousands of tourists were filing endlessly past the Galileo
monument in the huge dimly lit Franciscan church of Santa Croce (Holy Cross).
But without knowing the secrets of Il Gioiello their understanding of the
Galileo affair must remain as dim as the illumination in the church.
Rome has made much of the Protestant prints
of “Galileo in Prison”, which are supposedly fabricated. But modern historians
now admit Il Gioiello was far harsher than Sienna where his room was “richly
furnished … with silk tapestries.” Within days of arriving at Il Gioiello he
visited his devoted daughter on her deathbed in a nearby convent. When he
returned he wrote, “By sinister coincidence, on returning home from the Convent
in company with the doctor who had just told me her condition was hopeless and
she would not survive the next day … I found the Inquisitor’s Vicar here, who
informed me of a mandate of the Holy Office at Rome, that I must desist from
asking for grace [not to be under perpetual house arrest] or they would take me
back to the actual prison of the Holy Office. From which I infer that my
present confinement is to be terminated only by that other one which is common
to all,” meaning of course, his death.
His arthritis flared. He wrote, “my
hernia has become more serious and my palpitations worse…”. He had “immense
sadness and melancholy … [and] perpetual sleeplessness”. He then became blind.
He asked to see a doctor in Florence, but the Inquisition refused, though later
they relented after an inspection by the Inquisition’s medical expert. Even
then he was still kept under house arrest and was refused permission to be
carried out on a chair by his friends. When he addressed his letters “From my
prison in Arcetri,” he was not exaggerating.
John Milton’s visit
Worse than blindness, the Inquisition was
deliberately and maliciously allowing that great intellect to rust by isolating
him from company. He said, “Old age lessens the speed and vividness of my
thinking … I struggle … to understand … things I proved when I was younger”.
Protestant Europe was outraged. John Milton, “found and visited the famous
Galileo, grown old, a prisoner of the Inquisition”. Milton was shocked to
discover Rome’s stranglehold on learning in Italy. This was brought about
through the Inquisition, and “the servile condition to which [learning] has
been brought”. At some personal risk, Louis Elsevir of the Protestant Dutch
printing firm at Leyden, which had well served the Reformation by printing
Bibles, sought out Galileo at Il Gioiello, with plans to beat the Inquisition
and publish all his works.
The world has believed for nearly four
years centuries that this “tragic mutual incomprehension” (as Pope John Paul II
lamely called the condemnation of Gailileo by the Inquisition in the course of
his apology ceremony in 1992) which led to such cruel treatment of the old
scientist, was due to the Dominican Inquisition’s rejection of Galileo’s views
on astronomy rather than a dastardly ambush by the Jesuits. Indeed this
infamous behaviour of the Jesuits would never have come to light had not some
whispers escaped from Il Gioiello and come down to us through the centuries.
In a letter written early from Il
Gioiello, Galileo commented on the severity of his treatment by the
Inquisition. He wrote of the global nature of his gagging order that it was “an
express order that they should not allow any [italics mine] of my works
to be reprinted which have been printed many years ago or grant permission for
any new work, a most rigorous order, I say, again all my works …
[italics mine]. For Galileo had written on every conceivable aspect of science,
not just astronomy, yet his gag was to be total. This was unusual for the
bureaucratic Inquisition, who much preferred to make their point by dividing up
a heretic’s writings into sound and unsound, taking years in the process and
getting well paid for their trouble.
In the 1980’s Pietro Redondi, a French
historical researcher with an intimate knowledge and access to the great
libraries of Italy, was working upon Galileo’s ideas on the nature of light.
During this research he came upon a most intriguing whisper from Il Gioiello
which led to the discovery of a hitherto unknown document in today’s
Inquisition. After further fascinating research into the murky world of Rome’s
Jesuits, their guilt was finally established. Had Galileo not been brought low
in Il Gioiello the vital clue would have been lost.
It happened like this. In 1623 Galileo
published a book which is called in English The Assayer. It contested
the astronomical views of one Lotario Sarsi, an unimportant pupil of the
Jesuits. In this book Galileo firmly rejected Aristotle’s theory of matter and
followed the Greek philosopher Democritus and the Franciscan William of Ockham,
in proposing a very well defined atomic structure of matter. Then subsequently,
and completely out of character for such a rigorous mind as Galileo’s, Redoni
noticed that Galileo, by writing subtly and introducing changes a little at a
time, and by relying on inexact definitions and ambiguous choice of words, progressively
dismantled his thesis of the atomic structure of matter. Fortunately, Redoni,
undaunted, asked Why?
We must briefly retrace our steps. It so
happened that in 1638, a year after Galileo went blind, Providence brought a
brilliant sixteen year old boy with a flare for mathematics, Vincenzo Viviani,
to Il Gioiello. As a young lad without influence, the Inquisition had no
interest to him. Viviani loved the old scientist, who taught him much. In
return Viviani “wrote his letters, read aloud his responses and helped Galileo
reconstruct his earlier investigations”. In effect he became a “second son”,
one who came to know the mature Galileo inside out as, winter by winter, they
conversed deep into the dark night.
Twelve years after Galileo’s death in Il
Gioiello in 1642, Viviani completed the earliest biography of Galileo. The
taint of heresy was such that even that work had to be published after
Viviani’s own death in the 18th Century. Viviani was incensed that
he had lived under the Popes Urban VII, Innocent X and Alexander VII who had
glorified themselves, expending vast sums on enormous, elaborate marble tombs
bearing their effigies, admired by millions in St Peter’s, Rome, to this day,
while he could not get the Franciscans of Santa Croce in Florence even to raise
a simple plaque to Galileo. Childless, Viviani left his entire estate for that
Galileo’s intimacy with Viviani at Il
Gioiello must make Viviani’s reminiscences reliable. Writing about the
publication of The Assayer in 1623, Viviani insists that it was this
event that was the cause “of all the misfortunes to which from that hour [italics
mine] until his last days Signor Galileo was subjected by relentless
persecution for his every deed and word”. Viviani is definite that it was
following the publication of The Assayer and not after the 1616 trial
that “slanders and refutations from his enemies and opponents … then [italics
mine] kept him almost always in distress”.
The mysterious G3
Redondi’s research subsequently led him
right into the heart of today’s Inquisition where he discovered a previously
unknown anonymous denunciation of Galileo to the Inquisition. It was labelled
“G3”. The sanctimonious and anonymous informant had no complaints about
Galileo’s views on astronomy but laid a grave complaint about the theory of
atoms in The Assayer. He maintained that this theory posed a serious
threat to transubstantiation and the Mass as set forth by the Council of Trent.
Now, in “G3” the “3” was probably the number of sheets. But was “G” Galileo or
is this the first letter of the informant’s name? We shall see.
The indictment ran, “Having in these past
days perused Signor Galileo’s book entitled The Assayer, I have come to
consider a doctrine … rejected by Aristotle but received by the same Signor
Galileo … this doctrine appears false … very difficult and dangerous … I
propose to you Very Reverend Father … its meaning … which will serve as my
warning”. Then “G” explains Galileo’s theory of atoms in detail and with great
intellectual grasp, quoting with precise accuracy from The Assayer. “G”
concludes, “if one admits this philosophy of accidents as true, it seems to me,
that makes greatly difficult the existence of the accidents of the bread and
wine which in the most Holy Sacrament are separated from their substance …
which is the error condemned by Sacred Tridentine Council [Council of Trent]
Session 13 Canon 2 … which consequence seems to me in conflict with the whole
communion of Theologians … [and] repugnant to the Sacred Councils”.
“G” could be in one of three camps. He
was unlikely to be a Dominican because they were Galileo’s open opponents. They
ran the Inquisition and had no motive for secrecy. Nor was it likely to come
from the scientific community because it had greeted The Assayer with
delight and Galileo was lauded in the exclusive Accademia dei Lincei [Lynx like
ones] in Rome.
On the other hand, the Jesuits who had
supported Galileo at first were now faced with a challenge to the mass at this
crucial time of Counter Reformation. They were regaining Protestant churches
and congregations wholesale in Bohemia, Moravia, Germany and Poland, and
defacing their interiors with flamboyant baroque decoration with a huge central
sunburst to promote transubstantiation. Lotario Sarsi (see above), whose views The
Assayer totally rubbished, was really a pseudonym concealing a Jesuit
Father Grassi, one of the chief scientists at Rome’s immensely powerful
Collegio Romano, the forerunner of today’s Georgian University.
We shall see in the next issue, DV,
whether Fr. Grassi was in reality “G” and how the whole exercise of destroying
Galileo anonymously was conducted with breathtaking, typically Jesuit, cloak
and dagger intrigue, more like fiction than real life.