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In a short paragraph, tell me about Galileo Galilei, “Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture” your favorite MMW13 reading. Why was it your favorite? Did it give you a new perspective? Did you relate to the author or find the topic personally relevant? Or was it just interesting on a detached, academic level? What did the reading teach you about history? 

108 §4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 109

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615)6

[309] To the Most Serene Ladyship the Grand Duchess Dowager:7

[§4.2.1] As Your Most Serene Highness knows very well, a few
years ago I discovered in the heavens many particulars which had been
invisible until our time. Because of their novelty, and because of

6. Galilei 1890-1909,5: 309-48; translated by Finocchiaro (1989, 87-118).
For the historical background, see the Introduction, especially §0.7.
7. Christina of Lorraine (d. 1637), wife of Grand Duke Ferdinanda I de’
Medici and mother of Cosimo II.

This text is from The Essential Galileo,

edited and translated by Maurice A.

Finocchiaro (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett

Publishing, 2008), 109-145.

NB: The subsection notations and page

numbers in square brackets throughout the

text refer to the section and page numbers

of the Italian National Edition of Galileo’s

Collected Works (1890-1909). You do not need

to pay special attention to these notations.

110 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

some consequences deriving from them which contradict some phys-
ical propositions commonly accepted in philosophical schools, they
roused against me no small number of such professors, as if I had
placed these things in heaven with my hands in order to mess up na-
ture and the sciences. These people seemed to forget that a multitude
of truths contribute to inquiry and to the growth and strength of dis-
ciplines rather than to their diminution or destruction, and at the
same time they showed greater affection for their own opinions than
for the true ones; thus they proceeded to deny and to try to nullifY
those novelties, about which the senses themselves could have ren-
dered them certain, if they had wanted to look at those novelties care-
fully. To this end they produced various matters, and they published
some writings full of useless discussions and sprinkled with quotations
from the Holy Scripture, taken from passages which they do not
properly understand and which they inappropriately adduce. This was
a very serious error, and they might not have fallen into it had they
paid attention to St. Augustine’s very useful advice [310] concerning
how to proceed with care in reaching definite decisions about things
which are obscure and difficult to understand by means of reason
alone. For, speaking also about a particular physical conclusion per-
taining to heavenly bodies, he writes this (On the Literal Interpretation
of Genesis, book 2, at the end):8 “Now then, always practicing a pious
and serious moderation, we ought not to believe anything lightly
about an obscure subject, lest we reject (out of love for our error)
something which later may be truly shown not to be in any way con-
trary to the holy books of either the Old or New Testament.”

Then it developed that the passage of time disclosed to everyone
the truths I had first pointed out, and, along with the truth of the
matter, the difference in attitude between those who sincerely and
without envy did not accept these discoveries as true and those who
added emotional agitation to disbelief Thus, just as those who were
most competent in astrqnomical and in physical science were con-
vinced by my first announcement, so gradually there has been a calm-
ing down of all the others whose denials and doubts were not

8. Here and elsewhere in this essay, Galileo gives references for his Latin quo-
tations by displaying the bibliographical information in the margin to his
text, whereas I insert the references in parentheses in the text. Unless indi-
cated otherwise in a note, I have translated the Latin passages from the word-
ing as quoted by Galileo.

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 111

sustained by anything other than the unexpected novelty and the lack
of opportunity to see them and to experience them with the senses.
However, there are those who are rendered ill-disposed, not so much
toward the things as much as toward the author, by the love of their
first error and by some interest which they imagine having but which
escapes me. Unable to deny them any longer, these people became
silent about them; but, embittered more than before by what has mel-
lowed and quieted the others, they divert their thinking to other fic-
tions and try to harm me in other ways. These would not really worry
me any more than I was disturbed by the other oppositions, which I
always laughed off, certain of the result that the business would have;
I should not worry if I did not see that the new calumnies and per-
secutions are not limited to matters of greater or less theoretical un-
derstanding, which are relatively unimportant, but that they go
further and try to damage me with stains which I do abhor and must
abhor more than death. Nor can I be satisfied that these charges be
known as false only by those who know me and them; their falsity
must be known to every other person. These people are aware that in
my [311] astronomical and philosophical studies, on the question of
the constitution of the world’s parts, I hold that the sun is located at
the center of the revolutions of the heavenly orbs and does not
change place, and that the earth rotates on itself and moves around it.
Moreover, they hear how I confirm this view not only by refuting
Ptolemy’s and Aristotle’s arguments, but also by producing many for
the other side, especially some pertaining to physical effects whose
causes perhaps cannot be determined in any other way, and other as-
tronomical ones dependent on many features of the new celestial dis-
coveries; these discoveries clearly confute the Ptolemaic system, and
they agree admirably with this other position and confirm it. Now,
these people are perhaps confounded by the known truth of the other
propositions different from the ordinary which I hold, and so they
may lack confidence to defend themselves as long as they remain in
the philosophical field. Therefore, since they persist in their original
self-appointed task of beating down me and my findings by every
imaginable means, they have decided to try to shield the fallacies of
their arguments with the cloak of simulated religiousness and with the
authority of the Holy Scriptures, unintelligently using the latter for
the confutation of arguments they neither understand nor have heard.

At first, they tried on their own to spread among common people
the idea that such propositions are against the Holy Scriptures, and

112 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

consequently damnable and heretical. Then they realized how by and
large human nature is more inclined to join those ventures which re-
sult in the oppression of other people (even if unjustly) than those
which result in their just improvement, and so it was not difficult for
them to find someone who with unusual confidence did preach even
from the pulpit that it is damnable and heretical; and this was done
with little compassion and with little consideration of the injury not
only to this doctrine and its followers, but also to mathematics and all
mathematicians. Thus, having acquired more confidence and with the
vain hope that that seed which first took root in their insincere mind
would grow into a tree and rise toward the sky, they are spreading
among the people the rumor that it will shortly be declared heretical
by the supreme authority. They also know that such a declaration not
only would uproot these two conclusions, but also would render
damnable all the other astronomical and physical observations and
propositions [312 J which correspond and are necessarily connected
with them; hence, they alleviate their task as much as they can by
making it look, at least among common people, as if this opinion
were new and especially mine, pretending not to know that Nicolaus
Copernicus was its author, or rather its reformer and confirmer.
Now, Copernicus was not only a Catholic, but also a clergyman9 and
a canon, and he was so highly regarded that he was called to Rome
from the remotest parts of Germani0 when under Leo X the Lateran
Council was discussing the reform of the ecclesiastical calendar; at
that time this reform remained unfinished only because there was still
no exact knowledge of the precise length of the year and of the lunar
month. Thus he was charged by the Bishop of Fossombrone, 11 who
was then supervising this undertaking, to try by repeated studies and

9. Here and in the rest of this paragraph, Galileo makes a number of mis-
statements about Copernicus. For example, although Copernicus was a
canon and hence a type of cleric, he was not a clergyman in the sense of
being a priest. Although he sent a written report to the Fifth Lateran Coun-
cil, he did not go to Rome to attend it. Although the Copernican system
played a role in the reform of the calendar, the new Gregorian calendar
(which was implemented in 1582 during the papacy of Gregory XIII) was
based on non-Copernican ideas. Although Copernicus’ book was not offi-
cially condemned (before 1616), it· was widely censured. See Rosen 1958;
10. Actually Poland.
11. Paul of Middelburg (1445-1533).


§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 113

efforts to acquire more understanding and certainty about those ce-
lestial motions; and so he undertook this study, and, by truly Her-
culean labor and by his admirable mind, he made so much progress
in this science and acquired such an exact knowledge of the periods
of celestial motions that he earned the title of supreme astronomer;
then in accordance with his doctrine not only was the calendar regu-
larized, but tables of all planetary motions were constructed. Having
expounded this doctrine in six parts, he published it at the request of
the Cardinal of Capua12 and of the Bishop of Kulm; 13 and since he
had undertaken this task and these labors on orders from the Supreme
Pontiff, he dedicated his book On Heavenly Revolutions to the succes-
sor of the latter, Paul III. Once printed this book was accepted by the
Holy Church, and it was read and studied all over the world, without
anyone ever having had the least scruple about its doctrine. Finally,
now that one is discovering how well-founded upon clear observa-
tions and necessary demonstrations this doctrine is, some persons
come along who, without having even seen the book, give its author
the reward of so much work by trying to have him declared a heretic;
this they do only in order to satisfY their special animosity, ground-
lessly conceived [313] against someone else who has no greater con-
nection with Copernicus than the endorsement of his doctrine.

Now, in matters of religion and of reputation I have the greatest
regard for how common people judge and view me; so, because of
the false aspersions my enemies so unjustly try to cast upon me, I have
thought it necessary to justifY myself by discussing the details of what
they produce to detest and to abolish this opinion, in short, to declare
it not just false but heretical. They always shield themselves with a
simulated religious zeal, and they also try to involve Holy Scripture
and to make it somehow subservient to their insincere objectives;
against the intention of Scripture and of the Holy Fathers (if I am not
mistaken), they want to extend, not to say abuse, its authority, so that
even for purely physical conclusions which are not matters of faith
one must totally abandon the senses and demonstrative arguments in
favor of any scriptural passage whose apparent words may contain a
different indication. Here I hope to demonstrate that I proceed with
much more pious and religious zeal than they when I propose not

12. Cardinal Nicolaus von Schoenberg (1472-1537), archbishop of Capua.
13. Tiedemann Giese (1480-1550), Polish friend of Copernicus.

114 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

that this book should not be condemned, but that it should not be
condemned without understanding, examining, or even seeing it, as
they would like. This is especially true since the author never treats of
things pertaining to religion and faith, nor uses arguments dependent
in any way on the authority of the Holy Scriptures, in which case he
might have interpreted them incorrectly; instead, he always limits
himself to physical conclusions pertaining to celestial motions, and he
treats of them with astronomical and geometrical demonstrations
based above all on sense experience and very accurate observations.
He proceeded in this manner not because he did not pay any atten-
tion to the passages of the Holy Scripture, but because he understood
very well that [314] if his doctrine was demonstrated it could not
contradict the properly interpreted Scripture. Hence, at the end of
the dedication, speaking to the Supreme Pontiff, he says: “There may
be triflers who though wholly ignorant of mathematics nevertheless
abrogate the right to make judgments about it because of some pas-
sage in Scripture wrongly twisted to their purpose, and will dare to
criticize and censure this undertaking of mine. I waste no time on
them, and indeed I despise their judgment as thoughtless. For it is
known that Lactantius, a distinguished writer in other ways, but no
mathematician, speaks very childishly about the shape of the Earth
when he makes fun of those who reported that it has the shape of a
globe. Mathematics is written for mathematicians, to whom this work
of mine, if my judgment does not deceive me, will seem to be of
value to the ecclesiastical Commonwealth over which Your Holiness
now holds dominion.”14

Of this sort are also those who try to argue that this author should
be condemned, without examining him; and to show that this is not
only legitimate but a good thing, they use the authority of Scripture,
of experts in sacred theology, and of sacred Councils. I feel reverence
for these authorities and hold them supreme, so that I should consider
it most reckless to want to contradict them when they are used in ac-
cordance with the purpose of the Holy Church; similarly, I do not
think it is wrong to speak out when it seems that someone, out of
personal interest, wants to use them in a way different from the holi-
est intention of the Holy Church. Thus, while also believing that my
sincerity will become self-evident, I declare not only that I intend to

14. Here quoted from Copernicus 1976, 26-27.

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 115

submit freely to the correction of any errors in matters pertaining to
religion which I may have committed in this essay due to my igno-
rance, but I also declare that on these subjects I do not want to quar-
rel with anyone, even if the points are debatable. For my purpose is
nothing but the following: if these reflections, which are far from my
own profession, should contain (besides errors) anything that may
lead someone to advance a useful caution for the Holy Church in her
deliberations about the [315] Copernican system, then let it be ac-
cepted with whatever profit superiors will deem appropriate; if not,
let my essay be torn up and burned, for I do not intend or pretend to
gain from it any advantage that is not pious or Catholic. Moreover,
although I have heard with my own ears many of the things which I
mention, I freely grant to whoever said them that they did not say
them, if they so wish, and I admit that I may have misunderstood
them; thus what I answer should not apply to them, but to whoever
holds that opinion.

So the reason they advance to condemn the opinion of the earth’s
mobility and sun’s stability is this: since in many places in the Holy
Scripture one reads that the sun moves and the earth stands still, and
since Scripture can never lie or err, it follows as a necessary conse-
quence that the opinion of those who want to assert the sun to be
motionless and the earth moving is erroneous and damnable.

[§4.2.2] The first thing to note about this argument is the following.
It is most pious to say and most prudent to take for granted that Holy
Scripture can never lie, as long as its true meaning has been grasped;
but I do not think one can deny that this is frequently recondite and
very different from what appears to be the literal meaning of the
words. From this it follows that, if in interpreting it someone were
to limit himself always to the pure literal meaning, and if the latter
were wrong, then he could make Scripture appear to be full not only
of contradictions and false propositions, but also of serious heresies
and blasphemies; for one would have to attribute to God feet, hands,
eyes, and bodily sensations, as well as human feelings like anger, con-
trition, and hatred, and such conditions as the forgetfulness of things
past and the ignorance of future ones. Since these propositions dic-
tated by the Holy Spirit were expressed by the sacred writers in such
a way as to accommodate the capacities of the very unrefined and
undisciplined masses, therefore for those who deserve to rise above
the common people it is necessary that wise interpreters [316]

116 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

formulate the true meaning and indicate the specific reasons why it
is expressed by such words. This doctrine is so commonplace and
so definite among all theologians that it would be superfluous to
present any testimony for it.

From this I think one can very reasonably deduce that, whenever
the same Holy Scripture has seen fit to assert any physical conclusion
(especially on things that are abstruse and difficult to understand), it
has followed the same rule, in order not to sow confusion into the
minds of the common people and make them more obstinate against
dogmas involving higher mysteries. In fact, as I said and as one can
clearly see, for the sole purpose of accommodating popular under-
standing, Scripture has not abstained from concealing the most im-
portant truths, attributing even to God characteristics that are
contrary to or very far from His essence; given this, who will cate-
gorically maintain that in speaking incidentally of the earth, water,
sun, or other created thing Scripture has set aside such regard and has
chosen to limit itself rigorously to the literal and narrow meanings of
the words? This would be especially implausible when mentioning
features of these created things which are very remote from popular
understanding, and which are not at all pertinent to the primary pur-
pose of the Holy Writ, that is, to the worship of God and the salva-
tion of souls.

Therefore, I think that in disputes about natural phenomena one
must begin not with the authority of scriptural passages, but with
sense experiences and necessary demonstrations. For the Holy Scrip-
ture and nature derive equally from the Godhead, the former as the
dictation of the Holy Spirit and the latter as the most obedient ex-
ecutrix of God’s orders; moreover, to accommodate the understand-
ing of the common people it is appropriate for Scripture to say many
things that are different (in appearance and in regard to the literal
meaning of the words) from the absolute truth; on the other hand,
nature is inexorable and immutable, never violates the terms of the
laws imposed upon her, and does not care whether or not her recon-
dite reasons and ways of operating are disclosed to human under-
standing; [317] but not every scriptural assertion is bound to
obligations as severe as every natural phenomenon; finally, God re-
veals Himself to us no less excellently in the effects of nature than in
the sacred words of Scripture, as Tertullian perhaps meant when he
said, “We postulate that God ought first to be known by nature, and
afterwards further known by doctrine-by nature through His works, I

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 117

by doctrine through official teaching” (Against Marcion, !.18);15 and so
it seems that a natural phenomenon which is placed before our eyes
by sense experience or proved by necessary demonstrations should
not be called into question, let alone condemned, on account of
scriptural passages whose words appear to have a different meaning.

However, by this I do not wish to imply that one should not have
the highest regard for passages of Holy Scripture; indeed, after be-
coming certain of some physical conclusions, we should use these as
very appropriate aids to the correct interpretation of such Scriptures
and to the investigation of the truths they must contain, for they are
most true and agree with demonstrated truths. That is, I would say
that the authority of Holy Scripture aims chiefly at persuading men
about those articles and propositions which, surpassing all human rea-
son, could not be discovered by scientific research or by any other
means than through the mouth of the Holy Spirit himself Moreover,
even in regard to those propositions that are not articles of faith, the
authority of the same Holy Writ should have priority over the au-
thority of any human works composed not with the demonstrative
method but with either pure narration or even probable reasons; 16

this principle should be considered appropriate and necessary inas-
much as divine wisdom surpasses all human judgment and specula-
tion. However, I do not think one has to believe that the same God
who has given us senses, language, and intellect would want to set
aside the use of these and give us by other means the information we
can acquire with them, so that we would deny our senses and reason
even in the case of those physical conclusions which are placed before
our eyes and intellect by our sense experiences or by necessary
demonstrations. This is especially implausible for those sciences dis-
cussed in Scripture to a very minor extent and [318] with discon-
nected statements; such is precisely the case of astronomy, so little of
which is contained therein that one does not find there even the

15. Tertullian 1972, 47; I have made some slight emendations to Evans’
translation of this passage.
16. Here my translation of this sentence is a slight emendation of the one
given in Finocchiaro 1989, 94. This improved translation results from my
now taking into account the emendation in Galileo’s own wording of this
sentence in the first published edition of the Letter to the Grand Duchess
Christina (Galilei 1636, 14; cf. Motta 2000, 97-98; Finocchiaro 2005,
379-80 n. 56), as well as the scholarly discussions found in Fantoli 2003,
437-38 n. 39, and McMullin 2005b, 109, 116.

118 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

names of the planets, except for the sun, 17 the moon, and only once
or twice Venus, under the name of Morning Star. Thus, if the sacred
authors had had in mind to teach people about the arrangement and
motions of the heavenly bodies, and consequently to have us acquire
this information from Holy Scripture, then, in my opinion, they
would not have discussed so little of the topic-that is to say, almost
nothing in comparison with the innumerable admirable conclusions
which are contained and demonstrated in this science. Indeed, it is the
opinion of the holiest and most learned Fathers that the writers of
Holy Scripture not only did not pretend to teach us about the struc-
ture and the motions of the heavens and of the stars, and their shape,
size, and distance, but that they deliberately refrained from doing it,
even though they knew all these things very well. For example, one
reads the following words in St. Augustine (On the Literal Interpretation

of Genesis, book 2, chapter 9): “It is also customary to ask what one
should believe about the shape and arrangement of heaven according
to our Scriptures. In fact, many people argue a great deal about these
things, which with greater prudence our authors omitted, which are
of no use for eternal life to those who study them, and (what is worse)
which take up a lot of time that ought to be spent on things pertain-
ing to salvation. For what does it matter to me whether heaven, like
a sphere, completely surrounds the earth, which is balanced at the
center of the universe, or whether like a discus it covers the earth on
one side from above? However, since the issue here is the authority of
Scripture, let me repeat a point I have made more than once; that is,
there is a danger that someone who does not understand the divine
words may find in our books or infer from them something about
these topics which seems to contradict received opinions, and then he
might not believe at all the other useful things contained in its pre-
cepts, stories, and assertions; therefore, briefly, it should be said that
our authors did know the truth about the shape of heaven, but that
the Spirit of God, which was speaking through them, did not want
to teach men these things which are of no use to salvation.” (The
same opinion is found in Peter Lombard’s Book of Sentences.) The same
contempt which the sacred writers had for the investigation of such
properties of heavenly bodies is repeated by St. Augustine in the

17. The term planet originally meant “wandering star,” namely, a heavenly
body that appears to move relative to the fixed stars as well as to the earth,
thus subsuming the sun and the moon.

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 119

following chapter 10, in regard to the question whether heaven
should be thought to be in motion or standing still. He writes: “Some
brethren have also advanced a question about the motion of heaven,
[319] namely, whether heaven moves or stands still. For if it moves,
they say, how is it a firmament? But if it stands still, how do the stars
which are thought to be fixed in it revolve from east to west, the
northern ones completing shorter circuits near the pole, so that
heaven seems to rotate like a sphere (if there is at the other end an-
other pole invisible to us) or like a discus (if instead there is no other
pole)? To them I answer that these things should be examined with
very subtle and demanding arguments, to determine truly whether or
not it is so; but I do not have the time to undertake and to pursue
these investigations, nor should such time be available to those whom
we desire to instruct for their salvation and for the needs and benefit
of the Holy Church.”

Let us now come down from these things to our particular point.
We have seen that the Holy Spirit did not want to teach us whether
heaven moves or stands still, nor whether its shape is spherical or like
a discus or extended along a plane, nor whether the earth is located
at its center or on one side. So it follows as a necessary consequence
that the Holy Spirit also did not intend to teach us about other ques-
tions of the same kind and connected to those just mentioned in such
a way that without knowing the truth about the former one cannot
decide the latter, such as the question of the motion or rest of the
earth or sun. But, if the Holy Spirit deliberately avoided teaching us
such propositions, inasmuch as they are of no relevance to His inten-
tion (that is, to our salvation), how can one now say that to hold this
rather than that proposition on this topic is so important that one is a
principle of faith and the other erroneous? Thus, can an opinion be
both heretical and irrelevant to the salvation of souls? Or can one say
that the Holy Spirit chose not to teach us something relevant to our
salvation? Here I would say what I heard from an ecclesiastical person
in a very eminent position (Cardinal Baronio18

), namely, that the in-
tention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how one goes to heaven and
not how heaven goes.

But let us go back and examine the importance of necessary
demonstrations and of sense experiences in conclusions about natural
phenomena, and how much weight has been assigned to them by

18. Cesare Baronio (1538-1607), appointed cardinal in 1596.

120 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

learned and holy theologians. Among hundreds of instances of such
testimony we have the following. Near the beginning of his work On

Genesis Pererius asserts: [320] “In treating of Moses’ doctrine, one
must take diligent care to completely avoid holding and saying posi-
tively and categorically anything which contradicts the decisive obser-
vations and reasons of philosophy or other disciplines; in fact, since all
truths always agree with one another, the truth of Holy Scripture
cannot be contrary to the true reasons and observations of human
doctrines.” And in St. Augustine (Letter to Marcellinus, section 7),
one reads: “If, against the most manifest and reliable testimony of rea-
son, anything be set up claiming to have the authority of the Holy
Scriptures, he who does this does it through a misapprehension of
what he has read and is setting up against the truth not the real mean-
ing of Scripture, which he has failed to discover, but an opinion of
his own; he alleges not what he has found in the Scriptures, but what
he has found in himself as their interpreter.”19

Because of this, and because (as we said above) two truths cannot
contradict one another, the task of a wise interpreter is to strive to
fathom the true meaning of the sacred texts; this will undoubtedly
agree with those physical conclusions of which we are already certain
and sure through clear observations or necessary demonstrations. In-
deed, besides saying (as we have) that in many places Scripture is open
to interpretations far removed from the literal meaning of the words,
we should add that we cannot assert with certainty that all interpreters
speak with divine inspiration, since if this were so then there would
be no disagreement among them about the meaning of the same pas-
sages; therefore, I should think it would be very prudent not to allow
anyone to commit and in a way oblige scriptural passages to have to
maintain the truth of any physical conclusions whose contrary could
ever be proved to us by the senses or demonstrative and necessary rea-
sons. Indeed, who wants the human mind put to death? Who is going
to claim that everything in the world which is observable and know-
able has already been seen and discovered? Perhaps those who on
other occasions admit, quite correctly, that the things we know are a
very small part of the things we do not know? Indeed, we also have
it from the mouth of the Holy Spirit that God “hath delivered the

19. Here quoted from Mourant 1964, 110. This letter is labeled number 143
in most editions of Augustine’s works. ‘


§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 121

world to their consideration, so that man cannot find out the work
which God hath made from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes,
chapter 3);20 so one must not, in my opinion, contradict this state-
ment and block the way of freedom of philosophizing about things
[321] of the world and of nature, as if they had all already been dis-
covered and disclosed with certainty. Nor should it be considered
rash to be dissatisfied with opinions which are almost universally ac-
cepted; nor should people become indignant if in a dispute about nat-
ural phenomena someone disagrees with the opinion they favor,
especially in regard to problems which have been controversial for
thousands of years among very great philosophers, such as the sun’s
rest and earth’s motion. This opinion has been held by Pythagoras and
his whole school, by Heraclides of Pontus, by Philolaus (teacher of
Plato), and by Plato himself (as Aristotle and Plutarch mention); the
latter writes in the “Life of Numa” that when Plato was old he said
it was very absurd to believe otherwise. The same opinion was ac-
cepted by Aristarchus of Samos (as Archimedes tells us), by the math-
ematician Seleucus, by the philosopher Hicetas (according to

), and by many others; finally, it was amplified and confirmed
with many observations and demonstrations by Nicolaus Copernicus.
Furthermore, in the book On Comets, the very distinguished philoso-
pher Seneca tells us that one should attempt to ascertain with the
greatest diligence whether the daily rotation belongs to the heavens or
to the earth.

Therefore, it would perhaps be wise and useful advice not to add
without necessity to the articles pertaining to salvation and to the def-
inition of the faith, against the firmness of which there is no danger
that any valid and effective doctrine could ever emerge. If this is so,
it would really cause confusion to add them upon request from per-
sons about whom not only do we not know whether they speak with
heavenly inspiration, but we clearly see that they are deficient in the
intelligence necessary first to understand and then to criticize the
demonstrations by which the most acute sciences proceed in confirm-
ing similar conclusions. However, if I may be allowed to state my
opinion, I should say further that it would be more appropriate to the
dignity and majesty of Holy Writ to take steps to insure that not

20. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (Douay Version).
21. Flora (1953, 1019 n. 4) gives the following reference: Cicero, Academia,
II, 39, 123.

122 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

every superficial and vulgar writer can lend credibility to his writings
[322] (very often based on worthless fabrications) by sprinkling them
with scriptural passages; these are often interpreted, or rather dis-
torted, in ways which are as remote from the true intention of
Scripture as they are ridiculously close to the aims of those who os-
tentatiously adorn their writings with them. Many examples of such
an abuse could be adduced, but I shall limit myself to two which are
not far from these astronomical subjects. One of them consists of the
writings that were published against the Medicean Planets, which I
recently discovered, and against the existence of which many passages
of Holy Scripture were advanced; now that these planets can be seen
by the whole world, I should very much like to hear in what new
ways those same opponents interpret Scripture and excuse their blun-
der. The other example involves someone who has recently argued in
print against astronomers and philosophers, to the effect that the
moon does not receive its light from the sun but is itself luminous; ul-
timately he confirms, or rather convinces himself to be confirming,
this fancy with various scriptural passages, which he thinks could not
be accounted for if his opinion were not true and necessary. Never-
theless, it is as clear as sunlight that the moon is in itself dark.

It is thus obvious that, because these authors had not grasped the
true meaning of Scripture, if they had commanded much authority
they would have obliged it to compel others to hold as true conclu-
sions repugnant to manifest reasons and to the senses. This is an abuse
which I hope God will prevent from taking root or gaining influence,
because it would in a short time require the prohibition of all ratio-
cinative sciences. In fact, the number of men ill-suited to understand
adequately the Holy Scripture and the sciences is by nature much
greater than the number of intelligent ones; thus the former, by su-
perficially glancing through Scripture, would arrogate to themselves
the authority of decreeing over all questions about nature in virtue of
some word ill-understood by them and written by the sacred authors
for some other purpose; nor could the small [323] number of the in-
telligent ones restrain the furious torrent of the others, who would
find all the more followers, inasmuch as it is sweeter to be considered
wise without study and labor than to wear oneself out unrelentingly
in the pursuit of very arduous disciplines. However, we can render in-
finite thanks to the blessed God, whose benevolence frees us from this
fear while it strips such persons of any authority. The deliberating,
deciding, and decreeing about such important issues can be left to the

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 123

excellent wisdom and goodness of very prudent Fathers and to the
supreme authority of those who, guided by the Holy Spirit, can only
behave in a holy manner and will not permit the irresponsibility of
those others to gain influence. These sorts of men are, in my opin-
ion, those toward whom serious and saintly writers become angry,
not without reason. For instance, referring to the Holy Scripture, St.
Jerome writes: “The chatty old woman, the doting old man, and the
wordy sophist, one and all take in hand the Scriptures, rend them in
pieces and teach them before they have learned them. Some with
brows knit and bombastic words, balanced one against the other, phi-
losophize concerning the sacred writings among weak women. Oth-
ers-! blush to say it-learn of women what they are to teach men;
and as if this were not enough, they boldly explain to others what
they themselves by no means understand. I say nothing of persons
who, like myself, have been familiar with secular literature before
they have come to the study of the Holy Scriptures. Such men when
they charm the popular ear by the finish of their style suppose every
word they say to be a law of God. They do not deign to notice what
prophets and apostles have intended but they adapt conflicting pas-
sages to suit their own meaning, as if it were a grand way of teach-
ing-and not rather the faultiest of all-to misinterpret a writer’s
views and to force the Scriptures reluctantly to do their will” (Letter
No. 53, to Paulinus).22

[§4.2.3] Among such lay writers should not be numbered some
theologians whom I regard as men of profound learning and of the
holiest lifestyle, and whom I therefore hold in high esteem and
reverence. However, I cannot deny having some qualms, which I
consequently wish could be removed; for in disputes about natural
phenomena they seem to claim the right to force others by means of
the authority of Scripture to follow the opinion which they think is
most in accordance with its statements, and at the same time they be-
lieve they are not obliged to [324] answer observations and reasons to
the contrary. As an explanation and a justification of this opinion of

22. Here quoted from Schaff and Wace 1893, 99. Galileo indicates the num-
ber of this letter as 103, but there is no doubt that his quotation is from what
modern scholars and editors now designate as Letter No. 53. Further, I have
slightly altered the punctuation and spelling in Schaff and Wace’s translation
for the sake of uniformity and easier comprehension.

124 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

theirs, they say that theology is the queen of all the sciences and hence
must not in any way lower herself to accommodate the principles of
other less dignified disciplines subordinate to her; rather, these others
must submit to her as to a supreme empress and change and revise
their conclusions in accordance with theological rules and decrees;
moreover, they add that whenever in the subordinate science there is
a conclusion which is certain on the strength of demonstrations and
observations, and which is repugnant to some other conclusion found
in Scripture, the practitioners of that science must themselves undo
their own demonstrations and disclose the fallacies of their own obser-
vations, without help from theologians and scriptural experts; for, as
stated, it is not proper to the dignity of theology to stoop to the inves-
tigation of the fallacies in the subordinate sciences, but it is sufficient
for it to determine the truth of a conclusion with absolute authority
and with the certainty that it cannot err. Then they say that the phys-
ical conclusions in regard to which we must rely on Scripture, with-
out glossing or interpreting it in nonliteral ways, are those of which
Scripture always speaks in the same way, and which all the Holy
Fathers accept and interpret with the same meaning. Now, I happen
to have some specific ideas on these claims, and I shall propose them
in order to receive the proper advice from whoever is more compe-
tent than I in these subjects; I always defer to their judgment.

To begin with, I think one may fall into something of an equivo-
cation if one does not distinguish the senses in which sacred theology
is preeminent and worthy of the title of queen. For it could be such
insofar as whatever is taught in all the other sciences is found ex-
plained and demonstrated in it by means of more excellent methods
and of more sublime principles, in the way that, for example, the rules
for measuring fields and for accounting are better contained in Eu-
clid’s geometry and arithmetic than they are [325] in the practices of
surveyors and accountants; or else insofar as the topic on which the-
ology focuses surpasses in dignity all the other topics which are the
subject of the other sciences, and also insofar as its teaching proceeds
in more sublime ways. I do not believe that theologians who are ac-
quainted with the other sciences can assert that theology deserves the
royal title and authority in the first sense; I think no one will say that
geometry, astronomy, music, and medicine are treated more excel-
lently and exactly in the sacred books than in Archimedes, Ptolemy,
Boethius, and Galen. So it seems that the royal preeminence belongs
to it in the second sense, namely, because of the eminence of the

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 125

topic, and because of the admirable teaching of divine revelation in
conclusions which could not be learned by men in any other way, and
which concern chiefly the gaining of eternal bliss. So theology does
deal with the loftiest divine contemplations, and for this it does oc-
cupy the royal throne and command the highest authority; and it does
not come down to the lower and humbler speculations of the inferior
sciences but rather (as stated above) it does not bother with them inas-
much as they are irrelevant to salvation. If all this is so, then officials and
experts of theology should not arrogate to themselves the authority to
issue decrees in the professions they neither exercise nor study; for this
would be the same as if an absolute prince, knowing he had unlimited
power to issue orders and to compel obedience, but being neither a
physician nor an architect, wanted to direct medical treatment and the
construction of buildings, resulting in serious danger to the life of the
unfortunate sick and in the obvious collapse of structures.

Furthermore, to require astronomers to endeavor to protect them-
selves against their own observations and demonstrations, namely, to
show that these are nothing but fallacies and sophisms, is to demand
they do the impossible; for [326] that would be to require not only
that they should not see what they see and not understand what they
understand, but also that in their research they should find the con-
trary of what they find. That is, before they can do this, they should
be shown how to manage having the lower faculties of the soul direct
the higher ones, so that the imagination and the will could and would
believe the contrary of what the intellect thinks (I am always speak-
ing of purely physical propositions which are not matters of faith,
rather than of supernatural propositions which are articles of faith). I
should like to ask these very prudent Fathers to agree to examine very
diligently the difference between debatable and demonstrative doc-
trines. Keeping firmly in mind the compelling power of necessary de-
ductions, they should come to see more clearly that it is not within
the power of the practitioners of demonstrative sciences to change
opinion at will, choosing now this now that one; that there is a great
difference between giving orders to a mathematician or a philosopher
and giving them to a merchant or a lawyer; and that demonstrated
conclusions about natural and celestial phenomena cannot be changed
with the same ease as opinions about what is or is not legitimate in a
contract, in a rental, or in commerce. This difference has been com-
pletely recognized by the Holy and very learned Fathers, as shown by
their having made [327] a great effort to confute many philosophical

126 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

arguments or, to be more exact, fallacies, and may be explicitly read
in some of them. In particular, we read the following words in St.
Augustine (On the Literal Interpretation if Genesis, book 1, chapter 21):
“There should be no doubt about the following: whenever the ex-
perts of this world can truly demonstrate something about natural
phenomena, we should show it not to be contrary to our Scriptures;
but, whenever in their books they teach something contrary to the
Holy Writ, we should without any doubt hold it to be most false, and
also show this by any means we can; and in this way we should keep
the faith of our Lord, in whom are hidden all the treasures of knowl-
edge, in order not to be seduced by the verbosity of false philosophy
or frightened by the superstition of fake religion.”

These words imply, I think, the following doctrine: in the learned
books of worldly authors are contained some propositions about na-
ture which are truly demonstrated and others which are simply
taught; in regard to the former, the task of wise theologians is to show
that they are not contrary to Holy Scripture; as for the latter (which
are taught but not demonstrated with necessity), if they contain any-
thing contrary to the Holy Writ, then they must be considered indu-
bitably false and must be demonstrated such by every possible means.
So physical conclusions which have been truly demonstrated should
not be given a lower place than scriptural passages, but rather one
should clarifY how such passages do not contradict those conclusions;
therefore, before condemning a physical proposition, one must show
that it is not conclusively demonstrated. Furthermore, it is much
more reasonable and natural that this be done not by those who hold
it to be true, but by those who regard it as false; for the fallacies of an
argument can be found much more easily by those who regard it as
false than by those who think it is true and conclusive, and indeed
here it will happen that the more the followers of a given opinion
thumb through books, examine the arguments, repeat the observa-
tions, and check the experiments, the more they will be testing [328]
their belief. In fact, Your Highness knows what happened to the late
mathematician of the University of Pisa:23 in his old age he undertook
an examination of Copernicus’ doctrine with the hope of being able
to refute it solidly, since he considered it false, even though he had
never examined it; but it so happened that as soon as he understood

23. Antonio Santucci (d. 1613).



§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 127

its foundations, procedures, and demonstrations he became convinced
of it, and he turned from opponent to very strong supporter. I could
also name other mathematicians (e.g., Clavius24

) who, influenced by
my recent discoveries, have admitted the necessity of changing the
previous conception of the constitution of the world, since it can no
longer stand up in any way.

It would be very easy to remove from the world the new opinion
and doctrine if it were sufficient to shut the mouth of only one per-
son; this is perhaps the belief of those who measure the judgments of
others in terms of their own, and who thus think it is impossible that
such an opinion can stand up and find followers. However, this busi-
ness proceeds otherwise. For in order to accomplish that objective, it
would be necessary not only to prohibit Copernicus’ book and the
writings of the other authors who follow the same doctrine, but also
to ban all astronomical science completely; moreover, one would have
to forbid men to look toward the heavens, so that they would not see
that Mars and Venus are sometimes very close to and sometimes very
far from the earth (the difference being that the latter sometimes ap-
pears forty times greater than at other times, and the former sixty
times greater); nor should they be allowed to see the same Venus ap-
pear sometimes round and sometimes armed with very sharp horns25

and many other observable phenomena which can in no way be
adapted to the Ptolemaic system but provide very strong arguments
for Copernicanism. At the moment, because of many new [329] ob-
servations and because of many scholars’ contributions to its study,
one is discovering daily that Copernicus’ position is truer and truer
and his doctrine firmer and firmer; so to prohibit Copernicus now,
after being permitted for so many years when he was less widely fol-
lowed and less well confirmed, would seem to me an encroachment
on the truth and an attempt to step up its concealment and suppres-
sion in proportion to how much more it appears obvious and clear.
Not to ban the whole book in its entirety, but to condemn as erro-
neous only this particular proposition, would cause greater harm to

24. Christoph Clavius (1538-1612), a Jesuit, professor at the Collegia Ro-
mano, one of the leading mathematicians and astronomers of his time, who
was on friendly terms with Galileo.
25. Both the variation in the apparent magnitudes of Mars and Venus and the
phases of Venus had been previously undetected, but they became observable
with the telescope soon after the publication of The Sidereal Messenger.

128 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

souls, if I am not mistaken; for it would expose them to the possibil-
ity of seeing the proof of a proposition which it would then be sin-
ful to believe. To prohibit the entire science would be no ditTerent
than to reject hundreds of statements from the Holy Writ, which
teach us how the glory and the greatness of the supreme God are
marvelously seen in all of His works and by divine grace are read in
the open book of the heavens. Nor should anyone think that the
reading of the very lofty words written on those pages is completed
by merely seeing the sun and the stars give off light, rise, and set,
which is as far as the eyes of animals and of common people reach;
on the contrary, those pages contain such profound mysteries and
such sublime concepts that the vigils, labors, and studies of hundreds
of the sharpest minds in uninterrupted investigations for thousands of
years have not yet completely fathomed them. Even idiots realize that

what their eyes see when they look at the external appearance of a
human body is very insignificant in comparison to the admirable con-
trivances found in it by a competent and diligent philosopher-

anatomist when he investigates how so many muscles, tendons,
nerves, and bones are used; when he examines the function of the
heart and of the other principal organs; when he searches for the seat
of the vital faculties; when he observes the wonderful structures of
the senses; and, with no end to his astonishment and curiosity, when
he studies the location of the imagination, of memory, [330] and of
reason. Likewise, what the unaided sense of sight shows is almost
nothing in comparison to the sublime marvels which the mind of
intelligent investigators reveals in the heavens through long and accu-
rate observations. This is all I can think of in regard to this particular


[§4.2.4] Let us now examine their other argument: that physical
propositions concerning which Scripture always says the same thing,
and which all the Fathers unanimously accept in the same sense,
should be understood in accordance with the literal meaning of the
words, without glosses or interpretations, and should be accepted and
held as most true; and that, since the sun’s motion and earth’s rest is a
proposition of this sort, consequently it is an article of faith to hold
it as true, and the contrary opinion is erroneous. Here it should be
noticed, first, that some physical propositions are of a type such that
by any human speculation and reasoning one can only attain a prob-
able opinion and a verisimilar conjecture about them, rather than a

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 129

certain and demonstrated science; an example is whether the stars are
animate. Others are of a type such that either one has or one may
firmly believe that it is possible to have, complete certainty on the
basis of experiments, long observations, and necessary demonstra-
tions; examples are whether or not the earth and the sun move, and
whether or not the earth is spherical. As for the first type, I have no
doubt at all that, where human reason cannot reach, and where con-
sequently one cannot have a science, but only opinion and faith, it is
appropriate piously to conform absolutely to the literal meaning of
Scripture. In regard to the others, however, I should think, as stated
above, that it would be proper to ascertain the facts first, so that they
could guide us in finding the true meaning of Scripture; these would
be found to agree absolutely with demonstrated facts, even though
prima facie the words would sound otherwise, since two truths can
never contradict each other. This doctrine seems to me very [331]
correct and certain, inasmuch as I find it exactly written in St. Au-
gustine. At one point he discusses the shape of heaven and what one
should believe it to be, given that what astronomers affirm seems to
be contrary to Scripture, since the former consider it round while the
latter calls it stretched out like hide.26 He decides one should not have
the slightest worry that Scripture may contradict astronomers: one

should accept its authority if what they say is false and based only on
conjecture typical of human weakness; however, if what they say is
proved with indubitable reasons, this Holy Father does not say that as-
tronomers themselves be ordered to refute their demonstrations and
declare their conclusion,.false, but he says one must show that what
Scripture asserts about the hide is not contrary to those true demon-
strations. Here are his words (On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis,
book 2, chapter 9): “However, someone asks how what is written in
our books, ‘Who stretchest out the heavens like a hide,127 does not

26. This seems to refer to Psalm 103:2 (Douay), which reads in part “Who
stretchest out the heaven like a pavilion,” corresponding to Psalm 104:2 in
the King James Version, which reads “who stretch est out the heavens like a
curtain.” Another relevant passage is Isaiah 40:22. Russo (1968, 346, nn. 1
and 2) comments that “neither St. Augustine nor Galileo seems to have un-
derstood that the hide concerned the hide of a tent,” and that “the ‘hide’ in
question is not a hide stretched out flat ‘but the hide of a tent.'”
27. This presumably corresponds to Psalm 103:2 (Douay), Psalm 104:2 (King
James), and Isaiah 40:22; however, I have translated the word pel/em in this
sentence as hide because this is how Galileo understands it here.

130 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

contradict those who attribute to heaven the shape of a sphere. Now,
if what they say is false, let it contradict them by all means, for the
truth lies in what is said by divine authority rather than what is con-
jectured by human weakness. But if, by chance, they can support it
with such evidence that one cannot doubt it, then we have to demon-
strate that what our books say about the hide is not contrary to those
true reasons.” Then he goes on to warn us that we must not be less
careful in reconciling a scriptural passage with a demonstrated physical
proposition than with another scriptural passage that may appear con-
trary. Indeed I think the caution of this saint deserves to be admired
and emulated; for even in the case of obscure conclusions concerning
which one cannot be sure whether they can be the subject of a science
based on human demonstrations, he is very careful in declaring what
one should believe. This can be seen from what he writes at the end
of the second book of On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis, when dis-
cussing whether stars should be considered animate: “Although at
present this cannot be easily known, nevertheless I think that in the
course of examining Scripture one may find more appropriate passages
whereby we would be entitled, if not to prove something for certain,
at least to believe something on this topic based on the words of the
sacred authority. Now then, always practicing a pious and serious
moderation, we ought not to believe anything lightly about an obscure
subject, lest [332] we reject (out of love for our error) something
which later may be truly shown not to be in any way contrary to the
holy books of either the Old or New Testament.”

From this and other places it seems to me, if I am not mistaken,
the intention of the Holy Fathers is that in questions about natural
phenomena which do not involve articles of faith one must first con-
sider whether they are demonstrated with certainty or known by sense
experience, or whether it is possible to have such knowledge and
demonstration. When one is in possession of this, since it too is a gift
from God, one must apply it to the investigation of the true mean-
ings of the Holy Writ at those places which apparently seem to read
differently. These meanings will undoubtedly be grasped by wise the-
ologians, along with the reasons why the Holy Spirit has sometimes
wanted to hide them under words with a different literal meaning,
whether in order to test us or for some other reason unknown to me.

Returning to the preceding argument, if we keep in mind the pri-
mary aim of the Holy Writ, I do not think that its always saying the
same thing should make us disregard this rule; for if to accommodate

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 131

popular understanding Scripture finds it necessary once to express a
proposition with words whose meaning differs from the essence of
the proposition, why should it not follow the same practice for the
same reason every time it has to say the same thing? On the contrary,
I think that to do otherwise would increase popular confusion and di-
minish the propensity to believe on the part of the people. Further-
more, in regard to the rest or motion of the sun and of the earth,
experience clearly shows that to accommodate popular understanding
it is indeed necessary to assert what the words of Scripture say; for
even in our age when people are more refined, they are kept in the
same opinion by reasons which, when carefully examined and pon-
dered, will be found to be most frivolous and by observations which
are either completely false or totally irrelevant; nor can one try to
move them since they are not capable of understanding the contrary
reasons, which are dependent on extremely delicate observations and
on subtle demonstrations [333] supported by abstractions whose un-
derstanding requires a very vivid imagination. Therefore, even if the
sun’s rest and the earth’s motion were more than certain and demon-
strated among the experts, it would still be necessary to utter the con-
trary in order to maintain credibility with large numbers of people;
for among a thousand laymen who might be asked about these details,
perhaps not even one will be found who would not answer that he
firmly believes that the sun moves and the earth stands still. However,
no one should take this very common popular consensus as an argu-
ment for the truth of what is being asserted; for if we ask the same
men about the reasons and motives why they believe that way, and if
on the other hand we listen to the observations and demonstrations
which induce those other few to believe the opposite, we shall find
that the latter are convinced by very solid reasons and the former by
the simplest appearances and by empty and ridiculous considerations.

It is therefore clear that it was necessary to attribute motion to the
sun and rest to the earth in order not to confuse the meager under-
standing of the people, and not to make them obstinately reluctant to
give assent to the principal dogmas which are absolutely articles of
faith; but if it was necessary to do this, it is no wonder that this was
most prudently done in divine Scripture. Indeed I shall say further
that it was not only respect for popular inability, but also the current
opinion of those times, that made the sacred writers accommodate
themselves to received usage rather than to the essence of the matter
in regard to subjects which are not necessary for eternal bliss. In fact,

132 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

speaking of this St. Jerome writes: “As if in the Holy Scriptures many
things were not said in accordance with the opinion of the time when
the facts are being reported, and not in accordance with the truth of
the matter” (Commentary on chapter 28 of Jeremiah). Elsewhere the
same saint says: “In Scripture it is customary for the historian to re-
port many opinions as they were accepted by everyone at that time”
(Commentary on chapter 13 of Matthew). Finally, on the words in
chapter 27 of Job, “He stretched out the north [334] over the empty
space, and hangeth the earth upon nothing,”28 St. Thomas notes that
Scripture calls empty and nothing the space which embraces and sur-
rounds the earth, and which we know is not empty but full of air;
nevertheless, he says that Scripture calls it empty and nothing in order
to accommodate the belief of the people, who think there is nothing
in this space. Here are St. Thomas’ words: “The upper hemisphere of
the heavens seems to us nothing but a space full of air, though com-
mon people consider it empty; thus it speaks in accordance with the
judgment of common people, as is the custom in Holy Scripture.”
Now from this I think one can obviously argue that analogously the
Holy Scripture had a much greater reason to call the sun moving and
the earth motionless. For if we test the understanding of common
people, we shall find them much more incapable of becoming con-
vinced of the sun’s rest and earth’s motion than of the fact that the
space surrounding us is full of air; therefore, if the sacred authors re-
frained from attempting to persuade the people about this point,
which was not that difficult for their understanding, it seems very rea-
sonable to think that they followed the same style in regard to other
propositions which are much more recondite.

Indeed, Copernicus himself knew how much our imagination is
dominated by an old habit and by a way of conceiving things which
is already familiar to us since infancy, and so he did not want to in-
crease the confusion and difficulty of his abstraction. Thus, after first
demonstrating that the motions which appear to us as belonging to
the sun or the firmament [335] really belong to the earth, then, in the
process of compiling their tables and applying them in practice, he
speaks of them as belonging to the sun and to the part of heaven
above the planets; for example, he speaks of the rising and setting of
the sun and of the stars, of changes in the obliquity of the zodiac and
in the equinoctial points, of the mean motion and the anomaly and

28. Job 26:7 (Douay).

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 133

the ーイッウエィ。ーィ。・イ・ウゥウ R
セ@ of the sun, and other similar things, which re-

ally belong to the earth. We call facts these things which appear to us
as facts because, being attached to the earth, we are part of all its mo-
tions, and consequently we cannot directly detect these things in it
but find it useful to consider it in relation to the heavenly bodies in
which they appear to us. Therefore, note how appropriate it is to ac-
commodate our usual manner of thinking.

Next consider the principle that the collective consensus of the Fa-
thers, when they all accept in the same sense a physical proposition
from Scripture, should authenticate it in such a way that it becomes
an article of faith to hold it. I should think that at most this ought to
apply only to those conclusions which the Fathers discussed and in-
spected with great diligence and debated on both sides of the issue
and for which then they all agreed to reject one side and hold the
other. However, the earth’s motion and sun’s rest are not of this sort,
given that in those times this opinion was totally forgotten and far
from academic dispute, and was not examined, let alone followed, by
anyone; thus one may believe that the Fathers did not even think of
discussing it, since the scriptural passages, their own opinion, and
popular consensus were all in agreement, and no [336] contradiction
by anyone was heard. Therefore, it is not enough to say that all the
Fathers accept the earth’s rest, etc., and so it is an article of faith to
hold it; rather one would have to prove that they condemned the
contrary opinion. For I can always say that their failure to reflect upon
it and to discuss it made them leave it and allow it as the current opin-
ion, but not as something resolved and established. I think I can say
this with very good reason: for either the Fathers reflected upon this
conclusion as if it were controversial or they did not; if not, then they
could not have decided anything about it, even in their minds, nor
should their failure oblige us to accept those principles which they did
not, even in intention, impose; whereas if they examined it with care,
then they would have condemned it had they judged it to be erro-
neous; but there is no record of their having done this. Indeed, after
some theologians began to examine it, one sees that they did not
deem it to be erroneous, as one can read in Diego de Zuniga’s Com-
mentaries on Job, in regard to the words “Who shaketh the earth out of

29. In mathematical astronomy, prosthaphaeresis is “the correction necessary
to find the ‘true,’ i.e., actual apparent, place of a planet, etc. from the mean
place” (Oxford English Dictionary).

134 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

her place, etc.” in chapter 9, verse 6; he discusses the Copernican po-
sition at length and concludes that the earth’s motion is not against

Furthermore, I would have doubts about the truth of this prescrip-
tion, namely, whether it is true that the Church obliges one to hold
as articles of faith such conclusions about natural phenomena, which
are characterized only by the unanimous interpretation of all the Fa-
thers. I believe it may be that those who think in this manner may
want to amplifY the decrees of the Councils in favor of their own
opinion. For I do not see that in this regard they prohibit anything
but tampering, in ways contrary to the interpretation of the Holy
Church or of the collective consensus of the Fathers, with those
propositions which are articles of faith, or which involve morals and
pertain [337] to edification according to Christian doctrine; so speaks
the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent. However, the motion or
rest of the earth or the sun are not articles of faith and are not against
morals; nor does anyone want to twist scriptural passages to contra-
dict the Holy Church or the Fathers. Indeed, those who put forth this
doctrine have never used scriptural passages, for it always remains the
prerogative of serious and wise theologians to interpret the said pas-
sages in accordance with their true meaning. Moreover, it is very ob-
vious that the decrees of the Councils agree with the Holy Fathers in
regard to these details; for they are very far from wanting to accept as
articles of faith similar physical conclusions or to reject as erroneous
the contrary opinions, so much so that they prefer to pay attention to
the primary intention of the Holy Church and consider it useless to
spend time trying to ascertain those conclusions. Let me tell Your
Most Serene Highness what St. Augustine (On the Literal Interpretation
of Genesis, book 2, chapter 10) answers to those brethren who ask
whether it is true that the heavens move or stand still: “To them I an-
swer that these things should be examined with very subtle and de-
manding arguments, to determine truly whether or not it is so; but I
do not have the time to undertake and to pursue these investigations,
nor should such time be available to those whom we desire to instruct
for their salvation and for the needs and benefit of the Holy Church.”

However, suppose one were to decide that, even in the case of
propositions about natural phenomena, they should be condemned or
accepted on the basis of scriptural passages which are unanimously in-
terpreted in the same way by all the Fathers; even then I do not see
that this rule would apply in our case, given that one can read in the

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 135

Fathers different interpretations of the same passages. For example,
Dionysius the Areopagite says that it was not the sun but the Prime
Mobile which stopped;30 St. Augustine thinks the same thing, namely,
that all heavenly bodies stopped; and the bishop of Avila31 is of the
same opinion. Moreover, among the Jewish authors whom Josephus
endorses, some thought that the sun did not really stop, but that it ap-
peared so for the short time during which the Israelites defeated their
enemies. Similarly, in the miracle at the time of Hezekiah, Paul of
Burgos thinks that it did not take place in the sun but in the clock. 32

[338] At any rate, I shall demonstrate further below that, regardless of
the world system one assumes, it is in fact necessary to gloss and to in-
terpret the words of the text in Joshua.

[§4.2.5] Finally, let us grant these gentlemen more than they ask-
namely, let us submit entirely to the opinion of wise theologians.
Since this particular determination was not made by the ancient Fa-
thers, it could be made by the wise ones of our age. The controversy
concerns questions of natural phenomena and dilemmas whose an-
swers are necessary and cannot be otherwise than in one of the two
controversial ways; so they should first hear the experiments, obser-
vations, reasons, and demonstrations of philosophers and astronomers
on both sides of the question, and then they would be able to deter-
mine with certainty whatever divine inspiration will communicate to
them. No one should hope or fear that they would reach such an im-
portant decision without inspecting and discussing very minutely all
the reasons for one side and for the other, and without ascertaining
the facts: this cannot be hoped for by those who would pay no atten-
tion to risking the majesty and dignity of the Holy Writ to support
their self-righteous creations; nor is this to be feared by those who
seek nothing but the examination of the foundations of this doctrine

30. Dionysius the Areopagite was a disciple of St. Paul and bishop of Athens.
Galileo is here referring to interpretations of the miracle described in Joshua
10:12-13, in which God stopped the sun in order to prolong daylight. This
is discussed at great length a few pages below, where more precise references
are also given.
31. Alfonso Tostado (1400-1455), professor of theology and philosophy at
the University of Salamanca (Spain).
32. Paul of Burgos (d. 1435) was a Spanish Jew who converted to Christian-
ity and became an influential scriptural theologian. The passage in question
is Isaiah 38:8.

136 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture ( 1613-15)

with the greatest care, and who do this only out of zeal for the truth
and for the majesty, dignity, and authority of the Holy Writ, which
every Christian must strive to uphold. No one can fail to see that this
dignity is desired and upheld with much greater zeal by one group
than by the other-by those who submit in every way to the Holy
Church and who do not ask for the prohibition of this or that opin-
ion, but only that they be allowed to present things whereby she
could more reliably be sure of making the safest choice; and not by
those who, blinded by their own interests or incited by malicious sug-
gestions, preach that she immediately flash the sword since she has the
power to do it, without considering that it is not always useful to do
all that one can do. This opinion was not held by the holiest Fathers.
Indeed, they knew how harmful and how contrary to the primary
function of the Catholic Church it would be to want to use scriptural
passages to establish conclusions about nature, when by means of ob-
servations and of necessary demonstrations one could at some point
demonstrate the contrary of what [339] the words literally say; thus,
not only were they very circumspect, but they left precepts for the
edification of others. From St. Augustine, On the Literal Interpretation

of Genesis, book 1, chapters 18 and 19,33 we have the following: “In
obscure subjects very far removed from our eyes, it may happen that
even in the divine writings we read things that can be interpreted in
different ways by different people, all consistent with the faith we have;
in such a case, let us not rush into any one of these interpretations with
such precipitous commitment that we are ruined if it is rightly under-
mined by a more diligent and truthful investigation; such recklessness
would mean that we were struggling for our opinions and not for
those of Scripture, and that we wanted to make scriptural opinion
conform to ours, when we ought to want to make ours conform to
that of Scripture.” A little further, to teach us how no proposition can
be against the faith unless it is first shown to be false, he adds: “It is not
against the faith as long as it is not refuted by an unquestionable truth;
if this happens, then it was not contained in the divine Scripture but
originated from human ignorance.” From this, one sees the falsehood
of any meanings given to scriptural passages which do not agree with
demonstrated truths; and so one must search for the correct meaning

33. Of the several quotations from Augustine in this paragraph and the next,
the next is the only one that comes from chapter 18; the others six quota-
tions all come from chapter 19.

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 137

of Scripture with the help of demonstrated truth, rather than taking
the literal meaning of the words, which may seem to be the truth to
our weak understanding, and trying somehow to force nature and to
deny observations and necessary demonstrations.

Your Highness should also note with how much circumspection
this very holy man proceeds before deciding to assert that some scrip-
tural interpretation is so certain and sure that there is no fear of en-
countering disturbing difficulties; not satisfied with just any scriptural
meaning which might agree with some demonstration, he adds: “But
if this were proved to be true by an unquestionable argument, it
would be still uncertain whether by these words the writer of the holy
books meant this or something else no less true; for if the rest of the
context of the passage showed that he did not intend this, then what
he did intend would not thereby be falsified but would still be true
and more beneficial to know.” Now, what increases our amazement
about the circumspection with which this author proceeds is the fact
that he is still not completely sure upon seeing that demonstrative rea-
sons, as well as the literal scriptural meaning and the preceding and
subsequent text, [340] all point in the same direction, and so he adds
the following words: “If the context of Scripture did not disprove
that the writer meant this, one could still ask whether he might not
have meant the other.” Still he does not decide to accept this mean-
ing or exclude that one, but rather he does not think he can ever be
sufficiently cautious, and so he continues: “If we found that he could
have meant the other, then it would be uncertain which of the two
he intended; and if both interpretations were supported by solid doc-
umentation, it would not be implausible to believe that he meant
both.” Next, he seems to want to give the rationale for his procedure
by showing to us the dangers to which certain people would expose
themselves, Scripture, and the Church; these are people who, con-
cerned more with the preservation of their own errors than with the
dignity of Scripture, would want to extend its authority beyond the
limits which it prescribes for itself. And so he adds the following
words, which by themselves should suffice to repress and to temper
the excessive license which some people arrogantly take: “In fact, it
often happens that even a non-Christian has views based on very
conclusive reasons or observations about the earth, heaven, the other
elements of this world, the motion and revolutions or the size and
distances of the stars, the eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of
years and epochs, the nature of animals, of plants, of rocks, and

138 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

similar things. Now, it is very scandalous, as well as harmful and to be
avoided at all costs, that any infidel should hear a Christian speak
about these things as if he were doing so in accordance with the
Christian Scriptures and should see him err so deliriously as to be
forced into laughter. The distressing thing is not so much that an
erring man should be laughed at, but that our authors should be
thought by outsiders to believe such things, and should be criticized
and rejected as ignorant, to the great detriment of those whose salva-
tion we care about. For how can they believe our books in regard to
the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the king-
dom of heaven, when they catch a Christian committing an error
about something they know very well, when they declare false his
opinion taken from those books, and when they find these full offal-
lacies in regard to things they have already been able to observe or to
establish by unquestionable argument?” Finally, we can see how of-
fended are the truly wise and prudent Fathers by these people who,
in order to support propositions they do not [341] understand, con-
strain scriptural passages in certain ways and then compound their
first error by producing other passages which they understand even
less than the former ones. This is explained by the same saint with the
following words: “It is impossible to express sufficiently well how
much harm and sorrow those who are reckless and presumptuous
cause to prudent brethren. This happens when they begin to be re-
buked and refuted for their distorted and false opinions by those who
do not accept the authority of our books, and so they put forth those
same books to prove and to defend what they had said with very su-
perficial recklessness and very obvious falsity, and they even quote
many of their passages from memory, considering them supporting
testimony, but without understanding either what they say or what
they are talking about.”

To this type belong, I think, those who will not or cannot under-
stand the demonstrations and the observations with which the origi-
nator and the followers of this position confirm it, and who thus are
concerned with putting forth Scripture. They do not notice that the
more scriptural passages they produce, and the more they persist in
claiming that these are very clear and not susceptible to other mean-
ings besides what they advance, the greater the harm resulting to the
dignity of Scripture if later the truth were known to be clearly con-
trary and were to cause confusion (especially if these people’s judg-
ment had much authority in the first place). There would be harm

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 139

and confusion at least among those who are separated from the Holy
Church, toward whom she is nevertheless very zealous like a mother
who wants to be able to hold them on her lap. Your Highness can
therefore see how inappropriate is the procedure of those who, in
disputes about nature, as a first step advance arguments based on scrip-
tural passages, especially when very often they do not adequately un-
derstand these.

However, if these people truly feel and fully believe they have the
true meaning of some particular scriptural passage, it would have to
follow necessarily that they are also sure of possessing the absolute
truth about the physical conclusion they intend to discuss and, at the
same time, that they know they have a very great advantage over the
opponent, who has to defend the false side; for whoever is support-
ing the truth can have many sense experiences and many necessary
demonstrations on his side, [342) whereas the opponent cannot use
anything but deceptive presentations, paralogisms, and fallacies. Now,
if they know that by staying within the limits of the physical subject
of discussion and using only philosophical weapons, they are in any
case so superior to the opponent, why is it that when they come to
the debate they immediately seize an irresistible and fearful weapon,
so that their opponent is frightened at its mere sight? To tell the truth,
I believe they are the ones who are frightened and are trying to find
a way of repelling the enemy because they are unable to resist his as-
saults. That is why they forbid him to use the reason which he re-
ceived through the Divine Goodness and why they abuse the very
proper authority of the Holy Scripture, which (when adequately un-
derstood and used) can never conflict with clear observation and nec-
essary demonstrations, as all theologians agree. However, the fact that
these people take refuge in Scripture, to cover up their inability to
understand and to answer the contrary arguments, should be of no
advantage to them, if I am not mistaken, since till now such an opin-
ion has never been condemned by the Holy Church. Therefore, if
they wanted to proceed with sincerity, they could remain silent and
admit their inability to discuss similar subjects; or else they could first
reflect that it is not within their power, nor within that of anyone but
the Supreme Pontiff and the sacred Councils, to declare a proposition
erroneous, but that they are free to discuss whether it is false; then,
understanding that it is impossible for a proposition to be both true
and heretical, they should focus on the issue which more concerns
them, namely, on demonstrating its falsity; if they were to discover

140 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

this falsity, then either it would no longer be necessary to prohibit it
because no one would follow it, or its prohibition would be safe and
without the risk of any scandal.

Thus let these people apply themselves to refuting the arguments
of Copernicus and of the others, and let them leave its condemnation
as erroneous and heretical to the proper authorities; but let them not
hope that the very cautious and very wise Fathers and the Infallible
One with his absolute wisdom are about to make rash decisions like
those into which they would be rushed by their special interests and
feelings. [343] For in regard to these and other similar propositions
which do not directly involve the faith, no one can doubt that the
Supreme Pontiff always has the absolute power of permitting or con-
demning them; however, no creature has the power of making them
be true or false, contrary to what they happen to be by nature and de
facto. So it seems more advisable to first become sure about the nec-
essary and immutable truth of the matter, over which no one has con-
trol, than to condemn one side when such certainty is lacking; this
would imply a loss of freedom of decision and of choice insofar as it
would give necessity to things which are presently indifferent, free,
and dependent on the will of the supreme authority. In short, if it is
inconceivable that a proposition should be declared heretical when
one thinks that it may be true, it should be futile for someone to try
to bring about the condemnation of the earth’s motion and sun’s rest
unless he first shows it to be impossible and false.

[§4.2.6] There remains one last thing for us to examine: to what ex-
tent it is true that the Joshua passage34 can be taken without altering
the literal meaning of the words, and how it can be that, when the
sun obeyed Joshua’s order to stop, from this it followed that the day
was prolonged by a large amount.

Given the heavenly motions in accordance with the Ptolemaic sys-
tem, this is something which in no way can happen. For the sun’s mo-
tion along the ecliptic takes place in the order of the signs of the
zodiac, which is from west to east; this is contrary to the motion of
the Prime Mobile from east to west, which is what causes day and
night; therefore, it is clear that if the sun stops its own true motion,
the day becomes shorter and not longer and that, on the contrary, the

34. Joshua 10:12-13; I quote this passage in the Introduction, §0.7.

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 141

way to prolong it would be to speed up the sun’s motion; thus, to
make the sun stay for some time at the same place above the horizon,
without going down toward the west, [344] it would be necessary to
accelerate its motion so as to equal the motion of the Prime Mobile,
which would be to accelerate it to about three hundred and sixty
times its usual motion. Hence, if Joshua had wanted his words taken
in their literal and most proper meaning, he would have told the sun
to accelerate its motion by an amount such that, when carried along
by the Prime Mobile, it would not be made to set; but his words were
being heard by people who perhaps had no other knowledge of heav-
enly motions except for the greatest and most common one from east
to west; thus he adapted himself to their knowledge and spoke in ac-
cordance with their understanding, because he did not want to teach
them about the structure of the spheres but to make them understand
the greatness of the miracle of the prolongation of the day.

Perhaps it was this consideration that first led Dionysius the Are-
opagite (in the Letter to Polycarpus) to say that in this miracle the
Prime Mobile stopped and, as a consequence of its stopping, all other
celestial spheres stopped. The same opinion is held by St. Augustine
himself (in book 2 of On the Miracles cif the Holy Scripture), and the
Bishop of Avila supports it at length (in questions 22 and 24 of his
commentary on chapter 10 of Joshua). Indeed one sees that Joshua
himself intended to stop the whole system of celestial spheres, from his
giving the order also to the moon, even though it has nothing to do
with the prolongation of the day; in the injunction given to the moon
one must include the orbs of the other planets, which are not men-
tioned here, as they are not in the rest of the Holy Scripture, since its
intention has never been to teach us the astronomical sciences.

I think therefore, if I am not mistaken, that one can clearly see
that, given the Ptolemaic system, it is necessary to interpret the words
in a way different from their literal meaning. Guided by St. Augus-
tine’s very useful prescriptions, I should say that the best nonliteral in-
terpretation is not necessarily this, if anyone can find another which
is perhaps better and more suitable. So now I want to examine
whether the same miracle could be understood in a way more in ac-
cordance with what we read in Joshua, if to the Copernican system
we add [345] another discovery which I recently made about the solar
body. However, I continue to speak with the same reservations-to
the effect that I am not so enamored with my own opinions as to
want to place them ahead of those of others; nor do I believe it is im-

142 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

possible to put forth interpretations which are better and more in ac-
cordance with the Holy Writ.

Let us first assume, in accordance with the opinion of the above-
mentioned authors, that in the Joshua miracle the whole system of
heavenly motions was stopped, so that the stopping of only one
would not introduce unnecessarily universal confusion and great tur-
moil in the whole order of nature. Second, I think that although the
solar body does not move from the same place, it turns on itself, com-
pleting an entire rotation in about one month, as I feel I have conclu-
sively demonstrated in my Sunspot Letters; this motion is sensibly seen
to be inclined southward in the upper part of the globe and thus to
tilt northward in the lower part, precisely in the same manner as the
revolutions of all planetary orbs. Third, the sun may be regarded as a
noble body, and it is the source of light illuminating not only the
moon and the earth but also all the other planets, which are in them-
selves equally dark; having conclusively demonstrated this, I do not
think it would be far from correct philosophizing to say that, insofar
as it is the greatest minister of nature and, in a way, the heart and soul
of the world, it transmits to the surrounding bodies not only light,
but also (by turning on itself) motion; thus, just as all motion of the
limbs of an animal would cease if the motion of its heart were to
cease, in the same way if the sun’s rotation stopped then all planetary
revolutions would also stop. Now, concerning the admirable power
and strength of the sun I could quote the supporting statements of
many serious writers, but I want to restrict myself to just one passage
from the book The Divine Names by the Blessed Dionysius the Are-
opagite. He writes this about the sun: “Light also gathers and attracts
to itself all things that are seen, that move, that are illuminated, that
are heated, and, in a word, that are surrounded by its splendor. Thus
the sun is called Helios because [346] it collects and gathers all things
that are dispersed.” And a little below that he again writes about the
sun: “If in fact this sun, which we see and which (despite the multi-
tude and dissimilarity of the essences and qualities of observed things)
is nevertheless one, spreads its light equally and renews, nourishes,
preserves, perfects, divides, joins, warms up, fertilizes, increases,
changes, strengthens, produces, moves, and vitalizes all things; and if
everything in this universe in accordance with its own power partakes
of one and the same sun and contains within itself an equal anticipa-
tion of the causes of the many things which are shared; then certainly
all the more reason, etc.” Therefore, given that the sun is both the
source of light and the origin of motion, and given that God wanted

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 143

the whole world system to remain motionless for several hours as a
result of Joshua’s order, it was sufficient to stop the sun, and then its
immobility stopped all the other turnings, so that the earth as well as
the moon and the sun (and all the other planets) remained in the same
arrangement; and during that whole time the night did not approach,
and the day miraculously got longer. In this manner, by stopping the
sun, and without changing or upsetting at all the way the other stars
appear or their mutual arrangement, the day on the earth could have
been lengthened in perfect accord with the literal meaning of the

sacred text.
Furthermore, what deserves special appreciation, if I am not mis-

taken, is that with the Copernican system one can very clearly and
very easily give a literal meaning to another detail which one reads
about the same miracle; that is, that the sun stopped in the middle of
heaven. Serious theologians have raised a difficulty about this passage:
it seems very probable that, when Joshua asked for the prolongation
of the day, the sun was close to setting and not at the meridian; for it
was then about the time of the summer solstice, and consequently the
days were very long, so that if the sun had been at the meridian then
it does not seem likely that it would have been necessary to pray for
a lengthening of the day in order to win a battle, since the still re-
maining time of seven hours or more could very well have been suf-
ficient. Motivated by this argument, very serious theologians have
held that the sun really was close to setting; [34 7] this is also what the
words “Sun, stand thou still” seem to say, because if it had been at the
meridian, then either there would have been no need to seek a mir-
acle or it would have been sufficient to pray merely for some slowing
down. This opinion is held by the Bishop of Gaeta,

and it is also ac-

cepted by Magalhaens,36 who confirms it by saying that on the same
day, before the order to the sun, Joshua had done so many other
things that it was impossible to complete them in half a day; thus they
really resort to interpreting the words “in the midst of heaven” some-
what implausibly, saying they mean the same as that the sun stopped
while it was in our hemisphere, namely, above the horizon. We can
remove this and every other implausibility, if I am not mistaken, by
placing the sun, as the Copernican system does and as it is most

35. Thomas de Vio (1468-1534), author of a commentary on St. Thomas
Aquinas’ Summa theoloJ?iae.
36. Cosme Magalhaens (1553-1624), author of a commentary on Joshua l pubJ;,h,d ;u 1612

144 Letters on Copernicanism and Scripture (1613-15)

necessary to do, in the middle, namely, at the center of the heavenly
orbs and of the planetary revolutions; for at any hour of the day,
whether at noon or in the afternoon, the day would have been
lengthened and all heavenly turnings stopped by the sun stopping in
the middle of the heavens, namely, at the center of the heavens,
where it is located. Furthermore, this interpretation agrees all the
more with the literal meaning inasmuch as, if one wanted to claim
that the sun’s stopping occurred at the noon hour, then the proper ex-
pression to use would have been to say that it “stood still at the merid-
ian point,” or “at the meridian circle,” and not “in the midst of
heaven”; in fact, for a spherical body such as heaven, the middle is
really and only the center.

As for other scriptural passages which seem to contradict this po-
sition, I have no doubt that, if it were known to be true and demon-
strated, those same theologians who consider such passages incapable
of being interpreted consistently with it (as long as they regard it as
false) would find highly congenial interpretations for them; this
would be especially true if they were to add some knowledge of the
astronomical sciences to their expertise about Holy Writ. Just as now,
when they consider it false, they think that whenever they read Scrip-
ture they only find statements repugnant to it, so if they thought oth-
erwise they would perchance find an equal number of passages
agreeing with it. Then perhaps they would judge [348] it very appro-
priate for the Holy Church to tell us that God placed the sun at the
center of heaven and that therefore He brings about the ordered mo-
tions of the moon and the other wandering stars by making it turn
around itself like a wheel, given that she sings:

Most holy Lord and God of heaven,
Who to the glowing sky hast given
The fires that in the east are born
With gradual splendors of the morn;
Who, on the fourth day, didst reveal
The sun’s enkindled flaming wheel,
Didst set the moon her ordered ways,
And stars their ever-winding maze.37

37. Here quoted from The English Hymnal with Tunes, p. 89. These are the
first two of five stanzas of the hymn whose first Latin line is “Caeli Deus sanc-
tissime,” deriving from the fourth or fifth century; cf. Julian 1892, 241.

§4.2 Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615) 145

They could also say that the word firmament is literally very appropri-
ate for the stellar sphere and everything above the planetary orbs,
which is totally still and motionless according to this arrangement.
Similarly, if the earth were rotating, then, where one reads “He had
not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the terrestrial
globe,”38 one could understand its poles literally; for there would be
no point in attributing these poles to the terrestrial globe if it did not
have to turn around them.

38. Cf. Proverbs 8:26. I have translated Galileo’s Latin quotation literally in
order to appreciate his point, which would certainly be lost with the King
James Version and might still be with the Douay Version.

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