Controversy With the Church By: Kurstin Taft

Galileos controversy with the Catholic Church, heresy & Punishments

By: Kurstin Taft

The Catholic Church, which was very powerful and influential in Galileo's day, strongly supported the theory of a geocentric, or Earth-centered, universe. After Galileo began publishing papers about his astronomy discoveries and his belief in a heliocentric, or Sun-centered, Universe. He then was called to Rome to answer charges brought against him by the Inquisition (the legal body of the Catholic Church). Early in 1616, Galileo was accused of being a heretic, a person who opposed Church teachings. Heresy was a crime for which people were sometimes sentenced to death. Galileo was cleared of charges of heresy, but was told that he should no longer publicly state his belief that Earth moved around the Sun.

In 1610, Galileo published his Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger), describing the surprising observations that he had made with the new telescope, the phases of Venus and the Galilean moons of Jupiter. With his observations he promoted the heliocentric theory of Nicolaus Copernicus. Galileo's initial discoveries were met with opposition within the Catholic Church. Officials of the Roman Inquisition declared that Copernican beliefs were heretical and ordered Galileo not to defend them either orally or in writing.

Galileo and Rome spend three years in conflict from 1613 to 1616. He wrote a letter to a student defending the Copernican theory that the Earth revolves around the sun. Later, in 1615, he expanded this into his much longer Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina. Galileo went on to propose a theory of tides in 1616, and of comets in 1619; he argued that the tides were evidence for the motion of the Earth. Nobody thought Galileos discoveries and beliefs were true and in 1616 the Catholic Church declares the writings of Galileo from heliocentric books banned. Galileo was ordered to refrain from holding, teaching, or defending heliocentric ideas. In 1623, Galileo's friend Maffeo Barberini was chosen to be Pope Urban VIII. The new pope encouraged Galileo to continue studying astronomy.

Galileo is eventually placed on trial and forced to go back to Rome. He is under suspicion of "vehement suspect of heresy" and convicted of teaching the copernican belief. The punishments were quite severe, they ranged from loss of property, to imprisonment, to death. If a heretic did not confess they were tortured until they confessed. In 1632 Galileo, now an old man, published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which implicitly defended heliocentrism, and was immensely popular. Michael Coren believed "Galileo was challenged because he declared a theory to be a fact and argued with the Church about the genuine meaning of the Bible" (Michael Coren, goodreads). After being threatened with torture, he was placed under house arrest for about 8 years. Despite his house arrest he continues to work on dialogues and work about the principles of mechanics. Galileo makes the discovery, months before he went completely blind in 1638, that the moon makes monthly wobbles on its axis, called liberations. He remained under house arrest until he died from a long illness at the age of 77 on January 8, 1642.


"Why Was Galileo Galilei Charged with Heresy?" Reference. IAC Publishing, n.d. Web. 11 May 2017. <>. Staff. "Galileo Galilei." A&E Television Networks, 2010. Web. 15 May 2017. <>.

Contributor, Nola Taylor Redd "Galileo Galilei: Biography, Inventions & Other Facts." N.p., n.d. Web. 16 May 2017. <>.

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