AT THE ROOT OF THE GALILEO AFFAIR
In Bertolt Brecht's play, Galileo, an aged cardinal denounces the upstart astronomer from Florence:
I am informed that Signor Galilei transfers mankind from the center of the universe to somewhere on the outskirts. Signor Galilei is therefore an enemy of mankind and must be dealt with as such. Is it conceivable that God would trust this most precious fruit of his labor to a minor frolicking star? Would He have sent His Son to such a place? ... (To Galileo) You have degraded the earth despite the fact that you live by her and receive everything from her. I won't have it! I won't have it! I won't be a nobody on an inconsequential star briefly twirling hither and thither . . . The earth is the center of all things, and I am the center of the earth, and the eye of the Creator is upon me. About me revolve, affixed to their crystal shells, the lesser lights of the stars and the great light of the sun, created to give light on me that God might see me – Man, God's greatest effort, the center of creation: “In the image of God He created him.”
Brecht puts in the mouth of the old cardinal what he himself may well have believed the primary motive to be on the church's side of the “Galileo affair” Certainly, this reading of history has been a common one from the time of the Enlightenment onwards. Why were Galileo's Copernican views met with such hostility on the part of his Church? What could have explained the violent opposition of the Roman authorities to the views of someone who was after all recognized by these same authorities as the leading astronomer in the Italy of his day? Why would they have risked such a clash where the stakes were obviously so high?
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