Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Canonization of Saint Galileo?

Galileo Galilei (1851)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

I've finished reading John Heilbron's biography of Galileo, which ends on a half-ironic but also half-serious note 'prophesying' sainthood for Galileo, based on the Catholic Church's revaluation of Galileo's 'reform' of scriptural hermeneutics in a way that placed his belief "that human beings can reach truth by the light of reason" above Pope Urban VIII's denial "that humans can recognize truth unaided by revelation," as well as on the treatment of Galileo's bones as 'relics' by various devotees of that man:
It might be objected that Galileo performed no miracles. What then were the miracles of Thomas Aquinas? In fact, Galileo performed a stupendous miracle. He obliterated the ancient distinction between the celestial and terrestrial realms, raised the earth to the heavens, made the planets so many earths, and revealed that our moon is not unique in the universe. Not since creation had there been such a refashioning. Then there was the miracle of himself, a rare combination of talents and personalities, who, despite mania and depression, arthritis, gout, hernias, blindness, and overindulgence in wine and wit, lived to write three books -- the Messenger, the Dialogue, and the Discourse -- any one of which would have given him enduring fame.

According to Galileo's mechanics, the slightest force can move the greatest weight given sufficient time. The direction of motion is clear. Who can doubt that within another 400 years the church will recognize Galileo's divine gifts, atone for his sufferings, ignore his arrogance, and make him a saint? (Heilbron, Galileo, pages 364-365)
Heilbron is a master of irony, so take these remarks with a hefty grain of salt, but there's a pinch of sincerity revealed in his words, properly interpreted with the aid of reason.

This book may facilitate in the irony of that canonization, which has already begun by popular acclaim and artistic endeavor, the latter of which Heilbron perhaps alludes to in observing that Aristodemo Costoli depicts "Galileo as an Old Testament prophet . . . in the Loggia of the Uffizi Gallery, Florence" (Heilbron, Galileo, Plate 16; see also above image).

Note, by the way, that this biography, published in the 400th anniversary year of the publication of the Starry Messenger, ends, appropriately enough for a book dedicated to a man concerned with the motions of the earth, on a page signifying both diurnal and annual motions, namely, page 365.

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At 6:23 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

Heilbron's joke is funny, exactly because it is a joke. I honestly don't think that the Catholic Church (which I happen to know quite closely, also in its Roman sides) will declare Galileo a saint; unless the Church becomes very different from now, but no sooner than some centuries or even millennia.

Galileo won't officially become a saint, not because of his views on science, nor because he performed no miracles, but simply because his life and teachings do not promote the humble subjection to the Church leaders (he did obey, in fact, but only because he was menaced by the Inquisition).

The only lay people who are canonized are very pious and devout people who passed through exceptional body sufferings, renounced everything or so. Not scientists nor men of culture. Dante's 'nomination' never surfaced in 700 years...

At 6:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dario, I believe that you've "properly interpreted with the aid of reason" -- saints be praised!

Especially St. Galileo, worker of the miracle of reason and protector and shield against motion sickness . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:05 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

In Acquasparta, Umbria - Italy (near Perugia where I live) they just discovered the 17th century painting "Virgin Mary and Child Jesus" in front of which Galileo prayed when he was a guest of bishop Federico Cesi's, the founder of the Accademia dei Lincei.

At 4:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

What? You mean Galileo wasn't a heretic?

Maybe he fits that model of "humble subjection" after all . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:08 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

Well, the Catholic journalist who wrote the article said SO.

Anyway, Galileo was no 'intentional' heretic, and surely he shared most religious habits any 17th century man had. To pray means to be subjected to God, not to man, directly: even Milton prayed. And, after all, Galileo did belong to the Accademia founded by bishop Cesi.

At 5:17 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Must be true, then.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:30 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

btw, here it is:

Galileo's Madonna

Not a masterpiece, honestly.

At 7:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

But its suffering has been good for its aesthetic soul.

Jeffery Hodges

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