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Galileo: A man of his times


The world this year marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of Galileo Galilei, who died on January 8th, 1642. The famous Italian scientist was tried by the Holy Office of the Catholic Church for his defense of a heliocentric universe. The case has often been used to demonstrate a supposed conflict between science and religion.

Brother Guy Consolmagno is the Coordinator for Public Relations of the Vatican Observatory. He told Vatican Radio this is a misconception.

“The Galileo case in interesting because it was a time when the Church and science were really the same thing,” he said. “Who was doing science back in those days - what we would call science? People at the universities, most of them priests…In those days the cosmology of the world – the way people thought the way the world was put together – involved the idea that you could see in the structure of the universe also a metaphysical structure.”

Consolmagno said the Church thought it was defending science when it put Galileo on trial.

“When Pope Urban VIII criticized Galileo, it wasn’t from the point of view of being a Pope, but from the point of view of being a professional philosopher, who had studied the stuff as much as Galileo had!”

Consolmagno added people should not think of Galileo as a 21st century scientist stuck in the 17th century.

“He was a man of his times,” he said. “He was a devout Catholic. He obeyed what the Church asked him to do. Even though in retrospect we can look back and realize what the Church asked was unreasonable, he did it. His two daughters were both nuns; he never married their mom, but that’s a different issue! He was a man of his times.”


Listen to the interview by Fr. Bernd Hagenkord, SJ, with Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ: RealAudioMP3