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The Roman Inquisition

The Roman Inquisition: Trying Galileo

Thomas F. Mayer
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    The Roman Inquisition
    Book Description:

    Few legal events loom as large in early modern history as the trial of Galileo. Frequently cast as a heroic scientist martyred to religion or as a scapegoat of papal politics, Galileo undoubtedly stood at a watershed moment in the political maneuvering of a powerful church. But to fully understand how and why Galileo came to be condemned by the papal courtsand what role he played in his own downfallit is necessary to examine the trial within the context of inquisitorial law.

    With this final installment in his magisterial trilogy on the seventeenth-century Roman Inquisition, Thomas F. Mayer has provided the first comprehensive study of the legal proceedings against Galileo. By the time of the trial, the Roman Inquisition had become an extensive corporatized body with direct authority over local courts and decades of documented jurisprudence. Drawing deeply from those legal archives as well as correspondence and other printed material, Mayer has traced the legal procedure from Galileo's first precept in 1616 to his formal trial in 1633. With an astonishing mastery of the legal underpinnings and bureaucratic workings of inquisitorial law, Mayer's work compares the course of legal events to other possible outcomes within due process, showing where the trial departed from standard procedure as well as what available recourse Galileo had to shift its direction.

    The Roman Inquisition: Trying Galileopresents a detailed and corrective reconstruction of the actions both in the courtroom and behind the scenes that led to one of history's most notorious verdicts.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9032-5
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    As the popular historian Dava Sobel put it without much exaggeration, “no other process in the annals of canon or common law has ricocheted through history with more meanings, more consequences, more conjecture, more regrets” than Galileo’s.¹ And as Adriano Prosperi, a dean of historians of the Inquisition, well says thatprocessois “more intricate and problematic” than most historians think.² One of the most serious problems in understanding what happened to Galileo is that his trial has almost never been treated as a legal event. Without an understanding of both how the Roman Inquisition worked and how the law...

  4. CHAPTER 1 The Florentine Opposition
    (pp. 7-17)

    The Roman Inquisition showed interest in Galileo several times before formal proceedings began in 1615. His mother may have denounced him to the Holy Office in Florence for calling her names.¹ Next, one of his household servants in Padua denounced him for practicing judicial astrology. The Venetians quashed the proceedings.² In 1611 during its protracted investigation of Galileo’s Paduan friend the Aristotelian philosopher Cesare Cremonini, the Congregation ordered its archives searched to see what it had against Galileo.³ The Inquisition’s most serious interest came in 1612–1613 when it somewhat unusually subjected Galileo’sSunspot Lettersto prepublication censorship. It objected...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Formal Proceedings Begin (late 1614–mid-February 1616)
    (pp. 18-52)

    Tommaso Caccini (26 April 1574–1648) entered the Order of Preachers at San Marco in Florence at fifteen, changing his name from Cosimo to Tommaso after Thomas Aquinas.¹ An ambitious, possibly unstable man, Caccini made a perfect cat’s paw for what even his brother and chief sponsor Matteo called the “pigeons,” the conspiracy Galileo called the “pigeon league,” detailed in the previous chapter, aided and abetted by the man who had put Niccolò Lorini up to attacking the Jesuits in 1602, Giovanni de’ Medici.² Luigi Guerrini goes as far as to claim that everything in Caccini’s testimony against Galileo came...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Precept of 26 February 1616
    (pp. 53-79)

    Once the consultors finished their work, the stage was set for the Inquisition to move against Galileo. On 26 February 1616, he had a meeting with Inquisitor Roberto Bellarmino. What happened has generated controversy almost from that moment forward.¹ The discussion in this chapter and the next about precepts, and that in particular issued to Galileo in 1616, is long and complicated. This is necessary because so much past controversy over Galileo’s treatment and his trial has been conditioned by misunderstandings of the legal role of precepts, and the English language used in translations. In this chapter I shall deal...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Legal Meaning of 1616: The Jurisprudence and Use of Admonitions and Precepts
    (pp. 80-120)

    While the controversy over what if anything happened to Galileo on 26 February 1616 careens into eternity, the legal meaning of that event has received next to no attention.¹ I argued in the last chapter that Galileo received a strongly worded precept, not a charitable admonition, and in this chapter I explain what that imports. Unfortunately, the Roman Inquisition’s understanding of both admonition and precept must be constructed from its practice; there is almost no jurisprudence like that about its trial process.² This chapter first establishes the background of the related concepts of admonition and precept in canon law and...

  8. CHAPTER 5 The Beginning of the End
    (pp. 121-146)

    The beginning of the end came in 1630 when Galileo sought permission, called an imprimatur (“it may [or shall] be printed”), to have hisDialogue on the Two Chief World Systemspublished. The original plan called for publication in Rome under Lincean auspices.¹ Among other promising signs, the man who had given the copious opinion supporting publication ofThe Assayerin 1623, Niccolò Riccardi, had recently become master of the sacred palace, chief papal censor for Rome.² Galileo’s twin agents, Benedetto Castelli and Giovanni Ciampoli, both assured him that Riccardi had praised and encouraged Galileo and could be completely relied...

  9. CHAPTER 6 The Second Phase of Galileo’s Trial Begins
    (pp. 147-179)

    In mid-August 1632, in the fraught context of Urban’s moves against the Spanish in Rome, including the disgrace of Galileo’s idolater Giovanni Ciampoli, and in the deteriorating military situation in the empire as Gustav Adolf’s threat loomed ever larger, a particular congregation assembled to consider how Galileo’sDialogue on the Two Chief World Systemshad come to be licensed for publication.¹ It deserves emphasis that the congregation’s charge seems to have had little to do with examining the book for heresy, except insofar as such evidence would support a conclusion about its publication. Florentine ambassador Francesco Niccolini first noted its...

  10. CHAPTER 7 The End
    (pp. 180-213)

    In a Sunday audience with the pope on 13 March, Niccolini began with another request for “expedition” (speditione) of Galileo’s case.¹ Urban responded that “calling” (chiamar) Galileo to the Holy Office could not be avoided, which must mean that he at least did not take “expedition” in the technical sense. Niccolini and Urban went back and forth several times on this point, Urban refusing to budge. The pope then returned to his usual line about the nature of the case, saying Galileo would have done much better “to go with the common [interpretation of the earth’s movement],” before again blaming...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 214-226)

    In order to understand Galileo’s trial as a legal event, it will help to compare it to the course of a proceeding before the Roman Inquisition, the whole of which I have called a trial from the opening of a dossier, in keeping with the Inquisition’s usage.¹ A “typical” one ran through eleven phases, although any particular one might have more or less. Any phase that might harm the defense could never be left out. A denunciation opened a trial, while two witnesses were required to proceed further. The inquisitor took over at the second step, the investigative phase during...

  12. APPENDIX: Frequency of Precepts (1597–1633)
    (pp. 227-228)
  13. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 229-232)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 233-330)
    (pp. 331-338)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 339-348)
    (pp. 349-352)
    (pp. 353-360)
    Kenneth Bartlett