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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Robert Bellarmine SJ and the Inquisition

Today is St Robert Bellarmine SJ Day. He's well liked but when I think of him, all I can think of is his position in the Roman Inquisition, which handled the trials of Copernicus, Galileo, and Giordano Bruno, among others ...

Clement VIII, set great store by him. He was made rector of the Roman College in 1592, examiner of bishops in 1598, and cardinal in 1599. Immediately after his appointment as Cardinal, Pope Clement made him a Cardinal Inquisitor, in which capacity he served as one of the judges at the trial of Giordano Bruno, and concurred in the decision which condemned Bruno to be burned at the stake as a heretic. - Wikipedia

There have been recent discussions about the church and Bruno ... an episode of Cosmos about the church's treatment of Bruno sparked a kind of backlash by those who believe the church wasn't really against science but murdered Bruno for his religious rather than scientific views. Here's one discussion of the issues ... Defending Giordano Bruno: A Response from the Co-Writer of “Cosmos”.

Bellarmine is, I think, considered reasonable about the scientific views he investigated ... he suggested disingenuous workarounds that would allow continued scientific study without a resulting auto-de-fé. In a letter, Bellarmine wrote about Galileo's ideas ...

that interpreting heliocentrism as physically real would be "a very dangerous thing, likely not only to irritate all scholastic philosophers and theologians, but also to harm the Holy Faith by rendering Holy Scripture as false." Moreover, while the topic was not inherently a matter of faith, the statements about it in Scripture were so by virtue of who said them—namely, the Holy Spirit. He conceded that if there were conclusive proof, "then one would have to proceed with great care in explaining the Scriptures that appear contrary; and say rather that we do not understand them, than that what is demonstrated is false."

So, the church wasn't necessarily against science per se, and yes there were lots of Jesuit scientists ... the church was instead against anyone proposing views that the church didn't endorse.

However, the idea that this death-dealing thought-police methodology (the Inquisition) can be spun by some as positive because it wasn't inherently anti-science is just mind-boggling to me. And I can't admire anyone, whether they're a saint or not, who would judge a person worthy of burning at the stake, now matter what that person's beliefs were.


Anonymous Richard said...

Its amazing how far we have come from that first tentative and scary step toward understanding the universe...

1:24 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Ooooh, near pictures :)

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

Hope you checked out the video, certainly puts us in our place....for now: )

4:40 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yes, I watched it. Hard to image there's not other life out there. Like they said in Contact, if not, it would be an awful waster of space :)

9:40 PM  

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