Heliocentrism Condemned: 400 Years Ago on March 5

Four hundred years ago, on Saturday March 5, 1616, Father Giacinto Petroni, O.P., Master of the Sacred Palace, as instructed by Paul V on Thursday March 3, published the following decree containing the censure of Copernicus's De Revolutionibus. Considering that this is Rome's one and only public act against heliocentrism in 1616, let us quote it here in extenso:

Sacrae Congregationis Illustrissimorum Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalium a Sancto Domino Nostro Paulo Papa V Sanctaque Sede Apostolica ad Indicem librorum, eorumdemque permissionem, prohibitionem, expurgationem et impressionem in universa Republica Christiana, specialiter deputatorum, ubique publicandum.
Cum ab aliquo tempore citra prodierint in lucem inter alios nonnulli libri varias haereses atque errores continentes, ideo Sacra Congregatio Illustrissimorum S. R. E. Cardinalium ad Indicem deputatorum, ne ex eorum lectione graviora in dies damna in tota Republica Christiana oriantur, eos omnino damnandos atque prohibendos esse voluit; sicuti praesenti Decreto poenitus damnat et prohibet, ubicumque et quovis idiomate impressos aut imprimendos: mandans ut nullus deinceps, cuiuscumque gradus et conditionis, sub poenis in Sacro Concilio Tridentino et in Indice librorum prohibitorum contentis, eos audeat imprimere aut imprimi curare, vel quomodocumque  apud se detinere aut legere; et sub iisdem poenis, quicumque nunc illos habent vel
habuerint in futurum, locorum Ordinariis seu Inquisitoribus, statim a praesentis Decreti notitita, exhibere teneantur.
Et quia etiam ad notitiam praefatae Sacrae Congregationis pervenit, falsam illam doctrinam Pithagoricam, divinaeque Scripturae omnino adversantem, de mobilitate terrae et immobilitate solis, quam Nicolaus Copernicus De revolutionibus orbium coelestium et Didacus Astunica in Iob, etiam docent, iam divulgari et a multis recipi; sicuti videre est ex quadam Epistola impressa cuiusdam Patris Carmelitanae, cui titulus: "Lettera del R. Padre Maestro Paolo Antonio Foscarini Carmelitano, sopra l'opinione de' Pittagorici e del Copernico della mobilità della terra e stabilità del sole, et il nuovo Pittagorico sistema del mondo. In Napoli, per Lazzaro Scoriggio, 1615," in qua dictus Pater ostendere conatur, praefatam doctrinam de immobilitate solis in centro mundi et mobilitate terrae consonam esse veritati et non adversari Sacrae Scripturae; ideo, ne ulterius huiusmodi opinio in perniciem Catholicae veritatis serpat, censuit, dictos Nicolaum Copernicum De revolutionibus orbium et Didacum Astunica in Iob, suspendendos esse, donec corrigantur; librum vero Patris Pauli Antonii Foscarini Carmelitae omnino prohibendum atque damnandum; aliosque omnes libros, pariter item docentes, prohibendos; prout praesenti Decreto omnes respective prihibet, damnat atque suspendit.
In quorum fidem praesens Decretum manu et sigillo Illustrissimi et Reverendissimi D. Cardinalis S. Caeciliae, Episcopi Albanensis, signatum et munitum fuit, die 5 Martii 1616.
Paulus, Episcopus Albanensis, Cardinalis Sanctae Caeciliae
Frater Franciscus Magdalenus Capiferreus, Ord. Praed., Secretarius
Romae, ex Typographia Camerae Apostolicae, M.DCXVI
of the Sacred Congregation of the Most Illustrious Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church especially charged by Our Holy Lord Pope Paul V and by the Holy Apostolic See with the Index of books and their licensing, prohibition, correction, and printing in all of Christendom, to be published everywhere.
In regard to several books containing various heresies and errors, to prevent the emergence of more serious harm throughout Christendom, the Sacred Congregation of the Most Illustrious Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church in charge of the Index has decided that they should be altogether condemned and prohibited, as indeed with the present decree it condemns and prohibits them, wherever and in whatever language they are printed or about to be printed. It orders that henceforth no one, of whatever station or condition, should dare print them, or have them printed, or read them, or have them in one's possession in any way, under penalty specified in the Holy Council of Trent and in the Index of Prohibited Books; and under the same penalty, whoever is now or will be in the future in possession of them is required to surrender them to local ordinaries or to inquisitors, immediately after learning of the present decree.
This Holy Congregation has also learned about the spreading and acceptance by many of the false Pythagorean doctrine, altogether contrary to the Holy Scripture, that the earth moves and the sun is motionless, which is also taught by Nicolaus Copernicus's On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres and by Diego de Zuñiga's On Job. This may be seen from a certain letter published by a certain Carmelite Father whose title is Letter of the Reverend Father Paolo Antonio Foscarini on the Pythagorean and Copernican Opinion of the Earth's Motion and Sun's Rest and on the New Pythagorean World System (Naples: Lazzaro Scoriggio, 1615), in which the said Father tries to show that the above­mentioned doctrine of the sun's rest at the center of the world and of the earth's motion is consonant with the truth and does not contradict Holy Scripture. Therefore, in order that this opinion may not advance any further to the prejudice of Catholic truth, the Congregation has decided that the books by Nicolaus Copernicus (On the Revolutions of Spheres) and by Diego de Zuñiga (On Job) be suspended until corrected; but that the book of the Carmelite Father Paolo Antonio Foscarini be completely prohibited and condemned; and that all other books which teach the same be likewise prohibited, according to whether with the present Decree it prohibits, condemns, and suspends them respectively.
In witness thereof, this decree has been signed by the hand and stamped with the seal of the Most Illustrious and Reverend Lord Cardinal of Saint Cecilia, Bishop of Albano, on March 5, 1616.
Paul, Bishop of Albano, Cardinal St. Cecilia
Friar Francesco Maddaleni Capiferreo, O.P., Secretary
Rome, Press of the Apostolic Chamber, 1616
Favaro, XIX, 322-323 Finocchiaro, p. 148-150

The formulation here is much milder than the one found in the working document of February 24. The Decree talks about the "false Pythagorean doctrine" and declare it "altogether contrary to the Holy Scripture". This is not nearly as harsh as "foolish and absurd" philosophically, and "formally heretical" because contrary to Scripture.

To be continued on March 11, commemorating Galileo's audience with Paul V.

Fr. Paul Gabor

About Fr. Paul Gabor

Fr. Paul Gabor SJ was born in 1969 in Košice, Slovakia. He studied Particle Physics at Charles University Prague, Czech Republic (1988-1995). His work was primarily instrumental, participating in the development of the ATLAS detector for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, Switzerland.

He entered the Society of Jesus in 1995, did his 2-year novitiate in Kolin, Czech Republic, then 2 years of Philosophy studies in Cracow, Poland. After this, he taught philosophy for a year in Olomouc, Czech Republic, and studied Theology in Paris, France. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2004. After ordination, he earned a PhD in astrophysics in 2009 in Paris, where he again opted for instrumentation, working with Alain Léger, the author of the proposed Darwin space observatory. Gabor's work under Alain Léger was carried out at the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, University of Paris XI, focusing on two optical test beds, SYNAPSE and NULLTIMATE.

Fr. Gabor is interested in the tests of achromatic phase shifters, stabilization (through optical path dithering), wave front filtering (with single mode fibers), polarization and other issues regarding the implementation of nulling interferometry, techniques and instrumentation that can be used to discover planets orbiting other stars.

Fr. Gabor joined the Vatican Observatory in September 2010. He became its Vice Director in September 2012 and is in charge of its Research Group in Tucson.

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