“If there were a true demonstration that the sun was in the center of the universe and the earth in the third sphere, and that the sun did not go around the earth but the earth went around the sun, then it would be necessary to use careful consideration in explaining the scriptures that seemed contrary, and we should rather have to say that we do not understand them than to say that something is false which had been proven.” – St. Robert Bellarmine April 9, 1614*
St. Robert Francis Romulus Bellarmine,
Jesuit and Doctor of the Church
Born 4 October, 1542, Montepulciano, Italy
Died 17 September, 1621, Rome, Italy
Venerated in Catholicism Beatified 13 May 1923 by Pope Pius XI
Canonized 29 June 1930 by Pope Pius XI
September 17th is the feast day of St. Robert Francis Romulus Bellarmine, an Italian Jesuit theologian and a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. He was the most prominent official of the Inquisition during the famous trial of Galileo in 1633. Galileo and the officers of the Inquisition accepted the same Aristotelian notion of what constituted a scientific demonstration. As early as 1614, Cardinal Bellarmine told Galileo that if there were a true demonstration for the motion of the Earth then theologians would have to abandon the traditional reading of those passages in the Bible which appeared to be contrary.
He maintained that position throughout his life according to his writings, and it is consistent with the ancient Catholic principle that the truths of science cannot contradict the truths of faith since God is the author of all truth. The quote is from a letter written during the Galileo controversy to Paolo Antonio Foscarini, a mathematician and theologian who also defended the Copernican theory as true and defended it against charges that it conflicted with Scripture. The quote shows that the misconceptions – 1) that the Church was opposed to scientific discovery and 2) that science and scripture are irreconcilable – are just that, misconceptions. The Inquisitors were not opposed to discovery, they were opposed to hasty and unproven conclusions.
*Quote translated by Stillman Drake in “Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo,” NY: Doubleday and Company. 1957, p. 163.