Why was Galileo Galilei charged with heresy?


Quick Answer

Galileo Galilei was charged with heresy because of his Copernican heliocentric writings, which claimed that the Earth revolved around the sun and not vice-versa. During the 15th century, the Catholic Church used Biblical passages to maintain that the Earth was a fixed body at the center of the universe.

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Full Answer

Galileo was first accused of heresy in 1613, when he wrote a letter to a student defending the Copernican theory that the Earth revolves around the sun. Research and telescopic observations had convinced him that Copernicus's ideas did not contradict the Bible. He explained that the Biblical passages in question were written from the perspective of Earth and could not be taken literally. Officials of the Roman Inquisition declared that Copernican beliefs were heretical and ordered Galileo not to defend them either orally or in writing.

In 1623, Galileo's friend Maffeo Barberini was chosen to be Pope Urban VIII. The new pope encouraged Galileo to continue studying astronomy. As a result, Galileo wrote the "Dialog Concerning the Two Chief World Systems," in which he presented a discussion of the heliocentric theory with pro, con and neutral viewpoints. Because the person defending the Earth-centered viewpoint came across in a poor light, the work was not considered neutral, and Galileo was again summoned to appear before the Roman Inquisition. After being threatened with torture, he publicly recanted his viewpoint and was placed under house arrest, where he remained until he died in 1642.

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