|Robert Bellarmine's tomb,Church of Sant`Ignazio, Rome|
I’ve written often about the healthy dialogue between faith and reason in Catholic thought and practice, especially as it relates to Galileo’s great discoveries. I stress this because so much of ecology today is a blend of hard science, ethics, and morality. And ethics and morality are ultimately informed by the soul and a sound faith in a God that is love.
Indeed, as our Holy Father stresses in his second letter to the Church: “It is not science that redeems man; man is redeemed by love.” This does not minimize science. On the contrary, it ennobles it with the freedom of its proper sphere. And this is really what the Galileo affair was all about.
In light of Robert Bellarmine’s feast day, I’d like to share the following by George Sim Johnston from his essay “The Galileo Affair” (Princeton, NJ: Scepter Press).
The text is a nicely detailed review of the many facets of Galileo’s debates with the Church. It’s solid in its entirety, but for our purposes I’ll come in near the middle. At this point in the story, Galileo has made it clear that he will not back down from teaching heliocentricity as fact, even if the scientific evidence wasn’t yet available to prove it (because, in fairness to Galileo, the mathematics necessary wasn't available in his day).
At this point, one of the great saints of the day, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, entered the drama. Bellarmine was one of the most important theologians of the Catholic Reformation. He was an expansive, gentle man who possessed the sort of meekness and good humor that is the product of a lifetime of ascetical struggle. As Consultor of the Holy Office and Master of Controversial Questions, he was unwillingly drawn into the Copernical controversy. In April 1615, he wrote a letter which amounted to an unofficial statement of the Church's position. He pointed out that: 1) it was perfectly acceptable to maintain Copernicanism as a working hypothesis; and 2) if there were “real proof” that the earth circles around the sun, “then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary...”I wish more people would be aware of this part of the Galileo story, and that more people would know the thoughts of one of the greatest minds of the Church. Indeed, consider St. Bellarmine’s comment once more: if there were “real proof” that the earth circles around the sun, “then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary...”
And so on Robert Bellarmine’s feast day, let us remember the man and his great contributions to the Church and to so many facets of Western political, social and scientific thought—as well as, of course, spiritual. Indeed, the title of this post (which, if you think about it, is rather ecological) comes from his great work The Art of Dying. And his work on the The Seven Words on the Cross is a text well worth spending time with.
Let us pause briefly, and thank God for the life and works of Robert Bellarmine, as we pray:
God our Father, you gave Robert Bellarmine wisdom and goodness to defend the faith of your Church. By his prayers may we always rejoice in the profession of our faith. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.