“Still it moves.” This favorite misquotation from the trial of Galileo is an apt descriptive of the effects from the infamous case. The aftermath can still be felt today as the story is the perennial favorite of those who wish to present a grievance against the hierarchical church and organized religion in general. Behind the Scene’s at Galileo’s Trial gives a comprehensive overview of the stories behind the story that the author labels as “the defining event for the stormy relationship between science and religion.”
For those unfamiliar with the background of the case, Mr. Blackwell begins the book with an overview of the legal case and frames it in the context of the legal proprieties of the day. Without offering a judgment by modern standards, he also points out that the intent of the proceedings of the Inquisition was “to save souls.” However preposterous these measures may seem to the reader today, they are important points in developing an understanding of the horizon in which the events took place. Blackwell meticulously presents the nuances of the dogmatic language used in the charges against Galileo and against Copernicanism itself. This provides an interesting look into the workings of the magesterium and the constraints under which defendant and prosecution had to operate.
For those more familiar with case, the subsequent chapters provide a fascinating portrait of the antagonist of Galileo’s trial, Melchior Inchofer and his relationship to Galileo’s scientific rival, Christopher Scheiner. Although Blackwell seems to lie to rest any conspiracy theory concerning the Jesuit community, these two figures in particular played prominent roles in the pre-trial investigations and the tribunal itself. Plea bargains, false summary reports, conflicting memos and the double imprimatur given to Galileo’s Dialogue all add to the intrigue of this real-life mystery and although each of these topics is given due attention, the author offers no tidy solution to the behind the scenes maneuvering. The reader instead is left wondering how the agreed upon plea of “rashness” was sabotaged to the degree that the trial ended with a verdict of “vehement suspicion of heresy” against Galileo.
Blackwell concerns himself with the consequences of the verdict in his final chapters. This seems to be at the heart of the author’s intent in writing Behind the Scenes. The misinformation about the trial has widened the gap between the scientific community and the religious community. Blackwell’s book presents a factual enough depiction of the events so that one can view the episode as an unfortunate consequence of the movement toward a modern worldview. The credibility of church authority, according to Blackwell, is what the trial was about. In his closing chapter, he offers a way in which to bridge the gap between science and religion.
The appendices provide additional insight into the case and mindset of the participants through English translation of Melchior Inchofer’s, Tractatus, a theological treatise on Heliocentrism. The additional appendix contains the revised Jesuit Rule of 1593-94, which in effect brought an end to Jesuit scientific inquiry and Christopher Scheiner’s Prodromus, chapter one, in which he airs his personal grievances against Galileo. Mr. Blackwell presents this complex drama in a systematic, yet engaging way.