casts scorn upon Protestant fundamentalists for harping on about the cunning
exploits of the Society of Jesus – as though we had compiled a folklore to
indulge our own prejudices.
The amazing story of Galileo’s betrayal came to light
through the unbiased historical research of Pietro Redondi. Protestants who
have been following this series will have realised by now that for the Inquisition
education was fine, but any threat to the theory of transubstantiation and the
mass took priority. There is no doubt in the present writer’s mind that quite
apart from the longstanding antagonism between the Dominicans and the Jesuits,
there was a specific Jesuit plot against Galileo following the publication of
Galileo’s The Assayer in 1623. What is more, the present writer believes
that this plot accounts for the document “G3” denouncing Galileo, which Redondi
recently discovered in the inquisition. In essence, “G3” accused Galileo of
undermining the doctrine of transubstantiation by his atomic theory expounded
in The Assayer. Moreover it seems that the Jesuits deliberately betrayed
Galileo in such a way that their hand would not be seen, as indeed it might not
have been but for the researchers of Redondi.
Dominicans versus Jesuits
The trouble began when the Jesuits
introduced some changes into their rigid educational system laid down in their
manual, the Ratio Studiorum. Not only did the Jesuits begin winning
Roman Catholic boys to their seminaries but Protestant parents followed suit
because of the excellence and Suavity of the Jesuit schools – and that in
central Europe, the battlefield
of Counter Reformation. The Dominicans responded by putting early editions of
the Ratio on to the Inquisition’s Index of Forbidden Books, as
the Dominicans battled for intellectual supremacy against the emerging Jesuit
The Jesuits took censure after censure
from the traditionalists. But they turned these occasions to their own
advantage, publicising their views and ingratiating themselves with the great
and the good outside the Roman Church. When Protestant families began to crave
the Jesuit’s services, Jesuit ambition became boundless.
Hence, when Galileo appeared, championing
the theory of the earth revolving around the sun (against the Dominicans,
Aquinas and Aristotle) it presented the Jesuits with an opportunity for some
further sport at the Dominicans expense, together with some helpful publicity.
This was particularly useful in places like Prague where the Jesuit University, the Klementinium, sported a
state of the art observatory, still to be seen today. This was luring
Protestant pupils away from the nearby, Protestant, Charles University.
Parents then as now wanted the very best education for their children.
The discovery of “G3”
In June 1982, the expert historian
Redondi gained admittance to the Archive of the Inquisition. He found there the
hitherto unknown denunciation of Galileo for challenging the theory of
transubstantiation. Redondi recognised the handwriting of this mysterious
document “G3”. It was that of an ambitious, young, rising star in the top Jesuit College in Rome, The
Collegio Romano, Fr Orazio Grassi. Now although everyone was encouraged to
betray heretics to the Inquisition, only a notable figure would be allowed a
formal deposition of their accusations in this way. Such denunciations had to
be presented in a very specific format and special manuals of procedure for
denouncement existed, the so called “elegant protocols” which had to be
followed. The content of the denunciation had to be precise in theology and
“G3” was just such. It was a model
denunciation. Only Rome’s
senior men would be allowed to deposit such a denunciation and Fr Grassi was
one of these.
The devil, the wind and the Gesu
The high walled medieval buildings and
atmospheric long narrow passageways around the Jesuit Collegio Romano have not
altered since the time of the
Galileo plot. The two main Jesuit Churches, the Gesu and St Ignatius, with its
attached Collegio Romano, comprise one huge block of Jesuit real estate. (Fr
Grassi was the architect of the huge dome of St Ignatius.) The distance between
the two churches is actually quite small yet the author still sometimes gets lost. The wind sweeps along
these passages. According to ancient lore, this is because the wind and the
devil were walking together one day when the devil suddenly disappeared into
the Gesu. The devil has not come out again, and the wind is still waiting
But most atmospheric of all is the narrow
way known as the Via St Ignazio, named after Loyola the founder of the Jesuits,
which separates the Jesuit block and the Collegio Romano from their rivals in
the Dominican block which includes Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and the convent
where Galileo was tried by the Inquisition. The Jesuits and the Dominicans
could not even glare at one another from opposite windows as an elevated
covered walkway connects the two as a bridge. How often the author has gazed up
at this sight and imagined the whispers, the spies standing in the shadows, and
the dark dealings and betrayals as priests slipped to and fro between the two
Orazio Grassi was an ambitious prodigy
from Savona. He had worked his
way up from a novitiate to a lectureship in Mathematics in the 23 years he had
spent in Rome prior to the
publication of The Assayer. Grassi was probably behind the group of
Jesuits, headed by Fr Clavius, who fawned on Galileo when Galileo visited the
Collegio Romano to compare notes in 1612. Galileo was just becoming fashionable
and his visit was a Jesuit coup, one their Dominican neighbours must have
smarted under. Grassi subsequently rose to greater heights and he must have been
one of those who counselled the ageing Cardinal Bellarmine to let Galileo off
at Galileo’s first trial before the Inquisition, 1616.
Grassi versus Galileo
But soon then here followed a spat
between Grassi and Galileo. The precise details are conjectural but the
following outline is almost certainly broadly correct.
Galileo was frequently ill and missed
observing some important comets in 1619. Indeed the only comet he ever
witnessed was as a child. Professor Grassi, as he now was, seized his chance to
deflect some of Galileo’s glory on to the Society of Jesus. Having observed the
comets in detail Grassi published his lectures anonymously. But there was a
problem. The Jesuit General, although welcoming the growing distinctiveness of
Jesuit thinking, insisted that nothing be allowed to threaten the Aristotelian
bedrock on which Transubstantiation rested.
Thus Grassi’s observations were fine but
as a Jesuit he was compelled to draw erroneous conclusions from his data lest
he compromise the theories of Aristotle and thereby endanger the doctrine of
transubstantiation. Absolute obedience was the Jesuit hallmark, and Grassi
could not deviate. Of course Galileo could see the fallacies in Grassi’s
What followed is not difficult to
picture. Galileo and his pupil Mario Guiducci collaborate in a scathing
rebuttal of Grassi’s Discourse on the Comets. Jesuit pride is wounded.
Grassi puts all his might into his reply, Libra (The Balance), written
under his pupil’s name Lotario Sarsi and published in 1619. But again he is
crippled by the Jesuit General’s insistence that Aristotelianism be held
sacrosanct. Galileo now discovers his enemy is a Jesuit, Fr Grassi, writing
under the pseudonym of Sarsi. (A modern Jesuit admits that Grassi’s attempt to
take on an intellect such as Galileo’s was “downright silly”.)
The Jesuit’s enemies then bring pressure
to bear on Galileo to trounce Grassi with a refutation. Galileo wisely
hesitates but the “pride of the Jesuits” becomes so intolerable that he finally
acquiesces. Although Galileo prepared his reply in secret, the Jesuit spy
network is soon alerted to the fact that The Assayer (The Fine Balance
to weigh gold) was on the stocks. By January 1623, about six months before the Assayer’s
publication, Galileo is informed
that the Jesuits “have seen through everything”.
Ambitious Grassi is dismayed at the
prospect of being humiliated again by Galileo. He is determined not to be the
one to bring ridicule on his society and cause “denigration of the Collegio Romano”.
He is thrown into a frenzy of retaliation. The whole spring term syllabus is
changed to fortify the novices against what might be in The Assayer.
Grassi is so filled with rage that, unable to learn from experience, he plans a
reply before The Assayer is even published. But Galileo knows Jesuit
tactics too well. Grassi must want to be the first man in Rome to have a copy
of The Assayer. So why not help him? The spy network in the alleys
busses again. A message reaches Grassi that an advanced copy of Galileo’s new
book is in the Sun Bookstore. Grassi takes the bait and “immediately rushed
there”. On looking at the title page, with its satirical title, “he changed
colour”. He lost his Jesuit composure and castigated the innocent bookseller,
boasting to him that although Galileo may have taken three years, his reply
would be out in three months.
But Father Grassi needs to be certain
that he will triumph this time.
This meant discovering exactly what Galileo’s present state of knowledge and
interest is. He needs a window into Galileo’s mind. He soon finds one, in true
Jesuit fashion. Galileo’s pupil and confidant Mario Guiducci is looking after
Galileo’s business and particularly the launch of The Assayer in Rome.
Guiducci collapses with a malarial crisis rambling incoherently. Galileo’s
intelligence supply is cut off. Yet, despite being a stranger, Guiducci seems
to be well taken care of and, as he improves, Fr Grassi and “several other” top
Jesuits from the Collegio Romano become his sick visitors. He is flattered.
Fleeced by the Jesuits
When he was improving, he wrote to
Galileo of his conversation with Grassi. Apparently “a large part of our
conversation consisted of praising your writings”. When he was well enough to
go out again he found himself unexpectedly welcome in the Collegio Romano as
invitation followed invitation. It was surprising how each time he just happened to bump into Fr
Grassi who really seemed to have all the time in the world for him. It was only when Guiducci was fully restored
to health and found he could not get away from Grassi that he realised he had
been fleeced by the Jesuits of the Collegio Romano.
In the event, Fr Grassi, either by order
of his superiors or because of the information he had dragged from the febrile Guiducci, or both, abandoned
the idea of a rushed reply. Three years passed before his Ratio Ponderum (Teaching
upon weights) was published in 1626, also under the pseudonym Sarsi. It was a
better book but could not hope to stand up to the progress of science and Galileo’s
developing ideas, because everything Grassi proposed had to be twisted to agree
with Aristotle. One suspects Fr Grassi realised this for himself by now.
Grassi needed an insurance policy to
protect his own skin and safeguard the Society of Jesus. He goes to his
confessor who directs him to the Jesuit General. The Society must distance
itself from Galileo. They then consider how the Galileo threat could be
neutralised. Grassi, with arguments fresh in his mind from writing the Ratio
Ponderum, proceeds to ingratiate himself with his general.
Grassi has read the Assayer carefully
and seen that Galileo has done the very thing forbidden to himself. Galileo has
abandoned Aristotle and propounded an atomic theory which strikes at the heart
of transubstantiation and the mass. “If we alert the Inquisition to his
activities,” they scheme, “with an elegant and minutely accurate denouncement
of unarguable guilt for assailing the mass surely that tribunal will relieve us
of our problem without anyone knowing we had anything at all to do with it”. A
comparison of “G3” with the appropriate passages in the Ratio Ponderum shows
striking similarities in argument and style making it likely that the same
author wrote both. And so the mysterious “G3” finds its way to the dreaded
tribunal. The rest, as they say, is history. Galileo is sacrificed for the good
of the Society of Jesus.