Galileo as a 'bad theologian': A formative myth about Galileo's trial

For 150 years after Galileo's condemnation in 1633, there were many references to the trial, but no sustained, heated or polarized discussions. Then came the thesis that Galileo was condemned not for being a good astronomer but for being a bad theologian (using Scripture to support astronomical hypotheses); it began in 1784-1785 with an apology of the Inquisition by Mallet du Pan in the Mercure de France and the printing in Tiraboschi's Storia della letteratura italiana of an apocryphal letter attributed to Galileo but forged by Onorato Gaetani. This thesis is not only untenable and false but inverts and subverts the truth; it proved to be long-lasting and widely accepted; so it may be labeled a myth. It was held by such writers as . Afterwards, it was generally abandoned, its death knell being pope John Paul II's speeches in 1979-1992. The myth seems to have acted as a catalyst insofar as its creation encouraged the proliferation of pro-clerical accounts and the articulation of pro-Galilean ones, thus making the discussion of Galileo's trial the cause celebre it is today.
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