Known as the father of modern science, Galileo Galilei’s celestial discoveries would contribute to physics, mathematics, philosophy, cosmology and astronomy… but it would also cost him his freedom.
“I render infinite thanks to God,” Galileo once said as he observed the night sky through his telescope, “for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries.”
What were those marvels? With the aid of his improved telescope, the Italian polymath discovered the four moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, the rings of Saturn, craters of the moon and sunspots. These observations may have been awe-inspiring to witness, but for an exceptional intellect like Galileo’s, they were highly dangerous, for they reaffirmed Copernican heliocentrism, which stated that the Sun was the center of the universe. For Galileo to champion such a belief in the 17th century would be in direct violation of the all-powerful Catholic Church’s teachings, which preached geocentrism, the theory that believed the Earth was the center of the universe.
In 1616 the Church forbid Galileo to teach or discuss his theory. He relented for a time, and spent the ensuing years studying poetry, improving his telescope and employing nautical satellites to help sailors navigate the high seas. However, he couldn’t deny the revolutionary subject for long. In 1632, believing he would be safe if he wrote on both contrasting theories as a mathematical proposition, Galileo published his dissertation. Unfortunately, his gamble did not pay off. The Church condemned him for heresy and put him under house arrest for the last nine years of his life. Despite losing his freedom, Galileo remained a faithful Catholic, believing that his scientific discoveries were aligned with a higher, spiritual purpose.
“Whatever the course of our lives,” Galileo wrote, “we should receive them as the highest gift from the hand of God, in which equally reposed the power to do nothing whatever for us. Indeed, we should accept misfortune not only in thanks, but in infinite gratitude to Providence, which by such means detaches us from an excessive love for Earthly things and elevates our minds to the celestial and divine.”