IV. THE NEW COSMOLOGY—COPERNICUS TO KEPLER AND GALILEO

"Salviati. If I had said that the universe does not move on account of the impotence of its ruler, I should have been wrong and your rebuke would have been in order. I admit that it is just as easy for an infinite power to move a hundred thousand as to move one. What I said, however, does not refer to him who causes the motion, but to that which is moved. In answer to your remark that it is more fitting for an infinite power to reveal a large part of itself rather than a little, I answer that, in relation to the infinite, one part is not greater than another, if both are finite. Hence it is unallowable to say that a hundred thousand is a larger part of an infinite number than two, although the former is fifty thousand times greater than the latter. If, therefore, we consider the moving bodies, we must unquestionably regard the motion of the earth as a much simpler process than that of the universe; if, furthermore, we direct our attention to so many other simplifications which may be reached only by this theory, the daily movement of the earth must appear much more probable than the motion of the universe without the earth, for, according to Aristotle's just axiom, 'Frustra fit per plura, quod potest fieri per p auciora' (It is vain to expend many means where a few are sufficient)."[2]

The work was widely circulated, and it was received with an interest which bespeaks a wide-spread undercurrent of belief in the Copernican doctrine. Naturally enough, it attracted immediate attention from the church authorities. Galileo was summoned to appear at Rome to defend his conduct. The philosopher, who was now in his seventieth year, pleaded age and infirmity. He had no desire for personal experience of the tribunal of the Inquisition; but the mandate was repeated, and Galileo went to Rome. There, as every one knows, he disavowed any intention to oppose the teachings of Scripture, and formally renounced the heretical doctrine of the earth's motion. According to a tale which so long passed current that every historian must still repeat it though no one now believes it authentic, Galileo qualified his renunciation by muttering to himself, "E pur si muove" (It does move, none the less), as he rose to his feet and retired from the presence of his persecutors. The tale is one of those fictions which the dramatic sense of humanity is wont to impose upon history, but, like most such fictions, it expresses the spirit if not the letter of truth; for just as no one believes that Galileo's lips uttered the phrase, so no one doubts that the rebellious words were in his mind.

After his formal renunciation, Galileo was allowed to depart, but with the injunction that he abstain in future from heretical teaching. The remaining ten years of his life were devoted chiefly to mechanics, where his experiments fortunately opposed the Aristotelian rather than the Hebrew teachings. Galileo's death occurred in 1642, a hundred years after the death of Copernicus. Kepler had died thirteen years before, and there remained no astronomer in the field who is conspicuous in the history of science as a champion of the Copernican doctrine. But in truth it might be said that the theory no longer needed a champion. The researches of Kepler and Galileo had produced a mass of evidence for the Copernican theory which amounted to demonstration. A generation or two might be required for this evidence to make itself everywhere known among men of science, and of course the ecclesiastical authorities must be expected to stand by their guns for a somewhat longer period. In point of fact, the ecclesiastical ban was not technically removed by the striking of the Copernican books from the list of the Index Expurgatorius until the year 1822, almost two hundred years after the date of Galileo's dialogue. But this, of course, is in no sense a guide to the state of general opinion regarding the theory. We shall gain a true gauge as to this if we assume that the greater number of important thinkers had accepted the heliocentric doctrine before the middle of the seventeenth century, and that before the close of that century the old Ptolemaic idea had been quite abandoned. A wonderful revolution in man's estimate of the universe had thus been effected within about two centuries after the birth of Copernicus.