Throwback Thursday: Galileo and the “infallible” popes

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on January 18, 2016 and has been revised.

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In 1870, prompted by pope Pius IX, who was besieged by the advancing Italian nationalist forces, the First Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic church declared as binding dogma that the pope is infallible when he “defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.” This doctrine of papal infallibility had many opponents within the Catholic church at the time and is problematic when attempting to reconcile an infallible papacy with its history. Popes have excommunicated previous popes. There were the bloody Crusades, the Inquisition, forced “conversions,” and the persecution of Jews and Protestants, all carried out with the approval and, oftentimes, at the instigation of the allegedly infallible popes. Modern popes have been kept busy apologizing for their predecessors. But perhaps one of the most clear-cut arguments against papal infallibility was the church’s condemnation of Galileo and his revolutionary theory of heliocentrism.

In the early 1600s, people believed the planets, sun, and stars revolved around the Earth based upon the ancient Ptolemaic geocentric model. A literal interpretation of the Bible (see Joshua 10:12-14) also seemed to support geocentrism. In 1616, Galileo’s theory of heliocentrism – that the Earth revolved around the Sun – was declared heretical by pope Paul V and the Inquisition because it seemingly contradicted Scripture. Galileo continued to challenge geocentrism, so in 1633, yet another pope, Urban VIII, and the Inquisition once again condemned him. The scientist was consequently placed under house arrest until his death in 1642.

Four-hundred years later, it’s universally accepted that the Earth revolves around the Sun. The two popes were dead wrong when they condemned Galileo. Today’s Catholic sophists try to exonerate the two “infallible” popes by claiming the condemnations of Galileo were not done “ex cathedra,” as official papal declarations, but the controversy certainly did involve an important issue involving faith. We can see from our vantage point that the church’s claimed ability to infallibly interpret Scripture was totally discredited by the two popes involved.

At least one contemporary Catholic apologist, Robert Sungenis, correctly and honestly recognizes that the question of papal infallibility is central to the Galileo affair. Sungenis concedes that if Galileo was right, then the popes proved themselves fallible by condemning him. So over the last several years, Sungenis has gone about trying to prove that geocentrism is true and that heliocentrism is false. You read that correctly! In 2007, Sungenis began writing a procession of books and materials defending geocentrism. See here. Someone needs to inform NASA, the U.S. military, satellite providers, etc., that all of their celestial mechanical calculations based on the heliocentric model are incorrect!

Most dismiss Sungenis as a screwball, but I give him credit for at least having the courage of his erroneous convictions and refusing to engage in dishonest sophistry when it comes to the Galileo affair, like other Catholic apologists do. Sungenis was once one of the most prominent American Catholic apologists, and at one time even hosted two series on the EWTN Catholic cable channel, but his defense of geocentrism and his controversial viewpoints on Jews and the nation of Israel have since relegated him to the fringe.

The early church quickly became institutionalized after Christianity was adopted as the state religion by the Roman Empire. Simple faith in Jesus Christ devolved into legalism and ritual. Those who put their faith in a man or an institution will be forever disappointed. Put your faith in Jesus Christ and accept Him as your Savior by faith alone.

22 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Galileo and the “infallible” popes

  1. Infallible? Hmmmm, I wonder what to think of these? 😀

    Pre Vatican 2:

    Boniface VIII: Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: “The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man” [1 Cor 2:15]. This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven” etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff. His Holiness Pope Boniface VIII, UNAM SANCTAM, November 18, 1302

    The Council of Florence (1441) Bull Cantata Domino: It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church. See Henry Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, trans. Roy J. Deferrari, Thirtieth Ed. (Powers Lake: Marian House, published in 1954 by Herder & Co., Freiburg), #714, p. 230.

    Vatican 2 and beyond:

    Pope Paul VI: 3. The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. DECLARATION ON THE RELATION OF THE CHURCH TO NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS, NOSTRA AETATE, PROCLAIMED BY HIS HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI ON OCTOBER 28, 1965

    Vatican II: But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Moslems, these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day. Nor is God Himself remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives to all men life and breath and all things (cf. Acts 17:25–28), and since the Saviour wills all men to be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4). Those who, who through no fault of their own, do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation. Vatican Council II The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, O.P., General Editor (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1980), Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium II:16, p. 367.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, time is flying by. Just cranked out a short, 250-word review on a book you would enjoy, a history of the WACS and WAVES who served as cryptologists during WWII.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, he’s definitely a true believer in papal infallibility. I appreciate that he’s at least trying to be consistent with his beliefs unlike other Catholic apologists.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Crissy. Famous convert to Catholicism, John Henry Newman, once said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant,” but I actually found the opposite to be true.

      Liked by 1 person

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