Cigar Society of Chicago

M I C H A E L   M A H E R,   S. J.
Galileo and the Catholic Church
A Reconsideration

On January 7, 1610, Galileo Galilei pointed his newly improved 20x telescope to the skies and discovered celestial objects that had never been seen before, among them four scattered points of light near Jupiter. Observing their motion over the course of a week, Galileo found these points of light to be always near Jupiter, but in different relative positions, and seemingly disappearing behind Jupiter on one side and reappearing on the other, Galileo concluded that these lights were actually satellites orbiting Jupiter. They were the first celestial objects found to orbit a planet other than the earth, and these observations took a serious chip out of the Ptolemaic, or geocentric, model of the universe. Other discoveries followed that reinforced the Copernican, or heliocentric, model, such as Galileo's observation of the phases of Venus. Galileo's mounting evidence and promotion of a theory at odds with the position of the Catholic Church resulted, on February 23, 1616, in the Inquisition declaring heliocentrism to be "formally heretical." The Pope, according to the Inquisition file, "directed the Lord Cardinal Bellarmine to summon before him the said Galileo and admonish him to abandon the said opinion; and, in the case of his refusal to obey, the Commissary of the Holy Office is to enjoin him ... to abstain altogether from teaching or defending this opinion and even from discussing it." Galileo continued to advance his theory, and in 1632 he published his immensely popular Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. The Roman Inquisition tried Galileo in 1633, found him "vehemently suspect of heresy," and sentenced him to indefinite imprisonment. Galileo was kept under house arrest until his death in 1642.

Father Maher writes,
When discussions occur dealing with religion—any conversations in which knowledge is used ascertained by faith or revelationand science, the rebuttal usually comes in terms of either the Spanish Inquisition or the Galileo trial. Leaving aside for now the Spanish Inquisition, this discussion will look at the Galileo case, particularly as how it was viewed through the lens of the “conflict thesis” a theoretical framework developed in the last quarter of the 19th century that saw religion and science as constantly at “war.” This discussion will examine the Galileo case, particularly looking at some of the complexities of the evidence and their historical setting, which involved Galileo and Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, S.J. The purpose of this talk and subsequent discussion will be to foster an understanding of the Galileo case that sees it as more complex than the simplistic distillations presented for popular consumption. 

Father Michael Maher, S.J., is associate professor of history at Marquette University in Milwaukee and pastoral minister to the Wells Street Residence Hall there. His academic experiences have included chair of the Department of History at Gonzaga University in Spokane and dean of the Gonzaga-in-Florence program; assistant professor of history at St. Louis University; and adjunct assistant professor of history at the University of Minnesota.

Father Maher
was born in Milwaukee. He entered the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, in 1975. He received his undergraduate degree in philosophy from St. Louis University, and has two different master’s degrees in theology from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. He has a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota and held a post doctoral position at the Vatican in paleography.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021
5:30-7:00 pm CDT

Sign in 5:00-5:30 pm for informal cigar and cocktail chatter. The event will be called to order at 5:30.
There will be a Q&A session following the lecture. Audience participation is invited. The event will conclude at 7 pm. An optional cocktail party and discussion will continue after the event.

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About the Cigar Society of Chicago

ONE OF THE OLDEST AND greatest traditions of the city clubs of Chicago is the discussion of intellectual, social, legal, artistic, historical, scientific, musical, theatrical, and philosophical issues in the company of educated, bright, and appropriately provocative individuals, all under the beneficent influence of substantial amounts of tobacco and spirits.  The Cigar Society of Chicago embraces this tradition and extends it with its Informal Smokers, University Series lectures, and Cigar Society Dinners, in which cigars, and from time to time pipes and cigarettes, appear as an important component of our version of the classical symposium.  To be included in the Cigar Society's mailing list, write to the secretary at