Is Geocentrism Really that Important?
Frank: First let me preface my comments by saying that I have read your work and continue to do so. I have nothing against you personally, so please don’t take my note to you as derogatory as it is not meant to be.
First let me say that I did read your entire article criticizing Robert Lockwood. I am not an expert when it comes to Galileo or heliocentrism or geocentrism but I have read enough to familiarize myself with the issue. Thankfully it doesn’t come up in everyday conversation very often. My first question to you Mr. Sungenis is why is this so significant to you? What is so important about this issue to force you to alienate yourself from the majority of Catholic apologists and much of the Catholic community? I mean how important is this issue? How many times have you had someone call you or email saying, “thank you Mr. Sungenis now that I know that geocentrism is the biblically accurate view of the universe I can now believe in Jesus Christ and repent of my sins.” “Now that I know that the sun revolves around the earth and not vice versa I am prepared to commit my life to God.” I would venture to say that you have never heard anyone say anything close to that. So why the bunker mentality? Why austracize yourself from your fellow apologists just so you can be “right.” Is it really worth it? Is this subject that important? I would bet you bottom dollar that if you never brought up the subject of Galileo or geocentrism again that it would be very unlikely that you would run into someone talking about this subject in regular normal life. Do you know why people don’t generally talk about geocentrism or Galileo? Because nobody cares. Nobody is sitting around thinking about this stuff and I know for sure that this is not a “salvation issue.” Unless you have lost your mind completely I don’t think that you believe that one has to be a geocentrist in order to be saved. If you do think that then there is no hope for you, you have lost your marbles.
The truth is Robert that this is not an important issue and there is no justification for your to alienate most Catholic apologists because they think you’re nuts. Why don’t you let this issue go and move on to what is important like the Catholic Faith and the salvation of those who are lost. Knowing about geocentrism and holding a particular view one way or other maybe interesting and a hobby but wow, making it your life and then irritating everyone in the apologetics field is certainly ridiculous.
R. Sungenis: Thank you for writing. It gives me an opportunity to set the record straight. I’m sure there are many people like yourself you are thinking the same thing.
First, let me ask this: if, as you say, it’s not an important issue, then why did Mr. Lockwood write about it, and why did Catholic Answers feel the compunction to publish Lockwood’s article? Why has Mr. Lockwood written on this issue many times in his career and never seems to tire of it? Why do Catholic apologists, month in and month out, year in and year out, keep searching for an answer to the Galileo affair? Why did John Paul II organize a commission to study the issue for 11 years beginning in 1981? Why do dozens of books every year continue to be published about it? Something must be bothering them about it. In fact, since the 1500s, there has been no issue that has spilt more ink than the Galileo affair. So what is wrong with me adding my two cents on the issue, especially since my efforts are designed to clear up the confusion, not add to it? If Lockwood’s perspective is wrong and he is only confusing the issue even more, then doesn’t it behoove me to tell him and the rest of the Catholic world about it? Or, if you think the Galileo issue isn’t important because, as you say “it is not a salvation issue,” then you should write to Mr. Lockwood and Catholic Answers, and every other Catholic author whose penned a book or article about Galileo, and tell them not to write about it. Why am I only your target? I can take an educated guess from what I know of people in general and this topic in particular to conclude that you’ve already decided that I am wrong about Galileo and Mr. Lockwood is right. I can’t think of any other reason you would write to me and say the things you did.
Of course, since I believe I’m right about the issue, the question still remains, why would I bother making a fuss about it and, as you say, “alienating” myself from other Catholics and apologists? Well, each of us who is in the public eye, especially one who claims to be an evangelist for the Church, has to ask himself that quintessential question: if I find a theological and biblical truth that is not being taught today as it should, am I willing to risk the negativity that will invariably come when I spread that truth? Many will answer that it is not worth the risk, and I understand their position. But I am not one of them, and never have been. The moment I say to myself that I will not publically teach a theological/biblical truth for fear of persecution is the day I fold up this ministry and go back to making widgets for a living. The only fact that drives me is that I know the truth of the matter, and when you have the truth you are only going to make yourself ill when you keep it inside and don’t tell anyone (e.g., Jer 20:9; Mt 13:45-46). Call me selfish if you want, Frank, but I don’t want God to make me ill for withholding his truth from his people.
Now, the next question is, is geocentrism a theological/biblical truth? Are you correct in saying that geocentrism is “not a matter of salvation” and therefore not worthy of our time and attention? As I said above, if it wasn’t worth our time, then why did Mr. Lockwood write an article about it? The very reason he wrote about Galileo and attempted to find a solution is that he, and many people like him, are very bothered about what effect the Galileo affair has on the Church’s power to preach the Gospel of salvation. The simple fact is, if the Church was wrong when it officially condemned heliocentrism because, as she claimed, heliocentrism was against the teaching of Scripture and thus a matter of salvation (for he who rejects the truth of Scripture is a heretic), then the $64,000 question is: what else has the Church been wrong about? If the Church can’t even figure out what is and is not a matter of Scriptural truth and salvation, then how does it even have the authority to tell us what salvation is? Consequently, unless Mr. Lockwood can find a satisfactory answer why the Church said heliocentrism was “formally heretical,” then he is stuck with a Church that makes high-level official statements claiming a certain truth about Scripture and salvation but is, in reality, in abject error. This predicament inevitably means that every other decree the Church has taught about Scripture and salvation is open to question. There is simply no way around this logic.
Is that the kind of Church we want, Frank? Mr. Lockwood doesn’t want that kind of Church, but he was at a loss to find us a way out of the problem. I don’t want that kind of Church either, but I know that the only solution to it is to show that the Church was right, not only in condemning heliocentrism and Galileo, but was also right in considering cosmology a matter of Scriptural truth and ultimately of salvation itself, since a rejection of Scriptural truth and an acceptance of heresy will lead to damnation. When the Church committed herself to condemning heliocentrism as “formally heretical” at the 1633 trial of Galileo, there was no turning back. Geocentrism, because it directly reflected the inerrancy of Scripture, was now indirectly made a matter of salvation, for he who rejected the Church’s decree and the truth of Scripture was putting his salvation in jeopardy.
And this was no slap-on-the-wrist decree. It was backed by an absolute consensus of the Fathers (the very argument per the Council of Trent that St. Robert Bellarmine and the Pope used against Galileo). It was backed by a consensus of all the medieval theologians. It was backed by four separate entries in Pius V’s Catechism of the Council of Trent advocating geocentrism. It was backed by a previous decision by a commission of eleven cardinals in 1615 declaring that heliocentrism was “formally heretical,” and subsequently by a decree authorized by Paul V in 1616 telling Galileo never to preach heliocentrism for the rest of his life. It was backed by a 1664 decision by Alexander VII to include Copernicus’, Galileo’s and Kepler’s books on the Index. As late as 1833, it was backed by the Glasgow edition of Newton’s Principia which contained a disclaimer authorized by the Vatican which said: “Newton in his third book assumes the hypothesis of the earth’s movement. The author’s [Newton’s] propositions could not be explained except on the same hypothesis. Hence we have been obliged to put on a character not our own. But we profess obedience to the decrees made by the Supreme Pontiffs against the movement of the earth.”
So here we have an absolute consensus in the Tradition, the Magisterium in one of its highest authoritative venues; and Scripture saying the sun moves and the earth stands still; all vouching for what Pope Urban VIII did in 1633 against heliocentrism and Galileo – sixteen hundred years of unswerving testimony from a Church that claims to be the certain and undaunted mouthpiece of God for the world. How much authority do we need, if this is not enough? What doctrine do you know of in the Catholic Church that has more credentials for being a doctrine than geocentrism? The only thing holding you back, Frank, is that you think science has proven the Church wrong. But that’s where I come in. Science has proven no such thing. The only thing science has proven is that it has no proof for heliocentrism. But if you are not willing to accept that fact, then, of course, you will see me as merely an agitator, a person who doesn’t care that he will alienate his fellow Catholics by this issue.
Now, as I said in my rebuttal to Lockwood, it will do no good to run to the “lack of papal infallibility” as the magic bullet to answer the Galileo issue, for if we are required to validate every truth of Scripture and salvation by an infallible papal statement, this would invariably subject every non-infallible statement (e.g., apostolic constitution, encyclical, motu proprio, etc.) to the same degree of error that many claim Pope Urban VIII committed when he condemned heliocentrism in 1633. A large percentage of our Catholic teaching would be suspect of error, for very rarely have popes issued doctrines that are circumscribed by a formal declaration of papal infallibility. We must also remember that neither Pope Paul V in 1616 nor Pope Urban VIII even had recourse to making their decree formally infallible since the procedure of decreeing a doctrine with “papal infallibility” was not formally known, much less defined before 1870.
Incidentally, much is made of the fact that though Pope Urban VIII put the full weight of his papacy behind the condemnation of heliocentrism and Galileo, he didn’t sign the decree. But the truth is, pope’s neither signed the decrees issued from canonical trials nor was their signature officially required in order to make their decrees effective or enforceable. Up until 1870 when the definition of papal infallibility was formally decreed by Pius IX, popes hardly ever signed their formal decrees, and there is no canonical stipulation that says a decree that is unsigned by the pope yet formally approved by him does not have the same force as a signed document. Moreover, the definition of papal infallibility given by Pius IX in 1870 says nothing about the pope having to “sign” his infallible statement. The decree says only “when he speaks ex cathedra…” He doesn’t even have to write it, if he so desires. Someone else can do that for him.
Now, as I said above, when you add the weight of the above arguments to the fact that long after Pope Urban VIII we have discovered reams of scientific evidence that backs up Urban’s decree against heliocentrism (which evidence I give to my patrons in over 700 pages of scientific research in Galileo Was Wrong), then I certainly do have a strong case. It’s much stronger than Mr. Lockwood’s, that is for sure. Mr. Lockwood wants us to ignore the Tradition; figuratize Scripture against a tradition that has always interpreted it literally; and embarrass several popes as being merely over anxious zealots who really didn’t know what they were talking about. Mr. Lockwood also wants us to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat and declare that science has proven heliocentrism when, in fact, Mr. Lockwood and most other Catholic historians who write supporting Galileo have never done a study on the scientific side of this debate. They just assume Galileo was right and the Catholic Church was wrong.
So don’t you think it’s worth the risk of me being persecuted in order to tell them that they are starting out with an erroneous presumption rather than watch them go down a rabbit trail that is only going to end up hurting the Church’s credibility? That’s why I take the risk of “alienating” myself from other Catholics, Frank. It’s all about the credibility of the Church and Scripture. If the Church fails in one doctrinal point; the Church fails in all. That is what being Catholic is all about. We don’t have the privilege that the Protestant churches do wherein if we find one denomination in error we can form another one and declare that we have the truth. We are stuck with one church and one truth. So if that Church is wrong on just one issue that it authoritatively and consistently disseminated to its people (as is the case of geocentrism), then it simply cannot be trusted on any issue. The geocentric issue is one of those teaching that affects all three branches of the Church’s credibility and authority: Tradition (because geocentrism was taught by all the Fathers, doctors, saints, and medievals); Magisterium (because four popes put their full weight behind it); and Scripture (because it clearly says the earth does not move and the sun does). So if one denies geocentrism, he besmirches all three branches of the Church’s authority.
So when someone like me comes along and says, “Hold on, people, one of the very reasons we are having so many problems today in and out of the Church is because many people in the Church have decided that the Bible is wrong about 90% of the time and modern science has a better answer for us,”
Now, if that is not a matter of “salvation,” what is? If we can’t trust the Bible to give us error-free truth, then why are we trusting it for anything, including what it says about salvation? This was the very heart of the issue between Galileo and the Church. The matter was not so much about what revolved around what, but about what GOD said revolved around what. That is why I critiqued Mr. Lockwood’s article, something he conveniently ignored in his essay.
The other important issue is the integrity of the Church herself, for if the Church was wrong about its condemnation of heliocentrism, especially after it put the full weight of its magisterium and Tradition behind the condemnation, then the Church is a miserable farce, to say the least. As I said in my rebuke of Lockwood, if, after an absolute consensus of Fathers and medievals; the clear testimony of Scripture that the Church was never afraid to take literally because it was from the mouth of God (e.g., “This is my body”); and four popes who publicly and formally condemned heliocentrism as heretical, that the Church finds itself wrong about Galileo, then there is little hope for the Church. If the only truth we can know as Catholics has to be stamped with papal infallibility before we will ever accept it, then this puts into question at least 95% of what the Church has taught for 2000 years, since only about 5% has even been stamped with papal infallibility, if that.
So, as you can see, Frank, this is not an issue of Robert Sungenis wanting to be right, as you put it. This is an issue of Robert Sungenis trying to show severely brainwashed Catholic apologists today that in the Galileo affair the very integrity of God, Scripture and the Catholic Church are at stake, for the simple reason that, if all three are wrong about Galileo, then they could be wrong about anything, and our religion is not worth the paper it is written on.
And then when someone like me spends thousands of hours researching this subject and finds that modern science has been pulling the wool over our eyes, claiming that they have proof for heliocentrism when, in fact, they don’t have any proof, and, in fact, the preponderance of the evidence points to geocentrism as the true scientific position, well, you’ll have to excuse me, Frank, for putting two and two together and getting four, that is, that God, Scripture and the Church were, indeed, correct for condemning heliocentrism as heretical, and thus the Church proved that God does not lie; that Scripture is always without error, and the Church’s popes were valiant and faithful men who upheld those two pillars and condemned anyone who would besmirch their integrity.
In all this you should be rejoicing and shouting from the housetops. Here someone has told you one of the major reasons why people are turning away from God in droves; why the devil has such a foothold on people’s minds and hearts; or why the Church is considered a relic of bygone days that hardly has anything to say that is considered authoritative for mankind. Instead, you try to make this an ego trip for Robert Sungenis. Honestly, Frank, do you really think I enjoy getting slandered and ridiculed on a daily basis? Don’t you think an intelligent guy like me would have figured out a long time ago that, if I want to be successful in the eyes of men, I should avoid hot button topics like this?
But one thing you don’t understand, Frank, is that I’m not in this for fame or fortune. I’m in it for the truth. The day I find myself not in it for the truth is the day I leave the whole enterprise. But when I search for truth, it is not just for convenient truth, or truth that everyone else has to accept before I accept it. No, when I search for truth I go to the very depths. I’m simply not satisfied with anything else. My apologetics, as you have seen, is not superficial. It is not fluff. My apologetics will take you down to the core of the issue. Unfortunately, many people don’t want to go that far since they don’t want to invest the time, money and energy it is going to take to get that far. And some that reach the core are then tempted to pretend its not there because they don’t like what they find.
Each of us will make that decision. I have made mine. Now it’s time for you to make yours. My suggestion in order to help you make the right decision is to first read the two volumes I have written on this matter, and then you will be in a much better position to voice your opinion about who was being more faithful to God, Scripture, the Church and Science; me or Mr. Lockwood. God be with you.by