Hard Questions About the Bible

Archive for February, 2012

The Spanish Inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition is commonly associated with horrendous atrocities committed by the Roman Catholic Church, conjuring up thoughts of persecution and torture to extract confesions from unjustly charged prisoners.  My sources are Wikipedia, http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/secrets-of-the-spanish-inquisition-revealed and http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-inquisition.

There were actually several different inquisitions, but the most infamous one was the Spanish Inquisition, which began in 1478.  Its purpose was to identify Jews and Muslims who pretended to convert to Christianity.

Spain in the late 1300s was unique in Western Europe for the racial diversity of its population, having large Jewish and Muslim communities.  In 1391, angry anti-Jewish riots erupted, which resulted in mass conversions of Jews to Christianity, many by force.

The Jewish converts eventually became prosperous, (one convert was Gabriel Sanchez, who financed the voyage of Christopher Columbus), and the Christians became jealous of their success.  Because of this jealousy, a belief developed that the converts were actually secretly practicing their Jewish faith.  This perceived ‘heresy’ is what eventually led to the Spanish Inquisition.

The Spanish Inquisition was authorized by the Roman Catholic Church, but it was under the control and authority of the Spanish monarchy.  It seemed to be for ‘holy’ purposes, but the truth was that the driving forces were jealousy, greed and prejudice of Spanish Christians, not direct action or authority of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church itself did not directly commit the atrocities, but they were committed by those acting in the church’s name.  Christians are not immune to acting with personal selfish reasons, and sometimes they use the Bible as justification for their actions, however, this does not negate the truth of the Bible.

Next:  The Crusades

Lessons About the Church and Galileo

Some people today believe that the Bible is in error because of the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to Galileo.

While the church had previously made minor concessions, it was not until 1992 til Pope John Paul II issued a declaration acknowledging the errors committed by the tribunal that judged the scientific positions of Galileo.  Let’s look at some of the dynamics of the case.

During the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church’s authority had been called into question, causing it to lose much of its power and influence.  This was part of the reason the church chose to take a strong stand against Galileo.

Politics and personalities also played a major role in how the church handled Galileo’s case.  At one point, Galileo wrote his theory using an argument that, perhaps inadvertently, made a public mockery of the Pope.  Galileo also chose to force the issue, one Catholic defender at the time wrote that Galileo was intent on ‘ramming Copernicus down the throat of Christendom’.

The ‘Earth as center of the universe’ beliefs that Galileo opposed actually came from Aristotle, not the church or the Bible, but since the church had adopted those ideas, it was forced to defend them.

Does the case of Galileo prove that the Bible is incorrect?  The Catholic Church made mistakes in the case, probably most importantly when it chose to take a literal interpretation of the verses in question and when it held too strongly to ideas from a secular source (Aristotle).  But the Bible was not at fault.

The moral of the story of Galileo:  People, even Bible experts, are fallible.  The best way to learn the truth of the Bible is to learn from those who know the Bible AND read it for yourself.

Next: The Spanish Inquisition

More About Galileo

The prevailing belief at the time of Galileo was that the Earth was the center of the universe, with the sun and planets going around it, called geocentrism, put forward by Aristotle.

Copernicus first proposed that the Earth and planets revolved around the sun, called heliocentrism.  Galileo tried to prove this after making observations on his telescope.

Even scientists of the day had a hard time accepting Galileo’s findings.  Aristotle himself had argued that if heliocentrism were true, then there would be observable parallax shifts in the stars’ positions as the earth moved around the sun, but due to the technology of the time, no such shifts could be observed.

Galileo’s theories seemed to contradict the Bible, but the church chose to take a literal interpretation of the Bible, citing verses like 1 Chronicles 16:30:  “The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved”, Psalm 93:1 “The world is established, firm and secure”, and Ecclesiastes 1:5 “The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises”.

It’s easy to see now that these verses are not meant to be taken literally, and actually this is what Galileo argued.

In the end, the church could not accept Galileo’s theories, because at the time they could not be conclusively proven.

Next:  Lessons About the Church and Galileo

The Church vs. Galileo

In the 4th century BC, the Greek philosopher Plato first proposed the geocentric model, which said that the Earth was a stationery sphere at the center of the universe, and the stars and planets moved in circular paths around the earth.  His student, Aristotle, elaborated on the theory.

In the 1600s, the telescope was invented, and Galileo started using it to make observations about moons in orbit around Jupiter and phases of Venus.  These findings suggested that the Earth and planets moved around the sun, contrary to scientific and Biblical views of the time.

Eventually, the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church tried Galileo of heresy and committed him to house arrest for the rest of his life.  This makes the church sound rigid, closed-minded and opposed to science, but I found there was more to the story.

Galileo was actually a devout Roman Catholic.  He worked with Jesuit astronomers, and was friends with the two Popes who presided over his case (One died and the other succeeded him).  Also, Galileo’s findings were not readily accepted even by fellow scientists.

Galileo, like many scientists of his day, was actually arrogant, and many of his arguments and writings were blunt and sarcastic, and this contributed to his alienation from the Jesuits, and his estrangement from the Pope.  Political issues in the church were also a factor.  Basically, the church could not accept Galileo’s findings, because they were not conclusively proven, and they were forced to take a stand against them.

The story of Galieo is very interesting,  if you want to read more, see:






Next: More About Galileo