Galileo, And Yet It Moves


     No one can be blamed for not knowing who Bartolome Estaban Murillo was.  One would have to be a connoisseur of Spanish Baroque artists to have even heard of him.  I am not such a connoisseur.  I came across Murillo by accident.  In 1911 a painting, supposedly by Murillo, surfaced in Belgium.  The painting depicts the famous scientist and astronomer Galileo Galilei sitting in prison holding a nail with which he had etched on the wall a diagram of the solar system and the Latin phrase Eppur si muove, which means “and yet it moves.”

     Galileo was in prison, actually under house arrest for the last years of his life, charged by the powers that be in the Catholic Church of heresy for publishing a work in which he claimed the earth revolved around the sun rather than visa-versa, which was the Biblical/religious view held at the time. 

     The truth is actually more complicated than this.  First of all, what the Church believed concerning the geocentric/heliocentric controversy was in flux.  Many Church leaders had studied Copernicus and others and had abandoned the long held geocentric view and embraced the heliocentric view.  Galileo’s problem was that he had gotten in the face of some powerful people, particularly Pope Urban VIII.  An earlier Pope called for a series of investigations, which became known as the Roman Inquisition.  Galileo was called before the tribunal in 1632 where he defended his heliocentric view.  The judges determined that this could not be stated as a fact, and that from a theological standpoint, heliocentrism was heresy since it contradicted the Bible.  He spent the last decade of his life in confinement.

     Legend says that after his trial Galileo stood outside the courtroom and stomped his feet on the ground as he uttered the phrase Eppur si muove, “and yet it moves.”  The “it” is the earth.  The earth moves around the sun, despite what foolish men say.

     Historians are not certain he said those words.  He probably did not write them on the wall of the house he was confined to.  The painting attributed to Murillo may or may not have even been his work.  But there is no question that the sentiment of those words was a truth in Galileo’s mind.  He believed Eppur si muove, whether he said it or not.

     My point is that truth is an absolute.  Truth exists independently of any person’s opinion or agenda or hope, no matter how fervently held.  That slaveholders believed that Africans were something less than human and were willing to go to war defending that belief did not make it so.  That some people believed that George W. Bush was behind the terrorist attacks on 9/11 does not make it so.  That many believe that Elvis is still alive does not make it so.  That many believed that fluoridated water was a Communist plot to erode the moral fiber of red-blooded Americans did not make it so (extremely high levels of fluoridated water does cause a rare form of bone cancer in male rats). 

     The Bible admonishes believers to have a great respect for the truth.  “Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”  “Do not lie to one another” Col.3:9.  “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord.” Proverbs 12;22.   There are many more.

     When Christians are cavalier about the truth, the witness of the church is diminished.  If we expect non-believers to be persuaded by our words to repent and believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross as an atonement for their sins, something that on it’s surface is a difficult sell to a resistant mind, then they must never see in us any form of dishonesty – no lying, cheating, or stealing.  We must be viewed as being above reproach.  II Corinthians 8:12 says, “For we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of men.”

     Behavior matters.  Words matter.  Truth matters.

     Believers should never take a position that can be construed as being dishonest, self-serving, cruel, or foolish.  The whole world is watching.  We are operating within the sight of men.  Peter admonishes us in his first epistle, Chapter 2, verse 12 to live such good (read honorable)  lives among the pagans that … they may see your good deeds….”  We should never give non-believers any excuse to accuse us of being dishonorable in any way.  We are to reflect Jesus Christ by embracing all of the Fruits of the Spirit found in Galatians 5: 22-23.

     One of those fruits is faithfulness.  To be faithful means to be steadfast to the truth of the Gospel and all that Jesus teaches us.  And when others say that it is not the truth, to stomp our foot on the ground and say, “and yet it saves.”