The Inquisition on Copernicus, February 24, 1616: A Little Story About Punctuation

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A post by Chris Graney from The Catholic Astronomer blog. In 1616 the Inquisition reported on Copernicus; but the report is actually in a hard-to-read script, and one important detail—a bit of punctuation involving the report’s assessment of the Copernican system as foolish and absurd (and also heretical)—has been in dispute for 400 years.  Graney writes:

“Foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts” means one thing, and “foolish and absurd in philosophy and formally heretical, since it explicitly contradicts” means something else… the second phrasing “conveys the impression that biblical contradiction is being given as a reason for ascribing both philosophical-scientific falsehood and theological heresy.” Finocchiaro points this out while discussing how in the original document there is in fact a semicolon following “philosophy,” not just a comma.

Read various secondary sources that give the original Latin and, guess what? They differ on the punctuation of the Latin! Some agree with Finocchiaro regarding the semicolon. Others do not…

The post includes a link to high-resolution color images of the original Inquisition document and tables illustrating the various versions of the Inquisition’s statement provided by secondary sources.

Click here to read the full post on The Catholic Astronomer – the blog of the Vatican Observatory Foundation.