In 1633, the Roman Inquisition found Galileo guilty of ``vehement suspicion of heresy'' for holding the view that the earth moves around the sun. This episode has often been held up as an example of the Catholic Church's suppression of freedom of thought and opposition to the advancement of science and culture. Galileo has been depicted in biographies, plays, and poetry as a selfless, idealistic free-thinker or even as an opponent of religious faith, who sought to undermine the Church's power and pave the way toward the modern, materialistic era.
My aim is to show that these views reflect modern stereotypes rather than the complex realities of the Galileo affair. The Church's actions have to be seen in the context of the turbulent post-Reformation period. On the other side, Galileo's scientific claims were by no means proved at the time, and his motives included generous helpings of arrogance, vanity, and vindictiveness.
Nonetheless, Galileo was one of the few thinkers of his time who truly grasped the power of science to provide genuine and compelling proofs of conclusions about the constitution of the natural world. He was a faithful Catholic (despite some irregularities in his personal life). He sought to prevent the Church from committing itself to a position that would later be proven false, causing a crisis of conscience for believers. I argue that it was not only his scientific convictions but also his concern for the welfare of the Church that explains his tenacity in defending the new cosmology in spite of the personal danger he faced in doing so.