Saturday, October 20, 2012

Some Memorable Trials

Many people were put on trial for their new ideas which did not suit to the people, government or kings of their time . If we think about them today, they seem to be a foolishness on their part that how foolish were those people or king or government that they killed them on no account of any harm done to the society. Some were executed (Socrates and Jesus Christ) while others were pardoned posthumously (Galileo Galilei and Eckhart).

(469-399 BC) The first trial is of Socrates who was killed by poison. His trial is a very famous one of all times. Socrates was a great Greek philosopher in ancient Greece during 469-399 BC. He is well known for his wisdom. Unfortunately his own writing are not available in original form, but his two disciples - Plato and Xenophon; and his contemporary Aristophanes. he was accused of two issues - he did not acknowledge the gods who were acknowledged by the citizens of that time; and introducing new Deities. His trial was conducted by 500 juries who sentenced him to death. He was to be convicted by drinking Hemlock based liquid. His death was voluntary in order to justify his opposition to the Athenian democracy, and that he felt that the old age will be unpleasant anyway.

Jesus Christ
(6-2 BC-30-36 AD) Another most known and famous trial of the world, and then sentenced to death by crucifixion is of Jesus Christ. He was a Jewish teacher baptized by John the Baptist. Christian believe that he was the son of Holy Spirit  born through virgin Mary. He died on crucifix, rose from the dead, and ascended to the Heaven, from where he will return in future. he was crucified by Pontius Pilate who was the ruler of Judea from 26 to 36 AD. Jesus started his ministry at the age of about 30 and continued for about 3 years, During his last week of life, called Passion Week also, Jesus visits Temple, has problem with money changers about the use of temple for commercial purpose. Then he has a debate with elders in which his authority is questioned and the Woes of the Pharisees in which Jesus criticizes there hypocrisy. One of his disciples Judas Iscariot decides to betray him at the cost of 30 pieces of silver. Towards the last day of the week Jesus has Last Supper. After the Supper he goes in a garden to pray. There he is betrayed by Judas with a kiss to identify him as Jesus and is arrested. After the arrest Jesus' disciples go in hiding.

Jesus is taken to a body, Sanhedrin, and is tried, mocked and beaten and is condemned for making claims to be the Son of God. He is then taken to Pontius Pilate for his judgment and punishment. Pilate then orders his crucifixion he is then taken to High Priest's house where he is again mocked and beaten. Jesus speaks very little and does not defend himself. The Priest asks him - "Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed?" Jesus says - "I am." Hearing this the priest tears his own clothes and blames Jesus of blasphemy. Priest again asks - "Are you then the Son of God?" Jesus answers - "You say that I am affirming the title of Son of God."Then the Pilate accuses him claiming the King of Jews.

Then the Pilate realizes that Jesus is from Galilee and thus he should be under Herod Antipas, so he sends him there. There also Herod's soldiers mock him, put on a gorgeous robe on him like a king's robe and send him back to Pilate. Pilate declares that he has not found any fault with him. Pilate orders INRI to be engraved in his cross. The trial by Pilate follows putting a purple robe on his body (mark of the dress of a king), a crown of thorns, beat him, mock him and send him to Calvary to be crucified. At Calvary he is offered wine mixed with gall to drink (as a painkiller), but he refused to drink it, and then the soldiers crucified him by nailing his hands and feet on the cross. He was crucified between two thieves. One of them rebuked Jesus while the other one defended him. This was on Friday.

After he had died his body was wrapped in a clean cloth and buried in a new rock hewn tomb. Next day they checked whether the body was still safe in the tomb. But the third day, on Sunday, his followers find the tomb empty - Jesus had risen. Jesus appeared before his followers on that day and later several times.

Galileo Galilei
(Feb 15, 1564-Jan 8, 1642) Yet another trial is of Galileo Galilei. He was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher. His major contribution to the scientific community are improvements to the telescope and thus consequently astronomical observations, and support to Copernicanism. He is known as the "father of modern observational astronomy? and "the father of modern physics", and "the father of science".  His major contributions are - the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean moons in his honour), and the observation and analysis of sunspots.

Galileo's heliocentrism was much criticized in his lifetime. Most astronomers opposed him on this issue. Only in 1615 it was suggested that it could only be a possibility not an established fact. Galileo later defended his ideas which attacked the Pope Urban VIII and the Jesuits. he was tried by the Inquisition "vehemently suspect of heresy", forced to recant, and spend the rest of his life under house arrest. It was when he was living in his house, he wrote one of his finest works - "Two New Sciences" in which he summarized his work which he did 40 years before. These two new sciences are now known as Kinematics, and Strength of Materials.

Biblical references, Psalm 93.1 and 1 Chronicles 16.30 say that "the world is  firmly established, it cannot be moved." In the same way Psalm 104.5 says that "The Lord set the Earth on its foundations, it can never be moved."; and Ecclesiastes 1.5 states that "And the Sun rises and sets and returns to its place." etc.Galileo defended heliocentrism, and claimed that it was not contrary to those Scripture passages. He took Augustine's views on Scripture, that one should not to take every passage of the scripture literally, particularly when the scripture in question is a book of poetry and songs, not a book of instructions or history. He believed that the writers of the Scripture merely wrote it from the perspective of the terrestrial world, from that vantage point that the sun does rise and set. So Galileo claimed that science did not contradict Scripture, as Scripture was discussing a different kind of "movement" of the Earth, and not rotations

By 1616 his criticism had gone on the top, so he went to Rome to try persuade the Catholic Church not to ban Copernicus ideas. At last a Decree was issued declaring the ideas that the Sun stood still and the Earth moved were false, and was altogether contrary to the scripture. Thus suspending the idea of Copernicus until it was proved true.

Galileo was informed about this Decree before it was issued that his ideas could not be defended, so he should abandon them. Galileo obeyed it. He stayed away from the controversies for several years. Then he wrote a book on this subject in 1623 with the Papal permission. The book "Dialog Concerning the Two Chief World Systems" was published in 1632. Although Pope Urban was a friend of Galileo, but he was facing pressure from state. At this time the case of Galileo was presented to Pope by court insiders and enemies of Galileo. Other people were blaming Pope dealing with Galileo softly so a Cardinal behaved with anger and fear. In 1632 Galileo was asked to come to Rome and he arrived there in February 1633. In the court, throughout his trial, he stuck to his statement that since 1616 he has denied them, not even defended his statements, but he was eventually persuaded to admit those blames put on him.

In July 1633, the court concluded with his being threatened with torture, if he did not tell the truth, but he maintained his denial despite the threat. The sentence of the Inquisition was delivered on June 22. It was in three essential parts:

(1) Galileo was found "vehemently suspect of heresy", namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the center of the universe, that the Earth is not at its center and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture. He was required to "abjure, curse and detest" those opinions.
(2)  He was sentenced to formal imprisonment at the pleasure of the Inquisition. On the following day this was commuted to house arrest, which he remained under for the rest of his life.
(3) His offending Dialogue was banned; and in an action not announced at the trial, publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any he might write in the future.

Even later, in 1990, it was told that "The Church at the time of Galileo kept much more closely to reason than did Galileo himself, and she took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo's teaching too. Her verdict against Galileo was rational and just and the revision of this verdict can be justified only on the grounds of what is politically opportune."

 Galileo was allowed to return to his home in 1634, where he lived under house arrest. He went completely blind in 1638 and was suffering from a painful hernia and insomnia. He died on 8 January 1642, aged 77. He was not even allowed to be buried with his ancestors because he was condemned by the Catholic Church for "vehement suspicion of heresy". He was buried in a small room. He was reburied in the main body of the basilica in 1737 after a monument had been erected there in his honor. During this move, three fingers and a tooth were removed from his remains. One of these fingers, the middle finger from Galileo's right hand, is currently on exhibition at the Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy.

 The Inquisition's ban on reprinting Galileo's works was lifted in 1718 when permission was granted to publish an edition of his works (excluding the condemned Dialogue) in Florence. All traces of official opposition to heliocentrism by the church disappeared in 1835.

On 31 October 1992, Pope John Paul II expressed regret for how the Galileo affair was handled, and issued a declaration acknowledging the errors committed by the Catholic Church tribunal that judged the scientific positions of Galileo Galilei. In March 2008 the head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences announced to honor Galileo by erecting his statue inside the Vatican walls but later it was suspended. In December of the same year, during events to mark the 400th anniversary of Galileo's earliest telescopic observations, Pope praised his contributions to astronomy.

(1260-Feb 13, 1327 AD) Eckhart von Hochheim or better known as Meister Eckhart was a German philosopher, theologian and mystic born in Roman Empire. His Meister designation is the "Master" which refers to "Magister in Theologia" he obtained in Paris, France. He was tried as a Heretic by Pope John XXII. His defense is famous for his reasoned arguments to his all challenged articles and his refutation of heretic intent. he purportly died before even his verdict was announced.although no record of his death or burial site has ever been discovered. His most reputed disciple were John Tauler and Henry Suso. he was very well known among pious lay people for his "Friends of God".

Although on his death day, he stated in his protested, which was read in public, that he had always hated his writings, and if that kind of thing is still found in his writings, he now hates it. Still Pope John XXII issued a bull on March 27, 1329, that many ideas of his writings have been described as heretical.

In the spring of 2010, there was a response from Vatican, in a letter dated 1992, Timothy Redcliffe, recipient of the letter, summarized the contents of the letter as follows - "We tried to have the censure lifted on Eckhart, and were told that there was really no need, since he had never been condemned by name, just some propositions which he was supposed to have held, and so we are perfectly free to say that he is a good and orthodox theologian."

Professor Winfried Trusen, a correspondent of Radcliffe wrote in part of the defense of Eckhart - "Only 28 propositions were censured, but they were taken out of their context and and impossible to verify, since there were no manuscripts in Avignon."

Sushma Gupta


  1. stories of trials of great philosophers, scientists and reformers for their new ideas against the prevailing beliefs in the society at that time.; contains very useful information.

  2. Gauis Pilinus Cecilius Secundus , known as Pliny tells the story of a goldsmith who brought an unusual dinner plate to the court of Empror Tiberius. The plate was a stunner , made from a new metal, very bright, shiny, almost as bright as silver. The goldsmith claimed that he had extracted it from plain clay, using a secret technique, the formula known only to himself and GODS. The Empror thought that the value of his treasure would seriously decline if people suddenly had access to shiny new metal rarer than gold. Therefore, instead of giving the goldsmith the regard expected, he ordered him to be beheaded..
    The shiny new metal was aluminium , and beheading marked its loss to the world for nearly two millenia.
    ( Earth Book XXXV by Pliny)

  3. Dear Sir,
    This is good addition to my list. Thanks so much.
    But you did mot write where did it happen? Which country's emperor was this Tiberius? If you could let us know it will very kind of you. Thanks