Alas, another Hollywood film has failed in its primary responsibility of accurately depicting the history of disputes of Catholic philosophy and theology, however oblique its reference to this history. In the film, Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, the movie’s antagonist, Jobu Tupaki, says “For most of our history, we knew the Earth was the center of the universe. We killed and tortured people for saying otherwise.”
She is, of course, referring to the condemnation of Galileo by the Roman Inquisition of the Catholic Church, presumably for professing the heliocentric model of celestial movements, when the geocentric model was the prevailing, seemingly official, view assumed to be correct by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his First Way of proving the existence of God (among other places), following the explicit endorsement of Aristotle (who adopted it from Eudoxus (c. 408 – c. 355 BC). The model was made considerably more accurate at predicting celestial movements by Ptolemy (c. 100 – c. 170 AD).)
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the film makers frustrated our omnibus, ubiquitous and perennial hope that every film, above all, provide theologically and historically accurate content. As I said before: “C’mon! Why do we watch movies if not for accurate references to medieval philosophers and theologians?”
So, just to be clear (here is the Cliff’s notes version of the historical drama):
Galileo was not killed and tortured for saying the Earth was not the center of the universe. He was, of course, treated badly by church officials, but not as badly as is commonly thought.
In 1614 Galileo, as a scientist, wrote a popular letter in which he asserted that the sun-centered (Copernican) model is true, that the Bible is not meant to teach science, but Christians should accept the Bible unless proven otherwise by science.
Cardinal Robert Bellarmine investigated Galileo for these claims, and in 1616, instructed him not to demand that the Church reinterpret passages of Scripture which referred to the sun moving (Joshua 10:12-13) and the earth remaining still (Psalm 104:5) because they conflicted with the Eudoxan/Ptolemaic (geocentric) model of celestial motions, nor teach the same as true, since the Copernican model had not been empirically verified (which would not definitively happen until the 1830’s when instruments became accurate enough to measure stellar parallax). He had to perform a penance, but was not imprisoned, much less tortured or killed. He went back to his research and writing on the Copernican model as a theory, among other pursuits.
A commission of cardinals did condemn Galileo (in a split decision) as ‘vehemently suspected of heresy’ for publishing in 1630 his Dialogue on Two Great World Systems, which advocated for the Copernican model (based on tides and sun spots) and implied that those who held an alternate theory (as his friend Pope Urban VII did) were simpletons. This, the commission claimed, was in violation of his sentence of 1616, in proof of which it produced a (probably fraudulent) strict order from Bellarmine forbidding any writing or teaching on the subject.
For his sentence, Galileo had to kneel and reject the Copernican theory, recite a penance and accept imprisonment, though the last condition was not imposed. He spent the last nine years of his life under house arrest, cared for by his daughter, a nun, and considered himself a faithful son of the Church to the end.
In 1992, Pope Saint John Paul II apologized for the Church’s role in the whole affair.
As far as I know, no one was ever tortured and killed for saying that the earth was not the center of the universe, though of course people have been for obstinately refusing to recant heretical teachings.
For a somewhat more detailed telling of the story click here.
Despite the historical inaccuracy of this one line in this 2 hour, 19 minute movie, the point Jobu is making offers an interesting take on the history of science and progress and goes to the heart of naturalism as a worldview, and the existential dread that this worldview engenders. The rest of the movie, moreover, offers a surprising, and I think veiled Christian, solution to that dread. I hope to make my case in Part II to this post. Stay tuned.
2 thoughts on “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once – Part I: Hollywood versus History”
Saw this movie a few months back. I think it provides a subtle refutation of naturalism/materialism and hints at a solution to the problem of existential dread and boredom, etc, not necessarily in a Christian, so much as a mystical way of union with God. Looking forward to the follow-up post!