What I will highlight below is just a sampling of the errors and sleight of hand deployed by Bob Sungenis in the defense of his geocentrism. I hope you’ll begin to see the patterns so you can more easily spot these ploys if you run across them in his writings again. Just ask yourself this question. Is this someone who is really just “In this for the truth”, or is this someone who will say anything in order to win an argument?
Catholic Institutions and Inerrancy
Did Bob Only Have a “Personal Difference” with Bishop Rhoades?
Does Bob Really Know the Science? Elliptical Orbits Versus Epicycles
Has Bob Accurately Represented Fr. Olivieri, the Commissary General of the Inquisition?
Why were the works of Rheticus put on the Index? Were the works of Copernicus banned prior to 1616?
Does the Roman Catechism Teach Geocentrism?
Did the Editors of Newton’s Principia Have Some Endorsement From Rome?
Leo XIII and Pius XII: “Magisterial Fundies” Turn the Magisterium on its Head….Again.
Biblical Inerrancy: Is the Magisterium Clear or Unclear? Bob Says Both
I’m going to start by examining Bob’s handling of the issue of biblical inerrancy and the Magisterium, in order to illustrate a pattern. Watch how it unfolds, with this question firmly in mind: Is this really all about the truth for Bob, as he claims, or is this really all about winning an argument at all costs?
My position is simple and straight-forward. The Magisterium of the Catholic Church explicitly teaches all of the doctrines of our Faith, even the difficult and controversial ones, right up to this present day. But the Catholic Magisterium does not teach geocentrism. Therefore, it is not a doctrine of the Catholic faith.
The geocentrists try to counter this by manufacturing phony examples to try and form a parallel with geocentrism. So Bob first employs the sleight-of-hand that “johnmartin” did, pointing to conditions in various places or institutions, instead of keeping the focus where it belongs – on on actual Magisterial statements. But Bob goes further and claims that the Magisterium has not clearly reiterated the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, at least since 1943:
If Mr. Palm thinks otherwise, he needs to find us a statement after 1943 on full biblical inerrancy . . . . He won’t be able to.
And I pointed to the statement from 1998 in which the Magisterium affirmed once again, “the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts” and placed this in the highest level of theological certainty, the denial of which is formal heresy. Notice again that the statement is unqualified in any way. The Magisterium, as recently as 1998, taught that error is absent in the inspired sacred texts. Period. There is nothing vague or ambiguous about that statement. Game over. Bob is simply wrong.
But Bob has a personal dogma to protect, so right on cue, he steps in to claim that:
This just shows how naïve or oblivious to the real state of affairs Mr. Palm is. I am well aware of the CDF statement about “the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts,” since I am the one who quoted it in my commentaries and even in Galileo Was Wrong. . . .
As I said in my last rebuttal to Mr. Palm, the Church has issued various statements about inerrancy in the last 50 years (such as the 1998 CDF statement) but they are all anemic and leave the door open for someone to hold that the Bible is only inerrant when it speaks of salvation. . . .
“The absence of error in the inspired sacred texts” is a very general and open-ended statement that allows Catholic biblical scholars to still believe that only the “salvation” parts were inspired Scripture and the rest was the result of redactors who were not eyewitnesses or even in the same generation as the actual events of Scripture! I rest my case.
So the 1998 statement from the CDF is anemic, general, open-ended, and vague. That’s his answer to me. And he’s obviously irked that I seemed to have assumed that he didn’t know about this 1998 statement because, after all, he’s the expert who wrote the definitive treament of this issue, Galileo Was Wrong. Naturally then, you would assume that Galileo Was Wrong completely supports his point in great depth and detail.
Well, you know what they say about “assuming.”
In GWW, this very citation of the 1998 CDF statement comes under the heading, “Official Statements from the Catholic Magisterium on the Inspiration and Inerrancy of Sacred Scripture”. And here is what Bob has to say about the nature of this quote, which is included by him with other magisterial statements without any qualification:
The Catholic Church, throughout her two- thousand year history, has been very clear and adamant in her teaching that Scripture contains no error when it speaks on theology, history, science, mathematics or any other discipline or factual proposition (GWW2, p. 57; my emphasis).
Well, isn't that pretty much the exact opposite of what Bob said in answer to me? Why yes, it is.
So, how could the world’s self-proclaimed foremost expert on geocentrism contradict himself so blatantly? It’s simple. In the book, it was to Bob’s advantage to argue that the Church has always been consistent, clear and adamant on complete Biblical Inerrancy. But in his discussion with me, it was to his advantage to make the polar opposite argument.
So I ask, is this really “all about the truth”, as Bob repeatedly claims, or is this really only about trying to win an argument at all costs?
Again, the whole point is that even in these difficult and confusing times, the Magisterium continues to teach 100% of the doctrines of our Faith, including full biblical inerrancy. The geocentrists only wish that they had anything like that sort of statement in support of geocentrism in the past 300 years or more. Too bad for them, they don’t. Their only two options are to continue to throw the Catholic Magisterium under the bus as incompetent, dishonest and bumbling, or to admit that geocentrism is not a doctrine of the Faith. Unfortunately, they consistently choose the former.
Catholic Institutions and Inerrancy
Bob’s reply to me concerning Catholic institutions that teach biblical inerrancy stands in very much the same vein. Bob objects to being accused of using debaters’ tricks. Well, follow how this exchange has played out and decide if that isn’t the only reasonable description of his behavior. Bob’s initial claim was this:
If Mr. Palm thinks otherwise, he needs to find us a statement after 1943 on full biblical inerrancy, or find a Catholic institution today that teaches it. He won’t be able to.
I already gave Bob the statement after 1943 on full biblical inerrancy and we saw above how he talks out of both sides of his mouth concerning that magisterial teaching. But in addition, Bob asks for one and only one Catholic institution that teaches full biblical inerrancy and says flatly that I won’t be able to come up with one. My reply was as follows: "Finally, as for Catholic institutions that still teach full biblical inerrancy, Bob only asked for one, but here are three off the top of my head (I'm sure more could be added)...."
Bob’s challenge was met and tripled. I explicitly said that those three were “off the top of my head” and that “I’m sure more could be added”. And what does he do? First, he ignores the fact that his challenge was met and even bested—he asked for one institution and he got three. Worse, he blatantly distorted what I did say:
Mr. Palm has already admitted that he could only find three Catholic institutions in the US that teach full biblical inerrancy.
This is classic Sungenis. By what sort of strange alchemy does “three off the top of my head (I’m sure more could be added)” morph into “admitted he could only find three”? Is this even a remotely fair representation of what I said? And then he once again claims that I’m naïve concerning the true state of the Church today:
As for Mr. Palm’s mention of the three universities who teach full inerrancy, this is another example of his naivety.
Then, following the example of his mentor, the end of the world date-setting Harold Camping, he launches into a goofy and irrelevant calculation of the percentage of all the Catholic institutions in the world that these three represent. Of course, this is another vintage Sungenis debating tactic: the diversion. The hope is that no one will notice that this has no bearing at all on the fact that he was proven wrong on his “challenge.”
If Bob doesn’t want to be accused of engaging in cheap debater’s tricks, then perhaps he should: 1) stop throwing out explicit challenges without being man enough to admit when his challenge is met and even bested, and 2) stop blatantly distorting what his opponent says.
The bottom line is that I’m not naïve about this matter. I’m perfectly well aware of the downfall of many, even most Catholic institutions over the past decades. Happily, there are still some who hold fast to the Faith in its fullness. But what I continue to assert is that, despite the deviation of many individuals and Catholic institutions, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church has continued to teach 100% of the doctrines of the Faith. That is what ultimately matters and I rejoice in that fact. The new geocentrists, on the other hand, seem to find this good news vexing and so they seek to play up the Church’s difficulties to the utmost, in order to save their private “dogma”. There’s something seriously wrong with that frame of mind.
Did Bob Only Have a “Personal Difference” with Bishop Rhoades?
At one point in my previous article, I made the observation that although we can still find Catholic institutions that teach full biblical inerrancy, sadly, we can’t number Bob’s among them since he was told by his bishop to remove the word “Catholic” from his apostolate. Sungenis replied,
This is typical of Mr. Palm’s cheap shots, which are designed to create scurrilous innuendo that sounds good to itching ears. This is why I even hesitate to get into any discussions with Mr. Palm, but I will do so for the sake of the truth of geocentrism. That Bishop Rhoades threatened to make me take the word Catholic from my apostolate was due to a personal difference he and I had about the Catholic approach to the Jews and Jewish beliefs. It had nothing to do with whether I or Bishop Rhoades believed in biblical inerrancy, but leave it to Mr. Palm to make it part of this discussion (Response to David Palm on the Tridentine Catechism’s Treatment of Cosmology, p. 25).
But did Bob and Bishop Rhoades have a mere “personal difference . . . about the Catholic approach to the Jews and Jewish beliefs”, thus rendering my statement above a “cheap shot”? Far from it, as we’ll see below.
First, let's be very clear about the nature of the years' worth of anti-Jewish material that had accumulated at Bob's web site that finally prompted the bishop to act. The reader is invited to view a sampling of this material here:
Sungenis and the Jews: Anti-Semitism -- What it is and Evidence of it
Sungenis and the Jews: Timelines
But now, with regard to his bishop, Bob employs a blatant double standard in the way he treats Bishop Rhoades, versus the way he reacts to my own words:
R. Sungenis: I find it interesting that Mr. Palm earlier accused me of not providing a citation about Oliveiri’s [sic] official position, but he fails to provide even a link to what I purportedly said at the Canada debate! Rather than asking me if I ever said such a thing, Mr. Palm has no shame in accusing me. This is nothing but calumny. Nevertheless, allow me to satisfy Mr. Palm’s lack of research – the claim is absolutely bogus. I never said any such thing, and never would, and never have. Mr. Palm is familiar with all my geocentrism writings, so why didn’t he appeal to them to compare against what some hostile critic is saying about me? There is not one statement I have ever written that even comes close to what Mr. Palm is alleging.
There are yet more falsehoods here. First, I most certainly did provide a link to what he purportedly said at the Canada presentation. I don’t know how Bob missed that, but here it is again.
Second, I didn’t “accuse” Bob. What I said was, “Or how about a talk he gave in Canada during which this was reported”. That’s not—and by definition can’t be—calumny, because it’s true. Bob was, in fact, reported to have said exactly what I indicated. There were two people at the presentation who state that’s what they heard him say, namely, that "if you did not believe in a geocentric universe you were atheist." I did state that if he didn’t say it, then that’s fine, but there’s an audio recording. Still, I left open the possibility that he didn’t say it. However, given the extreme rhetoric that Bob regularly deploys, along with the constant linkage throughout his writings between atheism and a denial of geocentrism, I find the allegation at least plausible, which is why I mentioned it.
It turns out that Bob made the hosts of the presentation in Canada sign a form that forbids them from distributing the audio or video of this event. But if Bob will contact those people and give his permission in writing, they’ll send me the audio/video and I will seek to verify this quote. If I am unable to do so, I’ll be perfectly willing to retract the claim and apologize.
But now, let’s contrast Bob’s outrage at this episode with how he’s treated Bishop Rhoades. In the case of Bishop Rhoades he has leveled a host of serious charges against His Excellency—charges which, by the way, Bishop Rhoades calls “slanderous and erroneous”. Since Sungenis has continued to level the charges, even after the bishop’s denial, Bob is implicitly calling His Excellency a liar:
R. Sungenis: Rhoades’ allegiances are not difficult to discern. His lifelong mentor is William Cardinal Keeler who was the previous bishop of Harrisburg and who ordained Rhoades to that position in 2004. It appears that he and Keeler are on the same wavelength when it comes to reinterpreting Catholic doctrine to accommodate the Jews.
R. Sungenis: it was up to him to prove his case against me, since it now became a matter of faith and morals, for I am not required to obey the bishop if he is going against Catholic faith and morals. Anti-supersessionism is against Catholic faith and morals.
R. Sungenis: Rhoades [sic] made no attempt to convert [the Jews in the synagogue his visited] to Christianity, since he and his fellow Jewish ideologues believe that Judaism is just another way to God and that Christianity is only a better means of doing so. He learned that from his mentor William Cardinal Keeler, the co-author with Jewish rabbis of the 2002 document Reflections on Covenant and Missions [RCM], the document that claimed that the idea that Jews were to have the Gospel preached to them and that they needed to convert to Christianity was no longer theologically acceptable.
R. Sungenis: During the meeting with Fr. King, I discovered that both he and Bishop Rhoades held to the heresy of antisupersessionism...this came as little surprise to me, since William Cardinal Keeler had held the same heresy in his 2002 document Reflections on Covenant and Missions...
R. Sungenis: I knew upon leaving the building the erroneous theology [Fr. King], Rhoades [sic] and the USCCB were attempting to propagate to unsuspecting Catholics.
R. Sungenis: How is it that the Jews have garnered such a market on suffering that Bishop Rhoades finds it necessary to pay homage to them? Is it because they own the mortgages on the Catholic buildings erected in his and other dioceses?
R. Sungenis: “During the meeting with Fr. King, I discovered that both he and Bishop Rhoades held to the heresy of antisupersessionism – the view that the Jews still retained legal possession of the Mosaic covenant.”
So Bob publicly accuses a successor of the Apostles of holding a heresy and purposely attempting to propagate that heresy to “unsuspecting Catholics”. He accuses his bishop of going against “Catholic faith and morals”. He accuses the bishop of having greater “allegiances” to Jews than to the integrity of Catholic doctrine. He accuses His Excellency of “pay[ing] homage to” the Jews, insinuating that this might be because they hold the mortgages on church property.
Serious charges, eh? Way, way more serious than anything that I have ever said about Bob. Now, has Bob ever cited any statement from Bishop Rhoades that is in any way heretical? No. Has he cited any statement from Bishop Rhoades that even hints that his “allegiances” are more solidly with the Jews than they are with the Catholic Faith? No. Does Bob ever cite any eyewitnesses who have heard any such words from Bishop Rhoades? No. Has Bob ever even spoken to Bishop Rhoades? No.
So let’s get this straight. When I cite two eyewitnesses as to what he reportedly said at a talk—something that was perhaps ridiculous but not heretical—Bob gets all up in arms about “calumny”. But he can publicly and repeatedly slander a successor of the Apostles with multiple false accusations of the most serious nature, without one shred of direct evidence to back it up, and that’s fine in his world. Got it. For once it would be nice to see him even half as concerned about the reputations of those he publicly attacks as he is about his own reputation.
The bottom line is that Bob has ignored the new essays that Michael Forrest and I have written that further expose what Bishop Rhoades himself calls Bob's "slanderous and erroneous" attacks and accusations against His Excellency (links below). Bishop Rhoades has also rightly described Bob's attacks on the Jewish people as "hostile, uncharitable and un-christian." This was no mere “personal difference”.
I think readers will find in the documentation below ample parallels to the same sloppy scholarship, tendentious argumentation, and slander that we have seen him deploy in support of geocentrism. Bob needs to forthrightly retract and apologize for his grotesque statements attacking the Jewish people (which can be found here and here). He also needs to retract his baseless, public accusations of heresy against Bishop Rhoades, issue an unqualified apology to His Excellency, and do penance in reparation for the scandal he has caused.
Bishop Rhoades and the Dual Covenant Theory
A Defense of Bishop Rhoades from More False Accusations by Robert Sungenis
Sungenis's Own Standards of Heresy: Why Don't They Apply to Bishop Rhoades?
Does Bob Really Know the Science? Elliptical Orbits Versus Epicycles
This is going to be a little technical, but I think it’s important since Bob presents himself as an expert on physics and astrophysics. In Galileo Was Wrong, Bob grossly misrepresented Fr. Olivieri, the Commissary General of the Holy Office during the early 1800s, by claiming that Fr. Olivieri’s entire case for allowing non-geocentric cosmological views to be disseminated in the Church boiled down the matter of “elliptical orbits”. (See here for more important background on this discussion.)
The mystery is, where did Bob get this notion that Fr. Olivier’s case was all about “elliptical orbits”? He certainly did not get it from actually reading Olivieri’s writings. Upon some further investigation it appears to me that Bob got this whole schtick from Fr. George Coyne’s essay, “The Church’s Most Recent Attempt to Dispel the Galileo Myth”. Fr. Coyne states in a most cursory fashion that, “Olivieri devised the following formula. Copernicus was not correct, since he employed circular orbits and epicycles.” (The Church and Galileo, “The Church’s Most Recent Attempt to Dispel the Galileo Myth”, p. 346.) This, as I’ve demonstrated elsewhere, is a gross oversimplification, to the point of being an outright misrepresentation. Unfortunately, Bob basically reproduces this argument, but goes well beyond Fr. Coyne by heaping scorn on Fr. Olivieri for being so allegedly simple-minded and sneaky. Fr. Coyne was at least dignified enough not to launch into the insults and invective that Bob unleashed on the Commissary General of the Holy Office (see a litany of Bob’s attacks here.)
Now it’s interesting that Bob states in GWW2 that Fr. Coyne is "liberal-minded" and "aligns himself more with the liberal theological and exegetical school of thinking". Normally that would make Bob suspicious. But in this instance it would seem that it was more convenient to swallow Fr. Coyne's analysis of Fr. Olivieri’s arguments whole, even though Bob could just as easily have read that whole section of Finocchiaro's book for himself and found out that Fr. Coyne had misrepresented the Commissary General of the Holy Office.
Next, in the comments section of the Creative Minority blog, we find Rick DeLano repeating the same error, stating that,
Father Coyne notes in his “Galileo and the Church”, the imprimatur was granted on false grounds: it was argued that since Copernicus’ system contained epicycles, that was the basis of the condemnation. It wasn’t. The condemnation makes no mention of epicycles anywhere.
It is true that the 1633 condemnation makes no mention of epicycles. But the problem for Fr. Coyne, Bob Sungenis, and Rick DeLano is that Fr. Olivieri doesn’t either! So Fr. Coyne first misrepresented Fr. Olivieri by contending that his case against Copernicanism boiled down to Copernicus’s reliance on epicycles. And now Bob and Rick have uncritically perpetuated that misrepresentation.
But Bob went one further, coming to the “rescue” of DeLano and in the process screwing up the distinction between elliptical orbits and epicycles, which are two totally different things:
R. Sungenis: Finocchiaro, himself, admits that Kepler’s epicycles were an issue. Note this paragraph on page 251 of his book, Retrying Galileo:
“Along with modern astronomers, Settele does not teach that the sun is at the center of the world: for it is not the center of the fixed stars; it is not the center of heavy bodies, which fall toward the center of our world, namely of the earth; nor is it the center of the planetary system because it does not lie in the middle, or center, but to one side at one of the foci of the elliptical orbits that all planets trace. Still less does he teach that the sun is motionless; on the contrary, it has a rotational motion around itself and also a translational motion which it performs while carrying along the outfit of all its planets.” (emphasis mine.)
This quote is supposed to “prove” that Fr. Olivieri really did make epicycles an issue in the discussion. The problem? If Bob had read carefully he would see that the word “epicycles” is never used. In the underlined sentence Fr. Olivieri is not talking about epicycles at all, but elliptical orbits, as the quote makes quite clear. In fact, nowhere in that section of Finocchiaro’s book in which Fr. Olivieri’s argumentation exists is the word epicycle used. A computer search of Finocchiaro’s entire work shows that the word “epicycles” is used exactly once, on p. 313 and in no connection to Fr. Olivieri’s case.
The reference to “one side at one of the foci of the elliptical orbits” should have waved Bob off from swallowing Fr. Coyne’s erroneous claim that epicycles had anything to do with Fr. Olivieri’s argument. As it stands, the case laid out by the Commissary General of the Holy Office is perfectly cogent—an ellipse has two foci and therefore, if the sun sits at one of the two foci of elliptical orbits around it, it can't be in the very center of the solar system, let alone the whole universe as Copernicus and Galileo believed.
Now again, I repeat, lest anyone miss this, that the matter of elliptical orbits was but one of many examples which Fr. Olivieri gave to show that the views of modern astronomers are not the same as those addressed in the 1633 decree from the Holy Office. But the fact that Bob bungled this distinction between epicycles and ellipses indicates one of two things. Either he’s found yet again to be sloppy and tendentious (even while accusing a Catholic priest of the same). Or he simply does not know the science as he claims, not understanding the difference between epicycles and ellipses. Perhaps it’s both. Let the reader decide.
Has Bob Accurately Represented Fr. Olivieri, the Commissary General of the Inquisition?
Continuing with Bob’s slander of Fr. Olivieri, the Commissary General of the Congregation of the Holy Office (Inquisition), I would ask the reader first to read the section in The New Geocentrists Come Unravelled to acquaint himself with the scurrilous charges that Bob has leveled against this Catholic priest. In his latest rebuttal we find Bob defending his slander thus:
So it’s against some code of ethics to accuse a priest of subterfuge, even when we have the evidence from historical scholars that Olivieri did precisely what I accuse him of? And if Mr. Palm thinks that I misconstrued the true office of Olivieri, let him show us the evidence instead of his mere assertions.
The last sentence of that quote is referring to the fact that he repeatedly said in Galileo Was Wrong that Fr. Olivieri was the Commissary General of the Congregation of the Index. But in fact, he held that office in the Congregation of the Holy Office (Inquisition). Bob erred, but he challenged me to provide more evidence. Here it is.
I obtained on inter-library loan the volume Giuseppe Settele, Il Suo Diario e la Questione Galileiana (ed. P. Maffei, Foligno: Edizioni dell’Arquata, 1987). It includes a facsimile reproduction of the original work by Fr. Maurizio Benedetto Olivieri, issuing from “Suprema Sacra Congregazione del S. Officio” (p. 425) and he signs himself “Commissario” (p. 449). Note, of the Congregation of the Holy Office, not of the Congregation of the Index as Bob contended. Witness also Dr. Maurice Finocchiaro, one of the most eminent Galileo scholars: “Maurizio Benedetto Olivieri (1769–1845), a Dominican friar, professor of Old Testament at the same university, and Inquisition consultant; in July 1820 he became commissary general of the Inquisition and held that position until his death” (Finocchiaro, Retrying Galileo, 193; my emphasis). Here are more sources:
Antonio Beltran Mari: “el padre Maurizio Benedetto Olivieri, socio del comisario del Santo Oficio” (Galileo, ciencia y religion, p. 224)
William Wallace: “Earlier, Settele had asked his colleague at the Sapienza, Benedetto Olivieri—who was professor of Old Testament there but also happened to be Commissary of the Holy Office, the branch of the papacy that had condemned Galileo—whether he could openly teach the earth’s motion without running into difficulty with the Church.” (The Modeling of Nature, p. 394).
There, Bob has his evidence. As I have said, if you are going to accuse a Catholic priest of subterfuge and blatant dishonesty you should at least get your facts straight. The fact that Bob dug his heels in over his blunder concerning the office held by Fr. Olivieri, instead of just forthrightly admitting he was wrong, is just another testament to his own lack of scholarly integrity.
And of course, it’s certainly against the Catholic code of ethics to twist the evidence from historical scholars and then use that twisted analysis to falsely accuse a priest of subterfuge. Here is Bob’s reply to my demonstration that he totally misconstrued what Fr. Olivieri meant by “devastating mobility” (sometimes also phrased “devastating motion”):
Mr. Palm is wrong. First “devastating mobility” can refer to a number of things, not just the idea that the surface of the earth would be disrupted by movement through space.
Of course, this is a gratuitous assertion. I cited Fr. Olivieri’s own work to show what he meant by “devastating motion” and he said nothing about “elliptical orbits” in that connection. Again, how Bob got anything about “elliptical orbits” out of “devastating mobility” or “devastating motion” is a complete mystery. I contend it’s a figment of his imagination. But he can easily clear this up. First, he needs to tell us what, exactly, is “devastating” about the motion in an elliptical orbit as compared to a circular one. And if I am so wrong and this connection between “devastating motion” and “elliptical orbits” can really “refer to a number of things”, including elliptical orbits, then let Bob produce a single scholar who will support him in this. Find just one scholar who agrees that "devastating motion" has anything to do with elliptical orbits. We need more than Bob’s ipsi dixit at this point, since he’s shown himself unreliable on so many other points. I predict that Bob won’t even make the attempt and will let the matter drop, because this is all a matter of his own nonsensical invention. But he presses on:
Second, and most important, Olivieri admits himself that elliptical orbits of the planets are the crux of the issue, and I quote his admission.
This is false. The passage that Bob cited doesn’t contain any such admission that elliptical orbits are the “crux of the issue”. That’s just another outright fabrication. As I demonstrated, Fr. Olivieri cited many ways in which modern cosmological views differ from Copernicanism. And there is no evidence that “elliptical orbits” held any special place in his thinking, let alone being the “crux of the issue”. Here is the passage Bob cited:
Along with modern astronomers, Settele does not teach that the sun is at the center of the world: for it is not the center of the fixed stars; it is not the center of heavy bodies, which fall toward the center of our world, namely of the earth; nor is it the center of the planetary system because it does not lie in the middle, or center, but to one side at one of the foci of the elliptical orbits that all planets trace. Still less does he teach that the sun is motionless; on the contrary, it has a rotational motion around itself and also a translational motion which it performs while carrying along the outfit of all its planets. (From Olivieri’s November 1820 Summation, titled, “Ristretto di Ragione, e di Fatto,” ¶30, as cited by Finocchiaro in Retrying Galileo, p. 205.)
Copernicus and Galileo said that the sun was the motionless center of the entire universe. Fr. Olivieri points out, quite rightly, that modern astronomers do not hold that the sun is the center of the whole universe. Notice that he only mentions elliptical orbits with respect to the sun’s position in the solar system. But in this very passage he also points out that the sun is “not the center of the fixed stars”, is “not the center of heavy bodies”, and is not motionless, as Copernicus said, but has both rotational and translational motion. So right in that passage there are not one but four ways in which modern theories differ from Copernicus. Can Bob tell us where, in that passage, Fr. Olivieri makes elliptical orbits “the crux of the issue”? He can’t and I predict he’ll just quietly drop this argument, rather than admitting that he was wrong once again.
Elsewhere, Fr. Olivieri also points to the matter of “devastating motion”, which Bob has wrongly confused with the “elliptical orbits”. And Fr. Olivieri also points out scientific discoveries—e.g. stellar aberration and nutation—that cannot be explained by geocentrists without resorting to special pleading. Therefore, Bob’s contention that Fr. Olivieri makes “elliptical orbits” the “crux of the matter” is unsupported and false. Elliptical orbits was one of many things to which Fr. Olivieri pointed to demonstrate that the views of modern astronomers were not the same as those of Copernicus and hence not the same as what was addressed in the 1633 decree. Based on a false and sloppy analysis, Bob has repeatedly and unjustly accused this Catholic priest of lying and subterfuge. Such, it seems, is the typical approach of the new geocentrist.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s more. Bob insists that it is “indisputable” that Fr. Olivieri was wrong because, he claims, the focus of the 1633 decree against Galileo was the motion of the earth:
R. Sungenis: The indisputable point in fact is that Olivieri proposed a line of reasoning that was false. The issue before the Church was not whether Copernicanism made the Earth move with a defective and “devastating mobility,” but that the 1616 and 1633 Church said the Earth did not move, AT ALL. Let’s look at the Sentence once again:
** “the false doctrine taught by some that...the Earth moves, and also with diurnal motion”
** “The proposition that the Earth is not the center of the world and immovable but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd and false philosophically…”
** ““the false opinion of the motion of the Earth…”
** “doctrine of the motion of the Earth…is contrary to the Holy Scriptures and therefore cannot be defended or held”
** “and that the Earth moves and is not the center of the world; and that an opinion may be held and defended as probable after it has been declared and defined to be contrary to the Holy Scripture.”
** I [Galileo] must altogether abandon the false opinion that the sun is the center of the world and immovable and that the Earth is not the center of the world and moves.” (emphasis his.)
But Bob’s contention is “indisputable” only if you don’t bother to look at what he cropped out by using ellipses. What does the 1633 decree actually say, with the ellipses filled in?
"the false doctrine [NB: singular] taught by some that the Sun is the center of the world and immovable and that the Earth moves, and also with a diurnal motion"
[Note that even the new geocentrists have to admit that the motion of the earth is no longer “absurd and false philosophically”, thus even they would have to admit that the 1616 commission, which was quoted (but not adopted) in the 1633 decree was in error.]
"the false opinion [NB: singular] of the motion of the Earth and the stability of the Sun"
"the doctrine [NB: singular] of the motion of the Earth and the stability of the Sun is contrary to the Holy Scriptures and therefore cannot be defended or held."
"the doctrine [NB: singular]—which is false and contrary to the sacred and divine Scriptures—that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west and that the Earth moves and is not the center of the world"
“I [Galileo] must altogether abandon the false opinion [NB: singular] that the sun is the center of the world and immovable and that the Earth is not the center of the world and moves.”
Thus, what the 1633 decree (and Galileo’s abjuration) actually addresses is a singular doctrine/opinion which includes two points (notice that they are connected with the conjunction “and”, not “or”), viz., that the earth moves and that the sun is the immovable center of the universe. But, as Fr. Olivieri rightly states, the modern astronomer does not believe that the sun is immovable, nor does he hold it to be the center of the universe. Reading this decree strictly—that is, according to the Catholic Church’s stated canonical principles (see here)—it becomes clear that modern views do not fall under this condemnation at all. And that was exactly Fr. Olivieri’s point. Bob is wrong that the earth's motion can be isolated in the way he did. A strict interpretation of the decree forbids such selective cropping. And he is equally wrong that there was anything untoward about what Fr. Olivieri did in pointing out that, according to a strict canonical interpretation of this decree, modern views do not fall under the condemnation.
Bob has repeatedly accused the Commissary General of the Inquisition of dishonesty and subterfuge. But if anyone is guilty of such unseemly behavior it would seem to be Bob himself.
Why were the works of Rheticus put on the Index? and Were the works of Copernicus banned prior to 1616?
In an earlier rebuttal, Bob claimed that the work Narratio Prima by Rheticus was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books in 1541. I pointed out that this was not true, since the Index itself was not established until 1559. Again, I would encourage the reader to acquaint himself with the background to this discussion by reading first here. Now, here is what Bob says to my rebuttal:
I made a mistake in saying that Rheticus’ work was put on the Index in 1541. I was working from memory instead of checking my notes. What I should have said is that Rheticus’ work was published in 1541 and put on the Index in 1559.
Now, what disturbs me about Mr. Palm’s correction is that he knows what the truth is about this issue, that is, he knows that Rheticus’ book was put on the Index in 1559 but he doesn’t say so in his rebuttal. But I know Mr. Palm is aware that Rheticus was put on the Index since he has a copy of my book Galileo Was Wrong, Volume 2 (from which he has quoted many times before, and specifically this section dealing with the 1500s).
Now, if Mr. Palm chose to be as accurate and forthright with his audience as possible, he would have alerted them to this fact, since it is clearly written in my book. Subsequently, he would have instead revealed that in my recent rebuttal to him I made an oversight in saying Rheticus was put on the Index in 1541 since I say in my book that it was 1559. But we don’t see any such consideration and leeway given by Mr. Palm. So I need to pose this question: is Mr. Palm interested in the truth, or is he just interested in trying to make Robert Sungenis look bad? . . .
So in the end, Mr. Palm only dug his hole deeper. By not being forthcoming with his audience and instead trying to strain at the gnat of a simple and easily corrected mistake while swallowing the camel of a tendentious misreading of the historical data, he has given us a chance to set the historical record straight and show that his thesis is even more dubious than before, since the placing of Rheticus’ book on the Index was only seven years prior to the publishing of the Tridentine Catechism instead of twenty five years prior!
I appreciate Bob’s forthright admission of error with regard to the dates of 1541 and 1548. For my part I said, “I find no evidence that Rheticus' works were ever put on the Index, but my search was certainly not comprehensive. Even if they were at some point, it certainly was not in 1541 or even in 1616” (emphasis mine.) Thus, I didn’t commit myself to the position that Rheticus’ works were never put on the Index, only that it didn’t happen in 1541 or 1616. I was correct about the dates, while Bob is correct that those works were eventually put on the Index in 1559. What eludes me is how Bob has concluded that I knew this information all along and was deliberately hiding it from the reader. For the record, I didn’t and wasn’t and this is merely another instance of rash judgment on Bob’s part.
Bob admits that his own memory is “faulty”, but insists that I should have “alerted” everyone because “it is clearly written in [his] book”. Excuse me? Now follow this. Bob can’t even remember what is in his own book and yet my forthright admission that “my search was certainly not comprehensive” gets turned into an accusation against my honesty. Hilariously, according to Bob, it’s apparently my responsibility to know the contents of his book better than he does himself! I appreciate Bob’s admission of error, but his attempt to impugn my honesty based on his errors and defective memory of his own material is just idiotic.
And now, here’s the proverbial rest of the story. Bob continues to insist that the placement of Rheticus’ work on the Index is of some significance for the Church’s stance on geocentrism prior to the Roman Catechism (1566). He asks,
So how is Mr. Palm going to explain that a Catechism published so shortly after a major decision of the Church to ban alternative cosmologies will be blatantly disagreeing with that prior Church decision to ban heliocentrism? Likewise for the banning of Copernicus’ book in 1549.
It’s simple. As in so many other instances, all you have to do is look up Bob’s sources and read what he decided to leave out. His treatment of the works of Rheticus smelled a little fishy, so I looked up Bob’s cited source, an essay by Michel-Pierre Lerner. Here’s what Lerner actually says, including what Bob left out:
By contrast, all of Rheticus's works (including, therefore, the openly Copernican Narratio prima) were banned in the different editions of the Index librorum prohibitorum published at Rome between 1559 and 1593 on the grounds that their author was "a disciple of Oswald [Myconius] and a school-fellow of Conrad Gesner”. (The Church and Galileo, "The Heliocentric 'Heresy'", p. 17; my emphasis).
In other words, Rheticus’ work on Copernicus wasn’t singled out by the Index—rather, all of his works were proscribed. And the Index says explicitly why Rheticus's works were there and, lo and behold, it had absolutely nothing to do with heliocentrism, but rather was due to his connection with Protestant scholars. Now it seems hard to believe that Bob didn’t read the last half of that sentence. So why did he choose to omit it in Galileo Was Wrong or in this most recent discussion with me? Why would he continue to give the reader the impression that the works of Rheticus were put on the index because of their Copernican ideas and then go on to accuse me of dishonesty in supposedly suppressing information from the reader?
But there’s more. With respect to the works of Copernicus Bob writes:
Bartolomeo Spina, the Master of the Sacred Palace from 1542 until his death in 1547, sought to have Copernicus’ book banned, which was eventually carried out by his Dominican colleague Giovanimaria Tolosani, who died two years later in 1549.
In other words, the correct history is that Copernicus’ book was banned in 1549 by the Master of the Sacred Palace (which is like our prefect of the CDF today). Now, wouldn’t it have been more honest and certainly more beneficial for the reading audience for Mr. Palm to give this precise history since, as is apparent, he is claiming to be such a stickler for details?
Is this really the “correct history” and “precise history”? No, it’s not. First, Bob’s claim that “the Master of the Sacred Palace” is “like our prefect of the CDF today” is false. The prefect of the CDF today would be equivalent to the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Holy Office then. Rather, the position of the Master of the Sacred Palace, "may briefly be described as being that of the pope's theologian" and "Before the establishment of the Congregations of the Inquisition (in 1542) and Index (1587), the Master of the Sacred Palace condemned books and forbade reading them under censure" (Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Master of the Sacred Palace”.) So Bob is once again exaggerating for effect, to the point of falsehood (see here for more examples).
Second, Bob’s claims that the banning of Copernicus’ book “was eventually carried out by . . . Giovanimaria [sic] Tolosani” and that, “Copernicus’ book was banned in 1549 by the Master of the Sacred Palace”, are also false. Fr. Giovanni Maria Tolosani was never the Master of the Sacred Palace and his work against Copernicus was never published. Nor is there any evidence that the work that he wrote resulted in any official action by the Church. Bob cites no source for his assertions. But here is the real story:
Tolosani ends his little treatise with the following interesting revelation: "The Master of the Sacred and Apostolic Palace had planned to condemn this book, but, prevented by illness and then by death, he could not fulfill this intention. However, I have taken care to accomplish it in this little work for the purpose of preserving the truth to the common advantage of the Holy Church." The Master of Sacred Palace was Tolosani's powerful friend, Bartolomeo Spina, who attended the opening sessions of the Council of Trent but died in early 1547. As trenchant as Tolosani's critique of Copernicus had been, there is simply no evidence that it received any serious consideration either from the new master or from the pope himself. Meanwhile, Tolosani's unpublished manuscript, written in the spirit of Trent, was probably shelved in the library of his order at San Marco in Florence awaiting its use by some new prosecutor. The result was that sixteenth-century Catholic astronomers and philosophers worked under no formal prohibitions from the Index or the Inquisition. (Marcus Hellyer, The Scientific Revolution: The Essential Readings, p. 57; my emphasis.)
Only later, in the wake of the Galileo affair in the early seventeenth century, was it discovered that a Florentine Dominican, Giovanni Maria Tolosani, had quickly written against Copernicus, but his patron died before the manuscript was printed, and his blast languished on an archival shelf. (Ferngren, Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, p. 99; my emphasis).
So Bob is wrong yet again. There was no official condemnation of Copernicus and no banning of his book, prior to 1616. Rheticus’s book was not put on the Index because of its Copernican content and therefore none of these actions have any bearing whatsoever on the content of the Roman Catechism published in 1566. Bob's entire section on this in Galileo Was Wrong is full of errors.
Now, I think it's important to understand that I’m not an expert in this area. I've never claimed to be one and I don’t play one on TV. It's Bob Sungenis who claims to be the expert. The fact that I can show that he repeatedly makes such elementary historical blunders and errors of interpretation illustrates how incredibly sloppy and tendentious his work is. He insists that he's "in this for the truth" -- and it's possible he really believes that -- but there's just too much evidence to the contrary. I think the most charitable explanation is that Bob is so completely convinced he's right about geocentrism and so committed to proving it to the world that he sees "proof" where there is none and can't see all the contrary evidence -- even when it's right in front of his eyes. It happens, just as it happened with Bob's mentor, the repeatedly wrong, end of the world, date-setting, Harold Camping. Interestingly, note that the blindness not only affected Camping; it also affected his followers, who continue to listen to him regardless of how many times he was proven to be wrong.
It's also important to remember that the "Ph.D" Bob received from Calamus is based on this very same work and that Calamus even gave him their highest marks for the supposed quality of his methodology and research" ("My Ph.D. From Calamus International University", p. 10). This is just more evidence (as if more was needed: see here) that Calamus is little more than a New Age diploma mill. It is to protect against phony degrees issued by bogus academic institutions like this that accreditation standards were developed in the first place. The reason for pointing this out isn't to be insulting and "mean" to Bob. But the fact, by his own admission, is that he sought out a "Ph.D" from this Internet company in the West Indies because he wanted to gain credibility in the eyes of his readers. He says, "The only thing it does is allow me to show the world, in a glance, that I have the same academic credentials as those who receive a Ph.D. in Religion from a United States accredited institution" (My "Ph.D. From Calamus International University", p. 26). So, he publicly admitted that we wanted people to see him in the same light as respected scholars and he knew those little letters help him to accomplish that goal. He knew that this claim to a doctorate would lend legitimacy to what he's saying. Why do you think he signs everything he writes with "Robert Sungenis, Ph.D."?
Well, when those three little letters are genuinely earned, according to accepted academic standards, then they certainly do carry some weight and lend some legitimacy.
But in the case of Bob's phony "doctorate", they clearly don't.
Does the Roman Catechism Teach Geocentrism?
Moving to the matter of the Roman Catechism, this is another good opportunity to show the reader the shell game that too often occurs in Bob’s writings. Remember that he’s the one who has asserted that the Roman Catechism contains, "One of the clearest official and authoritative statements from the Catholic Church defending the doctrine of geocentrism..." and he speaks of the "Roman Catechism’s dogmatic assertion of geocentrism". It was Bob who made the claim that, "It [the Roman Catechism] never says the earth moves and, in fact, says the earth “stands still”." And when challenged to show us exactly where the Catechism uses that phrase, what did Bob do? He changed the subject and hoped we wouldn’t notice that he failed to provide the answer. Again, yet another standard debater’s trick. So one more time, Bob. You’ve claimed that the Roman Catechism states that the earth “stands still”. Will you show us exactly where the Catechism uses those words, or retract the claim?
He also claimed that one passage, in particular, would, "expel any doubt about what objects are revolving". But I demonstrated conclusively that that passage does not refer to the place of the globe with respect to the universe, but the relationship of the dry land with respect to the rest of the earth (see here).
Mr. Palm wants us to believe that the only way to read the Catechism’s statement is for us to see “terrum” [sic: should be terram] as referring only to the “dry land” of the earth and not the earth at large.
Notice that Bob has admitted that my interpretation is possible. By so doing, he’s already given the game away because he claims that this is the clearest magisterial statement establishing geocentrism. If this is the clearest statement he’s got, then it’s his burden to show that his interpretation is right and mine is wrong. Otherwise, he’s effectively admitted that he’s building his case on a very flimsy foundation.
But it’s actually worse than this for Bob, because my interpretation of the passage is not just possible. It’s correct. And given the context, his interpretation is not possible at all.
His only really new argument is to insist that because the Catechism says that the terram was placed in the “midst” (in media) of the mundus, this must indicate that the terram was placed in the exact center of the mundus and therefore refers to the earth being placed in the exact center of the universe. But this doesn’t follow of necessity. The Catechism, in this section, is drawing from the language of Genesis 1. Gen 1:9 says that God gathered the waters in one place and the dry land (terram) appeared. So it’s perfectly reasonable for the Catechism to say that the land was placed in the midst (in media) of the earth. That no more implies that things have to be in the center of the earth than me saying “I hiked in the midst of the mountains” means that I was at the mountains’ exact center.
Again, this passage of the Roman Catechism is clearly drawing from the language of Genesis 1. And in Gen 1:10 God explicitly calls the dry land terram. And now, for the fourth time, I put this question to Bob: If terram means the entire globe rather than the dry land, then how can the Catechism say that God filled it with living creatures, "as He had already filled the air and water" (quemadmodum antea aquas et aëra)? The terram here is something distinct from the air and the water, therefore it cannot be the entire globe. But we know what the terram is. It’s just what God said in Gen 1:10, it’s the “dry land” (aridam). This completely dismantles Bob’s reading of geocentrism into this passage of the Roman Catechism.
So yes, the only way to read the Roman Catechism’s statement is to see the terram as referring to the “dry land” of the earth and not to the earth at large. This passage says absolutely nothing about the place of the earth in the universe. This was the best he had, but Bob has erred in applying this passage to geocentrism.
Did the Editors of Newton’s Principia Have Some Endorsement From Rome?
Now, let’s turn to Bob’s fabricated assertion that the priest-editors of an edition of Newton’s Principia had an official commission from the Church and that their words represent the ruling of “the Church”. Remember that in GWW2 (p. 41) he said that “the Catholic Church apparently had enough power to assign two Minim friars…as editors…who represented the Catholic Church” and that they were “commissioned by the Church”. And in his more recent reply to me he said, “the Church required a disclaimer to be put on Newton’s Principia” (my emphasis). To my challenge on this Bob says,
Although I admit that “commissioned” may perhaps be too strong a word, I did not mean it in the sense that the Church formally employed Jaquier [sic; Jacquier] and Le Sure [sic; Le Seur] to write the commentary but that Jaquier [sic] and Le Sure [sic] had the Church’s undivided sanction and endorsement. You can depend upon it that if the Church had disagreed with the disclaimer and had decided by 1739 to accommodate cosmologies other than geocentrism, the disclaimer would have been removed since the disclaimer is making the bold and well publicized proclamation that all the “Supreme Pontiffs” have rejected Newton’s heliocentrism.
I had pointed out that even the anti-Catholic writer William Roberts calls this merely "the opinion of its Roman editors". Bob replies:
What Mr. Palm misses is that Roberts called them “ROMAN editors,” not just editors. In other words, even Roberts knows that these Franciscan friars are working with and have the endorsement of Rome. Everyone knows this, except, apparently, Mr. Palm.
In all candor, when I wrote my last piece and included the quote from Roberts, I thought that the only way Bob could potentially counter this was to claim that the adjective “Roman” somehow represents some official mandate from the Catholic Church. But c’mon, I thought, one can’t chase after every ridiculous counter-argument. And yet here we are, faced with just that nonsensical reply. So shame on me, I guess, for not going with my “gut” and rebutting this foolishness earlier.
Roberts calling them the “Roman editors” no more implies that they are “working with and have the endorsement of Rome” than calling Roberts an “Anglican author” means that he had some official mandate or endorsement from the Anglican church. Especially in nineteenth century documents, Roman is just shorthand for “Roman Catholic”, with perhaps a slight pejorative twist. It’s absurd for Bob to claim that it implies some sort of official mandate from Rome.
But it does show how silly this is all getting, with Bob grasping at anything no matter how flimsy to try to ”win”. The whole point that I am making, and which Bob seems not to grasp, is that none of this is magisterial. The opinion of these editors is not magisterial. Period. They have no office in the Church, no commission from the Church, no sanction from the Church, no explicit endorsement from the Church. Their contention that the seventeenth century documents concerning Copernicanism proceeded from the “Roman Pontiffs” is just their opinion and has no authority. There were plenty of other Catholics during that same period pointing out what I and others have pointed out more recently, namely, that the position against Copernicanism “(a) was promulgated only in disciplinary documents, not in formally doctrinal ones; (b) was never promulgated directly and personally by any Pope, only indirectly, through the instrumentality of the Vatican Congregations of the Index and the Holy Office” (Fr. Brian Harrison, Roma Locuta Est - Causa Finita Est).
And that’s precisely the point. Bob doesn’t have anything magisterial in support of geocentrism for more than 300 years. Bob objects to me pointing out this centuries-long lacuna:
Mr. Palm continues to use the “300 year” figure even though I have corrected him on this several times. It’s not 300 years. How could it be when, in fact, Jaquier [sic] and Le Sure’s [sic] disclaimer was still put on Newton’s Principia only 178 years ago? How could it be when Mario Marini wrote a defense of the Church’s decision on Galileo in 1850, just 161 years ago? How could it be when the president of the Pontifical Academy of Science said in 1943, just 68 years ago, that neither Newton, Foucault or Bradley proved heliocentrism? Mr. Palm just likes to ignore these events because a 300 year figure will make his argument sound better.
How could it be? Easy. Again, none of these are magisterial. As I’ve demonstrated, the opinion of Frs. Jacquier and Le Seur isn’t magisterial. Marini’s work wasn’t either. An address by the president of the Pontifical Academy of Science isn’t magisterial. What Bob needs is a magisterial source and that is precisely what he is unable to produce. 300 years is just a good round number. It’s actually longer than that. The last magisterial act that had anything to do with positively enforcing the seventeenth century discipline against promoting Copernicanism was Alexander VII’s Index of Forbidden Books in 1664. That was 347 years ago. Since then the official magisterial acts have been to incrementally remove that discipline against Copernicanism and to promote the dissemination of non-geocentric views throughout the Church.
Bottom line: The fact that Bob has to rely so heavily on such non-magisterial sources to try and make his case shows how incredibly thin his case is. The actual Magisterium of the Catholic Church doesn’t consider geocentrism to be a matter of faith.
Leo XIII and Pius XII: “Magisterial Fundies” Turn the Magisterium on its Head….Again.
We have seen above and elsewhere (link) that the Church’s immemorial principle is that canonical penalties and condemnations are to be interpreted strictly, that is, as narrowly and affecting as few people as possible. But what do the geocentrists do with 1633 decree against Galileo? Exactly the opposite—they strive to interpret it as broadly and as affecting as many people as possible. Sungenis takes this to the extreme, cropping out portions of the decree which show that it no longer applies to modern cosmological views.
Now let’s look again at how they handle the teaching of Popes Leo XIII, Pius XII, and John Paul II that the Bible doesn’t contain information about “the essential nature of the things of the visible universe” or “details of the physical world”. It’s important at the outset to establish just who bears the burden of proof. Remember that I’m arguing that Catholics are free to embrace any of a number of cosmological views. It’s Bob who seeks to restrict Catholic thought to only one, geocentrism, and to argue that this is the official teaching of the Catholic Church. This means that when confronted with magisterial texts that prima facie give freedom to a Catholic to embrace something other than geocentrism, it’s Bob’s burden to prove that those magisterial texts can’t be interpreted to give such freedom, that they can only be interpreted to restrict this freedom of thought.
But true to form, Bob seeks to flip this burden of proof back onto me:
The fact remains that the burden of proof is on the one who claims that a document addresses a certain topic when, in fact, the document makes no mention of the topic. That Mr. Palm refuses to recognize this shows his desperation. As I said in my previous rebuttal, one could just as easily claim that Leo XIII and Pius XII did not mention cosmology because they were directed by the Holy Spirit not to do so, in addition to the fact that neither Leo XIII or Pius XII wanted to call into question the decisions of the 1616 and 1633 Church without doing a formal and official study of the matter.
This is illegitimate for a number of reasons. First, let’s remember that canonical penalties must be interpreted strictly. Pope Leo XIII knew as well as anybody else at that time that the Holy Office had already acted upon the Commissary General’s factual position that modern cosmological views are fundamentally different than the strict Copernicanism condemned in the 1633 decree and hence don’t fall under that condemnation. There was absolutely no canonical requirement for Pope Leo XIII to do “a formal and official study of the matter” before laying out principles of interpretation which would extend to these matters of cosmology.
Second, let’s remember the context of Providentissimus Deus 18-19 (and Divino Afflante Spiritu 3, which cites from that former encyclical.) Pope Leo is addressing instances in which there appears to be a conflict between the discoveries of physical science and certain passages of sacred Scripture. And the Holy Father says that in those instances we must remember that the Holy Spirit did not reveal to the authors of sacred Scripture “the essential nature of the things of the visible universe” and thus it’s fruitless to seek those details on Scripture because its authors, “did not seek to penetrate the secrets of nature, but rather described and dealt with things in more or less figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many instances are in daily use at this day, even by the most eminent men of science.” Only examples that fit this context are admissible as part of this discussion. Geocentrism is a classic example of this alleged conflict between the physical sciences and sacred Scripture. Therefore it fits the context perfectly.
Third, Bob continues to miss that Leo XIII laid out a principle—Pope Leo XIII calls it a “rule”—of interpretation. A principle or rule, by its very nature, applies broadly. Therefore, he doesn’t need to tell us specifically all the instances where it can be applied. Far from it being my burden to show that general principles or rules apply to a specific case—in this case the matter of geocentrism—it is Bob’s burden, precisely because these are general principles, to show that they do not apply to the matter of geocentrism. This he certainly won’t be able to do, because the principles plainly do apply to that topic.
This is further supported when we notice that Pope Leo XIII has, as many scholars have observed, essentially adopted the hermeneutical principles advanced by Galileo in his own defense:
on the relationship between Scripture and physical science, the encyclical could be seen to advance Galilean views. . . . Not only were both Galileo and Leo asserting the same principle that Scripture is not a scientific authority in answer to analogous problems involving questions of the relationship between Scripture and science (or natural philosophy), but they also shared some crucial aspects of the reasoning to justify this principle. . . . Besides the formal similarity of problems, the substantive overlap of content, and the deep-structure correspondence of the reasoning, Leo’s account was reminiscent of Galileo’s even in its appearance, on the surface, and as a matter of initial impression. This parallelism involved the quotations from Saint Augustine and how they were interwoven with the rest of the argument. In fact, Leo’s two main passages from Augustine had also been quoted by Galileo in his Letter to Christina: Augustine’s statement of the priority of demonstrated physical truth (“whatever they can really demonstrate . . . , we must show to be capable of reconciliation with our Scripture”) and his statement of nonscientific authority of Scripture (“the Holy Ghost . . . did not intend to teach men . . . the things of the visible universe”). (Finocchiaro, Retrying Galileo, pp. 265f.)
So those who would claim that Pope Leo’s words can’t apply to geocentrism at the very least would have to admit that the Pope was, in that case, an incredibly bad communicator, since the very structure of his argument and even the authorities that he cites recall and parallel the arguments advanced by Galileo.
Fourth, another clear indication that the Church herself intends for the teaching of Leo XIII to be considered to be a principle that should be applied broadly, comes in its application to the six days of creation. The Pontifical Biblical Commission, which was a magisterial office at the time, issued this statement in 1909 concerning the language of Genesis 1 – language that clearly hearkens to Leo XIII’s Providentissimus Deus:
Whether, since in writing the first chapter of Genesis it was not the mind of the sacred author to teach in a scientific manner the detailed constitution of visible things and the complete order of creation, but rather to give his people a popular notion, according as the common speech of the times went, accommodated to the understanding and capacity of men, the propriety of scientific language is to be investigated exactly and always in the interpretation of these? -- Reply: In the negative.
Notice that it’s taken as a given that the author of Genesis 1 didn’t intend to “teach in a scientific manner the detailed constitution of visible things and the complete order of creation”. It’s simply assumed that, rather, it was his intention “to give his people a popular notion, according as the common speech of the times went”. Thus, the Magisterium concludes, it’s not necessary to seek scientific details in the sacred text. As Pope Leo XIII teaches, no such details were revealed by the Holy Spirit to the sacred authors.
On the other hand, those who want to claim that Leo XIII’s principle doesn’t apply to geocentrism struggle mightily to come up with any other example that would fit his words better. Bob takes this to a goofy extreme, proposing a whole list of Scripture passages that allegedly would fit Leo XIII’s principle:
Leo could have been talking about a number of other statements in the Bible (e.g., Nm 11:7; 1Sm 28:14; Ez 1:5; 8:2; Dn 8:15; 10:6; Jl 2:4; Am 5:8; Mt 16:3; 28:3; Mk 8:24; Lk 12:56; Ap 4:1; 15:2).
Now those who are still “wowed” by Bob’s alleged prowess with the Bible will assume he knows what he’s talking about. They won’t even bother to look up those citations, assuming that they prove his point. That would be a bad mistake. Not surprisingly, if you look them up, you’ll see that they do nothing to support Bob’s contention that Pope Leo XIII might have had such passages in mind.
First, let’s ask ourselves which of these passages are an example of an apparent conflict between the discoveries of physical science and sacred Scripture? None of them. So this is a strong indication that Bob is just tilting at windmills.
Second, setting aside a passage like 1 Sam 28:14 which doesn’t seem to have anything do to with what we're discussing, the majority of the rest are similes, that is, they use the pattern "X is like Y" to describe something. None of these are uses of the phenomenological language addressed by Leo XIII. The Scriptures do not say the sun moves "as if" or "like" it was rising. It says it rises and sets.
The closest Bob has to a real example in this list is Matt 16:3: "And in the morning, 'There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times?” But there, our Lord explicitly says that we are discussing the “appearance of the sky” and so this is not a real parallel. Similarly, Luke 12:54 says, “"When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, 'A shower is coming'; and so it happens.” But this is not phenomenological language at all, it’s literal—a thunderhead literally rises up and you know it’s going to rain. So none of Bob's examples are actual examples of phenomenological language and therefore none of them are pertinent examples.
Third, which of the examples he cites are represent "more or less figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time, and which in many instances are in daily use at this day, even by the most eminent men of science" as the Pope says? Not one. Bob claims in a couple of places that what Pope Leo XIII and Pius XII were really referring to were things like “atoms, forces, etc.” and “not to the general movements of the cosmos” (Response to the SSPX Press Release on Geocentrism, p. 3 and Response to David Palm on Galileo Trial, p. 4). But this won’t work at all. The popes explicitly speak of language “commonly used at the time”, i.e. in ancient times. It would be interesting to see Bob come up with even one example of any author of Scripture using the “commonly used” language of his day to describe “forces” and “atoms”.
So, Bob’s attempt to skirt the teaching of the Popes is a misfire. There’s one really classic example of this sort of phenomenological language that was used in ancient times and "which [is] in daily use at this day, even by the most eminent men of science" and that’s the language of sunrise and sunset. Everybody with a gram of common sense can see that Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical pertains first and foremost to this classic example of an apparent clash between the discoveries of physical science and sacred Scripture. It’s no wonder, then, that staunch geocentrist “Cassini” writing at the Catholic Answers Forum, admitted forthrightly that, “The only interpretation of note in the history of the Church that the encyclical [Providentissimus Deus] could be referring to was the fixed sun/moving earth heresy [sic] (link)” Of course, in classic geocentrist fashion, he then went on to blame it all on a Masonic conspiracy—“We think it may have been written by Cardinal Campolla a Freemason”—but his admission was telling nonetheless.
Bob’s only real remaining response to this is that Pope Leo XIII would have to mention geocentrism explicitly, since it was already addressed in prior magisterial documents. But this founders since we’ve already seen that, according to the Church’s own immemorial canonical principles, the decree of 1633 simply does not apply any longer to the views of any living person (and never will again). It is, in that regard, an ecclesiastical dead letter. Remember too that, based on this fact, in 1822 the Holy Office issued blanket permission for non-geocentric views to be disseminated in the Church. Pope Leo XIII knew those things. He was not in any way bound to present geocentrism as a sort of exceptional case. Rather, he was free to lay out general principles, which Catholics are in turn free to apply to the cases that obviously fit these principles.
The bottom line is that these “Magisterial Fundies” (as Rick DeLano has taken to calling himself) once again flip magisterial documents completely on their head. When commenting on the decree of 1633 against Galileo, they ignore the Church’s dictum that canonical condemnations are to be interpreted strictly, that is to say, as narrowly and affecting as few people as possible. They instead seek to interpret that decree broadly, affecting as many people as possible. And now, when Pope Leo XIII (and after him Pius XII) lay out broad principles to be applied to questions of apparent conflict between Scripture and physical science, the MFs want to interpret those as narrowly as possible.
The Magisterium Teaches 100% of the Faith
As I’ve stated a number of times, what concerns me most is that the geocentrists are so willing to undermine the Magisterium if it will help them prop up their pet belief. It’s unseemly and un-Catholic. The Magisterium of the Catholic Church does not “abandon” doctrines of the Faith for centuries. Period. The Popes and all the bishops in communion with them do not allow the spread of a “formal heresy”, even promote its spread, for hundreds of years. This is completely incompatible with a real Catholic dogma, namely, the indefectibility of the Church. The new geocentrists have not yet even attempted to harmonize their views with that dogma of our Faith.
The geocentric case today can only be sustained through exaggeration to the point of falsehood and by turning magisterial documents on their head. Geocentrism remains an elaborate exercise in ecclesiastical and scientific special pleading.