Scientist of the Day - Melchior Inchofer
Melchior Inchofer, a Jesuit theologian, died Sep. 28, 1648, at age 63. Inchofer was one of three theologians asked by Pope Urban VIII to look into the matter of whether Galileo had overstepped his bounds when he published his Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems in 1632. An earlier commission in 1616 had determined that the sun-centered system advocated by Copernicus was heretical, and Galileo had been informed that he could not defend it as true, but must rather speak of it only hypothetically. The question now was: Did Galileo treat Copernicanism as a hypothesis, or did he defend it as true? The Special Commission met twice, once in the late summer of 1632, and again in the spring of 1633. We don't know what Inchofer said at the first meeting, but his signed report on the second occasion survives, and Inchofer leaves no doubt that he thinks Galileo was guilty of violating the Edict of 1616.
As a result of Inchofer's report, Galileo was tried on charges of heresy, and he was forced to recant his views and submit to life-long house arrest (Inchofer had no role in the trial itself). As soon as his report was submitted, Inchofer proceeded to write a short treatise, the Tractatus syllepticus (literally Short treatise, 1633) reiterating that heliocentrism is heretical. We have this book in our History of Science Collection, and an interesting feature is the engraved vignette on the title page (see first image above). It shows an earth, held in place by three bees, with the motto: "His fixa quiescit". One must remember that the crest of Pope Urban VIII was a set of three bees, as we see at the top of Galileo’s Assayer (1623), dedicated to the new Pope (second and third images). So Inchofer was slyly suggesting on the title page that the earth does not move because the Pope says it doesn’t, and the motto confirms this: "Fixed by these [!the!], it [!the!] remains quiet" (the full title page is shown in the fourth image).
Inchofer’s vignette was inspiring. Twelve years later, in his book on the immovability of the Earth, fellow Jesuit Jacques Grandami took the onus off the Pope and returned it to God, whose angels now hold the Earth in place (fifth and sixth images above). Urban VIII got his bees back.
Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to email@example.com.