Last week, Google put up a doodle commemorating the four-hundredth anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s telescope.
That put me in mind of a song. It was written by my late dear friend Ray Scudero after Pope John Paul II reversed the Catholic Church’s decision to excommunicate Galileo. Among other things, Ray’s song satirizes the idea of papal infallibility, the idea that any human being has the power to condemn a soul to Hell, and, of course, the zealous thought-policing of the Inquisition, which Ray, a thinker and inventor himself, abhorred.
Here’s a look, through Ray’s eyes, at the conversation that took place when the devil got the call from Upstairs, telling him that it was time to let Galileo go:
“Hell-o,” the Devil said.
“It’s me, the Pope. How are you, Red?
“About Galileo, for a start....
“You see, we’ve had a change of heart—
“And we’re recommunicating Galileo.
“It seems that Heaven’s just where he belongs;
“That other Pope’s a real far-sighted fellow
“And we can’t suppose he’s guilty of any wrongs.
“He knew your talents well
“And wanted research done on Hell;
“Hand your thesis to this angel
“And come along this way....
“So nobody can remand us for a blunder Vaticanus;
“Don’t try to understand us—we’re infallible, you know;
“We’re holier than any man on Earth today, with power to damn,
“And so, beware: we also can... make rules up as we go.”
But what really gives me pause is the last line of the following stanza, which is also the last line of the song:
I salute you, Galileo Galilei!
You’ve got your round-trip ticket after all;
And it’s heavenly and never more the hell-y
Unless someone new should override John Paul.
I believe that Ray wrote “Galileo Galilei” somewhere around 1992. In early 2008, a prestigious Italian university cancelled the visit of the current pope, Benedict XVI, over statements that he made in 1990 that appeared to condone Galileo’s excommunication.
Wow. Talk about farsighted.