Sungenis Responds to Palm on Geocentrism I

(On 17 Aug 2011 Bob Sungenis sent the following reply to Dave Armstrong and me, expressing the desire that it be posted as his rebuttal to my piece Sungenis and "johnmartin" Studiously Miss the Point.  If one reads that original piece, he will see that Bob's response below is extremely poor.  A response documenting a number of the most egregious errors will be forthcoming soon.)

Response to David Palm on

the Tridentine Catechism’s Treatment of Cosmology

Palm: But the careful reader will notice that Bob has added the words "around the earth" to the Catechism because that's what he needs it to say in order to support geocentrism. The fact is, the Catechism never uses such words.  Instead, it uses generic phrases like "certain and uniform course", "continual revolution", "fixed and regular motion", "motion and revolutions" with respect to the heavenly bodies.  And these would apply just as well to the pre-Tridentine theories of Bishop Nicolas Oresme and Cardinal Nicolas Cusa as they would to Copernican heliocentrism and more modern acentric cosmologies.  In other words, the Catechism does not teach anything with respect to any one scientific theory—that was not the intent of those passages.

R. Sungenis: Mr. Palm’s argument boils down to this: somehow the writers of the Tridentine catechism, without knowing anything about future cosmology (acentrism, Kepler, Newton, Big Bang, Relativity, etc), wrote the 1566 catechism to accommodate views of cosmology other than geocentrism. Perhaps Mr. Palm believes the writers of the catechism were guided by the Holy Spirit to make such a futuristic accommodation. I don’t know. The fact is, he believes it made an accommodation. That being the case, his hypothesis has several problems:

First, let’s assume the Tridentine catechism was written without direct guidance from the Holy Spirit. As such, if the 1566 catechism is accommodating other views, why didn’t any other arm of the Catholic magisterium accommodate other views? For example, Copernicus’ 1543 book, De Revolutionibus, which espoused heliocentrism, was put on the Index in 1548. Rheticus’ book on heliocentrism was put on the Index in 1541. These books were rejected for teaching “other views” only 20 years or so before the Tridentine catechism was published. Is Mr. Palm suggesting that the authors of the Tridentine catechism are rejecting official Church decisions on this issue? If so, he has severally injured the Catholic Church. The contradiction becomes even more profound in that the magisteriums of 1616 and 1633 formally and officially rejected any other view, and specifically, any view that said the earth moved, and this decision has never been rescinded by the Church.

If Mr. Palm decides to argue that the Tridentine catechism was guided by the Holy Spirit to give futuristic accommodation toward other views, they why didn’t the same Holy Spirit move the 1541 & 1548 Index, and the 1616 and 1633 decree and trial to make the same “accommodation”? Was the Holy Spirit selective in which branch of the Church He was going to guide? Isn’t the better solution that the Holy Spirit was guiding the 1541, 1548, 1566, 1616 and 1633 arms of the magisterium to give the same answer to cosmology that began with an absolute consensus of the Fathers and was carried by the medieval theologians, namely, the unwavering teaching of geocentrism? Why would Mr. Palm want to say that only one time out of this 1600 year tradition did the Church suddenly change her mind and make an “accommodation” for the very views that it previously and subsequently rejected as false and heretical?

In a nutshell, the contradiction Mr. Palm creates within the Catholic magisterium is the whole problem with his approach. This takes us back to the very analogy of the monkey and the cookie in the vase that Mr. Palm tried to use against his opponents. Mr. Palm is so intent on suppressing any openness to geocentrism (the cookie) that he has no reticence in making the Catholic magisterium contradict itself (the breaking of the vase).

What are the real facts in the Tridentine catechism? It says the following:

(a) that sun and stars move. It never says the earth moves and, in fact, says the earth “stands still”;

(b) it says the sun and stars move in continual revolution. The only “revolution” that the 1500s knew about was the stars and sun revolving around the earth;

(c) Oresme suggested the earth might be rotating, but such diurnal motion was rejected by the Index in 1541, 1548 and condemned both in 1616 and 1633.

(d) Cusa said the earth could be moving but not necessarily by rotating or revolution, but this was also condemned in both 1616 and 1633 when the Church said that earth doesn’t move at all because Scripture said it didn’t move;

(e) the Tridentine catechism knew of no alternate scientific theory other than heliocentrism when it supported geocentrism. It made no statement accepting heliocentrism. It made no mention of acentrism, or any other view. It gave no credence to Oresme, Cusa, Aristarchus, Pythagorus or any view that said the earth moved;

(f) the Tridentine catechism knew that the Catholic tradition believed the earth did not move and it makes no statement that indicates a break with the Church’s tradition, including no break against the consensus of the Fathers on geocentrism.

Palm: This answers Bob's other off-point comment, "As such, Mr. Palm will also have to accept the fact that he cannot interpret land and earth literally in the catechism and then interpret the sun, moon and stars moving around the earth non‐literally."  Wrong.  There are really two ways to answer this.  First, the Magisterium teaches that the Holy Spirit did not put specifics about "the essential nature of the things of the visible universe" into sacred Scripture.  Rather, they are depicted according to "what comes under the senses" (
Providentissimus Deus 18).  We cannot really expect more from the Roman Catechism than what we get from sacred Scripture itself concerning the precise details of celestial motions.

R. Sungenis: Prov. Deus makes no reference to cosmology. Mr. Palm continues to read into that encyclical what he wants to see. I could just as easily say that the Holy Spirit did not allow Pope Leo XIII to mention cosmology in Prov. Deus since He didn’t want Leo to say the sun going around the earth was just a figure of speech. Prov. Deus merely proves, once again, that Mr. Palm can find no explicit statement in the Catholic magisterium that overturns the 1616 and 1633 decisions condemning heliocentrism.

Palm: But second,  the motions are literal, it's just that the Catechism does not give specifics about those motions.  Can Bob prove that the theories of Bishop Oresme and Cardinal Cusa are excluded by the Roman Catechism?  No, he can't. It is he who reads subsequent controversies and his own cosmological biases back into the Roman Catechism and adds words that are not there, to make the Catechism say what he wants it to say.

R. Sungenis: As we already noted earlier, stating that Paul V and Urban VIII condemned ANY motion of the earth is not “reading back into the Roman Catechism.” Those popes are showing Mr. Palm the tradition and the consensus that existed at the time the Tridentine catechism was written. They are showing Mr. Palm that any attempt he tries make an ambiguity in the Tridentine catechism into a Copernican or acentric view of cosmology is HIS reading into the Tridentine catechism what he wants to see. The burden of proof is on Mr. Palm to show that the Tridentine catechism is making an explicit rejection of the Tradition which held only to geocentrism.

Palm: But more importantly, notice how Bob plays both ends against the middle.  He had already implicitly acknowledged that the other passages are not clear, that there was "doubt" that needed to be expelled.  So he deployed the "foundations of the earth" passage which, he claimed, will "expel any doubt about what objects are revolving".  But I proved that that passage has nothing to do with the motions of celestial bodies.  Bob did not even engage my exegetical argument.  (Neither did "johnmartin".)  Instead, he circles back around to claim that the passages that he acknowledged are doubtful are now clear enough to support the meaning of this passage: "the burden of proof is on [Palm] to show that it means earth since the catechism has already stated it believes the sun, moon and stars revolve around the earth."  The problem for Bob is that I did prove just that.

R. Sungenis: The only thing Mr. Palm “proved” is that “mundus” could be taken in two ways. I granted him that. But what Mr. Palm didn’t prove is that the catechism is using mundus in the way he prefers. Again, the whole basis for Mr. Palm’s contention is that the Tridentine catechism is breaking with the Tradition and accommodating other views when, in fact, the history both immediately before and after the Tridentine catechism (1541 to 1633) shows no such break.

Palm: The bottom line is that the Catechism's language accommodates more than one cosmological view, because the Catholic Church does not teach any one cosmology as a matter of faith.  Bob huffs that "Even die‐hard modernists admit that the Tridentine catechism teaches geocentrism. They just don’t want to accept it, but at least they are not foolish enough to force the catechism into a mold that it cannot hold."

R. Sungenis: But there is no explicit statement in the Tridentine catechism saying that it “accommodates more than one cosmological view.” Mr. Palm is suffering from an anachronistic reading of the catechism. If Mr. Palm thinks otherwise, he’ll need to show us one place where the Church of that day or earlier used “uniform movement” and “revolution” in a sense other than the stars and sun revolving around the Earth.

Palm: But I categorically deny that the Roman Catechism teaches geocentrism or any cosmology at all and the arguments that I have deployed to demonstrate that apply every bit as much to the modernists as to the neo-geocentrists.  But the fact that Bob will side with the Church's enemies in order to save his "pebble" of geocentrism pretty much proves my point: "
The neo-geocentrist fixation on their pet cause is like a monkey who reaches into a precious Ming vase to grasp a pebble. Intent only on holding onto that bit of rock and unable to extract his clenched fist, the monkey will happily smash the vase to get his "prize", heedless of the priceless nature of the treasure he has wrecked."

R. Sungenis: I don’t “side with the Church’s enemies.” How can defending the Church against those who said she made a big mistake in the 1600s against Galileo and heliocentrism be “siding with the Church’s enemies”? The “enemies” of the Church are those who deny its right to interpret the Bible literally and who make the theories of popular science their authority and Gospel. The same reason the Church interprets “This is my body” literally is the same reason she interpreted “and the earth does not move out of her place” literally. Why should there be any difference? Because some atheistic scientists have claimed otherwise? Along those lines, I’ve asked Mr. Palm many times for scientific proof that geocentrism is wrong and heliocentrism is right, but he refuses to even acknowledge the challenge, much less answer it.  

Palm: 2)  There is no instance in which the Magisterium of the Church has for centuries ceased to teach a doctrine of the Catholic faith.

Neo-geocentrism: Excessive Interest in Usury Comes to Naught I pointed to instances in which neo-geocentrists attack the very Magisterium of the Church in order to explain their anomalous position.  "johnmartin" deployed a whole list of doctrines which he claims the Catholic Church has "de facto denied" and speaks of "church [sic] silence" prompted by "inept leadership or fear of the science establishment".  Rick Delano speaks of "surrender" and "abandoning" of "binding doctrines" and "dogmas" put forth by the "ordinary magisterium".  And yet I have shown how, in each and every case, the Magisterium of the Church has explicitly reaffirmed the examples they propose, right up to the present day.  This leaves geocentrism standing in utter isolation as the lone alleged exception to the rule.  But the neo-geocentrists are simply wrong: it is not an exception at all because geocentrism is not now and never has been taught as a matter of faith by the Catholic Church, in either her ordinary or extraordinary Magisterium.  The Magisterium of the Catholic Church teaches 100% of the doctrines of the Faith.  That she does not teach geocentrism demonstrates that never has been part of the Faith.  Neo-geocentrism is exactly as I have described it many times in discussions on the Catholic Answers Forum—an elaborate exercise in special pleading, both scientifically and ecclesiastically.

R. Sungenis: Mr. Palm dismisses the consensus of the Fathers that St. Robert Bellarmine used against Galileo, and which was approved by Paul V. Mr. Palm also dismisses the decrees approved by three popes (Paul V, Urban VIII and Alexander VII); he ignores the fact that Galileo was denied being removed by the Index (Benedict XIV); and that the only reason Settele got his imprimatur was because a lie was being circulated by the Commissioner, Olivieri that the Church of the 1600s denied heliocentrism because it didn’t have elliptical orbits. Mr. Palm also fails to show us even one place where the Church has officially overturned what was decreed against heliocentrism in 1616 and 1633.

Palm: Now "johnmartin" and Sungenis consistently miss this point.  The former seeks to blunt my criticism of his extreme statements by appealing to what happens on the "local level".  For the record, that is not what he said before.  What he said was, “I’ve presented a list of doctrines that have been de facto denied by the modern church” and “I believe the church silence on the matter of geo[centrism] in the last 300 years is easily accounted for through either inept leadership or fear of the science establishment”.  I don't see any disclaimers in there about this only happening on the "local level".  As such, his new argument seems to be a tacit recognition that his original argument was false.  And it's interesting that this alleged ineptitude and cowardice didn't prevent the Magisterium from explicitly teaching on a wide range of volatile and controversial topics, from contraception to homosexuality to divorce and remarriage.  Are we to believe that this alleged failure of competence and nerve is reserved only for geocentrism?  Again, this is just one more instance of neo-geocentric special pleading.

Regardless, now "johnmartin" complains that he's been misunderstood.  For example:

It is in this context that geocentrist claim that the doctrine of the stationary earth has been dropped in practice (in so far as it is not taught at the local level),...


Geocentrism is then only one part of a larger problem within the church. The doctrine of geocentrism has not been taught at the local level for some time, but then again, many other doctrines have also not been taught for a long time either.

It is true that on "the local level" many things have broken down in many parts of the world in the Catholic Church.  But let's be clear.  We aren't talking about "the local level" with respect to geocentrism.  We're talking about what the universal Magisterium of the Catholic Church presents to the faithful as matters of faith.  And I demonstrated that, while the Church certainly does not teach geocentrism as a matter of faith, she has reiterated her teaching formally in each and every example that "johnmartin" presented as supposed parallels.

Similarly, Sungenis deflects from the core issue by speaking of "what is actually being taught in many Catholic institutions".  But that is not what we're talking about.  We are talking about what is taught by the Catholic Magisterium, to the universal Church.  The Catholic Church teaches 100% of the doctrines of the faith to the universal Church.  She does not teach geocentrism.  Ergo, geocentrism is not part of the Catholic faith.  Period.

R. Sungenis: In 1833, only 178 years ago, the Church required a disclaimer to be put on Newton’s Principia stating that the “Supreme Pontiffs have decreed, against Newton, that the Earth does not move.” In 1850, only 161 years ago, the Church commissioned Mario Marini to write a book defending the Church’s stand against heliocentrism. In 1942, only 69 years ago, the president of the Pontifical Academy of Science said that neither Foucault, Newton or Bradley proved heliocentrism. In 1965, only 46 years ago, Vatican II refrained from condoning heliocentrism or saying that the Church made a mistake in teaching geocentrism. So, within the last century or two, we have the Church still making comments supporting the prior tradition on geocentrism, and no official statement has ever been issued rejecting what the Church previously decreed against heliocentrism. So it is still there. One just has to dig a little deeper to find it.

Palm: If the neo-geocentrists actually could come up with a doctrine of the faith that the Magisterium had not publicly affirmed for many centuries, then they would at least have a parallel.  They can't.  Most Catholics would rejoice in the fact that, even in these dark and difficult times the Catholic Church continues to teach, publicly and solemnly, all the doctrines of our faith.

R. Sungenis: When was the last time the Church has officially, clearly and unequivocally endorsed full biblical inerrancy? The last time she did so was in 1943. Ever since then, we’ve had anemic statements about inerrancy, most of whose ambiguity has been twisted out of shape by various liberals to mean that the Church no longer believes in full biblical inerrancy (e.g., Dei Verbum 11). 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. Why? Has the Church’s teaching changed? No, but the old doctrine is too embarrassing for the sensibilities of most Catholics, so it is ignored. The same with geocentrism. It’s too embarrassing, so it is ignored.

Palm: But not the neo-geocentrists (or at least not these neo-geocentrists).  This fact is a cause of great vexation to them and so they instead scramble to manufacture whatever difficulties they can imagine.  To them, geocentrism must be defended at all costs.  Why is that so?  What has led them to such fanaticism?

At least two reasons suggest themselves.  First, some of these individuals have staked their very reputations on geocentrism.  Perhaps they feel they’ve reached the point of no return and have no choice but to defend it to the bitter end. 

R. Sungenis: Let me repeat it again for Mr. Palm. We believe in geocentrism because:

(a) the Church Fathers were in consensus on geocentrism and refuted the Greek heliocentrists;

(b) Scripture, interpreted literally as our tradition has always done, teaches geocentrism, not heliocentrism;

(c) two popes, one in 1616 and the other in 1633, approved official and binding condemnations of heliocentrism;

(d) the Council of Trent said that we are bound to doctrine taught by the Fathers in consensus;

(e) the Tridentine catechism teaches geocentrism, not heliocentrism;

(f) the only time the Church moved slightly on the issue was in 1835 to take Galileo off the Index, but she did so under false information;

(g) the Church has issued no official rescission of the results of Galileo’s 1633 trial;

(h) science has found evidence that Foucault’s, Newton’s, Bradley’s arguments for heliocentrism are now inconsequential and thus false;

(i) the Church put disclaimers on Newton’s Principia in 1833 and issued a defense of geocentrism in 1850;

(j) science has found new evidence (e.g., the CMB dipole from the 2001 WMAP; the 2005 SDSS survey) that puts Earth in the center of the universe, which is admitted by its own scientists (e.g., Lawrence Krauss);

(k) science has admitted by the General Theory of Relativity that whatever is claimed by the heliocentric universe is viable in a geocentric universe;

(l) science has admitted that one explanation for the 1887 Michelson-Morley experiment; the 1925 Michelson-Gale experiment, and many other experiments, is that the Earth is not moving.

In the face of all this evidence, Mr. Palm prefer that we ignore it all and accuse us of holding to geocentrism because we overvalue our ego and don’t want to be proved wrong. I would suggest to Mr. Palm to look in the mirror.  

Palm: Second, they’ve also presented geocentrism in such a way that their personal faith in the Catholic Church is dependent upon it.  In their view, if geocentrism is not true then the Catholic Church isn’t indefectible.

This latter problem particularly concerns me in that others who have the misfortune of encountering such misguided neo-geocentrist fanaticism—whether practicing Catholics or those considering the Catholic faith—may also be adversely affected.  I know this from private notes I have received to date.  But this "all or nothing" approach is, of course, a product of
manifest neo-geocentrist exaggeration as to the authority and nature of the ecclesiastical documents that address geocentrism.  For the Catholic who knows his faith, the truth or falsehood of geocentrism has no impact whatsoever on his trust in the Catholic Magisterium.

R. Sungenis: If the Church came out tomorrow with an official and binding statement and said that the previous Church was wrong in condemning heliocentrism and that science has confirmed that heliocentrism is true and the only cosmology we should accept, I and everyone else would forsake geocentrism in a second. Bottom line? The Church’s existence does not depend on geocentrism. The support of geocentrism helps the Church maintain her credibility in the face of those who say that if she was wrong on a major doctrine in the past she can be wrong on major doctrines in the future. How many times have you heard people use the Church’s supposed mistakes in the Galileo affair to posit that she can make mistakes in other important areas? Too many times. It’s the very argument feminists use for a female priesthood, and homosexuals use to say that the Church is culturally biased against them, or any number of issues that involve an interpretation of both the ecclesiastical and scientific data.

Palm: Unfortunately, these neo-geocentrist fanatics are heedless of the damage they may be doing to others' trust in the Magisterium—all in order to open some glimmer of plausibility for their pet theory to be part of our faith.  And this once again proves my point.  To all appearances they will do anything to hang on to the "pebble" of their private fixation on geocentrism, even to the point of making a shipwreck of their faith and the faith of others.

R. Sungenis: How about the damage Mr. Palm creates when he puts the Tridentine catechism at odds with the very Tradition it came from? How about the damage Mr. Palm creates when he says that previous pontiffs, who based their condemnations of heliocentrism on Tradition and Scripture, made mistakes on cosmology, but the current clerics, who base their decisions on the shifting winds of popular science, are correct? What about the damage Mr. Palm creates in saying that we can interpret literally such passages as “This is my body” even though it makes no sense scientifically, but such passages such as Psalm 19:1-6 we can’t interpret literally even though we can now show them to be scientifically acceptable? What about the damage Mr. Palm creates in making the consensus of the Church Fathers of no consequence when, in fact, the Council of Trent said we are bound to that consensus, and the Church has always held to that premise? What about the damage Mr. Palm causes when he reads into Leo XIII’s encyclical and says that Leo was referring to cosmology when Leo makes no such statement? What about the damage Mr. Palm creates when he ignores the real reason Settele got his imprimatur? Or when he ignores that “the Supreme Pontiffs” argued against Newton’s Principia that promoted heliocentrism? Or what about the damage Mr. Palm creates in suggesting Catholics ignore all the new scientific evidence that exonerates geocentrism simply because Mr. Palm neither knows the science nor commits to studying it to find out the new evidence? What about the damage Mr. Palm causes when he ignores the whole history of the Church’s direct teaching on geocentrism through 1850? Mr. Palm’s apologetic is the one that brings untold damage to the Church.