Included below are two passages from different figures in the trial of Galileo. In the first, Galileo himself explains to Benedetto Castelli his belief that his findings do not necessarily contradict scripture when they are considered to employ figurative language or when they reference exclusively a spiritual realm. In the second, Cardinal Bellarmine, an opponent to Galileo, explains to another clergyman the dangers in interpreting the scriptures more liberally.
Galileo to Benedetto Castelli
21 December 1613
....As therefore, the Holy Scriptures in many places not only admit but actually require a different explanation for what seems to be the literal one, it seems to me that they ought to be reserved for the last place in mathematical discussions. For they, like nature, owe their origin to the Divine Word; the former is inspired by the Holy Spirit, the latter as the fulfillment of the Divine commands; it was necessary, however in Holy Scripture, in order to accommodate itself to the understanding of the majority, to say many things which apparently differ from the precise meaning. Nature, on the contrary, is inexorable and unchangeable, and cares not whether her hidden causes and modes of working are intelligible to the human understanding or not, and never deviates on that account from her prescribed laws. It appears to me therefore that no effect of nature, which experience places before our eyes, or is the necessary conclusion derived from evidence, should be rendered doubtful by passages of Scripture which contain thousands of words admitting of various interpretations, for every sentence of Scripture is not bound by such rigid laws as is every effect of nature....
Since two truths can obviously never contradict each other, it is the part of wise interpreters of Holy Scripture to take the pains to find out the real meaning of its statements, in accordance with the conclusions regarding nature which are quite certain, either from the clear evidence of sense or from necessary demonstration. As therefore the Bible, although dictated by the Holy Spirit, admits, from the reasons given above, in many passages of an interpretation other than the literal one; and as, moreover, we cannot maintain with certainty that all interpreters are inspired by God, I think it would be the part of wisdom not to allow any one to apply passages of Scripture in such a way as to force them to support, as true, conclusions concerning nature the contrary of which may afterwards be revealed by the evidence of our senses or by necessary demonstration. Who will set bounds to man's understanding? Who can assure us that everything that can be known in the world is already known? It would therefore perhaps be best not to add, without necessity, to the articles of faith which refer to salvation and the defense of holy religion, and which are so strong that they are in no danger of having at any time cogent reasons brought against them, especially when the desire to add to them proceeds from persons who, although quite enlightened when they speak under Divine guidance, are obviously destitute of those faculties which are needed, I will not say for the refutation, but even for the understanding of the demonstrations by which the higher sciences enforce their conclusions.
I am inclined to think that the authority of Holy Scripture is intended to convince men of those truths which are necessary for their salvation, and which being far above man's understanding cannot be made credible by any learning, or any other means than revelation by the Holy Spirit. But that the same God has endowed us with senses, reason, and understanding, does not permit us to use them, and desires to acquaint us in any other way with such knowledge as we are in a position to acquire for ourselves by means of those faculties, that it seems to me I am not bound to believe, especially concerning those sciences about which the Holy Scriptures contain only small fragments and varying conclusions; and this is precisely the case with astronomy, of which there is so little that the planet are not even all enumerated....
Cardinal Bellarmine to Father Foscarini
4 April 1615
My Very Reverend Father,
It has been a pleasure for me to read the Italian letter and the Latin paper you sent me. I thank you for both the one and the other, and I may tell you that I found them replete with skill and learning. As you ask for m y opinion, I will give it as briefly as possible because, at the moment I have very little time for writing.
First, I say it seems to me that your Reverence and Signor Galileo act prudently when you content yourselves with speaking hypothetically and no absolutely, as I have always understood that Copernicus spoke. For to say that the assumptions that the Earth moves and the Sun stands still saves all the celestial appearances better than do eccentrics and epicycles is to speak with excellent good sense and to run the risk whatever. Such a manner of speaking suffices for a mathematician. But to want to affirm that the Sun, in very truth, is at the centre of the universe and only rotates on its axis without traveling from east to west, and that the Earth is situated in the third sphere and revolves very swiftly around the Sun, is a very dangerous attitude and one calculated not only to arouse all Scholastic philosophers and theologians but also to injure our hold faith by contradicting the Scriptures….
Second, I say that, as you know, the Council of Trent forbids the interpretation of the Scriptures in a way contrary to the common agreement of the holy Fathers. Now if your Reverence will read, not merely the Fathers, but modern commentators on Genesis, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Joshua, you will discover that all agree in interpreting them literally as teaching that the Sun is in the heavens and revolves round the Earth with immense speed and that the Earth is very distant from the heavens, at the centre of the universe, and motionless. Consider, then in your prudence, whether the Church can support that the Scriptures should be interpreted in a manner contrary to that of the holy Fathers and of all modern commentators, both Latin and Greek….
Third, I say that, if there were a real proof that the Sun is in the centre of the universe, that the Earth is in the third sphere, and that the Sun does not go round the Earth but the Earth round the Sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and we should rather have to say that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true. But I do not think there is any such proof since none has been shown to me. To demonstrate that the appearances are saved by assuming the sun at the centre and the earth in the heavens is not the same thing as to demonstrate that in fact the sun is in the centre and the earth is in the heavens. I believe that the first demonstration may exist, but I have very grave doubts about the second; and in case of doubt one may not abandon the Holy Scriptures as expounded by the hold Fathers…