Nov-Antiqua Sanctissimorum Patrum, & Probatorum Theologorum Doctrina, de Sacrae Scripturae Testimonilis, in conclusionibus mere naturalibus, quae sensata experientia, & necessariis demonstrationibus evinci possunt, temere non usurpandis: In gratiam Serenissima Christinae Lotharingae, Magna-Ducis Hetruriae, privatim ante complures annos, Italico idomate conscripta ... Nunc vero juris publici facta, cum Latina versione Italico textui simul adjuncta.

Strasbourg: Elzevier, 1636.

First edition of a great Galilean rarity, the Nov-Antiqua or ‘Letter to Christina’. The Nov-Antiqua is a “superb manifesto of the freedom of thought” (Koestler, p. 436). “Its purpose was to silence all theological objections to Copernicus. Its result was the precise opposite: it became the principal cause of the prohibition of Copernicus, and of Galileo’s downfall … As a work of polemical literature, the Letter is a masterpiece” (ibid., pp. 434). “The edition was small and the book was rigorously suppressed in Catholic countries” (Drake, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, p. 171). This is the first printing of Galileo’s radical letter to Christina of Lorraine, the mother of his Florentine patron Cosimo II de’ Medici, who had posed a typical court question: how the truths of science and the Bible were to be reconciled when they were in apparent contradiction. Originally written in 1615 and circulated in manuscript, Galileo upholds the primacy of science and argues for its freedom from theological interference. “Galileo argued that neither the Bible nor nature could speak falsely and that the investigation of nature was the province of the scientist, while the reconciliation of scientific facts with the language of the Bible was that of the theologian” (Stillman Drake in DSB). The work concludes with an unequivocal argument for the truth of the Copernican system. The ideas expressed were instrumental in the Inquisition’s prosecution of Galileo and condemnation of Copernicanism. It was finally published, outside Italy, by Matthias Bernegger in 1636, with an accompanying Latin translation. ABPC/RBH lists only two complete copies of Nov-Antiqua in the last 40 years, both in poor condition and in later bindings.

In 1589, on the recommendation of Guidobaldo del Monte, Galileo (1564-1642) was appointed to the chair of mathematics at the University of Pisa. While in Pisa, in addition to carrying out his alleged demonstration at the Leaning Tower, he composed an untitled treatise on motion, now usually referred to as De motu, in which he attempted to destroy the Aristotelian dichotomy of natural versus forced motions. Its opening sections developed a theory of falling bodies derived from the buoyancy principle of Archimedes, an idea previously published by Giovanni Battista Benedetti in his Diversarum speculationum (1585). In the same treatise, Galileo derived the law governing equilibrium of weights on inclined planes and attempted to relate this law to speeds of descent. However, the results did not accord with experience—as Galileo noted and he withheld the treatise from publication.

Galileo’s position at Pisa was poorly paid, and he was out of favour with the faculty of philosophy owing to his opposition to Aristotelianism. At the end of his three-year contract he moved, once again with Guidobaldo’s assistance, to the chair of mathematics at Padua, where there were several kindred spirits, notably including Paolo Sarpi. To supplement his university income Galileo gave private lessons on fortification, military engineering, mechanics, and the use of the quadrant for artillerists. “The knowledge of artillerists, which he presumably partook of to accomplish his lessons, became the basis for his emerging new science of motion, eventually published in the Discorsi in 1638. It was this fundamental knowledge that allowed Galileo and Guidobaldo del Monte to set up the experiment to demonstrate that the trajectory of a projectile follows a parabolic path, Galileo’s first step toward formulating the law of fall” (Valleriani, p. 200). This experiment, which is described in the Discorsi, involved rolling an inked ball obliquely down an inclined plane in order to make visible the path of its trajectory.

“Toward the end of 1602, Galileo wrote to Guidobaldo concerning the motions of pendulums and the descent of bodies along the arcs and chords of circles. His deep interest in phenomena of acceleration appears to date from this time. The correct law of falling bodies, but with a false assumption behind it, is embodied in a letter to Sarpi in 1604 … No clue is given as to the source of Galileo’s knowledge of the law that the ratios of spaces traversed from rest in free fall are as those of the squares of the elapsed times … It is probable either that he observed a rough 1, 3, 5, . . . progression of spaces traversed along inclined planes in equal times and assumed this to be exact, or that he reasoned (as Christian Huygens later did) that only the odd number rule of spaces would preserve the ratios unchanged for arbitrary changes of the unit time. From this fact, the times-squared law follows immediately. Galileo’s derivation of it from the correct definition of uniform acceleration followed only at a considerably later date …

“Early in 1609, Galileo began the composition of a systematic treatise on motion in which his studies of inclined planes and of pendulums were to be integrated under the law of acceleration, known to him at least since 1604. In the composition of this treatise, he became aware that there was something wrong with his attempted derivation of 1604, which had assumed proportionality of speed to space traversed … [This treatise] De motu accelerato, which correctly defines uniform acceleration and much resembles the definitive text reproduced in his final book, seems to date from this intermediate period” (DSB).

While he was at Padua, Galileo was retained by the Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine (1565-1637) to tutor her eldest son, Cosimo II de’ Medici. The granddaughter of Catherine de’ Medici, Christina re-cemented her ties to the family in 1589, when she married Ferdinando I de’ Medici of Florence. When Christina’s husband died in 1609, Cosimo succeeded him as Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Christina stayed on at the court. 

Following the great discoveries he made with the newly invented telescope, published early in 1610 in Sidereus nuncius, Galileo became famous and in June 1610 he returned from Padua to his native Tuscany as Chief Mathematician and ‘Mathematician and Philosopher’ to the Grand Duke, Cosimo II. Galileo gave Cosimo the telescope with which he discovered the four moons of Jupiter in 1610, naming them the “Medicean stars” in his honor. After Galileo joined the Medici court, he became better acquainted with the Duchess (who was actually a year younger than Galileo), and on several occasions she asked Galileo how the Copernican idea of a moving earth could be compatible with those passages of Scripture that discuss a fixed earth and a moving sun.

“What precipitated the letter was actually a conversation at a dinner party given by … Christina of Lorraine. She had voiced concern about the new Copernican system in view of the prevailing interpretations of the Scriptures, especially those texts that spoke of the earth as stationary. Father Benedetto Castelli, a Benedictine monk and a friend of Galileo, tried to allay her doubts and to counter the objections of Cosimo Boscaglia, a Pisan professor, who was also present. Castelli had succeeded Galileo in the chair of mathematics at the University of Pisa and was aware of the growing opposition to Galileo’s views on astronomy and physics from Boscaglia and others, such as the Florentine philosopher Ludovico delle Colombe. Their antipathy had been growing since the publication of Galileo’s Sidereus nuncius in 1610, describing his discoveries with the telescope and the inferences he drew from them. His critics thought he claimed too much in view of the Scriptures and the province of natural philosophy. Castelli reported by letter on the argument, outlining his own answers, which he felt effectively refuted the contentions of Professor Boscaglia.

“Fearing perhaps a threat to his position as the Tuscan court philosopher and mathematician, Galileo gathered his observations on the problem and sent them to Castelli, and the monk seems to have widely circulated copies of the missive. During the year following the exchange, anti-Galileist sentiment grew in Florence among friends and supporters of Colombe. On December 14, I614, the Dominican Tomasso Caccini preached a sermon in Santa Maria Novella attacking Galileo, reputedly by using a pun on the text of Acts I:1, ‘ye men of Galilee [Galileo], why stand ye gazing up into heaven?’ About the same time another Dominican friar, Niccolo Lorini, sent to the Holy Office a replica of Galileo’s letter to Castelli, which seems to have contained some alterations by an unknown hand that rendered the thought suspect of heresy. Upon hearing of this Galileo retrieved the original and sent his own authenticated copy to his friend Bishop Piero Dini in Rome. He asked that it be shown to influential clerics, Cardinal Bellarmine among them, to aid in the defense of the Copernican system, rumored to be facing condemnation. At the same time, mid-February of 1615, he told Bishop Dini that he was at work on an amplified version of the letter that he would send to him soon. Galileo took much more time than he had anticipated, however, probably because he decided to consult theologians in order to buttress his views with references to the Scriptures and the Church Fathers. He evidently pressed Castelli and others into helping him in this. A letter from Castelli in January 1615 mentions that he will send on to Galileo some opinions of St. Augustine and other recognized authorities, which had been compiled by a Barnabite priest on the subject of the proper relationship of science to Scripture.

“The new version of the letter was completed sometime before Galileo made a visit to Rome at the end of 1615 to press his case for Copernicus. In its much-expanded form the letter seems to have been widely circulated there, as the numerous extant manuscript copies and correspondence about it suggest. Neither it nor the original version had the desired effect, unfortunately, for on February 26, 1616, Galileo was told in an interview in Rome with Cardinal Bellarmine that the Holy Office had decided to ban the teaching of the heliocentrism espoused by Copernicus. For this reason Galileo would be expected not to advocate the system. Under this stricture he could not afford to expose his ‘Letter to Christina’ to a wider audience at that time” (Moss, pp. 548-550). A committee then pronounced in 1616 that Copernicanism was heretical, and Copernicus’ book On the Revolutions (1543) was, for the first time, placed on the Index of Prohibited Books. Galileo’s trial was still 16 years away, but the stage had now been set, thanks to the Letter to Christina.

The Letter to Christina was first published in 1636, three years after Galileo’s trial before the Inquisition, by Matthias Bernegger, a Protestant born in Austria who had moved to Strasbourg in his youth. Strasbourg was at that time a free city federated with the Holy Roman Empire. Bernegger had previously published Latin translations of Galileo’s booklet on the proportional compass in 1612, and of the Dialogo in 1635 to which the Letter to Christina was originally intended to form an appendix. According to Bernegger the Letter was furnished by his and Galileo’s friend Elio Diodati, who translated it into Latin (Diodati used the pseudonym Robertus Robertinus Borussus). One might conjecture that this was with Galileo’s knowledge, but Favaro points out there is no evidence in Galileo’s correspondence that he was aware of these preparations. “There was a Preface consisting of a five-page letter from Robertinus to Bernegger, and a one-page letter from Bernegger to Robertinus … the Preface is openly critical of Galileo’s condemnation and explicitly praises his moral character … Isabelle Pantin does not exaggerate when she states that this Preface was meant to be ‘a conclusive document for Galileo’s rehabilitation’ … There was also an Appendix consisting of a four-page excerpt from Diego de Zúñiga’s Commentaries on Job, suggesting a geokinetic interpretation of the biblical passage Job 9:6; this part of Zúñiga’s book had caused its suspension in the anti-Copernican decree of 1616.

“The Latin title could be translated as New and Old Doctrine of the Most Holy Fathers and Esteemed Theologians on Preventing the Reckless Use of the Testimony of the Sacred Scripture in Purely Natural Conclusions that can be Established by Sense Experience and Necessary Demonstrations. The title conveyed several suggestions that are worth stressing. One was that the view Galileo was propounding was both old and new; new, but rooted in the tradition of the Church Fathers and the arguments of traditional theologians. Another was that Galileo was objecting to what he saw as a widespread abuse, namely using the words of Scripture to prove or disprove conclusions in astronomy. And the conclusions on which he focused were those that were capable of being conclusively proved by sense experience and necessary demonstrations, not merely those that had already been conclusively so proved; for in regard to the latter (e.g., the fact that the earth was spherical) there was no controversy, and nobody would dream of trying to overturn them on the basis of biblical texts.

“This descriptive title did indeed correspond to the content of Galileo’s essay. Its key thesis was that Scripture is not an authority on philosophical (astronomical) questions but only on questions of faith and morals. This principle would imply that those who advanced the scriptural argument against Copernicanism were committing a non sequitur or were reasoning irrelevantly; for they argued that heliocentrism must be rejected because it contradicts scriptural passages, but, given the principle, scriptural passages cannot be properly used to support astronomical conclusions. Galileo formulated his ‘new-old’ principle in a memorable aphorism that he attributed to Cardinal Cesare Baronio: ‘The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how one goes to heaven and not how heaven goes’. Of course, Galileo could not simply state his principle and apply it against his opponents. The bulk of the Nov-Antiqua consisted of arguments designed to justify it” (Finocchiaro, p. 75).

Following Galileo’s trial and conviction in 1633, he was sent to Siena, under the charge of its archbishop, Ascanio Piccolomini. Within a few weeks Piccolomini had revived Galileo’s spirits and induced him to take up once more his old work in mechanics and bring it to a conclusion. Early in 1634 Galileo was transferred to his villa in Arcetri, in the hills above Florence. Following the death of his elder daughter in April 1634, Galileo briefly lost interest in his studies, but the unfinished work on motion soon absorbed his attention once more, and within a year it was virtually finished.

Berghman, Des Impressions Elzeviriennes 636 (‘piece d'un grand interet et d’une extrême rareté’); Carli & Favaro 155; Cinti 98; Lalande p. 207; Riccardi I 515 (‘rarissimo’); Willems 441 (‘rare’). Finoccchiaro, Retrying Galileo, 1633-1992, 2007. Koestler, The Sleepwalkers, 1959. Moss, ‘Galileo’s Letter to Christina: Some Rhetorical Considerations,’ Renaissance Quarterly 36 (1983), pp. 547-576.



4to (197 x 142 mm), pp. [8] 1-60. 19th century quarter calf, slight wear to spine and corners, internally fine and with no restoration.

Item #5111

Price: $85,000.00