To view this site, you need to have Flash Player 9.0.115 or later installed. Click here to get the latest Flash player.
(NECN: Greg Wayland) - It was a high-stakes moment in history. Faith and science were on a collision course. The astronomer Galileo was on trial. The controversy lingers into our own time. And a well-known New England author brought it all to a Boston stage tonight. NECN’s Greg waylaid takes us behind the scenes of the play, "Two Men of Florence." It is a play that reaches for the galaxies -- packed with symbols of science and faith, brought to life by veteran actors in setting that shuttles between the sixteen hundreds and a twenty-first century planetarium. But ultimately, it's a play about the clash between two men. Two renaissance men. "Two men of Florence". Struggling to reconcile faith, science and seventeenth century religious authority. The two men are Galileo Galilee and Maffeo Berberini scientist and pope. Debating whether the seventeenth century's faith-based understanding of the universe must necessarily be crushed under the weight of the brave new world Galileo was discovering through his telescope. Hall: Two men of faith. Who both were arguing the same thing, but with different implications. Galileo had proof that the sun -- not the earth -- was the center of the universe. And the earth revolved around it. The medieval view of the universe based on scripture would be undone. The pope urged caution and discretion. Galileo was in a hurry. Goodwin: In the end, of course, as we all know, historically, Galileo lost. But in the long run, of course, his view of the world triumphed. 77-year-old first-time playwright and Concord, Mass resident Richard Goodwin, is known for his knowledge of politics, not the planets. Goodwin - I hope it's evenly weighted between the viewpoint of the Church and the viewpoint of Galileo. Goodwin is famous as the aide and confidante to John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and sSenator Robert Kennedy. He's written many books, but decided the Galileo case belonged on stage. I ran across this story of Galileo and Pope Urban and the trial of Galileo and of course the other reading I was doing and it struck me that, here was a natural drama -- the two greatest egos of the Seventeenth Century in mortal combat over issues that are still with us. You know, the battle between science and faith. Edward Hall directed the play in London -- and is directing the version now on stage at Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company. He sees the playwrights first-hand knowledge of famous men of America reflected in these famous men of Florence. Hall: When he writes these scenes and you're in the room with these men and the other characters in the play, and they're getting into the politics of the world, you suddenly feel like you're in the office with Lyndon Johnson again. Or you're in the office with McNamara. Or you're in the office with Bobby. Scholars have been taking sides on the Galileo affairs for centuries. Some finding in it proof that the church is the enemy of science., others insisting Galileo was a huge egoist, begging for a fight, arrogantly mixing science and theology. But director Edward Hall believes Galileo was an irrepressible genius who saw science as the handmaiden of his own deep faith. And he had an ally in Barbarini who became Urban the Eighth, who was, I think, a liberal-minded man who was interested in science and philosophy -- both of them, of course, staunch Catholics. Nearly a century before Galileo, polish priest and astronomer, Nicholas Copernicus found evidence the sun was the center of the universe, casting doubt on many biblical accounts of nature. But prior to the renaissance, planetary movements were of little interest to the medieval mind. Goodwin: They were more concerned with the problems of salvation than problems of astronomy. In the play, Maffeo Berberini as a catholic cardinal befriends and supports Galileo’s cosmic quest despite the violent religious wars and tensions all around. Then, as pope urban the eight, he grants Galileo permission to publish the Copernican theory while urging further study. But somehow the book became a polemic, even ridiculing of the pope. The pope was furious. Hall: He thought it was a great betrayal on Galileo's part -- that he hadn't written the book that they agreed on. Galileo was tried, convicted of heresy, forced to recant his theory and sentenced to house arrest for the last eight years of his life. He would never know that the church approved the first edition of his complete works just a century later. In our time, two popes -- John Paul the second and Benedict the sixteenth -- have acknowledged that Galileo’s case was badly handled by theologians of that time. But for playwright Goodwin, it is a perfect platform for that painful contest between faith and science. Goodwin: The issue doesn't go away, because people really want both. They want the benefits of science, but they also want the comforts of faith. There are no real villains, he says. Just a monumental fight for the ages over the earth and the sun.