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<title> ABSTRACT </title>On February, 26 1616 Galileo received an order to cease and desist from defending Copernicus. This order, technically called a precept, became the hinge of his trial and one of the two principal elements in his condemnation. As soon as the corpus of evidence came together fitfully in the nineteenth century, a number of scholars thought they saw vital contradictions in the documents and used them to argue that the precept, even if it was indeed administered, should not have been. At present the line that Galileo fell victim to a legal impropriety comes perilously close to orthodoxy. This situation overlooks the contested interpretation of Galileo's trial from the first over both the fact and the meaning of this precept. This article demonstrates that the terms of the debate were largely set in the 1870s and by historicizing the interpretation of "legal impropriety" it also suggests the need for further research before accepting it. Finally, it raises questions about the legal impropriety thesis. Did the Inquisition have a procedure to cover cases like Galileo's? If so, did it follow it in 1616 and 1633? Most urgent, what was a precept, how should one have been administered, what was its purpose or purposes? All these and others cannot presently be answered.


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