Gospel & Universe

Cities of God 


In 1213 the Catholic Church went so far as to claim, "There is one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which there is absolutely no salvation." Even after the end of the Middle Ages, the Church rejected the heliocentric model of Copernicus — in favour of the geocentric model of Aristotle, Ptolemy, and the Old Testament. 

In order to make this model work, they accepted the Ptolemaic concepts of eccentricity and epicycles (little loops or rotations) — a case of constructing a model to explain a preconceived notion. Not surprisingly, when new evidence came along, they weren't prepared to consider it. The rejection of astronomy joined a sad list of rejections — pagan philosophy, polytheism, agnosticism, and free enquiry in general.

In 1600, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for the heresy of pantheism and for his cosmological theories. At about the same time, Kepler’s Epitome of Copernican Astronomy was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books, and Galileo was forced to recant the heliocentric truth.

The Church urged people to believe in the fixed Mysteries of God and His Heaven circling above us. At the same time people were urged to believe in their immediate senses, which told them (as it told many an Ancient Hebrew and Greek) that the table in front of them was, like the earth itself, absolutely still. The Church didn't just urge people to believe this. It coerced people to believe this and nothing else, just as it coerced people to believe in monotheism and Jesus and nothing else. Believe it or else!

Galileo Facing the Roman Inquisition  (Cristiano Banti, 1857)

Galileo Facing the Roman Inquisition (Cristiano Banti, 1857)

When the Inquisitor saw the table at which he forced Galileo to recant, he saw a table that had to be absolutely still. After all, the Bible stated that the earth was unmoving. For the Inquisitor the table couldn’t budge a millimetre. Not even theoretically. At the same time, he believed that the heavenly bodies moved in harmonious circles, with their strange little added loops, around an immovable Earth.

He got both wrong.




The meaning of life may lie somewhere in the clouds,

but until we can be sure, genetic codes and facts will have to do.

It's a working theory that Farid ud-Din* had yet to scent —

an attar of the field rose


undressed in gauze or gold.

The dream of an ordered cosmic space —

the Sufi's twirling Atoms

or Augustine's City of God

with its golden spires piercing the firmament —

must yield, for now, to the telescope's prying eye.

The wondrous yoke of soul and incense

must yield to medicine, habit, and chance events.


The circle of life may yet be found

to make a greater meaning, round and round. 

One day all things incomplete may be released

into some greater Scheme of Things complete.

Yet time has never been a prophet's friend

and where we started is not, alas, where we will end.


They told him God would be his friend

and be there with him to the end.

They told him seek and he would find,

yet when he got there in the end

he didn't know what God was, nor what was mind.


The human machine runs up, runs down

and leaves us hobbling on the ground.


* Farid ud-Din Attar was a Persian Sufi poet who wrote The Conference of the Birds (1177). Attar was a pharmacist, and the word attar (fragrance) comes from Persian. While Attar shared Khayyam's wine and flower imagery, he didn't seem to share the latter's love of materialism and the sensual world. 


Next: Dogma and the Stars

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