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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Gazing at the Heavens in the Vatican



Our SOLT seminarians were able to visit the Vatican astronomical observatory near Castel Gondolfo with host, Fr David Brown, SJ.  Br Tristan Abbot, SOLT, reports:


Astronomy and the Church

Arriving at the offices, Fr. Brown presented a brief history of astronomy in the Church. He noted that from the" early Middle Ages" it was common for" Benedictine monasteries" to be involved in astronomy. Later, at the great European universities, astronomy was a natural part of the curriculum. In the 1500’s Pope Gregory XV" asked for a more precise calendar in order for the Church to establish its principle feast days with greater accuracy. This initiated the Church’s pioneering move into the field of astronomy. Since that time, the" Catholic Church" has continuously been involved in formal astronomical research." When electricity brought light to Rome, the Vatican Observatory moved from Roman rooftops to Castel Gandolfo. By the 1990’s, technological innovations necessitated new telescopes to perform cutting-edge research. A new visible light telescope was built at Mount Kitt in Arizona. Castel Gandolfo remains the headquarters of the Vatican Observatory and their local equipment still permitted us agrandioseglimpseof Saturn.

God and the Heavens

The motto of the Vatican Astronomical Observatory gives us some insight into why the Church remains involved in this field: “Come, let us adore God the creator.” The work done at the observatory both at the offices here in" Rome" and at Mount Kitt is pure science; it is not an act of worship as we typically think of it. However, Fr. Brown linked his work to the ‘transcendentals’; it is worthy work because it is an investigation of the truth, which is always a manifestation of God in some way. God is present in His creation as St. Paul tells us in Romans 1:20. The truth, the incredible beauty and grandeur of the universe, which is studied in astronomy, causes the heart and mind to rise to God. We are made such that these ‘transcendentals’ point us beyond ourselves and in faith we know that it is God at work “who makes all things well”.  This realization moves us to “adore God the
creator”.