Of Planets and Prayers

Flammarion wood engraving
Flammarion wood engraving, Artist unknown.
Its first documented appearance is in Camille Flammarion’s 1888 book L’atmosphère : météorologie populaire (“The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology”).

“My mind has been given over to philosophizing most correctly: if there is anything unworthy of Thy designs brought forth by me – a worm born and nourished in a wallowing place of sins – breathe into me also that which Thou dost wish men to know, that I may make the correction: If I have been allured into rashness by the wonderful beauty of Thy works, or if I have loved my own glory among men, while I am advancing in the work destined for Thy glory, be gentle and merciful and pardon me; and finally deign graciously to effect that these demonstrations give way to Thy glory and the salvation of souls and nowhere be an obstacle to that.”

Johannes Kepler, Harmonices mundi (The Harmony of the World, 1619)
Circa 1612, German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630)
Circa 1612, German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630)

Kepler, who described for us the laws of planetary motion, understood that his work in math and science was not a game. In numbers, shapes, and planets, he was dealing with the mind and creation of God. He was examining, discovering, and describing things God saw fit to breath into existence. It is no wonder then that he thought this work could give way to the Creator’s glory and the salvation of souls. That there is such gravity and glory in the work of a mathematician and scientist (or any true philosopher, in the sense of a “lover of wisdom”, for that matter) naturally generates some concerns in the mind of those who fear God.

The first of these concerns is that of stating or creating something unworthy. Just because one seeks what is true, beautiful, and good, does not mean he is guaranteed to secure those qualities in his work. Knowing his own limitations and his great distance from God’s perfect perspective, man will rightly be concerned about and pray protection against missing the mark in his endeavors. In all our endeavors, let us pray that God corrects what we have stated incorrectly, makes good what we have made bad, and breathes beauty over anything we have made of mere utility or outright ugliness.

The moment this first concern is to put to rest, the second immediately awakens. Assuming what we discover, create, and describe is true, beautiful, and good, we are wont to forget our wealth is inherited not earned. We are graciously made participants in and onlookers of God’s great works, but we must not forget that we are, as Kepler so humbly states it, but “a worm born and nourished in a wallowing place of sins.” Let us not be so proud as to think we are the artificers of our own intelligence nor the originators of our own creations. It would seem wise to stand with this giant of the Scientific Revolution in renouncing our own glory among men in favor of the glory of God.

To Him be all the glory for all that we do, and may all that we do be glorious indeed. Amen.

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