Pope Callixtus III excommunicated Halley's comet?

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Pope Callixtus III excommunicated Halley's comet?

#1  Postby klazmon » Oct 20, 2010 7:00 am

I came across this story. Wikipedia says it was claimed to be sourced from a posthumously published biography and later picked up and embellished by Laplace. Do any of the historians here know if this is just made up? The wiki article is a bit short on references.
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Re: Pope Callixtus III excommunicated Halley's comet?

#2  Postby TimONeill » Oct 20, 2010 9:37 am

klazmon wrote:I came across this story. Wikipedia says it was claimed to be sourced from a posthumously published biography and later picked up and embellished by Laplace. Do any of the historians here know if this is just made up? The wiki article is a bit short on references.


Because it never happened. Laplace based his story on a brief mention in a 15th Century work by Bartolomeo Platina who noted the reaction to the appearance of Halley's Comet in 1456:

A maned and fiery comet appearing for several days, while scientists were predicting a great plague, dearness of food, or some great disaster, Callistus decreed that supplicatory prayers be held for some days to avert the anger of God, so that, if any calamity threatened mankind, it might be entirely diverted against the Turks, the foes of the Christian name. He likewise ordered that the bells be rung at midday as a signal to all the faithful to move God with assiduous petitions and to assist with their prayers those engaged in constant warfare with the Turks.

In a period in which astronomy and astrology were closely intertwined, the concept that the appearance of a comet in what were usually unchanging heavens signalled (or would cause) unusual events on earth was generally accepted. So what Callixtus did here was try to avert the effects of these events or, alternatively, divert them towards the dreadful infidel.

So as kooky as all this seems to us, no "excommunication" of the comet ever took place. While Callixtus did believe that prayer could avert natural disasters (something shared by millions to this day), he doesn't seem to have been under the impression that comets were communicant members of the Catholic Church which had strayed into heretical beliefs or that excommunicating them would bring them back to the communion rail of their local cathedral chastened and penitent.

It's weird that no less a sceptic than Carl Sagan perpetuated this story without checking if it was true. Or even inquiring if it even made the slightest scrap of sense. Yet another salulatory lesson for we sceptics about checking things even if we'd like them to be true. All to often they turn out to be crap.
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Re: Pope Callixtus III excommunicated Halley's comet?

#3  Postby Animavore » Oct 20, 2010 9:39 am

Speaking of Carl Sagan, I was reading the first chapter of Cosmos on Monday and he made the Hypatia error also.
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Re: Pope Callixtus III excommunicated Halley's comet?

#4  Postby rJD » Oct 20, 2010 9:42 am

I'm starting to wonder if ordering "The Demon Haunted World" from the US was the best move I've made recently...
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Re: Pope Callixtus III excommunicated Halley's comet?

#5  Postby Animavore » Oct 20, 2010 9:45 am

It's probably worth reading simply because of his writing alone. It's like poetry. I bought Cosmos for a friend who asked me to get it for him while I was in the city. I was reading it on the bus home and had a mind to just keep it and say I couldn't find it.
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Re: Pope Callixtus III excommunicated Halley's comet?

#6  Postby klazmon » Oct 20, 2010 9:57 am

TimONeill wrote:
klazmon wrote:I came across this story. Wikipedia says it was claimed to be sourced from a posthumously published biography and later picked up and embellished by Laplace. Do any of the historians here know if this is just made up? The wiki article is a bit short on references.


Because it never happened. Laplace based his story on a brief mention in a 15th Century work by Bartolomeo Platina who noted the reaction to the appearance of Halley's Comet in 1456:

.
.
.

It's weird that no less a sceptic than Carl Sagan perpetuated this story without checking if it was true. Or even inquiring if it even made the slightest scrap of sense. Yet another salulatory lesson for we sceptics about checking things even if we'd like them to be true. All to often they turn out to be crap.


Thanks. I did wonder about it as it sounded weird.
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