The Vatican’s Astronomers and the End of the World

The Vatican released a statement this week from their top astronomer explaining what most of us already knew – the world’s not going to end on Dec. 21.

Most people don’t know that the Catholic church even has an astronomer, but, contrary to popular belief, the sciences have always been important to the church.  (When the church sent their first missionaries to make contact with the Chinese, they sent them with copies of Galileo’s writings and their most advanced clocks as gifts.)  In his statement, the Vatican’s astronomer discusses a certain theory that says the universe will break apart on Dec. 21, a theory that’s based (very loosely) in fact:

Yes, Funes wrote, the universe is expanding and if some models are correct, will at one point “break away” — but not for billions of years. But he said Christians profoundly believe that “death can never have the last word.”

This isn’t the first time that the church has been the voice of reason during an apocalyptic scenario.  In the year 999, some people were concerned about the end of the world while others believed that the year 1000 would bring about some sort of important, world-changing event.  It was the Pope who knew better.

Pope Sylvester II (who was probably the smartest man in Europe in his time due to his advanced writings on mathematics and astronomy) never mentioned the millennium in his writings or sermons, and he treated the end of December 31, 999, like the end of any other day.  The people of Christendom were fortunate to have had a level-headed, intellectual leader who calmly guided them through the calendar change.

Today, the Vatican is doing the same thing, using science and wisdom to lead its followers away from fear.

(Long time readers of this site will remember a previous article mentioning the Vatican’s astronomy team in this article about baptizing aliens.)

(More articles at