On The Vastness Of Space And The Paucity Of Inhabited Worlds

by David Barber

St Augustine, a disciple of St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan in the years around 380AD, sat at the feet of that eminent Father alongside the unknown author of the Codex Alexandria. We may surmise this from the following facts.

As Augustine tells in Book IV of the Confessions, “When he [Ambrose] was reading, his eyes ran over the page and though his heart perceived the sense, his lips were silent.” The sight of a man reading for himself and not for others hints at books becoming their own justification. The Alexandria codex is fragmentary, but bears a dedication praising the learned Ambrose, and it too mentions this silent readership, tacita lectoris.

We know that a complete copy of the work, subsequently titled On The Vastness Of Space And The Paucity Of Inhabited Worlds, was made for the library of the Bishop of Antioch in the opening years of the fifth century, since it is described in the catalogue of books demanded by Theodosius II.

That new Emperor at Constantinople, already forced to accept the division of the Roman empire into East and West and unwilling to risk the fragile unity of the Church, cast suspicious eyes upon the See of Antioch, where the heresy of Arianism had only latterly been extinguished.

The copyist describes the work as containing the most perfect proof of the existence of God, and a lemma which insisted that the divine law, or necessitas, by which God made our world the laws of physics, as we might say – must allow the plurality of worlds, since to argue otherwise imposes limitations upon God.

In addition, crowded into the margin in another hand is the observation: concludes the absence of other inhabited worlds – which must follow if the proof is true.

About the nature of this vanished proof we can only speculate. It should not surprise us that merely human arguments about the existence of God do not resist scrutiny. The lesser may not contain the greater. Yet tellingly, no proof before has demanded that humankind be unique. Perhaps some ideas are fathered only once.

In the centuries since Ambrose, Augustine and the author of the lost Codex, we have indeed found a plurality of worlds, and our servants, the silicon descendants of our own minds, have visited some of them. 

And though we have listened carefully, it seems we are alone. As far as we can tell – and these days that is very far indeed – except for the miracle of ourselves, the universe is silent. Science has determined these facts but does not offer an explanation. It may be that others see no need to read aloud; or perhaps it is an infinite theatre with a solitary actor and no audience. In the sonorous Latin of that unknown hand, the most perfect proof of the existence of God demands there be a multitude of worlds, but perhaps the God who was proved to exist had no choice but to leave them vacant. Regretfully, it may be true that the worlds of creation echo to no voices but our own.

~

Bio:

David Barber lives in the UK. His work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, New Myths and Asimov’s. (He framed the cheque.) His ambition is to write.

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