Not only do black holes reconcile the quantum theory with the force of gravity, but they also make science and religious books agree on one (black) matter: all is vanity.
I was enjoying a little book by David Doujat entitled Eloges des Personnes Illustres de l’Ancien Testament, (Paris, 1688), when I was attracted to a televised documentary on Sagittarius A*. This is the barbaric name of the supermassive black hole located at the centre of the Milky Way; and chances are that it gave birth to it—hence to us. It has a diameter of 24 million kilometres, and it is 25,000 light years away. It swallows everything that comes its way, reducing matter to its simplest and smallest form before ejecting powerful rays of light that rush through the emptiness (which, in fact is not empty although we don’t really know what it is) that destroy everything on their way. Inside Sagittarius A*, the force of gravity and the quantum theory eventually reconcile to create a material which is so concentrated that it doesn’t exist any more—and yet does. And this is the Milky Way alone! It contains between 200 and 400 billion stars (or suns), while the whole universe contains 2 billion Milky Ways. Boy—that makes me dizzy! I stared at my in-8° book relating the miracles of religion, wondering. David Doujat (1609-1688) was an erudite, who lived not so long ago, in a time when the Earth was the centre of the Universe and Man the masterpiece of God’s creation. Seems like everything in life is a matter of perspective.
Jean Doujat was a lawyer, and he started to teach law in Paris in 1655. “He had pedagogical abilities and he was as interested in the topics he taught as in the way to teach them. As a matter of fact, he adapted his teaching to the needs of his students,” Marie-Bénédicte Rahon-Dos Santos writes (Jean Doujat..., Revue française d’histoire de d’idées politiques—2021). He was, she adds, an accomplished scientist. Such a man was soon identified as the perfect preceptor for Louis XIV’s son, the Grand Dauphin. This little book of Eloges was actually written for the Dauphin, and it is the testimony of Doujat’s modern approach to teaching. It is concise, playful, richly illustrated and religious. It pleased the Dauphin in 1688, and it pleases many grown-ups 300 years later. Illustrated books are always valued because it is a joy to simply leaf through them from time to time, looking at the illustrations. In the case of Eloges des personnes illustres... you can even read the bios of the said illustrious characters written in verses—they are short on purpose.
The design of the book also is neat and airy, starting with the lists of portraits: Adam, Noah, Enoch, Moses, Mary, Judith etc. On the left pages are their engraved portraits. So, what did Adam look like? “Useless to say,” Doujat warns us, “that I didn’t intend to deceive my readers with these portraits. I haven’t invented them, and I don’t pretend them to be faithful to the originals. They are almost all reproduced from the Promptuaire des Médailles.” This “promptuaire” is a collection of portraits published by Guillaume Rouillé (Lyon, 1553). They are allegorical, of course, and come as medals. Doujat printed them right in the middle of the page, leaving huge margins and wrote short Biblical references at the foot. He then added small sketches of events related to each character: an apple tops Adam’s portrait; Daniel is represented sitting in a den with lions around him; Jonas comes with a whale. The quality of the portraits is of a high standard. “The idea,” Doujat states, “was to catch young people’s attention so they could open their minds and memorize these portraits with less effort, and with the innocent pleasure that kids are searching in everything.” It still works wonder in 2022.
The stories told in the bios take us back to an age of old, when the Earth was 6,000 year old, and Sagittarius A* was devouring worlds without man’s knowledge. Man then felt in his heart that God was watching over his shoulder, contemplating His masterpiece in awe. This God has Man’s attributes: quick to anger, and eager to punish. “When Man to his creator is disobedient, there’s no such thing as a light offence,” Doujat writes. But how could the force behind Sagittarius A* be offended by a human being eating an apple? That’s ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong: I love the Bible and all these Biblical stories. I read them with a passion. I see them as the quintessence of mankind’s quest for transcendence. I do respect holy books a lot. But the more you think of Sagittarius A*, lying there in the darkness, unreachable in all senses of the term, slowly reducing everything to its simplest form, the more those stories sound like fairy tales for children. Did God, at one point, fly from the other end of the Universe to give Moses 10 commandments as simple as “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy”? Does this matter that much, when black holes devour black holes to turn into supermassive black holes to swallow up galaxies?
The Bible is a parable that explores the soul of man—and be it wrong or right, that’s what we’re interested in. “What can we reason, but from what we know?” Pope asks. “The proper study of mankind is Man,” indeed. “And if God was never inside us, then he never was,” Voltaire adds. Man needs God like the flower needs the rain. As Doujat states in the portrait of Nembroth, who built the Babel tower, “all undertaking is vain if God doesn’t support it.” And while we mesmerize at such words, written in a little book from 1688, up there, in the remote and alleged emptiness of space, Sagittarius A* is devouring matter under God’s silent watch. One day, billions and billions of years from here, there’ll be nothing left to devour, and the supermassive black holes will disappear. Whatever shall be left (if anything) will then enter the ultimate dark age of Creation—unless Sagittarius A* and its likes suddenly vomit back everything they’ve swallowed and start a new Universe. Science and religion sometimes come together to make a point: All is vanity.
- Eloges des personnages illustres de l’Ancien Testament, Á Paris, de l’imprimerie de Gabriel Martin—1688. First and only edition. In-8° volume. Title page, 2pp (Epistre), 2pp(Avis au lecteur), 2pp (Table), 99 pages. Contains 50 portraits illustrated with 50 engravings. Although the Rare Book Hub archives lists a copy that sold for $87.50 only in Belgium in 2019, this book is quite rare and usually sells for $400 or more in a decent condition.