The Pope and the Comet

  • Article
  • 4 pages
  • Level: all audiences

This brief article (published in 1908 in Popular Astronomy) by Fr. William F. Rigge, S. J., an astronomer at Creighton University, debunks the story that Pope Callixtus III invoked his papal authority against Halley’s comet.  Rigge writes that “it seems that no article can be written on Halley’s comet without bringing in the oft-told story of the bull which Pope Callixtus III so ineffectually launched against it….” Rigge cites several pieces of evidence against this story, the strongest being that not that many documents were produced during the short papacy of Callixtus III, and Fr. Rigge was able to read them all.  “It was an easy task for me to read all the documents of this pope,” he writes, “and I can attest from my own personal knowledge that not only is there no bull against or concerning a comet, there is not even a paragraph, nor a phrase, nor a word, which might be construed to refer to a comet.”  Today the story is generally recognized as a myth, but as recently as 1997 a NASA news release about comet Hale-Bopp noted that “Pope Callixtus III excommunicated Halley’s Comet in 1456 as an ‘instrument of the devil’…”

Click here to access this article as printed in Popular Astronomy (courtesy of Google Books).

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