* On this rock I will build my church


A scientific, very respectful and well-thought reply to the popular question "Do you believe in UFOs?"  This book evolved as a reply to one of the most frequent questions that I used to hear from the public when I was working in an astronomical observatory: "Do you believe in UFOs?". That seems an odd question to ask to scientists, but after researching conscientiously for about a full year, I discovered, to my surprise, that mainstream Science has a few things to say about the topic.  This book is not about conspiracy theory, "NASA is hiding the truth", or much less, that flying saucers have already landed on the lawn of the White House. Rather, it is a book about what is the most rational reply that a scientist, or in my case, a science writer, can offer when people insist on asking that question.  As one advances through the chapters, explores the following rationale: Is there life in the Universe? The answer is yes: us. Are there civilizations capable of spaceflight? The answer is again yes: us. Can we expand those two questions? Can we answer also: "them" and "them"?  All illustrations are also available at naturapop.com
Painting: "Le pape Formose et Etienne VII" ("The pope Formosus and Stephen VII"), by Jean-Paul Laurens, 1870, oil on canvas, 100 cm X 152 cm, housed in the "Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes", France, inv. 1052. Via "Le ministère de la culture et de la communication" of France, available at http://www.culture.gouv.fr. Photograph credit Gérard Blot/Agence photographique de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux. Photograph Copyright © "Agence photographique de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux". This image file is hosted in computer servers of "Le ministère de la culture et de la communication" of France, http://www.culture.gouv.fr. Special thanks to Katia Cordova from the "Agence photographique de la Réunion des musées nationaux et du Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées", Paris, France, http://www.photo.rmn.fr, and to Robbi Siegel from Art Resource, Inc., New York, U.S.A., http://www.artres.com, for this photo courtesy.

Painting: "Le pape Formose et Etienne VII" ("The pope Formosus and Stephen VII"), by Jean-Paul Laurens, 1870, oil on canvas, 100 cm X 152 cm, housed in the "Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes", France, inv. 1052. Via "Le ministère de la culture et de la communication" of France, available at http://www.culture.gouv.fr. Photograph credit Gérard Blot/Agence photographique de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux. Photograph Copyright © "Agence photographique de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux". This image file is hosted in computer servers of "Le ministère de la culture et de la communication" of France, http://www.culture.gouv.fr. Special thanks to Katia Cordova from the "Agence photographique de la Réunion des musées nationaux et du Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées", Paris, France, http://www.photo.rmn.fr, and to Robbi Siegel from Art Resource, Inc., New York, U.S.A., http://www.artres.com, for this photo courtesy.


"Eight hundred years exact before the year"
"I was made Pope, men made Formosus [' 'Formosus': Pope (891-895).'] Pope,"
"Say Sigebert [' 'Sigebert': Sigebert II, king of Austrasia, afterwards a monk. He is set down as a saint in the Romish Calendar.'] and other chroniclers." 
"Ere I confirm or quash the Trial here"
"Of Guido Franceschini and his friends,"
"Read, - How there was a ghastly Trial once [' 'How there was a ghastly Trial once': this and the accounts following of the successive decisions of the popes is given substantially as Browning gives it in Platina's 'Lives of the Popes', Dr. Benham's edition.']"
"Of a dead man by a live man, and both, Popes:"
"Thus - in the antique penman's very phrase."

" 'Then Stephen, [' 'Stephen': Pope (896-897).'] Pope and seventh of the name,' "
" 'Cried out, in synod as he sat in state,' "
" 'While choler quivered on his brow and beard,' "
" ' 'Come into court, Formosus, thou lost wretch,' ' "
" ' 'That claimedst to be late Pope as even I!' ' "

" 'And at the word the great door of the church' "
" 'Flew wide, and in they brought Formosus' self,' "
" 'The body of him, dead, even as embalmed' "
" 'And buried duly in the Vatican' "
" 'Eight months before, exhumed thus for the nonce.' "
" 'They set it, that dead body of a Pope,' "
" 'Clothed in pontific vesture now again,' "
" 'Upright on Peter's chair as if alive.' "

" 'And Stephen, springing up, cried furiously' "
" ' 'Bishop of Porto, wherefore didst presume' ' "
" ' 'To leave that see and take this Roman see,' ' "
" ' 'Exchange the lesser for the greater see,' ' "
" ' ' - A thing against the canons of the Church?' ' "

" 'Then one - (a Deacon who, observing forms,' "
" 'Was placed by Stephen to repel the charge,' "
" 'Be advocate and mouthpiece of the corpse) - ' "
" 'Spoke as he dared, set stammeringly forth' "
" 'With white lips and dry tongue, - as but a youth,' "
" 'For frightful was the corpse-face to behold, - ' "
" 'How nowise lacked there precedent for this.' "

" 'But when, for his last precedent of all,' "
" 'Emboldened by the Spirit, out he blurts' "
" ' 'And, Holy Father, didst not thou thyself' ' "
" ' 'Vacate the lesser for the greater see,' ' "
" ' 'Half a year since change Arago for Rome?' ' "
" ' ' - Ye have the sin's defense now, Synod mine!' ' "
" ' Shrieks Stephen in a beastly froth of rage:' "
" ' 'Judge now betwixt him dead and me alive!' ' "
" ' 'Hath he intruded, or do I pretend?' ' "
" ' 'Judge, judge!' - breaks wavelike one whole foam of wrath.' "

" 'Whereupon they, being friends and followers,' "
" 'Said 'Ay, thou art Christ's Vicar, and not he!' ' "
" ' 'Away with what is frightful to behold!' ' "
" ' 'This act was uncanonic and a fault.' ' "

" 'Then, swallowed up in rage, Stephen exclaimed' "
" ' 'So, guilty! So, remains I punish guilt!' ' "
" ' 'He is unpoped, and all he did I damn:' ' "
" ' 'The Bishop, that ordained him, I degrade:' ' "
" ' 'Depose to laics those he raised to priests:' ' "
" ' 'What they have wrought is mischief nor shall stand,' ' "
" ' 'It is confusion, let it vex no more!' ' "
" ' 'Since I revoke, annul and abrogate' ' "
" ' 'All his decrees in all kinds: they are void!' ' "
" ' 'In token whereof and warning to the world,' ' "
" ' 'Strip me yon miscreant of those robes usurped,' ' "
" ' 'And clothe him with vile serge befitting such!' ' "
" ' 'Then hale the carrion to the market-place:' ' "
" ' 'Let the town-hangman chop from his right hand' ' "
" ' 'Those same three fingers which he blessed withal; ' ' "
" ' 'Next cut the head off once was crowned forsooth:' ' "
" ' 'And last go fling them, fingers, head and trunk,' ' "
" ' 'To Tiber that my Christian fish may sup!' ' "
" ' - Either because of [capital iota][capital chi][capital theta][capital upsilon][capital sigma] which means Fish [' '[capital iota][capital chi][capital theta][capital upsilon][capital sigma] which means Fish': the letters of this Greek word form the initials of the Greek words for Jesus Christ, of God, Son, Saviour ([original Greek phrase in Greek characters, transliterated:] 'Iesoûs Christós Theoû Uiós Sotér'). The fish was used by the early Christians as a secret symbol by which they could recognize each other.']' "
" 'And very aptly symbolizes Christ,' "
" 'Or else because the Pope is Fisherman [' 'Pope is Fisherman': because he is the successor of Peter, the fisherman, whom Christ said he would make a fisher of men (Mark i, 17).'],' "
" 'And seals with Fisher's-signet.' "

" 'Anyway,' "
" 'So said, so done: himself, to see it done,' "
" 'Followed the corpse they trailed from street to street' "
" 'Till into Tiber wave they threw the thing.' "
" 'The people, crowded on the banks to see,' "
" 'Were loud or mute, wept or laughed, cursed or jeered,' "
" 'According as the deed addressed their sense;' "
" 'A scandal verily: and out spake a Jew' "
" ' 'Wot ye your Christ had vexed our Herod thus?' ' "

" 'Now when, Formosus being dead a year,' "
" 'His judge Pope Stephen tasted death in turn,' "
" 'Made captive by the mob and strangled straight,' "
" 'Romanus [' 'Romanus': became Pope in September, 897, and held the see for three month and twenty-two days.'] his successor for a month,' "
" 'Did make protest Formosus was with God,' "
" 'Holy, just, true in thought and word and deed.' "
" 'Next Theodore [' 'Theodore': Pope in 898, held the office twenty days.'], who reigned but twenty days,' "
" 'Therein convoked a synod, whose decree' "
" 'Did reinstate, repope the late unpoped,' "
" 'And do away with Stephen as accursed.' "
" 'So that when presently certain fisher-folk' "
" '(As if the queasy river could not hold' "
" 'Its swallowed Jonas, but discharged the meal)' "
" 'Produced the timely product of their nets,' "
" 'The mutilated man, Formosus, - saved' "
" 'From putrefaction by the embalmer's spice,' "
" 'Or, as some said, by sanctity of flesh, - ' "
" ' 'Why, lay the body again,' bade Theodore,' "
" ' 'Among its predecessors, in the church' "
" ' 'And burial-place of Peter!' which was done.' "
" ' 'And,' added Luitprand [' 'Luitprand': a chronicler of the tenth century, and Bishop of Cremona. Died about 970.'] , 'many of repute,' ' "
" ' 'Pious and still alive, avouch to me' ' "
" ' 'That, as they bore the body up the aisle,' ' "
" ' 'The saints in imaged row bowed each his head' ' "
" ' 'For welcome to a brother-saint come back.' ' "
" 'As for Romanus and this Theodore,' "
" 'These two Popes, through the brief reign granted each,' "
" 'Could but initiate what John [' 'John': (IX.) became Pope in 898. He removed to Ravenna on account of disturbances in Rome.'] came to close' "
" 'And give the final stamp to: he it was' "
" 'Ninth of the name, (I follow the best guides)' "
" 'Who, - in full synod at Ravenna held' "
" 'With Bishops seventy-four, and present too' "
" 'Eude [' 'Eude': elected King of France in 888.'] King of France with his Archbishopry, - ' "
" 'Did condemn Stephen, anathematize' "
" 'The disinterment, and make all blots blank,' "
" ' 'For,' argueth here Auxilius [' 'Auxilius': a French theologian who lived about 900 and wrote some treatises against Pope Sergius III.'] in a place' "
" ' 'De Ordinationibus' [' 'De Ordinationibus': concerning ordinations.'], 'precedents' ' "
" ' 'Had been, no lack, before Formosus long,' ' "
" ' 'Of Bishops so transferred from see to see,' ' "
" ' 'Marinus [' 'Marinus': there was an ecclesiastic of this name in the fourth century.'], for example:' read the tract.' "

" 'But, after John, came Sergius [' 'Sergius': (III.) Pope, from 904-911.'], reaffirmed' "
" 'The right of Stephen, cursed Formosus, nay' "
" 'Cast out, some say, his corpse a second time.' "
" 'And here, - because the matter went to ground,' "
" 'Fretted by new griefs, other cares of the age, - ' "
" 'Here is the last pronouncing of the Church,' "
" 'Her sentence that subsists unto this day.' "
" 'Yet constantly opinion hath prevailed' "
" 'I' the Church, Formosus was a holy man.' "

- Robert Browning, "The ring and the book", from the author's revised text, edited with biographical and critical notes and introduction by Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clarke, editors of "Poet-lore", Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, New York and Boston, 1897, chapter 10, "The Pope", pages 360-363, lines 24-149.

A scientific, very respectful and well-thought reply to the popular question "Do you believe in UFOs?"  This book evolved as a reply to one of the most frequent questions that I used to hear from the public when I was working in an astronomical observatory: "Do you believe in UFOs?". That seems an odd question to ask to scientists, but after researching conscientiously for about a full year, I discovered, to my surprise, that mainstream Science has a few things to say about the topic.  This book is not about conspiracy theory, "NASA is hiding the truth", or much less, that flying saucers have already landed on the lawn of the White House. Rather, it is a book about what is the most rational reply that a scientist, or in my case, a science writer, can offer when people insist on asking that question.  Of course, "Do you believe in UFOs?" is, understandable, one of the most popular questions that common people ask (even if silently, to themselves) when they raise their eyes and look at the stars. So it has to be treated respectfully, and why not, given a well-thought reply.

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