Maria Kirch


On 29 December 1720, the German astronomer Maria Kirch died in Berlin. Her father, a Lutheran pastor, believed that she deserved an education equivalent to that given to young boys of the time. From by her father and her uncle, she learnt mathematics and astronomy going on to study with and work together with the amateur astronomer Christoph Arnold. Through Arnold she got to know the astronomer Gottfried Kirch and despite the fact that he was 30 years older than her they married. Kirch was official astronomer of the Berlin Royal Academy of Science and her and Maria ran the Academy’s observatory together for many years. In 1702 she became the first woman to discover a comet but the credit for the discovery was given to her husband. When Gottfried died in 1710, Maria applied for his position arguing correctly that she had done half of the work in the past. Despite her having published independently and having an excellent reputation as well as the active support of Leibniz the Academy refused to award her the post. She worked in various other observatories until 1717 when her son was appointed to his father’s position, Maria once again becoming the assistant. Despite having more than proved her equality to any male astronomer Maria never really received the recognition she deserved. However, she was admitted by the Berlin Academy of Sciences.

Idea for this post: The Renaissance Mathematicus, Sorry Caroline but you were not the first, Maria was.


Pope Francis: The Holy Spirit and the Care for Creation


Pope Francis said today, during the General Audience:

The Holy Spirit nurtures hope not only in the heart of men, but also in all creation. The apostle Paul says that even creation “waits with eager longing” for liberation and groans and suffers as in the pain of childbirth (cf Rm 8:20-22). “The energy capable of moving the world is not an anonymous and blind force but the action of the ‘Spirit of God… moving over the face of the waters’ (Gn 1: 2) at the beginning of the Creation” (Benedict XVI, Homily, 31 May 2009)

litter in Nature

And he continued:

This too leads us to respect creation: one cannot besmirch a painting without offending the artist who created it.

Let the upcoming feast of Pentecost find us harmonious in prayer, with Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother. And may the gift of the Holy Spirit make us abound in hope.

read the whole text: General Audience, 31 May 2017

Picture in the Header: Detail from the St. Marc’s Cathedral in Venice

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Wer bin ich” – “Who am I”


Wer bin ich? Sie sagen mir oft,
ich träte aus meiner Zelle
gelassen und heiter und feste
wie ein Gutsherr aus seinem Schloss.

Wer bin ich? Sie sagen mir oft,
ich spräche mit meinen Bewachern
frei und freundlich und klar,
als hätte ich zu gebieten.

Wer bin ich? Sie sagen mir auch,
ich trüge die Tage des Unglücks
gleichmütig, lächelnd und stolz,
wie einer , der Siegen gewohnt ist.

Bin ich das wirklich, was andere von mir sagen?
Oder bin ich nur das, was ich selbst von mir weiß?
Unruhig, sehnsüchtig, krank, wie ein Vogel im Käfig,
ringend nach Lebensatem, als würgte mir einer die Kehle,
hungernd nach Farben, nach Blumen, nach Vogelstimmen,
dürstend nach guten Worten, nach menschlicher Nähe,
zitternd vor Zorn über Willkür und kleinlichste Kränkung,
umgetrieben vom Warten auf große Dinge.
Ohnmächtig bangend um Freunde in endloser Ferne,
müde und leer zum Beten, zum Denken, zum Schaffen,
matt und bereit, von allem Abschied zu nehmen.

Wer bin ich? Der oder jener?
Bin ich denn heute dieser und morgen ein andrer?
Bin ich beides zugleich? Vor Menschen ein Heuchler
und vor mir selbst ein verächtlicher Schwächling?
Oder gleicht, was in mir noch ist, dem geschlagenen Heer,
das in Unordnung weicht vor schon gewonnenen Sieg?

Wer bin ich? Einsames Fragen treibt mit mir Spott.
Wer ich auch bin, Du kennst mich, Dein bin ich, o Gott.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  Juni 1944

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) war einer der herausragenden deutschen Theologen des 20. Jahrhunderts. Er wirkte unter anderem als evangelischer Pfarrer in Berlin und gehörte zur ‘Bekennenden Kirche’. Er entschied sich zum Widerstand gegen Hitler; er wurde 1943 inhaftiert, und 1945 – in den letzten Kriegstagen – zum Tode verurteilt und hingerichtet. Sein Lebenszeugnis und seine Schriften  prägten und prägen viele Menschen.


Who am I? They often tell me,
I come out of my cell
Calmly, cheerfully, resolutely,
Like a lord from his palace.

Who am I? They often tell me,
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me,
I carried the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one who is used to winning.

Am I really then what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, melancholic, and ill, like a caged bird,
Struggling for breath, as if hands clasped my throat,
Hungry for colors, for flowers, for the songs of birds,
Thirsty for friendly words and human kindness,
Shaking with anger at fate and at the smallest sickness,
Trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Tired and empty at praying, at thinking, at doing,
Drained and ready to say goodbye to it all.

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and another tomorrow?
Am I both at once? In front of others, a hypocrite,
And to myself a contemptible, fretting weakling?
Or is something still in me like a battered army,
running in disorder from a victory already achieved?
Who am I? These lonely questions mock me.
Whoever I am, You know me, I am yours, O God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, June 1944 [1]


[1] translation by Thomas Albert Howard

John Henry Newman’s Prayer for the Church – that only exists in German


Hint: It was falsely attributed to him

Some years ago, in troubled times, I found this prayer by Bl. John Henry Newman:

O Gott,
die Zeit ist voller Bedrängnis,
die Sache Christi liegt wie im Todeskampf.
Und doch –  nie schritt Christus mächtiger durch diese Erdenzeit,
nie war sein Kommen deutlicher,
nie seine Nähe spürbarer,
nie sein Dienst köstlicher als jetzt.Darum lasst uns in diesen Augenblicken des Ewigen,
zwischen Sturm und Sturm,
in der Erdenzeit zu Dir beten:O Gott,
Du kannst das Dunkel erleuchten,
Du kannst es allein!

(Kardinal John Henry Newman)

O God,
the time is full of distress,
the cause of Christ is like in agony.
And yet – never did Christ walk more powerfully through this time on earth,
Never was His coming clearer
never His proximity more noticeable,
never His service more precious than now.
Let us then in these moments of the Eternal,
between storms,
in this time on Earth pray to you:
O God,
You can illuminate the darkness,
You can do it alone!(Cardinal John Henry Newman)
[translation mine]

It gave me a lot of peace, and took me on a path of discovery, since a friend had already suggested that I read his autobiography “Apologia pro vita sua”. Within, I learned to know a personality who in the depths of his heart was always reaching for the truth. He was someone with a profound piety, the gift of friendship and pastoral care, apostolic zeal, and a high intellectual capacity. He started out as an Anglican clergyman, where he wrote the wonderful poem known to Anglicans and Catholics alike entitled, “Lead, kindly light”, when feeling lonely on his way back to England from Rome. Upon his return from this Continue reading

William Paley: “There must be chance in the midst of design”


Did William Paley really say this?

paley chance

On 25 May 1805 William Paley died. He is best known for his work “Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature” in which he compared God to a watchmaker. When I found this quote shared on twitter and facebook by The Economist on occasion of the anniversary, I asked: “Did he really say this?” YES. But only as a premise to be contradicted.  So, in fact:   NO. He did see chance only as an appearance of chance, like the accidental coincidence of two designed events, or chance as the result of the ignorance of the observer. [1]

We should acknowledge that in his time, chance and randomness had not yet the same importance as in our times. He knew nothing about radioactivity or Brownian notion. He did not know about DNA and random mutations.

Continue reading

Medieval Polyptych – from the Passion of Christ to Pentecost


Alte Galerie

This altarpiece is in the Alte Galerie, Graz, Styria. In the middle ages, winged altars served the purpose to explain the bible to the faithful (printed books came later). Often, panels were painted on the front and the back and could be folded according to the liturgical season (displaying the Passion of Christ in Lent and other scenes from Christ’s life during the rest of the year).
I liked this particularly because it brings Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection and Christ’s sending the Holy Spirit at Pentecost into a unity.

I miss you, and I miss this smile


A reflection for Mother’s Day

A few days ago, I discovered both my parents mentioned on the internet: Nabila, a young lady that majored in Geodesy – the field my father taught, writes on her blog about the “Queen of the night” (Epiphyllum oxypetalum) that started to blossom and adds:

I remember something I read from a book by Helmut Moritz, Science, Religion and Tolerance:
My wife was a botanist. When were walking and she saw a particularly beautiful flower, she used to say with a smile: “Alles Zufall?” (All this is pure chance?).

Source: The Queen of the Night in Full Bloom


Yes, this smile was very characteristic. When I visited her in October 2002, a few days prior to her leaving this world (very unexpected I must say), she smiled like saying: “I am happy you made it here!” – Austria is small, the travel is just 250 km…, anyway! This smile will stay with me as long as I live.

Mother’s Day is approaching fast. When I lost my mother, I knew, my childhood is definitively over. Part of it is gone. That is tough for anyone, independently of the age when this happens to you.
Mother’s Day then is a day for being grateful for what she lived and tried to give to me, in particular:

  1. Passion for biology and nature. My mother knew every plant, every tree, by Latin and German name, and family. As a child I found this pretty boring, but when I was thirteen or fourteen, I got it! We spent long time together collecting and and classifying plants. And I asked non-stop … When I started my College education, my colleagues asked me: “Why do you know this belongs to the (… let’s say) Scrophulariaceae”? I said: “I don’t know, I just see that.” – Year-long, patient training  by my mom.
  2.  Faith informed by study and impregnated by prayer. My mother started the endeavor of faith alone, my father was an agnostic at the time they married and found to the Catholic faith later in his life. Therefore, my mother was the first to educate us in the faith. She was our family expert on theological questions [1] and a role model on living a prayer and sacramental life in the middle of her everyday tasks and occupations.
  3. Her attitudes: Be positive. Learning is a life-long task.  Smile even if life may be rough. – She never gave me these advices in words. But in deeds, yes. I am working on putting them in practice. Work in progress.



Our Lady of Mariazell

I have another mother that is also smiling at me like a good mother does. But she is only smiling if I need this. Most often she is looking at me telling me that I should look at her Son, or she has a sad look, or a contemplative one. When Saint Teresa de Avila was loosing her mother at young age, she went to a image of Our Lady and told her: “Now, you need to take care of me like my mother”. [2]

Maybe, it is more than a conicidence that we celebrate Mother’s Day in May, the month that we dedicate to Our Lady?

This statue is Our Lady of Mariazell in Styria, Austria. She usually wears robes (beautifully crafted). Very few pictures exist of the statue from the middle ages in which Mary looks at us and tells us: “go to Him!” In the reverse, we can go to her and ask her: “Show us Jesus!” – This was the motto of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Austria in 2007 and is taken from the final words of Deus Caritas est.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
you have given the world its true light,
Jesus, your Son – the Son of God.
You abandoned yourself completely
to God’s call
and thus became a wellspring
of the goodness which flows forth from him.
Show us Jesus. Lead us to him.
Teach us to know and love him,
so that we too can become
capable of true love
and be fountains of living water
in the midst of a thirsting world.

May she be our consolation in times when we miss our beloved parents or family members, leading us to her Son – and through Him to heaven.


[1] In the foreward to his book  Science, Mind and the Universe  – An Introduction to Natural Philosophy, my father wrote the following: “Last but not least, my wife Gerlinde read various versions of the manuscript and was my adviser in questions of biology and theology, besides confirming that the book can be read also without mathematics.”

[2] The story more literally: Saint Teresa of Avila Virgin, Foundress—1515-1582 A.D. – Feast: October 15