The Universe as a Book

by Esteban

The Christians went even further. The thought that the divinity had written a book moved them to imagine that he had written two, and that the other one was the universe.

At the beginning of the Seventeenth century, Francis Bacon declared in his Advancement of Learning that God offered us two books so that we would not fall into error: the first, the volume of the Scriptures, reveals His will; the second, the volume of the creatures, reveals His power and is the key to the former. Bacon intended much more than the making of a metaphor; he believed that the world was reducible to essential forms (temperatures, densities, weights, colors), which formed, in limited number, an abecedarium naturae or series of letters with which the universal text is written.


Two hundred years passed, and the Scot Carlyle, in various places in his books, particularly in the essay on Cagliostro, went beyond Bacon’s hypothesis; he said that universal history was a Sacred Scripture that we decipher and write uncertainly, and in which we too are written. Later, León Bloy would write:

“There is no human being on earth who is capable of declaring who he is. No one knows what he come to this world to do, to what his acts, feelings, ideas correspond, or what his real name is, his imperishable Name in the registry of Light … History is an immense liturgical text, where the i’s and the periods are not worth less than the versicles or whole chapters, but the importance of both is undeterminable and is profoundly hidden.” (L’Ame de Napoleon, 1912).

The world, according to Mallarmé, exists for a book; according to Bloy, we are the versicles or words or letters of a magic book, and that incessant book is the only thing in the world: more exactly, it is the world.”

Note 3: Galileo’s works abound with the concept of the universe as a book. The second section of Favaro’s anthology (Galileo Galilei: Pensieri, motti e sentenze; Florence, 1949) is entitled “Il libro della Natura.” I quote the following paragraph: Philosophy is written in that very large book that is continually opened before our eyes (I mean the universe), but which is not understood unless first one studies the language and knows the characters in which it is written. The language of that book is mathematical and the characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures.”

–Jorge Luis Borges, “On the Cult of Books.”