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Inicio > Historias > Cuando la Astronomía pudo cambiar el rumbo del mundo

> Cuando la Astronomía pudo cambiar el rumbo del mundo <

Este artículo ha sido publicado en la versión digital del periódico El País/Materia/"Crónicas de AstroManía" con fecha 5 de noviembre de 2015

- Los astrónomos jesuitas llevaron hasta China el telescopio y las tablas de efemérides astronómicas occidentales
- Su reputación de sabios les llevó a convertirse en los hombres de confianza de sucesivos emperadores, que simpatizarían con el Cristianismo

Si examinamos el presente y estudiamos el pasado, incluso si nos atrevemos a pronosticar –sin mirar a los astros para ello– algo acerca del futuro, no hay duda de que siempre nos encontraremos con el país más formidable que, quizá, nunca haya existido: China. Más de cinco mil años contemplan a este imperio otrora impenetrable y ahora dominante, inalterado e inalterable. Su astronomía siempre ha sido una gran desconocida para los occidentales. Podemos comparar antiguos atlas estelares como los de Hiparco y Ptolomeo con los del sabio Zhang Heng (78 – 139 d.C.) y apenas hallaríamos similitudes. Todos los asterismos –constelaciones– son muy diferentes, con alguna excepción como la Osa Mayor, conocida como el “Carro del Emperador” en China. Pero aun con muy diversos métodos e instrumentos, la finalidad de la observación de los cielos en China tenía, sin embargo, el mismo sentido que en Occidente: la predicción.

En la antigua China –durante milenios, que se dice pronto– el emperador representaba el papel divino sobre la Tierra. Y todo lo que pasaba “bajo el Cielo” tenía un único intérprete, el propio emperador, que recibía el sobrenombre de “Hijo del Cielo”. Al igual que ocurría en el Occidente aristotélico, la bóveda celeste para los chinos era inmutable salvo algunas contadas cosas: planetas, cometas o eclipses, por ejemplo. Los planetas no eran bien vistos –en su sentido literal– por la mayoría de los aproximadamente doscientos millones de chinos que malvivían en aquel vasto imperio pongamos que allá en el siglo XVII. Pero mucho peor vistos –en su sentido metafórico– eran los cometas y los eclipses. Presagios de que algo terrible había de ocurrir: inundaciones, hambrunas, terremotos o guerra. Era necesario alertar con tiempo. En caso contrario, si el emperador se mostraba incapaz de anticiparse a los fatales acontecimientos, su autoridad podía quedar en entredicho. Y su continuidad en peligro. Así que no le quedaba otra al todopoderoso emperador de turno que financiar una costosísima cohorte de funcionarios especialistas en astronomía en quienes confiar. Con el rango de ministerio, nada menos.

Pero volvamos por un momento a la Europa del mencionado siglo XVII. Las privilegiadas mentes de Copérnico, Tycho Brahe, Kepler y Galileo están cambiando nuestra forma de ver el cosmos. El fin del modelo geocéntrico, las observaciones cada vez más precisas, el desarrollo del cálculo y, sobre todo, la aparición de nuevos instrumentos –cómo no, el telescopio– permiten la elaboración de tablas de efemérides astronómicas cada vez más precisas. A diferencia de lo que ocurre en China, por primera vez en la Historia el Cielo ya es casi completamente predecible. ¿Habría alguien interesado en contárselo a los chinos?
Pues sí: los jesuitas. Por descontado que no va a ser fácil ni tampoco gratis. La Compañía de Jesús extiende imparable su red de misiones tanto por el Nuevo Mundo –con ayuda española– como por Oriente, con la colaboración portuguesa. Primero cae Japón, luego apuntan a China. Pero China es impenetrable, salvo por un minúsculo enclave: Macao. Los jesuitas envían allí a toda su artillería intelectual (y no es metáfora gratuita, puesto que incluso colaboran con sus conocimientos militares) y, tras aprender la extrañísima lengua china para ayudar a los mercaderes europeos, entran como un ciclón hacia Beijing, la nueva capital. Las peripecias vitales en China en aquellas décadas de los astrónomos jesuitas (Matteo Ricci primero, Johann Schreck, Adam Schall y Ferdinand Verbiest después, entre muchos otros) rayan lo inverosímil. Pero inasequibles al desaliento, y enterados de la debilidad de los sucesivos emperadores, tienen un objetivo claro: si consiguen llegar hasta la élite que rodea al emperador e impresionarle con sus conocimientos de los cielos, éste no dudará en abrazar la verdadera fe. Y con él arrastrará a todos sus súbditos, cuyas míseras vidas le pertenecen.

Y a punto estuvieron de conseguirlo.


Astrónomos jesuitas con el emperador chino Kangxi


Aunque el italiano Matteo Ricci fracasa incluso en el mero intento de entrevistarse con el emperador Wanli, dejará ya impronta de su sabiduría en la corte. El alemán Adam Schall llega mucho más lejos: participa en la modificación del calendario imperial del último emperador de la dinastía Ming, Chongzhen. A la caída de este, Shunzhi –el primer emperador de la nueva dinastía Qing– le nombra mandarín y hombre de su entera confianza para dirigir el ministerio de Ritos y Astronomía. Será el segundo hombre más poderoso de toda China. Es relevado por el belga Ferdinand Verbiest que, bajo el reinado del emperador Kangxi, alcanza también enormes cotas de poder. Pero ni uno ni otro lograron su principal objetivo, convertir el imperio chino al completo al cristianismo. La complejidad de la corte china, la reticencia de los sucesivos emperadores a abandonar sus costumbres y privilegios –la presencia de concubinas no era el menor de los problemas–, y también la falta de tacto desde la sede vaticana –el papado no terminaba de aceptar las libertades que se tomaban sus sabios, como por ejemplo la adopción de la vestimenta china, o el hecho de desdeñar el latín en beneficio del chino en la celebración de la misa–, impedirán el milagro. Y estos no fueron los únicos quebraderos de cabeza que causaron los jesuitas a Roma. La datación jesuita de los más antiguos textos chinos echaba por tierra las fechas bíblicas más precisas de la Creación o el Diluvio Universal. La jugada no había salido bien, lo que unido a otras circunstancias también molestas relacionadas con los muchos misioneros repartidos por todo el mundo, terminará primero con la presencia de los mismos en China el año 1724 y, posteriormente, con la propia disolución de la Compañía ordenada por el Papa en 1773. Pero esto es otra historia.

Con todo, aquellos intrépidos jesuitas dieron probada muestra de su habilidad en el campo de la astronomía, superando una y otra vez a sus colegas orientales en las sucesivas competiciones que se celebraron en la corte china, haciendo exactas predicciones de los eclipses solares de los años 1610, 1629, 1642 y 1665. En su afán evangelizador, muchos de ellos perdieron la vida en las penosas travesías marítimas, o víctimas de los caprichos de los mandarines locales. Pero bien pudieron cambiar el rumbo de la historia tal y como hoy la conocemos de haber logrado su objetivo de cristianar al emperador del más vasto de los imperios, el chino. Con una cruz en una mano y un sextante en la otra.

2015-11-06 11:06 | joven | 69 Comentarios | #

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