Exploded into being by divine love

I’ve long been fascinated by cosmology, although my deficiencies as a mathematician preclude my really following the arguments of astrophysicists, high-energy particle physicists and others exploring the origins of the universe. Yet the fascination remains and it was kindled anew by a May 12 article in the Boston Globe Magazine about Alan Guth, a key figure in current explorations of what happened in the Big Bang, the orthodox explanation for How Things Started.

Take a deep breath and try this key passage from the article:

“Using the theories of Einstein and others, Guth points out that at extremely high energies, there are forms of matter that upend everything we learned about gravity in high school. Rather than being the ultimate force of attraction that Newton and his falling apple taught us, gravity in this case is an incredibly potent force of repulsion. And that repulsive gravity was the fuel that powered the Big Bang.

“The universe is roughly 13.8 billion years old, and it began from a patch of material packed with this repulsive gravity. The patch was … tiny—one 100-billionth the size of a single proton. But the repulsive gravity was like a magic wand, doubling the patch in size every tenth of a trillionth or a trillionth of a second. And it waved its doubling power over the patch about 100 times in a row, until it got to the size of [a] marble. And that happened within a hundredth of a billionth of a trillionth of a second. As a point of comparison, the smallest fraction of time that the average human being can detect is about one-tenth of a second.

“The ingredients of what would become our entire observable universe were packed inside that marble …”

Literally mind-boggling, to be sure, but a good moment to remember that the Big Bang theory of the origins of the universe was the brain-child of a Catholic priest, Georges Henri Joseph Èdouard Lemaître, a Belgian Jesuit. When Lemaître began his work, the “steady-state” model of the universe dominated cosmology; after the work of Lemaître and others, the steady-state model was supplanted by the notion of an expanding universe that began with the Big Bang—or what Father Lemaître called, a bit more primly, the “hypothesis of the primeval atom” or the “Cosmic Egg.” As I understand it, Alan Guth’s work, and that of others exploring the first micro-seconds of what people of biblical faith know as Creation, builds on Lemaître’s insights.

The new cosmology makes possible a new dialogue between physics and theology, or, more broadly, between science and religion. In the early days of what we know as modern science, the hard sciences—physics, chemistry, astronomy—were thought to be (and often thought themselves) the enemies of revelation and biblical religion. In the early 21st century, that’s changed. It’s the life sciences, like evolutionary biology and genetics that are often stuck in the intellectual quicksand of ill-informed, knee-jerk atheism, while the hard sciences are bumping up against boundaries beyond which their methodology can’t take them—boundaries that may define the meeting ground between scientists and theologians.

If Alan Guth’s work is empirically verified, a large question will remain—a question that takes Guth’s science to just such a boundary: Where did that primordial something, that “patch of material packed with … repulsive gravity” that contained “the ingredients of what would become our entire observable universe,” come from? It defies all logic to suggest that something can come from nothing; yet science cannot get us “behind” that something from which everything came.

Thus a new—in truth, old—conversation opens up. NASA scientist Robert Jastrow saw it coming 20-some years ago when he wrote that the scientist “has scaled the mountain of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; and when he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” And what have those Christian theologians been pondering?

That what science calls the Big Bang was love exploding out of the life of the Trinity.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash