infinity cannot be measured

Today we observe the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. We believe in one God in three Persons, “the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things.”1 All that is, was, and ever shall be has been created, exists and sustained in its existence by God. It is perhaps our greatest challenge as creatures made in his image and likeness to comprehend his nature for God cannot be deciphered, circumscribed, or captured through human thought. So in a very real way we cannot hope to ever understand the Trinity of Persons that is God.

Yet, God help us, we try.

Sustaining the Universe

Sustaining the Universe

And we walk away from the effort, always with more questions than answers, wondering if we will ever truly know who and what God is. And the answer to that question lies not in this lifetime but in the next.

Our humanity prevents us from comprehending the transcendence of God and so we make God into our own image and likeness. Images of the Trinity are most often presented as an old man (the Father), a younger man (the Son), and a white dove (the Holy Spirit.)

That is how we see God, isn’t it?

Yet when we make God in our own image we lose sight of the very awesomeness of God, for God is so much more than any one of his creatures. So for a moment let us turn away from imagining a God so limited and imagine who and what God must be who caused all that is, to be.

Only a few are familiar with the theory of “the primeval atom,” first proposed by the Belgian physicist Georges Lemaitre2, although most would recognize it today as the Big Bang.

Even less well-known is that Lemaitre, in addition to being a physicist of some renown, was a Catholic priest, who in the 1930s was often seen strolling through the campus of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California alongside Albert Einstein, usually in deep discussion over the cosmic consequences of their respective theories. Although Lemaitre was an early supporter of Einstein’s theory of gravity, Einstein was initially skeptical of Lemaitre’s. By 1933 however, Einstein had become an enthusiastic proponent of Lemaitre’s theory of an expanding universe, stating that it was one of the most “beautiful theories he had ever heard”.3

Scientists have since been able to determine that there exists a common point of origin for all that the universe contains, and that there was indeed a moment, a singular instant when all the mass of the universe was compressed into such great density that it was smaller than a single atom. Imagine, all the substance (stars, planets, etc.) of the universe compressed into a microscopic particle of lint that lay resting somewhere upon a finger of God.

Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.4 God caused the universe to come into existence with a single thought, filling it with light, in what Lemaitre called his “hypothesis of the primeval atom” or the “Cosmic Egg” and what  has since become widely known as the Big Bang or the Standard Model.  According to theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate in Physics Steven Weinberg:

“In the beginning there was an explosion. Not an explosion like those familiar on earth, starting from a definite center and spreading out to engulf more and more of the circumambient air, but an explosion which occurred simultaneously everywhere, filling all space from the beginning, with every particle of matter rushing apart from every other particle.

At about one-hundredth of a second, the earliest time about which we can speak with any confidence, the temperature of the universe was about a hundred thousand million (1011) degrees Centigrade. This is much hotter than in the center of even the hottest star, so hot, in fact, that none of the components of ordinary matter, molecules, or atoms, or even the nuclei of atoms, could have held together. Instead, the matter rushing apart in this explosion consisted of various types of the so-called elementary particles, which are the subject of modern high-energy nuclear physics.

The elementary particles to which Weinberg refers were electrons, positrons, neutrinos, and photons (light.) We look to the stars and see emptiness for the most part, yet within the first one-hundred thousandth of a second “the density of this cosmic soup at a temperature of a hundred thousand million degrees was about four thousand million (4 x 109) times that of water.” Now that is some thick soup!

At the end of the first three minutes the universe was considerably cooler; having dropped to a balmy one thousand million degrees centigrade and the density was slightly less than water.

“Much later, after a few hundred thousand years, it would become cool enough for electrons to join with nuclei to form atoms of hydrogen and helium. The resulting gas would begin under the influence of gravitation to form clumps, which would ultimately condense to form the galaxies and stars of the present universe. However, the ingredients with which the stars would begin their life would be just those prepared in the first three minutes.”5

Few would argue that the universe is vast, unbelievably so, and while much is known—at least in theory—the fact is that we know with absolute certainty far less than we assume to be true concerning this enormous space in which we find ourselves. The observable universe is estimated to contain more than two-hundred billion galaxies, with galaxies ranging in size from a few thousand to 100 trillion stars, spanning distances between 1,000 to 100,000 parsecs in diameter separated by distances on the order of millions of parsecs (a parsec is approximately 19 trillion miles.)6 So enormous that it defies the imagination.

Now consider for a moment what these numbers truly represent. We live in one galaxy out of the more than two-hundred billion galaxies in the “observable” universe. But no matter how large the observable universe is estimated to be, our own galaxy is so incredibly large that it tests our ability to imagine or comprehend. It is now thought that our galaxy, commonly called the Milky Way consists of a flat disk of stars, with a diameter of 80,000 light years and a thickness of 6,000 light years. It also possesses a halo of stars, with a diameter of almost 100,000 light years.

It is quite simply beyond our poor abilities, beyond our capacity to decipher how from a single thought it all came to be. When we consider that God made the universe out of nothing, creating everything by his will and through his word alone we can begin to see why we face such an impossible task whenever we attempt to corral God, to understand or to image God. God is outside of time and place; even the universe cannot contain all that is God nor can it define or circumscribe him, yet we can see what he has made and it is good.

The power and glory of God cannot be understood yet we see his handiwork all around us and it should bring us all to our knees.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 


1 David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God, Yale University Press, September 30, 2014.
2 Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître (17 July 1894 – 20 June 1966) was a Belgian priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven. He proposed the theory of the expansion of the universe, widely misattributed to Edwin Hubble. He was the first to derive what is now known as Hubble’s law and made the first estimation of what is now called the Hubble constant, which he published in 1927, two years before Hubble’s article.
3 John Farrell, The Day Without Yesterday: Lemaître, Einstein and the Birth of Modern Cosmology, Basic Books, October 5, 2005.
4 Gen 1:3.
5 The First Three Minutes.
6 A parsec is approximately 3.26 light years in distance, equal to 31 trillion kilometers or 19 trillion miles.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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