What if Padre Pio and Niels Bohr Had Met?

St. Pio and Bohr

I came across two unrelated stories and had a thought. What if St. Pio of Pietrelcina and Niels Bohr had met?

The brilliant Thomistic philosopher, Mortimer J. Adler, told a brief story in his book, Angels and Us. He had occasion in the early 1920’s to attend a luncheon at the University of Chicago and was the only philosopher at a table of eminent physicists, among them Niels Bohr who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. The physicists, Adler wrote, were marveling over the novelty of Bohr’s atomic model and the quantum movement of electrons. According to his atomic model, electrons move in circular orbits at fixed distances from the nucleus, jumping instantaneously among them without moving in between. It was like nothing they had ever heard before! Citing angelic motion, Adler pointed out that this idea was not novel at all.

The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, wrote about instantaneous movement of angels some 650 years before Bohr’s atomic theory. Because they are spirits without bodies, angels can move discretely from one place to another instantly. An angel can “quit the whole place, and in the same instant apply himself to the whole of another place.” (ST.I.53.1) Angels move in what we might today call a “quantum leap.” Adler also noted that this reference made the physicists uncomfortable, which is not surprising since Niels Bohr was an atheist. Adler himself was, at the time, a self-described pagan.

Fr. Alessio Parente O.F.M. Cap., told another story in his book, Send Me Your Guardian Angel. A gentleman from England, who was one of St. Pio of Pietrelcina’s spiritual children, was seriously injured in a car crash. The injured man’s friend went to the post office to send Padre Pio a telegram to request prayers. Upon presenting the telegram, the clerk instantly handed him back a response from Padre Pio assuring him of prayers. Months later, the injured man having healed, the two friends traveled to see Padre Pio and thank him. Obviously, they wanted to know how he already knew of the need for prayers so as to, at the very instant the friend was at the post office, arrange for a telegram to be sent with his assurances. Padre Pio replied humorously, “Do you think the Angels go as slowly as the planes?” An angel communicated to him, faster than the friend, faster than a telegram, faster than a plane—instantly.

What was an abstract theory for one man was a reality for the other. One man changed the paradigms of modern science and went on to help develop the atomic bomb. The other man lies incorrupt, canonized a saint. By 1922, stories of Padre Pio’s spiritual gifts had spread around the world. It’s entirely possible that the two men knew of each other. While there is not much use in musing what-if’s, maybe it’s worth considering what insight might have been granted the genius physicist had he met the holy mystic who knew we are always in the presence of our celestial companions.


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About the Author

Stacy Trasancos is a wife and homeschooling mother of seven. She holds a PhD in Chemistry from Penn State University and a MA in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. She worked as a chemist for DuPont in the Lycra® and Teflon® businesses.

She teaches Chemistry and Physics for Kolbe Academy Online and Homeschool Program and serves as the Science Department Chair. She is teaching a set of summer mini-workshops titled "Science in the Light of Faith" for students, parents, other educators, or any Christian interested in the nuts and bolts of navigating science.

Similarly, she is teaching a "Reading Science in the Light of Faith" at Holy Apostles College & Seminary next Fall (2016). The course is funded by a John Templeton Foundation grant through John Carroll University for teaching science in seminaries. She is on the Board of Directors for ITEST (the Institute for the Theological Encounter with Science and Technology) where the essays from the course will be shared with the public.

Also in the Fall of 2016, she will teach a "Theological History of Science" course at Seton Hall University, where her mentor, the late Fr. Stanley L. Jaki was a distinguished professor. She is the author of Science Was Born of Christianity: The Teaching of Fr. Stanley L. Jaki.

Her new book, Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science is forthcoming with Ave Maria Press...

She teaches, researches, and writes from her family's 100-year old restored mountain lodge in the Adirondack mountains, where her husband and children (and two German Shepherds) remain her favorite priorities. Here is her website.

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7 Comments

  1. Hi Stacy. Thank you for your interesting article. Padre Pio’s body is not incorrupt however. Of course that doesn’t take away from the fact that he is a saint, no more than in the case of St Francis, or any other saint whose body has decayed. But I wanted to point out that mistake or misunderstanding in your article, Stacy. What we see in San Giovanni Rotondo is a carefully constructed resin mask that has been placed on Padre Pio’s remains. His body was found to have deteriorated considerably when they exhumed it a few years ago

  2. My comment is only that I read Adler’s book and found his Thomism more understandable than all others I had read. And Adler was still a Jew in religion at that time. Too, Saint Edith Stein once confronted Adler at a talk she gave in Chicago on phenomenology, I think, while still an unbeliever. She did not like podiums and gave her talk sitting at the edge of a stage. Adler was a young student. He was overbearing with his questions, so much so, that Edith Stein said something to the effect ‘young man, show some courtesy and listen and learn before you speak.’ I am paraphrasing. How interesting that this confrontation took place back so long ago between two Jews, a future saint, and an 11th hour convert.

    1. Oh to have been a fly on the wall, knowing what we know now! I also found Adler’s explanations of St. Thomas’ writing very understandable, captivating even. Thank you for your comment!

  3. Dear Stacy Trasancos,
    In the Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas also quotes Augustine, to say that the six days of Creation are “seen with the eyes of the angels.” If angels’ measure is humans’ measure, as the presbyter John says in his great Apocalypse, we may perhaps also say that to see with the eyes of the angles is to see with one’s human heart. Here the reference to the human heart must be understood of human’s capacity for the great commandment: the soul. Hence the angel as well as the human soul sees creation in six days, simply because thus it is written. Of course, one week is one quarter of one full moon, so the human week has something to do with our fertility cycle and our bodies. Augustine also has a theory of sensation. Human sensation is an active process by the soul, on what the scientist will call physical information from the world, such as electromagnetic wave motion that the eye and the soul process to colour sensation. Indeed, it is possible to dream in colours with the eyes closed. But how can six human days be the same as thousands of millions years mathematical time, people say when debating theology and science. Perhaps Augustine’s theory of sensation is helpful to resolve the puzzle. The human soul is as complicated as all natural history, because those thousands of millions years of natural history have accumulated their complexity into the human being. So during the sensation of one week of human life, all those thousands of millions years of mathematical time are so to speak really processed in the human soul. Thus human time as well as angelical time is not at all mathematical time. Theory of relativity, in extremis. Or energy-time uncertainty principle. Recently, I read your new article on the quotation, “Different human cultures are complementary,” which led me to this article. Mathematical time did not exist until Newton. On the contrary, pope John Paul II’s theology of the body cannot be seen as apart from time.
    Yours sincerely,
    Robert Udmark,
    Etudiant éloigné, L.H.C., Gallia subalpina.

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