This blog was originally started with the goal of exploring the arts and sciences in relation to the Catholic Faith. This post is a return to that original mission. Below is a talk I gave today at the Angelicum Thomistic Institute’s currently ongoing conference – New Heavens and a New Earth: Scientific and Theological Eschatology. Enjoy!
-Eamonn Clark, STL
We are sometimes confronted by potential converts, by catechumens, and even by curious believers about the whereabouts of the Lord. He is in Heaven, of course, but where is that? Is it somewhere out among the stars? Is it in some “parallel universe”? Or is there some other option? It is an uncomfortable experience for the apologist, the catechist, the evangelist, and the theologian not to have a simple answer for this rather reasonable question.
Today I will posit that there is a third option, though close to the “parallel universe” theory, and that its existence and mode of access, if true, reveals something profound about the gifts of the resurrection and about Christ as the Incarnate Logos in relation to modern physics. I depart a bit from St. Thomas in his treatment of the gifts of the resurrection, precisely on account of our enhanced understanding of the physical world, which presents us with new options to consider.
St. Thomas assumes that Christ is in a place – a real body demands physical space – and Christ’s Ascension is caused efficiently in a twofold manner: first, by His glorified soul, and secondly, by His unique Divine Power. (ST III-57-3)
The gifts of the resurrection are similarly explained by St. Thomas in the Commentary on the Sentences, as powers flowing from the soul on account of its glorification. I will not contest this so much as I will attempt to give some possible articulations of the effect and mode of the gifts’ interaction with the world.
St. Thomas does not seem to like the idea of multiple universes – he tells us this in Question 47, Article 3 of the Prima Pars. So, we abandon that idea.
As a scientific springboard, I want to consider two possible or even probable physical remnants we have of the Resurrection of Christ.
The first remnant is the Shroud of Turin. Here I take it for granted, of course, that the Shroud is in fact the linen cloth which laid over the dead Christ, and which has received the image of his Body. A very long description would be required to explain adequately exactly what we find on the Shroud, but we are more concerned with how the image was produced. Of course, we do not possess any technology today which is capable of giving anything close to a plausible imitation of what we find in the image. The best estimation is that the image was produced by a sort of radiation of light from the body of the dead Christ. We will return to this momentarily.
The second remnant is an electromagnetic field – or something like a field – which was discovered by scientists during the 2016 excavations in the Holy Sepulcher. The electromagnetic field underneath the Edicule, in the cave in which Christ was buried, is a much lesser-known reality but is just as puzzling if not more so than the Shroud. As Aleteia reported, “As soon as [the measuring instruments] were placed vertically on the stone in which Christ’s body rested, the devices either malfunctioned or ceased to work at all.” This electromagnetic field apparently also had ruined previous attempts at measuring the depth of the shaft which leads from the Edicule down to the cave. There is no known natural explanation for why there would be such an electromagnetic field in that location.
The musing of there being a possible connection between the electromagnetic field and the Shroud has been made before. Here is my own elaboration, synthesizing my own take on the Shroud itself, coupled with the fact of the electromagnetic field. I propose, with many others, that the Shroud is the result of a hyper-energetic burst of radiation from the Body of the Lord at the moment of His Resurrection. I propose uniquely that this burst was a mixture of various types of radiation – everything from alpha particles to gamma rays – which were controlled by a kind of infused habit of an electromagnetism emanating from the Lord which was under His control, or something very similar. It is because of this unique situation that the Shroud is not replicable by natural means, nor is there even a plausible explanation given the natural forces which we know of unless they are warped somehow and brought together in a way not seen in nature – which is precisely what I am proposing. It is experimentally verified that electromagnetic fields can warp radiation, and if this could somehow be done with a sort of immediate voluntary power over the character of the field itself in every part of the field, one could control the radiation at a whim, thus explaining the image. This even explains the lack of slight warping we would expect from a sheet laid over a face – the Shroud is a flat image, like a photograph or a mirror, without stretching, which we would expect from vertically collimated burst of information on a slightly curved surface. Instead, it is designed to be fitting for devotion. The alternative would be that the linen cloth itself was elevated above the dead or resurrecting Christ and stretched out flat, which seems strange and unnecessary.
In the case of a habit of this sort of elemental control, one might not only be able to warp radiation emanating from one’s own body, but could warp other things around oneself as well, such as folding linen cloths without touching them, or creating electromagnetic fields in one’s surroundings. The linen cloths being folded can be explained several other ways, but it seems certain that this latter phenomenon really happened. The Lord left a trace of Himself in the place He rose from, just as He did in the Shroud. I propose, then, very cautiously, that anywhere that the Risen Lord appeared or disappeared during the 50 days before the Ascension, we would find electromagnetic aberrations similar to those found in the Holy Sepulcher. To drive it home: empirical tests could actually be carried out in what is most commonly thought to be the Upper Room, despite its having been rebuilt, and along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. These would be the obvious contenders for such tests, and perhaps also the site of the Ascension itself on the Mount of Olives and the probable route to Emmaus.
Next, I note two abnormal manipulations of spacetime as relevant for our consideration – the normal sort of manipulations being gravity, electromagnetism, and, in a way, mere motion.
The first is wormholes, specifically electromagnetically induced wormholes – a wormhole being a kind of bending of spacetime to take a “short cut.” There has been some experimental verification of creating miniature wormholes for electromagnetic fields themselves, such as by Prat-Camps, Navau, and Sanchez (2015), and there is increasing clarity that electromagnetic fields, taking for granted Penrose’s Weyl curvature hypothesis, as proposed by Lindgren and Liukkonen in 2021, are a feature of spacetime itself. Just as gravity manipulates spacetime within a vacuum, so too does electromagnetism, implying that the field is somehow already “there,” which perhaps makes the proposal of harnessing electromagnetism itself to create wormholes more plausible. Would a sufficient control over these forces allow one to open a wormhole and be “carried through it” by electromagnetism? Maybe.
The next element of abnormal manipulation is less about manipulation itself but more about its mode. I speak now of the apparent relationship between superpositions of particles and knowledge of those same particles. In brief, wave functions, of light for example, seem to collapse into particles – if we measure them. We should be bewildered by such a finding, “And yet it turns,” to quote Galileo. Erwin Schrodinger, who pioneered the mathematics of wave functions, famously pointed out the seemingly absurd conclusions of superpositions and by extension quantum mechanics in general with his famous thought experiment. There is a cat in a box which has a mechanism triggered by a particle emitting radiation, with a likelihood of 50% of the radiation occurring, and the mechanism will then release a deadly poison, thus leaving us with the ridiculous conclusion that the cat is “just as alive as it is dead” until we know it is in the one state or the other by opening the box. Dr. Wolfgang Smith offers an elegant way out of the conundrum. He draws a distinction between “physical” and “corporeal.” This means, in short, that he advises us to see substances (the corporeal) as being more than a collection of matter (the physical) – the atomic and subatomic world is real but is not of itself substantial, being rather a bundle of potentialities. This possibly gives us a very fine Thomistic solution to the problem of entanglement with substances. Nevertheless, we are left not only with the fact that wave functions do indeed collapse when observed, as with photons in the double-slit experiment – and they must be observed by a mind to collapse fully, or else the non-conscious measuring instrument simply becomes entangled with the cat-poison-radiation – we are also left with the oddity of the gift of agility, which St. Thomas discusses at abnormal length in the Commentary on the Sentences trying to deal with the problem of “instant motion.” And here we must ask if “spooky action at a distance,” as Einstein derisively referred to it, between entangled particles at large distances from each other wherein these particles somehow control each other seemingly instantaneously is a clue to how agility qua instantaneous does not violate classical Aristotelian physics the way St. Thomas assumes. Clearly, instant or at least faster-than-light motion or control, of a kind exists between entangled particles. The question occurs to us then whether in the resurrection we are somehow able to entangle ourselves with the entire universe.
And how would the motion work? Could it be the case that Christ, the Logos, the One begotten by the interior procession of Divine Self-knowledge, knows into being the manipulations of the world which we see in the Resurrection narratives, by doing something like resolving a wave function – namely, “resolving” His own self, thus causing near-immediate motion through an electromagnetic wormhole? This would be in line with, and an elevation of, the very controversial but in my view promising Von Neumann-Wigner interpretation of quantum mechanics, which posits the demarcation line of wave function collapse to be the mind, not instruments which the mind can make use of, as noted already, which would, it seems, be even more bizarre. This theory is unacceptable to most who work on quantum mechanics because it is at odds with a rather central dogmatic assumption: materialism.
Perhaps there is also an analogy for agile motion, even if dim, with angelic movement and manipulation. St. Thomas explicitly rejects this in his discussion of agility in the Commentary on the Sentences, but we know about entangled particles and wormholes, whereas St. Thomas did not. In his famous text, The Intellectualism of St. Thomas, Fr. Pierre Rousselot, SJ posited that human nature has “the drive to become an angel.” He means this in regard to our inclination to know things through their essence, which the angels do naturally. But here I mean to apply this same principle to motion. Perhaps we approximate the angelic nature in the resurrection in the way that we move and manipulate the physical world, by somehow containing space in our intellect and then applying the power of the will to it directly, thus having a movement somewhat like the angels (see ST I-53; 54-2). Afterall, we already know, “In the resurrection they do not marry and are not given in marriage, for they are like the angels in Heaven.” (Matthew 22:30) I simply note the possibility. Could it further be the case that the gifts of the resurrection elevate a natural power which we already seem to possess, namely, observing-into-being certain facts – such as seen by observing the photons in the double-slit experiment, causing them to behave differently than if they were unobserved, or unknown? Again, perhaps. But perhaps also, in 100 years, that generation of scientists will speak about photons as we speak about flogiston or the ether.
Just as the heart and mind are freed in the Beatific Vision, so too is the body freed in the resurrection on account of the gifts, and the mode of those gifts does in fact seem to be in a curious relationship with the four fundamental forces of the universe, which are: gravity, the weak nuclear force (radiation), the strong nuclear force (which binds the components of an atom together), and electromagnetism.
The gifts of the resurrection are agility (the ability to move rapidly from one place to another, for example, after the breaking of the bread on the way to Emmaus), subtlety (the ability to penetrate through solid substances, as the Lord did in the Upper Room), clarity (a kind of luminosity), and immortality or impassibility.
By His actions during the Resurrection appearances, the Lord shows Himself to be master over the fundamental forces. In the Ascension, we see control over gravity. In the moment of His Resurrection, as indicated by the electromagnetic and radiative leftovers, we see the control over the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force, and we perhaps can posit the same of all the appearances and disappearances. The luminosity of His body, not experienced directly in His Resurrection appearances but experienced elsewhere, viz., in the Transfiguration and in the visions in Revelation, is also indicative of a kind of mastery over the weak nuclear force. In walking through the walls, we see control over the strong nuclear force – we do not need to say with St. Thomas that the Lord was strictly in the same physical place as the wall, we can say that His control over the sub-atomic world allowed Him to pass through without contact. Could the Lord be harnessing the fact that even macroscopic objects like human bodies are in fact, like the light which emanates from glorified bodies, both particle and wave? In other words, is the Lord somehow causing a diffraction with Himself to “scatter” and then reassemble? Or is He swinging from particle to wave and back again? Or some combination of all this, with “wave collapse” occurring through an act of the understanding caused by the will? Perhaps.
The four fundamental forces do not seem to track the gifts one-to-one. But there is certainly an intricate connection between the forces and the gifts of the resurrection, not entirely unlike the complex relationship between the virtues, the spiritual gifts, the fruits, and the beatitudes. Immortality, or impassibility, seems to be the trickier one to nail down, as it does not easily lend itself to a four-force analysis, despite some promising recent leads in medicine involving the use of electromagnetism and obviously radiation – and yet we know that whatever biological process causes one’s death, it is caused by the four forces, so controlling them within oneself obviously allows one to resist bodily corruption.
The conclusion is that a miraculous habit imposed by God in the resurrection bestows the power to control the four forces by a kind of immediate power, which includes the ability to manipulate space-time by the special harnessing of the same forces. This is the natural medium by which we live the life we are most meant to live. By the gifts, seemingly especially agility and perhaps also subtlety, we access Heaven by the manipulation of natural space-time. We are empowered by these gifts to enter into a physical but hidden world, which could be, in a word, right next to us, but which is “guarded,” like Eden.
I posit that the increasingly deep study of the four fundamental forces, and the spaces in between, like dark matter and energy, virtual particles, and so on, will only serve to show how elegant the mastery is over those same forces by Christ in the Resurrection.
Before offering my final and concluding hypothesis, I pause to note two objections, one Scriptural and one based on parsimony.
The first objection is a statement of the Lord Himself. The Lord says to Mary Magdalene in John 20:17, “I have not yet ascended…” Doesn’t this counter the claim that the appearances and disappearances of Christ do not make sense on my account, because of the time in between appearances? If Christ were “hiding” in Heaven in the time in between His resurrection appearances, He would have ascended, thus making His statement to Mary Magdalene untrue.
There are a few ways to reply. First, we could say that the action of the Ascension itself contains some special significance or power that is unlike merely going back and forth – each time only for a short while, when in the Ascension the departure is definitive until the Parousia. This is a weak argument, but it is plausible. It would be better to suppose that Christ was merely walking upon the Earth in a far away place, or, most likely, that He was neither in Heaven nor in the normal places of the universe but was instead in a third place which is also only accessible through the gifts of the resurrection and which is now obsolete.
The second objection is based on parsimony, and it has probably been arising in some of your minds: “Why not just give a purely miraculous explanation? Why all the need for these intermediary natural forces?”
In response, I say that we could just as easily ask why we will have bodies in the eschaton in the first place. As embodied creatures, we live in the physical world, which has its own rules and forces and logic. There is a fittingness to retaining the use of the natural forces by which we interact with the world around us as the means for the very same thing; but it is, of course, also appropriate that our relationship to those forces changes to be more immediate, with more direct control over them. And I recall your attention to the empirical starting point for this investigation, namely, the Shroud and the electromagnetic field under the Edicule. Those are there for a reason. They mean something. The imposition of the gifts is undoubtedly miraculous, but why should their mode of operation be miraculous? Why would it not be the case that they have simply become fully empowered to use the natural world for all it is capable of?
The limitations of this brief study are obvious. I have shown some possible steppingstones to interesting conclusions, but there is much in between. To borrow an image from Von Balthasar in the Prolegomena to his Theo-Drama, I have constructed a gymnasium, which athletes can now use.
In the end, I conclude and propose the following. Christ is the Master of the four fundamental forces, and we shall be masters with Him in the resurrection – the ultimate anti-entropic event. Given that Christ is not merely resurrected but is the Resurrection, we can rightly suppose that He, the Logos, the One through Whom all things were made, visible and invisible, is in fact the final frontier for theoretical physics. Any attempt to “get fully underneath” the four forces has been and inevitably will be frustrated so long as one limits oneself to considerations of the created world; in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. There is no getting “behind” the Word. The Logos, God the Son, incarnate in Christ, is the unified theory of physics.