Friday, September 3, 2010

Memorial: Pope St. Gregory the Great - Death of Abbé Séguin - Stephen Hawking Dismisses God

O God, who care for your people with gentleness and rule them with love, through the intercession of Pope Saint Gregory, endow, we pray, with a spirit of wisdom those to whom you have given authority to govern, that the flourishing of a holy flock may become the eternal joy of the shepherds. Through our Lord.

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Today's liturgy is a memorial of Pope St. Gregory the Great.

Son of Gordianus, a Roman regionarius, and Saint Silvia of Rome. Nephew of Saint Emiliana and Saint Tarsilla. Great-grandson of Pope Saint Felix III. Educated by the finest teachers in Rome, Italy.

Prefect of Rome for a year, then he sold his possessions, turned his home into a Benedictine monastery, and used his money to build six monasteries in Sicily and one in Rome. Benedictine monk.

Upon seeing English children being sold in the Roman Forum, he became a missionary to England.

Elected 64th Pope by unanimous acclamation on September 3, 590, the first monk to be chosen.

Sent Saint Augustine of Canterbury and a company of monks to evangelize England, and other missionaries to France, Spain, and Africa.

Collected the melodies and plain chant so associated with him that they are now known as Gregorian Chants.

One of the four great Doctors of the Latin Church. Wrote seminal works on the Mass and Divine Office, several of them dictated to his secretary, Saint Peter the Deacon.

Born c.540 at Rome, Italy; died March 12, 604 at Rome of natural causes.

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Abbé Gérard-Majella Séguin (1919-2010)

Demain à 10h00 dans la basilique cathédrale de Notre Dame, je présiderai les funérailles de l'abbé Gérard-Majella Séguin, décédé la nuit du 30 août.

Agé de 91 ans, l'abbé Seguin s'est dévoué au service du peuple de Dieu comme prêtre de paroisse et formateur des séminaristes:

Ordonné en 1944, l’abbé Seguin a été vicaire à Saint-André-Avellin (Québec) (1944-46) et curé de ces paroisses d'Ottawa: St Rémi (1966-69), St Louis Marie de Montfort (1969-73), Notre Dame de la Présentation (1973-85).

Il a aussi été professeur au Petit séminaire d'Ottawa (1946-62); administrateur de la Mission Nativité de N.S.J.C., Ottawa (1962-63); et vice supérieur du Petit séminaire (1963-69).

Requiescat in pace.

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Yesterday's on-line edition of the Ottawa Citizen featured prominently Stephen Hawking's claim in his latest book that one can no longer postulate God as an explanation for the universe. Instead, spontaneously on account of the law of gravity, everything came from nothing.

The comments following the article were extensive and many of them withdrawn as unsuited to civil dialogue.

Promptly on the Catholic Herald website, there was a rejoinder, one of many we are likely to find in coming days.

Here is an initial reflection by Quentin de la Bedoyere (

Stephen Hawking still can’t explain how something came from nothingEven if physicists had a Grand Theory of Everything, they could not solve creation.

So that’s that then. Stephen Hawking has assured us that the laws of physics are sufficient to explain the universe we live in – and that we have no need to posit the possibility of God. His book, The Grand Design, will be published on September 9.

This is neither the time nor the place to focus on the detail of his arguments, and no doubt plenty of description will be forthcoming in the popular press and elsewhere. I want to focus initially on one remark he makes: “philosophy is dead.”

Bang goes the wisdom of two and a half millennia. But philosophy is not only not dead, it was never needed as much as it is now. One of the most important tasks in philosophy is to ensure that the right questions are asked and that the arguments which proceed stand up to rigorous examination. No wonder Hawking would like philosophy to be dead because he is wrong on both counts.

The drive of Hawking’s approach is that the theory, or rather the family of theories, he espouses leads to the possibility of 10 to the power of 500 different universes (try that on your calculator and watch it explode). Thus the extraordinary fine-tuning required for a universe which would eventually be able to support human life is not evidence for a designer God; it has in fact come about by chance. Since our universe is, by definition, the only one we can experience, we are fooled into thinking that it is the only one which exists, or has existed.

M theory, as it is known, is highly controversial within the scientific community; indeed there are eminent names who claim that it cannot properly be called a scientific theory at all. The idea of multiverses to explain the fine-tuning has been known as the “last refuge of the agnostic”. But let us assume that it is true, that there is an infinity of universes, and that our universe is an inevitable result of chance at work – where does that get us?

First, we are reminded of the theory of evolution. We have no difficulty in reconciling our belief in God as creator with evolution in which myriads of tiny chances, inevitably filtered by fitness to survive, develop into higher forms of life. God is not some sort of inventive superman who performs in the same sort of way as we do – but at an infinitely higher level. He transcends the universe; his creative action is utterly beyond our ken. If we use terms like “designer” it is only because the human mind and human vocabulary has no further reach. Our descriptions are only useful if we always bear in mind their gross inadequacy.

Similarly, if all the physical laws had been explained and proved (known as the Grand Theory of Everything) – which is a million miles from the case – our understanding of the actions of God would not be one whit greater: his existence and his actions are of a different order.

Most particularly it would not touch the question of how something existing comes out from nothing. That is a question which science cannot answer, and will never answer, because nothingness is not within its domain. Hawking apparently does not address this question – which is the true and ultimate Theory of Everything. But what philosophy can teach us is that neither he, nor you, nor I will ever explain creation, except through faith.

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