The European Renaissance inspired new ways of thinking about the world and was the genesis for many current disciplines of thought and study. It brought the work of scientists like Copernicus (whom we met last week) into the mainstream in a time when it wasn’t even a question of science and religion not co-existing. Luckily, the end of the Renaissance didn’t mean the end of Catholic scientists! This week’s scientist lived about 400 years after Copernicus, and is responsible for one of the most famous scientific theories ever — it even has a television show named after it.
A Jesuit-educated Catholic priest, mathematician, astronomer, and physics professor, Georges Lemaître began his secondary education as a civil engineering student at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. In 1914, at age 20, he paused his studies to serve as an artillery officer in the Belgian army during World War I. He received the Belgian War Cross with palms in recognition of his service during the conflict. Following the war, Lemaître began studying math and physics and preparing for the priesthood.
He obtained his doctorate in 1920, and was ordained a priest in 1923. Shortly after his ordination, he became a research associate in astronomy at Cambridge University in England. While there, he worked with Arthur Eddington, who introduced him to modern cosmology, numerical analysis, and stellar astronomy. Following his time at Cambridge, he spent a few years in the United States working with Harlow Belgium and the Catholic University of Louvain in 1925.
It was while working as a part-time professor at Louvain that Lemaître began the paper that would skyrocket him to international attention in the scientific community, entitled (in English), “A homogeneous universe of constant mass and growing radius accounting for the radial velocity of extragalactic nebulae.” In the paper, he presented the idea that the universe itself is expanding, something he extrapolated from the theory of General Relativity. This idea was initially met with skepticism by Albert Einstein and other prominent members of the astrophysics community, but eventually became recognized as an essential precursor to the discovery of Hubble’s Law and Hubble’s Constant.
In 1931, he was invited to speak at a meeting of the British Association on the subject of the physical universe and spirituality. While there, he proposed the “Cosmic Egg” theory, an explanation for the creation of the universe that we all now call the Big Bang Theory.
It’s fascinating to me that so many people believe that science, evolution, and religion cannot be discussed in a single conversation — but if anyone smashes that stereotype, it would be Georges Lemaître. As a priest, he was devoted to the relationship between science and religion and continued to defend his theory long before it gained widespread acceptance.
Luckily, that acceptance came from Albert Einstein, when he stood up after a lecture and supposedly said, “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened.”
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Saint Brendan Church in San Francisco. Check out our exciting featured news articles.