A few professors
At the very beginning of his schooling, Georges Lemaître presented a genuine apptitude for mathematics and science. He later said of himself in a New York Timesinterview that by the time he was 9 years old, the exact sciences and religion interested him.
In 1904, at the Jesuit College of the Sacred Heart in Charleroi, he met a professor of sciences, ErnestVerreux, a priest and scientist. His desire for a dual vocation began to take form. He said that at 16 he felt a call to religion. He then wanted to turn towards the faith, but also towards the sciences - which he cherished particularly.
“I was interested in truth from the point of view of scientific certainty as much as in truth from the point of view of salvation. It seemed to me that there were two paths leading to truth and I decided to follow both of them. Nothing in my professional life, nor anything I have learned in science and religion has ever led me to change my mind.”
Feeling a desire to enter the seminary, he spoke to his family about it. But his father, an entrepreneur at the heart of an industrial area, asked him to first get his degree in mining engineering. Respecting paternal wishes, Georges Lemaître enroled at Louvain in 1913.
But before that, as was habitual upon finishing a Greco-Latin secondary programme, he took a mathematics course of preparation for university studies at the Collège Saint Michel in Brussels. There he metFatherBosmans, another professor who impressed him by his independence, scientific spirit and intense faith. Georges Lemaître came to understand that it was possible to combine science and faith.
A baccalaureate in Thomistic philosophy
In 1913, at the University of Louvain, Georges Lemaître began mining engineering studies, as well as a baccalaureate in Thomistic philosophy at the Institute founded by Désiré Mercier. When World WarOne broke out, he enlisted as a volunteer. Returning to civil life in January 1919, he resumed his studies and earned 'distinction' in Thomistic philosophy.
Studying the Summa Theologiaeof Thomas Aquinas awakened him to the distinction between a physical and naturalBeginning of the world, relating to a scientific approach, andCreation, a question theology focuses on. This differentiation was to be the basis of his future thought, which will respect, but without ever amalgamating, the respective fields of sciences and religion.
One of the greatest works of Georges Lemaître remains his theory of the primitive atom. He would often be accused of concordism and, to defend himself, developed an argument explaining that his theory of the primitive atom did not seek to prove the existence of God as some pretended it did.
His theory is essentially physical. He applied it to Einstein's relativity and used quantum mechanics and thermodynamics to explain the beginning of the universe. If we go far enough back in time, we find a universe wherein entropy is minimal (the second principle of thermodynamics) as well as the number of quanta: that is the primitive atom, or at least primary, indivisible singularity. His theory does not seek what has placed that atom, nor primitive causality. Moreover, it is impossible to go farther back (from a chronological and physical point of view) than this singularity, in that space and time did not exist before. Thus the laws of physics do not apply. And all the more so as science can only explain an element on the basis of another element which already exists. As Thomas Aquinas said, Quod mundum non semper fuisse, sola fide tenetur. “That the world did not always exist, we only know by faith”. The theory of Georges Lemaître is thus exclusively physical. It focuses on what Thomas Aquinas called the “Beginning” of the Universe.
That does not prevent one's seeking, from a personal point of view, a more complete and metaphysical vision of the Universe. According to him, the existence of this primitive atom is due to a primitive causality, a creative will which placed it there and which, for him, is God. Yet he never mixes physical Beginning and metaphysical Creation of the universe. For him, as for Thomas Aquinas,Creationmeans a creative act which transcends time, where God brings the world into existence. According to Thomistic philosophy, we might imagine a world which exists and is maintained in an infinite time by God, without having been created. Thomas Aquinas speaks about “Creatiocontinua”: if the world existed yesterday, today and tomorrow, it is because it was placed in its existence by a supreme entity.
The thought of Thomas Aquinas greatly influenced Georges Lemaître. It was to help him understand the difference that must exist between physics and metaphysics. Exclusively physical, his theory does not prevent one from thinking that God brought the primitive atom into existence and that he is the primitive cause of everything. That conviction is altogether personal and is to be distinguished from his physical theory.
After his studies of mathematics and physics, Georges Lemaître turned his attention to his other vocation: the priesthood. Having just received two degrees, on October 1st, 1920 he entered the Archdiocese of Mechelen's seminary for delayed vocations, Saint Rombaut House, which offered formation for the priesthood in three years for candidates whom the war had prevented from entering earlier.
Interested in Einstein's theory of relativity and, wanting to apply for a scholarship, Cardinal Mercier, Archbishop of Mechelen, permitted his continuing his research during his seminary studies.
It was also during those three years that he learned of the existence of the priestly fraternity: Les Amis de Jésus - which he joined. It enabled him to develop his spiritual life.
Ordained a priest on September 22nd, 1923 by Cardinal Mercier at the Saint Rombaut Cathedral in Mechelen, the next day he celebrated his first mass at Saint Henri's parish in Brussels and a second in Charleroi, at the Church of Saint Christophe, where he had been baptized.
July 27th, 1935, Cardinal VanRoey, Cardinal Mercier's successor, raised him to the rank of honorary canon of the Chapter of Saint Rombaut's Cathedral in Mechelen.