The Great War and a moderate concordism

His patriotic engagement

Croix de guerre

Enlisting as a volunteer, he was cited for his courage and received the Military Cross in 1918 and les palmesin 1921. 

In August 1914, Georges Lemaître and his brother Jacques were 18 and 20 years old. They decided to take a bicycle ride and only returned four years later. War was declared and they decided to enlist as volunteers, a normal gesture in their eyes, for their family was patriotic and royalist. They joined the army on August 9th, participating in the defence of Antwerp and the Battle of Yser in October and were transferred to the 38th artillery battery on July 3rd, 1915.

At the front, Georges read Henri Poincaré's Electricity and Optics (1890). It was a productive period for him from a theological point of view too. Witnessing such suffering and atrocities led to a deepening of his faith and his reflection on Scripture. He already knew that he wanted to commit himself to religious life, but still hesitated between the secular, diocesan clergy and the Jesuit order. The war helped him in clarifying his engagement: he wanted to be a priest. In 1916 correspondence he maintained with Joris Van Severen, he explains why he felt the call to devote himself more to religion.

“Science is beautiful, it deserves to be loved for its own sake since it is a reflection of God's creative thought”.

Léon Bloy and the Trois premières paroles de Dieu: concordism?

During the war, Georges Lemaître maintained a friendly relationship with Joris VanSeveren(distancing himself from him in the 1920's, when their spiritual and political divergences become too great). They shared many theological, philosophical and intellectual conversations. It was VanSeverenwho brought the French writer Léon Bloy to his attention. Georges Lemaître was particularly influenced by him in the following years. In fact Bloy had written an exegesis of the Biblewhich presented all the human factors (among which wars) as symbolic and capable of revealing a hidden sense in History:the Great War (World War One)would thus be a cataclysm preceding Christ's return to earth. Reading Bloy lent meaning to the atrocities surrounding Lemaître. He also admired the writer for preaching poverty and abnegation. We find this same exigency in Lemaître when he joined theFriends of Jesus. 

Motivated by his admiration for Bloy's exegesis and his desire to link the sciences and faith, Georges Lemaître reflected on the meaning ofGenesisand particularly the first words of God. He began the text during the war and finished it atSaint Rombaut House on June 29th, 1921. His exegesis relies on two principles: only the true words of God from Genesisare analysed and all the concrete words cited can in fact be interpreted in an abstract sense. He wanted to try to explain the divine words with scientific data; in fact justify the sciences by Holy Scripture, all in specifying thatthe Bibleseeks man'ssalvation and cannot be seen as a book containing scientific theories. Its writing was inspired by the Holy Spirit, who perhaps slipped in scientific elements. Leo the XIII's encyclical “ProvidentissimusDeus” nonetheless casts doubt on that: saying that the Holy Spirit did not want to teach men everything, for that is not useful to salvation. Hence, in his study, entitled The first three words of God, Lemaître fostered a moderate form of concordism to account for the fact thatthe Bibledoes not deal with science, because that is not its goal. This thought evolved over the years, transforming itself into a veritable distinction between religion and the sciences. 

Meeting Bloy, he wanted to submit his exegesis to him, but his work was very badly received and Bloy advised to him to read the Church Fathers. Lemaître was disappointed; that was surely one of the reasons leading him to change his mind and abandon the concordist vision. 

"Les trois premières paroles de Dieu"

Extract from the first Three words of God, a text written partly at the front and partly at the seminary 
wherein Lemaître evokes “the ideal truth which science pursues”.