Truth to tell…

It is sobering to reflect from time to time on how little we really know. There are a myriad of examples, and I have chosen just a few to illustrate my point. You will be able to think of many others.

Remember that funeral you went to a few months back? Your late friend is now, you think, a Holy Soul. Of course he or she may well be in purgatory, even though you prayed mightily, and had some Masses said. If he isn’t in heaven already, he certainly will be soon.

But now you hit a problem. Time and space are phenomena which enable us to understand what is going on in this world. They have no meaning outside it. There is neither time nor space in purgatory. So what is happening to your friend? I know there is a word – aeviternity– but the dictionary is notably vague as to its meaning. We do not in fact spend any time in any place. And the same question may be asked about the millions of people we may assume are currently in heaven awaiting the Last Day. Despite the disappointment at Yuri Gagarin failing to find heaven on his trip in 1961, there is no such place conforming to human understanding, and no meaning to be attached to the word waiting. For all we know, the soul may move instantaneously (if we know what instantaneously means) from human death to the Last Judgment and integration with our risen bodies.

That might solve the mental mechanisms of the Holy Soul. Down here, we know that our consciousness is mediated through our brains. There, we have to be conscious without our brains unless the risen body is furnished immediately.
Going a little deeper, we consider the question of the risen body of Christ. Accounts after the Resurrection suggest that the normal physical rules of space do not invariably apply. And, while the BVM doesn’t appear that often, she, also, seems to be free of normal restrictions when she does. Do these two glorified bodies currently inhabit a space in any sense which we can understand?

Of course this may be small beer when compared with the Last Day. We may all be hoping to have glorified bodies, but, although we may have our brains back, where will we be living? St Paul speaks of creation groaning for redemption (see Rm 8), and Fr Durrwell, in his classic The Resurrection: A Biblical Study (1960) speaks, as I recall, with vigour about our eventual life in a glorified world. If we receive some of the powers that appear to go with glorification it will certainly be an intriguing experience.

We need to come to terms with the angels, as well. I have a mental picture of angels floating about in long white robes, and given to singing a good deal in choirs. But my picture has come from incidents where angels take on a form which we can recognise – the Annunciation, for instance. But in reality they are unincarnated spirits. It doesn’t make sense even to ask what they might look like.

“For all eternity.” Whether we are thinking about our possible sojourn in heaven or hell, what does eternity mean when there is no such thing as time? We may wonder whether God could keep even the wickedest of us (let alone someone who misses Sunday Mass without excuse) in hell for ever and ever. After an extended torture lasting as long as the time since the Big Bang – about 14 billion years – the sentence will not even have begun.

It may be wise to avoid the question of grace, which most of us, I suspect, solve by an unconscious form of semi-Pelagianism. I just remark on the difficulty of understanding how all our acts of supernatural worth are both free and absolutely the outcome of “efficacious” grace. No, I don’t understand and nor, as far as I can see, does anyone else.

All this, I realise, may read like sceptical scoffing. But I can assure you that this is not so. For example, I accept without hesitation the usual need for purification before our grubby souls make it to heaven. And I am happy to regard the doctrine of purgatory as a narrative suitable for human understanding. And this is so of all the mysteries of the Kingdom. They have to be translated into the crude and simple language of the restricted human mind. Perhaps the ultimate translation lies in Christ’s words to Philip: “He who has seen me has seen the father.” This is the ultimate metaphor of Revelation.

All this is true as far as it goes but it cannot go very far. The problem may arise, and indeed has often arisen, when we think that the simple expression of a doctrine comprises or, in one sense, even approaches the reality to which it refers. We need to remember that even the infallible teachings are only guaranteed to be free from error; they are not guaranteed to be exhaustive truths.

Socrates famously maintained that realising how little one knew was the beginning of knowledge. And it is certainly true that I have become more aware of this with the passing of time. Which leaves me with just two mysteries: why am I, nevertheless, so opinionated, and why does my faith seem to increase as my knowledge decreases? Perhaps the answer is in Paul’s words: “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” But perhaps you can solve some of these mysteries, or have some others which you would like solving.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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62 Responses to Truth to tell…

  1. It’s easy to slip into thinking of our immortal souls existing after death as a sort of half-eternity, beginning at that moment, but that doesn’t seem logical since by definition eternity doesn’t have a beginning or end. There must presumably be a continuum in which life before birth co-exists with life after death and everything between – a kind of infinite instant encompassing all our experience.

    There is a related problem about the Fall of Man. In the gradual evolution of human characteristics through countless minutel changes, which individual was responsible? Had he suddenly acquired a soul when his near-identical parents had nothing of the sort? It doesn’t seem very likely. And since Original Sin is a quality of the soul, it must have existed from all eternity. I can make no sense of it except by supposing that the Fall took place outside time altogether, and probably outside the universe with which we are familiar (or think we are!).

    As for Hell, I think of it as the more merciful alternative for a being who cannot bear to face the brilliance of God, but in refusing to do so feels the frustation of the whole purpose of its existence. Of course I may be hopelessly muddled, but has anyone any better ideas?

  2. st.joseph says:

    I have heard it said that Hell is seeing The Lord at a distance and never being able to achieve it.
    Purgatory is seeing it from a distance and getting there in the end.The Beatific Vision, when all things become clear to us -seeing clearly,not as now -seeing through a dimly lit mirror.
    My mother used to say that it is all a mystery and we ought not to try to solve it.
    As I got older I didn’t quite agree with that to the extent of trying to understand it , but knowing that I will only know all the Truth when I die. I was quite content knowing that God loved me and wanted me to love Him in return, and try to do His Will,with the gifts that are bestowed on us.
    Jesus tells us a lot about Heaven,and the many rooms in the Fathers house,I have always taken that to mean the different level we reach when we die, and Jusus went ahead to prepare that for us,as He is the Way and the Truth, and the Life.But I dont understand if those who dont -cant get to Heaven.I believe it is to desire God with ones whole heart and soul, to want to spend eternity with Him in the Presence of Our Blessed Mother and all the Saints. In the words of St Agustine’ My soul doesn’t rest till it rests in Thee.

  3. Rahner says:

    The hermeneutics of eschatological assertions is clearly highly problematic. The traditional ideas of the soul, eternity, heaven and hell giving rise a wide range of difficult philosophical and theological questions including the issue of how these ideas are to be integrated with the rest of our existing knowledge of the world and human nature.

    Homo Sapiens have been in existence for the last 150,000 – 200,000 years. Christianity has been around for just 2000 years and our current cosmology,biology and anthropology are probably still very rudimentary. The human story and the history of revelation have only just begun. How and when the whole of creation will reach its transcendental fulfilment through its deification in Christ and what role human beings have in bringing about this fulfilment are matters about which we can only speculate. But we should be careful not to interpret eschatological metaphors and symbols in a manner which gives them a spurious degree of precision and detail.

    • st.joseph says:

      Rahner, can you undersand the Ressurection of Jesus, or do you doubt it if you can’t?

    • mike Horsnall says:

      “…Thus, only the sacrificed Lamb can open the sealed scroll and reveal its content, giving meaning to this history that so often seems senseless. He alone can draw from it instructions and teaching for the life of Christians, to whom his victory over death brings the message and guarantee of victory that they too will undoubtedly obtain.The whole of the vividly imaginative language that John uses aims to offer this consolation…”

      Christ and His Church p74 Benedict XVI

      Somewhere in the same little book Pope Benedict makes the point that our understanding of history and our consideration of the future will depend almost entirely on our starting position. So a history which is understood in materialist terms will neccessarily and convincingly produce atheism. To start from the Catholic perspective of God being the beginning gives a completely different view.
      I’m not sure that it makes a great deal of sense to discuss one discourse in terms of the other. I do agree that symbols and metaphors do have a historical context and can wear out their useage – so biblical literalism becomes difficult. Interestingly though the difficulties of literalism often arise from considerations of culture and aesthetics as much as from religious -this is because religion is quite capable of self reflection and able to give subtle nuance to images and forms which -to an outsider may appear revoltingly simplistic. .

  4. tim says:

    Three comments (of unequal weight):
    1. Unlike horseboxes, the gates of hell are locked from the inside.
    2. It has been suggested (CS Lewis) that physical pains serve to mitigate or distract from the pain of loss (poena damni).
    3. Why shouldn’t eternity have a beginning (at least from the point of view of someone entering it)? If you start counting at 4103, there is still an infinity of numbers ahead of you. But, in any case, it isn’t clear that eternity is the same sort of thing as time.

    • st.joseph says:

      Tim I dont know really what I am speaking about here, but your 3rd thoughts on eternity got me thinking about space.
      Does that go round and round and round and round in an ever growing circle, it may not ever end.There may be no end to the Universe. Only the Lord knows where it will take us.
      Maybe Heaven is somewhere with no beginning or no end. Like God.And that is where our soul lives so it can never die I cant imagine where our resurrected body fits into all this.
      Just a thought.Perhaps just a silly thought!

  5. mike Horsnall says:

    CS Lewis, after his wife died, repudiated his earlier thoughts on pain I think.

    Peter Wilson: “… Had he suddenly acquired a soul when his near-identical parents had nothing of the sort? It doesn’t seem very likely. And since Original Sin is a quality of the soul, it must have existed from all eternity…”

    Yet God clearly intervenes within history at key times and is very keen on specifics since Jesus was born a specific man at a specific time in history within time. If God can enter time, and our individual lives, with such pin point specificity then why should God not ensoul a man at the’ right’ time? We do understand that time and eternity seem to co exist because Jesus as risen Lord leads us into the kingdom of the ‘now but not yet’ We don’t much like this kind of reasoning because it seems to proceed from such shaky roots but since we know the ways of God are very different from our own then we are stuck with things that don’t make sense.

    • tim says:

      Mike, it is clear that CS Lewis was deeply affected by the death of his wife, as his memoir of the event shows. As he said originally in “The Problem of Pain”, writing about pain is different from experiencing it. But I’m not sure which of his views he finally rethought, or to what extent. If you have a reference, that would help me.The speculation (it is no more than that) about physical pain as a distraction is not from the ‘Problem of Pain” but from “The Pilgrim’s Regress”.

  6. mike Horsnall says:

    PS Quentin Our accumulated opinions are simply accretions of self and not really indicative of much though-like the bark on a tree they may help identify our subspecies… Your faith grows in spite of the ever increasing weight of personal ignorance simply because thats what faith does and since it doesnt belong to us we cannot fully corrupt it into opinion.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      PPS sorry about all these posts-we need an edit button. Quentin why do you think that angels cannot be percieved? why should unincarnated spirits have forms which cannot be sensed and thus ‘pictured’?

      • Quentin says:

        Mike, we are indeed in deep waters here. I did in fact write that it made no sense to ask what they look like. I would think that they must be perceivable, but “looking like” refers to appearance – which requires not only the physical sense of sight, but visible presence of the object seen. An unincarnated spirit can, we presume, take on a physical appearance , but only heaven knows (literally) what that might mean.

  7. mike Horsnall says:

    Quentin: Nothing like a bit of deep water to splash around in is there!! Have you, or anyone else on this site, ever ‘seen’ an angel? (.Oh dear now we have positively submerged ourselves !! )
    CS Lewis in his Voyage to Pelandra (I think) has the best description of angels I have ever read.

  8. st.joseph says:

    Mike even if one did see an angel, it probably wouldn’t have wings. We all have a guardian Angel or so they say. I believe that.St Michael is supposed to have appeared to people.
    As quentin say’s, would we recognise one .When the Angel Gabriel came to Mary,and then she was with Child. She obviously believed then.
    Lots os people have visions, not every one speaks about it.
    A lady whose son was a friend of mine she was a spiritualist. She wanted me to join them as she said I woudd be a good medium. She told me that I had a someone dressed as a nun on my right shoulder,she frightened me to death I told her we as catholics prayed for the dead, but dont speak to them. I do think it is unwise for us to concentrate on things like that. We have the church, Holy Mass, Sacraments, Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady and all the Saints to concentrate on,and to guide people into that.I wait until I die to find out about all that, there is so much to do in this world.

    • tim says:

      Huxley sought to disprove the existence of angels by showing that they couldn’t generate enough musclepower from their upper bodies for sustained flight (I have no reference for this). I was reminded of this by the recent taunt in ‘Nature’ from a prominent atheist that religious scientists are unwilling to put the power of prayer to the test by arranging comparative experiments. He seemed to have forgotten that valid medical experiments must be ‘double blind’ – so that nobody involved knows which is the experimental treatment and which the placebo.

  9. mike Horsnall says:

    St Joseph,
    You’ll get a bad shoulder carrying all those nuns around…..!!!!. Angels are angels I guess they are what they are. Whenever I’ve seen them they have the appearance of empty form – a kind of brightening of the air within a broadly human shape, both invisible yet palpably present. I’ve only ever closely sensed their presence a handful of times but it is a very distinct sense.
    As to what we concentrate on well there is biblical injunction against dallying in the spirit world overmuch and angels must be allowed to come and go as they please-but angels are as much a part of the kingdom of God as you and I are.

  10. st.joseph says:

    Yes Mike, that is why I have muscle trouble in my shoulder.But then spirits are not supposed to be heavy!
    A prayer my grandmother taught me when I was very young, and I sometimes say it now.
    There are 4 corners on my bed.
    There are 4 Angels there to spread.
    There are 4 more at my bedside, my Guardian Angel will be my guide
    St Matthew ,St Mark, St St Luke, St John.
    God Bless the bed that I lay on.
    If any evil shall come to me, I will get up and pray to thee.

    As a child I used to wonder what evil would come to me in bed, I used to think of burgulars or fire.

  11. Paul1087 says:

    In your 19 August Herald article you refer to the challenge of accepting both a loving God and eternal damnation. When I was an undergraduate just over 50 years ago I read an article in Blackfriars (I think by Laurence Bright OP) which solved this problem for me. According to my understanding – or perhaps misunderstanding – of his article Hell is permanent separation from God so that if the damned souls cease to exist they are permanently separated from God but they are not in eternal torment, which appears to us to be incompatible with a loving God, because they no longer exist. Christ did offer eternal life to those who follow him so eternal death for those who do not seems a logical outcome. Being human I cannot resist the thought that God might allow the damned souls to see what they are missing before extinguishing their being but I recognise this too might be incompatible with a loving God. I have found some reassurance in this thought and I set it out here in the hope it might help others troubled by the Divine love/eternal damnation problem.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      This seems to be a version of annhilation theology which sees seperation from God as simply non-existence. Are those souls then dead completely and utterly?
      My own understanding of Hell is the condition of utter spritiual remorse in a kind of existence in which God has withdrawn as far as possible so as not to inflict greater remorse upon those who have discovered the true cost of ‘life’ without him. I don’t think thats a great place to be but then again I don’t think there are many people there-hopefully the place has only virtual existence- with no one yet in in it.

      • st.joseph says:

        I would prefer to believe in that Mike, But just in case it is wise to if possible t to try to bring people who dont believe ‘without over pressing them’-to know that God loves them, and wants their love in return.

  12. st.joseph says:

    By the way my grandmother in Ireland in the 50’s said she saw the banshee, sitting outside the window of some gentleman dying. He died the next morning.
    Tales were always told in those days, having no radio or TV or at least she didnt’t
    My grandmother was a great story teller, and a very holy lady Being Spanish descent (her grandmother and french grandfather) she loved the Spanish. Mystics and the Carmalite Order, hence my love for the Carmalites.I became a member of the Third Order forty years ago.

  13. Quentin says:

    Paul, I think this is helpful. Laurence Bright was a very original thinker, and always worth listening to. I have just settled, in this matter, for accepting that what happens must always be consistent with God’s justice and mercy. And I believe that God will go to extraordinary lengths to save us – as any loving parent would.

  14. Horace says:

    Quentin states that “Time and space are phenomena which enable us to understand what is going on in this world. They have no meaning outside it. ”
    The generally accepted scientific view is at present, I believe, that – following the ideas of general relativity – ‘time’ is merely a particular choice of coordinate in the description of the location of a space-time event; i.e. time is a dimension analogous to the well known three dimensions of space.
    Eternity,therefore, is simply a view of the four dimensional world.
    Of course, this leaves plenty of questions to be answered.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Horace:
      ” ‘time’ is merely a particular choice of coordinate in the description of the location of a space-time event..”

      Does this mean that time has no seperate existence beyond events? In other words cat gets mouse always at a certain time (which can of course be different depending on the luck of the mouse)…Certainly there is no time at which I cannot be breathing until I am dead…am I then still in time because my elements are still active?…Honestly I’m serious here its just that some of these concepts are so wily I can only describe them by analogy or metaphor.

  15. John says:

    I like Horace’s suggestion! I believe(d) eternity to be the absence of time and space – i.e. God’s “environment”. I understand (stood?) the soul to be more than the lump of jelly full of electrical signals of the atheistic view of intelligence. It is merely fixed in time and space in order to permit free will and a change of heart, a gift denied to the angels. I believe Purgatory to be a matter of degree rather than of time. Any of us encountering the Divine Presence must “burn” with shame at our sins even when forgiven. At what point does the dividing line between this and Hell occur for those who refuse forgiveness? None of this, of course, makes it easier to understand. Resurrection? – the gospels give us little clue, but Christ’s resurrected body seemed to come and go in unexplained ways inside time and space, was recognised only at will, and yet was “solid” enough to eat and cook fish! St Paul seemed to believe in a renewed and everlasting creation, but he hadn’t studied Einstein. Peter Wilson’s question about original sin is very pertinent. I think this whole discussion is enlightening in terms of our trying to understand ourselves.

  16. st.joseph says:

    Jesus showed the marks of the Crucifixon to Thomas and said this is real flesh and real bone. Yet He walked through either a stone or wooden door. And then ascend into Heaven. I am not doubting this. ( Thinking what my mother told me about worrying too much about mysteries )

  17. mike Horsnall says:

    Horace: “,…. time is a dimension analogous to the well known three dimensions of space…”

    I wonder if you could do me a huge favour ad underpin this statement with an analogy or metaphor which would perhaps make it just a tiny bit more intelligible for the uninitiated. I really like the phrase but would be grateful for just a little more meat on its bones.

    Thanks

    Mike Horsnall

  18. Mike,
    As a small step towards understanding, you might think of catching a train: you have not only to be on the surface of the Earth at the right map reference, but at the right time as well. That’s about as far as I can get.

    Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” is helpful, although I have a feeling that it gives only a passing illusion of understanding. Unfortunately current cosmological theory is so weird by ordinary human standards that it can be described only in advanced mathematics. A review of Roger Penrose’s “The Road to Reality” suggested that it would provide greater insights, but to me it quickly became completely incomprehensible. Mind you, he makes a botch of explaining something much more straightforward by omitting a crucial term in the equation!

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Thanks Peter, I’m very interested in these things but have only basic physics and even less maths. I tried the Hawkings book but had to give it up for the reasons you mention-it didnt really seem to get down to things- just naming something isnt always much help. It seems to me that if these things can’t be even hinted at by basic creative thinking-analogy/metaphor etc then they are abstruse in the extreme. Much of theology goes a bit that way but is yet capable of being ‘seen’ if not understood in practical detail. Thanks for your train picture.

      • tim says:

        Some modern physical theories say that there are eleven dimensions, but seven of them are rolled up very small, so we only experience three spatial dimensions and one of time (I don’t say this conveys very much to my mind). But by way of analogy, think of Flatland, where there are only two dimensions, stretched out on the floor (say). We who exist in three dimensions of space, can step over the solid line which to Flatlanders is an impassable wall. Similarly, a being with access to a fifth dimension can step past a solid 3D wall that has no extension into that extra dimension. And (maybe) eternity could be viewed as an unchanging solid from a fifth dimension – this might solve the question of whether time passes there. But none of this speculation is to be taken too seriously (obviously).

  19. st.joseph says:

    St Pio was seen in two places at once many a time!

  20. tim says:

    “No man can be in two places at once – barring he’s a bird of the air!”

  21. st.joseph says:

    I think the word is bi-locution. He was well known for that, as the testomonies say.
    A German Pilot instantly became a catholic when he saw St Pio after the war , and recognised him as the Monk who passed his plane window,and was scared and turned around.
    He said to St Pio, you are the Monk I saw. St Pio said yes, I was not going to let you bomb my home town. Seems a little far fetched, then isn’t everything we dont understand!
    It does not make my faith stronger as I didnt see it!But then so does not seeing things make my faith stronger.

    • tim says:

      Clearly then St Pio was a bird of the air. St Joseph of Cupertino also reputedly levitated. We don’t have to believe these things, but (unlike those who hold that the laws of Nature admit of no exceptions) we are not compelled to disbelieve them either.

  22. mike Horsnall says:

    Going back to the train analogy…Is there only one opportunity to catch it at any given place or can I come back later. If I do come back later will things have changed at the station?

    • Mike,
      I should emphasise that I’ve only dabbled in these matters, and I’m not sure of understanding the point of your question, but it seems to refer to the possibility or otherwise of time travel. If the train is on a regular schedule, you may come back another day and catch the same one according to the timetable, but even if the rolling stock is the same the passengers will be different, and you certainly won’t make your original appointment at the destination. However, this probably trivialises your query.

      Time is clearly different from the spatial dimensions in that we have no control over our movement through it. Whether some such control might be gained has been a bone of contention for ages. In fact it’s hard to see what time actually is, as distinct from how it is marked or measured by the ticking of a clock or more fundamentally by the ever-increasing disorder of the universe as a whole. There is evidently some connection with causality, in that no event can be the cause of another that precedes it, and that is the basis of the conventional argument that if time travel were possible, one might in principle murder an ancestor before one’s own conception and so have an irresolvable paradox. (I recommend Isaac Asimov’s “The End of Eternity” as a fictional treatment of the issue, where the paradox is resolved by positing a shift in effect into a different universe.) There have however been suggestions that it might be possible to observe the past directly without influencing it.

      That itself seems to violate another principle, that observation forces an answer to the question of which out of two equally probable outcomes has actually occurred. The classsic exemplar is the notorious parable of Schroedinger’s Cat. In case you haven’t come across it, the postulate is a box containing a cat and a vial of poison gas that has equal chances of being released or not within a certain time, after which the box will be opened and the actual situation observed. Immediately before that the cat is supposed to be potentially both dead and alive, and the observation forces one state or the other into reality. It strikes me that there’s a flaw in the model since there’s one observer present all the time – the cat.

      How did we get on to this? I’m not at all sure of having helped you, but if you think I might, do come back to me.

  23. st.joseph says:

    Horace, what do you mean by no event can be the cause of another that precedes it?.

  24. st.joseph,
    As an example, banging your head today cannot be responsible for the headache that you had yesterday.

    Even if worrying about an examination tomorrow gives you a headache today, the exam may be the reason but the actual cause is your worrying about it.

  25. John Thomas says:

    I wonder if you, Quentin, and your readers, know of Peter Kreeft’s ideas about heaven, where he even suggests that the people there (“we”, hopefully) will possibly have a kind of sexual intercourse (I think this is a Christian blog, and his publisher, Ignatius Press, sounds decidedly Roman Catholic to me): http://culture-of-life.org//content/view/728/1/

  26. mike Horsnall says:

    Peter this is marvellous stuff. I have heard of schrodingers cat but you explain it well. The point of my question is as you also note the relationship of time to duration and whether time can exist independently of anything else..or anything can exist independently of time and how much is the idea of ‘time’ a delusion.. You probably have heard of the notion that time and eternity are like a pair of sheets pinned together in the middle by the cross of Christ. So I am very interested in what I can understand of the broad understanding of ‘time’. To me measuring time is like trying to measure the length of a river with a six inch ruler from a boat in that same river being carried down it by the current-impossible. I have always been sceptical of things like ‘half life’ and the linearity of geological time measurements-but I’m never sure if my scepticism is based in my own ignorance. More stuff like this might acutally answer a question or two…so thanks .

    • Whether time can exist in the absence of anything to mark its passage is a question into which I daren’t enter for the sake of my sanity, but since it seems to be inextricably connected with change I imagine the answer is negative.

      “Half-life”, on the other hand, is a straightforward aspect of radioactive decay. The disintegration of an individual unstable atomic nucleus is a matter of pure chance and so cannot be predicted: that is why it features in a part of the Schroedinger’s Cat story that I deliberately skipped for the sake of simplicity. However, there is a precise probability characteristic of the istotope that it will occur in any particular interval of time. Consequently, if the number present is large enough to be treated statistically (and since protons and neutrons, the massive components of all matter, come at the rate of about 600,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to the gramme, that is true of any perceptible amount), in a given interval a definite fraction of those intially present will have disintegrated. If that fraction is a half, then the interval is the half-life.

      With only half of the original number remaining, the rate of decay is also halved, so after ten half-lives about a thousandth still remains, and after twenty half-lives about a millionth. It is never possible to say with absolute truth that it has all gone, although for practical purposes what remains after ten or twenty half-lives may be negligible. Nevertheless there is no such thing as an actual lifetime, and we must refer to the half-life instead.

      Does this help?

      • Mike,
        In writing of the vast number of protons or neutrons per gramme, I should have mentioned that no atom has more than a few hundred altogether, usually more neutrons than protons. The total number in any particular instance is given by the figure sometimes appended to the name or symbol of the element in order to identfy the isotope, as in uranium-238.

      • hs905883 says:

        Thanks again Peter, I’d take a bet on the negative too.

  27. st.joseph says:

    Thank you Peter and apologies to Horace ,thinking it was his comment.I was looking at it the other way around, proceeding the first event. Which I knew would be too simple.Thats why it baffled me.

  28. st.joseph says:

    John Thomas for pointing out the web above.
    I listened to a good homily the other day ,the Feast Day of St Bernard, and his sermons on th Song of Songs.
    In these sermons he shows that this book of the Bible is speaking of the soul’s relationship with God but presented in the terms of the love which unites a bride to her bridegroom. Although St Bernard often applies to the Church the words that are addressed to the spouse in this canticle of love.
    Deep within the human spirit there is a longing but fallen human beings are blind and this longing can reach out misguidedly for things on this earth that will seem to satisfy it.

    Obviously the homily I heard was more indebth than this-but I understood it fully.
    This brings me back to the above article especially the last few sentences ‘A Heavenly Reading of the Earthly Riddle of Sex.
    Therefore I believe that this ought to be brought to the notice on Quentins last Post in response to Elizabeth Price and her interest in our comments.
    Maybe now me being a widow ,I can understand it more fully!

  29. John says:

    I claim no originality for this – it comes (I think) from H G Wells’ “The Time Machine”
    Consider a cube. It has three spatial dimensions. What is not so obvious, because we expect it, is that it is also existing in the fourth dimension, time. Try to imagine an instantaneous cube.

  30. Iona says:

    Yes John, – I’m sure that’s from The Time Machine. I read it in my early teens, and it was the first inkling I’d had that time could be considered a dimension, like the three dimensions of space. It felt like a revelation.

    Time and space are part of our conceptual apparatus; we cannot think about the physical world except in these terms. This doesn’t have to mean that they (time and space) have any ultimate reality; but it does mean that it’s impossible for us to think about events except as taking place within time and space. Physicists exploring the implications of physical theories don’t even try to visualise their conclusions. Somewhere I read an account of a physics student trying to translate theory into something that could be imagined, and being told to “shut up and do the maths”.

    Picking up a different point: I’m not sure that Jesus (after the resurrection) is reported to have walked through walls or doors; rather, he was suddenly just “in the room with them” – or, he “vanished from their sight”.

    • st.joseph says:

      I often wonder if Jesus didn’t Ascend into Heaven –
      but just vanished from their sight!Then the Angel said to the Apostles ‘Why are you still looking up’? Maybe because logically He went up-maybe they were looking up. How can we explain that. There are so many things beyond our understanding,
      How did Lazarus walk out of the tomb .I saw a picture of him when I was small and thought he could not have walked with all those bandages on him. They looked like bandages to me. I expected to read more about the soldier when St Peter cut his ear off.
      Children ask more before it dawns on them that we just accept things that cant’ be explained. Or else we become an atheist,are these these things really a minority when we consider the more serious things that matter to the Salvation of Souls .
      But it still does not stop us from asking questions, because there will always someone out there who will be able to put some light on it.
      I remember the words of St Francis of Assisi.
      Lord . Grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change.
      Courage to change the things I can.
      And the wisdom to know the difference.

  31. Iona says:

    According to Luke, the angel didn’t say “Why are you looking up?”, he (it?) said “Why are you looking into the sky?” Admittedly Jesus was “lifted up” but then “a cloud took him from their sight”, so he need not have gone vertically skywards; even a horizontal disappearance would look like “going into the sky” if the starting-point was a hilltop above the sightline of the watchers.

    “Children ask more before it dawns on them that we just accept things that can’t be explained”. – How very true. And as we accept things, so we stop questioning our assumptions.

    • st.joseph says:

      Thank you Iona for your explanation, quite possible.A good point.As I said in an earlier post some one may be able to put a different perspective on it without denying it.

  32. st.joseph says:

    I have just thought of when I was four years old, my mother and brothers lived in Lambourne.(We moved about a lot) My father was in France in the war. I used to write letters to my father and when I put them in the post box my mother used to tell me to give it a kiss for my father which I used to do. My grandmother used to stay with us sometimes and she used to kneel me on a chair my brothers and I and teach me the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory be; so that I would know it when he came home.When he did come home, riding a bike with a big wireless under his arm, my mother said to me this is your father. I remember so well -saying ‘he’s not my father he’s ‘not’ my father, my father has a big long white beard and he lives up in the sky, and I wouldn’t go near him!
    At least I learned at an early age who my real Father was!

  33. Momangelica says:

    This was sent to me recently and makes for awesome reading. Very scary at the same time.
    Just google
    St. John Bosco – Dream (Vision) of Hell -The Road to Hell.

    • st.joseph says:

      I haven’t seen that before Momangelica.Quite disturbing.
      I often think we see many descriptions of hell here on earth when we on the television disasters of wars, earthquakes, poverty . Starving children would just break ones heart.
      All the people -helpers, being in the presence of those disasters must be considered saints,when they lay down down their lives for their brothers and sisters.All those christians who die, or suffer distress or discomfort abroad.
      We have a lot to thank God for.

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