On the feast of Padre Pio, many good Catholics and also many non-Catholics and even atheists recall the stories of his miraculous bilocations. St. Pio of Pietrelcina was known to have bilocated many times throughout his life, a phenomenon which has become central to the telling of his mystical life. Of course, Padre Pio was not the only saint to have bilocated, but he is certainly the saint most commonly associated with the mysterious gift.
Without denying the fact of bilocation as a phenomenon, there is still some difficulty in explaining just what this event really is. By “bilocation,” do we mean that Padre Pio was present in two places at the same time? If yes, was he present both in his soul and in his body, or just in his soul? If just in his soul, was he materially present, having acted through a momentarily constructed physical body, or was his presence only a spiritual action visible only to the intellect?
What follows is more speculative than most of the writing on this blog. I offer this speculation neither to give any definitive answers nor to induce doubt, but rather to help us all wonder at the glories of God’s works.
The nature of the human soul
St. Thomas tells us that even the angels cannot be present in two places at the same time. Angels are present in a place by acting upon the matter in that place, but while they can act on a very large body of matter at one moment (thereby being present in a very large place), they cannot act on two discontinuous bodies of matter at the same moment. Thus, not even an angel can be present in the two cities of San Giovanni Rotondo and Loreto at the same moment. (cf. ST I, q.52, a.2)
Likewise, the human soul cannot act upon matter except through the body to which it is substantially united. The human soul cannot be present in a place in which its body is not present. This means that, if a man is in Italy, he cannot at the same time be in Germany. (cf. ST I, q. 76, a. 8) Just as the angelic soul cannot act upon two discontinuous bodies, neither can the human soul be present in one place through the body and act on another place outside of the body.
By this consideration of the nature the soul, it seems clear that Padre Pio could not be present in one place through his body while being present in another place through his soul only. Therefore, his bilocations cannot be the presence of his soul outside of his body. So, if through bilocation Padre Pio was present in two places at the same time, then he was present both in his body and his soul.
The nature of the human body
No material body can be present in two places at the same time. While a body can fill a place which is rather large, this place must be continuous and be only one place. The very nature of the material order requires that bodies be present in one and only one location. If the angelic soul cannot be present in two places at the same time, how much less the human body!
This means that Padre Pio could not have been present in two places in his own body. His body was one and could only be present in one continuous place at any one time. So, Padre Pio was not present, both body and soul, in San Giovanni Rotondo and in the Holy House of Mary at the same time. We have, however, already ruled out the possibility that he could be present in his body in one place while being present in his soul and outside his body in another place – neither the human nor the angelic soul can be present act on/in two discontinuous bodies at the same time. Therefore, it seems that Padre Pio, in bilocating, could not have been present in two places at once in either his body or his soul (or in both together).
The problem of bilocation
Perhaps bilocation is a miraculous work of God by which a man is able to immediately act upon the intellects of other men. In this respect he is spiritually (not physically) present to their souls. He is not present to their bodies, he is not really in two places, but he is acting on the soul of a man who is in another place.
There is no reason why one soul could not act upon numerous other souls, all in the same instant. St. Thomas explicitly states this when referring to the fall of Lucifer and the other angels – just as one man communicates his thoughts to many men all in the same moment (excepting only the time it takes for the sound to pass from his mouth to their ears), so too Satan communicated his wicked plans to many angels in only one moment. (cf. ST I, q.63, a.8)
Therefore, by a most wondrous work of God, it seems possible that Padre Pio could both be present in San Giovanni Rotondo (through his body and his soul) and at the same time be present to the people in Loreto (through his soul acting immediately upon their souls). Properly speaking, this would not be not bi-location; since he would then be present in only one place – though he would be acting upon persons who are in another (even far distant) place.
This immediate action upon others’ souls would not make his activity any less real, though it would make it immaterial. This would explain why not everybody could always see Padre Pio when he did bilocate (I understand this to have been the case) – for he would be seen only by the minds of those upon whom he acted.
A problem with the theory I have here proposed is that it seems to reduce bilocation to a sort of miraculous communication, rather than a miraculous presence. Indeed, as I mentioned, my theory would seem to deny the very notion of the word “bilocation” – though I might respond by saying that the Saint was present in one place and to the people in another place.
I have not offered this reflection as an authoritative statement of doctrine, nor even as my own answer to the problem – I really don’t yet know what to think for sure. Rather, I hope to incite some dialogue and reflection. Please contribute your own thoughts on this subject!
How great a mystery is this most wondrous divine work!