September 23rd, Feast of St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Last year on the feast of St. Pio, I wrote a little article about the mysterious gift of bilocation. In that article, which you can read here, I pointed out just how great a mystery this phenomenon truly is. Today I would like to revisit this discussion, including some of the major lines of response which people took in the comment box.
The problem of bilocation
The principle difficulty with the mystery of bilocation is that it is not clear whether we are to claim that Padre Pio (and others) bilocated both in their soul and in their body, or if was just in their soul.
If the body and soul both bilocate, then it is not clear how we can say that Padre Pio had only one body. If Padre Pio’s body was locally present in two places, then it would seem that there would have to have been two bodies. Some comments from the earlier article even stated this, claiming that St. Pio had a “spiritual body” and a “physical body” – to me, this seems absurd.
The real problem with claiming that St. Pio had two bodies when he would bilocate is that this would mean that he wasn’t really bilocating (at least not in his body). If St. Pio had two bodies, then each body was located in only one place and there was no true bilocation of his body.
Furthermore, there is great difficulty in claiming that the human soul could act on two bodies at the same moment. In fact, the tradition has held that even the angels cannot be in two places at the same time – much less the human soul, and how much less still the human body!
God cannot do the absolutely impossible
One of the main thrusts of the comments last year was that bilocation is a mystery and that God can do anything and that we ought not to try to understand. Many people accused me of trying to “kill the mystery”. Quite frankly, such persons are rather insulting – they are the type who would have been disappointed with the early Church Councils, which seek to understand a much greater mystery: the Trinity.
Granting that we will probably never fully understand the mystery of bilocation (at least not in this life) there are at least some insights we can gain from meditating on this phenomenon. First, we must admit that, while God is all powerful, he cannot do that which is absolutely impossible.
Given that he has created the world in the way he has, he cannot make matter be in two places at the same time. The human body simply cannot be omnipresent, neither can the human or angelic soul – for, to be omnipresent is proper to God alone. But if a body or a created soul could be in two places at one time, there is no reason why it could not be in all places at one time. Therefore, no creature (neither a body nor a soul) can be in two places at one time.
God can do all things, but he cannot make a divine creature. God can do all things, but he cannot make 1 + 1 to equal 1. If there is a body in San Giovanni Rotondo and a body in the Holy House of Loretto, these cannot be the self-same body of St. Pio. 1 + 1 must always equal 2. (and the same holds true for the soul)
Bilocation is more than a natural phenomenon
A second line of criticism of my earlier post claimed that bilocation can be explained by reference either to quantum theory or to “worm holes” or to other such natural phenomena. To this I will respond only very briefly.
If bilocation is explained through the natural sciences, then it is no longer a miracle. To claim that bilocation is just a large scale version of quantum theory is to reduce the mystery to a natural cause. This would indeed be to “kill the mystery”.
Bilocation is not a sacramental presence
Neither will it suffice to compare the bilocations of the saints with the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. First, because Christ is not present in the Eucharist in the way that bodies are in a place (as Pope Paul VI states very clearly in Mysterium Fidei).
Furthermore, the miracle of bilocation is not a sacrament nor does it have the power and efficacy of a sacrament. Therefore, the bilocation of St. Pio cannot be a sacramental presence after the manner in which Christ is present in the Eucharistic species.
Something of a response
I offer my own attempt to understand something of this mystery, citing from my earlier article:
“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.”
A hint of an explanation
There was one particularly insightful comment from “Pelegrinus”, which I will include here below as a final consideration of the mystery of bilocation:
“Bio-location is certainly miraculous and a mystery (i.e., something not completely understood). It is, nonetheless, possible, since it actually does occur; and the apologist should defend the fact that it has occurred by explaining how it is possible.
“Bio-location, in the strict sense, is impossible; for, as Father Reginaldus [i.e. Fr. Ryan Erlenbush] has noted, no integral body can occupy two distinct places at the same time, the theories of modern physicists notwithstanding. The appearance of a body in two places at the same time, however, is possible. That is to say, a body actually in one location can appear also to be in another place simultaneously.
“God can generate an image or likeness of something, including of something absent (e.g., of a person’s body actually somewhere else). The best example of His doing so is the appearance of the body of Moses on Mount Tabor during the Transfiguration. Moses’ body was clearly somewhere else, but it appeared to be on the Mount; for God generated an image or likeness of his body there so that the chief Apostles would be aware of the Law-Giver’s presence (see ST IIIa, q. 45, a. 3, ad 2um).
“The person whose body appears present can also be present, in a sense, through his soul; for God can either unite a disembodied soul to a likeness of the soul’s former body, as St. Jerome suggests occurred in the case of Moses, or allow an embodied soul to perceive in an extraordinary way (i.e., otherwise than through the senses) the surroundings of the place where the image or likeness of the person’s body appears. The latter seems to have been the case for Padre Pio; and he describes the extraordinary perception involved as an “elongation,” i.e., a lengthening or enlargement of the soul’s perception. God can even cause the actions of the embodied soul in response to those surroundings to manifest themselves through the apparent actions of that image or likeness not united to the soul. The actual body united to the soul may appear to be motionless or unanimated during the soul’s response to the remote surroundings, as seems to have been the case in St. Anthony of Padua’s bi-location, since the soul’s action then pertains to another body, so to speak, and does not affect the body united to it.
“Bio-location properly understood can occur; and God has allowed it to occur for sufficiently important reasons.”
On a more personal note
I would add that I have great love for St. Pio and especially for this mystery of bilocation. As a seminarian I was personally inspired to believe in the Holy House of Loreto when I learned that Padre Pio had a habit of bilocating to the little chapel to bring his petitions to our heavenly Mother.
St. Pio of Pietrelcina, Pray for us!