The Woman and the Atom
by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen


There is an excuse for some anxiety today, but no one has a right to be without hope. Yet the prophets of gloom abound, and the disciples of hope are few. But before giving reasons for hope, it is  well to inquire why there is so much apprehension today. Man is living in fear, but it is different from any fear in the past --- first, because man used to fear God, with a filial fear which made him shrink from hurting the One Whom he loved.  Later on, man feared not God, but his fellowman, as the world shuddered under two World Wars in twenty-one years. Now we have come to the last and most awful of all the fears, in which man trembles before the littlest thing in the universe --- the atom!

The atomic bomb has suddenly made all humanity fear that which the individual alone previously feared, namely, death. Death has unexpectedly become a phenomenon that not only the person must face, but society or civilization itself. Those who denied personal immortality used to take refuge in collective immortality, saying that, although the individual perished, society would be preserved. The atomic bomb has made collective immortality a myth and restored personal immortality as the great problem of our age.
The second reason for fear is that religion has again become the primary factor of human life, and not for religious but for political reasons. All through pre-Christian and Christian history, wars were religious. The Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, all fought religious wars.  They fought them in the names of their gods, and against peoples who believed in other kinds of gods. In Christian times, wars were still religious.  Islamism is a religion and, as such, crushed  Christianity, reducing the number of Bishops in Africa from seven hundred and fifty in the seventh century, to only five in the eleventh century, so that Africa now has to be re-evangelized. Islamism is a religion believing in God but fighting against those who believe that God revealed Himself in His Divine Son, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. There was no quarrel among the combatants in the older wars about the end of man, namely, his union with God.  There was only a quarrel about the means to that end.

But today all this has changed. There are no more struggles of the gods against gods, or of inferior religions against Christianity, but rather the absolutely new phenomenon of an antireligious force opposing all religion. Communism is not an atheism which intellectually denies God in the manner of the sophomore who has just read the first fifteen pages of a textbook in biology. Rather, Communism is the will to destroy God. It does not so much negate the existence of God; rather it challenges Him, changes His essence into evil, and makes man in the form of a dictator, the Lord and Master of the world.
Whether we will it or not, we are being confronted not with a choice between religions, but with the supreme alternative of God or anti-God. Never before were democracy and belief in God so nearly identified; never before were atheism and tyranny so much a twin. The preservation of civilization and culture is now one with the preservation of religion. If the anti-God forces of the world conquer, culture and civilization will disappear, and we will have to start all over again.
This brings us to the third characteristic of our modern fear, namely the dissolving of man into nature. Man to be happy must maintain two relationships: one vertical with God, the other horizontal with fellowmen. In modern times, man first serves his vertical relations with God by indifference and irreligion, then his horizontal relations with neighbor by war and civil strife. Man tried to compensate for the loss of both by the new dimension of depth, in which he sought to lose himself in nature. He, who once was rightly proud of being made to the image and likeness of God, began to boast that he was his own creator and that he made God to his image and likeness. From this false humanism came the descent from the human to the animal, when man admitted he came from the beast, and immediately proceeded to prove it by acting like a beast in war. More recently he has made himself one with nature, saying that he is nothing more than a complex arrangement of chemical elements. He now calls himself "the atomic man,' as Theology becomes Psychology, Psychology becomes Biology, Biology becomes Physics.
We can understand what Cournot meant when he said, that God in the twentieth century would leave men to the fate of mechanical laws of which He Himself is the author. The atomic bomb acts on humanity as excessive alcohol acts on a human. If a man abuses the nature of alcohol and drinks to excess, alcohol renders its own judgment. It says to the alcoholic: "God made me. He intended that I be used rationally, that is, for healing and for conviviality.  But you have abused me. I shall therefore turn against you, because you have turned against me. From now on you will have headaches, dizziness, an upset stomach; you will lose your reason; you will become a slave to me, and this although I want you not."

So with the atom. It says to man: "God made me. He put atomic fission in the universe.  That is how the sun lights the world. The great power which the Omnipotence has locked within my heart was made to serve you for peaceful purposes: to light your cities, to drive your motors, to ease the burdens of men. But instead, like Prometheus, you have stolen this fire from heaven and used it for the first time to destroy noncombatants. You did not first use electricity to kill a man, but you first used atomic fission to annihilate cities. For that reason, I shall turn against you, make you fear what you should love, make millions of hearts shrink in terror from your enemies, doing to you what you have done to them, and turn humanity into a victim of Frankenstein, cowering in bomb shelters from the very monsters you have created."

It is not that God has abandoned the world, but that the world has abandoned God and cast its lot with nature divorced from Nature's God. Man throughout history has always become wicked when, turning his back on God, he identified himself with nature. The new name for nature is Science. Science rightly understood means reading the Wisdom of God in Nature, which God made. Science wrongly understood means reading the proofs of the Book of Nature while denying that the Book ever had an Author. Nature or Science is a servant of man under God; but divorced from God, Nature or Science is a tyrant, and the atom bomb is the symbol of that tyranny.

Since man trembles before Nature without God, the only hope for mankind must be found in nature itself.  It is as if God in His Mercy, when man turned his head away from the heavens, still left hope for him in the very nature toward which he now lowers his eyes.  There is Hope and great Hope, too. The Hope is ultimately in God, but people are so far away from God they cannot immediately make the leap.  We have to start with the world as it is.  The Divine seems far away. The start back to God must begin with nature.  But is there anything unspoiled and unshattered in all nature with which we can start the way back?  There is one thing, which Wordsworth called our "tainted nature's solitary boast."  That hope is in The Woman. She is not a goddess, she is not divine, she is entitled to no adoration. But she came out of our physical and cosmic nature so holy and good that when God came to this earth He chose her to be His Mother and the Woman of the world.

It is particularly interesting that the theology of the Russians, before they were overwhelmed by the cold heart of the anti-God, taught that when the world rejected the Heavenly Father He sent His Divine Son, Jesus Christ, to illumine the world. Then they went on to predict that, when the world would reject Our Lord as it has done today, on that Dark Night the light of His Mother would arise to illumine the darkness and lead the world to peace. The beautiful revelation of Our Blessed Mother at Fatima in Portugal from May to October, 1917, was another proof of the Russian thesis that, when the world would fight against the Saviour, He would send His Mother to save us. And her greatest Revelation took place in the very month the Bolshevik Revolution began.
What was said on those occasions is too well known to be repeated. Our present concern is with the Dance of the Sun which took place on October 13, 1917. Those who love the Mother of Our Lord need no further evidence of this event. Since those who unfortunately do not know either would take proof only from those who reject both Our Lord and His Mother, I offer this description of the phenomenon by the atheist editor of the anarchist Portuguese newspaper O Seculo, who was one among the 70,000 who witnessed the incident that day.  It was "a spectacle unique and incredible. ... One can see the immense crowd turn toward the sun which reveals itself free of the clouds in full noon. The great star of day makes one think of a silver plaque, and it is possible to look straight at it without the least discomfort. ... The astonished eyes of the people, full of terror, with heads uncovered, gaze into the blue of the sky. The sun has trembled, and has made some brusque movements, unprecedented, and outside of all cosmic laws. According to the typical expressions of the peasants 'the sun danced.' The sun turned around on itself like a wheel of fireworks, and it fell almost to the point of burning the earth with its rays. ... It remains for those competent to pronounce on the danse macabre of the sun, which today at Fatima has made Hosannas burst from the breasts of the faithful and has naturally impressed even freethinkers and other persons not at all interested in religious matter."

    Another atheistic and antireligious sheet, O Ordem, wrote: "The sun is sometimes surrounded with crimson flames, at other times aureoled with yellow and at still others, red; it seemed to revolve with a very rapid movement of rotation, apparently detaching itself from the sky, and approached the earth while radiating strong heat."

    Why should Almighty God have chosen to verify the 1917 message of Our Lady about the end of World War I, about the beginning of World War II in 1939 if men did not repent, through nature's one indispensable light and heat? We may only conjecture.

    There are three possible ways of interpreting the Miracle of the Sun. The first is to regard it as a warning of the atomic bomb, which, like a falling sun, would darken the world. It conceivably might be a portent of the day when man, Prometheus-like, would snatch fire from the heavens and then rain it down as death on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
On the other hand, it could be seen as a sign of hope, namely, that the Woman who came out of nature is mightier than the forces of nature. The atomic bomb explodes through fission, or one atom rending and tearing another atom. But atomic fission is the way the sun lights the world.  God put atomic fission in the universe; otherwise we would not have discovered it. At Fatima, the fact that Mary could take this great center and seat of atomic power and make it her plaything, the fact that she could swing the sun "like a trinket at her wrist," is a proof that God has given her power over it, not for death, but for light and life and hope. As Scripture foretold: "And now, in heaven, a great portent appeared; a woman that wore the sun for her mantle." (Apoc. 12:1.)

    There is a third way of viewing the Miracle of the Sun and that is to regard it as a miniature and a cameo of what may yet happen to the world, namely, some sudden cataclysm or catastrophe which would make the world shake in horror as the 70,000 shook at Fatima that day. This catastrophe would be a precocious or uncontrolled explosion of an atomic bomb which would literally shake the earth. This is not beyond the realm of possibility. Einstein and Lindbergh in their scientific writings have mentioned it as a danger. But better than either testimony is the address the Holy Father gave at the opening session of the Pontifical Academy of Science on February 21, 1943 --- two years before the first atomic bomb was dropped.

Since atoms are extremely small it was not thought seriously that they might also acquire practical importance. Today, instead, such a question has taken an unexpected form following the results of artificial radioactivity. It was, in fact, established that in the disintegration, which the atom of uranium undergoes when bombarded by neutrons, two or three neutrons are freed, each launching itself --- one being able to meet and smash another uranium atom.

From special calculation it has been ascertained that in such a way (neutron bombardment causing a breakdown in the uranium atom) in one cubic meter of oxide power of uranium, in less than one one-hundredth of a second, there develops enough energy to elevate more than sixteen miles a weight of a billion tons: a sum of energy which could substitute for many years the action of all the great power plants of the world.

Above all, therefore, it should be of utmost importance that the energy originated by such a machine should not be let loose to explode --- but a way found to control such power with suitable chemical means. Otherwise there could result, not only in a single place but also for our entire planet, a dangerous catastrophe.

    On October 13, 1917, believers and unbelievers prostrated themselves upon the ground during the Miracle of the Sun, most of them pleading to God for Mercy and Forgiveness. That whirling sun, which spun like a giant wheel and thrust itself to the earth as if it would burn it with its rays, may have been the harbinger of a world spectacle that will draw millions to their knees in a rebirth of faith. And as Mary revealed herself in that first Miracle of the Sun, so may we look forward to another revelation of her power when the world has its next rehearsal for the Dies Irae.

Devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is actually a petition to a Woman to save man from nature made destructive through the rebellious intellect of man. At other moments in history, she was a Mediatrix of Her Divine Son for man; but here she is a Mediatrix for nature. She seizes the original atomic power which is the sun and proves it is hers to use for peace.  And yet it is not apart from man that she would save him from nature, as it was not apart from her free consent that God would save humanity from sin. Man must cooperate through penance. At Salette, Our Lady asked for penance. At Lourdes, three times the Blessed Mother said: "Penance, penance, penance." At Fatima, the same penitential antiphon is struck time and time again.  The atom will not destroy man, if man will not destroy himself. An atom in revolt is only a symbol of man in revolt. But humanity in repentance will purchase a nature in complete control. Like the threatened destruction of Nineveh, the threat of another World War is conditional. The Blessed Mother revealed at Fatima in 1917 that World War I would end in another year. If men repented, she said, a great era of peace and prosperity would come to the world. But if not, another World War, worse than the first, would begin in the reign of the next Pontiff. (Pius XI.) The Civil War in Spain in 1936 was thus looked upon by Heaven as the curtain raiser and the prologue of World War II. This war would be the means by which "God will punish the world for its crimes by means of war, of hunger, and of persecution of the Church and the Holy Father.

"To prevent this I come to ask the consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart and the Communion of Reparation on the first Saturdays. Russia will scatter her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have to suffer much, and various nations will be annihilated."

There then comes a missing paragraph, which the Church has not yet given to the world. It probably refers to these times. Then, as if to indicate that it will be a Time of Trouble, comes the concluding paragraph: "In the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and it will be converted and a certain period of peace will be granted to the world."

Repentance, prayer, sacrifice --- these are conditions of peace, for they are the means by which man is remade. Fatima throws a new light on Russia, for it makes a distinction between Russia and the Soviets. It is not the Russian people that must be conquered in war; they have already suffered enough since 1917. It is Communism that must be crushed.  This can be done by a Revolution from within. It is well to remember that Russia has not one, but two atomic bombs. Her second bomb is the pent-up sufferings of her people under the yoke of slavery, and when that explodes it will be with a force a thousand times greater than that which comes from the fission of an atom! We need a Revolution, too, as well as Russia. Our revolution must be from within our hearts, that is, by the remaking of our lives. As we proceed with our Revolution, the Revolution in Russia will grow apace.

O Mary, we have exiled Thy Divine Son from our lives, our councils, our education and families! Come with the light of the sun as the symbol of His Power! Heal our wars, our dark unrest; cool the cannon's lips so hot with war! Take our minds off the atom and our souls out of the muck of nature! Give us rebirth in Thy Divine Son, us, the poor children of the earth grown old with age! "Advance Woman, in Thy Assault upon Omnipotence!" Shame us all into enlisting as Thy warriors of peace and love!



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