Eulogy for Rev. Father Bernhard Josef Philberth
– † 8th August 2010 –

at Requiem Mass on 13th August 2010 at St. Thomas the Apostle, Blackburn

Bernhard Philberth
image: © Karl Philberth

Dear friends of Father Bernhard,

We have gathered here today to bid farewell to Fr. Bernhard Philberth, a very special and unusual human being, and to thank the Lord for the many ways in which he has touched our lives.

He was born on the 26th of March, 1927. His father was a judge and his mother a traditional housewife. He was brought up in the Catholic faith, although his mother was Lutheran. His childhood seems to have been happy, although he said that he was the odd one out at school. Fr. Bernhard and his younger brother, Professor Dr. Karl, both were very inquisitive children and he had some amusing stories to tell about their tinkering with chemicals and explosives. Bernhard’s teenage years were overshadowed by the hardships of the 2nd World War and he spent some time in an anti-aircraft defence unit at a very young age.

At the end of the war, Fr. Bernhard enrolled at university to study physics. Again and again he asked for, and was granted, deferral of his studies because he was involved with inventions or the writing of his first book. He never graduated. But, according to his brother Karl, once he immersed himself in the study of a subject, he became often more knowledgeable than the experts.

When still in his twenties, he became deeply involved in a project to dispose of radioactive waste in the icecap of Greenland. This project was based on a vision from God, which he experienced when on retreat at a monastery in Metten, Germany. This work, many inventions and the writing of several books, scientific papers and consulting work for the Vatican took up his time and prevented him from studying for the priesthood, which had been his dream since childhood.

Finally, at the age of 45, both he and his brother were ordained as priests after the Vatican had granted them dispensation from the ordinary studies for the priesthood, which usually takes several years. Fr. Bernhard and Fr. Karl underwent just 6 1/2 weeks of intensive instructions. They were ordained “ad titulum patrimonii”, which means “exempt”, and are answerable directly to His Holiness, the Pope. They did not receive any remuneration from the Church and earned their own keep through proceeds from their inventions.

After his ordination, Fr. Bernhard travelled to Australia at the invitation of the Australian Government, which sought his advice for its research in Antarctica. From then on in, Fr. Bernhard spent half of his time in Germany and half in Australia, a country he learned to love, not least because of its clear skies that allowed him to indulge in his passion of observing the night sky and, when he had access to observatories, also the more distant regions of the sky. Eventually Fr. Bernhard decided to make his home in Australia. After a heart attack in 1999, he was no longer able to fly to Germany.

Let us now spend a little while to reflect on Fr. Bernhard’s life and work. How do we describe Bernhard Philberth? How do we do justice to his monumental work?

He said once that someone described him as “the man with many faces”. What were these faces? These words and descriptions come to mind – inventor, scientist, thinker, visionary, prophet, priest, and philanthropist. In his seminal work, the book Der Dreieine (The Triune God), he writes about the threefold basic structure of anything that exists. Therefore, it seems fitting that we have a short look at his life from the three aspects of his persona – the personal, the intellectual and the spiritual.

Bernhard as a person was very outgoing and gregarious. He made friends easily and those of us who got to know him more intimately were greatly enriched but also intellectually challenged. He was searching and working in areas that were alien to many. His was a world of countless universes, of unreachable existential boundaries, of the formation of galaxies and the birth and death of stars, and – most importantly – of God’s laws governing it all. Who of us could see what he saw, understand what he understood and believe what he believed? But those of us who accepted him as guide into these realms were richly rewarded and deeply inspired.

To be his friend you had to have a great capacity to listen, not just for one hour, but for two, maybe three, until he was exhausted and you breathed a sigh of relief. The anecdotes, recollections, and lectures, just poured out of him. This trait of his sent some people away but also drew people to him who wanted to learn more about him and benefit from his vast knowledge and experience. When he had no one to talk to, Bernhard would talk to himself. He admitted that he was not quite sure whether his compulsion to talk was a curse or a blessing, but he was unable to stop himself.

He had a great sense of humour and could laugh about funny events in his life every time he related them to others. But he could also be gloomy and despondent, especially when confronted with the misery of other peoples’ lives. His will to help was boundless.

He was both tight with money and extremely generous. Many people benefited from his charity, especially the more than 2000 Philippine children from marginalized families, whose education he financed via the PH-Foundation, a trust fund that he and his brother Karl set up many years ago, handing over all their savings. The reason why he turned every penny over before spending it was that every spare dollar went to this trust fund. He loved looking for bargains. Fr. Bernhard never owned a car and relied on others to give him a lift. This was very fortunate in a way because it helped him to get to know more people. You could be sure to be greatly entertained when you offered him a lift.

His generosity is not only evident in the trust fund for the education of Philippine children, but he was also very generous with his time, especially if someone knocked on his door with personal problems. He would drop everything to help a troubled soul.

Father Bernhard had an adventurous spirit and was forever planning to go somewhere. In his younger years, this yearning took him to many exotic places, especially in Australia and South East Asia. It was only in 1993 that he settled in Australia and acquired a place of his own when he bought unit No. 11 in the St. Thomas Retirement Village in Forest Hill. He loved his unit and its surroundings, as well as the community that lived there. When in Germany, he stayed with his mother and brother.

His love and concern for his mother, who died a few years ago aged 103, and his brother was very touching. There was hardly a day when he did not speak to them on the phone, and he took a keen interest in their day-to-day lives and actions. Bernhard and his brother Karl worked together all their lives. They complemented each other admirably and depended on each other like no other two brothers I know. Bernhard was the brilliant ideas’ man, but lacked the scientific expertise to express some of his concepts scientifically. Karl was and is the meticulous scientist who tried to formulate Bernhard’s visions, a most difficult and frustrating task.

This brings me to Bernhard’s intellectual side. Many considered him to be a genius and this must be so when we look at his work. He made his first invention at the age of 13. Together with his brother Karl, he held over 100 patents, including the famous Philberth transformer. He discovered the Zeitgradient and, together with his brother, developed a new cosmology. He was an adviser to the Vatican and was a member of the Academy of Science of Chieti/Italy, the Academy of Science of Besançon/France, the Physics Society of Japan in Tokyo, and the International Glaciological Society in London. He wrote several books, some of them, like the book Der Dreieine, containing the most unique insights. His book Christian Prophecy and Nuclear Energy warns the world in grim detail about the consequences of nuclear war and helped to pave the way for nuclear disarmament. His last book, Revelation, gives us an insight into what occupied him most deeply. In this book, he builds a bridge between the fundamental Christian teaching and the present-day knowledge of science. It is a beautiful combination of sincere faith and profound knowledge.

Bernhard always emphasized that God gave him much of his knowledge and that he could not personally take credit for it. That is why he did not seek or accept public recognition through titles, honours, or awards. He was ordained with the instruction to continue with his scientific work and make it available to the Vatican. His books do not carry the imprimatur of the Catholic hierarchy. They are meant to provide a fresh outlook and food for thought. In his later years, Fr. Bernhard was deeply troubled by the thought that he should perhaps have accepted an offer from the Vatican, many years ago, to live and work in Rome so that his formidable mind and capacity for problem-solving could have benefited the Catholic Church. But in those days he was afraid that life in Rome would be detrimental to his scientific work and peace of mind.

During the years that we knew him he worked, among many other things, on an engine that runs on low-grade oil and other fuels. Lately he was working on an invention to cope with the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Let us now look at Father Bernhard’s spiritual side. All of his life, he was searching for answers to the question of the meaning of life. As a teenager he studied Buddhism and was deeply touched by its teaching. However, in his twenties he came to the realization that it is impossible for human beings to save themselves by their own efforts and that they are in need of redemption, which is offered to us only by Jesus Christ. This convinced him of the validity of the Christian teaching and his Catholic faith. For many years he spent a few weeks each year in retreat at the monastery in Metten, Germany. It was there that he experienced the first of several events in his life when, in his words, he experienced the presence of God. These numinous experiences were pivotal to his work, his writings, and his actions. He became a “fighter for God” of such deep faith and conviction that he was able to inspire and convert countless people.

His acceptance into the priesthood was one of the happiest moments of his life, and what a wonderful priest he became – teaching, guiding, and comforting his flock, and others as well, in his inimitable way. He was a true father figure and people from all walks of life – ordinary people and those in high places, politicians, academics, professionals, artists, students, young and old, even Aboriginal elders – turned to him for advice and help, and they all got a sympathetic hearing and, in many cases, invaluable advice and consolation.

Fr. Bernhard had a most sensitive conscience and took his pastoral duties very seriously. This included also the duty to alert people to their wrongdoing, which caused a lot of friction in his life. But he never chose the easy way out of a conflict situation to make life more comfortable for himself. He was first and foremost a priest and pastor.

His greatest joy was the celebration of the Eucharist, whenever and wherever he had the opportunity – at a hermitage in the outback all by himself, or in the little private chapel in the family home in Munich with his mother and brother, in large cathedrals with thousands of participants, or at St. Christopher’s in Camberwell, or lately at St. Thomas the Apostle in Blackburn, or in the hall of his retirement village, or in countless other churches in Germany and Australia.

Fr. Bernhard’s invaluable legacy is first and foremost in the books he wrote, which are like no other books, containing thoughts, analogies and insights never heard of before. His most sincere desire was to help the Church to develop a theology that did justice to the discoveries in science without betraying its essential Christian teaching.

It is impossible to do justice to this great human being with these few observations. All we can do is cherish our memories of him and, perhaps, foster his work by inviting as many people as possible to read his books.

Ever after his heart attack, his health was fragile. Every now and then he faced a major health crisis and on many occasions we thought that we would lose him. But he soldiered on and continued in his work, even coming up with new inventions during his last months. Most recently he mentioned to his friends that he was getting very tired and was longing to go to his Heavenly Father.

Last week he was suffering from a bacterial bronchitis, which developed into pneumonia last Sunday. When he was admitted to St. Vincent’s, he refused any further treatment and peacefully took his last breath in the late afternoon.

Since then we have received many expressions of condolences from friends in Australia and overseas. I would also like to share with you that the Reverend Mother Mary John, Prioress of the Community of Benedictine Sisters at St. Scholastica’s Priory in Manila, who is head of the PH-Foundation, told us that her community will offer Holy Mass with the Philberth scholars around Metro manila and neighbouring provinces on Saturday, 14th August. All the other seventeen communities throughout the Philippines, where there are scholars, will also offer Holy Mass for Fr. Bernhard at different dates.

It was Fr. Bernhard’s wish that his ashes be interred in the Memorial Garden of St. Joan of Arc’s Church in Brighton. Whenever he visited us, he always spent some time there and often told us that he was so pleased that this would be his final place of rest.

Vale Fr. Bernhard, we miss you as a true friend, a great thinker and a most inspiring spiritual guide. Rest in Peace.

(Written by Waltraud Uhlenbruch who translated some of his works and currently completes his memoirs)