Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955) was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist.  When he was 12, he went to Jesuit college.  In 1899, he entered the Jesuit novitiate where he began a philosophical, theological and spiritual career.  From 1905 to 1908, he taught physics and chemistry  at the Jesuit College in Cairo, Egypt. Teilhard studied theology in United Kingdom from 1908 to 1912. There he synthesized his scientific, philosophical and theological knowledge in the light of evolution. His reading of L'Évolution Créatrice (The Creative Evolution) by Henri Bergson was, he said, the "catalyst of a fire which devoured already its heart and its spirit." Teilhard was ordained a priest in 1911

From 1912 to 1914, Teilhard worked in the paleontology laboratory of the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle, in Paris. Later he studied elsewhere in Europe. In June 1912 he formed part of the original digging team, with Arthur Smith Woodward and Charles Dawson, to perform follow-up investigations at the Piltdown site, after the discovery of the first fragments of the (fraudulent) "Piltdown Man", with some even suggesting he participated in the hoax.

  • 1923: He traveled to China.  He would remain there more or less twenty years, with many voyages throughout the world.
  • In 1925, Teilhard was ordered by the Jesuit Superior General to leave his teaching position in France and to sign a statement withdrawing his controversial statements regarding the doctrine of original sin. Rather than leave the Jesuit order, Teilhard signed the statement and left for China.
  • 1926: His superiors in the Jesuit Order forbade him to teach any longer
  • 1930–1931: During a conference in Paris, Teilhard stated: "For the observers of the Future, the greatest event will be the sudden appearance of a collective humane conscience and a human work to make."
  • 1933: Rome ordered him to give up his post in Paris.
  • 1939: Rome banned his work L’Énergie Humaine.
  • 1941: He submitted to Rome his most important work, Le Phénomène Humain.
  • 1947: Rome forbade him to write or teach on philosophical subjects.
  • 1948: He was called to Rome by the Superior General of the Jesuits who hoped to acquire permission from the Holy See for the publication of his most important work Le Phénomène Humain. But the prohibition to publish it issued in 1944, was again renewed. He was also forbidden to take a teaching post in the College de France.
  • 1949: Permission to publish Le Groupe Zoologique was refused.
  • 1957: The Supreme Authority of the Holy Office, in a decree forbade his works to be retained in libraries, including those of religious institutes. His books were not to be sold in Catholic bookshops and were not to be translated in other languages.
  • 1958: All Jesuit publications in Spain carried a notice from the Spanish Provincial of the Jesuits, that his works had been published in Spanish without previous ecclesiastical examination and in defiance of the decrees of the Holy See.
  • 1962: A decree of the Holy Office, under the authority of Pope John XXIII warned that “... it is obvious that in philosophical and theological matters, the said works (de Chardin’s) are replete with ambiguities or rather with serious errors which offend Catholic doctrine. ... For this reason, the most eminent and most revered Fathers of the Holy Office exhort all Ordinaries as well as the superiors of Religious institutes, rectors of seminaries and presidents of universities, effectively to protect the minds, particularly of the youth, against the dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and of his followers”.
  • 1963: The Vicariate of Rome (a diocese ruled in the name of Pope Paul VI by his Cardinal Vicar) in a decree, required that Catholic booksellers in Rome should withdraw from circulation the works of de Chardin, together with those books which favour his erroneous doctrines.

Rehabilitation and Incorporation into Catholic Theology

Shortly thereafter, prominent clerics began a strong theological defense of Teilhard's works. Among them were Henri de Lubac (later a Cardinal)and in 1968 a bright young German theologian, Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) spoke glowingly of Teilhard's Christology in Ratzinger's famous Introduction to Christianity:

Over the next several decades prominent theologians and Church leaders, including leading Cardinals, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI all wrote approvingly of Teilhard's ideas. In 1981, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, on behalf of Pope John Paul II, wrote on the front page of the Vatican newspaper, l'Osservatore Romano:

"What our contemporaries will undoubtedly remember, beyond the difficulties of conception and deficiencies of expression in this audacious attempt to reach a synthesis, is the testimomy of the coherent life of a man possessed by Christ in the depths of his soul. He was concerned with honoring both faith and reason, and anticipated the response to John Paul II's appeal: 'Be not afraid, open, open wide to Christ the doors of the immense domains of culture, civilization, and progress."

Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J. said in 2004:
"In his own poetic style, the French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin liked to meditate on the Eucharist as the firstfruits of the new creation. In an essay called The Monstrance he describes how, kneeling in prayer, he had a sensation that the Host was beginning to grow until at last, through its mysterious expansion, 'the whole world had become incandescent, had itself become like a single giant Host.' Although it would probably be incorrect to imagine that the universe will eventually be transubstantiated, Teilhard correctly identified the connection between the Eucharist and the final glorification of the cosmos."

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn wrote in Creation, Evolution, and a Rational Faith (2007): "Hardly anyone else has tried to bring together the knowl­edge of Christ and the idea of evolution as the scientist (paleontologist) and theologian Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., has done. ... His fascinating vision ... has represented a great hope, the hope that faith in Christ and a scientific approach to the world can be brought together. ... These brief references to Teilhard cannot do justice to his efforts. The fascination which Teilhard de Chardin exer­cised for an entire generation stemmed from his radical man­ner of looking at science and Christian faith together."

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (before his ascension to Pope Benedict XVI), in his book Spirit of the Liturgy (2000) incorporates Teilhard's vision as a touchstone of the Catholic Mass:

“And so we can now say that the goal of worship and the goal of creation as a whole are one and the same—divinization, a world of freedom and love. But this means that the historical makes its appearance in the cosmic. The cosmos is not a kind of closed building, a stationary container in which history may by chance take place. It is itself movement, from its one beginning to its one end. In a sense, creation is history. Against the background of the modern evolutionary world view, Teilhard de Chardin depicted the cosmos as a process of ascent, a series of unions. From very simple beginnings the path leads to ever greater and more complex unities, in which multiplicity is not abolished but merged into a growing synthesis, leading to the “Noosphere”, in which spirit and its understanding embrace the whole and are blended into a kind of living organism. Invoking the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, Teilhard looks on Christ as the energy that strives toward the Noosphere and finally incorporates everything in its “fullness’. From here Teilhard went on to give a new meaning to Christian worship: the transubstantiated Host is the anticipation of the transformation and divinization of matter in the christological “fullness”. In his view, the Eucharist provides the movement of the cosmos with its direction; it anticipates its goal and at the same time urges it on.”

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said in 2009: "By now, no one would dream of saying that [Teilhard] is a heterodox author who shouldn’t be studied."

Teachings

In his posthumously published book, The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard writes of the unfolding of the material cosmos, from primordial particles to the development of life, human beings and the noosphere, and finally to his vision of the Omega Point in the future, which is "pulling" all creation towards it. He was a leading proponent of orthogenesis, the idea that evolution occurs in a directional, goal driven way, argued in terms that today go under the banner of convergent evolution. Teilhard argued in Darwinian terms with respect to biology, and supported the synthetic model of evolution, but argued in Lamarckian terms for the development of culture, primarily through the vehicle of education.

Teilhard makes sense of the universe by its evolutionary process. He interprets complexity as the axis of evolution of matter into a geosphere, a biosphere, into consciousness (in man,) and then to supreme consciousness (the Omega Point.)

Teilhard's life work was predicated on the conviction that human spiritual development is moved by the same universal laws as material development. He wrote, "...everything is the sum of the past" and "...nothing is comprehensible except through its history. 'Nature' is the equivalent of 'becoming', self-creation: this is the view to which experience irresistibly leads us. ... There is nothing, not even the human soul, the highest spiritual manifestation we know of, that does not come within this universal law." There is no doubt that The Phenomenon of Man represents Teilhard's attempt at reconciling his religious faith with his academic interests as a paleontologist. One particularly poignant observation in Teilhard's book entails the notion that evolution is becoming an increasingly optional process. Teilhard points to the societal problems of isolation and marginalization as huge inhibitors of evolution, especially since evolution requires a unification of consciousness. He states that "no evolutionary future awaits anyone except in association with everyone else." Teilhard argued that the human condition necessarily leads to the psychic unity of humankind, though he stressed that this unity can only be voluntary; this voluntary psychic unity he termed "unanimization." Teilhard also states that "evolution is an ascent toward consciousness", giving encephalization as an example of early stages, and therefore, signifies a continuous upsurge toward the Omega Point which for all intents and purposes, is God.

Bibliography

Teilhard de Chardin has two comprehensive works. First, The Phenomenon of Man, sets forth a sweeping account of the unfolding of the cosmos and the evolution of matter to humanity to ultimately a reunion with Christ. Following the leads of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, he abandoned literal interpretations of creation in the Book of Genesis in favor of allegorical and theological interpretations.

The second comprehensive work is The Divine Milieu, in which he attempted to do two things. First, in the 19th and early 20th centuries there was a belief among some Catholics and other Christians that in order to be “holy” one had to devote himself or herself to purely religious activity and that secular work had no lasting value. Teilhard de Chardin, consistent with the Jesuit motto of “finding God in all things”, wanted to demonstrate that secular work (including his own scientific work) was an integral element of creation and the Incarnation, so that for religious reasons, Christians should be committed to whatever work they were doing and offering it up for the service of God. Teilhard wants to show how all human activities and efforts toward personal growth and human progress can be used to help the growth and development of the Body of Christ. Not only are human efforts useful in this regard, but they are also somehow necessary. Even though people perform these actions as ordinary human beings, and they look like ordinary human actions, they are simultaneously being transformed in the divine milieu and become actions done in, with, and through Christ.

  • Le Phénomène Humain [The Phenomenon of Man] (1955), written 1938–40, scientific exposition of Teilhard's theory of evolution
  • Letters From a Traveler (1956), written 1923–55
  • Le Groupe Zoologique Humain [Man's Place in Nature] (1956), written 1949
  • Le Milieu Divin [The Divine Milieu] (1957), written 1926–27
  • L'Avenir de l'Homme (1959) essays written 1920–52, on the evolution of consciousness (noosphere)
  • The Future of Man (1964) Image 2004
  • Hymn of the Universe (1961)
  • L'Energie Humaine [Human Energy] (1962), written 1931–39
  • L'Activation de l'Energie [Activation of Energy] (1963), written 1939–55
  • Christianity and Evolution
  • The Heart of the Matter
  • Toward the Future

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Terminology

complexification - the genesis of increasingly elaborate organisation during cosmogenesis (subatomic units - atoms - inorganic molekules - organic molekules - subcellular living units / self-replicating assemblages of molekules - cells - multicellular individuals - cephalised metazoa with brains - primitive man - civilised societies)

hominisation - the process by which the original proto-human Stock became (and is still becoming) more truly human, the process by which potential man realised more and more of his possibilities. (Progressive psychological evolution).

noogenesis - gradual evolution of mind or mental Properties

noosphere - a New layer on the earth's surface, a "thinking layer", superposed on the living layer (bisophere) and the lifeless layer of inorganic material (lithosphere).

ultra-hominisation - the deducible future stage of the process in which man will have so far transcended himself as to demand some New apellation.

 


Quotes from The Phenomenon of Man:

  • Life is rise of consciousness. p. 169
  • Geogenesis promoted to biogenesis, which turned out in the en to be nothing else than psychogenesis. p. 201
  • Outside and above the biosphere there is the noosphere. p. 202
  • With hominisation ... we have the beginning of a new age. .. The earth ... finds its soil. p. 202
  • It (evolution) is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow  and which they must satisfy henceforward if they are to be thinkable and true.  Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow. p. 241
  • The very act by which the fine edge of our mnds penetrates the absolute is a phenomenon, as it were of emergence. p. 243
  • ... evolution is now ... gaining the psychic zones of the world and transferring to the spiritual constructions of life ... p. 243
  • Man discovers that he is nothing else than evolution become conscious of itself, to borrow Julian Huxley's striking expression. p. 243
  • Man is not the centre of the universe as once we thought in our simplicity, but something much more wonderful - the arrow pointing the way to the final unification of the world in terms of life. p. 247
  • ... there is for us, in the future, under some form or another, at least collective, not only survival but also super-life. p. 257
  • Evolution = Rise of consciousness, Rise of consciousness = Effect of union. p. 268
  • The outcome of the world, the gates of the future, the entry into the super-human - these are not thrown open to a few of the privileged nor to one chosen people to the exclusion of all others. They will open only to an advance of all together, in a direction in which all together can join and find completion in a spiritual renovation of the earth, a renovation whose physical degree of reality we must now consider and whose outline we must make clearer. p. 269
  • No evolutionary future awaits man except in association with all other men. p. 271
  • Yes, from now on we envisage, beside and above individual realities, the collective realities that are not reducible to the component element, yet are in their own way as objective as it is. p. 272
  • We are faced with a harmonized collectivity of consciousnesses equivalent to a sort of super-consciousness. The idea is that the earth not only becoming covered by myriads of grains of thought, but becoming enclosed in a single thinking envelope so as to form, functionally, no more than a single vast grain of thought on the sidereal scale, the plurality of individual reflections grouping themselves together and reinforcing one another in the act of a single unanimous reflection. p. 276-277
  • Peace through conquest, work in joy.  These are waiting for us ...  in the unanimous construction of a spirit of the earth. p. 278
  • the great human machine is designed to work and must work -  by producing a super-abundance of mind. p. 282
  • Personality is seen as a specifically corpuscular and ephemeral property; a prison from which we must try to escape. p. 284
  • it (evolution) should culminate forwards in some sort of supreme consciousness. p. 284
  • Is the Kingdom of God a big family? Yes, in a sense it is. But in another sense it is a prodigious biological operation - that of the Redeeming Incarnation. p. 321
  • As early as in St. Paul and St. John we read that to create, to fulfil and to purify the world is, for God, to unify it by uniting it organically with himself.  How does he unify it? By partially immersing himself in things, by becoming 'element', and then, from this point of vantage in the heart of matter, assuming control and leadership of what we now call evolution. p. 322
  • Then, as St. Paul tells us, God shall be in all. This is indeed a superior form of 'pantheism' without trace of the poison of adulteration or annihilation: the expectation of perfect unity, steeped in which each element will reach its consummation at the same time as the universe. p. 322
  • A very real pantheism if you like but an absolutely legitimate pantheism - for if, in the last resort, the reflective centres of the world are effectively 'one with God', this state is obtained not by identification (God becoming all) but by the differentiating and communicating action of love (God all in everyone). p. 338

Quotes from Christianity and Evolution:

  • p. 240: “The fate of mankind, as well as of religion, depends upon the emergence of a new faith in the future.” ... “As a result, then, of life's very recent passing through a new critical point in the course of its development, no older religious form or formulation can any longer (either factually or logically) satisfy to the full our need and capacity for worship - satisfy, I mean, what has now become permanently their specifically human quality. So true is this, that a 'religion of the future' (definable as a 'religion of evolution') cannot fail to appear before long: a new mysticism of evolution, the germ of which (as it happens when anything is born) must be recognizable somewhere in our environment here and now."
  • "(C)reation is not a periodic intrusion of the First Cause: it is an act co-extensive with the whole duration of the universe. God has been creating ever since the beginning of time, and, seen from within, his creation ... takes the form of a transformation."
  • "I believe that the universe is an evolution. I believe that evolution proceeds towards spirit. I believe that spirit is fully realized in a form of personality. I believe that the supremely personal is the universal Christ."
  • "Personally, I have no difficulty in accepting miracles, providing ... the miracle does not run counter to the continually more numerous and exact rules we are finding in the natural evolution of the world."
  • "The existence of a hell is... one of the most alarming and most criticized aspects of the Christian Creed. Yet, when this dogma is reduced to its essence, nothing is more in harmony with the outlook of a universe in evolution. Every evolution ... involves selection and rejection."
  • "Not only among the Gentiles or the rank and file of the faithful, but even in the religious orders themselves, Christianity still to some degree provides a shelter for the 'modern soul,' but it no longer clothes it, nor satisfies it, nor leads it. Something has gone wrong ... The question is, what are we looking for?"
  • "In future only a God who is functionally and totally 'Omega' can satisfy us. Where, then, shall we find such a God? And who will at last give evolution its OWN God?"

Other quotes:

  • How I Believe, p. 130: ... a general convergence of religions upon a universal Christ who fundamentally satisfies them all: that seems to me to be the only possible conversion of the world, and the only form in which a religion of the future can be conceived.
  • Human Energy, p. 37: The age of the nations has passed.  Now, unless we wish to perish we must shake off Our old prejudices and build the Earth.
  • Human Energy, p. 137: Under the combined effect of the material needs and spiritual affinities of life, humanity all around us is beginning to emerge from impersonality and assume some sort of heart and face. With the recording of tis mysterious birth, the most general Picture so farvouchsafed us to the biological current that is drawing us on is completed and disappears from sight.  The organization of human energy, taken as a Whole, is directed and pushes us towards the ultimate formation, over and above each personal element, of a common soul of humanity.
  • The Future of Man, p. 120: For men upon Earth, all the Earth, to learn to love one another, it is not enough that they should know themselves to be members of one and the same thing; in 'planetising' themselves they must acquire the consciousness, without losing themselves, of becoming one and the same person.
  • The Future of Man, p. 138-139: It would seem, then, that the grand phenomenon which we are now witnessing represents a New and possibly final division of Mankind, based no longer on wealth but on belief in progress. ... On one hand the cast-offs; the other, the agents and elements of planetisation.
  • Letters from a Traveller, p. 275: It seems obvious to me that the moment has come when mankind is going to be divided (or will have to make the choise) between faith and non-faith in the earth's collective spiritual progress.
  • Letters to two Friends, p. 154: People have to decide for or against progress, now.  And those who say no have just to be dropped behind.  And those who say yes will soon discover that they speak the same language and even worship the same God.

Unreferenced quotes:

  • It is the law of the universe that in all things there is prior existence. Before every form there is a prior, but lesser evolved form. Each one of us is evolving towards the godhead.
  • "What I am proposing to do is to narrow that gap between pantheism and Christianity by bringing out what one might call the Christian soul of Pantheism or the pantheist aspect of Christianity.
  • "I can be saved only by becoming one with the universe."
  • Christianity and Evolution, SCP Journal (19:2/3), p. 56: "I believe that the Messiah whom we await, whom we all without any doubt await, is the universal Christ; that is to say, the Christ of Evolution."
  • “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
  • “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
  • Toward the Furure, p. 86-87: “The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”
  • “Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.”
  • “There is almost a sensual longing for communion with others who have a large vision. The immense fulfillment of the friendship between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality impossible to describe.”
  • “We are one, after all, you and I, together we suffer, together exist, and forever will recreate each other.”
  • “You have told me, O God, to believe in hell. But you have forbidden me to think...of any man as damned”
  • “Matter is spirit moving slowly enough to be seen.”
  • “The most telling and profound way of describing the evolution of the universe would undoubtedly be to trace the evolution of love.”
  • Love is a sacred reserve of energy; it is like the blood of spiritual evolution.
  • Building the Earth, p. 43: “The phrase ‘Sense of the Earth” should be understood to mean the passionate concern for our common destiny which draws the thinking part of life ever further onward. In principle there is no feeling which has a firm foundation in nature, or greater power. But in fact there is also no feeling which awakens so belatedly, since it can become explicit only when our consciousness has expanded beyond the broadening, but still far too restricted, circles of family, country and race, and has finally discovered that the only truly natural and real human Unity is the Spirit of Earth.”
  • Human Energies, p. 67-68: “Human Energy presents itself to our view as the term of a vast process in which the whole mass of the universe is involved. In us, the evolution of the world towards the spirit becomes conscious. From that moment, our perfection, our interest, our salvation as elements of creation can only be to press on with this evolution with all our strength. We cannot yet understand exactly where it will lead us, but it would be absurd for us to doubt that it will lead us towards some end of supreme value. From this there finally emerges in our twentieth century human consciousness, for the first time since the awakening of life on earth, the fundamental problem of Action. No longer, as in the past, for our small selves, for our small family, our small country; but for the salvation and the success of the universe, how must we, modern men, organize around us for the best, the maintenance, distribution and progress of human energy?”
  • The Phenomenon of Man, p. 219: “Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true.”
  • Love is the highest form of human energy.
  • The Age of Nations is past. The task before us now, if we would not perish, is to build the Earth.
  • The Hand of God upon Us .... the world is still being created and it is Christ who is reaching His fulfillment in it.
  • We may imagine perhaps that creation was finished long ago. This is not true. It continues more gloriously than ever ... and we serve to complete it, even with the humblest work of our hands.
  • Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.


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