INTRO: There is a mysterious figure, a strange prophet, in the Book of Genesis, called ‘Balaam’ – he is described as ‘the man of far-seeing eyes’. Interestingly, we hear of him in the Liturgy during Advent – the Season before Christmas when we are invited to become ‘people of far-seeing eyes’, turning our gaze from the immediate to to the ultimate, from the now to the fulfilment of all things in Christ which in scripture is called the ‘Day of the Lord’ of the Final Coming of Christ’ in all glory. Today I want to share with another friend, not counted among the recognised saints of the Church (I wish he were), but a heavenly friend who has shaped the way I understand the mission of the Church – my mission! He is a man ‘with far-seeing eyes’, and another innovator in the Christian story. His name is Teilhard de Chardin. (Acknowledge article by Susan Racozky in February this year)
Teilhard He was born in France on 1st May 1881 and form early childhood became fascinated with the seeming permanent and indestructible – rocks! Later he was to study Geology and Palaeontology. He joined the Jesuit Order and after the normal studies in philosophy and theology, after his ordination as a priest in 1911, he went to study in depth his intellectual passion. These studies were interrupted by the First World War. Medical Orderly and stretcher bearer because no chaplains. At the front line caring for the wounded and ministering to the dying the dead of the carnage of that terrible war. Blessed Sacrament. There he encountered the horror of human destructiveness. And it was there that his vision of a different future began to crystallise. His writings during this period are contained in the book ‘Writings in the Time of War’. In the midst of the horror he could see beyond it to a world evolving into a more loving future. He began writing of ‘the Cosmic Christ’ in the heart of all creation and the magnetic force of all evolution. He addressed the intellectual conflict between faith and science and began to create a synthesis, expressing his theology and world-view in scientific terms, especially in the science of evolution and the development of Man.
After the War he went to China to do research where he was involved in the discovery of the fossilized bones of ‘Peking Man’ in the 1920s. It was while he was in the Chinese desert that he found he was unable to celebrate Mass and he wrote ‘the Hymn of the Universe’, perhaps his most accessible and overtly spiritual book and one that encapsulates his vision of all creation, all matter being essentially spiritual, evolving to a new level of unity until finally coming to ‘point Omega’ – all things fulfilled and gathered into ‘Christ Omega’.
The Cosmic Christ Teilhard linked his deep spirituality as a Jesuit – based in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola – to his scientific work and reflection. As a scientist he explored humanity’s early beginnings and our place in the ever-unfolding sweep of evolution. As a philosopher and theologian, he developed a unique synthesis of science and religion based on an evolutionary understanding of what he called the ‘cosmic Christ’ – the idea that the universe and everything in it is constantly moving towards to a point of perfection defined by unity and love.
He first used this term in his journal in 1916 and it appears throughout his writings, including in an essay completed a few weeks before his death in 1955. Creation is a process, he emphasized, not an event. Evolution and change are the heart of reality. Nothing is static. Love unites all reality in Christ and also draws creation together in an ever-deepening union. For Teilhard, every particle of the universe from the smallest quantum neutron is part of the cosmic Christ, and through love everything that exists is drawn deeper into that connection.
Love is the energy of what he calls the divine milieu, the living context of each person’s relationship with God, with each other and with all of created reality. Each act of love, no matter how small or hidden, moves all of reality closer to full union; each act of non-love moves it further away. Therefore, the shape and form of human action is vital.
Teilhard profoundly absorbed the Ignatian vision of “finding God in all things” and extended it to the furthest reach of the cosmos. God is not only in the outer limits of an expanding universe but is present here and now, he taught. In his book The Divine Milieu he wrote, “To repeat, by virtue of the Creation, and still more, of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane to those who know how to see.”
God, for Teilhard, was not an outsider – a clock-winder God, distant and remote – but a creative God of becoming within the whole cosmos, a universe which has been growing and developing during the billions of years since the ‘Flaring Forth’ – the beginning of creation. He saw Christ’s presence in the form of love as the energy that moves creation forward, a process that has not yet come to its complete fulfilment because the process of evolution and the expansion of the universe continue.
Through these ideas he united matter – which had so fascinated him as a budding geologist as a child – with the Incarnation, the process of God becoming human in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. Thus matter was transfigured and made holy in Christ. This integration overcame the dualism that had permeated Christianity from its early encounter with Greek philosophy – the conviction that spirit is good, while matter is not.
On his desk Teilhard had a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a statement of his belief, “My Litany.” It’s a clear and powerful summary of his theological vision:
“The God of evolution
The Christic, the Trans-Christ
Sacred Heart…the motor of evolution
the heart of evolution
the heart of matter
The heart of God…the world-zest.
The activant of Christianity…the essence of all energy.
Heart of the world’s heart
Focus of ultimate and universal energy
Centre of the cosmic sphere of cosmogenesis
Heart of Jesus, heart of evolution, unite me
In this statement Teilhard unites evolution, matter and Christ and prays that this unity will become real in himself. In similar fashion he depicted reality as evolving through multiple layers of physical, biological and psychological complexity.
The first layer is cosmogenesis, which describes the continuing expansion of the universe. Then comes biogenesis, the continuing growth of life that leads to a third layer called the noosphere – the gradual evolution of the human mind both individually and collectively. Though Teilhard died a generation before the computer age, he would have been entranced by the Internet and the possibilities it has given us to strengthen our communication and mental connectivity in this way.
Cosmogenesis is the process of the union of all of creation in God. It describes the vision of St Paul when he speaks of Christ “in whom all things hold together” (Col. 1:17), and the human desire for unity as expressed in “God will be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). This is what Teilhard calls the ‘Omega Point’ – a symbol of unity and completion.
Teilhard was not a religious recluse. He was known as a sociable person with a good sense of humour and a wide circle of friends, including women. A renowned palaeontologist, he was also revered as a priest, and a friend once commented that “Whoever has not seen Teilhard say Mass has seen nothing.”
But in his thinking about connection and integration he was several generations ahead of Catholic theological thought, which during his lifetime was hostile to the concept of evolution that lies at the heart of his ideas. The Church authorities forbade the publication of his philosophical and theological writings, though not his scientific work.
His French Jesuit superiors protected him from papal censure, but when he returned to France after World War II he was sent to New York where he found a new home amidst like-minded scientific colleagues. His favourite feast was Easter, and friends remembered that he said that if he died on Easter, it would be a vindication of his work – and so it came to pass: during the afternoon of Easter Sunday, April 10 1955, while having tea with friends in their Manhattan apartment, he collapsed and died.
The momentous changes set in place by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) allowed Teilhard’s thought to become more widely known as his writings became easily available. Reading Teilhard today, as scientists confirm that the universe is always evolving and expanding, gives us a new appreciation of how far ahead he was of his times.
Prophets are usually recognised only after their death, and today we can claim Teilhard de Chardin as a prophet of cosmic hope. His message is one of love at the heart of all reality, and love can never be vanquished. Humanity is assured that the world is still being created in love’s image