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Chapter Thirteen


It may now be difficult for readers who were not yet adults during the years of Teilhardo-mania, running from about 1958 to 1982 or thereabouts, to understand why I have, devoted a whole chapter to the ideas of this eminent theological eccentric. Surely they may well say to themselves, no reasonable person could possibly take such outlandish stuff seriously. So why bother with it any more? Surely his flights of fancy, even if they once captured the imaginations of certain people for a time, cannot have had any serious or lasting effect on ordinary Catholics.

Unfortunately one has to say they have both on the ordinary and the extraordinary. Many distinguished people, for reasons I will explain shortly, have thought and still think Father Teilhard dc Chardin was a world genius, while his mystical evolutionism has profoundly modified the way countless western or westernised Catholics interpret the fundamentals and priorities of their faith. 116

However, perhaps the best way to present and explain Fr Teilhard's  radical reinterpretation of Catholic and Christian belief is to start with the peculiarities of the man.

The Man

In the first place, like Loisy, Tyrrell, and Brémond, he always had in him a strongly adolescent streak, though of a different kind. If in them we can see symptoms of the enfant terrible, Fr Teilhard de Chardin makes one think more of the self-contained adolescent obsessed by a single all-absorbing idea or hobby, the "odd-ball" loner whose deepest thoughts even his parents can never quite plumb. 117

Born in 1881, Fr Teilhard entered the Society of Jesus in 1899, studied in Jersey and England when the Jesuits were expelled from France in 1902, with a three-year interlude teaching in Cairo, and was ordained in England in 1911. While in England he was involved in the discovery of the fraudulent Piltdown man, though as the faker's dupe, it seems, rather than a conscious collaborator. From 1912 to 1914, he studied palaeontology in Paris. During the First World War, he declined to act as a chaplain, enrolling instead as a stretcher-bearer and receiving the légion d'honneur for bravery. After the armistice he was appointed a professor of geology at the Institut Catholique in Paris. He was thus too young to play a part in the first modernist crisis, and throughout his life remained unknown to the general public. But from 1922 when an essay calling original sin into question accidentally reached Rome he was a person about whom the highest authorities in the Church were increasingly worried. Had they got a new Galileo or a major heretic on their hands? Opinions were divided. Although forbidden to teach or publish, he wrote prolifically, and these unpublished productions were read by those who mattered.

Since his superiors were anxious to keep him out of sight as much as possible, from 1926 to 1946 he mostly lived abroad, in China and elsewhere, travelling and taking part in anthropological and palaeontological expeditions. In China he participated in the discovery of the Peking man, whose authenticity has also been challenged. The fragments were lost  during the Japanese occupation; only plaster casts survive. However his collaboration in the discovery led to his being looked on as a palaeontologist of note, and when he returned to Europe in 1946 he was welcomed by a large part of the Parisian intelligentsia like a king returning from exile. What his admirers hoped for, what his vindication, if ever it came, would represent, was the death and burial of Adam and Eve, the Fall, Original Sin and eternal punishment the "cruel doctrines" as they were coming to be called along with the baptism of evolution in one or all of the four meanings discussed in the previous chapter. Pressure mounted for him to be allowed to publish his principal works, The Phenomenon of Man and The Divine Milieu. But the authorities in Rome stood firm. Since he continued to advance his ideas in spite of prohibitions, in 1951 his superiors sent him to the United States, where he died five years later.

After his death an international committee of friends and admirers, La Fondation et Association Teilhard de Chardin, started to publish his manuscripts. Books by and about Teilhard, backed by a massive international publicity campaign, poured from the presses. It is true that there were dissenters from the chorus of adulation: Gabriel Marcel and Daniélou both had serious doubts. So did von Balthasar. Gilson called Teilhardism a "theology-fiction" which, if it meant anything, meant "that Christianity ... must disappear." Maritain (after the Council) described it as "a gnostic theogony in the style of Hegel." Von Hildebrand spoke of its author's "crass naturalism," and Cardinal Journet included among the beliefs to which adherence to Teilhardism necessitated saying goodbye:"creation, spirit, evil ... Original Sin, the Cross, the Resurrection, the Second Coming and the Last Judgement" (Nova et Vetera, Oct—Nov, 1962). But the critics were in a minority. For the most part the Catholic reading public was taken by storm. The Divine Milieu and The Hymn to the Universe became spiritual reading for many of the clergy, bishops included, and by the time the Council opened, second-and third-hand Teilhardism was reaching the pews.

On 30th June 1962, the Holy Office in Rome issued a warning against "the ambiguities" and "even serious errors" which, it said, "abounded" in Teilhard's writings. Bishops and others in authority were exhorted "to protect the minds" of those in their charge against these dangers. But the warnings mostly went unheeded. It was generally assumed that Teilhard had reconciled Darwin with Christianity, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. What the majority did not realise was the extent to which Teilhard had immolated Christianity on the altar of Darwin. This was partly because Teilhard had tailored The Phenomenon of Man and The Divine Milieu, his two  most widely read books, to get them past the ecclesiastical censors; partly because his editors did not immediately publish the essays and letters in which his views appear at their starkest; partly because of his peculiarities as a writer and thinker.118

The Thinker

Despite his own and other people's claims to the contrary Fr Teilhard was only in a minimal sense a scientist; his achievements in this field were, to say the least, modest. Nor was he a philosopher or theologian, though ranging widely through all three fields. He was a visionary. He was not searching for truth. He had already found it. Science, philosophy and theology were called in to make the truth of what he had "seen" credible to other people. But they were not the path to it.

This "truth" which he had seen began to take possession of his mind, it appears, while he was still a boy. Although very intelligent, top of his form in all subjects, says the abbé Brémond, who taught him for a time at his Jesuit school in the Auvergne, it was impossible to arouse the slightest gleam in his eyes, for he was living in another world "utterly absorbed in one overpowering passion." The passion was, at that time, for stones and geology. But around 1914 he discovered "evolution," and from then on evolution in the sense that nothing is complete, everything is in a state of becoming, God included, God and the universe making up a single evolving whole became the master idea not only dominating his thought, but receiving something akin to worship and adoration. "Man is nothing else than evolution become conscious of itself...The consciousness of each of us is evolution looking at itself and reflecting..." Man "is at one with and responsible to an evolutionary All." It "can give or refuse itself" (Duggan 28-29). Such is his vision. In Le Christique (written a month before his death), he expressed his amazement at the "superiority of what I see, in relation to what I have been taught"

Secondly, he was a missionary. "What increasingly dominates my interests,"  he wrote to his cousin Léontine Zanta in 1936, "is the effort to establish within myself and diffuse around me, a new religion (call it a better Christianity, if you like), where the personal God ceases to be the great neolithic proprietor of the past to become the Soul of the World which the stage we have reached religiously and culturally calls for" (Letters to Léontine Zanta, Paris 1965, pp. 127-8; in J.M., p. 118, footnote).

Many years later he would astound Etienne Gilson, when they met at a conference in NewYork, by speaking casually of the "religionless Christianity we've all been waiting to hear about." Gilson was equally non-plussed an hour or so later to see him attentively reading his breviary. "When you can't wait to hear about religionless Christianity," Gilson commented,"why in the blue blazes would you be a Jesuit? And if you already are one, why waste time reading your breviary?" He also noted the curious way Fr Teilhard "snapped to attention" every time the word "evolution" was mentioned during the conference, the way "a priest in choir doffs his biretta at the name of Jesus" (Letters of Etienne Caton to Henri de Labac, No. 5, Ignatius, 1988).

Initially Fr Teilhard had had considerable qualms about the project he had embarked on. "Sometimes," he had written in 1922, "1 am a bit frightened to think of the transposition to which I have to subject the vulgar notions of creation, inspiration, miracle, original sin, resurrection, and so forth, in order to be able to accept them" (Duggan, p. 18, from Lettres, Grasset, Paris, p. 32). But his fears soon seem to have evaporated.

A final peculiarity is his indifference to logic and consistency, and his self-admitted preference for intuition and "sensing." "I do not know of another thinker," wrote von Hildebrand, "who so artfully jumps from one position to a contradictory one, without being disturbed by the jump or even noticing it."119 It is also frequently difficult to know when he is using figures of speech and when what he is saying is meant to be taken literally. He continually claimed to be writing as a scientist, and therefore about experimentally verifiable material, yet the bulk of his writings are a mixture of philosophical and theological speculation, in which metaphysical and supernatural realities are treated as though they operated according to the laws of physics and chemistry. His one undoubted talent was for conjuring glittering cosmological mirages out of high-flown spiritual rhetoric.

All this made it relatively easy for his admirers, when faced with some  particularly astounding assertion, to claim that, in the light of alternative passages, it did not really mean what it seemed to mean. However, there was soon enough hitherto unpublished material along with critical studies to show that the more "astounding" assertions represented the deepest level of his thinking, and that when brought together reveal a distinctive system or world-view. 120

Basically, that world-view is a conflation of Darwin and Bergson with Christ playing the role of Bergson's élan vital.                                                         

Teilhard's Universe

That everything was moving forward and upward from a state of dispersal and randomness and converging towards a state of organisation and unity was in many ways more important and fascinating to Fr Teilhard than the nature of that final state or the Being responsible for bringing it about. "If |I were to lose in succession my faith in Christ, my faith in a personal God, and my faith in spirit," he wrote in 1934 in China, "it seems to me that I should continue to have faith in the world (its value, its infallibility, and its goodness) this is ... definitely the first and the only thing in which I believe" p. 129, citing Christianity and Evolution, p. 99).

However, it was not quite the world or the universe as most of his fellow Christians have thought of it. Christians have always seen the universe as a harmony of particular things or groups and kinds of things. Within this harmony, each particular thing or group has its own value and place reflecting in some way the goodness and wisdom of the Creator, and all together by their existence and activity sing a hymn of praise to Him.

For Teilhard, no particular thing or group of things has value in itself. Everything is a mere step or stage on the way to something better and more complex, and, once its evolutionary usefulness has passed, can be cast aside without regrets. By temperament Teilhard, like Hegel, was a monist a thinker for whom vast wholes or totalities are the all-important thing.

What is the universe made of?

Early in life, Teilhard cast aside the distinction between matter and spirit. Matter and spirit are the "outward" and "inward" faces of a single cosmic stuff (Weltstoft). In every grain or atom of matter there is already a tiny germ of spirit, spirit being identified by Teilhard with consciousness. The seeds of spirit or consciousness grow and develop as matter organises itself or is organised into ever more complex units or wholes, according to a supposed law of "complexity-consciousness." This at least seems to have been Teilhard's final position, though he sometimes speaks as though there were originally nothing but matter.121

In spite of Teilhard's adulation of matter "my divine matter" (Duggan 46, from The Heart of the Matter) the emergence of spirit or self-consciousness, out of matter is evolution's basic purpose, a process he calls "personalisation." "All that exists is matter becoming spirit" (WS., p. 34). The vegetable and animal life enveloping the planet, which he calls the "biosphere" and pictures as a kind of skin, is merely the preparatory phase for personalisation.

However, the appearance of man, or of individual men, is not evolution's final goal. According to a second Teilhardian law, in addition to being a process of "complexification," evolution is even more a process of "unification?' Its ultimate aim is to weld all the individual human consciousnesses into.a single super-consciousness or super-mind, which he calls the "noosphere," dedicated to the exploitation of the earth's resources through scientific research and technology. When the noosphere is fully formed, humanity will have passed into the "ultra-human?' (The ultra-human is Teilhard's substitute for the supernatural.) It is on this final stage the coming into being of the noosphere that humanity has now entered.

Actually, if we like to think of the universe as a gradual unfolding of latent potentialities, it is clearly a process of diversification rather than unification. First there was a single life form, then a multitude of different ones. But that is by the way.

Is the noosphere just a world state dominated by scientists (the noosphere's higher brain cells), or are we to envisage a super-person? Many texts seem to favour the second alternative. What, he asks, is "the growing compulsion to think and act collectively which so disquiets us," but "the first portents of the super-organism which," he adds (perhaps sensing the aversion such an idea might evoke in his readers) "is preparing ... not to mechanise and submerge us, but to raise us ... to a higher awareness of our personality" (WS., p. 178). (This attempt to give the noosphere a more  pleasing appearance, however, should be compared with Teilhard's views on its right to use force and compulsion cited later.) Elsewhere he says of it "of all living things we know, none is more really, more intensely living than the noosphere" (WS., p. 87).

Elsewhere he describes the "noosphcre" as a "sentient protoplasmic layer ... an ultimate envelope, taking on its own individuality and gradually detaching itself like a luminous aura:' It "is not only conscious but thinking" and "from the time I first became aware of it," he found concentrated in it "the essence or rather the very soul of the Earth" (WS., p. 89).

Teilhard's God

But where did it all come from and how did it all begin? According to St Thomas, there is a close connection between the way one understands God, and the way one understands creation (ST la 32,1 ad 3), and of no one is this more true than of Fr Teilhard, who early came to the conclusion that "since God cannot be conceived except as monopolising in Himself the totality of being, then either the world is a mere appearance or else it is in itself a part, an aspect, or a phase of God" (WS., p. 111; S.C., p. 80). He chose the second alternative, calling his system a "superior form of pantheism" and adding that the ecclesiastical authorities were quite right in suspecting as much (Duggan, p. 42). 122

How then are the two parts of the whole, God and the World, related? His answer resembles the attempts of the Neoplatonists of the 3rd century AD to explain the relationship between the "One" and the "many."

Before the cosmos began, matter, even if of the most tenuous kind, existed together with God in a state of unorganised simplicity. Teilhard calls it "pure multiplicity," "a sort of positive nothingness," or the "scattered shadow of God's unity, which from all eternity God saw beneath His feet," and which "cried out to exist," a cry which eventually God was "not able to resist." This is why Teilhard keeps insisting that "to create is to unite" rather than, as Christianity teaches, to make something out of nothing. What cries out for existence Must already have some kind of existence. And if we have any lingering doubts, we have only to ponder texts like "God only completes Himself in uniting Himself" and "what gives Christianity its vitality is not the sense of creation's contingency but the sense of the mutual completion of God and the World" (M., p. 264).

This would seem to be the basis for Teilhard's objection to the distinction between the natural and supernatural orders and explains his famous outburst to von Hildebrand about St Augustine: "Don't mention that unfortunate man. He spoiled everything by introducing the supernatural" (WS., p. 201).

How then does God satisfy the cry of "pure multiplicity" for fuller existence and His own need for completion? One's immediate impression is of a swimmer diving into a swimming pool. God has "to immerse Himself in the multiple in order to incorporate it into Himself," organising and unifying it from within (M., p. 265). But not after the fashion of an all-powerful intelligent creator. In taking the plunge He is transformed into a blind Bergsonian life-force, groping its way forward by trial and error. We are even told that God "corpuscilises" Himself, as though the divine substance became atomised and mixed with the "multiple" like sugar in salt (D., p. 37). This is why matter, as it develops towards spirit, can be called "divine." It is God's outer crust or the overcoat He is gradually weaving for Himself.

Bizarre as all this may sound, it follows logically from Teilhard's wholesale acceptance of the theory of natural selection. If we are to have God and natural selection, God has to create without a plan. We have to rule out "the intervention of an extra-cosmic intelligence" (W.S., p. 21). "God cannot create except evolutively" (W.S., p. 14, quoting C.E., p. 179), and evolution proceeds "only through strokes of chance:' In plunging into "the multiple," God becomes subject to the general law of evolutionary development. "Groping is directed chance. It means pervading everything so as to try everything, and trying everything so as to find everything" (WS., pp. 11-14).

This brings us to the origin of "evil." Early in The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard tells us that his book is "nothing but the story of the struggle in the universe between the unified multiple and the unorganised multitude" (WS., p. 86). The multiple or many, even if it originally cried out to "exist," has a built-in resistance to the efforts of the One to organise and lift it to a higher state of existence. Evil, we therefore learn, is not due to malice, angelic or human. It is an inevitable side-effect of the evolutionary process. "In our modern perspective of a Universe in a process of cosmogenesis," the problem of evil "no longer exists" (sic). Since the Multiple is "essentially subject to the play of probabilities of chance in its arrangements," it is "absolutely unable to progress towards unity without engendering Evil here or there by statistical necessity" (M., p. 265). So sin in our earliest ancestors (multiple not single) could scarcely have been blameworthy. Even at our present stage of "hominisation" it must be largely a matter of ignorance, incompetence and miscalculation. Evil is even said to be a "sign and effect of Progress" (M., p. 123). If there is such a thing as sin, it is refusal to co-operate with evolution, or opposition to the direction in which the process can be seen to be moving.

At this juncture, however, Fr Teilhard introduced a conflicting idea. It is as though he felt that, reduced to a mere life force, the One would not be strong enough by itself to overcome the intractability of the multiple. He had also committed himself to believing that, not only was evolution a process of unification, everything in it was converging through space and time towards a single point of arrival like the apex of a cone far ahead in the future, an assumption which required a different explanation. So he divides God in two, leaving one half still immersed in its struggle with the "multiple," and placing the other half at the end of the evolutionary process from which it pulls the multiple forwards and upwards by attraction. This he called the "Omega point." The climax of the evolutionary process will be the meeting and unification of the noosphere with the Omega point, at which moment the noosphere passes into the ultra-human. "I see in the World a mysterious product of completion and fulfilment for the Absolute Being Himself." God "in some way 'transforms himself' as he incorporates us" (WS., p. 104).

Teilhard's Christ

This was the cosmology to which, in Fr Teilhard's mind, the Catholic faith had to be adapted if it was to have any chance of survival.

It was his curious belief that he could demonstrate "scientifically" that the universe was not only a process of complexification" and "convergence" giving birth to ever higher states of consciousness, all converging on a supreme consciousness or Person, but that this Person must be Christ. Such was the basis of his apologetic towards unbelieving scientists. It is the Eternal Word who, as the "Cosmic Christ: plunged into the Multiple to become the motor of evolution, and simultaneously stands at the end of the process as the Omega Point ("Christ Omega"). So far, scientists have been less responsive to the idea than theologians.

In support of his thesis, Fr Teilhard invoked the Christian doctrines of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, and the pleroma or final "reconciliation of all things in Christ" after the last day. But he gives them a meaning radically different from the Church's. Teilhard identifies the Mystical Body, not with believers in Christ who adhere to Christ's teaching, but with his noosphere or collective consciousness of the human race's higher elements as it passes into the ultra-human at the end of history. Meanwhile, his pleroma or reconciliation of all things in Christ is, in Christian disguise, a Neoplatonic bringing together of the Multiple with the One, or the two aspects of an eternally existing divine/sub-divine cosmic whole.

We can say, indeed, without exaggeration that Fr Teilhard was not interested in Christianity. He retained from his pious childhood a devotion to the idea or "person" of Christ. He was also as a Jesuit committed to preaching Christ. But the teaching of Christ meant nothing to him. The one indisputable truth was Western evolutionary humanism, whose message he even suggests in one place is the voice of evolution itself pointing out the way ahead. The only thing evolutionary humanism lacked was a place for a God of some kind, which it was Christianity's privilege to supply. Apart from that Christianity must be totally refashioned. We must "without delay ... modify the position occupied by the central core of Christianity... The 'God of the Above' has to be replaced by a Christianity re-incarnated in the spiritual energies of matter" (WS., pp. 23-24).

Once this is achieved, "Creation, Fall, Incarnation, Redemption these great universal events cease to appear to us as accidents dated and distributed over the course of time (an infantile perspective, which is a perpetual scandal to our experience and reason): all four become co-extensive with the duration and totality of the World" (T.P., I, p. 13). Redemption is not the God-Man making satisfaction for sin; redemption means the evolving cosmic Christ gradually overcoming the statistical errors of evolution as he struggles to carry it towards the "ultra human." "It is Christ in very truth who saves but should we not immediately add that at the same time it is Christ who is saved by evolution?" (WS., p.118)

But if from the start, as he says, Christ "was present in all things as a soul that is painfully gathering its embryonic elements," why did he have to appear in the flesh? (WS., p. 124). In order, it seems, that he could emerge from the cosmic process and take his place outside or at the "end" of it as "Christ Omega: drawing "all things to himself?' With the Ascension, He was "raised to the position of Prime Mover of the evolutive movement of complexity consciousness" (WS., p. 96). However it remains difficult to  understand how, if Christ is evolution's Prime Mover, he can also be spoken of as "the end product of evolution, even the natural evolution of all beings" (D., p. 63, citing Hymn to the Universe). 123

As for the Church, his views about it are best seen in his letter of 4th October 1950 to an ex-Dominican who had lost his faith, explaining why he should remain in the Church instead of leaving it.

"Christianity," he tells his correspondent, is "a broad mystical current" with "the astonishing reality of the 'Risen Christ' as its object;' which has "extraordinary powers of adaptation and vitality?' Nevertheless, among the various channels which have carried the current down the ages, only "the Roman stem " or "phylum," as he calls the Catholic Church, has the biological strength and flexibility (in spite of the contemporary signs of sclerosis) to "carry through and underpin the transformation I look forward to." The right thing therefore is to remain in the Church and "work for a transformation from within" (D. p. 66).124

It is also noteworthy that although Fr Teilhard had by now become a New Age cult figure, he was far from being a "friend of the earth" or, on other matters, what is now regarded as "politically correct:' Many of the private letters reveal a Nietzschean ruthlessness and quasi-Faustian idolisation of applied science belying the gentle smiling face of the photographs.

"In exploding the atom bomb," he says in The Future of Mankind, "we took the first bite at the fruit of the great discovery, and this was enough for a taste to enter our mouths that can never be washed away." And was it not further cause for rejoicing that "the greatest of man's scientific triumphs happens also to be the one in which the largest number of brains were  enabled to join together in a single organism" (WS., p.192). But the release of nuclear energy was a mere prelude to the glories lying ahead. These included: "the vitalisation of matter by the creation of super-molecules"; the "remodelling of the human organism by means of  hormones"; the "control of heredity and sex by the manipulation of genes and chromosomes"; the "readjustment and internal liberation of our souls by direct action upon the springs gradually brought to light by psychoanalysis" (WS., p. 194).

A few years earlier he had called the Italian war against Abyssinia a "war of construction' The earth, he wrote to a friend, had a right "to organise itself by reducing, even by FORCE (sic), the refractory and backward elements... In the last analysis, I am with Mussolini" (letter to Maurice Brillant). In the same vein, in Sauvons l'humanité (1937), he finds that "fascism opens its arms to the future," it is a "blueprint for the world. of tomorrow," and even "a necessary phase during which men have to learn their business as men." French resistance to Germany was "defence of egoism and the status quo" (TP.,I).

After World War II, he switched his support to Marxism. Fascism had proved an evolutionary "groping" in the wrong direction. Marxism and Christianity, he now discovered, were "fundamentally inspired with an equal faith in Man?' Was it not therefore "incontestable that they will eventually come together on the same summit?" "In the nature of things everything that is faith must rise, and everything that rises must converge ... we can do no other than plunge resolutely forward, even though something in us perish, into the melting pot of socialisation" or "the stream of the whole in order to become part of it" (WS., pp. 186-9).

His views about race were of the same stamp. Not all men are equally "hominised,"i.e. human. The Chinese, for example, were "arrested primitives .. whose anthropological substance is inferior to ours." Should the "human stratum" turn out not to be homogeneous, it "would be necessary to find for the Chinese, as for the Negroes, their special function which may not (by biological impossibility) be that of the whites" (T.P, III).

The Ethiopians he considered "the survival of a splendid human type but how ill-fitted, it would seem to follow our forward march..." (January 1929). Then, fearing he had shocked his correspondent, he added "J. will say that I am cruel and not sufficiently Catholic?' but "progress implies an unquenchable force that insists on the destruction of everything that has outlived its time?' He had earlier anticipated with equanimity the possible liquidation of the Mois of Thailnd,"who are so picturesque but belong to a bygone age," along with the surrounding "deer, elephants and peacocks."

"Temperamentally: he added, "I am not disposed to think this way; it is through reflection and deliberation that I passionately welcome the life that is coming without allowing myself to regret anything of the past" (May 1926, T.P., III).

The history of the Western world since the Renaissance is full of intellectuals who liked playing with fire without realising that it burns. Max Stirner, a hen-pecked teacher in a Berlin girls' school, authored the most violent of 19th century anarchist tracts. So we do not have to conclude that, had he had the power to, Fr Teilhard would necessarily have put any of the above ideas into practice. We can say with Nobel-prize-winning Sir Peter Medawar that "before deceiving others, he has taken great pains to deceive himself- (WS., p. 110). It is also unlikely that his more esoteric ideas were ever widely understood, and by the 1980s he had ceased to be a best-seller. For all that, as I have already said, his influence on the faithful at large was to be profound.

What did they think he was saying? We can begin with the three truths in the overall message. There has probably never been a guru, no matter how deluded, whose entire message has been false, and the fact that these particular truths were not ones the faithful had hitherto been taught to give much attention to goes some way perhaps to explaining their apparently intoxicating effect on them. The first was that the universe is something great and glorious, something that it is a religious duty to admire and appreciate. The second was that the development of nature's resources was from the beginning, part of God's overall plan. The third was that Christ is to be worshipped not only as God but as Lord of the universe and its history, for whom it has all been created.

As for their interpretation of the rest of the package, it could be summed up as follows. Evolution explains everything. In general, everything is getting better and better and contemporary Western culture expresses the direction in which the forces of evolution are currently moving. The Church should therefore adapt herself to it as much as possible. Her principal task should be co-operating with the forces of progress in building a better or perfect world, which is the same as building the kingdom of God. Many if not most of the Church's doctrines and practices belong to outmoded phases of the evolutionary process and should consequently be abandoned or re-interpreted. On most issues, Western liberalism is right and the Church wrong. Sin is not nearly as serious either in itself or its consequences as we previously thought. "Saving the world" collective action in favour of material improvements is as important as or more important than saving souls.

Fr Teilhard's writings created what can be more powerful than a creed. They created an ethos and a mindset. It was to become the mindset of countless Catholics in the post-conciliar period. How could the Council's interpretation not have run into difficulties?


116. Cuenot's Teilhard de Chardin  (London. Burns & Oates, 1965) was the first major study by an admirer, and the Carmelite Fr. Philippe de la Trinités Rome et Teilhard de Chardin (Paris, Fayard, 1964) the most widely read early critique. The best still available guides to Teilhard's thought I have come across in English are Teilhardism and the New Religion (TAN Books, 1988). a detailed analysis of his world-view based on his published writings, by the American mathematician Wolfgang Smith, and Teilhardism and the Faith, the masterly little summary and critique of his leading ideas by G. H. Duggan, S.M. Born in Vienna, Smith, after a distinguished research career in aerodynamics, and teaching posts at MIT and UCS, became professor of mathematics at Oregon State University. Fr Duggan was for many years professor of theology at the Marist seminary in New Zealand. Quotations from Teilhard marked (W S.) and (D.) in the text are drawn from these first two writers. Both give the appropriate references to Teilhard's works. Quotations marked (M.) are taken from Maritain's The Peasant of the Garonne, (London.. Chapman, 1968). Quotations marked (T.P.) are taken from The Teilhard Papers, I, II & Ill, published in the American monthly Triumph, between November 1971 and January 1972.These contain passages from the letters and the greater part of the text of three essays in which Teilhard expresses his views with less than usual circumspection. Included is the section of The Human Sense which, when initially published in 1971, the Fondation Teilhard de Chardin omitted.

117. The most embarrassing example of this adolescent streak embarrassing in a supposedly major Catholic thinker is his "stage-struck" attitude to science. Identifying spiritual progress with scientific progress, he treats scientific research as the highest activity of the human spirit Science "will absorb the spirit of war and shine with the light of religion." (W. S. p. 163)

118. "Evidently I must find a certain orthodox way of putting things if I am to get across my experience without distorting or weakening it." (D. p. 12, quoting The Making of a Mind, Collins 1965, p. 244.) Even critics like Maritain and Gilson were taken in for a time. Maritain, in the main text of The Peasant of the Garonne, and Gilson, in an article Le cas Teilhard de Chardin, bent over backwards to give Fr Teilhard wherever possible the benefit of the doubt. Later, after reading critiques by Claude Tresmontant and Cardinal Journet, Maritain added an appendix to his book admitting that he had underestimated the extent of Teilhard's departure from the faith. Gilson's final estimate is mentioned below.

119. See "Teilhard de Chardin: a False Prophet" in Trojan Horse in the City of Cod. Franciscan Herald Press, 1967, p. 229.This section also appeared in the English-language edition of L'Osservatore Romano for 2 August, 1973.

120. While some of his admirers have tried to maintain that he did not have a system, Cuenot maintains that he did.

121. The idea, known as panpsychism, that there is a fragment of "soul" in everything. already had quite a history. Teillaard gave it a different twist but he was not its originator.

122. In Le Milieu Divin, on the other hand, he goes to some lengths to deny the charge of pantheism. However, anyone still believing that The Divine Milieu is anything more than window-dressing or that Fr Teilhard's cosmic vagaries have anything really Christian and Catholic about them should read The Human Sense, where his contempt for the Church and the faith are expressed at their crudest.

123. On this point Teilhard makes conflicting statements. Most of the time he speaks as though Christ only started to exist when evolution began: the universe is in a process of giving birth to Christ (Christo-genesis). Elsewhere he talks as if Christ already existed, fulfilling the role we imagined had been assigned to God the Father or the One ."The Redeemer could penetrate the stuff of the cosmos, could pour himself into the life­blood of the universe, only by first dissolving himself in matter, later to be reborn from it." (W.S. 121). However, it would be vain to look in Teilhard for any coherence on this topic, much less a coherent doctrine of the Trinity.

124. Teilhard was both agitated and indignant when be discovered that the recipient of the letter had been showing it around, and his admirers later went to considerable lengths to keep its contents from being known. It seems first to have appeared in print in Le Concile et Teilhard, by Maxime Gorce (Neuchâtel, Switzerland, in 1963) then in France in an article by Henri Rambaud in 1965, which was translated into English and published the following year in the English periodical Approaches and then in The Wanderer.

Copyright © Philip Trower 2006, 2011, 2018

Version: 16th February 2021


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