Teilhard de Chardin – A
Passionate Champion of Christ
J Felix Raj, S.J.
Teilhard de Chardin of
France (1881-1955) is a well-known scientific philosopher who, though disowned
by the Church and the Jesuit Order to which he belonged, was truly a passionate
champion of Christ.
Pierre Teilhard De Chardin
a great Jesuit of the century, was thought to be a
controversial Christian. While reading his book The Phenomenon of Man, his great
contribution to the world, especially to the world of philosophy, one is touched
by his humble and simple religious life and by his exceptionally wide knowledge
and the new way he looks at existence. At the same time, the reader is disturbed
to know that Teilhard was sent to China as a punishment for his scientific
Teilhard, a prophet, a mystic,
a scientific philosopher, and a committed priest, was born in 1881 at an
Auvergne in the heart of France. He was the fourth in a family of 12 children.
At the age of 12 he was sent to the Jesuit college of Longre. His teacher, Henri
Bremond, said that he was a serious student, “perhaps too serious”.
At the age of 18, he joined the
Jesuit Order. He had hardly started his studies in geology in Paris when the
World War I broke out. He was enlisted as a stretcher-bearer and served during
the whole period of the war. When the war was over, he returned to his
scientific research and became a Professor of Geology in 1920 at the Catholic
Institute of Paris.
After three years of Teaching
he went to China as a member of the scientific expedition which eventually
discovered the Synanthropus, one of the most primitive specimens of man. When he
returned to France in 1924, he faced opposition to his scientific ideas from his
superiors. It was about this time he made the pathetic remark: “If one tries to
break new ground, or to walk in a new path, one walks straight to Calvary.”
In 1927 he went back to China
and lived uninterruptedly for 27 years. It was there that he wrote his two
famous books: Divine Milieu (1927) and The Phenomenon of Man (1938).
Death came to him suddenly at the age of 74 after his return to the USA in 1954.
He died peacefully on Easter Sunday April 10, 1955 at St. Patrick’s Church, New
York. After Mass he mingled with the crowds, that human phenomenon he loved so
much and then went to a concert. That is when he fell. And his last words were:
“I don’t remember a thing … oh … this time it is terrible”.
A few years before his death
Teilhard had told a priest friend, “Pray hard for me that I may not die bitter”.
In fact he did not die bitter, but died as a deserted son. Neither the Church
nor the Jesuit Order encouraged him in his work during his life-time. It was
only some years after his death; the Church authorities and individual clergymen
realized the importance and relevance of Teilhard’s scientific and philosophical
ideas. Today more and more people, Christians as well as non-Christians, accept
his views and take keen interest in studying his philosophy.
In his book The Phenomenon of Man
he talks about pre-life, life, the Alpha Point, the Omega Point, and so on.
According to him the pre-life is what we call matter. In calling it ‘pre-life’,
he wants to imply that there is already a direction, a tendency, an obscure sort
of will in matter.
He distinguishes three things
in matter: plurality, by virtue of which the substratum of the
tangible Universe, dizzily numerous and minute, slopes down towards a limitless
base, disintegrating as it goes. Secondly Unity, which pushes the
elements towards each other so as to comprehend them together in one great
whole, the Universe. And finally Energy, or capacity for
interaction. The immediate consequence of this is that the world forms ‘a system
by its plurality, a Totum by its energy’.
What is new here is that we can
see matter under the twin categories of duration and of evolution, instead of
fixity and geometry. The whole universe in fact, is found to be engaged in an
immense evolution, to which astronomy claims to be able to assign an initial
date – between five billion five hundred million and eight billion five hundred
million. Teilhard recalls at this point that two principal laws rule matter –
that of the conservation of energy and that of the degradation of energy. The
more the quantum of energy in the world functions, the more it gets used up.
This is the fundamental phenomenon of the world which necessarily leads to the
“Phenomenon of Man”.
Law of Complexity
The great factor in the evolutionary
phenomenon as expounded by Teilhard is the “great law of complexity and
consciousness’. It is a law implying a structure, a converging psychic curvature
of the world upon itself. This is called the metaphysics of union and fits well
into the evolutionary conception of the cosmos. Evolution takes place along the
axis of complexification – we pass from the relatively simple to the complex.
Thus we pass on to atoms from atomic particles, from atoms to molecule and
successively to molecular compounds, carbon compounds, viruses, cells living
organism, plants, animals and finally man; briefly pre-life, life and thought.
“All energy”, says Teilhard,
“is of a psychic nature.” But this fundamental energy is divided in to two
distinct components: a tangential energy, which brings together all the elements
of the world in an ever-increasing complexities, and a radical energy which
draws it in the direction of a state even more complex and even more directed
towards the future.
According to Teilhard, matter
and psychism were co-created. Just as man’s body goes back to some primordial
matter, which has gradually evolved, so does his psychism or soul. The whole
matter is permeated by the spirit, although this is not evident at all levels.
The whole man, body and soul, thus emerged form matter. Just as matter evolves
from the very beginning into a body that becomes more and more human, so
psychism from the very beginning evolves into psychism that becomes more and
more human. To put it in Teilhard’s own words: “We must accept what science
tells us that man was born from the earth. But more logical than scientists when
they lecture to us, we must carry the lesson to its conclusion, that is to say,
accept that man was born entirely from the world, not only his flesh and bones,
but also his incredible power of thought.”
The most revolutionary and
fruitful aspect of our present age is the relationship it has brought to light
between matter and spirit; spirit is no longer independent of matter and vice
versa. It follows from this that spirit and matter are two facets of one and the
same thing. Man’s soul and his body, the inside and outside (Teilhard would say
“within and without”) have existed at all times. In Teilhard’s words: “In the
world nothing could ever burst forth as final, across the different thresholds,
successively traversed by evolution which has not already existed in some
obscure primordial way.” And this applies to life, to consciousness and thought.
The Alpha Point
This is the “terminus a quo” of evolution and a rather obscure point in
Teilhard’s system. It is not what we usually understand by “creatio ex nihilo”.
According to Teilhard the starting point of evolution is infinite multiplicity,
but disorganized: “Infinite Disorder”. It was like having stones but not the
building or like having seeds but not the plant. Creation, for him, is a
creative union, viz. what brings about unification out of multiplicity; thus
creation is not and cannot be instantaneous. It is still going on.
Evolution does not proceed
haphazardly; it is orthogenetic; it has a direction, a goal, an axis of
development. The axis passes through the amphibians, reptiles, mammals, the
primates and leads straight to man. We can almost pinpoint the axis in the
gradual, observable complexification of the nervous system, especially of the
We can follow it almost step by
step. If we go back in time, we can follow the axis of evolution as it crosses
various thresholds, leading from lithosphere to the biosphere (the vitalization
of matter); and from the biosphere to the noosphere, the thinking layer which
now covers the world.
The Omega Point
If the cosmic process has a meaning, a
direction, a goal, it must have a definite terminus towards which it is
advancing. It must have a nucleus. A synthesis can take place only around a
nucleus, around which the consciousness of the whole humanity will finally
crystallize. In other words, if evolution follows very many lines, there must be
a peak in which they must converge.
And this peak, he calls “Omega Point.”
He also describes the
attributes of the Omega Point which are:
It must be already existing;
It must be personal – an
intellectual being and not an abstract idea;
It must be transcendent;
It must be autonomous – free
from the limitations of space and time; and
It must be irreversible, that
is it must be attainable. He expressly states that in the Omega Point, the
human person and his freedom will not be suppressed, but super-personalized.
Personality will be infinitely enriched.
Having said these, he passes
form hyper-physics to theology and revelation. He finds in the Gospels,
especially in St. Paul’s writings, a truly existing personal, transcendental,
autonomous and irreversible center of cosmic evolution – Christ. He says that
Christ is the Omega Point, and in this all-embracing revealed perspective, he
maintains that the Incarnation, Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ should
be viewed not merely as historical events, affecting Christ only, but as cosmic
events, affecting the whole cosmos.
Teilhard’s Christian dimension
where he makes Christ as the meeting point of science and revelation, of the
natural and supernatural of the human and divine in one and the same person, is
something to be reckoned with. Though Christians in general are comfortable with
this view – Christ as the Omega Point, to many Christians and Church
authorities, he sounds a heretic from the point of view of Christian teaching
and philosophy. A concrete example for this could be his view: “The Earth was
probably born by chance”.
One who understands Teilhard
and his teachings well, will never call him a heretic. Though the Church and
also the Jesuit Order were hard on him, he had been very loyal to the Church and
a true, committed priest. As one of his close friends, Pierre Leroy, a Jesuit
says, Teilhard tried to give us a less infantile image of God, more in
conformity with current knowledge. The God he adored and venerated, the God he
proclaimed is in no way and impersonal force which we cannot reach. For Teilhard,
as for all true believers, God is a personal God: He is He who is: he is.
Teilhard is and will remain a passionate champion of Christ. The Human
Phenomenon par excellence.