I may surprise you with a defence of Teilhard de Chardin

By Unknown - Archives des jésuites de France, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Teilhard de Chardin was a French idealist philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a palaeontologist and geologist and took part in the discovery of Peking Man. He conceived the vitalist idea of the Omega Point (a maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which he believed the universe was evolving) and developed Vladimir Vernadsky's concept of noosphere.

His posthumously published book, The Phenomenon of Man, set forth a sweeping account of the unfolding of the cosmos and the evolution of matter to humanity, to ultimately a reunion with Christ. In the book, Teilhard abandoned any literal interpretation of Creation in the Book of Genesis in favour of allegorical and theological interpretations. The unfolding of the material cosmos, is described 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.

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 made a total commitment to the evolutionary process in the 1920s as the core of his spirituality, at a time when other religious thinkers felt evolutionary thinking challenged the structure of conventional Christian faith. He committed himself to what the evidence showed.

Teilhard thought that it was import to bring the Church into the modern world, and approached evolution as a way of providing ontological meaning for Christianity, particularly creation theology. For Teilhard, evolution was "the natural landscape where the history of salvation is situated."

It's not hard to see why Teilhard's work was considered controversial by many and this naturally led to conflict.

In 1925, Teilhard was ordered by the Jesuit Superior General Wlodimir Ledóchowski to leave his teaching position in France and to sign a statement withdrawing his controversial statements regarding the doctrine of original sin. I think rather admirably, Teilhard signed the statement and left for China, rather than leave the Society of Jesus.

This was the first of a series of condemnations by ecclesiastical officials that would continue until after Teilhard's death. The climax of these condemnations was a 1962 monitum (warning) of the CDF cautioning on Teilhard's works. It said:
Several works of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, some of which were posthumously published, are being edited and are gaining a good deal of success. Prescinding from a judgement about those points that concern the positive sciences, it is sufficiently clear that the above-mentioned works abound in such ambiguities and indeed even serious errors, as to 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.
I think it is important to emphasise that the Holy Office did not place any of Teilhard's writings on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books), which existed at the time of the 1962 decree.

Shortly thereafter, prominent clerics mounted a strong theological defense of Teilhard's works. Henri de Lubac (later a Cardinal) wrote three comprehensive books on the theology of Teilhard de Chardin in the 1960s. While de Lubac mentioned that Teilhard was less than precise in some of his concepts, he affirmed the orthodoxy of Teilhard de Chardin and responded to Teilhard's critics:
"We need not concern ourselves with a number of detractors of Teilhard, in whom emotion has blunted intelligence". 
~Cardinal Henri Cardinal de Lubac, S.J. – The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin, Image Books (1968)
Later that decade Joseph Ratzinger spoke glowingly of Teilhard's Christology in his work Introduction to Christianity:
It must be regarded as an important service of Teilhard de Chardin's that he rethought these ideas from the angle of the modern view of the world and, in spite of a not entirely unobjectionable tendency toward the biological approach, nevertheless on the whole grasped them correctly and in any case made them accessible once again. Let us listen to his own words: The human monad "can only be absolutely itself by ceasing to be alone". In the background is the idea that in the cosmos, alongside the two orders or classes of the infinitely small and the infinitely big, there is a third order, which determines the real drift of evolution, namely, the order of the infinitely complex. It is the real goal of the ascending process of growth or becoming; it reaches a first peak in the genesis of living things and then continues to advance to those highly complex creations that give the cosmos a new centre: "Imperceptible and accidental as the position they hold may be in the history of the heavenly bodies, in the last analysis the planets are nothing less than the vital points of the universe. It is through them that the axis now runs, on them is henceforth concentrated the main effort of an evolution aiming principally at the production of large molecules." The examination of the world by the dynamic criterion of complexity thus signifies "a complete inversion of values. A reversal of the perspective...
This leads to a further passage in Teilhard de Chardin that is worth quoting in order to give at least some indication here, by means of a few fragmentary excerpts, of his general outlook. "The Universal Energy must be a Thinking Energy if it is not to be less highly evolved than the ends animated by its action. And consequently ... the attributes of cosmic value with which it is surrounded in our modern eyes do not affect in the slightest the necessity obliging us to recognize in it a transcendent form of Personality.
One can also add Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., Cardinal Christoph Schönborn to those who have spoken in support of Teilhard, and now, in his encyclical Laudato si, (# 82), Pope Francis:
The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been attained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things.
I found Teilhard de Chardin as a young man and found his attempt at a synthesis between orthodoxy and science fascinating. Audacious, radical, but it showed me that one did not have to abandon reason in order to be a man of faith.

Teilhard was not attempting to change doctrine or overturn dogma, he was introducing a new perspective, the perspective of a man possessed by Christ in the depths of his soul. He was concerned with honouring 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, civilisation, and progress.'

Notwithstanding his almost complete rejection by modern science, I still think Teilhard was a great intellectual: a thinking man who offered extravagant and exciting explanations for ideas which, in his time, seemed impossible to reconcile. Despite his rehabilitation via the prominent names mentioned above, it is important to recognise, when reading him, that he was not writing doctrine. For this reason alone, I would suggest the monitum is important. I would argue against seeing Teilhard as heretical in any sense, although I would say that he was a bit "wacky". As English neuroscientist, author, and social commentator Professor Steven Rose put it: "Teilhard is revered as a mystic of genius by some, but amongst most biologists is seen as little more than a charlatan." He is not alone, and so we must be careful not to give undue reverence to Teilhard's theories lest it diminishes our own credibility.

However, his reputation as a bit of a rebel means that an approval of a proposal asking for Pope Francis to remove the monitum has almost inevitably, drawn support from Pope Francis merry band of theological nitwits & cheering boys. The fact that such people as Fr. James Martin and Massimo Faggioli are cheering for the petition to remove the monitum (warning) against the writings of Teilhard... well... it speaks volumes, doesn't it?

Ii could easily be argued that the central error of our times is evolutionism taken as a paradigm for the whole of reality, including God, revelation, tradition, and morality. As Father Z puts it, if Teilhard's writings were ambiguous and seriously erroneous when the monitum was imposed, then surely they still are?
I can't help but be disappointed by this constant desire to forego the practice and common sense of the past and re-write everything in the ink of modern secularism. Isn't this glib jostling for attention intellectually drab and dishonest?

Yes I defend Teilhard de Chardin's extravagant and audacious writings. I love them! As a scientist he wanted a free-ranging, peer review of his work. His ideas should be challenged, but not demonised. But I don't mistake them for the teaching of my Church, and I don't regret or seek to revoke the very valid monitum placed on them in 1962. Fr Teilhard de Chardin accepted the Holy See's censure, & he would have accepted the monitum as a just act by the teaching authority of the Church, just as he accepted the censure of his superior in 1925. The fact that Faggioli and Martin are seeking to rehabilitate him somehow is weird (given he is pretty much old hat these days), and strikes me as just another anti-orthodoxy bandwagon for them to jump on.


Popular posts from this blog

Pope Francis: Dismantling Marriage

Establishing a New Object of Worship

Cardinal Nichol’s Checklist for Priestly Formation