With his unique background as a geologist, paleontologist, and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a powerful exponent of the view that scientific theories could comfortably coexist with religious faith. To this day, his ideas provoke passionate debates in communities that view science and faith as necessarily separate ideologies.
In this collection of nineteen essays, Teilhard seeks to illuminate a middle ground between science and religion that he felt both disciplines could accept. He explores the Fall and original sin, the possibility of life on other planets, and the role that God may have played in the process of human evolution, successfully challenging contemporary theologians to rethink their views of the universe and its creation.
“Like other great visionary poets—Blake, Hopkins, Yeats—Teilhard engages the reader both intellectually and sensually.” —The Washington Post Book World
“An excellent blend of theological speculation with practical or ascetical application.” —Catholic Telegraph
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NOTE ON THE PHYSICAL UNION BETWEEN THE HUMANITY OF CHRIST AND THE FAITHFUL IN THE COURSE OF THEIR SANCTIFICATION
We may distinguish a priori (and meet a posteriori in different theological and mystical currents) three different tendencies in the ways of explaining how Christ 'vitis et vita vera,' Christ'caput creationis et ecclesiae', acts upon the faithful in the course of their sanctification. There are some Christians who understand Christ's saving influence primarily by analogy with our moral, juridical, categorical forms of causality; with, that is, some suggestion of the letter of the law, of something imposed from outside. Others, however, are more inclined to look at the 'natural', intrinsic, side of things, and try to explain Christ's action as experienced by us by relating it chiefly to the physical and organic causalities of the universe. These latter fall, again, into two classes: those who attach the vivifying action upon souls above all to the Word, in Jesus Christ — and those who tend to attribute as large as possible a part in this physical operation to the humanity of our Lord.
It calls for no great experience of the Christian soul to see that the last of these three tendencies — that which tends to magnify (to 'emphasize') the physical links between Christ's humanity and ourselves — is particularly vigorous today.
The object of this note is to indicate a possible way of understanding and establishing this thesis — accepted in practice by many Christians in their interior life — that the holiness of the Christian develops and is completed in a sort of contact (physical and permanent) with the actually human reality of Christ the Saviour.
A solid basis for the demonstration, or rather the suggestions, we have in mind may profitably be sought in a consideration of the consummated mystical body (that is, the Pauline pleroma). In the first place, since the pleroma is the kingdom of God in its completed form, the properties attributed to it by Scripture must be regarded as specially characteristic of the entire supernatural organism, even if they are to be found only in an ill-defined form in any particular preparatory phase of beatification. Secondly, in no other reality is the physical and personal action of the theandric Christ made manifest to us by revelation more than in the Church triumphant. When we try to sum up the Church's teaching and the thought of the saints on the innermost nature of beatitude, we find that in heaven both Christ and the elect must be regarded as forming one living whole, disposed in a strict hierarchic pattern. Each elect soul, it is true, possesses God directly, and finds in that unique possession the fulfilment of his own individuality. But, however individual this possession of the divine, this contact, may be, they are not obtained individually. The beatific vision, which illuminates each of the elect for himself alone, is at the same time a collective act performed by the whole mystical organism at once 'per modum unius potentiae' (as one single force). The organ made for seeing God is not (if you get to the bottom of the dogma) the isolated human soul; it is the human soul united to all the other souls, under the humanity of Christ We attain God in heaven 'sicuti est' (as he is), but in the measure in which we are assumed by Christ into the mystical extensions of his substance. Briefly, the state of beatitude must be understood as a state of permanent eucharistic union in which we will be raised up and maintained as a body (that is to say 'per modum unius'— as one single being) and 'in corpore Christi' (in the body of Christ). This explains the fundamental relationship between the eucharist and charity, between love of God and love of our neighbour.
If this is indeed the condition of holiness 'in termino' (at its term), that is to say a union with God in Jesus-Christ-Man, it would appear that there is only one way in which we can understand the nature of holiness 'in via' (on its road to that term): in which, that is, we can understand our sanctification as it is here and now laboriously being effected. Since beatification coincides with a certain degree of physical incorporation in the created being of our Lord, we must inevitably admit that in the course of his meritorious life the believer is introduced into, and progresses further in, a certain state of physical connexion with the humanity of Christ the Saviour. If we are not to establish an unwarranted disparity between the state of grace and the state of glory, we must say that grace does more than attach us by its spiritual instillation to the divinity of the Word: it brings with it a certain progressive inclusion in a created organism, physically centred on the humanity of Christ.
Far from conflicting with the eucharist or serving as a repetition of the eucharist, this 'habitual' communion effected by sanctifying grace between Christ and the faithful gives its full significance, we should note, to sacramental reception of the sacred species.
In the first place, it is quite certain that the eucharist, of which many of the elect will have been unable to partake during their life on earth, is not the only means by which the faithful can achieve contact — contact which is necessary as a 'necessary' means — with Christ's humanity: the contact which is to ensure their integration in the pleroma. We become members of Christ before any external contact with his sacramental body.
Moreover, it is equally clear that in receiving the eucharist, adherence to the flesh of Christ, as produced by consuming the species, is effected on a physical plane that is very different from that on which the evident quantitative contact between our body and the Host takes place. Is it not, in fact, precisely at the moment when this quantitative contact would tend to be fully established (by assimilation) that the species undergo corruption and the divine presence becomes less marked?
The eucharist, in short, can be fully explained only in terms of a mode of contact with Christ which is much more independent of time and lower matter than that of the crudely material confluence between the sacred species and ourselves.
In that case, how should we approximately represent eucharistic (sacramental) union?-simply as the tightening, specially chosen and favoured, and wonderfully active, of a looser (but real) link established and maintained 'perenniter' (constantly) by the state of grace. Long before any communion, a first and permanent connexion through the operation of baptism is formed between the Christian and the body of Christ. And after each communion, in spite of the disappearance of the sacred species which had, for a time, raised it to a special degree of intimacy and importance, this connexion persists — more strongly established, even though in a less concentrated form.
If we understand the matter in this way, sacramental communion ceases to be a discontinuous element in Christian life and becomes the fabric from which it is woven. It is the accentuation and the renewal of a permanent state which attaches us continuously to Christ. In short, the Christian's whole life, on earth as in heaven, can be seen as a sort of perpetual eucharistic union. The Divine comes to us only as 'informed' by Christ Jesus: that is the fundamental law of our supernatural life.
The immediate practical corollary of this law is that, for thejust man, God's general presence is constantly backed by a particular presence of Christ 'secundum suam naturam humanam' (according to his human nature) — a presence which is prior (in ordine naturae, in the order of nature) to the indwelling of the divine persons in the sanctified soul. But this is not all: since this presence grows in proportion with the state of grace in us, it is capable not only of enduring but also of being intensified by the whole miscellaneous body of what we do and what we suffer. It is literally true that 'quidquid agit Christianus, Christus agitur'— whatever the Christian does, it is to Christ it is done. Considerations of this order are obviously of great importance in mysticism: they justify us in believing that we can, in strict fact, live always and everywhere without being separated from Jesus Christ.
The more familiar we become with this idea of a physical influx continually emanating (with an admixture of grace) for souls from the humanity of Christ, the more we realize how closely it harmonizes with the very numerous scriptural passages in which our possession of the Father is strictly subordinated to our permanent union with the incarnate Word; the more wonderful, too, become the depth and clarity of the evangelical precepts, in particular those which insist on communion and charity. To love one's brothers and to receive the body of Christ is not simply to obey and merit a reward: it is organically to build up, element by element, the living unity of the pleroma in Christ.
No serious disadvantage can be set against the numerous advantages that accrue to the interior life from as realistic as possible a conception of the links which attach our being to that of Christ.
In the first place, when we extend all around us the domain of Christ's humanity we have no reason to fear that we are veiling from ourselves the face of the Godhead. Since we adhere to Christ 'in ordine vitali'— in the order of life — he is not anintermediary separating us from God, but a medium uniting us to God. 'Philippe, qui videt me, videt Patrem' —'He who has seen me, Philip, has seen the Father.'
Nor need we fear, again, that we are putting too great a strain on the limits that define the lower nature in which the Word is incarnate. However boundless the power we must attribute to this nature if its influence is to radiate continually over each one of us, such magnitude should not alarm us. By the horizons it opens up for us on to the power hidden within created being, and more particularly on to the heart of Jesus Christ, this overplus is seen to be, on the contrary, one of the most magnetic aspects of ... (Unfinished. The missing word appears to be 'Christianity'.)
Unpublished, not dated. It appears to have been written in January 1920.
ON THE NOTION OF CREATIVE TRANSFORMATION
Scholasticism distinguishes, to my knowledge, only two sorts of variations in being (movement).
1. Creation, that is to say 'productio entis ex nihilo sui et subjecti'.
2. Transformation, that is to say 'productio entis ex nihilo sui et potentia subjecti'.
Thus for Scholasticism creation and transformation are two absolutely heterogeneous and mutally exclusive modes of movement within the concrete reality of one and the same act.
This absolute separation of the two notions means that we have to regard the formation of the world as being effected in two completely distinct 'phases':
1. Initially, the placing outside nothingness (extra nihilum) of a certain body of potencies (the initial creative phase).
2. Next, an autonomous development of these potencies, maintained by 'conservation' (the phase of transformation by secondary causes).
3. Finally, new placings outside nothingness (extra nihilum) each time the historical development of the world shows us 'true growths': the appearance of life, of a 'metaphysical species', of each human soul.
This concept obviously comes up against all sorts of historical improbabilities and intellectual incompatibilities.
a. It obliges us to see, between the successive degrees of being (physical, organic, spiritual) which are so obviously linked in their appearance, no more than a logical connexion, a purely intellectual plan which has artificially disposed beings in an appearance of continuity.
b. In consequence, it makes it impossible to explain the physical interdependence (in their functioning) which we observe in the various organs of the universe. And yet it is quite obvious that thought must have a certain organic support, which is itself a function of certain physico-chemical conditions.
c. Finally, it denies any absolute value to the work of secondary causes: they no longer have any organic effectiveness in causing the world to pass through the different levels of being.
It appears to me that most of the difficulties presented to Scholasticism by the historical evidence of evolution derive from the failure to consider (in addition to creation and eduction) a third sort of perfectly well-defined movement: creative transformation.
Beside 'creatio ex nihilo subjecti' and 'transformatio ex potentia subject,' there is room for an act sui generis which makes use of a pre-existent created being and builds it up into a completely new being.
This act is really creative, because it calls for renewed intervention on the part of the First Cause.
And at the same time it depends upon a subject (a subjacent) — on something in a subject.
It is most remarkable that Scholasticism has no word to designate this method of divine operation which:
a. is conceivable in abstracto, and is therefore entitled to a place at least in speculation,
b. is probably the only one which satisfies our experience of the world.
We should, I believe, have to be blind not to see this: In natura rerum (in nature) the two categories of movement separated by Scholasticism (Creatio et Eductio) are seen to be constantly fused, combined, together.
There is not one moment when God creates, and one moment when the secondary causes develop. There is always only one creative action (identical with conservation) which continually raises creatures towards fuller-being, by means of their secondary activity and their earlier advances.
Understood in this way, creation 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 (even his initial creation?) takes the form of a transformation. Participated being is not introduced in batches which are differentiated later as a result of a non-creative modification: God is continually breathing new being into us.
All along the curve followed by being in its augmentations there are, of course, levels, particular points, at which creative action becomes dominant (the appearance of life and of thought).
Strictly speaking, however, every good movement is, in some of its content, creative.
With creation continuing incessantly as a function of all that already exists, there is never, properly speaking, any 'nihilum subjecti' (nothingness of subjacent matter) — apart from so considering the universe in its total formation throughout the ages.
This notion of 'creative transformation (or creation by transformation) which I have just been analysing seems to me to be impregnable in itself, and the only notion that fits in with the world of our experience. What is more, it brings real 'emancipation': it puts an end to the paradox and the stumbling-block of matter (i.e. our bewilderment when we consider the part played by the brain in thought and by passion — [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in mysticism); and it transforms them both into a noble and illuminated cult of that same matter.
If it is a fact, as it seems to me, that 'creative transformation' is a concept which as yet has no place in Scholasticism, then I think that it should be introduced without delay, and so prevent the orthodox theological notion of creation from being any longer stifled and distorted by the 'nihilum subjecti' of one particular philosophy.
Unpublished, no date. Probably written at the beginning of 1920.
Excerpted from "Christianity And Evolution"
Copyright © 1969 Editions du Seuil.
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Table of Contents
NOTE ON THE PHYSICAL UNION BETWEEN THE HUMANITY OF CHRIST AND THE FAITHFUL IN,
THE COURSE OF THEIR SANCTIFICATION,
ON THE NOTION OF CREATIVE TRANSFORMATION,
NOTE ON THE MODES OF DIVINE ACTION IN THE UNIVERSE,
FALL, REDEMPTION, AND GEOCENTRISM,
NOTE ON SOME POSSIBLE HISTORICAL REPRESENTATIONS OF ORIGINAL SIN,
PANTHEISM AND CHRISTIANITY,
CHRISTOLOGY AND EVOLUTION,
HOW I BELIEVE,
SOME GENERAL VIEWS ON THE ESSENCE OF CHRISTIANITY,
CHRIST THE EVOLVER, OR A LOGICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE IDEA OF REDEMPTION,
INTRODUCTION TO THE CHRISTIAN LIFE,
CHRISTIANITY AND EVOLUTION: SUGGESTIONS FOR A NEW THEOLOGY,
REFLECTIONS ON ORIGINAL SIN,
THE CHRISTIAN PHENOMENON,
MONOGENISM AND MONOPHYLETISM: AN ESSENTIAL DISTINCTION,
WHAT THE WORLD IS LOOKING FOR FROM THE CHURCH OF GOD AT THIS MOMENT,
THE CONTINGENCE OF THE UNIVERSE AND MANâ&8364;(tm)S ZEST FOR SURVIVAL,
A SEQUEL TO THE PROBLEM OF HUMAN ORIGINS: THE PLURALITY OF INHABITED WORLDS,
THE GOD OF EVOLUTION,
About the Author,