To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus by Pope Pius VII, the Jesuits in Britain have produced a special calendar for 2014. The calendar features illustrations of 12 Jesuits from across the world who have been active in various ministries over the past 200 years.
The first of these Jesuit to be featured is Teilhard de Chardin. Fr. Chris Corbally, SJ of the Vatican Observatory wrote an outstanding piece on the legacy of Teilhard de Chardin as part of the calendar. You can read the entire article here but set forth below is an extended excerpt:
The account of the universe that modern astronomy unfolds, from the initial, unimaginably intense radiation in the Big Bang to the emergence of primordial hydrogen and helium, and thence via nuclear synthesis in stars to all the elements we find around us on Earth, makes a fascinating story of how our bodies are literally made up of ‘stardust’. Our bodies do borrow, partialiter, from the product of the universe. (Partialiter = partly, and totaliter = totally, are Latin technical terms, familiar to Teilhard from the works of St Thomas Aquinas.) It is a ‘borrowing’ since our bodies undergo a complete change of their individual atoms every seven years. We and the Universe are truly one…and yet Teilhard understood that there is so much more to us than seeing ourselves as just a mass of atoms. Everything, including the very ‘mass’ of our bodies, is a shining forth, or diaphany, of spirit, and wondrously of that same Spirit through which the Body of Christ shines forth in the celebration of every ‘Mass’.
* * *
Evolution is not confined to the discipline of astronomy. It includes all the aspects that make up the Big History of the Universe: geology, biology, palaeontology, anthropology, environmental studies, economics, etc., as well as standard history. Teilhard himself took part in the discovery of Peking Man, an example of Homo erectus, dating roughly to ¾ million years ago. H. erectus was well on the way to understanding and mastering his environment. He was fully bipedal and an excellent big game hunter. Later members of the genus Homo, including our own species, Homo sapiens, are now believed to have evolved in Africa, and not directly from H. erectus. For the beginnings of what we call human sentience, that is, the ability to feel and perceive in a human way, archaeologists have returned to Africa and to the Middle Stone Age to discover the first remnants of religion, art, and even greater mastery of their environment among hominins who were closer than H. erectus to a direct line to modern man.
Our human sentience clearly has evolved, and will continue to do so. As it does, we come to reflect more critically on the interconnectedness of everything within the universe.
* * *
Teilhard would recognise that with the growing sense of the interdependence of all life forms comes a responsibility. It is a responsibility not just for human progress, but for the progress of the entire ecosystem in which we exist, which sustains us, and which shares in the full evolutionary story, the Big History. While Teilhard served as a stretcher-bearer during the First World War, he experienced in the trenches the camaraderie that a common cause will bring. A similar, intense camaraderie is needed today to tackle environmental destruction and the abuse of the world’s limited resources. Teilhard’s vision of the energy and unity of all ‘matter’ is something that could be most helpful to achieve the level of commitment needed by everyone, not just the current, ecologically-sensitive few.