Teilhard de Chardin, Pope Bendict XVI and the New Evangelization

benedict

pierre-teilhard-de-chardin-sj

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Teilhard de Chardin as part of the Year of Faith.

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One of the goals of this blog is to show how the writings and teachings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin are part of mainstream Catholic theology.  (You can find more details on current Catholic teaching on Teilhard de Chardin in my six-part series that starts here).  Along those lines I was aware that the Vatican had a conference at Pontifical Gregorian University held in November 2012 titled:  “Today’s Anthropological Challenges – a reading of Teilhard de Chardin for a renewed evangelization, 50 years after the Second Vatican Council.”  Unfortunately, I have not been able to find out much information on it (and the official transcripts are not expected until the end of 2013!; the Vatican could work on communications in the 21st century).  To my delight I received the Summer issue of Teilhard Perspective from the American Teilhard Association last week and found that the Perspective had two articles on the Teilhard de Chardin conference!

The first article was by Dr. David Grumett, Professor at the University of Edinburgh and author of several books on Teilhard de Chardin and Cardinal Henri de Lubac.  Dr. Grumett provided an excellent summary of the conference quoting Teilhard de Chardin two years after his unsuccessful trip to Rome to receive approval of his publications: “If the Church is not to be false to herself … she cannot but regard herself as the very axis upon which the looked-for movement of concentration and convergence can, and must, be effected.”  Dr. Grumett went to say:

“Perhaps Teilhard’s Roman sojourn renewed his sense that spiritual evolution had a necessarily institutional dimension that only the Church could fulfill. This is a message that has not always been remembered by either his advocates or detractors, resulting in a sometimes fractious ongoing relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless, this conference received significant coverage in Rome. An article by Éric de Moulins-Beaufort on Teilhard and de Lubac appeared in Osservatore Romano, and we were honored to receive a mention in Pope Benedict’s Angelus address on Sunday, delivered in a wet St Peter’s Square. It would not be an overstatement to say that this event, held in Rome’s premier pontifical university, made a welcome contribution to the long overdue rehabilitation of Teilhard within the Roman Catholic Church.”

The second article was by Gérard Donnadieu, President of the French Teilhard Association. Mr. Donnadieu  provided an outstanding summary of the positive reception of Teilhard de Chardin’s vision in recent years.  Donnadieu summarizes by quoting Fr. Eugenio Costa of the Papal Gregorian University, an organizer of the conference:

“This two day conference has been an excellent journey through Fr. Teilhard’s thought and life. I have wondered how we can explain this present, and sometimes passionate, renewed interest in our great friend. The circumstances in which we live, namely, culture,evolution of the mind, research, change of direction – often change the course of life’s river, as well as the thoughts of an Author, to follow tracks that are sometimes difficult to understand. Then, suddenly, something becomes clear before us… The tenacity and determination of some of the best people prevent these thoughts from being lost, and allow the current to go on stronger and stronger so that at last the river can be seen!”

Donnadieu summarized:  “Yes, the river of Teilhard’s thought has indeed become visible,with the irresistible force of a majestic flow now endorsed by the Catholic Church.”

Donnadieu then traces the history of Teilhard de Chardin’s early challenges with the Church and Teilhard’s response to them.  In 1924, Teilhard wrote:

“One must swallow the impediment through obedience”. . .  “Would it be logical for me, by breaking with my Church, to impatiently strain the growth of the Christian branch in which, I am convinced, the sap of tomorrow’s religion is breaking forth? I am a prisoner of the Church because of the very views which show me its insufficiencies.”

Donnadieu went to describe how the pontificates of Pope John II and Pope Benedict XVI praised both Teilhard de Chardin’s synthesis of science and religion and his theological vision, citing many of the examples described in my earlier series on the Orthodoxy of Teilhard de Chardin.  However, Donnadieu’s final point was perhaps the most profound.  Donnadieu contrasted the public image of Benedict XVI as an ultra-conservative with the actual theological writings and speeches of Benedict XVI which are exceptionally open-minded, engaging and forward-thinking.  I know on my personal journey, I discovered Teilhard de Chardin through the readings of Pope Benedict XVI.  His theological writings and papal encyclicals are absolutely beautiful.  As Mr. Donnadieu said:

“Benedict VI has been the first pope who named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in order to refer to him and honor him! What a strange destiny for a pope whom the media constantly  described as a conservative, refusing to see his open-mindedness and his modernity as a thinker and a theologian. Because they keep on trying to make the spiritual realities, particularly those of the Church, fit in with their notions borrowed from political language – right/left,conservative/progressive – the media condemn themselves to completely misunderstand a large part of reality, its very core, which is beyond this simplistic view and has nothing to do with political accuracy. By willingly withdrawing from St. Peter’s seat before he could not rely anymore on his physical and intellectual capacities, Benedict XVI has just given to the world and to the Church another example of his great intelligence and no less great humility.

What should the Catholic Church do today? Fr. Teilhard was wondering in 1954, in a letter to Jeanne Mortier. And he immediately answered: “just present to the world the Universal Christ she has been able(she and she alone) to generate (to make explicit) during the last two millennia”. It seems to me that this is exactly what Benedict XVI has tried to do during his eight years as pope, through his teaching (three encyclical letters of an obvious Christological tone), through his preaching and through his very life in as much as it accepted passivity in order to let himself descend into Christ (what an extraordinary example his renunciation is); And on this road he could not but meet Teilhard, The Teilhard of The Divine Milieu, of the Mass on the World and of The Ever Greater Christ.”

I am grateful for the summaries of the Teilhard conference and I look forward to reviewing the full transcripts, hopefully later this year.

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog (www.teilhard.com) explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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7 Responses to Teilhard de Chardin, Pope Bendict XVI and the New Evangelization

  1. Des Farrell says:

    An excellent article, extremely informative to me!

    • Thank you Des for stopping by. I am a huge fan of both Pope Benedict and Teilhard de Chardin. Both of them are exceptionally bright men who are not easily put into conventional categories, which is why both of them are misunderstood. One common area they both have is a deep love of Christ, which is why in many respects they are kindred spirits despite different personalities and generations.

      Peace,
      W. Ockham

  2. John Paul says:

    How does your fawning over TdC relate to the unmentioned monitum from the Holy See (reiterated when rumors appeared it not longer applied) warning of “ambiguities and indeed even serious errors, [that] offend Catholic doctrine”? It calls for the Church to protect the minds against the dangers presented by the works of TdC and his followers.

    You might laugh at the “out of style” monita, but how do his works suddenly become orthodox?

    • Dear John Paul:

      Thank you for your comment. You ask an excellent question. Like all Church teachings, the 1962 should be taken very seriously. Its meaning should also be understood in light of what subsequent Church leaders have said about Teilhard de Chardin.

      I have previously addressed the 1962 monitum and related arguments that Teilhard de Chardin is somehow “unorthodox”. You can find additional information on this topic here, here, here, here, here, and here.

      I will summarize what recent Popes and Cardinals have said about Teilhard de Chardin:

      “By now, no one would dream of saying that [Teilhard] is a heterodox author who shouldn’t be studied” – Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman for Pope Benedict (July 2009).

      “Against the background of the modern evolutionary world view, Teilhard de Chardin depicted the cosmos as a process of ascent, a series of unions. From very simple beginnings the path leads to ever greater and more complex unities, in which multiplicity is not abolished but merged into a growing synthesis, leading to the “Noosphere”, in which spirit and its understanding embrace the whole and are blended into a kind of living organism. Invoking the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, Teilhard looks on Christ as the energy that strives toward the Noosphere and finally incorporates everything in its “fullness’. From here Teilhard went on to give a new meaning to Christian worship: the transubstantiated Host is the anticipation of the transformation and divinization of matter in the christological “fullness”. In his view, the Eucharist provides the movement of the cosmos with its direction; it anticipates its goal and at the same time urges it on.” Pope Benedict, “The Spirit of the Liturgy”, Kindle Edition (Locations 260-270) (2009)

      “Toward the end of a reflection upon the Letter to the Romans, in which St. Paul writes that the world itself will one day become a form of living worship, the pope said, “It’s the great vision that Teilhard de Chardin also had: At the end we will have a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host. ‘Let’s pray to the Lord that he help us be priests in this sense,’ the pope said, ‘to help in the transformation of the world in adoration of God, beginning with ourselves.’” — Pope Benedict (as quoted in National Catholic Reporter in 2009)

      “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 center: “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.” — Pope Benedict, “Introduction to Christianity” Kindle Edition (Locations 2840-2852) (2010)

      “What our contemporaries will undoubtedly remember, beyond the difficulties of conception and deficiencies of expression in this audacious attempt to reach a synthesis, is the testimomy of the coherent life of a man possessed by Christ in the depths of his soul. He was concerned with honoring 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, civilization, and progress.” — Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, writing on behalf of Saint John Paul II

      Thank you again for your comment as there is much confusion about Teilhard de Chardin. Some people believe his thoughts are contrary to Church teachings. However, if you read both Teilhard de Chardin’s writings and what important leaders and theologians such as Pope Benedict XVI, St. John Paul II, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J and Cardinal Henri de Lubac have said about Teilhard de Chardin, there should be no doubt that Teilhard’s writings are consistent with mainstream Catholic theology.

      Peace in Christ,
      W. Ockham

  3. david says:

    You give the impression that B16 endorses Chardin in TSOTL. Ratzinger, in his always magnanimous and humbly gracious way, acknowledges Chardin’s view as the modern evolutionary view of Catholic thought that attempts to demonstrate how “in a sense, creation is history.” B16 rejects the evolutionary view that chance is the guiding force of history over time. He states this in the previous paragraph and has stated it multiple times in his life. Ratzinger’s theology bears fruit not because he accepts the modern evolutionary crap of Chardin, but because he never accepts it. He talks about it. He never rejects it, but he never accepts it as far as I can tell. My personal view is that someday, if the Lord tarries, we’ll get a ‘prophet’ pope like Pius X that will kick the anthropological evolutionary nonsense out of the legitimate category forever. Of course that is what Paul VI did with contraception and we can see how well that has gone over with the regular catholic and feminist theologians that still make up the majority.

    Can you show me where B16, Dulles or Lubac accept Chardin’s evolutionary theology? I will seriously go over it. If these guys put me in my place I’ll shut my mouth. Lombardi can say about anything and I could care less.

    I must confess that those who follow Chardin are not usually in the Ratzinger camp. I say look at the fruit of those who follow to know just like Rahner and Kung etc.

    • David:

      Thank you for stopping by and for your comments. Pope Benedict XVI has consistently endorsed Teilhard’s ideas throughout his career. Further Henri de Lubac as written several books on the writings of Teilhard de Chardin. A full summary is beyond the scope of this comment but I will provide representative excerpts as well as links to posts and books for further reading.

      Pope Benedict Endorses the Noosphere as part of the Eucharist:

      “Invoking the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, Teilhard looks on Christ as the energy that strives toward the Noosphere and finally incorporates everything in its “fullness’. From here Teilhard went on to give a new meaning to Christian worship: the transubstantiated Host is the anticipation of the transformation and divinization of matter in the christological “fullness””

      — Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal; Pope Benedict XVI (2009-06-11). The Spirit of the Liturgy (Kindle Locations 260-270). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

      Pope Benedict’s Endorsement of Teilhard’s view of Christ driving the evolutionary process towards greater unification:

      “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 center”

      Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal; Pope Benedict XVI; Benedict; J. R. Foster; Michael J. Miller (2010-06-04). Introduction To Christianity, 2nd Edition (Kindle Locations 2840-2865). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

      Pope Benedict’s Endorsement of the Risen Christ as the next evolutionary leap for humankind:

      “To use Teilhard de Chardin’s terminology, where that took place, the decisive complexity or “complexification” would have occurred; bios, too, would be encompassed by and incorporated in the power of love. It would cross the boundary—death—and create unity where death divides. If the power of love for another were so strong somewhere that it could keep alive not just his memory, the shadow of his “I”, but that person himself, then a new stage in life would have been reached. This would mean that the realm of biological evolutions and mutations had been left behind and the leap made to a quite different plane, on which love was no longer subject to bios but made use of it. Such a final stage of “mutation” and “evolution” would itself no longer be a biological stage. . .The last stage of evolution needed by the world to reach its goal would then no longer be achieved within the realm of biology but by the spirit, by freedom, by love. It would no longer be evolution but decision and gift in one.”

      Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal; Pope Benedict XVI; Benedict; J. R. Foster; Michael J. Miller (2010-06-04). Introduction To Christianity, 2nd Edition (Kindle Locations 3726-3738, 3755-3763). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

      Cardinal Henri de Lubac has written several books on Teilhard de Chardin and leads one off by saying: “We need not concern ourselves with a number of detractors of Teilhard, in whom emotion has blunted intelligence”.

      If you were limited to four books (two each by Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal de Lubac) on their views on Teilhard de Chardin, I would recommend the following:

      Pope Benedict, Introduction to Christianity

      Pope Benedict, The Spirit of the Liturgy (especially Chapter 2)

      Cardinal de Lubac, The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin

      Cardinal de Lubac, Teilhard de Chardin: The Man and His Meaning

      You can find a link to several blogposts summarizing the views of Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal de Lubac here.

      Feel free to stop by and comment with additional thoughts. I wish you a joyful and weekend.

      Peace in Christ,
      W. Ockham

  4. Pingback: Laudato Si and Teilhard de Chardin | Teilhard de Chardin

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