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