Biography of Teilhard
Christian Inspiration |
[With comments by
Kris Roose and comments by Grahame
only Christianity could realize itself as a major part of a Great Continuum
this Imago that has played in our hearts and minds for aeons.
it could show the Universality from which it spawned,
maybe then it could serve as the vehicle for our Unity."
Murrell [The Teilhard Mailing List, 8/02]
inspiration of his worldview
It is evident to
all who read his writings that Teilhard de Chardin thinks from a pronounced
Christian perspective. Indeed, so all-pervasive is his Christian faith
that we find references to it even in his strictly scientific works. Thus
in his book, 'The Phenomenon of Man', we find him alluding to the scriptural
writings of 'St. Paul and St. John' on the subject of 'Christ, (the) principle
of universal vitality'.  Some readers will, perhaps, find it disconcerting
that his scientific conclusions, on occasion, get a Christian interpretation
placed on them. Such readers may complain: "I don't want religion mixed
in with my science!"
religion and science are two different approaches, each with its own methodology,
but converging towards one eventual integrative knowledge. In the meanwhile
I'm afraid neither of both has the complete truth, so in the meanwhile
it is inevitable that members of each approach are feeling uneasy with
the intrusion of another way of thinking.
For Teilhard, Christianity
is a religion based, to some degree, on a nucleus of truths revealed by
God to humanity mainly by way of scripture. Thus he talks of Christianity
'resting on a core of "revelation"'.  And elsewhere, with reference
to God, he alludes to the 'revealed datum' of the 'triune nature' of the
'First Being', the 'Omega Point'. 
One of the
weaknesses of Teilhard's vision probably is that he didn't transcend enough
Christianity . The theory of the
Third Nature of Christ
In my opinion,
there is merit in what Kris is saying here. I would be inclined to agree
that the French Jesuit did remain, to a degree, immersed within a somewhat
static, non-evolving Christianity whose teachings, on not a few occasions,
failed to keep pace with the modern mindset. Thinking people in modern
times have been tending more and more to an outlook which sees experienced
reality as dynamic, as in process. And, of course, a Christianity that
is largely stuck in a static, non-evolving perspective, is bound to find
itself, from time to time, at odds with those modern persons whose outlook
tends to view reality mainly in terms of dynamism and process. As I see
it, scientifically and phenomenologically, Teilhard placed himself most
definitely in the camp of the modern believers in process. But, religiously,
he did stay closer to a rather static Christianity than, I, for example,
in good conscience, could manage to do.
In a 1923 letter
of his, written from China, the Auvergnian Jesuit writes: 'I am a pilgrim
of the future on my way back from a journey made entirely in the past.'
 Of course, when persons set out on pilgrimages they take with them,
as they move towards their destinations, something of the milieu from which
they set out. And so it not surprising that in setting out, as a pilgrim,
from the past towards the future, Teilhard took with him a good deal of
the Christian religious milieu which had permeated his past life from his
earliest childhood onwards.
Teilhard goes so
far as to posit a 'third Christic nature', finding support for such a theological
view 'in the writings of St. Paul'.  Perhaps it would not be inappropriate
to regard the French Jesuit's notion of a third nature associated with
Christ as something of an innovation within Christian theology. What he
appears to be claiming here is that in addition to the human and divine
natures of Jesus of Nazareth, there is a further nature which constitutes
the essence of a 'cosmic Christ of faith'.  From Teilhard's perspective,
the cosmic Christ is a personal 'cosmic element' , that is to say, a
personal 'Some One' , who diffuses himself throughout the cosmos. Let's
continue to consider aspects of this cosmic Christ, or incarnate
Word, about which the Auvergnian Jesuit theorizes on the basis of his religious
As Teilhard sees
it, Christ, the incarnate Word of God, 'both physically and metaphysically'
pervades the universe co-extensively with the 'the totality of time and
space'.  The cosmic Christ is identified, by the French Jesuit, with
'Christ the King', and 'Christ-Omega, the Universal Christ'.  Further,
this Universal Christ, through all time and all space, enjoys a 'co-extension
of sovereignty'  with the universe. From the Teilhardian perspective,
since time began, Christ-Omega has, everywhere in the cosmos, been in possession
of 'the control and leadership of what we now call evolution'.  Christ,
in the eyes of the French Jesuit, by his very nature, his third nature,
is 'organically the prime mover and controller, the "soul", of evolution'.
Christ, then, as
"the soul of evolution", is for Teilhard, the Logos,
or more accurately, 'the neo-Logos of modern philosophy -- the evolutive
principle of a universe in movement'.  The Auvergnian Jesuit's Christic
Logos is not, of course, the old 'Alexandrian Logos' , or divine world-soul,
of ancient Greek philosophy (mainly in the Platonic and Stoic traditions).
As the French Jesuit points out, the Logos, or world-soul, of ancient Western
philosophy can be pretty well equated 'with the ordinating principle of
the stable Greek kosmos'.  No, the Logos that is constituted by Christ-Omega
is the animating principle, not of a stable 'cosmos' that is static 'order',
but, of a dynamic 'cosmogenesis' that is a developing 'process'.  Nonetheless,
it is at least arguable, it seems to me, that Teilhard's Christic "soul
of evolution" has its conceptual roots in the notions of a divine Logos,
or world-soul, postulated by the Greek philosophers, particularly the Platonists
and the Stoics, of long ago.
sure we're allowed to speak about a third nature. That should have been
a heresy in the eyes of RCC. When his work was censored --thanks to a Belgian
theologist from Louvain, I'm ashamed-- then it was most by his theories
about evil and the Original Sin. Christian Church considers herself as
the continuation of Christ's Redemption. When there is no original sin
by Adam and Eve, Christ died for nothing and the church is superfluous.
He tried to add a chapter to his publication, redefining evil, but the
Belgian theologian didn't fall into the trap. Christian inspiration
For me the Cosmic
Christ isn't a third nature, but an image taken from the church fathers,
describing the church as Christ's Mystic Body. I think this was the deeper
sense of Teilhard's ill-defined Christogenesis: Christ didn't pass on earth
to redeem us, but to evolve, together with us -the Church, Christian community-
towards Omega. Teilhard, and the ancient fathers, saw the Creation as as
the Second Person in the Trinity, still emerging.
In this sense Christ
is the soul of evolution, but not in the sense of a Creator or Vitalizer,
but rather as a mystic fruit of the Love of the Father.
Now, it is readily
apparent that no amount of observation of the world and no amount of thinking
about such observations, will ever lead the human mind to conclusions such
as the following.
vitalizes the universe. No, these conclusions
are entirely faith-based; they rest wholly on a foundation of Christian
religious belief. Further, these conclusions of faith repose completely
on interpretations of holy writ which, in some sense, and to some degree,
is perceived as containing messages, of indubitable certitude, from God
to humanity. At this point, we are forced, it seems to me, to surmise that
Teilhard, sincere Christian that he was, did accept all of the foregoing,
faith-based conclusions (and, no doubt, others as well) on the basis of
what be believed to be messages from God, revelations from God, contained
2. God, the Supreme
Being, is triune.
3. Christ has three
natures: human, divine and cosmic.
4. Christ is the
neo-Logos of the universe.
totally convinced of this statement. I think Teilhard, intuitively using
the integrative method, was only too happy to have elaborated a vision
in which both approaches --the scientific and the old human intuition,
or "Revelation"-- coincided. This discovery was for him a proof for the
truth of his vision. This was perhaps also the most convincing argument
that Christianism, at least if you reformulate, translate its views into
the "hyperphysical" wordings of Teilhard, was right, however shortsighted
and narrowminded the hierarchy's judgment was. Apparently they had learnt
nothing from the disillusionments of the Renaissance, and engaged rambunctiously
into the next missed historical opportunity. But Teilhard did not
simply content himself with passively accepting these conclusions of faith;
rather he actively embraced them with fervour and devotion. Indeed, it
appears that so passionate was he about his faith that he could not stop
himself from having it, on numerous occasions, spill over into his scientific
I think it is possible to come to the conclusions you quote, by observing and thinking
about it. Let's take a difficult point: the Trinity. The most fundamental
law in the universe seems to be:
to exist = to
Every thing that
exists is included somewhere in an interactive system. You can model nature
and reality by an unlimited number of cycles, i.e. interacting systems,
passing matter, energy and information to each other. Most systems in nature
do it automatically, unconsciously, human (and to a certain extent the
pre-hominids) do it consciously. This scheme represents the most generalized
activity in the cosmos:
The step from this
universal law to a trinitary system is not so big: God the Father = System
1, God the Son = Christ = Creation = System 2 (still emerging = Christogenesis),
God the Holy Spirit = the Interaction.
I have no
problem giving serious consideration to a trinitarian system along the
lines that Kris proposes, and for the very reason (i. e. that to exist = to generate existence) he proposes it. The structure of the
Supreme System can only be trinitary, by evidence and logical thinking.
Existence is always and everywhere generating existence. A system that
just is but does nothing simply doesn't exist --in the existentialist
sense of the word.
But I also wonder
if this form of trinitarianisn would constitute orthodox Christianity.
I'm not sure that Christian theology would be willing to countenance equating
Christ with Creation. Would not the theologians claim that the part of
Christ who is the Son of God is uncreated, while Creation is created? And
would Christian theology be willing to countenance the Holy Spirit as a
mere Interaction between two systems? Might not the theologians claim that
this Spirit is a divine Person in it's own right, equal to God the Father
and God the Son? And, further, might not Teilhard, himself, be inclined
to go along with the theologians on some of these issues?
1. I find that hard
to accept. With respect - how can existence generate existence?
That sounds like "tautology" to me - rather like Self creating Self. (...)
you bring an electron and its anti-matter equivalent, a positron, together,
they disappear, because each "force" is neutralized by its antiforce,
leaving no force / influence / observable activity for us to observe it.
At the other hand, at an unexpected place suddenly two elements of such
an invisible couple scatter, giving existence to an electron and a positron.
Along traditional approach, these elements not really disappear: they are
most probably still there, but have become unobservable, as everything
in your room does when you swith off the light. But from a modern physics
approach those things really disappear, and you could "pass through it"
as a spectre is supposed to pass through a brick wall. For the same reason,
modern physists call the second phenomenon a "creation", and not
just an "appearance", a kind of transition from invisibility to visibility.
I think that the second Law of Thermodynamics will need some day to be
refreshed one more time, as Einstein did already when he introduced his
relativistic laws. 2. The fundamental
mystery of the universe is not existence but being. We ask: why or
how is there something rather than nothing? Indeed - what
or here is nothing? Just a word,about which there is little
or nothing more to be said! Nothing exists nowhere, except in our
minds! - a figment of our imagination.
2. in 1966 I was
also struck by the analogy between Einstein's E=m.c2 and my fundamental
law. If we describe m (mass, matter) as "existence" and E (energy) as "generating
existence", both formulations coincide. This analogy probably points towards
a very profound feature of existence. It's important to state that Einstein
not just suggested some mathematical relation, but put forward that matter
really diappears, and -when the energy rays arrive at their destination-
they can re-"create" themselves into matter, e.g. photons. Matter could
be defined as resting energy, as energy could be defined as transiting
matter. We see two things in it, nature only one.
3. An ever returning
phenomenon in the development of concepts, and I don't know if Kuhn (in
his Structure of Scientific Revolutions) and Toynbee (A Study of History)
mention this, is the constant necessity to redefine concepts that
at a certain moment seemed fundamental, eternal and irrevocable. "Logical"
definitions such as "matter" and "energy", two things 'completely different'
and 'easily distinguishable from each other', appeared to be based upon
a nice illusion. The same thing applies for phenomena such as a flat world
(why our friend Tony Kelly, to take just an example :-], doesn't tumble
"downwards"?), the 'clear difference between bodies and mere vibrations
of some "etherical" substance' (e.g. the corpuscular and oscillatory nature
of elementary bodies in quantum physics - two different things for us,
one for nature-), and the innumerable paradoxes yet to solve? Each time
we transgress some critical boundaries in science, as we are now doing
with the transition from modern to postmodern times, with Einstein and
Teilhard as two of its most brilliant heralds, we'll need to adjust some
fundamental concepts. BTW, to integrate is a continuous reformulation of
concepts from their simpler formulation -however evident within a limited
context- to their more elaborate formulation.
4. And, wondering
again what Kuhn and Toynbee should have thought about it, I think we can
observe, ever and again, what I'ld call the Copernicus-Darwin Drama, or
the Paradigm Transition Phobia (PTP). When new theories emerge,
especially when they suggest a new fundamental paradigm, much protest is
elicited. This protest is not so much pointing at alleged errors in the
argumentation of the new theory, but at other implications that, in fact,
don't depend from the obsolete view, but simplistically were linked to
it. The idea that the sun, rather than the earth, was the centre of the
universe was shocking, because it seemed to imply that man was no longer
the most central thing in the universe; Darwin's suggestion that we descend
from a kind of ape was another instance of this degradation of human dignity.
Socrates experienced the same problem, when he suggested that man doesn't
consciously do bad things. So, should criminals be tolerated? The French
Jesuit collided with this phobic reflex. His theories were rejected by
our Mother the Holy Church, not because they found some errors in his reasoning,
but because some of his visions, especially his approach of evil and the
original sin, seemed to make Christ's redemption and hence the mission
of the Church useless. I'm sure that the "linked convictions" in fact don't
need this linkage. Even when humans are nowadays far more remote from "the
centre of the universe" than in Copernicus's days, the are still "the most
important systems/beings". Their superior "value" --because now it is the
highest attained level in evolution-- doesn't presuppose any central place
in space. I'm afraid that the reformulation of more central concepts including
God, creation, Christ (as in the Christogenesis), promoting integration
as a replacement for democracy, and the like, by our Noospherian virtual
society and postmodern science in general, will elicit some more PTP.
3. God alone can
truly say I am. (...) God alone is. All else exists.
Personally - I am, (...) because God is - and because God is Love.
God has loved every creature into existence [whether directly or
by the process of evolution] - and sustains us with that Love [which is
I do not know if
Kris would agree with the following reformulation of his claim. But let
me try, anyway, to reformulate it in a manner that might make it appear
somewhat more in conformity with Teilhard's thinking.
Suppose, by way of
reformulation, we were to say something like:
An important law
in the universe seems to be:
to exist = to
move towards fuller existence.
that this element surely is present in most forms of existence, but for
me this new wording doesn't enough suggest the interactive dimension
of existence. The only 'objective' sense of existence is what it means
for other existing systems. The only 'subjective' meaning of existence
is --in systems with a kind of consciousness-- the experience of pleasure,
and its equivalent in full conscious beings, i.e. full consciousness of
the integration of personal needs and the needs of the environment (you
could also call this Love --as Grahame reminds us). This way of restating
Kris's claim might tie in with the French Jesuit's concepts of auto-arrangement and auto-evolution, both of which concepts appear to portray existence
at one level moving on to levels of fuller, more complex existence. Let's
consider what Teilhard says:
exact definition for our intelligence of the nature of the universe is
(at the opposite pole from mass-phenomena) the process of "auto-arrangement".
It is in virtue of this latter that, in the course of a drift which affects
the totality of space and time, "matter" passes, locally and partially
(though at the same time in an overall operation) from more simple and
less conscious states to states that are both physico-chemically more complex
and psychically more interiorized.  If I have understood
him correctly, Teilhard is here saying that it is of the very nature of
parts of the universe, by a sort of law in the universe, to move or drift
from more simple and less conscious states of existence to fuller states
of existence that are physico-chemically more complex and psychically more
interiorized. And such moving or drifting of the universe from lesser to
fuller states of existence he calls auto-arrangement.
for Teilhard, to a form of auto-arrangement at the reflective level, at
the level of hominization. He writes:
man (that is, under the increasingly powerful governance of auto-evolution),
a second and new type of driving force -- by which I mean the reasoned
passion for progress -- emerges as ever more physically indispensable to
ensure the continuation and the ultimate success of the cosmic movement
of complexification.  Here what the French
Jesuit appears to stating is that the passion for progess, which is inherent
in the human mode of existence, is a driving force behind that existence
moving from lesser, simpler states of existing to fuller, more complex
states of existing. And this movement from lesser to fuller states of human
existence he calls auto-evolution.
So, as I see it,
what Teilhard appears to be claiming is something like the following:
"What exists on a
given plane has a tendency to move to a fuller plane of existence. Simpler
existence seems to have the inherent propensity to auto-arrange and auto-evolve
itself into fuller, more complex forms of existence. In a certain sense
(i. e. the sense of auto-arrangement or auto-evolution), existence that
is simpler and less complex generates, out of itself, an existence that
is fuller and more complex."
We have considered
a slight reformulation of Kris's claim (a reformulation with which he may,
or may not, agree). This reformulated claim states that an important law
operating in the universe seems to be that, in some sense, existence generates
fuller existence. In the light of the foregoing reflections, possibly,
Kris' claim is, in some sense, not incompatible with Teilhard's concepts
of auto-arrangement and auto-evolution.
When I formulated
this "fundamental law of existence" back in 1966, I did it in Dutch, my
native language. I stated "bestaan = doen bestaan", where "doen"
is not exactly the same as "to do" in English. "Doen" is
more a complete activity which implies some result, perhaps closer to "make", "engender", "provoke", "generate", "contribute to" than "to
do", which in English has rather the function of an auxiliary verb.
So I chosed for "generate", but perhaps the 'Anglophones' could
suggest a better choice.
The same problem
I had with "bestaan". This word sounds, in Dutch, less philosophical
than "existence" or the German "Dasein". Its closer to "to
be", or the French "être" and the German "bestehen".
But I think that
reducing the definition of "creation" to "put into existence
from nothing" is not justified. I think we are allowed to state that
an artist creates his work, even if all substance already exists,
and even if we can retrace the structure of his work to earlier art works
by himself or by other artists or non-artists. Otherwise, only a (hypothetical)
God could perform "creation" and the we should compse another word. But
-honestly- we don't know yet if, for this performance, He didn't use some
supernatural matter, energy, ideas or the combination of them. One of the
hypotheses about "things beyond evolution", as I suggested on this
page, is precisely that the completed Universe, at the Omega Point,
starts another universe, using all of its own matter and energy for that.
So, in this case, the notion of "God" is just a projection, from
our weak standpoint, to such a Superbeing behind our Alpha point. We interpret
such a System with our anthropomorphic instinct as an Old, Grey, Wise Man
(in fact the "Father" of Jesus), but from a postmodern view it rather
might be a "Supreme, High-technological Team" that could include
-and along Teilhard probably will include- all humanity, socialized into
So I'm looking for
(1) a word that means something very fundamental, including each of the
something into existence from elements already existing, but not having
the same global possibilities The act of "making"
and subsequently raising a child is perhaps the most complete image for
- supporting (or
rather: co-supporting) its development and continued existence
- enhancing the
quality of its existence
- giving sense to
one's own existence
And also I'm looking
for (2) a word that means:
an observable existence
- performing a continuous
development, growth, evolution, or whatever you want to call it, this development
being induced as well by external influences, as by internal "reflections"
upon those influences, observations and communications
- having an "existence
generating" effect upon other systems
- giving sense to
the existence of the other systems/beings.
says here may well have merit. In antiquity, within the framework of a
static cosmos, the neo-Platonic philosophers (of whom the most prominent
was Plotinus) arrived at a sort of Supreme Trinitarian System as follows:
1. The One (The
Supreme God above all gods, the Ultimate Source of all that was, is and
2. The Intellect
(an outflow from the One and subordinate to the One);
3. The World-Soul
(an outflow from the Intellect and subordinate to the Intellect).
In the neo-Platonic
Trinity and in the Christian Trinity all three members are divine. But
in the Christian Trinity all three members are equal whereas in the neo-Platonic
Trinity there is a hierarchy of a superior and subordinates. Now, it does
seem to me that the neo-Platonic Trinity could be just as well adapted
to Kris' system as the Christian Trinity. But, if we were to adapt Plotinus'
Trinity to Kris' system, we would not likely receive approval of the Christian
theologians because the three members of this Trinity would be unequal
to one another. I, personally, would not object to our giving serious consideration
to an adaptation of the neo-Platonic Trinity to fit the principle of: "to
exist = to generate existence"; but would the Christian theologians accept
such an adaptation, would Teilhard? At this point, I must confess that
I am not convinced that the theologians or Teilhard would do so.
So while I do think
that what Kris is proposing has merit, I'm just not 100% sure that Teilhard
and Christian theology would grant their full blessing to that proposal.
As to the nature of God - Christians believe that what they know about God has been
revealed to us mostly by the word and Spirit of God (...) constituting
the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. In other words - God has been revealed
to us as a Trinity - a trinity of persons - one in their goodness or godness.
Their unity is beyond our comprehension - but has been described by some
of the mystics as the Godhead. In their own time - eternity - having
made the basic stuff of creation "through Christ, in Him and for Him" [Col.1:16]
- they said, "Let us make man to reflect our own image and likeness" [Gen.1:26].
Together with Christ - "having been chosen in Christ before the world was
made" [Eph.1:4] - "We are meant to constitute the perfect or complete man
- fully mature with the fullness or grace-fulness of Christ himself" [Eph.4:13]
So, to a significant
degree, Teilhard's standpoint in the world is one that rests on his Christian
faith, a faith that, not infrequently, relies on revelation rather
than observation. And, apropos of standpoints, the French Jesuit makes
the interesting statement 'that nothing in the world is perceptible unless
one adopts the right standpoint for seeing it'.  And, for him, of course,
the Christian standpoint is the right one for seeing the world as it should
be seen, for perceiving reality properly, as it should be perceived. From
his faith perspective, he regards 'Christianity', in general, and 'Roman
Catholicism', in particular, as the 'living, organic axis' of a veritable
spirituality and as 'the religion of tomorrow'. 
I have frequently
asked myself: "What led Teilhard de Chardin to his passionate, dynamic
that is was the convergence, the integration, of his scientific findings
and his reformulated Christian view.
I wonder why, following his phenomenological inductions, he did not simply
content himself with updating the stable-order Logos of the ancient Greek
philosophers so as to bring it into line with a dynamic-process Logos that
would be compatible with "the neo-Logos of modern philosophy". For what
reason did he feel impelled to go beyond such a mere updating and identify
Christ with the neo-Logos? How did he arrive at a standpoint which tended
to infuse a pronounced Christian "tint" into so many of his observations
and into so many of his reflections on those observations? In what
remains of this article I would like to ponder these questions further
and, perhaps, suggest something of a response to them.
of an answer
The search for answers
to my questions has led me to a consideration of Père Teilhard's
childhood and youth. In a 'Prayer to the Ever-Greater Christ', which he
appears to have composed in 1950, the French Jesuit addresses Christ as:
'Lord of my childhood and Lord of my last days'.  And, indeed, it does
appear that Christ was the Lord of young Pierre's childhood, that Christianity
was a dominant influence on his early life. Let's explore some aspects
of his young life a little further.
Referring, many years
later, to his arrival on our planet, Teilhard writes: '...I was born right
into Catholic "phylum"'.  His mother, Berthe-Adèle, a deeply
pious woman, had a considerable influence on her son's religious development.
In this regard, he writes: '..."my mother's God" was primarily, for me
as much as for her, the incarnate Word.'  In addition, he states
that 'the "devotion" with which my mother constantly sustained me (was
a) devotion to the Heart of Jesus'.  So from the cradle onwards, the
child, Pierre, was steeped in Christianity, a Christianity which he, and
virtually everyone in his entourage, regarded as, quite literally, divinely
We also find Teilhard
telling us: 'However far I go into my memories (even before the age of
ten) I can distinguish in myself the presence of a strictly dominant passion:
the passion for the Absolute.'  When we combine this childhood mystical
impulse towards the Absolute with a home environment permeated with Christianity,
with concepts such as "the incarnate Word" and "the Heart of Jesus", it
is not to be wondered at that the Christian world-view penetrated deeply
into the very core of young Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's personality.
Ursula King, a professor
of theology at the University of Bristol, England, has, of recent years,
written a biography of the French Jesuit entitled: 'Spirit of Fire, The
Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin' . The first three chapters
(pages 1 through 17) of Dr. King's book provide us with a picture of the
uninterrupted Christian milieu in which the young Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
lived out his formative years up to the age of about twenty. The following
four paragraphs contain data taken from these three chapters.
1. His youth at
Pierre Teilhard de
Chardin was born in May 1881 in the province of Auvergne, France. He was
the fourth of the eleven children of Emmanuel and Berthe-Adèle Teilhard
de Chardin. The family that welcomed into its midst the new baby boy, soon
to be called Pierre, was of noble lineage and enjoyed the ownership of
ancestral land. Up to the age of ten, Pierre was schooled at home by his
parents and by governesses. It was his mother who took on the responsibility
of giving the children their instruction in religious education or, as
it was then called, catechism. Besides regular family visits to church,
there were also daily evening prayers in which all of the household members
2. His education
at the Jesuit College
At the age of ten
Pierre left the religious environment of home and entered another pious
milieu, that of a Jesuit-run boarding school not far from Lyon. When we
call to mind Teilhard's going off to a Jesuit educational institution in
his eleventh year of life, we might be tempted to think of him as having
been, in some sense, a member of the Society of Jesus from that tender
age. To think in such a fashion would, of course, be to engage in exaggeration.
But it would be no exaggeration to say that, from at least the age of ten,
he came under the influence of the Jesuit approach to Christian spirituality,
an approach which, among other things, accorded a place of honour to revealed
I was myself
12 years in such a Jesuit College and I can assure you that a strong "spiritual"
influence is transmitted upon you. But I'd like add that they use a severe
selection, the style of English Public schools. So I'm not sure they transmit
the spirit by their education, or only conserve this spirit in their educational
atmosphere by a selection of those people who, by temperament or education
at home, already exhibit the gist of such a spirit. Ursula King tells us
that, while he was a boarder at the Jesuit school, the youthful Teilhard
joined a number of devotional, extra curricula, student societies sponsored
by the authorities of that educational institution. Indeed, in due course,
he even became the secretary and then the prefect of one such society.
Perhaps his membership in such pious student groups served to convey to
him additional aspects of Christian spirituality above and beyond those
imparted within the regular curriculum.
3. The spirituality
of the Company of Jesus
Very possibly, also,
the spiritual atmosphere permeating his boarding school was a factor in
young Pierre's decision to formally associate himself with the Society
of Jesus. And this association began when, at the age of seventeen, in
March of 1899, Teilhard became a Jesuit novice. In joining the Jesuit order,
of course, he placed himself in a further pious milieu replete with Christian
spirituality, a milieu in which he was destined to spend the rest of his
A few years
ago (1989), when the Company of Jesus existed since 450 years, I made a
thorough study of the Ignatian Spirituality and the Spiritual
Exercises, their basic training, from a psychological viewpoint. I
even gave several conferences, also to Jesuits, about this fascinating
topic. Ignatius's vision surpasses the spirit of his time by several centuries!
But during the 19th century the real consciousness about it progressively
faded away, to be replaced by a more common Christian attitude, without
the brilliance of Ignatius's spirituality. It's only during the last decades
that there was a revival, partly due to a study of the Spanish sources
of Ignatius's writings, which led to the discovery that much was lost by
translating this sensible language into a rather simple and military sounding
Latin. So I fear that also Teilhard, despite his high personal qualities,
only was confronted with a lukewarm version of this worthwhile Spirituality. Summarizing
So, we find Teilhard,
up to the age of ten, in a family milieu within which the Christian outlook
enjoyed a prominent place of honour. There follows a further six or seven
years at a Christian boarding school. And finally, from the age of seventeen
into early adulthood, he situates himself within a religious order where
the Christian world-view, not unexpectedly, is dominant.
We see, then, that
during his formative years, from the cradle to early adulthood, Teilhard
was steeped in profoundly Christian environments. Consequently, we may
not be too far off the mark if we conclude that these environments combined
with his strong innate "passion for the absolute" to propel him along the
path of a devout Christian mysticism, a mysticism in which figure prominently
a number of doctrines said to be divinely revealed.
Perhaps the foregoing
facts, as well as our reflections on these facts, may shed some light on
the process by which Teilhard's profoundly Christian standpoint was built
up. By the time he reached adulthood, his religious foundation, his faith,
may have become sufficiently well established in his make-up to constitute,
for him, almost a second nature. And this second nature of sorts may have
formed, in his eyes, the "right standpoint" for seeing the world properly,
as it should be seen. Further, given that his Christian standpoint, his
faith was one that overflowed with energy, dynamism and vitality, the fact
that such a faith spilled over into many areas of his thought may be less
occasion for surprise than what might have seemed to be the case at first
sight. Simply put, Teilhard's perspective on the world was deeply Christian,
and consequently, so was his interpretation of that world.
'The Phenomenon of Man' [Fountain Books, 1977], p. 322.
'Introduction to the Christian Life', in 'Christianity and Evolution' [Harvest
Book, 1974], p. 167.
'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward the Future' [Harvest Book, 1975], pp.
'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward', p. 198.
'Suggestions for a New Theology et. al.' in 'Christianity', p. 180.
'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward', p. 199.
'On the Probable Existence of an "Ultra-Human" et. al.', in 'The Future
of Man' [Harper & Row, 1969], p. 293.
'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward', p. 199 (in footnote # 40).
'The Awaited Word', in 'Toward', p. 98.
'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward', p. 199 (In footnote # 40).
'Phenomenon', p. 322.  'Suggestions for a New Theology et. al.' in
'Christianity', p. 180.
'Suggestions for a New Theology et. al.' in 'Christianity', p. 181.
'Suggestions for a New Theology et. al.' in 'Christianity', p. 180.
'Suggestions for a New Theology et. al.' in 'Christianity', p. 181.
Cf. 'The Heart of the Problem', in 'Future', p. 274.
'The Natural Units of Humanity', in 'The Vision of the Past' [Collins,
1966], p. 199.
'Introduction to the Christian Life', in 'Christianity and Evolution' [Harvest
Book, 1974], p. 168.
'The Heart of Matter', in 'The Heart of Matter' [Harvest Book, 1978], p.
'The Heart of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 39.
'The Heart of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 42.
'The Heart of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 42.
Cited in 'Spirit of Fire, the Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin',
by Ursula King, Orbis Books, 2000, p. 5. (Original Source: 'My Universe')
Orbis Books, New York, 2000.
'The Zest for Living', in 'Activation of Energy' (Harvest Book, 1970),
'From Cosmos to Cosmogenesis et. al.', in 'Activation', p. 265.
'Letters from a Traveller' (Fontana Books, 1971), p. 60.
- Comments added 7/4/02 & 10/8/02