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A Biography of Teilhard


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The Christian Inspiration
of the Works of Teilhard
by Brian COWAN


The Christian 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'. [1] 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!" 

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"'. [2] And elsewhere, with reference to God, he alludes to the 'revealed datum' of the 'triune nature' of the 'First Being', the 'Omega Point'. [3]

The theory of the Third Nature of Christ

Teilhard goes so far as to posit a 'third Christic nature', finding support for such a theological view 'in the writings of St. Paul'. [4] 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'. [5] From Teilhard's perspective, the cosmic Christ is a personal 'cosmic element' [6], that is to say, a personal 'Some One' [7], 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 faith.

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'. [8] The cosmic Christ is identified, by the French Jesuit, with 'Christ the King', and 'Christ-Omega, the Universal Christ'. [9] Further, this Universal Christ, through all time and all space, enjoys a 'co-extension of sovereignty' [10] 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'. [11] 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'. [12]

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'. [13] The Auvergnian Jesuit's Christic Logos is not, of course, the old 'Alexandrian Logos' [14], 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'. [15] 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'. [16] 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.

Christian inspiration

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.

1. Christ vitalizes the universe.
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.
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 in scripture. 

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 writings.

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'. [17] 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'. [18] 

The question

I have frequently asked myself: "What led Teilhard de Chardin to his passionate, dynamic faith?" On occasion, 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.

Elements of an answer

Teilhard's subjective explanation

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'. [19] 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"'. [20] 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.' [21] In addition, he states that 'the "devotion" with which my mother constantly sustained me (was a) devotion to the Heart of Jesus'. [22] 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 revealed.

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.' [23] 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. 

Objective data

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' [24]. 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 home

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 participated. 

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 doctrines. 

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 Jesuit Society

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 life. 


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.

[1] 'The Phenomenon of Man' [Fountain Books, 1977], p. 322.
[2] 'Introduction to the Christian Life', in 'Christianity and Evolution' [Harvest Book, 1974], p. 167. 
3] 'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward the Future' [Harvest Book, 1975], pp. 193-194.
[4] 'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward', p. 198.
[5] 'Suggestions for a New Theology et. al.' in 'Christianity', p. 180.
[6] 'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward', p. 199.
[7] 'On the Probable Existence of an "Ultra-Human" et. al.', in 'The Future of Man' [Harper & Row, 1969], p. 293.
[8] 'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward', p. 199 (in footnote # 40).
[9] 'The Awaited Word', in 'Toward', p. 98.
[10] 'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward', p. 199 (In footnote # 40).
[11] 'Phenomenon', p. 322. [12] 'Suggestions for a New Theology et. al.' in 'Christianity', p. 180.
[13] 'Suggestions for a New Theology et. al.' in 'Christianity', p. 181.
[14] 'Suggestions for a New Theology et. al.' in 'Christianity', p. 180.
[15] 'Suggestions for a New Theology et. al.' in 'Christianity', p. 181. 
[16] Cf. 'The Heart of the Problem', in 'Future', p. 274.
[17] 'The Natural Units of Humanity', in 'The Vision of the Past' [Collins, 1966], p. 199.
[18] 'Introduction to the Christian Life', in 'Christianity and Evolution' [Harvest Book, 1974], p. 168.
[19] 'The Heart of Matter', in 'The Heart of Matter' [Harvest Book, 1978], p. 58.
[20] 'The Heart of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 39.
[21] 'The Heart of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 42.
[22] 'The Heart of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 42.
[23] 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')
[24] Orbis Books, New York, 2000.

Posted 2/4/02  - Commented version 3/4/02