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Views on Creation
Some aspects of Teilhard's approach

By Brian Cowan

Michelangelo, The Creation, Sistine Chapel, Vatican


This article will be mainly about Teilhard's concept of creation as it involves God and Christ. Much less will be said about the sort of creation in which human beings engage when they originate something new. 

Within his discussion of creation, Teilhard uses a couple of technical terms which may be familiar to those acquainted with Thomistic theology and philosophy. These terms are: the Ens a se, and Participated being. [1] What, we may ask, are the meanings the French Jesuit assigns to these terms? Let's look at them a little more closely. 

Two forms of being

"Ens a se" is, of course, Latin for "Being from itself". And Being from itself, as Teilhard understands it, is Being that exists from, or by, its own power, that is to say, it is Being that is unengendered. The Ens a se is the Supreme Being, the uncreated Absolute, God.

Participated being is engendered being; it is being which, unlike the Ens a se, is not the source of its own act of existence. Participated being is being the existence of which is upheld, sustained by a power from outside itself, which power participates in the engendered being; and this power is that of the Ens a se, of God. The Divinity, the unengendered Source of all that was, is, or will be, by way of its divine power, first engenders or creates, from nothing, participated being, and then participates in, upholds and sustains, in existence, that same participated being. For Teilhard, then, participated being consists of being that is engendred or created, from nothing, by God, and in which God's power subsequently participates to keep that being from simply collapsing back into the nothingness from which it was drawn. As the French Jesuit puts it, 'participated being' is being that 'God...sustains and animates and holds together' and, in connection with which, God 'is at the birth, and the growth, and the final term'. [2] 

For its emergence out of nothingness and for its continuance in existence, participated being, from the Teilhardian perspective, is totally dependent on, completely contingent upon, the Ens a se, the Absolute, God. The French Jesuit sees the Ens a se and participated being as forming a kind of 'ontologically inseparable' [3] pair of metaphysical entities with one term of the pair (the Ens a se), being completely self-sustaining, and the other term of the pair (participated being), depending totally for its existence on the Ens a se. And speaking of ontological / metaphysical pairs, Teilhard refers to the 'Ens a se and participated being' as 'the most mysterious of all those pairs'. [4]

The first Phase of Evolution

Creation, for Teilhard, seems, at its outset, to involve God, in some sense, pulling up, out of nothingness, participated being or "nature". For the Auvergnian Jesuit, one of God's effects 'on nature' is that of initially 'causing it to emerge from "non-being"'. [5] Once participated being, with divine help, has vanquished nothingness, it finds itself, again with divine help, put on the path of convergence, of union. With convergence in mind, Teilhard tells us that 'God creates by uniting'. [6] The pulling up of participated being from non-existence is only the very beginning of the divine creative enterprise. There is still much to be done in terms of convergence and unification, or as the French Jesuit puts it, in terms of 'creative union'. [7] Lets take a closer look at creative union.

The work of creative union, of ongoing convergence is co-extensive with time, in Teilhard's opinion. In this regard, he tells us that 'creation never comes to a halt.' [8] Creative union, then, is a creative process that is in progress through all time and by means of which greater and greater levels of unification, integration and convergence are attained. Creation, in the eyes of the French Jesuit, seems to be principally the animation of the cosmos in the direction of convergence for as long as time lasts. 

At this point, it may occur to us ask just what it was that, in Teilhard's opinion, was in place at the first dawn of creation. In the view of the French Jesuit, what God pulls up out of nothingness, at the very beginning of time, seems to be little more than 'a positive entitative principle' which is 'defined as that which can be united'. [9] In its most inchoate from, the primary stuff of the cosmos, for Teilhard, seems to be a "pure unitable"'. [10] Earliest matter, matter at its most concrete, he tells us, appears 'in the form of the supremely dispersed'. [11] So, for the French Jesuit, 'the initial state of the cosmos is (...) by virtue of its materiality, that of an immense multiple, of an extreme diffusion and distension.' [12]

From Teilhard's perspective, pinpointing the precise commencement of the earliest 'concrete matter' may be pretty well impossible because, for him, it 'has no precise beginning'. [13] Early matter, he tells us: 

'emerges from an abyss of increasing dissociation; in some way it condenses, starting from an external, shadowy sphere of infinite plurality, whose limitless and formless immensity represents the lower pole of being.' [14]
If I have understood him correctly, the French Jesuit, seems to be suggesting that, in the very first phase of creation, God pulls this "lower pole of being" up out of nothingness into a state of participated being. And, henceforth, while sustaining and holding together this participated being, God's main concern is to animate it always in the direction of greater and greater convergence or union. As we have already noted, Teilhard definitely gives priority to the unifying aspect of creation. In this connection, we can call to mind the following assertion of his: 'In a system of convergent cosmogenesis, to create is for God to unite.' [15]

So, under the rubric of creation by unification, not only is participated being sustained and held together by the Divinity, but it is also animated by the Divinity. And this animation is one that produces ever greater convergence, integration and union. Animation, in fact, is a process involving creative union. Right from the very beginning of creation, says the French Jesuit:

'an infinite number of collective movements begin to assert themselves; they mark off (segment) the multiple into so many currents (anastomosed or interlocked) along which the mass of primitive monads is drawn, following a variety of routes towards the Centre of all unions.' [16]
Driving Mechamisms

At this point we may ask if there are, for Teilhard, any special mechanisms or agencies utilized by the Ens a se in this creative, unifying work of cosmic animation. I think there are at least two: the Within and the Cosmic Christ.

1. The Within

Let's look at the Within first. For Teilhard there are two fundamental aspects of the participated being that constitutes our universe: the Within and the Without

a. The Without is matter which we have already considered and which appears, in its earliest stages, as "an immense multiple (...) an extreme diffusion and distension". Energy is inseparably connected to matter, and so some energy will inevitably belong to the domain of the Without -- that energy which does not draw matter forward to greater complexification and awareness, and which Teilhard calls 'tangential energy'. [17] Matter, representing the Without, is visible (given a sufficient quantity of it) and concrete.

b. The Within is invisible and psychic, and is co-extensive with matter. As Teilhard puts it: 'co-extensive with their Without there is a Within to things.' [18] The Within, for him, is 'a conscious inner face that everywhere duplicates the "material" external face' [19] of the cosmos. This inner face, 'this second face [remains] for the most part entirely hidden' [20] except when it manifests itself by its activity in the case of instinctual and reflective life.

c. The function of the Within

It appears to be the case that Teilhard perceives the Within at the interior of early concrete matter as a 'sort of great, inchoate, vague soul'. [21] And, for him, the task of this Within or inchoate soul, of long ago, with respect to the "immense multitude" of ancient matter, was to attend to 'the integration' of that matter's dispersed parts into 'a rudimentary whole', into a 'single universal matter'. [22]

And how did the Within, during the early eons of our cosmos, promote the advance of "supremely dispersed" matter in the direction of convergence? In a similar way, I think Teilhard would agree, to the way in which the Within promoted the advance of life, that is to say, by the purposeful selection of "strokes of chance". For the French Jesuit, patterns tend to repeat themselves, in amplified fashion, as cosmic evolution advances from stage to stage of complexity-consciousness. (Teilhard has a term for what he perceives as the repetition, in the course of cosmogenesis, of patterns that become more amplified or pronounced with each repetition, at higher and higher levels of evolution, and this term is 'the general law of recurrence'. [23]). So, I do not believe we will be straying from the viewpoint of the French Jesuit if we assert that during the early eons of our cosmos, the Within, as it was to do later, in more sophisticated fashion, in the case of life, promoted the advance of dispersed matter toward convergence by utilising, for purposes of unification those 'strokes of chance' which the Within 'recognised and grasped -- that is to say psychically selected.' [24] In the eyes of the French Jesuit, the Within is like a kind of 'flame of organic development which has been running through the world (in the sense of "the universe") since the beginning of time'. [25]

2. The Cosmic Christ

a. Definition

Of course, from Teilhard's perspective, behind both the Within and the Without, and, indeed, permeating them through all time, is the cosmic Christ. Let's now turn our attention to the some features of the French Jesuit's outlook on the role of the cosmic Christ in creation. 

For Teilhard, the cosmic Christ is the Logos, the fully developed soul [26] of the universe, the organic 'prime mover and controller, the "soul" of evolution.' [27] This is opposed to the developing soul or Within, which seems to occupy a subordinate status, in the scheme of things, to the Christic Logos. From the Teilhardian standpoint there seems to be two cosmic souls, an upper soul (that of Christ) who is fully actualized right from the beginning of time, and a lower soul (the Within) which becomes more and more actualised with the passage of time.

b. The 'task' of the Cosmic Christ

In the view of the French Jesuit, it is Christ who animates the cosmos, who ultimately has the 'control and leadership of what we now call evolution.' [28] And, while in the eyes of the French Jesuit, Christ, the Christic Logos, is certainly divine, there is more to Christ than divinity alone. In fact, Teilhard alludes to 'the total Christ' who is more, not only than God, but more, even, 'than man and God'. [29] From the perspective of the Auvergnian Jesuit, besides being 'theandric', made up of a divine nature and a human nature, Christ also possesses a 'third "nature"', a 'cosmic' nature. [30] And just as Christians hold that wherever God is, there too is the Trinity, so I believe that Teilhard's maintains that wherever Christ is, there too is the total Christ, the Christ in possession three natures, that is to say, of a divine, a human, and a cosmic nature. I think it is safe to claim that, for the French Jesuit, the presence and influence of the cosmic Christ invariably involves the presence and influence of the total Christ. 

So, it seems to be the case that from the Teilhardian standpoint, the cosmic Christ who is seamlessly unified with the total, tri-natured Christ, constitutes the all pervading Logos of the cosmos. Further this Christic Logos is the driving force behind creation by unification. Also, it seems that it is in virtue of Christ permeating the cosmos, though all space and all time, that justification is found for referring to him as cosmic.

As Teilhard sees it, the cosmic Christ is in charge of creation by way of unification and convergence throughout all time and all space. Alluding to Christ's unifying role in the cosmos, by way of a Christic incarnation, the French Jesuit writes: 'The essence of Christianity is neither more nor less than a belief in the unification of the world in God (via the divine nature of Christ]) by the Incarnation.' [31] I believe that Teilhard uses the term "world" here in the sense of  "cosmos". The pan-temporal and pan-spatial reign of Christ in the universe is strongly suggested in the following passage. 

'To be the alpha and omega, Christ must, without losing his precise humanity (i. e. his human nature), become co-extensive with the physical expanse of time and space (i. e. must acquire a cosmic nature). In order to reign on earth, He must "super-animate" the world. In Him henceforth, by the whole logic of Christianity, personality (or soul) expands (or rather centres itself) till it becomes universal.' [32]
The context does suggest here that by the phrases "reign on earth" and "super-animate the world" the French Jesuit means, respectively, "reign in the universe" and "super-animate the universe".

And as we noted earlier, for Teilhard, "creation never comes to a halt" so long as time perdures. Provided there is a future ahead, the creative, unifying process, with Christ at the helm, is never over and done with, in the eyes of the French Jesuit. Rather, does that process move on from stage to stage, with each stage more converged, more integrated than the last. And each advancing stage or level of evolutionary development involves parts of the cosmos attaining to ever growing levels of complexity-consciousness. Not surprisingly, Teilhard considers that Christ is the 'prime mover of the evolutive movement of complexity-consciousness' [33] which forms an important aspect of convergence and unification.

c. Christogenesis

From Teilhard's standpoint, cosmogenesis, or ongoing creation through unification, discloses itself, 'first as biogenesis and then noogenesis, and finally culminates in the Christogenesis which every Christian venerates.' [34] Indeed, the French Jesuit goes so far as to view Christogenesis as a sort of "veritable universal transubstantiation', a kind of transformation of an ordinary universe into a 'Christified universe'. [35]

Is Teilhard considering Chritogenesis as a phase beyond noogenesis, or simultaneous to it? [Kris Roose]
I think that Teilhard does view biogenesis and noogenesis as simultaneous with Christogenesis and, indeed, as phases or aspects of Christogenesis. However, what he seems to be suggesting in the above quotation, if I have understood him correctly, is that Christogenesis first discloses or reveals itself as a biogenesis and then afterwards as a noogenesis, and later still as a Christogenesis. It has been a Christogenesis all along, of course, but it has taken time for us to get, in its regard, from the concept of biogenesis to the concept of noogenesis and finally to the concept of Christogenesis. In Teilhard's eyes, it seems that we first conceive of cosmogenesis as biogenesis, and then as noogenesis and finally as Christogenesis. Cosmogenesis has been Christogenesis all along, in his opinion, but it took us a while to get to see this.

A rough analogy to the sort of gradual disclosure we are discussing here might be found in the unfolding of the plot in a murder-mystery novel. At first a death discloses itself to the detective-protagonist as a suicide. Further detecting by our gumshoe reveals the death is really a murder. And still further digging into all of the circumstances surrounding this murder discloses to the detective (and to us who are reading the novel) that this killing is connected to previous murders that gave the appearance of being accidental deaths. So what we have here is a situation that, for some time, has been one involving a series of felonious killings, but which first disclosed itself as a suicide, then later as a murder and then, later still, as a series of murders. This situation of serious criminality existed all along, over a period of duration, but only disclosed itself, a step at a time, over that duration.

So it does seem to be the case that a situation can exist as a reality from a point of commencement, with our only becoming fully aware of that situation, in increments, at lengths of time after that point of commencement.


Humanity, the human noosphere (and, indeed, any other noosphere that may exist) has, for Teilhard, a unique role to play in process of creation. Why? Because the members of a noosphere are endowed with such powers as those of thought, inventiveness, a considerable degree of foresight, and some freedom of choice. The ability to think, to invent, to plan ahead are of great value, to us humans, in building, developing, creating the future. And, in the eyes of the French Jesuit, 'our first duty is to develop the world'. [36] But, due to freedom of choice, a human being can refuse that duty. Further, such a refusal, from the Teilhardian standpoint, can have something of a negative effect on the future. As the French Jesuit puts it, with reference to modern man become conscious of evolution: 

'...he finds in his heart the fearful task of conserving, increasing, and transmitting the fortunes of a whole world. His life, in a true sense, has ceased to be private to him. Body and soul, he is the product of a huge creative work with which the totality of things has collaborated from the beginning; if he refuses the task assigned to him, some part of that effort will be lost for ever and lacking throughout the whole future.' [37]

[1] Cf: 'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward the Future' (Harvest Book, 1975), p. 208. 
[2] 'Cosmic Life' (at the conclusion of 'The End of the Species'), in 'The Future of Man' (Harper & Row, 1969), p. 318. 
[3] 'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward', 207. 
[4] 'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward', 208. 
[5] 'From Cosmos to Cosmogenesis', in 'Activation of Energy' [Harvest Book, 1970], p. 263 (In footnote # 4). 
[6] 'The Names of Matter', in 'The Heart of Matter' [Harvest Book, 1978], p. 226. 
[7] 'The Names of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 226.
[8] 'Two Wedding Addresses', in 'Heart', p. 138. 
[9] 'The Names of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 227. 
[10] 'The Names of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 227. 
[11] 'The Names of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 227. 
[12] 'The Names of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 227. 
[13] 'The Names of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 227. 
[14] 'The Names of Matter', in 'Heart', pp. 227-228. 
[15] 'From Cosmos to Cosmogenesis', in 'Activation', pp. 262-263. 
[16] 'The Names of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 228. 
[17] Cf. 'The Phenomenon Man' (Fountain Books, 1977), pp. 70-72.
[18] 'Phenomenon', p. 61.
[19] 'Phenomenon', p. 63. 
[20] 'Phenomenon', p. 63. 
[21] 'The Names of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 228. 
[22] 'The Names of Matter', in 'Heart', p. 228. 
[23] Cf. 'The Planetisation of Mankind et. al.' in 'The Future of Man' (Harper & Row, 1969), pp. 136-137.
[24] 'Phenomenon', p. 165 (In footnote # 1). 
[25] 'Two Wedding Addresses', in 'Heart', p. 138.
[27] 'Suggestions for a new Theology et. al', in 'Christianity and Evolution' (Harvest Book, 1974), p. 180. 
[28] 'Phenomenon', p. 322. 
[29] 'The Christic', in 'Heart', p. 93. 
[30] 'The Christic', in 'Heart', p. 93. 
[31] 'Sketch of a Personalistic Universe', in 'Human Energy' [Collins, 1969], p. 91. 
[32] 'Sketch of a Personalistic Universe', in 'Human', p. 91. 
[33] 'The Christic', in 'Heart', p. 94. 
[34] 'The Christic', in 'Heart', p. 94. 
[35] 'The Christic', in 'Heart', p. 95. 
[36] 'The Sense of Man', in 'Toward', p. 32. 
[37] 'The Basis and Foundations of the Idea of Evolution', in 'The Vision of the Past' (Collins, 1966), p. 137.

Posted 17/4/02 for the Teilhard eGroup by Brian Cowan