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Cosmology: Part Two


Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

Cosmology: Part Two

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) was a Jesuit paleontologist and mystic whose writings were suppressed by Catholic authorities during his lifetime. Today there’s a growing appreciation for his work which brings science and religion together and mobilizes Christians to participate with God in the process of bringing the universe to its fulfillment in Christ. In particular, we Franciscans resonate with Teilhard. I first discovered him in college in the early 1960s, during the heady years of the Second Vatican Council, and he filled me with a cosmic, earthy vision for my life.

What did Teilhard mean by “the cosmic Christ”? Dr. Beatrice Bruteau (1930–2014) explained:

Teilhard did not really mean that Christ had a “third nature,” a cosmic one, in addition to his divine and human natures. . . . Teilhard teaches only a cosmic function, significance or presence of Christ, not a cosmic nature. . . .

Nevertheless, it seems clear that Teilhard saw and felt something—and that strongly—for which his traditional language could not offer him any adequate image. He drew heavily from the words of St. Paul when he spoke of “the Body of Christ” or of Christ’s role with respect to the whole of creation or of his “energy” which still presses the world-process forward toward its goal:

[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . .  all things were created through him and for him [Colossians 1:15]. . . .

But Teilhard felt that the full cosmic significance of this vision and its physical reality had been overlooked among his coreligionists. . . .

When Teilhard tried to stress the cosmic aspect and bring it forward as a central motif in the Christian view of reality, his friends were embarrassed. . . . Teilhard apparently had an instinctive grasp of something which he was not free to express under the terms of his tradition. Yet it was a vital feature of his own system, in fact, it was the bond which he so desperately sought between his God in heaven, taught by his religion, and his God in the earth, taught by science and experience in life. The story of his life is the story of his struggle to bring this darkly sensed Mediator into such a form that both sides of him could live with it. It was a terrible conflict, but it produced a great many beautiful fruits both in his writings and in his own character. . . .

The central conception in Teilhard’s notion of the cosmic Christ is that “the universe forms one natural whole, which finally can subsist only by dependence from [Christ]. That’s the main thing.” [1] Teilhard sees himself as “the evangelist” of “Christ in the universe,” one who preaches Christ as containing “all the unyielding immensity and grandeur of the world.” [2] His “fundamental vision” [3] as expressed in The Divine Milieu is of Christ as All-in-everything, in its reality and in its future.

[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Making of a Mind: Letters from a Soldier-Priest, 1914-1919 (Harper & Row: 1965), 300.

[2] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Writings in Time of War, trans. René Hague (Harper & Row: 1968), 69.

[3] See French editor’s note in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu (Harper & Row: 1960), 155.

Beatrice Bruteau, Evolution Toward Divinity: Teilhard de Chardin and the Hindu Traditions (Theosophical Publishing House: 1974), 52-55.

Image credit: Fish Magic (detail), Paul Klee, 1925, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: To see evolution as revelatory of the divine Word means that we come to see the various forms and rhythms of nature as reflective of divine qualities. —Ilia Delio
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