Pierre Teilhard de Chardin 1881 - 1955
Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin S. J. (Tay-ahr de Shar-dan), a great man of science and faith, was the inspiration that caused many to delve deeper into the mysteries of God's creation and our place in it. Teilhard was little known, yet his influence on Christianity has been significant.
"One of the 20th Century's most remarkable prophetic thinkers, an Aquinas of the atomic era". (Time Magazine - Oct. 16, 1964).
The 20th Century saw an astonishing advance in scientific knowledge, incomprehensible to all but the most learned scientific minds. The very nature of space, time and our material world has been shown to exist in states that defied past understandings. Increased consciousness of our place in nature led to the discovery that creation of the universe was not static but progressing through time to some future state. Our existence as reflective beings in this strange new world required deeper insights into the relationship between spirit and matter.
"The significance of Teilhard de Chardin for Christian theology is surely the fact that he asked theologians questions they
had never thought of before." (America Magazine)
For Christianity, the intellectual tragedy of the twentieth century has been the failure to understand evolution as a source of theological solutions rather than problems. The Catholic Church was blessed to have priests like Teilhard de Chardin who recognized that these new scientific discoveries were not hostile to the mission of the Church. He saw clearly that evolution had positive theological implications, but Rome silenced him.
As in past ages, those at the forefront of knowledge are often charged with heresy and Teilhard did not escape this label. Teilhard, a loyal and humble son of the
Church, suffered much because of restrictions placed on him by leaders of his faith and the Jesuit order. His ordeal was the frustration of enforced silence and submission to
After his death, those who recognized Teilhard's unique comprehension of the connections between science, evolution and Christianity published his 2 books, The Phenomenon of Man, and The Divine Milieu, plus 11 volumes of his essays.
The three last volumes of his essays of are a good introduction to the man and his unique vision. These are titled, The Heart of Matter, Christianity and Evolution and Toward the Future.
The difficulty that many people had in understanding Teilhard was the specialized language he used to construct a coherence behind science and faith. He used scientific language to describe reality and religious language to explain how this reality was communicated.
Teilhard was far more than an outstanding priest, soldier, philosopher and scientist. He was a rare human being who formed deep friendships and his warm personality affected all who knew him.
In 1962, the second Vatican Council opened and also in 1962 the Holy Office issued a monitum regarding the writings of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. See "Montium" at sidebar.
A few years later we find praise for Teilhard's writings. Four popes have made explicit references to his work.
"It is very likely that within fifty years when all the trivial, verbal disputes about the meaning of Teilhard's "unfortunate" vocabulary will have died away or have taken a secondary place, Teilhard will appear like John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, as the spiritual genius of the twentieth century." Fulton J Sheen - Footsteps in a Darkened Forest - (New York: Meredith, 1967) page 73.
"We need not concern ourselves with a number of detractors of Teilhard, in whom emotion has blunted intelligence". Henri Cardinal de Lubac, S.J. - The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin
"It is doubtful if any Christian of this century can be fully aware of his religion until he has seen it in the cosmic light which Teilhard has cast upon it."
Flannery O'Connor - The Presence of Grace. (my favorite Catholic author whose writings are also misunderstood)
In 1966, Saint Pope Paul VI delivered a speech in which he said Teilhard was a scientist who “scrutinizing the material, knew how to find the spiritual,” and who had offered “an explanation of the universe capable of revealing the presence of God in it, the traces of an intelligent principle and creator.”
Also - “Fr. Teilhard is an indispensable man for our times; his expression of faith is necessary for us!” . (From several secondary sources)
Pope Benedict XVI Homily at Vespers in Aosta, July 31, 2009 - "The role of the priesthood is to consecrate the world so that it may become
a living host, a liturgy: so that the liturgy may not be something alongside the reality of the world, but that the world itself shall become a living host, a liturgy. This is also
the great vision of Teilhard de Chardin: in the end we shall achieve a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host."
After this address by Pope Benedict, the Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said "By now, no one would dream of saying that [Teilhard] is a
heterodox author who shouldn't be studied." - John Allen at National Catholic Reporter online July 28, 2009
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity – 1968
* We shall return later to discuss today this enlarged perspective which is at last beginning to gain currency in the Western consciousness as well, especially as a
result of stimuli from the work of Teilhard de Chardin. Page 85
* It must be regarded as an important service of Teilhard de Chardin's that he rethought these ideas from the angle of the modern view of the world … Page 236
* This leads to a further passage in Teilhard de Chardin that is worth quoting … Page 238
* From here it is possible to understand the final aim of the whole movement as Teilhard sees it … page 238
* To use Teilhard de Chardin's terminology … Page 304
* The first of these two concepts can be accepted again today without argument; and after what we have learned from Teilhard, the second should no longer be
entirely incomprehensible, either. Page 318
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy Ignatius Press: (2000), p29
"... against the background of the modern evolutionary world view, Teilhard depicted the cosmos as a process of ascent, a series of unions. ... From here
Teilhard went on to give new meaning to Christian worship: the transubstantiated Host is the anticipation of the transformation and divinization of matter in the christological "fullness".
In his view, the Eucharist provided the movement of the cosmos with its direction; it anticipates its goal and at the same time urges it on".
Saint Pope John Paul II, Gift and Mystery, page 73
"The Eucharist is also celebrated in order to offer 'on the altar of the whole earth the world's work and suffering' in the beautiful words of Teilhard de Chardin."
Note - The pope was referring to prayers in Teilhard's Mass on the World, which the latter had said 80 years earlier in the Gobi Desert, when he had run out of bread and wine and made the whole earth his altar.
In 1981, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, St. Pope John Paul II’s Secretary of State, published an article in L’Osservatore Romano in which Casaroli praised the “astonishing resonance of his research, as well as the brilliance of his personality and richness of his thinking.” Casaroli wrote that Teilhard had anticipated John Paul II’s call to “be not afraid,” embracing “culture, civilization and progress.”
Cardinal Casaroli also wrote a letter to the Rector of the Catholic Institute of Paris, May 12, 1981. "The international scientific community and, more broadly, the whole intellectual world, are preparing to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin."
"I am happy, Your Excellency, to communicate this message to you on behalf of the Holy Father, (Pope John Paul II) for all the participants in the conference over which you preside at the Catholic Institute of Paris as a tribute to Father Teilhard de Chardin, and I assure you of my faithful devotion."
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, Ignatius Press (1987), p. 334
"The impetus given by Teilhard de Chardin exerted a wide influence [on the Council]. With daring vision it incorporated the historical movements of Christianity
into the great cosmic process of evolution from Alpha to Omega. … The Council’s ‘Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World’ took the cue; Teilhard’s slogan “Christianity means more
progress, more technology,” became a stimulus in which the Council Fathers from rich and poor countries alike found a concrete hope" .
Avery Cardinal Dulles, (1983) - The Catholicity of the Church
page 43 - The Teilhardian formula, 'union differentiates', casts additional light on the concept of catholicity. ... The Church may be called in the terminology of Teilhard de Chardin, the 'consciously Christified portion of the world'.
page 117 - "In the words of Teilhard de Chardin: 'When Christ says through his priest, "This is my Body", these words overflow the piece of bread upon which they are pronounced; they bring to birth the entire Mystical Body. Beyond the transubstantiated host, the priestly action extends to the cosmos itself'. Teilhard did not mean that the universe would literally turned into Christ's eucharistic body, as some have imagined. ... Teilhard gave poetic expression to this thought in his inspiring meditation, 'The Mass Over the World'.
Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. - A Eucharistic Church: The Vision of John Paul II - McGinley Lecture, University, November 10, 2004.
"In his own poetic style, the French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin liked to meditate on the Eucharist as the first fruits of the new creation. In an essay called The Monstrance he describes how, kneeling in prayer, he had a sensation that the Host was beginning to grow until at last, through its mysterious expansion, 'the whole world had become incandescent, had itself become like a single giant Host.' Although it would probably be incorrect to imagine that the universe will eventually be transubstantiated, Teilhard correctly identified the connection between the Eucharist and the final glorification of the cosmos."
Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, Archbishop of Vienna
From his book, Chance or Purpose, 2007, page 141, Teilhard de Chardin - Witness to Christ
Hardly anyone else has tried to bring together the knowledge of Christ and the idea of evolution as the scientist (paleontologist) and theologian Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., has done. ... His fascinating vision has remained controversial, and yet for many it has represented a great hope, the hope that faith in Christ and a scientific approach to the world can be brought together. ... These brief references to Teilhard cannot do justice to his efforts. The fascination which Teilhard de Chardin exercised for an entire generation stemmed from his radical manner of looking at science and Christian faith together.
Pope Francis in the Encyclical Laudatio Si, of 2015 refers to Teilhard in note 53 of paragraph 83. "The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been attained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things."
This website was created in 2007 and updated in 2018. Donald W. New Albany, IN