Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955): Taking the World Seriously

A brother of the community wrote the following reflection on the vision of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin regarding the importance of not separating faith from a concern for this world.

A child holds a piece of wood tightly in his hand. But a thought takes hold of him: the wood will eventually rot. Now he has grabbed a rock, but he knows that the stone, too, is doomed to crumble. Here is an iron object. Finally, he believes he has something that will resist decomposition. As a child, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, born in 1881, had a similar experience. He looked for something that could resist death.

When he became a Jesuit and a world-renowned scientist, he developed a vision of Christian faith that took into account the sensibility of the men and women of his time, more aware of their power to transform the world, but also made more anxious by the prospect of universal death.

Teilhard knew that for many of his contemporaries, what is real is the visible world. Speaking about God in a way that does not take this fact into account is a way of unwittingly fostering unbelief. He believed that God takes this world seriously, and that by likewise taking it seriously Christians will cause the figure of Christ to become real for their contemporaries. When Teilhard looked at reality, he did not see death, but rather the Risen Christ who is in solidarity with this world. For him, the Risen Christ was not in competition with the world, but rather the only one who gives it a future. This is because Teilhard united where others only opposed. In this way he found again the spirit in which some early Christians had viewed Christianity. For instance St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in the second century, did not dream for a single moment of opposing the created world and life in God’s eternity. These words of a contemporary of Teilhard’s, the philosopher Maurice Blondel, help us to understand Teilhard’s concern: “People are afraid of confusing, but we should be afraid of not uniting enough.... It is, in fact, when we do not know how to unite well that we are afraid of confusing. If too often today the general life of humanity is withdrawing from Christianity, that may be because all too often we have uprooted Christianity from the innermost bowels of man. " (Quoted by Henri de Lubac, Teilhard Posthumous.)

Teilhard wanted to allow his contemporaries to perceive “the intimate connection between Christ’s triumph and the success of the work that human effort seeks to build here on earth.” He discovered in the Scriptures not what depreciates earthly tasks, but what situates them in an ongoing process. He did not see human labor, as was too often the case, as a “punishment,” but as a fulfillment. This does not mean that Teilhard confused earthly success and the kingdom of God. He knew that God’s free and unmerited activity must transfigure everything. But what God transfigures is indeed this world.

If there is a place where several great insights of Teilhard hold true, it is in the Eucharist. What will happen to the bread and wine, “fruit of the earth and work of human hands”? They will become the Body and Blood of Christ. That means that they have an unexpected future which they cannot give to themselves. One can understand how Teilhard could write: “In reality, it is not the sense of the Contingency of the created world, but the sense of the mutual Completion of the World and God which gives life to Christianity.”

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