by Brother Jim Ward
Perhaps one of the most influential Church writers of the last century was the Jesuit priest, Pere Teilhard de Chardin. His writings have brought him widespread renown, not only among certain Catholics but also in the scientific world for what was seen as his unique achievement in his ‘marrying’ of religious and scientific thought as regards faith and evolution.
This perceived achievement is encapsulated in the words of Fr. Diamuid O’Murhu, spoken at Greenspirit, London, Sep. 20, 2009, in a memorial service honouring Fr. Thomas Berry, a leading devotee of Teilhard:
“Teilhard reclaimed for Christian faith the notion of evolution, and recast its meaning in a creative and dynamic way.”
This simple statement bears within itself a world of meaning with far reaching implications. As will be noted in the following quotation of his, Teilhard clearly intentioned the vast sweep of implications his theory involved as he refers to the theory of evolution:
“Blind indeed are those who do not see the sweep of a movement whose orbit infinitely transcends the natural sciences….
Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis?
It is much more: it is the general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow. Evolution is a curve to which all lines must follow” (‘The Phenomenon of Man’).
It was from this vision and into the matrix of its imagined reality that Teilhard fitted all his thinking, including his faith.
My concern is to show that Teilhard, despite his popularity in some ecclesiastical circles did, in fact, deny revealed truth as taught by the Church. Consequently, his theory, no matter how persuasive it might seem, nor how widely or by whom it might be accepted, cannot lay claim to being compatible with Catholic teaching. Nor may it be logically claimed that, while it might seem that certain elements of his theory are theologically unacceptable, other elements are theologically sound, thereby justifying his theory for, in the words of Cardinal Journet, a great scholar on Teilhard:
“Teilhard’s synthesis is logical and must be rejected or accepted as a whole” (‘Nova et Vetera’ 1962).
TEILHARD’S DENIAL OF REVEALED TRUTH
In support of my conclusion that Teilhard did, in fact, deny revealed truth as taught by the Church in his understanding of evolution, I offer the following quotes from his writings:
“What increasingly dominates my interest is the effort to establish within myself and to diffuse around me a new religion whose God is no longer the great, Neolithic landowner of times gone by, but the soul of the world as demanded by the cultural and religious stage we have reached” (1936. Quoted in ‘Letters to I Zanta’ P. 114).
“I have come to the conclusion that…a whole series of reshaping of certain representations or attitudes which seem to us as definitely fixed by Catholic dogma has become necessary, if we simply wish to Christify evolution” (1953 ‘Stuff of the Universe’).
“Christ saves. But must we not hasten to add that Christ, too, is
saved by evolution” (1955 ‘Le Christique’). (Emphasis mine)
As can be seen from his own words as give above, it is perfectly clear that Teilhard makes no bones about his embracing errors that contradict Catholic faith. He is especially interested in targeting the dogma of Original Sin, thereby enabling him to deny redemption as Faith teaches.
TEILHARD AND ORIGINAL SIN
In a 1922 paper Teilhard states:
“Since there is no place in scientific history of the world for the turning point of Original Sin, since everything happens in experiential series as if there were neither Adam nor Eden, it follows that the Fall as an event is something unverifiable” (Original Sin – 1st paper).
And in 1929 he speaks of:
“Original Sin becoming little by little more like a laborious beginning than a Fall; Redemption coming closer to liberation than to a Sacrifice; the Cross becoming more and more evocative of laborious progress than of expiatory penitence” (The Human Sense).
Teilhard identifies Original Sin as a ‘turning point’ since this dogma stood as a barrier to an uninterrupted evolutionary development of man and nature. In this context it is perfectly plain that, in referring to ‘scientific history’ Teilhard means ‘evolution’.
In a nutshell, he reveals that he must deny this revealed truth if he is to hold to his concept of evolution. To do this is, of course, to deny the Faith.
Dietrich von Hildebrand, one of last century’s leading Catholic philosophers, has a damning condemnation of Teilhard’s thinking processes. He says:
“I do not know of another thinker who so artfully jumps from one position to another contradictory one without being disturbed by the jump or even noticing it” (‘Trojan Horse in the City of God’ ).
This observation may explain how Teilhard satisfied himself that he was reconciling his notion of evolution with the contradictory truth of Original Sin.
THE CHURCH’S RESPONSE TO TEILHARD
Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, ‘Humani Generis’ (1950), is accepted as a response to Teilhard’s errors. In this encyclical the Pope concedes that evolution may be held by Catholics but that:
“souls are immediately created by God” (#62)
“The faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of parents” (#64).
In 1953 the same Pope Pius XII described Teilhard’s works as “a cesspool of errors”. Severe condemnation indeed.
Besides this encyclical there at least fourteen known and official interdicts, prohibitions and outright condemnations against Teilhard’s name and his works.
Teilhard was never permitted to teach after the accidental discovery in Rome of his 1922 essay (1st paper).
The question arises: Since Teilhard’s works can be shown to contain errors that are condemned by the Church is it logical, in the light of Catholic Faith, to use his theory as a foundational basis for an orthodox Catholic spirituality?
Earlier I mentioned two priests in connection with Teilhard; viz., Frs. Diamuid O’Murchu and Thomas Berry. In that same eulogy Diamuid O’Murchu states:
“Thomas Berry became for me a living embodiment of Teilhard for the late 20th and 21st centuries”.
Clearly, both men were deeply inspired by Teilhard whose influence can readily be identified in their writing. A much-acclaimed Teilhardian disciple of Thomas Berry is one, Brian Swimme.
Would it not be prudent, therefore, in the light of Teilhard’s basic errors of faith, to approach with extreme caution any spirituality deeply reliable on the influence of these men?
Since all three men, particularly Thomas Berry, are readily recognized as leading lights in Ecological Spirituality, the question as posed by Ecclesiasticus: Ch 34 v 4 can validly be asked concerning this spirituality:
“What truth can come from that which is false?”