by Andrew Simmons Friday, August 30
“Christ’s glory, beauty, and irresistible attraction radiate, in short, form his universal kingship. If his dominance is restricted to the sublunary regions, then he is eclipsed, he is abjectly extinguished by the universe.”
-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, pg 39.
From the depths of the Old Testament to the glorious revelations of the New Testament, the Scriptural narrative centers on the return of shalom (the peace of God) which was lost due to original sin. Isaiah 65:25 reads, “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain”. It is by this end-goal that the lives of saints such as St. Francis find meaning in the Christian worldview. Yet, as the 20th century dawned, one former stretcher carrier in the French hospitals of WWI looked up into the sky and pondered the meaning of shalom for the whole universe. This man was the Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. While he was received negatively by Church officials for his stance on original sin, Teilhard does leave the Church with a fundamental question over how one must view the cosmos in relation to its dogmas. Is the peace of God simply meant for the Earth, or is the totality of the universe involved in God’s plan? For Teilhard, shalom must have a universal meaning or it simply becomes limited and drowned in a chaotic universe.
Teilhard’s question concerning shalom arose from developments in astronomy and the speculations over the theory of evolution. A reoccurring theme in the works of Teilhard is the claim that the cosmic views of Christianity in the Patristic Era, Middle Ages, and the Renaissance were heavily indebted to a geocentric conception of the universe. For Teilhard, the primacy of the world and humanity loses its meaning when it is taken out of geocentrism. In all fairness to the scholars of the Middle Ages, Teilhard’s dismissal of the medieval conception of the cosmos is based on an inaccurate interpretation on what it meant to be at the center of the cosmos. Teilhard appears to be interpreting it as being in a state of importance. This skewers his analysis of how the Fall effected the cosmos as it leads to the conclusion that the worlds elevated status led to a corruption of the entire universe due to the Fall. The truth of the matter is that the inverse of Teilhard’s view is the accurate one. In Greek and Medieval cosmology, being at the center is actually a terrible thing. This worldview eventually leads to the Renaissance scholar Giovanni Pico to conclude that the creation of humanity was an act of God to provide one good thing for the center of the universe. The celestial spheres were viewed as being qualitatively better than the world. Teilhard’s critique only holds when one adheres to Galileo’s critique that the celestial spheres are not perfect but are as equally flawed as anything else.
Additionally, Teilhard was a biologist who was influenced by the theory of evolution. As a result, he held a view similar to that of Heraclitus who asserted that nothing has a definitive being, but is continuously undergoing change. A comparison is drawn between Teilhard and Nietzsche, another proponent of Heraclitus. Since everything lacks a definitive being, everything becomes immersed in the great prerogative to establish some sort of concrete being. For Nietzsche, there is no God to establish this, so one must be reliant on power of the will to establish being, albeit a limited and finite one. Teilhard, however, orchestrates a teleological procession that views the whole of creation as proceeding to Being itself. Despite the teleological differences, Nietzsche and Teilhard are in agreement that “man is made to be surpassed” (Jones 47). Both modernism and nihilism cease to be factors for Teilhard as he essentially abandoned both for a Logos-centered progression of the cosmos. According to Teilhard, “But let man believe in God, and immediately all around him the elements, even the irksome, of the inevitable organize themselves into a friendly whole, ordered to the ultimate success of life.” (Teilhard 35)
Shalom is actualized in the cosmos by its telos found in the Logos. In Genesis, mankind is created from the very dust of the earth (Gen 2:7) to be the “image, after the likeness” of God (Gen 1:26). Teilhard’s evolutionary stance promotes the notion that all of creation itself is simply that dust transforming due to God’s creative intellect. D. Gareth Jones writes in regards to Teilhard’s evolutionary theosis, “By placing man at the summit of the evolutionary process and by insisting that the cosmos is held together by spirit and not matter and that it converges towards persons and not things, Tielhard was able to confer upon evolution a direction, a goal and hence a meaning and purpose.” (Jones 14) The personified end-goal is further explained by Teilhard’s belief in a Eucharistic identity for creation. It is by embodying the Real Presence that creation achieves being and actuality. This should not be interpreted explicitly as transubstantiation but as a universal assumption into the Logos. It is in this state that Teilhard’s assertion of “Christ is all or nothing” solidifies shalom for the whole of the cosmos (Teilhard 44).
Jones, D. Gareth. Teilhard De Chardin: An Analysis and Assessment. Illinois: Inter-VarsityPress. 1971. Print
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Christianity and Evolution. New York: Harcourt Collins Sons & Co Ltd, and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.1971. Print
Andrew Simmons is currently a senior at Aquinas College. He is working on a double major in History and Theology with a minor in Catholic Studies. In 2010, during his freshman year, he converted to Catholicism. The Catholic Church has been recovering from the event ever since.