The Juicy Jesuit


jesuit and the skullI recently read a biography of Teilhard called The Jesuit and the Skull. Great read, particularly because it deals primarily with him as a scientist, a paleontologist, and a highly respected one at that. One of the threads concerns his continual silencing by the Jesuits, banning him from lecturing in his beloved Paris because his theology was grounded in evolution. At the time, evolution was regarded as a threat to faith. Guess it still is is most Christian circles. Which is sad. But he accepted his fate stoically, displaying a humility that is incomprehensible to me. He was sent to China, which was fortunately a hotbed of paleontological activity. The other thread I found intriguing was his great love affair (never consummated) with a woman who waited for almost a lifetime for Teilhard to give up the priesthood. His faithfulness to his vows was unassailable, but I found myself rooting for the woman.

What became clear to me was just how much time he spent in the field in very uncomfortable conditions doing digs for human skulls. (He was actually a central figure in the discovery of Peking man). It must have been on excursions like these that he had time to reflect on the nature of matter and the matter of God.

What I also didn’t know was that Teilhard’s love of the material world was so deep that he almost became a pantheist—nature had almost become his god.  You can see why this might be so, given the amount of time he spent outdoors.

Ultimately, he continued his love affair with the world of matter, but viewed this alluring force of matter as a  “cult of passivity”, (by which he means a materialist worldview that somehow sees matter as the creator of life and consciousness). He wanted to know the force which lay behind and within matter becoming life and life becoming self-reflexive consciousness and the power of love. He heard the voice of nature tempting him—”holding out the promise of some great bliss-giving repose” and he knew what it meant when he heard that voice saying “Take the easier road”. But the easier road took him further away from what he regarded as the crowing achievement of life—the activity of personhood, which consists in our awareness that evolution has awakened to itself in us, and that we therefore have been graced with this capacity to consent to a future being born through us by conscious cooperation.

“Life! When trouble lies heaviest upon us, whither shall we turn, if not to the ultimate criterion, the supreme verdict, of life’s success and the roads that lead to it? When every certainty is shaken and every utterance falters, when every principle appears doubtful, then there is only one ultimate belief on which we can base our rudderless interior life: the belief that there is an absolute direction of growth, to which both our duty and our happiness demand that we should conform; and that life advances in that direction, taking the most direct road.” He continues…

“…I believe this to be true: there is indeed an absolute fuller-being and an absolute better-being, and they are rightly to be described as a progress in consciousness, in freedom, and in moral sense…The true summons of the cosmos is a call consciously to share in the great work that goes on within it; it is not to be drifting down the current of things that we shall be united with their one, single, soul, but by fighting our way, with them, toward some goal still to come”.

—The Cosmic Life in Writings In Time of War 28-32

Just a word about what Teilhard meant by the world absolute, (italics his own). From the time Teilhard was a boy he was looking for the absolute. First he found it in iron,(such solidity) then in rocks (when he was horrified to see the iron rusted and was therefore transient and relative), and then after reading Bergson’s Creative Evolution he realized that the Absolute was not to be identified as these solid things, but rather was found within these things. Matter was the exterior cloak of an invisible interior, sacred and dynamic unfolding. (Evolution was the Absolute in the process of becoming). Matter and Spirit then did not occupy separate domains, but were rather the inside and the outside of the one Eternal G_d. From that point forward he grounded the absolute in the process of becoming (evolution). For him, this process was being allured and animated by Christ, the Omega Point,  whom he believed to be the power at the epicentre of everything by which the multiplicity becomes one, and is increased by one, and through which every conjoined element in the new whole doesn’t lose its identity, but is rather provided with its higher vocation, in service of the greater whole.

P.S. Thought you might enjoy Steve Bennett’s diagram on Teilhard’s system. (The Greek letter is symbol of the Omega Point). The only thing I would add, a la Wilber, is that the background on which the diagram is illustrated is itself Spirit (that is, Spirit is not itself an emergent phenomena, and Christ animates the entire spiral from the Big Bang forward in Teilhard’s thinking.



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  1. says

    Nice to hear some background on Teilhard. I’m currently reading his Christianity And Evolution as I’m wrestling with what it means to really integrate evolutionary theory and Christian faith. Not sure I agree with, or even understand, everything he says, but I am definitely getting some profound insights. He truly understood the issues involved and faced them courageously. It is sad that so many Christians continue to resist evolution–I was one of them until recently–but I have the sense that things are shifting rapidly. If Pat Robertson can acknowledge that progressive evolution is compatible with Christianity, we must be getting somewhere!

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Nathanael, I didnt know that Pat Robertson affirmed progressive evolution! And good on you for stepping out.

  2. Bill says

    “Matter and Spirit then did not occupy separate domains, but were rather the inside and the outside of the one Eternal G_d”.

    Really like this statement. I have been writing on my own spiritual journey. I’m starting to move in the direction of pantheism. I think if our humanity can see all of this physical reality (including ourselves) is simply Spirit emerging as matter, it should lead us to a state of moving/living in harmony/coexistence. If our state of being is Spirit perceiving self as matter then we should look more kindly on our fellow humanity and our environment. My right hand needs to stop hammering my left hand as it is really only harming itself.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Thanks Bill, I like what you are saying. I call myself a panentheist, leaving some room for Mystery being greater than the sum of the parts. And I like what you are saying.

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