An urgent call to theology
Black holes warp universe into a hall of mirrors. Livescience
Where is the place of Christ in the universe and the evolutionary story, – its past, present and future? That is, does Christ have a place at all? The Christian Church urgently needs to tackle this question. Teilhard de Chardin sets out the place of Christ after a lifetime of thinking as a passionate scientist and passionate priest. His thinking is being developed today by the Center for Christogenesis.
Some of you may have seen Brian Cox’s magnificent recent series Universe, broadcast on BBC 4. The programme on black holes was mind-bending, as Cox explained how all the workings of space-time cease completely at the event horizon of these “monsters.” They swallow up all neighbouring stars and even smaller black holes. Located at the heart of galaxies, they are the super-controlling, sculpting forces in the universe, like weird holes in its fabric. Finally, after all the awesome imagery, the camera unexpectedly came to focus on Cox as he walked through a ruined Gothic church, set in green fields, roofless yet still beautiful. From a vault under the old nave he proceeded to sum up. No reference was made to the ruin around him: it was simply allowed to speak for itself: you can’t mentally entertain the two concepts of a super massive black hole and the notion of a Personal Creator, as taught by Christianity. These monsters even swallow up God as we knew him! The findings of science are completely discrediting faith and its interpretation of reality. Christianity with its worldview is no more than a beautiful ruin from the past.
It was so pointed that as the symbolic meaning dawned, I felt impatient with the official Church which doesn’t seem to be taking important questions seriously, namely:
Where is the place of Christ in the universe story, – its past, present and future?
Where is the place of Christ in the evolution story, its past, present and future?
That is, does Christ have a place at all?
If faith is to remain credible for much longer, these answers must be found and widely proclaimed, and if the Church doesn’t address them soon it could indeed follow the fate of the ruined church above, at least in the lives of the younger generations. Many a child will have found a dinosaur among their presents on Christmas morning, but can Jesus and dinosaurs coexist in a child’s head? Or in an adult Christian head, for that matter? What world view can accommodate both and make sense?
The Church has for too long evaded the challenge to its worldview from science. Just as it was resistant to a sun-centred world view, condemning Copernicus and Galileo, it is quietly uncomfortable with the new cosmology and anthropology. However, as Alfred North Whitehead said in 1925, “Religion will not regain its power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science. “
For too long science and faith have inhabited different worlds, that is, different mind-sets. It is not enough to claim that there is no theoretical conflict between the two. Theology must show it is capable of living in today’s culture of science and of relating its faith truths to that world. That is to say, theologians as human beings must show they can live passionately in both worlds and can unite them in a new, meaningful and inspiring synthesis. Too few theologians have wrestled with matter as scientists do.
Even far back, as a nineteen-year-old studying Arts in the late 1960s in University College Dublin, I got the uneasy feeling that my beautiful faith was somehow no longer part of the modern world, as the vistas of English and French literature stretched out before me. Perhaps the late-night debates between my dad and older brother, as to how to reconcile evolution with the Genesis account of creation, also made me feel less secure.
TEILHARD DE CHARDIN
And then, providentially, I attended a talk at the French society one evening about someone called Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I listened, spell-bound, and found myself filling up with hope and joy! Here was someone tackling the science-faith issue head on. His vision of reality, woven into a single physical-spiritual whole, was utterly inspiring. I suddenly stopped feeling dated because of my faith. Teilhard was making me feel like a cosmic Christian! I went on to read two of his major works, The Divine Milieu and The Human Phenomenon, which underpinned my faith for the rest of my life. He saved me from a dualistic, debilitating world view. I could hold my head up in the modern world.
His ideas? In the broadest of brush strokes: it’s all about the rise of consciousness.
The power of the original atoms created in the big bang to associate positively with each other formed the matter of the universe. This positive energy, the ability to relate, to combine, is the basis of everything at every level. At the highest level it may be described as love-energy.
Eventually, the dawn of life brought about ever greater complexity in matter. The growth of consciousness through ever more complex organisms has been the goal of the universe all along.
Evolution is the rise of consciousness, and humans are the universe grown conscious of itself. Evolution is continuing, with a long way to go, and as humans, we are now responsible for where it is going. This is the thesis in a major work: The Human Phenomenon.
In many other writings Teilhard explores the place of Christ in all this. Christ is organically related to the universe, was always going to incarnate from the very beginning, and is more than a Saviour of souls (although he is supremely that). He is the present and future path which evolution needs to take.
“Everything that rises, converges.” The risen Christ provides the omega point, the necessary goal of a converging evolution, in whom all become one through the positive energy of love, divinised, while still retaining individual personhood. It is a unified vision of the whole of reality.
Science and faith reinforce each other. The Triune God’s work is ONE.
“For many, evolution still means only transformism […] Those people must be blind who cannot not see the breadth of a movement whose orbit, way beyond the natural sciences, has gradually overtaken and invaded the surrounding fields of chemistry, physics, sociology, and even mathematics and the history of religions. Swept along together by a single under-current, one after the other all the domains of human knowledge have begun to study some kind of development…. Evolution is a general condition, which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must submit to and satisfy from now on in order to be conceivable and true. […] Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow.” 
TODAY: CHALLENGES AND DEVELOPMENTS
Teilhard has provided a scaffolding of thought which he hoped others would develop further. He has shown where the answers to the questions above are to be found. His insights are critically important, but over the fifty plus years since I heard that inspiring talk I have yet to hear the word evolution breathed in a church setting. The Genesis accounts of how the world and human beings came to exist are read out periodically as the liturgy requires, with no attempt at commentary or explanation. Maybe a great many people still take them literally? This is disheartening and disappointing on the part of the Church. Answers have and are being worked out, but the Church doesn’t seem to get the urgency of finding and developing them for general consumption, despite our emptying churches. It is presenting “too small a Christ”, to use Teilhard’s expression, a Christ that no longer catches the imagination, no longer occupies centre stage as he once did in a smaller, Greek version of the universe.
However, I was recently overjoyed to discover the Teilhard Project underway in the United States, led by Frank and Mary Frost, aimed at producing a two-hour TV documentary on Teilhard, and which will hopefully air some time in 2023. That, in turn, led me to discover the Center for Christogenesis, again in America, founded by Ilia Delio, a Franciscan theologian, dedicated to promoting and developing Teilhard’s ideas. Delio’s many books are inspiring, and paint an exciting vision of how Christianity is starting to reinvent itself for the next millennium.
Speaking on a podcast, Delio explains:
“Why a Centre for Christogenesis? Because it brings a conscious awareness that Christ is still in formation. And that Christ does not belong to Christians, by the way. As Raimon Panikkar reminds us, there is a Christophany, a Christic dimension to every part of life, every person, which means there’s a divine depth dimension to every living creature, and Christogenesis is awakening to that divine depth dimension of all life, and of our lives, towards the renewal of life on earth.
The Centre for Christogenesis is an endeavour to integrate science and religion, towards an integral wholeness in which we ourselves are spiritually transformed, so that we can participate creatively in the unfolding of a new world via new structures and relationships, grounded in love. Christogenesis is the birthing of Christ in evolution. Evolution is an unfinished process, and Christ is an unfinished person, and therefore that divine love incarnating our lives, and the livingness of things in the universe, is the building up of Christ, or the ‘birthing’ of Christ.
We who are conscious beings in this evolutionary process are called to a conscious birthing of this power of divine love within us, that the world itself may move more fully towards a fullness of life within the embrace of divine love. We have the power to create a new world.
Do we have the desire and the will to do it? I think only if we work together is this vision really possible.”
Delio, and others with this new holistic, relational and unifying approach, renew my conviction that it is possible to be a cosmic Christian, that is, to feel comfortable as a Christian in a science based culture. They fill me with hope! – a very welcome gift in these grey times for the Church.
My only wish is that a great many more people would discover how Christianity would explode with renewed meaning and relevance if it embraced evolution and today’s vast cosmic vision. In the words of Hopkins,
“…AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!” 2
We Christians can evolve and learn to give Christ his true, whole, organic place as the ultimate goal of consciousness, precious pearl of this amazing, black-holed universe. Teilhard has led the way. Some are following…
“His purpose He set forth in Christ,
As a plan for the fullness of time,
To unite all things in Him,
Things in heaven and things on earth.”
1 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Human Phenomenon, ed. and trans. Sarah Appleton-Weber (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999), p 152.
2 G.M. Hopkins, The Windhover. To Christ our Lord.
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