A video version of the text below, used with permission, is available at this link http://www.teilhardproject.com
THE EVOLUTION OF TEILHARD DE CHARDIN
Who is Teilhard de Chardin, the world-class scientist and spiritual genius whose transformative vision took the world by storm in the 1960s? And are his insights still important today?
Teilhard de Chardin was born a child of gentry in the late 19th century, shaped by the mountainous terrain of the Auvergne region in France. Introduced to religious piety through home schooling by his mother, and to the collecting and labelling of stones, flowers and fossils by his naturalist father, no wonder he came to adulthood as a Jesuit, a priest, an adventurer, a geologist and a mystic. In a world awakening to Charles Darwin, Teilhard developed his own version of evolution, seeing the world in a new way, and for him it changed everything.
Drafted into military service in World War One, he served in sixty-seven battles over four years, as a stretcher-bearer with a North African Muslim brigade. His new ideas were forged in the fiery furnace of the Great War. He was desperate for his Church and the world to see what he saw, before he might be killed in the fighting. And so he wrote feverishly between battles. What he saw was a new and richer understanding of God, of the human, of the Church.
Teilhard never set out to be controversial, but he soon learned that he could not get his Church to see what he saw with such vivid clarity. A rising star in the scientific establishment of France and a charismatic, he inadvertently became a threat to the status quo in the Church. His written response to the theologian who asked how the concept of evolution could be reconciled with the long-held beliefs about Adam and Eve and Original Sin, diverted him onto a new course for the rest of his life.
He was forbidden by Jesuit authorities to publish or speak publicly about spiritual matters, and was exiled to China, where his fame as a world-class palaeontologist grew, as part of the team which discovered Peking Man.
He never stopped witing about his cosmic vision, but nothing would be published until after his death. He was a man with a zest for life, a faithful priest and Jesuit, who nonetheless was unafraid of close relationships with strong women.
When expelled from China after World War Two, he was once again exiled, this time to New York city, where he died in 1955. His grave in Hyde Park in New York is a destination for pilgrims still today.
But is Teilhard’s vision still relevant in the twenty-first century? He foresaw the emergence of the internet and of globalisation. As both a Catholic priest and a world-class scientist, he offers a pathway to those who fear science because of their faith, still a major problem in the United States. His vision of evolution and of the human role in it provides an important voice in the exponentially rapid development of artificial intelligence, robotics, and the question of what it means to be human. His insights provide an important voice in on-going debates for believers and non-believers alike on ecology, climate change, leaving the legacy of a strong environmental movement. He is cited by Pope Francis in his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si.
In April 2015 Georgetown University hosted a seminar in which top Teilhard scholars examined the continuing relevance of Teilhard and even his increased importance in the twenty-first century.
John F. Haught, Emeritus Progessor of Georgetown University, says: “Right now, we live in an unfinished universe, which is for the most part still unintelligible to us. And that includes the idea of God. But if we’re going to get a glimpse of God in any way we have to look toward where the universe is converging, toward more unity and compactness, and complexity and consciousness in the future.”
Sr Kathleen Duffy, SSJ, Ph.D., Professor at Chestnut Hill College, says “According to Teilhard, love is the most universal, formidable and mysterious of cosmic energies, the fundamental impulse of life, the bloodstream of evolution. Its aim is the great work of union, of communion. If we do not learn to love, Teilhard says, we will perish. For the world to truly flourish, love must extend around the globe to all persons of whatever persuasion.”
John Grim, PhD., Professor at Yale University, President of the American Teilhard Association, speaking on Teilhard’s contribution to ecology, says: “We are totally interrelated and this community of life that we depend upon, we now begin to realise that we have shut it down extensively. This world around us in an inter-dependent world and we recover again a depth dimension of ourselves in relation to the earth community.”
Ilya Delio, OSF, Ph.D., Professor Villanova University, speaking On the Future of the Human : “We are to harness our energies, Teilhard says, to a shared consciousness for the next stage of humanity and for the earth itself. You might say, what he called the ultra-human. Some of our technocrats today anticipate that, as early as 2030 the human species will mutate into a whole new species, which some call ‘techno-sapiens’. Evolution, as Teilhard noted, is really an unfolding of consciousness. It’s an unfolding of a physical universe fourteen billion years old, but for Teilhard it is really an unfolding of spirit in matter. The human person is evolution becoming conscious of itself. That’s Teilhard. We are to progress toward a collectivisation of mind, a deepening of consciousness. For Teilhard, techno-sapiens is the ultra-human, the ultra-sapiens, the one who in the new spirit becomes the ultra-lover. Because for Teilhard, in the end, evolution is an adventure in love.“
“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.” Teilhard de Chardin
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