Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Legacy of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin



James Salmon, SJ and John Farina (editors), The Legacy of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 2011 Paulist Press


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was an interesting chap. There are perhaps some aspects of his work which are problematic, in particular his theology seemed to lack a place for Original Sin, but he seems to have had some insights. He worked hard to develop Christian response to evolutionary science, even if not all his conclusions are altogether sound. I like his optimism and his ideas fit nicely with the Scotist view of the incarnation, viewing the universe as having a Christological goal and purpose.

This set of essays offers a number of perspectives on the legacy of Teilhard de Chardin's ideas. John F Haught begins by looking at the search for extra-terrestrial life in the context of Teilhard de Chardin's work. He brings up Teilhard's eschatology, pointing out that in his view (like Moltmann's) God is not just 'up above', but also 'up ahead.' Our ultimate experience of God lies in the eschatological horizon of the future. Thomas M. King looks at Teilhard as a 'missionary to the modern world.' Teilhard has sometimes been accused of being a rotten scientist. However, Mark McMenamin argues that he made a genuine and important contribution to science in his work on convergent evolution. He makes the case that in that area, Teilhard was very much ahead of his time.

The most interesting essay in this for me was Ewert Cousins on "Teilhard and the World Soul." He looks at the concept of the World Soul, its roots in Platonism and it's adoption by some Patristic theologians. He then looks at how this idea re-emerged in Teilhard's writings. Teilhard combines all the physical processes of the universe in a spiritually guided process called cosmogenesis, which has its endpoint in Christogenesis, the eschatological consummation of all things in Christ. Cousins argues for the merit of Teilhard's approach:

"On the one hand, Teilhard brings the modern experience into the theology of the cosmic Spirit; on the other, his thought, seen in the context of the history of the theology of the Spirit, leads to the solution of certain theological problems at the same time that it raises others. For example, the presence of the Spirit in the universe overcomes any Gnostic or Manichean dualism; for there is no realm of the universe where the Spirit is not present and working. Therefore, there is no autonomous nature that stands apart from God, as a Deist world-machine or a purely isolated mechanical process. For the Spirit works in electrons and atoms as well as in mystical ecstasy. Hence there are no purely natural laws."


Cousins argues that theologians should identify the world-soul with the Holy Spirit. This is problematic, because Abelard was condemned for teaching that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the world. I think it is better to connect the world-soul with Sophia, the sum of God's wisdom and beauty manifested in creation, energized by the Third Person of the Trinity.

Philip Hefner looks at the spirituality that Teilhard presented in The Divine Milieu, a spirituality centred on the material world and which gives a new significance to the Eucharist. In the next essay, Nicole Schmitz-Moormann takes a more personal look at the legacy of Teilhard, examining some of his journals and correspondence. James Skehan defends the orthodoxy of Teilhard de Chardin. He points out how Pope St. John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger have made use of his Eucharistic theology. He views Teilhard as being very much in the classic vein of Jesuit spirituality. The final essay "Teilhard's Two Energies," by Harold Morowitz, Nicole Schmitz-Moormann and James Salmon went completely over my head.

This was an interesting set of perspectives on an unusual thinker.

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