Teilhard’s central concern all his life was how God related to the universe:
it led him to study the cosmic phenomenon in depth ,
and to see it as an organically evolving whole,
centred on the emergence of mind
and its upward movement.
Cosmogenesis leads to noogenesis.
At the heart of noogenesis we see a movement of converging minds,
ultimately growing towards a centre, an Omega point,
towards which all human efforts should be directed.
This is step one.
Yet Teilhard thought even more about religious issues than scientific ones. As
said earlier, he could not tolerate being split in two psychologically.
All scientific work must ultimately be supported and inspired by some kind of
“faith”. He sought to find and express a vital synthesis between them.
Feeling this issue intensely himself, he intuited that many people were struggling
with the same problem. “I am very much aware”, he wrote to a young friend, “that I am just a
sounding board which reflects …what others around me are thinking…. Take from me what you please, and build your own
He said his theological views were “suggestions, not assertions or tenets.”
The mental outlook of people today is conditioned by the natural sciences
and the worldview they have given us,
- in particular Universalism- which colours how we see things today,
- and the Duration of Time, which gives new perspectives of possible progress, -
known as Futurism.
Universalism and Futurism join as we perceive a universe in global evolution.
And religion- understood as the interpretation of reality- appears
as we view this totality, and its possible future perfection.
The notion we form of the universe clearly affects our inner life
and our religious sense.
Out of this new way of feeling and thinking about the cosmos a new form of
natural religion, or religiousness, has emerged,
focused entirely on the earth and its future destiny.
“The world has become for us an object of great worth and dignity
to which we should submit and dedicate ourselves. Within a few generations
humankind has freely converted to a kind of religion of the world, vague in
dogmas yet clear in some moral values:
that the whole predominates over the individual,
that human achievement is passionately held to be of great worth and potential,
that scientific research holds a pre-eminent place.
Because science has discovered the natural unity of the world,
modern people can no longer easily see God,
except maybe under the aspect of universal progress.”
Ever since the Renaissance this natural religiousness, this veneration for things
human, has been gaining mastery over the human soul. Our whole modern
attitude to life turns on this sense that we are responsible for the world,
and this lies at the root of “modern atheism” and agnosticism.
The atheist/agnostic becomes a person who shoulders responsibility for the
world and humankind. This is why so many minds are powerfully attracted by it.
“Atheism is not so much out to disprove the existence of God as to give the
human being a hold upon his own existence.” (Francis Jeanson)
So, a new humanism has been born. We are the
upholders and creators of history. We should
focus our energies on building a better and juster
world, where humans can come to full maturity.
Teilhard was keenly sensitive to how people feel and look at life today. Our new
awareness that we are free and responsible toward the future is, in this humanist
view, a valuable achievement, despite our delusions and mistakes along the way.
The refusal to just put up with the way things are, and
not to passively suffer life, typifies people’s approach
to life today.
It is something that every philosophy,
every religion must reckon with, from now on.
The will to improve the world with more science, more technology, better
economic, social and cultural life, this is the force inspiring people’s lives today.
What Teilhard did more than others was to highlight how this modern mentality
is connected to our new understanding of the cosmos, as revealed by science.
Where does Christianity fit in here?
“The best …of the anti-Christians keep away from Christianity, not because it
is too hard for them but because it appears to them not exalted enough.
If they don’t accept Christ, it is because they don’t find in him the feature
they reverence and look for. An earth-centred religion is pitting itself against
the heavenly one.
That is the real situation- in all its gravity, yet also in its hopeful aspect.”
Many contemporary humans see Christians for the most part as “the odd ones out”,
that they are not ‘getting’ the psychological
revolution which has taken place.
Many Christians persist in refusing to accept the new
perspectives about which not a single scientist entertains
a doubt; and if they do go along with them, they don’t embrace
them in quite the same passionate way. They are somewhat reluctant in struggling
for the progress which motivates the best minds in the world of today.
However wrong and one-sided it may be, this is the impression many non-Christians
get from watching the behaviour of Christians.
“How is it that nine times out of ten, your believing Christian is at the human level a sceptic. This is what the unbelievers find so
Teilhard never ceased to deplore this attitude, which he considered
to be at the root of the crisis besetting Christianity today.
“What is Christian and what is human no longer appear to coincide.
Hence the great schism that threatens the Church.”
(Schism is the sense of the Church splitting away from mainstream culture.)
Hence too the opposition between faith in God and faith in the world.
Teilhard never set out to diagnose the evolution of religion in the world,
but he spent the greater part of his life among unbelievers.
This experience persuaded him that the attitude taken by many Christians
to the new scientific world view, and its efforts to achieve progress,
was one of the chief causes of modern unbelief.
“The resistance to her expansion which the Church meets at the present time
is not… because her dogmas are too sublime,
and her system of morality too hard.
It is because people no longer recognise in us their religious and moral ideal,
and so turn away in the hope of finding something better.”
Yet this opposition between the ‘new religion’ of humanism
and Christianity is also felt in the hearts and minds of
many Christians too, as they feel inwardly divided, in a sort
of ‘religious schizophrenia.’
This new feeling about life on earth has not so far been
integrated with the Christian vision of the world.
As a result, there is a discordant element in the life and faith of many Christians,
a malaise urgently needing to be overcome,
if that faith is to be lived out at full strength and intensity.
Even from a purely Christian standpoint, therefore, a new confrontation is called
for between the age-old truths of Christianity and the mental climate of people
Teilhard was always wanting theology to focus on how the modern religious
sense confronted Christianity. But in the meantime he sought a solution
for himself personally, and for anyone who sought his advice.
We should always bear in mind his stance in so
His faithfulness to Church teachings is not to be
doubted for a moment.
His passionate love for Christ and the Church
are beyond all question.
The renewal he aimed at in theology never
affected the kernel of Catholic teaching in matters of faith,
but only its outer aspect, the way in which it was presented.
He believed that the solution and renewal, so badly needed, were to be found,
not in departing from traditional theology, but in exploring it more deeply.
His first demand on theology in our time was that theologians would take more
notice of the new perspectives reached by science.
Catholic theology had originally formed
at a time when people’s ideas about
the universe were still narrow and defective;
- based on the ancient Greek view.
This static picture undoubtedly influenced
how they presented some of the Christian
When, with the Renaissance,
the old worldview started breaking up,
no one realised the huge implications for theology.
-Something that was to happen again in the 19th century,
when new ideas on biological evolution came to the fore.
Although some great minds, like St. John Henry Newman, perceived straight
away that the principle of evolution made sense,
most theologians long refused to accept this theory.
Those times are now past, and it is Teilhard who contributed in large measure to a
better understanding of the problem.
Nowadays the principle of evolution is generally accepted among Catholics, and
any reservations by theologians about it only harm the cause of religion.
Teilhard is not asking theologians to hang any doctrine on a particular scientific
theory, but simply that theology express Christian doctrine in concepts and
language that makes sense to men and women of today.
Spreading the Christian faith cannot afford to be
divorced from whatever world view is current at
the time. It will not be credible, and lack any power
to inspire the imagination it once had.
Secondly, it is not enough to say that faith dogmas don’t conflict with the
perspectives of science. It is important to show how the two views may be
brought together in practice, and a harmonious working
relation established between them.
Teilhard wants Catholic dogma, originally formulated within a static
worldview, to be stated in the setting of a world now seen as dynamic.
Some transposition is needed here, “…the traditional view of… creation, spirit,
evil… (and more specifically, original sin, the cross, the resurrection, the
Parousia, charity…) all these notions, once they are transposed to a ‘genesis’
dimension, become amazingly clear and coherent.” He is convinced that “the
most traditional Christianity can be interpreted so as to embrace all that is
best in the aspirations of our times.” To make this clear is the job of the
theologian who has understood the spiritual predicament of our time.
The central problem is our understanding of how God relates to the world.
“In every branch of sacred science, the time has come to investigate, by study
and by prayer, the area in which God and the cosmos come together.”
The point of contact, however, between God
and the world is located, for the Christian,
in the very person of the Human-God.
Hence the need for theologians to develop
and especially to examine in the Scriptures
the place given to Christ
in the divine plan and purpose for the world.
How is it, Teilhard asks, that in the past few centuries Christology
has stopped moving forward?
That it has hardly gone beyond the definitions drawn up
in the earliest centuries of the Church,
- as though these have said all there is to say
about “the unfathomable riches of Christ.”
How Christ relates to the world
becomes the main theme in his theological thinking.
His third request to theology is to renew Christian spirituality.
Teilhard’s wish is to help guide and inspire human conduct, a guidance in which
science and faith meet each other, and where the things of earth and the things of
heaven may discover their essential unity.
Nothing is so important as to imbue human activity with its true purpose,
and at the same time to encourage our powers to the utmost.
In other words, we need to think theologically about so-called ‘mundane reality’,
the material world.
What value does Revelation attach to human toil and human life on this earth?
Is this world, for the Christian, just a kind of transit-camp,
an ante-chamber to eternity?
Or is it also a challenge, a task and a vocation?
Do the many forms of human activity
– in science, technology, economics, politics, home making, the arts etc. -
have intrinsic value, something of religious worth ?
Can we reconcile the Gospel teaching about detachment and self-denial
on the one hand,
with the healthy love of earthly things and the effort needed to build
a better world, on the other?
As early as 1917, writing to a cousin in Paris from the trenches of the First
World War, Teilhard had written,
“I am more keenly aware that
for the rest of my life
my task is to develop in myself, humbly, faithfully, doggedly-
and at the same time to share with others as much as I can--
that form of spirituality which makes one seek passionately for God
in every single thing and in all one’s activity.”
What it comes to in the end is the old problem of Christian humanism,
which aspires to an “incarnational Christianity” and tries to draw
cultural and social values into the Christian vision of the world.
In making this three-fold demand on Theology Teilhard is not alone.
Many Catholics, priests and laity, are wondering about the same issues.
Teilhard knew very well he was voicing the concern
of a great number of people,
and this led him to insist on deeper investigation of these problems.
The best contemporary theologians are aware of all this,
although many are not yet. [according to Wildiers in 1963]
That is why the life and work of Teilhard meet a real and urgent need.
His scientific achievements and familiarity with the mind and temper of
our day gave him the right to speak.
His aim was not to draw up an original theology,
but to provide bricks which could be of use
for a new building.
Without this new approach
no adequate theology would be possible in the future,
a theology that would make faith credible,
a faith that would once again capture the imagination.
In his writings Teilhard approaches Christianity from two different directions:
as one phenomenon among others in an evolving world (from a scientific direction)
and as an object of theology (from a religious direction).
This distinction is important, not to misinterpret him.
As a phenomenon, he analyses Christianity
scientifically as a historical fact and
nothing more, aiming to show how
it differs from the other major world religions.
What he sees in this optic is the existence
of a religious current of intense vitality,
in and amid the human race,
a current constantly adapting for
inner renewal and growth.
He also sees the striking affinity
between its teachings (a convergence
of the universe upon a suprapersonal God)
and all that we learn from studying
humanity as a phenomenon.
Apart from belief in a personal God, Christianity has the following features:
1. A person, the person of Jesus, occupies a central place.
He is not only its founder or a message-bearer,
he himself is the actual content of his message.
One becomes a Christian not by assenting to this or that doctrine,
or by practising a certain moral code,
but in the first place by being united with him,
“incorporated into him”. (St Paul)
2. This person, Jesus, has said that he will return
at the end of the Age,
and this return forms the crowning point
and consummation of world history.
Christianity bids us look, not to the past
but to the future,
and to the completion of the world;
3. The return of Jesus is to be prepared for by the gradual growth of the
mystical body, that is, the unification of all people around and in Jesus,
for the total Christ consists of the Head and the members.
At this point the whole world is made the ‘Pleroma’, (fullness, completion)
4. The ethics of Christianity is summed up
in the commandment to love our neighbour.
The Christian is not merely to avoid doing evil or harm, but must actively
do good and further the happiness and wellbeing of others.
If we compare these bones of Christianity with the features of our evolving world,
we see just how much this forward-looking religion
harmonises with such a world.
This religion gives the evolving world a sublime centre and a basic law,
and an answer in full to its deepest needs and hopes.
One could hardly devise a religion more in harmony with this world.
None of this so far has anything to do with Theology as such, which is the study of
Revelation, - the revealed word of God. They are simply the claims of Christianity.
However, Teilhard did focus on one theological issue
throughout his life:
What is the place and function of Christ
in the whole of cosmic history?
This question is as old as Christianity itself.
But Teilhard saw
that our whole new way of seeing the world
had implications for the position of Christ.
What is the link between the human God and this evolving world?
Here it will help to look for a minute at two major ways
of interpreting Christ’s relation to the world:
one from Thomas Aquinas and the other from Dun Scotus.
We are probably more familiar with the Aquinas view:
in the original plan for the world there was no place for a Human God,
an Incarnation of the Word of God.
If the first two humans had not sinned, Christ would never have existed.
To restore the primal world order, ruined by sin,
the Son of God was born into this world as a human being,
so as to set the human race once more on the path
to its destiny.
In this view the link between Christ and the world
is ‘accidental’ rather than organic. No Fall means no Incarnation.
“Oh happy fault, that gained for us
so great a Redeemer!” we sing at Eastertime.
This interpretation makes it hard to say exactly
what place Christ has in the material world.
It is only within a sinful humanity that he has a function to fulfil:
that of Redeemer.
Very different is the Scotist interpretation.
In this view Christ is held to be the goal and crowning-point
not only of the supernatural, but of the natural order.
Independently of the Fall, the whole creation was planned
with the Human God in view.
Even if humanity had not sinned,
the Word of God would have become human anyway;
because Christ is the supreme revelation of God in this world,
and the masterpiece of God’s creation.
It seems hard to believe that sin alone had the power
to cause God to take on the human condition.
The divine human being, -the Incarnation of the Word-
was therefore, integral to the original plan of creation.
The Fall brought only an ‘accidental’ change in this:
the human God, goal and crown of creation,
would also through his sufferings and death,
become the redeemer of all humankind.
Both interpretations remain legitimate in Catholic theology.
They simply remain an open question.
We can see why Teilhard focused his attention above all on this one issue.
Finding the answer to this problem, might greatly help to build up a spirituality
attuned to the spiritual and intellectual need of people today.
“The truth is, the keystone of the arch which
we must build lies in our hands.
If we want to unite faith in God and faith in the world,
the best possible thing for us to do is to highlight…
in the person of Christ, the cosmic aspect
and the cosmic function
which make him organically the principle
and controlling force,
the very soul of evolution.”
The Scotist interpretation which Teilhard favoured,
nonetheless dated from the time of a medieval static universe.
Teilhard’s aim however is to show the place of Christ
in a creation that is evolving and converging.
In this new world view, one can indicate a point
towards which the whole cosmic evolution is moving,
a point whose attraction guides its inner drive
and direction, like a compass.
This universal cosmic centre
of human- and therefore cosmic-evolution,
is named in the phenomenology
of the universe as
the omega point.
Is this not precisely the place which Christian doctrine gives to Christ?
It is wholly in keeping with St Paul’s teaching.
“Marvellous coincidence, indeed, of the data of faith
with the processes of reason itself!
What at first seemed a threat, instead turns out to be a splendid confirmation!
Far from opposing Christian dogma,
the vastly increased importance gained by humanity in nature results…
in traditional Christology becoming relevant and vital in a wholly new way.”
Scripture itself attests to this status and function of Christ.
Everything has its being in him, is brought into unity by him.
In him everything finds its completion,
not only in the order of grace but in that of nature too.
The whole of history is directed toward unifying the entire human race into a
supernatural community, of which Christ is the head and all of us the
Christianity bids us look toward the future,
toward realising the Kingdom of God.
The doctrine of the mystical body,
expressed in many ways by St Paul and St John,
is essential to the Christian tradition.
“The essence of Christianity
is nothing more or less
than a belief in the world’s
coming to be one in God,
through the taking of
human nature by Christ.”
In Teilhard’s terms, cosmogenesis becomes biogenesis
becomes noogenesis becomes Christogenesis.
The universe grows into life grows into mind grows into
“The universe,” wrote the philosopher Henri Bergson, “is
a machine for making gods.”
Teilhard’s version of that:
is an instrument
for realising the total Christ,
in whom we are divinsed.
So it seems that the perspectives of
both science and faith are converging
toward one and the same point.
How could it be otherwise,
if both are true at their own levels?
God’s work is one work.
Does the Jesus of the Gospels get lost here?
“No”, says Teilhard. “Christ would not be able to appear at the end of time
unless he had previously inserted himself into the movement of the world
by way of birth, in the form of an element.”
In other words, without a historical Jesus
there could be no mystical body of Christ, no total Christ.
Lastly, this thesis implies that Christ is the great source of energy
which is drawing all things toward itself.
“…Christ, by reason of his position
at the world’s central point,
is automatically co-extensive
with the scale of values extending
from the summits of the spirit
to the depths of matter.”
Teilhard is unquestionably right when he says
that his conception of Christ
fits perfectly with that of Holy Scripture.
In particular, he is right to say that Christians don’t give enough importance
to a basic doctrine: namely that Christ will return at the end of the Age.
“On the horizon of the Christian world the Parousia (i.e. the return of Christ in
glory at the end of time) occupies a central place. This is something which is
easily forgotten, because people have awaited it over so many centuries.”
The Christian view is capable of seeing Christ’s Parousia as the very moment
at which humankind will have reached its natural completion,
in the moment omega.
Christ’s original birth on earth could only have
taken place after certain human conditions
were in place.
Likewise, a certain natural completion
would form the condition, as it were,
for the second coming of Christ.
Christ will defer his return in glory
until the human community has fulfilled
its natural potential and become able
to receive through him its supernatural consummation.
“By making plain the splendours of the universal Christ,
Christianity… acquires a new value.
By the very fact that it gives to the earth’s
aspirations a goal at once
immense, concrete and assured,
it rescues the earth from the disorder,
uncertainties, and nausea
that are the most terrible of
It provides the fire that inspires human effort.”
So, we are to see the whole of history
as an ascent of the whole universe
toward its fulfilment
in the natural and supernatural order.
“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.” (Eph 1:9-10)
So, it is evident with what great feeling
Teilhard approached the problem
of the place of Christ
in cosmic evolution as a whole.
Christ is the Alpha for whom the cosmos was made.
Even more than a Saviour of humans,
-though he is supremely that,
the Divine Homo Sapiens
is first and foremost the crowning glory
and supreme work of God in this cosmos.
By the fact of his physical birth into matter,
Jesus is related to the earth,
its total past, present and future.
He is also the Omega point of evolution, glowing with the energy
which, as the Divine Human, he has attained in rising out of death.
A homo sapiens now sits on the throne of Heaven,
living in a matter-spirit body without limitation,
forever young and perfect.
He remains among us as Love incarnate in Word and in Eucharist, the
Divinised Matter of his real presence, to lead us to this destiny, forever
uniting us to himself and each other, generation after generation.
Our destiny is to evolve into the vast Christ, bringing the whole universe,
which knows itself through us, to glorify God. ‘Go and teach all nations…’
Reality in its past, present and future is ALL for the Human God, in Teilhard’s