“Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence, determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ. ” (Eph. I, 4-5). These powerful words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Ephesians, I think, best characterize the spirit of Teilhard the Chardin, his idea of man and man’s place in the universe, and of the common goals of humanity. Just imagine somebody…
Somebody, whose whole life was a continuous prayer to God, a prayer, in which he constantly asked to break through the seal of traditional authority and common gnorance, and explore the depth of reality, the ultimate beginning and the ultimate end, and the reasons behind the emergence of life and conscious beings in the universe. Of course, that means that your books are put on the Index and you are almost made into a heretic by the True and Holy Catholic Church. But he didn’t give up. He clearly saw his goals, his purpose.
It was his life’s work, to trace back the origins of mankind, and to speculate of its goals and ultimate outcome. It was his type of spirituality, scientific spirituality, that drove him incessantly to spend sleepless nights trying to make sense out of scientific acts, to tie them together with what seemed apparent, and with that which didn’t seem so apparent. And the best he came up with was a simple statement, “We Are All One. ” Life is eternal, love is immortal, and death is but a horizon. Life Is, he would say if someone would have asked him, what is life?
Life Is, and ever was, and forever will be – world without end. Composite matter dies and falls apart, but spirit remains. And with it – that indelible part of it, the nuclei of personality, the individual particles which have been with us from the very beginning, which grow and evolve with us, and which strive towards ommon union into a whole, with God as the center… In my paper, I will discuss Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s idea of man’s place in the universe, as presented in a variety of his works.
I will be using mostly primary sources for my research, as well as talks delivered at the Centennial Teilhard de Chardin Symposium at Georgetown University, and books written by Teilhard’s friends or contemporaries. In most of his works, Teilhard establishes a link between anthropology and metaphysics, between science and religion. They are an attempt to understand the universe through man, who is very much part of it. In them, we an see Teilhard’s vision of harmony of duality of the universe, which is composed of matter and spirit.
Union of matter and mind, of the cosmos and the spirit of the universe, and the evolving of one into the other is one of the main ideas behind all of Teilhard’s works. He tries to prove that life didn’t emerge by accident, but was a product of evolution. And man has his own place in the evolution of the universe. First of all, universe is not static. That is, there is no permanence in it. Everything is in the constant process of change, and a particular kind of change – evolution. How did man come to be, asks de Chardin. And the only plausible conclusion he can make is, that human being is a link in a chain of evolution.
What was before man? And how does God fit into the whole picture? Let us follow Teilhard in his understanding of the universe through ourselves, human beings. Has there always been conscious life in our universe? No, would be Teilhard’s answer. Emergence of consciousness was indeed a breakthrough in the evolution of the world. But what kind of a breakthrough? What is the primordial element that gave rise to life in the universe? What is it composed of? As a Catholic priest, he should say, “well, the universe as created by God out of nothing in six days, and culminated in the creation of man out of earth.
And this Old Testament myth, however surprising it may sound, is very close to what Teilhard does say in his essays. “Stuff of the Universe” is the name he gives to that primordial element, out of which the cosmos has been created, and which is the underlying ground for the evolution of the cosmos to bring forth consciousness, a thinking being. Out of the stuff of the universe, the cosmos was created. And out of the cosmos, life emerged. We have to understand one thing here: Teilhard was a scientist, who believed that here was more than just the material dimension in the cosmos.
He reversed the traditional scientific principles that matter was all there is to the universe, and he based his assertions on scientific premises! “If the cosmos were basically immaterial,” said he, “it would be physically incapable of containing man” – a spiritual being (120). Therefore, the “inner being of the universe must be made of spiritual stuff” (120). Which tell us, that “the stuff of the universe” contained both material and spiritual in themselves, in its primordial form. Except that spiritual ‘part’ didn’t stream forth just as soon as the material part did. Why not?
Teilhard doesn’t say. He just looks at the facts of science, and draws his verdict. From inanimate matter, emerges organic life, and from it, emerges thought and man as a conscious being. With the emergence of man, the universe became “conscious of itself”, “personalized”. Spirit, I’m quoting, is the higher state of “primal and undefinable thing” – the ‘stuff of the universe’ (93). It is personality, thought, consciousness. All matter is bound to evolve to spiritual state, sooner or later. Evolution of spiritual state, on the other hand, can be unlimited, progressing to higher and higher states.
Personality is ne of the stages in the evolution of the spirit. Its goal is monocentrism – being conscious of being One with the All, and actual unification of all conscious entities into One Whole. This is the true goal of human soul – union into One with the All. Teilhard points out, that we are always in the presence of the All, which is the sum total of all conscious energies of the universe, with God as the center. All the conscious energies of the universe are directed towards the common goal – evolution. The center of the universe is single, unified consciousness.
And this totality is reflected partly in each of our articular consciousnesses. God is the unifying principle, the center that directs all evolution towards unity. Teilhard further states, that “the organization of human energy – God – pushes us towards the ultimate formation, over and above each personal element, of a common soul of humanity” (137). So far, peak of evolution is what Teilhard calls a reflective thought – human consciousness. And the process of evolution is far from being over. So, what kind of union would it be?
Teilhard maintains, that the ultimate union of all consciousness into super-consciousness is a union by differentiation, where the hole does not destroy, but emphasizes the elements it “swallows”. This is the only kind of union that is possible. The union between mankind and God is the goal of evolution, the necessary outcome of the evolution of what Teilhard calls the “spirit of the earth” – collective consciousness of mankind. The goal of each human soul is to overcome the resistance of “material plurality” and to unite the spirit of the earth to God, into One (53).
The evolution for Teilhard takes the following character: inanimate matter -* organic life -* thought -* monocentrism -* ? -* ….. -* synthesis of All into One, formed in and around God as a center of total organization. It would have to be a union of concentration, not diffusion. God is not a “center”, fusing and dissolving whatever reaches him, but, to quote, “a focus of personalization” (67). He is like love, bringing two beings together. One doesn’t absorb the other, but rather, is united to produce a more fulfilling relationship between two separate entities attracted by its power.
Love is the force of synthesis. It is supreme sincerity, which, when you give yourself wholly to whatever you do, makes your act total in its contact ith the universe. When you accomplish this, you will see the goal of every act and thought as the same for everything and everybody – as a common union, the true communion with God. Teilhard calls love “most universal, most tremendous of cosmic forces” (32). It is the energy of human unity, and to limit it would be SIN, for love is the highest form of human energy, and its force should never be restrained.
Everybody is aware of it, but often it is suppressed and not allowed to flourish – because love attracts and the ultimate result of attraction is unity. Love is realized in a union. Primitive love was xpressed in attraction of molecular forces. This, in turn, evolved into love of procreation, finally becoming ‘humanized’ love, love towards unity, completion of several into the Whole. Love is our true nature. All misfortunes come from failing to understand that. And from not realizing that part of each one of us exists in all the rest.
The role of morality is to guide man to attaining the highest fulfillment of his personal consciousness, to awaken the individual riches of personality. Consequently, final good can be defined as, I’m quoting, “what makes for the growth of the spirit on earth” (105). Everything that brings spiritual growth to the world and helps to develop the spiritual powers of the earth is good. Consequently, “riches only become good to the extent that they work for the benefit of the spirit” (105). Role of morality, for Teilhard, is to compel the individual to free his autonomy and personality to the uttermost.
The goal of religion is to make sure the progress of life goes on, the evolution continues. The essence of Christianity, as Teilhard points out, is “a belief in the unification of the world in God by the Incarnation”. This is the basic idea of the Gospels. Conventional ictures of God as a landowner/king/judge, above and outside of everything, are simply outdated. Since the progress of science, it’s becoming more and more obvious that, I’m quoting, “to be alpha and omega, Christ must, without losing his precise humanity, become co-extensive with the physical expanse of time and space.
In him, personality expands (or rather centers itself) till it becomes universal” (91). This is the true God of mankind, this is the God for Teilhard, the God of progress, of evolution, God-unifying principle. “All conscious beings are… local manifestations of a mass which contains them all” (95). They are all part of the noosphere – a term Teilhard coins in “The phenomenon of spirituality”, which signifies conscious biosphere of the earth. Our survival as a person is guaranteed, says Teilhard. The essence of our existence is incorruptibility and personality.
To quote, the “ashes will not rejoin and disappear in the great stream of matter”, which would be the “environment in which we will finally rest” – this is impossible (141). Evolution can’t be stopped. Even glorious matter can’t be permanent, since physico-chemical elements, of which the matter is composed, are always in the process of breaking up. But the “I”, the person, is unaffected by death. And common soul is that end towards which our individual personalities flow. “Death, in which we seem to disappear, thus reveals itself as representing a simple phase of growth” (104).
Which suggests that physical death is not the end of our person – it is a mere jump to a higher level of existence. To act is to create, he says in “Human Energy. ” “Death is an act, and creation is forever” (141). Therefore, death in a sense of total disappearance is cosmically impossible. So, what do we need to do to help evolution? What is the ‘plan of action’? First of all, to realize hat mass consciousness has influence on the universe, and that all thought should be directed towards unity with the All, forming ‘single spirit of the earth’. Further, we should accept and cherish our differences – and love one another.
To reform religion is another thing suggested by Teilhard. We must, I’m quoting, “understand that God is supremely personal God, from whom we are the more distinguishable the more we lose ourselves in him” (109). God is a god of cosmic synthesis, in whom we would evolve, and in union with whom we will preserve and magnify our personalities. Evil is viewed as a by-product of volution, of the constant change taking place within us, a resistance to the synthesis of becoming One. It can be overcome by love. Finally, mankind should realize that there is no death of the spirit.
Survival of the being, of personality is guaranteed, and what’s more – the survival in the higher spiritual state. Matter ‘dies’ – it eventually falls apart to prime-elements and energy, but we are left with consciousness – our soul, our personality, in order to evolve further. So, we are actors in the play of evolution, not knowing, though, that everything that we do, say, and even think has impact on the niverse. Therefore, the ideal of humanity is to realize this, and to understand that the ultimate directive of all thought is, in Teilhard’s words, “a single spirit of the earth” (119).
Teilhard’s essay “Human energy”, in particular, speaks of the false notion of science that we are separate from the universe, that it is out there, only to be explored and subdued by mankind. Considering that this essay was written in the 1930s, I can understand why he speaks so bitterly of the principles of science of his times, but from the point of view of modern science, we have progressed far beyond onsidering universe as separate from us, though not far enough to see that we are one with it.
In the “Mysticism of science”, Teilhard states that the drive “for new horizons of knowledge” is supported by mysticism – the mysticism of science, which is based on “hope in a limitless future” – the two chief premises of religion (164). New mysticism is religion in science, the union of both, and stopping the feud between the two, which has been going on forever. Love or perish – he adds to Christ’s words. Without love, there can be no evolution. And the best model for love is Christ himself.
His message is “wholly in the proclamation of ‘divine fatherhood'” wherein, I’m quoting, he “presents himself to man as the goal of personal union” (159). It is a “communion beyond sacrifice,” where God, being total love, can “only be reached in love” (159). Christ should be viewed as one with the world, in addition to being the center of it, as opposed to Christ being not of this world. This change in belief will lead to the birth of love of the universe and of the unity of all. Truly, religion should be “the soul of science” (180). Only then, the new man, a Christian evolutionist, will emerge.