Will Teilhard de Chardin Be Fully Embraced by the Catholic Church?

I moderate the comments for the weekly shows at On Being for many reasons: staying in touch with our listeners’ responses and a lack of human resources for online work, to name two. In response to our one-hour production on French Jesuit theologian and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, we received this comment from “Father Robert I…” this past Sunday.

I first read Teilhard as a senior in college back in 1960, and continued to read him during my years in the seminary — in Rome!

I’ve taught an advanced undergraduate course over the years on “The Classics of Spirituality,” and have used “The Divine Milieu” as the final reading of the course.

I appreciate the program dedicated to Teilhard and welcome the continuing interest in his thinking. But I think that the heart of the matter was slighted in the presentations.

For Teilhard at the heart of his vision is Jesus Christ who is both the center and the goal of the Divine Milieu. This is why Teilhard’s great friend and advocate Henri de Lubac holds that part of Teilhard’s achievement was to recover the “cosmic Christology” of the Pauline Epistles.

So thank you for what you have done in the program; but it’s like a glass only half full. You only offered some of the good wine.

Christmas wishes!

Which prompted this response from Gregory Lynch: 

Dear Father Robert:

Thank you for your insightful comments. I agree with you that the Cosmic Christ is at the very heart of Teilhard’s worldview and any attempt to separate his philosophy from his Christian faith does a disservice to both Teilhard and the Church. I share your view that Teilhard does a wonderful job of taking the core of the Christian faith, all the way from its earliest writings, and show how modern science and philosophy reaffirm these ancient truths.

However, as a faithful and practicing Catholic, I am also frustrated that the Catholic Church is has yet to fully embrace Teilhard. Interestingly, I first came across Teilhard by reading a wonderful book “Introduction to Christianity”, first published in 1968 and written by a brilliant young theologian at the University of Tübingen, Joseph Ratzinger. I was hopeful that as Father Ratzinger moved up the ranks to Bishop, to Cardinal, to head of CDF, to the Chair of St. Peter, he would lead a rehabilitation of Teilhard, or at a minimum, expunge the cryptic 1962 warning. Despite continuing positive references to Teilhard by Pope Benedict, the 1962 warning still remains and Teilhard remains at the periphery of Catholic theology.

Father, I pray that you and others will continue to carry out the work of the Kingdom, including sharing the message of Teilhard’s evolutionary Christianity.

Peace and Merry Christmas!

In many ways Teilhard remains a bit of a mystery because his writings were suppressed — or, more mildly, not allowed to be published by the Roman Catholic hierarchy — during his lifetime. It was a deep source of frustration to him, and yet he remained obedient. I think many Catholic adherents revere this aspect of the man; he serves as a role model for the many people who love the Church and yet they struggle with many of its teachings as doctrines. He is an example of how to stay true to one’s faith and move forward as thinking, authentic beings.

We nodded to this history in script, but it deserves a fuller treatment and discussion. I’d love to hear thoughts from members of the Catholic Church who find promise and a practical way forward in Teilhard’s example.

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