Oct 4, 2006

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

At an early time in my life I read a couple of books that used "statistically improbable terms" [results of Amazon's computer search] such as cosmic involution, tangential energy, zoological group, organised matter, radial energy, and omega point. The astute reader will know the books are The Phenomenon of Man and The Divine Milieu written by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. (1881-1955).

De Chardin was a wildly fictional theologian, arrogant and quirky philosopher, and costumely confused paleontologist who collaborated in the finding of the Piltdown Man and the mysterious Peking Man. The former is a notorious scientific hoax of the early 20th century, and the second is questionable because the original bones seem to have disappeared over 60 years ago as they were being transported to the U.S. for further study and safekeeping.

Teilhard's books had grandiose and sweeping ideas--French culinary masterpieces that looked sooo goooood! I was spellbound by de Chardin and his view of "A Globe, Clothing Itself with a Brain!"

Fortunately my adopted Godmother, Lucy, introduced me to the book Trojan Horse in the City of God that had just been published in 1967. I was so lucky to read that book and its appendix--they undoubtedly changed my life. The book is acknowledged to be a very important impetus to the traditional Catholic movement that began to grow following Vatican II.

Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand was the author of Trojan Horse in the City of God. This great Catholic philosopher of the 20th century had a tremendous reputation in the Catholic Church and explained in the introduction to his book:
... if we then turn to a number of articles by Catholic priest and laymen published in recent years, we cannot escape the impression that these writers not only have lost their Catholic faith, but also no longer understand the very nature of religion based on divine revelation.
Von Hildebrand continued:
We are convinced that the great majority of Catholics have not yet been confused by slogans, that they are not yet swimming in the typical pride that rests on the immature illusion that man has come of age.
The chapters of von Hildebrand's book are split into five sections:
  • True and False Renewal
  • Dangers of Our Time
  • The Secularization of Christianity
  • Sacred and Secular
  • Appendix: Teilhard de Chardin: A False Prophet
The Appendix (pp. 227-253, plus 2 pages of references) enlightened me on the nature and implications of de Chardin's ideas. Von Hildebrand describes a private conversation he had with de Chardin in 1951 when de Chardin "exclaimed violently: 'Don't mention that unfortunate man; he spoiled everything by introducing the supernatural'." Who was de Chardin describing? None other than St. Augustine--the greatest of the Fathers of the Church!

Von Hildebrand noted that de Chardin's ideas represented or included:
  • Utter philosophical confusion, especially in his conception of the human person
  • Ignorance of the decisive difference between nature and supernature
  • Incompatibility with Christian revelation and the doctrine of the Church
  • Artfully jumping from one position to another contradictory one without even noticing it
  • Failing to recognize the abyss separating a person from the entire impersonal world around him
  • Focusing on human consciousness as merely an awareness of self, as distinct from the I-Thou relationship of being
  • Ambiguity underlying objective truth and spiritual reality
  • Etc., etc., etc.,
Von Hildebrand quotes favorably from Jacques Maritain's remarks in Le paysan de la Garonne on Teilhard's attempts to preserve Christ.
But, adds Maritain, "What a Christ!" Here indeed we find the most radical difference between the doctrine of the Church and Teilhard de Chardin's theology fiction. Teilhard's Christ is no longer Jesus, the God-man, the epiphany of God, the Redeemer; instead he is the initiator of a purely nature evolutionary process and, simultaneously, its end -- the Christ-Omega. An unprejudiced mind cannot but ask: Why should this "cosmic force be call Christ? .... Teilhard ... wrap[s] this pantheism in traditional Catholic terms.

In his basic conception of the world, which does not provide for original sin in the sense the Church gives to this term, there is no place for the Jesus Christ of the Gospels; for if there is no original sin, then the redemption of man through Christ loses its inner meaning.
An old book. A very good book. Save $6 to buy a used copy of von Hildebrand's book because it is no longer in print!


Lynne said...

Thank you. I will put that book at the top of my must-read list.

M. Alexander said...

In Malachi Martin's Hostage to the Devil, he mentions Chardin's work and their implication in a possession.