“In very truth, it is God, and God alone(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu)
whose Spirit stirs up
the whole mass of the universe in ferment.”
With his vision of the Cosmic Christ, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, priest-scientist of the 20th century, moves us beyond the insights of St. Francis about the living world.
As scientist, priest, theologian, and explorer, Teilhard de Chardin, living nineteen centuries after Paul, saw the world as a vast, living organism. In his theology Teilhard sought to unite the thought of Paul about the mystical body of Christ with his own insights about evolution and contemporary cosmology.
All through his teachings Paul saw Christian disciples as members of one body, as other Christs. He wrote in his letter to the Romans: “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another” (12:4-5). All Christians form the mystical body of Christ.
What do you understand about the mystical body? How does the mystical body serve as the image of your Christian community or of the Church as a whole?
In his constant searching for truth, Teilhard lived as a Christian disciple in the fullest sense of that word. Deep prayer guided him throughout his life of passionate intellectual and spiritual adventure. As a Jesuit priest, theologian, scientist, and explorer, he saw the world as a vast living organism. His tremendous mind led him to continually ask profound question about the meaning of cosmic and human life. Born and educated in France, Teilhard spent much of his life in the Far East searching for truth about God and the universe.
The theory of evolution, developed by Charles Darwin shortly before Teilhard’s birth, absorbed Teilhard’s interest and guided much of his research. Although the theory of evolution threatened some peoples limited understanding of science and scripture, Teilhard’s deep Christian faith enabled him to see great value in the new understanding of the creation of the earth.
With eyes of faith Teilhard recognized in the theory of evolution the guiding principle that organisms evolved toward consciousness, love, and higher forms of spiritual energy. He sought to strengthen the bonds of human community around the world through the power of love.
Early in his career Teilhard realized the connection between the love of God and science. His Mass on the World (p. 29) captures his mystical vision. In that essay he prays,
“So, my God, I prostrate myself before your presence in the universe…beneath the lineaments of all that I shall encounter this day, all that happens to me, all that I achieve, it is you I desire, you I await.” Teilhard’s faith in the presence of Christ was his inspiration for everything he did.
Recite Teilhard’s prayer above, and open your mind and heart to his contributions to both science and spirituality. Which of his ideas thus far resonate with you? How does he fit your definition of “disciple”?
Sometimes referring to the cosmic sense expressed in the writings of John the evangelist and Paul the apostle, Teilhard had a passionate sense of the world being full and vibrant with the presence God. It became apparent to him that the presence of God reaches all the elements of the world through and in the body of Christ.
The more Teilhard came to know and experience the natural world, the closer he came to God. He recognized that those who seek God encounter God by turning toward the things of earth in love and reverence. For Teilhard the natural delight he took in life and all that exists was the goal of mysticism. It is said that “aliveness” radiated from him.
Teilhard was a Christian disciple throughout his scientific exploration and in the writing and sharing of his profound insights. He revealed his full life through his many books. He wrote his greatest book, The Divine Milieu, “for those who love the world.” This spiritual masterpiece shows a mystical vision of communion and union with God which gives every human being access to a “divine milieu.” In this vision everything is transformed into the fullness that is Jesus Christ. Because Teilhard’s thought was ahead of his time, The Divine Milieu was not published until after his death.
The “divine milieu” describes the diffuse presence and influence of God at all levels of created reality, in all areas of human experience. Teilhard saw the “divine milieu” as a field of divine energy with one central focus, God, from which everything flows. For him, the fulfillment of all things will be the “omega point.” Christ is the Cosmic Christ or “Omega Point” in whom at the end time all creation will be fulfilled.
For Teilhard the Resurrection was truly the central mystery of his life–as it was for the early disciples and is for faithful Christians today. He died on Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection, 1955. Thus he experienced, as a faithful Christian disciple, his own life-death-resurrection mystery.
In this 21st century we can honor Pierre Teilhard de Chardin as a Christian disciple who follows in the footsteps not only of Paul but of the writer of the Fourth Gospel, of Hildegard, and of Francis. These wisdom figures are all model disciples for our time.
It would take a lifetime to absorb the depth of Teilhard’s insights and prayer! But we can bring this section of the retreat to a conclusion with these words from The Divine Milieu (Part 3, ch. 3):
“What I cry out for, like every being, with my whole life
and all my earthly passion, is something very different
from an equal to cherish: it is a God to adore.”
Read the above words prayerfully and think about what Christian discipleship means to you.