Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

By: Matthew Battles
May 1, 2010

Where other 20th century Catholic intellectuals confined themselves to social action, literature, and contemplation, the mystico-scientistic career of PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN (1881-1955) calls to mind the panglossian permutations of his 17th-century Jesuit forebear, Athanasius Kircher. Trained as a paleontologist, Teilhard’s gaze was fixed not on bones in the Earth, but on esoteric Truth. His metaphysical reflex inverted the orthodox Christian understanding of the Incarnation: where in the gospel of John, Word becomes Flesh, it is the fate of the Teilhardian universe for Flesh to become Word. The telos of life, indeed of matter, expressed itself to Teilhard as an evolutionary music of the spheres: first the geosphere, a cosmic skeleton of elements and energies; next the biosphere, emergent life enrobing rock with living flesh; and finally the noösphere, in which life converges in a transcendent cosmic soul coextensive with God — an apotheosis and an apocalypse. His uncanny theology, fleshed out in books like The Human Phenomenon and The Omega Point, captured the imagination of science fiction writers, technologists, and New Agers, but found no favor with the Church. For his heterodoxy he earned censure and rebuke. But his mysticism’s appeal was more than merely speculative: towards the end of her struggle with physical suffering, the otherwise orthodox Flannery O’Connor found solace in Teilhard’s peculiar transcendentalism, pinning her hopes and her art to his idea that everything that rises must converge.

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