While he may have been sympathetic toward an unconditional Incarnation, Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., was not a Scotist. At any rate, since his name comes up in discussing the primacy of Christ, especially when using the biblical titles of Alpha and Omega, we do well to keep the solid reflections of the great Catholic philosopher Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand in mind. I post it here in full.
fr. maximilian mary dean, F.I.
Teilhard de Chardin: A False Prophet
From: Trojan Horse in the City of God,
by Dietrich von Hildebrand
(Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1967.
Sophia Institute Press, Manchester, New Hampshire, 1993.)
I MET TEILHARD DE CHARDIN in 1949 at a dinner arranged by Father Robert Gannon, S.J., then president of Fordham University. Previously, the noted scholars Father Henri de Lubac and Msgr. Bruno de Solages had highly recommended him to me. I was, therefore, full of expectations. After the meal, Father Teilhard delivered a long exposition of his views.
Teilhard’s lecture was a great disappointment, for it manifested utter philosophical confusion, especially in his conception of the human person. I was even more upset by his theological primitiveness. He ignored completely the decisive difference between nature and supernature. After a lively discussion in which I ventured a criticism of his ideas, I had an opportunity to speak to Teilhard privately. When our talk touched on St. Augustine, he exclaimed violently: “Don’t mention that unfortunate man; he spoiled everything by introducing the supernatural.” This remark confirmed the impression I had gained of the crass naturalism of his views, but it also struck me in another way. The criticism of St. Augustine, the greatest of the Fathers of the Church, betrayed Teilhard’s lack of a genuine sense of intellectual and spiritual grandeur.
It was only after reading several of Teilhard’s work’s, however, that I fully realized the catastrophic implications of his philosophical ideas and the absolute incompatibility of his theology fiction (as Etienne Gilson calls it) with Christian revelation and the doctrine of the Church.
Teilhard was not a careful scientist
Many Catholics view Teilhard de Chardin as a great scientist who has reconciled science with the Christian faith by introducing a grandiose new theology and metaphysics that take modern scientific findings into account and thus fit into our scientific age. Although I am not a competent judge of Teilhard as a scientist, this opinion may be questioned without expertise. For one thing, every careful thinker knows that a reconciliation of science and the Christian faith has never been needed, because true science (in contradistinction to false philosophies disguised in scientific garments) can never be incompatible with Christian faith. Science can neither prove nor disprove the truth of the faith. Let us also note several judgments of Teilhard by outstanding scientists.
Jean Rostand has said of Teilhard’s works: “I have argued that Teilhard did not cast the slightest light on the great problem of organic evolution.” Sir Peter Medawar, the Nobel Prize winner, speaks of Teilhard’s mental confusion and the exaggerated expression that borders, he says, on hysteria. He insists that The Phenomenon of Man is unscientific in its procedure. Sir Peter adds that Teilhard’s works in general lack scientific structure, that his competence in his field is modest, that he neither knows what a logical argument is nor what a scientific proof is, that he does not respect the norms required for scientific scholarship.
Thus, since the halo surrounding Teilhard is not unrelated to the opinion that he was a great scientist, it should be noted that his scientific accomplishments are, at the very least, controversial. My purpose here, however, is to examine Teilhard’s philosophical and theological thought and its bearings on Christian revelation and the doctrine of the Church. I wish to make it clear from the beginning that writing on Teilhard is no easy matter. I do not know of another thinker who so artfully jumps from one position to another contradictory one, without being disturbed by the jump or even noticing it. One is driven therefore to speak of the underlying trend of his thought, to identify the logical consequences of the core of his doctrine – of what was dearest to him.
Teilhard fails to grasp the nature of the person
One of the most striking philosophical shortcomings of Teilhard’s system is his conception of man. It is a great irony that the author of The Phenomenon of Man should completely miss the nature of man as a person. He fails to recognize the abyss separating a person from the entire impersonal world around him, the wholly new dimension of being that a person implies.
Teilhard sees “self-consciousness” as the only difference between man and a highly developed animal. But a comparison of the limited type of consciousness that can be observed in animals with the manifold aspects of a person’s consciousness shows instantly how wrong it is to regard the latter as merely an addition of self-consciousness. Personal consciousness actualizes itself in knowledge – in the luminous consciousness of an object that reveals itself to our mind, in the capacity to adapt our mind to the nature of the object (adequatio intellectus ad rem), in an understanding of the object’s nature. It also actualizes itself in the process of inference, in the capacity to ask questions, to pursue truth, and last, but not least, in the capacity to develop an I-thou communion with another person. All of this implies a completely new type of consciousness, an entirely new dimension of being.
But this marvel of the human mind, which is also revealed in language and in man’s role as homo pictor (imaginative man, man as artist),is altogether lost on Teilhard because he insists on viewing human consciousness as merely an awareness of self that has gradually developed out of animal consciousness.
The scholastics, on the other hand, accurately grasped the dimensions of personal consciousness by calling the person a being that possesses itself. Compared with the person, every impersonal being sleeps, as it were; it simply endures its existence. Only in the human person do we find an awakened being, a being truly possessing itself, notwithstanding its contingency.
Teilhardian “fusion” of persons is impossible
Teilhard’s failure to appreciate the person again comes to the fore when he claims in The Phenomenon of Man., that a collective consciousness would constitute a higher state of evolution:
The idea is that of the earth not only becoming covered by myriads of grains of thought but becoming enclosed in a single thinking envelope so as to form, functionally, no more than a single vast grain of thought on the sidereal scale.
Here several grave errors are combined. First, the idea of a non-individual consciousness is contradictory. Second, it is wrong to suppose that this impossible fiction could contain something superior to individual personal existence. Third, the idea of a “superconsciousness” is, in fact, a totalitarian ideal: It implies an absolute antithesis to true community, which essentially presupposes individual persons.
The existence of a human person is so essentially individual that the idea of fusing two persons into one or of splitting one person into two is radically impossible. It is also impossible to wish to be another person. We can only wish to be like another person. For at the moment we became the other person we would necessarily cease to exist. It belongs to the very nature of the human being as person that he remain this one individual being. God could annihilate him, though revelation tells us that this is not God’s intention. But to suppose that a human being could give up his individual character without ceasing to exist, without being annihilated by that act, amounts to blindness to what a person is.
Some men claim to experience a kind of “union with the cosmos” which “enlarges” their individual existence and presents itself as the acquisition of a “superconsciousness.” In reality, however, this union exists only in the consciousness of the individual person who has such an experience. Its content – the feeling of fusion with the cosmos – is in reality the peculiar experience of one concrete person, and in no way implies a collective consciousness.
Our consideration of Teilhard’s ideal of the “collective man” reveals that he fails to understand not only the nature of man as person but also the nature of true communion and community. True personal communion, in which we attain union much deeper than any ontological fusion, presupposes the favorable individual character of the person. Compared to the union achieved by the conscious interpenetration of souls in mutual love, the fusion of impersonal beings is nothing more than juxtaposition.
Teilhard does not recognize the hierarchy of being
Teilhard’s ideal of “superhumanity” – his totalitarian conception of community – shows the same naive ignorance of the abyss that separates the glorious realm of personal existence from the impersonal world. It also reveals his blindness to the hierarchy of being and to the hierarchy of values. Pascal admirably illuminated the incomparable superiority of one individual person to the entire impersonal world when to his famous remark, “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature,” he added the words, “but if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him. He knows that he dies, and the advantage which the universe has over him. The universe knows nothing of this.”
Another aspect of Teilhard’s blindness to the essentially individual character of the person is his inordinate interest in man as species. Again he overlooks the differences between humans and mere animals. A dominant interest in the species is quite normal as long as one deals with animals, but it becomes grotesque when human beings are involved. Kierkegaard brought out this point when he stressed the absolute superiority of the individual human being to the human species. Teilhard’s own approach is betrayed by his attitude toward the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The “progress” of humanity which he sees in the invention of nuclear weapons matters more to him than the destruction of innumerable lives and the most terrible sufferings inflicted on individual persons.
It is true that time and again Teilhard speaks of the personal and of the superiority of the personal over the impersonal. Indeed, he often explicitly rejects the possibility that the existence of the individual person will dissolve. He writes, for instance, in Building the Earth: “Since there is neither fusion nor dissolution of individual persons, the center which they aspire to reach must necessarily be distinct from them, that is, it must have its own personality, its autonomous reality.” Yet just a few pages later we find him rhapsodizing: “And lastly the totalization of the individual in the collective man.” Teilhard then explains how this contradiction will dissolve in the Omega: “All these so-called impossibilities come about under the influence of love.”
Teilhard tries to eliminate antitheses
It has recently become fashionable to accept contradictions as a sign of philosophical depth. Mutually contradictory elements are regarded as antagonistic as long as the discussion remains on a logical level, but are considered unimportant as soon as it reaches the religious sphere. This fashion does not do away with the essential impossibility of combining contradictories. No number of modish paradoxes, of emotional effusions, of exotically capitalized words can conceal Teilhard’s fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of the person. The notion of the “personal” in Teilhard’s system is stripped of any real meaning by the system’s underlying pantheism. In Teilhard’s thought “collective man” and the “totalization” of man represent an ideal that is objectively incompatible with the existence of the individual person – or, rather, that necessarily implies the annihilation of the person.
His monistic tendency leads him to try to liquidate all real antitheses. He wants to keep the integrity of the person, but raves about totalization. He reduces all contraries to different aspects of one and the same thing, and then claims that the antithetical nature of the propositions in question is due merely to the isolation or overemphasis of a single aspect. Yet by reading Teilhard closely, one can always detect his primary concern and see where he is going.
A passage comparing democracy, communism, and fascism in Building the Earth illustrates this. A superficial reading of the passage (which, incidentally, contains several excellent remarks) might give the impression that Teilhard does not deny the individual character of man. A closer, critical study against the background of other passages clearly reveals not only an impossible attempt to link together individuality and totalization, but also Teilhard’s intention, what his main ideal is, where his heart is. It is, once again, with totalization, with superhumanity in the Omega.
Teilhard misunderstands communion and community
The penchant for liquidating antitheses also sheds light on Teilhard’s false conception of the community, of the union of persons. It is all conceived upon the pattern of fusion in the realm of matter, and thus misses the radical difference between unification in the sphere of matter and the spiritual union that comes to pass through real love in the sphere of individual persons. For Teilhard, love is merely cosmic energy: “That energy which, having generally agitated the cosmic mass, emerges from it to form the Noosphere, what name must be given to such an influence? One only – love.” A man who can write that has obviously failed to grasp the nature of this supreme act which, by its very essence, presupposes the existence both of a conscious, personal being and a thou.
Teilhard leaves no place for love
There is no place in the unanimity and harmony of Teilhard’s totalitarian communion for a real giving of oneself in love. This unanimity and harmony is actualized through a convergence into one mind; it thus differs radically from the concordia, from the blissful union of which the Liturgy of the Mandatum speaks: “Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.” (The love of Christ has gathered us into one.) The latter is not a “co-thinking,” but rather a mutual, reciprocal love and a unification in Christ based on the personal love-response which every individual gives to Christ.
In a monistic world, there is absolutely no place for the intentio unionis (the intention of union)and the intentio benevolentiae (good will) proper to real love. For in such a world “cosmic energy” moves everything independently of man’s free response. When we interpret things that are merely analogous as constituting an ontological unity, or when we use as literal and univocal a term that is analogous, we necessarily bar the way to a real understanding of the being in question. Every monism is ultimately nihilistic.
Teilhard misses the difference between matter and spirit
Another grave philosophical error is closely linked to Teilhard’s conception of man: his failure to grasp the radical difference between spirit and matter. Teilhard deals with energy as though it were a genus and then proceeds to make matter and spirit two differentiae specificae (distinct species) in this genus. But there is no genus energy. Energy is a concept applicable to both of these radically different realms of being only in terms of analogy. Teilhard does not understand this; he even speaks of the “spiritual power of matter.”
Teilhard forces reality to fit into his system
Teilhard, then, is the type of thinker who indulges in constructions and hypotheses without caring much about what is “given.” Maritain once said: “The main difference between philosophers is whether they see or do not see.” In Teilhard, there is much imagination but no intuition, no listening to experience. From this comes his attempt to project consciousness into inanimate matter – a project for which there is simply no foundation apart from Teilhard’s desire to erect a monistic system. Instead of listening to experience, to the voice of being, he arbitrarily infuses into the being in question whatever corresponds to his system. It is indeed surprising that a man who attacks traditional philosophy and theology for abstractness and for trying to adjust reality to a closed system should himself offer the most abstract and unrealistic system imaginable into which he attempts to force reality, thereby following the famous example of Procrustes.
The ambiguity underlying Teilhard’s thought also emerges in a passage that accuses Communism of being too materialistic, of striving only for the progress of matter and, consequently, ignoring spiritual progress. His admirers might point to this passage as proof that Teilhard clearly distinguishes between matter and spirit and acknowledges the superiority of the latter.
Actually, it proves no such thing. Teilhard always distinguishes between matter and spirit, but he regards them as merely two stages in the evolutionary process. Physical energy becomes – is transformed into – spiritual energy. But to regard the difference between the two as simply stages of a process – or, as we may put it, to regard the difference as a “gradual” one – is utterly to fail to understand the nature of the spirit. Again, monism prevents an understanding of reality and creates the illusion of being able to combine what cannot be combined.
Teilhard implicitly denies man has free will
Teilhard’s incomprehension of man’s nature is further evidenced in his implicit denial of man’s free will. By grounding man’s spiritual life in an evolutionary process which by definition acts independently of man’s free will and transcends the person, Teilhard clearly denies the decisive role of human freedom. Freedom of will is obviously one of the most significant and deepest marks of a person. Thus, once again, he overlooks the radical difference between man as person and a highly developed animal.
The role of freedom of will emerges decisively in man’s capacity to bear moral values and disvalues. This highest characteristic of man presupposes free will and responsibility. But Teilhard blithely reduces the antithesis between good and evil to mere stages of evolution, to mere degrees of perfection – surely a classic case of philosophical impotence. Moreover, he ignores the critical importance of the moral question, which is strikingly expressed in Socrates’ immortal dictum: “It is better for man to suffer injustice than to commit it.” In Teilhard, the entire drama of man’s existence, the fight between good and evil in his soul, is ignored or, rather, overshadowed by the evolutionary growth toward the Omega.
Teilhardism and Christianity are incompatible
Teilhard’s thought is thus hopelessly at odds with Christianity. Christian revelation presupposes certain basic natural facts, such as the existence of objective truth, the spiritual reality of an individual person, the radical difference between spirit and matter, the difference between body and soul, the unalterable objectivity of moral good and evil, freedom of the will, the immortality of the soul, and, of course, the existence of a personal God. Teilhard’s approach to all of these questions reveals an unbridgeable chasm between his theology fiction and Christian revelation.
Teilhard adapts religion to modern man
This conclusion inescapably follows from Teilhard’s oftrepeated arguments for a “new” interpretation of Christianity. Time and again he argues that we can no longer expect modern man, living in an industrialized world and in the scientific age, to accept Christian doctrine as it has been taught for the last two thousandyears. Teilhard’s new interpretation of Christianity is fashioned by asking, “What fits into our modern world?” This approach combines historical relativism and pragmatism with a radical blindness to the very essence of religion.
We have considered the myth of modern man throughout this book. It suffices here to insist that man always remains essentially the same with regard to his moral dangers, his moral obligations, his need of redemption, and the true sources of his happiness. We have also examined the catastrophic error of historical relativism, which confuses the socio-historical aliveness of an idea with its validity and truth. Now, if it is sheer nonsense to claim that a basic natural truth can be true in the Middle Ages but is no longer so in our time, the absurdity is even greater when the subject is religion.
With a religion the only question that can matter is whether or not it is true. The question of whether or not it fits into the mentality of an epoch cannot play any role in the acceptance or the rejection of a religion without betraying the very essence of religion. Even the earnest atheist recognizes this. He will not say that today we can no longer believe in God; he will say that God is and always was a mere illusion. From the position that a religion must be adapted to the spirit of an epoch there is but a short step to the absurd drivel (which we associate with Bertrand Russell or the Nazi ideologist Bergmann) about having to invent a new religion.
In 1952 letterTeilhard wrote: “As I love to say, the synthesis of the Christian God (of the above) and the Marxist God (of the forward) – Behold! that is the only God whom henceforth we can adore in spirit and in truth.” In these remarks the abyss separating Teilhard from Christianity is manifest in every word. To speak of a Marxist God is very surprising to say the least, and would never have been accepted by Marx. But the idea of a synthesis of the Christian God with an alleged Marxist God, as well as the simultaneous application of the term God to Christianity and to Marxism, demonstrates the absolute incompatibility of Teilhard’s thought with the doctrine of the Church. Note, moreover, the words “henceforth” and “can.” They are the key to Teilhard’s thinking and expose unmistakably his historical relativism.
Teilhard’s Christ is not the Christ of the Gospels
In Le paysan de la Garonne,Jacques Maritain remarks that Teilhard is most anxious to preserve Christ. But, adds Maritain, “What a Christ!” It is here, indeed, that 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 natural evolutionary process and, simultaneously, its end – the Christ-Omega. An unprejudiced mind cannot but ask: Why should this “cosmic force” be called Christ?
It would be utter naiveté to be misled by the mere fact that Teilhard labels this alleged cosmogenic force Christ or by his desperate effort to wrap 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.
In Christian revelation, the stress is laid on the sanctification and salvation of every individual person, leading to the beatific vision and, simultaneously, to the communion of saints. In Teilhard’s theology, the stress is laid on the progress of the earth, the evolution leading to Christ-Omega. There is no place for salvation through Christ’s death on the Cross since man’s destiny is part of pancosmic evolution.
Teilhard redefines basic Christian doctrine
Teilhard’s conception of man and his implicit denial of free will, his tacit amoralism and his totalitarian collectivism cut him off from Christian revelation – and this notwithstanding his efforts to reconcile his views with the Church’s teaching. He writes: “Yes, the moral and social development of humanity is indeed the authentic and natural consequence of organic evolution.” For such a man, original sin, redemption, and sanctification can no longer have any real meaning. Yet Teilhard does not seem quite aware of this incompatibility:
Sometimes I am a bit afraid, when I think of the transposition to which I must submit my mind concerning the vulgar notions of creation, inspiration, miracle, original sin, resurrection, etc., in order to be able to accept them.
That Teilhard applies the term vulgar, even if not in the pejorative sense, to the basic elements of Christian revelation and to their interpretation by the infallible magisterium of the Church should suffice to disclose the gnostic and esoteric character of his thought. He writes to Leontine Zanta:
As you already know, what dominates my interest and my preoccupations is the effort to establish in myself and to spread around a new religion (you may call it a better Christianity) in which the personal God ceases to be the great neolithic proprietor of former times, in order to become the soul of the world; our religious and cultural stage calls for this.
Not only, then, is the Christ of the Gospels replaced by a Christ-Omega, but also the God of the old and new covenants is replaced by a pantheistic God, “the soul of the world” – and again on the strength of the unfortunate argument that God must be adapted to the man of our scientific age.
Teilhard banishes grace and the supernatural
No wonder Teilhard reproaches St. Augustine for introducing the difference between the natural and the supernatural. In Teilhard’s pantheistic and naturalistic “religion” there is no place for the supernatural or the world of grace. For him, union with God consists principally in assimilation into an evolutionary process – not in the supernatural life of grace which is infused in our souls through baptism.
Why does the one tend to exclude the other? If Teilhard’s notion of a participation in an evolutionary process were reality, it could only be a form of concursus divinus. Yet great and mysterious as is the concursus divinus – that is, the support God gives at every moment of our natural existence, without which we would sink back into nothingness – there is an abyss separating this natural metaphysical contact from grace.
Whether or not Teilhard explicitly denies the reality of grace does not matter much: His ecstasy in the presence of the natural contact with God in the alleged evolutionary process clearly discloses the subordinate role, if any, that he assigns to grace. Or, to put it otherwise: After Teilhard has replaced the personal God, Creator of heaven and earth, by God the soul of the world, after he has transformed the Christ of the Gospels into the Christ-Omega, after he has replaced redemption by a natural evolutionary process, what is left for grace? Maritain makes the point admirably. After granting that Teilhard’s spectacle of a divine movement of creation toward God does not lack grandeur, he observes:
But what does he tell us about the secret path that matters more for us than any spectacle? What can he tell us of the essential, the mystery of the Cross and the redeeming blood, as well as of the grace, the presence of which in one single soul has more worth than all of nature? And what of the love that makes us co-redeemers with Christ, what of those blissful tears through which His peace enters into our soul? The new gnosis is, like all other gnoses, ‘a poor gnosis.’
Teilhard inverts the hierarchy of values
In Teilhard we find a complete reversal of the Christian hierarchy of values. For him, cosmic processes rank higher than the individual soul. Research and work rank higher than moral values. Action, as such (that is, any association with the evolutionary process) is more important than contemplation, contrition for our sins, and penance. Progress in the conquest and “totalization” of the world through evolution ranks higher than holiness.
The vast distance between Teilhard’s world and the Christian world becomes dramatically clear when we compare Cardinal Newman’s priorities with Teilhard’s. Newman says in Discourses to Mixed Congregations:
Saintly purity, saintly poverty, renouncement of the world, the favor of Heaven, the protection of the angels, the smile of the blessed Mary, the gifts of grace, the interposition of miracles, the intercommunion of merits, these are the high and precious things, the things to be looked up to, the things to be reverently spoken of.
But for Teilhard it is otherwise:
To adore once meant to prefer God to things by referring them to Him and by sacrificing them to Him. Adoring today becomes giving oneself body and soul to the creator – associating ourselves with the creator – in order to give the finishing touch to the world through work and research.
Teilhardism is incompatible with Christianity
Teilhard’s ambiguous use of classical Christian terms cannot conceal the basic meaning and direction of his thought. We find it impossible, therefore, to agree with Henri de Lubac that Teilhard’s theology fiction is a “possible” addition to Christian revelation. Rather, the evidence compels our argeement with Philippe de la Trinité that it is “a deformation of Christianity, which is transformed into an evolutionism of the naturalistic, monistic, and pantheistic brand.”
Teilhard’s theories are based in equivocations
In his works, he glides from one notion to another, creating a cult of equivocation deeply linked with his monistic ideal. He systematically blurs all the decisive differences between things: The difference between hope and optimism; the difference between Christian love of neighbor (which is essentially directed to an individual person) and an infatuation with humanity (in which the individual is but a single unit of the species man). And Teilhard ignores the difference between eternity and the earthly future of humanity, both of which he fuses in the totalization of the Christ-Omega. To be sure, there is something touching in Teilhard’s desperate attempt to combine a traditional, emotional attraction to the Church with a theology radically opposed to the Church’s doctrine. But this apparent dedication to Christian terms makes him even more dangerous than Voltaire, Renan, or Nietzsche. His success in wrapping a pantheistic, gnostic monism in Christian garments is perhaps nowhere so evident as in The Divine Milieu.
Teilhard substitutes efficiency for sanctity
To many readers, the terms Teilhard uses sound so familiar that they can exclaim: How can you accuse him of not being an orthodox Christian? Does he not say in The Divine Milieu, “What is it for a person to be a saint if not, in effect, to adhere to God with all his power?” Certainly, this sounds absolutely orthodox. Nonetheless, his notion of adhering to God conceals a shift from the heroic virtues that characterize the saint to a collaboration in an evolutionary process. Attaining holiness in the moral sphere through obeying God’s commands and imitating Christ is tacitly replaced by an emphasis on developing all of man’s faculties with – this seems the appropriate word – efficiency.
This is clearly the case, although Teilhard veils the point in traditional terminology:
What is it to adhere to God fully if not to fulfill in the world organized around Christ the exact function, humble or important, to which nature and supernature destine it?”
For Teilhard, then, the very meaning of the individual person lies in his fulfillment of a function in the whole – in the evolutionary process. The individual is no longer called upon to glorify God through that imitation of Christ which is the one common goal for every true Christian.
Teilhard’s “religion” is worldly
The transposition of the Cross into the Christ-Omega is also wrapped in apparently traditional terms:
Towards the summit, wrapped in mist to our human eyes and to which the Cross invites us, we rise by a path which is the way of universal Progress. The royal road of the Cross is no more nor less than the road of human endeavor supernaturally righted and prolonged.
Here, Christian symbols conceal a radical transformation of Christianity that takes us out of the Christian orbit altogether into a completely different spiritual climate. Sometimes, however, Teilhard does discard the Christian guise, and openly reveals his true stand. In 1934,in China, he wrote:
If in consequence of some inner revolution, I were to lose my faith in Christ, my faith in a personal God, my faith in the spirit, it seems to me that I would continue to have faith in the world. The world (the value, infallibility, and goodness of the world) this is – definitely – the first and only thing in which I believe.
Teilhard’s optimism wins converts to his views
Yet, clear as is the heterodoxy of Teilhard’s theology, some Catholics have elevated him to the rank of a Doctor, indeed, even a Father of the Church. For many unsophisticated Catholics, he has become a kind of prophet. That “progressive” Catholics relish Teilhard is, of course, not surprising. The “new theologians” and the “new moralists” welcome Teilhard’s views because they share his historical relativism – his conviction that faith must be adapted to “modern man.” Indeed, for many “progressive” Catholics, Teilhard’s transposition of Christian revelation does not go far enough.
But it is astonishing, on the other hand, that many faithful Christians are carried away by Teilhard – that they fail to grasp the complete incompatibility of his teaching with the doctrine of the Church. This popularity, however, becomes less surprising when viewed in the context of our contemporary intellectual and moral climate. In a period familiar with Sartre’s “nausea” and Heidegger’s conception of the essentially “homeless” man, Teilhard’s radiant and optimistic outlook on life comes for many as a welcome relief. His claim that we are constantly collaborating with God (whatever we do and however insignificant our role) and that “everything is sacred” understandably exhilarates many depressed souls. Another reason for such enthusiasm – perhaps more important – is that Teilhard is credited with having overcome a narrow asceticism and false supernaturalism.
Teilhard claims Catholicism disparages nature
There is no doubt that in the past many pious Catholics considered natural goods primarily as potential dangers that threatened to divert them from God. Natural goods – even those endowed with high values (such as beauty in nature and in art, natural truth, and human love) – were approached with suspicion. These Catholics overlooked the positive value that natural goods have for man. They frequently advocated the view that natural goods should only be used, that they should never evoke interest and appreciation for their own sake.
But in this view, they forgot the fundamental difference betwen natural goods and wordly goods (such as wealth, fame, or success). They forgot that natural goods, endowed as they are with intrinsic value, should not only be “used,” but appreciated for their own sake – that it is worldly goods that should be “used” only.
It cannot be denied, moreover, that this unfortunate oversimplication often gained currency in seminaries and monasteries, notwithstanding the fact that it was never part of the doctrine of the Church.
This is why Teilhard is able with superficial plausibility to accuse the Catholic tradition of disparaging nature; and because he himself praises nature, it is understandable that for many his thought has seemed to be a just appreciation of natural goods.
Teilhard accuses Christianity of dehumanizing man
And Teilhard’s related claim that traditional Christianity has created a gap between humanness and Christian perfection has also impressed many sincere Catholics. In The Divine Milieu he attributes to traditional Christianity the notion that “men must put off their human garments in order to be Christians.”
Again, it cannot be denied that Jansenism reflects this attitude, or that certain Jansenistic tendencies have crept anonymously into the minds of many Catholics. For instance, the arch-Christian doctrine that insists that we must die to ourselves in order to be transformed in Christ has often been given an unwarranted dehumanizing emphasis in certain religious institutions. The view has been encouraged in some monasteries and seminaries that nature must, in effect, be killed before the supernatural life of grace can blossom. In the official doctrine of the Church, however, such dehumanization is flatly rejected. As Pope Pius XII said:
Grace does not destroy nature; it does not even change it; it transfigures it. Indeed, dehumanization is so far from being required for Christian perfection that this may be said: Only the person who is transformed in Christ embodies the true fulfilment of his human personality.
Teilhard’s own theories dehumanize man
Now, the point we wish to make is that Teilhard himself ignores the value of high natural goods and that, contrary to his claim, a real dehumanization takes place in his monistic pantheism. We have seen that his ideal of collective man and superhumanity necessarily implies a blindness to the real nature of the individual person and, derivatively, to all the plenitude of human life. But dehumanization also follows inevitably from his monism which minimizes the real drama of human life – the fight between good and evil – and reduces antithetical differences to mere gradations of a continuum.
Teilhard misses the supernatural aspect of natural goods
Teilhard’s failure to do justice to the true significance of natural goods is clear at the very moment he stresses their importance for eternity. Anyone can see that in dealing with natural goods he is primarily concerned with human activities, with accomplishments in work and research. He does not mention the higher natural goods and the message of God they contain, but only activities, performances, and accomplishments in the natural field. Teilhard applies to these actions the biblical words “opera ejus sequuntur illos” (His deeds follow them.), but he does so in contradistinction to the original meaning of opera, in which “works” are identical with morally significant deeds.
Still more important is the relation he sees between natural goods as such and God. Teilhard sees no message of God’s glory in the values contained in these great natural goods; nor does he find in them a personal experience of the voice of God. Instead, he posits an objective and unexperienced link between God and our activities that results from the concursus divinus. He says: “God is, in a way, at the end of my pen, of my pickax, of my paintbrush, of my sewing needle, of my heart, of my thought.”
The real object of Teilhard’s boundless enthusiasm, then, is not natural goods themselves, but an abstraction: the hypothesis of evolution. The nature that moves him is not the colorful, resounding beauty of which all the great poets sing. It is not the nature of Dante, Shakespeare, Keats, Goethe, Hölderlin, Leopardi. It is not the glory of a sunrise or sunset, or the star-studded sky – the evidences of the natural world which Kant regarded, along with the moral law in man’s breast, as the most sublime thing of all.
Teilhard levels the hierarchy of values
There is another way in which Teilhard’s thought necessarily results in a dehumanization of the cosmos and man’s life. In his world view there is no place for an antithesis of values and disvalues. Yet every attempt to deny these ultimately important qualitative antagonisms always produces a kind of leveling, even a nihilism. The same thing happens when the hierarchy of values is overlooked, if only because man then responds to all levels of value with the same degree of enthusiasm.
The principle “everything is sacred,” which sounds so uplifting and exhilarating, is in reality fraught with a nihilistic denial of low and high, of good and evil. This fallacious and treacherous approach of praising everything actually results in denying everything. It reminds me of a remark made by a violinist I once met. “I love music so much,” he said, “that I do not care what kind of music it is, as long as it is music.” This statement, designed to suggest an extraordinary love for music, in fact revealed an absence of any true understanding of music and therefore of any capacity to love music. The same thing happens to man when qualitative distinctions are not made.
Let us now examine a little more closely the Christian view of nature, as compared with that of Teilhard. The revelation of God in nature has always been affirmed by the Christian tradition. The Sanctus says, “pleni suns caeli et terra gloria tua.” The Psalms are filled with praise of God as the Creator of the marvelous features of nature. St. Augustine’s exemplarism emphasizes time and again the message of God in the beauty of nature. The same idea is found in St. Francis’ love of nature.
Teilhard’s nature has no transcendent dimension
But an appreciation of this natural revelation of God implies an “upward direction toward God” – to use Teilhard’s terminology. Natural revelation speaks to us of God by suggesting the admirable wisdom that pervades creation and by providing a reflection, in the values of natural goods, of God’s infinite beauty and glory.
Our response to this revelation is either trembling reverence and wonder for the wisdom manifest in the finality of the cosmos and its mysterious plenitude, a looking up to God the Creator; or, at least, a deep awareness of the beauty of nature and of all the high natural goods. The latter also lifts up our vision. In either case, we are able to grasp the message from above; for all true values are pregnant with a promise of eternity. By lifting up our hearts we are able to understand that these authentic values speak of God’s infinite glory. All of this unmistakably implies an “upward direction.”
But Teilhard’s “nature” is not linked to an “upward direction”; it is not a message from above. Since, for Teilhard, God is behind nature, we are supposed to reach Him in the Christ-Omega by moving in a “forward direction.”
In Teilhard’s forward direction, where everything is involved in an evolutionary movement, natural goods lose their real value. The suggestion they contain of something transcendent is replaced by a merely immanent finality; they become links in the chain of evolution.
When evolution is viewed as the main and decisive reality – when it is, in fact, deified – then every natural good becomes, on the one hand, a mere transitory step in the forward movement of the evolutionary process, and, on the other hand, a mute thing, cut off by a leveling monism from its real, qualitative, inherent importance.
It follows that we can do justice to high natural goods only if we discern in them a reflection of an infinitely higher reality, a reality ontologically different from them. This “message character” of natural goods is admirably expressed in Cardinal Newman’s remarks about music.
Can it be that those mysterious stirrings of the heart, and keen emotion, and strange yearnings after we know not what, and awful impressions from we know not whence, should be brought in us by what is unsubstantial, and comes and goes, and begins and ends in itself? It is not so; it cannot be. No; they have escaped from some higher sphere, they are the outpourings of eternal harmony in the medium of created sound; they are echoes of our home; they are the voice of angels, or the Magnificat of the Saints.
Teilhard overvalues industrialization
Another aspect of this problem deserves notice. The fact that Teilhard sees a higher stage of evolution in today’s industrialized world reveals the lack of a real sense of the beauty of nature and of the qualitative message of God that it bears. Even the most enthusiastic “progressive” cannot deny that industrialization consistently ruins the beauty of nature.
Moreover, industrialization (though perhaps the process is inevitable) certainly cannot be considered a univocal progress, either from the point of view of increasing human happiness or of fostering higher culture and a real humanism. As Gabriel Marcel correctly shows in his Man Against Mass Society,industrialization implies the danger of a progressive dehumanization. The replacement of the “organic” in human life by the artificial – from artificial insemination to social engineering – is symptomatic of this dehumanization.
Yet Teilhard heedlessly jumps from an enthusiasm for nature to elation over the progress of technology and industrialization. We are thus again confronted with his blindness to antitheses, with his monistic leveling.
It is clear, nevertheless, that Teilhard’s first love is technological progress. The creation of God has to be completed by man – not in St. Paul’s sense, not by cooperating with nature, but by replacing nature with the machine.
Teilhard does not give the response due to matter and spirit
The poetic expressions that appear when Teilhard presents his vision of evolution and progress make clear that he never saw the authentic poetry of nature or of the classical “forms” of creation. Instead, he tries to project poetry into technology – again revealing a monistic denial of the basic differences between the poetic and prosaic, the organic and the artificial, the sacred and the profane.
To be sure, it is always impressive when a man seems to have achieved a deep vision of being, and, instead of taking it for granted, gives it a full and ardent response. So with Teilhard. We are far from denying that he discovered in matter many aspects which had generally been overlooked. For example, the mysterious structure and the multiplicity of matter, which natural science is increasingly unfolding, call for genuine wonderment about this reality and respect for this creation of God.
But because Teilhard does not recognize the essential differences between spirit and matter and because his response to the spirit is not in proportion to his praise of matter (recall his “prayer” to matter) the advantage of this unusual insight into matter is, for him, quickly lost.
We must put this question of “matter” in its proper perspective. To overlook the marvels hidden in a creature that ranks lowest in the hierarchy of being is regrettable. But the oversight does not affect our knowledge of higher ranking creatures; it is therefore not a catastrophe.
On the other hand, to grasp the lower while overlooking the higher is to distort our entire world view; and that is a catastrophe. Moreover, to esteem a lower good as a higher is to misunderstand the hierarchical structure of being and thus to lose the basis for property evaluating either higher things or lower things.
Teilhard’s blindness to the real values in, for example, human love is shown in these unfortunate remarks about eros and agape:
Naturally, I agree with you that the solution of the eros-agape problem is simply to be found in the evolutionary trend (dans l’évolutif ),in the genetic, that is to say, in sublimation. [It is to be found in] the spirit emerging from matter through the pancosmic operation.
Teilhard misses the grandeur of conscience and morality
We have already seen that Teilhard’s conception of the moral sphere (virtue and sin) is incompatible with Christian revelation. We may now note that the role he grants to the moral sphere is yet another factor leading to dehumanization.
The unique contact with God that takes place in one’s conscience, in one’s awareness of his moral obligations, plays no role in Teilhard’s system. He does not understand that man in the realm of nature never reaches so intimate a contact with God as he does when he listens to the voice of his conscience and consciously submits to moral obligation. In comparison, how pale – in purely human and natural terms – is Teilhard’s notion of the “conscious” and the “unconscious” participating in a “cosmic progress”!
And how pale are the scope and breadth of cosmic events in contrast with the liberating transcendence of a man authentically contrite! What event could hold more grandeur than David’s response to the challenge of the prophet Nathan? The secondary role which Teilhard assigns to man’s conscious and personal dialogue with Christ – Teilhard’s preference for objective cooperation in the “evolutionary process” – reveals as clearly as anything can the truly dehumanized character of his “new world.”
Many people are impressed by a thinker who constructs a new world out of his own mind in which every thing is interconnected and “explained.” They consider such conceptions the most eminent feat of the human mind. Accordingly, they praise Teilhard as a great synthetic thinker. In truth, however, the measure of a thinker’s greatness is the extent to which he has grasped reality in its plenitude and depth and in its hierarchical structure. If this measure is applied to Teilhard, he obviously cannot be considered a great thinker.
Let us once again dramatize the non-Christian nature of the Teilhardian speculation by comparing his presentation of the meaning and purpose of Christianity with that of Cardinal Newman. Teilhard proclaims that Christ becomes
the flame of human efforts; he reveals himself as the form of faith which is most appropriate for modern needs – a religion for progress, the religion even for progress on earth; I dare say: the religion of evolution.
Cardinal Newman, however, reveals the true purpose of our faith:
St. Paul . . . labored more than all the Apostles; and why? Not to civilize the world, not to smooth the face of society, not to spread abroad knowledge, not to cultivate the reason, not for any great worldly object . . . Not to turn the whole earth into a heaven, but to bring down a heaven upon earth. This has been the real triumph of the Gospel . . . It has made men saints.