Friday, May 2, 2014


Since this man's ideas seem to never go away, and are adopted more and more by certain Churchmen, we thought it would be helpful to re-visit this brilliant article, written in 1966, by Henri Rambaud, on the pomps and works of this very odd but very influential man.  The "Piltdown Man" hoax was just one of many of the strange adventures of this man.

We thank Mr Anthony Fraser over at APROPOS for allowing us to reprint it.  Due to its length we are splitting it up into three parts.

'If by consequence of some internal upheaval, I came to lose successively my faith in Christ, my faith in a personal God, my faith in the Spirit, it seems to me that I should continue to believe in the World. The World (the value, the infallibility and the goodness of the World), such in the final analysis is the first and the only thing in which I believe. It is by this faith that I live, and it is to this faith, I feel, that at the moment or dying I shall above all doubts, abandon myself ( …) To this confused faith in a World, One and infallible, I abandon myself, wherever it may lead me.’
Comment je crois, by Teilhard de Chardin, 1934.


Translated by G A Lawman
(This article first appeared in Approaches No 3, March 1966. It is posted on the Apropos website: )

Nearly two years ago, at the public viva voce examination at which Mme Barthelemy-Madaule defended her doctoral thesis on Bergson et Teilhard de Chardin, Professor Henri Gouhier, chairman of the Board of examiners, used a particularly striking formula when he referred to 'that extraordinary social phenomenon, Teilhard de Chardin'. Seldom has a more important truth been expressed in so few words; for whatever one may think of Teilhard, one can hardly deny that Teilhardism is a fact, a fact above all else, and a very important fact indeed. And not only is it an important fact, but very much an out-of-the-ordinary one. The very speed with which it has spread (about 12 years), together with the fervor it inspires, amounting almost to a cult, all underline the extraordinary nature of the phenomenon. One may add that at the Council itself no fewer than four Council Fathers have sung Teilhard's praises, one from each corner of the globe – S Africa, East Germany, North and South America – while only two Benedictines have spoken against him.

However, Professor Gouhier's formula is not explicit enough. Teilhardism is not only an 'extraordinary social phenomenon'. It is also a specifically religious phenomenon; it could even prove to be, with Marxism, which it resembles in some of its aspects, the outstanding religious phenomenon of our time, just as the Reformation (do not object to this comparison; we are not the first to make, it?), was the outstanding religious phenomenon of the 16th century.

Of course, as at the time of the Reformation, Catholics are divided and many, it seems, have not yet understood (any more than their forbears of the 16th century) that what is now at stake is no less important than what was at stake then.

We cannot blame this on the indecision or silence of the religious authorities, for the Church has spoken. The Monitum issued by the Holy Office on 30 June 1962 declared that Teilhard de Chardin's works 'teem with [scatere] ambiguities or, to be more precise [immo], with errors so grave that they offend against Catholic doctrine'. It is true that the Monitum did not decree any disciplinary action to be taken, and merely urged bishops and superiors of religious orders ‘to protect effectively the minds – in particular those of youth against the dangers presented by the works of Teilhard and those, of his followers.' This is no vaguely phrased warning.

We all know what happened to it. The Holy Office’s exhortation has in fact remained a dead letter.

This judgment on Teilhard’s works has proved most useful in confirming opponents, of his thought in their opinion, but it does not seem to have convinced many of his supporters, nor has it made them less ready to speak and write, in his defence and furtherance. Far from it; the Monitum's most obvious result has been to arouse a general protest in those ecclesiastical circles who pride themselves on their intelligence, and in the first place, at least in France, in those who up to then had seemed most trustworthy, in view of their protestations of fidelity to the Holy See. Thus we saw eminent ecclesiastics reviving (without admitting the fact – perhaps even unaware that they were doing so) – the old distinction between right and fact invented in the 17th century by the Jansenists(1) (history does sometimes repeat itself), and humorously expressing their gratitude to the Holy Office for the encouragement the Monitum had given to read Teilhard more accurately, i.e., without attributing to him erroneous views that he never held. At the same time propaganda in Teilhard's favour increased enormously. Those of the French Jesuits who do not share Teilhard's views (after all, there must be some!) kept silent or were prevented from speaking, whilst the others were feverishly producing books, articles and lectures on Teilhard.

This battle is still raging, so much so that in the autumn of 1964 a Catholic publisher, with splendid impartiality, simultaneously published two books, one hostile to Teilhard: Rome et Teilhard de Chardin, by the Rev Fr Philippe de la Trinité, adviser to the Holy Office; and one favourable to him: La prière du Père Teilhard de Chardin, by the Rev Henri de Lubac, SJ, expert at the Council. Thus it is not only the uninitiated laymen who do not agree about Teilhard; even the experts themselves are at loggerheads. Hence the opinion very common among Catholics, that all this is after all only a quarrel between theologians splitting hairs. Such Catholics have no wish to be disloyal to the Church; in fact they are certain they are not. But equally they see no reason to pay more than a token respect to the Holy Office; and they certainly see no reason for fighting against the dangers of Teilhardism, as the Holy Office has asked them to do. As far as they are concerned, both the Holy Office and the Society or Jesus represent high authorities; it would be presumptuous of mere laymen to attempt to judge between them, and until such time as the very highest authority has pronounced its verdict (as though the Holy Office had not already spoken in the name of the Church!) prudence and fairness require them to lend an ear to each or the two parties to the dispute.

In fact, the opposing forces are far from evenly balanced, and Teilhard’s supporters distinctly have the upper hand. There are many reasons for this. For one thing, even submissiveness has its dangers, and when torn between two conflicting authorities, timid people tend to yield more readily to the nearer of the two than to the higher one. A further reason is that, in the atmosphere of our time, anything which emanates from the Roman Curia or which is suspected of ‘integrism’ has been subtly brought into disrepute. But above all, Teilhard’s reputation as a scientist and as a difficult author to understand has meant that most people have only read snippets of his works. And yet, in spite of this or even because of it he has come to enjoy so widespread a prestige, that in the estimation of our intellectuals (or those who lay claim to be intellectuals - for it is an article of faith that anti-Teilhardists do not think) anyone who is not a Teilhardist is ipso facto not intellectually respectable.

A few years ago, a leading Catholic journalist declared in a conversation, 'Teilhardism will be the heresy of the future'. And when urged to write an article on the subject he replied, 'My dear chap, if I said this in print I would lose all the credit I enjoy’.

However, since it must be becoming obvious by now, I will come out into the open and admit that I am not a Teilhardist. And since I have no credit to lose, I shall avail myself of the fact, (no mean advantage, this), to re-open Teilhard’s case at one of its most revealing pages, and to submit the personal beliefs of today's most famous Jesuit to a closer examination than it usually receives.

But first of all, what basically is Teilhardism, and where does it stand in relation to common Catholic faith?

Faith in Christ and Faith in the World
Fundamentally the question is a very simple one, and it is the scholars who have quite gratuitously and wantonly made it seem complicated.

If we see as the basis of Teilhard’s thought that double faith which he permanently confessed from 1916 up to his death - i.e. ‘An unbounded faith in Our Lord, animator of the World, and an unconfoundable faith in the world (especially the human world) animated by God'(2), we should not be misrepresenting his thought but simply reducing it to its essence. The first of these propositions would not have caused him any difficulty had it stood by itself. All the problems with which he was beset come from the second proposition, whose exigencies led him to a re-thinking of his Christian belief itself, as is clearly shown by his description of Christ as 'animator of the world'.

Without any possible doubt, Teilhard very firmly believed in Christ, in His divine and His human nature. But equally, his belief in the rightness of his own ideas was utterly unshakeable, so great and so pathological was the force of his conviction. Easy-going as he seems to have been in everyday life, nothing was capable of shaking his belief in Evolution as the supreme law of the Universe; it was, to him, much more than a conviction, it was literally a ‘faith’. His attachment to dogmas was more flexible; he accepted them, but reserved the right to interpret them. He did not repudiate the 'old sayings’, but he thought that 'with the discovery of major units and the vast energies of the cosmos', the time had come to understand them in a new way, since the meaning which our forefathers attached to them was linked to an age of mankind now irrevocably gone, and thus was due to be superseded by a new and more satisfactory meaning, one made necessary by the ‘modern scientific and industrial phase'. (3)

The result was that when some conflict broke out between his faith in the World and his personal faith in traditional Christianity, he repeatedly solved such conflicts by submitting the latter to the former, the latter being the weaker of the two. He retained the dogmatic definition of Catholicism and made it express what his faith in the World inspired in him, for he was convinced that, in a more or less distant future, that faith in the World would become everybody's faith, if indeed he did not take it for granted that this had already happened. Strong in his 'experience of Christianity’, he, even, as early as 1936, claimed the right to 'make this solemn declaration':

'Whatever the formulae that still hold their ground, the transformation to which I refer has already taken place in the most lively parts of the Catholic organism. Behind a surface of pessimism, individualism and juridicism, Christ the King is today already worshipped by the faithful as the God of Progress and of Evolution.' (4)

Where on earth could he have seen this? The emphasis is not even ours but his, as if the alleged fact being obviously a figment of his imagination, he felt he had to emphasise his statement.

It is easy to see to what innovations such an interpretation of dogmatic formulae in the light of modern science (or what passed for modern science in his eyes) could lead. It would be superfluous to list them here.5 Not the least disturbing, in this connection, is his conception of Christ. No doubt Christ still remains the Redeemer for him, but since he does not believe that evil was introduced into the world by the 'accident' traditionally called original sin, and since he prefers to see evil as a statistical necessity in a 'Universe in process of unification in God' (6), it can no longer be from Adam's sin that Christ redeems us, and His role as Redeemer - though still acknowledged - becomes in fact obliterated by His role as Motive Force and End-product of Evolution.

It is particularly disturbing that Christ, in Teilhard's writings, in always the Cosmic Christ (and, from 1924 onwards, the Omega- Christ) and never the Jesus of the Gospels or the Second Person of the Trinity. Teilhard would of course answer that, to him, there is only one Christ, who is at one and the same time Omega, Jesus and Second Person. But the first aspect, which is only a creation of Teilhard’s own mind, takes such precedence over the other two that it seems to be the only one in which he is interested. It makes one wonder whether Catholic doctrine, which he seems to accept sincerely, is not in fact - without his being aware of it - serving as a cover, so to speak, for his real faith, which is no longer a faith in the Jesus of the New Testament, but in a God postulated by his system - not the God of the Catholic Faith of today, but of that of the future.

End of part One.  Go to part two


1 The Jansenists, when challenged by the Hierarchy, argued their case by making a distinction between what they called the 'question de fait'(could the alleged erroneous statements be in fact found in Jansenius's writings?) and the 'question de droit' (supposing that the statements had in fact been made by Jansenius, was he right or wrong to have made them? Was he orthodox or heretical?). Translator's note.
2 Lettres de voyage, 107 (August 7, 1927)
3 Esquisse d'un univers personnel, May 4, 193 , (Oeuvres, vol VI, p 113). Cf. extract from the letter quoted by Fr Philippe de la Trinité, in Rome et Teilhard, p. 47: 'I am, at times, slightly frightened when I think of the transposition to which I have to subject the common notions of creation, inspiration, miracle, original sin, resurrection, etc., within myself, before I am able to accept them.' (17-12-1922).
Was Teilhard aware that his system was in blatant contradiction with one of the decrees of the first Vatican Council? 'Si quis dixerit fieri posse ut dogmatibus ab Ecclesia propositis aliquando secundum progressum scientiae sensus
tribuendus sit alius ab eo quem intellexit et intelligit Ecclesia, anathema sit.' (Denz. 1818).
4 Ibid.
5 Students may care to refer to Fr Calmel's articles in Itinéraires, (4, rue Garanciere, Paris VI), and in particular to his Résumé aide-mémoire d'un Christianisme sans la Foi, in the November 1964 number of that review. The list of Teilhard's 'novelties' given there is neither systematic nor exhaustive, but those which are listed are reproduced most accurately. It is most instructive to see the parallel Fr Calmel established on precise points, between 'progressism' and 'traditional doctrine'.
6 It is certain that Teilhard had ended by no longer believing in original sin, as is shown by his letter of April 8, 1955 (two days before his death) to Fr Andre Ravier: 'In the Universe of Cosmogenesis, in which Evil is no longer catastrophic (i.e. no longer the result of an accident) but evolutive (i.e. the statistically unavoidable by-product of a universe in course of Unification in God)...' (quoted in Janus, no 4, December 1964, p 32). We fail to see how it would be possible to reconcile this text with the 'per unum hominem peccatum intravit in mundum' (Rom V,12) to which the Council of Trent referred specifically when formulating its decree on original sin: 'Si quis non confitetur primum hominem Adam, cum mandatum Dei in paradiso fuisset transgressus, statim sanctitatem et justitiam, in qua constitutus fuerat amisisse, (etc .. ) anathema sit.' (Denz.„ 788 and 789).
It seems that very early, Teilhard had begun to interpret this in a way which retained only the label of the dogma, since as early as 1920, he lists original sin among the 'common notions' which he had to 'transpose in order to be able to accept them'.
As early as 1924 he was already experiencing difficulties with Rome, as he himself tells Fr August Valensin in a letter dated November 13: 'One of my papers (in which I expound three possible lines of my search for a way of representing original sin) has been sent to Rome. I do not know how. The censor is naturally astounded. I have got off with the comment that I am “heretical” or that I “have a screw loose” - I leave it to you to choose which'. The rest of the story is even more edifying. Fr d'Ouince writes that in order 'to cut the ground from under the accusation, Fr Ledochowski asked Teilhard to sign a text setting out the doctrine of original sin in traditional terms, a text which he (Fr Ledochowski) has drawn up. Teilhard signed the document. Thus his faith could no longer be questioned.' And Fr d'Ouince adds in a footnote: 'The correspondence between Teilhard and Valensin reveals not the slightest hesitation in accepting dogma, but simply Teilhard's wish to retain the right to pursue his research, and the possibility of advising the many nonplussed and worried people who wrote to him.' (René d'Ouince, L’Epreuve de l'obéissance dans la vie du Père Teilhard de Chardin, in L'Homme devant Dieu, III, 335)
We are perfectly willing to believe that Teilhard gave his signature without 'the slightest hesitation', but we are not so sure as Fr d'Ouince that this signature vindicates Teilhard's faith. He was within his rights in retaining the right to pursue his research within the limits of defined dogma. It is by no means certain however that he did not reserve the right to stretch those limits beyond the clear meaning of the Council's definition.
However, we are inclined to believe that, in 1924, his intention to remain entirely faithful to the Church must have been stronger than his urge towards innovation.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...