Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre (1881–1955)

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the paleoanthropologist and Roman Catholic priest who advocated a doctrine of cosmic evolution, was born in Sarcenat, France. At the age of eighteen he entered the Jesuit order, and he remained a faithful member of it for the rest of his life. By the time he was ordained, his interest in science and the reading of Henri Bergson resulted in his becoming a fervent evolutionist. Association with the Bergsonian scholar Édouard Le Roy also deeply influenced his thought. It became one of Teilhard's aims to show that evolutionism does not entail a rejection of Christianity. He likewise sought to convince the church that it can and should accept the implications of the revolution begun by Charles Darwin, but he met with uniform opposition from ecclesiastical superiors.

In 1926 he was expelled from the Catholic Institute in Paris, at which he had taught after returning from service in World War I. Until 1946 he was "exiled" in China, where he participated in paleontological researches that led to the discovery of Beijing man. He also completed the manuscript of his major work, Le phénomène humain (The Phenomenon of Man) ; but despite repeated applications to Rome he was refused permission to publish it. After his death the appearance of the work, along with his other essays, gave rise to controversies both inside and outside the church.

The evolutionism that Teilhard advocated is all-embracing and characterizes much more than living things. Teilhard contended that long before living things appeared on Earth, the basic stuff of the cosmos was undergoing irreversible changes in the direction of greater complexity of organization. Hence, nonliving nature is profoundly historical. It is not a system of stable elements in a closed equilibrium. On the contrary, it conforms at all stages to a "law of complexification," comparable in importance to the law of gravity and illustrated by the vast array of organic forms that have appeared in evolutionary history. The most recent of these forms is man.

When viewed "from without" by the physical sciences, man is a material system in the midst of other material systems. But each individual man experiences himself "from within" as a conscious being. Consciousness is thus directly identifiable as "spiritual energy." Teilhard maintained that all constituents of the cosmos, from elementary particles to human beings, have "a conscious inner face that everywhere duplicates the material external face." Since this is so, the physical evolution of the cosmic stuff will at the same time be an evolution of consciousness. The more highly integrated a material system, the more developed its psychical interior will be. Thus, in the human brain an intense concentration, or "involution," of cells has led to the emergence of self-conscious thought, the most advanced stage reached by evolution thus far.

But greater developments are in store from the evolutionary convergence of disparate cultures and forms of consciousness. Man is now a single, interbreeding species expanding on the finite, spherical surface of the planet and still showing signs of biological immaturity. Furthermore, his capacity for self-conscious thought and the production of cultures has added a new "layer" to Earth's surface, which Teilhard calls the "noosphere," distinct from, yet superimposed on, the biosphere. The noosphere, or "thinking layer," forms the unique environment of man, marking him off from all other animals. The evolutionary convergence that it makes possible will be manifested externally in the unification of all human cultures into a single world culture. Paralleling this, a movement toward psychical concentration will occur, so that the noosphere will become involuted in a Hyperpersonal Consciousness "at a point which we might call Omega." Here evolution will reach the terminal phase of convergent integration.

Teilhard's concept of Point Omega is obscure, like other aspects of his evolutionism, because it is essentially the expression of a mystical vision. Omega is not identical with God but, rather, is God insofar as he determines the direction and goal of cosmic history. Hence, the evolutionary process is orthogenetic, although neither vitalistic nor wholly devoid of chance events. The integration of all personal consciousnesses at Omega will be achieved, Teilhard urged, through love, which forms le milieu divin, the spirit of Christ at work in nature.

Teilhard's doctrine tends to become pantheistic in certain of its formulations. On the whole, it is difficult to reconcile Teilhard's views either with orthodox Christian teaching or with a scientific theory of evolution. Yet the prose poetry of The Phenomenon of Man has stirred the imagination of theologians, philosophers, and scientists, even when it has not won their assent.

See also Bergson, Henri; Darwin, Charles Robert; Evolutionary Theory; Le Roy, Édouard; Pantheism.


works by teilhard de chardin

Oeuvres, 9 vols. Paris, 1955. Ten volumes are projected.

Le phénomène humain. Paris: Seuil, 1955. Translated by Bernard Wall as The Phenomenon of Man. New York: Harper, 1959.

Lettres de voyage. Paris: Grasset, 1956. Translated by René Hague and others as Letters from a Traveller. London: Collins, 1962.

Le milieu divin. Paris: Seuil, 1957. Translated by Bernard Wall and others as The Realm of the Divine. New York: Harper, 1960.

L'avenir de l'homme. Paris: Seuil, 1959. Translated by Norman Denny as The Future of Man. New York: Harper, 1964.

Hymne de l'univers. Paris: Seuil, 1964. Translated by Simon Bartholemew as Hymn of the Universe. London: Collins, 1965.

works on teilhard de chardin

Cuénot, Claude. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, les grandes étapes de son évolution. Paris: Plon, 1958. Translated by Vincent Colimore and edited by René Hague as Teilhard de Chardin: A Biographical Study. Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1965.

Francoeur, R. T., ed. The World of Teilhard. Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1961.

Raven, C. E. Teilhard de Chardin: Scientist and Seer. London: Collins, 1962.

Tresmontant, C. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, His Thought. Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1959.

other recommended works

Chauchard, Paul. Man and Cosmos: Scientific Phenomenology in Teilhard de Chardin. New York: Herder and Herder, 1965.

Delfgaauw, Bernard. Evolution: The Theory of Teilhard de Chardin. New York: Harper & Row, 1969.

Grau, Joseph A. Morality and the Human Future in the Thought of Teilhard de Chardin: A Critical Study. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; Cranbury, NJ: distributed by Associated University Presses, 1976.

Lukas, Mary, and Ellen Lukas. Teilhard. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977.

Rideau, Emile. The Thought of Teilhard de Chardin. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.

Speaight, Robert. The Life of Teilhard de Chardin. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, and Henri de Lubac. Letters from Paris, 19121914. New York: Herder and Herder, 1967.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, and Pierre Leroy. Letters from My Friend, Teilhard de Chardin, 19481955: Including Letters Written during His Final Years in America. New York: Paulist Press, 1980.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. Letters from Hastings, 19081912. New York: Herder and Herder, 1968.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Writings. Edited by Ursula King. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Making of a Mind: Letters from a Soldier-priest, 19141919. London, Collins, 1965.

Wildiers, N. M. An Introduction to Teilhard de Chardin. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

T. A. Goudge (1967)

Bibliography updated by Michael Farmer (2005)

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Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre (1881–1955)

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