Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Christianity and Personalism

"The most serious danger to humanity on its present course is that it should finally forget the essential thing, that is, its spiritual concentration, faced as it is by the cosmic discoveries made for it by science, and by the collective power revealed to it by social organization.

For does not the secularist neo-religion strive, in its confused fashion, to represent the Deity as a sort of diffusive energy, or even as a heartless and shapeless super-society? At this dangerous stage, which threatens the existence of souls, it is, I suppose, Christianity which will, and can intervene, to bring back human hopes and desires to the only path which conforms to the fundamental laws of being and of life. Until quite recently it could be held that nothing was so unfashionable, so anthropomorphic, as the Christian's personal God. Yet now, in what was apparently the most outworn, yet the most fundamental, of its tenents, the Christian Gospel discovers that it has become the most relevant of religions.

Christianity, faced by a humanity that runs the risk of allowing that consciousness, which has already awakened in it by the developments of modern life to be absorbed into the 'second matter' of philosophical determinisms and social techniques, upholds the primacy of reflective, that is, personalized, thought.

And it does so in the most effective way of all: not only by a speculative defense, through its teaching, of the possibility of a consciousness which is at the same time central and universal, but still more by conveying and developing through its mysticism the meaning, and in some sort, the direct intuition of this center of total convergence. The very least that an unbeliever must admit today, if he understands the biological condition of the world, is that the figure of Christ (not only as it is described in a book, but as it is concretely realized in the Christian consciousness) is the most perfect approximation yet achieved of a final object toward which the universal effort of mankind may tend without fear of weariness or deformation.

Thus, contrary to current notions, it is by dogma as well as by its moral system that Christianity is human and can be called upon once more to save the world in it immediate future . . ."

"La Crise presente: Reflexions d'un naturaliste,"
in Etudes (Oct 20, 1937), p. 164
Qtd. in Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man,
by Henri de Lubac, p 438
Translated by Lancelott C. Sheppard
and Sr. Elizabeth Englund, OCD
San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988
(line breaks added)

Context is critical here. The appendix to de Lubac's Catholicism collects quotations, mostly from the Fathers of the Church, that express the expansive ecclesiology that de Lubac discovered in the depths of the Christian tradition.

The quotation above focuses on the significance of the human person as the "self-awareness of the cosmos" - an awareness that can only find perfection in Christ. Only in Jesus Christ - born of Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, and raised from the dead - can humanity find its common destiny, what de Chardin called the Omega Point.

De Chardin tended toward a naive optimism that was criticized by Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Flannery O'Connor among others - even as they admired the totality of his vision. While it's true enough that "everything that rises must converge" (see St. Paul: "all things work together for the glory of God" etc), it is also pertinent to observe that Christ brings about the rise and fall of many (see the Magnificat) and that the presence of Christ brings us to a point of decision, a moment of judgement.
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