Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Benedict Quotes Chardin On The Cosmos As Living Host

A rose offers life to another rose. Sort of Chardin's version of the 'trickle down' theory.

Pope cites Teilhardian vision of the cosmos as a 'living host'
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR. National Catholic Reporter, July 28, 2009

Though few might have cast him in advance as a "green pope," Pope Benedict XVI has amassed a striking environmental record, from installing solar panels in the Vatican to calling for ecological conversion. Now the pontiff has also hinted at a possible new look at the undeclared patron saint of Catholic ecology, the late French Jesuit scientist and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Benedict's brief July 24 reference to Teilhard, praising his vision of the entire cosmos as a "living host," can be read on multiple levels -- as part of the pontiff's rapprochement with the Jesuits, or as a further instance of finding something positive to say about thinkers whose works have set off doctrinal alarms, as Benedict previously did with rebel Swiss theologian and former colleague Hans Küng.

The potential implications for environmental theology, however, are likely to generate the greatest interest among Teilhard's fans and foes alike -- and more than a half-century after his death in 1955, the daring Jesuit still has plenty of both. Admirers trumpet Teilhard as a pioneer, harmonizing Christianity with the theory of evolution; critics charge that Teilhard's optimistic view of nature flirts with pantheism.

Benedict's comment came during a July 24 vespers service in the Cathedral of Aosta in northern Italy, where the pope took his annual summer vacation July 13-29.

Toward the end of a reflection upon the Letter to the Romans, in which St. Paul writes that the world itself will one day become a form of living worship, the pope said, "It's the great vision that later Teilhard de Chardin also had: At the end we will have a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host. (I actually feel that this is the present truth about the cosmos, and mankind is just too blind to understand it.)

"Let's pray to the Lord that he help us be priests in this sense," the pope said, "to help in the transformation of the world in adoration of God, beginning with ourselves." (Ourselves is the only part 0f the cosmos that needs transformation.)

Though offered only in passing, and doubtless subject to overinterpretation, Benedict's line nevertheless triggered headlines in the Italian press about a possible "rehabilitation" of Teilhard, sometimes referred to as the "Catholic Darwin." That reading seemed especially tempting since, as a consummate theologian, Benedict is aware of the controversy that swirls around Teilhard, and would thus grasp the likely impact of a positive papal reference.

At the very least, the line seemed to offer a blessing for exploration of the late Jesuit's ideas. That impression appeared to be confirmed by the Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, who said afterward, "By now, no one would dream of saying that [Teilhard] is a heterodox author who shouldn't be studied."(That's a very optimistic reading of conservative thinkers who tend to equate Chardin as the patron saint of the New Age movement.)

Teilhard's most prominent living disciple in Italy, lay theologian Vito Mancuso, told reporters that he was "pleasantly surprised" by Benedict's words and that they have "great importance."
Teilhard, who died in 1955 at the age of 73, was a French Jesuit who studied paleontology and participated in the 1920s-era discovery of "Peking Man" in China, a find that seemed to confirm a gradual development in the human species. Teilhard has also been linked to the 1912 discovery of "Piltdown Man" in England, later exposed as a hoax.

On the basis of his scientific work, Teilhard developed an evolutionary theology asserting that all creation is developing towards an "Omega Point," which he identified with Christ as the Logos, or "Word" of God. In that sense, Teilhard broadened the concept of salvation history to embrace not only individual persons and human culture, but the entire universe. In short order, Teilhard's thought became the obligatory point of departure for any Catholic treatment of the environment.

Yet from the beginning, Teilhard's theology was also viewed with caution by officials both of the Jesuit order and in the Vatican. Among other things, officials worried that his optimistic reading of nature compromised church teaching on original sin. In 1962 -- seven years after his death -- the Vatican's doctrinal office issued a warning that his works "abound in such ambiguities and indeed even serious errors, as to offend Catholic doctrine."(The Church might get a lot futher if they considered the concept of original ignorance, which is the true state of an incarnated person.)

In 1981, on the 100th anniversary of Teilhard's birth, speculation erupted about a possible rehabilitation. It was fueled by a letter published in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, by the then-Cardinal Secretary of State Agostino Casaroli, who praised the "astonishing resonance of his research, as well as the brilliance of his personality and richness of his thinking." Casaroli asserted that Teilhard had anticipated John Paul II's call to "be not afraid," embracing "culture, civilization and progress."

Responding to ferment created by the letter, the Vatican issued a statement insisting that its 1962 verdict on Teilhard still stands -- to date, Rome's last official pronouncement on Teilhard. (The statement was issued in July 1981, four months before then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, took over as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.)

Across the years, Benedict has sometimes seemed to be of two minds himself.
In his 1968 work Introduction to Christianity, Ratzinger wrote that Eastern Christianity has a deeper appreciation for the "cosmic and metaphysical" dimension of Christianity than the West, but that the West seemed to be recovering that perspective, "especially as a result of stimuli from the work of Teilhard." He argued that Teilhard gave authentic expression to the Christology of St. Paul. (The West is also behind Indigenous understanding and appreciation for the "cosmic and metaphysical" dimension.)

As Pope, Benedict has occasionally used language that seems to reflect a Teilhardian touch. In his 2006 Easter homily, the pontiff referred to the theory of evolution, describing the Resurrection as "the greatest 'mutation,' absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development." (Yes, Yes, Yes. The whole idea of Jesus's teachings were to give us the road map to make the same leap.)

Yet Ratzinger's ambivalence about Teilhard is of equally long vintage. In a commentary on the final session of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), a young Ratzinger complained that Gaudium et Spes, the "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World," played down the reality of sin because of an overly "French," and specifically "Teilhardian," influence.
Overall, the impression is that Benedict finds much to like about Teilhard's cosmic vision, even if he also worries about interpretations at odds with orthodox faith.

Benedict's July 24 remark on Teilhard builds upon the pope's strong record on the environment, considered by many observers to be the most original feature of his social teaching. Most recently, Benedict devoted a section of his new social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, to a call for deepening what he called "that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God."

In her recent book Ten Commandments for the Environment: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks Out for Creation and Justice, Catholic writer Woodeene Koenig-Bricker described Benedict as "the greenest pope in history," arguing that he has not only made strong environmental statements but also put them into practice.

In that light, one wonders if Benedict's shade of green could eventually allow Teilhard to be named the patron saint of Catholic ecology de jure, as well as de facto. If so, July 24 could be remembered as the first stirring of an "evolutionary leap" in the late Jesuit's reputation and official standing.


Is Pope Benedict beginning to show some signs of rethinking his days in the CDF with his all too frequent need to silence forward thinking theologians? For this Pope to even quote Chardin is a step away from his previous insistence on spotless orthodoxy.
I'm just a little bit bemused. Maybe all those New Age channelers are on to something when they keep talking about how the energy has changed and the old type of thinking will no longer hold sway. Or in Chardin's thinking, the noosphere is moving forward and Benedict is getting connected. Maybe it's just the water up in the Alps.
In any event, Benedict has given me more than one pausal moment in the last few months. He is becoming something of a contradiction, and there is no question he is our first green Pope. Ecological sensitivity does begin to give one a much bigger view of the cosmos and man's place in it---as in mankind is actually in the cosmos, and not above it, not destined to control and manage it, but destined to live in creative harmony and balance with it.

Even if Pope Benedict only throws out a few thoughts along these lines, and those just occasionally, he is still laying the ground work for a different Catholic vision, and that is a very balanced thing to do. As Pope he's giving me hope, where as I had none when he led the CDF. Or maybe it's just the water I'm drinking.


  1. Colleen, I also have this great spiritual sense that Pope Benedict is connecting to God in an increasingly closer and higher level, a quantum way than before which was perhaps stuck in linear thinking and that is reflected in his relationship to others. He is a contradiction to his former self, as all are who go through this process consciously, as one moves up the ladder of spiritual understanding and wisdom they are doing away with the old ways that do not work anymore in one's consciousness or in one's heart. It is a walk that is directed less toward self-interest and more towards self-reliance upon God for all the assistance and love one will find within. If one learns to love themself, one can love one's neighbor. Sure sounds as if he has found a way to love Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and love God, himself as well. Sounds like he has made a quantum leap forward in his thinking. He is no less a part of the cosmos than anyone else, nor is he moreso although he is in a position of authority to enable this light to shine ever greatly within the consciousness of the Church and the world.

    He recently went to France so I believe that his reading Chardin with the spirit of peace within, rather than seeking to find fault and comparing it to dogma and condemning (which was the old habit), has opened a channel in him to see the truth with charity.

    This is a very good step forward that the Pope is making. His thinking is not out of line to that doctor of the Church, St. Theresa of Avila, who said that we actually "live in God."

  2. Personally, I would not get too enthusiastic about anything Ratzinger says. Historically, if anything, he has proven himself time & again to be the very soul of duplicity.

    Shall we speak of his historical flip-flop from the liberal to the conservative side? His former friendships with liberal theologians - whom he used in his ascendancy & then hung out to dry when he was head of the CDF?

    Need I remind anyone of the famous line uttered by David Ferry (Joe Pesce) in JFK: "it's all fun & games.....everybody's flipping sides, back & is white; white is black...."? Ferry was a deep cover triple agent....

    Josef Alois Ratzinger is a very good friend of Opus Dei, which historically has used BOTH Left & Right for their own ends......

    In school I studied Teihard with the Jesuits, so I know it well. There is much of value in his unique perceptions & manner of explaining things. In light of Genesis 1, it is very hard to ignore his synthesis of the Creation story & Evolution as the mechanism! Christ as the ultimate or 'Omega Point' is a different way of expressing something very old.

    We do not become Christ, or evolve into Him. We do, if we are spiritually progressing become more LIKE Christ, thus evolving toward the ideal of perfection 'as your Father in heaven'. This is not mere semantics; this shows how Teihard has hit upon some key concepts which were ignored & dismissed by the Church for most of it's 1700 post-Constantinian history.

    ....largely because it a) conflicted with the greed & hegemonic attitude of its Administrators, & b) like the core teachings of Christ, which are edited, downplayed or given mere lip service, they would have called said Administrators to repentance & amendment of life.

    That which we call 'heaven' is unity with God....with Christ. Intimate one-to-one unity in Eternity (not Time). Yet, the 'Kingdom of Heaven' of which He spoke begins NOW, in Time. For those who desire union & unity with Him. Thus His Kingdom is truly 'not of this world'.

    Words are easy & cheap - and we hear them all the time from priests, bishops & popes. Pious streams of lovely verbiage are aplenty - and equally 'cheap' (and meaningless).

    Josef Ratzinger does not believe one word of these utterances for himself. His life, deeds & persona givers ample evidence of this, for those not afflicted with Denial. He spent his career with words & concepts; and well knows how to craft them for effect.

    What does he believe? That was very clearly demonstrated at Auschwitz , when he blamed WWII & the Shoah on God. This is a fact: that he spoke both literal blasphemy, a Cognitive Dissonance of his personal & family reality, as well as denial of both historical & spiritual reality.

    Thus I would advice great caution & skepticism of ANYTHING coming from the mouth if this man. All is not as it seems.

  3. Colleen,

    I really enjoy your redefinition of original sin as "original ignorance." It makes sense to me on several levels. Thank you for giving me some material for meditation!


  4. I don't believe that it is overly enthusiastic to suggest that the Pope has a new take on reading Chardin that is a positive one. It is a step in the right direction. It does lay a foundation in a positive way for the Church to reinterpret those they have doubted before or even dismissed. This has been the trend in the Church to lag behind the saints, and that will continue, until such time that truth is seen with charity by more people within the institutional Church.

    If, however, the Pope wishes to only seem as if he is in agreement with Chardin and to deceptively appease some of the liberals and intellectuals in the Church, then we have another matter and that seems to be what you are suggesting is the case Anonymous.

    I believe that he has respect for nature and the environment and is connecting to God in this way that is not unlike St. Francis. This is not a bad thing, it is encouraging and I believe the Church should be encouraged in this way of seeing and being. To only be skeptical about the Pope and look back at the mischaracterizations and acts that were truly not resembling the teachings of Christ, is to not allow for forgiveness either.

    I do believe that skepticism has its part in revealing certain things, but not all things, and those things which are missed are due to not transcending spiritually with the encounter of the true nature of Jesus Christ.

    The institutional Church sees and acts in the here and now, in time, and not in the dimension of eternity. This is the problem. The disconnect is in its administration without Christ, within the realm of "this world."

  5. Butterfly - yes, you hit the nail on the head in identifying what I was asserting:

    That there is a deception & endgame in this; not a sincere embracing of elements of what Teilhard wrote. The truth of that will become readily apparent, with time (as with all things...).

    ".....those things which are missed are due to not transcending spiritually with the encounter of the true nature of Jesus Christ.

    The institutional Church sees and acts in the here and now, in time, and not in the dimension of eternity. This is the problem. The disconnect is in its administration without Christ, within the realm of "this world.""

    Again, hitting the nail on the head! Many foolishly assume that the institutional Church & its Administrators have - jointly and/or severally - 'encountered the true nature of Jesus Christ'. In general - they have not.

    As you indicate in the 2nd part, they do not 'live as spirits in the material world'. Historically, a few have......but pitifully few.

    Albino Luciani (JP1st) was one modern example of one who did & set out to re-make the Church of the mind of Christ......and was a martyr for that end.

  6. Anonymous, all things shall be revealed.

    It is a real pity if your scenario is correct. A terrible pity for the Church and for the world.

    I was hoping that the Pope had transcended to a higher state of consciousness. Silly me for thinking so optimistically.

    Somehow we have to co-exist with this divided Church and move on without them. It is utter craziness and nonsense to deceive people. People are not stupid and they will eventually get it and move on too.

  7. Anonymous, I was unaware that Pope Benedict had said this at Auschwitz , when he blamed WWII & the Shoah on God.