Saturday, June 11, 2011

Teilhard de Chardin: A Recollection and Rememberance

Fr. George Lemaitre
After the irony of it being a Jesuit priest, Georges Lemaitre, who first proposed the 'Big Bang' theory, it seems only fitting that another Jesuit, Telhard de Chardin, a paleontologist, would set out a noetic perspective of man's evolution. Both priests (even though de Chardin was banned from having his later writings published until after Vatican II) laid the grounds for a new ecumenical movement that has seen the Catholic Church embrace both the 'Big Bang' and evolution as the most likely processes of creation - an embrace that may perhaps be seen as being equalled only by Luther's protest against the Pope as a turning point in Christian theology and practice.

The work of Lemaitre, who was trained as a mathematician and physicist, has been viewed as less controversial than de Chardin's; perhaps because Lemaitre limited his work primarily to physics and did not propose any new broad and sweeping theological systems, and partly because his work was quickly recognized and built upon by greater public figures, such as Edwin Hubble, in an era (the first decades of the twentieth-century) when the world's understanding of physics was transforming rapidly in view of the simultaneous development of both relativity and quantum theory.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Teilhard de Chardin's work, on the other hand, was viewed with a fuller skepticism by the Church hierarchy from the very start, directly challenging - as it did - the Church's teachings on the origin of man and its teachings on 'original sin.' As a result, de Chardin was banished to China for much of his life and career (where he helped in the discovery of 'Peking Man'), and his writings (including his classic works, "The Phenomenon of Man" and "The Future of Man") were barred from publication during his lifetime.

In "The Future of Man," de Chardin observed, in part:
"When observed through a sufficient depth of time (millions of years) Life can be seen to move. Not only does it move but it advances in a definite direction. And not only does it advance, but in observing its progress we can discern the process or practical mechanism whereby it does so."

"These," he writes, "are three propositions which may be briefly developed as follows:
(a) Life Moves. This calls for no demonstration. Everyone in these days knows how greatly all living forms have changed if we compare two moments in the earth's history sufficiently separated in time. In any period of ten million years Life practically grows a new skin.

(b) In a definite direction. . . . While accepting the undeniable fact of the general evolution of Life in the course of time, many biologists still maintain that these changes take place without following any defined course, in any direction and at random. This contention, disastrous to any idea of progress, is refuted, in my view, by the tremendous fact of the continuing 'cerebralisation' of living creatures. Research shows that from the lowest to the highest level of the organic world there is a persistent and clearly defined thrust of animal forms towards species with more sensitive and more elaborate nervous systems. A growing 'innervation' and 'cerebralisation' of organisms: the working of this law is visible in every living group known to us, the smallest no less than the largest. . . . What else can this mean except that, as shown by the development of nervous systems, there is a continual heightening, a rising tide of consciousness which visibly manifests itself on our planet in the course of time?

(c) (T)he underlying process whose existence we can perceive in this continual heightening of consciousness (signifies) . . . that Cosmic Matter, governed at is lower end (as we already know) by forces of dispersal which slowly cause it to devolve into atoms, now shows itself to be subjected, at the other end, to an extraordinary power of enforced coalescence, of which the outcome is the emergence, pari passu, of an ever-increasing amount of spiritual energy that is ever more powerfully synthesized."
"The greatest discovery made in this century," de Chardin writes," is probably the realisation that the passage of Time may best be measured by the gradual gathering of Matter in superposed groups, of which the arrangement, ever richer and more centralized, radiates outwards from an ever more luminous fringe of liberty and interiority."

"The phenomenon of growing consciousness on earth," he notes, "in short, is directly due to the increasingly advanced organisation of more and more complicated elements, successively created by the working of chemistry and of Life."

"At the present time," he concludes, "I can see no more satisfactory solution of the enigma presented to us by the physical progress of the Universe."
[Teilhard de Chardin, "The Future of Man," pp. 67-69.]

In the following video, renowned spiritual teacher Jean Houston recounts to Deepak Chopra how, as a teenager growing up in Manhattan, she was befriended and taught by an elderly de Chardin who passed on to her his vision of the Earth as a 'noosphere' embued throughout with consciousness.

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