AS big as the universe: Teilhard's evolutionary vision of Christ.
Such was the vision of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit who died in 1955. One of the most influential Catholic writers of the 20th century he attempted to integrate spirituality, his Catholic faith, and science within the context of the postmodern world.
As a theologian, geologist and paleontologist, his credentials were considerable. But for his revolutionary thinking, he found himself up against the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which did not allow his most important writings to be published in his lifetime.
According to Teilhard, in this colossal, almost unimaginable Being, each of us lives and develops in consciousness, like living cells in a huge organism. At various times, theologians have described this great Being as the Total Christ, the Cosmic Christ, the Whole Christ, the Universal Christ or the Mystical Body of Christ.
In Teilhard's vision, it is Christ's divine task as well as ours to turn this fragmented world, through love of all of its visible and invisible dimensions, into one immense being, the body of Christ, glowing with divine energy Christ the Lord, the head of this body, has promised to be with us and guide us, from start to finish. He said, 'And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
At present, many of the cells of this Christ body are unaware of their divine calling, unaware of how special they are in the eyes of God, and unconscious of the fact that they are already living their lives as part of this cosmic body. For Teilhard, this cosmic body is meant to become fully conscious of itself in every cell of its being in such a way that every cell is also conscious of the whole body's magnificent destiny.
In the beginning
At the moment of first creation--what the scientists call the Big Bang--God the Creator expressed himself outside himself, as it were, in fragmented ways, and made the Big Bang happen, according to Teilhard. God spoke his divine Word at the first moment of creation and the universe exploded into being. The scientists say that the Big Bang was simply an explosion of matter, that in the beginning there were only material particles and fragments. But what Teilhard realized was that in the beginning, before there was matter there had to be Spirit. The Big Bang could only happen within God's love and by God's divine Word, and creation is held in being in God's Spirit.
"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." If the Incarnation and the Eucharist happened by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, says Teilhard, so did creation.
Teilhard called this work of the Holy Spirit--this divine loving atmosphere or environment in which everything in creation came to birth and lives--"the Divine Milieu.- From the first moment of creation, everything that exists lives and moves and has its being in this Divine Milieu. The Divine Milieu is the living divine Word into which God spoke and still speaks all God's little "words." The Divine Milieu is a central image in Teilhard's image of the Cosmic Christ.
The Divine Milieu is like the water in a fish tank or a pond or the ocean. The fish live and move and have their being in this water, but the fish hardly notice the water as their milieu. So it is with us. We live and move all day long in the Divine Milieu. We take it in with every breath. It gives us life from moment to moment, and we are hardly aware of it.
The universe did not start out in the well-formed state as we know it today, with its more than 125 billion galaxies. In the beginning, it was just an immense explosion of creative love energy expressed in the form of elementary particles that had little or no identity Over billions of years, these particles combined and recombined to form the hundred or so basic chemical atoms that we list today. And the universe eventually took the shape that we know and see in our telescopes.
Law of divine love
What Teilhard realized, and other evolutionary thinkers seemed to miss, was that the evolution that was happening over these eons of time was not random and meaningless, but had a general direction--and a purpose. It was following an evolutionary law that God had implanted in every created particle.
The first part of this divine law was about attraction and connection. Particles were attracted to other particles in order to make connections. Attraction and connection express God's most basic law of love and union. Bees are attracted to flowers as well as to each other. We humans still feel this law as we are attracted to each other and form the connections of friendships and families.
But then Teilhard saw that attraction and connection were only two of the parts of the divine law governing evolution. There were two other parts to it. You could begin to recognize these other parts as you observed evolution more closely. The other two parts were complexity and consciousness. Not
only were particles and everything else feeling the draw of attraction and connection, but things on earth were also getting more and more complex. Metals had a more complex chemical structure than water and oxygen. Plants were more complex than metals and minerals. Animals were more complex than plants, and humans were more complex than animals.
But besides complexity a new evolutionary quality had been emerging, the quality of consciousness. Plants are minimally aware of their surroundings. Animals are much more aware and conscious than plants. And humans are not only conscious but they continue to grow in consciousness.
So, Teilhard discovered that everything in the Divine Milieu--which is everything created--is driven to evolve by God's creative and loving law of attraction-connection-complexity-consciousness. Teilhard recognized that this great law of evolution was at work at every level of being--biological, personal, social, emotional, mental and spiritual. This law is at work in you and me and in the community at every moment.
TO live out and practice Teilhard's spirituality we will want to follow this evolutionary law of God's love. We want to consciously use these four qualities in our daily lives. We are to make ourselves attractive in body, mind and spirit. We are to encourage connections and relationships. We are to be open to becoming more and more complex, and to becoming more and more conscious of who we are and what God is doing in this lovely world. As John told us, God created and has loved this world with much the same love that he loved his beloved Son (John 3:16).
Once we understand the omnipresence of the Divine Milieu, we come to realize that we all live and move and have our being in this Divine Son. In fact, in Christ lives everything that was created and has evolved since the Big Bang. In a word, we are all living in the body of Christ--he is the Divine Milieu.
For Teilhard, the body of Christ and the Divine Milieu are the same, interchangeable. They express the integration of matter and spirit. The body of Christ contains the entire evolving universe that continues to change and grow and develop each day. As we continue to evolve, the body of Christ continues to evolve. It is a new body each day We each live and move and have our being in this Divine Milieu.
How did Teilhard think about the Eucharist? Who was the Christ on the altar after the words of consecration? Was it just Jesus of Nazareth as he existed on Holy Thursday night? Or was the Eucharist also the Christ who lives today--as he lives today? For Teilhard, the Christ on the altar is the evolving body of Christ. For him, each day it is the same Christ on the altar, yet each day it is a new Christ. Each day the body of Christ is becoming more and more complete as well as more and more conscious of itself
Teilhard considered the entire created universe to be the eucharistic host, as he describes it in his essay "My Universe." Nobody before Teilhard had ever conceived this cosmic notion of the Eucharist, saying that the Eucharist contains the entire created universe.
For Teilhard, the eucharistic body is always somehow a new body, a body that is born today. The universe is evolving because the universal Christ is evolving and is destined to evolve until all is brought under his dominion. As St. Paul puts it: "Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself and by means of him to reconcile everything in his person, both on earth and in the heavens, making peace through the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20).
It was then that Teilhard realized that what he was consecrating--this entire cosmic reality--is what God consecrates every day. What God consecrates--and transubstantiates--each day includes all the bread of human effort and all the wine of human suffering into the body and blood of his divine Son. And God does it every day--in fact, every moment of every day.
CHRIST: WE LIVE IN THE DIVINE MILIEU
[Louis M. Savary is co-author, with Patricia H. Berne, of Why Did God Make Me?: Finding Your Life's Purpose; Discernment in an Evolutionary World.]
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|Title Annotation:||Pierre Teilhard de Chardin|
|Author:||Savary, Louis M.|
|Publication:||National Catholic Reporter|
|Date:||Jul 18, 2014|
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