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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (IPA: [ pjɛʀ tejaʀ də ʃaʀdɛ̃]; May 1, 1881 — April 10, 1955) was a French Jesuit priest trained as a paleontologist and a philosopher, and was present at the discovery of Peking Man. Teilhard conceived such ideas as the Omega Point and the Noosphere.

In setting forth this sweeping account of the unfolding of the material cosmos, he abandoned the literal interpretation of the creation account in the Book of Genesis in favor of a metaphorical interpretation. In so doing he displeased certain officials in the Catholic Curia, who considered that this undermined the doctrine of original sin developed by Saint Augustine from his understanding of the story of the Fall of Man. It was for this reason that Teilhard's account became controversial amongst certain church officials. His work was denied publication while he was living due to the opposition of the Roman Holy Office.

Note on name: The "de Chardin" in Teilhard's name is a vestige of a French aristocratic title and not properly his last name. He was formally known as "Pierre Teilhard" (for instance, this is the name on his headstone in the Jesuit cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York, once the site of the Jesuit novitiate, now a culinary school), and so his philosophical ideas are properly referred to as "Teilhardism." [1]

Biography Edit

Early years Edit

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was born in Orcines, close to Clermont-Ferrand, in France. He was the fourth child of a large family. His father, an amateur naturalist, collected stones, insects and plants, and promoted the observation of nature in the household. Teilhard's spirituality was awakened by his mother. When he was 11, he went to the Jesuit college of Mongré, in Villefranche-sur-Saône, where he completed baccalaureates of philosophy and mathematics. Then, in 1899, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Aix-en-Provence where he began a philosophical, theological and spiritual career.

As of the summer 1901, the Waldeck-Rousseau laws, which submitted congregational associations' properties to state control, forced the Jesuits into exile in the United Kingdom. The young Jesuit students had to continue their studies in Jersey. In the meantime, Teilhard earned a licentiate of literature in Caen in 1902.

Jesuit training Edit

From 1905 to 1908, he taught physics and chemistry in Cairo, Egypt, at the Jesuit College of the Holy Family. He wrote " is the dazzling of the East foreseen and drunk greedily... in its lights, its vegetation, its fauna and its deserts." (Letters from Egypt (1905–1908) — Editions Aubier)

Teilhard studied theology in Hastings, in Sussex (United Kingdom), from 1908 to 1912. There he synthesized his scientific, philosophical and theological knowledge in the light of evolution. His reading of l'Evolution Créatrice (The Creative Evolution) by Henri Bergson was, he said, the "catalyst of a fire which devoured already its heart and its spirit." His views on evolution and religion particularly inspired the evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky, who wrote the essay Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution. Teilhard was ordained a priest on August 24, 1911, aged 30.

Paleontology Edit

From 1912 to 1914, Teilhard worked in the paleontology laboratory of the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle, in Paris, studying the mammals of the middle Tertiary sector. Later he studied in Europe. Professor Marcellin Boulle, specialist in Neandertal studies, gradually guided him towards human paleontology. At the Institute of Human Paleontology, he became a friend of Henri Breuil and took part with him, in 1913, in excavations in the prehistoric painted caves in the northwest of [Spain, at the Cave of Castillo.

War service Edit

Mobilised in December 1914, Teilhard served in World War I as a stretcher-bearer in the 8th regiment of Moroccan riflemen. For his valour, he received several citations including the Médaille Militaire and the Legion of Honor.

Throughout these years of war he developed his reflections in his diaries and in letters to his cousin, Marguerite Teillard-Chambon, who later edited them into a book: Genèse d'une pensée (Genesis of a thought). He confessed later: "...the war was a meeting "... with the Absolute." In 1916, he wrote his first essay: La Vie Cosmique (Cosmic life), where his scientific and philosophical thought was revealed just as his mystical life. He pronounced his solemn wish to become a Jesuit in Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon, on May 26, 1918, during a leave. In August 1919, in Jersey, he would write Puissance spirituelle de la Matière (the spiritual Power of Matter). The complete essays written between 1916 and 1919 are published under the following titles:

  • Ecrits du temps de la Guerre (Written in time of the War) (TXII of complete Works) — Editions du Seuil
  • Genèse d'une pensée (letters of 1914 to 1918) — Editions Grasset

Teilhard followed at the University of Paris three unit degrees of natural science: geology, botany and zoology. His thesis treated of the mammals of the French lower Eocene and their stratigraphy. After 1920, he lectured in geology at the Catholic Institute of Paris, then became an assistant professor after being granted a science Doctorate in 1922.

China Edit

In 1923 he traveled to China with Father Emile Licent, who was in charge in Tianjin for a significant laboratory collaborating with the Natural history museum in Paris and the Marcellin Boule laboratory. Licent carried out considerable basic work in connection with missionaries who accumulated observations of a scientific nature in their spare time. He was known as 德日進 in China.

Teilhard wrote several essays, including La Messe sur le Monde (the Mass on the World), in the Ordos Desert. In the following year he continued lecturing at the Catholic Institute and participated in a cycle of conferences for the students of the Engineers' Schools. Two theological essays on "original sin" sent to a theologian, on his request, on a purely personal basis, were wrongly understood.

  • July 1920: Chute, Rédemption et Géocentrie (Fall, Redemption and Geocentry)
  • Spring 1922: Notes sur quelques représentations historiques possibles du Péché originel (Notes on few possible historical representations of original sin) (Works, Tome X)

The church hierarchy required him to give up his lecturing at the Catholic Institute and to continue his geological research in China.

Teilhard travelled again to China in April 1926. He would remain there more or less twenty years, with many voyages throughout the world. He settled until 1932 in Tientsin with Emile Licent then in Beijing. From 1926 to 1935, Teilhard made five geological research expeditions in China. They enabled him to establish a first general geological map of China.

In 19261927 after a missed campaign in Gansu he travelled in the Sang-Kan-Ho valley near Kalgan ([Zhangjiakou) and made a tour in Eastern Mongolia. He wrote Le Milieu Divin (the divine Medium). Teilhard prepared the first pages of his main work Le Phénomène humain (The Human Phenomenon).

As an Advisor to the Chinese national geological service, he supervised the geology and the paleontology of the excavations of Choukoutien (Zhoukoudian) near Beijing. In December 1929 he took part in the discovery of Sinanthropus pekinensis, or Peking Man. He resided in Manchuria with Emile Licent, then stayed in Western Shansi ([Shanxi]) and northern Shensi (Shaanxi) with the Chinese paleontologist C. C. Young and with Davidson Black, Chairman of the Geological Survey of China.

After a tour in Manchuria in the area of Great Khingan with Chinese geologists, Teilhard joined the team of American Expedition Center-Asia in the Gobi organised in June and July, by the American Museum of Natural History with Roy Chapman Andrews.

Henri Breuil and Teilhard discovered that the Peking Man, the nearest relative of Pithecanthropus from Java, was a "faber" (worker of stones and controller of fire). Teilhard wrote L'Esprit de la Terre (the Spirit of the Earth).

Teilhard took part as a scientist in the famous "Yellow Cruise" in Central Asia. He joined in the northwest of Beijing in Kalgan the China group who joined the second part of the team, the Pamir group, in Aksu. He remained with his colleagues for several months in Urumqi, capital of Sinkiang. The following year the Sino-Japanese War began.

Teilhard undertook several explorations in the south of China. He traveled in the valleys of Yangtze River and Szechuan (Sichuan) in 1934, then, the following year, in Kwang-If and Guangdong. The relationship with Marcellin Boule was disrupted; the Museum cut its financing on the grounds that Teilhard worked more for the Chinese Geological Service than for the Museum.

During all these years, Teilhard strongly contributed to the constitution of an international network of research in human Paleontology related to the whole Eastern and south Eastern zone of the Asian continent. He would be particularly associated in this task with two friends, the English/Canadian Davidson Black and the Scot George B. Barbour. Many times he would visit France or the United States, only to leave these countries to go on further expeditions.

From 19271928 Teilhard stayed in France, based in Paris. He journeyed to Leuven, Belgium, to Cantal, and to Ariège, France. Between several articles in reviews, he met new people such as Paul Valery and Bruno de Solages, who were to help him in issues with the Catholic Church.

Answering an invitation from Henry de Monfreid, Teilhard undertook a journey of two months in Obock in Harrar and in Somalia with his colleague Pierre Lamarre, geologist, before embarking in Djibouti to return to Tianjin.

"Monfreid and I, we did not have anything any more European", joked Teilhard. "Once we dropped anchor, at night, along the basaltic cliffs where the incense grew. The men were going by dugout to fish odd fishes within the corals. One day, Hissas sold us a kid goat with camel milk. The crew took this opportunity "to dedicate" the ship. The old reheated Negro who served Monfreid in his whole adventures dyed with blood the rudder, the mast, the front part of the ship, then, later in the night, it was the song of the Qur'an in the medium of thick incense smoke." While in China, Teilhard developed a deep and personal friendship with Lucile Swan.

World travels Edit

From 19301931 Teilhard stayed in France and in the United States. During a conference in Paris, Teilhard stated: "For the observers of the Future, the greatest event will be the sudden appearance of a collective humane conscience and a human work to make."

From 19321933 he began to meet people to clarify issues with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, regarding Le Milieu Divin and L'Esprit de la Terre. He met Helmut von Terra, a German geologist in the International Geology Congress in Washington, DC. A few months later Davidson Black died.

Teilhard participated in the 1935 YaleCambridge expedition in northern and central India with the geologist Helmut von Terra and Patterson, who verified their assumptions on Indian paleolithic civilisations in Kashmir and the Salt Range Valley.

He then made a short stay in Java, on the invitation of Professor Ralph von Koenigsvald to the site of Java man. A second cranium, more complete, was discovered. This Dutch paleontologist had found (in 1933) a tooth in a Chinese apothecary shop in 1934 that he believed belonged to a giant tall ape that lived around half a million years ago.

In 1937 Teilhard wrote Le Phénomène spirituel (the spiritual Phenomenon) on board the boat the Empress of Japan, where he met the Rajah of Sarawak). The ship conveyed him to the United States. He received the Mendel medal granted by Villanova University during the Congress of Philadelphia in recognition of his works on human paleontology. He made a speech about evolution, origins and the destiny of Man. The New York Times dated March 19, 1937 presented Teilhard as the Jesuit who held that the man descended from monkeys. Some days later, he was to be granted Doctor honoris causa of the Catholic University of Boston. When coming to the meeting, he was told that the distinction had been cancelled.

He then stayed in France, where he was immobilized by malaria. During his return voyage in Beijing he wrote L'Energie spirituelle de la Souffrance (Spiritual Energy of Suffering) (Complete Works, tome VII).

Death Edit

Teilhard died on April 10, 1955 in New York City, where he was in residence at the Jesuit church of St Ignatius of Loyola, Park Avenue. He was buried in the cemetery for the New York Province of the Jesuits at the Jesuit novitiate, St. Andrew's-on-the-Hudson in Poughkeepsie, upstate New York. In 1970 the novitiate was moved to Syracuse, New York (on the grounds of LeMoyne College) and the Culinary Institute of America bought property, openening their school there a few years later. However, the cemetery remains on the grounds. A few days before his death Teilhard said "If in my life I haven't been wrong, I beg God to allow me to die on Easter Sunday". The 10th April 1955 was, in fact, Easter Sunday.

Controversy with Church officials Edit

In 1925, Teilhard was ordered by the Jesuit Superior General Vladimir Ledochowski to leave his teaching position in France and to sign a statement withdrawing his controversial statements regarding the doctrine of original sin. Rather than leave the Jesuit order, Teilhard signed the statement and left for China.

This was the first of a series of condemnations by certain church officials that would continue until long after Teilhard's death. The climax of these condemnations was a 1962 monitum of the Holy Office denouncing his works. From the monitum: "The above-mentioned works abound in such ambiguities and indeed even serious errors, as to offend Catholic doctrine... For this reason, the most eminent and most revered Fathers of the Holy Office exhort all Ordinaries as well as the superiors of Religious institutes, rectors of seminaries and presidents of universities, effectively to protect the minds, particularly of the youth, against the dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and of his followers."

Teilhard's writings, though, continued to circulate — not publicly, as he and the Jesuits observed their commitments to obedience, but in mimeographs that were circulated only privately, within the Jesuits, among theologians and scholars for discussion, debate and criticism.

As time passed, it seemed that the works of Teilhard were gradually returning to favor in the church, but the Holy See in 1981 clarified that recent statements by members of the church, in particular those made on the hundredth anniversary of Teilhard's birth, were not to be interpreted as a revision of previous stands taken by the church officials. Thus the 1962 statement remains official church policy to this day.

Teachings Edit

In his posthumously published book, The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard sets forth a sweeping account of the unfolding of the material cosmos in the past up to and including the development of the noosphere in the present and including his vision of the Omega Point in the future.

Teilhard de Chardin is the proponent of orthogenesis, the idea that evolution occurs in a directional, goal driven way. This is often viewed as a teleological view of evolution. This still would not be the same as teleological implications of intelligent design. It does not deny the capacity of evolutionary processes to explain complexity. To Teilhard, evolution unfolded from cell to organism to planet to solar system and whole-universe (see Gaia theory).

Controversies about his line of thought centre on the question of whether or not the mission started by Christ ended with the crucifixion, or is it up to mankind to continue it throughout the evolutionary process. In turn, this demands to know whether or not the key to human salvation is the mediation of the Catholic Church and its sacraments or the actions undertaken by mankind in moving towards the Omega point and so realising the actual Christogenesis. Teilhard said "A religion which is supposed to be inferior to our ideal as mankind, whatever the miracles surrounding it, is a LOST RELIGION."

Teilhard in popular culture Edit

  • Teilhard de Chardin has been cited as the inspiration for Father Lankester Merrin, the character played by Max Von Sydow in the motion picture The Exorcist.
  • In Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos, Teilhard de Chardin has been canonized a saint in the far future. His work is a focal inspiration for the anthropologist priest character, Paul Duré. When Duré becomes Pope, he takes Teilhard I as his regnal name.
  • Novelist Julian May references Teilhard's work in the novels in her Galactic Milieu series where it is the basis for the galactic consciousness that serves as the political and ethical background for the novels.
  • Jean Houston, past president of the Association of Humanistic Psychology and former spiritual director to Hillary Clinton, culminates her book Life-Force: The Psycho-Historical Recovery of the Self (1980: 218-20) by recounting her extended encounter with Teilhard when she was 13 years old, which she further elaborates in her autobiography A Mythic Life: Learning to Live Our Greater Story (1996: 142-48).
  • The Symphony No. 8 by Edmund Rubbra is titled Hommage a Teilhard de Chardin, in honor of his spiritual and philosophical writings which inspired the composer.
  • Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912–2003), the American cultural historian and spiritual writer, was one of the first to call Teilhard's thought regarding the noosphere to the attention of his fellow American Catholics, and Ong never tired of referring to Teilhard's evolutionary thought. See Walter J. Ong, "The Mechanical Bride: Christen the Folklore of Industrial Man," Social Order 2.2 (1952): 79-85, esp. 84; Frontiers in American Catholicism (1957); American Catholic Crossroads (1959); The Barbarian Within (1962); In the Human Grain (1967); The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (1967), Ong's 1964 Terry Lectures at Yale University; Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology (1971); Interfaces of the Word (1977); Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (1981), Ong's 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University; and Hopkins, the Self, and God (1986), Ong's 1981 Alexander Lectures at the University of Toronto; Faith and Contexts, 4 vols. (1992–1999).
  • Teilhard de Chardin has been alleged by some commentators to have been a participant in the Piltdown Man hoax. He did work at the site in 1913 on the dig at which the fraudulent items were "discovered," but the allegation of Teilhard's participation in this has been discredited by a number of historians.
  • Teilhard de Chardin's statement that "Everything That Rises Must Converge" was used as the title for a short story (as well as the title or the book in which it appeared) by Southern writer (and Catholic thinker) Flannery O'Connor.
  • The teachings of Teilhard de Chardin influenced many of the engineers that were the creators of "Silicon Valley" in California. Principal among these engineers is Bob Noyce, who created the integrated circuit chip and greatly advanced the world of technology with his work on computers.
  • Teilhard de Chardin and the concept of the noosphere are referred to in the 1992 ambient-house album UFOrb, by The Orb.
  • One of the characters in "A Scanner Darkly" by Philip K. Dick quotes from Teilhard de Chardin whilst doing mechanical work on a car.

References Edit

Bibliography Edit

The dates in parentheses are the dates of first publication in French and English. Most of these works were written years earlier, but Teilhard's eclesiastical order forbade him to publish them because of their controversial nature. The essay collections are organized by subject rather than date, thus each one typically spans many years.

  • Le Phénomène Humain (1955), written 1938–40, scientific exposition of Teilhard's theory of evolution
  • Letters From a Traveler (1956; English translation 1962), written 1923–55
  • Le Groupe Zoologique Humain (1956), written 1949, more detailed presentation of Teilhard's theories
    • Man's Place in Nature (1973)
  • Le Milieu Divin (1957), spiritual book written 1926–27
  • L'Avenir de l'Homme (1959) essays written 1920–52, on the evolution of consciousness (noosphere)
  • Hymn of the Universe (1961; English translation 1965) Harper and Row: ISBN 0-06-131910-4, mystical/spiritual essays and thoughts written 1916–55
  • L'Energie Humaine (1962), essays written 1931–39, on morality and love
  • Je M'Explique (1966) Jean-Pierre Demoulin, editor ISBN 0-685-36593-X, "The Essential Teilhard" — selected passages from his works
  • Christianity and Evolution, Harvest/HBJ 2002: ISBN 0-15-602818-2
  • The Heart of the Matter, Harvest/HBJ 2002: ISBN 0-15-602758-5
  • Toward the Future, Harvest/HBJ 2002: ISBN 0-15-602819-0
  • Activation of Energy, Harvest/HBJ 2002: ISBN 0-15-602817-4, essays written 1939–55, on the universality and irreversability of human action

External links Edit

Favourable to Teilhard Edit

Unfavourable to Teilhard Edit

Other Edit

[Category:French philosophers |Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre]]

ca:Pierre Teilhard de Chardin cs:Pierre Teilhard de Chardin de:Pierre Teilhard de Chardin es:Pierre Teilhard de Chardin eo:Pierre Teilhard de Chardin fr:Pierre Teilhard de Chardin hr:Pierre Teilhard de Chardinnl:Teilhard de Chardinpt:Teilhard de Chardin ro:Pierre Teilhard de Chardin ru:Тейяр де Шарден, Пьер sk:Pierre Teilhard de Chardin fi:Pierre Teilhard de Chardin sv:Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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