Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience..

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1 May 188110 April 1955) was a French Jesuit priest, mystic philosopher, and a paleontologist present at the discovery of Peking Man.

Quotes[edit]

The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
Receive, O Lord, in its totality the Host which creation, drawn by your magnetism, presents to you at the dawn of a new day.
Every spirit derives its reality and nature from a particular type of universal synthesis
There is neither spirit nor matter in the world; the stuff of the universe is spirit-matter.
  • I am far from denying the destructive and disintegrating forces of passion. I will go so far as to agree that apart from the reproductive function, men have hitherto used love, on the whole, as an instrument of self-corruption and intoxication. But what do these excesses prove? Because fire consumes and electricity can kill are we to stop using them? The feminine is the most formidable of the forces of matter. True enough. "Very well, then," say the moralists, "we must avoid it." "Not at all," I reply, "we take hold of it." In every domain of the real (physical, affective, intellectual) "danger" is a sign of power. Only a mountain can create a terrifying drop. The customary education of the Christian conscience tends to make us confuse tutiorism with prudence, safety with truth. Avoiding the risk of transgression has become more important to us than carrying a difficult position for God. And it is this that is killing us. "The more dangerous a thing, the more is its conquest ordained by life": it is from that conviction that the modern world has emerged; and from that our religion, too, must be reborn.
    • "The Evolution of Chastity" (1934), as translated by René Hague in Toward the Future (1975)
  • The truth is, indeed, that love is the threshold of another universe. Beyond the vibrations with which we are familiar, the rainbow-like range of its colours is still in full growth. But, for all the fascination that the lower shades have for us, it is only towards the "ultra" that the creation of light advances. It is in these invisible and, we might almost say, immaterial zones that we can look for true initiation into unity. The depths we attribute to matter are no more than the reflection of the peaks of spirit.
    • "The Evolution of Chastity" (1934), as translated by René Hague in Toward the Future (1975)
  • What paralyzes life is lack of faith and lack of audacity. The difficulty lies not in solving problems but expressing them. And so we cannot avoid this conclusion: it is biologically evident that to gain control of passion and so make it serve spirit must be a condition of progress. Sooner or later, then, the world will brush aside our incredulity and take this step : because whatever is the more true comes out into the open, and whatever is better is ultimately realized. The day will come when, after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
    • "The Evolution of Chastity" (February 1934), as translated in Toward the Future (1975) edited by by René Hague, who also suggests "space" as an alternate translation of "the ether."
    • Variants:
    • "One day after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity" — after all the scientific and technological achievements — "we shall harness for God the energies of love. And then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire."
      • As quoted by R. Sargent Shriver, Jr. in his speech accepting the nomination as the Democratic candidate for vice president, in Washington, D. C. (8 August 1972); this has sometimes been published as if Shriver's interjection "after all the scientific and technological achievements" were part of the original statement, as in The New York Times (9 August 1972), p. 18
    • What paralyzes life is lack of faith and lack of audacity. The difficulty lies not in solving problems but identifying them.
      • As translated in The The Ignatian Tradition (2009) edited by Kevin F. Burke, Eileen Burke-Sullivan and Phyllis Zagano, p. 86
    • Love is the only force which can make things one without destroying them. … Some day, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
      • As quoted in Seed Sown : Theme and Reflections on the Sunday Lectionary Reading (1996) by Jay Cormier, p. 33
    • The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, humanity will have discovered fire.
      • As quoted in Fire of Love : Encountering the Holy Spirit (2006) by Donald Goergen, p. 92
    • The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
      • As quoted in Read for the Cure (2007) by Eileen Fanning, p. v
  • There is neither spirit nor matter in the world; the stuff of the universe is spirit-matter. No other substance but this could produce the human molecule. I know very well that this idea of spirit-matter is regarded as a hybrid monster, a verbal exorcism of a duality which remains unresolved in its terms. But I remain convinced that the objections made to it arise from the mere fact that few people can make up their minds to abandon an old point of view and take the risk of a new idea. ... Biologists or philosophers cannot conceive a biosphere or noosphere because they are unwilling to abandon a certain narrow conception of individuality. Nevertheless, the step must be taken. For in fact, pure spirituality is as unconceivable as pure materiality. Just as, in a sense, there is no geometrical point, but as many structurally different points as there are methods of deriving them from different figures, so every spirit derives its reality and nature from a particular type of universal synthesis.
    • A Sketch of a Personalistic Universe (1936)
  • The reality of spirit-matter is inevitably translated into and confirmed by a structure of the spirit.
    • A Sketch of a Personalistic Universe (1936)
  • Personally, I stick to my idea that we are watching the birth, more than the death, of a World. The scandal for you, is that England and France should have come to this tragedy because they have sincerely tried the road of peace. But did they not precisely make a mistake on the true meaning of "peace"? Peace cannot mean anything but a HIGHER PROCESS OF CONQUEST. … The world is bound to belong to its most active elements. … Just now, the Germans deserve to win because, however bad or mixed is their spirit, they have more spirit than the rest of the world. It is easy to criticize and despise the fifth column. But no spiritual aims or energy will ever succeed, or even deserve to succeed, unless it is able to spread and keep spreading a fifth column.
    • Letter from Peking (Summer 1940), quoted in The Last European War : September 1939/December 1941 (1976) by John Lukacs, p. 515
  • We only have to look around us to see how complexity and psychic temperature are still rising: and rising no longer on the scale of the individual but now on that of the planet. This indication is so familiar to us that we cannot but recognize the objective, experiential, reality of a transformation of the planet as a whole.
    • The Heart of Matter (1950)
  • Above all I feel that you must resign yourself to taking me as I am, that is, with the congenital quality (or weakness) which ever since my childhood has caused my spiritual life to be completely dominated by a sort of profound 'feeling' for the organic realness of the World. At first it was an ill-defined feeling in my mind and heart, but as the years have gone by it has gradually become a precise, compelling sense of the Universe's general convergence upon itself; a convergence which coincides with, and culminates at its zenith in, him in quo omina constant, and whom the Society has taught me to love.
  • I can truly say — and this in virtue of the whole structure of my thought — that I now feel more indissolubly bound to the hierarchical Church and to the Christ of the Gospel than ever before in my life. Never has Christ seemed to me more real, more personal or more immense.
  • Since once again, O Lord, in the steppes of Asia, I have no bread, no wine, no altar, I will raise myself above those symbols to the pure majesty of reality, and I will offer to you, I, your priest, upon the altar of the entire earth, the labor and the suffering of the world.
    Receive, O Lord, in its totality the Host which creation, drawn by your magnetism, presents to you at the dawn of a new day.
    This bread, our effort, is in itself, I know, nothing but an immense disintegration. This wine, our anguish, as yet, alas! is only an evaporating beverage. But in the depths of this inchoate Mass you have placed — I am certain, for I feel it — an irresistible and holy desire that moves us all, the impious as well as the faithful to cry out: "O Lord, make us one!"
    • Prayer for Easter Sunday in the Ordos Desert of Inner Mongolia published in article “The Priest Who Haunts the Catholic World” Saturday Evening Post (12 October 1963)

The Phenomenon of Man (1955)[edit]

Le Phénomène Humain (1955)
  • We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
    • Paraphrased variant: We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.
      • Both the quote and the paraphrase of it have sometimes become misattributed to Stephen Covey who quotes the first version in Living the 7 Habits : Stories of Courage and Inspiration (2000), p. 47, and also to Wayne Dyer, who has often quoted it in his presentations.
  • Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves. All we need is to imagine our ability to love developing until it embraces the totality of men and the earth.
  • A universal love is not only psychologically possible; it is the only complete and final way in which we are able to love.
  • If there were no internal propensity to unite, even at a prodigiously rudimentary level — indeed in the molecule itself — it would be physically impossible for love to appear higher up, with us, in hominized form. . . . Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being.
  • Our century is probably more religious than any other. How could it fail to be, with such problems to be solved? The only trouble is that it has not yet found a God it can adore.

The Divine Milieu (1960)[edit]

At the heart of our universe, each soul exists for God, in our Lord.
All the communions of all men, present, past and future, are one communion.
The world can no more have two summits than a circumference can have two centres.
  • As a result of changes which, over the last century, have modified our empirically based pictures of the world and hence the moral value of many of its elements, the "human religious ideal" inclines to stress certain tendencies and to express itself in terms which seem, at first sight, no longer to coincide with the "christian religious ideal".
    • Preface, p. 43
  • At the heart of our universe, each soul exists for God, in our Lord.
    • The Divinisation of Our Activities, p. 56
  • God is inexhaustibly attainable in the totality of our action.
    • The Divinisation of Our Activities, p. 63
  • By virtue of creation, and still more the incarnation, nothing here is profane for those who know how to see.
    • The Divinisation of Our Activities, p. 66
  • Those who spread their sails in the right way to the winds of the earth will always find themselves born by a current towards the open seas.
    • The Divinisation of Our Activities, p. 72
  • We are like soldiers who fall during the assault which leads to peace.
    • The Divinisation of Our Activities, p. 85
  • In the spiritual life, as in all organic processes, everyone has their optimum and it is just as harmful to go beyond it as not to attain it.
    • On Christian Asceticism, p. 100
  • All the communions of a life-time are one communion.
    All the communions of all men now living are one communion.
    All the communions of all men, present, past and future, are one communion.
    • The Divine Milieu, p. 124
  • A breeze passes in the night. When did it spring up? Whence does it come? Whither is it going? No man knows.
    • The Divine Milieu, p. 128
  • The world can no more have two summits than a circumference can have two centres.
    • Epilogue, In Expectation of the Parousia, p. 154

Quotes about Chardin[edit]

It can be said that he applied his whole life, his tremendous intellect and his great spiritual faith to the concept of building up a philosophy that would reconcile Christian theology with the scientific theory of evolution, that would relate the facts of religious experience to those of natural science. ~ Julian Huxley
  • The astonishing resonance of his research, as well as the brilliance of his personality and richness of his thinking, have profoundly marked our epoch.
    In him, a powerful poetic intuition of nature's profound value, a sharp perception of creation's dynanism, and a broad vision of the world's future join together with an incontestable religious fervor.
    Similarly, his unremitting desire to dialogue with the science of his time and his bold optimism about the evolution of the world have given his intuitions — through the rich variety of his words and the magic of his images — considerable influence.
    Completely turned to the future, this synthesis, often lyrical and animated with passion for the universal, will help to restore hope to those assailed by doubts. … What our contemporaries will undoubtedly remember, beyond the difficulties of conception and deficiencies of expression in this audacious attempt to reach a synthesis, is the testimomy of the coherent life of a man possessed by Christ in the depths of his soul. He was concerned with honoring both faith and reason, and anticipated the response to John Paul II's appeal: "Be not afraid, open, open wide to Christ the doors of the immense domains of culture, civilization, and progress."
  • In his own poetic style, the French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin liked to meditate on the Eucharist as the firstfruits of the new creation. In an essay called The Monstrance he describes how, kneeling in prayer, he had a sensation that the Host was beginning to grow until at last, through its mysterious expansion, "the whole world had become incandescent, had itself become like a single giant Host." Although it would probably be incorrect to imagine that the universe will eventually be transubstantiated, Teilhard correctly identified the connection between the Eucharist and the final glorification of the cosmos.
    • Cardinal Avery Dulles, in "A Eucharistic Church : The Vision of John Paul II" (10 November 2004)
  • Yet the greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.
    • Peter Medawar, "Review of Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man". In: Mind Vol.70 (1961)
  • It must be regarded as an important service of Teilhard de Chardin’s that he rethought these ideas from the angle of the modern view of the world and, in spite of a not entirely unobjectionable tendency toward the biological approach, nevertheless on the whole grasped them correctly and in any case made them accessible once again. Let us listen to his own words: The human monad “can only be absolutely itself by ceasing to be alone”. In the background is the idea that in the cosmos, alongside the two orders or classes of the infinitely small and the infinitely big, there is a third order, which determines the real drift of evolution, namely, the order of the infinitely complex. It is the real goal of the ascending process of growth or becoming; it reaches a first peak in the genesis of living things and then continues to advance to those highly complex creations that give the cosmos a new center: “Imperceptible and accidental as the position they hold may be in the history of the heavenly bodies, in the last analysis the planets are nothing less than the vital points of the universe. It is through them that the axis now runs, on them is henceforth concentrated the main effort of an evolution aiming principally at the production of large molecules.” The examination of the world by the dynamic criterion of complexity thus signifies “a complete inversion of values. A reversal of the perspective...
    This leads to a further passage in Teilhard de Chardin that is worth quoting in order to give at least some indication here, by means of a few fragmentary excerpts, of his general outlook. "The Universal Energy must be a Thinking Energy if it is not to be less highly evolved than the ends animated by its action. And consequently ... the attributes of cosmic value with which it is surrounded in our modern eyes do not affect in the slightest the necessity obliging us to recognize in it a transcendent form of Personality."
    • Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, (later Pope Benedict XVI), in Introduction To Christianity 2nd Edition (2000)
  • And so we can now say that the goal of worship and the goal of creation as a whole are one and the same — divinization, a world of freedom and love. But this means that the historical makes its appearance in the cosmic. The cosmos is not a kind of closed building, a stationary container in which history may by chance take place. It is itself movement, from its one beginning to its one end. In a sense, creation is history. Against the background of the modern evolutionary world view, Teilhard de Chardin depicted the cosmos as a process of ascent, a series of unions. From very simple beginnings the path leads to ever greater and more complex unities, in which multiplicity is not abolished but merged into a growing synthesis, leading to the “Noosphere”, in which spirit and its understanding embrace the whole and are blended into a kind of living organism. Invoking the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, Teilhard looks on Christ as the energy that strives toward the Noosphere and finally incorporates everything in its “fullness’. From here Teilhard went on to give a new meaning to Christian worship: the transubstantiated Host is the anticipation of the transformation and divinization of matter in the christological “fullness”. In his view, the Eucharist provides the movement of the cosmos with its direction; it anticipates its goal and at the same time urges it on.”
  • Hardly anyone else has tried to bring together the knowl­edge of Christ and the idea of evolution as the scientist (paleontologist) and theologian Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., has done. ... His fascinating vision ... has represented a great hope, the hope that faith in Christ and a scientific approach to the world can be brought together. ... These brief references to Teilhard cannot do justice to his efforts. The fascination which Teilhard de Chardin exer­cised for an entire generation stemmed from his radical man­ner of looking at science and Christian faith together.
  • Man occupies a special place in the Cartesian scheme. He alone is endowed with mind. Descartes believed that animals did not possess one, that they were simply extremely complicated automatons. Other thinkers have rejected this point of view and proposed to endow all matter in the universe — living or inanimate — with consciousness. This "panpsychism" has been promoted by, among others, Teilhard de Chardin and, more recently by the British-American physicist Freeman Dyson, who holds that mind is present in every particle of matter.

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