Pierre Teilhard de Chardin uses certain terms describing Christ interchangeably. These are presented here along with those of modern scholars and spiritual writers who embrace Teilhard’s concept.

Teilhard used these terms interchangeably when describing Christ: Total Christ, Cosmic Christ, Mystical Christ, Universal Christ.  Here he explains the rationale of this elusive understanding of Christ.

Since Jesus was born, and grew to his full stature, and died, everything has continued to move forward because Christ is not yet fully formed: he has not yet gathered about him the last folds of his robe of flesh and of love which is made up of his faithful followers.  The mystical Christ has not yet attained to his full growth; and therefore the same is true of the cosmic Christ. Both of these are simultaneously in the state of being and of becoming; and it is from the prolongation of this process of becoming that all created activity ultimately springs.  Christ is the end-point of the evolution, even the natural evolution, of all beings; and therefore evolution is holy.
Teilhard on the Total Christ, Hymn of the Universe, p. 133

Among the modern scholars and spiritual writers who embrace Teilhard’s concept, a few stand out.  Fr. Thierry Magnin is a French scholar.  Here in the United States, the leading thinkers on this subject are Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, and Sr. Ilia Delio, OSF.

Delio suggests that God is not a supernatural entity separate from the world but rather the living Whole of the universe, continuously evolving. All entities in the universe are parts of this evolving cosmic whole, which encompasses and transcends its many constituent parts.

Here are essays from each of these thinkers.

Teilhard proposed that Christ’s influence extends beyond individual salvation to encompass the entire cosmos, reflecting a cosmic and evolutionary understanding of Christ’s role in creation.

Teilhard connects Christology and Evolution
For Teilhard, the Incarnation, far from being confined to a singular event about 2000 years ago, is an ongoing movement that transforms the world and creates the historical reality into which the world enters.As the theologian Jurgen Moltmann said,“Teilhard saw in the Incarnation a process that does not exhaust itself in the unique historical person of Jesus of Nazareth but aims at the Christification of the entire cosmos. (Jesus, the Messiah of God, Cogitatio Fidei, number 1971, Cerf, p.400).”

In « Science and Christ » (Seuil Editions, IX, 90), Teilhard said : “Nothing less than the anonymous and daunting toils of primitive man, the long beauty of Egypt, the anxious anticipation of Israel, the slowly distilled fragrance of Eastern mystics, and the refined wisdom of the Greeks were needed so that on the stem of Jesse and humanity, the flower could bloom. All these preparations were cosmically, biologically, necessary for Christ to take root on the human stage, and all this work is driven by the active and creative awakening of his soul, as this human soul was chosen to animate the universe. When Christ appeared in the arms of Mary, he had just lifted the world.”.

And he added in the « Divine Milieu (Seuil, IV, 149) : « From the creation of the world to its consummation in God at the end of time, it is a single process that unfolds: the assimilation of the world by the universal Christ, who gradually makes it become His body » . For Teilhard, the « eschatological Christ » is intimately connected to the historical Christ and the Christ that he called « protological », the Word/Verb of God, from Alpha to Omega.

Such views can be considered as expressions, at the XXth century, of the Christian tradition, as expressed particularly in St Paul Scriptures and St John’s Prologue and Apocalypse.

Colossians 1, 15-20: In Jesus Christ, everything was created in the heavens and on the earth… Everything is created by Him and for Him, and He is before all things; everything is held together in Him, everything subsists in Him.

Romans 8, 22: The creation groans in the pains of childbirth.

1 Corinthians 15, 28: And when all things have been subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

If I were to write that today, people might call me a pantheist (the universe is God), whereas I am really a panentheist (God lies within all things, but also transcends them), exactly like both Jesus and Paul.

Review of Richard Rohr’s Book:
Rising Above Religion: A Review of Richard Rohr’s ‘The Universal Christ’

This hour-long video provides a deeper exploration into the Universal Christ. Father Richard delivers a framework for reading Scripture and understanding church history that demonstrates how these ideas have been a part of the Christian tradition since the beginning. Originally filmed on September 16th, 2018.

In this blog Ilia Delio considers recent reflections offered by Richard Rohr on the Cosmic Christ, and provides some additional thoughts. See THE COSMIC CHRIST by Richard Rohr, and REDISCOVERING THE UNIVERSAL CHRIST, an audio interview with Fr. Richard Rohr.

Richard Rohr is one of the great vernacular theologians of our age.  He has the gift of taking complex theological ideas and translating the core insights into the language of the people.  In doing so, he has helped thousands of people around the globe come to a new appreciation of the mystery of God and the need for renewed spirituality today.

In his newest work, Richard takes up the mystery of the cosmic Christ and, as a Franciscan, does so with passion.  The notion that Christ is the firstborn of creation, the head of the whole shebang from the beginning, was supplanted in the early Church by the emphasis on sin and salvation.  St. Augustine, in particular, felt the need to formulate a doctrine of original sin in order to highlight the saving grace of God.  By the eleventh century, the need to explain the damage due to the sin of Adam and Eve became the principal reason for Jesus Christ.  If Adam had not sinned, Christ would not have come. No sin, no Jesus. The reason for the Incarnation (God assuming flesh), therefore, found merit in sinful humanity, rendering generations of people focused on their faults and failings.  Salvation through Christ meant being rescued from a fallen world.

It is rather strange that the reason God became flesh was to repair human damage.  Such a reason belied the very nature of God as love. In the early Church, theologians like Irenaeus of Lyons and, to some extent Origen, engaged the question of the Incarnation by considering it as a work of love. Rupert of Deutz in the Middle Ages did so in the eleventh century and in the fourteenth century an explicit doctrine on the primacy of Christ was formed by the Franciscan theologian Duns Scotus.  Scotus said that God is love and, from all eternity, God willed to love a creature to grace and glory.

Whether or not sin ever existed, Christ would have come because Christ is first in God’s intention to love.  And in order for Christ to come there must be humans and for humans to exist there must be a creation; hence Christ is first in God’s will to love and thus to create. The reason for Jesus Christ is not sin but the fullness of love.   This view is consonant with the Scriptures where, as Richard points out, the Letter to the Colossians states that Christ is the firstborn of creation (1:15) and in the Letter to the Ephesians the author writes that Christ is “the mystery hidden from all eternity” (3:9).  What God intended from all eternity was to share God’s life with a finite creature so that Jesus Christ is present from the beginning of the universe.

Everything is christic as Teilhard de Chardin indicated; God’s incarnate love is the source and future of everything that exists.   In Teilhard’s words:  “There is nothing profane here below for those who know how to see.”

How do we know this Christ of the cosmos?  Should we study cosmology or astronomy?  Should we forget about sin and human weakness?  Should we simply try to love more and hate less? Actually none of these suggestions will lead us to the cosmic Christ, the Christ of the whole, as Richard states.   In fact the whole notion of the Christ can seem detached from Jesus, as if there is this divine whole we call “Christ” that seems to pop up in Jesus.  Here is where I might draw a slightly different distinction.  When we say, “Jesus is the Christ,” we are saying that the humanity of Jesus is one with divinity, the “mystery hidden from the beginning of the world.”   There is a particularity here, a haecceitas (or thisness) that cannot be overlooked.   Jesus is the Christ which means all that God is, is given to us in Jesus, rendering a new understanding of God as relational, self-communicative, self-emptying.  Could this be said of Buddha or Mohammed?  No, at least there is no basis to make such a claim.   In and through the human-historical life of Jesus we come to know a different type of God than what Jews or Muslims profess.  Jesus called God “Abba” and his deep unity with God was expressed by a new energy, the Spirit of love.  Hence through the life of Jesus we see a new understanding of God emerge as Trinity; it is the unified love of the Trinity (the plurality of divine persons in a communion of love) that forms the content of the symbol, “Christ.”

The Christ, therefore, is not an abstract symbol but the communion of divine persons-in-love expressed in personal form.  The real content of this symbol is shown in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.  So does everyone have to become Christian to know the Christ?   Absolutely not; Christ is more than Jesus.  Christ is the communion of divine personal love expressed in every created form of reality—every star, leaf, bird, fish, tree, rabbit and every human person. Everything is christified because everything expresses divine love incarnate.  However, Jesus Christ is the “thisness” of God (‘God is like this and this is God’) so what Jesus is by nature everything else is by grace (divine love).   We are not God but every single person is born out of the love of God, expresses this love in his/her unique personal form and has the capacity to be united with God.  It is for this reason that the Franciscan theologian Bonaventure described the mystery of Jesus Christ as a coincidence of opposites.  Because Jesus is the Christ, every human is already reconciled with every other human in the mystery of divine so that Christ is more than Jesus alone; Christ is the whole reality bound in a union of love.

We cannot know this mystery of Christ as a doctrine or an idea; it is the root reality of all existence.  Hence we must travel inward, into the interior depth of the soul where the field of divine love is expressed in the “thisness” of our own, particular lives. Each of us is a little word of the Word of God, a mini-incarnation of divine love.  The journey inward requires surrender to this mystery in our lives and this means letting go of our control buttons.  It means dying to the untethered selves that occupy us daily; it means embracing the sufferings of our lives, from the little sufferings to the big ones, it means allowing God’s grace to heal us, hold us and empower us for life.  It means entering into darkness, the unknowns of our lives, and learning to trust the darkness, for the tenderness of divine love is already there.   It means willing to sacrifice all that we have for all that we can become in the power of God’s love; and finally it means to let God’s love heal us of the opposing tensions within us.  No one can see God and live and thus we must surrender our partial lives  to become whole in the love of God.  When we can say with full voice, “you are the God of my heart, my God and my portion forever” then we can open our eyes to see that the Christ in me is the Christ in you.  We are indeed One in love.
October 16, 2017