“Come and See” — Reflections of a Life-long Teilhardian

by Daniel Driscoll

As friends and associates may recall, I have been something of a life-long devotee in respect to the spiritual vision of the French Jesuit scientist and ‘seer’, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Normally when I open a new book dealing with philosophical or theological content I check the Index to see if the author includes Teilhard in citation; and on first entering a book-lending or sales outlet, I tend to check the Inventory File to discover what ‘Teilhard books’ might be found there. For instance, in our local Seminary Library (Halifax, Canada); now referred to as a ‘School of Theology’) the handful of cards for titles ‘by or about Teilhard’ is nearly two inches thick; of course this can be deceiving; going to stacks and checking loan-history slips may reveal that the volume has not been actually read by many.

In our Public Library (Province of Nova Scotia) I find only two Teilhard Titles, his major ‘seminal’ work The Phenomenon of Man and a Title I had never heard of before—COME AND SEEAn insight into the religious thought of Teilhard de Chardin, by one ‘Frances MacLellan’. This came as quite a surprise to me—because I thought I knew of every book-title written by or about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; but as a local catchphrase goes, ‘it doesn’t end there’. Come and See is the work of a lady who spent most of her professional life in my Canadian-Atlantic Region, and one not precisely of my ‘R.C. faith community’; she was the first woman to be given a United Church Pastorate in Atlantic Canada, and in 1969 she was elected President of the Maritime Conference of The United Church.

As the story goes, at some point in her ministerial journey she chanced upon an ouvre of Teilhard de Chardin, and was moved by an urgent ‘interior-prompt’ to undertake post-graduate research at the renowned theological colleges of Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Come and See is the published work resulting from that scholarship. I am greatly encouraged by my discovery of it, and since I consider myself to be at least an ‘amateur theologian’ if not professional in the academic sense, I feel ‘an inner prompt’ to attempt a kind of layman’s guide to Christian Renewal—which at least ‘for starters’ can be encapsulated in just a few paragraphs.

Some of my old scholastic colleagues are patiently tolerant with my insistence that in the context of evolving Christian Culture Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (who died in 1955) represents a singular, ‘game-changing’ watershed. Conventional wisdom among professional theologians tends to consider the so-called ‘Nouvelle Theologie’ as a kind of ‘new twist on an old skein’ of academic concern extending back in academic history to Aquinas and beyond. We know that The Nouvelle Theologie Movement actually originated in Hastings, England, where Pierre Teilhard and several of his French Jesuit classmates pursued their seminary formation program in the mid ‘20s, as consequence of Jesuit Institutions being ‘suppressed’ in France and other European countries.

The young Teilhard de Chardin, being of a ‘scientific bent’ in terms of academic interest (he served a term as Faculty Head of Paleontology at University of Paris) became wholly fascinated by implications of Charles Darwin’s earth-shaking insights into the evolutionary character of the material universe and living species. Archeological ‘digs’ in the search of fossil-remains were going on in that region, and the site of Charles Darwin’s home and working habitat was not so far distant.

In fact, Teilhard, who was little more than an enthusiastically fascinated youth at the time, suffered the indignity of having his name linked with the ‘archeological hoaxer’ who mischievously upset a very prestigious Academic Establishment by fooling the public for years with the ‘Piltdown Man’ skull-fossil, contrived by obsessively filing, coloring and dyeing, and fitting two skull fragments together. Later findings, and the testimony of world-class experts, cleared Teilhard of any knowing involvement with Dawson’s trickery, but the whole affair paradoxically reinforces my own conviction that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s youthful preoccupation with ‘evolution’ made of him ‘first among equals’ in the formation of the Nouvelle Theologie construct, erected as it was upon a bedrock of Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’, first published in the year 1859. Of course it also energized the ‘nay-sayers’, in the gloomy apprehensions created by the infamous ‘Scopes Trial’.

My ‘first among equals’ contention is that it was Teilhard who came to greatly heightened awareness of the religious and spiritual implications of the evolutionary dynamic; several others who became associated with the Nouvelle Theologie Movement created an academic ‘school-identity’ based upon their shared acceptance and admiration for Teilhard’s views, but the basic energizing principle was Teilhard’s total acceptance of Evolution as the pulsating heart of a ‘cosmogenesis’—the universal ‘birth-process’ whereby ‘cosmic stuff’ accomplishes its own survival by a process of ‘self-arrangement’—proceeding in an ‘upward spiral’ of ever-increasing complexity—- lithosphere/biosphere/noosphere/christosphere) towards ‘fulfillment’/’Pleroma’, the ‘crossover to a new beginning’ whereby the ‘ultimate in complexity’ becomes the ‘basic building block’ of a new organic reality—subatomic particles interrelate to form atoms, which in turn form molecules; organisms from lowest to ever higher order, so as to enable brain-formation (the noosphere)—and so on ‘ad infinitem’. The ‘ultimate’ in the present dimension of ‘space-time’ (where further ‘complexification’ becomes impossible) is scientifically conceived as ‘A CHANGE OF STATE’—but is given an alternate label by Teilhard, arising from his artistic and spiritual intuition, that of POINT OMEGA. Thus, in our present age apparent contradictions between Science and Religion are reconciled; a philosophical/theological construct originating with Aristotle and adapted to latter-age thinking by Aquinas, recognized ‘mysteries’ conceived mentally as ‘Incarnation’ and ‘Everlasting Life’, which science perceives as the evolutionary tactic whereby ‘death’ for ‘the monad’ ensures survival of the cosmic reality—energy/life/spirit is neither created nor destroyed—Praise God from whom all Blessings flow! God, killed culturally by Spencer & Nietzsche, again lives!

When the Nouvelle Theologie began to take root in the 1930s one of the most respected theologians at ‘the Centre’ was the French Dominican, Reginald Garigou-Lagrange, who introduced the inevitable ‘cautionary note’ with a query that became popular with contemporary conservative of thinkers—“Where is the Nouvelle Theologie leading us?” Those ‘orbiting around Teilhard’, forming an ‘academic bloc’ with him, were such leading thinkers as Yves Congar, Karl Rahner, Hans Kung, Eduard Schillebeeckx, Jean Danieloux—& Joseph Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XV).

It is irrefutable that the Nouvelle Theology formed a major intellectual stimulus leading to the Second Vatican Council. Those who keep abreast of the history will know that after VATICAN II individuals from this list and their adherents, between 1965 & 1975, began to coalesce into two divergent camps characterized by progressive Vs cautionary approaches to implementation of the directives from Vatican II. But no moral higher ground or academic finger-pointing need derive from this. Evolution in real fact proceeds by ‘a dialectic’—a process of ‘trial and error’—we learn from our mistakes.

We may now begin to form our own opinions concerning the Garigou-Lagrange question, which for half a century cast Teilhard de Chardin into ‘exterior darkness’. Nouvelle Theologie beckons us to explore a new dimension of ‘space time’ where ‘cosmogenesis’ determines religious culture, as it does everything else. We are one with all ‘believers’, past/present and future. Inclusivity, of all living forms and persuasions towards a single point of arrival, is the only way there is, for all of mankind, to go. We now enter a dimension of ‘space/time’ where we ourselves become the ‘atom/monads’ which through ‘networking relationships’ enabled by the new ‘information technologies’ begin to take control of ‘the tiller’.

Dr. Frances MacLellan’s book is entitled ‘COME AND SEE’; on a title page there appears this scriptural passage: “And they said to him, ‘Rabbi (which means ‘Teacher’) where are you staying?”. He said to them, “Come and see.” (John 1: 38 – 39)

Nova Scotia, Canada—March 2015—<driscoll.law@gmail.com>

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