Teilhard de Chardin on Suffering

Verdun Memorial Chapel stained glass of litterbearers.

Stained glass of WWI litter-bearers in the Memorial Chapel at Verdun. Teilhard de Chardin served in this capacity at Verdun and in 66 other battles.

from Guest Blooger Yurii Ramos….

Suffering, although not a central theme in Teilhard de Chardin, is a very significant and effective one. It opens ones eyes toward one of the most beguiling of human mysteries. Here are some excerpts from On Suffering published by Harper and Row Publishers.  [Numbers in brackets are page numbers of the source.]


On Suffering by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Into your hands O Lord I commend my spirit

Prepared by Yurii C. Ramos

Should those who suffer be jealous of those who are not suffering as they are?
The obscure, the useless, the failures, should take joy in the superiority of the others whose triumph they lend support to or pay for. [1]

What is the proportion of progress/evolution to the amount of suffering?
The more subtle and complex mankind becomes, the more numerous the chances of disorder and the greater the gravity. [2] …suffering . . . that increases in quantity and sharpness in step with the rise of consciousness throughout the ages. Yes, the more Man becomes man, the more the problem of evil becomes engrained, and the heavier its burden – the problem of evil to be misunderstood and of evil to be suffered. [114] … every success has necessarily to be paid by a high percentage of failure for a high percentage of failure.

What is the fundamental condition of all finite/participated existence?
Everything that becomes suffers or sins. The truth about our position in this world is that in it we are on a cross. [2]

Where do all the world’s sufferings go?
In it (the Cross) (is) an anguish that reflects every anguish ever experienced, as ‘cosmic’ suffering. [3]
Death is the sum and consummation of all our diminishments. [64]

What did Christ accomplish in absorbing all the world’s sufferings?
By admitting them into the domain of his consciousness, he transfigured them (into something good). [3]

In what way can we speed up evolution or ultimately the universe’s consummation in Christ the fastest?
Man has understood that the most effective means of progress is to make use of suffering, ghastly and revolting though it be. [4]

What is the Christian formula towards suffering?
The Christian . . . must do his best to lessen and alleviate it, not only by humble prayer but also through the efforts  of an industrious and self-confident science; but when the time comes when suffering is inevitable, then he puts it to good use. [5]

What good does physical suffering effect?
If humbly accepted, (it) conquers moral evil. In accordance with definable psychological laws, it purifies the soul, spurs it on and detaches it. Finally, as a sacrament acts, it effects a mysterious union between the faithful soul and the suffering Christ. [5]

Christ makes our sorrows and mishaps serve to direct us along loftier paths, in which we improve ourselves by experience: think of all the saints. [52]

 What is the most effective means to achieve peace on earth?
No work is more effective or brings greater peace than to gather together, in order to sooth it and offer it to God, the suffering of the world. [6]

 What mode allows the soul to unite most fervently in Christ?
No attitude allows the soul to expand more freely, than to open itself, generously and tenderly – with and in Christ – to sympathize with all suffering, to ‘cosmic compassion’. [6]

 What good or joy does death grant us?
The joy of forming part of a whole greater than oneself . . . Death surrenders us totally to God. [9]

 How then shall we look at death, considering Teilhard’s strong asserting on it?
What we have to do is to see it in its true context, see it as an active reality. [11]

 What ascendency in making us cling to God does sorrow have over joy?  
All the raptures they bring put together are not so effective as the icy chill of a disappointment in showing us that you alone, my God, are stable. It is through sorrow, and not through joy, that you Godhead gradually assumes, in our sentient faculty, the higher reality it possesses in the nature of things. [19]

 What is it in suffering that makes it most effective in uniting us to God?
The fragrance of your power over me and the touch of your hand upon me . . . the joy of finding and surrendering to a beauty greater than man, the rapture of being possessed. [21]

 What are the beatitudes of suffering according to Teilhard?
Blessed be the disappointments. Blessed be the chains that force us to go where we would not. Blessed be relentless time . . . that never stops and never returns. Blessed, above all, be death and the horror of falling back into the cosmic forces. [23]

 How should we go about in suffering?
We must, in the shadow of death, have forced ourselves not to look back to the past, but to seek in utter darkness that dawn of God. [34]

 In the midst of failures despite our utmost effort, what attitude should we assume?
Don’t get lost in vain inner self-examination about your capacities and value. But tell yourself, categorically, that, for the success of the enormous work of creation, God only needs one thing: that you should do your best. [39]

 In what way can we cleave most to God or attain the most happiness?
Keep exactly to the place, willed by God, that is indicated at every moment by the equilibrium established between our effort and the resistance of things. So long as we are in this place we are a faithful and supremely useful atom in the universe, truly annexed to the body and heart of Christ. The humblest effort, accomplished in this in this loving awareness of acting in Christo, has reverberations on the real fibres of the world that no purely ‘human’ shock could ever produce. [41]

 What is the nature of death in itself?
In itself, death is a failure and a stumbling-block. [43]

 How can death be transposed from something pure evil to something good and constructive even?
For a being to die, normally means to sink back into the Multiple; but it can also be for it the reshaping that is indispensible to its entry under the dominion of a higher soul. The bread we eat appears to be decomposed within is, but it nevertheless becomes our flesh. [43]

 What role does faith play in our desire to turn death into a union with God?
In order that physiological death could be transformed into a means of union, it was necessary – physically necessary – for the monads doomed to suffer death to learn to accept it with humility and love, and above all with immense trust. [44]

 Does God will our sufferings?
In itself, and directly, our bondage to the world – particularly those forms of it that irk us, that diminish us, that kill us, is not divine, nor is it in any way willed by God. It represents the portion of incompleteness and disorder which mars a creation that is still imperfectly unified. [43]

 How do we transfigure our own suffering? How do we ‘harness’ suffering-energy?
Should we condone suffering, if there is in it the most effective means of attaching to God?
We must struggle against death (and suffering for that matter) with all our force, for it is our fundamental duty as living creatures.

 What is the basic thing to do to overcome suffering and turn it to something good?
If we believe, the power with which we clash so agonizingly suddenly ceases to be a blind or evil energy. [51]

 How can we attain God or happiness to put it that way?
The world can attain God, in Christ Jesus, only by a complete recasting in which it must appear to be entirely lost, with nothing (of the terrestrial order) that our experience could recognize as compensation. [52]

 Where should we find God in the universe?
God (is) found in all the inner and outer forces of this world. Nothing in these forces must be excluded; neither death nor ‘persecution’ in the field of ideas. [54]

How do we reconcile Teilhard’s views on personality with the eastern moral of forgetting oneself?
The death of egoism is to understand that one is an element in a universe that personalizes itself by uniting itself with God. So it is no longer oneself that one loves in oneself. [55]

 What makes death bearable?
Every union, especially with a greater power, involves a kind of death of the self . . . But when death takes us, we must experience that paroxysm of faith in life that causes us to abandon ourselves to death as to a falling into a greater life. [58]

What is strongest force that is within the scope of human experience?
The forces of diminishment are our real passivities. Their number is vast, their forms infinitely varied, their influence constant . . . The diminishments whose origin lies within us, and the diminishments whose origin lies outside us. [60]

 What is the most dreadful of all sufferings?
Humanly speaking, the internal passsivities of diminishment form the darkness element and the most despairingly useless years of our life. [62]

What is the most pervasive of diminishments that affects us most?
Old age little by little robbing is of ourselves and pushing us on towards the end. Time, which postpones possession, time which tears us away from enjoyment, time which condemns us all to death – what a formidable passivity is the passage of time. [64]

 What must we do when death confronts us?
We must overcome death by finding God in it. And by the same token, we shall find the divine established in our innermost hearts, in the last stronghold which might have seemed able to escape his reach . . . Christ has conquered death, not only by suppressing its evil effects, but by reversing its sting.[65]

 What are the stages in the Christian encounter with evil?
The first of these phases is of our struggle against evil. The second is that of defeat and of its transfiguration. [66]

 What is God’s reaction on the suffering of his children?
To struggle against evil, and to reduce to a minimum even the ordinary physical evil which threatens us, is unquestionably the first act of our Father who is in heaven; it would be impossible to conceive him in any other way, and still more impossible to love him. [68]

 How can we cleave to God if we repel suffering?
The more we repel suffering at that moment, with our whole heart and our whole strength, (without bitterness and without revolt but with anticipatory tendency to acceptance and final resignation) the more closely we cleave to the heart and action of God. [70]

Does God suffer or lose when we suffer or lose?
We are like soldiers who fall during the assault which leads to peace. God does not therefore suffer a preliminary defeat in our defeat because, although we appear to succumb individually, the world, in which we shall live again, triumphs in and through our death. [72]

Why does God allow suffering in the universe especially if he is omnipotent and all omnibenevolent?
God cannot ordain that the elements of a world in the course of growth – or at least of a fallen world in the process of rising again – should avoid shocks and diminishments, even moral ones . . . A world without a trace or threat of evil would be a world already consummated. [73]

What is God’s direct action to suffering after it has lapsed?
But God will make it good . . . by making evil itself serve a higher good of his faithful. [73]

Is creation inherently or fundamentally good or bad?
Not everything is immediately good to those who seek God; but everything is capable of becoming good. [74]

 How does God convert evil/suffering into good?
(1)Sometimes the check we have undergone will divert our activity on to objects, or towards a framework, that are more propitious – though still situated on the level of the human ends we are pursuing. (2) At other times, more often perhaps, the loss which afflicts us will oblige us to turn for the satisfaction of our frustrated desires to less material fields, which neither worm nor rust can corrupt. (3) But there are more difficult cases (the most common ones, in fact) where human wisdom is altogether out of its depth. At every moment we see diminishment, both in us and around us, which does not seem to be compensated by advantages on any perceptible plane: premature deaths, stupid accidents, weaknesses affecting the highest reaches of our being. Under blows such as these, man does not move upward in any direction that we can perceive; he disappears or remains grievously diminished . . . The most effective way and the way which most surely makes us holy (occurs when) events which show themselves experientially in our lives as pure loss will becomes an immediate factor in the union we dream of establishing with him . . . Uniting oneself means, in every case, migrating, and dying partially in what one loves . . . The more we give our attachment to one who is greater than ourselves, the new can set no limits to the tearing up of roots that is involved in our journey into God. The progressive breaking down of our self-regard by the ‘automatic’ broadening of our human perspectives, when accompanied by the gradual spiritualization of our tastes and aspirations under the impact of certain setbacks, is no doubt a very real foretaste of that leap out of ourselves which mist in the end deliver us from the bondage of ourselves into the service of the divine sovereignty. Yet the effect of this initial detachment is for the moment only to develop the centre of our personality to its utmost limits. God must, in some way or other, make room for himself, hollowing us out and emptying is, if he is finally to penetrate into us. [81]

What is the proper attitude towards death?
… grant, when my hour comes, that I may recognize you under the species of each alien or hostile force that seems bent upon destroying or uprooting me . . . in all those dark moments, O God, grant that I may understand that it is you who are painfully parting the fibres of my being in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance and bear me away within yourself. [84]

Teach me to treat my death as an act of communion. [85]

Why should the religion be in conformity or agreement with science and philosophy?
 A religion which is judged to be inferior to our human ideal . . . is already condemned.

When are we open to cleave most to God?
I can only unite myself to the will of God when all my strength is spent, at the point where my full activity, fully extended and straining towards betterment , finds itself continually counter-weighted by forces tending to halt me or overwhelm me. Unless I do everything I can to advance or resist, I shall not find myself at the required point – I shall not submit to God as much as I might have done or as much as he wishes . . . at that moment, the optimum of my ‘communion in resignation’ necessarily coincides with the maximum of fidelity to the human task. [93]

How do we dissipate the feeling that we could have had a better fate than what we actually have?
The more we reflect, making use of what we have learnt from science, philosophy and religion, each along its own lines, the more we see that the world must be compared not to a bundle of elements in artificial juxtaposition but to an organized system, informed by a broad unity of growth proper to itself . . . No, we are not flowers in a bunch, but the leaves and flowers of a great tree, on which each appears at its time and place, according to the demands of the whole. [96]

What image can best represent the suffering state of the universe?
In a bunch one would be surprised to see imperfect or ‘sickly’ flowers because the constituents have been gathered one by one, and artificially put together. On a tree, on the other hand, which has had to fight against the inner accidents in its developments and the external accidents of bad weather, broken branches, torn leaves, parched, sickly or wilted flowers are ‘in place’: they express the more or less difficult conditions of growth encountered by the trunk that bears them. Similarly, in a universe where each creature forms a little whole enclose and desired for its own sake and theoretically transposable at will, we should have some difficulty in mentally justifying the presence of individuals sadly arrested in their possibilities of ascent. [98]

So why the hell do we have to suffer?
The world, seen by experience at our level, is an immense groping, an immense search, an immense attack; its progress can take place only at the expense of many failures, of many wounds. Sufferers of whatever species are the expression of this stern but noble condition. They are not useless and dwarfed. They are simply paying for the forward march and triumph of all. They are casualties, fallen on the field of honour. [99]

What task is performed by the sufferers including the sick and bed-ridden?
part can we imagine (within the body of Christ, the Church) to be more specially entrusted with the task of sublimating and spiritualizing the general work of progress and conquest? The contemplatives and prayerful, no doubt. But also, most certainly, the sick and suffering. By nature and temperament sufferers are in a sense driven out of themselves, compelled to depart from the prevailing forms of life. Are they not therefore by this very fact destined and chosen for  the task of raising the world above immediate enjoyment towards an ever higher light? It is for them to stretch up to the divine more deliberately and more purely than the rest. Thus it is those who bear in their weakened bodies the weight of the world in motion, that, by providential compensation, prove the most active agents in the very process that seems to be sacrificing and breaking them. [100]

What is the special task of the sick and apparently inactive?
the sick man in his apparent inactivity has a very grand human task to fulfil. He must of course never cease to aim at his own cure and recovery, Also he must of course use all the strength that remains to him for the different kinds of sometimes extremely productive work that are within his powers. Christian resignation, in fact, is just the opposite of giving up. Once he has resolved to combat his sickness in this way, the sick man must realize that in proportion to his sickness he has a special function to perform, in which no one can replace him: the task of co-operating in the transformation (one might say conversion) of human suffering. [102]

What is the composition of human suffering?
…of potential energy. In suffering the world’s upward force is concealed in a very intense form. The whole question is how to liberate it and give it a consciousness of its significance and potentialities. [102]

What is achieved in transforming our sufferings?
All the sufferers of the earth joining their sufferings so that the world’s pain might become a great and unique act of consciousness, elevation and union. [105]

If we are moving towards Christ and consummation, shouldn’t there be lesser evil and suffering, especially since the end point of this travail is God?

A world on the way to concentration of consciousness, you think, would be all joy? On the contrary, I answer. It is just such a world that is the most natural and necessary seat of suffering. [107]

When did pain first occur in our groping universe?
It can truly be said that real pain entered the world with man, when for the first time, a reflective consciousness become capable of observing its own diminution. The only true evil is suffered by personality. [108]

What role does death play in the evolution of the universe?
No physical agent can grow indefinitely without reaching the phase of a change of state . . . On reaching a certain limit of concentration, the personal limit of concentration, the personal elements find themselves faced with a threshold to be crossed before they can enter the sphere of action of a centre of higher order . . . The moment has come also for them o surrender to a transformation which appears to take from them all that they have already acquired. They can grow no greater without changing . . . Death, death, are no more than critical points scattered on the road of union. [110]

How should we face or meet suffering?
Do not brace yourself against suffering. Try to close your eyes and surrender yourself, as if to a great loving energy. [112]

To what is suffering transformed?
… suffering . . . can be transformed into an expression of love and a principle of union. [117] Yes: suffering itself, obscure and ugly, elevated for the most humble patient into a supremely active principle of universal humanization and divinization. [118]

Can there then be suffering that is good or capable of becoming good and what can be get from it?
Good suffering. We see a constant refinement of the critical sense, and an ever better balanced appreciation of human values; an heroic determination to meet with a smile, until the very end, all that the sick have passively to accept; an increasing emotional sensitivity to the joys and sorrows of others; a clearness of sight that gives new strength and simplicity to all that is real, seen in the omnipresence of God. [119]

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