As some of you may already know, there is exciting news from Rome.
On Saturday, November 18, 2017, the Pontifical Council for Culture was meeting in Plenary Assembly to discuss the topic of “The Future of Humanity: New Challenges to Anthropology.” During the discussions the name of Teilhard de Chardin arose several times, invoking his “seminal thoughts,” according to an account by John Farrell in Forbes. Quite spontaneously a proposal surfaced to ask the Holy Father, Pope Francis, to rescind the 1962 Monitum that warned against reading the works of Teilhard. The proposal was accepted by the Plenary Assembly and submitted to the Pope. This generated headlines around the globe similar to this one in Forbes. “Vatican Council Asks the Pope to Exonerate Jesuit Scientist’s Writings.”
The warning referred to was a monitum issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (aka The Holy Office) by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani. In 1962 Pope John XXIII was preparing for the Second Vatican Council. Perhaps Ottaviani, who proved to be an obstructionist throughout the Council, was concerned, because ideas espoused by Teilhard were prominent in preliminary discussions. And, as the monitum warns, “Several works of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin…are gaining a good deal of success.”
Therefore, the monitum said, The Holy Office “exhorts 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.” No claim of heresy was made, nor were any specifics given of the dangerous ideas of Teilhard.
This warning, however, did not seem to put a damper on the popularity of Teilhard’s writings. The Phenomenon of Man (now in new translation as The Human Phenomenon) and The Divine Milieu quickly became best sellers in numerous languages around the world. But opponents of Teilhard still today cite the monitum as evidence that Teilhard is outside the mainstream of Church teaching. This in spite of the fact that the last four popes have had favorable things to say about Teilhard, beginning with Paul VI in 1966 who praised Teilhard as one who “scrutinizing the material, knew how to find the spiritual,” and who offered “an explanation of the universe capable of revealing the presence of God in it.” Most recently Pope Francis cited Teilhard in a footnote in his encyclical Laudato Si.
If Pope Francis accepts the recommendation of the Pontifical Council for Culture, what difference will it make? According to John Haught, “Most of those who really care about Teilhard had already dismissed the relevance of the 1962 monitum long ago. It was ignored, for example, during the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). In fact the imprint of Teilhard’s thought is all over one of its main documents, ‘The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World’.” And likely it will have little impact on those who oppose Teilhard since they object to him on their own theological grounds. But it can make a big difference to those who don’t know Teilhard well and seek assurance that he is in good standing in the Church.
Removing this censure will help Teilhard’s important voice be heard on the compatibility of science and faith. We welcome hearing your take on this new development.