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.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was born in the Château of Sarcenat at Orcines, close to Clermont-Ferrand, France, on 1 May 1881. On the Teilhard side he was descended from an ancient family of magistrates from Auvergne originating in Murat, Cantal, and on the de Chardin side he was descended from a family that was ennobled under Louis XVIII. He was the fourth of eleven children. His father, Emmanuel Teilhard (1844–1932), an amateur naturalist, collected stones, insects and plants and promoted the observation of nature in the household. Pierre Teilhard's spirituality was awakened by his mother, Berthe de Dompiere. When he was 12, he went to the Jesuit college of Mongré, in Villefranche-sur-Saône, where he completed baccalaureates of philosophy and mathematics. Then, in 1899, he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Aix-en-Provence, where he began a philosophical, theological and spiritual career.
When the Associations Bill of 1901 required congregational associations to submit their properties to state control, some of the Jesuits exiled themselves in the United Kingdom. Young Jesuit students continued their studies in Jersey. In the meantime, Teilhard earned a licentiate in literature in Caen in 1902.
From 1905 to 1908, he taught physics and chemistry in Cairo, Egypt, at the Jesuit College of the Holy Family. He wrote "... it is the dazzling of the East foreseen and drunk greedily ... in its Lights, its vegetation, its fauna and its deserts."
Teilhard studied theology in Hastings, in Sussex (United Kingdom), from 1908 to 1912. There he synthesized his scientific, philosophical and theological knowledge in the light of evolution. His reading of L'Évolution Créatrice (The Creative Evolution) by Henri Bergson was, he wrote, the "catalyst of a fire which devoured already its heart and its spirit." Teilhard was ordained a priest on 24 August 1911, at age 30.
From 1912 to 1914, Teilhard worked in the paleontology laboratory of the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, studying the mammals of the middle tertiary period. Later he studied elsewhere in Europe. In June 1912 he formed part of the original digging team, with Arthur Smith Woodward and Charles Dawson, at the Piltdown site, after the discovery of the first fragments of the (fraudulent) "Piltdown Man". Some have suggested he participated in the hoax. Marcellin Boule, a specialist in Neanderthal studies, who as early as 1915 had recognized the non-hominid origins of the Piltdown finds, gradually guided Teilhard towards human paleontology. At the museum's Institute of Human Paleontology, he became a friend of Henri Breuil and in 1913 took part with him in excavations at the prehistoric painted Caves of Castillo in North West Spain.
Mobilised in December 1914, Teilhard served in World War I as a stretcher-bearer in the 8th Moroccan Rifles. For his valour, he received several citations including the Médaille militaire and the Legion of Honour.
During the war he developed his reflections in his diaries and in letters to his cousin, Marguerite Teillard-Chambon, who later published a collection of them. He later wrote: "...the war was a meeting ... with the Absolute." In 1916, he wrote his first essay: La Vie Cosmique (Cosmic life), where his scientific and philosophical thought was revealed just as his mystical life. While on leave from the military he pronounced his solemn vows as a Jesuit in Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon on 26 May 1918. In August 1919, in Jersey, he wrote Puissance spirituelle de la Matière (The Spiritual Power of Matter).
His posthumously published book, The Phenomenon of Man, set forth a sweeping account of the unfolding of the cosmos and the evolution of matter to humanity, to ultimately a reunion with Christ. In the book, Teilhard abandoned literal interpretations of creation in the Book of Genesis in favor of allegorical and theological interpretations. The unfolding of the material cosmos is described from primordial particles to the development of life, human beings and the noosphere, and finally to his vision of the Omega Point in the Future, which is "pulling" all creation towards it. He was a leading proponent of orthogenesis, the idea that evolution occurs in a directional, goal-driven way. Teilhard argued in Darwinian terms with respect to biology, and supported the synthetic model of evolution, but argued in Lamarckian terms for the development of culture, primarily through the vehicle of education. Teilhard made a total commitment to the evolutionary process in the 1920s as the core of his spirituality, at a time when other religious thinkers felt evolutionary thinking challenged the structure of conventional Christian faith. He committed himself to what the evidence showed.
In 1923 he travelled to China with Father Emile Licent, who was in charge in Tianjin of a significant laboratory collaboration between the Natural History Museum in Paris and Marcellin Boule's laboratory. Licent carried out considerable basic work in connection with missionaries who accumulated observations of a scientific nature in their spare time. He was known as 德日進 (pinyin: Dérìjìn) in China.
In 1925, Teilhard was ordered by the Jesuit Superior General Wlodimir Ledóchowski to leave his teaching position in France and to sign a statement withdrawing his controversial statements regarding the doctrine of original sin. Rather than leave the Society of Jesus, Teilhard signed the statement and left for China.
In 1926–27, after a missed campaign in Gansu, Teilhard traveled in the Sang-Kan-Ho valley near Kalgan (Zhangjiakou) and made a tour in Eastern Mongolia. He wrote Le Milieu Divin (The Divine Milieu). Teilhard prepared the first pages of his main work Le Phénomène Humain (The Phenomenon of Man). The Holy See refused the Imprimatur for Le Milieu Divin in 1927. He joined the ongoing excavations of the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian as an advisor in 1926 and continued in the role for the Cenozoic Research Laboratory of the Geological Survey of China following its founding in 1928. Teilhard resided in Manchuria with Emile Licent, then stayed in Western Shansi (Shanxi) and northern Shensi (Shaanxi) with the Chinese Paleontologist C. C. Young and with Davidson Black, Chairman of the Geological Survey of China.
During 1930–1931, Teilhard stayed in France and in the United States. During a conference in Paris, Teilhard stated: "For the observers of the Future, the greatest event will be the sudden appearance of a collective humane conscience and a human work to make." From 1932–1933, he began to meet people to clarify issues with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, regarding Le Milieu divin and L'Esprit de la Terre. He met Helmut de Terra, a German Geologist in the International Geology Congress in Washington, D.C..
In 1933, Rome ordered him to give up his post in Paris. Teilhard subsequently undertook several explorations in the south of China. He traveled in the valleys of Yangtze River and Sichuan in 1934, then, the following year, in Kwang-If and Guangdong. The relationship with Marcellin Boule was disrupted; the museum cut its financing on the grounds that Teilhard worked more for the Chinese Geological Service than for the museum.
Teilhard participated in the 1935 Yale–Cambridge expedition in northern and central India with the Geologist Helmut de Terra and Patterson, who verified their assumptions on Indian Paleolithic civilisations in Kashmir and the Salt Range Valley. He then made a short stay in Java, on the invitation of Dutch Paleontologist Ralph von Koenigswald to the site of Java man. A second cranium, more complete, was discovered. Professor von Koenigswald had also found a tooth in a Chinese apothecary shop in 1934 that he believed belonged to a three-meter-tall ape, Gigantopithecus, which lived between one hundred thousand and around a million years ago. Fossilized teeth and bone (dragon bones) are often ground into powder and used in some branches of traditional Chinese Medicine.
In 1937, Teilhard wrote Le Phénomène spirituel (The Phenomenon of the Spirit) on board the boat Empress of Japan, where he met the Raja of Sarawak. The ship conveyed him to the United States. He received the Mendel Medal granted by Villanova University during the Congress of Philadelphia, in recognition of his works on human paleontology. He made a speech about evolution, the origins and the destiny of man. The New York Times dated 19 March 1937 presented Teilhard as the Jesuit who held that man descended from monkeys. Some days later, he was to be granted the Doctor Honoris Causa distinction from Boston College. Upon arrival in that city, he was told that the award had been cancelled.
In 1941, Teilhard submitted to Rome his most important work, Le Phénomène Humain. By 1947, Rome forbade him to write or teach on philosophical subjects. The next year, Teilhard was called to Rome by the Superior General of the Jesuits who hoped to acquire permission from the Holy See for the publication of Le Phénomène Humain. However, the prohibition to publish it that was previously issued in 1944 was again renewed. Teilhard was also forbidden to take a teaching post in the Collège de France. Another setback came in 1949, when permission to publish Le Groupe Zoologique was refused.
Teilhard died in New York City, where he was in residence at the Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, Park Avenue. On 15 March 1955, at the house of his diplomat cousin Jean de Lagarde, Teilhard told friends he hoped he would die on Easter Sunday. On the evening of Easter Sunday, 10 April 1955, during an animated discussion at the apartment of Rhoda de Terra, his personal assistant since 1949, Teilhard suffered a heart attack and died. He was buried in the cemetery for the New York Province of the Jesuits at the Jesuit novitiate, St. Andrew-on-Hudson, in Hyde Park, New York, With the moving of the novitiate, the property was sold to the Culinary Institute of America in 1970.
Teilhard was nominated to the French Academy of Sciences in 1950. He was forbidden by his Superiors to attend the International Congress of Paleontology in 1955. The Supreme Authority of the Holy Office, in a decree dated 15 November 1957, forbade the works of de Chardin to be retained in libraries, including those of religious institutes. His books were not to be sold in Catholic bookshops and were not to be translated into other languages.
Teilhard's work also inspired philosophical ruminations by Italian laureate Architect Paolo Soleri, artworks such as French Painter Alfred Manessier's L'Offrande de la terre ou Hommage à Teilhard de Chardin and American Sculptor Frederick Hart's acrylic sculpture The Divine Milieu: Homage to Teilhard de Chardin. A sculpture of the Omega Point by Henry Setter, with a quote from Teilhard de Chardin, can be found at the entrance to the Roesch Library at the University of Dayton. The Spanish Painter Salvador Dali was fascinated by Teilhard de Chardin and the Omega Point theory. His 1959 painting The Ecumenical Council (painting) is said to represent the "interconnectedness" of the Omega Point. Edmund Rubbra's 1968 Symphony No. 8 is titled Hommage à Teilhard de Chardin.
Shortly thereafter, prominent clerics mounted a strong theological defense of Teilhard's works. Henri de Lubac (later a Cardinal) wrote three comprehensive books on the theology of Teilhard de Chardin in the 1960s. While de Lubac mentioned that Teilhard was less than precise in some of his concepts, he affirmed the orthodoxy of Teilhard de Chardin and responded to Teilhard's critics: "We need not concern ourselves with a number of detractors of Teilhard, in whom emotion has blunted intelligence". Later that decade Joseph Ratzinger, a German theologian who became Pope Benedict XVI, spoke glowingly of Teilhard's Christology in Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity:
In 1961, the Nobel Prize-winner Peter Medawar, a British immunologist, wrote a scornful review of The Phenomenon Of Man for the journal Mind: "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". The evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins called Medawar's review "devastating" and The Phenomenon of Man "the quintessence of bad poetic science".
The Holy Office did not place any of Teilhard's writings on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books), which existed during Teilhard's lifetime and at the time of the 1962 decree.
The Diocese of Rome on 30 September 1963 required Catholic booksellers in Rome to withdraw his works as well as those that supported his views.
In 1972, the Uruguayan priest Juan Luis Segundo, in his five-volume series A Theology for Artisans of a New Humanity, wrote that Teilhard "noticed the profound analogies existing between the conceptual elements used by the natural sciences — all of them being based on the hypothesis of a general evolution of the universe."
Founded in 1978, George Addair based much of Omega Vector on Teilhard's work.
Over the next several decades prominent Theologians and Church Leaders, including leading Cardinals, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI all wrote approvingly of Teilhard's ideas. In 1981, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, on behalf of Pope John Paul II, wrote on the front page of the Vatican newspaper, l'Osservatore Romano:
Teilhard and his work continue to influence the arts and culture. Characters based on Teilhard appear in several novels, including Jean Telemond in Morris West's The Shoes of the Fisherman (mentioned by name and quoted by Oskar Werner playing Fr. Telemond in the movie version of the novel) and Father Lankester Merrin in william Peter Blatty's The Exorcist. In Dan Simmons' 1989–97 Hyperion Cantos, Teilhard de Chardin has been canonized a saint in the far Future. His work inspires the Anthropologist priest character, Paul Duré. When Duré becomes Pope, he takes Teilhard I as his regnal name. Teilhard appears as a minor character in the play Fake by Eric Simonson, staged by Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2009, involving a fictional solution to the infamous Piltdown Man hoax.
in July 2009, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said, "By now, no one would dream of saying that [Teilhard] is a heterodox author who shouldn’t be studied."
The De Chardin Project, a play celebrating Teilhard's life, ran from 20 November to 14 December 2014 in Toronto, Canada. The Evolution of Teilhard de Chardin, a documentary film on Teilhard's life, was scheduled for released in 2015.
Although many of Teilhard's writings were censored by the Catholic Church during his lifetime because of his views on original sin, Teilhard has been posthumously praised by Pope Benedict XVI and other eminent Catholic figures, and his theological teachings were cited by Pope Francis in the 2015 encyclical, Laudato si'. The response to his writings by evolutionary biologists has been, with some exceptions, decidedly negative.
The Philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand criticized severely the work of Teilhard. According to this Philosopher, in a conversation after a lecture by Teilhard: "He (Teilhard) ignored completely the decisive difference between nature and supernature. After a lively discussion in which I ventured a criticism of his ideas, I had an opportunity to speak to Teilhard privately. When our talk touched on St. Augustine, he exclaimed violently: 'Don’t mention that unfortunate man; he spoiled everything by introducing the supernatural.'" Von Hildebrand writes that Theihardism is incompatible with Christianity, substitutes efficiency for sanctity, deshumanizes man, and describes love as merely cosmic Energy.