Like Copernicus and Galileo, Teilhard de Chardin challenged the cosmology of his religious faith. When Copernicus proposed that the Earth rotated around the sun, he challenged the worldview that held the Earth as the center of the universe; for this, he was criticized by the church. When Teilhard embraced evolution, he challenged the worldview that God created the universe and then deposited humans in their place. Teilhard proposed instead that evolution was a sacred story, one that encompassed galaxies, planets, a myriad life forms, and humans.
Teilhard was a man of great intellect and profound Christian faith. He possessed a sacramental imagination; for him, all matter was sacred and permeated with divine presence. He advised us to spend more time on creation and less on redemption. He challenged us to see that our human story is a dimension of the universe’s story. According to him, there is only one story, and we as humans are chapters and paragraphs in the greater story. He also proposed that there is a psychic/spiritual dimension in each and every creature, and implied that consciousness, which emerged into fluorescence with the human race, has existed from the beginning of time.
Teilhard’s vision and insight are foundational to what we embrace today as the universe story and the new cosmology. Through his work, science has become a source of wisdom that addresses basic questions of origin, destiny, and purpose. According to Teilhard, when we experience creation through our senses, we experience the divine. For him, creation itself becomes a primary scripture, a primary revelation, and a source of awe and wonder.
Through an appreciation of science, we are able to see with new eyes, and to understand that at the heart of the universe lies an emergent energy. This is the heart of God, or as Teilhard called it, the divine milieu. He saw the entire world as a theater for the sacred, a source of cosmic energy that culminates in the fullest expression of divine presence and embrace.
A touchstone of the Judeo-Christian tradition is “the word become flesh.” Teilhard’s vision challenged this view. He revealed the depths of sacramental insight and theology, and declared that all matter is sacred and immersed in the divine. For him, “the flesh became word.”
Teilhard espoused a keenly felt aesthetic theology. He affirmed that spirituality resided more fully in the imagination than in the intellect. To give expression to these deep wells of human experience required the use of symbol, imagery, and sound. For Teilhard, sacraments give expression to what lies within us at a level beyond conscious thought.
For Teilhard, matter was a source and vehicle of divine presence. This vision had profound implications for his view of the Eucharist because, for him, the Eucharistic elements signify the presence of the divine in and through all creation. His cosmic vision expanded our sense of the divine’s numinous presence, and laid the foundation for an evolutionary faith.
Although he died before his work was published and appreciated, Teilhard was a mystic and prophet of what was to come. In the words of Brother Jeffrey Gros, FSC, “Teilhard was in fact a ‘prophetic voice of a great transition.’” He was a bridge builder who challenged people of faith to see with fresh eyes the universe before us. He became a resource for the spirit and vision of Vatican Council II, which called people to a more personal and engaged spirituality. Retrieving the best of his Catholic tradition, he evoked and called for a new exegesis of creation and a new literacy that integrated faith and science, and called forth the emergence of a sacramental imagination.
As we pick up our email messages today or send a text message to someone across space and time, perhaps we will reflect on the cosmological vision of Teilhard, and see that his understanding of the noosphere—the sphere representing the interrelationship of human consciousness—has by now extended and expanded worldwide, through scientific insight and means.