Someday … Fire: The Mystical Teachings of Teilhard de Chardin
Paleontologist/priest/mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s most famous quote is “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.” He wrote it in his 1936 book Les Directions de l’Avenir which was finally published after decades of censorship in 1973 and later in English as Toward the Future in 1975.
In this current era of rampant social media censorship it seems appropriate to revisit the legacy of Teilhard whose 13 books were all suppressed from publication by his Jesuit order and the Vatican until after his death in 1955. His heresies stemmed from attempts to reconcile his scientific training and the teachings of the Catholic Church with the final straw being his “Note on Some Possible Historical Representations of Original Sin” paper in 1922.
In Spirit of Fire his biographer Ursula King recounts that Teilhard was banned from teaching at the Institute Catholique and “removed from Paris by the prudence of his superiors, to whom he had been denounced for propagating dubious ideas.” He was effectively exiled to China for more than two decades where he pursued his career in paleontology and participated in the discovery of Peking Man, a major breakthrough in the science of human evolution.
It also was in China that he met and fell in love with Lucile Swan. Their chaste but passionate affair continued for years, paradoxically fueling the flames of his devotion to God, while leaving her heartbroken and incomplete. “In our particular case we can find some kind of happiness in thinking that what we have to suffer or to miss expresses (and pays for) the work of discovering something which is grand and new, the new discovery of the Fire.”
Lucile was one of half a dozen women that Teilhard shared intense relationships with over the course of his lifetime including his cousin Marguerite with whom he corresponded during WWI. The inspiration and support of these women was vital to his personal evolution. “Every day supplies more irrefutable evidence that no man at all can dispense with the Feminine, anymore than he can dispense with light or water or vitamins.”
In his book The Evolution of Chastity he notes, “However fundamental woman’s maternity may be, it is almost nothing in comparison with her spiritual fertility. Woman brings fullness of being, sensibility, and self-revelation to the man who has loved her.” His mother served both purposes in his life as she birthed him and also inspired his precocious childhood sense of spirituality resulting in a lifelong devotion to Jesus and his mother Mary.
Teilhard expressed his dedication to the Blessed Virgin by praying the rosary. In 1918 he wrote a poem The Eternal Feminine about the Virgin Mary and in a later letter unveiled his deep regard for her essential role in creation, “You know what…is my dearest wish: that God, through our Lady, may grant us so to share in her purity and to have so ardent a passion for her, that we may really be able to serve, in our own small way, to regenerate the world.”
Years after his death Teilhard is considered one of the foundational voices in the ecospirituality movement inspiring leaders like Thomas Berry and Matthew Fox. His attitude toward the influence of the cosmic Feminine principle on the environment is reflected here, “In this first basic vision we begin to see how the kingdom of God and cosmic love may be reconciled: the bosom of Mother Earth is in some way the bosom of God.”
Teilhard’s writings also had impact on other great thinkers of his day. Carl Jung was reported to have been reading one of his books during the last days of his life. “On the small table beside the chair where Jung was sitting was a book called The Human Phenomenon by Teilhard de Chardin. I asked Jung whether he had read it. ‘It is a great book,’ he said. His face was pale, but seemed strangely illuminated by an inner light.”
May you find your own inner light through this final Teilhard quote. “There is almost a sensual longing for communion with others who have a large vision. The immense fulfillment of the friendship between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality impossible to describe.” If you seek such fellowship please come to the 2022 Haden Dream & Spirituality Conference where I will present a workshop on Teilhard.