“The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been attained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things.” Here, I am citing Pope Francis from his encyclical Laudato Si’ (LS), n.83, and, in turn, his footnote which makes explicit reference to the origin of this thought, Fr. Teilhard de Chardin.
Teilhard (1881-1955) was a Jesuit, anthropologist and spiritual figure of great importance. He lived through the far–reaching tensions of the complex 20th century, with its wars, ideologies and great discoveries.1
Not without miscomprehension, his life could be considered a remarkable adventure for his thought was at the frontiers, able to measure up to the lively and complex turbulence of his era. What we have today as his legacy is Teilhard de Chardin’s effort to converge knowledge of Christ and the idea of evolution.
After presenting a short synthesis of his thought, we will look at how his ideas have been received by the pontifical magisterium from Paul VI through to Francis. Then we will focus on one point in particular, as highlighted by Benedict XVI and implicitly used in Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: the priest and his action of universal salvation that embraces the cosmos. In fact, as a priest, Teilhard prayed thus: “I, O Lord, for my most humble part, wish to be the apostle, and (so to say) the evangelist of your Christ in the Universe. By meditations, by words and the practice of my whole life, I would like to reveal and preach the relations of continuity that make of the Cosmos in which we move, a divinized environment of the Incarnation, divinizing by communion, and that can be made divine by our cooperation.”
The universe, an immense movement of ascension
To synthesize the thought of Teilhard is not an easy undertaking. He speaks of the history of the world in terms of a development of a single design, which, beginning with creation, moves toward an Omega Point, the end of history, indicated by the risen Christ. Hence, he accompanies us in the seeing the succession of different stages of the vicissitudes of our planet: there is the forming of the lithosphere, the nucleus of the Earth still without life; then around this a subtle but dynamic cover in the vegetal and animal biosphere; then, with hominization and the coming of the human species, we have the next layer, that is fragile and delicate where thought develops; this is the noosphere, the sphere of knowledge. Commenting on Teilhard’s thought, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn described this development as “an immense movement of ascension toward higher complexity and interiority, from matter to life, to the spirit.”