In the first half of the 20th century (1881-1955), a French Jesuit priest, Fr. Teilhard de Chardin SJ, combined his theological, philosophical and scriptural studies with a growing interest in the structure of rocks and fossils (geology), the material aspects of the universe (palaeontology) and in the far distant origins, evolution and ultimate purpose and end of the universe (cosmology).
His work combines religion, spirituality and science in a comprehensive, harmonious and dynamic whole. It portrays a deep spiritual vision of the interior unity, complexity, diversity and evolving consciousness of all creation and the whole universe with God. It portrays God as still actively involved in creating His universe and guiding all humanity forwards and upwards in ever-evolving and deepening consciousness towards Himself.
Evolving human consciousness refers to one’s level of self-awareness and one’s relatedness to others, to the whole of creation and to God. It refers to one’s inner ability to act freely and not compulsively, to be fully alive with joy and hope for the future and openness to infinite possibilities in the evolution from matter to spirit to full unity with Omega God.
For Chardin, ‘Evolution is a light illuminating all facts’ about the universe and its relationship with God. Chardin combines science and religion into a form of mysticism that sheds an ever-deepening understanding and spiritual illumination on both.
Chardin’s comprehensive vision (‘an impassioned vision of the earth’; Chardin) was birthed in the inhumanity of the First World War. Chardin refused a commission as an officer, his entitlement as a priest, and chose instead to serve as a stretcher-bearer with a mostly Muslim regiment. Within that vision he likened the world-changing ‘harnessing for God the energies of Love’ with the ancient, world-changing discovery of fire. Both can radiate massive energy. The recognition of God’s unconditional and eternal love would set the world on fire with new, divine energy infusing the actions of men and women.
Chardin developed a new way of understanding the evolution of the cosmos. However, the Vatican and his Jesuit superiors, overreacting to the anti-religion extremes of 18th century Enlightenment, were antagonistic towards evolutionary theory. His work on Original Sin was deemed by them to be in error. They had a radically different world vision from Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and thus forbade him to publish any further work to avoid the possibility of future theological error. Chardin responded with complete obedience throughout the whole of his lifetime.
However, his all-encompassing theory of evolution, perhaps better described as a cosmic vision for the whole universe and crafted in his various writings published after his death, now seems to have much to offer religion in general, and Christian theology, spirituality and ecology in particular, in spite of its complexity and specialised terminology. His vision is the basis of a new theology, spirituality and ecology, often coming through other movements. His ideas have been quoted and used by Pope St. John Paul 11, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, Cardinal Avery Dulles SJ, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, and many others, including the well-known blogger and spiritual author Fr. Richard Rohr OFM (founder of Centre for Action and Contemplation). I suspect it will shine through much of Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on climate change.
Chardin’s wider and deep vision of evolution reflects the universal Christology of St. Paul, especially in his letter to the Church at Colossae (1:15); “He (Christ) is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and earth.” It also reflects the mysticism of John the Evangelist; ‘In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him.’ (John 1:1& 2). A brief exposition of the relevant theologies of these two New Testament writers will help reveal the scriptural foundation of much of Chardin’s complex and comprehensive vision of evolution – a vision which he sees as underlying all theories about Jesus the Christ, creation, the universe and evolution.
The mysticism of John the Evangelist is reflected in Chardin’s portrayal of the sense of consciousness of God’s presence and self-communication within all humanity, creating a divine union between Creator and created and between all created being and all of creation – the human and material universe; “Anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we shall come to him and make a home in him.” (John 14:23 and Ch. 24). John often refers to God abiding in us and we in Him; “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” (John 6:56). It is not that we and God are one and the same person but that, while remaining distinct, God abides intimately within everyone He creates and they within Him. Every human being is thus essentially a divine spirit, inhabiting a human body for a while before transforming through death to be eternally and spiritually present with God. This is what some theologians call ‘a communion of will and action’, an immanent presence in a community of life and love and through programmes reaching out in mercy and practical love to others. It is Love that holds the community together. Chardin’s work incorporates John’s mysticism of God’s love (c.f. John’s great odes to God’s love in 1 John 4:7-10 & John 15:9-17); ‘God is the unlimited depth of love of all that is, a love that overflows into a new life.’ (Chardin).
The creation of the universe commenced, according to modern scientific estimates, around fourteen to 16 billion years ago. According to Teilhard de Chardin, it has been evolving from the very beginning in complexity, unity-in-diversity, inter-dependence and consciousness. Complexity is material complexity. Unity is the unity of matter and spirit into life, unity of inner-consciousness of the self and outer-consciousness of the fundamental relationship of self to all others and to the whole universe and finally to unity of intimate fellowship between Creator and all of His creation – the ultimate Omega Point of evolution.
Teilhard de Chardin posited the view that the world as we know it has been, and still is, evolving and expanding onwards, outwards and upwards to Omega God, the cosmic Christ. Omega was a term used by the evangelist John when he refers to Jesus in his New Testament Book of Revelation (1:18) as “the Alpha and the Omega….who is, who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” For Chardin, this Omega Point is the eternal Christ of divine revelation in whom and to whom all evolution is moving. This point of convergence will reach perfection in the Parousia, the perfect realisation of the Kingdom of God, when Jesus the Christ returns to earth in all His glory, bringing forth the perfect unity of God and humankind, spirit and matter, sacred and secular, Creator and all that He created.
Evolution, for Chardin, is not a blind or mindless process. He sees it as a divinely guided process of creation-in-progress rather than creation completed and now static. His is a dynamic understanding of God. It is of a God intimately, continuously and lovingly involved with ongoing creation and humanity. The mystery of the incarnation is that in Jesus the spiritual and material dimensions of the universe co-exist in perfect harmony. To that Omega point of perfect harmony – “what we are to be in the future” (1 John 3:2) – all creation is evolving and unfolding. Jesus of Nazareth, eternal and Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became the cosmic, universal Christ within all creation and for all time through His death, resurrection and ascension. Those three acts gave universality, unity, freedom and complexity, powered by love and the indwelling Spirit, to the future trajectory of evolution. The evolutionary development of the world will bring all humanity and all of creation to the recognition of that divine Presence and the power of love. Chardin talked of ‘the holiness of evolution’.
Chardin developed a cosmic theology of Jesus the Christ, to match, or balance, the important human aspects of incarnational theology; “The image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Paul in Colossians 1:15). The ‘cosmic Christ’ is Christ at one with, and intimately involved in, His universe. Chardin’s evolutionary vision is more about the evolution of universal human consciousness and ‘the interior of things’ – the essence of matter and of the human and material milieu that unites all creation – than about the evolution of ‘the exterior of things’ – as in Darwinian evolutionary theory. However, he saw all matter as having the potential to evolve into more complex and divergent states of being (which he terms ‘cosmogenesis’), with increasing levels of consciousness. Chardin’s vision of evolution embraces the whole of the cosmos, the whole of creation, the whole of humanity and the whole human person – matter, mind and spirit. For Chardin, humanity is not a passive receptacle of evolutionary processes but an active participant in them. Where he alive today he might add that human beings sometimes seriously damage nature and thwart its divine purpose by their sinful greed and ecological ignorance or indifference. Chardin sees evolution as a dynamic movement forwards and upwards to Christ, and the whole of creation as being in a continuing process of evolutionary development – creation in the process of becoming, of becoming again one-with-God.
Teilhard de Chardin’s vision for the universe is full of hope. It is deeply embedded in the material world he studied so carefully and in the God He served so faithfully. His knowledge of the Bible and his experience of the sacramental life of the Catholic Church were an integral part of that vision. Chardin’s spirituality is one of full engagement with the world and joy in its materiality. At the incarnation, materiality became the tabernacle of God Among Us. He understands God to be fully, actively and eternally present in the world, in both its spiritual and material dimensions, in the ‘innerness’ and ‘outerness’ of things. Within that presence God is eternally transforming and redeeming creation, increasing the spiritualisation of matter, the material grounding of spirituality and the deepening of human consciousness.
Chardin understood matter as evolving into life and inner consciousness, and human life and inner consciousness into personal and universal ‘at-one-ness’ with Jesus the Christ –spiritual consciousness – the Omega point of evolving creation. For Chardin, inner consciousness becomes integrated thinking, the conscious layer of creation which spreads or evolves around the earth like its physical atmosphere and unites people (the world wide web?). He terms this layer the ‘noosphere’. Human consciousness enables the whole of creation to become aware of itself. This is not pantheism, a belief that God and the created universe are one and the same thing. It is a belief in God as soteriologically infusing the world with His divine presence. God is the ultimate reality underlying and supporting the whole of creation. In Buddhism, this is termed ‘Aum’, in Hinduism ‘brahman’, in Judaism ‘Shekinah’ and in Christianity ‘The Kingdom of God’. For Teilhard de Chardin it is Omega; “Omega, He towards whom all converge, is concurrently He from whom all radiate. Impossible to place Him as a focus at the summit of the universe, without at the same time diffusing His presence in the intimate heart of the smallest movement of evolution.” (Chardin). When that complete convergence occurs, the Kingdom of God will have reached its full perfection on earth. As we grow and deepen in our spirituality, so will our relationship with, and appreciation and knowledge of the Christ. As Fr. Richard Rohr OFM has written (The Universal Christ) “When we speak of Christ, we are speaking of an ever-growing encounter, and never a fixed package that is all-complete and must be accepted as is.”
The whole of creation is permeated by the active presence of God, its creator, whose Holy Spirit ultimately guides the evolutionary process towards completeness in God, its original and continuing Creator. Chardin sees creation as it was poetically described by the Jesuit poet Gerard Manly Hopkins: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” The great hope contained in Chardin’s vision is that, while human sin draws humankind away from God, the resurrection of Jesus will eventually win-back all creation to God and restore the primal relationship of Creator and created, to the relationship intended by God at the first moment of creation; when God looked at what he had created “He saw that it was good” (Genesis); “for God so love the world” (John 3:16)
For Chardin, the expansion of the universe is not a geographical expansion into outer space but rather an expansion into an increasing range of as yet unknown dimensions, from the current five dimensions of time, space-length, space-breadth, space-depth and the still not universally recognised spiritual dimension of the universe, to other, perhaps more complex, dimensions. (Modern superstring theory posits ten such dimensions.) Only the spiritual dimension, through the silence of contemplation, can ‘learn’ otherwise unknown truths, make one aware of God’s inner presence throughout all creation and bring peace and healing to the soul. These dimensions govern the universe and the laws of nature. Omega Christ is the Essential Unity holding all creation in all its dimensions and complexity together. He is at the heart of all matter, within what Chardin terms a ‘divine milieu’, a concept flowing from St. Paul’s vision of Jesus the Christ as “In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
For Chardin, mature spirituality is full engagement with the world, not hiding from it. It is engagement with matter, not despising it as sinful but as infused with the very presence of God. Humankind evolved from matter and it is through the consciousness of humankind that the universe observes itself. Humanity is ‘the axis and arrow of evolution’ (Chardin). Spirit and matter, soul and body, are two dimensions of the one reality, two dimensions in harmonious relationship with each other, with others, with the whole of creation and with God. The spirit component infusing matter propels it towards ever greater integration and ever higher forms of consciousness towards Omega Christ. In biblical/Hebrew terms, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit – of the Presence of God within matter.
This is very different from those aspects of ancient Egyptian and Greek philosophy and cosmology – the Platonic dualism dividing matter and spirit from each other, body from soul. This division was later adopted by St. Augustine and had a dominant influence on the moral theology of the Church from the 4th century onwards. It permeated much Church ethics and spirituality and still does. In that philosophy spirit and matter are seen as at constant war with each other within the human person; changing and inferior matter warring against unchanging and superior spirit. Matter (bodily functions) was seen as intrinsically evil, the source of all sin. It imprisoned the soul. Independent spirit (mind, consciousness and soul), on the other hand, was the source of all goodness. ‘While we are in the body, and while the soul is infected with the evils of the body, our desire will not be satisfied. And our desire is of the truth. For the body is a source of endless trouble to us because of the mere requirement of food.’ (Plato’s Phaedo). Hence the material body and its functions, especially its feelings, emotions and sexual drive, were to be feared and despised and constantly disciplined, even to the point of flagellation.
Chardin’s conception of the universe is very different. He sees matter and spirit as a dynamic unity of two elements in an intimate relationship with each other, each infused with the divine and each contributing the grace of its own unique charisms. Chardin, for example, would never have seen the bodily materiality of sexual activity within a faithful relationship as something verging on the sinful, as did St. Augustine, and hence ontologically inferior to virginity and celibacy. He would have seen it as a reavowal of a couples’ covenant love and need for each other, as participation in the divine creativity of God which both creates new life and creates and reflects the love which is the divine energy binding all human life together. ‘God is the unlimited depth of love of all that is, a love that overflows into new life.’ (Chardin). Chardin’s position reflects that of the Bible wherein there is no cosmological antithesis between matter and spirit. Humanity (spirit and matter), created in the image of God, is redeemed by God incarnating Himself into the material matter of the universe which He had created ‘and saw that it was good’ (Genesis) and calling everyone into a fellowship of unconditional love with Him and with each other. Pope Francis colourfully describes this full involvement in the life of the material universe as taking on ‘the smell of the sheep’.
As men and women evolved in the consciousness of their individual personhood, they also evolved into universal socialised beings. They evolved into needing each other in a way reflective of the divine Trinitarian community of Creativity (Father), Love (Holy Spirit) and Relationship (Son). These individual (personal) and universal (community) aspects of evolving creation and human consciousness will eventually converge into the Omega point of all evolution, into Christ Himself. The energy propelling and directing that evolutionary process is Love, eventually making itself known in Jesus the Christ as eternal, unconditional love, as the love which says “I shall not forget you. Look, I have engraved you in the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15-16). That was the love of a father for his prodigal son, the love demonstrated by the redeeming death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
Jesus the Christ is at the centre and apex of the evolving universe. His divine love gives it meaning, purpose and direction as we are drawn imperceptibly into God’s eternal and unconditional love in Omega Christ. A major result of Jesus the Christ being the Cosmic Christ is that every human being, in whom He resides and through whom He continues His evolving creation and universal redemption, is thus a cosmic and divine person too – a central and intrinsic part of the whole material universe while throbbing with divine life and the divine energy of the Spirit.
Meditation on God’s Word in the Bible, the silent prayer of contemplation (transformation and understanding without words and thoughts) and practical love and mercy for others are ancient ways for each of us to be at one with the cosmic evolution of all creation. They aid our final, eternal and perfect transformation and incorporation into cosmic Christ, foreshadowed now in Eucharist – Christ’s programme of strengthening us to outreach to others in mercy and practical, loving actions, especially to the poor, marginalised and downtrodden.
The role of Christianity, and other world religions, is for their individual members, and the faith community as a body, to reveal to all humankind – through the love, joy and hope that radiate from their lives – the inner divine Presence and all-encompassing divine Love, as they ‘proclaim the Good News to all creation’ (Mark 16:15) and grope their pilgrim way onwards, outwards and upwards to Omega Christ.
More can be found out about Fr. Teilhard de Chardin’s vision of evolution in his major works, published after his death: The Divine Milieu (1927), The Vision of the Past (1935), Building the Earth (1937), The Phenomena of Man (1940), and The Future of Man (1941).
“His (Chardin’s) vision is of a universe that is dynamic and evolving, not static and unchanging. It is inter-connected, a universe groping its way forward and upwards through trial and error, sin and grace. That vision has major implications for Catholic spirituality, theology and ecology (human and environmental), particularly its view of the nature and purpose of Church, its view of Natural Law, the degree of prominence given to issues of justice and ecology and the way it understands its Sacred Tradition – a continuity that allows development, a Sacred Tradition that grows by incorporating sacred evolution of beliefs and practices through listening to the voice of the whole Church, in whom God resides.”
Its too bad that too many in the church consider our teaching to be carved in stone. They need to be reminded by Chardin’s work that that stone is evolving and so must our theology.
Thank you for this timely article in light of the much anticipated new encyclical on the environment.
There is no room for evolving Christology. We are to keep the faith delivered once and for all to the Apostles, which was defined (not invented not developed) in answer to the heretics who challenged it.
Teilhard’s Omega point is not Jesus Christ.
We all must anchor in our spiritual truths and principles that are eternal but at the same time, we are reaching all that THROUGH TIME. Evolutionary theology is correct. It is our job to stay anchored in the Eternal while in time, unfolding and enfolding those truths with greater growth of clarity, thought, Light, knowledge and awareness.
We must get back to the God forward of Evolution in a System that is aligned to those spiritual truths and principles. We have not been able to do that as a collective Humanity since World War I (as Chardin stated “War is Hell”) and the subsequent wars that were brought to us, and now this Planedemic that is designed to snuff out all our spiritual connections and growth both individually and TOGETHER.
It is time to move on, truly MOVE ON and put aside all FEAR and make a conspiracy for LOVE—centered in the eternal God-Christ and His way from the time the money changers were thrown out of the Temple. The sacred Earth has been designed to be a Temple for His way and our Hearts.
Why not make it so? It is now possible:
Let it be the nucleus and cohering point for all reformation and renewal. It is THE UNITY (of Men/Mankind) aligned to the Greater Unity—of Christ—through which we cannot fail—as ONE Humanity and Human Race. Let’s no longer tread the path we are treading. It is a War on us.
“His (de Chardin’s) work on Original Sin was deemed by them (the Vatican and his Jesuit superiors) to be in error.”
This caught my attention, Aidan. How exactly did de Chardin’s account of evolution try to integrate Catholic teaching on original sin – and what exactly was the point of disagreement by the church establishment?
And does the doctrine of original sin depend upon the historical facticity of a first couple, Adam and Eve, who sinned exactly as described in Genesis?
Recently Cardinal Pell in defending Genesis is reported to have described it as theological myth. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/adam-and-eve-thats-just-mythology-says-pell/story-e6frg6nf-1226322379822
If this is so, surely an understanding of original sin as involving an historical act of deliberate defiance of a direct order of God must be abandoned?
So what would happen to De Chardin’s ‘take’ on original sin if it were stated today?
Just as I have misgivings about an ‘evolutionism’ that excludes the possibility of God, I have misgivings about what might be called ‘divine evolutionism’ also. Yes, it’s important to hope that we humans can overcome those shortcomings that currently so depress us (corruption, violence, exploitation of the weak, environmental vandalism) but is there a danger in supposing that human success is inevitable, that the divine evolutionary plan will carry us through, whatever, so not to worry?
I too can amaze myself with macrocosmic evolutionary speculation, but doesn’t that become mere escapism when we are faced with the deepest experiential trauma – e.g. the death of someone very close, or news of a possibly terminal illness. At such times I lapse into a state of foetal dependence upon the umbilical cord of prayer: meditation upon the grandeur of creation and evolution simply wouldn’t be anywhere near my ‘to do’ or even ‘possible’ list.
So I sometimes wonder about the practical importance of ‘divine evolutionism’. When we do it are we merely ‘getting off’ on an intellectual rhapsody in ‘soft’ times which will simply evaporate when push comes to shove?
Thank you Soconaill.
Teilhard’s article on Original Sin was given to a Jesuit colleague and then mysteriously found its way to Rome years later. As far as I know the content of the article has never been revealed by the Jesuit Order or the Vatican so I can’t say what exactly was the point of disagreement. As you know, the Vatican at that time was fighting Modernism. I think Teilhard’s article and evolutionary way of thinking got caught up in that battle.
The doctrine on Original Sin used to be closely bound up with the belief that the Bible’s account of creation in the first three chapters of Genesis had to be believed as objective history. However, St. Pope John Paul 2nd, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and most modern Catholic scripture scholars would accept Adam and Eve and the Genesis account of creation as a parable, based on such well-known popular mythological/folk stories at the time the oral tradition of Genesis came into being, as the Atrahasis Epic, The Epic of Gilgamesh and Enuma Elish. Early oral accounts of Genesis chapters 1-3 date back to around the 10th century BC. These were later redacted in post-exilic times by the priestly class in Jerusalem into what we have today in our Bible. The author(s) and redactors of Genesis adapted important aspects of the above Mesopotamian myths to fit what God wanted to reveal to humankind at that time. Later times would see further evolutionary developments. That is an ongoing evolutionary process.
You will find more on Original Sin, Evolution and Teilhard de Chardin at a Jesuit website, which also deals with Teilhard’s ‘take on original sin’;
I think the articles on the above website might also answer your second concern about ‘divine evolutionism’. Teilhard certainly believed in the existence of sin and evil. He could hardly do otherwise after his experiences as a stretcher bearer during some of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the First World War. The final incorporation of all creation into Omega Christ at the Parousia does not mean that there will be no evil or suffering along the way or that it has no effect on the intermediary evolutionary processes. But not on its final outcome into Omega Christ.
Consider this: Genesis is not Mesopotamian mythology reworked. Indeed, it is far too terse and sane for that. Mesopotamian mythology is a warped version of the truth, which was preserved in the records of one family which Abraham came from, and supplemented by God.
Fighting ‘Modernism’ – the night-time hydra of the ‘pull up the drawbridge against modernity’ brigade. Yes, Aidan, it makes sense that Teilhard would have suffered from that hysteria, which almost torpedoed Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) also.
That Jesuit article is a keeper too Aidan. You are an amazing reference point for questions that have been in my head for ages.
Irish bishops are meanwhile throwing the ‘Irish Catholic Catechism for Adults’ at us, which seems to me to imply that our bishops are still committed to Adam and Eve as historical characters. The same trope recurred in their document ‘the meaning of marriage’. Which of them will first face open questions on all of this, I wonder?
I am much impressed by the possibility of thinking of original sin as ‘unfinishedness’. And for me this is present psychologically in our tendency both to doubt our own value and to seek reassurance from ‘the world’ – that social context which always exploits this weakness by dangling all sorts of ‘glittering prizes’ in front of us.
What you have told me seems to be telling me: ‘it’s OK to think like that’ – so I am most grateful.
Thank you soconaill
Part of the ‘glittering prize’ you refer to is the mistaken belief that we now possess all Truth, so further change or development within the Catholic Church is, at best, unnecessary, at worst harmful to the Deposit of Faith. It is also based on a mistaken belief that the current Deposit of Faith has been in existence from the very beginning and so never changed or grew, that the world is not evolving, circumstances are not changing, new and unforeseen problems are not arising which need new solutions, no old problems persist without a realistic and just solution, and no new developments are taking place in the study of theological, biblical, spiritual and human sciences.
That sacrilegious worship of ‘feeling secure by holding on indiscriminately to all of the past’ and refusing to trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit to keep the Church moving on with hope and relevance into the future and to what He will reveal to us there – which might be an enhanced way of understand a past revelation, – is also part of Original Sin.
It holds us in incompleteness. Had the early Church Fathers and Mothers taken that view in the first few centuries after the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, we would not have much of what we believe in today. To take one example from the liturgical season we are in, we would not have the foundational belief in One God as Trinity of Three Persons in a divine community of love. That was only confirmed in the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 AD, expanded and completed in 360 AD at the Council of Constantinople. Much debate and accusations of heresy preceded those Councils over a period of more than 200 years, some of the latter accusations made no doubt by those resistant to change.
That same resistance to change can be seen today in a number of Cardinals and Bishops coming together to resist any movement by Pope Francis at the forthcoming General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, scheduled for October. A number of priests around the world have also signed letters to Pope Francis to that effect. And all Pope Francis seems of a mind to do at this stage in our evolutionary journey to Omega Christ is not to change doctrine but to have it applied with mercy and compassion. That seems too much for those whose inner security is wedded to the questionable certainties of the past and the rigid application of ‘Law without mercy’. They fail to trust the Holy Spirit acting through the initiative of Pope Francis and the current voice of the whole People of God.
Is resistance to all change wrong? Certainly not!
Resistance to change is part of the evolutionary process. It filters change to ensure that only the best attested changes and what is still valuable from the past survive into the future. Dysfunctionality, and hence sinfulness, result when resistance to change is institutionalised within the Church and becomes the imposed norm to any and all proposed change, no matter the large number of God’s people whose reflective thinking over a long period of time deem it necessary or the promulgated decrees of a Vatican Council.
It is also dysfunctional when clerics with insecure personalities who feel threatened by change and compulsively resist it are appointed to positions of power within the Church. Dysfunctional resistance to change by the Vatican for the last few hundred years, partly in inappropriate response to the Protestant Reformation and later age of Enlightenment and partly to protect their clerical power structures, has left the Catholic Church seriously weakened in its mission, priesthood and membership.
Open and honest debate in searching for the truth, and the most loving, just and merciful way of applying the consequences of a given truth at this time in our evolving history, is always healthy. It is part of psychological and spiritual growth. However, it should be conducted in prayerful listening and humble sharing and in the Spirit of serving humanity rather than in issuing threats of a split if one group doesn’t get its own way. Such a split, or even threat of a split in these circumstances, would indeed be attributable to that aspect of Original Sin which refuses to evolve within its own inner dynamic – onwards, outwards and upwards to Omega Christ.
I trust this is helpful.
“It holds us in incompleteness.”
Might ‘inertia’ be better here – as incompleteness can probably never be overcome?
How strange also that modern communications should be such a powerful inertial force. When whatever a priest says in Clifden can be reported in Rome the same day, the Seamus Heaney protocol must kick in: ‘whatever you say, say nothing’.
And when nothing can be said, why go to listen?
In the scenario I painted above, inertia is really the refusal to change and leads to personal and organisational incompleteness and dysfunction.
Feeling that I as a person or the Church as an organic organisation already is complete and has no need for further development or evolutionary growth leaves us with a religious/spiritual incompleteness at a particular point of time (which, for the person, can be later remedied with openness to appropriate change if he/she so chooses to engage with it) or with a incompleteness we bring to the grave by opposing change throughout our lifetime, which cannot be later remedied by us after death. In the later case we rely on the post-death mercy of God as we are drawn into divine forgiveness and eternal completeness in Omega Christ. I suspect the latter scenario includes most of us in varying degrees.
Such opposition to change can leave an organisation like the Church with stunted growth which can never be put right for those who live and die during its time of refusal to grow. So, the refusal of the Church to listen to the justified complaints of Fr. Martin Luther and engage in necessary reform can never put right the incompleteness of many Christians, lay and clerical, living at that time who were held back in their spiritual development by the corruption fairly rampant in the Church. They can never recover the human joy and freedom of the children of God that should have been theirs to experience. The longer resistance to necessary change persists in the Church the more damage is done to ever increasing numbers of people and the more damage is done to its evolutionary trajectory to Omega Christ.
It would be a great pity if the Seamus Heaney protocol kicked in as a response to current corruption and resistance to necessary change by some of our laity, clergy and hierarchy. That would be a response of despair and a refusal to exercise our God-given duty as disciples to protest and work to put things right, as Jesus did throughout His lifetime in opposition to the caricature of religion prevalent at that time. We need to keep speaking out in various ways, as well as listening, in the hope that our voices will eventually be heard, and to sustain the hope of those who feel isolated and think there are no means of making their voice or concerns heard.
Surely, Sean, that is the vision of ACI.
Yes indeed, Aidan. Inertia is definitely not OK, and we must try all means of ending it, as advised by the Holy Spirit. We lay people have far greater liberty of action and speech – and must not be inactive or silent.
Soconaill, I have been reflecting more on Teilhard de Chardin and Original Sin.
I accept evolution and that Genesis chapters 1-3 is an allegory adapted in two slightly different versions from ancient Mesopotamian folk tales to encapsulate divine revelation in a form that could be understood by an ancient people. One of the core revelations revealed in that parable is God gifting the evolved humanoids with a human soul which incorporated the great gift of free will. Free will came with the spiritual faculty of conscience and human intelligence to guide it. Conscience and human understanding are part of the evolutionary process and are still evolving.
At that point the humanoids became fully human. The evolved, and still evolving, self-consciousness of human kind from then on had the possibility of knowing and freely loving God and each other. But they (I don’t see how we can all have evolved in a physical line from two original parents; that raises too many unsolvable theological and scientific problems.) soon discovered that their free will also gave them the possibility of freely choosing the flip-side of love; selfishness, greed, violence, injustice etc.
Original Sin, which all human beings possess, is the life-long struggle necessarily inherent within free will, against using that divine gift to choose evil instead of good, to desire mimetically the fleeting and superficial, without much care about how they are obtained, rather than a deep, loving relationship with God who dwells within everyone.
I say ‘inherent within free will’ as love cannot be chosen freely unless I am also free to reject it. The gift of conscience, which is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit granted to all human beings at their creation, and use of rational thought, guide our path to the right choices that free will offers, but still leaves us free to choose the wrong path. Hence the importance of family, Church community, word and sacrament, religious education, prayerful reflection and friends helping young people to inform their conscience appropriately. Conscience can be strengthened by the above influences or weakened by harmful influences.
Baptism and the other sacraments of the Church give us God’s gift of Himself to strengthen our constant fight against choosing the wrong path (the wrong side of free will) and offering us forgiveness and mercy when we do. Failure prayerfully reflected upon is part of our learning and growth process. Those without these sacraments or membership of a Christian Church have their conscience and rational thought to guide them on their journey to the Kingdom of God on earth.
evolution has some problems, severe enough that many scientists have dumped Darwin for punctuated equilibrium, saltation, intelligent design and creationism (old earth and young earth). radiometric dating is flawed, with the two rock dating systems giving irreconciliable and radically different ages for the same specimen.
“self consciousness” is an ill defined notion, sounds like a gnostic conceit like thinking we have a spirit makes us in God’s image, and with no proof whatsoever supposedly animals lack spirit, which is not even biblically sound.
the image and likeness of God is an interesting concept, given at least four generations of exposure to Egyptian ideas by the ISraelites. Only the pharaoh was in the image and likeness of the top deity in the pantheon, who became his father at his coronation or perhaps had do to with his conception. Genesis says everyone is in the image and likeness of YHWH, which is somewhat democratic. in Deuteronomy the future kings are warned not to elevate their hearts above their people. Being permanently upright and free hands fits us to manage nature under God. And we have in our species the combined character features of God, which are scattered in the rest of creation among animals. (some might have some wisdom, others not. some have determination some don’t.)
self awareness is evident in all animals, in that they know themselves from other creatures and don’t aimlessly bumble about.
But teilhard himself is a major problem. Aside from his writing being hypnotic and lacking substance, he is clearly heretical. The fall in the meantime, is not inherent to free will but an inherent POTENTIAL with free will, and has already happened, a one off deal the struggle you describe is the result of this.
Teilhard info here from sources some friendly to him yet showing his true nature.
From the Article above;
“His (Teilhard de Chardin’s) work combines religion, spirituality and science in a comprehensive, harmonious and dynamic whole. It portrays a deep spiritual vision of the interior unity, complexity, diversity and evolving consciousness of all creation and the whole universe with God”………….
I see it differently: rather than a dynamic evolving universe for me the physical cosmos is in continual flux, held in a continuum of distortion. This physical plane as perceived by man is the reality of his fallen state.
The divine spark within a man’s heart is a constant that does not evolve. Rather it is waiting to be enlightened by the inviolate Word (Will) of God as the essence of His reality is Truth/love and when embraced ignites the divine spark within us. This induces humility and in doing so lifts us out of the “swamp” so to say, as this self-awareness while transforming our hearts into ones of love and compassion also creates a state that could be described as Higher consciousness.
It could be said we are the dust of the earth but experiences such as “Timeless moments, enlightened consciousness etc” pertain to the spirit and have nothing to do with the flesh.
I had an article published five years ago that relates to the Divine Spark and consciousness. As it incorporates drawings, I cannot extend my post here.
Perhaps some may continue this post, by reading it, in the link below
kevin your brother
For clarity I would like to add to this extract from my post above;
“rather than a dynamic evolving universe for me the physical cosmos is in continual flux, held in a continuum of distortion This physical plane as perceived by man is the reality of his fallen state”
This realty in our fallen state is not the same ‘reality’ as in a ‘timeless moment’, where all is (appears to be) in perfect harmony.
kevin your brother
Kevin, I used your link to read the article you referred to. I found it very deep, beautifully expressed in poetry, and often beyond my understanding. It bears much time spent meditating upon it, followed by periods of contemplative silence to let one’s deepest soul feed upon it. Thank you.
Thank you Aidan for reading the article and for your generous comment. In regards to the poetry, to assist you or anyone else who reads the article I will give some further information but before I do so I would add that in an increasingly broken world how can these words of renewal be absorbed within our hearts, in the present moment, especially in the West where many hearts have become stale and cynical in regards to the Christian message
‘Repent’; change direction
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions”
These words have haunted me from childhood
“Even if a man should rise from the dead you would not believe”.
My reaction to these words, as a child, was to ask the Father this question, but ‘what if a man /woman knew that they were a spirit, a living soul, would this make a difference’?
This drew me to the words “You know not what manner of spirit you are”.
For many years I have been on a long search, to find the answer to that question and for many of those years I did not realize that I was doing so.
This created a state consciousness (At times) within my dreams that is known as lucid dreaming, this state is often found to be exhilarating by those who experience this type dream and because of this they become self-absorbed and do not study its structure.
Within the article “Key” in the link above, I attempt to demonstrate what the early Greeks understandings were of the Truth, and spirit/soul on the Spiritual/ Astral plane. While also within the drawings provided, what the early Egyptian knew of “Dream Structure” that incorporates their understanding of the divine spark /soul held within the confines of that structure.
At the end of the article I have made a post that incorporates a link that continues with other links that give further information, some of which is written in heighted poetry that relates to my understanding of the “The Fall” original sin. With the known means of our restoration from that sin through Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice permits those who are willing to partake of it, once again to eat of the Tree of Life.
The partaking of His sacrifice in obedience or acknowledged obedience to the inviolate Word (Will) of God, I say acknowledged as for human kind it can only be done in meekness/humility as we all dwell in a fallen state, and are in constant need of His Divine Mercy.
If we continue on this path of Truth by acknowledging His inviolate Word (Will) within the heart it will continually confront us with our fallen state and with this self-knowledge the perceived reality of our state in relationship to His Goodness/Truth will transform our hearts and create an ongoing evolving state of compassion for our fellow man and if this state could be seen on the spiritual plane would be seen as streams of vibrating light (living water) from the solo plexus/ heart area of the body.
It is our truthful response in humility before His inviolate Word (Truth) that leads us to ‘The way’ that wells up into eternal life.
kevin your brother
Addendum to my post above
Hi! Aidan, via the link below you with others, will find further information in relation to my Article that you commented upon above which will further clarify some of the symbols/drawings in the link given within that article. These symbols relate to mankind’s primeval understanding of dreams as in spiritual communications that reflect their insights into good and evil (God and the devil).
May His peace be with you and your family, now and always Aidan’
kevin your brother
I have always thought God’s middle name is Science. I am going to study this man’s thoughts and teaching.
Pat, I have been trying to fathom the meaning of “God’s middle name is Science”
Science; is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.
So yes, evolution theory relates to the physical and is testable.
As Christians we acknowledge the second person of the trinity, as Jesus Christ, the word made flesh. Science in its original sense was a word for a type of knowledge rather than a specialized word for the pursuit of such knowledge. Man is more than a physical being, he possesses a soul. The soul is not part of evolution, rather it is the unchanging image of God, born anew in each newly created individual and possess a divine spark, waiting to be ignited by the Holy Spirit (Truth).
We are all born with the ability to discern the good or bad within our own life given situations.
Many cultures throughout the ages have believed in Heaven and Hell, and it could be said that this belief (Knowledge) is innately known; as we hide in the bushes so to say, to cover our nakedness (Sinfulness/evil) before God (Goodness)
The right use of Knowledge embraces the Truth, the fruit of which is Wisdom;- the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight.
Wisdom tells us to search for what is lasting, figurative man yearns to come out from the bushes to eat once more of the fruit of the tree of life and live eternally in Heaven. But at the same time he is also aware of his state before God (Truth Goodness) the denial of which, is to lose one’s soul and mankind though out the ages, in different cultures, has used the term Hell (Under different names)
It could be said that knowledge without true discernment (Wisdom) is a knowledge that separates the intellect from the heart and if deliberate, leads one to Hell.
Please consider continuing via the link
kevin your brother
My guess is that Pat was merely marvelling at the ‘divine intelligibility’ of the universe, Kevin. You are right that knowledge can foster hubris in those who pursue it – as St Paul also remarks – but it is quite likely that Pat already knows that.
A question occurs to me at this point: how exactly did Teilhard deChardin see the Gospel story impacting on the evolutionary human progress towards the Omega point? In other words, how exactly, for Teilhard, does the ‘paschal mystery’ impact upon human history?
I am wondering especially about the evolutionary impact of a more widespread understanding of the problem of human desire – its tendency to be mimetic (imitative of the desire of another). That even one human being could withstand the world’s condemnation for the sake of his relationship with ‘the father’ – the focus of his own desire – is also something to marvel at.
My guess is that much of the ‘phobia’ about deChardin’s work has to do with a fear that he might be understood as saying that since the Omega point will indeed be reached by humanity, the particular part played by our own ‘sins’ individually in delaying that can be discounted: we will all be ‘saved’ in any case. ‘Evolutionism’ can all too easily become a complacent ‘presumptionism’ – when the tragedies caused by unbridled desire are all around us and inescapable. We cannot as individuals escape this ‘drama’.
Thank you Sean for your comment and your ‘guess’ that Pat was “merely marvelling at the ‘divine intelligibility’ of the universe” as in “God’s middle name is Science”
I found Pat’s statement perturbing, as to me it was belittling to our Christian understanding of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Word (God’s Will) made flesh, but did not relate that in my initial response, to him, so as to giving him time to clarify his statement.
“how exactly, for Teilhard, does the ‘paschal mystery’ impact upon human history”
Our Lord and Master relates the impact of the ‘paschal mystery’ to us
“Now judgment is upon this world; now the prince of this world will be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”
Throughout history man and women have been liberated through the ‘paschal mystery’ from the powers of the Evil one, and we are taught by our Saviour that they will be manifest at the end of time (Omega point).
To teach any other outcome would be heretical, as it would be the opinion/ego of one individual, before His inviolate Word (Will).
“I am wondering especially about the evolutionary impact of a more widespread understanding of the problem of human desire – its tendency to by mimetic (imitative of the desire of another)”
Human desire is not the problem Sean, as desire incorporates good and evil intent, as can be seen in this teaching
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit”
So yes! We can marvel at His focus to do the will of His ‘Father’ a positive desire, to teach us to make the tree good.
We cannot as individuals escape the ‘drama’ of life ‘where sin is all around us’ but individually we can partake of the ‘paschal mystery’ the process of the dying (Confrontation) of the selfhood and the rising from death to new life.
kevin your brother
The Paschal Mystery is essentially the divine revelation of God’s unconditional love for the whole of humanity and all of creation shown through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.
The purpose of Jesus’s death is to reveal the extent of God’s love for us all – “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for a friend” (John 15:13). The meaning of unconditional love to be practised by us humans is fully laid out in 1Cor 13, its 16 descriptors of love often read at weddings. The reason for that love is beautifully and simply put by John – “I have loved you just as the Father has loved me.” ( 15:9). The source and purpose of that divine love is – to “love one another since love comes from God…… Love comes to its perfection in us when we can face the Day of Judgement fearlessly. ” (1John 4; 7-17)
I think de Chardin would say that we are evolving into unconditionally loving people with the divine, eternal Love within each of us as a free gift from God (St. Paul in Romans), a love which sets the world on fire with a new, divine energy infusing the actions of men and women. The Paschal Mystery is a major step along that evolutionary path.
Thanks, Aidan. That makes great sense. To be overwhelmed by the reality of God’s unconditional love is indeed to be carried somewhere else.
You say: “I think de Chardin would say that we are evolving into unconditionally loving people with the divine, eternal Love within each of us as a free gift from God.”
Do you mean that as each generation passes we all get a little closer to God, or do you mean that each of us in his / her own lifetime ‘evolves’?
I can accept e.g. that the deep rethinking and reorientation that happens to us as individuals (in the experience of ‘repentance’) is indeed an ‘evolution’. But I would be very loath to believe that humans generally are more ‘evolved’ spiritually in the 21st century than they were in say the twelfth or sixth centuries.
I remember I reviewed a book once called ‘The God Shift’ which argued that humans were becoming ‘superconscious’. Contrarily I tend to see a dangerous and very unevolved hubris in that very mental disposition.
Yes, institutions and culture evolve, but the ‘thinness’ of our ‘civilisation’ has been revealed not just by the Holocaust but by ongoing and deeply depressing events in the world’s most celebrated democracy. Don’t you too often feel the ice cracking under our feet?
I wonder could you give me clarity on the matter of my assumed understanding of Teilhard’s ‘rejection’ of the ‘Fall’, as in, sin entered the world through one man. And also his understanding of the Evil One (Devil).
kevin your brother
Kevin and Sean, as far as I remember, none of Teilhard de Chardin’s published writings make any mention of Adam and Eve, the devil or their Fall from grace (Original Sin). This would seem to imply that, for him, that part of Genesis is a parable to explain the real existence of sin and suffering in the world. Teilhard would have seen the incarnation of Jesus the Christ not in terms of Atonement but rather as revelation of God’s unconditional love, the divine force dynamically impelling the evolutionary process of human consciousness forward until eventually all creation becomes what it was originally intended to be – the perfect reflection of Christ and of the divine love which holds the Trinity together in perfect harmony and community. Since love of its very nature must be free then humankind must have been created free to love or reject love. That is where sin arises, in our free choice not to love God and others. The final point of evolution (over millions of years, no doubt but in microcosm in the final years of some people’s lives) into perfect oneness with Omega Christ is when all human consciousness accepts the joyful fulfillment of divine love within them and flowing through them to others and thus freely rejects the pointlessness of sin (unloving made attractive by the devil), the refusal to love (sin) and to be set free – the Kingdom of God on earth.
You both touch on very real issues so I trust this makes sense and does justice to the complex work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Thanks again, Aidan.
I suppose the question that arises from this is: if the story of Adam and Eve, and what we call ‘the fall’, is a parable (or sacred allegory), what exactly is it telling us? Was there truly an ‘original sin’ at the dawn of human consciousness that left us prone to error, and, if so, what was it?
Teilhard died in 1955, just a few years before Girard had his first insight into the problem of mimetic desire – our tendency to adopt the desires of others as our own. Seen through this lens, the first men in the Genesis parable were adopting the desire of the Tempter, the desire to be AS Gods.
That is, dissatisfied with being mere creatures – secondary beings – they desired the status of ‘the greatest beings they could imagine’.
For Girard it is this tendency to want what ‘our neighbour’ has – i.e. covetousness – that lies at the root of all violence. It is also at the root of the ‘all against one’ practice of scapegoating that is so vividly revealed as unjust in the story of Jesus’s passion.
What a conversation De Chardin and Girard could have had about all this! I suppose they are having it now!
The Catholic doctrine of Original Sin states that it is generated from the original two people (Adam and Eve) and transmitted down the generations of all peoples through human, physical generation (sexual intercourse) thus leaving all human nature weakened and inclined towards choosing evil. St. Augustine and St. Paul played a large role in its development but it goes much further back into Old Testament times and into other ancient religions. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”(Romans 5:12). “One man”, thus ignoring the role of Eve, because until relatively recent times it was believed that in sexual intercourse it was the seed of the man that created the baby, the woman only providing her womb for that male seeds development!
The Council of Trent (1545-1563) states “”Weakened and diminished by Adam’s fall, free will is yet not destroyed in the race”. Catholic doctrine states that only the sacrament of Baptism can free one from Original Sin. It has led to many anomalies, such as the belief in Limbo for babies who die before Baptism and are thus denied Heaven for all eternity. We saw recently the result of that awful teaching in Church run homes for unmarried mothers in the Irish Republic and the way their deceased babies were treated.
I too Sean would love to be part of that conversation so that is something we can both look forward to!
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“Catholic doctrine states that only the sacrament of Baptism can free one from Original Sin”
Yes; but should be understood as, all can receive ‘baptism by desire (‘Truth’)’ or through martyrdom for Christ.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.”(Romans 5:12). “One man, thus ignoring the role of Eve, because until relatively recent times it was believed that in sexual intercourse it was the seed of the man that created the baby, the woman only providing her womb for that male seeds development!”
Yes, but by its nature the seeds need a womb ‘they shall become one flesh’ and this can/was and is seen, in any children that a couple might be blessed with. And this seeing recognises the joining of two, to manifest one new life
“One man” This relates to semantics, as surely Man and Woman here are inclusive, as in ‘Mankind’ as can be seen from this extract CCC390, as in our “first Parents”.
“The story of the creation and fall of man is a true one, even if not written entirely according to modern literary techniques. The Catechism states, “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (CCC 390)”.
I suppose that our knowledge in relation to this statement will always be outside of our understanding, as in, the reality of an earthly mind, but as I have stated via my link
on a previous occasion, everything appears to be in harmony on the spiritual plane, as in timeless moments….
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Also from my intuitive reflection via the above link
“On broken branch I entered time in downward spin, tumbling bush fly and weed, polluted seed and sprouting horn into spike and thorn I was born”
This emanated from a previous given visual/verbal understanding, and then written in heightened language, extract from what I wrote previous to the above many years prior:
“Then at last I found the seed, falling from a mountain with speed Taking, with it all who were deceived Above the clamour and the din, I heard a thunderous voice ring Never shall you be let in wonder eternally for this sin”
But for clarity, the thunderous voice I heard said “OUT” while I observed many in terror, tumbling and falling/fleeing down a gloomy mountain side, one of whom turned to me and said “we must wander eternally for this sin” while at the same time a very large boulder tumbled at great speed past us, and while doing so sprouted a spiral (Horn) of its own matter.
So my ‘personal’ (and I stress personal) understanding of the ‘Fall’ is that we fell into the primeval mud, so to say, in context, with Satan’s fall/expulsion from heaven.
But do these speculations help one live a life of faith in God?
Especially as now we have been given the Word incarnate accompanied by the risen Christ.
Do not all seekers of ‘Truth’ work to the greater glory of God, as can be seen in early Hebrews searches (Seekers of Truth) of the heart, as in, the understanding the Light of God, this can be seen in Abraham, as he sees/believes the ‘spiritual reality of Creation’ as in all things been the Will of One God. He acted in faith with singular pure intent to his understanding of God, wanting him to sacrifice Isaac. We see this same singular intent when Jesus rebukes Peter. Also in St Francis of Assisi….Continue to 3 of 3
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“Francis, repair my church.” he then acted in singular pure intent and commenced to do so. As did St Faustina Kowalska when asked to “Paint a picture according to the vision you see and with the inscription: “Jesus, I Trust in Thee.” She also acted in singular pure intent, to the Will (Word) of God
From my perspective, Teilhard’s views are speculative and self-serving, as knowledge without faith, is worthless, as it belittles rather than glorifies the Will of God, which was manifest by the Prophets and spiritual leaders throughout the ages, accumulating in the Word (Will) of God made flesh.
We have been given/shown ‘the Way’ home to our true destination through and when we also partake the sacrificial cross, of spiritual redemption.
To those who would love Him
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am”
“And you know ‘the way’ to where I am going.”
One final thought Teilhard avoids the mention of Hell “Fear Him who can cast into hell” also the description Jesus gives of that place, in The parable of the rich man and Lazarus, which this given revelation via the link bears witness too.
kevin your brother
I came upon your article on Teilhard de Chardin in the course of my on-line investigations about the theory of evolution and its relation to Church doctrine. I found in your writings and that of Father de Chardin, compelling ideas that enable me to combine my views about science and those of my faith. In reading on I also found the discussion on original sin to be very thought provoking. I have always believed the story of Adam and Eve to be allegorical but it has had an enormous affect on the lives on thousands of Catholics over the years both in the way in which sexual/ physical love has been tied to the story and used to make many people feel that this type of love is somewhat sinful and also as you suggest through the doctrine of Limbo which has had an enormous affect on those mothers whose babies are still-born. The whole idea was so fanciful that I even remember the nuns in my school 60 years ago telling us that when the sun shInes on Saturday that is when the Virgin Mary visits the babies in Limbo. How did the Church manage to drop this doctrine so quietly given that the teaching is that one can only be freed from original sin and be able to go to heaven through Baptism.
Finally I have always understood the requirement for the Atonement by Christ to be the result of this original sin. If original sin is actually the inherent weakness of humanity to take sinful paths why was it necessary for Christ to die?
I came upon your article on Teilhard de Chardin in the course of my on-line investigations about the theory of evolution and its relation to Church doctrine. I found in your writings and that of Father de Chardin, compelling ideas that enable me to combine my views about science and those of my faith.
In reading on I also found the discussion on original sin in May 2018 to be very thought provoking. I have always believed the story of Adam and Eve to be allegorical but it has had an enormous affect on the lives on thousands of Catholics over the years both in the way in which sexual/ physical love has been tied to the story and used to make many people feel that this type of love is somewhat sinful and also as you suggest through the doctrine of Limbo which has had an enormous affect on those mothers whose babies are still-born. The whole idea was so fanciful that I even remember the nuns in my school 60 years ago telling us that when the sun shInes on Saturday that is when the Virgin Mary visits the babies in Limbo. How did the Church manage to drop this doctrine so quietly given that the teaching is that one can only be freed from original sin and be able to go to heaven through Baptism.
Finally I have always understood the requirement for the Atonement by Christ to be the result of this original sin. If original sin is actually the inherent weakness of humanity to take sinful paths why was it necessary for Christ to die?
Thank you Sonia for your thought provoking post. You raise many important issues.
As you’ll gather from my article, I treat the whole idea of Adam and Eve and Original Sin as allegorical. An all-wise and all-loving God, which is what Christians are called to believe, would not create human beings as destined to eternal damnation unless they were fortunate enough to be born into a Christian family. The idea of a baby, or any non-Christian, dying before being baptised and, through no fault of their own, being denied the presence of God for all eternity I find abhorrent and against all that Jesus came to reveal about the unconditional love of God for all of His/Her creation, both human and non-human. Our struggle to do the right thing is not because of an inbuilt moral weakness i.e. Original Sin. It flows rather from our being created to love. Of its essence love must be free, something we freely embrace and freely give to others. It can never be imposed. Our struggle is not with Original Sin but with being willing or unwilling to embrace unconditional love. So free will is the maidservant of love and it is only through love that we can know God and be aware of His/Her presence within us and within all others.
If Baptism is essential for salvation then members of all non-Christian religions that don’t baptise are condemned to Hell for all eternity. That is certainly not modern Catholic ecumenism or reflective of the teaching of Vatican 11.
The old and fundamentalist interpretation of John 3:5 (“unless one is born again through water and the Holy Spirit….”) was that ‘water’ referred to Baptismal water. Many today would say that ‘water’ in that Jewish context refers to the Old Testament Israelite/Jewish view of water as a cleansing agent, hence symbolically referring to cleansing from sin, which is really done by the Holy Spirit in bringing one to a new and loving relationship with God. It is also linked symbolically to the liberation of the Chosen People through God parting the waters of the Red Sea.
This shows the importance of being open to the evolutionary process of development in how Sacred Scripture is to be interpreted. Since this is not an even process for all of revelation, parts of our theology get out of sync with other parts.
What a brilliant comment and question, Sonia. I personally am angered by the identification of holiness with celibacy when none of the temptations to which Jesus was subjected was sexual, and all had to do with self-aggrandisement. And finally he says not ‘I have overcome sexuality’ but I have overcome the world. That is surely the urge towards being greater than anyone else – the drive that has built the pyramids of power that threaten the world.
I notice also that the original temptation allegory in Genesis is also to be greater, ‘ as Gods’. It is not at all significant that this temptation was offered first to the author’s proto-woman, Eve. Is it not natural for intelligent creatures to look at the majesty yet terror of what surrounds them and to wish be greater, if only to be free of fear?
That insecurity was certainly one of the factors that led the bishops of the church to welcome Constantine’s recognition of Christianity after 312. That was the beginning of the church’s long association with the state, and this, I fear led to a reduction of emphasis upon the sins of those who ‘rise to the top’. Sexual sin lay to hand as the principal moralistic lever.
It was then, gradually, that Augustine’s teaching on the necessity of baptism for salvation set in – culminating in the lowering of baptismal age to infancy. With Pope Benedict’s rebuttal of the notion that those who don’t receive baptism can be saved, a whole set of other issues is raised. Principally, in my view that we still have three sacraments of initiation before puberty, and none for adult laypersons who want to commit themselves to the Lord in whaever sphere of life they want to work in.
Atonement: this has never ‘settled’. For me the incarnation was intended to help all of us overcome that desire to be greater, and the fear of shame that sets in when we have to decide whether to fight for our own dominance in any situation. ‘Don’t worry about being looked down upon,’ we are being told: you will rise for accepting a loss for the sake of peace, or criticism and insult for the sake of justice.
Anselm’s theory that the Father required ‘satisfaction’ for sin is clearly rebutted by the Prodigal Son parable. It is this mistake that surely has led to this distant aloof unreachable divinity. The father knows all about our ‘nakedness’ – and doesn’t care a whit. Sin is simply self-harm, I think.
Sean, I find your concept of sin as being “self-harm” an interesting and useful one. It moves the focus from “a punitive God” to damaging one’s self.
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