||63 - The Confluence of Religions|
Local copy of The Confluence of Religions
By Teilhard de Chardin
"I believe that the universe is an evolution.
I believe that evolution proceeds towards spirit.
I believe that spirit is fully realized in a form of personality.
I believe that the supremely personal is the Universal Christ."
IN spite of certain superficial proliferations, for which the dissatisfaction of the faithful is more responsible than the birth of a new ideal, the complex of religions is tending, under the influence of the "modern" spirit, toward a remarkable simplification. That is at any rate the impression I gain from observing them. And since I am explicitly concerned here only with my own self, I shall say that in my view a first inspection is sufficient to reduce types of possible belief to three: the group of Eastern religions, the humanist neopantheisms, and Christianity. These are the three signposts between which I might hesitate, were I (as I am here hypothetically supposing) in the position of still in real fact having to choose my religion. 1
The great appeal of the Eastern religions (let us, to put a name to it, say Buddhism) is that they are supremely universalist and cosmic.
This brief essay on the relation of
Christianity to other religions was written by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin during
his sojourn in China in 1934. It has recently been translated into English by
René Hague and published in the Perennial Library, Harper and Row, New York,
under the title How I Believe (91 pages, 1969, $.75). This item was
brought to our attention by Henry P. van Dusen, President Emeritus of Union
Theological Seminary, New York, who observes that in this essay "Teilhard
explicitly rejects syncretism." More than a decade later, in 1946, when he had
returned to France, Teilhard reiterated his position in a fragment on
"Ecumenism" (Chapter XIV in Science and Christ, Harper and Row , 1968).
Permission to reprint this excerpt has been granted by Hugh van Dusen of the
Harper and Row publishing house. Although not much more than a footnote to
Teilhard's extensive corpus, this brief discussion provides an important insight
into his view of Christian faith and other religions. The lines quoted at the
beginning of this article are taken from the frontispiece of the Harper and Row
edition of How I Believe.
1 Islam, in spite of the number of its adherents and its continual progress (in the less evolved strata of mankind, we may note) is not examined here, because to my mind (at least in its original form) it contributes no special solution to the modem religious problem, It seems to me to represent a residual Judaism, with no individual character of its own, and it can develop only by becoming either humanist or Christian.
||64 - The Confluence of Religions|
Never perhaps has the sense of the whole, which is the lifeblood of all mysticism, flowered more exuberantly than in the plains of India. It is there, when a synthetic history of religions comes to be written, that we shall have to locate, some centuries before Christ, the birth of pantheism. It is there again, when the expectation of a new revelation is growing more intense, that in our days the eyes of modern Europe are turned. Governed, as I have described, by love of the world, my own individual faith was inevitably peculiarly sensitive to Eastern influences; and I am perfectly conscious of having felt their attraction, until the day came when it became clear to me that by the same words the East and I understand different things. For the Hindu sage, spirit is the homogeneous unity in which the complete adept is lost to self, all individual features and values being suppressed. All quest for knowledge, all personalization, all earthly progress are so many diseases of the soul. Matter is dead weight and illusion. By contrast, spirit is for me, as I have said, the unity by synthesis in which the saint realizes his full being, carrying to the furthest possible point what differentiates its nature, and the particular resources it possesses. Knowledge and power-that is the only road that leads to freedom. Matter is heavily loaded, throughout, with sublime potentialties. Thus the East fascinates me by its faith in the ultimate unity of the universe; but the fact remains that the two of us, the East and I, have two diametrically opposed conceptions of the relationship by which there is communication between the totality and its elements. For the East, the one is seen as a suppression of the multiple; for me, the one is born from the concentration of the multiple. Thus, under the same monist appearances, there are two moral systems, two metaphysics, and two mysticisms. 2 Once the ambiguity is made plain, no more will be needed I think (since Eastern religions logically lead to passive renunciation) for our modern world, eager as it is to find above all a religious vindication for its achievements, to reject them. For me, in any case, their current has ipso facto lost its power. The God whom I seek must reveal himself to me as a savior of man's work. I thought that I could discern him in the East. But it is clear that he awaited me at the other end of the horizon in those areas more recently opened to human mysticism by the "road of the West."
2 I am speaking here, of course, of the Eastern religions as they should rightly be regarded in virtue of their fundamental concept of spirit, and not in the form they assume in fact in the varieties of neo-Buddhism, under the influence of an approximation to Western types of mysticism.
||65 - The Confluence of Religions|
Unlike the venerable cosmogonies of Asia which I have just dismissed, the humanist pantheisms represent in our world an extremely youthful form of religion. It is a religion which (apart from Marxism) as yet has known little or no codification, a religion with no apparent god, and with no revelation. But it is religion in the true sense of the word, if by that word we mean contagious faith in an ideal to which a man's life can be given. In spite of many differences in detail, a rapidly increasing number of our contemporaries is henceforth agreed in recognizing that the supreme value of life consists in devoting oneself body and soul to universal progress-this progress being expressed in the tangible developments of mankind. It is a very long time since the world has witnessed such an effect of " conversion." This, surely, can only mean that in forms that vary (Communist or nationalist, scientific or political, individual or collective) we have without any doubt been watching for the last century the birth and establishment of a new faith: the religion of evolution. This is the second of the two spiritual currents against which I have to measure my faith.
By nature and profession I am (as I remarked earlier) too much a child of the world not to feel at home in a temple built to the glory of the earth. And what in truth is the "cosmic sense" from which germinates the whole organism of my faith, but precisely this same faith in the universe which animates modern pantheisms? I rejected the East because it left no logical place or value for the developments of nature. In the humanisms, on the other hand, I find the genesis of the greatest measure of consciousness, with its essential accompaniment of creation and research of every kind, erected into a sort of absolute. In this I see a stimulation to unlimited efforts to conquer time and space. This, I feel, is the natural interior climate to develop and evolve in which I am made. I can find no other explanation for the immediate sympathy and profound agreement I have always noted between myself and the most emancipated servants of the earth. I have often been beguiled, accordingly, by dreams of venturing in their footsteps, curious to discover how far our paths might coincide. But on each occasion, 1 have very soon been disappointed. What I found was that after a fine start the worshipers of progress immediately came to a halt, without the desire or ability to go beyond the second stage in my individual belief. They set out
||66 - The Confluence of Religions|
eagerly, it is true, toward faith in spirit (the true spirit of sublimation and synthesis), but at the same time they hold back from investigating whether, to justify the gift they make of themselves, this spirit must be seen by them as endowed with immortality and personality. Much more often than not they deny it these two properties, which, in my view, are essential to the justification of man's effort; or, at any rate, they try to build up the body of their religion without reference to those properties. This very soon produces a feeling of insecurity, of incompleteness, and of suffocation.
The Hindu religions gave me the impression of a vast well into which one plunges in order to grasp the reflection of the sun. When I turn to the humanist pantheisms of today, I feel that the lowering sky is pressing down on me and stifling me.
All that I can do, then, is to look to the third and last branch of the river-the Christian current. By a process of elimination it is clear that this is the direction I am seeking-where I shall meet, amplified by a long living tradition, the tendencies from which my faith emerged and by which it is maintained. I surrendered myself, accordingly, to the influences of the church. And this time, it was not by the fiction of an intellectual experience but in the course of a prolonged concrete effort that I tried to make my own petty personal religion coincide with the great religion of Christ. Well, if I am to be absolutely true to myself as to others, I must admit that for a third time I did not succeed in establishing agreement-at least at the outset. At, first, I did not recognize myself in the gospel, and for a reason I shall explain.
Christianity is eminently the religion of the imperishable and the personal. Its God thinks, loves, speaks, punishes, rewards, in the same way as a person does. The universe of Christianity culminates in immortal souls, eternally responsible for their own destiny. Thus, over the heads of its faithful, the same heaven opens up with a wide welcome, as for the pantheists remained impassive and closed. There is a magnificent power of attraction in this illumination of the peaks; but, I thought for a long time, the road to reach them had no connection with the earth-as though I had been asked to scale the clouds. The reason for this was that, as a result of seeing only " personal" relationships in the world, the average Christian has
||67 - The Confluence of Religions|
ended by reducing creator and creature to the scale of "juridical man." In his effort to exalt the value of spirit and the supernaturality of the divine, he has come to look upon the soul as a transient guest in the cosmos and a prisoner of matter. For such a Christian, accordingly, the universe has ceased to extend the primacy of its organic unity over the whole field of interior experience: the operation of salvation, reduced to being no more than a matter of personal success, develops without any reference to cosmic evolution. Christianity gives the impression of not believing in human progress. It has never developed the sense of the earth, or else it has allowed that sense to lie dormant in it. . . . No wonder, then, that I-I, whose very life-blood is drawn from matter-felt that my adherence to the morality and theology of Christianity was forced and conventional. Faith in Christ fulfills my highest hopes, the very hopes which neither the pantheisms of the East nor those of the West could satisfy. But it does so, I thought, only, with the other hand, to take away from me the only springboard from which I could rise up to the expectation of a divine immortality-it robs me of faith in the world. And so I had a new question to answer: does my individual religion make such novel and exceptional demands that no older formula can satisfy them?
I feared that this might well be so.
It was then that the Universal Christ was revealed to me.
The Universal Christ, as I understand the name, is a synthesis of Christ and the universe. He is not a new godhead, but an inevitable deployment of the mystery in which Christianity is summed up, the mystery of the incarnation.
So long as it is described and treated in juridical terms, the incarnation appears a simple phenomenon-one that can be superimposed upon any type of world. Whether the universe be large or small, static or evolutionary, it is equally simple for God to give it to his Son, for all that is involved, to put it briefly, is a declaration. A very different situation comes to light if we look at it from an organic point of view, which is basically the point of view of all true knowledge of the real. The Christian's (or rather, to be more precise, the Catholic's) dearest belief is that Christ envelops him in his
||68 - The Confluence of Religions|
grace and makes him participate in his divine life.3 When we go on to ask by what physical possibility this mysterious process is effected, we are told "by the divine power." Very well-but this is no more an answer than is the bushman's who explains an aircraft by saying, "White man's magic." How exactly is the divine power to put the universe together in such a way that it may be possible for an incarnation to be biologically effected in it? That is what matters to me, and that is what I tried to understand. And my search led me to the following conclusion.
If we Christians wish to retain in Christ the very qualities on which his power and our worship are based, we have no better way--no other way, even-of doing so than fully to accept the most modern concepts of evolution. Under the combined pressure of science and philosophy, we are being forced, experientially and intellectually, to accept the world as a coordinated system of activity which is gradually rising up toward freedom and consciousness. The only satisfactory way of interpreting this process (as I added earlier) is to regard it as irreversible and convergent. Thus, ahead of us, a universal cosmic center is taking on definition, in which everything reaches its term, in which everything is explained, is felt, and is ordered. It is, then, in this physical pole of universal evolution that we must, in my view, locate and recognize the plenitude of Christ. For in no other type of cosmos, and in no other place, can any being, no matter how divine he be, carry out the function of universal consolidation and universal animation which Christian dogma attributes to Christ.4 By disclosing a world-peak, evolution makes Christ possible, just as Christ, by giving meaning and direction to the world, makes evolution possible.
I am only too well aware how staggering is this idea of a being capable of gathering up all the fibers of the developing cosmos into his own activity and individual experience. But, in conceiving such a marvel, all I am doing (let me repeat) is to transpose into terms
3 This higher
union is effected, we are also told, in a "supernatural" zone of the soul. And
the theologian seems to imagine that by adding this obscure qualification he is
excused from investigating how the demands of dogma and the potentialities of
the earth may be reconciled with one another. Nevertheless, the problem remains,
and it is an extremely serious problem. Whatever may be the precise positive
content of the term "supernatural," it cannot mean anything except "supremely
real," in other words "supremely in conformity" with the conditions of reality
which nature imposes on beings. If, then, Christ is to be able to be the
savior and the life of souls in their supernatural developments, he must first
satisfy certain conditions in relation to the world, apprehended in its
experiential and natural reality.
4 In other words, Christ needs to find a world-peak for his consummation, just as he needed to find a woman for his conception.
||69 - The Confluence of Religions|
of physical reality the juridical expressions in which the church has clothed her faith. In just the same way, the humblest Catholic unwittingly, through his creed, imposes a particular structure on the universe. It is a fantastic but a coherent story; for, as I pointed out earlier, is it not a mere quantitative illusion which makes us regard the personal and the universal as incompatible?
For my own part, I set out resolutely in the only direction in which it seemed to me possible to carry my faith further, and so retain it. I tried to place at the head of the universe which I adored from birth, the risen Christ whom others had taught me to know. And the result of that attempt has been that I have never for the last twenty-five years ceased to marvel at the infinite possibilities which the "universalization" of Christ opens up for religious thought.
Judging from first appearances, Catholicism disappointed me by its narrow representations of the world and its failure to understand the part played by matter. Now I realize that, on the model of the incarnate God whom Christianity reveals to me, I can be saved only by becoming one with the universe. Thereby, too, my deepest "pantheist" aspirations are satisfied, guided, and reassured. The world around me becomes divine. And yet the flames do not consume me, nor do the floods dissolve me. For, unlike the false monisms which urge one through passivity into unconsciousness, the "pan-Christism" which I am discovering places union at the term of an arduous process of differentiation. I shall become the other only by being utterly myself. I shall attain spirit only by bringing out the complete range of the forces of matter. The total Christ is consummated and may be attained only at the term of universal evolution. In him I have found what my being dreamed of: a personalized universe, whose domination personalizes me. And I hold this "world-soul" no longer simply as a fragile creation of my individual thought, but as the product of a long historical revelation, in which those whose faith is weakest must inevitably recognize one of the principal lines of human progress.
For (and this is perhaps the most wonderful part of the whole story) the Universal Christ in whom my personal faith finds satisfaction, is none other than the authentic expression of the Christ of the gospel. Christ renewed, it is true, by contact with the modern world, but at the same time Christ become even greater in order still to remain the same Christ. I have been reproached as being an in-
||70 - The Confluence of Religions|
novator. In truth, the more I have thought about the magnificent cosmic attributes lavished by St. Paul on the risen Christ, and the more I have considered the masterful significance of the Christian virtues, the more clearly have I realized that Christianity takes on its full value only when extended (as I find it rewarding to do) to cosmic dimensions. Inexhaustibly fructified by one another, my individual faith in the world and my Christian faith in Christ have never ceased to develop and grow more profound. By this sign, which argues a continual agreement between what is most determinedly emergent in me and what is most alive in the Christian religion, I have finally and permanently recognized that in the latter I have found the complement I sought to my own self, and to that I have surrendered. 5
But, if I have surrendered myself, why should not others, all others, also do the same? I began by saying that what I am now writing is a personal confession. Deep in my mind, however, as I have proceeded, I have felt that something greater than myself was making its way into me. The passion for the world from which my faith springs-the dissatisfaction, too, which I experience at first when I am confronted by any of the ancient forms of religion-are not both of these the traces in my heart of the uneasiness and expectancy which characterize the religious state of the world today?
In the great river of mankind, the three currents (Eastern, human, and Christian) are still at cross purposes. Nevertheless there are sure indications which make it clear that they are coming to run together. The East seems already almost to have forgotten the original passivity of its pantheism. The cult of progress is continually opening up its cosmogonies ever more widely to the forces of spirit and of emancipation. Christianity is beginning to accept man's effort. In these three branches the same spirit which made me what I am is obscurely at work.
In that case, surely the solution for which modern mankind is seeking must essentially be exactly the solution which I have come upon. I believe that this is so, and it is in this vision that my hopes are fulfilled. A general convergence of religions upon a universal Christ who fundamentally satisfies them all: that seems to me the only possible conversion of the world, and the only form in which a religion of the future can be conceived.
5 The more I think about it, the less I can see any criterion for truth other than the establishment of a growing maximum of universal coherence. Such an achievement has something objective about it, going beyond the effects of temperament.