20th CENTURY MYSTIC – Teilhard de Chardin

“Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a mystic whose explorations of creation landed him in hot water with his beloved Roman Catholic Church and propelled him toward visions of a cosmos whose very life-blood is Love. 

Published posthumously, Teilhard’s “Le Phenomene Humain” reads more like the work of a progressive 21st century christian theologian or scientest than that of a devoted 20th century Jesuit priest/biologist/palaeontologist. Teilhard paints a poetic vision that modern theologians would call a panentheistic view of the cosmos (pan: all + theo: god = god is in all and all is in god).  

As I work my way through Sarah Appleton-Weber’s translation, “The Human Phenomenon” I am also enjoying Ersula King’s excellent biography “Spirit of Fire”. King is Professor Emerita of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Bristol, and a vice president of the World Congress of Faiths. Her specific areas of expertise are in the life and work of Teilhard. Below you will find her lecture  which provides an excellent overview of Teilhard de Chardin and the “Contemporary Mystic Quest”  (in 5 parts).  Whether you know a great deal about his life and work, or nothing at all, I commend it to you. But beware, it will wet your appetite for more.  


Today, I began to study the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I have been longing to do this ever since I was first introduced to this 20th century Christian mystic some 25 years ago, when Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing” helped me to look to the Christian mystics, both ancient and modern, to find new ways of connecting to the cosmos.  After many brief encounters with Teilhard’s work in books and articles by some of my favorite theologians, I have longed to spend some time exploring Teilhard’s purported brilliance. I have begun by reading “The Human Phenomenon” (often mistranslated from the French as “The Phenomenon of Man”). I’ve submerged myself in the delights and challenges of this enthralling work until my mind is about to explode (usually just a chapter or two at a sitting) and then I take a break by reading Ersula King’s  riveting biography: “Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin”. It has been a mind blowing day!

So many connections are emerging and I shall endeavor to post them as they escape from the quagmire of ideas that are swirling around in my brain. But as the Sabbath approaches I leave you with this playful tune from Peter Mayer which celebrates this blessed Ordinary Day in a way that complements this mystic moment!