C. S. Lewis compared the risen life to the lightness of an early summer morning when we feel one with sunlight and the gentle air. Of such a morning he wrote in The Weight of Glory, We do not want merely to see beauty...we want to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to become part of it. Such, he reasoned, is life in glory. It was therefore fitting that it was on Easter Sunday, 50 years ago, that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., a mystic who taught Catholics and many others to savor the risen life like a brilliant summer morning, passed into glory. In his death, he came to possess the God to whom he had prayed, Teach me to treat my death as an act of communion.
Well known as a paleontologist and as the author of The Phenomenon of Man, a book that reconciled Christianity and evolution, Teilhard was also a spiritual master who taught modern men and women to find God in all things. By his so doing, we came to appreciate in a richer way that not Good Friday but Easter is the fulfillment of the paschal mystery. He made it possible for Catholics to disencumber ourselves of the burden of Tridentine spirituality, weighted down with guilt and sin. If we go nearer [the cross], he wrote, we shall recognize the flaming Seraph of Alvernus...[the] incendium mentis, the fire of the soul. Teilhard made it possible to breathe the light-filled air of glory, Easter’s great gift. Show yourself to us as the Mighty, the Radiant, the Risen, he prayed. And so that we should triumph over the world with you, come to us clothed with the glory of the world.
Teilhard’s was an Easter faith, charged with the presence of God. Without earthquake, or thunderclap, he wrote in Mass on the World, the flame has lit up the whole world from within. All things individually and collectively are penetrated and flooded with it, from the inmost core of the tiniest atom to the mighty sweep of the most universal laws of being: so naturally has it flooded every element, every energy, every connecting-link in the unity of our cosmos; that one might suppose the cosmos to have burst spontaneously into flame. Just as he hoped, Teilhard taught us to see.
Teilhard’s Divine Milieu brought the spirituality of Augustine of Hippo and Ignatius Loyola into the modern world. He melded ancient traditions of asceticism with the modern appetite for creative activity, divine longings with natural and human evolution, mystical union with scientific discovery. Teilhard taught his readers to embrace the divine presence in ordinary things. As Jacob said, awakening from his dream, he wrote, the world, this palpable world, which we were wont to treat with boredom and disrespect with which we habitually regard places with no sacred association for us, is in truth a holy place, and we did not know it. Venite, adoremus.
To gauge Teilhard’s influence, one has only to read the introduction to the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) for its Teilhardian flavor. Its Christological passages are replete with his favorite citations concerning Christ as the pattern of the new creation. They sum up his basic message about the sanctification of human life: Christ, they declare, animates, purifies, and strengthens those noble longings too by which the human family strives to make its life more human and to render the whole earth submissive to this goal.
The text reverberates with Teilhardian optimism. The expectations of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of a new age. And it echoes his eschatology: The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and civilization, the center of the human race.... Enlivened and united in his Spirit, we journey toward the consummation of human history, one which fully accords with God’s love: To establish all things in Christ, both those things in the heavens and those on earth (Eph. 1:10).
Even as he illuminated the holiness of human activity, Teilhard, unlike many others who were eager to affirm our human worth, did not succumb to the temptation to diminish the divinity of Jesus. He revealed a cosmic Christ worthy of worship: the Word who presides over creation; the whole Christ, both head and body, whose suffering is perfected in history; the pleroma, the fullness of being, and the Omega, the ultimate destiny of humanity and all creation. He proclaimed a world suffused with Easter glory. This Easter season let us take up Teilhard’s call. Without leaving the world, let us plunge into God, for our world is indeed a divine milieu.