Like many of my contemporaries, I eagerly read The Divine Milieu in the early 1960s, as soon as it was translated into English. I recall being inspired by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s bold and sweeping vision. It was the first time I had ever been exposed to such a radical and optimistic Christian worldview. I have to confess that I did not fully comprehend this worldview. Teilhard’s vision did not mesh with current theological categories. I put his insights aside and focused on literature fostered by the theological and spiritual renewal occasioned by the Second Vatican Council.
But I am grateful to Louis M. Savary for reintroducing me to the text of The Divine Milieu. Savary, a clear and articulate spiritual theologian with many books to his credit, does a masterful job explaining Teilhard’s very dense and often opaque text. He assumes the reader has a copy of the 1960 English translation of the Harper Torchbook publication and arranges his text according to the divisions in that original edition.
Savary’s exposition proceeds in two ways. First he gives an extensive explanation of a particular section of the text, an explanation always significantly longer than the original text. He subsequently directs the reader to read the original. Then to help the reader enter the narrative, Savary presents exercises for personally appropriating the text. For instance, in the section “Passivities of Diminishment” he directs:
Here the task is to list your internal and external passivities of diminishment. Usually, we are more familiar with those innate things about us that hinder our ability to operate and act as our best. So most people start with those: physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual are areas to begin getting you started.
Next, begin to track your external passivities of dimishment. Once you have brought them into awareness and listed them, Teilhard will explain the challenge you face in dealing with them in terms of the divine milieu.
These exercises are scattered liberally through every section.
In short, Savary’s pedagogy not only illuminates the text by giving explanations but also helps the reader appropriate Teilhard’s insights by giving exercises to apply to personal life. To his credit, Savary presents Teilhard’s thought not merely as a fascinating theological synthesis to be understood but as a practical spirituality to be lived. Devotees of Teilhard’s theological vision will appreciate this dimension of Savary’s book.
The question arises: Why revive interest in The Divine Milieu, a text written by Teilhard in 1929? The author’s foreword explains. The Divine Milieu is central to Teilhard’s self-understanding as a person passionately committed both to his avocation as a Jesuit priest and to his vocation as a scientist. For Savary it is Teilhard’s interpretation of the culminating meditation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, the Contemplation for Obtaining Divine Love. “His purpose in writing The Divine Milieu was to share with us how he, as a Jesuit and as a dedicated scientist, learned to use the new eyes that Ignatius gave him in order to see spiritual reality today—in the world contemporary men and women live in, thoroughly informed and transformed by science and technology.”
The text is central to Teilhard’s spirituality as a Christian. For Teilhard Christ today cannot be limited to the risen Jesus of Nazareth but must include the Cosmic Christ, the Christ present in every cell of the ever evolving created universe. “For Teilhard, the Cosmic Body is meant to become fully conscious of itself in every cell of its being in such a way that every cell is also conscious of the whole Body’s magnificent destiny. When this Christ Body realizes itself as the divine reality it has always been meant to be, that moment will be what Teilhard calls the Omega Point.”
The book’s subtitle is significant. Teilhard’s insights, though suspect by Vatican authorities when they first appeared, are increasingly affirmed in many scientific and theological circles today. Teilhard boldly suggests a “third nature” for Christ, beyond the human and divine nature of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the “cosmic nature of Christ.” Savary summarizes:
That cosmic nature is clearly different from his human nature as Jesus of Nazareth, and very different from his divine nature as the Second Person of the Trinity. That cosmic nature is characterized by its ability to subsume and integrate into its “nature” all the various “natures” of creation, from the “natures” of the most inert and lowly rocks to the “natures” of the creatures with higher and higher levels of complexity and consciousness. Thus, for Teilhard, as for St. Paul, there are three natures in Christ. Christ is fully human, fully divine, and fully cosmic.
This book is an exhilarating read, and will be welcomed not only by advocates of Teilhard’s worldview but by all who are interested in contemporary spirituality. One is tempted to suggest that in 1929 Teilhard was right “too soon.”