Forum on Teilhard Attracts 300

November 13, 2010
By Marie Elena Giossi
The Tablet

An evening film and lecture presentation illuminating the life and thought of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin drew more than 300 people to the Immaculate Conception Center, Douglaston, Nov. 4

The Tablet Forum on Teilhard de Chardim was the fifth event in a free forum series, sponsored by The Tablet and organized by Father Frank Mann. The format includes a film and talk regarding the life and works of notable 20th century religious figures.

Just after 7 p.m. Father Mann introduced the 2005 documentary, “Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: The Wings of Spirit,” directed by Robert Mugnerot. The hour-long film begins with the opening words of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Faith and Reason: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth … so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”

This quote leads into a narrative overview of the life of Teilhard, 1881-1955, a philosopher, priest, paleontologist and geologist, whose ideas and writings bridging Christian faith and modern science have been deemed both mystical and controversial.

Asserting that “with Teilhard, religion didn’t seek to stifle science” and vice versa, the film explores his thoughts on man and the universe, including the cosmic Christ and the Omega point; describes his anthropological achievements; and offers his view on male-female complementarity. Black and white photos and interviews with scientists and religious leaders, including Cardinal Paul Poupard, president emeritus, Pontifical Council for Culture, furnish a portrait of an innovative and oft-misunderstood mind.

The thoughts of Teilhard’s mind piqued the interest of Doug Hertler, who wanted to know more about the French Jesuit priest he read about in The Tablet.

“I believe the social implications of his work are vital in the world,” Hertler said. “Large segments of our population revel in division while deep down they’re yearning for unity. Ultimately the fundamental message of his work and research was unity on a social and Christological level.”

Father Peter Schineller, S.J., associate editor of America magazine and a native of Richmond Hill, spoke about the priest-scientist who was unafraid to stand on “the front line where the Church intersects with the world.”

As a novice, Father Schineller raked leaves near Teilhard’s grave at the former Jesuit novitiate, St. Andrew-on-Hudson, Poughkeepsie. Like Teilhard, he became a writer on theology and spirituality, developed an interest in the expanding universe and served in Africa.

“Teilhard’s goal and method,” he explained to forum-goers, “… is to mutually illuminate, or correlate the Christian message … and the world as we see and understand it with its problems and opportunities.” He argued that Teilhard wanted to replace the “old view” of the universe as something static and immobile with the understanding that it is “unfinished and evolving.”

He also noted that people once accused Teilhard of pantheism, a view that God and the world are one. “I think he’d advocate panentheism, God in all things and all things in God,” he said.

Citing Sacred Scriptures, Church teaching and Teilhard’s writings, he reflected on the priest-scientist’s vision in three areas: God/universe, Jesus Christ, and Christian life and mission, and explained how his views have been incorporated into Church teaching.

Following his talk, he addressed a question regarding the Church’s position on Teilhard, whose ideas have been praised by Church leaders, most notably Pope Benedict XVI, despite the fact that a monitum was issued against several of his works. The Church issued a warning to affirm that his ideas didn’t represent official Church teaching.

Father Schineller explained that Teilhard was ahead of his time and some of his writings were tentative, not meant to be authoritative.