This past Sunday, Pope Francis said a mass during his trip to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. And in that mass, Francis quoted fellow Jesuit priest, philosopher, and scientist Teilhard de Chardin: “Radiant Word, blazing Power, you who mold the manifold so as to breathe life into it, I pray you, lay on us those your hands—powerful, considerate, omnipresent.” This quote came from Teilhard's Mass on the World, which was written when Teilhard himself was working in that region of the world.
This acknowledgment by the Pope was very exciting for many in the world of religion and ecology. Thomas Berry, the grandfather of our field, owed much to Teilhard in the development of his thought and philosophy around human interaction with the Earth, the interweaving of science and the sacred, and our cosmic interconnectedness. Chapter 10 from the 2019 volume Thomas Berry: A Biography from Columbia University Press discusses Teilhard's influence on Berry in depth. See also Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim “The Evolutionary and Ecological Perspectives of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Thomas Berry” in the Blackwell Companion to Religion and Ecology.
For more about Pope Francis and Teilhard, see the following articles from this week:
- America Magazine: “Pope Francis caused a stir by quoting Teilhard de Chardin. Here’s what you need to know about the ‘often misunderstood’ Jesuit”
- The Pillar: “Is Teilhard de Chardin being rehabilitated? And who is that, anyway?”
And for an excellent biographical sketch on Teilhard, see this piece by Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim.
It also brought up for some the problematic issues around Teilhard and some of his statements, as referenced in the above articles. For a fuller discussion of these issues, see Teilhard Perspective Spring/Summer 2018.
This is certainly not the first time a major Christian figure has invoked Teilhard. In his sermon at the royal marriage of Harry and Meghan, Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry quoted: ““The day will come when after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”
And he has been quoted and praised by other Catholic leaders, as well, including Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger, and Pope Benedict. Francis himself acknowledges debt to Teilhard in his 2015 environmental encyclical, Laudato Si'. Since it has recently been announced that Laudato Si' Part II will be released on October 4, the Feast of St. Francis, many will be watching and waiting to see what influence Teilhard may have on this exciting new papal document.