The teilhard newsletter

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(published by the British Teilhard Association.)

Acting Editor – Bill Cranston – Address: 3 Anthony Road, LARGS, Ayrshire, KA30 8EQ;

E-mail:; Tel 01475 686374

NO. 23

Charity No 313682

February 2007




Excerpt from Teilhard’s ‘Letter from Egypt,’ March 17th, 1907


Teilhard de Chardin and Vatican II Dr. Mathias Trennert-Helwig


Teilhard de Chardin and His Relevance for Today Woodstock Report, No. 82


The Geology of the Isle of Jersey – by Teilhard Michelle Le Morvan


Notes on books: a) about Teilhard b) containing references to him


Review by Thomas M. King, S.J. of David Grumett’s book:

Teilhard de Chardin: Theology, Humanity and Cosmos


Association Report:

1. Our 2007 and 2008 conferences 3. Subscription/donation call

2. Membership 4. Obituary – Mrs Venetia Carse


Attendees and Speakers at the April 2005 Woodstock Forum (see page 5)

Seated: Schmitz-Moormann, Hefner, Wofford
Standing: Fr Olivier Teilhard de Chardin, the grandnephew of Teilhard;

Fr. Jim Salmon; Marie Bayon de La Tour, the grandniece of Teilhard


This Newsletter contains items on Teilhard over the full range of his work and career.

We start with the second excerpt from Teilhard’s writings of 100 years ago. It shows him closely observing a well-to-do Muslim celebrating his return from pilgrimage to Mecca. Next Michelle Le Morvan summarises one of Teilhard’s early geological studies, carried out while studying philosophy on the island of Jersey.

We are pleased to include an article by Dr Mathias Trennert-Helwig, a German Teilhardian. Fr Mathias is a parish priest in Constanz, responsible for three parishes, and has to fit his Teilhard studies in with that work (see book-section for details of his 1992 book). His article describes the tensions between various parties during Vatican II, and in particular how forward looking theologians were brought in ‘from the cold’ by Pope John XXIII. He highlights Teilhard’s influence on the Council.

Moving to the present day there is a long report of the one-day conference held at Georgetown University in 2005. In the book section the contents of a book just published are listed, giving details of eight papers presented at the New York 2005 events, along with a ninth on the relations between Chinese philosophy and science from Teilhard’s time to the present day.

The 2005 events in the USA appear to have triggered a trend. Well attended Teilhard conferences were held in Czechoslovakia and the Philippines during 2006. Hopefully proceedings of these two conferences will be available in due course.

A full review of David Grumett’s book briefly mentioned in Newsletter No 22 is included

Finally, details are enclosed/attached of our 2007 conference, along with a registration form.

Note: We continue the practice of identifying items as ‘available for private study.’ To obtain a copy of any of these, simply write, telephone, or e-mail the address on the masthead on page 1, indicating which item(s) you would like. (Bill C - Acting Ed.)

Excerpt from Teilhard’s ‘Letter from Egypt,’ dated March 17th, 1907

At this point in his career, aged 25, Teilhard is half way through a three year period of teaching at the Holy Family School1 in Cairo. He begins with various greetings, mentions his teaching duties, and talks of the holiday excursion he is planning to Fayoum ‘an oasis southwest of Cairo, famous for its fossils and also for its place in antiquity . . .’ He continues:
‘. . . I have been through Arab Cairo again; a second archeological expedition took place with Father Tissot and the cream of his class, who are virtually the cream of the school. . . . First, the Bab al-Zuweila gate, vaulted, flanked by two towers from which dethroned caliphs and crusaders used to be hanged, enclosed now in the heart of the Arab quarter near the very beautiful mosque of Al-Muayyad; the heavy swing doors, studded with large nails, are covered with dirty little rags, testifying to the public gratitude to "saint" Zuweila, whom half the passers-by venerate by pressing their heads against the door. An old witch insisted that this was an infallible remedy for headaches.

Next, we visited the big mosque of Al-Hassan, near the Citadel. Its walls are enormously high, somewhat reminiscent of the exterior of the palace of the popes at Avignon. Restoration work is under way, but it will be hard to restore it to its primitive splendor; one of the ancient doors, made of bronze worked with silver and gold, is on exhibition in a kind of wall-cupboard. We ended our tour with a visit to the Ibn Tulun mosque, about which I wrote to you in September. It is the oldest of the Cairo mosques still standing, and one of the largest in area. It was built by the famous caliph, Ibn Tulun, who slept floating in a lake of quicksilver [mercury], and it is certainly majestic, with an immense courtyard surrounded by porticoes decorated in a style that is still severe. . . .

These visits to mosques are doubly interesting because life still goes on in the setting in which they were first built. I was recently reading an account by an Arab poet of a trip on donkey-back to Old Cairo, in 1240; his description of donkeys and the habits of donkey-drivers could appear without alteration in the travel notes of a tourist today. As for the fellahin [workers on the land], they are still living in the times of the pharaohs.

I was present this morning when a pilgrimage returned from Mecca, according to all the rites. I think I told you that each pilgrim is escorted home from the station in triumph, in full Arab regalia, and often riding in a buggy. My man this morning was nobly seated on horseback, preceded by two camels bearing a palanquin, then by a grotesque personage wearing on his head an object that I can compare only to a cornucopia or to an elephant's trunk, then by two more camels carrying two warriors brandishing swords, then by strangely attired dancers performing wild but at the same time elegantly rhythmical dances, and finally by two more camels on which children were perched beating kettledrums as hard as they could. For such occasions, the camels are very strangely caparisoned: heavy red materials with designs in gold hang down like sheets at the rear and at either side of the animal, as well as on both sides of its head, which is surmounted by a plume. Under all this, they continue to ruminate with shifty looks, slowly turning their heads, with their great black shining eyes, in circular motion, but always on the same plane. The whole procession moved slowly into the street which passes in front of the big hotels, obstructing traffic, but to the delight of the tourists, probably. The touching part of the ceremony is to see the natives crowding around the holy man returned from Mecca to kiss his hands; there is something very religious and very noble about it. . . .

Teilhard de Chardin and Vatican II – and the Monitum - Dr. Mathias Trennert-Helwig

(See editorial for author details)

Teilhard’s writings were known in Rome long before the announcement of Vatican II. The Divine Milieu had been examined in the 1930s, and The Phenomenon of Man in 1944 and again, with revisions to the text, in 1948. But the real difficulties lay with copies of many of his other essays, which had circulated widely in France, via duplicated (and sometimes handwritten) copies. Some of these ‘clandestins,’ as Teilhard called them, were printed in batches – in at least one case, 200 at one time! Some others of his essays were meant only for perusal by Jesuit colleagues, but copies of these inevitably ‘leaked’ to others, and several of these in turn also got to Rome.

During World War II, the Vatican’s influence was restricted, and it took some time for it to be re-established. French theologians, always noted for their independent attitude, took advantage. A reaction from Rome was inevitable. Above all from the Holy Office, where the memory of the modernist crisis before the First World War was still so vivid in influential circles. P. Garrigou-Lagrange, a member of the Dominican order, wrote: "Where is the nouvelle théologie going? It is returning to modernism." (Angelicum 1946). This roundly condemned Teilhard, but also the other representatives of this trend in France.

When Teilhard died in 1955, Henri de Lubac (the two of them had been close friends since 1922) had just gone through his worst period. Together with four professors of the Jesuit Order at Lyon University, he had been forbidden any further teaching activity in June 1950 – shortly before the publication of the encyclical Humani Generis. He was also ordered to stay in houses of the Society of Jesus and in the City of Rome. It was even forbidden to write about Teilhard in the Order. The decision to strike this blow against the "young French Jesuits" emanated from the Holy Office, whose most important adviser at this time was P. Garrigou-Lagrange OP; supported by P. Journet, P. de Boynes, P. Boyer and Jacques Maritain, the then French Ambassador at the Vatican. The Secretary in the Holy Office was Monsignor Ottaviani, its Prefect from 1959 to 1968.

In 1956 de Lubac's book Sur les chemins de Dieu was allowed to be published. In March 1958 Pius XII was sent this book, along with his earlier book Méditation sur l’Église. Pius XII expressed his thanks through his father confessor Fr. Augustin Bea with sincere and acknowledging words. In November 1959 de Lubac was able to resume lecturing in Lyon – the bans of 1950 were quietly ignored.

Returning to Teilhard’s works, vigorous controversies arose, based on interpretation of various texts. To help resolve these, the four French Jesuit Provincials, with the consent of their General, asked de Lubac to prepare and publish a book about Teilhard's thinking, thus breaking through the Society's still decreed silence about its meanwhile famous son. After thorough censorship, La pensée religieuse du Père Teilhard de Chardin was duly published in spring 1962. Holy Office groups immediately requested that the book be placed on the Index of Prohibited Books, but Pope John XXIII refused. They had to be satisfied with an official "warning" ("Monitum"), which appeared on 30.6.1962 in the Osservatore Romano and warned of the mistakes in Teilhard's works. It was said that the Pope was unpleasantly surprised by this "Monitum" and the anonymous, i.e. semi-official statement that accompanied it. He allegedly called it "regrettable" in the presence of a group of French theologians and resident Leopold Senghor, the then President of Senegal.

It is clear that fierce arguments in connection with de Lubac and Teilhard were taking place behind the scenes in Rome. On the instruction of his General, de Lubac was obliged to withhold permission both for translations and for reprinted editions of his book. But he circumvented this by writing a new work: La prière du Père Teilhard de Chardin, published in 1964. But in the meantime the struggle for an appropriate answer to the “joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties of the men of this age” had shifted into a more important arena: Vatican II had begun and Henri de Lubac had been appointed into the preparatory commission by Pope John XXIII.

With the appointment of de Lubac, Yves Congar, and other theologians judged as “progressive,” John XXIII had not only disregarded the Holy Office headed by the now Cardinal Ottaviani; on 20.10.1962 he explicitly ordered the already functioning Council to discuss the world, its social revolutions and the meaning of the sciences. Teilhard's life-theme was thus on the agenda. In 1936 he had written to the "Propaganda fide" congregation in Rome: “I believe that the world will not be converted Christianity’s hopes of heaven, unless first Christianity is converted (that so it may divinize them) to the hopes of the Earth”2

This topic of the “Church ad extra” (i.e. the turning of the Church to those outside) was energetically pursued by Cardinal Montini; Cardinal Suenens was appointed Relator of the new concept that was to be worked out. Under the time pressure that had meanwhile been created, Belgian, French, Italian and German theologians (Joseph Ratzinger, Karl Rahner, Bernhard Häring, Ch. Delhaye, Jean Daniélou, Yves Congar, Ch. Moeller, among others) worked out a new text, completely superseding the draft of the Holy Office (written in declamatory, deductive church language). This new text was passed and announced on 7.12.1965 as the Council's last resolution, by 2,309 votes to 75.

The name of Teilhard had an extremely polarising effect right through to the Council's last debates. For those Council fathers, who did not know his writings or only knew them superficially, he was the symbol for a “superficial,” “triumphant" or “poetical optimism” that dangerously played down the reality of sin (Cardinal Döpfner on 22.9.1965 - Archabbot Benedikt Reetz and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre offered similar views). Others, however, celebrated the Jesuit as a “famous son of the church,” “devout priest and great scientist” (Bishop Otto Spülbeck of Meissen), “great visionary” (Cardinal F. König) or even as a forerunner of the Council, which Joseph Ratzinger called “a sketched-out Teilhardism". Teilhard's name was certainly one of the most frequently mentioned in the Council halls (René Laurentin).

The impact of the statements of Gaudium et Spes (even though they do not seem radical today) can only be comprehended if compared with the language of the preconciliary documents (for example "Humani Generis" 1950). “Evolution” had been mutated from being a symbol of modernism into the official description of the world, as we can read in Article five: "Thus, the human race has passed from a rather static concept of reality to a more dynamic, evolutionary one." (Gaudium et Spes Art. 5)

Additionally, Teilhard's spirit can be recognised in the following topics of the pastoral constitution:

  • The challenge for the Church, against the horizon of the modern world view, to answer the questions about the point in the face of evil and death (GS 10).

  • The maturing of mankind into a planetary, networked community and the subsequent moral responsibilities that this brings (GS 1, 23, 42, 73, 84)

  • The special dignity of the human work that takes part in the God's constant work on the Creation (GS 33-35, 43, 57, 67)

  • An inner necessity for the church to pay heed to the “signs of the times” as Johannes XXIII said (GS 4, 54)

  • The irrefutable relevance of the changing scientific world view, its development through research, technology and education (GS 5, 15, 36, 39, 61)

  • Man's secret in the historical process – interpreted by Christ as the "first-born of the whole creation" (Kol 1, 15), the "Alpha and Omega" (Apk 22, 13) (GS 10, 22, 32, 45, 93).

For Mario von Galli SJ – a much-respected observer of the Council – it was clear: "I'm staying with it. This Council was saved by this constitution being saved!"

The success of the II Vatican Council and the promulgation of Gaudium et spes was due decisively to Paul VI, who had his esteem communicated to Henri de Lubac as early as 1950 as an employee in the state secretary's office. After Montini had been promoted to Archbishop of Milan in 1954, he had Lubac's Méditation sur l’Eglise printed and circulated among his clergy – the Italian translation had been refused permission to be printed in Rome. Monsignor Montini expressed his thanks in writing for being sent the La Pensée réligieuse du Père Teilhard de Chardin shortly before being elected Pope by the conclave on 21.6.1963, thus clearly voting for a consistent continuation of the Council. As a result of a note from the Pope to the Prefect of the Gergorian University, P. Charles Boyer, no other than de Lubac was invited to give a lecture on Teilhard de Chardin before the Thomist Congress in September 1965.

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