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Can I Trust Pierre Teilhard de Chardin?

July 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Can I Trust?, Liz Estler, New Age

Recently, someone referred me to a prayer that Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. wrote called “Patient Trust”. Researching it on the Pierre Teilhard de Chardinweb, I found that it accurately describes the frustration many face while discerning what the Lord is calling them to…and the patience required to remain stouthearted and wait on the Lord with courage (cf Psalm 27:14). “That looks good,” I thought, “Let me take a closer look at this guy. I wonder what else he has written.”

What I found dismayed me. Teilhard de Chardin had a long history of writing and speaking about what we now call “New Age” ideas. In 1962, the Vatican issued a monitum, or warning, on his writings. They reiterated it in 1981 because some folks thought it was no longer in effect. Rome banned publication of most of his books and said they could not be retained in libraries (including those of religious institutes) or sold by Catholic bookstores, etc. And, he was kept from writing or teaching on philosophical studies.

At present, many New Age writers and sites quote him.  That alone gives me pause for concern.  Along these lines, the Vatican document “Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life – A Christian reflection on the New Age” has an interesting citation. Footnote number 15 indicates that, in a 1977 questionnaire, de Chardin was listed as the number one individual whose ideas had most influenced the so-called “Aquarian Conspirators.”  Here are just a few relevant quotes:

 “Christ saves. But must we not hasten to add that Christ, too, is saved by evolution?” (Le Christique, 1955) [from a Pierre de Chardin Update ]

“It has sometimes seemed to me there are three weak stones sitting dangerously in the foundations of the modern Church: first, a government that excludes democracy; second, a priesthood that excludes and minimises [sic] women; third, a revelation that excludes, for the future, prophecy.’ (Letter to Christophe de Gaudefroy, 7 October 1929, Lettres in„dites, 80) [http://teilharddechardin.org/teilharddechardin.pdf]

While it’s possible de Chardin may have said a few things that were palatable, I would leave that to the learned Catholic philosophers and theologians to sift and sort through.  It is true that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI mentioned him once…but remember Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is a theologian. Remember, also, that the warning on de Chardin’s writing is still in effect. It has not been rescinded.

What’s the bottom line? With the exception of his “Patient Trust” prayer, our recommendation is to stay away from Teilhard de Chardin’s writings.  As we often encourage, it is an easier and surer path to study and follow the writings of the Doctors, and Fathers, of the Church, and the lives of the Saints, who have stood the test of time and have both the approval and recommendation of the Church.

Editors Note: For an in-depth and reliable philosophical and theological critique of Teilhard, see Teilhard de Chardin: A False Prophet by Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand. For more on the move to rehabilitate de Chardin: Challenging the Rehabilitation of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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Art for this Can I Trust? post on Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, unknown photographer, unknown date, published 1968, PD copyright of this photograph, registered in Argentina, has expired, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Liz Estler

Editor, SpiritualDirection.com. Liz holds a Master of Arts in Ministry Degree (St. John's Seminary, Brighton, Massachusetts), Liturgy Certificate (Boston Archdiocese), and a BS degree in Biology and Spanish (Nebraska Wesleyan University - Lincoln). She has served as hospital chaplain associate, sacristan, translator and in other parish ministries. She was a regular columnist for a military newspaper in Europe and has been published in a professional journal. She once waded in the Trevi Fountain!

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  • debby_d_NJ

    Dear Liz,
    Thank you for looking into this; we must “guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” and sometimes this is tricky! After skim reading the link you provided to the Church’s reflection on the New Age, I have a question I am hoping you can shed some light on. Some friends and myself have seen a Chinese-American Acupuncturist, I will call her “E”, over the last couple of years. She defines herself as a Unitarian but had gone to a Catholic school as a youth. She is remarkably open to speaking about Faith – I never have had an office visit with her where we didn’t spend MOST of the treatment time discussing matters of Faith impacting our everyday life- parenting, loving “difficult” people, spousal relationships, etc: she always asks me “how to” and “how do you” kind of questions. I respond with “the Church teaches”, “JP2’s Theology of the Body teaches”, “the Scripture says…” etc. We enjoy one another and she even expressed a desire to visit the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at my church stating, “I want to go where the Presence of God IS.” That said, one of my friends has become conflicted over the practice of “channeling”. From the email discussion my friend has had with E, it would appear that this method is second nature to E. Below is a quick summary from the last Q&A copied and pasted from emails:
    Catholic friend to E: “….(I was informed that) when performing acupuncture and prescribing herbs, (some Acupuncturists) channel energy from outside the person. In other words they practice under a belief system that someone can be at one with the forces of energy in the universe and the needle functions to channel this energy into the patient. Is this part of your practice?”
    E’s response: “yes, of course, any practitioner of Qi Gong does this naturally; (I) don’t need to do an exaggerated show of it, which explains my success for last 16 yrs without advertising. You should read up on Qi / Chi Gong on the internet.”
    After reading your link, it would seem to me that this could be a “gray” area.
    We would really appreciate your personal understanding of this. It could be pretty impossible to know what the personal spirituality is of every health care provider is! Is a soul in “danger” by being holistically treated by an Acupuncturist? Don’t I have a responsibility to be “salt and light” to E and evangelize her? I am not sure I should stop going to her. I personally do not experience any kind of trepidation or fear, but do not want to open myself up to any evil spirits either! Thank you – sorry this was so long.

    • LizEst

      Debby – There are a lot of things that you brought up here.

      The basic principle is that what is against Church beliefs and teachings is not OK. If the acupuncture, or acupressure, were being done strictly as a medical practice, I’m inclined to think it would be OK. So long as the acupuncture is separated from the philosophy, channeling or “incantations” behind it, I have not found anything in Church documentation that goes against this. In fact, there are some sound medical principles behind it because of how the human body is put together. It has a lot to do with the body’s neurological and endocrine systems. Many people can tell you that sometimes, when you are stuck or feel pain in one part of your body, you can feel it somewhere else as well. This happens because your body, fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14a), has a huge nervous system which runs the whole length of the body and contains many, many, many branches throughout the body as well.

      Your situation, however, is different from the strictly medical practice of acupuncture. Your friend specifically asked the practitioner if she channels energy, to which she answered in the affirmative. This is what the Church is not in favor of and, in this form, it would make it a New Age type of practice since channeling is one of the hallmarks of the New Age movement, as explained in the Vatican’s document on New Age I cited in my article above.

      Acupuncture comes out of Taoism, a Chinese philosophy and religion based on the yin and yang negative and positive principles. The acupuncture done by those who follow this philosophy/religion aims to bring the body’s yin and yang into harmony with tao. In Qi/Chi Gong, the basic idea is to channel or control qi/chi, a form of energy which is thought to be in everything, specifically as the vital force of life. Its aim is to control/manipulate/balance this energy so that you can heal yourself. In other words, since your acupuncturist is coming at it from this angle, you could be opening opening yourself up to evil. She may not mean to open you up this way, but there it is! In this form, it is both pantheistic (many gods/energies in everything) and a form of making the practitioner/recipient god.

      I don’t wish to scare you. But, you should know that the fact that you don’t experience any trepidation or fear is not a good barometer of whether or not this situation is potentially spiritually damaging. Feelings are not a good indicator of these things. The teachings of the Church are. Evil can work by luring and seducing someone into apparent good…and then making a person feel comfortable with it, all the while eroding the defenses and making inroads into the soul.

      You, and your friends, seem to be getting relief from this acupuncture. I recommend you go to someone who does it strictly as a medical practice, so that there is no possibility of opening yourself up to evil. Obviously, you are evangelizing “E” and it is wonderful to know you are making a good impact on her. You could explain to her what the Church says about such things, go to a medical professional for the acupuncture, and keep her as a friend, seeing her socially. That way you could continue this mission that the Lord has set before you.

      God bless you, Debby. Thanks for asking the question. Hope this helps you understand.

      • debby_d_NJ

        Dear LIz,
        I cannot thank you enough for this clear and most direct response. I have had countless encounters over my life with pro-death ideology present in the AMA-American trained western medical community-so much so that I have far more trepidation over following any advice from that branch of health care as compared to a more holistic approach. Seeing in E’s office & waiting room material such as Catholic Answers publication “Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth” and Catholic Retreat flyers gave me a more open outlook toward her. Also, being consecrated to Our Lady and a Daily Communicant, I knew that my soul was protected from anything “unknowingly” invited….however, your advice is from the Only Source I truly trust and I will heed it! I will also be passing it on to all my friends. Please pray one HM to our dearest Mother to capture E’s heart and mind for Jesus. I do not know her well enough to have any social contact, so unless the Lord provides otherwise, my ability to speak the truth in love to her are probably over.
        Thank you, again! Blessings of Almighty God thru the intercession of our Blessed Mother to you and all you love.

        • LizEst

          You’re welcome. All the glory to the Lord! …oh yes, and I’ve prayed the Hail Mary you requested…and thank you for your kind words. God bless you, too.

  • ThirstforTruth

    Thanks ever so much for this information regarding the writings of Teilhard de
    Chardin. I knew he was *suspicious* but never exactly sure why. This will
    help me immensely in evaluating the stuff bearing his name that often comes into
    our Parish library. We have a retired philosophy professor that frequently
    contributes, often it is something of Chardin’s, as he was someone he has
    spent lots of time and thought on….and admired.

    • LizEst

      You’re quite welcome, ThirstforTruth. All the glory to the Lord! Glad this could be of assistance to you.

      It’s interesting what you say about the philosophy professor. I used to give away books I didn’t want, or that didn’t suit me anymore as a way to get rid of them. The stuff I valued I never gave away (unless I had a duplicate, or updated, copy). Now, I refuse to pass on my errors. So, they get tossed before someone else is influenced. I don’t like that it makes me feel like I’ve wasted my money. But, I suppose it is not a waste to find out that I was wrong! An expensive lesson…but not a waste of money.

      Good for you for carefully considering what comes into, what stays and what leaves from the donations to your parish library. Would that more people would have wisdom and courage to do the same. God bless you, ThirstforTruth.

  • His name sounds familiar. I think we read something by him in Philosophy of the Human Person for college. If in the context of Philosophy and not Theology, is it less dangerous to read his work? If we read cautiously and aware of the errors in what he wrote? Just asking because I kept my old readings and my bro is in college now.

    • LizEst

      Mary – It is sufficient for me that the Vatican forbade him to write or teach on philosophical studies. I would not voluntarily read him either for theology or philosophy. And, I don’t recommend you do it either. If one was not aware of his errors before (and there are lots more than I had space to include in this short article), how can one now know all of them? The problem with trying to discern these things is that they start out with something that looks good, seems innocent enough, and, before people are even aware of it, they have taken their minds and souls down the path of error. That’s why holy, Mother Church issued and reiterated their monitum, or warning, on him…and why it is still in effect.

      As for being assigned something in school by him, well, on a college level, based on the requirements, you would have to read him. But, his writings are dangerous. Is your brother required to take the course that reads de Chardin? If not, steer him away from it. If he is required to take it, then you do have a responsibility – now that you know – to inform your brother about what the Church has said in de Chardin’s regard and why, and how dangerous his writings are to his soul. This way, at least, your brother would go into the class armed with this knowledge.

      Sorry, this is probably not what you were hoping to read. But, I would be remiss if I answered your question in the affirmative. God bless you, Mary. Good for you for asking the question.

      • Thank you so much for your answer! I certainly wouldn’t want my brother led astray! I’ll read up more on it and explain it to him. That Philo course is required. But I’m not entirely sure he will be required to read him because different profs assign different readings. There remains a possibility. Thank you again for your concern. God Bless you too!

        • Frances

          A good book to read that details much of what Chardin’s work has wrought on the Church is Dietrich von Hildebrand’s “Trojan Horse In the City of God”.

          • LizEst

            I’ve read this book is well written. Thank you for your input, Frances. God bless you.

  • kcthomas

    Some priests do tremendous harm to the Church by their public utterances,semons and articles and books. Such clergy should be dismissed if they do not repent and change their path,even after advices of bishop

    • LizEst

      Good thing most do not speak falsely. Though, it seems, those in error seem to get promoted and praised in the secular, or dissident, press. The Church uses the various means available, such as monitums, excommunication, censure, etc. to try to get them to retract their errors, repent and return to full communion in the Church. Let us pray for these shepherds who lead folks astray. “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, but rather in the wicked man’s conversion” (cf Ezekiel 33:11). God bless you, kcthomas…and keep on praying!

  • MaryofSharon

    Enlightening, Liz. In the late 70’s at my Catholic university we spent an entire semester doing an honors seminar on Chardin. So now I have yet another reason to lament the poor quality of the Catholic dimension of my education.

    Of course whatever I learned in my Chardin class still doesn’t hold a candle to the fact that in another theology class a most charismatic priest taught us that 1) Jesus didn’t physically rise from the dead, 2) the miracles didn’t actually happen, and 3) the Eucharist is merely symbolic. At the time, I welcomed his easy answers for my scientific mind, longing to integrate faith and reason.

    Please God, make haste to inspire our bishops and the presidents and boards of Catholic universities to embrace Ex Corde Ecclesia with passion. So much of the future of the Church and society at large, for good or for evil, rests in their hands. What a tragedy that the Fathers, Doctors, and saints are so often held in lower esteem than more contemporary, cutting edge theologians.

    • My first college Theology prof also taught that miracles didn’t really happen. I hated how he made us write logical explanations for various miracles. He also implied that the Eucharist didn’t remain Christ’s Body and Blood. Unfortunately, he is also one of the most popular Theology profs in the college. Students are attracted to how controversial he is.

      • LizEst

        It’s shocking to know that some are still teaching such things, Mary. Yep, folks like to flirt with danger…to their detriment, I might add. But, our true citizenship is in heaven (cf Philippians 3:20a). We must always keep in mind that we are in the world but not of the world…and that the world and it’s allurements is passing away. What lasts, what is true, what is perfect, what is good, is to be found in God…and not the other way around.

      • MaryofSharon

        Hmmmm… sounds like we had the same teacher! God have mercy!

    • LizEst

      Yes, it is a great tragedy that all have not been faithful to what the Church believes and teaches. Great damage has been done by those that did not believe the Scriptures they read, did not preach what they believed, and did not practice what they preached. Now we reap the whirlwind from all this. I don’t know why the good Lord permitted it; His ways are so far above our ways. But, I do know that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more (cf Romans 5:20). And, I ask the Lord to “remember no more the sins of [our] youth” (Psalm 25:7a).

      Thank you, Mary of Sharon…and God bless you.

  • Sharon Brandt

    I wonder if Paulist Press is aware of this monitum. A few days ago, I saw a book advertised The New Spiritual Exercises: in the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. This book is published by Paulist Press. I plan to find out if it has the imprimatur or nihil obstat, as I am very interested in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises after taking them three years ago.

    • LizEst

      Interesting. Would you please kindly let us know? God bless you, Sharon. Thank you for your input.

    • LizEst

      On second thought Sharon, I checked out a sampling of the pages of this book on line. It does not have either an imprimatur or nihil obstat. I would stay away from them.

      Here’s something from them: “The Eucharist represents an eternally new Christ come alive for us each day at Mass…All these contributions add to, enhance, and renew the evolving Body of Christ that was on the altar yesterday.” Big red flags here! The Eucharist never, ever “represents” (from the first phrase of the quote) Christ. It is always Jesus-Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. In the second phrase, it talks about the “evolving Body of Christ that was on the altar yesterday.” No, no, no! “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow” (Hebrews 13:8). Christ does not evolve. Ugh! Yuck! This is why it is so important to know scripture and to know our faith.

      I hope this helps. If you stick with the original Ignatian Spiritual Exercises you should be just fine.

    • MaryofSharon

      Unfortunately, even the presence of the imprimatur and nihil obstat is not sufficient. A book can be technically free from doctrinal error, while at the same time promulgating all kinds of dissident thought. An example would be a book I evaluated for our parish library, Paulist Press’s Catholic Beliefs and Traditions. ( http://www.amazon.com/Catholic-Beliefs-Traditions-Ancient-Ever/dp/0809140470/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1373180359&sr=8-1&keywords=catholic+beliefs+and+traditions) The introduction, in which the author speaks of the value of there being a diversity of Catholic beliefs, sets the stage for a repeated brief explanations of Church teaching followed by far more time spent on the thinking of those who disagree with the Church. No distinction is made about who is more correct, the Church or the dissident. The sections in this book on contraception are just awful, pretty much dismissing the Church’s teaching as outdated and irrelevant, essentially overruled by the “sensus fidelium”.

      I’m not sure where that leaves us. If an imprimatur or nihil obstat is insufficient, then how do we know what to trust? As Liz says in her article, we can start with the Church Doctors and Fathers. Then I guess we have to determine which publishers we can trust, say Ignatius Press and Sophia Institute. Or perhaps we can look to the recommended books on rcspiritualdirection.com!

      Any thoughts, Liz, on how to discern what writings are trustworthy?

      • LizEst

        Mary – Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, the only way to discern whether writings are trustworthy or not is to know Scripture and know our Catholic Faith. In the times we live in, despite the proliferation of communications and their varied forms and formats, there is massive, massive lack of knowledge and confusion about our Catholic faith.

        We want an instant fix, an instant wisdom and knowledge about such. The only way this happens is when God infuses this gift in us. Otherwise, it’s work. Pure and simple: it’s work. Folks don’t like to hear these words because we are so used to easy answers. Then, when truth is given us, we don’t like it because it doesn’t conform with our easy ideas that suit us better. As we read in today’s Sunday gospel, Jesus told the disciples, when he sent them out in pairs, to shake the dust of their feet off against those who would not accept the peace they offered in His name. He knew there would be some who would not accept Him and His proclamation of the Kingdom of God.

        Christ himself tells us, “Enter through the narrow gate…how narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life” (Matthew 7:13a, 14a). Conversion, and education about our faith, is work. And, the sickness and frailty of the human heart is the most difficult illness to cure.

        Again, the best way to know whether or not something is trustworthy is to know Scripture and know the faith–oh yes, and have a good prayer life, too. Know Scripture so well that you live and breath it. Take classes on the faith from reputable teachers faithful to the Magisterium. Dan Burke is offering us an excellent instruction on spiritual theology in the Avila Institute (deadline for applications for the fall quarter is just around the corner, July 15th http://avila-institute.com/). Even if it is beyond one’s reach financially (send him a note) or intellectually, you will always learn and be better formed spiritually by being exposed to something like this. You will always gain from it. Before I started taking classes on the faith and the Church, I didn’t think I could do a formal program (my spiritual director was instrumental in this by giving me a push to take the first class). I was scared. What I discovered was that a lot of the stuff was already in my heart. Formal instruction allowed me to give expression to what was there and corrected the errors I had picked up along the way, and taught me more than I knew so that I could then put it to work for the Lord, to whom all praise and glory is due.

        In the meantime, I looked at Jan’s link above and found it to be a good resource. And, if you have a question, this site is faithful to the Magisterium…and you can ask here. Hope this helps.

        • MaryofSharon

          Thank you for your thoughts, Liz.

          I think my intellect has been pretty well formed with 20 years of homeschooling my kids with solid materials and lots of independent study, but I still don’t know what I don’t know, if you know what I mean. Scripture study and the study of Church teaching is important, but you need trustworthy aids to approach these as well. Some college professors at some so-called Catholic colleges will take Church teaching and scripture and convolute it to mean just about anything. Conversely the Ignatius Study Bible is extraordinary, as is Ascension Press.

          I am really disheartened by what appears to be a serious lack of discernment by many Catholics, as evidenced, for example, by the books that people leave as donations on the bookshelf in our adoration chapel. Almost as many are out in right field as are in left field. There is just as much opportunity for error in following a dissident theologian as there is in putting too much stock in an unapproved apparition or schismatic group.

          I’m hoping to get involved in weeding out books in our parish library, and I’ll need all the discernment tools I can get. Thanks for pointing out Jan’s link. That site is very helpful, although it’s only as reliable as the people who made the list!

          CatholicCulture.org is another site that is helpful offers ratings on websites for their fidelity. It can be found at http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/reviews/. There are currently over 700 reviews there. Of course RCSpiritualDirection gets an “Excellent” rating, as does Dan’s day job, the National Catholic Register.

          I’d love to participate in the Avila Institute, but now is not the time. Still, it’s a great gift to the Church and I anticipate it bearing much fruit. Maybe someday….

          And finally, you are right, more than head knowledge is needed. As one grows closer to Jesus in prayer, so it seems, our minds are more conformed to His and we can more easily recognize the True. (Of course we even need reliable guidance for our prayer, like that provided by RCSpiritualDirection to do that well.)

          Thanks again!

    • $19933969

      Knowing a little about the publishers of a book can tell you a lot. Aquinas Books has a very helpful article on their blogspot about this: http://www.aquinasandmore.com/catholic-articles/how-to-choose-catholic-books-and-publishers/article/90/sort/relevance/productsperpage/12/layout/grid/currentpage/1

      • LizEst

        Jan – Wow! That link you gave us is an excellent resource, fair and balanced. Thank you so much for including it here. God bless you!

  • kcthomas

    Some priests malign theChurch through their sermons,public utterances and books etc. THEY SHOULD bedismissed if they do not repent and return to the right path in spite of advices and warnings by bishops

  • Michele

    Liz just got around to reading this article of yours. Thank you. I was recently doing some research on pilgrimages and the Francicans are doing a pilgrimage and one of their stiops is at de Chardin’s grave site? What are your thoughts on this?

    • LizEst

      Michele – Don’t let that stop you from going on the pilgrimage, if that’s the only thing that appears questionable. You could still go to his gravesite and pray for him. Just go with full knowledge of the Church’s monitum against him and don’t follow his lead or his teachings, or the teachings of those who follow him.

  • Lynne Newington

    I’m surprised to hear the negative attitude toward Teilhard.
    He is remembered by me particularly every Easter, mainly because his death falls on the anniversary of my reception into the faith community.
    I was apalled at the way he was treated during his final years, virtuality a captive within the church where his mother no doubt nourished his vocation during his formative years, beginning at the knee, what heart break for her.
    Now that he has gone, Obedient to the end, [dying alone which is a very sad thought] to a better place it’s about time his gift of life to the church is respected don’t you think.
    He did nothing worse than many popes, cardinals, bishops etc that I understand have done over the centuries and not so far away from this 21st century
    He never annihalted any innocent childs life, brought children into the world and abandnoned them as is the case in recent times.
    He never co-operated with any dictators or an accomplance to sending anyone to the gas chambers.
    What else disturbes me is that his grave has been left to the elements covered by weeds recognisable only to those who know where to look for this man, acclaimed by many outside the church for his brilliance.

    • Dear Lynne, thank you for your note. I suspect you may have misread the post with respect any “negative attitude” you may perceive. If you have any experience with this apostolate you will know that we are faithful to the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the magisterium. Accordingly, when a statement is issued from the Holy See on any author, we yield to directives, warnings or other guidance that the Holy Spirit provides. We have no animus against Teilhard personally. Our issue is with the false spirituality that has emerged out of or encouraged by his writings. We sincerely pray that he is resting in peace with God and that his writings continue to fade into obscurity.

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