Wolfgang Smith vs. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Recently, there has been a buzz in the traditionalist community about Wolfgang Smith's accusation of heresy against Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In order to sort through this issue we'll need a fair amount of prudence and granularity. It seems to have become a debate about Modernism vs. Traditionalism while conflating it with the debate between the theories Heliocentrism vs. of Geocentrism.
Does the Vatican provide an unqualified endorsement of Pierre Teilhard?
In the last few years, things have become a bit nutty in the Vatican, and so we have to sort out "off the cuff" unqualified endorsements of Teilhard from the Vatican's official position. The official response by the Vatican of 1962 has not been revoked although some Vatican prelates have done some unofficial handwaving in acceptance of Teilhard lately.
Several works of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, some of which were posthumously published, are being edited and are gaining a good deal of success. Prescinding from a judgement about those points that concern the positive sciences, it is sufficiently clear that the above-mentioned works abound in such ambiguities and indeed even serious errors, as to offend Catholic doctrine. For this reason, the most eminent and most revered Fathers of the Holy Office exhort all Ordinaries as well as the superiors of Religious institutes, rectors of seminaries and presidents of universities, effectively to protect the minds, particularly of the youth, against the dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and of his followers
On July 20, 1981, the Holy See stated that, after consultation of Cardinal Casaroli and Cardinal Franjo Šeper, the letter did not change the position of the warning issued by the Holy Office on 30 June 1962, which pointed out that Teilhard's work contained ambiguities and grave doctrinal errors. Specifically, the doctrine of original sin is cloudy and his position on Adam and Eve, got him in trouble. This is evident in this quote by Teilhard:
Growing old is like being increasingly penalized for a crime you haven't committed.
Some narrow parts of Teilhard's proposals are useful
However, Teilhard did contribute to the discussion of the Church and the modern world. Joseph Ratzinger, a German theologian who became Pope Benedict XVI, spoke of Teilhard's Christology in Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity:
It must be regarded as an important service of Teilhard de Chardin's that he rethought these ideas from the angle of the modern view of the world and, in spite of a not entirely unobjectionable tendency toward the biological approach, nevertheless on the whole grasped them correctly and in any case made them accessible once again. (emphasis added)
Remember, this is an endorsement of a narrow part of Teilhard's position. On the other hand, it appears that Teilhard was attracted to eugenics, which demonstrates his poor relationship to biology.
See Pierre Teilhard de Chardin quotes that support Eugenics
In 1929, in China. He writes:
Do the yellows—[the Chinese]—have the same human value as the whites? [Fr.] Licent and many missionaries say that their present inferiority is due to their long history of Paganism. I’m afraid that this is only a ‘declaration of pastors.’ Instead, the cause seems to be the natural racial foundation…Christian love overcomes all inequalities, but it does not deny them.Günther Schiwy, Teilhard de Chardin: sein Leben und seine Zeit. 2. (München: Kösel, 1981): 105.
Four years later, as the Nazi party began its rise in Germany, Teilhard reflected on the moment:
I hate nationalism and its apparent regressions to the past. But I am very interested in the primacy it returns to the collective. Could a passion for ‘the race’ represent a first draft of the Spirit of the Earth? It is to this last one…that I have always given my faith.
Günther Schiwy, Teilhard de Chardin: sein Leben und seine Zeit. 2. (München: Kösel, 1981): 261.
The philosophical or ‘supernatural’ unity of human nature has nothing to do with the equality of races in what concerns their physical capacities to contribute to the building of the world.…As not all ethnic groups have the same value, they must be dominated, which does not mean they must be despised—quite the reverse…In other words, at one and the same time there should be official recognition of: (1) the primacy/priority of the earth over nations; (2) the inequality of peoples and races. Now the second point is currently reviled by Communism…and the Church, and the first point is similarly reviled by the Fascist systems (and, of course, by less gifted peoples!).
“The philosophical…”: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Letters to Léontine Zanta. Translated by Bernard Wall. (London: Collins, 1969): 117.
For a complex of obscure reasons, our generation still regards with distrust all efforts proposed by science for controlling the machinery of heredity, of sex-determination and the development of the nervous systems. It is as if man had the right and power to interfere with all the channels in the world except those which make him himself. And yet it is eminently on this ground that we must try everything, to its conclusion.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Human Energy” in Human Energy. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971): 127.
What fundamental attitude…should the advancing wing of humanity take to fixed or definitely unprogressive ethnical groups? The earth is a closed and limited surface. To what extent should it tolerate, racially or nationally, areas of lesser activity? More generally still, how should we judge the efforts we lavish in all kinds of hospitals on saving what is so often no more than one of life’s rejects?…To what extent should not the development of the strong…take precedence over the preservation of the weak?
1947 public debate with Gabriel Marcel, the famous French Catholic existentialist:
Once in a debate with Gabriel Marcel on the subject of ‘Science and Rationality,’ [Teilhard] shocked his opponent by refusing to permit even the appalling evidence of the experiments of the doctors of Dachau to modify his faith in the inevitability of human progress. ‘Man,” [Teilhard] asserted, ‘to become full man, must have tried everything’ …He added that since the human species was still so young…the persistence of such evil was to be expected. ‘Prometheus!’ Marcel had cried…’No,’ replied Teilhard, ‘only man as God has made him.’
Mary Lukas and Ellen Lukas, Teilhard (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1977): 237-8.
From this there follows, as a first priority, a fundamental concern to ensure (by correct nutrition, by education, and by selection) an ever more advanced eugenics of the human zoological type on the surface of the earth. At the same time, however, and even more markedly, there must be an ever more intense effort directed towards discovery and vision, animated by the hope of our gradually, as one man, putting our hands on the deep-seated forces (physico-chemical, biological and psychic) which provide the impetus of evolution….There is no future for man, I repeat, without the neo-sense of the species.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Activation of Energy,” in Activation of Energy. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971): 202-3.
We must recognize…the vital importance of a collective quest of discovery and invention no longer inspired solely by a vague delight in knowledge and power, but by the duty and the clearly-defined hope of gaining control (and so making use) of the fundamental driving forces of evolution. And with this, the urgent need for a generalized eugenics (racial no less than individual) directed, beyond all concern with economic or nutritional problems, towards a biological maturing of the human type and of the biosphere.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “The Convergence of the Universe,” L’activation de l’énergie. (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1963): 308.
Source of quotes https://religiondispatches.org/pierre-teilhard-de-chardins-legacy-of-eugenics-and-racism-cant-be-ignored/
“the scientific uselessness as well as the practical danger” [of the UNESCO document on The Equality of the Races] “ ... it’s not a question of ‘equality,’ but of ‘complementarity in convergence’…which does not exclude the momentary prominence of certain of its branches over others.”
UNESCO/Scientific Commission: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Letters from my Friend Teilhard de Chardin: 1948-1955. (New York: Paulist, 1980): 59, 172.
It seems many of Teilhard's modern fans are also fans of Richard Rohr, who espouses heretical new age ideas:
- Assertion of universal Christ conciousness, that Jesus achieved transcendence not as the virgin born son of God, but as an human achievement
- Denial of our literal first parents, Adam and Eve
- Denial of Infallibility of the Pope on matters of faith and morals, when teaching from the chair of Peter
- Denial of the existence of the devil and hell
- Denial of the role of Christ the King with a crown and majesty
- Denial of the Church teachings on contraception, same sex activity, and other sexual topics.
This does not mean Teilhard held these positions but it appears liberal Catholics leverage Teilhard's theology as a springboard for their proposals.
Wolfgang Smith reacts
Wolfgang Smith's credentials as a scientist are extensive. He's brilliant, and he is trying to preserve the Church from modernism, which is to his credit. Unfortunately, we are living in an ever polarized Church and it is clear that Wolfgang Smith is sentimental for the old days before Vatican II. He is a traditionalist, as some might label him. He may have as many errors as Teilhard in the other direction. For a full treatment of Wolfgang Smith's proposals, see David Palm's "Geocentrism Debunked".
Wolfgang Smith appears to be accusing Teilhard of heresy for espousing theistic evolution, which is the proposition that God uses evolution as a means to build the world. Theistic evolution is sometimes called "Intelligent Design". It proposes that God designs the world intelligently using some aspects of evolution as a means of creation, for instance, evolution within species, etc.
Heresy cannot apply to a scientific theory
An accusation of heresy cannot be made against scientific proposition because the Church has no jurisdiction over things that are not faith and morals. The Church can only offer opinions and commentary on scientific matters, focusing on where they impact faith and morals. We learned that with Galileo. This discussion should not devolve into a discussion about a young earth verses old earth.
Theistic evolution is NOT the evolution of theology
There appears to be a fair amount of conflation, among proponents of Wofgang Smith, between the evolution of theology and theistic evolution.
Theistic evolution is a scientific proposal about how the earth and man were created, not about how theology evolved. Its easy to mix them up. Theistic Evolution cannot be a heresy because it is not a matter of faith an morals.
Regarding the evolution of doctrine: Doctrine indeed is evolving. Otherwise we would not have the Canon of the Bible, the doctrine of the Trinity, Transubstantiation, Immaculate Conception, and more. None of these things were settled in the first century. Theology is like a seed that was planted in ancient times, which was shrub in the 2nd century, was a sapling in the middle ages, was about 20 feet high in the 15th century, and about 30 feet high now. More is coming.
Modernists exploit the fact that the theology needs to evolve, mature and grow. They use this to attempt to graft their perversions into the Church's teaching. But we assert that "the gates of hell will not prevail against [the Church]". Although the Lord has allowed for theology to evolve, the official Dogma of the Church is always consistent with Dogma that precedes it. The seed of an oak tree has the same DNA as a fully mature 300 foot high one. All of its limbs are of the same tree. That is the case with Catholic Dogma. If that was not true we would have nothing to stand on.
The current scientific position of the Church contains bits from both Teilhard and Smith
- Polygenism cannot be taught safely. Catholics cannot accept that “after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all.”
- God created everything out of nothing ("ex nihlo" in Latin)
- God created an orderly universe (the universe is not a product of chance)
- God sustained everything in being (everything depends on God for existence)
- Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine "work", concluded by the "rest" of the seventh day. On the subject of creation, the sacred text teaches the truths revealed by God for our salvation, permitting us to "recognize the inner nature, the value and the ordering of the whole of creation to the praise of God." See also Chapters 282-289 of the Catechism. (our emphasis added)
- The Church accepts that some concepts found in evolutionary theory need to be considered seriously.
- Vatican II is a genuine council which should be studied and accepted by the faithful, to be read in continuity with tradition.
We do not espouse to the full content the theories of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin or to those of Wolfgang Smith. They are both important contributors to the messy clash of ideas in the realm of science and speculative theology. Catholics should not retreat into a pre Vatican II world view as many of the followers of Wolfgang Smith have done, nor rush headlong into Modernism that we find among many followers of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.