Hymn of the Universe by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., was professor of geology at the Catholic Institute in Paris, director of the National Geologic Survey of China, and director of the National Research Center of France. He died in New York City in 1955. Hymn of the Universe was published in 1961 by Harper & Row. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.
Hymn of the Universe was published in 1961 by Harper & Row. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.
Chapter 4: Pensees
THE PRESENCE OF GOD IN THE WORLD
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, you truly contain within your gentleness, within your humanity, all the unyielding immensity and grandeur of the world. And it is because of this, it is because there exists in you this ineffable synthesis of what our human thought and experience would never have dared join together in order to adore them — element and totality, the one and the many, mind and matter, the infinite and the personal; it is because of the indefinable contours which this complexity gives to your appearance and to your activity, that my heart, enamoured of cosmic reality, gives itself passionately to you.
I love you, Lord Jesus, because of the multitude who shelter within you and whom, if one clings closely to you, one can hear with all the other beings murmuring, praying, weeping. . .
I love you because of the transcendent and inexorable fixity of your purposes, which causes your gentle friendship to be coloured by an intransigent determinism and to gather us all ruthlessly into the folds of its will.
‘Selected by Fernande Tardivel from Pere Teilhard’s published and unpublished works.
I love you as the source, the activating and life-giving ambience, the term and consummation, of the world even of the natural world, and of its process of becoming.
You the Centre at which all things meet and which stretches out over all things so as to draw them back into itself: I love you for the extensions of your body and so to the farthest corners of creation through grace through life, and through matter.
Lord Jesus, you who are as gentle as the human hear as fiery as the forces of nature, as intimate as life itself you in whom I can melt away and with whom I must have mastery and freedom: I love you as a world, as the world which has captivated my heart ; — and it is you, now realize, that my brother-men, even those who do not believe, sense and seek throughout the magic immensities of the cosmos.
Lord Jesus, you are the centre towards which all things are moving: if it be possible, make a place for us all in the company of those elect and holy ones whom your loving care has liberated one by one from the chaos of our present existence and who now are being slowly incorporated into you in the unity of the new earth.
The prodigious expanses of time which preceded the first Christmas were not empty of Christ: they were imbued with the influx of his power. It was the ferment of his conception that stirred up the cosmic masses and directed the initial developments of the biosphere. It was the travail preceding his birth that accelerated the development of instinct and the birth of thought upon the earth. Let us have done with the stupidity which makes a stumbling-block of the endless eras of expectancy imposed on us by the Messiah; the fearful, anonymous labours of primitive man, the beauty fashioned through its age-long history by ancient Egypt, the anxious expectancies of Israel, the patient distilling of the attar of oriental mysticism, the endless refining of wisdom by the Greeks: all these were needed before the Flower could blossom on the rod of Jesse and of all humanity. All these preparatory processes were cosmically and biologically necessary that Christ might set foot upon our human stage. And all this labour was set in motion by the active, creative awakening of his soul inasmuch as that human soul had been chosen to breathe life into the universe. When Christ first appeared before men in the arms of Mary he had already stirred up the world.
Like a river which, as you trace it back to its source, gradually diminishes till in the end it is lost altogether in the mud from which it springs, so existence becomes attenuated and finally vanishes away when we try to divide it up more and more minutely in space or — what comes to the same — to drive it further and further back in time. The grandeur of the river is revealed not at its source but at its estuary. In the same way man’s secret is to be sought not in the long-outgrown stages of his embryonic life, whether individual or racial, but in the spiritual nature of his soul. Now this soul, whose activity is always a synthesis, in itself eludes the investigations of science, the essential concern of which is to analyze things into their elements and their material antecedents; it can be discovered only by inward vision and philosophic reflection.
Those thinkers are absolutely mistaken, therefore, who imagine they can prove man’s nature to be purely material simply by uncovering ever deeper and more numerous roots of his being in the earth. Far from annihilating spirit, they merely show how it mingles with and acts upon the world of matter like a leaven. Let us not play their game by supposing as they do that for a being to come from heaven we must know nothing of the earthly conditions of his origin.
When your presence, Lord, has flooded me with its light I hoped that within it I might find ultimate reality at its most tangible.
But now that I have in fact laid hold on you, you who are utter consistency, and feel myself borne by you, I realize that my deepest hidden desire was not to possess you but to be possessed.
It is not as a radiation of light nor as subtilized matter that I desire you; nor was it thus that I described you in my first intuitive encounter with you: it was as fire. And I can see I shall have no rest unless an active influence, coming forth from you, bears down on me to transform me.
The whole universe is aflame.
Let the starry immensities therefore expand into an ever more prodigious repository of assembled suns;
let the light-rays prolong indefinitely, at each end of the spectrum, the range of their hues and their penetrative power;
let life draw from yet more distant sources the sap which flows through its innumerable branches;
and let us go on and on endlessly increasing our perception of the hidden powers that slumber, and the infinitesimally tiny ones that swarm about us, and the immensities that escape us because they appear to us simply as a point.
From all these discoveries, each of which plunges him a little deeper into the ocean of energy, the mystic derives an unalloyed delight, and his thirst for them is unquenchable; for he will never feel himself sufficiently dominated by the powers of the earth and the skies to be brought under God’s yoke as completely as he would wish.
It is in fact God, God alone, who through his Spirit stirs up into a ferment the mass of the universe.
A limpid sound rises amidst the silence; a trail of pure colour drifts through the glass; a light glows for a moment in the depths of the eyes I love. . .
Three things, tiny, fugitive: a song, a sunbeam, a glance . . .
So, at first, I thought they had entered into me in order to remain there and be lost in me.
On the contrary: they took possession of me, and bore me away.
For if this plaint of the air, this tinting of the light, this communication of a soul were so tenuous and so fleeting it was only that they might penetrate the more deeply into my being, might pierce through to that final depth where all the faculties of man are so closely bound together as to become a single point. Through the sharp tips of the three arrows which had pierced me the world itself had invaded my being and had drawn me back into itself.
We imagine that in our sense-perceptions external reality humbly presents itself to us in order to serve us, to help in the building up of our integrity. But this is merely the surface of the mystery of knowledge; the deeper truth is that when the world reveals itself to us it draws us into itself: it causes us to flow outwards into something belonging to it everywhere present in it and more perfect than it.
The man who is wholly taken up with the demands of everyday living or whose sole interest is in the outward appearances of things seldom gains more than a glimpse, at best, of this second phase in our sense-perceptions, that in which the world, having entered into us, then withdraws from us and bears us away with it: he can have only a very dim awareness of that aureole, thrilling and inundating our being, through which is disclosed to us at every point of contact the unique essence of the universe.
Like those materialistic biologists who think they can do away with the soul by dismantling the physico-chemical mechanisms of the living cell, zoologists are persuaded they have done away with the necessity for a first Cause simply because they have discovered a little more about the general structure of his work. It is time we set aside once and for all a problem so invalidly stated. No; strictly speaking, scientific transformism can prove nothing for or against the existence of God. It simply establishes as a fact the concatenation of reality. It offers us an anatomy of life, not an ultimate explanation of life. It affirms that something has become organism, something has developed; but to discern the ultimate conditions of that development is beyond its competence. To decide whether the evolutionary process is self-explanatory or whether it demands for its explanation a progressive and continuous act of creation on the part of a first Mover: this falls within the domain not of physics but of metaphysics.
The theory of transformism, it must be said again and again, does not of itself involve the acceptance of any particular philosophy. Does that mean that it offers no hint in favour of one rather than another? No, indeed. But it is interesting to note that the systems of thought which are best adapted to it would seem to be precisely those which at first regarded it as a menace to them. Christianity, for example, is essentially based on the twofold belief that man is in a special sense an object of pursuit to the divine power throughout creation, and that Christ is the terminal point at which, supernaturally but also physically, the consummation of humanity is destined to be achieved. Could one desire an experiential view of things more in keeping with these doctrines of unity than that which shows us living beings, not artificially set side by side in pursuit of some doubtful utility or amenity, but bound together by virtue of the physical conditions of their existence, in the real unity of a shared struggle towards greater being?
Where at first glance we could see only an incoherent arrangement of different altitudes, of land masses and of waters, there we later established a solid network of real relationships: we animated the earth by communicating to it something of our own unity.
And now, through a gushing forth of vitality in the reverse direction, this life infused by the human mind into the greatest material mass with which we have contact tends to flow back into us under a new guise. When, through our vision of it, we have endowed our earth of iron and stone with ‘personality’, then we find ourselves infected by the desire to build for ourselves in our turn, out of the sum total of all our souls, a spiritual edifice as vast as the one we contemplate, the one brought forth out of the travail of the geogenetic processes. Around the sphere of the earth’s rock-mass there stretches a real layer of animated matter, the layer of living creatures and human beings, the biosphere. The great educative value of geology consists in the fact that by disclosing to us an earth which is truly one, an earth which is in fact but a single body since it has a face, it recalls to us the possibilities of establishing higher and higher degrees of organic unity in the zone of thought which envelops the world. In truth it is impossible to keep one’s gaze constantly fixed on the vast horizons opened out to us by science without feeling the stirrings of an obscure desire to see men drawn closer and closer together by an ever-increasing knowledge and sympathy until finally, in obedience to some divine attraction, there remains but one heart and one soul on the face of the earth.
Because of the fundamental unity of the world, every phenomenon, if it is adequately studied even though under one single aspect, reveals itself as being ubiquitous alike in its import and in its roots. Where does this proposition lead us if we apply it to human ‘self-awareness’?
We might have been tempted to say: ‘Consciousness manifests itself indubitably only in man; therefore it is an isolated event of no interest to science.’
But no, we must correct this, and say rather: ‘Consciousness manifests itself indubitably in man and therefore, glimpsed in this one flash of light, it reveals itself as having a cosmic extension and consequently as being aureoled by limitless prolongations in space and time.’
This conclusion is big with consequences; but I cannot see how it can be denied if sound analogy with all the rest of science is to be preserved.
It is a fact beyond question that deep within ourselves we can discern, as though through a rent, an ‘interior’ at the heart of things; and this glimpse is sufficient to force upon us the conviction that in one degree or another this ‘interior’ exists and has always existed everywhere in nature. Since at one particular point in itself, the stuff of the universe has an inner face, we are forced to conclude that in its very structure — that is, in every region of space and time — it has this double aspect, just as, for instance, in its very structure it is granular. In all things there is a Within, co-extensive with their Without.
Let us ponder over this basic truth till we are steeped in it, till it becomes as familiar to us as our awareness of shapes or our reading of words: God, at his most vitally active and most incarnate, is not remote from us, wholly apart from the sphere of the tangible; on the contrary, at every moment he awaits us in the activity, the work to be done, which every moment brings. He is, in a sense, at the point of my pen, my pick, my paint-brush, my needle — and my heart and my thought. It is by carrying to its natural completion the stroke, the line, the stitch I am working on that I shall lay hold on that ultimate end towards which my will at its deepest levels tends. Like those formidable physical forces which man has so disciplined that they can be made to carry out operations of amazing delicacy, so the enormous might of God’s magnetism is brought to bear on our frail desires, our tiny objectives, without ever breaking their point. For it endues us with super-vitality; and therefore introduces into our spiritual life a higher principle of unity, the specific effect of which can be seen — according to one’s point of view — as either to make human endeavour holy or to make the Christian life fully human.
Yes, Lord God, I believe that — and believe all the more readily since it is a question not merely of my being consoled but of my being completed — that it is you who stand at the source of that impulse and at the end-point of that magnetic attraction to which all my life long I must be docile, obedient to the initial impulsion and eager to promote its developments. It is you too who quicken for me by your omnipresence — far more effectively than my spirit quickens the matter it animates — the myriad influences which at every moment bear down upon me. In the life springing up within me, in the material elements that sustain me, it is not just your gifts that I discern: it is you yourself that I encounter, you who cause me to share in your own being, and whose hands mould me. In the initial ordering and modulating of the life-force which is in me, and in the continuous, helpful action upon me of secondary causes, I am in very truth in contact — and the closest possible contact — with the two aspects of your creative activity; I encounter and I kiss your two wonderful hands: the hand that lays hold on us at so deep a level that it becomes merged, in us, with the sources of life, and the hand whose grasp is so immense that under its slightest pressure all the springs of the universe respond harmoniously together. Of their very nature those blessed passivities which are my will to be, my inclination to be thus or thus, and the chances given me to attain to my own completion in the way I desire, all are charged with your influence — an influence which I shall come before long to see more clearly as the organizing force of your mystical Body. And if I would enter into communion with you in these passivities — a frontal communion, a communion in the sources of life — I have but to recognize you within them and to beg you to be ever more and more fully present in them.
The mystic only gradually becomes aware of the faculty he has been given of perceiving the indefinite fringe of reality surrounding the totality of all created things, with more intensity than the precise, individual core of their being.
For a long time, thinking he is the same as other men, he will try to see as they do, to speak their language, to find contentment in the joys with which they are satisfied.
For a long time, seeking to appease his mysterious but obsessive need for plenitude of being, he will try to divert it on to some particularly stable or precious object to which, among all the accessory pleasures of life, he will look for the substance and overflowing richness of his joy.
For a long time he will look to the marvels of art to provide him with that exaltation which will give him access to the sphere — his own sphere — of the extra — personal and the suprasensible; and in the unknown Word of nature he will strive to hear the heartbeats of that higher reality which calls him by name.
Happy the man who fails to stifle his vision.
Happy the man who will not shrink from a passionate questioning of the Muses and of Cybele concerning his God.
But happy above all he who, rising beyond aesthetic dilettantism and the materialism of the lower layers of life, is given to hear the reply of all beings, singly and all together: ‘What you saw gliding past, like a world, behind the song and behind the colour and behind the eyes’ glance does not exist just here or there but is a Presence existing equally everywhere: a presence which, though it now seems vague to your feeble sight, will grow in clarity and depth. In this presence all diversities and all impurities yearn to be melted away.
For Christian humanism — faithful in this to the most firmly established theology of the Incarnation — there is no real independence or discordance but a logical subordination between the genesis of humanity in the world and the genesis of Christ, through his Church, in humanity. Inevitably the two processes are structurally linked together, the second needing the first as the material on which it rests in order to supervitalize it. This point of view fully respects the progressive experimental concentration of human thought in a more and more lively awareness of its unifying role; but in place of the undefined point of convergence required as term for this evolution it is the clearly defined personal reality of the incarnate Word that is made manifest to us and established for us as our objective, that Word ‘in whom all things subsist.’
Life for Man: Man for Christ: Christ for God.
And to ensure the psychic continuity of this vast development in all its phases, extending to the myriads of elements scattered through the immensities of all the ages, there is but one mechanism: education.
Thus all the lines converge, complete one another, interlock. All things are now but one.
Without any doubt there is something which links material energy and spiritual energy together and makes them a continuity. In the last resort there must somehow be but one single energy active in the world. And the first idea that suggests itself to us is that the soul must be a centre of transformation at which, through all the channels of nature, corporeal energies come together in order to attain inwardness and be sublimated in beauty and in truth.
But however attractive at first sight we may find this idea of a direct transformation of one of the two types of energy into the other, a moment’s inspection will force us to abandon it. For as soon as we try to couple them together their independence of one another becomes as evident as their interconnexion.
‘To think, we must eat.’ Yes, but what diverse thoughts may spring from the same crust of bread ! Just as the same letters of an alphabet can be turned either into nonsense or into the most beautiful of poems, so the same calories seem as indifferent as they are necessary to the spiritual values they nourish.
What would become of our souls, Lord, if they lacked the bread of earthly reality to nourish them, the wine of created beauty to intoxicate them, the discipline of human struggle to make them strong? What puny powers and bloodless hearts your creatures would bring to you were they to cut themselves off prematurely from the providential setting in which you have placed them! Show us, Lord, how to contemplate the Sphinx: without being beguiled into error; how to grasp the mystery hidden here on earth in the womb of death, not by refinements of human learning but in the simple concrete act of your redemptive immersion in matter. Through the sufferings of your incarnate life reveal to us, and then teach us to harness jealously for you, the spiritual power of matter.
Like those translucent materials which can be wholly illumined by a light enclosed within them, the world manifests itself to the Christian mystic as bathed in an inward light which brings out its structure, its relief, its depths. This light is not the superficial colouring that a crude hedonism might discern; nor is it the violent glare that annihilates objects and blinds the eyes; it is the tranquil, mighty radiance born of the synthesis, in Jesus, of all the elements of the world. The more completely the beings thus illumined attain to their natural fulfilment, the closer and more perceptible this radiance will be; and on the other hand the more perceptible it becomes, the more clearly the contours of the objects which it bathes will stand out and the deeper will be their roots.
If one considers, however briefly, what conditions will make possible the flowering in the human heart of this new universal love, so often vainly dreamed of but now at last leaving the realm of the utopian and declaring itself as both possible and necessary, one notices this: that if men on earth, all over the earth, are ever to love one another it is not enough for them to recognize in one another the elements of a single something; they must also, by developing a ‘planetary’ consciousness, become aware of the fact that without loss of their individual identities they are becoming a single somebody. For there is no total love — and this is writ large in the gospel — save that which is in and of the personal.
And what does this mean if not that, in the last resort, the ‘planetization’ of humanity presupposes for its proper development not only the contracting of the earth, not only the organizing and condensing of human thought, but also a third factor: the rising on our inward horizon of some psychic cosmic centre, some supreme pole of consciousness, towards which all the elementary consciousnesses of the world shall converge and in which they shall be able to love one another: in other words, the rising of a God.
At every moment the vast and horrible Thing breaks in upon us through the crevices and invades our precarious dwelling-place, that Thing we try so hard to forget but which is always there, separated from us only by thin dividing walls: fire, pestilence, earthquake, storm, the unleashing of dark moral forces, all these sweep away ruthlessly, in an instant, what we had laboured with mind and heart to build up and make beautiful.
Lord God, my dignity as a man forbids me to shut my eyes to this, like an animal or a child; therefore, lest I succumb to the temptation to curse the universe, and the Maker of the universe, teach me to adore it by seeing you hidden within it. Say once again to me, Lord, those great and liberating words, the words which are at once revealing light and effective power: hoc est Corpus meum.1 In very truth, if only we will it to be so, the immense and sombre Thing, the spectre, the tempest — is you. Ego sum, nolite timere.2 All the things in life that fill us with dread, all that filled your own heart with dismay in the garden of agony: all, in the last resort, are the species or appearances, the matter, of one and the same sacrament.
We have only to believe; and to believe all the more firmly, all the more desperately, as the fearful reality which confronts us appears more menacing and more invincible. For then, little by little, we shall see the universal horror lose something of its rigidity, and begin to smile upon us, and finally gather us into its superhuman arms.
It is not the rigidity of material or mathematical determinisms that gives the universe its consistency, but the supple orderings of spirit. To those who believe, the innumerable accidents of chance, the boundless blindness of the world, are but illusion: fldes substantia rerum.3
Lord, it is you who, through the imperceptible goadings of sense-beauty, penetrated my heart in order to make its life flow out into yourself. You came down into me by means of a tiny scrap of created reality; and then, suddenly, you unfurled your immensity before my eyes and displayed yourself to me as Universal Being.
So the basic mystical intuition issues in the discovery of a supra-real unity diffused throughout the immensity of the world.
In that milieu, at once divine and cosmic, in which he had at first observed only a simplification and as it were a spiritualization of space, the seer, faithful to the light given him, now perceives the gradual delineation of the form and attributes of an ultimate element in which all things find their definitive consistency.
And then he begins to measure more exactly the joys, and the pressing demands, of that mysterious presence to which he has surrendered himself.
Give me to recognize in other men, Lord God, the radiance of your own face. The irresistible light of your eyes, shining in the depths of things, has already driven me into undertaking the work I had to do and facing the difficulties I had to overcome: grant me now to see you also and above all hi the most inward, most perfect, most remote levels of the souls of my brother-men.
The gift you ask of me for these brothers of mine — the only gift my heart can give them — is not the overflowing tenderness of those special, preferential loves which you implant in our lives as the most powerful created agent of our inward growth: it is something less tender but just as real and of even greater strength. Your will is that, with the help of your Eucharist, between men and my brother-men there should be revealed that basic attraction (already dimly felt in every love once it becomes strong) which mystically transforms the myriads of rational creatures into (as it were) a single monad in you, Christ Jesus.
HUMANITY IN PROGRESS
The world is a-building. This is the basic truth which must first be understood so thoroughly that it becomes an habitual and as it were natural springboard for our thinking. At first sight, beings and their destinies might seem to us to be scattered haphazard or at least in an arbitrary fashion over the face of the earth; we could very easily suppose that each of us might equally well have been born earlier or later, at this place or that, happier or more ill-starred, as though the universe from the beginning to end of its history formed in space-time a sort of vast flower-bed in which the flowers could be changed about at the whim of the gardener. But this idea is surely untenable. The more one reflects, with the help of all that science, philosophy and religion can teach us, each in its own field, the more one comes to realize that the world should be likened not to a bundle of elements artificially held together but rather to some organic system animated by a broad movement of development which is proper to itself. As the centuries go by it seems that a comprehensive plan is indeed being slowly carried out around us. A process is at work in the universe, an issue is at stake, which can best be compared to the processes of gestation and birth; the birth of that spiritual reality which is formed by souls and by such material reality as their existence involves. Laboriously, through and thanks to the activity of mankind, the new earth is being formed and purified and is taking on definition and clarity. No, we are not like the cut flowers that make up a bouquet: we are like the leaves and buds of a great tree on which everything appears at its proper time and place as required and determined by the good of the whole.
Human suffering, the sum total of suffering poured out at each moment over the whole earth, is like an immeasurable ocean. But what makes up this immensity? Is it blackness, emptiness, barren wastes? No, indeed: it is potential energy. Suffering holds hidden within it, in extreme intensity, the ascensional force of the world. The whole point is to set this force free by making it conscious of what it signifies and of what it is capable. For if all the sick people in the world were simultaneously to turn their sufferings into a single shared longing for the speedy completion of the kingdom of God through the conquering and organizing of the earth, what a vast leap towards God the world would thereby make! If all those who suffer in the world were to unite their sufferings so that the pain of the world should become one single grand act of consciousness, of sublimation, of unification, would not this be one of the most exalted forms in which the mysterious work of creation could be manifested to our eyes?
Lord, that I might hold to you the more closely, I would that my consciousness were as wide as the skies and the earth and the peoples of the earth; as deep as the past, this desert, the ocean; as tenuous as the atoms of matter or thoughts of the human heart.
Must I not adhere to you everywhere throughout the entire extent of the universe?
In order that I may not succumb to the temptation that lies in wait for every act of boldness, nor ever forget that you alone must be sought in and through everything, I know, Lord, that you will send me — at what moments only you know — deprivations, disappointments, sorrow.
The object of my love will fall away from me, or I shall outgrow it.
The flower I held in my hands withered in my hands. . .At the turn of the lane the wall rose up before me. . . Suddenly between the trees I saw the end of the forest which I thought had no end. . .The testing-time had come. . .But it did not bring me unalleviated sorrow. On the contrary, a glorious, unsuspected joy invaded my soul: because, in the collapse of those immediate supports I had risked giving to my life, I knew with a unique experiential certainty that I would never again rely for support on anything save your own divine stability.
The development in our souls of supernatural life (based on the natural spiritualization of the world through the efforts of mankind) : this in the last resort is the field where the operative power of faith is positively and without any known limits exercized.
Within the universe it is spirit, and within spirit it is the moral sphere, that are par excellence the actual subjects of the development of life. Consequently it is there, on that plastic centre of ourselves where divine grace mingles with earthly drives, that the power of faith should be brought vigorously to bear.
There above all, surely, creative energy awaits us, ready to work in us a transformation beyond anything that human eye has seen or ear heard. Who can say what God would fashion out of us if, trusting in his word, we dared to follow his counsels to the very end and surrender ourselves to his providence?
Let us then, for love of our Creator and of the universe, throw ourselves fearlessly into the crucible of the world of tomorrow.
In brief, there are three characteristics of the Christian fulfilment of this process of life-development, brought about by faith:
first, it is effected without any distortion or disruption of any particular determinism: for events are not, in general, deflected from their course of prayer but are integrated into a new arrangement of the totality of forces;
secondly, it is manifested, not necessarily on the plane of natural human achievement, but in the order of supernatural growth to holiness;
thirdly, in real fact it has God as at once its principal agent, its source and its milieu.
With this triple reservation, which marks it off clearly from natural faith in its mode of operation, Christian faith can be said to manifest itself as, in the most realistic and comprehensive sense, a ‘cosmic energy’.
Within a universe which is structurally convergent the only possible way for one element to draw closer to other, neighbouring elements is by condensing the cone:
that is, by driving towards the point of convergence the whole area of the world in which it is involved. In such a system it is impossible to love one’s neighbour without drawing close to God — and vice versa for that matter. This we know well enough. But it is also impossible — and this is less familiar to us — to love either God or our neighbour without being obliged to help in the progress of the earthly synthesis of spirit in its physical totality, for it is precisely the advances made in this movement of synthesis that permit us to draw close to one another and at the same time raise us up towards God. Thus, because we love, and in order to love more, we find ourselves happily reduced to sharing — we more and better than anyone — in all the struggles, all the anxieties, all the aspirations, and also all the affections, of the earth in so far as all these contain within them a principle of ascension and synthesis.
This breadth of outlook does not involve any modification whatsoever of Christian poverty of spirit.4 But instead of ‘leaving things behind’ it carries them onwards; instead of cutting down it raises up: it is a question now not of a breaking-away but of a crossing-over, not a flight but an emergence. Without ceasing to be itself charity enlarges its scope to become an upward-lifting force, a common essence, at the heart of every form of human endeavour, whose diversity tends in consequence to be drawn together in synthesis into the rich totality of a single operation. Like Christ himself and in imitation of him it becomes universal, dynamic and, for that very reason, fully human.
In short, in order to correspond to the new curve of the time-flow, Christianity is led to the discovery, below God, of earthly values, while humanism is led to the discovery, above the world, of the place of a God.
Joy is above all the fruit of having come face to face with a universal and enduring reality to which one can refer and as it were attach those fragmentary moments of
happiness that, being successive and fugitive, excite the heart without satisfying it. The mystic suffers more than other men from the tendency of created things to crumble into dust: instinctively and obstinately he searches for the stable, the unfailing, the absolute. . .
This crumbling away, which is the mark of the corruptible and the precarious, is to be seen everywhere. And yet everywhere there are traces of, and a yearning for, a unique support, a unique and absolute soul, a unique reality in which other realities are brought together in synthesis, as stable and universal as matter, as simple as spirit.
One must have felt deeply the pain of being plunged into that multiplicity which swirls about one and slips through one’s fingers if one is to be worthy of experiencing the rapture that transports the soul when, through the influence of the universal Presence, it perceives that reality has become not merely transparent but solidly enduring. For this means that the incorruptible principle of the universe is now and for ever found, and that it extends everywhere: the world is filled, and filled with the Absolute. To see this is to be made free.
Mane nobiscum Domine, quoniam advesperascit.5
Assimilate, utilize, the shadows of later life: enfeeblement, loneliness, the sense that no further horizons lie ahead. . .
Discover in Christ-Omega6 how to remain young: gay, enthusiastic, full of enterprise.
Beware of thinking that every form of melancholy, indifference, disenchantment is to be identified with wisdom.
Make a place, and an upward-lifting place, for the end which now draws near and for the decline of one’s powers to whatever degree God may will.
‘To be ready’ has never seemed to mean anything to me but this: ‘To be straining forwards.’
May Christ-Omega keep me always young — ad majorem Dei gloriam.7 (And what better argument for Christianity could there be than an enduring youthfulness drawn from Christ-Omega?)
old age comes from him, old age leads on to him, and
old age will touch me only in so far as he wills.
To be ‘young’ means to be hopeful, energetic, smiling — and clear-sighted.
Accept death in whatever guise it may come to me in Christ-Omega, that is, within the process of the development of life.
A smile (inward and outward) means facing with sweetness and gentleness whatever befalls one.
Jesus-Omega, grant me to serve you, to proclaim you, to glorify you, to make you manifest, to the very end, through all the time that remains to me of life, and above all through my death.
Desperately, Lord Jesus, I commit to your care my last active years, and my death: do not let them impair or spoil the work I have so dreamed of achieving for you.
The grace to end well, in the way that will best advance the glory of Christ-Omega: this is the grace of graces.
Live under the exclusive dominance of a single passion: the impassioned desire to help forward the synthesis of Christ and the universe. This implies love of both, and more especially love of the supreme axis, Christ and the Church.
Communion in and through death: to die a communion-death. . .
What comes to one at the very end: the adorable. I go forward to meet him who comes.
Many people suppose that the superiority of spirit would be jeopardized if its first manifestation were not accompanied by some interruption of the normal advance of the world. One ought rather to say that precisely because it is spirit its appearance must take the form of a crowning achievement, or a blossoming. But leaving aside all thought of systematization, is it not true that every day a multitude of human souls are created in the course of an embryogenic process in which scientific observation will never be able to detect any break however small in the chain of biological phenomena? Thus we have daily before our eyes an example of an act of creation which is absolutely imperceptible to, and beyond the reach of, science as such. Why then make so many difficulties when it is a question of the first man? Obviously it is much more difficult for us to imagine the first appearance of reflective thought at some point in the history of a phylum or race made up of different individuals than at some point in the series of states making up the life of one and the same embryo. But from the viewpoint of creative activity considered in relationship to phenomena, ontogenesis and phylogenesis are in like case. Why not admit, for example, that the absolutely free and special act whereby the Creator willed humanity to be the crown of his work so profoundly influenced and organized beforehand the progress of the world prior to man’s coming that now this coming seems to us, in accordance with the Creator’s choice, to be the natural outcome of all the precedent processes of life-development? Omnia propter hominem.8
If, on the tree of life, the mammals form a dominant branch, indeed the dominant branch, then the primates (that is, the cerebro-mammals) are its leading shoot, and the anthropoids are the bud in which the shoot ends.
Hence, we may go on to say, it is easy for us to judge at what point in the biosphere we must fix our gaze in expectation of what is yet to come. Everywhere, as we are well aware, the lines of active phyletic development grow warm with consciousness as they approach the summit; but in one clearly-marked region at the centre of the kingdom of mammals, where the most powerful brains ever fashioned by nature are to be found, the lines glow red-hot; and already at the heart of this region there burns a point of incandescence.
It is this line that we must always hold in our gaze, this line glowing crimson with the dawn-light.
The flame that for thousands of years has been rising up below the horizon is now, at a strictly localized point, about to burst forth: thought has been born.
Beings endowed with self-awareness become, precisely in virtue of that bending back upon themselves, immediately capable of rising into a new sphere of existence:
in truth another world is born. Abstract thought, logic, reasoned choice and invention, mathematics, art, the exact computation of space and time, the dreams and anxieties of love: all these activities of the inner life are simply the bubbling up of the newly-formed life-centre as it explodes upon itself.
This being said, a question arises. If it is in fact the attainment of ‘self-consciousness’ that constitutes true ‘intelligence’, can we seriously doubt that intelligence is the evolutionary prerogative of man alone? And, if it is, can we allow some sort of false modesty to hinder us from recognizing that man’s possession of it shows him as representing a radical advance on all precedent forms of life? Certainly animals know; but equally certainly they cannot know that they know: otherwise they would long since have multiplied inventions and developed a system of internal constructions which could not have escaped our observation. Hence a whole domain of reality is closed to them, beyond all possibility of access: a domain in which we for our part can move about freely. They are separated from us by an abyss — or a threshold — which they can never cross. Reflective consciousness makes us not merely different from them but wholly other: it is a difference not merely of degree but of kind: a change of nature, resulting from a change of state.
And so we reach precisely the conclusion we had anticipated: since the development of life means the rise and growth of consciousness, that development could not continue indefinitely along its own line without a transformation in depth: like all great developments in the world, life had to become different in order to remain itself.
It was a joy to me, Lord, in the midst of my struggles, to feel that in growing to my own fulfilment I was increasing your hold on me; it was a joy to me, beneath the inward burgeoning of life and amidst the unfolding of events that favoured me, to surrender myself to your providence. And now that I have discovered the joy of turning every increase into a way of making — or allowing — your presence to grow within me, I beg of you: bring me to a serene acceptance of that final phase of communion with you in which I shall attain to possession of you by diminishing within you.
Now that I have learnt to see you as he who is ‘more me than myself’, grant that when my hour has come I may recognize you under the appearances of every alien or hostile power that seems bent on destroying or dispossessing me. When the erosions of age begin to leave their mark on my body, and still more on my mind; when the ills that must diminish my life or put an end to it strike me down from without or grow up from within me; when I reach that painful moment at which I suddenly realize that I am a sick man or that I am growing old; above all at that final moment when I feel I am losing hold on myself and becoming wholly passive in the hands of those great unknown forces which first formed me: at all these sombre moments grant me, Lord, to understand that it is you (provided my faith is strong enough) who are painfully separating the fibres of my being so as to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance and draw me into yourself
The more deeply and incurably my ills become engrained in my flesh, the more it may be you yourself that I am harbouring as a loving, active principle of purification and of liberation from possessiveness. The more the future lies ahead of me like a dark tunnel or a dizzy abyss, the more confident I can be — if I go forward boldly, relying on your word — of being lost, of being engulfed, in you, Lord, of being absorbed into your Body.
Lord Christ, you who are divine energy and living, irresistible might: since of the two of us it is you who are infinitely the stronger, it is you who must set me ablaze and transmute me into fire that we may be welded together and made one. Grant me, then, something even more precious than that grace for which all your faithful followers pray: to receive communion as I die is not sufficient: teach me to make a communion of death itself.
No mechanism of evolution could gain a hold on an entirely passive (or a fortiori resistant) cosmic material. Hence we cannot fail to see the drama inherent in the possibility that mankind might suddenly lose all desire to achieve its destiny. Such a disenchantment would be conceivable, would indeed be inevitable, if as a result of increasing reflection we came to see that in a hermetically closed world we were destined one day to end up in a total collective death. In the face of this terrifying fact, is it not clear that despite the most violent pull from the winding-chain of planetary development the psychic mechanism of evolution would come to a dead stop, its very substance stretched to breaking point and finally disintegrating?
The more one reflects on this eventuality — and certain morbid symptoms such as the existentialism of Sartre prove that it is no mere fantasy — the more one comes to the conclusion that the great enigma presented to our minds by the phenomenon of man is not so much how life could ever have been kindled on earth as how it could ever be extinguished on earth without finding some continuance elsewhere. For once life has become reflective consciousness it cannot in fact accept utter extinction without biologically contradicting itself.
Consequently one feels less inclined to reject as unscientific the idea that the critical point of planetary reflective consciousness which is the result of the forming of humanity into an organized society, far from being a mere spark in the darkness, corresponds on the contrary to our passage (by a movement of reversal or dematerialization) to another face of the universe: not an ending of the ultra-human but its arrival at something trans-human at the very heart of reality.
For one who sees the universe in the guise of a laborious communal ascent towards the summit of consciousness, life, far from seeming blind, hard or despicable, becomes charged with gravity, with responsibilities, with new relationships. Sir Oliver Lodge very justly remarked not so long ago that, properly understood, the doctrine of evolution is a ‘school of hope’ — and, let us add, a school of ever greater mutual charity and ever greater effort.
So much so that all along the line one can uphold, and without paradox, the following thesis (which is doubtless the one best calculated to reassure and guide men’s minds when confronted with the growth of transformist views):
transformism does not necessarily open the way to an invasion of spirit by matter; rather does it give evidence in favour of an essential triumph of spirit. Transformism as well as, if not better than, the theory of ‘fixed types’ can give to the universe that grandeur and depth and unity which are the natural atmosphere for Christian faith.
And this last consideration leads us to formulate the following general conclusion:
whatever we Christians may say in the last resort about transformism or about any other of the new theories which attract the modern mind, let us never give the impression of being timid about anything that can bring fresh light and greater breadth to our ideas concerning man and the universe. The world will never be vast enough, nor humanity powerful enough, to be worthy of him who created them and is incarnate in them.
Is life an open road or a blind alley? This question, barely formulated a few centuries ago, is today explicitly on the lips of mankind as a whole. As a result of the brief, violent moment of crisis in which it became conscious at once of its creative power and of its critical faculties, humanity has quite legitimately become hard to move: no stimulus at the level of mere instinct or blind economic necessity will suffice for long to goad it into moving onwards. Only a reason, and a valid and important reason, for loving life passionately will cause it to advance further. But where, at the experiential level, are we to find, if not a complete justification, at least the beginnings of a justification of life? Only, it would seem, in the consideration of the intrinsic value of the phenomenon of man. Continue to regard man as an accidental outgrowth or sport of nature and you will drive him into a state of disgust or revolt which, if it became general, would mean the definitive stoppage of life on earth. Recognize, on the other hand, that within the domain of our experience man is at the head of one of the two greatest waves into which, for us, tangible reality is divided, and that therefore he holds in his hands the fortunes of the universe: and immediately you cause him to turn his face towards the grandeur of a new sunrise.
Man has every right to be anxious about his fate so long as he feels himself to be lost and lonely in the midst of the mass of created things. But let him once discover that his fate is bound up with the fate of nature itself, and immediately, joyously, he will begin again his forward march. For it would denote in him not a critical sense but a malady of the spirit if he were doubtful of the value and the hopes of an entire world.
It is easy for the pessimist to belittle that extraordinary period of history during which in the space of a few thousand years civilizations crumbled one after another into ruin. But it is surely far more scientific to discern once again, beneath these successive waxings and wanings, the great spiral of life always irreversibly ascending, but by stages, along the dominant line of its evolution. Susa, Memphis, Athens may crumble: but an ever more highly organized awareness of the universe is passed on from hand to hand and increases with each successive stage in clarity and brilliance.
When we are dealing in general with the gradual development of the noosphere into planetary consciousness we must of course do full justice to the great, the essential part played by the other sections of the human race in bringing about the eventual plenitude of the earth. But in dealing with this historical period we should be allowing sentiment to falsify fact if we refused to recognize that during its centuries the principal axis of anthropogenesis has passed through the West. It was in this ardent zone of growth and universal recasting that all that makes man what he is today was discovered — or at least must have been rediscovered, for even those things which had long been known elsewhere achieved their definitive human value only when they were incorporated into the system of European ideas and activities. We are not being merely naive if we hail as a great event the discovery by Columbus of America.
The fact is that during the last six thousand years, in the Mediterranean area, a neo-humanity has been germinating and is now at this moment completing its absorption into itself of the remaining vestiges of the neolithic mosaic of ethnic groupings, so as to form a new layer, of greater density than all the others, on the noosphere.
And the proof of this is that today, in order to remain human or to become more fully human, all the peoples from end to end of the earth are being inexorably led to formulate the world’s hopes and problems in the very terms devised by the West.
Let us admit this frankly, once and for all: what most discredits faith in progress in the eyes of men today, over and above its reticences and its helplessness in meeting the cry of the ‘last days of the human species’, is the unfortunate tendency still shown by its adepts to distort into pitiful millenarianisms all that is most valid and most noble in our now permanently awakened expectation of the future appearance of some form of ‘ultra-humanity’. An era of abundance and euphoria — a Golden Age — is, they suggest, all that evolution could hold in reserve for us. And it is but right that our hearts should sink at the thought of so ‘bourgeois’ an ideal.
In face of this strictly ‘pagan’ materialism and naturalism it becomes a pressing duty to remind ourselves once again that, if the laws of biogenesis of their nature suppose and effectively bring about an economic improvement in human living-conditions, it is not any question of well-being, it is solely a thirst for greater being that by psychological necessity can save the thinking world from the taedium vitae.
And here we can see with complete clarity the importance of the idea, suggested above, that it is at its point or superstructure of spiritual concentration and not at its base or infrastructure of material arrangement that humanity must biologically establish its equilibrium.
For once we admit, following this line of argument, the existence of a critical point of species-formation9 at the end of the evolution of technical developments and civilizations, we realize that what finally opens out at the peak of time (maintaining to the end the priority of tension over rest in biogenesis) is an issue: an issue not merely for our hopes of escape but also for our awaiting of some revelation.
And this is exactly what could best relieve that tension between light and darkness, exaltation and anguish, into which a renewed awareness of our human species has plunged us.
Fold your wings, my soul, those wings you had spread wide to soar to the terrestrial peaks where the light is most ardent: it is for you simply to await the descent of the Fire — supposing it to be willing to take possession of you.
If you would attract its power to yourself you must first loosen the bonds of affection which still tie you to objects cherished too exclusively for their own sake. The true union you ought to seek with creatures that attract you is to be found not by going directly to them but by converging with them on God sought in and through them. It is not by making themselves more material, relying solely on physical contacts, but by making themselves more spiritual in the embrace of God that things draw closer to each other and, following their invincible natural bent, end by becoming, all of them together, one. Therefore, my soul, be chaste.
And when you have thus refined your crude materiality you must loosen yet further the fibres of your substance. In your excessive self-love you are like a molecule closed in upon itself and, incapable of entering easily into any new grouping. God looks to you to be more open and more pliant. If you are to enter into him you need to be freer and more eager. Have done then with your egoism and your fear of suffering. Love others as you love yourself, that is to say admit them into yourself, all of them, even those whom, if you were a pagan, you would exclude. Accept pain. Take up your cross, my soul. . .
We always tend to forget that the supernatural is a leaven, a life-principle, not a complete organism. Its purpose is to transform ‘nature’; and it cannot do that apart from the material with which nature presents it. If the Hebrews kept their gaze fixed for three thousand years on the coming of the Messiah it was because they saw him effulgent with the glory of their own people. If St Paul’s disciples lived in a constant eager yearning for the great day of the second coming of Christ it was because they looked to the Son of Man to give them a personal, tangible solution to the problems and the injustices of earthly life. The expectation of heaven cannot be kept alive unless it is made flesh. With what body, then, shall our own be clothed?
With an immense, completely human hope.
You whose loving wisdom fashions my being out of all the forces and all the hazards of earth, teach me to adopt here and now, however clumsily, an attitude the full efficacy of which will be plain to me when I am face to face with the powers of diminishment and death: grant that having desired I may believe, and believe ardently, believe above all things, in your active presence.
Thanks to you, this faith and this expectancy are already full of effective power. But how am I to show you, and prove to myself, through some visible endeavour, that I am not of those who, with their lips only, cry to you ‘Lord, Lord’? I shall co-operate with that divine power through which you act upon me and anticipate my initiatives; and I shall do so in two ways.
First, to that profound inspiration whereby you impel me to seek the fullness of being I shall respond by striving never to stifle or distort or squander my powers of loving and making. And then, to your all-embracing providence which at each moment shows me, through the events of the day, the next step I must take, the next rung I must climb, I shall respond by striving never to miss an opportunity of rising up towards the realm of spirit.
‘O ye of little faith,’ why fear or hold aloof from the onward march of the world? Why foolishly multiply your prophecies of woe and your prohibitions: ‘Don’t venture there; don’t attempt that; everything is already known that can be known; the earth is grown old and stale and empty; there is nothing more for us to find. . .’
On the contrary, we must try everything for Christ; we must hope everything for Christ. Nihil intentatum:10 that is the true Christian attitude. Divinization means not destruction but supercreation. We can never know all that the Incarnation still asks of the world’s potentialities. We can never hope for too much from the growing unity of mankind.
THE MEANING OF HUMAN ENDEAVOUR
The aspect of life which most stirs my soul is the ability to share in an undertaking, in a reality, more enduring than myself: it is in this spirit and with this purpose in view that I try to perfect myself and to master things a little more. When death lays its hand upon me it will leave intact these things, these ideas, these realities which are more solid and more precious than I; moreover, my faith in Providence makes me believe that death comes at its own fixed moment, a moment of mysterious and special fruitfulness not only for the supernatural destiny of the soul but also for the further progress of the earth.
Why then should I be afraid or filled with grief, if the essential thing in my life remains untouched, if the pattern will not be broken off but will be extended further without any harmful interruption of continuity? The realities of faith cannot give us the same feeling of solidity as those of experience; hence, inevitably and providentially, when we have to leave these for those we feel terrified and bewildered: but that is the very moment at which we must ensure the triumph of adoration and trust and the joy of being part of a totality greater than ourselves.
In the lowliness of fear and the thrill of danger we carry on the work of completing an element which the mystical body of Christ can draw only from us. Thus to our peace is added the exaltation of creating, perilously, an eternal work which will not exist without us. Our trust in God is quickened and made firmer by the passionate eagerness of man to conquer the earth.
It would be surprising to find, in a bouquet, flowers which were ill-formed or sickly, since these flowers are picked one by one and artificially grouped together in a bunch. But on a tree which has had to struggle against inner accidents of its own development and external accidents of climate, the broken branches, the torn leaves, and the dried or sickly or wilted blossoms have their place: they reveal to us the greater or lesser difficulties encountered by the tree itself in its growth.
Similarly in a universe where each creature formed a little enclosed unit, designed simply for its own sake and theoretically transposable at will, we should find some difficulty in justifying in our own minds the presence of individuals whose potentialities and upward-soaring drives had been painfully impeded. Why this gratuitous inequality, these gratuitous frustrations?
If on the other hand the world is in truth a battlefield whereon victory is in the making — and if we are in truth thrown at birth into the thick of the battle — then we can at least vaguely see how, for the success of this universal struggle in which we are both fighters and the issue at stake, there must inevitably be suffering. Seen from the viewpoint of our human experience and drawn to our human scale, the world appears as an immense groping in the dark, an immense searching, an immense onslaught, wherein there can be no advance save at the cost of many setbacks and many wounds. Those who suffer, whatever form their suffering may take, are a living statement of this austere but noble condition: they are simply paying for the advance and the victory of all. They are the men who have fallen on the battlefield.
Then it is really true, Lord? By helping on the spread of science and freedom I can increase the density of the divine atmosphere, in itself as well as for me, that atmosphere in which it is always my one desire to be immersed. By laying hold on the earth I enable myself to cling closely to you.
May the kingdom of matter, then, under our scrutinies and our manipulations, surrender to us the secrets of its texture, its movements, its history.
May the world’s energies, mastered by us, bow down before us and accept the yoke of our power.
May the race of men, grown to fuller consciousness and greater strength, become grouped into rich and happy organisms in which life shall be put to better use and bring in a hundredfold return.
May the universe offer to our gaze the symbols and the forms of all harmony and all beauty.
I must search: and I must find.
What is at stake, Lord, is the element wherein you will to dwell here on earth.
What is at stake is your existence amongst us.
Let us just consider whether we might not be able to escape from the anxiety into which the dangerous power of thought is now plunging us — simply by improving our thinking still more. And to do this let us begin by climbing up till we tower over the trees which now hide the forest from us; in other words let us forget for a moment the details of the economic crises, the political tensions, the class-struggles which block out our horizon, and let us climb high enough to gain an inclusive and impartial view of the whole process of hominization11 as it has advanced during the last fifty or sixty years.
From this vantage-point what do we first notice? And if some observer were to come to us from one of the stars what would he chiefly notice?
Without question, two major phenomena:
the first, that in the course of half a century technology has advanced with incredible rapidity, an advance not just of scattered, localized technical developments but of a real geotechnology which spreads out the close-woven network of its interdependent enterprises over the totality of the earth;
the second, that in the same period, at the same pace and on the same scale of planetary co-operation and achievement, science has transformed in every direction — from the infinitesimal to the immense and to the immensely complex — our common vision of the world and our common power of action.
Lord, what is there in suffering that commits me so deeply to you?
Why should my wings flutter more joyfully than before when you stretch out nets to imprison me?
It is because, among your gifts, what I hanker after is the fragrance of your power over me and the touch of your hand upon me. For what exhilarates us human creatures more than freedom, more than the glory of achievement, is the joy of finding and surrendering to a Beauty greater than man, the rapture of being possessed.
Blessed then be the disappointments which snatch the cup from our lips; blessed be the chains which force us to go where we would not.
Blessed be relentless time and the unending thraldom in which it holds us: the inexorable bondage of time that goes too slowly and frets our impatience, of time that goes too quickly and ages us, of time that never stops, and never returns.
Blessed, above all, be death and the horror of falling back through death into the cosmic forces. At the moment of its coming a power as strong as the universe pounces upon our bodies to grind them to dust and dissolve them, and an attraction more tremendous than any material tension draws our unresisting souls towards their proper centre. Death causes us to lose our footing completely in ourselves so as to deliver us over to the powers of heaven and earth. This is its final terror — but it is also, for the mystic, the climax of his bliss.
God’s creative power does not in fact fashion us as though out of soft clay: it is a fire that kindles life in whatever it touches, a quickening spirit. Therefore it is during our lifetime that we must decisively adapt ourselves to it, model ourselves upon it, identify ourselves with it. The mystic is given at times a keen, obsessive insight into this situation. And anyone who has this insight, and who loves, will feel within himself a fever of active dependence and of arduous purity seizing upon him and driving him on to an absolute integrity and the complete utilization of all his powers.
In order to become perfectly resonant to the pulsations of the basic rhythm of reality the mystic makes himself docile to the least hint of human obligation, the most unobtrusive demands of grace.
To win for himself a little more of the creative energy, he tirelessly develops his thought, dilates his heart, intensifies his external activity. For created beings must work if they would be yet further created.
And finally, that no blemish may separate him, by so much as a single atom of himself, from the essential limpidity, he labours unceasingly to purify his affections and to remove even the very faintest opacities which might cloud or impede the light.
Where human holiness offers itself as a means to his ends, God is not content to send forth in greater intensity his creative influence, the child of his power: he himself comes down into his work to consolidate its unification. He told us this, he and no other. The more the soul’s desires are concentrated on him, the more he will flood into them, penetrate their depths and draw them into his own irresistible simplicity. Between those who love one another with true charity he appears — he is, as it were, born — as a substantial bond of their love.
It is God himself who rises up in the heart of this simplified world. And the organic form of the universe thus divinized is Christ Jesus, who, through the magnetism of his love and the effective power of his Eucharist, gradually gathers into himself all the unitive energy scattered through his creation.
Christ consumes with his glance my entire being. And with that same glance, that same presence, he enters into those who are around me and whom I love. Thanks to him therefore I am united with them, as in a divine milieu, through their inmost selves, and I can act upon them with all the resources of my being.
Christ binds us and reveals us to one another.
What my lips fail to convey to my brother or my sister he will tell them better than I. What my heart desires for them with anxious, helpless ardour he will grant them if it be good. What men cannot hear because of the feebleness of my voice, what they shut their ears against so as not to hear it, this I can confide to Christ who will one day tell it again, to their hearts. And if all this is so I can indeed die with my ideal, I can be buried with the vision I wanted to share with others. Christ gathers up for the life of tomorrow our stifled ambitions, our inadequate understandings, our uncompleted or clumsy but sincere endeavours. Nunc dimittis, Domine, servum tuum in pace. . .12
It happens sometimes that a man who is pure of heart will discern in himself, besides the happiness which brings peace to his own individual desires and affections, a quite special joy, springing from a source outside himself which enfolds him in an immeasurable sense of well-being. This is the flowing back into his own diminutive personality of the new glow of health which Christ though his incarnation has infused into humanity as a whole: in him, souls are gladdened with a feeling of warmth, for now they can live in communion with one another. . .
But if they are to share in this joy and this vision they must first of all have had the courage to break through the narrow confines of their individuality, cease to be egocentric and to become Christocentric.
For this is Christ’s law, and it is categorical: Si quis vult post me venire, abneget semetipsum.13
Purity is a basic condition of this self-renouncement and mortification.
And charity much more so.
Once a man has resolved to live generously in love with God and his fellow-men, he realizes that so far he has achieved nothing by the generous renunciations he has made in order to perfect his own inner unity. This unity in its turn must, if it is to be born anew in Christ, suffer an eclipse which will seem to annihilate it. For in truth those will be saved who dare to set the centre of their being outside themselves, who dare to love Another more than themselves, and in some sense become this Other: which is to say, who dare to pass through death to find life. Si quis vult animam suam salvam facere, perdet eam.14 Clearly, the believer knows that at the price of this sacrifice he is gaining a unity greatly superior to that which he has abandoned. But who can tell the anguish of this metamorphosis? Between the moment when he consents to dissolve his inferior unity and that other, rapturous moment when he arrives at the threshold of his new existence, the real Christian feels himself to be hovering over an abyss of disintegration and annihilation. The salvation of the soul must be bought at the price of a great risk incurred and accepted: we have, without reservation, to stake earth against heaven; we have to give up the secure and tangible unity of the egocentric life and risk everything on God. ‘If the grain of wheat does not fall into the ground and die, it remains just a grain.’
Therefore when a man is burdened with sorrow, when he falls ill, when he dies, none of those around him can say with certainty whether his being is thereby diminished or increased. For under exactly the same appearances the two opposite principles draw to themselves their faithful, leading them either to simplicity or to multiplicity: the two principles which are God and Nothingness.15
Egoism, whether personal or racial, has good reason to be thrilled at the idea of an individual element ascending, through its fidelity to life, to the uttermost development of all that is unique and incommunicable within itself. Its instinct therefore is correct. Its only mistake, but one which causes it to aim in exactly the wrong direction, is to confuse individuality with personality. By trying to separate itself as far as possible from others, the element individualizes itself; but in so doing it falls back, and tries to drag the world back into plurality and materiality. In point of fact therefore it dwindles away and is lost. If we are to be fully ourselves we must advance in the opposite direction, towards a convergence with all other beings, towards a union with what is other than ourselves. The perfection of our own being, the full achievement of what is unique in each one of us, lies not in our individuality but in our personality; and because of the evolutionary structure of the world we can find that personality only in union with others. There can be no mind without synthesis; and this same law holds good everywhere in created reality, from top to bottom. The true self grows in inverse proportion to the growth of egoism. The element becomes personal only in so far as (in imitation of that Omega point which draws it onwards) it becomes universal.
But there is an obvious and essential proviso to be made. It follows from the foregoing analysis that if the human particles are to become truly personalized under the creative influence of union it is not enough for them to be joined together no matter how. Since what is in question is the achieving of a synthesis of centres it must be centre to centre and in no other way that they establish contact with one another. Amongst the various forms of psychic interaction which animate the noosphere, therefore, it is the ‘intercentric’ energies that we have above all to identify, to harness and to develop if we would make an effective contribution to the progress of evolution within ourselves.
In other words, the problem to which all this leads us is the problem of love.
The sacramental bread is made out of grains of wheat which have been pressed out and ground in the mill; and the dough has been slowly kneaded. Your hands, Lord Jesus, have broken the bread before they hallow it . . .
Who shall describe, Lord, the violence suffered by the universe from the moment it falls under your sway?
Christ is the goad that urges creatures along the road of effort, of elevation, of development.
He is the sword that mercilessly cuts away such of the body’s members as are unworthy or decayed.
He is that mightier life which inexorably brings death to our base egoism so as to draw into itself all our capacities for loving.
That Christ may enter deeply into us we need alternatively the work that dilates the heart and the sorrow that brings death to it, the life that enlarges a man in order that he may be sanctifiable and the death that diminishes him in order that he may be sanctified.
The universe splits in two, it suffers a painful cleavage at the heart of each of its monads, as the flesh of Christ is born and grows. Like the work of creation which it redeems and surpasses, the Incarnation, so desired of man, is an awe-inspiring work: it is achieved through blood.
May the blood of the Lord Jesus — the blood which is infused into creatures and the blood which is shed and spread out over all, the blood of endeavour and the blood of renouncement — mingle with the pain of the world.
Hic est calix sanguinis mei . . .16
To be pure of heart means to love God above all things and at the same time to see him everywhere in all things. The just man, whether he is rising above and beyond all creatures to an almost immediate awareness of Godhead or throwing himself upon the world — as it is every man duty to do — to conquer it and bring it to perfection, will have eyes only for God. For him, objects have lost their surface multiplicity: in each of them, according to the measure of its own particular qualities and possibilities, God may truly be laid hold on. The pure heart is of its nature privileged to move within an immense and superior unity. Who then could fail to see that the effect of this contact with God must be to unify it to the inmost core of its being; and who could fail to divine the inestimable aid that life in its progress will henceforth derive from the Word?
While the sinner, by abandoning himself to his appetites, brings about a dispersal and disintegration of his spirit, the saint, by an inverse process, escapes from the complexities of affection and in so doing he immaterializes himself. For him, God is everything and everything is God, and Christ is at once God and everything. On such an object, which comprises in its simplicity — for the eyes, the heart, the spirit — all the truth and all the beauties of heaven and earth, the soul’s faculties converge, touch, are welded together in the flame of a single act which is indistinguishably both vision and love. Thus the activity proper to purity (in scholastic terms, its formal effect) is the unification of the inner powers of the soul in a single act of appetition of extraordinary richness and intensity. In fine, the pure heart is the heart which, surmounting the multiple and disruptive pull of created things, fortifies its unity (which is to say, matures its spirituality) in the fire of the divine simplicity.
What purity effects in the individual, charity brings about within the community of souls. One cannot but be surprised (when one looks at it with a mind not dulled by habit) at the extraordinary care taken by Christ to urge upon men the importance of loving one another. Mutual love is the Master’s new commandment, the distinguishing mark of his disciples, the sure sign of predestination, the principal work to be achieved in all human existence. In the end we shall be judged on love, by love we shall be condemned or justified. . .
We make bold to boast of our age as an age of science. And to a certain extent we are justified, if we are thinking simply in terms of the dawn as opposed to the night which preceded it. Thanks to our discoveries and our methods of research, something of enormous import has been born in the universe, something which I am convinced will now never be stopped. But while we exalt research and profit by it, with what pettiness of mind, what paltry means, what disorderly methods, do we still today pursue our researches!
Have we ever given serious thought to our sorry predicament?
Like art, and one might almost say like thought itself science seemed at its birth to be but superfluity and fantasy, the product of an exuberant overflow of inward activity beyond the sphere of the material necessities of life, the fruit of the curiosity of dreamers and idlers. Then little by little, it achieved an importance and an effectiveness which earned for it the freedom of the city. We who live in a world which it can truly be said to have revolutionized acknowledge its social significance — and sometimes even make it the object of a cult. Nevertheless we still leave it to grow as best it can, hardly tending it at all, like those wild plants whose fruits are plucked by primitive peoples in their forests.
Given a really deep insight into the concept of collectivity, we are bound, I think, to understand the term without any attenuation of meaning, and certainly as no mere metaphor, when we apply it to the sum of all human beings. The immensity of the universe is necessarily homogeneous both in its nature and in its dimensions. Would it still be so if the loops of its spiral were to lose any slightest degree of reality or consistence as they mount higher and higher? The as yet unnamed reality which the gradual combination of individuals, of peoples, of races, will eventually bring into existence in the world must, if it is to be coherent with the rest of reality, be not infra-physical but supra-physical. Deeper than the common act of vision in which it expresses itself, and more important than the common power of action from which it emerges by a sort of autogenesis, there is the reality itself to which we must look forward, the reality constituted by the vital union of all the particles endowed with reflective consciousness.
To say this is simply to say (what is indeed probable enough) that the stuff of the universe does not achieve its full evolutionary cycle when it achieves consciousness, and that we are therefore moving on towards some new critical point. In spite of its organic connecting-links, the existence of which is everywhere apparent to us, the biosphere still formed no more than an assemblage of divergent lines, free at their extremities. Then, thanks to reflective thought and the recoils it involves, the lines converge and the loose ends meet: the noosphere becomes a single closed system in which each element individually sees, feels, desires and suffers the same things as all the rest together with them.
Thus we have a harmonized collectivity of consciousnesses which together make up a sort of super-consciousness; the earth not merely covered by myriads of grains of thought but enclosed in one single enveloping consciousness so that it forms, functionally, a single vast grain of thought on a sidereal scale of immensity, the plurality of individual acts of reflective consciousness coming together and reinforcing one another in a single unanimous act.
Such is the general form in which, by analogy and in symmetry with the past, we are led scientifically to envisage that humanity of the future in which alone the terrestrial drives implicit in our activity can find terrestrial fulfilment.
You know, my God, that I can now scarcely discern in the world the lineaments of its multiplicity; for when I gaze at it I see it chiefly as a limitless reservoir in which the two contrary energies of joy and suffering are accumulating in vast quantities — and for the most part lying unused.
And I see how through this restless, wavering mass there pass powerful psychic currents made up of souls who are carried away by a passion for art, for love, for science and the mastery of the universe, for the autonomy of the individual, for the freedom of mankind.
From time to time these currents collide one with another in formidable crises which cause them to seethe and foam in their efforts to establish their equilibrium.
What glory it were for you, my God, and what an affluence of life to your humanity, could all this spiritual power be harmonized in you!
Lord, to see drawn from so much wealth, lying unused or put to base uses, all the dynamism that is locked up within it: this is my dream. And to share in bringing this about: this is the work to which I would dedicate myself.
As far as I can, because I am a priest, I would henceforth be the first to become aware of what the world loves, pursues, suffers. I would be the first to seek, to sympathize, to toil; the first in self-fulfilment, the first in self-denial. For the sake of the world I would be more widely human in my sympathies and more nobly terrestrial in my ambitions than any of the world’s servants.
On the one hand I want to plunge into the midst of created things and, mingling with them, seize hold upon and disengage from them all that they contain of life eternal, down to the very last fragment, so that nothing may be lost; and on the other hand I want, by practising the counsels of perfection, to salvage through their self-denials all the heavenly fire imprisoned within the threefold concupiscence of the flesh, of avarice, of pride: in other words to hallow, through chastity, poverty and obedience, the power enclosed in love, in gold, in independence.
That is why I have clothed my vows and my priesthood (and it is this that gives me my strength and my happiness) in a determination to accept and to divinize the powers of the earth.
Show all your faithful followers, Lord, in how real and complete a sense opera sequuntur illos, their works follow after them into your kingdom. Otherwise they will be like indolent workmen who find no spur to action in a task to be achieved; or else, if a healthy human instinct overrides their hesitancies or the fallacies they derive from a misunderstanding of religion, they will still be a prey to a fundamental division and frustration within themselves, and it will be said that the sons of heaven cannot, on the human level, compete with true conviction and therefore on equal terms with the children of this world.
In the Christian vision, the great triumph of the Creator and Redeemer is to have transformed into an essential agent of life-bestowal what in itself is a universal power of diminishment and extinction. If God is definitively to enter into us, he must in some way hollow us out, empty us, so as to make room for himself. And if we are to be assimilated into him, he must first break down the molecules of our being so as to recast and remould us. It is the function of death to make the necessary opening into our inmost selves. Death brings about in us the required dissociation; death puts us into that state which is organically necessary if the divine fire is to descend upon us. And thus its baneful power to bring about decomposition and dissolution is harnessed to the most sublime of life’s activities. What was of its nature void, empty, a regression into plurality, can now in every human being become plenitude and unity in God.
The divinizing of our efforts through the value of the intention we put into them infuses into all our actions a soul of great price, but it does not confer on their bodies the hope of resurrection. Yet that hope is a necessity if our joy is to be complete. True, it is no small thing to be able to reflect that, if we love God, something of our inner activity, our operation, will never perish. But what of the results of that activity, the products of our minds and hearts and hands, our achievements, our opus: shall not these too be in some way preserved, ‘eternalized’?
Indeed, Lord, yes, it will be so, in virtue of a claim which you yourself have implanted in the depths of my will. I want it to be so, I need that it should be so.
I want it because I cannot help loving all that your constant help enables me each day to bring into being. A thought, a harmony, the achievement of a perfection in material things, some special nuance in human love, the exquisite complexity of a smile or a glance, every new embodiment of beauty appearing in me or around me on the human face of the earth: I cherish them all like children whose flesh I cannot believe destined to complete extinction. If I believed that these things were to perish for ever, would I have given them life? The deeper I look into myself the more clearly I become aware of this psychological truth: that no man would lift his little finger to attempt the smallest task unless he were spurred on by a more or less obscure conviction that in some infinitesimally tiny way he is contributing, at least indirectly, to the building up of something permanent — in other words, to your own work, Lord.
But, once again, we must tell ourselves: ‘In truth I say to you: only the daring can enter the kingdom of God, hidden henceforth in the heart of the world.’
It is of no use to read these pages, or other similar pages written twenty centuries ago, merely with one’s eyes. Anyone who, without having put his hand to the plough, thinks he has mastered them is deluding himself. We must try to live them.
If we would form an idea of the active power of faith and of what it achieves we must have struggled long and patiently: we must, in view of the practical uncertainty of the morrow, have thrown ourselves, in a true act of inward submission, upon Providence considered as being as physically real as the objects of our disquietude; we must, in our suffering of the ills we have incurred, our remorse for the sins we have committed, our vexation over the opportunities we have missed, have forced ourselves to believe unhesitatingly that God is powerful enough to turn each and every particular evil into good; we must, despite appearances to the contrary, have acted without reservation as though chastity, humility, gentleness were the only directions in which our being could make progress; we must, in the penumbra of death, have forced ourselves not to look back to the past but to seek in utter darkness the love of God.
Only he who has fought bravely and been victorious in the struggle against the spurious security and strength and attraction of the past can attain to the firm and blissful experiential certainty that the more we lose all foothold in the darkness and instability of the future, the more deeply we penetrate into God.
No, Lord, you do not ask of me anything that is false or beyond my power to achieve. Through your self-revealing and the power of your grace you simply compel what is most human in us to become at long last aware of itself. Humanity has been sleeping — and still sleeps — lulled within the narrowly confining joys of its little closed loves. In the depths of the human multitude there slumbers an immense spiritual power which will manifest itself only when we have learnt how to break through the dividing walls of our egoism and raise ourselves up to an entirely new perspective, so that habitually and in a practical fashion we fix our gaze on the universal realities.
Lord Jesus, you who are the Saviour of our human activity because you bring us a motive for acting, and the Saviour of our human pain because you endow it with a life-giving value: be also the Saviour of our human unity by compelling us to repudiate all our pettiness and, relying on you, to venture forth on to the uncharted ocean of charity.
IN THE TOTAL CHRIST
Since Jesus was born, and grew to his full stature, and died, everything has continued to move forward because Christ is not yet fully formed: he has not yet gathered about him the last folds of his robe of flesh and of love which is made up of his faithful followers. The mystical Christ has not yet attained to his full growth; and therefore the same is true of the cosmic Christ. Both of these are simultaneously in the state of being and of becoming; and it is from the prolongation of this process of becoming that all created activity ultimately springs. Christ is the end-point of the evolution, even the natural evolution, of all beings; and therefore evolution is holy.
In manus tuas commendo spiritum meum.17 Into the hands which broke and quickened the bread, which blessed and caressed little children, which were pierced with the nails; into the hands which are like our hands, the hands of which one can never tell what they will do with the object they are holding, whether they will break it or heal it, but which we know will always obey and reveal impulses filled with kindness and will always clasp us ever more closely, ever more jealously; into the gentle and mighty hands which can reach down into the very depth of the soul, the hands which fashion, which create, the hands through which flows out so great a love: into these hands it is comforting to surrender oneself especially if one is suffering or afraid. And there is both great happiness and great merit in so doing.
It is the whole of my being, Lord Jesus, that you would have me give you, tree and fruit alike, the finished work as well as the harnessed power, the opus together with the operation. To allay your hunger and slake your thirst, to nourish your body and bring it to its full stature, you need to find in us a substance which will truly be food for you. And this food ready to be transformed into you, this nourishment for your flesh, I will prepare for you by liberating the spirit in myself and in everything:
through an effort (even a purely natural effort) to learn the truth, to live the good, to create the beautiful;
through cutting away all inferior and evil energies;
through practising that charity towards all men which alone can gather up the multitude into a single soul . . .
To promote, in however small a degree, the awakening of spirit in the world is to offer to the incarnate Word an increase of reality and stability; it is to allow his influence to grow in intensity around us.
Through everything in me that has subsistence and resonance, everything that enlarges me from within, everything that arouses me, attracts me, wounds me from without: through all these, Lord, you work upon me, you mould and spiritualize my formless clay, you transform me into yourself.
In order to take possession of mc, my God, you who are so much more remote in your immensity and so much deeper in the intimacy of your indwelling than all things else, you take to yourself and unite together the immensity of the world and the intimate depths of my being: and I am conscious of bearing deep within me all the strain and struggle of the universe.
But, Lord, I do not just passively give way to these blessed passivities: I offer myself to them, actively, and do all I can to promote them.
I know how the life-giving power of the host can be blocked by our freedom of will. If I seal up the entry into my heart I must dwell in darkness — and not only I, my individual soul, but the whole universe in so far as its activity sustains my organism and awakens my consciousness, and in so far also as I act upon it in my turn so as to draw forth from it the materials of sensation, of ideas, of moral goodness, of holiness of life. But if on the other hand my heart is open to you, then at once through the pure intent of my will the divine must flood into the universe in so far as the universe is centred on me. Since, by virtue of my consent, I shall have become a living particle of the body of Christ, all that affects me must in the end help on the growth of the total Christ. Christ will flood into me and over me, me and my cosmos.
How I long, Lord Christ, for this to be!
May my acceptance be ever more complete, more comprehensive, more intense!
May my being, in its self-offering to you, become ever more open and more transparent to your influence!
And may I thus feel your activity coming ever closer, your presence growing ever more intense, everywhere around me.
If we look at the world simultaneously from an evolutionary and a spiritual point of view we shall see it as bearing a tremendous responsibility but also, even at the lowliest stages of belief in God, we shall see it as glowing with an irresistible attraction. For then it is not just a few privileged creatures that are seen as capable of satisfying each man’s essential need of finding something to love him and complement him: it is, thanks to these few and as a sort of reflection of them, the sum total of all the beings engaged together with him in the unifying work of the cosmos. In the last resort each element can find its beatitude only in union with the totality and with the transcendent Centre required to set the totality in motion. Consequently, if it is not possible for him, psychologically to surround each being with that particular, overflowing affection which characterizes our human love, at least he can nurture in his heart that generalized but none the less real affection for all that is which will cause him to cherish in each thing, over and above its surface qualities, the being itself — that is to say, that indefinable, elect part of each thing which, under God’s influence, gradually becomes flesh of his flesh.
Such a love has no exact equivalent among the various kinds of attachment to be found in our ordinary human relationships. Its ‘material object’ (as the Schoolmen would say)18 is so immense and its ‘formal object’ so profound that it can be expressed only in terms at once of marriage and of adoration. In it, all distinction between egoism and disinterestedness tends to evaporate. Each one loves himself and seeks his own fulfilment in the fulfilment of all the rest; and the least gesture of possession turns into an effort to attain, in the far-distant future, to what shall be the same in all.
Henceforth we know enough — and it is already a great deal — to be able to say that these onward gropings of life will succeed only in one condition: that the whole endeavour shall have unity as its keynote. Of its very nature the advance of the biological process demands this. Outside this atmosphere of a union glimpsed and longed for, the most legitimate demands are bound to lead to catastrophe: we can see this only too clearly at the present moment. On the other hand, once this atmosphere is created almost any solution will seem as good as all the others, and every sort of effort will succeed, at least in the beginning. Thus, if in dealing with the problem of the various human races, their appearance, their awakening, their future, we start from its purely biological roots, it will lead us to recognize that the only climate in which man can continue to grow is that of devotion and self-denial in a spirit of brotherhood. In truth, at the rate the consciousness and the ambitions of the world are increasing, it will explode unless it learns to love. The future of the thinking earth is organically bound up with the turning of the forces of hate into forces of charity.
Though the phenomena of the lower world remain the same — the material determinisms, the vicissitudes of chance, the laws of labour, the agitations of men, the footfalls of death — he who dares to believe reaches a sphere of created reality in which things, while retaining their habitual texture, seem to be made out of a different substance. Everything remains the same so far as phenomena are concerned, but at the same time everything becomes luminous, animated, loving.
Through the workings of faith, Christ appears, Christ is born, without any violation of nature’s laws, in the heart of the world.
As the years go by, Lord, I come to see more and more clearly, in myself and in those around me, that the great secret preoccupation of modern man is much less to battle for possession of the world than to find a means of escaping from it. The anguish of feeling that one is not merely spatially but ontologically imprisoned in the cosmic bubble; the anxious search for an issue to, or more exactly a focal point for, the evolutionary process: these are the price we must pay for the growth of planetary consciousness; these are the dimly-recognized burdens which weigh down the souls of Christian and gentile alike in the world of today.
Now that humanity has become conscious of the movement which carries it onwards it has more and more need of finding, above and beyond itself, an infinite objective, an infinite issue, to which it can wholly dedicate itself.
And what is this infinity? The effect of twenty centuries of mystical travail has been precisely to show us that the Baby of Bethlehem, the Man on the Cross, is also the Principle of all movement and the unifying Centre of the world: how then can we fail to identify this God not merely of the old cosmos but also of the new cosmogenesis, this God so greatly sought after by our generation, with you, Lord Jesus, you who make him visible to our eyes and bring him close to us?
Let us leave the surface and, without leaving the world, plunge into God. There, and from there, in him and through him we shall hold all things and have command of all things, we shall find again the essence and the splendour of all the flowers, the lights, we have had to surrender here and now in order to be faithful to life. Those beings whom here and now we despair of ever reaching and influencing, they too will be there, united together at that central point in their being which is at once the most vulnerable, the most receptive and the most enriching. There, even the least of our desires and our endeavours will be gathered and preserved, and be able to evoke instantaneous vibration from the very heart of the universe.
Let us then establish ourselves in the divine milieu. There, we shall be within the inmost depths of souls and the greatest consistency of matter. There, at the confluence of all the forms of beauty, we shall discover the ultra-vital, ultra-perceptible, ultra-active point of the universe; and, at the same time, we shall experience in the depths of our own being the effortless deployment of the plenitude of all our powers of action and of adoration.
For it is not merely that at that privileged point all the external springs of the world are co-ordinated and harmonized: there is the further, complementary marvel that the man who surrenders himself to the divine milieu feels his own inward powers directed and enlarged by it with a sureness which enables him effortlessly to avoid the all too numerous reefs on which mystical quests have so often foundered.
Lord, once again I ask: which is the more precious of these two beatitudes, that all things are means through which I can touch you, or that you yourself are so ‘universal’ that I can experience you and lay hold on you in every creature?
Some think to make you more lovable in my eyes by praising almost exclusively the charm and the kindness of your human face as men saw it long ago on earth. But if I sought only a human being to cherish, would I not turn to those whom you have given me here and now in all the charm of their flowering? Do we not all have around us irresistibly lovable mothers, brothers, sisters, friends? Why should we go searching the Judaea of two thousand years ago? No, what I cry out for, like every other creature, with my whole being, and even with all my passionate earthly longings, is something very different from an equal to cherish: It is a God to adore.
Lord Jesus, Master before whose beauty and all-demanding love we have cause to tremble: turning my eyes away from what my human weakness cannot as yet understand and therefore cannot bear to think about — the idea that there are in reality souls eternally damned19 — I would at least make the constant sombre menace of damnation a part of my habitual and practical vision of the world, not so much in order to fear you, but rather in order to become more passionately surrendered to you.
A moment ago I cried out to you: be to me, Lord Jesus, not only a brother, but a God. And now, panoplied as you are in that fearsome power of choosing and rejecting which places you at the world’s summit as principle of universal attraction and universal repulsion, now you do truly appear to me as that vast and vital force which I sought everywhere that I might adore it. And now I realize that the fires of hell and the fires of heaven are not two different forces but are contrary manifestations of one and the same energy.
Let not the hell-flames touch me, Master, nor any of those I love, nor indeed anyone at all (and I know, my Lord and God, that you will forgive me the audacity of my prayer), but may their sombre glow, and all the abysses they reveal, be for each and all of us incorporated into the blazing plenitude of your divine milieu.
Lift up your head, Jerusalem, and see the immense multitude of those who build and those who seek; see all those who toil in laboratories, in studios, in factories, in the deserts and in the vast crucible of human society. For all the ferment produced by their labours, in art, in science, in thought, all is for you.
Therefore open wide your arms, open wide your heart, and like Christ your Lord welcome the wave-flow, the flood, of the sap of humanity. Take it to yourself, for without its baptism you will wither away for lack of longing as a flower withers for lack of water; and preserve it and care for it, since without your sun it will go stupidly to waste in sterile shoots.
What has become of the temptations aroused by a world too vast in its horizons, too seductive in its beauty?
They no longer exist.
The earth-mother can indeed take me now into the immensity of her arms. She can enlarge me with her life, or take me back into her primordial dust. She can adorn herself for me with every allurement, every horror, every mystery. She can intoxicate me with the scent of her tangibility and her unity. She can throw me to my knees in expectancy of what is maturing in her womb.
But all her enchantments can no longer harm me, since she has become for me, more than herself and beyond herself, the body of him who is and who is to come.
To read the gospel with an open mind is to see beyond all possibility of doubt that Jesus came to bring us new truths concerning our destiny: not only a new life superior to that we are conscious of, but also in a very real sense a new physical power of acting upon our temporal world.
Through a failure to grasp the exact nature of this power newly bestowed on all who put their confidence in God — a failure due either to a hesitation in face of what seems to us so unlikely or to a fear of falling into illuminism — many Christians neglect this earthly aspect of the promises of the Master, or at least do not give themselves to it with that complete hardihood which he nevertheless never tires of asking of us, if only we have ears to hear him.
We must not allow timidity or modesty to turn us into poor craftsmen. If it is true that the development of the world can be influenced by our faith in Christ, then to let this power lie dormant within us would indeed be unpardonable.
God, who cannot in any way blend or be mingled with the creation which he sustains and animates and binds together, is nonetheless present in the birth, the growth and the consummation of all things.
The earthly undertaking which is beyond all parallel is the physical incorporation of the faithful into Christ and therefore into God. And this supreme work is carried out with the exactitude and the harmony of a natural process of evolution.
At the inception of the undertaking there had to be a transcendent act which, in accordance with mysterious but physically regulated conditions, should graft the person of a God into the human cosmos. This was the Incarnation: Et Verbum caro factum est.20 And from this first, basic contact of God with our human race, and precisely by virtue of this penetration of the divine into our human nature, a new life was born: that unforeseeable aggrandizement and ‘obediential’21 extension of our natural capacities which we call ‘grace’. Now grace is the sap which, rising in the one trunk, spreads through all the veins in obedience to the pulsations of the one heart; it is the nerve-impulse flowing through all the members at the command of the one brain; and the radiant Head, the mighty Heart, the fruitful Tree are, of necessity, Christ.
The Incarnation means the renewal, the restoration, of all the energies and powers of the universe; Christ is the instrument, the Centre and the End of all creation, animate and material; through him everything is created, hallowed, quickened. This is the constant, general teaching of St John and St Paul (that most ‘cosmic’ of sacred writers), a teaching which has passed into the most solemn phrases of the liturgy, but which we repeat and which future generations will go on repeating to the end without ever being able to master or to measure its profound and mysterious meaning, bound up as it is with the comprehension of the universe.
Only love can bring individual beings to their perfect completion, as individuals, by uniting them one with another, because only loves takes possession of them and unites them by what lies deepest within them. This is simply a fact of our everyday experience. For indeed at what moment do lovers come into the most complete possession of themselves if not when they say they are lost in one another? And is not love all the time achieving — in couples, in teams, all around us — the magical and reputedly contradictory feat of personalizing through totalizing? And why should not what is thus daily achieved on a small scale be repeated one day on worldwide dimensions?
Humanity, the spirit of the earth, the synthesis of individuals and peoples, the paradoxical conciliation of the element with the whole, of the one with the many:
all these are regarded as utopian fantasies, yet they are biologically necessary; and if we would see them made flesh in the world what more need we do than imagine our power to love growing and broadening till it can embrace the totality of men and of the earth?
You, Lord Jesus, are the epitome and the crown of all perfection, human and cosmic. No flash of beauty, no enchantment of goodness, no element of force, but finds in you the ultimate refinement and consummation of itself. To possess you is in truth to hold gathered into a single object the perfect assemblage of all that the universe can give us and make us dream of. The unique savour of the glory and wonder of your being has so effectively drawn out from the earth and synthetized all the most exquisite savours that the earth contains or can suggest that now we can find them, endlessly, one after another according to our desires, in you — you the Bread that ‘holds within it every delight’.
You who are yourself the plenitudo entis creati, the fullness of created being, Lord Jesus. are also the plenitudo entis mei, the fullness of my own personal being, and of all living creatures who accept your dominion. In you and in you alone, as in a boundless abyss, our powers can launch forth into activity and find surcease for their tensions, can show their full capacity without encountering any limitation, can plunge into love and into the wild abandon of love with the certainty of finding in your depths no wreck-rocks of failure, no shallows of pettiness, no currents of perverted truth.
By you and by you alone, who are the entire and proper object of our love and the creative energy that fathoms the secrets of our hearts and the mystery of our growth, our souls are awakened, sensitized, enlarged, to the utmost limit of their latent potentialities.
And under your influence and yours alone, the sheath of organic isolation and of wilful egoism which separates the monads from one another is cleft asunder and dissolves, and the multitude of souls rush on towards that union which is necessary for the maturity of the world.
Thus a third plenitude is added to the other two. In a very real sense, Lord Jesus, you are the plenitudo entium, the full assemblage of all the beings who shelter, and meet and are forever united, within the mystical bonds of your body. In your breast, my God, better than in any embrace, I possess all those whom I love and who are illumined by your beauty and in their turn illumine you with the rays of light (so powerful in their effect on our hearts) which they receive from you and send back to you. That multitude of beings, so daunting in its magnitude, that I so long to help, to enlighten, to lead to you: it is already there, Lord, gathered together within you. Through you I can reach into the inmost depths of every being and endow them with whatever I will — provided that I know how to ask you, and that you permit it.
The principle of unity which saves our guilty world, wherein all is in process of returning to dust, is Christ. Through the force of his magnetism, the light of his ethical teaching, the unitive power of his very being, Jesus establishes again at the heart of the world the harmony of all endeavours and the convergence of all beings. Let us read the gospel boldly and we shall see that no idea can better convey to our minds the redemptive function of the Word than that of a unification of all flesh in one and the same Spirit.
Jesus clothed his divine personality alike in the most palpable and in the most inward beauty and charm of human individuality. He adorned this humanity with the most enchanting and captivating splendours of the universe. And then he came amongst us and showed himself to us as that which we could never have thought to see: the synthesis of all perfections so that now each man must of necessity see him and feel his presence, and must either hate or love what he sees..
Lord God, when I go up to your altar for communion, grant that I may derive from it a discernment of the infinite perspectives hidden beneath the smallness and closeness of the host in which you are concealed. Already I have accustomed myself to recognize beneath the inertness of the morsel of bread a consuming power which, as the greatest Doctors of your Church have said, far from being absorbed into me, absorbs me into itself Help me now to overcome that remaining illusion which would make me think of you as touching me only in a limited and momentary way.
I begin to understand: under the sacramental species you touch me first of all through the ‘accidents’ of matter, of the material bread; but then, in consequence of this, you touch me also through the entire universe inasmuch as the entire universe, thanks to that primary influence, ebbs and flows over me. in a true sense the arms and the heart which you open to me are nothing less than all the united powers of the world which, permeated through and through by your will, your inclinations, your temperament, bend over my being to form it and feed it and draw it into the blazing centre of your infinite fire. In the host, Lord Jesus, you offer me my life.
We who are Christ’s disciples must not hesitate to harness this force — the world’s expectancy and ferment and unfolding — which needs us and which we need. On the contrary, under pain of allowing it to be dissipated and of perishing ourselves, we must share in those aspirations, in essence authentically religious, which make men today so intensely aware of the immensity of the world, the grandeur of the mind and the sacred value of every newly discovered truth. This is the schooling which will teach our present Christian generation how to await the future.
We have long been profoundly aware of these perspectives: the progress of the universe, and especially the human universe, does not take place in rivalry with God, nor is it a vain squandering of the energies we owe to him. The greater man becomes and the more humanity becomes one, conscious of its power and able to control it, the more beautiful creation will be, the more perfect adoration will become, and the more Christ will find, for the mystical extensions of his humanity, a body worthy of resurrection. The world can no more have two summits of fulfilment than a circumference can have two centres. The star which the world is awaiting though it does not as yet know its name, though it cannot as yet appreciate exactly its transcendence, cannot even distinguish the most spiritual, the most divine of its rays: this star cannot be other than that very Christ in whom we hope. To look with longing to the Parousia of the Son of Man we have only to allow to beat within our breasts — and to Christianize — the heart of the world.
Death will not simply throw us back into the great flux of reality, as the pantheist’s picture of beatitude would have us believe. Nevertheless in death we are caught up, overwhelmed, dominated by that divine power which lies within the forces of inner disintegration and, above all, within that irresistible yearning which will drive the separated soul on to complete its further, predestined journey as infallibly as the sun causes the mists to rise from the water on which it shines. Death surrenders us completely to God; it makes us pass into God. In return we have to surrender ourselves to it, in love and in the abandon of love, since, when death comes to us, there is nothing further for us to do but let ourselves be entirely dominated and led onwards by God.
Because, Lord, by every innate impulse and through all the hazards of my life I have been driven ceaselessly to search for you and to set you in the heart of the universe of matter, I shall have the joy, when death comes, of closing my eyes amidst the splendour of a universal transparency aglow with fire. . .
It is as if the fact of bringing together and connecting the two poles, tangible and intangible, external and internal, of the world which bears us onwards had caused everything to burst into flames and set everything free.
In the guise of a tiny baby in its mother’s arms, obeying the great laws of birth and infancy, you came, Lord Jesus, to dwell in my infant-soul; and then, as you re-enacted in me — and in so doing extended the range of — your growth through the Church, that same humanity which once was born and dwelt in Palestine began now to spread out gradually everywhere like an iridescence of unnumbered hues through which, without destroying anything, your presence penetrated — and endued with supervitality — every other presence about me.
And all this took place because, in a universe which was disclosing itself to me as structurally convergent, you, by right of your resurrection, had assumed the dominating position of all-inclusive Centre in which everything is gathered together.
Your call, my God, as it comes to men has innumerable different shades of meaning: each vocation is essentially different from all the rest.
The various regions, nations, social groupings, have each their particular apostles.
And I, Lord God, for my (very lowly) part, would wish to be the apostle — and, if I dare say so, the evangelist — of your Christ in the universe.
For you gave me the gift of sensing, beneath the incoherence of the surface, the deep, living unity which your grace has mercifully thrown over our heartbreaking plurality.
The universality of your divine magnetism, and the intrinsic value of our human undertakings: this, my God, is the twofold truth you have shown me, and I am burning to spread abroad the knowledge of it and to bring it fully into effect.
If you judge me worthy, Lord God, I would show to those whose lives are dull and drab the limitless horizons opening out to humble and hidden efforts; for these efforts, if pure in intention, can add to the extension of the incarnate Word a further element — an element known to Christ’s heart and gathered up into his immortality.
You disclosed to me the essential vocation of the world: to attain to its completion, through a chosen part of its whole being, in the plenitude of the incarnate Word.
In order to take possession of me, my God, you who are so much more remote in your immensity and so much deeper in the intimacy of your indwelling than all things else, you take to yourself and unite together the immensity of the world and the intimate depths of my being.
I realize that the totality of all perfections, even natural perfections, is the necessary basis for that mystical and ultimate organism which you are constructing out of all things. You do not destroy, Lord, the beings you adopt for your building; but you transform them while preserving everything good that the centuries of creation have fashioned in them.
The whole world is concentrated and uplifted in expectancy of union with the divine; yet at the same time it encounters an insurmountable barrier. For nothing can come to Christ unless he himself takes it and gathers it into himself
Towards Christ all the immortal monads converge. Not a single atom, however lowly or imperfect, but must co-operate — at least by way of repulsion or reflexion — in the fulfillings of Christ.
Only sin is excluded from the Pleroma. And even so, since to be damned is not to be annihilated, who shall say what mysterious complement might be given to the body of Christ by that immortal loss?
Through their diminution in Christo Jesu, those who mortify themselves, who suffer, who bear old age with patience, cross over the critical threshold where death is turned into life. Through forgetting the self they are given to find it, never to lose it again.
The universe takes on the lineaments of Jesus; but then there is great mystery: for he who thus becomes discernible is Jesus crucified.
Christ is loved as a person; he compels recognition as a world.
Lord Jesus, when it was given me to see where the dazzling trail of particular beauties and partial harmonies was leading, I recognized that it was all coming to centre on a single point, a single person: yourself. Every presence makes me feel that you are near me; every touch is the touch of your hand; every necessity transmits to me a pulsation of your will.
That the Spirit may always shine forth in me, that I may not succumb to the temptation that lies in wait for every act of boldness, nor ever forget that you alone must be sought in and through everything, you, Lord, will send me — at what moments only you know — deprivations, disappointments, sorrow.
What is to be brought about is more than a simple union: it is a transformation, in the course of which the only thing our human activity can do is, humbly, to make ourselves ready, and to accept.
Seeing the mystic immobile, crucified or rapt in prayer, some may perhaps think that his activity is in abeyance or has left this earth: they are mistaken. Nothing in the world is more intensely alive and active than purity and prayer, which hang like an unmoving light between the universe and God. Through their serene transparency flow the waves of creative power, charged with natural virtue and with grace. What else but this is the Virgin Mary?
Christian love, Christian charity: I know from experience how for the most part these words evoke in non-Christians either a kindly or a malicious incredulity. The idea of loving God and the world, they object, is surely a psychological absurdity. How is one in fact to love the intangible, the universal? And then in so far as it can be said more or less metaphorically that a love of all and of the All is possible, is not this inward activity, far from being specifically Christian, familiar to the mystics of India or Persia and to many more?
And yet, are not the facts there before our eyes, physically, almost brutally, to prove the contrary?
In the first place, say what one will, a love, a true love of God is perfectly possible: were it not, all the monasteries and all the churches on earth would be emptied in a moment, and Christianity, for all its framework of ritual, of precepts, of hierarchy, would quite inevitably crumble away into nothingness.
In the second place, this love certainly has in Christianity a strength which is not found elsewhere: otherwise, despite all the virtues and all the attraction of the tenderness which characterizes the gospel, the doctrine of the beatitudes and of the Cross would long since have given place to some other, more winning, creed — and more particularly to some form of humanism or belief in purely earthly values.
Whatever the merits of other religions, it remains an undeniable fact — explain it how one will — that the most ardent and most massive blaze of collective love that has ever appeared in the world burns here and now in the heart of the Church of God.
1. ‘This is my Body.’ (Matt. 26.26; Mark 14.22.)
2. ‘It is I, fear not.’ (Luke 24.36.)
3. ‘Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for.’ (Heb. 11.1.)
4. I have used this phrase to translate detachement in order to avoid the infelicitous and possibly gravely misleading overtones (suggestive of the ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude) of ‘detachment’.
5. ‘Stay with us, because it is towards evening.’ (Luke 24.29.)
6. Omega: the end-point of cosmogenesis, the culmination of the process of hominization or spiritualization, where personal and universal meet in the Supra-Personal — a point therefore which is not simply the end of the whole process, the last term in its series, but is outside all series, autonomous and transcendent, and so is identified with God, the Centre of centres, and with the Totus Christus. (Tr.’s note.)
7. ‘To the greater glory of God.’
8. ‘All things are for man’s sake.’
9. Fr. speciation. (Tr.’s note.)
10. ‘To leave nothing unattempted.’
11. Hominization is Pere Teilhard’s term for what Sir Julian Huxley has called ‘progressive pyschosocial evolution’, i.e. the process whereby mankind’s potentialities are more and more fully realized in the world, and all the forces contained in the animal world are progressively spiritualized in human civilization. (Tr.’s note.)
12. ‘Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, in peace.’ (Luke 2.29.)
13. ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself.’ (Matt. 16.24.)
14. ‘For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; for he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall save it.’ (Luke 9.24.)
15. ‘The self-conscious death-throes of an eternal decomposition’ writes the author elsewhere, of this antipode of God. (Ed.’s note.)
16. ‘This is the chalice of my blood. . .’
17. ‘Into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ (Luke 23.46.)
18. The material object of (for instance) a science is the subject- matter, in general, with which it is concerned; its formal object is the specific aspect under which that subject-matter is studied. Thus man is the material object alike of anthropology, psychology, physiology and so on, the formal object being different in each case.
19. According to catholic teaching, the existence of hell, of a state of eternal damnation, is an article of faith (as indeed, given free will and evil, it is a logical necessity); but that some human beings are or will be in fact damned is not an article of faith (though again logically it must be regarded as a possibility): hence Pere Teilhard’s prayer further on in this passage. (Tr.’s note.)
20. ‘And the Word was made Flesh.’ (John 1.14.)
21. An obediential potentiality is one whose actualization goes beyond the natural, innate limitations of its subject, while not being irreconcilable with those limitations, e.g. the direct intuition of God in the beatific vision. (Tr.’s note.)