Christianity and World Evolution

Theology’s about the big picture of things if it’s anything at all. That’s why I get distressed by those who label the abstruse or irrelevant as ‘so much theology’.

If there’s a personal God who’s shown his face in the world what he’s got to say would, and in my belief does, challenge disconnected thinking and application.

If there’s a big Mind he’s the living proof that mind comes before matter and that a materialistic world view is blind. Materialists may well stay blind until believers shake off their sense of intellectual inferiority and become true ‘theologians’ who can speak to awake them. Such speech about God, allied to deeds of love, won’t be abstract or irrational but deep, compelling and absolutely connected with the aspirations and lifeblood of the world.

If God has come in person to us in Jesus Christ what’s personal about human existence is geared to reign supreme as be all and end all. All that depersonalises is ultimately to be defeated by the coming, death, resurrection and awaited return of Jesus. In a world where life on earth is seen more and more against the depersonalising backcloth of cold technology and the dark immensity of the cosmos, belief in the supremacy of loving relationships is awesome good news.

It makes Christian worship, in which believers see God’s person, and their own communion sealed, through material elements of bread and wine, a school for seeing God through and in all things, working out his purpose to ‘be all things to all people’ (1 Corinthians 15.28). This transformative action of Jesus Christ through bread and wine is an eye opener to his role in the evolution of the cosmos from the inanimate, to life, and to loving relationships that await his consummation.

I will take a breath here and admit what I’ve just written, though it’s firmly my view, is also something of a window into the bold and profound thinking of the French theologian Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955).

All through my 35 year ministry as a priest Teilhard’s been a background influence. Like me he was a scientist as well as a priest, in itself countering the exaggerated opposition of religion and science I’ve seen over my life time. His positive and biblical embrace of evolution attracts me as so much richer than forms of biblical literalism that can end up being a brake on creative believing.

As someone involved day by day in giving reasoned defence of Christian faith I find Teilhard an inspiration. He’s a writer who raises the bar from the Christian end, raising sights above the narrow church issues of our day to ‘the uniting of all things in Christ’ (Ephesians 1.10).

Teilhard’s love of the eucharist and vision of its cosmic implications has enriched and given purpose to my own engagement with the sacraments. Like the best theologians his writings evidence a rooting in prayer and worship, as in his great ‘Mass on the World’, one of my favourite spiritual texts. In the invocation of the Holy Spirit at the eucharist he sees an echo both of Our Lord’s desire to ‘cast fire upon the earth’ (Luke 12.49) and the stellar fires and molten lava that energise the earth’s development. In the elevation of the Host in the eucharist Teilhard sees in anticipation the raising up of Jesus as the ‘Omega Point’ on his return to gather all things to himself.

‘My vocation is to personalise the world in God’ he writes. ‘Nothing is precious save what is yourself in others and others in yourself’. Always Teilhard sees earthly things in the light of the communion of saints where God will become all in all in an atmosphere of pure love, a union in Christ that will preserve individual distinguishing. Teilhard’s cosmic mysticism affirms with Saint Gregory: ‘We are one in him who is everywhere’.

It’s an extraordinary feature of Teilhard that he prophesied the connecting up of human consciousness we now experience in the global internet. His logical examination of the trajectory of evolution from inanimate matter to animation then human self-consciousness extrapolates to the cosmos being made incandescent with the glow of a single thinking envelope. This trajectory goes with Darwinian theory up to a point, then radically diverges towards the radical Christian vision, where the God-given human capacity to converge and unify leaps beyond the materialist vision of ‘survival of the fittest’.

In Teilhard’s thinking the meeting of minds as in the internet is the last stage before the uniting of holy hearts and souls in the communion of saints. In this process the exercise of human freedom, as in repentance and faith, is essential since the spiritual momentum of Christianity, carrying beyond the physical and psychological to God in his holiness, respects the human option to choose God or not.

This forward momentum of the Holy Spirit rescues Christian theology again and again and the connected up thinking of Teilhard de Chardin is a brilliant example in our age. For more information I would recommend reading Teilhard himself, starting with his short ‘Mass on the Universe’, or commentaries on his writing, chiefly that of Henri de Lubac (‘The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin’). As a gentler devotional introduction to him I would recommend Robert Faricy and Lucy Rooney’s ‘Knowing Jesus in the World’.


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