(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s well-known book Le Phénomène humain (1955; The Phenomenon of Man, 1955) contains the core of his scientific thought. The Divine Milieu is its counterpart on the spiritual level. It is a meditation book for intellectuals and is addressed primarily to those who waver rather than to Christians who are firmly established in their beliefs. However, as the author writes in the preface, there is not much in this book on moral evil and sin. Teilhard de Chardin assumes that he is dealing here with souls who have already turned away from such errors. The subject to be treated in these pages is actual, supernaturalized human beings, seen in the restricted realm of conscious psychology.

Humankind is involved in a collective awakening, Teilhard de Chardin notes in his introduction. This will inevitably have a profound religious influence on humanity. Teilhard de Chardin sets out to consider human beings in the double aspect of their experience: active and passive—that which the person does and that which is undergone.

Part 1, “The Divinization of Our Activities,” begins with a note that what is most divine in God is that “we are nothing apart from him.” All persons are impelled by the will to be and to grow; the particular problem that Christians face is to sanctify their actions. How is one to make important contributions to the world, though, when one is constantly warned by spiritual writers to preserve an attitude of detachment toward the world? There are three responses, traditionally, to this dilemma, according to Teilhard de Chardin. One is to center oneself on specifically religious acts; another is to devote oneself to strictly secular pursuits; finally, and usually, one merely throws up one’s hands at the inability to understand the problem and makes a weak compromise that results in one’s belonging neither wholly to God nor wholly to things.

All three responses are dangerous, Teilhard de Chardin writes, but there is a fourth way to resolve the situation that will provide mutual nourishment for love of God and a healthy love for the world. This will combine a striving for detachment with a striving for development. There are two solutions that can be employed when facing this Christian problem of the divinization of human activity. The first is an incomplete solution and is based on the concept that our actions have no value except in the intentions that motivate them. However, this solution is not fully satisfactory because it does not give hope for the resurrection of our bodies. The more satisfactory solution is found in this: that all work, all striving, cooperates to complete the world in Christ Jesus. Teilhard de Chardin illustrates this point by use of a syllogism. At the heart of the universe, every soul exists for God, but all reality exists for our souls; therefore, all reality exists, through our souls, for God. God’s creation, after all, was not completed long ago; it is a continuing process and we serve to complete it by what we do. The task is no less than bringing Christ to fulfillment.

The divine so permeates our every energy that our action is the most appropriate milieu for embracing it. In action we cleave to God’s creative power; we coincide with it and prolong it. There is a specifically Christian perfection to human endeavor. We cripple our lives if we see work as only an encumbrance. Because of the incarnation of Christ, nothing on this earth is profane for those who see properly. Too many Christians are not conscious enough of the responsibilities to God that we have for our lives.

There is, of course, the need for detachment through action, Teilhard de Chardin adds. By its very nature, work may be seen as an important factor in detachment. First, work indicates an effort beyond inertia. Then, too, it is always accompanied by painful birth pangs. The worker becomes more avid in his or her efforts, wanting to blaze new paths, to create more widely. Thus one belongs no longer exclusively to oneself, but the spirit of the universe gradually insinuates itself in the person. The Christian, as described in this section, is at once the most detached and the most attached of human beings.

“The Divinisation of Our Passivities” is the title and content of part 2. In the encounter between humanity and God, Teilhard de Chardin writes, humanity—because it is the lesser—must receive rather than give. Our passivities comprise half of our existence, as has been said earlier, but it is important to realize that the passive parts of our lives are immeasurably wider and deeper than the active.

Growth itself is essentially passive, is undergone. Teilhard de Chardin writes that we probably undergo life more than we undergo death. All of our desires to realize ourselves are charged with God’s influence. However, the forces of diminishment are our true passivities, and we should recognize their twofold origins: those passivities whose origin lies within us and those whose origin is found outside ourselves. The passage of...

(The entire section is 2081 words.)