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Science and Christ

a Lecture given in Paris, 27 February 1921

The following document is the final page of a conference held by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in Paris on February 27, 1921 with the title Science and Christ or analysis and synthesis, in which the author summarizes three program criteria that, in light of the cosmic role of the Incarnated Word , should guide the relationship between science and religion.

And then comes the question of Christ himself – who is he? Turn to the most weighty and most unmistakable passages in the Scriptures. Question the Church about her most essential beliefs; and this is what you will learn: Christ is not something added to the world as an extra, he is not an embellishment, a king as we know crown kings, the owner of a great estate… He is the alpha and the omega, the principle and the end, the foundation stone and the keystone, the Plenitude and the Plenifier. He is the one who consummates all things and gives them their consistence. It is towards him and through him, the inner life and light of the world, that the universal convergence of all created spirit is effected in sweat and tears. He is the single centre, precious and consistent, who glitters at the summit that is to crown the world, at the opposite pole from those dim and eternally shrinking regions into which our science ventures when it descends the road of matter and the past.

When we consider this profound harmony that for us Christians links and subordinates the zone of the multiple and zone of unity, the essentially analytical domain of science and the ultra-synthetic domain of religion, then, my friends, I believe that we may draw the following conclusions: and they are the moral of this over-long address.

1. Above all, we Christians have no need to be afraid of, or to be unreasonably shocked by, the results of scientific research, whether in physics, in biology, or in history. Some Catholics are disconcerted when it is pointed out to them – either that the laws of providence may be reduced to determinisms and chance – or that under our most spiritual powers there lie hidden most complex material structures – or that the Christian religion has roots in a natural religious development of human consciousness – or that the human body presupposes a vast series of previous organic developments. Such Catholics either deny the facts or are afraid to face them. This is a huge mistake. The analyses of science and history are very often accurate; but they detract nothing from the almighty power of God nor from the spirituality of the soul, nor from the supernatural character of Christianity, nor from man's superiority to the animals. Providence, the soul, divine life, are synthetic realities. Since their function is to ‘unify', they presuppose, outside and below them, a system of elements; but those elements do not constitute them; on the contrary it is to those higher realities that the elements look for their ‘animation'.

2. Thus science should not disturb our faith by its analyses. Rather, it should help us to know God better, to understand and appreciate him more fully. Personally, I am convinced that there is no more substantial nourishment for the religious life than contact with scientific realities, if they are properly understood. The man who habitually lives in the society of the elements of this world, who personally experiences the overwhelming immensity of things and their wretched dissociation, that man, I am certain, becomes more acutely conscious than anyone of the tremendous needs for unity that continually drives the universe further ahead, and of the fantastic future that awaits it. No one understands so fully as the man who is absorbed in the study of matter, to what a degree Christ, through his Incarnation, is interior to the world, rooted in the world even in the heart of the tiniest atom. We compared the structure of the universe to that of a cone: only that man can fully appreciate the richness contained in the apex of the cone, who has first gauged the width and the power of the base.

3. It is useless, in consequence, and it is unfair, to opposed science and Christ, or to separate them as two domains alien to one another. By itself, science cannot discover Christ – but Christ satisfies the yearnings that are born in our hearts in the school of science. The cycle that sends man down to the bowels of matter in its full multiplicity, thence to climb back to the centre of spiritual unification, is a natural cycle . We could say that it is a divine cycle , since it was first followed by him who had to “descend into Hell” before ascending into Heaven, that he might fill all things. "Quis ascendit nisi qui descendit prius, ut impleret omnia."

P. Teilhard de Chardin, Science and Christ (London: Collins, 1968), pp. 34-36, translated by René Haque.