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Church History Forum: Tiellard de Chardin

by Catherine Frakas 09 Nov 2001

Tiellard de Chardin QUESTION from B. Stone on April 27, 2002 Is Tiellard de Chardin's writings accepted by the Church as valid Catholic teaching?
ANSWER by Q & A Staff on May 20, 2002 Dear Mrs Stone,
No, the Catholic Church issues a monitum (or warning) on de Chardin’s works in 1962. It has never been revoked.
The French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) who attempted to create a fusion of Christianity and evolutionary theory was one of the most popular theologians of the 20thcentury. However, his teachings were not so much Catholic as New Age hinduism, as his teachings were to all in intents and purposes, pantheism (the belief that God is everything). De Chardin was a New Ager, possibly one of the first Catholic clerics to fall into this error, and certainly the most influential. Clearly this view is in no way compatible with Catholic doctrine, and the history of his disputes with Rome bears this out.
Here is a sample of the nonsense de Chardin pumped out:
What we call inorganic matter is certainly animate in its own way . . . Atoms, electrons, elementary particles . . . must have a spark of spirit. (Science and Christ, written 1920s, published in English in 1968)
De Chardin was first silenced by the Jesuit order from 1926 and this remained in effect till his death. In 1933 he was ordered by Rome to give up his teaching post in Paris, and a few years later (in 1939) Rome banned his work „L’energie humaine“. Again in 1947, Rome forbade him to teach or to write on philosophical themes. A year later, de Chardin was again refused permission to publish his work Le Phenomene Humain (the first prohibition having been issues four years earlier). A similar prohibition of Le Groupe Zoologique followed in 1949. In 1957, the Holy Office (the former name for the Sacred Congregation ofr the Doctrine of the Faith) forbade the works of de Chardin to be either kept in libraries or sold in bookshops. In addition, they were not to be translated into other languages. However, just one year later, in 1958, de Chardin’s writings appeared in Spanish, in defiance of Rome’s orders. Also in spite of these prohibitions, after de Chardin died in 1955, his works were published posthumously by Sir Julian Huxley. 1n 1962 a monitum, or official warning, was placed on his writings by Rome. Contrary to some popular opinions, this monitum is still in place.
With a list of prohibitions as long as this, one would not expect Teilhard de Chardin’s works to enjoy the popularity the subsequently did, and still, enjoy. Even noted theologian Henri Cardinal de Lubac supported some of his views. (In 1962 de Lubac was remonstrated by Pope John XXIII for his defense of Teilhard de Chardin’s less than orthodox views on the Holy Eucharist.)
The text of the 1962 monitum, or warning, is given below:

Monitum -- given at Rome from the Holy Office, June 30, 1962. Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office Several works of Fr. Pere Teilhard de Chardin, some of which were posthumously published, are being edited and are gaining a good deal of success. Prescinding from a Judgment about those points that concern the positive sciences, it is sufficiently clear that the above mentioned works abound in such ambiguities. and indeed even serious errors, as to offend Catholic doctrine. For this reason, the eminent and most revered Fathers of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office exhort all Ordinaries, as well as Superiors of Religious institutes, rectors of seminaries and presidents of universities, effectively to protect the minds, particularly of the youth. against the dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and of his followers. Given at Rome, from the palace of the Holy Office, on the thirtieth day of June, 1962.

(Note: text found in Canon Law Digest, volume V, eds. T. Lincoln Bouscaren, S.J., and James I. O’Connor, S.J., The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, pp.621-622)
This did not bring an end to matters, however. A year later, in 1963, the Vicariate of Rome (a Diocese ruled in the name of the then Pope Paul VI by his Cardinal Vicar) required that Catholic booksellers in Rome should withdraw from circulation the works of de Chardin, along with any other books which supported his views.
In 1967 the Apostolic Delegation in Washington, D.C:, affirmed that the monitum was still in place. In 1981, this same affirmation was repeated, this time from the Vatican itself. The following is the text of the 1981 statement:

Communique of the Press Office of the Holy See (appeared in the English edition of L'Osservatore Romano, July 20, 1981) The letter sent by the Cardinal Secretary of State to His Excellency Mons. Poupard on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin has been interpreted in a certain section of the press as a revision of previous stands taken by the Holy See in regard to this author, and in particular of the Monitum of the Holy Office of 30 June 1962, which pointed out that the work of the author contained ambiguities and grave doctrinal errors. The question has been asked whether such an interpretation is well founded. After having consulted the Cardinal Secretary of State and the Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which, by order of the Holy Father, had been duly consulted beforehand, about the letter in question, we are in a position to reply in the negative . Far from being a revision of the previous stands of the Holy See, Cardinal Casaroli's letter expresses reservation in various passages-- and these reservations have been passed over in silence by certain newspapers-- reservations which refer precisely to the judgment given in the Monitum of June 1962 , even though this document is not explicitly mentioned.
The most recent cause of the rumours that the monitumhas been lifted was a letter sent by Cardinal Secretary of State Agostino Casaroli on May 12, 1981, to Archbishop Paul Poupard, Rector of the „Institut Catholique“ of Paris, where centenary celebrations of the birth of de Chardin were being held. This letter did not revoke the monitum of 1962, and as the Vatican statement of 1981 says, in fact „expresses reservations in various passages“.
So, in conclusion, it is quite certain that the monitum on de Chardin’s works still stands.
Since the monitum of 1962 also warns of thew works of de Chardin’s followers, it might be a good idea to mention some of the other more popular New Age writers in Catholic circles, so that readers may be more aware of them. Two of the most popular are Father Anthony de Mello and the former Dominican priest Matthew Fox, both of whose writings are incompatible with Catholic doctrine. De Mello’s writings received a condemnation from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1998, while Matthew Fox was prohibited from teaching. These and several others, who teach New Age doctrines instead of the Catholic Faith they were entrusted with, are also covered by the 1962 monitum regarding the „works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and of his followers.
God bless, .
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