From the 1942 essay "The New Spirit" by Teilhard de Chardin. Reprinted from "The Future of Man" with permission of Doubleday.
Far from being swallowed up by Evolution, Man is now engaged in transforming our earlier ideas of Evolution in terms of himself, and thereafter plotting its new outline.
...Beneath our eyes, extending from the electron to Man by way of the proteins, viruses, bacteria, protozoa and metazoa, a long chain of composites is forming and unfolding, eventually attaining an astronomical degree of complexity and arrangement. Why should we not simply define Life as the specific property of Matter, the Stuff of the Universe, carried by evolution into the zone of highest complexity? And why not define Time itself as precisely the rise of the Universe into those high latitudes where complexity, concentration, centration and consciousness grow and increase, simultaneously and correlatively?
We still hesitate, as I have said, over the form which we may conveniently attribute to Space-Time. But the fact is that we have no more time for quibbling. If it is to be adjusted to Man, the high point and effective spearhead of evolution; if it is to contain and propagate the Noogenesis [evolving group mind] through which the march of events expresses itself with an increasing clarity, Space-Time must be given whatever form is most appropriate. Caught within its curve the layers of Matter (considered as separate elements no less than as a whole) tighten and converge in Thought, by synthesis. Therefore it is as a cone, in the form of a cone,
that it can best be depicted.
To accept that Space-Time is convergent in its nature is equally to admit that Thought on earth has not achieved the ultimate point of its evolution.
...If the event that characterizes our epoch is a growing awareness of the convergent nature of Space-Time, then nothing can be more ill-founded than this pessimism [about Christianity's future]. Transferred within the cone of Time, and there transmuted, the Christian system is neither disorganized nor deformed. On the contrary, sustained by the new environment, it more than ever develops its main lines, acquiring an added coherence and clarity.
What is finally the most revolutionary and fruitful aspect our present age is the relationship it has brought to light between Matter and Spirit: spirit being no longer independent of matter, or in opposition to it, but laboriously emerging from it under the attraction of God by way of synthesis and centration.
But what is the effect, for Christian faith and mysticism, of this redefinition of the Spirit? It is simply to confer absolute reality and absolute urgency upon the double dogma on which the whole of Christianity rests, and by which it is summed up: the physical primacy of Christ and the moral primacy of Charity.
A) The Primacy of Christ.
In the narrow, partitioned and static Cosmos wherein our fathers believed themselves to dwell, Christ was "lived" and loved by His followers, as He is today, as the Being on whom all things depend and in whom the Universe finds its "consistence." But this Christological function was not easily defended on rational grounds, at least if the attempt was made to interpret it in a full, organic sense. Accordingly Christian thinking did not especially seek to incorporate it in any precise cosmic order. At that time the Kingship of Christ could be readily expressed in terms of juridical ascendancy; or else it was sufficient that He should prevail in the nonexperimental, extracosmic sphere of the supernatural.
Theology, in short, did not seem to realize that every kind of Universe might not be "compossible" with the idea of an Incarnation. But with the concept of Space-Time, as we have defined it, there comes into effect a harmonious and fruitful conjunction between the two spheres of rational experience and of faith. In a Universe of "Conical" structure Christ has a place (the apex!) ready for Him to fill, when His Spirit can radiate through all the centuries and all beings; and because of the genetic links running through all the levels of Time and Space between the elements of a convergent world, the Christ-influence, far from being restricted to the mysterious zones of "grace," spreads and penetrates throughout the entire mass of Nature in movement. In such a world Christ cannot sanctify the Spirit without (as the Greek Fathers intuitively perceived) uplifting and saving the totality of Matter. Christ becomes truly universal to the full extent of Christian needs, and in conformity with the deepest aspirations of our age the Cross becomes the Symbol, the Way, the very Act of progress.
B) The Primacy of Charity. What the modern mind finds disconcerting in Christian charity is its negative or at least static aspect, and also the "detached" quality of this great virtue. "Love one another. . ." Hitherto the gospel precept has seemed simply to mean, "Do not harm one another," or, "Seek with all possible care and devotion to diminish injustice, heal wounds and soften enmities in the world around you." Hitherto, also, the "supernatural" gift of ourselves which we were required to make to God and to our neighbor appeared to be something opposed to and destructive of the bonds of feeling attaching us to the things of this world.
But if Charity is transplanted into the cone of Time nothing remains of these apparent limitations and restrictions. Within a Universe of convergent structure the only possible way in which an element can draw closer to its neighboring elements is by tightening the cone
-that is to say, by causing the whole layer of the world of which it is a part to move toward the apex.
In such an order of things no man can love his neighbor without drawing nearer to God and, of course, reciprocally (but this we knew already). But it is also impossible (this is newer to us) to love either God or our neighbor without assisting the progress, in its physical entirety, of the terrestrial synthesis of the spirit: since it is precisely the progress of this synthesis which enables us to draw closer together among ourselves, while at the same time it raises us toward God. Because we love, and in order that we may love even more, we find ourselves happily and especially compelled to participate in all the endeavors, all the anxieties, all the aspirations and also all the affections of the earth-in so far as these embody a principle of ascension and synthesis.
Christian detachment subsists wholly in this wider attitude of mind: but instead of "leaving behind" it leads on; instead of cutting off, it raises. It is no longer a breakaway but a way through; no longer a withdrawal but an act of emerging. Without ceasing to be itself, Charity spreads like an ascending force, like a common essence at the heart of all forms of human activity, whose diversity is finally synthesized in the rich totality of a single operation. Like Christ Himself, and in His image, it is universalized, it acquires a dynamic and is humanized by the fact of doing so.
To sum up, in order to match the new curve of Time Christianity is led to discover the values of this world below the level of God, while Humanism finds room for a God above the level of this world. Inverse and complementary movements: or rather, the two faces of a single event which perhaps marks the beginning of a new era for Mankind.
This double transformation is something more than a speculation of my own. Throughout the world at this moment, without distinction of country, class, calling or creed, men are appearing who have begun to reason, to act and to pray in terms of the limitless and organic dimensions of Space-Time. To the outside observer such men may still seem isolated. But they are aware of one another among themselves, they recognize each other whenever their paths cross. They know that tomorrow, rejecting old concepts, divisions and forms, the whole world will see what they see and think as they do.
--Peking, February 13, 1942