Authors: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French theologian and paleontologist

Identity: Catholic

Author Works


Early Man in China, 1941

Le Phénomène humain, 1955 (The Phenomenon of Man, 1955)

L’Apparition de l’homme, 1956 (The Appearance of Man, 1965)

Lettres de voyage (1923-1939), 1956 (partial translation as Letters from a Traveler, 1962)

Le Milieu divin, 1957 (The Divine Milieu, 1960)

Nouvelles Lettres de voyage (1939-1955), 1957 (partial translation as Letters from a Traveler, 1962)

La Vision du passé, 1957 (The Vision of the Past, 1966)

L’Avenir de l’homme, 1959 (The Future of Man, 1965)

Génèse d’une pensée: Lettres 1914-1919, 1961 (The Making of a Mind: Letters from a Soldier-Priest, 1914-1919, 1965)

Hymne de l’univers, 1961 (Hymn of the Universe, 1961)

L’Énergie humaine, 1962 (Human Energy, 1969)

L’Activation de l’énergie, 1963 (Activation of Energy, 1970)

Lettres d’Égypte, 1905-1908, 1963 (Letters from Egypt, 1905-1908, 1965)

La Place de l’homme dans la nature, 1963 (Man’s Place in Nature, 1966)

Science et Christ, 1965 (Science and Christ, 1968)

Écrits du temps de la guerre (1916-1919), 1965 (Writings in Time of War, 1968)

Lettres à Léontine Zanta, 1965 (Letters to Leontine Zanta, 1969)

Lettres d’Hastings et de Paris, 1908-1914, 1966 (pb. in 2 volumes: Letters from Paris, 1912-1914, 1967; Letters from Hastings, 1908-1912, 1968)

Accomplir l’homme, lettres inédites, 1926-1952, 1968 (Letters to Two Friends, 1926-1952, 1968)

Comment je crois, 1969 (How I Believe, 1969)

Christianity and Evolution, 1971

Toward the Future, 1975

On Love and Happiness, 1984

Letters of Teilhard de Chardin and Lucile Swan, 1993


Oeuvres de Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1955-1976 (13 volumes)

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Writings, 1999


In his work as geologist, paleontologist, and Jesuit priest, Marie-Joseph-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (tay-yahr duh shahr-dan) combined his scientific beliefs and Christian convictions in an idealistic, evolutionary vision of the universe. He was born in 1881 in Sarcenat, a small town in south central France. The fourth child of a large family, Teilhard absorbed from his father, a farmer, an interest in geology, and from his mother, a devout Roman Catholic, a deep belief in the truths of Christianity. In 1892 he entered a Jesuit boarding school near Lyons. By the time he was sixteen, he knew he had a vocation to the religious life, and on March 20, 1899, he entered the Jesuit novitiate in Aix-en-Provence.{$I[AN]9810001622}{$I[A]Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre}{$S[A]Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de;Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre}{$I[geo]CATHOLIC;Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre}{$I[tim]1881;Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre}

Teilhard was a model novice, and after a two-year initiation into the Jesuit way of life, he took his vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in Laval, where he continued his training. However, anticlerical legislation forced Teilhard and other Jesuits to leave France for the Channel island of Jersey, where he studied Scholastic philosophy. In 1905 Teilhard began teaching physics and chemistry in the Jesuit College of the Holy Family in Cairo, where he also had the chance to do geological and paleontological research.

From 1908 to 1912 Teilhard studied theology at Hastings in southern England. He began discovering connections between his scientific and religious beliefs. Evolution was the bridge between these two visions of the world, and for Teilhard they complemented rather than contradicted each other. In Teilhard’s vision, Jesus Christ represents the crucial point in the universe’s evolution, as matter and spirit are so deeply intertwined in his person that he embodies the world’s true fulfillment. By 1911, when he was ordained a priest, Teilhard was a fervent evolutionist.

In 1912, after completing his theological training, Teilhard went to Paris to study under Marcellin Boule, an expert on Neanderthals, at the Institute of Human Paleontology. On a trip to England in 1913, he became involved in what later became known as the “Piltdown hoax.” Though evolutionary theorist Stephen Jay Gould later claimed that Teilhard was the deceiver behind the hoax, most scholars believe that the Jesuit paleontologist was as deceived as others by these artificially aged animal and human bones.

Teilhard’s final year of Jesuit training, at Canterbury in England, was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. He served as a stretcher-bearer in various regiments and in many campaigns. His bravery and self-sacrifice merited numerous decorations. After his demobilization in March of 1919, he returned to his scientific career. His studies in geology, botany, and zoology culminated in 1922 when he received a doctorate from the Sorbonne. His doctoral thesis dealt with the fossil mammals of the Eocene period, some forty million years ago, when mammalian species rapidly multiplied and diversified.

From 1922 to 1926 Teilhard was an assistant professor of geology at the Institut Catholique in Paris. He lectured that before Charles Darwin, theologians had encountered few problems when they taught that one man (Adam) had corrupted humanity by his original sin and that another man (Jesus Christ) saved everyone by his sacrifice on the cross but that modern scientists have shown that the universe is not centered on the earth and that terrestrial life is not centered on humankind. Teilhard believed that the reality of evolution necessitated a revision of the dogma of original sin.

In 1923 Teilhard left France to do scientific research in China. During the next ten years, interspersed with periodic trips back to France, he worked in Tientsin with Émile Licent, a Jesuit paleontologist, and went on paleontological expeditions to the Ordos and Gobi Deserts in Mongolia. He enjoyed oscillating between Paris and China. In the East he was helping to reconstruct ancient life-forms, including early human beings, while in France his vision of Christ as the moving spirit of evolution was influencing a small but growing group of disciples. His most important work during this time was probably his dating of the bones of Sinanthropus, commonly known as Peking Man, and his discovery, with Henri Breuil, that Peking Man had been a toolmaker. This was also the period when he wrote The Divine Milieu, a systematization of his personal way to God, although it was not published until after his death.

Despite his inability to publish his insights on evolution and religion, he remained loyal to the Jesuit Order and to the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless, he spread his ideas through his extensive travels; in the 1930’s he made several trips to the United States, where he made friends with scientists at the Museum of Natural History in New York. His life and work in China became increasingly dangerous because of the Japanese invasion. When the war against Japan was confined to China, Teilhard was able to travel to France and the United States, but when World War II began, he was unable to leave Peking. The Japanese occupation of northern China seriously hindered his geological and paleontological work.

Largely isolated from the outside world, Teilhard began to compose what became his most important work, The Phenomenon of Man. He hoped to bridge the gap between non-Christians and Christians over the question of the future of humankind. For Julian Huxley, who later became Teilhard’s friend, the core idea of The Phenomenon of Man was that humankind, the end product of billions of years of the universe’s development, now carries the promise of evolution, which it can realize by enhancing human knowledge and love. Teilhard completed The Phenomenon of Man in 1940 and sent it to Rome in 1941 to be approved by religious censors. He did not learn until 1944 that permission had been refused.

After the war Teilhard visited Paris and Rome in an unsuccessful attempt to get permission to publish his philosophical and theological writings. Unable to get a chair he sought at the Collège de France, Teilhard made the Wenner-Grenn Foundation of Anthropological Research in New York City the base of his activities during the last years of his life. He privately circulated his books and essays, and they exerted considerable influence.

During the summer of 1954, he made his last visit to France. He lectured on the origins of humankind and visited his birthplace before he returned to New York. A short time before his death, he composed a spiritual testament that revealed how he united his love for God and his faith in an evolving world. At a dinner at the French consulate in New York on March 15, 1954, he declared to relatives and friends that he would like to die on the day commemorating the resurrection of Christ, and on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1955, after saying a private mass and attending a public High Mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, he died among friends. He was seventy-four years old.

Although many of Teilhard’s scientific works were published during his lifetime, the works he most wanted disseminated–his poetically theological attempts to unify traditional Christianity and modern science–were denied publication by church officials. Despite his dissatisfaction with these decisions, Teilhard remained loyal to the Catholic church and the Society of Jesus. After his death, his private writings made their way into print, resulting in widespread discussion of his ideas. Many scientists saw Teilhard’s speculations as idealistically romantic, whereas orthodox Catholics thought that his views underestimated sin and grace and overestimated evolution’s power to enlighten Christian theology. Nevertheless, Teilhard’s writings expressed the longings of many for a mystical vision of the universe–permeated with God’s love and becoming progressively better.

BibliographyBrowning, Geraldine O., Joseph L. Alioto, and Seymour M. Farber, eds. Teilhard de Chardin: In Quest of the Perfection of Man. Rutherford, N.J.: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1973. This book is the result of an international symposium held in San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts in May of 1971. An international group of scholars analyzed the life and work of Teilhard from several perspectives–religious, scientific, psychological, and educational. This volume also contains a biographical sketch of Teilhard and a brief analysis of his philosophical beliefs.Cowell, Siôn. The Teilhard Lexicon: Understanding the Language, Terminology, and Vision of the Writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the First English-Language Dictionary of His Writings. Portland, Oreg.: Sussex Academic Press, 2001. An excellent companion to the writings of Teilhard. Includes bibliography.Cuénot, Claude. Teilhard de Chardin: A Biographical Study. London: Burns & Oakes, 1965. Remains the standard life.Grenet, Paul. Teilhard de Chardin: The Man and His Theories. Translated by R. A. Rudorff. New York: Paul S. Eriksson, 1966. Contains sections on Teilhard’s life, personality, and scientific career, as well as on his philosophical and theological thought. A final section of selected writings from Teilhard is followed by a brief bibliography and an index. Scholars already familiar with Teilhard’s ideas will find little new here, but Grenet’s book is a good primer for novices.King, Thomas M. Teilhard de Chardin. Wilmington, Del.: M. Glazier, 1988. Finds a place for Teilhard in the lineage of Christian mystics.King, Ursula. Towards a New Mysticism: Teilhard de Chardin and Eastern Religions. New York: Seabury Press, 1980. Examines Teilhard’s surprisingly negative estimation of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Confucianism.Lubac, Henri de. Teilhard de Chardin: The Man and His Meaning. Translated by René Hague. London: Hawthorn Books, 1965. One of the most enlightening studies of Teilhard’s ideas. Lubac is a fellow Jesuit who bases his analysis on personal knowledge of Teilhard as well as on his mastery of the published and unpublished material by and about him. He presents both a spiritual portrait, in which he elucidates the interior life that animated Teilhard’s work, and a modern apologetic, in which he shows how Teilhard tried to reinterpret Christianity for twentieth century man. Contains a bibliography, footnotes, and an index.Mooney, Christopher F. Teilhard de Chardin and the Mystery of Christ. New York: Harper & Row, 1966. Mooney’s basic theme is that what unifies the many facets of Teilhard’s thought is the relationship between the evolving cosmos and the mystery of Christ. A Jesuit himself, Mooney is able to explicate with sensitivity and understanding the theological implications of Teilhard’s ideas. Contains an extensive bibliography and a detailed index.Roberts, Noel. From Piltdown Man to Point Omega: The Evolutionary Theory of Teilhard de Chardin. New York: Peter Lang, 2000. Covers a vast array of topics related to Teilhard and his vision, including biological evolution, fossils, Charles Darwin, Christian doctrine, Creationism, and much more.Speaight, Robert. The Life of Teilhard de Chardin. New York: Harper & Row, 1967. Speaight, a British Catholic writer, presents a straightforward chronological account of Teilhard’s life. He intended his work not to compete with Cuénot’s definitive biography, but to make Teilhard’s thought accessible and comprehensible to a wide readership. Contains a glossary, bibliography, and index.
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