Today's reflection is written by Fr Chris Corbally SJ, a British Jesuit who works at the Vatican Observatory and is a national representative on the International Astronomical Union
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French Jesuit and paleontologist, died almost aged 74, on Easter Sunday, 1955. That did not give me much chance to meet him, but I feel fortunate at least to have had his second-hand handshake. That is, I have met a person who in turn met Teilhard.
It was when I was nearing the completion of theology studies at Heythrop College, University of London, in the early summer of 1977. I was writing a dissertation comparing the methodology in theology and in science, when one of my mentors suggested that I go down to Wimbledon and interview Father William Cuthbert Donnelly, a Jesuit theologian who had spent the last part of his life teaching at a seminary in Zimbabwe and who was now back in England, but failing in health. And why should I want to see him? Because Cuth, as he was known among Jesuits, had not just met Teilhard, but had worked with him in Rome during 1948 when Teilhard had been asked by the Superior General of the Jesuits to try and make his writings, particularly The Phenomenon of Man, acceptable to the Vatican. They did not succeed, but I remember how Cuth just lit up when I was asking him about this experience.
Cuth could not tell me details of their work together, but he did repeat, “Teilhard had no side on him”. I understood from this that Teilhard, while a consummate teacher, was not trying to force his views on anyone, and so it was easy to work with him. Cuth also indicated that Teilhard was very clear in his understanding of the distinctions between doing science, thinking about philosophy, and reflecting on theology. These disciplines were related certainly, but not to be confused. I have since found this helpful when reading Teilhard’s writings. It is also something that I too have tried to live out as I have done scientific research, enjoyed thinking philosophically, and keep integrating a theological perspective.
I should like now to touch upon those aspects of Teilhard’s thought which have been helpful to me in my own life and ministry as a Jesuit and an astronomer........
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