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Teilhard Studies Number 7 





Fall 1982 

Teilhard in the Ecoiogical Age 
Thomas Berry 

TEILHARD STUDIES is a monograph series concerned with the future of man in 
the light of the writings of Teilhard de Chardin. Two issues each year are 
planned, to be sent to members of the Teilhard Association. Additional copies 
are available at a cost of two dollars each. 

Published for 

The American Teilhard Association for the Future of Man, Inc. 
by ANIMA Books 

1053 Wilson Avenue, Chambersburg, PA 17201 





Associate Editors 

Donald Gray 
Thomas Berry 
Ewert Cousins 
Fanny deBary 
Alice Knight 
Gertrude Mellon 

Thomas Berry is a historian of cultures, founder and director of the Riverdale Center for 
ReH^ous Rele^rch, and also president of the American Tei'hard Assoc.ahon or he 
Future of Man. For some years he yyas director of the Program ,n the 

the Theology Department of Fordham University. He has published several books. The 
Mstoncal Theory of Giarobattiste Vico: Buddhism: The Religior,s of lr,d,a. Antong the 
articles and papers he has published are: The American College in the Ecological Age. 

Classical Western Spirituality and the American Experience; The Ecological Age Science 

and Technology, The Cultural Context; Affectivity in Classical Confucian Tradition, 

^'p?Isently°hinrertest concern is with the devastation of the natural 

from our present commercial-industrial civilization and with the renewal of the earth as 

biospiritual planet. 


© 1982, American Teilhard Association for the Future of Man, Inc. 

Cover design by John J. Floherty. Jr. Woodcut by Kazumi Amano. Reproduced 

of the artist and the Gallery of Graphic Arts, Ltd.. 1603 York Avenue, New York, NY 10028. 

Teilhard in the Ecological Age 

Thomas Berry 

This is a complex and turbulent century, with amazing scientihc 
discoveries, technological inventions, industrial and commercial 
expansion, population increase, social transformations, new 
systems of transportation and communication, vast educational and 
research establishments, ventures into space: a brilliant century no 
doubt, a century that makes the human achievement of this century 
radiate over the past as among the most exalted achievements in 
human history. 

But there is another aspect of this century, its destructive aspect; 
mountains are ripped apart for the underlying coal and ore deposits, 
rivers are polluted with human and industrial waste, the air is 
saturated with toxic substances, the rain is turned to acid, the soil is 
sterile with chemicals, the higher forms of life are endangered, the 
great sea mammals have been killed off to populations that are 
having difficulty surviving, the tropical forests are being ruined, 
many coral reefs are damaged beyond repair. 

The structure of the planet and its living forms have been altered 
on a geological and a biological scale. Change on such an older of 
magnitude makes of this century something more than another 
historical period or another cultural change. This is destruction, 
beyond recovery, of forms that took hundreds of millions, even 
billions of years to bring about. The entire structure of the biosphere 
is affected, some hundreds of thousands of present living species 
could be extinguished by the end of the year 2000. There will likely 
be a third more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than was there in 
the preindustrial period. Here in the United States we are losing 
perhaps four billion tons of topsoil every year. 

The glory of the human has become the desolation of the earth. 
This I would consider an appropriate way to summarize the 
twentieth century. A further statement that might be made is that 
the desolation of the earth is becoming the destiny of the human. 
Indeed the total fabric of living beings is so closely woven that none 
of its components can be damaged without harming the others. 

An even further statement might suggest that one way of evalu¬ 
ating persons, programs, professions, institutions, and activities 
would be the extent to which they foster or obstruct the creative 

functioning of the earth community, the community of all the 
living and non-living components of the earth. 

This subject of human-earth relations is not a new subject 
discussion. One of the oldest questions ever dealt with in the long 
course of human reflection, this discussion has been a prominen 
issue in the various cultures of the world and in differing historica 
periods. But at no time in the prior history of the was there 

such urgency in developing a human role that would be beneficen 
in its effects; for never before have humans had such power over the 
air the soil and the seas. Indeed the human species that was tormerly 
controlled mainly by the earth process is now for the first time 
extensively in control of the earth process. , . , . 

It seems appropriate then to discuss Teilhard in this context, to 
inquire concerning his way of dealing with the issues that caused 
the glory of the human to become the desolation of the earth, to 
inquire also concerning the assistance he offers for healing the earth 
and fostering an integral and creative communion of all the living 
and non-living components of the earth. c u u 

Teilhard was profoundly aware of the glory of the human 
achieved in this remarkable century of human development. 
Finally, he thought, human culture has broken loose from the 
neolithic constraints into a truly worthy mode of existence, an 
accomplishment that originated in the western world but which 
henceforth must be accepted as establishing the new norms for the 
human quality and conduct of life throughout the human com¬ 
munity. This glory was manifest especially in the increasing human 
controls over the natural world, designated as progress. 

Teilhard was absolutely dedicated to the idea of progress, the 
governing idea of western society since the seventeenth century, the 
idea that originated in the work of Descartes and Bacon but which 
was first clearly stated in the writings of Bernard Fontenelle (165/- 
1757). From that time until the present a sense of progress has 
dominated, first western society, and now the greater part of the 
human community. While norms of judgment concerning progress 
have differed extensively, the general acceptance of the progressive 
unfolding of reality has become pervasive. 

To Teilhard progress was evident throi^hout the cosmic- 
historical process. In this human order progress could be observed 
in expanded modes of consciousness, in the convergence of human 
societies, in the profound unification beyond all political or institu¬ 
tional divisions, and in an upward spiritual transformation which 
found its fulfillment in the human-divine presence to each other. 


All of this was, to his mind, identified with, and supported by, the 
emergent evolutionary process. This process, that originated some 
billions of years ago, was only now reaching its fullest expressions. 

Even while such progress was taking place, social discontent was 
leading to scepticism, to a conscious rejection of this entire cosmic- 
earth-human venture. Having observed the beginnings of existen¬ 
tialist / 4 ng 5 < in the decade of the thirties and its full expression in the 
late 1940s he dedicated himself to reassuring the human community 
of its basic values and of the need to push on even more urgently in 
the scientific and social tasks that devolved upon this generation. It 
all had profoundly religious and mystical as well as cosmological 
significance. Indeed his teaching concerned the ultimate identity of 
these different aspects of the total earth process. 

So entranced with the glory of the human, Teilhard however had 
no awareness of the increasing desolation of the earth. His few 
references to the limitation of physical resources are given only in 
passing and with reassuring phrases that human genius will dis¬ 
cover ways to supply any deficiencies. Fewer still are references to 
the damage being done to the natural world. This was outside his 
concern. He took no notice of the conservation movements that had 
already begun in his time. Nor did Teilhard preceive that the pres- •v 
sures he invoked to achieve the ultra-human were themselves sup¬ 
porting a general economic and social development leading to 
ecological disaster and to a diminishment of the human quality of 

From the letters of Teilhard we can see that he had exceptional 
aesthetic-emotional response to the natural world as well as a scien¬ 
tific and mystical sense of earth’s grandeur. What was missing was 
the feeling for an interdependent biological community of the 
human with the natural world as the functional context for earthly 
existence. That the bio-regions of earth were ultimately fragile did 
not impress Teilhard. Possibly this was due to the resilient ecosys¬ 
tem of the European region which constituted the environment of 
his early life experience. There an abiding balance seemed to be 
struck between the natural world and an urban-industrial world 
that as yet did not impinge too heavily on the natural biotic com¬ 
munities, although over the centuries the rich variety of natural life 
systems was considerably improverished throughout Europe. 

Yet since Teilhard traveled widely and was so deeply concerned 
with the larger questions of the earth-human process we might have 
expected a certain feeling of concern for a planet that was obviously 
being damaged by the industrial process. 


Here we might step back a little to look at the work of Teilhard in 
some of its main concerns to understand more fully just where he fits 
into the history of this century. Indeed he is the first person to 
outline, in some full detail and with some meaningful insight the 
four phases of the evolutionary process: galactic evolution, earth 
evolution, life evolution, human evolution. He sees all this in its 
encompassing unity, and with such descriptive detail of the outer 
process and the inner forces that sustained the unfolding sequence. 
Probably no one at the humanistic, spiritual or moral level ever 
attended so powerfully to this evolutionary process as did Teilhard. 
Completely fascinated with this transformation sequence, he was 
absorbed into his vision as much as Isaiah was caught up in his 
vision of the historical process or as John in his apocalyptic vision 
or as Dante in the vision of the Commedia. It was an entrancement 
that inspired research, imagination, teaching, lyrical writing, phi¬ 
losophical and religious essays. 

The first concern of Teilhard is the evolutionary origin and 
development. ‘‘Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is 
much more; it is a general condition to which all theories, all 
hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy 
henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a lamp 
illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow” (Pheno¬ 
menon of Man, Harper Torchbooks, 1965, p. 217). 

The major work in which he expressed this vision. The Pheno¬ 
menon of Man, is a unique synthesis of the vast intellectual, social 
and spiritual attainments of the twentieth centruy. If there is or can 
be a comprehensive Summa of the modern mode of consciousness 
that reaches from the particular details of the various sciences to the 
mystical modes of insight available to us, then this work of Teilhard 
can be seen as the nearest approximation that we have. Here Teil¬ 
hard has suggested a possible governing myth of the future. 

The second concern of Teilhard was with the human as the 
consciousness mode of the universe and as fulfillment of the evolu¬ 
tionary process. The human is neither an intrusion or addendum to 
the universe but the central reality of the universe. In his view the 
full dynamism of the evolutionary process is now contained within 
the human. The dominant transition now is ^convergence of the 
differing human groups. The ultrahuman is being activated 
through this convergence. Because of this special role the human is 
necessarily the key to understanding the entire evolutionary process. 
The human must be considered in every science and in every expla¬ 
nation of the various parts of the universe. 


By identifying the psychic, consciousness aspect of the evolution¬ 
ary process from the beginning Teilhard overcomes the materialist 
view of the universe as this was associated with the Newtonian 
tradition. In a special manner Teilhard insisted on the human 
aspect of cosmology. A place for the human must be found in the 
physics of the universe and in the science of the earth. Alienation of 
the human by the scientist is unacceptable. The human mind and its 
thinking are as much earth as are the rocks and the rivers and the 
other living beings who belong to the earth. 

The third concern of Teilhard is with the sacred dimension of the 
universe. He shifted the central focus of western religious tradition 
from redemption to creation. This new orientation might be consi¬ 
dered the single most powerful aspect of Teilhard’s theological 
thinking. Possibly it can be considered among the most significant 
theological changes since the sixteenth century. By placing the 
Christian-religious issue within the context of an emergent creation 
process Teilhard was asserting a position that had not been asserted 
before with such convincing evidence. The cosmic Christ ol St. 
John, St. Paul, and the orthodox churches of the East becomes 
identified in Teilhard’s view with an emergent universe and can be 
referred to as Christ the Evolver. While this emphasis on an evolving 
Christ in the modern evolutionary context has not been extensively 
taken up by Christian theologians it remains the statement of a 
powerful Christian position; it enables the Christian to relate his 
faith experience with the contemporary sense of the real in a signifi¬ 
cant way. The Christian story identifies with the cosmic story told by 
modern science although it sees in this story a sacred significance far 
beyond what is seen by the secular scientist. This can be the begin¬ 
ning of a new era in both the religious and the secular history of our 

A fourth concern of Teilhard is with the activation of energy. The 
energy issue as he saw it was of utmost concern. F or theie has been a 
tendency throughout this century to avoid the effort needed to 
sustain the evolutionary process, a most critical issue in the existen¬ 
tialist period. While the writings of Sartre and Camus were exten¬ 
sively known by Teilhard only on his return from Peking in 1946, 
after the war, his concern for the interior dynamism of the human is 
expressed earlier. As the movement of human affairs enters the 
supreme transformation experience toward its final convergence a 
new intensity of psychic effort is required. 

There is need especially to overcome the sense of an absurd 
universe, of inter-human violence, the absence of affection, and 



especially the lack of some worthy objective to justify the endurance 
of so much pain and to evoke the sustained effort needed to resolve 
the enduring social and cultural tensions. Beyond all these a sense of 
boredom is afflicting an age feeling that the entire range of human 
affairs had been dealt with, that there is no longer any vast creative 
venture to be undertaken. That the evolutionary process is presently 
in the midst of one of its most significant transitions seemed to 
Teilhard the only valid way to interpret the present and to evoke the 
energies needed for the transition. 

Mark my word: though man stands on great stacks of wheat, on mountains of 
uranium and coal, on oceans of oil, he will cease to develop his unity, and he 
will perish, if he does not watch over and foster in the first place the source of 
psychic energy which maintains in him the passion for action and 
knowledge-which means for growing greater and evolving -from which 
comes unity of mind. (Activation of Energy, p. 172). 

A fifth concern of Teilhard is with the role of science. Advance in 
knowledge is absolutely essential to the total earth process. This 
process Teilhard saw as a vast psychic enterprise into which the 
human entered by research, thought, and reflection. Thus the fun¬ 
damental nobility of the scientific endeavor. 

His great contribution to the scientific endeavor was to lead the 
scientific profession into the macrophase of its concerns. This is 
presently the greatest need of all the sciences, of all branches of 
knowledge, as well as all phases of human endeavor. For this aspect 
of his work he remains unforgiven in scientific as well as in reli¬ 
gious circles; although it is precisely this largeness of horizon that 
makes his work so attractive to New Age people — that is, to those 
who perceive the present impasse created by trying to solve macro¬ 
phase issues in a microphase perspective. That the various sciences 
are becoming less rigid in this regard can be seen in the wide 
acceptance of the biological writings of Lewis Thomas, also in the 
physics of persons such as David Bohm. In discussion of evolution 
the most serious difficulty is still the attempt by the biologists to 
deal with macrophase evolution in terms of microphase processes. 

In asserting the role of science as a basic mystical discipline of the 
West, Teilhard revealed the true dignity of research and intellectual 
inquiry. This much-needed discipline could again be established on 
a profoundly religious basis for the first time since the Newtonian 
period. Some of the greatest passages ever written conr^erning 
science are contained in his essays. Taken as a whole these passages 
constitute a unique appreciation of the inner nature of the scientific 
endeavor, its ultimate mystical qualities, its revelatory aspect, and 
its central role in the planetary process. 


In all five of these issues Teilhard s dominant concern is to evoke 
the mptique needed to fulfill the destinies of the universe, the 
destinies which had been prepared over some billions of years in the 
galactic systems, advanced through the geological and biological 
formations of earth, and now were being activated in their highest 
expression in human consciousness. 

For any one of these five achievements Teilhard might well be 
remembered among the significant thinkers of this century. But to 
have carried through the entire series of correctives in the thought 
life of the twentieth century is an accomplishment of admirable 


Yet, despite such amazing achievements, we cannot but feel a 
certain missing element in Teilhard when we note how little con¬ 
cern he manifests for the destructive impact of modern civilization 
on the functioning of the earth. He could not see that the industrial 
glory of the century is desolating the earth in its biological reality. 
That this damage to the biosphere is also limiting the range and 
intensity of human experience and impoverishing human existence 
itself was beyond conception by Teilhard. He did not understand 
the human as an integral component of a functional biological 
community or of the larger earth process, even though the human 
was the consciousness expression of that same community. Within 
the human mind the mystical mode of earth attained fulfillment. 
This was the only thing of any immediate importance. The organic 
functional processes that needed tending at the biological level were 
of no concern to Teilhard, even though the intellectual depth of 
insight, the imaginative powers and emotional sensitivities of the 
human personality depend directly on the awesome splendor of the 
earth and on the variety of its life forms. If we lived on the moon our 
minds would be as desolate as the moon. We have our present 
intellectual, imaginative and emotional qualities precisely because 
our earth is so richly endowed in its total functioning, in its geologi¬ 
cal and biological forms and manifestations. To permit this total 
system to be damaged so extensively by industrial, technological 
processes is terrible indeed. What real gains can compensate for such 
loss? Yet such is the general trend of Teilhard’s thinking. 

In the view of Teilhard the human itself must be driven on to its 
ultrahuman status. There is no question of accepting the natural 
world in its own spontaneous modes of being and establishing as an 
ideal a basic intercommunion within the total earth community, a 



The Mechanistic Tradition _„,,rces of this attitude in Teil- 

In going back historically to „pnerallv we can observe in 

hard’s thought and in between the human and the 

western tradition a growl g , ^ ^Vestern man, whether 

natural worlds from the seventeenth c n u^^^ 

in the biblical religious or ‘^'^^\*;^f,o„,ponento 

seldom thought of himse ^ century Descartes’ mechanistic 

cal community. In the f 

nature.laterabsolutuedmthe ew^^^^^^ understanding the 

machine metaphor as the ba tradition. The machine, 

natural world in the tno controls. Francis Bacon, a con- 

quite obviously, required . . of the human was 

temporary of Descartes asserted that ^^.^re. Locke 

to establish this radica con exploitation of the frag- 

was committed to private ow P bio-regional function- 

mented natural world with no rega d^^^^^^^ 

ing of the earth. Free ^ ,nd^ supported the 

sponsored by Adam Smith, o j over to the erratic control of 

doctrine that the earth shou e u power and wealth, 

individuals in competition .^hnoloeical inventions, impinged 
All this, in alliance with the new effected changes in 

on the earth with such massive impact^h^^^^^_^^ 

the geological structure and § Teilhard as a 

The very magnitude of this ”"P . ^gusfomation process, 

splendid manifestation o t e e , . j ^ ^ moral imperative. 


cal quality of this • capacity for endurance has 

enabled it‘m rurvivVsuch 

violent exploitation ecosystems are ultimately 

has, however, been deceptive. e , j jhat the earth 



su.„<iing .he modern “»''<> “,t.l“to? unSma^ 
as a desireable human activity. 

The Natural History Tradition ^ appreciate the 

tional and more intimate with ^nd cosmo- 

activities and ^“-^^’oescar^tes, Galileo and Newton, 

logical studies of the physic ’,. ’j)g(.(jug certain data on 

Others in various Civilizations had begu seventeenth 

the functioning of the T^^q^iry into the form and func- 

century m Europe a more o ^Himaticconditions, thevariety of 
tioning of geological interrelations, was begun and 

plant and animal speci when Teilhard identified him- 

Ls been carried forward Te is speaking. We 

might ars^ndicate that out of this “^^^^of fhtS"- 

donX wVfo^r^m - a distant manner we feel 


ourselves endangered in the future quality of life upon a devastated 

When the English writer John Ray (1627-1705) published his 
work on Methodus Plantarum Nova (A New System for Under¬ 
standing Plants), in 1682, he provided the first modern contribution 
to a suitable system of classification of species in the plant world. 
Later he extended his work to the study of insects. In all his study he 
followed an observational and descriptive method in arriving at 
precise data as regards the form and functioning and interrelations 
of the living world. In the following years Georges Louis LeClerc de 
Buffon (1707-1788), Keeper of the King’s Garden in Paris, came 
upon the scene with his massive set of forty-four volumes of Natural 
History published between 1749 and 1804. He it was who first 
perceived that the earth is much older, by at least 80,000 years, than 
was generally thought from biblical sources. With Buffon the “pro¬ 
cess world” was begun. The earth began to move. At this same time 
Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1804) carried the scientific role further to a 
more complete system of classification in his book on The Oecon- 
omy of Nature, published in 1749. A1 though Linnaeus has no sense 
of movement such as that first perceived by Buffon, his classification 
of life forms in such an orderly fashion established the context in 
which botanical studies could take place in a sustained manner. 

At this time also an extensive advance was made by James Hutton 
(1726-1797) in understanding the geological structure and function¬ 
ing of the earth, especially in his work. Theory of the Earth ( 1795). 
With him the perception of the moving earth continued. He pro¬ 
posed that there was continuity in the processes whereby the earth 
took shape in the past and those processes that were still at work in 
the present. It was possible, then, to investigate the forces shaping 
the planet at present and to learn from the various layers of the earth 
something of its history. But whereas Hutton saw the earth process 
as gradual, Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), in The Natural History of 
Animals (1798), held that a series of catastrophies had shaped the 
contours of the planet. 

A final integration of the study of the earth appeared in the three 
volumes of Charles Lyell (1797-1875) entitled Principles of Geol¬ 
ogy, 1830-1833. From his studies the succession of fossils revealed an 
evolutionary sequence of organic species. By joining this knowl¬ 
edge of the fossil sequence with his own observations, Charles 
Darwin (1809-1882) provided in The Origin of Species (1859) the 
monumental synthesis of life development that has dominated our 
thinking of the natural world since his time. 

One other person of widespread significance who needs to be 
mentioned here is Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) who tra¬ 
veled extensively in South America and in the Caribbean. The 
accounts of his voyages in the early nineteenth century contained 
data never previously available. In the years 1845-1862 he published 
his five volumes entitled Kosmos, a work of synthesis that consider¬ 
ably influenced natural history studies throughout the nineteenth 
century and even into our own times. More than Linnaeus he had a 
deep feeling for the entire complex of living beings. 

These last years of the eighteenth century and the first half of the 
nineteenth century were remarkable for the variety of technological 
inventions which appeared, considerably advancing human control 
over the natural world. These were also the years when the human 
community gained access to forms of energy that had never before 
been available for human use. The sense of progress was irresistible. 
There prevailed a widespread feeling that the great mission of the 
human was to exploit natural resources, to build civilization, to 
release mankind from the age-old tyrannies of the natural world. 
The ancient mystique of communion with the natural world came 
to be viewed as simply ignorance and superstition, an attitude 
derived from and associated with the retarding influence of religion. 
A world under rational control now represented the ideal towards 
which human activity should be directed. 

While this attitude was understandable in the more mechanistic 
traditions of the French Enlightenment it was less understandable 
in the natural history tradition whose exponents were so intimately 
associated with the multitude of living beings which gave to earth so 
much of its color and song and movement. Above all it gave to earth 
its spontaneities. Yet here too the impact of this rational dominion 
ideal became all-pervasive. Donald Worster notes in Nature*s Econ¬ 
omy (1977) that: “In its utilitarianism the Linnean age of ecology 
strongly echoed the values of the Manchester and Birmingham 
industrialists and of the English agricultural reformers of the same 
period” (p. 53). Worster also notes that to Adam Smith nature was 
only “a storehouse of raw materials for man’s ingenuity” (p. 53). 

During this early period of its development the natural history 
tradition proved incapable of providing any adequate critique of 
the exploitive economy that was beginning to assault the natural 
world with such violence. The scientific attitude itself perceived the 
natural world in all its manifestations as only so much matter and 
hence could only see the planet as a vast complex of phenomena 

existing solely for investigation by human curiosity and for the 
utility of the human community. Since such use required the trans¬ 
formation of natural forms in factories and mills, the entire world 
could be seen, not as a glorious manifestation of the divine, but 
simply as a workshop. Thus the book of Thomas Ewbanks, The 
World A Workshop (1855). Even to such a scholar as George Perkins 
March (1801-1882), who was deeply aware of the consequences of 
human interference with the natural world, the entire civilizational 
process was one of progressive independence from and then domi¬ 
nance over nature, a view presented in his impressive work, Man 
and Nature (1864). 

After the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, still 
another argument was advanced, namely, that human dominion 
over the natural world was necessary to protect the human quality of 
life from the threat of the natural world. Since all life forms existed 
in a certain tension with other life forms, it was only natural that the 
human defend itself against the savage forces arrayed against it in 
the natural world. The threat posed by nature, therefore, demanded 
the subjection of the entire order of nature to rational control and 
exploitation. Lester Ward (1841-1913) carried this point of view to 
an absurd extreme. He considered natural processes to be irrational 
to start with and consequently they could form no appropriate 
model for human aciton. The natural violated all the laws of sound 
judgment known by man. This could be clearly seen from the rivers 
which “instead of flowing straight and so delivering their waters to 
the sea with minimum expenditure of energy, lazily meander 
through plains and vaWeys' (Nature's Economy^ p. 175). The prod¬ 
igality of nature appeared to Lester Ward an incomprehensible 
absurdity: that a herring should lay 10,000 eggs in order that two 
would eventually attain maturity! So with the tons of pollen from a 
single chestnut tree, how aimless! As for the shape of animals, how 
monstrous the elephants! 

But if such was the view of a sociologist, geologist and paleontolo¬ 
gist, it was the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) who 
stated the basic principle in the ethical order in his Romanes Lec¬ 
ture of 1893: “Social progress means a checking of the cosmic 
process at every step and the substitution for it of anther which may 
be called the ethical process...Donald Worster in commenting on 

The Mystical Tradition 

But here a third tradition needs to be investigated as essential for 
understanding the modern thought context to which Teilhard was 
heir. This is the tradition of those who saw in the natural world the 
manifestation of a spiritual order in which the human found the 
sublime context for its full expansion. This is the context of the 
Stoics, the Neoplatonists, the medieval Alchemists, the Florentine 
Platonists; the tradition of Jakob Boehme, of Goethe, Schelling. the 
English and German Romantic poets, the American transcenden- 
talists. This tradition experienced the earth as a mystical entity, as 
macrocosmos, and the human as the microcosmos. The establishing 
of a reciprocal presence and interaction was the ideal to be sought. 

In the late eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century 
Schelling (1775-1854) published his most significant works, espe¬ 
cially the work entitled Von der Weltseele (1798), translated as the 
Three Ages of the World when published in English. While little 
attention has been given to Schelling in histories of thought in the 
English speaking world, he can be considered one of the most 
pervasive influences in the mystical understanding of the natural 
world. His direct and indirect influence on Coleridge, the romanti¬ 
cists and the transcendentalists is very great. Out of this background 
the ecological movement in its more integral form emerged in later 
generations. Schelling’s Philosophy of Nature, published in 1797, is 
fundamental to understanding the broad outlines of this tradition. 

The Arcadian Tradition 

Intermediate between this mystical-romantic interpretation of 
the natural world and the more recent ecologists of the twentieth 
century is the tradition that is referred to by Donald Worster as the 
Arcadian Tradition. This tradition, originating in the pagan world 
of the Greeks and Romans and given expression in the pastoral 
poetry of Vergil, has continued through the centuries in the western 
mind and can be considered a haunting presence that is experienced 
by many persons up to the present. To some degree it is the lingering 
attraction that is felt by urban dwellers for the quiet world of the 
seashore or the mountains. At times it is the dream of a cottge out on 
the margins of the city, a place where the tensions of life can be 
relaxed, where interior peace can pervade the human soul. 

But while many experience this attraction, few have perceived or 
expressed this ideal in any depth. This has been accomplished, 
however, by a certain few such as Gilbert White, Alexander von 
Humboldt, Henry Thoreau, John Muir, and Aldo Leopold. These 


writers have recently become determining influences in the histori¬ 
cal unfolding of the modern world. These are the predecessors in 
many instances of the counter-cultural people, the flower people of 
the 1960s, of the back-to-the-land movement, of the solar age people. 

Out of this tradition, allied with more advanced scientific insight, 
comes organic gardening as an ideal, natural foods, anti-nuclear 
attitudes, and eventually many of the new age groups as these 
appear spontaneously throughout this country. 

While he was not associated with any such new age attitudes, 
Gilbert White, the Anglican Rector of Selborne, could be considered 
the first of the arcadian ecologists because of his profound interest in 
and concern for the natural world, along with the capacity to 
observe and describe the integral life process in the small bio-region 
of Selborne. His book The Natural History of Selborne (1789), a 
classic in English literature, is the first of the natural history essays 
that have continued intermittently throughout the course of Eng¬ 
lish writing for the past two centuries. An intimate observer of 
living individuals, Gilbert White was not a system builder such as 
John Ray or Carl Linnaeus although he saw perhaps more pro¬ 
foundly than they did the “system,” the inter-relatedness, the inter¬ 
action of the various components of the ecosystems. He observed the 
spontaneous activities of the various birds and insects and other 
living creatures, their remarkable ability to cope with changes in 
climate, their migration habits, their capacity to obtain their food, 
their nest-building, their care for their young. Above all he was 
aware of the remarkable complex of inter-actions among all these 
living individuals that gave a sence of ineffable mystery to the entire A 
bio-region. ^ 

Another name that deserves mention in close association with 
that of Gilbert White is that of Alexander von Humboldt. His 
observations were more expansive in their context and more com¬ 
prehensive in their exposition of the magnificent unity pervading 
the entire natural world. His studies of the influence of climate on 
living forms enabled him to identify the life zones that were differen¬ 
tiated according to elevation above sea-level. He sought especially to 
discover that harmonies of the natural world. In his earlier years 
Alexander von Humboldt had been associated with Johann von 
Goethe. Both had a feeling for the ofganic wholeness of the natural 
world, a comprehensive unity expressed by von Humboldt as “the 
great whole animated by the breath of life” (Nature's Economy, p. 

135). Von Humboldt’s influence extended to Darwin, Lyell, Jeffer¬ 
son, Emerson, and Thoreau. It is easy to see how such ideas joined 


with the sense of tht Anima Mundi of the Cambridge Platonist 
school especially as this was enunciated by Henry More (1614-1687) 
in his Psychozoia Platonica. 

The most remarkable successor to Alexander von Humboldt and 
Gilbert White is Henry Thoreau (1817-1862), especially in his book, 
Walden (1854). More than any other ecologist or natural history 
scholar Thoreau immersed himself bodily into the natural world. 
He wished to taste the nourishing qualities and feel the textures and 
absorb the odors of the entire range of natural phenomena. Thoreau 
had the emotional sensitivity, the moral insight, the scientific preci¬ 
sion of observation needed to accomplish his remarkable observa¬ 
tions in the New England region around Concord. He also has a 
literary skill equal to the task of recording for future generations the 
experience he was having and the reflections he made on the larger 
human issues involved in the relationship of the human commun¬ 
ity to the natural world. Extremely doubtful concerning the value of 
the entire technological project of the modern world, he is also 
critical of the constant striving for power in the society about him. 
But perhaps the most significant aspect of his thought is his convic¬ 
tion that the human world must learn to accommodate itself to the 
larger discipline of the natural world. The human species is a 
component of this larger world, not an olympian ruler with unlim¬ 
ited rights to exploit the earth in all its living and non-living 

Outside of the influences we have mentioned the only other 
intellectual influence of great import that developed prior to the 
time when Teilhard attained his intellectual maturity was that of 
Einstein’s theories of relativity. While Einstein’s work altered con¬ 
siderably the deeper implications of Teilhard’s theories, it did not 
affect in any substantial manner the solution that Teilhard offered 
to the problems of the human in relation to the natural world. 

Teilhard’s Position 

Thus we are now in a position to consider the complex of intellec¬ 
tual influences at work on Teilhard in his early life. These influen¬ 
ces consisted of the scientific tradition, the natural history tradition, 
the mystical tradition, and finally the arcadian tradition of natural 
history. All of these traditions were absorbed into the vast perspec¬ 
tive of Teilhard’s vision. But the dominant element in this perspec¬ 
tive was the mystical tradition that came through the earlier Neo¬ 
platonic and Stoic traditions which became allied in the late 
medieval and early Renaissance period with the hermetic tradition 


as this found expression in the Florentine Platonists. This tradition 
passed on to Jakob Boehme and to the German mystical writers. It 
eventually found expression in Henri Bergson who associated it 
with the evolutionary currents derived from Darwin to arrive at the 
conception of the Han Vital which found expression in Bergson’s 
Creative Evolution, a basic work which influenced Teilhard’s 
thought profoundly. The spiritual insights contained in this tradi¬ 
tion enabled Teilhard to integrate the other traditions into an 
evolutionary scheme that was also an ascending sequence of 
psychic-spiritual transformations. Teilhard’s encompassing mind 
found little difficulty in drawing into itself the data of other systems. 

Among the most decisive issues that Teilhard had to face, along 
with the reconciliation of his thought with Christian belief, was the 
manner of relating the human to the natural world. Here the over¬ 
whelming intellectual and social attitudes of his times were in favor 
of the subordination of the natural world to human dominion and 
exploitation. There was resistance, but the tide of scholarly opinion 
as well as the entire industrial, economic, and commercial structure 
of the society was committed to this subordination. Only backward 
persons thought otherwise. Only the less adaptable resented the 
progressive mechanization of modern cities and of every aspect of 
life. This was, after all, the way to freedom, the way to a better, more 
human life for everyone, the way to a higher spirituality. Once 
embarked on this path there seemed to be no upper limits to what 
could be achieved by human genius. 

This became, then, the position of Teilhard. It fitted into his view 
of the human as advancing over new thresholds of the evolutionary 
process. This preoccupation with an ever more advanced status of 
the human presupposed the validity of the type of civilization that 
already existed, for this civilization with all its discontents was, he 
thought, disturbed not by ill adjustment to the industrial world and 
its oppressive aspects, but by the need to advance over further 
thresholds into the ultra-human. 

In this context Teilhard became the heir to the imperial tradition 
in human-earth relations, the tradition of htiman control over the 
natural world. The sublime mission of scientific research and of 
technological invention was to support this advance into the ultra¬ 
human. Even more than science, more than technology, mystical 
forces were supplying the impetus for achieving this objective. 
Science and technology were only the instruments. A deeper conse¬ 
cration existed. In this manner we might consider that Teilhard is a 
faithful follower of Francis Bacon, in his assertion that human 

the one hand the cast-offs; on the other, the agents and elements of planetiza- 
tion. (“The Planetisation of Mankind”, in the Future of Man, p. 144). 
Fascinated with the increasing powers of technology, Teilhard, 
after looking into a cyclotron for the first time, wrote that he 
experienced “a certain feeling of spiritual presence and energy 
which hit me like a blow. . .” He considered this extraordinary 
scientific achievement of such an order of magnitude in its conse¬ 
quences that he could only say: 

“Th< re is every indication that, following upon a long and slow accumula¬ 
tion of physical and psychic energies in the human atmosphere (the whole of 
pre-history and the whole of history) a sort of spiritual tornado has just burst 
upon us and swept us up (“On Looking into a Cyclotron”, Activation of 
Energy, p. 350). 

In describing his vision of the entire scientific and industrial 
complex into which contemporary life is integrated he writes: 

If words have any meaning, is this not like some great body which is being 
born — with its limbs, its nervous system, its perceptive organs, its memory 
—the body in fact of that great Thing which had to come to fulfill the 
ambitions aroused in the reflective being by the newly acquired conscious¬ 
ness that he was at one with and responsible to the All” {Phenomenon, 245, 

To assist in making the industrial age more acceptable Teilhard 
constantly insisted that it was the instrument of sublime purposes: 

Xhe vast industrial and social system by which we are enveloped does not 
threaten to crush us, neither does it seek to rob us of our soul. The energy 
emanating from it is free not only in the sense that is represents forces that can 
by used; it is moreover free because, in the whole no less than in the least of its 
elements, it arises in a state that is ever more spiritualised (“Formation of the 
Noosphere”, Future of Man, p. 190). 

Concerning atomic power Teilhard writes: 

Was it not simply the first act, even a mere prelude, in a series of fantastic 
events which, having afforded us access to the heart of the atom, would lead 
us on to overthrow, one by one, the many other stongholds which science is 
already besieging? The vitalization of matter by the creation of super¬ 
molecules. The remodeling of the human organism by means of hormones. 
Control of heredity and sex by the manipulation of genes and chromosomes. 
The readjustment and internal liberation of our souls by direct action upon 
springs gradually brought to light by psycho-analysis. The arousing and 
harnessing of the unfathomable intellectual and affective powers still latent 
in the human mass. Is not every kind of effect produced by a suitable 
arrangement of matter? And have we not reason to hope that in the end we 
shall be able to arrange every kind of matter, following the results we have 
obtained in the nuclear field? {Future of Man, p. 149). 

Even further: 

It is thus, step by step, that Man. pursuing the flight of his growing aspira¬ 
tions, taught by a first success to be conscious of his power, finds himself 
impelled to look beyond any purely mechanical improvement of the earth’s 
surface and increase of his external riches, and to dwell upon the growth and 
biological perfection of himself {Future of Man, p. 150). 

It IS clear from these statements that Teilhard is committeed to the 
imperial view of human-earth relations. Examination of his writ¬ 
ings reveals no significant passages to mitigate the intensity of his 
mtellectual and emotional dedication to this position. The opinion 
is correct that Teilhard does not in any direct manner support the 
ecological mode of consciousness. In the subordination of the earth 
to human ends, earth finds its true meaning. While he seldom refers 
to the industrial establishment in any extensive manner Teilhard 
does on occasion exalt, in his usual mystical style, the mechanistic 
powers developed in modern times. The damage done to the natural 
world IS incidental, a price to be paid, a normal expenditure of 
energy for every advance in the evolutionary order. Teilhard is 
deeply involved in both the religious and humanistic traditions of 
the west out of which this exploitive attitude developed. ^ 

This anti-ecological attitude in western religious tradition has 
been critiqued by Lynn White Jr., one of the more outstanding 
historians of technology, in his essay on “The Historical Origins of 
the Ecological Crisis” which is included in his collection entitled 
1 he Dynamo and the Virgin Reconsidered, (1968) (pp. 75-94). John 


Passmore has also commented on Teilhard’s position in his Man's 
Responsibility For Nature. Earlier Aldo Leopold, in A Sand County 
Almanac (1949), had written on “A Land Ethic” (pp. 201-226), 
giving a view of earth-human relations that conflicts quite directly 
with the view of Teilhard. As George Sessions concludes: “The 
Teilhardian New Age movement is the antithesis of the non¬ 
anthropocentrism of deep ecology” (Environmental Ethics, Fall 
1981, vol. 3/3, 281). Thus we find Teilhard alienated not only from 
the theologians and the scientists but also from the ecologists. This 
last may ultimately be the most significant. In the other two the 
position of Teilhard may well be the way into the future. In this last 
issue Teilhard’s position is more vulnerable. 


Teilhard And The New Ecology 

The problem that we now face is how the basic achievements that 
Teilhard turned toward the imperialist attitude toward nature can 
be turned toward sustaining an integral earth community in which 
the human becomes a functional component and not an oppressive 
destroyer. This is needed since we have suggested in the beginning 
of this paper that any person, program, profession, institution, or 
activity can at this time be judged by the extent to which the person, 
program, profession, institution or activity fosters or obstructs the 
integral functioning of the earth community. 

The future of Teilhard’s thought will progressively depend on 
this issue since this is the most urgent of all issues confronting the 
human community: the quality of human life on a depleted planet, 
or even survival at an acceptable level of human satisfaction. It is to 
be expected that a work of the magnitude of Teilhard’s should be 
confronted with the need for readjustment on an equivalent order of 
magnitude. Probably the adjustment of thinkers from a pre¬ 
evolutionary context to an evolutionary context of interpretation is 
the best parallel, in the order of magnitude of its adjustment, to the 
adjustment from an anthropocentric to a biocentric orientation of 
consciousness. This latter is the adjustment that we are suggesting 
for the vision of Teilhard. 

My own suggestion is that we take the major themes of Teilhard 
as outlined in the earlier sections of this paper and press them 
further than Teilhard pressed them. In this manner we can move 
forward within his over-all perspectives and possibly bring his 
vision to more comprehensive conclusions than those he himself 
proposed. What must be observed, however, is that the mode of