By Christopher Zehnder
The following is not Teilhardian; I am not Teilhardian. Teilhard merely presented a challenge that stimulated a train of thoughts, and these took the form of the following propositions. I hope to develop them in more detail in the future.
1. Genesis presents the creation of the cosmos as a process of unfolding, a moving from the less perfect to the more perfect, from the good to the very good.
2. The six days of creation suggest a temporal sequence, not an instantaneous creation.
3. The order in Genesis 1 reflects the natural order of priorty among creatures. Mere animals have all the perfections of vegetative life as well as sensistive life. Man has all the perfections of vegetative life and of sensitive life, but is endowed with reason. From Genesis (assuming a temporal sequence), we can say there was a time when the highest perfection of existent life was merely vegetative, then came a time when the perfection was sensitive, then followed the perfection of rationality. Even if the creation were instantaneous, vegetative life is still prior (as a prequesite) to the formation of animal life, and animal life prior to the formation of rational life.
4. The progress of development does not represent merely an extrinsic relationship between one group of individual beings and another, but stages in the development of the cosmos.
5. For the cosmos has a unity which is more than the sum total of its parts. This unity is not material or substantial but arises from the fact that all beings share in one common good. In saying this, I do not reduce this unity to the “simple domain of juridical and moral relationships,” which Teilhard de Chardin criticizes as “inorganic.” This unity is not extrinsic, but intrinsic; for nothing is more interior to a thing than its purpose. Its purpose is its very perfection. It is the essence fully realized. Moreover, the common good of the cosmos is the highest good of each and every one of its parts; for the good of the whole is of greater dignity than the peculiar good of each part. The common good is common because every being in the universe can participate in it. If any by definition could be excluded from this participation, the good would not be common, but a good only of a part. This would be true even if it were the part were the larger part.
Further, when many things share a common good, they must share a common order. If, for instance, many men share one water source, they must establish rules or laws governing their use of it. They must be subject to some governing principle that directs their use of the water, so that all may share in it. Such a government would be a complex of juridical and moral relationships, but it would not thereby be inorganic — for, again, it arises from a good that answers a common need intrinsic to man. It would be an artifice, but one that is rooted in man’s nature. In a similar way, a common law governs the cosmos; it has an order that is a reflection of the mind of its creator — an order that finds its rationale in the common purpose of all creatures. The cosmic order, however, is not an artifice. It is intrinsic to the cosmos itself.
6. Yet, if the common good or purpose of the cosmos is one, it is not enjoyed univocally by all its parts. The end as the object to which is identical, but its realization in different creatures is analogous. The universe thus is not an essential unity of which the parts are merely members. The perfection of the cosmos is the same for each creature, insofar as that which perfects and to which all things tend is identical. It differs, however, according the mode of participation of each being in the perfecting principle.
7. The perfection of the cosmos is union with God. Union with God is the common good of the universe. This union is attained properly only by man and the angels, for it consists in the union of the intellect with the divine nature, with no created form intervening. When man attains this union, he does so as the image of God. In divine union, the image of God becomes also man’s likeness to God.
8. Other creatures are not constituted as images of God; rather, they are vestigia Dei (traces or “footprints” of God). In some manner they reflect the divine, insofar as they are good and beautiful. Their perfection in goodness and beauty, thus, represents their participation in the common good, which is God. They can become more perfect in their participation. Indeed, they strive toward this more perfect participation — and as their perfections are the mark of the divine Logos (for all that is good and beautiful reflects the Logos), their striving is after God himself, though they cannot attain to him as he is in himself. For a created form mediates the sub-human creation’s partipation in God.
9. But men and angels can attain to God as he is in himself, albeit only by means of grace. Yet, though men and angels are perfected by receiving God himself, man holds a unique relathionship to the physical universe. Angels may have had an instrumental role in the creation of the universe, but man has the central role in its perfection. Standing between the material and intellectual creation, man participates in both. He is the pontifex, the mediator between God and the physical creation.
10. As pontifex, man’s progress in perfection draws the universe towards its perfection — for, when many things form a unity, all participate in some fashion in the good of each one. As man advances towards the divine, he draws the cosmos after him.
11. In this way we can see the unfolding of the cosmos. In creation, the universal unity moved from the lesser perfection of the vegetative to the greater perfection of the sensitive. In man, the universe achieved an even higher perfection. In man (as Teilhard would put it, though with cruder presuppositions), the universe became noetic.
12. Yet, though Adam was constituted in justice and holiness, before the fall he had not attained his final perfection. Thus, under Adam unfallen, the cosmic unity had advanced significantly towards its goal, but it had not achieved its perfection. Adam’s sin set man and the entire creation back. In Adam’s fall, all fell.
13. In Christ, the new Adam, mankind has reached its perfection. Still, the whole Christ – the head and members of the Mystical Body – has not yet achieved its perfection. It is for this perfection that all creation longs in travail. When the whole Christ achieves its eschatological glory, the universe will have reached its ultimate perfection, each part enjoying union with God according to its nature.