Birthday: May 1, 1881
Died At Age: 73
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ
Born Country: France
Born in: Orcines, France
Famous as: Philosopher
Quotes By Pierre Teilhard De Chardin
father: Alexandre-Victor Emmanuel Teilhard de Chardin, Emmanuel Teilhard
mother: Berthe de Dompiere
siblings: Albéric, Françoise, Gabriel, Gonzague, Joseph, Marguerite Teillard-Chambon, Marguerite-Marie, Marie-Louise, Olivier, Victor
Died on: April 10, 1955
place of death: New York City, New York, United States
Cause of Death: Heart Attack
education: University of Paris
Who was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin?
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a noted French philosopher and paleontologist of the 20th century. The controversial Jesuit priest is best remembered for his theory that every man is evolving towards a final spiritual unity called the ‘Omega Point’. He became interested in paleontology when he was sent to Cairo for a teaching internship. On his return to Paris, he began to study geology, botany and zoology, ultimately earning his doctorate degree in geology. However, shortly after he began his career as an assistant professor at the Institute Catholique, he was instructed to stop teaching and publishing due to his contentious views on different Christian doctrines, including the Original Sin. He was eventually asked to leave France. Thereafter, he traveled across the world to conduct research on paleontology and geology. He wrote many books, but due to objection from the Roman Catholic Church, some of his works remained unpublished until his death in New York City at the age of 73.
Childhood & Early Life
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was born on May 1, 1881, at Château de Sarcenat in the ancient province of Auvergne, France. His father Alexandre-victor Emmanuel Teilhard de Chardin was a farmer of a distinguished lineage. His mother Berthe-Adele Teilhard de Chardin was a relative of the famous French writer, Voltaire.
Pierre was born fourth of his parents’ 11 children. His 10 siblings included brothers: Albéric, Gabriel, Olivier, Joseph, Gonzague and Victor; and sisters: Marguerite Tailhard-Chambon, Françoise, Marguerite-Marie and Marie-Louise. All of them reached adulthood except Marie-Louise who passed away at 13.
Brought up in the Auvergne region, which was known for its long extinguished volcanic peaks and forest preserves, Pierre learned to observe nature from his early childhood. His father, an amateur naturalist and collector of stones, insects and plants, influenced him to take an avid interest in natural sciences.
One day, following a haircut, six years old Pierre was standing by the fireplace with a lock of hair in his hand. To his horror, he saw it being consumed by the fire within fraction of a second, making him realize that nothing was imperishable.
When he was seven, he began to look for something more permanent and found an iron plow hitch. He believed it to be everlasting and began to treasure it. But very soon, he realized that his cherished possession was also prone to rust and could be destroyed. This discovery made him shed his bitterest tears.
Disillusioned with his iron god, he now began to find solace in stones that he had collected with his father. His mother tried to guide him by telling stories about Christian mystics, awakening a sense of spirituality in him.
At the age of 12, Pierre was enrolled at Notre Dame de Mongre, a Jesuit school, located near Villefranche-sur-Saone. During his five years there, he read Thomas à Kempis's ‘The Imitation of Christ’ and was greatly influenced by it.
By the time he completed his baccalaureates in philosophy and mathematics, he had decided to become a Jesuit, who is no longer dependent on metals and stones for his sense of security. He had by then learned to value his faith in Christ as something eternal.
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In 1899, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin entered the Jesuit novitiate at Aix-en-Provence. A year later, he moved to Paris when the entire novitiate had shifted to the city. His training there encouraged him to pursue scientific investigation while following a life of prayer, further developing his ascetic piety.
On 26 March 1902, he took his first vows in the Society of Jesus. In the following September, he and his fellow Jesuits quietly left France to avoid punitive action under the 1901 Association bill. They settled in Bailiwick of Jersey, an island attached to the British Crown.
In 1904, disturbed by the news of his sister’s death, he decided to renounce the world and concentrate on theology. Fortunately, his former novice master Paul Trossard persuaded him to study science as a rightful path to God.
As a Paleontologist
In 1905, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was sent to the Jesuit college of St. Francis in Cairo, Egypt, for his teaching internship. While living there for three years and teaching diligently, he also took regular forays into the countryside to collect fossils and to study local flora and fauna.
While in Egypt, he began to correspond with Egyptian and French naturalists. In 1907, he had his first article ‘A Week in Fayoum’ published. In the same year, he also collected fossil shark teeth, which led to the discovery of four new species of sharks.
In 1908, Teilhard returned to England to complete his studies in theology at Ore Place in Hasting, Sussex. He was ordained as a priest on 24 August 1911. Despite his growing interest in paleontology, he could not pursue his research due to his preoccupation with his theological studies during this period.
Around 1912, Pierre began his studies in paleontology at the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle and the Institute Catholique in Paris. Concurrently, he also took part in excavations with well-known paleontologists, very soon developing an interest in the geology of the Eocene Period.
First World War
In 1914, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was sent back to Hastings for his tertianship. But when the First World War broke out in August, he returned to Paris and was subsequently mobilized as a stretcher bearer. In January 1915, he began his assignment with the North African Zouaves of the French Army.
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During the war years, he saw action at Marne and Epres in 1915, Nieuport in 1916, Verdun in 1917 and Chateau Thierry in 1918. Convinced that death was just a change of state, he calmly moved about in the battlefield, retrieving the dead and wounded while ignoring the flying bullets.
After he was demobilized on 10 March 1919, he returned to Jersey for a recuperative period. He wrote ‘Puissance spirituelle de la Matière’ (The Spiritual Power of Matter) in August. Thereafter, he moved to Paris, receiving his pass certificate in geology in 1919 and zoology in 1920.
In the fall of 1920, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin received his first appointment as a lecturer at the Institute Catholique, Paris. He wrote a thesis on geology of the Eocene Period, receiving his doctorate degree on March 22, 1922. During this period, he was promoted to the post of assistant professor of geology.
On April 1, 1923, he set sail for China after accepting an invitation from the Jesuit scientist and paleontologist, Emile Licent. In June, he undertook his first expedition into the Ordos desert, writing ‘La Messe sur le Monde’ (the Mass on the World) from there.
Following his return to Paris in September 1924, he continued to teach at Institute Catholique. But at that time, the environment in the Roman Catholic Church was not at all conductive to free thinking, and Teilhard was asked to explain some of his views.
In 1920 and 1922, he wrore two articles, 'Chute, Rédemption et Géocentrie' (Fall, Redemption and Geocentry) and 'Notes sur quelques représentations historiques possibles du Péché originel (Note on Some Possible Historical Representations of Original Sin), respectively. By the time he returned to France, the Vatican had taken note of his views.
In his controversial articles, he had tried to reinterpret many theological ideas, such as the ‘original sin’. In 1925, Teilhard was ordered to sign a statement, renouncing his contentious theories and to leave France after completing the semester's courses. Eventually in April 1926, he left for China.
In 1926, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin settled down in China, living in Tientsin with Emile Licent until 1932. In the same year, he joined the ongoing excavation at Zhoukoudian, better known as the ‘Peking Man’ site, as an advisor. Also in 1926-1927, he explored the Sang-Kan-Ho valley and toured Eastern Mongolia.
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In 1927, he wrote ‘Le Milieu Divin’ (The Divine Milieu) and began his work on ‘Le Phénomène Humain’ (The Phenomenon of Man). He returned to France but the Jesuit Superior General forbade him from writing on theology in July 1928.
While in Europe, he visited Leuven in Belgium, Cantal and Ariège in France. But the oppressive atmosphere in the continent made him go back to China in November 1928.
In 1929, he was appointed an advisor at the recently-found Cenozoic Research Laboratory of the Geological Survey of China. Working in that capacity, he participated in the discovery of Sinanthropus pekinensis (Peking man) in same year.
At the invitation of the American Museum of Natural History, he joined the Central Mongolian Expedition, led by Ray Chapman Andrew, in 1930. In May 1931, after a trip to the USA, he joined the Yellow Expedition to Central Asia, which was financed by the Citroen automobile company.
In 1934, he travelled up the Yangtze River with George Barbour, travelling across the mountainous regions of Szechuan. In 1935, he first travelled to India with the Yale-Cambridge expedition, and then to Java with Ralph von Koenigswald's expedition where he visited the site of Java Man. Later, he went to Myanmar with the Harvard-Carnegie Expedition.
In 1937, he once again visited the USA and wrote ‘Le Phénomène spirituel’ (The Phenomenon of the Spirit) during the voyage. From there, he returned to China after spending some time in France, writing ‘L'Energie spirituelle de la Souffrance’ (Spiritual Energy of Suffering) during his return journey.
After Second World War
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin spent the Second World War years in a state of near captivity in China. However, in 1941, he was able to submit ‘Le Phénomène Humain’ to Rome, asking for permission to publish it. In 1944, he received the news that his work had been banned.
Following the war, he was given the permission to return to France, but was forbidden from publishing and teaching. In July 1948, he received an invitation from the Vatican to resolve the controversies surrounding his ideas.
In October 1948, he left for Rome with high hope. But the visit turned out to be futile, as he realized that he would never be allowed to publish ‘Le Phénomène Humain’. In 1949, he was also denied the permission to accept the Chair of Paleontology at the Collége de France.
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In 1951-1952, he traveled extensively to England and the USA, trying to find a place to spend the rest of his life. Eventually, he settled down in New York, winning a research appointment at the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.
In the 1950s, he traveled twice to South Africa, where as a Coordinator of Research, he studied the Australopithecus sites. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that hominization was a bipolar process with an Asian and an African center, and that the African center led directly to the birth of Homo sapiens.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is best remembered for ‘Le Phénomène Humain’ (The Phenomenon Man). In this work, he described evolution as an increasingly complex process, which ends with the divine unification or ‘Omega Point’.
Although the work was completed by 1938-1939, it could not be published until 1955 due to opposition from the Roman Catholic Church.
‘Le Milieu Divin’, published in 1927, is another of his important works. It urges the readers to divinize their actions by recognizing that Christ is at the center of the world. It also declares that life is fulfilled only if one is in commune with God, earth and other beings.
Awards & Achievement
In 1921, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was awarded the Medaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre for his bravery during the First World War.
In 1937, he was awarded the Gregor Mendel Medal by the Villanova University in recognition of his works on human paleontology at a Philadelphia Conference.
He was elected president of the Geological Society of France in 1922 and a member of the French Academy of Sciences in 1950.
Family & Personal Life
In 1951, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin sought permission to spend his last days in France. On being refused, he settled down in New York City as a resident at the Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, Park Avenue.
On 15 March 1955, he told his friends that he would like to die on the day of the Resurrection. He died of a heart attack while having a lively discussion at his personal secretary’s home on April 10, 1955. It was an Easter Sunday.
His funeral, held on Easter Monday, was attended by a few friends. Later, his mortal remains were buried at St. Andrews-on-Hudson, at that time a Jesuit novitiate.