Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

May 1, 1881 – April 10, 1955

This page provides some reference and basic information on the life and works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. We will be adding more content and Teilhard-related resources to this page over time.

Timeline of Teilhard’s Life

1881 Birth on May 1 at Sarcenat on May 1 in France, near Orcines and Clermont-Ferrand. Fourth of eleven children—eight of his brothers and sisters would precede him in death. Sarcenat is in the Massif Central amidst extinct volcanos, the tallest of which is Puy-de-Dome (4800 ft).
1902 Graduates Licence es-lettres. He had passed baccalaureate exams in philosophy (1897) and in mathematics (1898) and entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1897.
1905-1908 Three years teaching in Jesuit college in Cairo, Egypt, with three geological field trips. Teilhard learned in 1907 that because of his finds of shark teeth in Fayoum, a new species of shark was named for him, Teilhardia.
1910-12 Study of theology at Hastings, England.  Ordained a priest in 1911.  During this period he read Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution (1911) and was greatly influenced by it. Bergson’s book would later appear on the church’s Index of Forbidden Works. In 1912, Teilhard participated in the digs at Piltdown with Charles Dawson. “Piltdown man” revealed as a hoax in 1953.
1915-1918 Stretcher bearer during the Great War. Two of Teilhard’s brothers killed in action. Teilhard was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille Militaire and was eventually (1921) made a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur for his bravery in battle. During the war Teilhard wrote letters to his cousin Marguerite Teillard-Chambon and sent her many of his essays; these essays caught the notice of his Jesuit superiors because of their unorthodox theology (e.g., no Adam and Eve, no original sin, no creation ex nihilo), but he was still allowed to take his final vows as a Jesuit.
1919-1922 Takes final vows as a Jesuit and completes formal education (certificates in geology, botany, zoology, and a doctorate in geology). In 1922 Teilhard wrote “Note on Some Possible Historical Representations of Original Sin” as a private reflection, not meant for publication, but for the consideration of theologians. This document somehow made its way to Rome and was a contributing factor in Teilhard’s being “exiled” to China in 1926.
1923 April 1923 to September 1924 in China, writes “La Messe sur le Monde” (“The Mass on the World”).
1924-1925 Teaches at the Institut Catholique in Paris. Extreme popularity with students that alarms his superiors because of his unorthodox views on evolution and original sin. During July 1925 (week of the Scopes Trial in America), the crisis of obedience: Teilhard obliged to sign a statement of repudiation of his ideas on original sin. Some of his friends advised Teilhard to leave the Jesuits—Abbe Breuil said, “Vous etes mal made. Divorcez-la!” However, Auguste Valensin advised Teilhard to sign the confession, not as a statement of the condition of his soul—which, Valensin argued, God alone could judge—but in order to signal his obedience to the Jesuits. Teilhard signed the statement. It was during this period that Teilhard introduced the word “noosphere” (nous – mind), the layer of reflective life embracing the biosphere, though still dependent on it.
1926-1939 In these years Teilhard makes six more trips to China, spending much of his time there. He writes his spiritual masterpiece, Le Milieu Divin (The Divine Milieu), trying in vain to revise it so as to please the church censors. In 1929, he begins a life-long friendship with Lucille Swan (1890­1965), often discussing his work with her. He plays a major role in the expedition that discovered Sinanthropus (so-called Peking Man) in 1929-30 and, in 1931-32, participates in the Croisiere Jaune (the Yellow Expedition) in China. His trips to and from China allow him opportunities for geological and paleontological study in Ethiopia, Manchuria, France, the United States, England, Java, and India. He is awarded the Gregor Mendel Medal in Philadelphia in 1937. In 1938 Teilhard begins writing his magnum opus, Le Phenomena Humain (The Human Phenomenon), finished 1940. For Teilhard, disbelief in evolution is unthinkable; it is a light illuminating all facts, but especially “the human phenomenon.” The God En Haut (Above) is identified with the aim, En Avant (Ahead), of the evolutionary process, which Teilhard calls “Omega Point.”
1939-1946 Teilhard is stranded in China as he waits out World War II. During these years he and his close friend and fellow Jesuit, Pierre Leroy, set up the Institute of Geobiology. He also lectures at the French embassy on “The Future of Man” and he founds the journal Geobiologia.
1946-1951 These eventful years are spent mostly in and around Paris. In 1946 he does some lecturing, but in 1947 he suffers a heart attack. October 1948 finds Teilhard in Rome seeking ecclesiastical approval for the publica­tion of Le Phenomene Humain and for permission to accept an invitation to a Chair at the College de France—Teilhard prepared himself “to stroke the tiger’s whiskers.”  Both requests are denied. In early 1949 Teilhard gave one of a series of six planned lectures at the Sorbonne, but an attack of pleurisy cut short the lectures. Teilhard wrote the lectures into a book, Le Groupe Zoologique Humain (translated as Man’s Place in Nature); again, however, Rome refuses permission to publish.
1950 Despite the fact that the church denied Teilhard permission to publish his religious-philosophical works, many of these works were widely known in Catholic circles because Teilhard authorized multiple copies to be made and distributed—these were referred to as Teilhard’s “clandestins.” Two books were published prior to Teilhard’s death which used these clandestins to launch criticisms of Teilhard’s ideas. L’Evolution Redemptrice du P. Teilhard de Chardin (Les Editions du Cedre, 1950) was the first, published anonymously, although the author was probably Abbe Luc Lefevre. However, the more important event of 1950 was the release in August of Pope Pius Xll’s encyclical Humani Generis. Some people believed that the encyclical was directed at Teilhard. If Teilhard believed this, he never let on. Be that as it may, the encyclical affirmed the historical truth of the first eleven chapters of Genesis, expressed skepticism about the truth of evolution, and denied altogether the evolution of the soul (as opposed to the body). Teilhard wrote a partial response to the encyclical and sent it to Rome. [See the note at the end of this Timeline.] Despite this, Teilhard wrote a letter to his Jesuit superior assuring him of his complete fidelity. In 1950 Teilhard also completed his autobiographical essay, “Le Coeur de la Matiere” (“The Heart of Matter”).
1951-1955 Teilhard felt the pressure to leave France and was allowed to accept a research position with the Wenner-Gren Foundation in New York City. In 1952, the second of two books critical of his ideas appeared, Abbe Louis Cognet’s Le Pere Teilhard de Chardin et la Pensee Contemporaire. Teilhard wrote to Pere Leroy, “It’s a shame I can neither explain nor answer him.”  In 1952 a conference on evolution was held at Laval University in Quebec to which the great evolutionists of the day were invited, with the exception of Teilhard. Teilhard referred to these as “Catholic games.”  In these final years Teilhard remained active, traveling across the United States as well as overseas to South Africa and South America. He made his final trip to France in the summer of 1954 where he visited the Lascaux caves with Pere Leroy. In early 1955 Teilhard declined an invitation to speak at a symposium at the Sorbonne.  A little later in the year, Rome took the precaution of denying him permission to attend the symposium. At the same time, he heard that Rome had denied permission to publish a German translation of some of his published scientific articles.
1955 April 10: Teilhard dies of a heart attack in New York City on Easter Sunday in the afternoon.
1955-1976 By the end of 1955, Editions de Seuil had published the first of thirteen volumes of Teilhard’s work, beginning with Le Phenomene Humain (1955) and ending with Le Coeur de la Matiere (1976). After consulting a Jesuit canon lawyer to insure that he would remain faithful to the church to the end, Teilhard bequeathed his literary remains to his secretary, Mademoiselle Jeanne Mortier. It was Mlle. Mortier who ensured that the Roman censors would not have the last word.


Note: “Monogenism and Monophyletism: An Essential Distinction.” Teilhard argues that science debates the question of monophyletism versus polyphyle­tism (i.e., single vs. multiple evolutionary branches giving rise to humans). Science cannot directly address the hypothesis of monogenism (i.e., human origins from an individual Adam). However, indirectly, the scientist can say that all we believe we know about biology renders an individual Adam unten­able— e.g., Adam would be born adult.

*A special thank you to Professor Donald Viney for providing the materials on Teilhard’s life and original works and letters.

Reading Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Some readers new to Teilhard have found starting with the Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin by respected scholar Ursula King, provides a helpful biographical overview and context for approaching Teilhard’s writing and vision as it developed over his lifetime.

Originals and English Editions of Teilhard’s Works and Letters

T1 — T13 refer to volume numbers (tomes) in the French editions.

1955 TI Le phénomène humain
1956 T2 L’apparition de l’homme
T8 Le groupe zoologique humain
Lettres de voyage, 1923–1939
1957 T3 La vision du passé
T4 Le milieu divin:  essai de vie intérieure
1958 Construire la terre (multi-lingual edition) Building the Earth [also published 1965]
1959 T5 L’avenir de l’homme T1 The Phenomenon of Man [revised 1965]
1960 T4  The Divine Milieu: An Essay on the Interior Life
1961 L’Hymne de l’univers laws 1914-1919
Genese d’une pensee: lettres 1914-1919
Lettres de voyage, 1923-1955
1962 T6 L’energie humain Letters from a Traveler [Lettres de voyage (1961)]
1963 T7 L’activation de l’energie
Lettres d’Egypte (1905-1908)
1964 T5 The Future of Man
1965 T9 Science et Christ
T12 Ecrits du temps de la guerre
Lettres d’Hastings et de Paris, 1908-1914
Lettres it Leontine Zanta
T2 The Appearance of Man
Hymn of the Universe
Letters from Egypt, 1905-1908
The Making of a Mind: Letters from a Soldier-Priest, 1914-1919
1966 Je m’emplique
(ed. Jean-Pierre Demoulin)
T3 The Vision of the Past
T8 Man’s Place in Nature
1967 Letters from Paris, 1912-1914
1968 Accomplier l’homme. Lettres ineditess (1926-1952) [Letters to Ida Treat and Rhoda de Terra] T9 Science and Christ
T12 Writings in a Time of War*
Letters from Hastings, 1908-1912
Letters to Leontine Zanta
Letters to Two Friends, 1926-1952 [Treat / de Terra]
1969 T10  Comment je crois T6 Human Energy
1970 Euvres scientifiques (11 volumes)
Journal 1915-1919, Tome 1 (Cahiers 1-5)
T10 Christianity and Evolution
1973 T11 Les directions de I ‘avenir Prayer of the Universe [excerpts from T12]
1974 Lettres intimes a Auguste Valensin, Bruno de Solages, Henri de Lubac, Andre Ravier
1975 T11 Toward the Future
1976 T13 Le comer de la matiere
Lettres familieres de Pierre Teilhard de Chardin mon ami. Les dermieres annees, 1948-1955 (ed. Pierre Leroy)
1978 T13 The Heart of Matter
1980 Letters from My Friend Teilhard de Chardin, 1948-1955 (ed. Pierre Leroy)
1984 Letters a Jeanne Mortier
1988 Letters inedites a ‘Abbe Ganderfroy et a l’Abbe Breuil
1989 Pelerin de l’avenir: Le Pere Teilhard de Chardin a travers sa correspondence (1905-1955)
1994 Letters of Teilhard de Chardin and Lucille Swan [originals mostly in English]
1999 T1 The Human Phenomenon
2011 La rayonnement d’une amitie: Correspondance avec la famille Begouen (1922-1955)


*Writings in Time of War omits seven essays from French original that are found in two other works: “Christ in the World of Matter” and “The Spiritual Power of Matter” (in Hymn of the Universe [1965]); “Nostalgia for the Front,” “The Great Monad,” “My Universe,” “Note on the Presentation of the Gospel In a New Age,” and “The Names of Matter” (in The Heart of Matter (1978]).

Works by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The following is a list of common abbreviations and published works by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, as cited in From Teilhard to Omega: Co-creating an Unfinished Universe / Ilia Delio, editor, Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2014

AE Activation of Energy, translated by Rene Hague (London: Collins, 1970)
AM The Appearance of Man, translated by 1. M. Cohen (New York: Harper, 1965)
CE Christianity and Evolution, translated by Rend Hague (London: Collins, and New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971)
DM The Divine Milieu: An Essay on the Interior Life, translated by Bernard Wall (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960)
FM The Future of Man, translated by Norman Denny (New York: Harper & Row, 1964).
HE Human Energy, translated by J. M. Cohen (London: Collins, 1969)
HM The Heart of Matter, translated by Rene Hague (London: Collins, and New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978)
HP The Human Phenomenon, translated by Sarah Appleton-Weber (London: Sussex Academic Press, 2003)
HU Hymn of the Universe, translated by Simon Bartholomew (New LT Letters from a Traveler, translated by Bernard Wall (New York: Harper & Row, 1962)
MM The Making of a Mind, translated by Rene Hague (New York: Harper and Row, 1965)
MPN Man’s Place in Nature: The Human Zoological Group, translated by Rene Hague (New York: Harper & Row, 1966)
OS L’cEuvre Scientifique, ten volumes, edited by Nicole and Kari Schmitz-Moormann (Olten and Freiburg im Breisgau: Walter. Verlag, 1971)
PU The Prayer of the Universe, translated by Bernard Wall (New York: Harper & Row, 1968)
SC Science and Christ, translated by Rene Hague (London: Collins, and New York: Harper & Row, 1968)
TF Toward the Future, translated by Rene Hague (London: Collins, and New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974)
VP The Vision of the Past, translated by J. M. Cohen (New. York and Evanston: Harper, 1966)
WTW Writings in Time of War, translated by Rene Hague (London: Collins, and New York: Harper & Row, 1968)
quote Teilhard de Chardin