”What Holds Everything Together?” Teilhard’s Search for Consistence

Everywhere there are traces of, and a yearning for,

 a unique support, a unique and absolute soul,

a unique reality in which other realities are brought together in synthesis,

as stable and universal as matter, as simple as spirit.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin Writings in Time of War (translated by Rene Hague, New York, Harper and Row, 1968)

a unique and absolute soul … in which other realities are brought together in synthesis

Teilhard’s Life Journey spiralled through five circles. We have glimpsed his discoveries in the Circle of Presence where the loveliness of earth lured and enchanted him. Guided by Kathleen Duffy through her book Teilhard’s Mysticism (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 2014), we now explore Teilhard’s search in the Circle of Consistence where “he focused not only on the beauty of nature but also on the properties and structure of the cosmos as a whole “(39).  

Pierre is four years old, living in a family deeply grieving the loss of a child, his sibling.His mother is cutting his hair, tossing the shorn locks into the fire.Before his eyes, the boy sees part of himself vanish.

In such moments a life’s work may begin. For Teilhard, it began with a search for what can last… He began to collect bits of iron, until rust betrayed his trust in metal. Walking with his father over the hills of the Auvergne near his home, he found something that would endure. He fell in love with rocks.

Duffy writes that “his choice to abandon his collection of iron scraps for rock was fortunate since it led him from mere rock collection to the study of the Earth’s crust and eventually expanded his thinking to the planetary scale”(40).

Later in life, Teilhard would reflect: It was precisely through the gateway that the substitution of Quartz for Iron opened for my groping mind into the vast structures of the Planet and of Nature, that I began, without realizing it, truly to make my way into the World—until nothing could satisfy me that was not on the scale of the universal”. (The Heart of Matter)

Teilhard was seeking “an ultimate Element in which all things find their definitive consistence“(Teilhard’s Mysticism, 40). Though field work in geology and palaeontology in China, Africa and North America allowed him to enter Earth’s body, his brief time studying physics opened his wondering eyes to the cosmos. Still asking What holds everything together? Teilhard wondered if the answer was gravity.

Duffy notes that “throughout his journey along the Circle of Consistence, Teilhard focused his attention on matter in all of its intricacy without much consideration of spirit….The Divine Presence in which he felt himself bathed seemed to be not some vague spiritual entity, but rather, a supreme tangible reality”( 41).

Observing unity and interconnectedness within matter, Teilhard wrote: “The further and deeper we penetrate into matter with our increasingly powerful methods, the more dumbfounded we are by the interconnection of its parts”. (The Human Phenomenon)

Over time Teilhard would reconcile his childhood abhorrence for what perishes with his love for the strength and beauty that he found in what cannot last: This crumbling away, which is the mark of the corruptible and the precarious, is to be seen everywhere. And yet everywhere there are traces of, and a yearning for…a unique and absolute soul. (Writings in Time of War)

Teilhard came to “distinguish in the Universe a profound, essential Unity, a unity burdened with imperfections…but a real unity within which every ‘chosen’ substance gains increasing solidity”. (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 53)

Spiralling through the Circle of Consistence, experiencing the cosmic structure as “intimate, intricate and profound”, seeing himself as ”part of an interdependent and interconnected reality, sharing the one life that is in everything”, Teilhard realized that a search for consistency in what is visible would ever disappoint him.

Now at last he began to see: the very consistency of the World …welling up …like sap, through every fibre… leaping up like a flame .(The Heart of Matter)

Duffy’s conclusion to her chapter on the Circle of Consistence pulses with life and beauty, drawn in part from Teilhard’s Writings in Time of War (W):

Divine Presence, so powerfully real to him as he traveled along the first circle, had acquired a new power for him. At the very heart of matter, Divine Consistence was, by its very presence, holding all things together. Once he became aware of “the unifying influence of the universal Presence” (W, 124), he was no longer distressed by the mutability of things: “Beneath what is temporal and plural, the mystic can see only the unique Reality which is the support common to all substances, and which clothes and dyes itself in all the universe’s countless shades without sharing their impermanence”. (W, 125) He knew that Divine Consistence is trustworthy (W, 123):

“Having come face to face with a universal and enduring reality to which one can attach those fragmentary moments of happiness that…excite the heart without satisfying it” (W, 124), ”a glorious, unsuspected feeling of joy invaded my soul” (W,126).

He longed to surrender, to drive his roots into matter so that he could become united with Ultimate Reality. (Teilhard’s Mysticism, 54)

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