The Divine Milieu explained
Sample from my new book Teilhard de Chardin’s The Divine Milieu Explained from Paulist Press, 2007

From the Author’s Foreword

At about the same time as Salvador Dali was becoming well known as a Surrealist painter in Europe during the 1920s, a young Jesuit priest-scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, in quasi-exile from Europe, was working in China as a geologist and paleontologist. In his spare time, he began putting together his ideas about a spirituality that would bring together all the discoveries being made in science and integrate them with what he knew about God, especially what God was trying to accomplish in the world. He called his manuscript The Divine Milieu.

The Divine Milieu is a revolutionary book of Christian spirituality. So revolutionary, in fact, that his religious superiors refused to let him have it published. Though Teilhard, as everyone called him, finished writing it around the year 1929, it was never brought to light until after his death, in French in 1957 and in English translation in 1960. Even today, half a century later, few understand it and many are suspicious of it, because it appears to fly in the face of traditional Christian piety. But, while it is still utterly contemporary and revolutionary—different from any other spiritual book you ever read—it is Christian in its roots and to its core. It is joyful, hopeful, and full of enthusiasm, as any Christian spirituality should be. It expresses a love for nature, a delight in scientific discoveries, a rejoicing in human progress, and an underlying almost childlike trust in a benevolent universe evolving in the unconditional love of a benevolent and all-forgiving God. In fact, this book offers to us perhaps the only integrative spirituality that can truly satisfy our 21st Century experience.

… I am hoping to take you through the paragraphs and sections of The Divine Milieu, following exactly its original outline and structure, and to help reveal some of the riches hidden there. After almost every section, I suggest a simple spiritual reflection that should help personalize and concretize the ideas and insights Teilhard has presented.

Almost 400 years before Teilhard wrote The Divine Milieu, St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, the Society of Jesus, designed a powerfully transformative system of spiritual practices, called The Spiritual Exercises. Ever since then, and even today, people seeking spiritual growth have been, as the Jesuits say, “making the Exercises.” Everyone agrees it can be a life-changing event.

If you were to “make” the Exercises, your culminating experience would be the “Contemplation for Attaining the Love of God” (Contemplatio ad Amorem). In this almost mystical exercise, Ignatius hopes you will be graced with the “eyes to see” that it is within God, whose name is Love, that we live and move and have our existence. Living in God is like living in the air we breathe. God is the atmosphere, the environment, the divine milieu in which we spend our lives.

The Spiritual Exercises were a transforming experience for Teilhard, too. His purpose in writing The Divine Milieu was to share with us how he, as a Jesuit and as a dedicated scientist, learned to use the new eyes that Ignatius gave him in order to see spiritual reality today—in the world contemporary men and women live in, thoroughly informed and transformed by science and technology.…

Teilhard was a part of some of the scientific discoveries of the past century, but not all of them. He realized that humans would continue—as we have done—to make more and more discoveries like these about our world. And these discoveries I mentioned don’t even include those that have been made—and are being made daily—in the fields of physics, chemistry, psychology, anthropology, neurobiology, and brain research, to name just a few.

Teilhard realized we needed a radically new kind of spirituality—an understanding of God and creation and our part in it—that could welcome and easily integrate all these important scientific facts of our existence into itself.…

Most contemporary spiritualities, following tradition, usually put these scientific facts aside, assuming they have little to do with our spiritual lives. But in fact they permeate our very existence. They are part of the way we think today. We cannot put them aside. And Teilhard doesn’t, because, for him, everything we learn about creation is something we are learning about the Body of Christ—the Christ that lives today, the Christ who is as big as the cosmos.

The Cosmic Christ

In The Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius taught Teilhard how to dig deeply into the mind and heart of Jesus of Nazareth and how to be transformed by his suffering, death, and resurrection. In the sixteenth century when Ignatius lived, he knew nothing of the many scientific facts that are simply part of our daily assumptions about reality. For most people then, the flat earth was the center of God’s creation, and God lived up in the sky. And his traditional spirituality reflects those beliefs.

In The Divine Milieu, Teilhard the scientist takes us many centuries further in the life of Christ. He invites us to learn to see, as he does, not only the Christ of 2,000 years ago, but also the magnificent Being that the Risen Christ with his Total Body has developed into during two millennia. He also invites us to glimpse into Christ’s future, to identify the goal toward which that Total Body of Christ has been constantly evolving.

For Teilhard, Christ today is not just Jesus of Nazareth risen from the dead, but rather a huge, continually evolving Being as big as the universe. In this colossal, almost unimaginable Being each of us lives and develops in consciousness, like living cells in a huge organism. At various times, theologians have described this great Being as the Total Christ, the Cosmic Christ, the Whole Christ, the Universal Christ or the Mystical Body of Christ.

With the help of all the human sciences as well as the scriptures, Teilhard shows how we—the cells and members of the Body of Christ—can participate in and nurture the life of the Total Christ. He also shows, thanks to the continuing discoveries of science, how we can begin to glimpse where that great Being is headed and how we can help promote its fulfillment.

Teilhard’s spirituality identifies many ways we can help accomplish the Total Christ’s divine destiny. It is Christ’s divine task as well as ours to turn this fragmented world, through love of it in all of its visible and invisible dimensions, into one immense shining Being, the Body of Christ, glowing with divine energy. Christ the Lord, the head of this Body, has promised to be with us and guide us, from start to finish. He said, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20)

At present, many of the cells of this Christ Body are unaware of their divine calling, unaware of how special they are in the eyes of God, and unconscious of the fact that they are already living their lives as part of this Cosmic Body. For Teilhard, this Cosmic Body is meant to become fully conscious of itself in every cell of its being in such a way that every cell is also conscious of the whole Body’s magnificent destiny. When this Christ Body realizes itself as the divine reality it has always been meant to be, that moment will be what Teilhard calls the Omega Point. (See Rev 1:8)

It sounds like very heady stuff. That’s because it is.