Blog by Louis Savary, PhD, STD
Getting to Know Teilhard: The Formative Years
#1 How did Teilhard come to love the earth and matter so passionately?
Then it was that my newly born attraction to the world of “Rocks” began to produce the beginning of what was to be a permanent broadening of the foundations of my interior life . . . . The truth is that even at the peak of my spiritual trajectory I was never to feel at home unless immersed in an Ocean of Matter . . . .
The Heart of Matter
Teilhard learned to love the earth from his father, Emmanuel Teilhard de Chardin. Pierre’s father had a deep love of the earth. He was a highly respected amateur naturalist and an avid fossil seeker. Emmanuel explored the Auvergne, the ancient region of extinct volcanoes in central France. That is where he had lived from childhood.
In Clermont-Ferrand, the capital city of Auvergne, he was a very important man. He had graduated as an archivist-historian from the famous university École des Chartes in Paris and in Clermont-Ferrand held the combined offices of historian, archivist, paleontologist, and permanent secretary of the local chapter of the Academy of Science, Literature, and the Arts. From an early age, while investigating the fossil-rich Auvergne hillsides, Emmanuel had carefully gathered and catalogued many mineral, botanical, and zoological specimens. Over the years he had amassed a very enviable collection of stones, insects, and plants. An extensive array of those items was proudly displayed in a special room in his home.
As young Pierre, his son, grew old enough, he often accompanied his father in these explorations. Pierre also spent many quiet hours with his father in his collection room. There, he learned to catalogue the rocks they had brought home from volcanic sites. Fossils were labeled each according to its kind and the spot where it had been found. Pierre’s father taught him the proper scientific names of their finds.
Already at age six or seven, Pierre could easily distinguish specimens of magma. He could identify igneous rocks that were intrusive (that cooled slowly under the earth’s surface) and those that were extrusive (that erupted onto the surface and cooled quickly to become small crystals).
I was just like any other child. I was interested especially in mineralogy and biological observation. I used to love to follow the course of the clouds, and I knew the stars by their names . . . . To my father I owe a certain balance, on which all the rest is built, along with a taste for the exact sciences.
Spirit of Fire
- Can you trace the beginnings of your life or career back to your childhood?
- Name a few people who helped shape your beliefs about what is important in life?
- In what positive ways did your father influence the person you have become?
#2 How did Teilhard come to love God so passionately?
At an age when other children, I imagine, experience their first “feeling” for a person, or for art, or for religion, I was affectionate, good, and even pious; by that I mean that under the influence of my mother, I was devoted to the Child Jesus.
The Heart of Matter
Teilhard learned to love God from his mother. In 1875, Emmanuel Teilhard de Chardin married Berthe Adèle de Dompierre d’Hornoy. Emmanuel was a devout Catholic, so he not only welcomed his new wife’s spirit of prayer and devotion, but also encouraged it. Like many other Catholic families in France, the Teilhard de Chardins kept holy pictures, statues, bibles, rosary beads, votive candles and prayer books in their home. Unlike most other families, the Teilhard de Chardins used these religious objects every day.
During summers, the Teilhard family lived in their countryside home, called Sarcenat, in the small village of Orcines. Each morning, Madame could be seen hurrying to the Church of St Denis to attend early mass. St Denis was the church where Pierre had been baptized. Gossip among the neighboring ladies suggested that Madame Teilhard de Chardin was so devout that she ran her home like a convent.
Pierre’s mother was a mystic with great dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Under her guidance, Pierre’s soul caught fire. Throughout his life, he kept a picture of the Sacred Heart on his desk. Like most mystics, his mother’s image of God was of an unconditional loving Presence. It was different from the “account manager” God that most people seemed to worship. For her, God was the lover who receives everything and forgives everything. Under her guidance, at an early age, her son developed a special intimacy with a beloved God. Later in life, Teilhard wrote,
A spark had to fall upon me, to make the fire blaze forth. And, without a doubt, it was through my mother that it came to me, sprung from the stream of Christian mysticism, to light up and kindle my childish soul. It was through that spark that ‘My universe,’ still but half-personalized, was to become amorised, and so achieve its full centration.
The Heart of Matter
- What was the image or nature of God that you were taught, directly or indirectly, by your parents?
- Who introduced you to the spiritual life? (Not merely the person that taught you to say your prayers.)
- Do you have any images or symbols that help foster your spiritual life?