When we contemplate the Sacred Heart in this icon we are being asked to see the Sacred Heart as away of understanding God as a God of evolution. And, of course, this is quite shocking for many. Teilhard passionately believed that the Sacred Heart was about the Christianity of he future, of the centuries to come rather than of the centuries that had past. It is when we understand this, we can get a better sense of Teilhard ‘s relevance for the future of Christianity.
One of the most distinguished scholars who has written so perceptively about Teilhard is Prof. Ursula King. All of us who are interested in Teilhard owe her a good deal. Prof King says this about his litany :
This litany sums up Teilhard’s faith of a lifetime, the fervent belief that the world has a heart, a center. The immense cosmic process of becoming has a focus, a pole, and the divine fire of God’s heart and love provide all the zest and energy the world needs. The essence of this energy is activated and can be tapped through Christianity, through the fire and power of the Christian faith, whose potential for love, for ‘amorizing’’ the world, must be raised to incandescence. Teilhard sees Christianity as the religion of evolution par excellence, and its God as the ‘God of evolution’. ….Teilhard was looking for a God of evolution, a God whose image is truly commensurate with the complex dimensions of our universe: a God who is not the outsider, a prime mover, but is deeply involved with the entire cosmic process of which we form an integral part; a truly living God , with us here and now, fully incarnate in matter and all becoming. For him , the essence of Christianity is a belief in the unification of the world in God through the incarnation. ( Ursula King, All Things in Christ: Exploring Spirituality with Teilhard de Chardin, SCM Press, London, 1997: 62-3)
I think a slow read through this passage repays a careful reading. It nicely sums up what Teilhard’s litany is all about. In doing so, I also think it can be read as a guide to reading our icon.
Our icon could also be called The Sacred Heart Immanuel. For the point of the icon is to show that Christ Omega – the universal Christ is not outside our universe just looking down on his creation. Through Christ , God is with us – he is Immanuel - and as King puts it he is consequently ‘deeply involved in the entire cosmic process’. If we accept that evolution is a fact, then it must follow for those with a belief in God that evolution is a holy and sacred process that culminates in the Pleroma. This evolutionary process has a focus, a pole, a loving and personal centre. It has a heart. It is a SACRED heart. It is the Heart of Jesus. Our God is a God of evolution and he is with us throughout all time and space. The Sacred Heart is Christ our Immanuel.
BUT....Evolution was perhaps the most revolutionary discovery in the history of mankind. It was especially so for those who had a religious faith. For many the idea that humanity evolved over millions of years was just contrary to their Biblical understanding of God. Indeed, there are still some people who refuse to acknowledge the reality of evolution. Teilhard was someone who believed that evolution was wholly compatible with faith in the God revealed in scripture, and furthermore that, if anything, it should strengthen our faith in a God who has created the universe with a purpose. In this case, Christians should embrace science and research, rather than run away from it. Christianity had to be a religion which was about faith and reason. In 1934 – when he was in Peking – he wrote a paper ‘How I believe’ in which he states his credo, which should be read alongside his litany. This is it:
I believe that the universe is in evolution.
I believe that the universe proceeds through spirit.
I believe that spirit is fully realized in a form of personality.
(Later he added (in1950) that ‘I believe in man, spirit is fully realized in person.)
I believe that the supremely personal is the universal Christ.
Thus Teilhard believes in evolution, but that evolution proceeds through the evolution of spirit. And this meant that evolution was not an event in the past, but an ongoing process. The cosmos is still evolving – was still in a process of becoming – cosmogenesis. The evolution of the cosmos was not completed. God was still animating it and pulling it towards ever greater complexity in Christ. And this evolution was now – with the emergence of human beings – primarily an evolution of a mental and spiritual kind. He saw this evolution as having a beginning and an end. It has an axis or pole. Evolution has a focus. Evolution also had an energy which is driving or powering this process. The evolution of the cosmos was initiated by God and its direction is towards God. As we contemplate Jesus we are asked to think of him as the expression of the energy which drives evolution: love. Jesus therefore, as the word of God - who is love - made flesh has a cosmic and evolutionary position in the story of the universe. He is as God's love incarnate the ‘heart of the world' and the very ‘essence’ of the world’, and the ‘motor of evolution’. As God incarnate Christ Immanuel is at the very centre or core of the universe and all things. Christ is the essence of all energy and the ‘focus of ultimate universal energy’ - love. Because evolution is fundamentally a spiritual and psychic process, Christ – as the material embodiment (incarnation )and expression of God’s love – contains the heart of God and therefore the heart of evolution.
With this in mind we have to reflect on how very limited and narrow was the devotion to the Sacred Heart which was common in his day. If evolution was true, then the Sacred Heart of Jesus had to be understood on a cosmic and universal scale . If it was love that was indeed the motor of evolution, rather than self-interest and the survival of the fittest – then it followed that the Sacred Heart was about understanding this energy of love and accessing this energy which was manifested in the Sacred Heart and it was not just about reparation and expiation. The Sacred Heart was nothing less than the very centre of the cosmos: the centre to which all evolution was being pulled. The Sacred Heart was therefore not to be understood as a devotion, but as an attractor. The Sacred Heart as the ‘heart of the world’s heart’ and focus of all consciousness and reflection was the point – the Omega point – towards which all creation was converging. And this found a perfect expression in the writings of St. Paul on the Pleroma.
His prayer therefore was to be united with this Sacred Heart: to be united with the very heart of an evolving cosmos which was created in and for Christ. So we can pray with Teilhard as we reflect upon the icon of the Sacred Heart - Christ Omega and Christ Immanuel.
Centre of the cosmic sphere of Cosmogenesis,
Heart of Jesus,
Heart of evolution,
Heart of God,
Heart of the world’s heart,
Unite me to yourself.
Let your universal Presence spring forth in a blaze that is at once Diaphany and Fire!