Monday, 12 September 2011

Teilhard’s Litany : (9) The Universal Jesus

I am not writing about Teilhard's  litany (SEE HERE )  in any particular order.  As I read and  meditate upon the icon I tend to see the image in different ways, and this prompts new directions.    I suppose I am engaging in what might be described as a kind ‘lectio divina’.  I read the image and that takes me to texts which I reflect upon and that leads to meditation and prayer and contemplation.   I have NO idea if that is what I am supposed to do with the icon, but that pattern has just kind of emerged since I have been living with it!   Over the past few days the focus  of my reading has been on the ‘Sacred Heart as the  'Universal Jesus.'   And so, it is this sense of the Sacred Heart as the  ‘Universal Christ’  which has been a source of  a kind of ‘lectio divina’ for a couple  of days.   In the course of which the something like the image below kept coming into mind.   I have attempted here to convey my thoughts by overlaying a NASA picture of the Andromeda galaxy taken by the Hubble telescope over the icon.   I think that this image emerged  very much as the result of reflecting on the spiral at the centre of the icon, and this led naturally enough to thinking about spiral forms : the galaxy being an obvious one. And that in due course reminded me of what Teilhard said in an essay on the Universal Christ in 1920.  In his ‘Note on the ‘Universal Christ’, Teilhard makes one of his clearest statements of  ideas.  In is well worth reading.  He says this:

By the Universal Christ, I mean Christ the organic centre of the entire universe.

The Sacred Heart as the Universal Christ.*
Organic centre: that is to say the centre on which every even natural development is ultimately physically dependent.

Of the entire universe: that is to say, the centre not only of the earth and mankind, but of Sirius and Andromeda, of the angels, of all the realities on which we are physically dependent, whether in a close or a distant relationship (and that, in all probability, means the centre of all participated

Of the entire universe, again, that is to say, the centre not only of moral and religious effort, but also of all that that effort implies — in other words of all physical and spiritual growth.

This Universal Christ is the Christ presented to us in the Gospels, and more particularly by St Paul and St John. It is the Christ by whom the great mystics lived: but nevertheless not the Christ with whom theology has been most concerned. …..If Christ is to be truly universal the Redemption, and hence the Fall, must extend to the whole universe. …If it is to be possible for the universe to have been affected as one whole by an accident that occurred in certain souls, then its coherence .. must be infinitely greater than we used generally to admit. To conform to the evidence of dogma, the world can no longer be an agglomeration of juxtaposed objects: we must recognise it as one great whole, welded together and evolving organically. ... ( in Science and Christ, pp 14- 20) 

The idea of  Jesus as the 'Universal Christ' is therefore  drawing on both Scripture – St. Paul and St John, but also on the mystical tradition.   But it is also drawing on what  the science of his day was telling us about the universe.   The idea of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the ‘Universal Jesus’ is therefore  the product of the old and the new: scripture and the mystics as well as science.   Teilhard saw the cosmos as about the evolution of a complex and organic inter-connected fabric of space and time, mind and matter.  This organic  universe is centred on the Sacred Heart.  Teilhard is inviting us to see Jesus as the Christ who is the very centre of an inter-connected universe which spirals towards his divine centre.   Teilhard believed  that this way of seeing Christ  would  make more sense to modern humans, than the images – such as Christ as King  -  of the past.  And that  viewing the Sacred Heart through the lens of ‘Universal  Christ' as the centre of an organically evolving cosmos  would also be more relevant and inspiring to humanity in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Well, I find it so. 

He returned to the idea of the 'Universal Christ' twenty years later whilst he was living in Peking.   He must have felt rather frustrated as little seemed to have changed.  However, a few years after he wrote his  'Notes on the Universal Christ',  Pius XI instituted (in 1925) the feast of Christ the King.  In his essay ‘ The awaited Word’ (1940)  he reflects on the progress which had been made towards a more ‘universal’ image of Christ.   The essay shows how Teilhard thought that this idea of the ‘Universal Christ’  constituted a logical line of development  from the  idea of “Christ the King’ which had been instituted as a feast by Pope  Pius XI  in 1925.  This was done in response to  ‘ the fact that the majority of men had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics’.  And until  mankind acknowledged the rule of Christ there would be no  lasting peace among nations.  In his encyclical  Quas Primas (see Here ) Pius XI  represents the Feast of Christ the King as a development of  the Feast of the Sacred Heart.   And  in his essay Teilhard argues for  the  ‘Universal Christ’  as  the logical next step: that is Jesus as  Sacred Heart - as Christ the King - as the 'Universal Christ'. 

 Between Christ the King and the  Universal Christ, there is perhaps no more than a slight difference of emphasis, but it is nevertheless all-important. It is  the whole difference between an external power, which can only be juridicial and static, and an internal domination which, inchoate in matter and culminating in grace, operates upon us by and through all the organic linkages of the progressing world.  The figure of the Universal Christ, the prime mover, the saviour, the master and the term of what our age calls evolution entails no risk… [for].. The Universal Christ , born from an expansion of the heart of Jesus, requires the historical reality of his human nature if he is not to disappear; and at the same time, as a function of the mechanism of love, he does not absorb but completes the personality of the elements which he gathers at the term of union.  (in Towards the Future, p 99) (My emphasis) 

Teilhard passionately believed that   Jesus had to be understood in a more ORGANIC  rather than a static way: as an expansion of the heart of Jesus.    The idea of Christ  as a King was too narrow  a way of seeing Christ.   We  have to see Jesus in cosmic, universal terms, that is in a DYNAMIC  way  rather than in a STATIC  way.  It is the Universal Jesus  (  Omnia per ipsum, et in ipsum creata sunt: et ipse est ante omnia, et omnia in ipso constant.  - And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. ( Col: 1-17) ) which must become  or evolve into the image of  Jesus for a Christianity of the future.  It is this Jesus which Teilhard challenges us to contemplate as  extending not only to the ends of the earth, but to the ends of time and space itself.   The Universal Jesus is therefore not a static figure looking down on us, but a dynamic and active presence which is the centre of the entire cosmos and the very energy which powers evolution itself.  And this divine centre – this heart of the world’s heart  and heart of  the cosmos – desires and loves us.  This 'Universal Jesus'  is calling us to help HIM build a  new Heaven and a New Earth.  For this is the good news: the universe has a personal centre and  it is called Jesus. And  this Jesus, born of Mary  two thousand years ago, is calling to our very centre – our heart.   The Universal Jesus whose fire penetrates and illuminates all creation  wants us to open our hearts to the love which radiates from His  heart: for our heart to become one with this divine and universal love. 

In his writings on  the 'Universal Christ'  Teilhard is keen to point out that the idea of a 'Universal Christ' has deep roots in the Church’s mystical tradition.  He was especially fond on the Greek fathers in this respect.  However, it was not until his conversations with  Blessed Gabriel Allegra between 1942 – 1945 in Peking  that Teilhard really began to appreciate how very much in common  his ideas on the 'Universal Christ'  had  with the Franciscan tradition – especially St Bonaventure  and Duns Scotus as well as with Dante  and many other Christian (ancient and modern) mystics (such a Gerard Manley Hopkins.)   Indeed, when  Allegra tells him about Duns Scotus’s ideas Teilhard exclaimed: Voilà la theologie cosmique, la theologie de ‘l’avenir!’(’ There you have the cosmic theology, the theology of the future!’ )( Bl. Gabriel Allegra, Conversations with Teilhard p 92)

And thus when we think of the Sacred Heart of the universal Jesus in terms of the 'Universal Christ'  we should recall that Jesus is not simply the Christ of the Holy Land or of this planet.   He is the Christ of a Holy Land which is centred on and converges  on  Him  and encompasses all of space and time.  When we see the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the 'Universal Christ ' we can proclaim with Teilhard: 'Voilà la theologie cosmique, la theologie de ‘l’avenir!


 *  No, I am not on medication, nor have I had a vision.  That is how I imagined the 'Universal Christ'  not how I actually saw it ! 

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