Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Scientist Priest

Yesterday, I borrowed a book from my dad called The Story of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzalez.  It's a very readable and fascinating account of the history of Christianity from its very beginning to the present day.  One of the central themes of Gonzalez's book is how churches and people of faith have responded to a constantly changing world.   This morning I read about a French priest who embodied this tension.   His name was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  I will quote Gonzalez's account:

"The son of a family of the French aristocracy, at an early age Teillard decided to join the Jesuits.  He was ordained a priest in 1911.  When World War I broke out, he refused the rank of captain--which he would have had as a chaplain--and served as a corporal, carrying the wounded in stretchers.  When the war ended, he was admitted as a full member of the Society of Jesus, and in 1922 he completed his doctorate in paleontology.  He had always been interested in the theory of evolution, not as a denial of creation, but rather as a scientific way of understanding the working of God's creative power.  His first writings on the relation between faith and evolution, however, brought swift condemnation from Rome.  He was prohibited from publishing further works on theology, and was sent to serve in China, where it was expected that he could do little damage.

As an obedient priest, he submitted.  The ban, however, did not prevent him from continued writing, as long as he did not publish his manuscripts.  Therefore while pursuing his paleontological work in China, he also continued his theological work, and gave his manuscripts to a few trusted friends.  In 1929, he was instrumental in the identification of the Sinanthropus skull, which further confirmed the principle of evolution and brought him acclaim from the scientific community around the world.  Still Rome refused to allow him to publish his philosophical and theological works, now circulating among friends in France.  Finally, in 1955, after his death, his friends published his works, which immediately won wide attention."

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