[first published February 16, 2016]
by Dr. David Pence
On Tuesdays at AOA, we will devote our discussions to a Christocentric interpretation of the natural world. The physical world manifests the glory and purposes of God. It is utterly inadequate to contend that science is about facts, and religion is about meaning. A God who reveals Himself has left all sorts of factual interactions which help orient us toward the truth. The different sciences seek causes which give meaning to events that no longer need be approached as random occurrences but are made intelligible by explanatory paradigms. The sciences cannot be reduced to repeatable lab experiments and religion cannot be dematerialized into beliefs independent of observed facts and events that have occurred in history. The isolating dissipation of most matter throughout the universe, countered by the communal integration of the human species in Christ on earth, are central facts which have great meaning. Religion and the subordinated physical sciences help us understand these physical and spiritual phenomena. The new field in biology called sociobiology pioneered by EO Wilson is a purely secular but brilliantly synthetic source for our work.
Two thinkers who have inspired our reflections are Jesuits of the last century. Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was silenced and criticized for his inadequate treatment of Evil and original sin. Those areas showed a certain deficiency in his thinking exacerbated by his tendency in later life to minimize the interventions of God in natural history. Chardin’s quest, however, was a great-souled attempt to synthesize the reality of life’s organic development with man’s final Eucharistic end to be united in the Body of Christ. His work and insights cannot be left to heretics or the godless who will never be able to develop his deepest currents. Nor should his reputation be sullied by those who have no idea what mighty pillars of truth he was trying to align upon a Christian foundation. He had a deep appreciation for the Eucharist and the communal destiny of man as did his fellow Jesuit Henri de Lubac (1896-1991). Father de Lubac, too, was disciplined for some of his writings but was rehabilitated and honored before he died. He was made a 'peritus' (theological adviser) at the Second Vatican Council, and a cardinal by Pope John Paul II. Cardinal de Lubac maintained a lifetime admiration for Chardin; and spent a good deal of time defending his work. This continues to confuse the more tight-fisted of the doctrinal Catholics who embrace de Lubac, but shun Chardin. Both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict understand the limitations of Chardin, but quote his insights approvingly. De Lubac understood that the purpose of the Church was integrally tied to the destiny of man as a species, not just as individual souls. Chardin considered the mystery of the Eucharist as the culminating event of evolution. Chardin saw not just human history but the very structure of nature as moving toward a complexification and unity -- an interpersonal communion. De Lubac understood that the sacramental order of Mother Church was drawing man into this perfection.
|Henri de Lubac|
What we call Catholic Sociobiology is an attempt to show how the culmination of the natural world is a sacramental incorporation of the human race as a species in the interpersonal life of the Trinity. The human species functioning as a single organism has a key similarity to all eusocial species--sexual differentiation and parthenogenesis are deeply significant. This drama of love is played out amidst the ruins of an entropic expanding universe. There was a missing element in both Chardin and de Lubac, who focused their thinking on the final culminating unity of redemption in Christ. That union must be contrasted with the expulsion of Satan, his angels, and the damned. The moral fate of the damned is parallel to the physical fact that most of the universe is violent, disintegrating into space, and hostile to life. This was not widely appreciated in the time of Chardin. There was a theory of the universe that it was oscillating and its expansion would soon cease and a reconvergence would draw all of matter back into "a great crunch". It turns out that most of the matter in the universe is expanding outwards and it is not coming back! There is however a selected place of complex convergence. That is one way to describe that "thin strip of life"-- a 10 mile shell of the earth's surface and inner atmosphere known as the biosphere. This set aside or "elect" spatial sanctuary is where the ultimate Eucharistic convergence will occur. The liturgy does not make all things sacred but performs a separating function before communion. So too the universe. There is a radical distinction between the hierarchical ecology of life and the deadly cold and vacuum filling the galaxies. A tiny amount of matter is being drawn into the Body of Christ. The rest of the material Universe ( 99% of which are the two simplest elements- hydrogen and helium) is being separated out. The Eucharist is not "performed on the world" but on the set aside elements which reconstitute the human species for our special vocation. This distinction of the Household of Life from the inanimate convulsions of matter in space does not refute the Chardin-de Lubac project. This refinement rescues them from Origen and the Greek cosmic return of apocatastasis. The convergence toward the Omega point of Christ in the context of a contrasting entropic dissolution makes the cosmic, anthropological, and Eucharistic insights of these two great churchmen even more remarkable.
(Added Note August 2017) There is much in the work of Protestant theologian NT Wright that helps explain our overall Corporate Body Kingdom emphasis. Here is an interview. Here is a pithy summary: "We have platonized our eschatology, as a result of which we have moralized our anthropology, and have therefore been in danger of paganizing our soteriology.":