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God is in the garden: Christian Mondor on science, evolution, creation, and faith

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
courtesy On Being

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“We evolved from a lower species that first began its life in the ocean. We have a natural affinity for the ocean,” Father Christian Mondor said. It’s not always easy to tell from a radio story, but Father Mondor had a way of talking, where one thought would blend seamlessly into the next. I interviewed him for my "God is in the garden" series. 

In this way he leaped into the connections between faith and science. “I think [Pierre] Teilhard de Chardin, the great French Jesuit theologian and paleontologist, saw in evolution a marvelous new way to understand the gospels: that we are indeed evolving, and it’s going on all the time,” Father Mondor told me. “We are evolving into the divine, without, amazingly, losing our humanity.”

“By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us,” Teilhard wrote. “We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, when in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.” [The Divine Milieu]

The fact that he brought up Teilhard de Chardin told me that Father Mondor was, at least at one time, a gentle sort of rebel. Teilhard served as a stretcher bearer during World War I; he got a doctorate in geology at the Sorbonne afterward. But he spent most of his later life exiled in China; what’s arguably his most famous book, The Phenomenon of Man, didn’t gain approval from church leadership before he died. 

Sure, it’s not controversial now to say that evolution and faith can co-exist. But when Father Mondor was in seminary, Teilhard de Chardin's was on his way to being put on a list of authors who were not-quite-banned, for spending his scholarly life incorporating the two ideas.

The connections among the ways Teilhard de Chardin, Francis of Assisi, and Huntington Beach’s Christian Mondor think are strong. By emphasizing the value of plants and animals, creatures that aren’t people, they made their corners of Catholicism less humancentric.  And all three men's thinking pointed to a communal destiny for all living things. Here’s Teilhard again:

The phrase 'Sense of the Earth' should be understood to mean the passionate concern for our common destiny which draws the thinking part of life ever further onward. The only truly natural and real human unity is the spirit of the Earth. . . .The sense of Earth is the irresistable pressure which will come at the right moment to unite them (humankind) in a common passion. [Building the Earth]

Father Mondor read me St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun.  Teilhard had his own kind of prayer that might be appropriate for environmentalists, albeit more modern:

Blessed be you, mighty matter, irresistible march of evolution, reality ever newborn; you who, by constantly shattering our mental categories, force us to go ever further and further in our pursuit of the truth.  [Hymn of the Universe]

Father Mondor talked more about Teilhard de Chardin. You can listen at the left.