An Ocean of Matter

Like Thomas Berry (see preceding post), Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), the Jesuit geologist and paleontologist, was also deeply attracted by the natural world. Growing up in the Auvergne region of France, he explored its hilly terrain with an eye toward discovering natural objects which interested the budding scientist. In this activity, he was encouraged by his father, an amateur naturalist who collected stones, insects, and other specimens in the surrounding environment. But the young Teilhard was also motivated by a drive to find things that last, an early indication of a desire to identify eternal values which would eventually lead him to his version of Christian spirituality.

In his essay “The Heart of Matter,” Teilhard describes his early attraction to Matter (the capitalization is his) when, as a child of six or seven, he began to collect objects made o f iron. The lock-pin of a plow, a metal bolt, bullet shells from a firing-range provided bits of “the Absolute in the form of the Tangible,” pieces of the “Iron God” who is incorruptible. When the boy found his hidden metal treasure to be susceptible to scratches and rust, he turned to other minerals such as quartz and amethyst crystals. It was the beginning of an ever-widening process to identify Plenitude within the material world, a search for Consistence that eventually led him to a more universal “stuff,” the “Stuff of Things,” away from specific things like metal objects or minerals to “an Elemental permeating all things.” Although Teilhard’s journey was to take him into a more traditionally spiritual territory, he confesses he “was never to feel at home unless immersed in an Ocean of Matter.”

In the years of his youth and young manhood, between the ages of ten and thirty, he became increasingly more interested in the vegetal and animal realms. From the perfections of the Solid and Incorruptible, he turned to the New and the Rare and began collecting zoological and botanical specimens. His more formal education introduced him to physics and its world of electrons, nuclei, waves, and “the vast cosmic realities” of energy, mass, permeability, radiation, curvatures, and so forth which later served Teilhard as “archetypes” for describing “the Christic.”

Here’s a citation for the essay mentioned above:

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. “The Heart of Matter.” In The Heart of Matter, 15-79. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1976.


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