The Omega Center has been in search of a new name for several months. Recently, we decided that the best fit is “Christogenesis.” This is a term that Teilhard de Chardin coined to describe the dynamic presence of God in evolution; the creative entanglement of divine and created life in the movement toward wholeness and fulfillment.Teilhard was well aware that Christianity was too static and passive and therefore impotent to effect change in a world marked by movement. He worked tirelessly to reframe the Christian message for a world in evolution by evoking a new understanding of God and world. His efforts were not the musings of an eccentric scientist but were from a visionary and mystic who saw the material world as the potency of spirit in openness to God: This is the Christian message grounded in the incarnation.
Before I explain the significance of the term “Christogenesis” and why it is crucial for us today, I think we have to own up to what Teilhard himself realized: Christianity is bankrupt. I do not say this lightly, and neither did Teilhard.The one religion that claims divinity is immersed in materiality is at the heart of the world’s problems today, simply because the Western world is largely the product of the Roman Catholic Church. Ancient barbaric Europe was brought into a new sense of order by Benedictine monasticism and the hierarchy of Christian faith, an ordering of principles that played out in the rise of science, economics, politics and the university. In our time, those principles no longer hold weight. It is not that the Church is indifferent to the world’s problems. One has only to read the writings of Pope Francis to appreciate his deep concern for the world. His encyclical Laudato Si’ is informed by modern science and provides attractive ideals to build a sustainable world. However, the Laudato Si’ movement is a dead-end, not because the ideals are misguided but because they are misplaced; they are ideals for a flat and static earth, not an earth in movement, open to transcendence and novelty. The struggles of Catholic theology to animate ecological life reflect the bankruptcy of Western philosophy which was, traditionally, the basis of theology up to the Enlightenment and the rise of modern science. Our contemporary philosophical landscape is divided into two competing camps: the analytical and continental; these predominately left-brain approaches to lived experience have become unhinged, like a fire out of control, reducing the spiritual depths of matter to rubble and ashes—or simply fixated on the experience of fire.
The mutations of Western philosophy, stripped of theology, have created a world in shambles: utterly poor, naked, alone, and lifeless. Theology without a credible philosophy, and philosophy without theological meaning, has crushed the cosmos into its and bits—hot, flat, and crowded. The world has been abandoned and forsaken, hurling blindly down a via dolorosa. Without a viable metaphysical purpose, the world is crumbling under its own weight. The message of Good News is falling on deaf ears. Systems once formed by the principles of faith are collapsing, while moral chaos has become unpredictable and violent. Teilhard de Chardin recognized the problems of our age as the result of the great divorce between Science and Religion. We need to rethink Christianity for a world in evolution, he claimed, not to make the world Christian again, but that the Church itself might evolve toward wholeness and inclusivity—a veritable catholicity that takes seriously the formation of a uni-verse. As he wrote in his 1933 essay on “Christianity and Evolution”: “Our Christology is still expressed in exactly the same terms as those which three centuries ago could satisfy those whose outlook on the cosmos it is now physically impossible for us to accept. […] What we have to do without delay is to modify the position occupied by the central core of Christianity—and this precisely in order that it may not lose its illuminative value.” (Christianity and Evolution, p. 77)
The starting point for rethinking God and world is the primacy of change.To be is to be in movement, and to be in movement is to be moving towards something. Science today, across the disciplines, recognizes change as intrinsic to vitality: The Big Bang universe is expanding, and biological life is complexifying. Relationality is the key term in science and theology. Physics discloses a world of relationality and theology reveals a God of relationality, described as Trinity. For Teilhard, the relationality of God’s triune nature makes creation more than an act willed out of intellect or desire; creation is the beloved Word of God expressed in the unfolding of spacetime. God is love (1 Jn 4:13) and it is love that renders the world a gift of God’s very self. The world is grounded in divine love and is moving towards the fullness of love.
Following the doctrine of the primacy of Christ, Teilhard saw creation as the outflow of creative union. God shares God’s love in a deep personal way with a creature bound for grace and glory. Whether or not sin ever existed, Christ would have come because Christ is first in God’s intention to love. For Christ to exist, there must be a person capable of intelligence and response, and for such a human person to exist there must be a creation. The created world is co-spoken with the eternal Word of love; it does not exist as a self-contained Order but bears within it a drive towards the spiritual: matter is the matrix of spirit. The integral relationship between incarnation and creation means that: 1) The world at its deepest level is marked by the radical potential to receive the self-communication of the mystery of divine love into it; thus, it is a world that is fit for the working out of the divine purpose; 2) What happened between God and the world in Christ points to the future of the cosmos. It is a future that involves the radical transformation of created reality through the unitive power of God’s love; and 3) The universe has a destiny and will not be destroyed. Rather, it will be brought to fulfillment, which God intends for it from the beginning, anticipated in the mystery of Christ.
Teilhard did not limit his discussion of Christ to the life of Jesus or the reality of the cross but expanded it to the widest possible horizon. The incarnation is not an isolated event but integral to the possibility of creation itself; one is inconceivable without the other. Because of the integral relationship between creation and incarnation, Teilhard posited that the whole world is oriented toward personal unity in love. Rather than living with a “cosmic terror” in the face of the immensity of the universe, he suggests that this evolutionary universe is meaningful and purposeful because it is grounded in Christ. God is not simply guiding evolution; God is in evolution as its motivating power and goal. Teilhard suggested that God could not appear as prime mover without first becoming incarnate and without redeeming; in other words, without our seeing that God becomes Christified. Teilhard used the term Christogenesis to indicate that the biological and cosmological genesis of creation—cosmogenesis—is from the point of faith, Christogenesis. Creation itself is God uniting to form one with something, to be immersed in it. The “self” of God is in the “self-emptying” of God; God is constantly becoming “element” and drawing all things through love into fullness of being. God is not found through opposition to matter (anti-matter) or independent of matter (extra-matter) but through matter (trans-matter). We take hold of God in the finite. It is God-centered matter that forms the divine milieu where the cosmic, human, and Christic meet in a new reality that Teilhard called “the Centric.” To become conscious of the depths of matter and to live in the evolving centric reality is to be in active transcendence, to become new being, more unified and conscious of belonging to an emerging wholeness that eludes the grasp of reductionism or control.
The genesis of Christ is the core of Teilhard’s thought. There is a unifying influence in the whole evolutionary process holding the entire process together and moving it forward toward greater complexity and unity. The ultimate mover of the entire cosmogenesis, he indicated, is something that is simultaneously within the sequence of beings as tendency, desire, and purpose, and in front of the advancing wave of development, beckoning it, as its ideal culmination. This Mover Teilhard identified with God. The evolutionary pressure is the presence of God at every stage, helping, driving, drawing. We always assumed that God could be located “above,” he said, but now we realize that God is “ahead” and “within,” as well. He came to realize that as God “metamorphized the world from the depths of matter to the peaks of Spirit, so too the world ‘endomorphized God.’” As we are incorporated into the life of God, so too God’s life is incorporated into us; in doing so, God is transformed as we are transformed. Teilhard’s faith in Christ led him to posit Christ as the future fullness of the whole evolutionary process, the “centrating principle,” “pleroma,” and “Omega point,” where the individual and collective adventure of humanity finds its end and fulfillment. The whole cosmos is incarnational: “The Incarnation is a making new. . .of all the universe’s forces and powers.” Thus, Christ is present in the least particle of matter to the convergent human community. Christ is organically united with all of creation, immersed in all things, in the heart of matter, and thus unifying the world. By taking on human form, Christ has given the world its definitive form, that is, personalization. By saying that cosmogenesis is now Christogenesis, Teilhard indicated that the very being of the world is now being personalized. Belief in the Christ is belief in a Personal center of a personalizing universe.
Teilhard’s Christogenesis is a radical departure from the static image of Jesus as Savior of the world. He wrote that the universal Christ could not appear at the end of time if he had not previously entered it during its development, through the medium of birth, in the form of a human person. Christians profess that Jesus is the Christ. The humanity of Jesus emerges out of an evolutionary process; it is the explosive love of God, the Christic singularity, expressed in Jesus’ life, his depth of God-consciousness, his trust and hope in the fulfillment of God’s reign. Jesus returned love for love unconditionally. However, the Christ is more than the historical Jesus alone. Every person, every created being, has a Christic center simply by its own beingness. The humanity of Jesus is our humanity, so that one who lives in the pattern of Jesus’ life, lives in Christ. If one strives to live in love, peace, compassion, forgiveness, and nonviolence, there Christ is alive and active in the world, even if one never heard of Jesus or accepts the Gospel. Such a person participates in Christogenesis. Every person has a Christic center, a heart of love, open to the fullness of life and oriented toward the absolute center of love, the heart of God. When we are caught up in the embrace of this love, we are engaged in the process of Christogenesis. The Christic is always vigilant for love to grow, even in the darkest hours and coldest nights. The Christic lives to unite that which is separated, to complete that which is incomplete, to make whole what is fragmented or partial. The Christic lives on the cusp of a new reality, breaking in through the mundane moments of life, in the ordinary things we take for granted: Each moment is a gift to wake up and love in a new way. The Christic lives to love, and courageously suffers through the trials of love and the failures of love into the promise of everlasting love, never resting or resisting the call to love in the face of opposition or conflict.
Christogenesis is not a program to solve the problems of the world; it is a theological and metaphysical framework that orients our lives in a world yearning for wholeness, freedom, truth, beauty, goodness, and joy, wrapped in the hope of everlasting life. The Christic refuses mediocrity, stagnation, domination, oppression, control, manipulation, and all factors which divide and conquer the human spirit, seeking to crush it to death. Christogenesis is about whole-making—catholicity. It is based on faith in an ultimate power of divine love at the heart of our lives, a love that empowers us to create, discover and invent, to transcend ourselves, finding new ways to reach out across the gaps which divide us, to encounter our enemies with the transforming power of love. We are made for love and nothing less. Every person of every color and every race and every gender shares in the infinite wellspring of God’s eternal love. The Center for Christogenesis is committed to realizing a new world grounded in divine love where politics, economics, science, the humanities and social life can find new ways of relating and new means of sharing in this ongoing creative process of love. We have the capacity for a new world, and it is time to build it.