“Total in God – total in oneself” - The Teilhardian vision of unification of the world and God and its roots in European philosophical-theological tradition

Scientific Essay, 2006

25 Pages



The aim of the present article is to situate the Teilhardian vision of “unification of all in Christ” (Eph 1,10) – together with the resulting panentheistic, evolutionary and mystical premises within the European philosophical-theological tradition, which I would like to call the “unifying tradition”. In the first part of the article, I shall try to prove that the Teilhardian conception of the evolutionary development of all beings up to the point of Omega-Christ, generally understood as a departure from multitude (analysis) towards unity (synthesis), is a simple consequence of the philosophical-theological thought current that began with Parmenides, manifested itself in the thought of Platon, in Middle Platonism, in the conceptions of Plotinus, Nicholas of Cusa, Spinoza, Leibniz and in german idealism. The second part of the article presents the analogy between Teilhard de Chardin’s Christocentric and eschatological vision of evolution and the Christian conceptions of the emergence and return of all beings from and to God. These conceptions were present in varying scope and degree in the thought of the Greek Church Fathers (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cappadocian Fathers) and later Christian authors (Pseudo-Dionysus Areopagite, Maximus Confessor, Eriugena). The part’s final section will discuss whether Teilhard’s view on the animation or spiritualization of matter, which implies a lack of difference between ‘spirit’ and ‘body’, represents a novelty in Christian thought or whether this view can be inscribed into the current of an orthodox ‘unifying’ theory. The third part of the article shall consider the degree to which European conceptions of multitude in unity, panentheistic visions of Christian neo-Platonism and the conception of gradual spiritualization of everything presented among others by Teilhard de Chardin can be implemented in the intercultural and interreligious dialogue between Christianity and Asian peoples and religions, for whom the vision of animation and spiritualization of everything is surely a close one. In the article’s fourth and last part, I shall try to portray the practical implications arising from the ‘unifying tradition’, inscribed with Teilhard’s thought, for the moral and spiritual development of us all.

Introduction – Teilhardism as the exegesis of Eph 1,10

Certain Biblical fragments consist of such a build-up of content that their correct interpretation needs to be confronted with practically the entire spiritual and intellectual heritage of mankind. One such fragment is Eph 1,10 (“The ordering (o ikonomía) of the times when they are complete (pleroma), so that all things might come to a head in Christ (anakefalaiōsis), the things in heaven and the things on the earth”) and Teilhard’s conception of ‘unifying creative action’ may be interpreted as its in-depth exegesis. The key terms present in Eph 1,10: o ikonomía, pleroma, anakefalaiōsis are fully explained in Teilhard’s works. O ikonomía, meaning ‘management’[1] is understood in theology, especially Eastern theology, as the inter-Trinitarian plan encompassing: creation of the world, creation and Redemption of man, and return of all beings to God.[2] Teilhard is thus very much in the spirit of o ikonomía when claiming that “as a result of the providential action of the spiritual energy present in everything, [he] does not imagine that the universe may end in failure.”[3] The second key term of the above fragment – pleroma tōn kairōn – “fullness of times”, which suggests that all concrete moments (kairos) have, since the beginnings of time, sought their concrete fulfilment, gave Teilhard his concept of ‘pleromization’, understood as the “physical interaction of Christ preparing the universe’s maturity”.[4] The last term from the Letter to the Ephesians – anakefalaiōsis – originally meaning ‘recapitulation’, depicts the Pauline conception of uniting all “the things in heaven and the things on the earth”, i.e. spirit and matter, in Christ, who in de Chardin’s thought is the centre, peak and aim of evolution.[5]

The roots of Teilhard de Chardin’s ideas in Western philosophical thought

Teilhard’s ideas regarding God’s management (oikonomia) of the world, the fulfilment of times and creation (pleroma) and the unification of everything in a spiritual-personal centre (anakefalaiōsis) is expressed in his ‘theory of unifying creative action’, also known as the ‘law of spiritualizing unification’.[6] In his explanation, Teilhard presents the image of a cone with multitude at its base and unity at its apex.[7] Multitude are the atoms existing independently which organize themselves into increasingly bigger structures, uniting to form “biological forces of attraction”[8]. At a certain point of material organization, they cause the spirit to emerge from it and, in a way, thanks to it. There exists a mutual dependence between spirit and matter. However, “spirit needs matter to exist”[9], as “the greater the complexity” – meaning the material organization of matter – “the greater the psychism”[10]. But the dependence of spirit on matter does not depreciate the former. According to Teilhard, this is because “all reality we encounter (even the most spiritual one) can be infinitely divided into elements belonging to lower orders than itself.”[11] This is why de Chardin does not differentiate between spirit and matter, but recognizes “two different directions of movement on the same path (the path of negative pluralization and the path of positive unification).”[12] Staying with the image of a cone, we may consider that the closer a given being is to its apex, the more spirit, freedom and unity will reside within it. Meanwhile, that which is closer to the base is characterized by matter, determination and multitude. The latter is in Teilhard’s system tantamount to nothingness and evil.[13] In his opinion, however, absolute multitude does not exist, because pursuant to the principle of identity every being, in order to exist, must be one – united and identified with itself. This is why in order to begin and continue to exist, this relative multitude must seek unification with other elements, which Teilhard calls ‘monads’.[14] This necessity and ability to unite arises from the fact that even the smallest elements “must possess a certain rudimentary immanence – a spark of the spirit”[15], which guides it towards others. Teilhard explains this monadic procesuality or evolutionality by the incompleteness and interdependence of all elements, because “there is no […] total (finished) nor separate substance, and every substance is based on a series of substances, with rising degrees up to the highest Centre of universal convergence.”[16] Teilhard’s assumption that all unification must be directed towards an aim comes from the hitherto development of evolution, which has shown – through the appearance of man – that matter edges toward spirit. Since the fullest dimension of a being and its unification is represented by the person, hence the postulate of a personal, all-uniting centre, which Teilhard calls the ‘Omega point’.[17]

An aspect worth noting in the ‘theory of unifying creative action’ is first of all its rationalism and secondly, its inherent ‘metaphysics of unity’. Teilhard’s thought is rational because it postulate of synthesis is a postulate of the human mind, which as a concrete, personal spirit organizes the varied, ‘analytical’ reality in this way. De Chardin himself iterates this, stating that “all cohesion is a manifestation of synthesis, and all synthesis […] is a reflection of spirit”[18] and comparing the analytical path with the “foretaste of nothingness”[19]. Teilhard’s rationalism and his postulate of unification may be called an empirically-attained anti-empiricism. This is because de Chardin’s long-time and greatly empirical biological research led him to a point where the vast amount of details must have become subject to a single, rational organizing principle.

The first philosopher to present the postulate of an a-priori organizing principle was Parmenides, who in a way summarized the achievements of earlier natural philosophers. In his famous “Way of Truth”, he states that because the way of experience or opinion (doxa) is in principle an inductive path, it never leads to the absolute truth, for the changing artefacts of perception never provide certain knowledge, and moreover their full examination is impossible. Expressing this Parmenidian conception in the language of 20th century philosophy, Karl Popper claimed that the path of induction may lead at most to ‘ versimilitude’, never the truth.[20] Perhaps Parmenides was the first to claim that man is not capable of living in a state of constant hypotheticality, with which he would be constantly confronted at the stage of experience and observation. Seeing that “tautological a priori sentences are true, he decided to base metaphysics on such tautologies as “being exists” or “non-being does not exist””.[21] Parmenides’ conception marked the beginning of both the widely-understood rationalism and ‘unifying thought’. For if “being exists” and “non-being does not exist”, thus being is one and due to a lack of competition it is the same being. Because it is one and the same, it is so radically united with itself that it becomes absolutely undividable. Therefore the multitude and change that surrounds us are only an illusion of those who “walk the path of opinion”, using Parmenides’ words. Although the negative consequences of Pamenides’ thought – such as questioning the value of experience and negating movement – are well known, it is Parmenides who gave us the idea that the object of investigation must first be one to be in our attention. If we are able to think only about one thing at a time, and since we think through synthesizing, i.e. creating unity by adding one to another, then is not unity both primal and intentional?

The principle of unification as a criterion of correctness and truthfulness was held by Plato, who claimed that in order for a correct statement to be formed, a connection (symploké) of nouns and verbs is necessary.[22] For a true statement to be formed, there is need for a connection in a correct statement of what appears as united in reality.[23] Thus for example the sentence: ‘The horse rider is galloping’ is not a true statement if in reality the rider is standing next to the horse. A similar ‘connecting logic’ is depicted by Aristotle’s definition of truth, which defines truth as the ‘connection of notions’ (symploké noematon).[24] According to Plato and Aristotle, we talk or think about a single entity because we unite parts of speech or notions. Perhaps this is because what we think about and look at from different angles is in fact a single entity? This question, concerning the metaphysical beginning of the universe, compared to a “living being, the parts of which are individual living beings and species”[25] was posed by Plato in his Timaeus. In this dialogue, he stated that the Demiurge’s creative activity was primarily based on realizing unity in multitude.[26] According to Plato, the Demiurge organized the unorganized material elements by looking at the world of ideas[27], which causes the changing things of this world to exist under one form by participating in ideas.[28] However, the world of ideas, headed by the primary and principal idea of good, is a hierarchized world[29], and because Plato’s metaphysics is based on the idea of participation, thus all ideas must consequently participate in the one principal idea (monas).[30]

At the beginning of the first millennium and for over 300 years, Middle Platonists devoted themselves to defining the highest principle or highest principles of Plato’s system. Most of them (Antiochus of Askalon, Eudorus of Alexandria, Plutarch of Chaironeia) initially accepted two principles: unity – monad (henás, monás) and multitude – dyad (dyás). But it was already Philon of Alexandria who assigned unity – monad to a single, transcendent God, who affected the spirit of the world through the two principles (Logos i Sophia) subordinated to him.[31] Plotinus based his views on those of the Middle Platonists. He accepted that the existence of anything assumes the unity of a given object. By dividing a single, existing table into an infinite number of particles, we can state that each particle is a single entity, and that the table’s individual unities create its unity. Therefore, if multitude is a multitude of single things, it arises out of unity. Thus every multitude that comes from unity is in fact a veiled, variously manifested unity. Accepting these metaphysical principles, Plotinus states that all things emanate (latin emanare) from One (hen), which is the absolute negation of multitude. Plotinus’ world is created through the action of One, which emanates subsequent, hierarchically organized beings (Thought, World Soul with human souls, the Sensory World, Matter). Interestingly enough, Plotinus’ matter presents characteristics similar to those attributed by de Chardin to multitude. While Plotinus’ matter is imperfect, because the unity of physical object is imperfect due to their divisibility and complexity,[32] Teilhard’s multitude is evil[33], sin[34], passivity[35], chaos which breeds suffering,[36] and that which hampers unity with the divine fundament.[37]


[1] H.G. Liddell-R. Scott, A greek-english lexicon, Oxford 19169, 1491.

[2] (1) Oikonomía as inner trinitarian relation: Hippolytus, Contra haeresin Noeti XIV.
(2) O. as creation of the world: Pseudo–Macarius, Sermones 64, Homily 3, V,7; ibid., Hom. 9, III, 5,; Maximus Confessor, Quaestiones ad Thalassium, 37.
(3) O. as Incarnation: Ignatius Antiochenus, Epistle 11, XIX, 3; Gregorius Thaumaturgus, In annuntiationem sanctae virginis Mariae, PG 10, p. 1161.
(4) O. as deification of the human nature: Hippolytus, In Canticum canticorum (paraphrasis), XXVI, 2-3; Didymus Caecus, De trinitate (lib. 1), XXXVI.
(5) O. as Christ’s salvation: Eusebius Caesariensis, Demonstratio evangelica, Book 10, VIII, 22; Didymus Caecus, De trinitate (lib. 1), VII,8; Cyrillus Hierosolymitanus, Catecheses ad illuminandos 1–18, Catechesis 15, I; Amphilochius Iconiensis, Contra haereticos, line 61.
(6) O. as creation of man: Epiphanius Salaminensis, Ancoratus, XXVIII, 1.
(7) O. as Parousia: Epiphanius Salaminensis, Panarion, vol. 3, p. 457, 465.
(8) O. as return of alls beings to God: Joannes Chrysostomus, Ad Stelechium de compunction, PG 47, p. 419; Maximus Confessor, Quaestiones ad Thalassium, section 29.

[3] Teilhard de Chardin, Mon univers, p. 68.

[4] U nivers, p. 87-88; Comment je vois, in: Oeuvres de Teilhard de Chardin, p. 213.

[5] U nivers, p. 81-89, Comment, p. 218-219.

[6] U nivers, p.78.

[7] Ibd., p. 76-77.

[8] Ibd., p. 76.

[9] Ibd., p. 78.

[10] Ibd., p. 73.

[11] Ibd., p. 78.

[12] Ibd., p. 79-80.

[13] Ibd., p. 74-75, 79, 109, Comment, p. 208.

[14] U nivers, p. 73-74.

[15] Ibd., p. 75.

[16] Ibd., p. 80-81.

[17] Ibd.

[18] Ibd., p. 77.

[19] Ibd., p. 78.

[20] Thomas Zoglauer, Einführung in die formale Logik für Philosophen, Göttingen 1997, p. 29; cf. Karl Popper, Logik der Forschung, Tübingen 1976.

[21] Wolfgang Röd, Die Philosophie der Antike, vol. 1. Von Thales bis Demokrit, p. 117.

[22] Plato, Sophista 262e; 259e.

[23] Ibd., 261c-262e.

[24] Aristotle, De anima 432a 11.

[25] Plato, Timajos, 30c-d; 31B; 33a-b etc.

[26] Giovanni Reale, Storia della filosofia antica. II. Platone e Aristotele, p. 69, 80.

[27] Plato, Timajos, 29e-30a.

[28] Id., Hippias Maior, 287 c-d, Politeia V 475e-476 a.

[29] Id., Politeia, 508e-509a.

[30] Ibd., V 484b.

[31] Cf. Wolfgang W. Gombocz, Die Philosophie der ausgehenden Antike und des frühen Mittelalters, in: W. Röd (ed.), Geschichte der Philosophie. Band IV, , p. 47-52.

[32] Ibd., p.159.

[33] Teilhard, U nivers, p. 74-75; 79.

[34] Comment, p. 210-211.

[35] Ibd.

[36] Ibd., p. 212.

[37] Ibd., p. 214.

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“Total in God – total in oneself” - The Teilhardian vision of unification of the world and God and its roots in European philosophical-theological tradition
International Teilhard Asia Conference 2006 Manila, Philippinen, August 200
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Mein Konferenzbeitrag bei der International Teilhard Asia Conference 2006 Manila, Philippinen, August 200.
Teilhard de Chardin, Einheitsdenken, Europäische Philosophie, Neuplatonismus, Kirchenväter, Alternativen zum klassischen Theismus
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Dr. Thomas Klibengajtis (Author), 2006, “Total in God – total in oneself” - The Teilhardian vision of unification of the world and God and its roots in European philosophical-theological tradition, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/190858


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