Chapter OneThe Divinisation of Our Activities
Note: It is of the utmost importance at this point to bear in mind what was said at the end of the Preface. We use the word "activity" in the ordinary, everyday sense, without in any way denying far from it all that occurs between grace and the will in the infraexperimental spheres of the soul. To repeat: what is most divine in God is that, in an absolute sense, we are nothing apart from him. The least admixture of what may be called Pelagianism would suffice to ruin immediately the beauties of the divine milieu in the eyes of the "seer."
Of the two halves or components into which our lives may be divided, the most important, judging by appearances and by the price we set upon it, is the sphere of activity, endeavour and development. There can, of course, be no action without reaction. And, of course, there is nothing in us which in origin and at its deepest is not, as St. Augustine said, "in nobis, sine nobis." When we act, as it seems, with the greatest spontaneity and vigour, we are to some extent led by the things we imagine we are controlling. Moreover, the very expansion of our energy (which reveals the core of our autonomous personality) is, ultimately, only our obedience to a will to be and to grow, of which we can master neither the varying intensity nor the countless modes. We shall return, at the beginning of Part Two, to these essentially passive elements, some of which form part of the very marrow of our being, while others arediffused among the inter-play of universal causes which we call our "character," our"nature" or our "good and bad luck." For the moment let us consider our life in terms of the categories and definitions which are the most immediate and universal. Everyone can distinguish quite clearly between the moments in which he is acting and those in which he is acted upon. Let us look at ourselves in one of those phases of dominant activity and try to see how, with the help of our activity and by developing it to the full, the divine presses in upon us and seeks to enter our lives.1. THE UNDOUBTED EXISTENCE OF THE FACT
AND THE DIFFICULTY OF EXPLAINING IT:
THE CHRISTIAN PROBLEM OF THE
SANCTIFICATION OF ACTION
Nothing is more certain, dogmatically, than that human action can be sanctified. "Whatever you do," says St. Paul, "do it in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." And the dearest of christian traditions has always been to interpret those words to mean: in intimate union with our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Paul himself, after calling upon us to "put on Christ," goes on to forge the famous series of words collaborare, compati, commori, con-ressuscitare, giving them the fullest possible meaning, a literal meaning even, and expressing the conviction that every human life must in some sort become a life in common with the life of Christ. The actions of life, of which Paul is speaking here, should not, as everyone knows, be understood solely in the sense of religious and devotional "works" (prayers, fastings, alms-givings). It is the whole of human life, down to its most "natural" zones, which, the Church teaches, can be sanctified. "Whether you eat or whether you drink," St. Paul says. The whole history of the Church is there to attest it. Taken as a whole, then, from the most solemn declarations or examples of the pontiffs and doctors of the Church to the advice humbly given by the priest in confession, the general influence and practice of the Church has always been to dignify, ennoble and transfigure in God the duties inherent in one's station in life, the search for natural truth, and the development of human action.
The fact cannot be denied. But its legitimacy, that is its logical coherence with the whole basis of the christian temper, is not immediately evident. How is it that the perspectives opened up by the kingdom of God do not, by their very presence, shatter the distribution and balance of our activities? How can the man who believes in heaven and the Cross continue to believe seriously in the value of worldly occupations? How can the believer, in the name of everything that is most christian in him, carry out his duty as man to the fullest extent and as whole-heartedly and freely as if he were on the direct road to God? That is what is not altogether clear at first sight; and in fact disturbs more minds than one thinks.
The question might be put in this way:
According to the most sacred articles of his Credo, the Christian believes that life here below is continued in a life of which the joys, the sufferings, the reality, are quite incommensurable with the present conditions in our universe. This contrast and disproportion are enough, by themselves, to rob us of our taste for the world and our interest in it; but to them must be added a positive doctrine of judgement upon, even disdain for, a fallen and vitiated world. "Perfection consists in detachment; the world around us is vanity and ashes." The believer is constantly reading or hearing these austere words. How can he reconcile them with that other counsel, usually coming from the same master and in any case written in his heart by nature, that he must be an example unto the Gentiles in devotion to duty, in energy, and even in leadership in all the spheres opened up by man's activity? There is no need for us to consider the wayward or the lazy who cannot be bothered to acquire an understanding of their world, or seek with care to advance their fellows' welfare from which they will benefit a hundredfold after their last breath and only contribute to the human task "with the tips of their..."
The Divine Milieu. Copyright © by De Chardin Pier Teilhard. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.