Subscribe to our monthly Woodstock Reflections podcast in either video or audio format, by pasting these URLs into iTunes!
Preface to the Journal of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.
January 30, 2003
It has been almost fifty years since Father Pierre Teilhard's Phénomène Humaina was published as the first volume of his Oeuvre. Twelve volumes of his philosophical and theological writings followed between 1955 and 1976. His scientific writings, collected and edited in 11 volumes in 1971b, revealed the impact of his vast research program during his lifetime and on science today. Numerous collections of letters to his family, relatives, friends, colleagues, etc., have also been published.
His essays were written with a mind to possible publication, and his letters were written for the benefit of a precise person. In each case Father Teilhard adapted his style and language to the specific purpose. Although he never distorted or hid his ideas, Teilhard knew the public or the reader that he was addressing, and he wanted them to follow his exposition. Therefore he was cautious not to display all details of his thoughts, so that he might not put a barrier of partial incomprehension between them.
Hand-written on French school copybooks, known as cahiers, the Journal that Father Teilhard began in August 1919 "to while away the boredom of quartering and to oblige [him] to think, to observe and to clarify" shows a gap between July 1925 and July 1944, and it ends three days before his death in April 1955. In March 1946, when he had the first opportunity to leave Beijing, he only could bring back with him to France notebook XIII, which was full (July 18, 1944 – October 10, 1945), and notebook XIV, started on October 27, 1945. Today original notebooks I – IX are kept with members of his family, the legal heirs. The notebooks left behind in China have yet to be located. Notebooks XIII – XXI are kept with the Society of Jesus in France.
Dates covered by the Notebooks:
No intimate or emotional outpourings will be found in the Journal. Very rarely Father Teilhard mentions a person, an event or a crisis, and then only in a few words, and without clearly naming them.
At the beginning of this "kind of diary," titled "Notes and sketches,"e Teilhard reports first about war-related events, like a soldier who, out of intellectual and spiritual curiosity, looks at what is happening around him. He addresses basic issues, like evil and social questions only briefly. But very soon his focus changes and war events become secondary, making place for an outpouring of new ideas which flash in short sentences. The boundaries of this world-vision, based on the theological and philosophical scholastic education that he received at Hastings and Ore Place, do not resist, in the end, the experience of life and death on the front lines.
For Father Teilhard his Journal was the foremost tool for intellectual reflections. He wrote down a multitude of ideas and reflections which he developed and deepened over a period of days, or weeks, or sometimes even months and years (see indices). Some ideas, partly abandoned, never appeared explicitly in any of his published essays. Certain points, only briefly addressed, were not picked up again, although they showed a surprising lucidity about the relevance, the importance, or the impact of the subject. Other ideas would be revised later and corrected. Others, elaborated and polished at a certain time or in a certain context, would be integrated later into his vision; and then, having become very clear to him, they would appear in his essays as definitive. This last occurrence may be explained in two ways:
Nevertheless, to make his ideas known he relied on "clandestins," that is on essays that were distributed among friends and other interested people. He also addressed listeners in closed circles and salons.
If Father Teilhard never distorted, or hid, his thoughts in his essays, talks, or letters, he presented and formulated them in a way that a reader, a listener, could follow and understand. On the other hand in the Journal, the birth and the development of his original ideas and reflections can be followed in the course of time, sometimes years, before he started writing a paper on the precise theme.
His thoughts may be categorized under three main subjects:
It is also interesting to note that, quite often, Teilhard copied into his diaries passages of letters, mostly of his own, that were important to him.
In the diary Father Teilhard is the thinker and the theologian who talk to himself and wants to understand, who tests and tries several ways in order to get to the bottom of the subject. Since he does not have to choose a language that can be accessible from the outset to everyone, the language and style he uses to write down his thoughts are different from those in his essays. Being by himself, he can do without academic language as a medium to communicate his thoughts. Very early, Teilhard realizes that traditional language is not able, at least at least not completely, to express his thoughts. The multiple neologisms which then followed, words based on French, Latin, Greek, English, and German reveal his continuous search for precision and his continuous struggle with linguistic constrains; they do not reflect any carefree use of language.
In spite of the gap from 1925-1944, the scholarly value of Teilhard's Journal is inestimable since it contains key to the birth, the development and the evolution of his thoughts, and therefore it offers a much better understanding of his already known essays and writings.
Again, in the Journal Father Teilhard wrote for himself. Consequently a profound change appears in his notes over the course of the years. In the first notebooks the text of the subject he studies can be analyzed in phrases, sometimes in paragraphs and sub-paragraphs. In later cahiers Teilhard merely jotted his thoughts down: the sentences are short, sometimes reduced to a few words, sometimes a verb is missing; braces between words replace sentences and shorten the written exposition of an idea; notes or complementary words are added in the margins, or between lines; and arrows link them with the parent phrase. All those techniques, as well as the sketches and diagrams, allow us to follow closely the steps of his thinking. In order to find more quickly notes written on the same subject in the interval of several days, he placed either a sign such as *, **, ***, or letters in the margin such as "N" for "Noogénèse," "En." for "Energie," "Ev." for "evolution."
Teilhard also developed his own abbreviations and symbols over the years and he used them more and more frequently:
In his Journal, Teilhard does not maintain standard literary rules for punctuations. His "?", often written in the margin, is not a simple question mark introducing a question, but a semantic sign calling into question what he has just written, and expressing his hesitation toward the thought he has just expressed.
Teilhard's French copybooks were 17 by 22.5 centimeters (about 6.8 by 8.8 inches).
The Journal has 1,684 hand-written pages. Father Teilhard's writing was fine but the letters are well formed. The text is very concentrated, so that one hand-written page covers one and a half printed pages, and an enlargement of the original was necessary for correct deciphering.
The transcription corresponds to a printed reproduction of the original; we have respected the text in its totality and in its layout, that is to say, we have kept signs, braces and parentheses, intervals, asterisks, arrows, punctuation, and most abbreviations, etc. In order to obtain this result it was necessary to use pitch 10, instead of the common pitch 12, and line space 1.5; in case of braces .75.
However, to give the reader a better orientation within the text, we gave the complete date (day, month, and year) of the entry on the right side of the page. Usually Teilhard wrote down in the left margin only the day and month except for the first entry of a new year.
We gave Teilhard's pagination in brackets [ ] on the left side of the page
We used three categories of footnotes:
Teilhard used three ways to underline some words, or sentences:
The transcription of the Journal, which I present today in its integrality, was begun in 1971 by my late husband Dr.Dr. Karl Schmitz-Moormann and myself. I thank the representatives of the Teilhard de Chardin family for their trust and confidence toward us during all those years, first in the person Monsieur Joseph Teilhard †, brother of Father Pierre Teilhard, then of Madame Françoise du Passage †, niece of Father Teilhard, and now of Monsieur Bernard Teilhard de Chardin, nephew of Father Teilhard and representative of his heirs.
From the beginning this work would not have been made possible without financial assistance from the following institutions and foundations: Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Forschung des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, Max-Planck Gesellschaft, Deutsche Forschung Gemeinschaft, and especially Hellmut-Ley-Stiftung (Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenchaft) and its late president M. Walther Casper.
I thank the Jesuit Fathers of "Les Fontaines," Chantilly, France, for their hospitality, several times renewed, and for giving us access to their magnificent library. I thank the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton, N.J., for offering me a haven of peace as a Fellow there, after my husband's death, which allowed me to resume my work.
I thank the Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., and especially its former Director Father James Connor, S.J. for my appointment as a Woodstock Associate Fellow, and for his help expressed in different ways many times. I also thank his successor, Father Gasper Lo Biondo, S.J., for his enthusiasm about my project and his advice. The completion of this project was expedited because of the technical support of Mr. Matthew Gladden, Executive Assistant to the Director.
I thank my colleague Father James F. Salmon, S.J., Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, for his encouragement, his suggestions, and help of many years during this work.I thank the Directors of Loyola Notre-Dame Library, in Baltimore, MD, especially Sr. Ian Stewart, SSND, for providing me a quite space for work.I thank all colleagues and friends who gave their support, in one way or another, to my husband and to me, during these past thirty years.
Washington D.C., January 30, 2003
a Le Phénomène Humain. Editions du Seuil, Paris. 1955.
b L'Oeuvre Scientifique. Ed. and comp. Nicole and Karl Schmitz-Moormann. Preface by Jean Piveteau. 11 vol. Walter Verlag, Olten.
c Journal (Cahiers I – V) Edited by Nicole and Karl Schmitz-Moormann. Librairie Arthème Fayard, Paris. 1975.
d Tagebücher ( Cahiers I – VIII ) edited and translated by Karl and Nicole Schmitz-Moormann. Walter Verlag. Olten 1971.
e Journal I.
1 Number given by the editors.
2 Number given by the editors.
3 Number given by Father Teilhard.
4 Number given by Father Teilhard.