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Fulton Sheen, a Fan of Teilhard de Chardin

Patrick O’Brien
Book-review of Footprints in a Darkened Forest by Fulton Sheen,
New York: Meredith Press, 1967, 272 pp.
Footprints in a Darkened Forest, Fulton Sheen

In chapter six, Sheen defends Teilhard de Chardin
Some weeks ago I began to read the book Footprints in a Darkened Forest (1967), by Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Now I like most of Bishop Sheen's work very much, and am currently reading a book of his collected meditations, from pre-conciliar times. But chapter six in Footprints dismayed me greatly. Entitled “The Origin of Man in Society,” this chapter is a defense of Teilhard de Chardin, with Sheen's assumption of the truth of biological evolution.

Archbishop Sheen writes favorably: “He [Chardin] wrote that his thought was in one direction: ‘A rethinking of Christianity on the scale and dimension of the universe as it is revealed ever more clearly to us.’” Didn't red lights flash before Sheen when he read the phrase “rethinking of Christianity”? Didn't he consider that this “revealing” is that of alleged science and not of God to man?

Sheen writes: “For Teilhard there is a continuity between an animal seeking food and a magnet pointing to the north; between a male and a female uniting in the act of generation and two atoms uniting to form a chemical compound. The meaning is not the same in each instance, but there is more than a mere figure of speech in this unification. Atoms are not alive, it is true, but they have what might be called pre-life.” Any wonder why Rome condemned Chardin? And why didn't Bishop Sheen realize the gibberish he was writing in trying to explain Chardin's Gnosticism?

Again Chardin is quoted: “The whole world is ascending towards Christ the King, even the irresistible surge of the ocean tides under the Pull of the moon and sun.”

And further: “His [Chardin's] fundamental orientation was ‘to attain heaven through the fulfillment of earth. Christify matter.’” More nonsense, quoted by Sheen as if it clarified thought. This nonsense, however, seems to have found a resting place in the Vatican II Church. Consider Paul VI's Encyclical Populorum progressio and Rome's flirtation with the United Nations in endeavoring to “build the earth” (a phrase of Chardin's.) Heaven becomes a well-developed and ordered earth.

Examples could be multiplied, as Sheen tries to make sense of Chardin. But one last very disturbing quote from the Archbishop: “It is very likely that within 50 years when all the trivial, verbose disputes about the meaning of Teilhard's ‘unfortunate’ vocabulary will have died away or have taken a secondary place, Teilhard will appear like John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, as the spiritual genius of the twentieth century.” Since the cause for Sheen's canonization has been opened, what are we to think?

Why look back to a book of Archbishop Sheen's from 1967? For me, two reasons:

First, as I just mentioned, the cause for Sheen's canonization has been opened, and I questioned Tradition in Action recently as to what extent erroneous teaching from a Catholic would disqualify his possible canonization.

And secondly, this book of Sheen's indicates the confusion of thought that existed in the Church immediately after the Council. If a churchman of Sheen's intellect and stature allowed himself to be led into error, who was safe from that post-conciliar diabolical disorientation? Do I blame Archbishop Sheen? Yes, while not excluding myself from intellectual sins. Did Shen ever retract this praise of Chardin? I do not know.

This book is more sad evidence that, contrary to Rome and its official line, the Second Vatican Council, far from being the source of life for the Church, as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in the 1980's, was actually the cause of the virtual ruin of Catholicism. Cardinal Ratziner wrote in the 1980's that no one who wishes to remain a Catholic can deny the greatness, the richness, the timeliness of the conciliar documents. Well, look what that conciliar decade did to Archbishop Sheen.

Posted December 1, 2010

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