“PUT on the mind of Christ”: a simple instruction, easy to repeat, easy to accept. But do we know what it really means? Ilia Delio’s answer to this question emerges out of her understanding of the evolution of consciousness in our mysterious and ancient universe. Her theology is not limited to the traditional, sometimes closed, thinking of academics within the institutional system of the Church. She takes a wider and more open view, informed by the best of contemporary science from cosmology and quantum physics to evolutionary biology. The contemplative life comes naturally to her (she began her career in a Carmelite monastery, later moving to an open religious community); so she speaks with authority as she explores ways in which we might reimagine the Church.
The author’s reflections resonate deeply with those of her guide the radical Jesuit priest, and scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (best known for his notable works The Phenomenon of Man and The Divine Milieu), who died in 1955. The language, bringing together the insights of prayerful contemplation, theology, and science, is necessarily mystical, causing some amusing anxiety among more traditional theologians and excitable Evangelical scientists.
Mankind is a work in progress — the daily news confirms that loud and clear, as do our own personal consciences — but it has a profound spiritual significance in the history of the universe. Delio links creation with incarnation and views the whole of cosmic history from the Big Bang onwards as a work of love, an open-ended dynamic and divine process leading to the emergence of consciousness and the birth of Christ.
Incarnation is not just the pivotal incident in the Christian story, but is itself a cosmic phenomenon. Teilhard called it Christogenesis. He wrote: “Glorious Lord Christ: The divine influence secretly diffused and active in the depths of matter.” The world of physics and biology is itself sacred, and contemplation of the world is contemplation of God.
It is from this standpoint that Delio reflects on the nature of Catholicity. Catholicity recognises our longing for wholeness in a fractured and divided world; it seeks relationships with other religious faiths and with other people and acknowledges that our lives are rooted in the natural world. She defines Catholicity as “awareness of how the sun, moon, stars, Kepler, Saturn, maple trees, muddy rivers, amoeba, bacteria, and all peoples of earth form a whole”. Surely, we have here a foundational theology for the ecological movement in all its manifestations?
Delio’s writing has reignited my belief in theology and its power to redirect the mind to grasp the truth that we are co-creators with God as we face the future. Her faith that Christ is to be found at the heart of the evolving world is compelling.
The Revd Adam Ford is a former Chaplain of St Paul’s School for Girls.
Making All Things New: Catholicity, cosmology, consciousness
Orbis Books £20.99
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