March 9, 2014

The Flow of Whiteness

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. (1881-1955) was a Jesuit priest, a philosopher, paleontologist and geologist. He took part in the discovery of Peking Man and developed the theory of the Omega Point, a maximum level of consciousness and complexity toward which the universe is purportedly evolving. Hymn of the Universe, a book published after his death, is a collection of various essays he wrote from 1916 to 1955. In one such essay, he recounts an encounter his a friend of his.

“The light was fading. I pressed a switch, and the lamp on my desk lit up … My friend gave a start; and I noticed that his gaze remained fixed on the lamp, as though to draw from it memories of the past, as he began again to confide in me.

“‘On one occasion,’ he said, ‘I was again in a church had just knelt down before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a monstrance when I experienced a very stange impression.

“‘You must, I feel sure, have observed that optical illusion which makes a bright spot against a dark background seem to expand and grow bigger? It was something of this sort I experienced as I gazed at the host, its white shape standing out sharply, despite the candles on the altar, against the darkness of the choir. At least, that is what happened to begin with; later on, as you shall hear, my experience assumed proportions which no physical analogy could express.

“’I had then the impression as I gazed at the host that its surface was gradually spreading out like a spot of oil but of course much more swiftly and luminously. At the beginning it seemed to me that I alone had noticed any change, and that it was taking place without awakening any desire or encountering any obstacle. But little by little, as the white orb grew and grew in space till it seemed to be drawing quite close to me, I heard a subdued sound, and immeasurable murmur, as when the rising tide extends its silver waves over the world of the algae which tremble and dilate at its approach, or when the burning heather crackles as fire spreads over the hearth.

“’Thus in the midst of a great sigh suggestive both of an awakening and of a plaint the flow of whiteness enveloped me, passed beyond me, overran everything. At the same time everything, though drowned in this whiteness, preserved its own proper shape, its own autonomous movement; for the whiteness did not efface the features or change the nature of anything, but penetrated objects at the core of their being, at a level more profound even than their own life. It was as though a milky brightness were illuminating the universe from within, and everything were fashioned of the same kind of translucent flesh.

“’You see, when you switched on the lamp just now and the glass which had been dark became bright and fluorescent, I recalled how the world had appeared to me then; and indeed it was this association of images which prompted me to tell you this story.’”*

*Gaudoin-Parker, Michael L., The Real Presence Through the Ages (Staten Island, N.Y., Alba House, 1993), p.175-176, quoting Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., Pierre, Hymn of the Universe (London, Collins 1965) p. 47-48.


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