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Regarding the recent letters on the subject of the orthodoxy of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, may I suggest that the interesting question is not how orthodox he was, but how to resolve the very real tension between evolution and the doctrine of Original Sin.
That humanity and other animals are close kin, as species, there can be no serious doubt; and that this was part of some divine plan, for a Christian, at least, there can also be no serious doubt. DNA research for one thing gives more and more substance to these notions.
At the time that appalling indignities and suppressions were being heaped on Chardin, to which Mr Richard Congram's letter (June 2003) testifies, the question whether this was indeed the divine plan may not have been as confronting as it is today.
If one asks how interpret the doctrine of Original Sin, and the career of Jesus inasmuch as it depends on this doctrine, the first thing is that (Romans 5 notwithstanding, and I address this below) Jesus' life, death and resurrection, and ours in discipleship, lose none of their power for the fact that he confronted, and warned against hundreds of daily concrete evils rather than one huge capitalised abstract one.
Perhaps Paul is looking for a context when in Romans 5:12 he suggests that "as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned".
This is not a straight analysis of the cause of death as a physical fact says my trusty Catholic Edition of the New Revised Standard Bible in its end-notes. So what is it? We hear talk of "Salvation History" frequently to paper over the cracks between the cosmic claims for Christ and what probably really happened by way of human origins.
I suggest that this is a confusing category that begs more questions than it answers. My suggestion is that we stick to the facts as much as possible - animal, human, divine - and build from there. This I believe is what Teilhard, in his best moments wanted to do. May he rest in peace.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 16 No 7 (August 2003), p. 15
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