Edited by Simonetta Giovannini
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” These are the Dickensian words that introduce Ilia Delio’s book “The Emerging Christ,” published by St. Paul’s in 2014. Words that the author, a theologian committed to the dialogue between science and religion, finds apt in describing today’s Christian Catholic life, torn between revanchist and preconciliar tendencies, the obscurity of aging and dissolution in the absence of generational replacement, and ferments of novelty that, moreover, are struggling to clarify their scope and implications. All this in a magmatically changing global context.
The book takes up and deepens the vision of the great theologian and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, for whom evolution would be a “biological ascent” from matter to spirit, a journey toward more complex forms of life that will eventually converge in the “Christ Omega,” the landing point and goal of evolution. Teilhard’s evolutionary vision would have given theology a new dynamic and no longer static conception of creation and divine revelation, emancipating it from the rigid, exclusive link with Aristotelian and Thomistic metaphysics and opening it up to confrontation with developments in scientific knowledge.
Further discoveries and advances in science (from quantum physics to the theory of morphogenetic fields and complex systems), integrated into the Teilhardian vision, make it possible to think of the church as a system open to the influences of the environment and not self-referential, and of the Christian life as the realization of an immense potential of the soul and not as the fulfillment of a series of obligations and duties. God himself, in the evolutionary logic that was Teilhard’s, Berdjaev’s, Whitehead’s, would be a processual and dynamic God, an evolving God: dynamism and movement, reversing the traditional assumption derived from Hellenic culture, would be perfections in God, while immobility would be imperfection.
In this Christocentric vision, which has its scriptural germs in the Pauline theme of creation groaning in labor pains (Rom. 8:22), to be involved in the mystery of Christ is to be gripped by the Spirit of new life, creativity, imagination and openness to the future that poses the need for a new metaphysical apparatus. The concept of emergence in nature indicates the appearance of new structures or evolving forms: new things happen, and they are different from what already exists or has existed.
The Trinity in this perspective can be seen as an infinite emergent process: God is the horizon, the future calling us toward being and the intimate source of our becoming. Twofold goal of the book is to study Christ as the future of our becoming and the role of Christian life in relation to the emerging Christ. Evolution is the process of the inner birth of the Christ through a progression of unifying relationships of greater complexity, animated by the Spirit.
The whole of evolution is thus destined to become the fullness of Christ. In this context the meaning of the word “Catholic” is clarified, faithful to tradition and, at the same time, totally innovative in its content, contrasting a potentially universal openness with what is incomplete and partially sectarian, sectarian, tribal and selective. To be a Catholic is to be a “creator of the whole,” to unite what is separate and thus evolve toward a greater unity. Creation as embodiment is the process of the creation of totality: a totality that is inherently dialogic and relational.
The book has an avowedly performative intent, which is to help bring Christian life back to participate dynamically in the evolution of Christ in history. To be Catholic is to be involved in evolution, to be a dynamic presence in a relationality with God that leads to a greater whole, to unity, to an evolution of consciousness that by its very nature allows God to be born from within.
The medieval view of creation as a book is wedded to quantum physics and its vision of an elastic, expanding, interconnected universe. Evolution helps us to understand that God works through the disorder of creation, through the life full of random events or contingencies, into which He inserted Himself as fylum, through the incarnation, the Christ event that also represents its purpose and attractive pole. It involves a constant emergence of complexity.
Quantum physics introduces the notion of a participatory universe that makes no distinction between the observational process and what is observed; there is no boundary between subject and object. Matter is not composed of elementary building blocks, but rather of complicated networks of relationships in which the observer constitutes the final link in the chain of the observation process, and the properties of any atomic object can only be understood in terms of the interaction between object and observer.
Open systems are sensitive to initial conditions and can produce complex results that are unpredictable over time. Chaos theory predicts an underlying order that underlies seemingly random data. Systems thinking attaches great importance to the principles of system organization. Relationship is being. To be is to be in relationship. As human beings and society we appear to be separate, but at the root we are part of an indivisible whole and are part of the same cosmic process.
Christ is the incarnate Word who is the innermost meaning of the evolving world; he is the integrated being in whom a new field of activity arises that promotes wholeness. To be in Christ is to be in evolution, and unless we commit our lives in this direction through developing and making available our potential for love, we will lose both Christ and evolution, counteracting the evolutionary dynamism toward unity, peace, and justice.
“We can evolve toward a healthy trans-humanism marked by the emergence of Christ-in a greater oneness in our relationships with each other and with the earth-or we can shrivel in fear of losing our identity and being overwhelmed by something beyond our control. Where there is Christ there is complementarity of opposites and therefore unity in love.”
The book undoubtedly has many merits, not the least of which is its ability to revisit, in the light of Teilhardian insights of which this essay is an update, the main mysteries of the Christian faith (Trinity, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, eschatology) from a profoundly innovative perspective. Some doubts arise, in a reflection that perhaps transcends the limits imposed by a review and should otherwise be developed, from some of the statements in the text and potential ideological uses that could be made of the vision proposed therein.
For example, the assumption that “primacy belongs to the whole.” The concept, derived from science, of holon, as something that is both the whole and a part, is recalled here: “We can see people either as individuals or as part of a community that is itself part of a society.”
While it is certainly true that the individual is not an isolated monad but is from the outset socialized and embedded in a complex network of relationships, living from interdependence with others, the insistent call for the primacy of the whole and the totality evokes by contrast Kirkegaard’s challenge to the Hegelian synthesis in which the community (in that case the state) has primacy over the individual, thus over the person. The historical-political and sectarian drifts that resulted from that totalizing temptation also come to mind: from the primacy of the totality over the individual to the instrumental reduction of the person to a pawn is a short step.
Certainly the author, in developing the theme of the relationship between the Christocentric and Trinitarian model and the unifying evolution, places much emphasis on the fact that the unity, the totality being evolved in history, is a differentiating unity. The doubt, however, remains.
The review is taken from https://www.viandanti.org
The Emerging Christ – The Catholic Sense of an Ever-Evolving Universe, by Ilia Delio, St. Paul Editions