Loosing the Bound: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's Analogical Imagination in the Post-Euclidean Tradition

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Theology


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: William Portier


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a French Jesuit priest and paleontologist who wrote nearly two hundred essays on a vast array of topics: scientific discoveries, mystical experiences, Christology, philosophy, war, humanity, and death, to name but a few. Hoping to shield Teilhard himself and the Society of Jesus from Roman sanctions in the years following the Modernist crisis, his Jesuit superiors silenced him during his lifetime. Despite its increasingly-favorable reception by popes from John XXIII to Francis and its fruitful use by the Pontifical Council for Culture, Teilhard's work is still viewed with suspicion by some. This dissertation argues that the time for such suspicion is past. It sets Teilhard's essays in the context of French Catholic devotional and intellectual life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and in the context of Teilhard's own life and ministry. It outlines what Teilhard understood his project to be and the methodology by which he sought to carry it out, paying particular attention to influences rarely considered in treatments of Teilhard's work: the coursework Teilhard took with a private tutor in 1897 and 1898 to prepare for the bacclaureat: lettres-mathematiques, and his professional collaboration with mathematician and philosopher Edouard Le Roy. Through his analogical use of cones and conic sections, projections, spherical geometry, and dimensionality, Teilhard demonstrates that it is possible to see a relationship between traditional Church teaching, articulated in terms of a static cosmos whose creation is complete, and his own neologism-filled account, articulated in terms of a cosmos that is still coming into being. This relationship is considered through the lens of less-mathematically-shrouded accounts of doctrinal development-in-continuity, some which had been articulated by Teilhard's lifetime, and one which was constructed by theologian John Thiel in the wake of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. While all of these accounts shed light on how we might discern the work of the Spirit in Teilhard's thought, Teilhard's analogies also function as an account of development-in-continuity, one which preserves the insights of the others without falling into some of their problems.Most broadly, this dissertation presents Teilhard not as someone who speaks directly to our time, but rather as a faithful son of the Church who spoke well in his own time and who provides a model for how we might speak well in ours.


Theology, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Edouard Le Roy, Analogy, Tradition, Mathematics, Geometry, Sacred Heart, Modernism

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