First Person

A playwright's quest for a missing Pierre Teilhard de Chardin file

The Jesuit archives in Rome didn't know if they had the document. But they said I could come look for it.

Several years ago I planned to write a play about the Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a world-class geologist and paleontologist who spent his life reconciling science and religion, Christianity and evolution, matter and spirit. I believe that he saw where the human race has come from and where it is going more clearly than anyone since St. Paul. People needed to know that.

The play was to be set in 1924–25, when Teilhard was working at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and would dramatize two events which occurred at that time. One, he fell for a researcher named Ida Treat, a married American communist beauty, and she fell for him. The pair had tremendous arguments. “The energies were considerable,” Teilhard wrote later, with a touch of understatement. “We clashed violently” was his other, more realistic verdict. We know from Teilhard’s letters that they were strongly attracted to each other, although there is no evidence that they became sexually involved.

Two, while he was trying to cope with his feelings for Ida, a copy of his recent bold essay on evolution and original sin found its way to Rome. It deeply worried the authorities there, who insisted that Teilhard sign a document called the Six Propositions. Eventually, Teilhard assented to the propositions. It was his Galileo-like surrender.