This letter was written almost exactly 100 years ago.
To add some context to this letter, Teilhard is writing from Nieuport-Ville
in Flanders whilst the battle of Verdun is raging. 300,000 approx
died during the Battle of Verdun.
Although this might seem a relatively minor letter,
I would urge you to re-read it a couple of times.
[Nieuport-Ville] 9th April 1916
This is in answer to your letter of April 4th. But before I thank
you for it and say anything about it, I must first of all tell you
what a painful shock I had to read in yesterday's paper of the
death of M. Auffray, your friends' father. Please pass on my
condolences to M. de Margerie. But my thoughts are most of
all for you, who have lost, I imagine, a support and a friend.
I don't know why (or perhaps I too readily feel why!) we
imagine that the framework of our lives should be as durable as
ourselves. We can't admit that those we have always known,
or whom we have at some time looked on as our support or
as part of our own permanent personal environment, should
disappear before ourselves ... As though the countless ruptures
that we witness daily should occur without violating the little
domain of our own affections. — I hope that this new sorrow and
disappointment — coming on top of so many others, will not
make you lose heart.
We have but one permanent home,
heaven: that's still the old truth that we always have to re-learn,
— and it's only through the impact of sad experiences that we
assimilate it. I don't know whether I told you how, while I was
helping Boule in September 1914 to put away in safety the
most valuable of the Museum's treasures, handling the fragility
of human hopes with such a direct physical contact, I felt buoyed
up with a sort of triumphant joy: because God, his will, not to
be attained by anything that grows less, and yet attainable in
spite of every disaster and ruin, became manifest to me as the
only absolute and desirable reality . . .
And even now, in my
bad moments, however awful the future that menaces our
country, I still retain this triumphant joy, based on a conviction
of the transcendence of God. Yes, even if, contrary to all
expectations, the war should end badly not only for us but for
the real progress of the world (though God knows how much
I believe in the ultimate success of the world and the progress,
in spite of everything, of Life, — I have faith in life); even then,
I would feel like repeating over all these seeming victories of
evil, the ancient cry of the Greek festivals, Io, triumpe. And yet
I love beautiful things, science, progress, almost ingenuously.
I am a man as much and more than anyone else. But there it is:
We believers have the strength and the glory of having a faith
in God more profound than our faith in the world: and that
faith in God re-emerges and persists even if our faith in the
world should be crushed by the impact of events. I've rather
wandered from what I wanted to say to you and perhaps you'll
find me hard and brutal. But bear in mind that I'll be saying
at least one mass for M. Auffray and his family and that I pray
our Lord to make you feel that he can and will replace by his
own self all the human supports he takes from you.
To come back to your letter: I know just as well as you do
the sort of distaste you feel for a piece of work you've just
finished: everybody, I imagine, feels something of the sort.
And yet, if one is to produce something really worthwhile, one
must be able to recast the general design, give sharpness to one's
ideas (they often become really clear in one's mind only after
the first draft has been made), and even resign oneself some-
times to the trying labour of a complete reshaping. I hope that
you'll turn the lecture to good account (I assure you again, it
gave me real pleasure) and I'm by no means without hope
(whatever you may say) that some completely personal work
will gradually outline itself and take shape in your mind, — to
bring comfort to the masses of young girls to whom ordinary
horizons offer no hope, no interest to live for. If I can form a
picture of the type of woman you are trying to describe, I shall
pass it on to you, you may be sure.
And now, once again, take heart for your efforts for your
former pupils. What you tell me about that gives me real joy,
because I believe I can see that God is little by little leading you
where he wants you to be. — I am glad to think that you're
going to Sarcenat; if nothing occurs to upset things (and we're
now at the rather critical part of the year) I expect to go on
leave at the beginning of May. I'll do my best to see you. By
that time I shall perhaps have finished the few pages in which
at the moment I'm writing down my 'testament of an intellectual' [La Vie Cosmique] and I'll probably entrust them to you.
Just recently, by which I mean yesterday, I had a sad blow:
a young and attractive little Jesuit, a corporal in the artillery
whom I often saw and who delighted me with his zest and his
wide openness to all beautiful things, had both his legs broken
in his observation post by a shell. I believe they've been able
to save his life, but he's had to have his legs amputated. I'd seen
him only the evening before, and a few days earlier he'd done
me the honours of his observation post. I'm going to try to
visit him, for his hospital is near our rear headquarters. I'm not
at all worried, of course, about his morale (the first thing he said
to one of his cousins, who told me the news, was, ' You know,
old man, I've lost my pegs') but it's very sad to see such a
splendidly active person so (apparently for ever) handicapped.
God keep you. I pray for you and yours.