Flannery O'Connor 1925 -1964
Flannery and Teilhard- Two of my favorite people of the 20th Century, Don W.
Before her tragic death at the age of 39, Flannery O'Connor had written two novels and thirty-two short stories, as well as commentaries and reviews. She died from Lupus, the same disease which shortened the life of her father. Her writing did not receive its highest honors until after her death, but her reputation has grown steadily and today she is everywhere recognized as one of the most important American writers of the 20th century.
In the last five years of her life Flannery had collected eight books written by and about Teilhard de Chardin and had written several reviews about his work.
By reading Teilhard de Chardin and his thoughts on ‘passive diminishment’, (those afflictions that you can’t get rid of and have to bear), Flannery seems to have been able to accept her lupus and her disability and its consequences. She saw her disability and death as a mysterious stage in her evolution as a spiritual being. Her sickness and pain also opened new outlooks for her as a writer.
Flannery could joke about her disease as from this letter to a friend:
“You didn’t know I had a Dread Disease didj’a? Well I got one. My father did of the same stuff at 44 but the scientist hope to keep me here until I am 96. I owe my existence and cheerful countenance to the pituitary glands of thousands of pigs butchered daily in Chicago, Illinois, at the Armour packing plant.”
To another friend;
“I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it’s always a place where nobody can follow. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don’t have it miss one of God’s mercies.”
And this from Sally Fitzgerald’s recollection of Flannery in her moving introduction to the Habit of Being, the Letters of Flannery O’Connor:
“There she stands, to me, a phoenix risen from her own words: calm, slow funny, courteous, both modest and very sure of herself, intense, sharply penetrating, devout but never pietistic, downright, occasionally fierce, and honest in a way that restores honor to the word.”
--- Flannery on Teilhard --- From the collection of her letters, The Habit of Being and the collection of her book reviews, The Presence of Grace and Other Book Reviews.
Now, about Teilhard. The Phenomenon of Man is not a book about animals in the firstplace but about development. There is nothing in it about animals except the section on the development of the primates. The man is a scientist, writing as one. This is a scientific age and Teilhard’s direction is to face it toward Christ (Habit of Being 387-88).
After reading both books [The Phenomenon of Man and The Divine Milieu], I doubt his work will be put on the Index, though I think some of the people who latch upon his thought and distort it may cause certain propositions in it to be condemned. I think myself he was a great mystic. The second volume complements the first and makes you see that even if there were errors in his thought, there was none in his heart. (Habit of Being 430)
I'm much taken, though, with Pere Teilhard. I don't understand the scientific end of it or the philosophical but even when you don't know those things, the man comes through. He was alive to everything there is to be alive to and in the right way. I've even taken a little from him - "Everything That Rises Must Converge" and am going to put it on my next collection of stories … (Habit of Being 449).
Pere Teilhard talks about ‘passive diminishment’ in The Divine Milieu. He means those afflictions that you can’t get rid of and have to bear. Those that you can get rid of he believes you must bend every effort to get rid of. I think he was a very great man. (Habit of Being 509).
The most important nonfiction writer is Pere Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. who died in 1955 and has so far escaped the Index [of Forbidden Books], although a monitum has been issued on him. If
they are good, they are dangerous (Habit of Being 571)
Only a man of profound Catholic piety could have sustained his love for the Church and his order under these circumstances (publication of books prohibited), but Teilhard was a great Christian, his vision of Christ was as real as his love of science. (The Presence of Grace 86)
“Where is the Catholic as passionately vowed (by conviction and not by convention) to spreading the hopes of the Incarnation as are many humanitarians to spreading the dream of a new city?” Teilhard asks this question … . It is a question depressing to answer today when the expectation has largely disappeared from our religion. No writer of the last few centuries is more capable of restoring that sense to the Christian world than Teilhard, whose work is both scientific and profoundly Pauline. (The Presence of Grace 108)
It is doubtful if any Christian of this century can be fully aware of his religion until he has seen it in the cosmic light which Teilhard has cast upon it. (The Presence of Grace, 108)