Teilhard's Women Friends

Teilhard spent considerable time visiting and communicating with several women. Their correspondence was about his work, travels, thoughts, and included practical and spiritual advice. One woman in particular fell in love with him. She was Lucile Swan, an American sculptor and artist. Teilhards acquaintances found him attractive in every way and he needed that human companionship, but even Teilhard’s most vocal critics do not doubt that this spiritual and mystical man was ever involved in intimate relationships or violated his Jesuit vow of perpetual chastity.

Spirit Of Fire: The Life And Vision Of Teilhard De Chardin
By Ursula A. King, Orbis Books


Toward the end of his life, Teilhard wrote, "From the critical moment when I rejected many of the old molds in which my family life and my religion had formed me, I have experienced no form of self-development without some feminine eye turned on me, some feminine influence at work." His cousin Marguerite, who edited many of his letters, was his first love. Others were Leontine Zanta, an early feminist, Lucile Swan, a sculptor and portrait artist from Iowa, Ida Treat, Jeanne Mortier, who arranged for the publication of his works after his death, and Rhoda de Terra.


Love was for Teilhard, the greatest form of human energy, an, intensely physical and spiritual energy. Without its warmth, its spark and fire, he could not have carried on his many tasks. We can be grateful to the women who helped him survive the long years of imposed silence.

Marguerite Teillard-Chambon 1880-1959, Teilhard’s cousin

Making of a Mind. Letters from a Soldier Priest 1914-1919. N.Y.: Harper, 1965.

This important book should be read with Writings in Time or War, vol. XII of the Collected Works for in these letters to his cousin Marguerite he discusses those essays.

Lucy Swan
1890-1965, an American sculptress, who wanted more then friendship. Teilhard wrote to her in 1933 "... but because your friend, Lucile, belongs to Something else, he cannot be yours..."

The letters of Teilhard de Chardin and Lucile Swan 1937-1955

Georgetown Univ. Press, 1993, 340pp

Leontine Zanta
1872-1942, a famous Parisian and the first Frenchwomen to become a doctor of philosophy. Marguerite introduced Teilhard to her former teacher and close friend.

Letters to Leontine Zanta 1923-1939. N.Y.: Harper, 1969, 127pp

Teilhard unburdens his mind of troubles with his Society and the Church, gives spiritual direction, and reveals the growth of his thought.


Jeanne-Marie Mortier 1892-1982. Jeanne-Marie Mortier was the founder of the Teilhard de Chardin Foundation, The Foundation is sole proprietor of the copyrights on Teilhard’s works, bequeathed by the author to Jeanne-Marie Mortier.

Letters to Jeanne-Marie Mortier 1939-1955


Rhoda de Terra,  Teilhard’s self-appointed secretary and wife of a paleontologist friend.


Ida Treat, an American, 1889-1978. 86 letters, 1926-1952, from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin are in the Vassar College Library Collection

From The Eternal Feminine, a Study on the Text of Teilhard de Chardin by Henri de Lubac, page 23, --- "I am the translucent medium between God and men.  It is I who drew the Word down to earth, and it is I whose charm draws the earth to me, that I may give it to God.  In me - and not in the flesh - are consummated the nuptials of the world and Creator.  I am Mary, the Virgin, the Church."

The Divine Milieu -
"When the time had come when God resolved to realize His Incarnation before our eyes, he had first of all to raise up in the world a virtue capable of drawing him as far as ourselves. He needed a mother who would engender Him in the human sphere.  What did he do?  He created the Virgin Mary, that is to say he called forth on earth a purity so great that, within this transparency, he would concentrate Himself to the point of appearing as a child."

Critique on Teilhard's "The Eternal Feminine"

Hans Urs von Balthasar
Hans Urs von Balthasar

Theo-drama: Theological Dramatic Theory pg 166-7

 By Hans Urs von Balthasar


As for the myriad variety of forms in the animal and organic kingdom, Teilhard regards them as nothing more than diversion and false paths in the vertical course of evolution.  Earthly corporality, earthly materiality remains a mere memory.


This one-sided development from matter to spirit prevents one final element of Teilhard’s eschatology from reaching maturity, namely, the theme of the duality of the sexes, of the “Eternal Feminine”.  To it, during the First World War, he had dedicated an important hymn of praise.  Here he understands the feminine as “the magic that is mixed in with the world in order to unite it”. Intensifying from stage to stage, it is a power that, through ever greater self-differentiation, results, in the sexes, in ever deeper and more fruitful union.  Its magic remains dangerously ambivalent, however, unless it is “redeemed” at the highest level, by Christ; thus, in virginity, it can attain the highest fruitfulness that enables the Logos to be embodied: “I am the Virgin Mary, mother of all men. … I am the Church, the Bride of Jesus.”


Here the feminine is the real milieu divin; “placed between God and the world, like a field of attraction for both sides, I bring them both passionately together.” Mary-Church is thus the highest flowering of that movement which ascends from the earth, though we must remember that it is always elicited and purified by the descending movement of grace, which is the movement of the Son, downward, from God.


In his commentary on the “The Eternal Feminine”, Henri de Lubac shows how the theme recurs in Teilhard, for example in his marriage homilies, and stresses the importance of the theme of chastity in his whole oeuvre, including the late appendix to his autobiographical work The Heart of Matter, which is entitled, “The Feminine, or the Unifying Factor”.  Here, however, as Teilhard notes, it is not so much an element in itself but rather a light that illuminates the process of convergence.  Naturally, the theme of sublimination remains essential: agape can only be the higher synthesis of the powers of eros. “Purity consists, not in separating oneself off, but in penetrating the universe more profoundly.” Devotion to the Mother of the Lord remains a part of Teilhard’s prayer to the end. For him, she is the true Demeter, the natural virtue and grace of the evolutionary current; he hopes that, in the final phase, mankind will transcend the sphere of sexuality and approach a Marian fruitfulness.


(Demeter is the Greek earth goddess, who brings forth the fruits of the earth)

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-88) was a Swiss theologian and one of the most important Catholic intellectuals and writers of the twentieth century. He wrote over one hundred books and hundreds of articles.  He died on June 26, 1988, one day before he was to be made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II.