Chenu on the Spirit at Work in Human and Cosmic History

Père Chenu held a strong cosmic sense.  Nature and humanity, nature and spirit were one for him.  This is the meaning of a creation-based spirituality after all.  Non-dualism extends to acknowledging our interdependence and oneness with nature and the universe.

“Branches” 1) Counterclockwise from top left: “Forest” by Allain Siddiqui on Unsplash. 2) Thin fungal hyphae (A) form branching mycelium networks which transmit chemical messages among trees: Wikimedia Commons. 3) Original art of the lungs as trees, posted in essay on HouseOfMica.org. 4) Tributaries of the Yarlung Tsangpo River as it crosses Tibet. NASA.

Here is how Chenu put it: 

The history of humankind, the history of the spirit is, by ontological necessity, tied up with the history of nature. For humanity is, in the full sense of the word, a microcosm.

We are truly a “microcosm” of the macrocosm, a small mirror of the greater cosmos. Our very bodiliness is the basis for our sense of community and self.

Today’s scientific understanding of creation clearly links the matter that makes us up as humans with the matter—and history of matter—of the universe.  We are literally the stuff of stars and supernovas and galaxies.

What follows from that?  Chenu tells us that 

Compassionate human hands. Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash.

the corporality of the human being is the ontological foundation of his sociability. . . . History is by definition social.  And the history of the human race meshes with the history of nature.

History is also relative, relationship oriented.  It is not a series of absolutes.  

Social individuality has no meaning with reference to a pure spirit. Mankind is a people: every individual is at the service of the species.

Each person “is at the service of the species.” that is, we do not exist just as individuals  but as those who serve one another in communities and serve the species as a whole.  The community we serve includes the whole community of nature and Earth and evolution itself.

A city joining in creativity, all races, genders, ages: “Asheville Full Moon Drum Circle Dancing, 2022.” Video by Michael Fredericks.

Chenu insists that any history involving humans is a history of nature.  For that matter, even the sacred history of humans is the story of an incarnation and not the history of angelic creatures!  Even our religions are a “story of an incarnation,” not a description of disembodied spirit.

Chenu celebrates both a “continuous Incarnation” and “continuous creation.”  Both creation and incarnation are still going on. Spirit is very much still at work in history and evolution and in our creativity and in our work and the values we choose to put into our work.

And in the resistance we assert against forces of injustice and coldness of heart.


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, p. 329. 

And M. D. Chenu, “Body and Body Politic in the Creation Spirituality of Thomas Aquinas,” in Matthew Fox, ed., Western Spirituality: Historical Roots, Ecumenical Routes, pp. 200-212.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: “Remember Her Name – Behnaz Afshari – Solidarity with Iranian Women and Workers. Behnaz Afshari (photo held by the sitting woman), was 300th on the National Council of Resistance list of martyrs of the nationwide uprising. The date of her martyrdom was given as 26 October 2022. Her family were allowed to see only her face.” Photo by Alisdare Hickson on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you also recognize an ongoing or “continuous” Incarnation and Creation?  What follows from that?  And Spirit at work in history and evolution, the Cosmos and Earth? 


Recommended Reading

Christian Mystics: 365 Readings & Meditations

As Matthew Fox notes, when an aging Albert Einstein was asked if he had any regrets, he replied, “I wish I had read more of the mystics earlier in my life.” The 365 writings in Christian Mystics represent a wide-ranging sampling of these readings for modern-day seekers of all faiths — or no faith. The visionaries quoted range from Julian of Norwich to Martin Luther King, Jr., from Thomas Merton to Dorothee Soelle and Thomas Berry.
“Our world is in crisis, and we need road maps that can ground us in wisdom, inspire us to action, and help us gather our talents in service of compassion and justice.  This revolutionary book does just that.  Matthew Fox takes some of the most profound spiritual teachings of the West and translates them into practical daily mediations.  Study and practice these teachings.  Take what’s in this book and teach it to the youth because the new generation cannot afford to suffer the spirit and ethical illiteracy of the past.” — Adam Bucko, spiritual activist and co-founder of the Reciprocity Foundation for Homeless Youth.

Western Spirituality: Historical Roots, Ecumenical Routes

In this book, Fox gathers scholars from various cultures and traditions such as Helen Kenik, Jon Sobrino, Nicolas Berdyaev, Rosemary Ruether, M. D. Chenu, Mary Jose Hobday, Ronald Miller, Monika Hellwig, James Kenney, Justin O’Brien and others to approach creation spirituality from many traditions and many angles. 
“An exciting and important book…a pleasant alternative to the oppressive burden of the fall/redemption tradition.” ~ New Review of Books and Religion 

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11 thoughts on “Chenu on the Spirit at Work in Human and Cosmic History”

  1. Richard E Reich

    Matthew, Today you wrote : “Père Chenu held a strong cosmic sense. Nature and humanity, nature and spirit were one for him. This is the meaning of a creation-based spirituality after all. Non-dualism extends to acknowledging our interdependence and oneness with nature and the universe.” Chenu tells us that: ” the history of the human race meshes with the history of nature.” And then you say: “Today’s scientific understanding of creation clearly links the matter that makes us up as humans with the matter—and history of matter—of the universe.” Finally you say, “Chenu insists that any history involving humans is a history of nature. For that matter, even the sacred history of humans is the story of an incarnation…” Chenu celebrates both a “continuous Incarnation” and “continuous creation.” Both creation and incarnation are still going on. And I believe that the Spirit is still at work in history and evolution, the Cosmos and Earth.

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    Both gross physical matter (bodies for humans in one instance) and spirit are sourced by the same light. Whether we see water as rain or in its invisible evaporated form, it is still water. Theological debates as to whether water is only seen, unseen or both are not relevant. The only relevance is what water is capable of in all of its forms. What are our capabilities in human form alone? What are our capabilities in spiritual form alone? What are our synergies as both human and spiritual combined?

    Are we to debate our capabilities or use and expand them as in expanding our faith in action. Let’s put all theological arguments and debates aside and ask the question we all have – “So what should I be doing, what should we be doing in this life?” Does not Jesus the Christ make that known to us in simple to understand parables, His Actions and His Words. All are actionable are they not? So why stand around and have debates that only intellectuals can participate in? — BB.

    1. Richard E Reich

      Bill, Today you write: “Let’s put all theological arguments and debates aside and ask the question we all have – “So what should I be doing, what should we be doing in this life?” First of all, I don’t think on this site we are ever going to “put all theological arguments and debates aside” because that is one of the things we do here–we ask and wrestle with theological questions. And secondly, I think Matthew is always showing us “what should I/we be doing, what should we be doing in this life…”

  3. Avatar

    Cosmic systemic injustice is an activity we all participate in. “They know not what they do”. Cosmic, Death and destruction, the Sin of the world, we carry in our human evolution, provides us with the ego of self importance for individuals, institutions and Governments. This self importance gives us power over others. The result being wealth of land, property and artifacts, including money. Because we all participate in this dualistic, injustice, some more and some less, we must in a needful way first, unconditionally, forgive ourselves and others and, second, participate less and less in unjust activity. The non dualistic Tree of Life is the pursuit, of the justice of the fullness of Eternal Life, for all of Life’s hosts. There will be more Blue planets. “In MY Father’s House, there are many Mansions”. I go to prepare the Way.

    1. Richard E Reich

      Peter, Today you write: “There will be more Blue planets. “In MY Father’s House, there are many Mansions”. I go to prepare the Way.” I’d rather take care of this earth then wait for “more Blue planets.” I believe that we were meant to be stewards of the earth, and we have horribly shirked our responsibility of being caregivers, and have even, as Bacon said, “Put the earth on a rack and tortured her secrets out of her (science).” And even more than torturing her for her secrets, we have just exploited her in order for the few to get rich (economically)…

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    What follows from continuous incarnation and creation… Eternal Life! This eternal life contains the same essence of spirit, yet expresses its living presence in infinite manifestations… unfolding, evolving and emerging within and also beyond time, space and dimensional realities and what our human nature can imagine… yet at the core of our divine being, we remember the reality of ONE SOUL. What follows from this… no fear of death… for death then is but a rites of passage into the continuous mystery of incarnation and creation. The universal symbol that arises is that of the infinity loop!

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    I believe that photograph is of Trafalgar Square in London, sitting at the base of Nelson’s Column. Out of sight to the right is St. Martin’s in the Fields, known as “the parish Church of England.” I attended the church for several years and cleaned it on Saturday evenings as a member of “the Scrub Club.”

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    Yes I do. Beautiful meditation on the words of the French post-modern mystics Chenu and de Chardin who continue our mystical tradition of the Loving Living Presence and ongoing Creation~Evolution~Incarnation of Divine Love in our hearts, among us in our relations, in Sacred Mother Nature~Earth, and within our sacred multidimensional~multiverse Cosmos in Loving Diverse Oneness… How beautiful and mysterious that our unique eternal souls are always Being and becoming more conscious of the Divine Loving Oneness of our microcosm within the Divine macrocosm as co-Creators….
    ????

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    The concept of continuous incarnation and creation brings hope, that no matter how depraved individuals and societies act, the Spirit moves in history toward what God intended for us all. We are both already in the Kindom and acting to bring it to fruition in our time and place and for future generations. We are stardust and earth, divine and human together. The glory and the joy in the dance video mitigate against the folly and evil that can seem to be in charge. We are sublime, and we are ridiculous, and we can choose to co-create with God or to suffer the hell of separation and death. Let us choose wisely for the sake of our very existence, because nature can get along without us, thank you very much.

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