Evolutionism, Philosophy and Christianity Henri Bergson died 50 years ago
Evolutionism, philosophy and Christianity. Henri Bergson died 50 years ago
Author: Mariano Artigas
Published in: article unpublished
Publication date: 1991
Bergson is one of the great contemporary philosophers. His vigorous thought sought to synthesise science and Philosophy, and his religious concerns led him to Catholicism. Fifty years after his death, his trajectory is very interesting for today's mentality.
Henri Bergson was born on 18 October 1859 in Paris. His father, Michaël, born in Warsaw, was an excellent pianist and composer. His mother, Katherine, came from Yorkshire, Great Britain, and always spoke to her seven children in English. Both were Jewish, and Henri was brought up in the traditions of the Jewish religion. In 1864, the family settled in Geneva. Two years later they returned to Paris and shortly afterwards went to London, but Henri remained in Paris, where he excelled in his programs of study from an early age. He was always a mixture of scientist, litterateur and artist.
From 1900 to 1924 he taught at high school in France. Endowed with a fine sensibility and a brilliant exhibition ability, his prestige was B. In 1914 he became a member of the Académie de France, and in 1928 he received the award Nobel Prize for literature. He became increasingly closer to Christianity. He was never baptised because, according to his own statements, he did not want to abandon his brothers of his race when they were threatened by persecution. He died on 4 January 1941.
Bergson's most famous work is entitled "Creative Evolution", and was published in 1907. Interested in the problem of life, Bergson accumulated material for eleven years and spent entire holidays studying the habits of ants and bees. After several essays, he wrote his work almost in one sitting. It was extraordinarily well received by the public.
Although this work assumes biological evolution, Bergson did not assert evolution as a dogma, but as a plausible explanation. And he departed from mechanistic and scientistic explanations that believe that everything can be explained by resorting to mechanisms Materials. For Bergson, life is a current or an impulse that branches and diversifies; he affirms that only in a few lines - the insects and the vertebrates - is there progress towards higher and higher and more complex forms, while in the others there is a multiplication of deviations, stoppages and setbacks. Only the route of the vertebrates "has been wide enough to allow the great breath of life to pass freely". He sees man as "the end and finality of evolution".
The details of this work may be questionable from different points of view. With regard to the more philosophical aspects, it seems to suggest a divinity which, on the one hand, would have a certain pantheistic air, and on the other hand, as life and unceasing action, would not be something finished. This is why the work deserved serious reservations on the part of the Catholic authorities.
Bergson and Spain
For this reason it is even more interesting to follow Bergson's religious evolution, as Jorge Uscatescu, Full Professor of the Complutense University, has done in a article graduate "Bergson y la mística española" (Folia Humanistica, November-December 1991, pp. 465-482).
Bergson was in Spain in 1916 and referred to that trip in these terms: "In Madrid I put my audience on test with a lecture on sleep: then, seeing that they followed me very well, to the point of anticipating me by the path I was following, I tackled the lofty question of the soul, of its spirituality, of survival, of our immortal destiny, and I took my audience further and higher than I had ever done before. No surprise, then, to find that Spain is the country of generous spirits like Don Quixote and mystics like Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross.
In 1923, Bergson said that "the Spaniard is noble and generous, even in his mistakes. There is in Spain a great spiritual force at reservation, which will be able to come into play when the wave of industrialisation has subsided". And years later: "Spain: a great country, whose spiritual attitude I discovered with great wonder, the most capable, no doubt, of resisting Bolshevism, in which I see the greatest threat to our civilisation".
I don't know what you will think after this patriotic sophistry, coming from a French genius. But perhaps it turns out that, in spite of everything, what we are really good at is the spirit. In this we have produced and continue to produce geniuses worldwide, and this is what impressed Bergson the most.
Bergson was a convinced defender of the vital and of intuition. He thought that intelligence, important as it is, serves mainly for instrumental purposes, because it gives us a capacity to analyse our environment and to take control of it; but he was suspicious that it could be used to reach the most authentic depths of human life. On the other hand, according to Bergson, intuition puts us on contact immediately with the core of reality.
The mystics are, of course, the masters in this field. They have personal, lived experiences which can hardly be expressed in words. But sometimes they have expressed them; for example, in the case of Teresa of Jesus, because her superiors ordered her to write down what she could say about her experiences. The mystics speak of what they have experienced, in the first person, at first hand. And although it is easy to be self-deceived in these areas, there are mystics whose authenticity is beyond doubt.
This is the case of St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Jesus, who made a strong impression on Bergson, who in 1929 said: "St John of the Cross and St Teresa must be placed above all the mystics. Their reading has enlightened me greatly and the convergence or complementarity of these two spirits, so different and yet identical in their apprehension of God, is for me a test of truth. I love them in equal measure and yet I place St John of the Cross at the summit of everything".
In 1932, Bergson commented: "Those who have enlightened me are the great mystics, such as Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross: these singular, privileged souls. There is in them, I repeat, a privilege, a grace. The great mystics have brought me the revelation of what I had sought through life's evolution, and had not found. The surprising convergence of their testimonies can only be explained by the existence of what they have perceived. This is the philosophical value of authentic mysticism. It allows us to deal experimentally with the existence and nature of God".
Bergson adds that, when he read these two Spanish mystics, he found above all "that grade of reality which does not deceive, which distinguishes, from the first instant, with a sure blow, the story of a traveller who has travelled through the countries of which he speaks, from the artificial reconstruction of these same countries made by someone who has not been there". Before discovering them, Bergson says he possessed only a "vague spiritualism". Then, "thanks to the mystics, I found the fact, the story, the Sermon on the Mount. My choice was made, the test was found". Hence, in 1937, Bergson said: "Nothing separates me from Catholicism".
I have already alluded to the fact that Bergson was not baptised because he did not want his attitude to be interpreted as a withdrawal of his racial brethren in times of persecution. Whatever opinion this may merit, it reveals a genuine vital tension. Cardinal Suhard considered that Bergson had already received the baptism of desire, and expressly authorised a Catholic priest to attend his funeral and say the prayers.
Bergson was concerned that his Philosophy should not turn anyone away from the faith. He wanted Catholics to welcome his reflections. Some testimonies, including personalities such as Peguy, attribute to Bergson the first movement that led them to the Catholic faith.
Bergson's intellectual and life trajectory is complex. It is influenced by lines of thought that are not easy, among which Plotinus stands out. Bergson went so far as to say: "If I had been born a Catholic, Catholicism would undoubtedly have developed certain pre-existing tendencies in me. But since God has not given me this grace, it is not the same thing. My opinion is that he who believes has a better chance of finding himself in what is true than he who does not believe".
This last statement may come as a surprise to some in an age, such as ours, when doubt about the truth is widespread and those who claim to have a monopoly on it are distrusted.
According to Catholic doctrine, reaffirmed and explained by the Second Vatican Council, God does not withhold his grace from those who do what is on their side. God is not unjust to anyone; everyone will get what is due to him, according to the gifts he has received. But this does not detract from the fact that truth is truth and error is error. A distinction has always been made between invincible error and culpable error; although it is not always easy to distinguish between them on internship, they are two cases that correspond to different attitudes, and these attitudes are manifested in works.
If monopoly means the desire to control, the Church is not interested in monopolies, but in the salvation and happiness of the whole world. It proposes its message of salvation, knowing that it is God who judges, who knows the interior of each person. We do not have the mission statement to judge anyone. Salvation is the result of God's gifts and of human freedom. This was well understood by Bergson, who was impressed by the profoundly humble attitude of the mystics. Those who are closest to God know, better than anyone else, that everything they have comes from God.
The Second Vatican Council affirms that the divine message, manifested through revelation, subsists in its integrity in the Catholic Church. This does not prevent authentic truths from being found outside the Church, even if not in their fullness. The Church is aware that this message is lived and conveyed by flesh and blood people, with faults and limitations. It proclaims its respect for the freedom of consciences, since conscience is the sanctuary where man finds himself alone with God. He affirms that the advertisement of the Christian message must be carried out with simplicity, with authenticity, without fear and without superiority or inferiority complexes. He underlines that Christians must proclaim this message, from agreement with the mission statement that Christ has entrusted to the Church.
These issues are profound. They can sometimes give rise to difficulties and tensions. This is not surprising, because the human person is a complex being. Bergson experienced these tensions and his testimony has all the characteristics of authenticity.
Scientism, materialism and spiritualism
Many editions of Bergson's works have been published. However, he did not allow himself to be dazzled by success. He acknowledged that, in matters of substance, he only gradually arrived at the truth.
Bergson always devoted special attention to the study of experience, of the data of human consciousness. That is why his evaluation of the experience of the mystics is of particular importance. He noted that these were authentic testimonies, and therefore constituted a test of the veracity of their affirmations.
What was always very clear to Bergson is that scientism, which claims to explain all of reality through the sciences and is often associated with materialism, is a mistaken explanation. Nature has dimensions that demand deeper explanations.
Already at the time of "Creative Evolution", when he still had an incomplete idea of divinity, Bergson warned that mechanicism is insufficient. Many natural phenomena can be explained by the composition of their elements, but these explanations are partial. They do not account for the existence and dynamism of a nature which we did not create and which demands deeper explanations. If one does not accept the existence of God, one must somehow divinise nature, but this leads to a pantheism that has nothing to do with science and is contradictory, because nature does not really possess properly divine characteristics.
The case of the human person is even clearer. Spiritual experience, related to freedom and moral values, sample that we participate in higher dimensions, which place us totally above the rest of nature. Bergson followed a slow path that led him from the detailed programs of study of human experience to the acceptance of the testimony of the Christian mystics as a convincing test of the truth of Christianity.
It does not seem that, as far as religion is concerned, Bergson had any problem with evolution. It need not, if one realises that the origin of some beings from others in no way eliminates the demand for an ultimate foundation of the existence and dynamism of nature, and that the existence of spiritual dimensions which place the human person above the rest of nature is self-evident, with or without evolution. The experience of the mystics convinced him of the truth of Christianity. That same experience test that the human person is on a spiritual level that radically surpasses the rest of nature.