A British actor who played a religious leader on the HBO series “Game of Thrones” has uncovered a document that sheds light on a real priest whose writings were once censored by the Roman Catholic Church.
Actor Paul Bentley was digging through folders at the Jesuit Archives in Rome when he found a paper that French priest and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was pressured into signing by the church some 90 years ago.
That’s a bit ironic because in “Game of Thrones,” Bentley played the High Septon, essentially the pope for the Faith of the Seven, a dominant and politically influential religion in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world. But in real life, he has been delving into Catholic religious history ― in particular the works of Teilhard, who was part of the Jesuit religious order and studied paleontology.
Last week, Bentley presented his research, including the long-unseen document, at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh. He also staged a reading of “Inquisition,” a play he wrote about the moral dilemma Teilhard faced before signing that document.
Teilhard’s theological writings were heavily influenced by his beliefs about evolution. The priest, who was born in 1881, attempted to blend modern science with the teachings of Christianity, arguing that evolution was progressing toward a final point of unity that would bring all creation closer to God and usher in the second coming of Christ.
Teilhard’s belief in a “cosmic redemption” didn’t sit well with the Catholic Church of his time. In 1925, he was asked to sign a document affirming six traditional church teachings about the Biblical creation story. As Bentley explained to the Scottish Catholic Observer, Teilhard acquiesced to five of the six theological statements, but struggled with one because of his scientific convictions.
“He had to sign up to all six and he was prepared to sign five of the six, but the fourth proposition he felt he couldn’t sign up to because, as a scientist, he didn’t believe it was true,” the actor said.
Eventually, Teilhard signed and affirmed all of propositions.
But even after he signed the six propositions, he faced pushback from the church for his beliefs. In 1962, the Vatican office now known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a monitum, an official warning, against unquestioning acceptance of Teilhard’s ideas. The Jesuits banned his major works from publication during his lifetime.
After Teilhard’s death in 1955, his works began to grow in popularity among the faithful. The priest was praised by Pope Benedict XVI and even cited in Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si.” Last November, the Vatican’s Council for Culture asked Francis to revoke the monitum imposed on Teilhard’s work.
Bentley, who had been seeking the 1925 document for some time, hunted through “folder after folder” in the Jesuit Archives before finding the six propositions, the Observer reports.