The document titled
Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life. A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age’ can be accessed using the link

This pastoral Document “is the fruit of the common reflection of the Working Group on New Religious Movements, composed of staff members of different dicasteries of the Holy See: the Pontifical Councils for Culture and for Interreligious Dialogue (which are the principal redactors for this project), the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.” (Foreword of the Vatican Document)

Within the short space of fifteen months, one of the leading figures of the Catholic ashrams movement* [which I have claimed and also demonstrated to be heretical and seditious], Fr. Sebastian Painadath SJ, compiled and published the responses of a motley group of theologians to the aforementioned Document.



While not too many Catholics [laity as well as clergy] are even aware of the existence of such a Document from Rome, fewer still would be aware of this hostile 2004 response to it. I myself would have remained blissfully ignorant of it but for one good priest who photocopied it from his seminary’s library and sent it to me. Unable to get it typed out, this “Theological Response” has languished in my book-shelf until a generous lay Catholic converted its contents to soft copy. God bless the two of them and the many others — lay persons, seminarians and priests — who do their unique and invaluable bit for this ministry.

The aforementioned priest, incidentally, now serves at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.


The hostile response of the theologians, all of them Indian save two, will not come as a surprise to those who are aware of the reaction of some of them to the historic Dominus Iesus [August 2000] on the unicity of Jesus Christ. [That time they were so incensed, their dissent was widely reported even in the secular media.] The Documents confront and challenge such errors as religious pluralism, relativism, secular humanism, modernism, and syncretism. They also expose the false inculturation, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue which many theologians are engaging in according to their selective interpretations of some Conciliar and post-Conciliar texts.


The “Theological Response” was published in the May 2004 issue no. 201 of Jeevadhara from Malloossery, Kottayam. The original pages of the “Theological Response” are numbered 186 to 273. Its contents will be reproduced below in Tahoma 11 font. All other interventions, especially those of Tahoma 10 font are mine. They consist of my comments in green or information from outside sources in dark blue. The contents of the Jeevadhara “Theological Response” are in Tahoma 11 font. Other
are introduced by me for emphasis.


Jeevadhara is the voice of the “Indian Theological Association“. It is a vehicle for Indian theological expression and it influences theological direction. By its own admission, “It has about two hundred theologians on its membership list. It is the only organization for theologians in India.” Its goals are to “evolve a theology on the basis of Indian mind and thought consonant with Indian situations and give encouragement and support to the country’s theologians.
Jeevadhara also conducts theology courses for laity.
When it lambasts a Vatican Document, one can imagine the impact on the thinking and faith of its Catholic readers.

In fact, in September 2004, Fr. Tom Polackal SDB, pastor of the Jesus youth charismatic movement who practises “Dream work” therapy, wrote me a strong letter of criticism concerning my ministry and advised me not to distribute my literature and
confuse the minds of young people,
and also suggested that I
New Age Theological Response to the Vatican Document
edited by
Fr. Sebastian Painadath.


This issue has articles by eminent and serious theologians of India on the matter of New Age.
The priest was telling me that I had wrong notions of what New Age is and that my reading the “
Theological Response” would enlighten me and correct me. We will examine who these “eminent and serious theologians of India” are, that Fr. Tom Polackal is so enamoured of and whose writings he reposes confidence in.


However, this is not the first time that I have referred to the Jeevadhara “Theological Response” in my writings. I reproduce here an extract from my September 2008 report THE NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 2 – PAPAL SEMINARY, PUNE, INDIAN THEOLOGIANS, AND THE CATHOLIC ASHRAMS EXTRACT


On the 3rd of February 2003, the Vatican issued a “provisional report”, “concerned with the complex phenomenon of the ‘New Age’, which is influencing many aspects of contemporary culture”. “It is the fruit of the common reflection of the Working Group on New Religious Movements composed of different dicasteries of the Holy See”, “to explain how the New Age Movement differs from the Christian faith” (Foreword), illustrating the points where New Age spirituality contrasts with the Catholic faith and refuting the positions espoused by New Age thinkers in opposition to Christian faith” and “the rapidly growing number of people who claim that it is possible to blend Christianity and New Age by taking what strikes them as the best of both” (n 1). The document is titled “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life, A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age’. The secular press reporting on it calls it “an unusually frank 100 page Church document”
on “what the Pope sees as one of the greatest threats to Christianity in the third millennium”.

The Church called it a “Provisional Report” in the sense that after further study and feedback from the various Bishops’ Conferences, it would be further developed into a Final Report. In effect, it is a full, if not final, Vatican Document.

Now why would Catholic theologians want to trash this Document? For the same reason that they did “Dominus Iesus” in 2000. But this time, unlike in early cases when individual theologians went to the press and decried the teachings from Rome, the opposition was ORGANIZED. Though the theologians’ reacted to the New Age Document more than four years ago, this story is breaking news. I don’t believe it has been reported anywhere else.

But since this is going to be the subject of a separate report, I will try to be as brief as possible here.

The extent to which these theologians’ worldviews diverge from Church teachings has to be seen to be believed. But it is not so much that the two sides disagree. It is the contempt with which these theologians treat the Document in their critiques as evidenced in the language used by them. They are like snakes exhibiting their mortal fear of a mongoose.

Francis D’Sa describes the title of the Document as “contrived” and the Document itself as “thoroughly self-righteous and self-complacent”. Errol D’Lima accuses Rome of a “negative assessment of the New Age”. For P. T. Mathew, the Church exhibits a “colonial mindset” in the Document. George Pattery accuses the Church of using “age-old rationalizations” and “traditional Christian vocabulary”. He believes that “the New Age Movement is the best bet for the survival of religious faith for this century“.


The inclusion of this issue [in this second report on the New Community Bible (NCB)] is only for the purposing of establishing one more link in the chain that we have forged so far:


JEEVADHARA [], A Journal for Socio-Religious Research is published every month alternately in English and Malayalam from Kottayam, Kerala. From the year 2004 information that I have with me, the General Editor is Joseph Constantine Manalel.

The Editor – Book Review is
J. B. Chethimattam.

There are four on the Sectional Board of Editors:

Paul Puthanangady,
Swami Vikrant, Thomas Manickam, Joseph Thayil.

They are followed by eleven Section Editors:

Sebastian Painadath, Kuncheria Pathil, P.T. Mathew,
Felix Wilfred,
Augustine Mulloor, John Padipurackal, Sunny Maniyakupara, Mathew Variamattom, Jose Panthackal, George Karakunnel, and Mathew Paikada.

We presume that all of the above-named are priests, and many of them, if not all, are theologians or scholars at least.


Out of the seventeen Jeevadhara priests,
to Vandana Mataji’s occult book Shabda Shakti Sangam
belonging to the Catholic Ashrams movement; they are
Paul Puthanangady SDB,
Swami Vikrant SDB, Sebastian Painadath SJ
and Kuncheria Pathil CMI.

to “Theological Response to the Vatican Document [New Age]”, Jeevadhara, Volume XXXIV No. 201, May 2004, 88 pages; they are:
Paul Puthanangady SDB,
Sebastian Painadath SJ
[some names keep cropping up with interesting frequency]
J.B. Chethimattam CMI, and
P.T. Mathew SJ.

Painadath, Swami Vikrant, P. T. Mathew, Puthanangady, etc.
are leaders in the Catholic Ashrams movement.


For the purpose of this particular paper, we note the following five [other than the aforementioned four] contributors:



Francis X. D’Sa SJ, George Pattery SJ, Errol D’Lima SJ, Francis Gonsalves SJ and Dominic Veliath SDB*.

Of these,
Francis X. D’Sa SJ and George Pattery SJ
Shabda Shakti Sangam.

Errol D’Lima along with Francis X. D’Sa had

Francis X. D’Sa who
is a
Professor at the
Papal Seminary, Pune; he is
Director, Institute for the Study of Religion, De Nobili College, Pune.


*Fr Dominic Veliath SDB
is the
Executive Secretary of the CBCI’s Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith and Theology.

Fr Dominic is one of the priests who has not only always responded promptly to all my letters, alerts and reports, but also written me encouraging words and forwarded my communications to the Commission Chairman, Bishop Thomas Dabre. The title of his article is “How God is Related to the Human?” Perturbed at seeing his contribution included with those of dissenting theologians, I was relieved to find that he simply compared the Catholic anthropological vision with New Age spiritualities in the light of the Theology of Grace. The only possible discord was his quoting Roger Haight SJ.
US Jesuit Roger Haight was banned [by Rome] from teaching Catholic theology, but I was once again relieved to note (i) that Veliath quoted from a much earlier work of Haight’s which is unaffected by his later theological errors; (ii) that Haight was disciplined by the Vatican [on one of his most recent books] several months AFTER Fr Dominic Veliath wrote and submitted his article to Painadath SJ/Jeevadhara.


**Indian Theologians Regret Vatican Inability To Understand Them
[See also pages 107 ff.]

October 9, 2000 PUNE
Some theology professors in India have described a Vatican cardinal’s comment that “Dominus Iesus” was directed against them as the Vatican’s failure to understand religious pluralism in Asia. “Rome has a suspicion that the Indian theologians do not accept the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the mediator of salvation,”
said Jesuit theologian Father Josef Neuner, 92, who has taught in various Indian seminaries for the past 60 years. Father Neuner and other theologians in Pune fear that the Sept. 5 Vatican declaration “Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church”
will alienate other religions.

The document stresses the “unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus Christ” and the Church’s “salvific mediation” since it holds that “relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism” endanger the Church’s mission.

The theologians made their comments on reports that Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said Sept. 26 that
“Dominus Iesus” was directed at theology professors in India

Father Neuner told UCA News Oct. 4 that the Vatican “does not sufficiently understand and appreciate the implications of religious and cultural pluralism in India in particular and in Asia in general.” The Austria-born Jesuit said the declaration will “alienate Indian theology professors and hamper their creativity and research
as they will not be able to speak out openly.” Father Neuner said that to emphasis Christ as the only Savior is a “challenging task” for Indian theologians and that “it is also very difficult to make Hindus and Muslims understand it.”

Jesuit Father Errol D’Lima, president of the Indian Theological Association, said
the declaration shows the Vatican’s fear
that Indian theologians’ attempt to view other religions positively will dilute “essentials of Christianity.”
Father D’Lima, who teaches systematic theology in
Pune’s Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth
(light of
knowledge university), said the problem arises because
Indian Christians have a “worldview different from Rome, and our living experience of being the Church is in dialogue with other religions.”

Divine Word Father Jacob Kavunkal, who teaches missiology in the same university, said the Vatican “does not seem to appreciate the atmosphere of religious pluralism in which Indian theologians have to work.” He said the Bible has “tremendous indication of positive approach to other religions,” which are responses to “the revelatory process of the word.” The Divine Word priest said the document’s language of exclusivity would “alienate our sister Churches and other religious traditions, making the task of the Indian theologians rather difficult.”

Jesuit theologian Father Francis D’Sa
said Indian theologians live in “religious pluralism, not in academe like in the West” since the country has many religions, including tribal and folk religions. He explained that Indian theologians have to speak their faith in a language others can understand. Those living in almost monocultural situations will never understand the situation of Indian theologians, he added.

Jesuit Father Rue [sic] de Menezes, a former university rector, warned that the Vatican document “will destroy any spirit of dialogue with other religions.” Indian theologians have the option to either follow the ecumenical council — the Second Vatican Council or the opinion of certain individuals in Rome, he said. But “Indian theologians will opt for the former,” he added.
The document “reflects the mentality of the Middle Ages,”
he said.

He added that the so-called “champions of orthodoxy are not faithful to the Jesus of the Gospels” and said he wants the Church to prescribe a retirement age for the “clerks of the Vatican.”

Father Subash Anand, another theology professor, said the document tries to equate Christ’s role and importance with that of the Church. “They are not identical, though related,” he added.


One will find the same tone in the contributions in the Jeevadhara “Theological Response“. [Do not be fooled by Rui de Menezes’ wanting to “follow the ecumenical council — the Second Vatican Council“. Indian theologians isolate and use selected sentences in them to misinterpret the spirit of the Council and its exhortations. See




To: ;

Cc:;; nco
Sent: Sunday, July 27, 2008 7:11 PM


10. We are inclined to be very afraid for the Church if the decision taken at the Western Region Bishops’ Council is simply that “articles and explanations will have to be given” by Cardinal Oswald Gracias to the faithful.

Do we take it to mean that the Bishops will justify the commentary contents and foot-notes of the NCB even though Faith-educated Catholics have raised very serious objections to many of them? If that is so, I risk saying that it will become a permanent and festering cancer in the Indian Church. With due respect, I assure you that not one of us is prepared to accept the explanations, because — apart from a miracle — they are not going to be new. We have heard them before, unofficially, and we have seen some of them in the Preface [Archbishop Soosa Pakiam] and Presentation by Dr. Augustine Kanachikuzhy SSP in the NCB.

Is it so difficult for the Bishops to do the right thing and admit that the release of the NCB was a grave mistake?

If the Bishops do not want to tell the whole truth, surely they are now experts in knowing what to say without looking too bad?

Or is it simply impossible for them to give credit [which no one wants] to the laity and priests. They must remember Who they will have to account to for the souls of millions if the NCB is allowed to become the flagship of the Indian Church.

The Bishops will have to seriously consider the implications of justifying the commentaries that have been found objectionable. Forever after, error will continue to be justified by pointing to the contents of the NCB which, even if its texts are faithful to the originals in translation, we totally reject as a Bible. The responsibility for this tragic situation will rest completely on our Bishops.

Many lay people have written to you, and there are priests of all ages with us. Surely their claims or judgements cannot all be frivolous or ill-informed and be explained away by arguments from exegetical or hermeneutical approaches or by clever isolated excerpts from two or three Vatican documents which will only serve to further confuse or fool many of the laity.

We will refute these by quoting dozens of passages from these same and other Vatican documents, encyclicals and Apostolic Letters to justify our contention that the Church in India has failed to implement the letter and spirit of these exhortations, that they have been subverted by the skilful manipulation and semantics of our liberal and modernist “theologians” and that the Church is drifting away from Rome under the leadership of some very powerful priests.

I wonder if you have seen the book prepared by a dozen such dissenting theologians led by ashram-founder and yoga-enthusiast Fr Sebastian Painadath SJ, expressly brought out for the purpose of trashing the 2003 New Age document. It was sent to me from the library of a seminary by a priest who was scandalized.

In it they repeatedly declare that Rome is patriarchal, living in the Middle Ages, ignorant, out of touch with reality, and many other things, and is not in sync with modern pluralistic approaches or relevant to India. Our report on that book is in the making.

We pray that our fears are not unfounded and that these explanations from the Bishops will honestly admit that there ARE errors in the NCB and that the NCB sets the precedent for a most dangerous — and possibly mortal for the Indian Church –trend for a lot more of such error which is at the moment not yet given “official” sanction like the NCB has. The NCB is a Trojan horse in the Church, and justifying its contents will be opening a Pandora’s box. History may one day confirm the truth of our apprehensions.








































Vol. XXXIV No. 201 May 2004



New Age

Theological Response to the

Vatican Document


Edited by:

Sebastian Painadath


Malloossery P.O.,

Kottayam – 686 041

Kerala, India

Tel: (91) (481) 2392530







is published every month

alternately in English & Malayalam



Joseph Constantine Manalel



The Human Problem

Felix Wilfred                                 Sunny Maniyakupara

The Word of God

Augustine Mulloor                              Mathew Variamattom

The Living Light

Sebastian Painadath                          Jose Panthackal

World Communion

Kuncheria Pathil                          George Karakunnel

The Harmony of Religions

John. B. Chethimattam                          P. T. Mathew

The Fulness of Creation

John Padipurackal                             Mathew Paikada



Paul Puthanangady                         Thomas Manickam

Swami Vikrant                                 Joseph Thayil



J. B. Chethimattam

All of the above editors are priests.

John Chethimattam CMI, P. T. Mathew SJ and Paul Puthanangady SDB are three of the twelve contributors to the “Theological Response” to the Vatican Document on the New Age



Jeevadhara Theology Centre


‘Jeevadhara’ is an International Theological Review which has subscribers throughout the world. It is acclaimed as ‘the best theological publication in India’ (Dr. George Soares Prabhu). It was started in 1971 as the outcome of the concerted effort and cooperation of the foremost Indian theologians under the initiative of Dr. Joseph Constantine Manalel. After the publication of Jeevadhara, Theology Centre has more often been known by that name. ‘Jeevadhara’ is published every month alternately in English and Malayalam.

Every one of the 12 issues is on a separate topic and has a separate editor who is an expert in the subject. The six different topics are: (1) The Human Problem (2) The Word of God (3) The Living Christ (4) The People of God (5) The Meeting of Religions (6) The Fullness of Life.

‘Jeevadhara’ was never meant to be merely an intellectual exercise. It takes shape from the experience of the Divine within the community in all its relations with the world and nature. Nothing human is alien to Jeevadhara and everything human falls within its scope and interest. It has been doing independent and creative thinking in all the fields of theology in such a way as to make it relevant to the life situations of the people.

Subscribe: The annual subscription rate of Jeevadhara is Rs 100 for English and Rs 60 for Malayalam; Foreign – $ 24. The subscription fee has to be remitted to the Manager in advance. The subscription begins with the January/February issues.

The address is: The Manager, ‘Jeevadhara’, Kottayam – 686 041, Kerala, India. Phone: (0091) (0481) 392530



THEOLOGY CENTRE has been a movement for upholding the values of Truth, Freedom and Justice so as to be appealing to people of all religions and of none. It was never meant to be a building complex nor even an institution, but has been a multifarious programme of high thinking and simple living, a harmonious combination of learning and praying and praxis – a movement for Truth, Freedom and Justice.

Started as far back as 1950 by its Founder- Director Fr. Joseph Constantine Manalel, it has been active throughout Kerala and eventually in India. The objective at first was to disillusion people of all misconceptions regarding religion and its practice & thus to create a mature vision of religion and free people from all enslavements.



At Jeevadhara, we commit ourselves to:

(a). Truth, Freedom and Justice.
(b). Brother/Sister-hood of all humans.
(c). Challenging of unjust structures that oppress and dehumanize people.
(d). Liberation and empowerment of the poor.
(e). Peace & harmony among all people.
(f). Winning support of the Intelligentsia for such causes.
(g). Encouraging cooperation of all forces of good.
(h). Building basic communities. &
(i). Research in the above areas.



Theology Centre has succeeded in accomplishing various programmes as

(a). Kerala Catholic Students League:

In 1952, ‘Kerala Catholic Students League’ which lingered in three or four schools and colleges in Kerala was entirely reorganized with new by-laws and programme of activities. In the subsequent years League units were started in all the schools of every diocese of Kerala. ‘Catholic’ here was retained not in its narrow sense but in its widest so as to reach the benefits of the programme to the whole student community of Kerala.

Study Circles and discussions by groups and among groups formed a main item of the programme on a weekly basis, so as to foster critical and creative thinking, besides social activities of different kinds for fostering love and fellowship among students of different religious affiliations.

(b). Kerala Catholic Teachers Guild:
In 1954, Kerala Catholic Teachers Guild was organized for the first time in Kerala and it showed the way for similar guilds in other parts of India such as Bombay, Madras and Delhi. As in KCSL, here also the term ‘Catholic’ was taken in its widest sense. Units of the Guild were started in all the schools of every diocese throughout Kerala.

Monthly conferences were regular for the Guild. Seminars for teachers were held on an All Kerala basis and subsequently on a regional basis, in which hundreds of teachers participated. The Guild was meant to improve the quality of education in the country. Besides being a boost to the student organization, seminars were means of re-education to the teachers themselves, from the primary to the university level.

(c). Theology Course for Laity:
In 1961, Theology course for Laity was organized for post-graduates in India. It was a four-year course at the rate of one full month a year during summer holidays. It was the first systematic course in Theology and Bible for the Laity in India and has been instrumental in awakening a theological awareness in Kerala and India. It was a harmonious combination of study, discussion and practice, learning and living, with professors and students staying in one place and participating in every item of the programme and up-to-date ‘Gurukulam’. Archbishop Mathew Kavukattu described it as a ‘Landmark in the history of education in Kerala.’


(d). Bible Translation:
In 1973 efforts were made to translate the Bible, from the original into Malayalam, under the auspices of ‘Jeevadhara’ and St. Joseph Press, Mannanam, with the cooperation of all the Bible specialists of Kerala. As a result, Malayalam New Testament was brought out in 1978, which is the authentic Malayalam translation at present. Though the translation of the Old Testament was planned out and started, it had to be called off for reasons which would better remain unrevealed.

(e). Indian Theological Association:
In 1976, Indian Theological Association (ITA) was founded under the leadership of Rev. Fr. Manalel, for theologians in India. As ‘Jeevadhara’ could not absorb all theologians of the country on its editorial board, it seemed good to have a fraternity of theologians for the whole of India. It has about two hundred theologians on its membership list. It is the only organization for theologians in India.

The three motives set before the formation of ITA at first were to
(a) present a forum for open discussion to theologians on the country’s contemporary issues;
(b) evolve a theology on the basis of Indian mind and thought consonant with Indian situations and
(c) give encouragement and support to the country’s theologians.
ITA meets every year at different places in India for discussion-in-depth of a selected theme. The themes are selected considering (i) the religious diversity of India and (ii) the socio-political situation of the country.

(f). People’s Theology:
In 1991, a national seminar on ‘People’s Theology’ was organized at Theology Centre on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of ‘Jeevadhara’. It was considered a significant event in the religious history of the country and marked the beginning of a new phase in theological thinking here. The papers presented at the seminar were published in Jeevadhara No. 129 (Vol. XXII, May 1992).

(g). Swashraya Gramam:

In 1990, Theology Centre started organizing a Model Village around it called ‘Swashraya Gramam’. It is based on the fact that human empowerment can maintain justice whatever be the political state of affairs, and uphold thus the democratic ideals. Efforts at conscientisation and empowerment of the people through neighbourhood communities, seminars and leadership courses have been going on here with some success. But much remains to be done. More of means and staff are required.

(h). Jeevadhara

(i). 2001 University Centre for Socio-Religious Research



School of Social Sciences of the Mahatma Gandhi University (MGU), closely situated and in many ways related to the Theology Centre has of its own accord, accredited the latter to it. This is clearly both a recognition and an acknowledgment of its worth and achievements.
Subsequently the Mahatma Gandhi University has formally recognised Jeevadhara Department of the Theology Centre as a “Socio-Religious Research Centre”. The Centre was recognized by the University as a ‘University Centre for Socio-Religious Research’ on 24th November 2001. Proper facilities and required staff are now available for the Ph. D Programmes. Hence, it will start admitting candidates for Ph. D from June 2002.
The centre was formally inaugurated, on June 3, 2002, by the internationally known scholar Dr. U. R. Ananthamurthy, at the meeting presided over by Dr. Cyriac Thomas, the present Vice Chancellor of M G University.

Serious academically significant socio-religious studies of ‘Jeevadhara Department of the Theology Centre’ (JSDR) look forward to collaborations and patronage from interested foundations, trustees, endowments and other funding sources.



We are located in Pullarikunnu on Kottayam- Medical College route via Varissery & Pullarikunnu.








Editorial 187

Spirituality and Religion – Swami Tattwamayananda 189

Wrong Answers, but Right Questions     – Paul F. Knitter         193

The Old Way of Facing the New Age     – John Chethimattam

New Age, Self-righteousness and Self-complacency    Francis D’Sa     207

Is New Age Wisdom Provisional? – George Pattery             216

New Age – A Challenge or Threat? – Paul Puthenangady

Static Categories to Meet a Dynamic Religious Phenomenon? – Errol D’Lima 228

Getting Set for the New Age – P. T. Mathew

An Aged God or a God of the New Age? – Francis Gonsalves     243

Jesus Christ: the Answer to the New Age Quest – Jacob Parappally 250

What We Need: A Reasoned Education for the New Age – Francis X. Clooney 258

How God is related to the Humans? – Dominic Veliath          264


All of the above contributors, except the Hindu swami Tattwamayananda and ex-priest Knitter, are priests.

John Chethimattam CMI, Paul Puthenangady SDB & P. T. Mathew SJ are on the Jeevadhara editorial board.

John Chethimattam CMI is the only Carmelite contributor.

Paul Puthenangady and Dominic Veliath
are Salesians.

Jacob Parappally is a Fransalian.

The remaining six contributors are Jesuits: Francis D’Sa, George Pattery, Errol D’Lima, P. T. Mathew, Francis Gonsalves, and Francis Clooney; not forgetting a seventh, the editor, Sebastian Painadath.

Knitter, a former priest, and Clooney are citizens of the United States. The rest are Indians.











Read the signs of the times! this has been a basic thrust of the Second Vatican Council. With this perspective the Catholic Church entered upon a new age of dialogue with cultures and religions. “Dialogue is the new way of being the Church”, said Paul VI during the Council. New Age is a sign of the times challenging the Church for creative response. It is not a coherent system of beliefs and practices, but a sort of canopy under which diverse neo-religious movements flourish. They are not a direct threat to the Church, but they do exert a growing fascination on Christians especially in the West. Millions of Christians seem to have lost their bearings in the traditional religious practices; however most of them look for spiritual experiences which would offer depth and goal to life. This development has created confusion among traditional Christians and evoked concern among the church authorities.

It is in this context that the Vatican authorities issued a ‘provisional’ document: Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, A Christian Reflection on the New Age, in 2003. (L’Osservatore Romano, 33/34, August, 2003: Pauline Publications, Bombay, Rs. 30). This has been issued jointly by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. At the outset the text makes its purpose clear: “‘this document does not aim at providing a set of complete answers to the many questions raised by the New Age or other contemporary signs of the perennial human search for happiness, meaning and salvation. It is an invitation to understand the New Age and to engage in a genuine dialogue with those who are influenced by New Age thought.”(#1)

Since such a document has a pastoral concern it has to be studied carefully and interpreted in the living context of the local Churches.

Hence theologians have the responsibility to respond to such an important document with a genuine concern for an effective dialogue between Christian faith and the contemporary world. In this issue of Jeevadhara some Theologians from India and America offer their theological response to this document. AII contributors welcome the pastoral motive expressed in the document. The diverse trends of the New Age are touched upon and in contrast to them the elements of Christian faith as enunciated in the traditional dogmatics are clearly upheld. The glossary and the bibliography are useful tools for further study and reflection.

However theologians raise some questions on the basic premises of the document. In the responses given in this issue of Jeevadhara three problems are raised here for discussion:

1. on the method: The document claims to strive at a ‘genuine dialogue with those who are influenced by New Age thought'(1). But dialogue consists in not just letting the other speak, but in listening to the other. The document tries to describe in a pick-and-choose way some of the ideas of the New Age from divergent sources. But no attention is given to the radical questions New Age thinkers are raising on the traditional Christian understanding of the creator God, salvation through Christ, mediation through the Church and approach to nature. Is genuine dialogue possible between a theology that claims to be ‘rational’ (6.1) having ‘clear concepts on God’ (3.5), and the New Age thinking that is labelled as ‘diffuse’ (3.5), ‘eclectic’ (2.1) and ‘irrational’ (6.1)?

2. on the context: The document notes that ‘New Age religiosity addresses the spiritual hunger of contemporary men and women’ (Foreword), and that many Christians are ‘not satisfied by the Church’ (1.5). But no effort is made to make an in-depth analysis of the cultural, religious and psychological causes of the wide-spread crisis in faith. New Age challenges the Church to make a critical introspection on the language of theology and symbols of liturgy, on the structures of the community and practices of spirituality. The dichotomy between world and God, between science and religion, between psychology and spirituality is a basic malaise, which the Church has to address in confronting the New Age.

3. on the content: The passionate concern of the document is to emphasise the Christian faith in the personal God, who has saved humanity through Christ, and entrusted this mission to the Church. This is done consistently in adherence to the theological development in the West. However in today’s pluralistic world Christian faith is also reflected upon in dialogue with non-western cultures and religions. New perspectives are opening up in spirituality and a new language is developing in theology through an intense dialogue between Christian faith and other religions, and between faith and science as well. The document shows a great reluctance to take these developments seriously.

The theologians speaking here are not ‘providing a set of complete answers to the many questions raised by the New Age’. But they point out that the answers of yesterday may not be able to address effectively the questions of today.

Sameeksha, Kalady                          Sebastian Painadath



Fr. Sebastian Painadath SJ says that the New Age “system of beliefs and practices … are not a direct threat to the Church “. I wonder where he got that, why he would say that. Does he mean that they are an indirect threat or no threat at all to the Church? Well, read what Pope John Paul II said about the New Age. The Hindu, the leading daily national newspaper reporting February 5, 2003 on what they described as
an unusually frank Church document,
said that it was
intended to help churchmen respond to
what the Pope sees as one of the greatest threats to
Christianity in the third millennium.


Painadath finds nothing good in the Document, though it is the chief resource for any Catholic wanting to understand New Age, and much wanting in it. His reflections on the content of the Document, point no. 3 above, indicate that he favours the “new perspectives [that] are opening up in spirituality” and a “pluralistic” approach both of which the Document strongly opposes.

Painadath states, “The theologians speaking here … point out that the answers of yesterday may not be able to address effectively the questions of today.” What he and his fellow-theologians are saying in effect is that Rome is living in “yesterday” — one will hear this refrain in the individual contributions [words] — whereas they are ostensibly living in “today” — in the New Age?



He is a Jesuit, founder-director of Sameeksha Ashram, Kalady, Kerala, Vice-President of the Ashram Aikiya, the federation of the ashrams,
a leader of the New Age, heretical & seditious Catholic ashrams movement

He is one of the contributors to Shantivanam ashram’s golden jubilee souvenir Saccidanandaya Namah.

He heads the Jesuit theologate in Kerala. After reading the following, consider his impact on the formation of future priests. I cite references to him as well as some of his writings:

1. The Spiritual and Theological Perspectives of Ashrams –
A Tribute to Shantivanam

[ashram], 50 Years

Satsangs and spiritual discourses often take place under an auspicious Tree
thus recognising that
the Tree is the primal teacher of humanity. For meditation one sits on the floor:
earth is experienced as the body of the Lord and as the primordial mother of all living beings.*
[Saccidanandaya Namah, page 14]

*Bhagavad Gita, 11, 10ff, Atharva Veda, X11, t, 1-63.

In the Ashram Aikiya News Letter 47 Pentecost 2006:
The Tree as our Spiritual Master
by Fr. Sebastian Painadath

Fr. Francis Gonsalves**

In South India,
Jesuit priests Ama Samy
Sebastian Painadath

run Zen
courses and
Bhagavad Gita retreats, respectively, with rousing response.

*In this article, the left-wing liberal National Catholic Reporter,
September 3, 2003 Vol. 1, No. 23 reports on the rampant New Age among priests and nuns in the Catholic Church in India.

**The author
Fr. Francis Gonsalves is
a Jesuit of the Gujarat province

lectures in systematic theology at Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi, and has published many articles on theology, spirituality and social justice“.


A workshop on Interreligious Dialogue at Painadath’s
Sameeksha Ashram
a Hindu temple
where it had been arranged that we could actually participate in a Hindu ritual, guided by one of the devotees of Shiva who led us around the temple around the linga and the sacred tree
and taught us the Sanskrit chants that the pilgrims use there… Next we arrived at 7:30 PM at the house of Govind Bharathan, an enthusiastic
devotee of Sai Baba whom some Hindus consider an incarnation of Krishna.

Painadath’s workshop also gave the visitors exposure to yoga, Hindu meditations, philosophies and scriptures, but completely omitted a study of the Church Documents which was part of the original timetable!

4. In the 24-page Ashram Aikiya News Letter 45 of Christmas 2004, the notice for the National Satsangh to be held at Sameeksha, Painadath’s ashram in October 2005 says: “We plan to spend half a day on [CMI] Fr. [Francis] Vineeth’s article
Yoga and Interiority
One of the optional week-long sadhanas would be a
contemplative Retreat based on the Upanishads.

in ashram founder

Vandana Mataji’s
Shabda Shakti Sangam
[ed.] devotes an essay [pages 277-281] to the defence and explanation of German [born 1260] Dominican priest
Meister Eckhart‘s teachings, calling him a ‘Christian Vedantin’.
In the West today, there is a growing interest in the writings of Meister Eckhart. In the East, Zen
masters and Vedanta scholars too feel attracted to Eckhart,

he writes.

In the Vatican Document, Eckhart is listed as one of the
influencers of
Theosophy, A Select Glossary #7.2.

From the
Anjali Ashram, Mysore’s August 15, 2004 silver jubilee souvenir:

The ashram also conducts Dialogue Meetings for non-Christians; a One Month Experience for mainly for seminarians in formation
‘sent by their respective superiors’;
Gita Sadhanas on the Bhagavad Gita, for which
‘Fr. Sebastian Painadath SJ of Sameeksha, Kalady, has been the resource person’; and lastly, ‘Other Experiences’.

Traditional Catholic devotions were eliminated:
One of the happy developments in the course of 1985 and hence a very significant contribution of our ashram has been the identifying, evolving and sharing of [a new spirituality] …

Some of the [traditional] spiritualities appear to be pietistic and hence found irrelevant to the concern of a
new society.




Painadath’s importance in the ashram movement is seen in Saccidanandaya Namah’s [SN] inserting his contribution The Spiritual and Theological Perspectives of Ashrams,
A Tribute to Shantivanam, 50 Years as the leading one in the Souvenir.

In it, he says, In an ashram of Catholic initiative, one explores the mystery of Christ through a disciplined practice of meditation…In ashram spirituality [a] mystical consciousness of Christ as the subject is awakened. [SN, page 9]

We have seen that there is no truth in this claim. Can we expect different from this priest who elaborates thus on this meditation, Satsangs and spiritual discourses often take place under an auspicious Tree thus recognising that the Tree is the primal teacher of humanity. For meditation one sits on the floor: earth is experienced as the body of the Lord and as the primordial mother [the New Age earth-goddess
Gaia?] of all living beings?

The left-wing liberal National Catholic Reporter [Vol. 1 No 23, September 3, 2003] reports,
Jesuit priests Ama Samy and Sebastian Painadath
run Zen courses and Bhagavad Gita retreats, respectively, with rousing response.


An Inter-Religious Dialogue Workshop held at Kalady was attended by 27 Maryknoll lay missioners, brothers, sisters, and priests, coming in from Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and the US, 16-25 November, 2000. Extracts from their report: The days at the center begin with a two-session meditation at 6:30 AM. We gather in the meditation center, sitting on the floor, and Fr. Sebastian gives some guiding principles for contemplative style meditation. The group sits in silence for 30 minutes, and then there is a ten-minute break followed by another 30-minute session. In the first input session, The content today centered on a foundation for understanding Hinduism. Fr. Sebastian spoke of a spirituality, an awareness of the One, that emerges through symbols into the various religions. We begin with an experience of the Unity of God but end up with a plurality of religious expressions as the spirituality we experience unfolds according to two streams, the Prophetic/Interpersonal stream (in which God is experienced as outside of and distinct from me) and the Mystical/Trans-Personal stream (in which God is experienced as in me and I in God).

The next day, The morning meditation was at sunrise on the river bank with readings from the Vedic scriptures about the dawn.
The following day, a Sunday, At the parish church, the liturgy was described as rather unexciting but afterwards the visitors were invited to a nearby Hindu temple…
We were not allowed into the holy of holies but could only walk in a clock-wise direction around the inner building of the temple where the Shiva deity resides… At 10:30 Hindu Swami ??? came to speak to us, mainly answering questions we put to him. Both presentations were interesting and quite informative. After lunch we continued discussion with the swami, and then at 4:00 PM we left Sameeksha to visit the swami’s meditation hall and shrine to one of the modern Hindu saints, Sri Sarkana. From there we went to the birthplace shrine and temple of one of the most famous Hindu mystics who is actually from Kalady, the small town where Sameeksha is located. Then we went to a seven-story circular shrine for Sri Sarkana. At 6:00 PM, we drove to
another Hindu temple where it had been arranged that we could
actually participate in a Hindu ritual, guided by one of the devotees of Shiva who led us around the temple around the linga and the sacred tree and taught us the Sanskrit chants that the pilgrims use there.
The day was not over yet, though. Next we arrived at 7:30 PM at the house of Govind Bharathan, an enthusiastic
devotee of Sai Baba whom some Hindus consider an incarnation of Krishna.
For the past 30 years, Govind has hosted a “pageant” or ceremony in honor of Sai Baba. It was basically a charismatic-style gathering, especially joyful because they were celebrating Sai Baba’s birthday on 23 November.

The next day’s main presenter was Govind. He talked to us about the symbols and rites of the Hindu religion. These sessions continued on into the afternoon. Finally Govind led the group in a period of meditation in the meditation hall. The following day, Today Fr. Paul Valiakandathil, SJ, spoke to us about socio-cultural trends in India’s Hindu society.The day after, We met with Fr. Sebastian Painadath again, and he began his presentation of the Bhagavad Gita, his favorite of the Hindu scriptures. It offers a world-affirming theology and cosmic view as opposed to the Upanishads… Each of us had a copy of the Gita and were able to follow along as Sebastian pointed out the different realities it presents. On the second last day of their visit,At 5:15 a group of Hindu people from the neighborhood, mostly children and teenagers because the adults were at work, came to the ashram for a prayer session with us. It opened with a lighting of the oil lamp in the center of the room, and then there were four Hindu hymns sung in Malayalam… These hymns are very repetitious both in their words and their melodies. Then there were three readings, from the Koran, the Upanishads, and the New Testament, and a final ritual of fire.

There are a couple of brief references to the Mass which is celebrated each evening. There is this mention of the liturgy of the Word, processing outside with lighted individual oil lamps, and then each person reading a short favorite verse from the Bible, Koran, Vedas, or the Bhagavad Gita. On the final day, Everyone agreed that the workshop had been excellent, exceeding most expectations, although a few noted that we really had not had time to look at the church documents like Ecclesia in Asia and Dominus Jesu as we had planned.

So, there it is. A Catholic workshop on Interreligious Dialogue that gives you exposure to Hindu meditations, philosophies, scriptures, temples, siva lingas, Sai Baba, and has ‘NO TIME’ for the Church documents it originally planned to examine!


8. From the Ashram Aikiya newsletter no. 46 of September 2005:

As announced in the AA NL-45 of Christmas 2004, the National Satsangh is to be held at Sameeksha, Kalady this coming October.
Sameeksha, Centre for Indian Spirituality, is an Ashram at Kalady, the birthplace of Sri Sankaracharya. It is a project of the Kerala Province of the Society of Jesus started in 1987 on the initiative of Fr. Sebastian Painadath sj and Bro. Varkey Mampilly sj. Situated in a sylvan setting on the banks of the Poorna River, Sameeksha offers an atmosphere conducive to serious study and intense meditation.



There is an Inter-Religious Meditation Room, a Library with a good collection of books on Indian Christian Spirituality and Inter-Religious Dialogue, and a Satsangh Hall.
Attached to Sameeksha, the Jesuits of Kerala have their Regional Theology Centre: a pilot seminary in the ashram setting with a focus on contextualised theological reflection and formation. The Satsangh is to start on the evening of the 27th and close by noon of the 31st October. It will be preceded and followed by sadhanas which members coming for the Satsangh are welcome to attend.


9. The Spiritual and Theological Perspectives of Ashrams
A Tribute to Santivanam, 50 Years

By Sebastian Painadath, SJ
When the Saccidanda Ashram Santivanam was founded in 1950 hardly anyone thought that it was the beginning of a new movement in the Church in India. During the last fifty years over eighty ashrams of Catholic initiative have evolved in this country. Most of them took inspiration from Santivanam. The three acharyas of Santivanam, Jules Monchanin, Swami Abhishiktananda and Bede Griffiths inspired many seekers in India and outside to experiment with an ashram way of life. Santivanam is hailed today as the motherhouse of the Catholic ashrams in India and abroad. When Santivanam gratefully recalls the grace and light of the last fifty years one could also thank the Lord for the gift of ashrams in the Church. This golden jubilee is an occasion to reflect on what the Spirit is telling the Church through this ‘sign of the times’.
Ashrams are an integral element of the spiritual heritage of India. Today there is a grooving interest in the ashram way of life in India and abroad, both among Hindus and Christians.
This epochal phenomenon has to be understood in the broader context of the global interest in mystical experience. A mystical wind blows over the religious landscape of the world today. People are seeking for authentic and practical ways of experiencing the Divine in their life.
They are not impressed by dogmatic formulations or routinised rituals, nor do they feel at home in big institutions or large communities. There is a growing interest in meditative pursuits, mystical literature and ascetical ways of life. The Spirit of God is breaking down the walls which we Humans put up in the name of religion and culture, nationality and language. Beyond the fences of traditional religions people are seeking a liberative and integrative spirituality.

This search takes Christians often to the spiritual wellsprings of other religions, to their sages and Scriptures, symbols and meditation methods. One authentic way of Christian response to this global quest for genuine spirituality would be to explore the ashram way of life.
The word ashram is derived from the Sanskrit term asrama, which means total pursuit, full dedication “tireless striving stretching its arms towards perfection.”1 Ashrams are places where an intense spiritual sadhana takes place. However the term spiritual has to be understood in a holistic sense. In the Indian heritage everything is spiritual, everything has a sacred dimension. The ashram is a place where the seeker wakes up to this inner divine depth of reality. Hence it is more than a static place. Ashrams are rather a movement of the Spirit in the spirit. “The discernment of spirits belongs to the Spirit who plunges to the depth of God.”‘2

In the ashram the seeker discerns the movements of the divine Spirit and responds to them creatively. Ashrams therefore did play a formative role in the socio-political life of the people in India: in the ashrams seekers were initiated to the methods of meditation, princes were trained in martial arts, kings were given political counsel, students learnt the Sacred Scriptures, householders received instruction on their family duties, farmers got training in agricultural skills and young artists were introduced to music and dramatics. From ancient times ashrams were powerhouses of spirituality and creativity in socio-political life. Hence the leaders of Indian renaissance of the last two hundred years discovered in the ashram heritage a transformative power for shaping the life and destiny of the people. The liberative potential of spiritual pursuits became alive in the new ashrams which evolved in the wake of the struggle for India’s independence. No wonder, Mahatma Gandhi wanted the Sabarmati Ashram to be the base of spiritual support in the Freedom Struggle.
The main thrust of an ashram is the integrative approach to life. The overall concern is the liberation and formation of the whole person in communion with society and in harmony with nature. The characteristic elements of an ashram are the following: a contemplative atmosphere conducive to spiritual pursuits (sadhana), a relentless quest for the Divine with an intense pursuit of Truth and Beauty, an all-embracing simplicity of life-style coming from authentic renunciation (tapas), a compassionate attitude to people (karuna), leading to a genuine hospitality towards all, and a vibrant harmony with nature expressed in a culture of non-violence (ahinsa). The ashram is a place where one realizes the Self by experiencing the divine depth dimension of reality.
The spiritual vision of an ashram is articulated in the Isa Upanisad: “All this is permeated by the divine Lord; enjoy everything through renunciation. See the divine Self in all, and all in the divine Self” (1.6).
During the last fifty years the Church in India has been sensing this transformative value of ashrams in shaping the Christian presence in India. There is a growing interest among priests, religious and some circles of the laity to take to an authentic ashram way of life. Under the auspices of Ashram Aikya, the All India Fellowship of the Ashrams of Catholic Initiative, the ashramites meet together every other year for sharing their experiences with one another and for studying the spiritual classics of India. The All India Seminar on the Church in India Today, 1969, in the wake of the inculturation thrust of the Second Vatican Council, took note of the role of ashrams in shaping a truly Indian Church. Swami Abhishiktananda attended this seminar and played a decisive role in it. In the final declaration of the Seminar it is said: We Christians are the People of God on pilgrimage… in communion with the other religions of our country, which we value for their great contribution to the spiritual treasury of humanity. In India today we should encourage the setting up of ashrams both in rural and in urban areas. Thus we must project the true image of the Church which is the sacrament of God’s love, and not merely an efficient welfare agency (II, 3).


The significance of ashrams in the life of the Church in India should therefore be explored in terns of a twofold concern: to make the Church’s life more authentic and to make her relation to sisters and brothers of other religions more transparent. In terms of this twofold concern I am trying to explore in this article the spiritual and theological perspectives emerging from the ashram experience of the last fifty years.
1. A Meditative Search for the Divine
An ashram is a place of silence. The distinctive feature of an ashram is its culture of meditative pursuits. Seekers come to an ashram in search of guidance in spiritual life. “Ashram is in the heart of a guru and in his personal contact in the depth with the Indweller.”3

In the process of integral meditation one deepens one’s consciousness to realise the divine depth of reality and broadens it to perceive the Divine in all things. The sages of India speak of two inner faculties of perception: manah (mind) and buddhi (intuitive intellect). Manah objectifies everything and analyses reality; buddhi enters into the reality by uniting it with the perceiving subject. Manah looks at the structures and qualities of reality, while buddhi delves into the core of reality. Manah pursues the logic of reality; buddhi seeks the mystique of reality. Manah operates within the subject-object polarity and arrives at the knowledge of things (jnana); in buddhi this polarity is overcome:
the subject and object merge into a unity of transcendental consciousness in which wisdom (jñana) emerges. Manah speculates on the horizontal level; buddhi intuits vertically into the depth of reality. What the mind does is reflection over realities; what happens in the buddhi is meditation. The “so-called contradictions are such only at the mental level, but are in reality complementary aspects-for the over-mind” (intuition)…. “Truth is hidden beyond words and concepts.”4
Meditation is therefore ekstasis at the heart of reality, the conscious movement to the divine centre of all beings, the disciplined diving into the depth of consciousness. At this level of deeper consciousness God is experienced not primarily as the divine thou, object of veneration, but as the divine Self, the antaryamin, the subject out of which one “lives and moves and has the being.” All the spiritual pursuits of an ashram are meant for growing into this consciousness. “The centre of ashram life is not liturgy but contemplation.”5

Three times a day (at sandhyas) the ashramites come together to sit in meditative silence. All the works they do and their dealings with people, their prayers and studies evolve from this inner silence.
In an ashram primacy is given to the relentless quest through sadhanas or specifically Indian spiritual practices. It is a place where, above all, people can experience God and live in an ever-deepening awareness of his presence. This is fostered by renunciation and detachment and an atmosphere of silence, peace and joy.”6
The Church today needs such oases of silence which could be spiritual refueling centres along the streets of a speedy life. “Contemplative prayer is the most urgent need of the Church in India today.”7

2. Experiencing Christ as the Inner Master

In an ashram of Catholic initiative one explores the mystery of Christ through a disciplined practice of meditation. In the traditional forms of theology, spirituality and liturgy Jesus Christ is projected one-sidedly on the object side: one encounters Christ as the divine thou and surrenders oneself to him. What is forgotten is that our life actually evolves in Christ: Just as Jesus lived through the Father we live through Jesus; we are in Christ; like the branches of a tree and the living parts of a body we are one with Christ (Jn 15:10, 6:57, 17:21-22, Rom 8:917, Eph 5:30). Paul who was gripped by this inner experience exclaimed: “I live, not I, Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Jesus himself promised us that he would be like “living streams welting up from the centre of our being” (Jn 7:38). Christ is the real subject of our being, the true Self of our self, the source and fountain from which we live.
In the ashram spirituality this mystical consciousness of Christ as subject is awakened. “Christians need to open their hearts to Christ within, experience Christ within as their guru. This is the function of the ashram.”8

Christ is experienced not as a teacher outside, but as the inner master, the Sadguru, who inspires us from within the cave of the heart. “I have often written that Jesus is my Sadguru. It is through his mystery that I have discovered God and myself, that I have caught hold of my identity.”9 Meditation, sinking into the depth of reality, thus becomes a mystical experience of Christ within. In truth this is a discovery of the divine core of one’s being. Through meditation one realises that one is a branch on the divine stem that Christ is, a spark of the divine fire that the Spirit of Christ inflames, a stream from the divine fountain that is opened in Christ. At a time when people are getting tired of the language of conceptual theology and the symbols of routinised liturgy the Church has to rediscover and communicate the mystical dimensions
of Christ experience. It is here that the ashrams make a significant contribution to the evolution of an integral spirituality.
There is a danger in Christian spirituality in centering on the human Jesus and losing sight of the divine mystery which is revealed in him
. The ashram is a leaven, inconspicuous, feeble but essential, and called to bear witness to the mystery of Christ, hidden in the heart, and those in the ashram are called to awaken the Church to this mystery.10
3. Awakening the Mystic in the Church
Mysticism has been a deficit in the Church.

With the tendency to overemphasise conceptual formulations and community structures the Church has been marginalising the mystics, and even persecuting them. Those in authority feel threatened when the mystic demands that the sense of the incomprehensible mystery of the Divine must be kept alive in all spiritual and liturgical practices as well in theological reflection. In the circles of popular piety there is a tendency to objectify God in rituals and devotions; but genuine growth in spirituality takes place only when the mystical dimension is made alive. God cannot just be an object of devotion if he is not at the same time subject of experience.11

All through the centuries ashrams have promoted a mystical spirituality.
“That is what an ashram is concerned with: meeting the transcendent mystery beyond sacramental expression.”12




Hence ashrams initiate seekers to various mystical forms of meditation and the study of mystical literature. A guru with mystical insights has been often the centre of an ashram. The ashrams of Catholic initiative too offer an initiation to the mystical dimension of Christian spirituality. The forms of contemplative prayer, the singing of bhajans, the way the liturgy is celebrated and the spirituality programmes offered at the ashram evoke the mystical sense of the participants. The focus is not on worshipping a God above, but on the silent perception of the Spirit within: “No possible exchange even of I and Thou, only an infinite I, aham, present to oneself alone, aware of oneself alone, the Ego sum of the Exodus, but here not heard from another, but simply welling up from the innermost recesses of one’s own heart.”13

This is the call of the advaitic sages of India and of the mystical masters of the Church. Those who believe in Christ have to open themselves to this experience. “Contemplation ought to be the very breath of every disciple of Christ.”

The Christian of the future will be a mystic or no Christian at all! (Karl Rahner).
Ashrams will be places where the mystical dimension is awakened in the Church. Jules Monchanin recalls the words which Henri de Lubac told him as he left for India: Rethink everything in the light of theology, and rethink theology through mysticism.15
4. Inculturation in Spirituality
Spirituality is response to the Spirit. Christian spirituality consists in the basic openness to listen to what the Spirit is telling us here and now. Such an attitude demands a sensitivity to the dynamics of the culture. It is through the manifold forms of culture that the Spirit speaks to us today. A spiritual person develops the capacity for discerning the movements of the divine Spirit within and beyond the concrete cultural forms of life and thought. Culture is not merely the heritage that comes from the past; it is rather the way people live in the present and express their creative thoughts, ethical sense and aesthetic feelings. Forms of Christian life have to resonate with the cultural patterns. Christian life in India has to be rooted in the emerging cultural patterns of the people with all its diversity and richness. The Gospel enlightens culture, culture interprets the Gospel. This is the basic dynamics of inculturation.
Ashrams are places of the inculturation of faith. “If an ashram is a place for God-seekers, it should be also and preeminently a place where God can be found in a language milieu and theology which are indigenous and natural.” 16

Bishop James Mendonca who encouraged the pioneers of Santivanam
in all possible ways said:
“The ashram experiment was intended to be a first step in the process which will one day make the Christian culture and the Indian culture meet and mingle with each other.”17

In the satsangs and theological reflections, in the liturgy and devotional practices, in the formation programmes and publications of the ashrams there is an all-embracing concern of inculturation. Some ashrams have been functioning as centres of experiments in the areas of inculturation, especially in liturgy, in the last thirty years in India. Liturgy is oriented towards contemplation. The words and signs of the liturgy will be seen as means to realize the presence of God. This may help to overcome the great danger of all liturgical prayer becoming a formal routine, in which words and signs have lost all depth of meaning.18 Since the steps of inculturation have to be taken with sensitivity to the feelings of the local community, responsible experiments can be made in the ashrams where the seekers sense the power and beauty of the inculturated forms of spirituality and worship.*

Another important contribution of ashrams has been the sessions of reading and reflecting on the major Scriptures of other religions and the study of the spiritual classics of India. The Christian spirituality of the future will have to take nourishment from these sources as well.

5. A Culture of Interreligious Dialogue**
At the dawn of the new millennium humanity finds itself in a new phase of its spiritual evolution. The world is shrinking into a global village. This process affects the religious landscape too. Believers of different religions often come together and share their spiritual experiences and get involved in the promotion of a just society. What evolves through the dialogical interaction of world religions is a humanising spirituality, a vision-and-way of life that sets each person in harmony with nature, in fellowship with others and in union with the Divine. Within and beyond the boundaries of particular religions a new spirituality is evolving globally.
Dialogue of religions has been a lived experience of ashrams. In fact an ashram cannot be restricted to the framework of a particular religion. There is no Hindu or Christian ashram. An ashram evolves beyond the boarder-lines of religions. The spirituality of an ashram is alertness to the divine Spirit ‘that blows where it wills’. In an ashram of Catholic initiative faith in Christ is not something exclusive, but an invitation to open oneself to the `length and breadth, the height and depth of the transforming presence of the divine Spirit in all religions and cultures. The divine Logos became flesh in Jesus Christ so that we may perceive the universal presence of the Logos in all cultures and religions. The ashramites welcome sisters and brothers of other religions as “co-pilgrims on a fraternal journey in which one accompanies the other towards the transcendent goal which God sets for all.”19

An ashram community is a pilgrim community, a trans-religious fellowship. It bears living witness to the truth that the religious person of the future will be an interreligious person. It is at the level of mystical experience that interreligious encounter evolves into an intra-religious osmosis. Recalling the silence witness of Jules Monchanin, Bede Griffiths wrote: “It is in the abyss of silent contemplation, as Father Monchanin was well aware, that a vital contact of Hindu and Christian religion must be found.”20 Genuine respect for the sacred space within the cave of the heart is the basic element of the ashram spirituality. This is a vital element in the life of the Church at large today. “Dialogue is the new way of being the Church today” Pope Paul V I said in 1964 pointing to the direction the Church will take in the coming decades.21 It is here that the ashrams play an inspiring role in developing a culture of inter-religious dialogue.


**See my document on interreligious dialogue and understand the ashrams interpretation of it
6. Cordial Hospitality
All religious consider compassion as the basic element of ethics. Every human person has an inalienable dignity and hence everyone has to be respected and accepted. The poor and the suffering need special love and compassion. It is on the face of the human person that one recognises the face of God. An ancient principle of ashram is there for cordial hospitality. “May the guest be God for you”-this is the instruction of the sages. Mahatma Gandhi wrote on his ashram: I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house a freely as possible because I refuse to be blown off my feet by any of them. Mine is not a religion of the prison house. It has room for the least among God’s creations. It is proof against insolent pride of race, religion and colour.22
Ashrams are known for their spontaneous hospitality. Seekers of all religions and castes, nationalities and cultures are treated a welcome guests in ashrams. The ashramites hold table-fellowship with them and share their spiritual insights during the satsangs. One is here reminded of the table-fellowship of Jesus with people of all background and beliefs. In this sense an ashram is a community that embodies the values of the Kingdom of God (a basileic community). “The Christian ashram is an effective witness of the Church as a sign of the Kingdom of God. It disseminates the values of the Gospel appealing to genuinely human concerns and needs. There is wholeness and holiness in the Christian ashram.”23
At a time of institutional crisis in the Church such ashram initiatives offer a credible form of Christian fellowship. Too many rules and too much loyalty to the traditions often hinder the Christian communities in fostering warmth of fellowship with people. The experience one gains by living in an ashram opens more humane ways of relating oneself with others. Ashrams have normally a good rapport with neighbours. The local people consider an ashram as their own and contribute to its wellbeing. They feel at home in the ashram premises and get spiritual nourishment through contacts with the ashramites. An ashram is not an insulated community, but an insertion community. “An ashram is open to all, welcoming men and women of all persuasions, religions, status and race, who come in search of peace and enlightenment.”24

Inmost ashrams some sorts of spiritual and social services are rendered for the local people irrespective of caste and religion. In this way, an ashram embodies a Basic Human Community in a definite form. The Christian presence in the Asian countries has to attend to the formation of Basic Human Communities, said the FABC.
7. Renunciation and Simplicity

What characterizes an ashram at the first look is the genuine simplicity of life. The living quarters are often constructed as small cottages built in a form attuned to the local socio-ecological milieu. The conveniences are kept to the minimum. There is nothing that smacks of luxury or extravagance. The food is simple and invariably vegetarian. The ashramites wear very modest clothes made of cotton. In their dealing with guests and the local people too there is simplicity and approachability. These are genuinely Gospel values which characterised the life of Jesus.
In the course of centuries the structured forms of religious life and the institutionalised types of pastoral care in the Church developed certain behaviour patterns which do not communicate these evangelical values. As a result they often lack credibility in giving witness to the message of Jesus.
Ashrams experiment with a way of life that takes us back to the original inspiration of Jesus. Without embodying the values of simplicity and renunciation the Church cannot preach the crucified Christ. Bishop James Mendonca, in his note on the objectives of founding Santivanam ashram wrote: “It will be a purely contemplative institute which, with its roots firmly and securely planted in Christian principles of true mysticism, will try to bring out the best in the Indian ascetic mode of life.”25 With the elements of simplicity and renunciation ashrams are effective pointers of a counterculture in the midst of today’s consumeristic culture. “The ashram life challenges the uncontrolled development of the world’s mechanistic industrial complex.”26
Ashrams are also eco-sensitive centres. The ashram spirituality enables one to perceive the divine presence in nature. Across the centuries ashrams in India have sprung up in the sylvan surroundings of a river bank, hill top or mountain valley. Some ashrams are located in a serene corner of a village or even in a city but with a campus full of trees. Several ashrams keep a herbal garden in order to conscientise the people on the healing powers of plants and trees
Satsangs and spiritual discourses often take place under an auspicious Tree
thus recognising that the Tree is the primal teacher of humanity. For meditation one sits on the floor: earth is experienced as the body of the Lord and as the primordial mother of all living beings.27

In order to face the challenges of the current ecological crisis there is need to develop an eco-sensitive spirituality. Nature has to be taken not as something for us to exploit, but as the home of life entrusted to our care. The experience of the ashrams can be very valuable in discerning the direction which humanity should take for its survival. Sarvesam mangalam bhavatu – may all things enjoy wellbeing – this is the basic prayer of an ashram.
8. A Holistic Spirituality
The classical Scriptures of the India, especially the Bhagavad Gita offer perspectives of a holistic spirituality, which has three constituents; the contemplative perception of the divine presence in the universe (jñana), total surrender to the divine Lord in love (bhakti) and participation in the work of the divine Spirit in the world (karma). All these three dynamic elements are operative in the spirituality of all ashrams, though a particular ashram following the guidance of a Guru may emphasise one or the other element. Meditative pursuits and the study of spiritual classics foster the jñana experience. Certain forms of worship and devotional practices keep alive the bhakti element. Every ashram has some form of karma, involvement in the life of the people to offer spiritual formation or to bring about integral liberation and wellbeing. What is significant is that these three factors are integrated to one another in the evolution of a liberative spirituality. This pattern of jñana-bhakti-karma offers a theological paradigm for an integral Christian spirituality.28



Out of a contemplative experience of one’s being in the life of the divine Father, one surrenders oneself in devotion to Christ and inserts oneself creatively into the transforming work of the divine Spirit. One realises that one’s life evolves within the inner-trinitarian dynamics of the divine life. In this experience action is anchored in contemplation, study is integrated with devotion and
solitude is oriented to solidarity. Such an integrative spirituality is an epochal need in the Church today. Commitment to active works of liberation can be truly liberative only if they arise from a contemplative depth and are characterised by a compassion that is nourished by devotion, In this regard the experiences of the ashramites mean much for the Church.

9. An Integral Social Concern

A question has been sometimes asked: are the ashrams insulated from the struggles of the people? The concern behind this question is valid. If the spirituality of an ashram does not respond to the movement of the divine Spirit in the actual context of the life of the people it could be insensitive to the cries of the people and to the groanings of the Spirit as well. But the social involvement of an ashram has a different dimension. It has been an insight of the Indian sages and the teaching of Jesus that the root cause of suffering and exploitation is the greed that poisons the human mind. Hence lasting social transformation demands a radical change in the mentality of the people. As long as the competitive drive of the powerful circles and the consumeristic attitudes of the people reign supreme in modern life, poverty, marginalisation and exploitation will continue. With their authentic life of simplicity ashrams offer a place where people can come to a critical self-reflection on their basic value systems. Such an attitudinal change presupposes a spirituality that enables one to perceive the transformative presence of the Spirit in oneself and in the world. The social contribution of an ashram is therefore a spiritual vision of reality. By welcoming all seekers irrespective of caste or creed, social or economic standards, an ashram bears witness to an egalitarian community.29

“An ashram is a place where what is broken is made whole, what is diverse in the spirit is integrated; a place where the oneness of the person, the self, with the whole of reality, with the whole cosmos, with Brahman, with the all-enveloping Reality, the only true Reality, is achieved.”30

Indian sages demand that all work that is liberative has to be done in the spirit of yajña. One commits oneself to the welfare of others not from the angle of egoism (ahamkara), but from within the experience of union with the divine Self (atmabodha) Otherwise the question will remain: who will liberate the liberator. Theology and spirituality of liberation has to evolve out of contemplative perspectives. “It is the inner centre which is the real source of al life and activity and of all love. It we could learn to live from that centre we should be living from the heart of life and our whole being would be moved by love. Here alone can all the conflicts of this life resolved.”31

This is the specific element that the ashrams awaken in the Church. Catholic ashrams offer social activists a chance to spend time in reflecting on the socio-economic dynamics of the country and discern the movement of the divine Spirit. “What better place than ashram where these committed men and women can have a living experience of this ideal and also learn by experience how such community can be built up?32 The formation programmes and meditation courses which the ashrams offer also contribute much to development of a spirituality of social action. The contemplation promoted in an ashram of Catholic initiative is not just a mystical immersion into the abysmal depth of being, but an awakening of consciousness to the perception of our history as God’s history, an alertness to the divine Spirit that speaks to us constantly through the problems and struggles of our times. Then the gnosis (jñana) of contemplation would evolve into agape (bhakti) of liberative action (karma).33
10. A Pilgrim Community in the Church
An ashram is not a religious institution; it is rather a spiritual movement. An ashram evolves in the relentless quest of a person or of a community for the Truth, for the mystery of the Divine. It is a process of constantly discerning the movement of the Spirit in the spirit. The ashramites respond to the movements of the Spirit in ever new ways and not just within the framework of traditional religions. Hence the existence of an ashram cannot be understood in terms of the heritage and structure of a religion. An ashram is by nature a transreligious community, and hence a multi-religious community.34
This understanding of an ashram raises the question: How is an ashram of Catholic initiative related to the structures of the local Church? To respond to this question we need to have a clear understanding of the spiritual nature of the Church and of the charismatic character of the ashram.
The Church is a communion of people living together in the Spirit. The institutional Church is a sacramental Church, the sacrament of Christ.
Ashrams are called to go beyond the sacramental signs to the reality which they represent.
Jesus did not preach the Church. He preached the Kingdom of God.
Hence we must distinguish between the institutional Church and the eschatological Church.
The ashram is a leaven, inconspicuous, feeble, but essential, and called to bear witness to the mystery of Christ hidden in the heart, and those in the ashram are called to awaken the Church to this mystery.35
An ashram of Catholic initiative tries to keep alive this mystical dimension of the Church and to point to the eschatological horizon of the Church. It reminds the community of the faithful constantly to listen to what the Spirit is telling the Church and to move on in response to the demands of the Spirit of Christ. Hence it relativises the structures and rituals emerging from the heritage of the Church.

Strictly speaking an ashram does not come under the jurisdiction of the local bishop or of the Superior of a religious Congregation. “We must keep the distinction between an ashram and a religious community. An ashram does not belong properly to the hierarchical Church, that is, the sacramental Church. It is a community called to transcend the sacramental order.”36




Hence an ashram of Catholic initiative should not be brought under the legal structures of the Church.

Those in authority in the Church should rather encourage the ashram experiments which seek God within and beyond the boundaries of the Church. On the other hand, in so far as the Christian ashramites take inspiration from the heritage of Christian faith, a sense of belonging to the ecclesial community and the consequent accountability to the its spiritual leaders are necessary. This is a safeguard against the infantile forms of personality cult and uncritical submission to a guru in an ashram. For the Christian ashramite Jesus Christ is always the Sadguru; the Church is the universal spiritual family. These theological and spiritual perspectives may be put into the framework of what Jesus said about the core of faith. The woman at Jacob’s well put to Jesus a question of religion: in which temple does true worship take place? To this Jesus gave an answer of spirituality: The time has come when true worship takes place neither in this nor in that temple, but in Spirit and Truth. God is Spirit, and those who worship God must worship in Spirit and Truth (Jn 4:23-24). An ashram of Catholic initiative tries to respond to this spiritual dynamics of the message of Jesus. Hence ashrams are a valuable and credible form of Christian presence in the multi-religious and pluricultural landscape of India.
1 Rabindranath TAGORE, Gitanjali, 35.
2 Jules MONCHANIN, in Swami Paroma Arubi Anandam. A Memorial. Saccidananda Ashram, 1995. p. 225.
3 ABHISHIKTANANDA, Towards the Renewal of the Indian Church. Bangalore: Dharmaram College, 1970, p. 74.
4 Jules MONCHANIN, “The Christian Approaches to Hinduism”, in Indian Missionary Bulletin, June 1952, p. 48.
5 Bede GRIFFITHS, “The Ashram and the Monastic Life” in In Christo, 22 (1984), p. 218.
6 Statement of the All India Constitution on Ashrams, 1978, § 3 (VJTR 42 [1978] p. 383).
7 ABHISHKTANANDA, Hindu-Christian Meeting Point in the Cave of the Heart. Delhi: ISPCK, 1975, p. 11.
8 Bede GRIFFITHS, “The Ashram as a Way of Transcendence,” in VANDANA (ed.), Christian Ashrams, A Movement with a Future? Delhi: ISPCK, 1993, p. 32.
9 Abhishiktananda, Journal, quoted by Emmanuel Vattakuzhy, Indian Christian Sannyasa and Swami Abhishiktananda. Bangalore: TPI, 1981, p. 187.
10 Bede Griffiths, in VANDANA, Christian Ashrams, p. 31.
11 Sebastian PAINADAIH S.J., “Awaken the Mystic in the Church,” YJTR 59 (1959), pp. 815-22.
12 Belle Griffiths, in VANDANA, Christian Ashrams, p. 30.
13 AABHISHIKTANANDA, The Future Shore. Delhi: ISPCK, 1975, p. 67.
14 AABHISHIKTANANDA, Prayer. Delhi; ISPCK, 1974, p. 3.
15 Jules MONCHANIN, Ecrits spirituels, p. 178, quoted by Sten Rodhe, Jules Monchanin. Delhi: ISPCK, 1963.
16 Sr VANDANA, Gurus Ashrams and Christians. Delhi: ISPCK, 1978, p. 59.
17 Cf. Swami Paroma Arubi Anandam. A Memorial, quoted by RODHE, Jules Monchanin. p. 63.
18 Bede GRFFITHS, Talk at Rishikesh, as quoted by VANDANA Mataji, Ashrams in Word and Worship, 1978, p. 42.
19 Pope JOHN PAUL II, at Assisi, 27-10-1986.
20 Jules MONCHANIN, Memorial, p. 126.
21 POPE PAUL VI, Ecclesiam suam, § 4.
22 M.K. GANDHI, Young India, 1-6-1921, p. 171.
23 Paul PATTATHU CMI, Ashram Spirituality. Indore: Satprakashan, 1997, p. 16.
24 Statement of the All India Consultation on Ashrams, 1978, § 4.
25 Cf. J. MONCHANIN/SW. ABHISHIKTANANDA, An Indian Benedictine Ashram. Santivanam 1951, Foreword.
26 Bede GRIFFITHS, in VANDANA, Christian Ashrams, p.33.
27 Bhagavad Gita, 11, 10ff, Atharva Veda, X11, t, 1-63.
28 Sebastian Painadath, S.J., Ashrams-A Movement of Spiritual Integration,” in Concilium, 1994/4, pp. 42-3.
29 Cf. Ernst PULSFORT, Christliche Ashrams in Indien. Telos: Altenberge, 1989, p 146-8.
30 Claude D’SOUZA, S.J., “Ashrams and the Socio-economic and Political Needs India,” in VANDANA,
Christian, Ashrams, p. 93.
31 Bede GRIFFITHS, The Golden String. London: Collins, 1984, p. 146.
32 Michael AMALDOSS, S.J., “Ashrams and Social Justice,” in AMALORPAVADOSS (ed. The Indian Church in the Struggle for a New Society. Bangalore: NBCLC, 198 p. 377.
33 Sebastian PAINADATH, S.J., “Ashrams-A Movement,” p. 41.
34 Sebastian PAINADATH, S.J., “Ashram Initiatives in the Indian Church, in Paul PUTHANANGADY, SDB (ed.), Kristu Jayanti Commemoration Volume. Bangalore: 2000.
35 Bede GRIFFITH, in VANDANA, Christian Ashrams, p. 31.
36 GRIFFITHS, ibid.


10. In my Catholic ashrams report, I sub-titled two sections as “REBELLION AGAINST ROME”. Truthfully, the entire report could accurately be given the same title. The ashrams movement IS a rebellion against Rome, which is evident from the assessment that I made. “An ashram does not belong properly to the hierarchial Church, that is the sacramental Church,”
says Painadath quoting Bede Griffiths from Vandana Mataji in her Christian Ashrams in the golden jubilee souvenir Saccidanandaya Namah, and page 17 above.






[1] Spirituality and Religion

Swami Tattwamayananda

The document makes sweeping remarks on the Hindu dharma without paying attention to the spiritual heritage of Hinduism. The Hindu experience of the immanent One is not a denial of the transcendence of the Divine; the Hindu understanding of rebirth does not do away with personal responsibility; The Hindu symbols of the Motherliness of God are expressions of God’s love. The Hindu understanding of the cosmic Christ and of universal spirituality could be an invitation to Christians to broaden their theological perspectives.

Religion and Spirituality

    The document seems to have failed in clearly understanding what Hindus consider the distinction between ‘religion’ and spirituality (2).

    Spirituality has something to do with the inner growth of the human, moral and cultural advancement and refinement. This spiritual growth is possible irrespective of one’s religious identity whether or not one follows a religious belief system, whether one believes in God or not. In this respect, it transcends the dogmatic framework of any organized religion, though it does not necessarily contradict the teachings of the founders or prophets of particular religions.

    The Hindu believes that even an agnostic can be spiritual though s/he may not follow the hierarchical tenets of a God-centred belief-system. On the other hand, a human openly professing a particular religion, who mechanically performs all the rituals of a conventional believer may be totally unspiritual, if s/he is a narrow-minded fanatic. S/he is ‘religious’ only in a very conventional sense. This attitude may be more appropriately called religiousity rather than religion.

    Whenever Hindus draw a line between religion and spirituality it is always to point out the distinction between the mechanical profession of religion from the universalistic dimensions of its original teachings.

Spirituality is essentially a universalist approach towards our fellow beings and is not confined to certain dogmas or belief-structures.

    Taking Christianity, for example, Hinduism may distinguish the Church from Christian faith, the latter representing spirituality or the spiritual dimension of Christian heritage and the former representing, the hierarchical, formalistic religion. A person is said to be spiritual if this Christian spirit is the basis of his/her human relationship with the outside world. In this respect, Joan of Arc, Meister Eckhart, William Blake, and American mystics and transcendalists like Thoreau, truly represent the spiritual rather than the religious dimension of Christian faith.

The Mother Divine

    The document reveals the classical Western tendency to interpret Eastern, especially Hindu, religious ideals in confrontationist terms. A typical example is the way it has analysed Helena Blavatsky’s theosophical movement merely as feminine (Hindu) spirituality’s reaction to masculine (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) spirituality (2.3.2). The Hindu concept of the motherhood of God, the worship of God as the universal Mother etc. are thoroughly misunderstood by the authors of the document. The Hindu concept of the Motherhood of God has nothing to do with the feminist movement as the document tries to make out. It is, in fact, only a way of understanding the overflowing love of the Divine terms of the most sacred of human relationships – the relationship between mother and her children (see document page 34).




    There is a trend in modern times to interpret everything in terms of absolutistic monism. This is found not only in New Age religious thought, but also in what may be called New Age Science. The idea is that there is a gradual, progressive movement from the gross to the subtle, from without towards within, and, from the many towards the One. This new development does not deny the spiritual claims of Christianity, but only questions its exclusive claims to truth.

    The document has failed in presenting monism in its proper metaphysical perspective. Monism in Hindu tradition is not a contemporary form of pantheism (7.2). Again, it is stated that it leaves no room for a transcendent God. On the contrary, Hindu monism, as expounded in the Upanishads and later interpreted by commentators like Sri Sankaracharya, upholds the transcendent, immanent and omnipresent Divine. Hindu monism does not deny the existence of a Personal God but only asserts that the highest concept of God is that of an eternal, attributeless, transpersonal Reality which is not limited by any name or form. This higher reality is understood as the human evolves towards higher levels of spiritual consciousness.

Cosmic Christ

    Religion, just as science, deals with certain universal truths while history deals with a living, dynamic human society.

Many thinkers, both Christian and non-Christian, believe that the advent of Jesus is not an isolated event. They share the view that it is part of a cosmic phenomenon, a pattern, which is repeated in many countries and among many cultures and peoples. They are more inclined to accept this cosmic dimension of the Christic phenomenon rather than the historical Christ.

    But the document asserts that Jesus Christ is certainly not a pattern and therefore there is no such thing as a Cosmic Christ, there is only the Jesus of history, who is a synthesis of both the human as well as the Divine (3.3).

    Hinduism, on the other hand, accepts both the historical as well as the cosmic dimensions of incarnations. For a Hindu Jesus is both a cosmic spiritual pattern as well as an important historical figure. Therefore, the assertion that Christianity is the only religion which accepts a historical world-view seems to be lopsided.

    If we accept the advent of the historical Christ as the beginning of (Christian) spirituality then, what about Adam and his immediate descendants? They, too, are historical figures who lived before Christ but were not benefited by Jesus’ teachings!

    A Hindu understanding of Christ would be both cosmic as well as historical. While Christ the man was an inhabitant of history and Christianity a historical event, the spiritual ideal for which Christ lived (and died) goes beyond history (see the document page, 58).


The document says that the most serious problem, according to New Age thinking, is alienation from the Divine Cosmic Reality and not the human’s sin, as asserted by the traditional Church (4.8). According to the document, the concepts of Karma, rebirth and concepts of the individual soul’s cyclic evolution have disturbed the traditional eschatological concepts of the Church, by dispensing with the notions of sin, heaven and hell, God’s interference in human affairs, and divine reward and punishment.

It may be observed here that the Hindu understanding of Karma and rebirth does not deny God’s interference and the concepts of heaven and hell.


The New Age has given full freedom to the human to explore his own inner potential, trust himself and progress towards perfection.

The Challenge to the Church

The Church’s attitude towards some of the views expressed in the ‘New Thinking’ is reminiscent of its reaction to the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo and Bruno in the 15th and 16th Centuries.

Just as the scientists demanded recognition of the truths discovered by science, the New Age thinkers are now demanding a broadening of outlook, a willingness to understand and appreciate, wherever possible, the spiritual truths found in the religious belief-systems outside Christianity. By rejecting the idea that there is more than one path to spiritual reality the Church seems to be repeating its earlier mistakes – when it refused to accept the discoveries of scientists.

‘The new paradigm’ which, according to the document, ‘is one of the recurring themes in New Age writings’, will have to be accommodated as part of a process of opening up to spiritual truths practised and followed outside the Christian world.

Vivekananda Vijnana Bhavan, Trichur – 680 002 [Kerala]


Swami Tattwamayananda is apparently a Hindu advaitin of the Ramakrishna Mission defending his Hindu religion against aspersions that may have been cast against it in the Vatican Document on the New Age. That is quite understandable. What is not understandable is why Painadath failed to record that in his editorial. A former Editor of Prabuddha Keralam, the Malayalam monthly of the Ramakrishna Order, the Swami teaches at the Monastic Probationers’ Training Centre located at Belur Math.

Read his The Concept of God in the Vedas at The Swami like all New Agers and most ashram leaders favour spirituality –which is non-structural, non-hierarchial, non-sacramental ad non-dogmatic – over religion. He makes claims such as “It may be observed here that the Hindu understanding of Karma and rebirth does not deny God’s interference and the concepts of heaven and hell,” but does not substantiate them. Christianity is not inclusive as New Age is and the Swami does not like “its exclusive claims to truth“. He appeals to New Age science to support the argument for monism. To understand what he means by “New Thinking” and “the discoveries of scientists“, read about the proponents of “New Science
Werner Heisenberg, David Bohm, Fritjof Capra, Paul Davies, Ken Wilber, Rupert Sheldrake and E.F. Schumacher – New Agers all,
in my Catholic Ashrams report. Yes, several of them are closely linked to the ashrams movement which includes the Dharma Bharathi organization. You can get additional information from my report on
DHARMA BHARATHI – NEW AGE IN CATHOLIC EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS The Swami believes in the “cosmic Christ” which means that he must also believe in what the Document calls “Christ consciousness” or “Great Consciousness” [#, #4, #7.1], the New Age alternative to the historical Christ. After all, to quote him again, “there is more than one path to spiritual reality“. The Catholic Church denies that.









[2] Wrong Answers, but Right Questions

Paul F. Knitter

The thinkers of the New Age raise questions on radically separating God from the cosmos, and on restricting the saving presence of the Divine to the Christ-event. These are issues to be addressed in a genuine dialogical process with the advocates of the New Age. Instead, the document just proposes answers taken from age-old dogmatic theology with no sensitivity to the way of thinking of the contemporary spiritual seekers. It arrogantly warns against the faulty answers of the New Age without responding to the valid questions.

    Jean Daniélou helps me formulate my general feelings and assessment of the Vatican’s 2OO3 document on New Age Spirituality. During the first part of the past Century, when “modernism” was the bete noire of Vatican concerns. Daniélou bravely chided church leaders and theologians for missing the opportunities that modernism was offering Christians. Modernists, he pointed out, may fail in their answers, but not in their questions. The issues they were dealing with were real problems for many Christians. All that Vatican was doing in its reaction was warning against the faulty answers without responding to the pressing questions. As he gently but acutely pointed out: “it is quite clear, that barriers are not answers. 1

That’s the fundamental and unhappy problem with this document: it raises barriers but offers no new answers. The Vatican’s basic response to New Age is to declare that it is wrong and that traditional Christian beliefs are right. I emphasize “traditional” beliefs, for there is not the slightest indication that “what the Church has always taught” might learn something from the New Age movement. The relation between the two, we are told is “either-or.” “…it is not possible to isolate some elements of New Age religiosity as acceptable to Christians while rejecting others.” Christians have nothing to learn. The only response is to condemn and build barriers.

    Yet I do not want my response to the Vatican document to be similar to its response to New Age. While the New Age movement is posing many right questions, it also offers many wrong answers. And the Vatican does well to make this clear. Yes, many New Agers slip into an excessive individualism, using spirituality as a drug to stimulate ever more intense spiritual highs. Yes, New Age easily can sell out the tested wisdom of religious traditions to the latest psychological fad. And yes, all this can lead to a “me-first” kind of spirituality that lacks the backbone of socio-political involvement or awareness. I could not agree more with the Document’s criterion for grading all spiritualities and theologies: whether they promote “self or solidarity” and whether they offer “strategies to reduce the number of those who will eat at humanity’s table”. (2.4) Admittedly, using this criterion, much of New Age (not only New Age!) will receive a failing grade.

    But to condemn is not to construct. To erect barriers is not to provide answers. In what follows, I would like to try to describe and briefly comment on two central questions that the New Age movement poses for all Christians and that the Vatican document does not answer, or even hear. I fear that until Church leaders and teachers provide some credible answers to these questions, Catholics will continue to drift away. 1Quoted in Paul Lakeland, The liberation of the Laity: ln Search of an Accountable Church (New York: Continuum, 2003) p. 36

A Dualistic Divinity

Throughout the Vatican Document we hear reverberating warnings that New Age leads to pantheism or monism or Pelagianism insofar as it seeks to remove what for Christianity, are essential differences “between creator and creation, the real distinction between man and nature, or spirit and matter.” (2.2.4)… In New Age, “There is no alterity between God and the world. The world itself is divine.” (… “We recognize here an implicit pantheism. This is a fundamental point which pervades all New Age thought and practice.” …As Christians we believe that “man is essentially a creature and remains so for all eternity, so that an absorption of the human I in the divine I will never be possible. (2.3.1)


By absorbing the human I into the divine I, New Age spirituality, according to the Vatican, will inevitably lead to some form of Pelagianism. If we locate the Divine within the human, “there is no need for revelation or salvation which would come to people from outside themselves, but simply a need to experience the salvation hidden within themselves (self-salvation).” (

    Granting the dangers of pantheism or monism or Pelagianism, what Vatican theologians fail to realize is that Christian dualism is a problem for a growing number of Christians. A God who is “all out there,” or totaliter alter, a God who has to “come down” and “intervene” in the world in order to have a relationship with the world, a God whose voice has to be heard solely or even primarily “from the outside” in a book, or a hierarchy, or even a savior, is a God who for many people no longer really speaks to them. This is not to deny that God is indeed “outside and other” nor is it to deny our need for a savior. But this “outside and other” has to also become “inside and one-with” humans and the world. This does not require what the Vatican is so fearful of -a “fusion with God” but it does require a greater unity between the divine and the human/cosmic than the Vatican can conceive.

    Here I believe lies the problem that not only New Agers but many Catholics have with their shepherds in Rome: magisterial theology and teaching is still caught in an evident dualism between God and creation. Here the New Age movement is right! Much of Christianity (not all!) labors under a burden of dualism that so stresses the difference between Creator and creatures that the relationship between God and the world becomes external or extrinsic or added on, or even invasive of, the creature’s experience and understanding. Given the prevailing image of God as a being sufficient unto Himself, who is not really changed in His relations with creatures, whose saving relationship with the world is an addition to or an intervention into the world – it is unavoidable that for Christians God is an external agent and not, as Jung pointed out, a “mighty movement within the soul.” Also, in relation to what we know of the world from a contemporary science, such a God can, at the most, be only a “ghost within the machine.”

    One of the fundamental reasons why the Vatican has not, or cannot offer a response to this problem of dualism is that it does nor seem able to recognize that there is, as it were, a half-way house between dualism and monism/pantheism. It has been called non-dualism. As Raimon Panikkar, drawing on his experiences and insights mediated through Advaitic Hinduism, describes it: Non-dualism means that God and the world are not two – but it doesn’t mean that they are one! There is both a mystical and an ontological middle ground between dualism and monism.

    Ontologically, this means that, without being identified with each other, God and creation have their being in each other. Each is intrinsically related to each other – though in very different ways. For God to be a loving Creator, this God is naturally, inherently, related to creation. As God cannot be God without loving, so God cannot be God without relating in creative love to that which is “other” to God. But in this very act of loving the other, the other is embraced into the very life of God.

    Mystically or experientially, this means that we can – and are called to – experience God as part of our very being. While a distinction remains, there is no separation. This makes it difficult, as Rahner said, to make clear identifications between that which is natural or human and that which is supernatural and divine. As he insisted, there is no such thing as natura pura – “just nature.” Our very natural existence is already supernatural (the “supernatural existential.”) One might also say that it becomes difficult to crisply delineate between “my acting” and “God’s acting” – between nature and grace, for as Rahner also pointed out, the more one lives God’s life in grace, the freer and more self-activating one feels oneself to be. To experience this “non-twoness-but-non-oneness” between God and myself is to experience God being God in and through me. Or in Paul’s words, “l live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal. 2, 20) New Age questions, insights, and mistakes are providing Christians with the opportunity to discover the non-dualism that is inherent in Christian experience and teaching. It seems the Vatican document misses these opportunities.


A Haughty Christology

    Because Vatican theologians do not seem able to recognize a non-duality between God and world, they have to limit the non-duality of the incarnation to Jesus of Nazareth. Or to put it differently but more sharply, because the Vatican document holds to an absolute distinction between God and humanity, it cannot recognize a real distinction between Jesus and Christ. In fact, the Christ (or the Logos), understood as the “divine energy” by which God communicates God’s self to creatures and identifies with them, seems to be limited to the historical reality of Jesus. New Age’s attempts explore how what happened in Jesus of Nazareth might be understood as a “pattern” or a symbol (I prefer the term “sacrament”) for what can take place in all of us (see, the Vatican erects a rock-solid barrier: “According to Christian belief Jesus Christ is not a pattern, but a divine person whose human-divine figure reveals the mystery of the Father’s love for every person throughout history” (3.3) “In the Christian Tradition Jesus Christ is the Jesus of Nazareth about which the gospels speak, the son of Mary and the only Son of God, true man and true God, the full revelation of divine truth, unique Savior of the world;” (4)

    I don’t think that Vatican theologians and dignitaries fully understand how haughty such standard Christological language sounds and feels for many Christians (and certainly for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews). To insist that God’s self-communication to and identification with humanity has taken place only in Jesus, to require that Christians inform others that only we have the “unique Savior of the world,” to chide Christians for finding in Jesus the “pattern” by which they might identify their own potential – such demands appear to both the head and heart of many Christians as arrogant and profoundly antithetical to the kind of God Jesus experienced and proclaimed.

    As the Asian Bishops in their Synod stated clearly and insistently, Christians in Asia (and not only in Asia) must find different ways – less haughty and more engaging ways – of speaking about the saving, universal message and presence of God-incarnate-in-Jesus. To insist that we have “the only Savior” or that only we have the “fullness” or the final criterion of God’s truth is to cut off possibilities of relationship and cooperation with others. It is to hamstring the mission of the Church.

    Among both Asian and Western theologians, efforts are being made to get beyond this obstacle to mission – efforts to find ways of holding to both a full commitment to Christ Jesus and a genuine openness to other expressions of God’s saving truth, efforts to unpack and apply Rahner’s understanding of the incarnation in Jesus as the realization of the potential given to all humans, efforts to understand how the Christ can be fully identified with Jesus but not limited to Jesus. Admittedly, such efforts need to be developed, and that means they need to be critically evaluated. But all we hear from this Vatican Document – and other recent Vatican statements such as Dominus Iesus – is rejection.

    What we need in regard to the New Age movement – as well as in regard to so many other relationships of the “church in the Modern World” (Gaudium et Spes) – is genuine dialogue. That means taking these new spiritualities more seriously, and more humbly. That means listening to their questions and not just rejecting their answers. That means being ready to learn something, which requires being ready to carry on the task of the development of dogma. But that is precisely what, in this Document, is not being done. Instead of dialogue, we have barriers.

    What, then, can we do? We have to remind ourselves, I believe, that the people of God includes all of us, and imposes responsibilities on all of us, both hierarchy/magisterium on the one hand, and ordinary believers/theologians on the other. If barriers are being set up in Rome we can search for answers and carry on dialogue in our local Churches. If our pastors aren’t leading, we must try to help them by exploring, for the moment, new paths without them. This must be done carefully, prayerfully, humbly, and with as much dialogue as possible with our pastors.


What we here in the United States have recently realized applies, in different ways, to the universal church. in the midst of the horrible scandal of sexual abuse by priests and cover-up by bishops, many American Catholics have come to the clear and challenging conclusion that lay people and theologians must take more, and bolder, responsibility for the well-being of the church. It must always be “co-responsibility” with the hierarchy, but especially at this juncture, laity and theologians must often be bold enough to take the lead in this relationship. In such co-responsibility lies the hope for our Church, whether in confronting scandal or in responding to the questions of our New Age.

Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH – 45207, USA


Paul F. Knitter, Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture, is a leading theologian of religious pluralism. His latest publication is Without Buddha I Could Not Be A Christian: A Personal Journey of Passing Over and Passing Back (Oneworld Publications, 2009). According to Wikipedia, “Along with his friend and colleague, the Protestant philosopher of religion John Hick,
Knitter has come under harsh criticism from Cardinal Ratzinger
(presently the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church).


Relativism: The Central Problem For Faith today By Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

(Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave this address during the meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with the presidents of the Doctrinal Commissions of the Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America, held in Guadalajara, Mexico, in May 1996.) […]

Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis

In order to help us in this effort to penetrate the hidden wisdom contained in the madness of the faith, it will be good for us to try to know the relativist theory of [John] Hick‘s religion better and discover where it leads man. In the end, for Hick, religion means that man goes from “self-centeredness,” as the existence of the old Adam, to “reality-centeredness,” as existence of the new man, thus extending from oneself to the otherness of one’s neighbor. It sounds beautiful, but when it is considered in depth it appears as empty and vacuous as the call to authenticity by
Bultmann, who in turn had taken that concept from Heidegger. For this, religion is not necessary.

Aware of these limits, the former Catholic priest Paul Knitter tried to overcome the void of a theory of religion reduced to the categorical imperative by means of a new synthesis between Asia and Europe that should be more concrete and internally enriched. His proposal tends to give religion a new concrete expression by joining the theology of pluralist religion with the theologies of liberation. Interreligious dialogue must be simplified radically and become practically effective by basing it on only one principle: “the primacy of orthopraxis with regard to orthodoxy.”[8]

Putting praxis above knowledge in this way is also a clearly Marxist inheritance. […]

New Age

The relativism of Hick, Knitter and related theories are ultimately based on a rationalism which declares that reason—in the Kantian meaning—is incapable of metaphysical cognition. The new foundation of religion comes about by following a pragmatic path with more ethical or political overtones. However, there is also a consciously anti-rationalist response to the experience of the slogan “Everything is relative,” which comes together under the pluriform denomination of New Age.

For the supporters of the New Age, the solution to the problem of relativity must not be sought in a new encounter of the self with another or others, but by overcoming the subject in an ecstatic return to the cosmic dance. Like the old gnosis, this way pretends to be totally attuned to all the results of science and to be based on all kinds of scientific knowledge (biology, psychology, sociology, physics). But on the basis of this presupposition it offers at the same time a considerably anti-rationalist model of religion, a modern “mystic”: The Absolute is not to be believed, but to be experienced. God is not a person to be distinguished from the world, but a spiritual energy present in the universe. Religion means the harmony of myself with the cosmic whole, the overcoming of all separations.


Catholic Ashrams, Sannyasins or Swindlers? by Sita Ram Goel

Paul Knitter, Professor of Theology at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, writes as a liberation theologian. According to him, the essence of Christianity is “doing the work of resolving hunger, injustice, and war – work that God through Christ called people to do”… At a recent International Conference of Mission Work in Rome, Cardinal Josef Tomko criticized theologians like Knitter for being more occupied with “social work” and “inter-religious dialogue” than with announcing the Gospel.


Here is a book that Knitter edited:
The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Towards a Pluralistic Theology of Religions.
Edited by John Hick and Paul F. Knitter (1988, Orbis Books $ 17.95.)



The main work of Paul Knitter:
No Other Name! A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward the World Religions
(New York 1985) has been translated in many languages.

Knitter did his doctoral research under Karl Rahner, with advisory assistance from Rudolf Bultmann, and completed his doctorate at the Department of Protestant Theology, University of Marburg, West Germany.

In his post-doctoral research, he immersed himself in Buddhism.

Among the courses he has given: Double Belonging: Christian/Buddhist and Zen Meditation and Dialogue with Zen Masters.

His guide Karl Rahner, died 1984, was a German Jesuit liberal theologian who initiated the “New Theology” that held that religion must change with the times. Rahner, along with other progressivist theologians, was deemed “suspect of heresy” under Pius XII’s reign and were forbidden to write on various topics. But, he was Peritus (theological expert advising the bishops) at Vatican Council II, 1962-1965. He “originated a new religious category, ‘Anonymous Christianity’, saying it embraced Buddhists, various other non- Christians and even atheists who are conscientious, upright and caring.”

German writer Luise Rinser, a twice-divorced widow, feminist, environmentalist and admirer of Number 1 New Ager Teilhard de Chardin, exposed their secret 22-year “non-physical romance” in her autobiography, published 1994. The Jesuits refuse to allow Rahner’s 2000-plus letters to Rinser to be published, so she included only hers in her book.
She campaigned for abortion and against priestly celibacy.

Jean Daniélou, who Paul F. Knitter appeals to, was a French Jesuit Cardinal who was found dead in 1974 with a strip-tease dancer in the premises of a brothel, aged 69. He too was a “progressive”.

Knitter cites Carl Jung who, says the Document which Knitter attacks, was the world’s no. 2 New Ager.

Raimon Panikkar, who Knitter refers to, an Indo-Spanish priest who died 2010, was a prolific author and a favourite of those theologians who are engage in inculturation and interreligious dialogue. One of his famous statements: “I left Europe (for India) as a Christian, I discovered I was a Hindu and returned as a Buddhist without ever having ceased to be Christian.” His best known work: “The Unknown Christ Of Hinduism “, 1981. Other titles: The Vedic Experience: Mantramañjari: An Anthology Of The Vedas For Modern Man, 1977; Initiation to the Vedas, 2006…


Disputed Questions – Like Salvation Outside of the Church

From Tokyo, an analysis of one of the most controversial points of John Paul II’s pontificate. Epicenter: Asia

16.7.2003 ROMA by Sandro Magister

Then there is the “inclusivist” current, which is well represented in Catholic theology by Karl Rahner. For its adherents, the previous maxim is reversed: “Ubi salus ibi Ecclesia” (“Wherever there is salvation, there is the Church”). And what they mean by the Church is a community as vast as the world, made up of baptized persons, professed Christians, but also by masses of “anonymous Christians”: those believers who find salvation in their respective religions, including those of Asia, and enter mysteriously by these tortuous ways, without realizing it, into the one Church of Christ.

Last come the “pluralists.” The most embattled of these is the Presbyterian theologian John Hick. But this current has its defenders even among Catholics, lead by the American Paul Knitter, followed by [Raimon] Panikkar, Pieris, and the spiritual teachers of the Saccidananda ashram. For the pluralists, Christianity does not have the right to make an exclusive claim to the truth. Even Christ is a transcendent reality, composed of all of his historical incarnations, of which Jesus is not the only – and perhaps not the last – instance. For the pluralists, the “Shema Israel” of the Jews, the Christian Creed, the Muslim act of faith “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet,” and the Buddhist belief that at the heart of reality there is the emptiness of Nirvana all have their own saving power.


Praying to the Buddha – Living amid Religious Pluralism
January 25, 2007, Peter C. Phan writes favourably about Knitter‘s “helpful explanations” about the theology of religions. In 2007, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the US bishops’ conference investigated the writings of Father Peter Phan, a professor at Georgetown University and former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. See


Paul F. Knitter is an ex-priest, now married, whose theologies are condemned by Rome. Benedict XVI had criticised his theology years ago, when he was still a Cardinal. The Pope also found Knitter to be New Age.

The old adage says, “Birds of a feather flock together”. It is the case also with the Jeevadhara “Theological Response” to the Vatican Document.


Knitter accuses the Document – and therefore also the Church — of “age-old dogmatic theology, insensitivity and arrogance”.

Seeing all this, it is not surprising then that Mr. Knitter talks of “our New Age” and invites Catholics to challenge their pastors who are indifferent to their New Age yearnings out of loyalty to Rome.


The Old Way of Facing the New Age

John B. Chethimattam

The document takes a pick-and-choose approach in describing the New Age thinking. Some of the insights of modern scientists, psychologists, sociologists and philosophers are disposed off with a one-line criticism. The sensitivity of the East to the working of divine grace is misrepresented in the document. The sophisticated way in which the Church Fathers integrated the Gnostic and Stoic insights with Christian faith could inspire Christians today in meeting the challenges of the New Age.

    The recent Roman document Jesus Christ Bearer of the Water of Life, “A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age’, published by the Pontifical Council of Culture and the Pontifical Commission for Interreligious dialogue, as a “provisional report” deserves a creative response regarding its effectiveness in meeting the new challenge. Since it is “primarily intended for those engaged in pastoral work” one can first of all say that today “pasturing” is not a matter of simply feeding the “dumb sheep” but caring for a sophisticated public, which thanks to modern technology like that of the internet has at its fingertips the most nuanced information even on complex religious issues. As the document itself admits that the situation today is similar to the one faced by the early Church in the phenomenon of Gnosticism, there is reason to ask whether one has not to learn a great deal from the way the problem was resolved then.

Encounter of Christianity with the Intellectual Context

Christianity started as a reform movement in Judaism. So its first self-understanding was in opposition to the Judaic conception of religion as a sort of benevolent contract which God the conquering lord had entered with humanity and the six hundred and thirteen prescriptions of the Law into which the Scribes and Pharisees tried to reduce it. Jesus proposed in their place the “Law of Love” in which all commandments were included. But it had also other rival religious systems to contend with, among which were the highly intellectual Greek religious thought of Heraclitus, Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle and others, the Oriental mysticism of Mithra, Osiris and Demeter, and the state religion of Rome. The Christian thinkers like Marcion, Valentinus, and Basilides tried to make a compromise with Greek intellectualism and mysticism by proposing Gnosticism. But Christian apologists like Justin, Tertullian, Iraenaeus, Clement and Origen, found this suicidal to Christianity and vehemently attacked it: one group tried to meet the threat with a common sense answer while others called for a more sophisticated approach.

    It is a similar context that Christians are facing today. According to the Roman document, the “New Age” writings, which respond to certain deeply felt psychological trends against patriarchy and burdens imposed on the individual, are actually using modern marketing techniques as a consequence they have gained wide popularity especially in the spirit of relativism created by post-modern thinking. The document states: “There is in fact little in the New Age that is new… the reality it denotes is a contemporary variant of Western esotericism. This dates back to Gnostic groups which grew up in the early days of Christianity and gained momentum at the time of the Reformation in Europe”. (1.3) The main complaint against this modern gnosticism is that people do not feel the need to belong to institution like the Church, nor are they inclined to rank official judgements above their own; there is less and less belief in a personal God, and the internalization of religion tends to celebrate the sacredness of the self, and promote attempts to liberate it through the process of evolution by natural selection and some sort of direct contact with the world of spiritual entities. It creates a kind of narcistic [sic] spirituality focussed on impersonal consciousness. The rejection of traditional theism is said to further the unilateral turn to the self and advancement of the individual. Faith itself is not supposed to demand any more effort than of going to the cenema [sic].

Approaches to Gnosticism


The early Christian apologists saw the danger of Gnosticism proposed as it was by well known and highly respected Christian thinkers like Marcion who was the son of a bishop and almost became the bishop of Rome, and Capocrates who was using as his text a longer version of the Gospel allegedly written by St. Mark himself at Alexandria whither he had moved from Rome after the martyrdom of St. Peter. The first reaction, however, was that the highly intellectual interpretation proposed by Gnostics about Christ and his secret teachings allegedly communicated to some of the disciples could not be understood by ordinary Christians who were mostly illiterate. So St. Irenaeus advised people to remain in faithful to the teachings of Christ, entrusted by the Apostles to the Churches they had founded, and uniformly taught everywhere by bishops. Fidelity to the universal tradition of the church was the antidote to all heresies, which were mere speculation proposed by individuals. Jesus Christ was pictured in places of Christian worship as the Good Shepherd carrying the sheep on his shoulders. Tertullian drew the analogy from the blood sacrifices offered to Baal (Saturn) and Timit to argue that sacrificial blood was required to appease the anger of God and said that Jesus was the innocent sacrificial lamb offered for the sake of humanity. Justin in his many books addressed to emperor Marcus Aurelius, himself a respected philosopher, stated that Jesus was the Divine Wisdom (well known to ancients) become incarnate, and that Christians, his disciples, were philosophers. Others following the example of Philo, the Alexandrian Jew, who allegorized the Bible in order to make it acceptable to the Greeks, tried to present the Biblical narratives in allegorical terms. Even the Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament had used this allegorical method to show that the Old Testament found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and was superseded by him.

    A need, however, was felt to meet the new challenge intellectually. The great disadvantage of the Christian message was the highly anthropomorphic language in which both Judaisrn and Christianity were communicated. The rational discourse of Greek religious thought had a great fascination for the sophisticated public. Good many gentiles who embraced Christianity after a serious study of Greek philosophy abandoned the Biblical framework of discourse, especially its moral system and brought in wholesale the moral ideology of the Stoics which eventually became the substance of Christian moral theology. Some of the Christian Sophists were well intentioned in presenting Christianity as a respectable and consistent world religion. They were using the same biblical texts as the orthodox to draw from them their own esoteric conclusions. They made fun of the bishops and deacons who were often ignorant of Greek philosophy and even illiterate, for maintaining traditional faith by mere external discipline. One of these illiterates was Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria from 189 to 232, with a strong support among the common people. He took the criticism of the Sophists seriously and opened a catechetical school close to his church. With eminent scholars like Pantaenus, Clement and Origen among its teachers the school played an important role in merging Catholic faith and philosophical reflection. All the three were well educated in Greek philosophical tradition. Pantaenus was well acquainted with India and the mission and martyrdom of Apostle Thomas there and finally moved over there as a missionary. Clement knew about Eastern religions and calls Buddha a holy man divinized and venerated by his followers. Origen was a scholar well versed in the philosophical writings of the day. Firmly rooted in Christian faith these found Greek philosophy a great ally rather than an enemy in communicating the Gospel.

    Clement argued that truth is not the monopoly of any particular group or individual, and that it is a great ocean into which flowed the wisdom of Brahmans, Buddhists, Chaldeans and Egyptians besides that of the Greeks. Though the Gospel can be grasped only through faith, philosophies are a great help in preparing the minds for it. He agreed with Heraclitus that the one goal of the world in constant flux is the immutable divine Logos, and stated that any philosophy that teaches righteousness can be understood as coming from God. But there is no guarantee that those who received such wisdom made proper use of it. That divine Wisdom was effectively communicated to humanity only when Jesus of Nazareth received Baptism in the river Jordan and the Spirit descended upon him. He was above all else the Word who was the instructor of divine life, like a priest putting off his old clothes and putting on the new garment. The believer through baptism does the same in becoming consecrated. Clement sought to put the mysteries of Christian faith in a universal philosophical framework that could be understood by those who were truly wise.


    Similarly Origen was one of the great Platonists of his day considered equal to Plotinus, and he set the standard by which later Christian theology would be judged in its range and level of philosophical engagement. He also followed the allegorical method of the Alexandrians, and saw three meanings in texts of the Bible, literal, moral and allegorical. While the literal meaning stated what happened is the past, and the moral told people how to behave, the highest and spiritual is the allegorical which revealed the inner reality of what one believed. The historical narratives merely presented the external coating and context of Jesus’ teaching; what Jesus taught was the divine truth of the Logos acting as an intermediary between humanity and God.

    Gnosticism died a natural death when the Christian apologists took over their positive insights and incorporated them to the common Christian message. Of course, there was the repressive measures by Constantine and other Byzantine emperors who saw in Gnostic writings an element disruptive of their political rule. But repression would have only driven them underground. Actually with the loss of popular interest the Gnostic writings themselves so completely disappeared that they are available today mostly from their extensive quotations in orthodox writers like Origen and Justin.

A Positive Approach to the Issues Raised by the New Age

What stands out clearly from the study of the ancient method of approach to Gnosticism is the inadequacy of a purely negative approach to its modern forms. Its earlier forms like Kant’s Religion within the Bounds of Reason, or Renaissance Humanism are, past history. There is no single school of philosophy or system that stands for the ideas listed under the “New Age”. There are mostly individual writers stressing one or another idea of the whole bunch, and their ideas actually die with them. Picking one idea from one and another from another and creating a whole system out of them is taking them out of their actual context and making them look more consistent and respectable than they actually are. Criticism of individual writers of the “New Age” like Madame Blavatsky. William Bloom and Fritjof Capra, is not very helpful since they themselves change their own opinions or the same views are contradicted by others. It will be naive to dispose off the voluminous writings of C. G. Jung or William James in one-liner criticisms. They do not constitute stable systems or Churches. Besides one can do very little to clear the ground of all erroneous opinions by such a pick and choose criticism, when according to the world Christian Encyclopedia published in 1982 there are 20,780 independent Christian Churches in the world, many other World religions and thousands of new religious movements, each of which may emphasize an element of truth neglected or denied brothers and yet claim that its explanation was the only true – one. Has not one, therefore, rather to focus attention on the important live issues that raise questions about the life and practice of Christians today. For example are not most of the critical observations made by Orationis Formas about Eastern methods of meditation and against rebuttal by competent scholars repeated again in the present document really question marks against implications of Christian prayer? To take only a few examples: Where is the God we pray to? When on October 27, 1986 Pope John Paul II invited the world religious leaders to Assisi to pray for peace, Dalai Lama honestly asked: “To whom shall I pray?” For Christians God is up there and out there, for Hindus He is in here. The Buddhist criticism is that this God “out there” or “in here” cannot really be God, since when you put a plus between your individual self and the Infinite, that is no longer infinite and cannot be God but only an idol! The statement of Orationis Formas (#14), “Man is essentially a creature and remains so for all eternity so that an absorption of the human I, in the divine I will never be possible” simply misses the point. On the level on which God is, there is no human I to be “absorbed”.

No reasonable philosopher would ever claim that the finite ‘I’ is absorbed into the infinite. The Buddhist point is that prayer is not a tête-à-tête with a Deity, but rather understanding and realizing the sheer nothingness or emptiness of the human individual self and of the whole phenomenal world! Here there is no question of pantheism or panentheism! From the barren land of the phenomenal world one enters the boat of Dharma. Buddha’s teachings, and after crossing the stream of life abandons even the boat to nirvana! Then how is a personal relation with God possible?


Aphrahat the Persian Sage in his Demonstrations gave the answer: Once you realize the infinitude and incomprehensibility of God and recognize yourself as only a shadow and similitude, you can call God anything. Father, creator, beloved, friend etc. and there is only one way you can go namely towards the fullness of that similitude by identification with Jesus, the one Son, moving to the Trinitarian fellowship. For Greeks image or symbol could never become equal to reality, but for the especially Persians, image by its very nature was bound to attain its fullness in sonship!

    What is Spiritual Life and Mysticism? According to Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life “For Christians the spiritual life is a relationship with God which gradually through his grace becomes deeper…”(3.4) This may be a common sense psychological statement with a tinge of Pelagianism. No created being, however, can start a relationship with God and establish a claim against Him. Grace is needed not merely for deepening the relationship but for its very beginning. Have we not to recognize here the positive value of the New Age insight that spirituality is rather experiencing what the Transcendent God has accomplished in us, the states of consciousness and the harmony produced by the Whole?

    The contrast between technique and method is rather irrelevant since even in the immanentist system techniques do not produce the realization of the Ultimate but only dispose one for it. Even in the Oriental mysticism for example of Advaita, human efforts can go only up to a point within the limits of the finite; then there is a total break, and the final realization comes as a flash from the One-alone-without-a-second! In Christian meditation too one has to use the proper methods to dispose oneself for the divine gift of prayer. The statement of the Roman document, “The essential element in Christian faith, however, is God’s descent towards his creatures, particularly towards the humblest” (3.4) surely does not intend to deny that this divine “descent”, even the Incarnation and the entry of the Son into human history is not a change in God nor in the Word of God, but only change on the creature’s side. Hence in reality it is as the New Age writers say, the human enterprise of rising to the divine level by the power of the grace of God. Similarly salvation is not being pushed into heaven by the toiling hands of God but the creatures being enabled by the Spirit to participate actively in the suffering, death and resurrection of the Saviour!

    Perhaps the most crucial question is Who is Jesus Christ? Surely “In the Christian tradition Jesus Christ is the Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary and the only Son of God, true man and true God”. (4.) Jesus is the divine mystery by which the one Son of God definitively entered human history. But an ever present danger was the tendency to absolutize the divinity and make Jesus a god by himself, virtually denying not only his real humanity but also his relation to the Father and the Spirit. Docetism, which said that the son of God only appeared like man in Jesus, that he did not really suffer and die, was the first Christian heresy. The New Testament titles of Jesus were more functional than definitional. He was “Christ” the anointed, the Messiah. a title applied principally to kings, through it became almost a proper name for him. He was the kyrios, the Lord and Master, a title with which the disciples addressed him. Son of God was a title applied not only to the one Son of God but also to kings and to Israel is a whole as a holy people. Jesus often applied to himself the title “Son of Man” to suggest not only his true humanity, but also the collective image of the first presented in the Prophecy of Daniel in the figure of the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven and receiving dominion and power from the Ancient of Days. “The Bearer of the Water of Life” in conversation with the Samaritan woman at the Jacob’s well that forms the title of the Roman document is another such title. The twenty seven books of the New Testament have a good number of different christologies according to the different functions the writers of those books saw in Jesus. He was the pre-existent Logos in whom and by whom all things were created (Jn 1:1-3) and was before Abraham was born (Jn 8:58), and also the one shown to be the Son of God by being raised from death (Rom 1:4). But all these titles belong to the one Jesus of history, in whom the one Son was incarnate and entered human history. He is not a mere mystic who realized his total reality in the one divine essence, but the one in whom all humans are made sons and daughters of God. What the so called New Age writings just like the ancient books of the Nag Hamadi library try to emphasize is the diversity of functions included in the one Jesus.


Religion is the Spirit-inspired human response to faith, which is God’s gift to all his children. The New Testament books found this ideal of faith in the one Son culturally conditioned by their different christologies. This can make us appreciate why Buddhists found this ideal of faith in Buddha, the one Illumined regarding the unreality of the world, the Jains in Vardhamana Mahaveera, the one who crossed over the sea of life, and Hindus in Vishnu, by whom, from whom and in whom is everything! Those ideals of faith proposed by different religions, part of our one religious history and the common heritage of all humans, in response to different religious questions and in different cultural contexts, do not in any way deny the uniqueness of Jesus, who is the one Son in whom alone can all humans become sons and daughters of the Father in heaven!

San Thame, Kanyakumari


The late Fr. J. B. Chethimattam CMI was on the editorial board of Jeevadhara.

A prolific writer, he authored a large number of books and papers. Samples:

Yoga and Immortality in Samkhaya – Yoga, 1981

Sri Ramakrishna and Holiness, 1986

An Inter Religious Approach to Human Salvation, 1994

Hundred Years of Hindu-Christian Dialogue, 1995

Fr. John Britto Chethimattam CMI, a great Guru of thousands around the globe, passed away on 31st March, 2006. He was professor of philosophy and theology in Dharmaram College, Bangalore. He was also Rector there. He was instrumental in constructing the aesthetical dome-shaped Dharmaram Chapel. He served the Congregation as Provincial of the CMI Trivandrum Province, Regional Superior of Kanyakumari, Superior at Calcutta, and was member of the General and Provincial Synaxes continuously for several terms in the bygone decades. He was a professor at Fordham University, U.S.A., for more than two decades. He was a great scholar, efficient teacher, prolific writer and a powerful orator.

List of his publications:
















New Age, self-righteousness and self-complacency

Francis X. D’Sa

Many of the questions raised by the New Age thinkers are a genuine challenge to rethink the church’s traditional theology and spirituality. But the document seems to rely on the absolute premise that the hebrew-greek-roman worldview is the only framework valid for interpreting Christian faith, that the personalistic presentation of religion is the only way to the Divine. Such a self-righteous and self-complacent approach is not a help to guide those involved in pastoral care in today’s pluralistic world


Jesus Christ The Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age is a longish document that purports to guide pastors.1

“It is an invitation to understand the New Age and to engage in a genuine dialogue with those who are influenced by New Age thought. The document guides those involved in pastoral work in their understanding and response to New Age spirituality, both illustrating the points where this spirituality contrasts with the Catholic faith and refuting the positions espoused by New Age thinkers in opposition to Christian faith.” (Nr.1)

1It would be interesting to know how many pastors will go through this document and study it.

Evidently the purpose of the exercise is multiple:

a) To understand the New Age

b) To engage in a genuine dialogue with those who are influenced by New Age thought

c) To guide those involved in pastoral work in their understanding and response to New Age spirituality.

Any attempt to understand any religion, culture or ideology is always laudable. Compared to information understanding is an altogether different proposition because understanding is basically a bridge-building enterprise. It is through understanding that we enter into the world of the other. But understanding is not the first step towards engaging in a genuine dialogue. It is the other way round; it is dialogue that helps promote understanding. When instead of dialoguing we become disputatious, no understanding will ever occur. The spirit of disputation, unlike that of discussion and clarification, is foreign to dialogue.

    Laudable too is the intention to guide those involved in pastoral work in their understanding of and response to New Age spirituality. Our pastors need guidance on how to go about the new religious movements. In this age of information technology the enterprise of understanding the other, especially the other culture and the other religion, inevitably and lamentably gets short shrift and therefore takes a back seat. Hence guiding pastors in responding to New Age spirituality is to be highly recommended. Having said this however we immediately get a jolt because our document continues in a vein that is totally unexpected and, in the context of what has preceded, utterly strange (to say the least). For the document goes on to specify that the guidance consists in “both illustrating the points where this spirituality contrasts with the Catholic faith and refuting the positions, espoused by New Age thinkers in opposition to Christian faith”.2

Evidently this throws up doubts about what has been said about genuine dialogue and understanding. In dialogue we may disagree (perhaps because we do not understand) but we certainly do not refute the positions espoused by the other! 3

2My emphasis.


3This kind of difficulty is not uncommon with Roman documents, where the right hand (one dicastery) does not know what the left hand does (another dicastery). One would expect that the one who finally edited the document would work out some sort of consistency and coherence in what has been stated in different sections of the document!

Dialogue does not mean we agree with whatever the dialoguing partner says or that we irenically give up our own position. If this were so, dialogue would be a farce, not a genuine sharing. In this regard we could take a cue from what the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue [PCID] said about its Methodology a few years ago in its self introduction:

Dialogue is a two-way communication. It implies speaking and listening, giving and receiving, for mutual growth and enrichment. It includes, witness to one’s own growth as well as an openness to that of the other. It is not a betrayal of the mission of the Church, nor is it a new method of conversion to Christianity. This has been clearly stated in the encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II “Redemptoris Missio”. This view is also developed in the two documents produced by the PCID: The Attitude of the Catholic church towards the followers of other Religious Traditions: reflections on Dialogue and Mission (1984), and Dialogue and Proclamation (1991).

Our interpretation of the New Age document is not far from wrong because from beginning to end the document shows no trace of dialogue with and effort to understand the followers of New Age. It is all the time pointing a finger at all the wrong doctrines they hold on to and all the practices that they are involved in. I have no intention at all of defending New Age and their followers. My point is consistency: the document aims at promoting “genuine dialogue” but, at the same time promises the pastors it intends to guide with illustrations of doctrines contrary to the Christian faith (this is fair enough) and refutations the positions espoused by the New Age thinkers. The document would have saved itself a lot of trouble if it would have just omitted the points about understanding New Age and engaging in “genuine dialogue”.

    I realize it is not quite easy to write about a document that that knows all the answers. Though our document Jesus Christ The Bearer of the water of Life: A Christian reflection on New Age keeps on insisting that it is not easy to pinpoint what exactly New Age stands for it is not unaware that New Age is “drawing crowds”. Though it does not say so it can come as no surprise to the members of the top-notch dicasteries that in comparison to New Age its own membership is rapidly dwindling in those “first-world” countries which New Age is exercising its fascination.

Speaks about everything and says nothing

At one point there is an honest admission (at least the only one I found4) about New Age and it is this: “New Age” is attractive mainly because so much of what it offers meets hungers often left unsatisfied by the established institutions.” (1.1)

4The documents quotes the positive remarks of David Spangler who “is convinced that selfish, irrational narcissism is limited to just a few new-agers. The positive aspects he stresses are the function of New Age as an image of change and as an incarnation of the sacred, a movement in which most people are “very serious seekers after truth” working in the interest of life and inner growth”; and the American Jesuit David Toolan who “observes that new agers have discovered the inner life and are fascinated by the prospect of being responsible for the world, but that they are also easily overcome by a tendency to individualism and to viewing everything as an object of consumption”(3.2)

The point that has touched a raw nerve in me (who have absolutely no knowledge of and no contact with New Age thinking,) is this: Many of the points that our Roman document is making seem to have people like me in mind. Why? Most of the themes that New Age stresses find a resonance in me.


a) Our document states: “New Age appeals to people imbued with the values of modern culture. Freedom, authenticity, self-reliance and the like are all held to be sacred. It appeals to those who have problems with patriarchy.”(1.1) I believe I too hold these values to be sacred and I too have problems with patriarchy.

b) Furthermore: “With this cult of humanity, religion is internalised in a way which prepares the ground for a celebration of the sacredness, of the self…It is worth remembering that deviations within Christianity have also gone beyond traditional theism in accepting unilateral turn to self…” (1.1) “Now, being a student of the Hindu traditions, I too welcome the celebration of the sacredness of the self. I too as it Christian have gone beyond traditional theism because I believe in a trinitarian mystery. Besides we are told that “Christianity… is an invitation to look outwards and beyond to the ‘new advent’ of the God who calls us to live the dialogue of love”. I thought the orthodox trinitarian God calls us, as participants in the trinitarian perichoresis to look outwards and inwards and beyond.

c) “Basically,” the document states, “New Age has found a remarkable level of acceptance because the world-view on which it was based was already widely accepted. The ground was well prepared by the growth and spread of relativism, along with an antipathy or indifference towards the Christian faith.” The point is this: New Age is meeting “hungers often left unsatisfied by the established institutions.” …”New Age is often a response to people’s search for meaning and sense in life…”(2.) And what is the Roman Catholic Church doing about people’s unsatisfied hungers and search for meaning and sense in life?

d) Again “Here is what is ‘new’ about New Age. It is a syncretism of esoteric and secular elements’. They link into a widely held perception that the time is ripe for a fundamental change in individuals in society and in the world.”(2.1) I must confess that I too believe that the time is ripe for such a change.

e) Our document is right in stating that “what is actually going on is a radical change in world-view which puts into question not only the content but also the fundamental interpretation of the former vision.” However it goes on to add: “Perhaps the clearest example of this, in terms of the relationship between New Age and Christianity is the total recasting of the life and significance of Jesus Christ It is impossible to reconcile these two visions'”(2.1) While this may be true of the way both sides are stating the case now, I can very well imagine a time with less rigid and more poetic ways of expressing would change the scenario dramatically.5 I merely refer the reader Raimon Panikkar’s book The Fullness of Man which speaks of Christophany, not merely Christology. Christology speaks of teachings and doctrines but Christophany aims at communicating the mystical experience of Jesus Christ.6 Christophany does not reject Christology, it transcends that is goes beyond Christology. Now this is really a paradigm shift in the way we look at Jesus Christ

5I do not equate “poetic” with “romantic”. Poetic comes from poesis, that which makes sense, that which gives meaning in life. 6The Fullness of Man is being published by Orbis (Maryknoll) and is a translation of the Italian original la pienezza dell’uomo. Una cristofania (Milano: Jaca Book, 1999).

f) Our document speaks of New Age‘s concern with angels (2.2.1), with being in tune with nature or the cosmos (2.2.2), with health and healing (2.2.3), and above all, with wholeness (2.2.4). To the last it adds a subtitle “A Magical Mystery Tour”. I am not acquainted with New Age beliefs but the way our document speaks of these themes it is clear that they are not its cup of tea. But l must not deny that I resonate very much with themes and find that the rationalistic influence of the enlightenment on our document is considerable. If the world is God’s creation then is it not the right thing to discover angels everywhere, to be in tune with the cosmos and to realize wholeness? “Holism pervades the New Age movement, from its concern with holistic health to its quest for unitive consciousness, and from ecological awareness to the idea of global ‘networking’.”(2.2.4) I find this very positive – perhaps because of the Hindu ambience in which we live. The holism I believe in does not of course overlook distinctions but aims to overcome separations and dualisms.


    The universe of New Age, it is alleged, is closed and contains “God” and other spiritual beings along with ourselves – here, we are told, is implicit pantheism. This need necessarily be so. The authors of our document who are probably not acquainted with Panikkar’s cosmotheandric vision (which offers a thorough re-vision of our “understanding” of the three centres of reality7) probably believe that the hebrew-greek-roman articulations of the Christic experience are the only possible ones. Christic experience has to be expressed in a catholic (kat’holos) manner, i.e. in as many cultural and linguistic worlds as is possible. This excludes mere translations of the hebrew-greek-roman formulation. Look at Panikkar’s revolutionary way of revising our presuppositions: “God, Man and World are three artificially substantivized forms of the three primordial adjectives which describe Reality.” 8

    Contrast this with the way our document discusses what New Age says about the human person, God and the world. It keeps on harping that New Age is much influenced by eastern religions, the theosophists, Jung, etc., etc. What is wrong if one takes over elements which “make sense” in one’s world of belief? Furthermore, personalistic approach in religion is not the only kind of religion. The human being is a cosmotheandric mystery where body, soul and spirit constitute three dimensions to which specific kinds of spirituality correspond. 9

7The Cosmotheandric Experience, Emerging Religious Consciousness. (Ed’) Scot Eastham (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1993); Indian edition Delhi: Motilal, 1998).

8Panikkar, ‘Philosophy as Life-Style”, Philosophers on Their Own Work- Volume IV (Bern, etc.: Peter Lang, 1978), p. 206. For his justification of the expression Man see his The Fullness of Man. Man, for Panikkar, is always more than Man: Man is a theandric mystery!

9See Panikkar, Trinity and the Religious Experience of Man (London: Darton, Longman & Todd. 2 1975). 9-40

Due to lack to space I shall merely summarize my observations about the manner in which our document goes about dealing with New Age and its beliefs. But before I proceed, let me repeat. I am not making a pladoyer for New Age. l am neither their advocate nor their adversary.

a) Our document nowhere makes an effort to understand New Age and its beliefs. On the contrary, it is quick to point out what it considers to be its shortcomings. One who is keen on “genuine dialogue” with and understanding the other does not follow this path; one would rather say that it does not resonate with its beliefs.

b) Our document seems to overlook the fact that most of the time it is “examining” the beliefs of another “faith-world”. Beliefs unlike concepts belong to the realm of symbolic language and emerge from a experience of the world of symbols. Concepts can be analysed and dissected. The same verbal formulation is for the insider a belief and for the outsider a concept. Treating the beliefs of another faith-world as concepts is the worst form of injustice one can do to a religious tradition.

c) One does not have to agree with another religion but one must have the humility to admit that one stands out side that religion and therefore is unable to appropriate its beliefs.

d) Our document has all the answers probably to all the questions but does not realize that its answers are mostly irrelevant. For instance, in reply to its question “Why has New Age grown so rapidly and spread so effectively?” it says “New Age is an attempt by people who experience the world as harsh and heartless to bring warmth to that world. As a reaction to modernity it operates more often than not on the level of feelings, instincts and emotions.”(2.5) If this is so, why does our document not say mea culpa and resolve to bring more warmth and heart to our own answers? What hinders us from learning from them to make our response to the problems of our age more holistic, more relevant and yes, more appealing?


e) The section ‘3.3. The Cosmic Christ’ is replete with monocultural assumptions bound up with the belief in history and in a personal God. While I have no objections to this, I cannot accept them to the exclusion of any other understanding of history and of the Divine Mystery. Elsewhere I have shown that the absolutization of anthropic history is one-sided, that it needs to be complemented by karmic history and that both need to be transcended because history (whether anthropic or karmic) does not constitute the whole of Man. 10


Those responsible for the document Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age (could one have more contrived title this is!) are surely entitled to their views but it is neither an irenic nor a dialogical spirit that animates the document. Instead of guiding pastors the document will probably misguide them and it will in no way be a help to dialogue. Where it is bound to succeed is in deepening prejudices and creating the impression that the Catholic community is not open to dialogue.

    The reason for this is to be sought in the fact that the document is thoroughly self-righteous and self-complacent. Self-righteous because it is thoroughly convinced that its formulation of the Christian experience alone is right and that there can be no other formulation not only of the Christian experience but of any experience of the Divine. It has found all the answers. The result is a very high degree of self-complacency in spite of the fact of dwindling numbers and increasing irrelevance.

It is hardly surprising then that it never poses the question, “What are we doing wrong, where are we going wrong, what could we do to satisfy the spiritual longing of people?”

May I illustrate this with the following report which appeared in Zenit: “The Church can counter that phenomenon (of New Age), says Legionary Father Paolo Scarafoni, by proclaiming Jesus Christ ‘living and risen,’ whose person has greater fascination than any other and who fills life with meaning. Father Scarafoni, who is also Rector of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum, was one of the speakers at last Friday’s worldwide videoconference on ‘The Church, New Age and Sects,’ organized by the Congregation for Clergy.” 11

Father Scarafoni, like the document Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the New Age, has answers to problems that have been baffling us who are engaged in dialogue work all our life long. Some of us have been struggling to understand and communicate with the other religious traditions. In the process we find ourselves constantly in doubt whether we have understood them correctly, that is, as they understand themselves. Father Scarafoni and the writers of the document are in a sense in an enviable position since they are free from all the kinds of doubts that people like me (who study other religions) are subject to. Their response is simple and straight forward: “Proclaim Jesus Christ living and risen and whose person has greater fascination than any other and who fills life with meaning”. One wonders whether they have read or even heard of that extraordinary person called the Buddha and his millions and millions of human beings down the centuries whose life he has filled with meaning.

For all I know, New Age may not be a blessing but surely self-righteousness and self-complacency will be a curse wherever they are found!

10 Cf. F. X. D’Sa, Karmische und Anthropische Geschichte, in: Zeitschrift fur Missions-und Religionswissenschaft 87:3 (2003), I63- 180.

11ZE04030220 referred to

Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune – 411 014




Francis X. D’Sa SJ is a contributor to Vandana Mataji’s occult work
Shabda Shakti Sangam
and therefore at least a sympathizer of the seditious Catholic ashrams movement, if not an active enthusiast. He
is a
Professor at the
Papal Seminary, Pune and
Director, Institute for the Study of Religion, De Nobili College, Pune. The Papal Seminary and the Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth [JDV] are in the vanguard of the Hinduisation of the Church in India. Two other contributors
Errol D’Lima SJ and Jacob Parappally SJ teach at the JDV.


Church walks it to mandir

By Abhay Vaidya, The Times of India October 25, 2005

Also at:; and
The Catholic church will take up the
study of Sanskrit, adapt to monastic life in an ashram and adopt the Hindu ritual of aarti during mass
if the movement towards
‘Indianisation of the church’
gets the nod from 400 priests and five bishops congregating in Pune.
Starting Tuesday, Pune’s Papal Seminary, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its transfer from Kandy (Sri Lanka) to the city, will play host to the priests for three days. Discussions will cover the state of the church in India and the movement for its Indianisation. The Catholic church has already adopted a number of Indian traditions and practices
and has come a long way, four decades after the historic Second Vatican Council (1962-65) brought an epochal shift in the modern church through its declaration on religious liberty.
Pune’s Papal Seminary, which has ordained over 1,250 priests during the past 50 years, has continued with its modernisation effort along with its
associate institutions such as the Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth (JDV), formerly the Pontifical Athenaeum, and the
De Nobili College. Pune-based Catholic leaders such as
Joseph Neuner, Kurien Kunnumpuram, Francis X D’Sa, John Vattanky and
Subhash Anand have been stressing for
lesser control from the Vatican, to make the church “truly Indian and genuinely Christian”.
‘Many Christian priests follow
ancient ashram system
Francis X D’Sa, an internationally acclaimed
Sanskrit scholar
has noted in his paper published in ‘Dreams and Visions: New Horizons for an Indian Church (2002)’: “Today,
the time has come for the Indian church to shed its image of a multinational company
and retrieve those characteristics which bring out its ‘Catholicity’ in the best sense of the word.”

Pandikattu Kuruvilla, teacher of philosophy at JDV and the
Papal Seminary’s rector, Ornellas Coutinho, explained that a number of
Indian religious customs and practices have already been embraced by the Catholic church
to become truly Indian. “A number of Christian priests, for example, strictly follow the
ancient Indian ashram system
of monastic life, such as those at the
Bethany Vedavijnana Peeth (Pune), Satchitananda Ashram (Trichy), Kurusumala Ashram (Kerala) and the Sameskshna* Ashram (Kalady, Kerala),” said Kuruvilla. “Practising vegetarianism, organising satsangs and reading Bhagvad Gita are some of the changes that have taken place,” he said. *Sameeksha

Church may adopt Aarti, Sanskrit

By Abhay Vaidya, The Times of India October 25, 2005

Discussion will cover the state of the church in India and the movement for its Indianization.

[The rest of the article consists of rearranged excerpts from the TOI report above.]

A photograph shows:
Sculpture of “Jesus the yogi” at the Institute for Study of Religion on the de Nobili College premises.


The priests named in the TOI story are:
Joseph Neuner, Kurien Kunnumpuram, Francis X D’Sa, Subhash Anand.

They are quoted as “stressing for
lesser control from the Vatican, to make the church
‘truly Indian and genuinely Christian’.”

Francis X D’Sa
likens the functioning of the Indian church to the “image of a multinational company“.

If indeed that the claim is true, and we are to take the simple meaning of his words, then Indianising/ Hinduising the Church would only transform it into an Indian multinational company because due to the priest shortage in the West, hundreds of Indian priests are exporting the squatting Mass, Bharatanatyam dance, yoga, etc. If D’Sa means to point to something deeper and more sinister, he should be more specific about those Catholic “characteristics” that he seeks to “retrieve” by his brand of “Indianisation”.

Lesser control from the Vatican” called for by the priests means the unbridled freedom to Hinduise/ Brahminise the Church in all aspects of Catholic life – the liturgy and worship, catechesis, and non-witness [no evangelization].


Papal Seminary completes 50 years in India

Indian Catholic News Service ICNS Pune

Ditto as the TOI story



Towards a wholly Indian Church with aarti and bhajan

October 27, 2005
It may be a while yet to see a Christian priest attired in saffron or women performing aarti in the church, but the process of inculturation and Indianisation of the church is irreversible, say church leaders.

These and other issues will be discussed during the upcoming golden jubilee celebrations of the Papal Seminary here.

Father Kuruvilla Pandikattutold UNI that… among the issues taken up for discussion would be reforms in the Indian Church… This is part of the Catholic Church’s efforts at inculturation (the incarnation of the Gospel in native cultures and introduction of these cultures into the life of the Church) besides reducing the use of the cassock (traditional robes of Christian priests), he said. “The Indian Church has already come a long way and aartis are already being performed in a few institutions like the Papal Seminary here and the
National Biblical Catechetical Liturgical Centre (NBCLC), Bangalore, where we provide training to priests to be truly Indian and genuinely Christian,” he added…
Christians are interested in Mahabharata and Ramayana. The Christian Mission is grounded in Indian tradition, [he said].

Pune-based Catholic leaders like
Kurien Kunnumpuram, Francis X D’Sa
Joseph Neuner have been stressing on opening up the Church with lesser control from the Vatican and imparting training to be Indian.


Destruction of Catholicism in India

I am a New Free Republic Member from India. I was born and raised in Bombay also known as Mumbai. I am an Orthodox Catholic of Portuguese Descent originally from Bardez, (North Goa) and I am in my early 30’s. I was educated at a prominent Jesuit School in Bombay or rather Mumbai and I am in touch with a number of Jesuit, Diocesan, and Salesian Priests in Mumbai. You are welcome to have a look at my profile…
[The purpose of my article was…] to highlight how

Jesuit Priests and Bishops who style themselves as International Sanskrit and Islamic Scholars have been celebrating sacrilegious Masses
in various parts of India. Most notable among them are the
Jesuit Archbishop of Patna (Archbishop Benedict Osta S.J.)
who since 1990 has been getting Muslims reciting verses from the Koran in various Masses he has unfortunately been celebrating.

He gets young Muslim boys from Madrassas (Islamic Schools) in and around Patna to do this or he gets Islamic Clerics themselves to perform these Idolatrous Rites in the Mass.

Over the last few years,
he has started something new the incorporation of pagan Hindu rituals in the holy sacrifice of the mass ie the recitation of “OM” in the Liturgy, the ritual of aarti, the recitation of verses from the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagvad Gita etc. in place of the first or second reading in Mass.

His brothers in arms have been a number of pagan and heretic
Jesuits from Pune
who teach at the
Papal Seminary
there as well as at
De Nobili Seminary
where this paganism has been rampant and widespread for the last 2 decades.
Priests like
Father Francis D’Sa
Father Noel Sheth S.J

have been evil pioneers in this regard.


Francis D’Sa is one of those theologians who opposed the Vatican Document Dominus Iesus in 2000:

Indian Theologians Regret Vatican Inability To Understand Them [See also pages 107 ff.]

October 9, 2000 PUNE
Some theology professors in India have described a Vatican cardinal’s comment that “Dominus Iesus” was directed against them as the Vatican’s failure to understand religious pluralism in Asia. “Rome has a suspicion that the Indian theologians do not accept the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the mediator of salvation,”
said Jesuit theologian Father Josef Neuner, 92, who has taught in various Indian seminaries for the past 60 years. Father Neuner and other theologians in Pune fear that the Sept. 5 Vatican declaration
Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church
will alienate other religions.

The document stresses the “unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus Christ” and the Church’s “salvific mediation” since it holds that “relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism” endanger the Church’s mission.

The theologians made their comments on reports that Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said Sept. 26 that
“Dominus Iesus” was directed at theology professors in India.

Father Neuner told UCA News Oct. 4 that the Vatican “does not sufficiently understand and appreciate the implications of religious and cultural pluralism in India in particular and in Asia in general.” The Austria-born Jesuit said the declaration will “alienate Indian theology professors and hamper their creativity and research
as they will not be able to speak out openly.” Father Neuner said that to emphasis Christ as the only Savior is a “challenging task” for Indian theologians and that “it is also very difficult to make Hindus and Muslims understand it.”

Jesuit Father Errol D’Lima, president of the Indian Theological Association, said
the declaration shows the Vatican’s fear
that Indian theologians’ attempt to view other religions positively will dilute “essentials of Christianity.”
Father D’Lima, who teaches systematic theology in
Pune’s Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth
(light of knowledge university), said the problem arises because
Indian Christians have a “worldview different from Rome, and our living experience of being the Church is in dialogue with other religions.”

Divine Word Father Jacob Kavunkal, who teaches missiology in the same university, said the Vatican “does not seem to appreciate the atmosphere of religious pluralism in which Indian theologians have to work.” He said the Bible has “tremendous indication of positive approach to other religions,” which are responses to “the revelatory process of the word.” The Divine Word priest said the document’s language of exclusivity would “alienate our sister Churches and other religious traditions, making the task of the Indian theologians rather difficult.”


Jesuit theologian Father Francis D’Sa
said Indian theologians live in “religious pluralism, not in academe like in the West” since the country has many religions, including tribal and folk religions. He explained that Indian theologians have to speak their faith in a language others can understand. Those living in almost monocultural situations will never understand the situation of Indian theologians, he added.

Jesuit Father Rue [sic] de Menezes, a former university rector, warned that the Vatican document “will destroy any spirit of dialogue with other religions.” Indian theologians have the option to either follow the ecumenical council — the Second Vatican Council or the opinion of certain individuals in Rome, he said. But “Indian theologians will opt for the former,” he added.
The document “reflects the mentality of the Middle Ages,”
he said.

He added that the so-called
“champions of orthodoxy are not faithful to the Jesus of the Gospels”

and said he wants the Church to prescribe a retirement age for the “clerks of the Vatican.”

Father Subash Anand, another theology professor, said the document tries to equate Christ’s role and importance with that of the Church. “They are not identical, though related,” he added.


We have also seen that Francis D’Sa also has a big problem with the Document on the New Age. I reproduce here an extract from my September 2008 report


On the 3rd of February 2003, the Vatican issued a “provisional report”, “concerned with the complex phenomenon of the ‘New Age’, which is influencing many aspects of contemporary culture”. “It is the fruit of the common reflection of the Working Group on New Religious Movements composed of different dicasteries of the Holy See”, “to explain how the New Age Movement differs from the Christian faith” (Foreword), illustrating the points where New Age spirituality contrasts with the Catholic faith and refuting the positions espoused by New Age thinkers in opposition to Christian faith” and “the rapidly growing number of people who claim that it is possible to blend Christianity and New Age by taking what strikes them as the best of both” (n 1). The document is titled “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life, A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age’. The secular press reporting on it calls it “an unusually frank 100 page Church document”
on “what the Pope sees as one of the greatest threats to Christianity in the third millennium”.

The Church called it a “Provisional Report” in the sense that after further study and feedback from the various Bishops’ Conferences, it would be further developed into a Final Report. In effect, it is a full, if not final, Vatican Document.

Now why would Catholic theologians want to trash this Document? For the same reason that they did “Dominus Iesus” in 2000. But this time, unlike in early cases when individual theologians went to the press and decried the teachings from Rome, the opposition was ORGANIZED. Though the theologians’ reacted to the New Age Document more than four years ago, this story is breaking news. I don’t believe it has been reported anywhere else.

But since this is going to be the subject of a separate report, I will try to be as brief as possible here.

The extent to which these theologians’ worldviews diverge from Church teachings has to be seen to be believed. But it is not so much that the two sides disagree. It is the contempt with which these theologians treat the Document in their critiques as evidenced in the language used by them. They are like snakes exhibiting their mortal fear of a mongoose.

Francis D’Sa describes the title of the Document as “contrived” and the Document itself as “thoroughly self-righteous and self-complacent”. Errol D’Lima accuses Rome of a “negative assessment of the New Age”. For P. T. Mathew, the Church exhibits a “colonial mindset” in the Document. George Pattery accuses the Church of using “age-old rationalizations” and “traditional Christian vocabulary”. He believes that “the New Age Movement is the best bet for the survival of religious faith for this century“.

The inclusion of this issue [in this second report on the New Community Bible (NCB)] is only for the purposing of establishing one more link in the chain that we have forged so far:


More information on the Papal seminary/JDV/De Nobili College where Fr. Francis D’Sa teaches theology is available at THE NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 15 – PRIESTHOOD UNDER ATTACK, DEMAND FOR ORDINATION OF WOMEN PRIESTS – FR SUBHASH ANAND AND OTHERS One of my comments in that document reads:



Francis X. D’Sa – INDIA

Prof Dr Francis X D’Sa SJ has been a Professor of Indian Religions and Theology of Religion at the Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth [Pontifical Athenaeum], Pune since 1973. From 1975 he has been a regular visiting Professor at Universities in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. In addition, Dr D’Sa is a guest Lecturer at several other academic Institutions in Europe. Since April 2003 he occupies the Chair for Missionswissenschaft und Dialog der Religionen in the Faculty for Catholic Theology at the University of Würzburg, Germany. (full text).

He says: “We have to accept every colour of the rainbow to see the light“.



Francis D’Sa repeatedly decries the Church’s attitude which “shows no trace of genuine dialogue” with New Agers and “with those who are influenced by New Age thought“. It was also the argument of Paul F. Knitter. From my research, I have observed that there are two broad categories of New Agers and those who are “influenced” by New Age thought. In the Indian context, very few of the former category are Catholics [most are simply secular humanists] or practising their faith if they happen to have a Catholic background. The former are, for all practical purposes, “unreachable”. If they were, they would hardly be interested in hearing what they Church has to say. Take Suma Varughese for instance. She is the Chief Editor of India’s first and leading New Age monthly, Life Positive. I have documented a lot of information on her and her work in promoting New Age in FR PRASHANT OLALEKAR – INTERPLAY AND LIFE POSITIVE She hails from a “Syrian Christian background”. Maybe I am being cynical, but I do not see much good ensuing from conducting a dialogue with her, if dialogue means confronting and exposing error while simultaneously presenting her with the truth of the Gospel [also of course respecting her views and New Age spirituality].

She has already rejected the Gospel and dogmatic religion for a new all-encompassing spirituality. It would take nothing short of a miracle for Suma Varughese to free herself from her new set of beliefs, which is not impossible with God’s grace as the testimonies of Catholics like Aidan Byrne of Ireland, Sharon Lee Giganti of the United States [both of them are in correspondence with me] — former New Agers who now give talks, retreats and seminars to Catholics and speak on EWTN and Catholic radio — and others show.

New Agers coming from a Hindu or other background or of no religious persuasion might participate in dialogue but what would be a good reason for the Church to dialogue with them? Many of the leading Indian godmen and babas like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar are for all intents and purposes New Agers. Indian Church leaders have not only been dialoguing with them but honoring and felicitating them. Could it be that those Indian churchmen who are “dialoguing” with these New Agers are not different in their spiritual beliefs than these godmen? That’s what my reports document, anyway.

In the latter category, I would place a large number of lay persons, nuns and priests who are the subject of my research and reports, like Swami Sachidananda of Dharma Bharati, Fr. Prashant Olalekar of Interplay, Fr. Ronnie Prabhu SJ who promotes yoga retreats, Fr Joe Pereira of Kripa Foundation and the World Community for Christian Meditation, Fr. Varghese Alengaden of the Universal Solidarity Movement, Fr Ama Samy SJ of the Bodhi Zendo ashram, the nuns of the Holistic Health Centres, and many, many others. The entire ashram movement, one of the leaders of which is Fr. Sebastian Painadath SJ is itself New Age.

Every single one of these priests and nuns has diocesan if not the regional or national Bishops’ Conferences support by way of invitations to conduct their programmes, advertising them, and sometimes funding.

Within the Church, who’s going to dialogue with whom, and for what end and purpose?


Take Francis D’Sa or any of the other priest-theologians who have contributed to the bashing of the New Age Document. After reading what they have to say, does there appear to be any room with them for dialogue? That they have already made up their minds is self-evident. They are highly-learned people who have made, even if wrongly from the Church’s perspective, informed decisions. D’Sa admits that he has “problems with patriarchy“. When he sees the Church as functioning like a “multinational company” and, along with like-minded theologians are “stressing for
lesser control from the Vatican“, why would he even consider agreeing to dialogue with Rome? We will see plenty more of the same language in the pages following. These theologians who pretend to speak for the Indian Church are in dissent from Church teaching. Those theologians’ names in the TOI and other reports that I reproduce in this document interpret selected texts from Conciliar and post-Conciliar documents to justify their positions and programmes. They support, overtly or covertly, dissent and rebellion against one or other of issues that the Church has made final and clear pronouncements on: women priests, married male priests [an end to priestly celibacy], etc. Some like Francis Gonsalves
SJ [we will come to him later] glorify in their writings those Indian priests and nuns whose mission is to propagate New Age meditations and alternative medicines. That aside, the practice and teaching of New Age psychological counseling techniques has been virtually institutionalized by a couple of religious orders. The New Age is everywhere. As the Document says, “…
new forms of psychological affirmation of the individual have be come very popular among Catholics, even in retreat-houses, seminaries and institutes of formation for religious.” [#1.4]

Also, as the Document clearly states, the New Age is not a tangible organization with visible and acknowledged leaders that one can communicate with effectively: “New Age is not a movement in the sense normally intended in the term “New Religious Movement”, and it is not what is normally meant by the terms “cult” and “sect”. Because it is spread across cultures, in phenomena as varied as music, films, seminars, workshops, retreats, therapies, and many more activities and events, it is much more diffuse and informal, though some religious or para-religious groups consciously incorporate New Age elements, and it has been suggested that New Age has been a source of ideas for various religious and para-religious sects.(9)
New Age is not a single, uniform movement, but rather a loose network of practitioners whose approach is to think globally but act locally. People who are part of the network do not necessarily know each other and rarely, if ever, meet.



Francis D’Sa and his fellow contributors to the Jeevadhara rebuttal of the Document have apparently chosen not to read these and many other passages in the Document.

We may refer now to the former of my two categories. Oprah Winfrey is one of the most influential New Agers of our times; Shirley MacLaine is another. How is the Church expected to dialogue with them?

It is the same with the New Age within the Church. New Age does not stand alone. My research and documentations clearly proves that. New Age theologians are themselves not only dissenting against different Church teachings or acting on their own interpretations of them, but are networked with other theologians who adhere to the same worldview. They are prolific writers and commonly cite one another in their works. Dialogue with the like of such people is difficult, well nigh impossible. How does one dialogue with someone who is simultaneously engaged in undermining one’s establishment and authority? With a theologian who ends a critique on a Church Document wondering if the writers of the Document “have read or even heard of that extraordinary person called the Buddha and his millions and millions of human beings down the centuries whose life he has filled with meaning.“?


I was in the business of exposing and combating New Age for some years before Rome released the Document in 2003. While I had at my disposal the declarations of a few Bishops’ Conferences and national Theological Commissions and of individual Bishops, priests and lay apologists, I had nothing to cite from the Holy See except a 1989 Document on Christian meditation which discussed Transcendental Mediation, yoga and Zen. The 2003 New Age Document is a boon to me as it is to the Universal Church.

I have found it to be an invaluable pastoral tool and it beats me as to why Francis D’Sa and co. find so many difficulties with it. The Document is not primarily a help for dialogue. I quote from the Document:

These reflections are offered primarily to those engaged in pastoral work so that they might be able to explain how the New Age movement differs from the Christian faith. (Foreword) […]


The following reflections are meant as a guide for Catholics involved in preaching the Gospel and teaching the faith at any level within the Church. This document does not aim at providing a set of complete answers to the many questions raised by the New Age or other contemporary signs of the perennial human search for happiness, meaning and salvation. It is an invitation to understand the New Age and to engage in a genuine dialogue with those who are influenced by New Age thought. The document guides those involved in pastoral work in their understanding and response to New Age spirituality, both illustrating the points where this spirituality contrasts with the Catholic faith and refuting the positions espoused by New Age thinkers in opposition to Christian faith.

What is indeed required of Christians is, first and foremost, a solid grounding in their faith. On this sound base, they can build a life which responds positively to the invitation in the first letter of Saint Peter: “always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy and respect and a clear conscience”. (1 Peter
3, 15 f.) Emphases mine.

The above answers most if not all of Francis D’Sa‘s questions. Catholics who study the Document will be able to discern New Age error in its different metamorphoses and also dialogue effectively with New Agers.


Francis D’Sa took issue with the title of the Document. He avers that its title couldn’t be “more contrived” than what it is. But here is what I wrote in my summary of the Document serialized in The Examiner, the archdiocesan weekly of Bombay in May2003:

The Coming New Age Of Aquarius

According to astrology, “the Age of Pisces is due to be replaced by the New Age of Aquarius” in what is actually a purely astronomical shift of the vernal equinox which approximately every 2000 years passes through a new constellation of the zodiac.

The Pisces or fish (Gk. Ichthus) is associated symbolically with Jesus. New Agers maintain that with this transition, the era of Christ is ending and Aquarius the Water Bearer will now pour his water over the world to symbolize the coming of a new spirit and the dawn of a new age as was “set forth in the emblematic song ‘Aquarius’ in the 1969 musical ‘Hair’.” (#2.1; cf. New Age from a Biblical Viewpoint, M. Basilea Schlink, Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, 1988)

In the title, rejecting New Agers’ claims as false, the Church proclaims that
the true New Age was heralded in 2000 years ago by Jesus of Nazareth Who alone is the Giver of the Water of Life [John 4: 10-14], the Sender of the Spirit [John 14:16, 17] Who will reveal all truth to those who genuinely seek it (cf. #4, #5).

Fr. Francis D’Sa, Holy Church could not have chosen a more apt title for this Document!!!!!

When, by your own admission, you “have absolutely no knowledge of and no contact with New Age thinking” and are “not acquainted with New Age beliefs“, why did you challenge a Document the subject of which you know nothing?

Forgive me for saying this, but if you look around in your theological institutions in Pune, you’ll find New Age, but you’ll only be able to “see” it if you read the Document in a spirit of humility and submission.




[5] Is New Age Wisdom Provisional?

George Pattery

Since the Enlightenment science has been divorced from religion. The western crisis of faith is the result of this. To meet this situation New Age brings up the perspectives of harmony. The Vatican document does not seem to understand this concern. It fails to make a methodological distinction between Western rational categories and the tenets of Christian faith. Consequently the document tries to meet the questions of the New Age with the western dogmatic categories. This is a futile attempt.

In a piece titled “temporary matter” (Interpreter of Maladies) Jhumpa Lahiri tells the story of Sukumar and Shoba, young couple at the point of divorce. It so happened that during a very trying period of their married life, there was an unusual power failure for a few days in their adopted city of New Hampshire. As there was no electricity, they could not escape into their private worlds of computer and TV. They had to struggle in order to say something to each other during power-cuts. Then Sukumar recalled how back in Calcutta, when the lights went off, as children they would listen to their grandmother telling them stories. Shoba caught on to that, and suggested that they would tell each other something that they haven’t told before. They looked forward to the evenings without electricity when they could hear something new about from each other. Eventually they rediscovered each other. “They wept together, for the things they now knew.” Telling one another things that we didn’t tell before can reveal ourselves anew. Could this happen to the Catholic Church? Has the Catholic Church with an aged Europe as its geographical centre something new to tell the world? Has it only the age-old ‘rationalizations’ to keep the belief intact? Has it reached a point of divorce with the so-called secular world? These were some of the questions that welled up in me as I read the document on ‘New Age’. (All references to the document are from Jesus Christ Bearer of the Water of Life, Mumbai: Pauline Publications, 2003. Henceforth cited as NA).

Accounting for One’s Faith

    The major contribution of the document is the very attempt at ‘fundamental theology’ – of dialoging with the contemporary concerns and ideologies. The document perceives the hunger and thirst of men and women today for a kind of spirituality that makes sense to them. In trying to appreciate this thirst, the document is in a genuine sense ‘giving account of’ the Christian faith. The second major contribution of the document is its ability to acquaint itself with the various nuances and documentation on ‘the New Age’. Although it tends to unilaterally abstract the essence of New Age teaching, document gives sufficient references for further study and discussion on the question. The proliferation of the sources of information and the easy access of material from the Internet rather compels the document to be at the service of the media. Thirdly by citing various features of the New Age, it invites all to serious intellectual dialogue, an aspect that is often played down by the proponents of New Age. To be fair to the document, one must admit that the document does challenge the New Age with some serious questions (albeit drawn from the traditional Christian position) and they are worth probing, especially in the context of globalization. Three major concerns are: i) that New Age does not have the intellectual cogency to explain the cosmos and opts for facile ‘harmony’ ignoring the problems of one and the many; ii) that New Age imports Eastern religious practices to suit Westerners and it chooses neutral language avoiding concepts of sin and salvation; iii) that New Age advocates prosperity techniques for better productivity, but is unconcerned about common good’. (NA. p.46)

Final Word on Christian faith?

Do all these justify the stand of the document? I think not. Let us look at the document from South Asian perspective. The document, it seems to me, is trying to define ‘New Age’ into a system and evaluate it in traditional Western Christian categories. New Age however is more a perspective than a system. It is a holistic perspective that looks for harmonious approach to reality. One wonders whether one can really object to a holistic approach to life in the name of Christianity.

Second major lacuna in the document is that it is not able to make a methodological distinction between Western rational categories and the tenets of Christian faith. The formulation of Christian faith in traditional Western categories is valid and significant but need not be the touchstone of Christian faith. Let us pick up some of the issues that the New Age is posing that could be left open ended and inviting, rather than closing. In studying a movement like New Age, the traditional approach of ‘dogmatic treatment’, would not suffice; a more sociological and cultural study is required in order to bring out the full significance of the necessity, impact and relevance of New Age thinking. Such an approach is wanting in the document. Besides, the attempt in the document is to posit Christian faith and tradition against the New Age thinking. This is insufficient. What is known as Christian faith-symbols and traditions and rituals predate Christianity, cross being the obvious example. These were borrowed from and adapted to (western) Christian perspective and were accepted as Christian. Does that mean that the inculturation process ended with Western Christian symbols and traditions? Can’t the on-going unfolding of Christic mystery interact with other traditions and cultures allowing new faith symbols and traditions to emerge? Can we once and for all determine the canonicity of rituals, traditions and cultural expressions as we did with scriptural texts? Starting from the creation myth in Genesis to the social institutions of kings to the architecture of the Jerusalem temple, Biblical faith progressed through dynamic interaction with the movements and cultures of the time. By putting skeptical note on ‘holistic health, unitive consciousness, ecological awareness and global networking’ the document is trying to insulate Christian faith from the contemporary search and findings; this is unfortunate. This way we prematurely close the organic development of Christian faith and imply that the final word on the development of Christian faith and doctrines has already been uttered. The New Age document deplores the attraction for acupuncture, biofeedback, massage, bodywork, meditation and music.
This is seen as a distrust of reason and conventional medicine.

Thus the document seems to presuppose that western rationality and its medicinal approach are binding on Christian faith. It is to be admitted that the achievements of science, medicine and technology manifest the progress of human intelligence and creativity as cited by Gaudium et Spes. Does that mean we have to disown the traditional ways and holistic ‘reason’ of the non-European traditions? In the past often these have been colonized by the West and often in the name of Christianity.

At the academic level, the inventions of gunpowder by the Chinese, zero by the Arabs and the achievements of Indian ayurveda have questioned the claims of western rationality as the arbiter of modern science and progress. If certain colonial concept of rationality and a partial scientism have been questioned by the rediscovery of traditional approach to life, should that be deplored in the name of Christianity? Instead shouldn’t we allow the traditional wisdom to replenish our depleted resources of scientism? Shouldn’t Christian sacramentality feel more at home with the holistic perspective that is being rediscovered? Were not many western monasteries, centres of holistic approach to life adopting European rural cultural wisdom of the time? Is the main objection to New Age movement stemming from the fact that these often come from other religious traditions that are ancient and resilient and are from the so-called third world? It is the strength of some of the ancient
Indian religious practices like yoga that they are tested and proven scientific means for holistic health (if science is understood in its genuine sense) and have been religiously integrated. These cultures do not find an opposition between science and religion, this does not however mean that its religious reception always meant a full knowledge of its scientific value nor its scientific relevance always meant its religious faith. The great Indian religious traditions sought wisdom that is scientific and religious and in that process did not have to go through, the trajectory of the division and opposition between science and religion as happened in European enlightenment. For the latter, such an opposition is sign of modernity and progress, and envisage that every culture and civilization should necessarily go through this European phase. The present document reflects more of an European ideology than a Christian response to a genuinely human phenomenon. The trouble with New Age document is that its cut-off point seems to be European enlightenment rationality; valid as it is, it is much too dominant and partial to be valid for all the ages to come.


Christian tradition need not be tied down to European concept of rationality. Post-Modernism has already challenged the modernist, attempts at over-arching theories to explain reality. In spite of its claim of enlightenment rationality, Catholic Church compromised with fascism and failed at the altar of anti-Semitism leading to holocaust. New age movement is the symptom of the failure of a one-sided rationality and of a dogmatic theology that is exclusively based on such rationality.

    Instead of insulating ‘Christianity’ from the influences of New Age, the document should have addressed the issues of steady decline of traditional religious practices and yet renewed interest in relevant spirituality in Europe and America; it should address the theological dilemma of academic treatment of theological issues and the general indifference to religious practices and institutions, dogmatic propositions and theoretical arguments. The moderns look at the behaviour of the Church rather than its theoretical clarity; when people are ignorant of traditional Christian symbols and rituals, theoretical clarifications do not suffice. People look for more personal and conscious forms of religious groups, whereas traditional Christian structures remain static. The document fails to address real issues raised by the New Age movement and limits itself to give solutions using traditional Christian vocabulary. It is said that in the case of East Europe, the Church survived there due to the dynamic presence of Christians groups that lived more personally and in small and more visible groups than due to the strength or resistance of the official Church; after all the official Church was nor unambiguous in its response to communism. New Age movement poses challenges to the structure and institutions of the church, but it may not be a threat to Christian spirituality as such.

A Privatized and Invisible Religion?

The document is right in its concern about the ‘privatization and invisibility of religion’. However this need not be seen as primarily a religious phenomenon. It is more a sociological phenomenon and a result of a liberal and consumerist life-style and ideology. Technology and media have advanced to bring the whole world into the privacy of one’s bedroom at the click of a mouse. It makes on the one hand the whole world visible to you at will and on the other hand can make you invisible to the whole world and privatize your life. Similarly, a throw away culture lives on a non-ending and ever- renewing consumerist mind-set. When life is thus privatized and made invisible, is it not natural that religion which is part and parcel of life, is also privatized?’ The New Age movements are in fact helping people to make religion visible and effective in smaller live-in groups and thus providing a window to the otherwise privatized invisible modern style of life. The document, instead of relying fully on enlightenment rationality, should critique the one-sided logic of liberal consumerism, and review the structures of religious institutions within the Church that need to be reformulated.

    Can’t we envisage smaller, interest-based, participatory communities other than/within the parish? Could the sacraments be conceived and celebrated in more holistic, participatory way so that grace becomes tangible to the needs of people? If language–game has its own rules and behaviour patterns, can religious experience be conveyed through overtly ‘linguistic’ formulations? Is language inherent and innate in the humans so much so that one can never think of a fundamental experience outside language? Is it time to think of a non-linguistic religion? How do we enable the silence of the words be heard? Church’s worship is intrinsically social and it suited well when religion was essential for social cohesion. When religion is no more the principal agent of social cohesion and when social stability itself is being redefinecl by technology and media, how, do we enable dynamics of faith to function? To my mind these are the larger and vital questions that the document could address, and let us hope that a more thorough and appreciative approach will follow in the next part of the document.

Provisionality of the document

This is a combined document of four dicasteries of culture, Dialogue, Evangelization and Unity. That in itself is no small achievement. I wonder what the thrust of the document would be if the Justice and peace commission were to be consulted? Has the document done justice to other religions and cultures?


This is the result, we are told, of the common reflection on the New Religious Movements. The present document cannot be called a document in the strict sense, as it is a provisional report. We could expect a more thorough and in-depth approach on the issue. What is more interesting is the provisionality of a Vatican document. Couldn’t we say so about all the documents from the Vatican? Are not all our formulations time and space bound? Shouldn’t we place the Vatican documents in their historical, cultural and social settings? In a sense S. Asia claims to live in a new age since it got political independence around fifty years ago. Does ‘New Age’ movements refer to all that comes from the geographically new age countries? The document does not really imply that. Nor does it clearly define the term New Age. It admits that New Age is responding to some spiritual hunger of contemporary men and women; but deplores the lack of perception of one’s own traditions, implying Christian traditions. It can be started clearly that the sentiments of Gaudium et Spes – ‘nothing
genuinely human fails to raise an echo in the hearts of the followers of
Christ‘ – is missing in the approach of this document.


Certain concerns of the Document deserve our attention. There is tendency to relegate religious institutions, practices and organized ceremonies to the background and focus on the individual and on the vibrations that are often interpreted for private well-being. The social concern and implications of religious faith are ignored. Such an approach leaves social dimensions of living to social institutions other than religion. Secondly such a privatized approach also gives up the need to articulate religious faith and to account for it. It shuns serious philosophical and theological discussions and debate and takes up an anti-intellectual stand. Such a stand is too privatized and is intended to avoid any sort of accountability to experimentations. It ignores the riches and relevance of traditions and the wisdom of the past.

    However it is rather ironic that the document that deplores the anti-intellectualism of New Age Movement falls back on the imagery of Bearer of Water of Life to describe Jesus. Hence one could say that the title of the document is itself the best approbation of what New Age movement is trying to convey, namely a more symbolic, visible and palpable representation of the Ultimate. New Age is attempting to give visibility to the Sacred to a world that is overrun by technological immediacy, consumerist phenomenalism and institutionalized religion. Perhaps New Age Movement is the best bet for the survival of religious faith for this century. The right approach to this phenomenon, it looks to me, is the Ignatian dictum: find God in all things and in all things God. We are invited to discover a God who labours in the world through the struggles, joys and aspirations of this world. The labouring God of the New Age Movement may not rejoice with this document.

Visva-bharati University, Santiniketan, Kolkata


Fr. George Pattery SJ
is one of the contributors to ashram leader Vandana Mataji’s occult edited work Shabda Shakti Sangam

He is the Provincial, Calcutta Jesuit province and Visiting Professor, Vidya Jyoti College of Theology, Delhi and Morning Star College and Seminary, Barrackpore.

He fits into the pattern of the other contributors to the Jeevadhara “Theological Response“.

His name keeps turning up whenever the Church is attacked by radical feminists as being “patriarchal”. The following three news stories are copied from my report THE NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 15 – PRIESTHOOD UNDER ATTACK, DEMAND FOR ORDINATION OF WOMEN PRIESTS – FR SUBHASH ANAND AND OTHERS

1. Church Asked To End ‘Double Speak’ On Gender Justice

January 30, 2006 KOCHI, India (UCAN) The triennial meeting of India’s major Religious superiors began on Jan. 27 with their leader urging the Catholic Church to end its “double speak” on gender justice.




The Church understands the need for gender justice, but does not know how to insure it,
Montfort Brother Varghese Theckanath
told the national assembly of the Conference of Religious India (CRI), of which he is national president.
“Gender-sensitive Church” is the theme of the five-day program
at Kochi, southern India. Some 575 major superiors representing 125,000 Catholic men and women Religious in the country are attending the event. “As far as gender justice in the Church is concerned, the die is cast. But dilemmas remain, bordering on double speak,” Brother Theckanath remarked in his keynote address. The Catholic Church remains “one of the most patriarchal of institutions,”
he said, despite “profound, egalitarian and nondiscriminative” responses and statements from the hierarchy.

The 48-year-old Religious described the assembly theme as “timely, Spirit-inspired, prophetic and future-oriented” with its focus on bridging “the gaps” between the vision and practices in the Church. Gender justice within the Church and society would help end discrimination against women, he acknowledged. But it also would help the Church to become collaborative and to “discover the relational character of humanity, affirm unity in diversity and connect all to the whole of creation.” He cited liberation, inclusion and celebration as the marks of a collaborative Church. “We are looking forward to an ideal situation where we can create a level playing field for women as much as for men through policies to redistribute resources — both material and spiritual — responsibilities and rights in all spheres of social life,” said Brother Theckanath, superior of his Montfort Brothers’ Hyderabad province..

He said women continue to be denied access to decision-making in the Church even after repeated discussions on this. As an example of “double speak” on gender justice in the Church, he cited the late Pope John Paul II’s “Pastor Bonus” (good shepherd), the 1988 apostolic constitution on the reorganization of the Roman Curia. According to Brother Theckanath, the document categorically states that “matters requiring the exercise of power of governance be reserved to those in Holy Orders.” Even official recognition of minor orders such as lectors and acolytes has been banned for women, the brother noted, adding that this “shows where we stand.” He charged that the Church uses the biblical imagery of the bride and bridegroom to justify an unequal relationship between men and women in the Church. “We must admit that there cannot be a participatory Church with gender justice as long as the Church retains the assumption that female humanity is ontologically different and secondary to male humanity,” he asserted.

Brother Theckanath charged that families, schools and religious formation houses perpetuate gender discrimination and
inculturation of patriarchal values,” which in turn block “meaningful collaboration.”

He challenged the Religious superiors to use their network of schools and formation houses to change the cultural stereotyping of women. He called on women Religious to lead the campaign to change the misconceptions about women through a theological and political agenda. This will lead to a more gender-sensitive Church, he added.

Many participants told UCA News that setting such an agenda in the Church is tough, but they expressed their happiness over identifying the problems.

Father George Pattery, superior of the Calcutta Jesuit province, which is based in Kolkata, eastern India, told UCA News the assembly would help Religious broaden their perceptions about gender justice. While admitting that it is not possible to change the Church “overnight,” he sees hope because the Church realizes it has a problem of “gender justice” and must involve women more in decision-making.

Sister Roshni, provincial of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, maintained that “meaningful collaboration of men and women” would strengthen the Church. She added that women Religious are also “equally responsible” for the Church’s patriarchal mindset. “Jesus showed us how to fight injustice. But we are scared to fight. We should be honest about it. Changes would come only when we force changes,” she said.

Sister Elisita, assistant superior general of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, expressed optimism. “I have faith in the Church and believe that things will change. This meeting is a small step forward,” she commented.

Archbishop Jacob Thoomkuzhy of Trichur, who opened the assembly, acknowledged gender equality “remains a dream within the Church and society.”

Bishop George Punnakkottil of Kothamangalam, who also addressed the assembly, urged Religious to protect, guide and support women within the Church and society. “Our community will only be strengthened when we establish gender justice,” he said.




2. Major Superiors Urge Change In Church’s Patriarchal Mindset About Women

February 5, 2006 KOCHI, India (UCAN) India’s major Religious superiors ended their triennial meeting Feb. 1 with a call for the Church to abandon its “patriarchal mindset” for a
gender-sensitive culture
of collaboration.
Some 575 superiors representing 125,000 Catholic men and women Religious in the country unanimously endorsed the “vision for gender justice and collaborative action” in the Church that the meeting produced.

“Gender-sensitive Church” was the theme of the five-day national assembly of the Conference of Religious India (CRI), held in Kochi, 2,595 kilometers south of New Delhi.

A statement released after the meeting says participants want a “directional change in beliefs and culture, behaviors and actions, choices and decisions within congregations, communities and ministries” to make the Church gender-sensitive.




The “core challenge for the Church” with regard to gender justice “is the change from an internalized patriarchal mindset to a participatory and collaborative culture where women and men can work together for promoting justice and fraternity within the Church and society,” the statement says.

The conference’s national president, Montfort Brother Varghese Theckanath, later told UCA News that the Religious superiors “identified the core area of action,” which is to “educate ourselves to commit wholeheartedly to the spirit of gender justice and collaborative partnership.”

The assembly outlined a plan to ensure gender justice at all levels of Church life. It wants competent women, Religious and lay, appointed to positions of responsibility in ministries at national and local levels.

It proposed that “wherever there is collaboration in ministry, written contracts be made between both parties to ensure gender justice, sharing (of) resources, consultation and participation in decision making.”

The Religious superiors agreed that the present Church structure “does not promote gender justice and collaborative partnership between men and women” because of unequal status and opportunities.

Brother Theckanath said such a structure “leads to a male-dominated” Church, in which women are relegated to the status of a work force that implements decisions made by male authorities.

In another recommendation, the assembly appealed to superiors of women’s communities to encourage members to develop themselves through theological, biblical and canonical studies. This, it added, would help the women develop “a holistic approach” to spirituality that respects “the feminine and masculine elements of human growth and faith.”

The assembly also decided to initiate dialogue between Religious and the bishops’ conference to come up with policy directives in the next two years aiming at achieving gender justice at all levels in the Church.

Montfort Brother Mani Mekkunnel, executive secretary of CRI, said it would organize training camps at some 45 centers in the country to promote partnership and gender justice in the Church.

Brother Mekkunnel spoke at the meeting on the need to chart a policy on sexual abuse of Religious within the Church and to set up appeal centers in every diocese for those who have been abused. He called for the CRI national executive committee to come up with broad outlines for this policy.

Calcutta Jesuit provincial Father George Pattery
wants the policy to take a sympathetic approach to victims. He says the Church now has no policy on the abuse of Religious within the Church.

“The tendency is to silence the victims whenever complaints of sexual abuse are made. From now on, we (will) work to formulate a policy that will ensure justice for all within the Church,” he told UCA News.

Father Pattery also criticized the way the triennial meeting was conducted. “We conducted the proceedings in the traditional way. Men Religious chaired most of sessions while the women Religious listened. We should have given more space for women Religious to voice out,” he said.

Sister Teresa Kottooran, provincial of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, said she found the proceedings “inspiring and motivating.” But she stressed that more discussions were needed at various levels to ensure gender justice.

Adorers provincial Sister Caridad Paramundayil
said the meeting was an “eye-opener for many” and stressed the need for a change in “attitudes, behavior and vision.”

In MangaloreanCatholics digest no. 2060 dated July 8, 2010

3. Women are also victims of clergy sex abuse says Virginia Saldanha

Posted by:
“Allwyn Fernandes”
Wed Jul 7, 2010 10:48 pm (PDT)

Virginia Saldanha speaks up at last, says “Women are also victims of clergy sex abuse”
When people like Virginia Saldanha speak up, you know the wind has turned!!!
Better late than never, but better never late! It takes greater courage to speak truth to authority when authority is powerful. Now the bishops have been weakened considerably and people are developing the courage to speak up. But still, I am glad that Virginia has decided to speak up – she did not even reply to my email earlier giving her a specific case. Now she wants people to come forward and confide in her. By all means, Virginia, we will because, as you say, “That must stop.” Amen to that!

Bishops had better beware – nothing like women roused to anger. You have treated the complaints of victims shabbily for far too long.- Allwyn Fernandes
[Allwyn Fernandes is another one of those liberals- Michael]

By Virginia Saldanha, former executive secretary of the FABC Office of Laity and Family. She can be contacted on
and would like to hear, in absolute confidence, from any women who have suffered from sexual abuse in the Church.

Women are also victims of clergy sex abuse

June 18, 2010 (UCAN) The issue of sexual abuse of women in the Church in Asia has been simmering beneath the surface for a long time. It is not a new issue. It has just never made the news before. But that must now be rectified.
Over the years I have become acutely aware that the problem is widespread. Many victims are crying out for justice, healing and support. But too often those cries for help are silent, made by the women victims to themselves alone.
That must stop. For the women who have approached me already and for those I am yet to hear from, my pledge is simple. I will reach out to you with hope of justice and the path to recovery and peace.
There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence of the scale of the problem which in some cases dates back many years.
.. Occasionally the issue becomes public – at least briefly – before retreating beneath the surface again.


The first study of the problem was in 2000 when the Women and Gender Commission of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines did research on the sexual abuse of women in the Church. They presented their partial findings to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
In 2003 the CBCP came up with “Pastoral Guidelines on Sexual Abuses and Misconduct by the Clergy.” The final document was signed by Archbishop Quevedo, then president of CBCP on September 1, 2003.
At that time I was Executive Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India’s Commission for Women as well as the Executive Secretary of the Women’s Desk in the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences Office of Laity & Family.
Spurred on by the Philippines survey, I began to investigate the issue in India. I found Indian sisters shy about talking about it so I approached a Mother General from Switzerland. She confirmed that it was an issue, but that congregations were asked to deal with the issue “in house”. The drawback of this approach was that only the Religious sister concerned was “dealt with”, rather than the problem itself.
Some sisters were prepared to speak out, although few appeared to hear them. When 26 Indian women theologians met in Bangalore in 2002, they issued a statement saying:
“We raise our voice of concern and protest against the individual clerical abuse of women.
“We decry Institutional injustice to women that strips them of dignity and renders them powerless.”
But progress in addressing the problem was slow and frustrating.

I worked with the then Executive Secretary of the Commission of Clergy and a woman theologian to produce a syllabus on sexuality, to be used in the training of seminarians. It was rejected. I feel the response to the issue was a questioning of the links between the women theologians’ group and the CBCI Commission for Women. They were subsequently de-linked in 2003.
Once again, the problem slipped back beneath the surface. But women’s voices could not be fully silenced and we continued to hear stories and the cries for help.
At a seminar for Religious, some years ago, I sat with a group of sisters to talk about

the impact of patriarchy on women in the Church. One sister spoke about her experience as a nurse being summoned by the priest in the mission area as he was sick. When she was attending to him, he pulled her down on top of himself.

An elderly sister sitting by my side said to me: “Virginia, this is a big problem; something must be done about it!” I agreed, but where to start? For a long time I was not able to do anything except raise the issue at various talks and discussions in the Church.
Hopeful signs However, there were some hopeful signs that some men in the Church were prepared to address the problem.

Calcutta Jesuit Provincial Father George Pattery, for example, raised it when talking to at the February 2006 General Body meeting of the Conference of Religious of India.
“The tendency is to silence the victims whenever complaints of sexual abuse are made. From now on, we will work to formulate a policy that will ensure justice for all within the Church.” […]
Out of 28 readers’ comments in UCAN, 27 encouraged Virginia Saldanha, including one from UCAN itself:

My name is Paddy and I work on the editorial team at If you need to get in touch with Virginia, you can email me at
and I will make absolutely sure your message reaches her.

Only one respondent saw through the subterfuge. “Guest” wrote:

The author’s email ID reveals more about the author than what is written here. “womynvs” evidently refers to “womyn” followed by the author’s initials. For the uninformed, the word “womyn is tied to the concept of radical feminism, the kind which will not tolerate the spelling “woman” because it has “man” in it. The earliest use of the term “womyn”, according to the Wikipedia essay, is attested in the Oxford English Dictionary as being the name of a 1975 “womyn’s festival” mentioned in a lesbian publication. It is absolutely essential to discern the rising strains of militant feminism within the Church from the real sociological/gender issues. Bishops beware!

In 2006, I had naively written to Fr. George Pattery. Not surprisingly, there was no response:

To, Rev. Fr. George Pattery SJ., Jesuit Provincial C/o St. Xavier’s College, 30 Park Street, KOLKATA – 700 016 February 15, 2006

Dear Fr. George,

Please forgive my writing to you without any proper introduction.

Permit me to explain why I have done so.

With the written permission of a couple of senior Bishops, I had visited four Catholic Ashrams in South India and prepared a report for them on the errors and abuses that are happening there. This report, which was submitted for their perusal, was completed by me in October 2005. It also contains information on other such Ashrams.

One such Ashram is the Ananda Dhara Yogashram in Gurupole, managed till recently by Fr. Korkonius Moses SJ., a Jesuit priest of your West Bengal Province.

I am taking the liberty of sending you separately, by book post, a copy of the Ashrams report.

In it, I have mentioned about Fr. Korkonius on pages 16, 30, 34, 66 and 85 [highlighted for your convenience]. As far as is possible, all information in my report is documented and authenticated. However, in the case of Fr. Korkonius, some of the information given by me is on the basis of a letter received by me a year ago from a person who has met the Reverend Father as well as the other Congregation referred to. I recently received a letter confirming the earlier statements.




There are several other Jesuit fathers in the forefront of the Ashram Movement. One such priest is Fr. Sebastian Painadath. I have written much about him and his role in these Ashrams. The Index on page 86 of my Report will be helpful to you.

As a concerned layperson, I humbly submit this Report to you as you are an authority in the Jesuit Congregation.

And, it will be my privilege to receive an acknowledgement from you, along with your valued observations and comments.

Yours obediently, Michael Prabhu


Now, why would Fr. George Pattery want to respond to my letter and the copy of my Ashrams report? He is one of those who are “urging the Catholic Church to end it’s ‘double speak’ on gender justice”. He shares the opinion of the ashram leaders that the Catholic Church remains “one of the most patriarchal of institutions.” He stands beside the Indian major superiors of women’s orders, most of whom are demanding a greater role for women in the Church, certainly not a bad thing, except that the ultimate goal is the ordination of women priests. [The full import of the above three news items will be understood only in the context of the evidence presented by me in the referred report no. 15 on the New Community Bible.]

In the spirit of pluralism and in the name of interreligious dialogue, he organizes visits and prayers at Hindu shrines [see UCAN report below].

And, remember, Pattery is a contributor to ashram founder Vandana Mataji’s Shabda Shakti Sangam.

Jesuit leaders pray at Hindu shrine November 2, 2009

Jesuit leaders pray at Hindu shrine
KOLKATA, India (UCAN) November 4, 2009 Senior Jesuit leaders from South Asia who prayed inside a shrine dedicated to a Hindu ascetic say the visit and prayers have “enriched” them.
About 20 provincials and regional superiors of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia spent 15 minutes at the shrine in Belur on Oct. 29, during an event designed to foster interreligious relations.
The Religious conference comprises provincials and regional superiors from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
The shrine, which sits on the banks of the Ganges, north of Kolkata, is dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a 19th century Indian mystic, who claimed to have had visions of Jesus Christ. Swami Vivekananda, the mystic’s most famous disciple, founded the shrine in 1886.
Calcutta Jesuit provincial Father George Pattery, who organized the visit, said the monks at Ramkrishna Mission, who manage the shrine, promote interfaith dialogue. The priest has close ties with the monks.
Father Anthony da Silva, provincial of Goa, told UCA News the visit was “an enriching experience” and added the shrine’s mystical atmosphere “greatly impressed” him.
Gujarat provincial superior Father Keith Abranches commented that the visit was “inspiring and enriching. It was another way of God-realization.”
Dipankar Basu, a Hindu teacher at Kolkata’s Jesuit-managed St Xavier’s School, guided the group during their visit.
He said it was remarkable to see Catholic priests praying in their own way in a Hindu shrine. An event like this “is sure to have greater effects in creating goodwill, and help people of all faiths to have a change in attitude toward other religions,” Basu told UCA News.
Swami Shantanu Maharaj, from the Sri Ramkrishna Mission headquarters, said Swami Vivekananda founded his religious order on Christmas night in 1886, after he and his friends spent an evening meditating on Christ. He said Sri Ramkrishna had a vision of Jesus, after which he could not think of anything else for three days. Two of his disciples, Swami Brahmananda and Swami Shivananda, too had a vision of Jesus on Christmas eve 1903 at the Belur shrine.
Earlier in the day, the Jesuit superiors celebrated Mass at the tomb of Blessed Teresa in Kolkata and met Missionaries of Charity superior general, Sister Mary Prema.
The Jesuit provincial and regional superiors are attending their twice-a-year meeting at Konchowki, south of Kolkata.

George Pattery wrote: “The New Age document deplores the attraction for acupuncture, biofeedback, massage, bodywork, meditation and music.
This is seen as a distrust of reason and conventional medicine. Thus the document seems to presuppose that western rationality and its medicinal approach are binding on Christian faith… the achievements of Indian ayurveda… traditional wisdom… some of the ancient Indian religious practices like yoga… are tested and proven scientific means for holistic health“. His conclusions [in red] of the Document’s cautions [in blue] are completely mistaken. Acupuncture, biofeedback, New Age massages, music and mediation, bodywork, ayurveda, yoga etc. find mention in the Document not simply because they are outside of conventional medicine or because their alleged “effectiveness” usually cannot be explained by science. If Pattery has arrived at those conclusions, he has either not read the Document carefully or chooses to ignore its spirit. Instead of defending the Document here, I suggest that Pattery look up respected Catholic writers on New Age themes or read the related articles at this ministry’s web site. New Age alternative medicines, therapies and psychotechnologies are holistic, treating spirit, soul and body, and it is for precisely that reason that the Church is speaking out to her members, warning them of the potential spiritual dangers that they pose.



George Pattery maintains that the Document is archaic, out of sync with the times, and irrelevant for the future: The present document reflects more of an European ideology than a Christian response to a genuinely human phenomenon. The trouble with New Age document is that its cut-off point seems to be European enlightenment rationality; valid as it is, it is much too dominant and partial to be valid for all the ages to come. The first two-thirds of what he maintains [in my words above] are what theologians like him believe also about the Church. As for the third part, he makes crystal clear his vision for the future: “Perhaps New Age Movement is the best bet for the survival of religious faith for this century.


An excerpt from the Document that relates to the arguments of George Pattery and his confreres:

[In] New Age … References to extra-European influences are sometimes merely a “pseudo-Orientalisation” of Western culture. Furthermore, it is hardly a genuine dialogue; in a context where Graeco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian influences are suspect, oriental influences are used precisely because they are alternatives to Western culture. Traditional science and medicine are felt to be inferior to holistic approaches, as are patriarchal and particular structures in politics and religion. All of these will be obstacles to the coming of the Age of Aquarius; once again, it is clear that what is implied when people opt for New Age alternatives is a complete break with the tradition that formed them. Is this as mature and liberated as it is often thought or presumed to be?


Towards the end of his essay, he writes, “In a sense S. Asia claims to live in a new age since it got political independence around fifty years ago. Does ‘New Age’ movements refer to all that comes from the geographically new age countries?

Such a frivolous statement and the question that accompanies it do not befit the stature of a serious theologian.


The document does not … clearly define the term New Age.

Even a casual researcher will find that there is no single definition for New Age or the New Age Movement; there are as many understandings of it as there are writers, the issue is so complex.


The labouring God of the New Age Movement may not rejoice with this document.

George Pattery should instead be more concerned what the God of Ages feels about this Document.

The New Age replaces the Father God with the nature goddess Gaia [mother earth], Jesus Christ His Son with Christ-consciousness, and the Holy Spirit with a monistic occult “energy”.

















[6] New Age – a Challenge or Threat?

Paul Puthanangady

The document is written with a mono-cultural theological framework that got developed in the West. The New Age however addresses a phenomenon that embraces many cultures and takes inspiration from the diversity of religions. Hence the New Age has to be taken as a creative challenge to respect diversity of religions, variety of cultures and hence plurality of theologies in the Church.

Starting with Jesus, Christianity had always to confront the human society with its philosophies, religions and socio-political situations. These confrontations have been seen sometimes as challenges, at other times as threats. How to distinguish a challenge from a threat? When the opposition is against a dynamic, living reality like a community or a movement or a person who is driven by an ideology, we have a challenge; instead, if the opposition is against a static reality, like an institution or an autocratic political regime or a fanatic religious system, keen on maintaining status quo and afraid to face the future, we have a threat. Jesus and the early Christian community faced opposition coming from political systems and ideologies as a challenge; as a result Christianity blossomed forth triumphantly in the face of oppositions. The very forces that opposed contributed much to its vitality. The phenomenon which we call today the ‘New Age’ can become a source of greater dynamism and creatively beneficial to the Church and the Christian community, if we look at it as a challenge rather than as a threat.

1. The reasons for the negative attitudes towards “New Age spirituality”

Some of the statements, thought patterns and spiritual currents promoted by the New Age do contain elements, which can undermine the orthodoxy and the belief system of the Catholic Church. But at the same time, it is necessary to admit that these dangers are highlighted using interpretations from a perspective, which is exclusively from a particular philosophical and cultural point of view; perhaps these truly intended by their proponents. Looking at them from more positive viewpoints, they could be considered as contributions for a better Christian life. I would like now to point out some of the hidden trends in the institutional Church of today, which may have been the cause of these negative attitudes towards this modern movement, as expressed in the document “Jesus Christ the bearer of the water of Life: A Christian reflection on the ‘New Age”‘.

a) Western cultural frame of Christianity

For centuries a mentality that identifies Christianity with its western cultural frame has been considered as the only authentic interpretation of the Gospel. Although in some of the official documents that position has been withdrawn, there is no denying that the subconscious of the Catholic institutional Church is still somewhat conditioned by this monocultural approach to the Gospel. As a result whatever does not fall within the categories of this culture are looked upon with suspicion. The document says that the influence of these new movements can be controlled if Christianity’s rich symbolism and its artistic, aesthetical and musical traditions” which are unknown to many people of today are made known to them (no.6, 2). What is meant be Christianity’s rich symbolism is nothing else but the Gospel values expressed through western cultural expressions. Could they not be expressed through other cultural expressions and be equally or even more fruitfully effective for people who come into contact with the Gospel from various cultures and life situations today and tomorrow?

b) Aristotelian – Scholastic thought pattern as the only valid philosophical tool for the interpretation of the Gospel

In the process of explaining and understanding the message of the Gospel, every human system of thought has a legitimate role to play.

The only thing that must be taken care of is that there be no distortion of the original message; diversity in understanding can be the result of the unfolding of the same truth in a variety of ways, thus manifesting the richness of its content. Can we rule out some particular interpretations of the Gospel totally, just because they do not conform to the one interpretation, which has been given by a particular philosophical system?

c) Ignoring the, emergence of a New World, which challenges our traditional monolithic world vision

Vision is something dynamic. Holy Spirit is active in it, although the limitations of the human persons as well as their sinfulness and ignorance can distort it. Being dynamic, as we journey in life and history, new horizons appear. It is necessary to take this changing scenario seriously. The ‘New Age’ phenomenon is one of the expressions of this emerging new world.

d) Not taking into account the new understanding of religions and their relationship with Christianity

Some of the elements that are negatively viewed by the document have come from other religious traditions. Even
though there can be deviations in the formulation of these religions, we cannot devalue their contribution
to God-experience, true especially in the case of certain helps, which they have offered for prayer and meditation.

e) A particular institutional expression of the Church as absolute

Genuine institutionalization consists in incarnating the Gospel in human cultures. In a multicultural world this will take a variety of forms. The authenticity is not measured by using one particular style of institutionalization as the norm for all the others. The Gospel and the communities of believers in the Gospel are the only criteria for our evaluation.

2. The New Age as a challenge and as an opportunity

In all the human efforts to interpret both the personal experiences and the biblical passages, there is always the possibility of falling into ambiguities and even of misunderstanding them. What is important is to read into the interpreters mind and discern what is correct and authentic from what may be wrong and unorthodox; quite often these contain challenges, provide incentives for a better understanding of the text or the experience itself. Looking at the statements and propositions of those who propagate the New Age with this attitude, we might be able to find there certain challenges and incentives for new interpretations of some of the doctrinal statements and spiritual guidelines which we have held for a long time as the only true orientations in a spirit of fidelity to the tradition. I would like to point out some of the challenges, which the proponents of the New Age are offering us.

a) Nobody can deny that some of our faith formulations have been too intellectual and conceptual in their expressions. No doubt, this was done with a view to give clarity to revealed truths. However, God who communicates these truths is a God of love; He speaks out of love. The experiential and emotional dimension should have played an important role in the presentation of divine truths. “The gulf between faith and experience is one of the fundamental reasons for the present-day crisis among Christians who are faithful to the Church” (Edward Schillebeeckx, Christ: the experiment of Jesus as Lord, New York 1981, pg 29). The New Age with its insistence on the role of experience in faith communications is inviting the Church to take this aspect of revelation and faith into consideration. It is true that there can be at times incorrect understanding and interpretation when we deal with a knowledge in which experience comes into play, just as there can be errors and unorthodox formulations when human intellect tries to understand and express the truths. Hence, while keeping a close watch on the deviations, it is necessary to allow the unfolding of the contents of revelations, which new ways of interpretation, such as knowing and understanding through experience etc., offers us.


b) Truths of faith should liberate the human person from all that keeps him or her slave to a particular form of thought or philosophical system. Jesus came to offer the truth that liberates, while teaching of the Jewish leaders of his time were enslaving because they were caught up in a monolithic thought pattern. The New Age expresses this need for freedom. Perhaps the formulation of revealed truth and the experience of the risen Christ are at times caught up in a particular manner of expression, in the style of living ministry and in the fulfillment of the ministry. Evidently, if the Church wants to look at herself with this hermeneutics of suspicion, she will have to cultivate a spirit of both openness and discernment; this will also involve risks. However, it is worth taking this risk because it can open up new vistas and wider perspectives in the formulation of Christian revelation and experience. The Holy Spirit is surely there to assist the Church even as she gets involved in the human society which is journeying through history with its ambiguities, towards its final destiny envisaged in the loving plan of God.

c) The mission of the Church is to evangelize the world. The goal of evangelization is fullness of union among human beings and with the Triune God (John 17:20-21). This is going to be realized in the communion of diversities. The New Age, in spite of its possible deviations, can contribute towards the creation of a rich diversity, which will enhance the beauty of communion for which we all are longing.

d) By being the ‘living water’ Jesus reveals to humanity the ineffable love of the Father. This water flows from the heart of Jesus who has included everyone in his, loving embrace. Can he not give this living water in different ways and forms? Can he not make use of the waters of our country and turn it into living water for the peoples of this land who are longing and seeking to quench their thirst in diverse ways? Let us make sure that we do not make this water become stagnant by its being within the limits of a particular culture or experiential category or a philosophical system. He is the Lord of the universe; he is free to manifest himself in the way he wants. The Spirit of Jesus is present all over the world and in every culture, not be bound by any one particular, thought pattern or symbolic system in the fulfillment of his mission of reminding the world of all that Jesus said and did (John 14.26: 16:13).

e) At this juncture one might ask: what would be the criterion for distinguishing the orthodox from the unorthodox, the authentic from the spurious. Jesus has given us the criteria: from the fruit you will know the tree (Mt. 12:33). Unfortunately at times we do not apply this in our process of discernment. Instead of finding the quality of the tree from the fruit, we go to find its authenticity from its root, that is, the place where it grows, the persons who planted it, the country where it is growing etc. We forget the saying of St. Paul: “l planted, Apollos watered, but it is God who gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives” growth” (1Cor. 3:6-7)


I do not intend to glorify all the statements and propositions of the proponents of the New Age. Certainly there are some direct statements as wells as indirect implications which Christians cannot accept in their writings. At the same time it is not necessary to highlight too much all the possible deviations, which one can bring out from these statements using a certain philosophy as a tool. If in practice, some of the suggestions given by the promoters of the New Age help people to pray better, experience Christ more personally, we should be very cautious in pronouncing a negative judgment on them because we could run the risk of going against the Spirit who blows where he chooses (John 3:8). The Roman document on the New Age should have highlighted the positive contributions which this new trend could make for Christianity’s becoming more relevant for modern man and woman. Then the negative elements, which are, no doubt, present in it, would have been better understood and more carefully avoided by the faithful.

Kristujyoti College Bangalore – 560 036



Fr. Paul Puthenangady/Puthanangady SDB [both spellings of his name are used in the Jeevadhara issue, but he uses the latter], a liturgy specialist, author and editor of several books, is on the Jeevadhara editorial board. He was or still is the Episcopal Vicar for Religious, and Rector, Kristu Jyoti College [the Salesian theologate],
in Bangalore. He teaches at the Fransalian Indian Institute of Spirituality, Bangalore.


Puthanangady cites Schillebeeckx. Edward Schillebeeckx, died 2009, was a Belgian Dominican theologian who was constantly in trouble with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [summoned thrice to Rome], and with the present Pope, for his radical writings, though they were never officially condemned.


Puthanangady makes a case for religious pluralism: “Hence the New Age has to be taken as a creative challenge to respect diversity of religions, variety of cultures and hence plurality of theologies in the Church.

The pressure of a multi-faith society and the need to recognize pluralism … means that some Christians seem to have accepted meekly that any and all religious approaches are equally valid.

Jesus and the World Religions, Is Christianity Just Another Religion? Ajith Fernando, 1987, page 9

The Vatican Document ‘Dominus Iesus’
released on 5 September 2000 emphasized the “exclusive, universal and absolute value” of Jesus Christ, taking aim at the notion that “one religion is as good as another”. The text criticized the tendency to… elevate other religions as pathways to salvation and to downplay Scripture. “The Old and New Testaments are the only such writings inspired by the Holy Spirit” it said. “The Church’s missionary proclamation is endangered today by relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism.”
The New Leader, October 1-15, 2000

Religious Pluralism is an essential feature of Hinduism.

Christian Openness to the World Religions…, 1988, Fr. Zacharias Paranilam, page 131


Like Fr.
George Pattery who maintains that the Document “reflects more of an European ideology [and a] European enlightenment rationality“, Puthanangady believes that the “Western cultural frame of Christianity” is to blame for the Document’s [the Church’s] negative attitude to the NAM. He would prefer an eastern frame of Christianity. Why do I say that?


is one of the contributors to Vandana Mataji‘s occult book Shabda Shakti Sangam belonging to the Catholic Ashrams movement; he wrote the Foreword to ashram leader Sr. Sarah Grant RSCJ‘s
Descent to the Source, 1987.

The front cover
shows the symbol of the Om flowing into the shape of the heart surmounted by a cross.

was the third Director of the
National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre, Bangalore, an institution that is part of the Ashram Aikiya, the federation of ashrams of Catholic initiative and at the forefront of the Hinduisation of the Church in India. During 2005 alone, the NBCLC offered 30 seminars, symposiums, leadership courses, catecheses, workshops on liturgy, dance and drama, art, architecture, music and culture, Indian Christian Spirituality and Dialogue, God-experience, contemplative retreats etc. for laity, priests and religious. I know lay persons, nuns and priests who have attended these programmes.

Without exception, they have been exposed to ashram spirituality. Some of them confess that they picked up their interest in occult alternative medicines like reiki and pranic healing from their animators at the NBCLC. Puthanangady
had himself told me [when I was a student at the Divine Bible College, Muringoor, where he was one of the visiting lecturers in 1999] that these therapies were harmless and Catholics could practise them. Two of my relatives, a nun and a priest, are “OM” and yoga enthusiasts thanks to the NBCLC.


Translation and Inculturation in the Catholic Church

Stephen M. Beall, Ph.D. June 10, 1995, Online Edition – Vol. II, No. 6: October 1996, Presented at the International Conference on “Rethinking Translation”, Milwaukee

Third World Linguistic Experiments: Inculturation or Syncretism?
Still more radical experiments in linguistic inculturation have been undertaken in the Third World. In the 1970s, the bishops of India approved for experimental use a form of the Eucharistic prayer which integrates native religious concepts.

Although it was never approved by the Vatican, this prayer was represented in a more recent (1990) ICEL publication as a model of inculturation (Puthanangady, “Cultural Elements in Liturgical Prayers,”
in Shaping English Liturgy 327-40).

In the following passage, we see a rather ingenious juxtaposition of Biblical and non-Christian language for the Trinity:

In the Oneness of the Supreme Spirit through Christ who unites all things in his fullness, we and the whole creation give to you, God of all, Father of all, honour and glory, thanks and praise, worship and adoration, now and in every age, for ever and ever. Amen. You are the fullness of Reality, One without a second. Being, Knowledge, Bliss. Om, tat, sat.
In this prayer, traditional language about God as Father and Son is followed by the phrase “Being, Knowledge, and Bliss”, which corresponds to a Sanskrit expression, saccidananda. According to Father Puthanangady, “this interpretation of the divine life makes more sense to an Indian than the highly intellectual and abstract term ‘Trinity'”. Indian concepts are also incorporated into the following summary of salvation history:



Because we disobeyed you who are goodness itself we lost eternal life; dharma declined; ignorance immersed us in spiritual darkness. Nevertheless, in the indescribable tenderness of your love, you remembered us and promised us salvation. Through the prophets and establishers of dharma, you revealed to us the message of salvation in various ways. The fall of humanity is summarized in the striking phrase “dharma declined”, and “ignorance” is cited as the cause of our spiritual darkness. Father Puthanangady explains that “ignorance” has been substituted for “sin” and that “the decline of dharma” signifies the social disorder which sin causes. “The work of the prophets and of Jesus Christ:” he explains, “is to re-establish dharma, to bring about order in the lives of people and thus create a just world which bespeaks the kingdom of God.”

It must be noted, however, that “ignorance” is a drastic modulation of the western concept of “sin”. Indeed, traditional theology holds that ignorance, the “darkening of the intellect”, is a consequence, rather than the essence, of original sin. Another problem attends Father Puthanangady’s interpretation of “dharma” as a “just world”. We have seen that some of the recent work in inculturation incorporates trans-cultural ideologies as well as traditional native ideas. It is not clear to me, however, that the concept of dharma lends itself to Father Puthanangady’s activist world-view any more readily than it does, say, to the philosophy of
Saint Thomas Aquinas. Terms such as dharma have historically conditioned associations (e.g., the caste-system) and are likely to resist assimilation by foreign ideologies of any kind.

It is probably better to leave them alone.


Now, what Puthanangady proposes is EXACTLY what New Age is, according to the Vatican Document:

In New Age there is no distinction between good and evil. Human actions are the fruit of either illumination or ignorance. Hence we cannot condemn anyone, and nobody needs forgiveness. Believing in the existence of evil can create only negativity and fear. #2.2.2

New Age … involves a rejection of the language of sin and salvation, replacing it with the morally neutral language of addiction and recovery. #4

For Christians, salvation depends on a participation in the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, and on a direct personal relationship with God rather than on any technique. The human situation, affected as it is by original sin and by personal sin, can only be rectified by God’s action: sin is an offense against God, and only God can reconcile us to himself. In the divine plan of salvation, human beings have been saved by Jesus Christ who, as God and man, is the one mediator of redemption. In Christianity salvation is not an experience of self, a meditative and intuitive dwelling within oneself, but much more the forgiveness of sin, being lifted out of profound ambivalences in oneself and the calming of nature by the gift of communion with a loving God. The way to salvation is not found simply in a self-induced transformation of consciousness, but in a liberation from sin and its consequences which then leads us to struggle against sin in ourselves and in the society around us. It necessarily moves us toward loving solidarity with our neighbour in need. #4

Are we tempted to deny sin or do we accept that there is such a thing? 

In New Age there is no real concept of sin, but rather one of imperfect knowledge; what is needed is enlightenment, which can be reached through particular psycho-physical techniques… The most serious problem perceived in New Age thinking is alienation from the whole cosmos, rather than personal failure or sin. #4

[New Agers] replace personal responsibility to God for our actions with a sense of duty to the cosmos, thus overturning the true concept of sin and the need for redemption through Christ. #6.1

Fr. Puthanangady, if one substitutes ignorance for sin, one doesn’t need Christ anymore, does one?

What you call “the western concept of “sin”” is not a western or European concept but a Christian one.

The Hinduisation of the Church in India through the NBCLS and the ashrams will serve to consolidate the reign of what the Pope describes as “the dictatorship of relativism”.


He is the author of “Inculturation of Liturgy: Its Problems and Possibilities”, 2007. Says Jon Anderson in

Sacrosanctum Concilium and Inculturation of Liturgy in the Post-Conciliar Indian Catholic Church

The common theme amongst Puthanangady’s analyses of these potential benefits is the role of ‘indigenous’ symbols, the use of which he strongly advocates and which he seems virtually to equate with ‘inculturation’… While I certainly agree with Puthanangady that appropriate symbols capable of expressing the manifold aspects of Christ are necessarily pluriform, and that therefore no singular symbol or complex of symbols is adequate fully to capture “the Mystery of Christ,” this by no means negates the facts that there are, nonetheless, some truly normative and ‘catholic’ symbols intended for use throughout the Church (e.g. the cross or crucifix), that these are absolutely necessary to maintain the unity and universality of the Church, and that a mere multiplication of (sometimes ‘foreign’) symbols remains an inadequate basis for a carefully-considered, proper inculturation of the liturgy. Moreover, the introduction of particular symbols drawn from cultures outside the Church always presents unique challenges; in the post-conciliar Indian Church, for example, there have been numerous and repeated attempts to incorporate the traditional Indian “Om” symbol into Catholic iconography and liturgical usage… I am rather less optimistic than Puthanangady at the prospects for any easy incorporation of non-Christian elements into the life of the Church.



It is a matter of great concern, though not of any surprise, that
has apprehensions about the extraordinary form of the Mass, the Tridentine or Latin Rite Mass. This “answer” from him concerns



Austine J. Crasta
Sent: Tuesday, August 07, 2007 3:58 PM

Fr. Paul Puthanangady SDB on the Tridentine Mass

Dear all, I request you to kindly read this article and return your comments at the earliest.  

If you did not already know, Fr. Paul Puthanangady SDB has a Doctorate in Theology with specialization in Liturgy (PhD), from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm in Rome and is currently a Professor of Theology and Liturgy at the Salesian Theologate, Kristu Jyoti College, Bangalore. Besides having edited several books and authored four books – 1) On the New Order of the Mass 2) Initiation to Christian Worship, 3) A New Way of Being Church, and 4) Chosen for the World – Fr. Paul is also the Executive Secretary of the Inter-Ritual Committee of the CBCI for Textbooks in Theology (used by Seminarians all over India). Awaiting your comments. Austine [Austine Crasta, moderator Konkani Catholics list]


Fr. Paul Puthanangady SDB

Source: “Sathyadeepam”, Volume 4/17, August 1-15, 2007

[Fr. Paul Puthanangady SDB has a Doctorate in Theology with specialization in Liturgy (PhD), from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm in Rome and is currently a Professor of Theology and Liturgy at the Salesian Theologate, Kristu Jyoti College, Bangalore. Besides having edited several books and authored four books – 1) On the New Order of the Mass 2) Initiation to Christian Worship, 3) A New Way of Being Church, and 4) Chosen for the World – Fr. Paul is also the Executive Secretary of the Inter-Ritual Committee of the CBCI for Textbooks in Theology (used by Seminarians all over India). – Austine Crasta]


The Pope has permitted Tridentine Mass, why? Is it a going back? – Celestine Peter, Bangalore


All of us are aware of the recent liturgical document issued by Pope Benedict XVI, Motu Proprio: Summorum Pontificum, permitting the use of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope John XXIII, which is nothing else but the Tridentine Mass with a few minor changes introduced by Pope John XXIII in 1962. After the publication of the Roman Missal revised by Decree of the Second Vatican Council by Paul VI, there has been
a small minority
in the Church that wanted to continue to celebrate the pre-Vatican II Mass because of their inability to implement the new Rite due to old age and other serious difficulties. In a spirit of understanding these people were allowed by the Church authorities to celebrate Mass according to the old Rite as an exception.

But there were also some others who adamantly clung on to the pre-Vatican II Mass because of their unwillingness to enter into the Vatican II liturgical reform. The Church never tolerated this group as we know from the events connected with the response of the Church to the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre. The new Document that permit the Tridentine Mass makes it very clear that the permission granted for its use is not a rejection of the Rite of the Mass promulgated by Paul VI nor is it a concession granted to those who refuse to accept the liturgical renewal of Vatican II.

In spite of all these safeguards and assurances,
one cannot but feel somewhat uncomfortable, not because the Tridentine Mass lacks any value and significance. In fact I celebrated the Tridentine Mass everyday for the first five years of my life as a priest. My difficulty comes from the fact that I have accepted Vatican II fully into my life, both in its letter and spirit and I have made it a way of life as a Christian, religious and priest. After having been so much involved in the promotion and celebration of the post-Vatican II liturgy, I feel very much disturbed and sad at the thought of a return to pre-Vatican II period, even though it seems to be only for a few and in extraordinary situations.

After this introduction I would to offer a few reflections on the new document with a view to share my feelings as I carefully went through the text of the Motu Proprio in a spirit of genuine respect and obedience to the Holy Father.

1. Some positive elements
a) I fully appreciate the intention of the Holy Father in issuing this document, namely, to preserve unity in the Church. If some one in the Church, which is a community of love, feels uncomfortable due to certain liturgical practices, we should be able to meet that brother or sister with consideration, compassion and understanding. We should not allow communion to be disturbed for the sake of some ritual observances. Just as someone who cannot take the normal food due to serious health problems should be given special food, we need to make provisions also in liturgical matters for persons who cannot participate in the ordinary celebrations.
b) There is no doubt that Tridentine Mass has its value and occupies an important place in the liturgical tradition of the Church. It has sanctified many persons. It has played an important role in the implementation of the Tridentine reform. But we have to admit at the same that no liturgical rite is perfect. Being a human product, even though assisted by the Spirit it has its week [sic] points and defects: Ecclesia simper reformanda (Church to be always renewed) so also Liturgia simper reformanda (Liturgy to be always renewed) We must admit this also of the Tridentine Mass as well as of the Mass of Paul VI or any liturgical rituals that have existed in the Church.


c) The Holy Father has clearly stated that the Mass of Pope Paul VI is the ordinary form of the celebration in the Roman Church. That means the value and relevance of this Mass is still upheld. Hence the ordinary faithful should celebrate this Mass.
Only those who are out of the ordinary and are unable to accept it due to some problem of their own should have recourse to the Mass of 1962, just as only a sick person need to take the special food. Hence the reason for permitting this extraordinary form of celebration does not come from the Roman Missal of Paul VI, but from those who are unable to make use of it for their worship.

d) The Holy Father, in his letter to the Bishops accompanying the Motu Proprio states: “I invite you, dear Brothers, to send to the Holy See an account of your experiences, three year after this Motu Proprio has taken effect. If truly serious difficulties come to light, ways to remedy them can be sought.” This is an indication that there is the possibility of a revision of these provisions in the light of the pastoral considerations. It seems to be also clear that the permission granted can be withdrawn or modified in case its implementation goes against the spirit of Vatican II or impedes the pastoral care of the Christian community.

2. Some clarifications.
a) I have been made to understand from the very beginning of the post-Vatican II liturgical renewal that it is not a mere reform of the old rite, but a total renewal of the whole liturgical life of the Church as stated by the Liturgical Constitution. “In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive in abundance of grace from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself” (SC 21). In fact when Pope Paul VI published the Roman Missal with an Apostolic Constitution he stated: “We decree that these laws and prescriptions be firm and effective now and in the future, notwithstanding to the extent necessary, the apostolic constitutions and ordinances issued by our predecessors and other prescriptions, even those deserving particular mention and amendment.” Can we not consider this statement as replacing the Tridentine Mass with the Mass of Paul VI?
b) The Mass of Paul VI should not be placed in opposition to the Tridentine Mass. The former is the completion of the latter. The introduction to the Roman Missal says: The liturgical norms of the Council of Trent have been completed and improved in many respects by those of Vatican II. This Council has brought to realization the efforts of the last four hundred years to move the faithful closer to the sacred liturgy, especially the efforts of recent times and above all the zeal for the liturgy promoted by St. Pius X and his successors. Hence, if the Vatican II is the completion of the Tridentine reform, should we not follow the Vatican II liturgy and stop clinging to the Tridentine liturgy?
c) One of the principles of liturgical renewal promoted by Vatican II is stated in the Liturgical Constitution as follows: “For the liturgy is made up of unchangeable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These latter not only may be changed, but ought to be changed with the passage of time, if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become less suitable” (SC 21). Mass of Paul VI has been drawn up in order to implement this principle. It has removed some elements from the Tridentine Mass and introduced some new elements in the light of this principle. Hence, how can we have both the Tridentine Mass and Paul VI as officially approved even though the one is called ordinary and the other extraordinary?
d) The Motu Proprio says with regard to the sacrament of Confirmation: “Ordinaries are given the right to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation using the earlier Roman Pontifical, if the good of souls would seem to require it”(art.. 9, p.2). The Apostolic Constitution of Paul VI which promulgated the new rite of Confirmation says: “Therefore, in order that the revision of the rite of Confirmation may fittingly embrace also the essence of the sacramental rite, by our supreme apostolic authority we decree and lay down that in the Latin Church the following should be observed for the future: The Sacrament of Confirmation is conferred through the anointing with chrism on the forehead, which is done by the laying of the hand, and through the words: Accipe Signaculum Doni Spiritus Sancti (Be sealed with the Gift of the Holt Spirit).”

Now the question is: Has the authoritative statement of Paul VI regarding the form of the sacrament been changed by this Motu Proprio?! The old formula speaks of the gifts of the Spirit, while the new one speaks of the gift of the Spirit or the gift which is the Spirit. This is taken from the Byzantine Rite.

3. Some Fears.
a) It is true that the Tridentine Mass is the extraordinary form of the celebration. But in practice, the criteria regarding its extraordinary character is left to individual priests or lay people to decide, since there is no need to have the permission of the Bishop or of the Apostolic See to celebrate it. In this way

there is a danger that the extraordinary can become ordinary in real practice.
b) People can put pressure on priests to celebrate this Mass in the parish and this can create division in the parish. We have seen this happening in the case of different linguistic groups; it can also happen in the case of those who follow the Mass of Paul VI and those who follow the Tridentine Mass.
c) In the Tridentine Mass certain basic principles of Vatican II liturgy cannot be practiced or can be practiced with great difficulty: Here are some of them:
i) The community dimension of the liturgy will suffer. In the Tridentine Mass the Canon of the Mass (the Eucharist Prayer) must be recited by the priest in a subdued voice, that is, without being heard by the people. This will not facilitate the full participation of the faithful in the most important part of the Mass.
ii) Another element introduced in the new Mass is the Prayer of the Faithful as a sign of their participation in the celebration. In the Tridentine Mass there is no prayer of the faithful.



iii) A very important element in the liturgy of the Word according to the New Rite of the Mass is the Responsorial psalm after the reading, as a sign of the response of the faithful to the Word of God. In the Tridentine Mass there is no responsorial psalm. There is only a gradual verse which is not a proper response of the people.
iv) The Tridentine Mass will be in Latin which people and even many priests do not understand. Thus the participation of the faithful becomes very passive and merely devotional.
d) With the permission granted to celebrate not only the Mass, but even all the sacraments and Divine Office, the whole liturgical renewal introduced by the Church in order to implement the Liturgical Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium becomes relativized and to some extent even made optional.

e) The Tridentine Mass has to be celebrated by priests without facing the people. This would mean a change in the position of the altar which in all the churches have been fixed in order to celebrate the Mass of Paul VI, facing the people. This can cause confusion among the different groups of faithful in the parish churches.
f) It is not going to be very easy to find today priests who will be able to celebrate the Tridentine liturgy. Does this imply that there should be separate seminaries where such priests are trained? Will this be possible in the given circumstances of today, especially in the third world?

There is no question of denying the heritage value and the spiritual efficacy of the Tridentine Mass. But liturgy is for the people of today. It is the Mystery of Christ made present in the life situation of the people who celebrate it. The first consideration in celebrating the celebrating the liturgy should be the people. The great majority of the Christian community today has found the vernacular liturgy celebrated according to the directives of the Roman Missal published by Paul VI meaningful and relevant. There is no doubt that this liturgy is equally capable of creating saints as did the Tridentine Liturgy. In all probability, we will not find many takers of the Tridentine Mass today and even if some are found (at times for the sake of the novelty) they will soon get tired of its ritualism and lack of intelligibility due to language and other symbols.
One of the alleged reasons for this return to the Tridentine Mass seems to be the unbecoming manner in which the new liturgy is celebrated at times and by some priests. There seems to be some truth in this. But the answer to this problem is not returning to the past, but reforming the style of our celebration. The God-experience which the Tridentine liturgy claims to give the people can be very well achieved if we foster an experiential celebration of the new liturgy. Perhaps the creation of a mysterious atmosphere is easier in a celebration in which a language that is not understood by the people is used, where ceremonies that creates certain numinosity is expressed, where there is a certain type of devotional music like the Gregorian chant is used. But the new liturgy with its greater involvement of the people is also capable of creating an atmosphere of prayerfulness and spiritual commitment provided the celebrants and the people are trained properly to celebrate it; it is certainly more difficult to achieve this in the vernacular Mass, celebrated facing with people with more participation of the people. But if it is performed in a fitting manner it can produce very good spiritual and apostolic fruits.
It is worth reproducing here the reaction of an Italian Bishop, Monsignor Luca Brandolini, to the Motu Proprio on the day it was published. The review Inside Vatican reports it: “This day is for me a day of grief. I have a lump in my throat and I do not manage to hold back my tears. But, I will obey the Holy Father, because I am a bishop and because I care for him. However, I cannot hide my sadness for the putting aside of one of the most important reforms of the Second Vatican Council.” I can resonate with this Bishop very well, not only in his sadness, but also in his spirit of obedience. I, too, will say, in spite of the observations I have made above on the text of the Motu Proprio, I will obey. And if, under obedience I am asked to celebrate this Mass, I will do it.

Fr. Paul Puthanangady, many Indian theologians, the NBCLC, the ashramites and the inculturationists fear the Tridentine Mass and other reforms of Benedict XVI because they pose a threat to their agenda of an Indian rite Mass and an autonomous Indian Church. Like the Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum” and the Document “Dominus Iesus”, the Vatican Document on the New Age is yet another blow to their aspirations.



















[7] Static Categories to Meet a Dynamic Religious Phenomenon?

Errol D’Lima

The document is not a help to have a genuine dialogue with the proponents of the New Age. The document finds fault with several assumptions of the New Age thinking. But it does not honestly and self-critically reflect on the challenges New Age is positing on traditional Christian theology: questions concerning transcendence of God, situational ethics, revelation in other religions, structural sin, cosmic world-view, rebirth etc. The static categories of traditional dogmatics are not enough to meet the challenges of a dynamics religious phenomenon.

The Function of Institutional Religion

Religion seeks to offer people a way of life that brings them full self-realization or ultimate fulfillment. It offers a perspective from which an individual can interpret his/her situation in the world or cosmos and respond to the challenges of life especially when radical changes take place in the world or crisis-moments occur in people’s lives. Religion offers a Weltanschauung (worldview) that takes into account life in this world and beyond. In this worldview, the experience of the divine, afterlife and its attainment, ethical living and cult is woven into the everyday life of a person. This is especially true of mainline religions that boast large numbers of believers and clearly articulated theologies of human existence.

The Aim of the Pontifical Document (PD)

Christianity offers its adherents the perspective that Jesus Christ proclaimed in his words and deeds; further, it recognizes in Jesus Christ God’s unique communication and commitment to the world of people. The Church witnesses to this salvific communication in the history of the world. The reflections in the ‘provisional report’ on the “New Age” by the different Pontifical Councils seek “to explain how the New Age movement differs from the Christian faith” and invite “readers to take account of the way that New Age religiosity addresses the spiritual hunger of contemporary men and women.” The document begins by identifying aspects constitutive of or associated with New Age; it then contrasts New Age with Christian faith as set down in the gospel of Jesus. Finally, it offers Christians both guidance and practical advice when faced with New Age alternatives.

The Aim of New Age

New Age does not have a formal beginning. It does not begin with a historical person, or with a universally recognized event like a world war or a systematic thought process. It reflects a sense of dissatisfaction with “what is” and reaches out for an alternative. New Age thinking views mainline religions, authority structures and struggles that bring pain and suffering to humans and the ecology as boundaries in life that must be transcended. However, unlike the disillusionment of the 1960s that espoused a culture of drugs, free sex and anti-authoritarianism as an antidote to events in Vietnam and the Cold War’s balance of terror, New Age seeks to promote harmony, peace and spirituality which sustains the world of humans.

Initial Reflections on the Document

a) Since New Age adherents are located mainly in Europe and America, we could assume that most of them are persons looking for an-alternative to the Christianity that is practised. The Pontifical Document (PD) makes little effort to examine and discover the reasons why these persons are looking for an alternative. Could it be that the existing Christianity is a pale shadow of the authentic Christianity proclaimed in the gospels? Would not people then look for an alternative? Could it be that the efforts of the Christian Churches are directed more to exercising control over peoples’ lives rather than challenging them to a gospel way of life that liberates?


b) The document creates a context of its own in which it begins to examine and explain New Age events. The context acquires meaning from an intra-Church discourse. It is a moot point if the claims made in the document about New Age are valid when PD engages in a discourse that is intra-Church rather than in one shared by the Church and New Age. In the document, New Age is shown as wanting to displace formal religion and Christianity in particular. It concludes that the New Age “stance towards Christianity is not neutral, but neutralizing: despite what is often said about openness to all religious standpoints, traditional Christianity is not sincerely regarded as an acceptable alternative.” (6.1) Is the Church projecting an image of New Age that emerges from an intra-Church discourse alone or from a discourse shared by the Church and New Age?

c) One of the key presumptions of New Age is that we are living in an evolving world of pluralism and if institutionalized religion (Christianity) refuses to take stock of the present situation in the world, then it will not be able to understand and answer new questions that are framed by seekers. Vatican II (1962-65) invested the faith commitment of the Christian with a new agenda in the mission of proclaiming the salvific message of Christianity. Implicit in that agenda was the acknowledging of pluralism in the world, and the consequent need for reinterpreting the Christian message through dialogue for each new situation. Gaudium et Spes was forthright in its support for dialogue:

In virtue of its mission to spread the light of the gospel’s message over the entire globe, and to bring all people of whatever nation, race or culture together into the one Spirit, the Church comes to be a sign of that kinship which makes genuine dialogue (dialogum) possible and vigorous (92).1

1GS 40 also says: “Everything that we have said about the dignity of the human person, the community of women and men and the significance of human activity provides ground for the relationship between the church and the world and a basis for mutual dialogue(dialogi).”

Already in his first encyclical Ecclesiam Suam (1964), Pope Paul VI had the following to say about dialogue:

It is demanded by the dynamic course of action which is changing the face of modern society. It is demanded by the pluralism of society, and by the maturity the human has reached in this day and age (78).

d) The recognition by the Christian Churches that New Age phenomena are drawing persons away from the traditional Churches should suggest an opportunity for dialogue rather than confrontation. Instead, recourse is had to doctrinal elucidation that succeeds in making sense mainly to the converted. In the following paragraphs we shall focus our attention on the points (summarized by me) detailed in PD, Section 4: “New Age and Christian Faith in Contrast.”2 The document points to the contrasts between Christianity (including Church) and New Age. A few considerations are appended to each summarized statement.

2Jesus Christ The Bearer of the Water of Life, A Christian Reflection on the “New Age”, 2003; a document put out by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, “No.4. New Age and Christian Faith in Contrast,” pp 63-74.

1. God is personal rather than a force to be harassed or manipulated

The pontifical document pointedly describes God as personal in opposition to the view supposedly held by New Age that God is a force to be manipulated. Yet God cannot be person merely in the way a human being is a person. Even if one uses the three-stage process of predicating God as person – affirm that he is person like us, then deny that he is person like us, and then finally affirm that he is person in an infinitely excellent way – one has still not exhaustively articulated the meaningfulness of God as person. One wonders why the document makes no attempt to consider the apophatic theology that is found in the writings of Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite (c. 500) where concepts and images are seen as giving us only a limited understanding of God. The Christian understanding of God in Jesus begins with faith in Jesus.



The content of that faith far from exhausting the meaningfulness of God offers us a unique way of understanding and uniting the Christian believer to God as the Father of Jesus. Could not New Age efforts be viewed as attempts to assert the transcendence of God in contrast to well-intentioned efforts of Christians that make God too anthropomorphic?

2. There is only one Jesus Christ and not many “Christs”

The uniqueness of Christ is not in question. However, a marked reluctance on the part of the Roman dicasteries to recognize and affirm God’s revelation outside of the Christian experience seems to shadow their interaction with other faiths. The seeker of truth should be emboldened to discover “God, whose providence, manifestation of goodness and plans for salvation are extended to all.” (Nostra Aetate no.1) The need of the Church to dialogue with those of other faith persuasions is the call given by Pope John Paul in Ecclesia in Asia, no.3. The Christian believer engaging in such dialogue accepts that God’s revelation is present in other religions because of which the mutual enrichment of both dialogue partners can take place. In Redemptoris Missio (1990), Pope John Paul II affirmed the usefulness of dialogue for enriching the dialogue partners (55). Should not faith in Christ enable the Christian to recognize authentic revelatory actions of God outside the Christian world? Should not this be the challenge of religious pluralism?

3. The human being is individual (therefore autonomous), not something fading into one universal being

The Christian dispensation affirms the autonomy of the human individual to highlight human freedom. What characterizes human freedom is personal choice that brings in its wake responsibility for one’s action and its effects. In contrast to fatalism or mere lack of knowledge in making choices, Christian ethics views sinfulness as proceeding from personal accountability. The burden of sin consequent on personal failure (see nr.7. below and its elimination are contingent on forgiveness. Like the Judeo-Christian tradition that understands sin as the evil for which one is responsible, the Bhakti-marga tradition with its understanding of prasada similarly envisages forgiveness to the one who has done wrong.

4. Human salvation is God’s gift to persons, not something that persons construct from their own resources

At its core, the doctrine of Original Sin affirms the absolute necessity of God for a person to attain self-realization. While in traditional Christian theology this necessity is articulated within the category of history it is not self-evident that other categories do not exist. The otherness of God that makes human persons complete can be valid even in a cosmic perspective. Further, salvation can be seen from the perspective that St. Irenaeus (c.130-c.200) developed. In opposition to the pessimistic views of Gnosticism regarding the material order, Irenaeus’ theology views salvation in Christ, the Word Incarnate, as growth and development of the human that attains fullest maturity in Christ. In all of this, human salvation remains God’s gift to persons.

5. Truth is not a product of the feel-good factor but of an objective givenness that is knowable by all

The pontifical document correctly observes that truth results from an “objective givenness”. An implicit argument is made for ethical norms that govern human conduct in the world and are willed by God. But discerning universally valid ethical norms is not the same as perceiving how these are to be applied in varied situations. One may not agree entirely with Joseph Fletcher’s approach in defining Situation Ethics, but the need to seriously assess how ethical norms can be responsibly applied to a context cannot be gainsaid.

6. Prayer and meditation imply a talking to God rather than to ourselves


Communing with God has always been a signal mark of the spiritual person. Such communing is referred to as prayer and is seen to be a gift from God. It is variously described as petitioning God about those things which concern salvation: raising one’s mind to God, conversing with God and seeking God in all things. In all prayer where a person becomes present to the almighty, the initiative comes from God. The Christian Tradition does not lack writers who speak about the kinds of prayer that exist, their purpose and function. Many like Ignatius of Loyola, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila are confirmed mystics in the orthodox tradition of the Catholic Church. The acid test, however for prayer achieving its purpose is the ability of the one who prays to live the way of life that Jesus proclaimed in the gospels. One recalls that St Gregory Palamos (c. 1296-1359), in his efforts to promote the Hesychast tradition of prayer, suffered from those who opposed this form of prayer as unorthodox. Rather than deciding the object of one’s prayer, would there not be more need to examine the effects of prayer on people’s lives?

The document has little to say about this acid test. Rather, it identifies a “double orientation of Christian prayer”: introspection and a meeting with God. But to speak about ‘meeting-God’ in prayer is too vague a description to differentiate it from talking to ourselves. God is not an object whom we meet in prayer and we are forced to use symbols or the language of analogy to describe what happens in such encounters. The danger of talking to oneself while imagining that one is talking to God exists for the Christian believer as well as for any other person. In effect, the document explains theoretically the difference between psychological states and prayer and cautions a person against confusing one with the other. It charges New Age spirituality with the following: “It is also true that techniques for going deeper into one’s own soul are ultimately an appeal to one’s own ability to reach the divine, or even to become divine: if they forget God’s search for the human heart they are still not Christian prayer.” One can choose to make theoretical claims that are cogent in themselves, but the danger exists of making a caricature of spiritualities that use psychological techniques as preludes to prayer. Could not one argue that the action of divine grace is inscrutable and that the beginning of conscious introspection, e.g. conversion, is already the beginning of prayer?

7. Sin involves personal failure rather than mere alienation from the whole cosmos

In no. 3, mention was made of the autonomous status of the individual to underline the importance of personal choice. However, the document has not treated of structural sin and social ethics. Sin involves very much more than personal failure and the social encyclicals from the time of Rerum Novarum (1891) to the present have in mind also social and structural sin. Alienation can be seen as entering into the very substance of personal failure in so far as it separates persons and classes, (castes) from one another and from God

8. Suffering and death constitute the human situation: Christian belief and reincarnation cannot coexist

The document has done well to call attention to how the suffering Jesus interprets the human situation and offers men and women a way of coping with suffering and death. Further, reincarnation (also ‘transmigration’ or ‘metempsychosis’) was seen as undermining the finality of death and the seriousness of human choice that determines one’s moral state at the moment of death. Given the worldview of the Christian, reincarnation cannot be reconciled with the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. Up to this point we have been concerned with the meaning of the term reincarnation. However, it is helpful to direct our attention to the meaningfulness of the term reincarnation since the doctrine surrounding it is an attempt “to provide a morally satisfying explanation of the inequalities of fortune and character among mankind, which it ascribes to deeds done in former lives.”3

3Cross, F. L. and Livingstone, E. A. (Editors): The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian, Church Oxford University Press, third edition, 1997, p. 1077.

9. An ambiguity of New Age as regards social commitment


The document claims that much in New Age is self-promotional, that the care of the other is of little consequence, but some leading figures in the New Age movement dispute this claim since it is probably confined to a few. By contrast, Christianity has an essential place for the other and the freedom to love.

10. Humans must freely construct their future; it will not evolve effortlessly to their benefit

The New Age future is seen to include a perfection that will arrive effortlessly and the document reiterates that whatever that future, it cannot be one that professes a doctrine that seeks to displace Christian understanding and belief as made known in Jesus Christ. This is a healthy reminder of the need to work out one’s salvation by identifying with the crucified Christ.

Concluding Remarks

In today’s dialogue both secular and religious – there is an expectation that the Catholic Church would find aspects in other religions that it admires and draws from. However, there always seems to be the fear that if the Church discovers something of beneath elsewhere, this would imply that the Christian revelation had been incomplete. The Church’s rather negative assessment of New Age derives from comparing terms as understood in the Church’s doctrine with those used by or associated with New Age currents/movements. In dialogue, there is effort to understand the message behind the word and the meaningfulness of a verbal expression. Dialogue is the pattern of interaction that should affect the doctrinal pronouncements of the Church; otherwise Church doctrine would be largely self-serving.

In its efforts to trace certain doctrines and practices linked with Eastern Religions, the PD has adopted a comparative religions approach. A deficiency in this approach is that the categories for assessing different religions are static. Further, the categories are in fact derived from one axial religion – in this case Christianity – to the detriment of the other religion, in this case, New Age.

Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune – 411 014


Fr. Errol D’Lima SJ
is the second of three theologians of the JDV to flay the New Age Document. This fact justifies my concern about the nature of the theological influence exerted by the formators [the JDV-Papal Seminary-De Nobili College] on their students and on the direction that the Church is heading in this country as recorded by me in my report number 2 on the New Community Bible.

He was president of the Indian Theological Association. He was one of those Indian theologians who “Regret Vatican Inability To Understand Them” and joined in the chorus of their protests against the 2000 Document Dominus Iesus which stressed on the unicity of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour [see pages 3 and 38 of this critique]. Here he accuses Rome of a “negative assessment of the New Age” which he rightly calls a “religion“, spiritual in nature as it is. That he is already biased against Roman pronouncements and cautions is evidenced by his choice of words like “claims” when he refers to Vatican opinions on New Age.

Completely ignoring the threat of New Age to the Church, its spiritual dangers and its established presence in his own theological institution, he focuses instead on the intra-Church nature of the Document, which is how he views it, insisting that it [and the Church] should instead dialogue with the New Age religion.

His argument “Could not New Age efforts be viewed as attempts to assert the transcendence of God in contrast to well-intentioned efforts of Christians that make God too anthropomorphic?” is, to me, untenable. Even Hinduism, several of whose philosophies influence New Age, is anthropomorphic.

Humankind, when confronted by the need to express attributes of God is often left with little choice but to explain God in human terms [anthropomorphism]. If what he means by the above is that Christians’ assertion of the immanence of God causes New Agers to stress on God’s transcendence, I might remind him that Christianity holds that God is both immanent and transcendent. He completely ignores the Document’s repeated — and far more serious — charge that New Agers subscribe to a monistic, pantheistic, panentheistic understanding of God thus ensuring that there is little common ground for “dialogue”.

Fr. Errol D’Lima posits that “New Age adherents are located mainly in Europe and America“. As I said earlier, the New Age is alive and kicking at the JDV and its allied institutions. As my numerous reports show, it is also fairly institutionalized in sections of the Indian Church. It is so widespread in the Church that it keeps my ministry engaged 24x7x365. D’Lima had better re-read the New Age Document carefully.


Getting Set for the New Age

P. T. Mathew

The New Age problems affecting mostly the local Churches in the West
are being projected by the document as problems of the universal Church. However the heritage of religious pluralism and the struggles of the Asian Churches in encountering the local cultures are not respected in the document. While giving pastoral directives the document should have also made a critical reflection on the real causes of the spiritual crisis in the West. The Catholic tradition has always shown propensity to discuss and deal with issues of concern to men and women of every age. The recent Vatican document “Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life” deserves to be lauded for its timeliness as well as its scholarship. Its eagerness to provide guidance to Catholics involved in preaching the Gospel and teaching the faith is praiseworthy. That the document is a ‘provisional report’ presented with the hope that “this work will in fact provide a stimulus for further studies adapted to different cultural contexts” is gratifying. This assurance provides the impetus for this paper. It is an attempt to reflect on the document from the perspective of Indian experience, focusing primarily on certain methodological and theo-cultural aspects. The key insights are discussed under four titles, with the sectional numbers of the document being given in brackets.

1. Universality of the document: some geo-social considerations

The importance of the document is evident from the fact that it has been prepared by a Working Group composed of four important dicasteries of the Holy See. Less clear is the constituency the document aims at. There is apparent ambiguity in this regard. On the one hand it is presented as a document with universal applicability, meant for the global Christian community, when it says that “the success of New Age offers the Church a challenge” (1.5). The underlying assumption is that New Age phenomenon is so worldwide that the Church everywhere has to respond to it. It is seen as ‘spread across cultures’ and as a ‘global phenomenon’ (2.5). So it says “Christians in many Western societies, and increasingly also in other parts of the world frequently come into contact with different aspects of the phenomenon known as New Age”(2). Wherever the aim of the document is clarified, no geographical or cultural specifications are given; instead, these are simply presented as “a guide for Catholics involved in preaching the Gospel and teaching the faith at any level within the Church” (1). In other words, the catholicity of the document is affirmed.

Yet, on the other-hand, the document presents itself as a response to a crisis that is apparently facing the Church in the West. This is the underlying theme latent in the document, which becomes more explicit at times. “New Age is a witness to nothing less than a cultural revolution, a complex reaction to the dominant ideas and values in Western culture”(2.1). “New Age, as we know it, came from a search for something more humane and beautiful than the oppressive, alienating experience of life in Western society” (2.1). “New Age is a conscious search for an alternative to Western culture and its Judeo-Christian religious roots” (3.1).This is because “in Western culture in particular the appeal for alternative approaches to spirituality is very strong”(1.4). The point of reference is always the Western Church; it notes that New Age “has an extraordinarily powerful appeal, above all, in sophisticated Western societies” (6.1). The Western viewpoint is further evident when it says “New Age imports Eastern religious practices piecemeal and reinterprets them to suit Westerners” (2.4). “In Western cultures in particular”, is an oft-repeated phrase in the document. The two centers that are presented as the initial powerhouses of the New Age are the Garden community at Findhorn in North-East Scotland, and the Centre for the development of human potential at Esalen in Big Sur, California (2.3.2) – both in the Western world. The document, beyond any doubt, is written from a Western standpoint.

    To present Western concerns as universal problems would imply a faulty presentation of the case. New Age may be a critical issue bothering the Church in the Western nations, but may not be in India which has other urgent and acute problems to struggle with. What is particular to a culture should be dealt with as particular. To say that what is western today may become global tomorrow would betray a colonial mindset.


2. Conflict of worldviews

The document is aware that “some practices are incorrectly labelled as New Age simply as a marketing strategy to make them sell better, but are not truly associated with its worldview”(4). “The term New Age has even been abused to demonize people and practice”, it observes, rightly (6.2). But the same document contributes to the same demonization process, consciously or otherwise. It admits that “it is difficult to separate the individual elements of New Age religiosity from the overarching framework which permeates the whole thought-world on the New Age movement (4). What it does, on the other hand, is to dismember New Age from its worldview (if such a worldview exists), as a result of which it is difficult to figure out what New Age is. In fact the term New Age itself is debatable and confusing; there is no ‘universal agreement on what it means. What scientific credibility can be claimed for a document that bases its arguments on material that is ‘labelled’ New Age, often as marketing strategy? It won’t be wrong to say that the document sacralizes and legitimizes something that hardly deserves such a blessing.

    “From the point of view of Christian faith, it is not possible to isolate some elements of New Age religiosity as acceptable to Christians, while rejecting others”, asserts the document. Why not? we may ask. Two fallacies creep in here. One is the argument that a religious or cultural tradition can be accepted or rejected only in its totality, and never in parts. It goes against the very human experience. In fact, all learning, all conversion, takes place guided by the principle meaning and relevance; people accept what is relevant and meaningful at a given time and place, while ignoring or rejecting others. The document itself brings into discussion what it considers incongruent with Christian tradition while ignoring others. Is it not ‘isolation’ of elements? Here occurs the second fallacy: elements isolated from a whole are used to establish their incongruence with the Christian tradition. The inspiring words of Pope John Paul II may be recalled here:

“My thoughts turn immediately to the lands of the East, so rich in religious and philosophical traditions of great antiquity. Among these lands India has a special place. … In India particularly it is the duty of the Christians now to draw from this rich heritage the elements compatible with their faith in order to enrich Christian thought.” (Fides et ratio no. 72).

How do we draw from this rich heritage if it is seen as a case of ‘all or none’? Western theological is yet to recognize the weakness of this disjunctive logic that is so alien to the Indic mind. The impact of the confusion resulting from these conflicting directives, on Christian communities in India can not be ignored.

3. New Age challenge: a lost opportunity for authentic religions to join hands

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue being part of the Working Group that composed the document, one would naturally expect positive contribution to the task of dialogue. The stated purpose of the document also includes this as a thrust area when it says that “it is an invitation to understand the New Age and to engage in a genuine dialogue with those who are influenced by New Age thought”(1). It is repeated again emphatically, and is presented as “an invitation to Christians to take the New Age seriously, and as such asks its readers to enter into a critical dialogue with people approaching the same world from very different perspectives”(2). Later on it calls upon Catholic cultural centers to be “spaces for honest dialogue”(6.2).These prove the noble intentions of the Commission. In spite of this the document fails to contribute to the mission of dialogue, I am afraid. It is evident from two directions. One refers to the snide remarks it makes about other religious traditions, particularly Indic/Asian religions that are said to contribute to the New Age thought. The other refers to a lost opportunity to join hands with other religious traditions in dealing with the challenge of New Age. The document rightly points to ‘religious relativism’, as the mark of the ‘cultural environment of New Age phenomenon (4), and this would adversely affect every religious tradition, not only Christianity. Would it not provide a wonderful platform for interreligious collaboration? Sad to say, the Council has failed to explore such a possibility, and ended up too narrow and partisan in its approach to New Age.

The disparaging comments, though subtle, about Indic/Asian religions come across offensive to Asian sensibilities and quite painful to Indian Christians too. Examples are too many to quote. “New Age imports Eastern religious practices piecemeal and reinterprets them to suit Westerners”(24); “New Age has a marked preference for Eastern or pre-Christian religions which are reckoned to be uncontaminated by Judaeo-Christian distortions”(; “What is offered is often described as simply ‘spiritual’ rather than belonging to any religion, but there are much closer links to particular Eastern religions than many ‘consumers’ realize”(2.5). Hinduism and Buddhism, both nourished in the Indian soil, are explicitly mentioned in this context. Two areas are worth noting: one, the document’s treatment of ‘techniques’ like meditation; two, the comparative approach to religious themes like God, world, human person, Christ, prayer, sin, salvation, transcendence etc.

The claim that “the New Age concept of God is rather diffuse, whereas the Christian concept is a very clear one”(4) displays the tendency to de-link another’s faith concept from its worldview and to judge it through one’s own religious categories. Such concepts are not understood uniformly even by different Christian denominations; no wonder they are not the same in different religious traditions. ‘Karma’ is a revered concept in Indic religions; to say this is ‘irreconcilable with the Christian belief is begging the question. For, a religious concept acquires its meaning out of the specific epistemological milieu and within a particular worldview. To dismantle it is to do violence to that tradition. What is at work is ‘religious reductionism’ to serve one’s own interests. Is it wrong to compare religious concepts? we may ask. Not at all, if it is for deepening proper understanding of these concepts. The comparative approach is well accepted in many disciplines. But danger occurs when comparison becomes a cover for condemnation. Sweeping generalizations in the document bear testimony to this fact: “New Age thinking is based on totalitarian unity, and that is why it is a danger”; “New Age is essentially Pelagian in its understanding of human nature”(4); “they often propose a pantheistic concept of God”; “the fundamental difficulty of all New Age thought is that this transcendence is strictly a self transcendence to be achieved within a closed universe”(6.1). The questions given as key to evaluate New Age thought and practice from a Christian standpoint (4) clearly illustrate a prejudiced mind-set; e.g. Is there one Jesus Christ, or are there thousands of Christs? Do we invent truth or do we embrace it? In prayer and meditation are we talking to ourselves or to God? Is our future in the stars or do we help to construct it? The connotation of these questions is too obvious to deserve any comment.

    ‘Techniques’ is a term that is liberally being used in the document, and it requires closer scrutiny. Prayer that is non-Christian is reduced first to ‘meditation techniques’, then to ‘psycho-social techniques’ to ‘feel good’, and finally’ are rejected as ‘non-prayer’ or ‘honoured’ as ‘preparation for prayer’. That is why the document categorically states that “New Age practices are not really prayer”(4). Here the echo of the 1989 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on ‘Certain Aspects of Christian Meditation” is evident. The practice of meditation is frowned upon due to its close links to particular Eastern religions, either as a result of utter ignorance or as a fruit of arrogance. “The great religious orders have strong traditions of meditations and spirituality”, affirms the document, and recommends them as useful resources. It deliberately seems to forget the rich heritage of ‘techniques’ associated with Christian meditation over ages. It may not be wrong to conclude that the document helps to reverse the progress made since Vat. II., and turn the clock back in the perilous path of interreligious dialogue a burning concern of Indian Christians.

4. Spread of religion in the reverse direction: Crux of the problem

A deeper historical diagnosis of the phenomenon is necessary to situate the ‘crisis of New Age’ and its challenge to Christianity in proper perspective. The Christian tradition remained largely confined within the boundaries of the Roman Empire for many centuries, barring a few exceptions. The explosive spread of Christianity to other continents and to other peoples had to wait till the colonial era, which happened to coincide with the missionary period. The 16th to 20th centuries, which were the golden era of the missionary phase, ensured the hegemony of Christianity in most parts of Asia, Africa and the Americas. But with the exit of colonialism by the middle of the 20th century, the Asian religions that remained dormant during the colonial period began to make inroads into other parts of the world, especially Europe and North America.

The hegemonic presence of Christianity began to get threatened. This may be called the reverse phase in the expansion of religions. Understandably it does disturb the-Church leadership in Western countries. But the problem needs to be diagnosed with tools of historians and social scientists, not merely those of theologians and philosophers. The volume of literature on New Age that is appearing in the western media points to the trend of response to New Age that is more emotional than informed. Here the task of analyzing the issue in proper perspective by Christian leaders and theologians remains urgent before rushing to issue directives.

5. Conclusion

Our discussion in this paper was primarily from the Indian standpoint, with its strengths and limitations. This standpoint would easily resonate with the wisdom of Gamaliel when he says: “keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God” (Acts 5:38-39). This is not to be construed as excuse for uncritical tolerance. After all, the tree is to be judged from its fruits (Mt. 7:20).

    The pastoral motive of the document deserves appreciation as the Church steps in to face the challenge of New Age in various parts of the Christian world. The section titled “a positive challenge” (1.5) is prophetic indeed. New Age is to be looked upon as a positive challenge, not a threat. The ‘challenge’ invites us to situate the phenomenon of New Age within the broader scenario of social upheavals and cultural changes taking place in different parts of the world. It also invites us to an honest introspection as regards our Christian witness in a fast changing world. Why is it that our invitation to meet Jesus Christ, the bearer of the water of life, does not carry weight? Is it because we are not profoundly affected by our encounter with Jesus, unlike the woman at the well? If so, the lens of scrutiny has to turn on ‘us’, not on ‘them’. New Age may be a wake up call for us Christians.

Sameeksha Regional Theology Centre, Kalady – 683 574


Fr. P.T. Mathew SJ is one of Jeevadhara’s editors. He is closely associated with Sameeksha, the ashram-theological centre of Sebastian Painadath. Like D’Lima, he writes “The New Age problems affecting mostly the local Churches in the West
are being projected by the document as problems of the universal Church“, unwilling to accept that the New Age is endemic in the Indian Church largely because of the very same “heritage of religious pluralism” of the Asian churches that he mentions, and which Indian theologians favour, which obliges that Roman officials from the Pope down issue frequent warnings to the universal Church on the dangers of religious pluralism. According to him, therefore, the Document’s comments on the followers of Indic/Asian religions are “disparaging“.

If indeed, as he says, “the document presents itself as a response to a crisis that is apparently facing the Church in the West“, [remember, Errol D’Lima believes that “New Age adherents are located mainly in Europe and America“], let us pray that Rome issues another Document in response to the New Age in the Church in the East since much of underlying New Age philosophy has its origins in eastern religions and spiritualities, and, as I said a few pages earlier, New Age is alive and kicking here.

Agreeing with him however, I would prefer that Rome speaks as much of the adverse effects and impact of New Age on “Christian culture” and “Christian society” as it does on its influence on “Western culture” and “Western society”. P.T. Mathew correctly points out that ““In Western cultures in particular” is an oft-repeated phrase in the document.” In India as anywhere in the East, “western” is synonymous with “Christian”. However, that no longer holds true; the West is Christian no more. In sensitive pastoral issues such as these, the Church should take greater care in distinguishing between the two.

Greatly concerned by “the document’s treatment of ‘techniques’ like meditation” [Mathew has a very big problem with the Church’s extremely cautious outlook on eastern meditations and refers to Rome’s 1989 Document on that subject, another Document that faced a lot of flak from the Indian theologisers] and its “explicit mention” of Hinduism and Buddhism [which we all know are the bases for these meditation techniques], he actually asks the Church to consider if instead of taking a confrontational stance, “Would it not provide a wonderful platform for interreligious collaboration?” But naturally. For these theologians whom I write about, the only two possible alternatives are inculturation and dialogue. Whichever they choose, there is an osmosis of sorts, with the Indian Church ending up coloured a bit more Buddhist or Hindu than it was before the inculturation or the dialogue occurred.


Mathew notes that the Document references two leading western New Age centres, Findhorn and Esalen, thus reinforcing the western-centeredness of the Document. Actually, the two communities are mentioned very briefly in the Document. Though there are no such New Age centres in India, what is not so well known is that Indian Church-supported organizations and institutions like Dharma Bharathi and the ashrams of Catholic initiative are the Indian equivalents of Findhorn and Esalen. In my reports, I have demonstrated, using documentary evidence, that they are New Age. It is time that Rome focused on them.

Mathew is concerned about the Document’s “snide remarks … about other religious traditions and adds “The disparaging comments, though subtle, about Indic/Asian religions come across offensive to Asian sensibilities and quite painful to Indian Christians too.

I do not find the referred comments disparaging or snide in any way. Mathew‘s use of the terms “snide” and “disparaging” to describe the Document’s clarifications only reflects his own personal bias. It is not difficult to see whose side he’s on. He describes the Church’s attitude as having a “colonial mindset“, of being “narrow and partisan“. He believes that the Document “contributes to the…demonization process” of New Age.

In quoting John Paul II/Fides et Ratio, is Mathew suggesting that the New Age elements in Indic religions are compatible with Christian faith? If not, what is the relevance of his remarks in his response to the Document? He does not agree with the Church that New Age is a threat, one that is only “apparently facing the Church“, he believes. I wonder what he meant by titling his response “Getting Set for the New Age“. In faulting the Church on its verdict on the Hindu doctrine of “karma” and accusing her of “religious reductionism“, Mathew comes off more as a Hindu apologist than a Catholic priest-theologian. What can one say of a priest who writes: “The hegemonic presence of Christianity“? Unless I am badly mistaken, Mathew has quoted Gamaliel (Acts 5:38-39) against the Church! If that is the case, the last paragraph of his “Conclusion” statement is hypocritical and meaningless. He needs to first make that John 4 encounter with Jesus.



















[9] An Aged God or a God of the New Age?

Francis Gonsalves

Over against the New Age notion of God as energy the document rightly upholds the personal dimension of God in a Trinitarian framework. But this is not clearly developed in the document. For this a creative encounter with the theologies of India is a great help. The document seems to lack sensitivity to Indic experiences and perceptions. The document shows reluctance to enter deep into a dialogue with the classical religions of the East and to meet the challenges of modern psychology.

1. Introduction

“Jesus Christ The Bearer of The Water of Life” (hereafter, JCWL) is the title of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue’s document on the ‘New Age’. The reflections appear at a time when many find New Age an increasingly satisfying substitute for traditional religions and time-tested spiritualities. Among theologians in the West, New Age is discussed in seminars and teleconferences.1 The present article seeks to respond to JCWL keeping in mind the Indian imagination and the religious, ecclesial and social situation in India, today. It will do this in the light of the avowed intention of the document, namely, “to be a guide for Catholics involved in preaching the Gospel and teaching the faith at any level within the Church” and “to engage in a genuine dialogue with those who are influenced by New Age thought.”

1See, for instance, the February 27, 2004, teleconference held by the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome on “The Church, New Age, and the Sects.” Details available on website

2. Slaking Contemporary Thirsts with ‘The Living Water’

At the outset, JCWL stresses a solid grounding in the Christian faith and quotes St. Peter’s: “always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy and respect and a clear conscience” (1 Pet 3:15f). The document consistently reiterates the Catholic doctrinal position with regard to the Triune God, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the nature and vocation of (wo)man, the question of sin and salvation, the understanding of suffering, death, final fulfillment and so on. Section 4 of JCWL entitled “New Age and Christian Faith in Contrast” is unambiguous in asserting what the Catholic Church teaches. Assessing these assertions from a magisterial point of view, there is no room for doubt. To this extent, JCWL succeeds in clearly distancing the Catholic faith from New Age beliefs.

    Apparently, the grave lacunae in New Age judged by Christian faith criteria are basically three: (a) theological – collapsing divisions between the Absolute, conceptions of the Absolute and the human, and subscribing to pantheism and panentheism, (b) anthropological – attributing absolute value to the individual ‘ego’ leading to idolatry and diabolical narcissism, (c) ethical – reducing all of religion and spirituality to a ‘feel good’ market commodity thereby evading questions of sin, evil, social responsibility, and so on. JCWL does well to denounce all these three dangers and distortions firmly and frequently, especially the first two. Thus, while the reflections resolutely and rightly point out to ‘the revealed truth’ that the Church upholds and preaches, there is weakness in the way the image it uses – namely, Jesus as “the water of life” – is expanded and explained.

    In JCWL, although Jesus is appropriately described as ‘the water of life’, the metaphor is not effectively explored. Section 5 entitled “Jesus Christ Offers Us the Water of Life” seems too short and sketchy. First, the translation ‘living water’ – suggestive of newness, dynamism and movement – is nearer to the original Greek than ‘water of life’2. The ‘living water’ is mentioned elsewhere in the Scriptures referring to those for whom God is a wellspring, a fountain of life (Jeremiah 2:13, 17:13). One who trusts in God is never stagnant but lives life dynamically.

2See Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament. 4 ed. (Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1993), 295, likens the term ‘living water’ to ‘spring water’ as opposed to stagnant cistern water (Jeremiah 2: 13).

Second, in this reference (Jn 4:10) the ‘living water’ is juxtaposed with ‘the gift of God’ that is the Holy Spirit. The ‘living water’ is once again associated with God’s Spirit in Jn 7:38-9. The JCWL fails to highlight this pneumatological dimension that has important repercussions for the ministry of dialogue. Third, an ostensible oversight of the JCWL – and an invaluable insight for any dialogal encounter – is the fact that Jesus initiates dialogue with the Samaritan woman not with a dogmatic discourse on the ‘water of life’ but with his human thirst for water, and her existential-moral thirst for life. From this commonality comes ‘conversion’.

    Jesus meets the Samaritan woman with an apparent need for water. His approach makes her feel accepted, respected, needed, understood. Boundaries break – between man and woman. Jew and Samaritan, Rabbi and disciple. The narrative moves, interestingly, from human need (Jesus’) to existential-ethical problem (woman’s many husbands) and ‘conversion’. The woman discovers Jesus as ‘Prophet’. Jesus dissociates the belief from any elect people (Jews), any central shrine (Jerusalem), any particular place (mountain). “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (4:24). The woman’s faith progresses with every intervention of Jesus because he ‘enters her world and understands her thirsts’ (human-social-moral-religious). She progressively accepts Jesus as Prophet (4: 19) and Messiah/Christ (4:25). Later, through deeper dialogue with Samaritan society, Jesus is revealed and revered as “the Saviour of the world” (4:42).

    The dynamics of the dialogal encounter between the ‘living water’ Jesus and the thirsty Samaritan woman/society is imperceptible in JCWL. Thus, although JCWL seeks “to engage in a genuine dialogue with those who are influenced by New Age thought” and “to understand the often-silent cry in people’s heart, which leads them elsewhere if they are not satisfied by the Church,” little sensitivity, openness and dialogue is evident, and thus JCWL will hardly engender reflection and response – either from those on the borderlines of New Age whose root problems are not diagnosed, or from believers of the ancient Eastern religions who are often equated sweepingly with practitioners of New Age. In India, can we not think of more relevant ways of responding to New Age?

3 Towards Fresh and Fruitful Responses to New Age

Indeed, as JCWL points out, New Age is not really ‘new’ since its widely assimilative capacity accepts and advocates innumerable – at times, even contradictory – ideologies, theories and practices, most of which are ancient. Section 2 states: “Some of the traditions which flow into New Age are: ancient Egyptian occult practices, Cabbalism, early Christian gnosticism, Sufism, the lore of the Druids, Celtic Christianity, mediaeval alchemy, Renaissance hermeticism, Zen Buddhism, Yoga and so on.” None of these are new. What is perhaps ‘new’ is the way New Age is fast spreading worldwide. The speed at which New Age is gaining popularity and the philosophies and practices it embraces are products of our present, postmodern society. The following reflections in three broad areas already mentioned – namely, theological, anthropological and ethical-moral – could provide some food for rumination and response within the Indian context.

3.1. An Aged God or a God of The New Age? Theological Considerations

    The success of New Age can be attributed in part to a general disenchantment with traditional conceptions of space and time and a fascination for millenarian themes. In terms of time frames there is a stress on the waning of the ‘Age of Pisces’ (Christian age) and the advent of the ‘Age of Aquarius’. The ‘post-Christian’ label is often attached to our present age because Christians today – and this is more true of the so-called ‘Christian West’ – subscribe to a ‘practical atheism’ where God is easily dispensed with or fashioned into a sterile, aged Monad manipulatable to suit human whims and fancies. In India, genuine dialogue with religions could critique and counter the fickle foundations of New Age by providing more meaningful conceptions of space, time and divinity.


Running a risk of oversimplification, one could hold that the Indic religions are more amiable to apophatic assertions of the Absolute (e.g., the neti, neti) while the Abrahamic religions express the Absolute in cataphatic terms. Time, in the former, is conceptualized in cyclical terms -‘yugas’ and ‘chakras’; while in the latter group, time is linear. Though differing in spatio-temporal frameworks, all these religious traditions stress the importance of the ‘now’, the present. Whatever be the conception of religious ‘ends’ like salvation, nirvana, moksha, mukti and so on, one must ‘be’ or ‘do’ something meaningful so that liberation/salvation become tangible – even if only partly – here and now. Religions’ reverence for the ‘now’ can critique New Age fascination for the future.

    Contrary to New Age belief that ‘Christ’ incarnates often and everywhere, it must be stressed that the term ‘Christ’ is specific to a particular tradition and as such it does not make sense to loosely speak of many ‘Christs’. Moreover while upholding the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth and his identification with ‘Christ’ as Son of God, we must also maintain that God is not a Monad – an alien, aged god unconcerned about the world – but God is Parent and Spirit, a creating, creative, caring, compassionate God. To counter New Age in our present age, Christianity must retain the ‘personal’ dimension of God in a Trinitarian framework (as opposed to New Age ‘impersonal energy’) while also maintaining the ‘transcendental’ dimension of God (contrary to New Age pantheism and panentheism). A well-developed Trinitarian theology could effectively address New Age confusion with the one and the many while also providing scope for developing a theology of creation’ (different from the New Age Gaia cult) and a ‘theology of sanctification’ (that includes the best of the spiritualities and ancient religions like Hinduism and Buddhism). In this way, the revelation of God – Father, Son, Spirit – could harmonize immanence and transcendence, apophatism and cataphatism, and also accord deep respect towards other religions thereby opening out possibilities for dialogue.

    At the turn of the new millennium the Church proposed a ‘New Evangelisation’. It would not be inappropriate to speak of the ‘God of a New Age’ who promises, “I make all things new” (Rev 21:5) and calls all women and men into a partnership that will bring new life, deep hope and true freedom for all.

3.2. Ego Inflation or Self-Sacrifice? Anthropological Considerations

The anthropological premises of New Age conform closely to the individualism engendered by both modernism and postmodernism. Modernism expects the rationalist mind to be the elixir for all evil and deifies the ‘I’ to the extent that ‘I’ become god. On the other hand, postmodernism accords such uncritical acceptance of personal opinion and subjective experience to the extent of rejecting anything ‘objective’. New Age ‘Enlightenment’ finds in both, modernism and postmodernism, convenient bed partners since the ‘cult of the self is preposterously promoted. Conversely, Christianity – as well as Buddhism and some Hindu traditions – propose genuine fulfillment of the ‘true self’ only through abnegation, detachment and self-sacrifice (Mk 8:35, Jn 12:24).

    JCWL has, perhaps, not sufficiently recognized the value of Indic spiritual disciplines like Yoga, TM and Zen. By grouping ‘Asian religions’ or ‘Eastern religions’ alongside psychotherapy, tantric exercises, biofeedback, dance and drugs, it simplistically closes doors to dialogue and could even discourage Christians who find in Indic spiritual disciplines effective means of self-awareness that fosters deeper relationship with God. A similar blanketing is also evident in JCWL warnings against depth psychology. Today, psychology has provided humankind with very valuable tools to understand the human reality – especially with theories of the self, human needs, search for meaning, states of (un)freedom, etc. A more complex analysis of religions and psychologies would have helped in unearthing the real dangers of New Age while also leaving open the possibility of dialogue with religions and the need of further research in the field of psychology.



3.3. ‘Feel Good’ and Do Nothing or ‘Feel Bad’ and Do Good? Ethical Considerations

    To poor and problem-plagued people like us, Indians, New Age poses the gravest threat by anaesthetizing us from social-structural evil and absolving us of our sins. Narcissism and the ‘idolatry of the market’ cause- people to ‘feel good’ and blame other ‘invisible powers’ and ‘untapped human potentialities’ for evil while doing nothing to remedy situations of sin and evil. JCWL mentions this danger but could have more powerfully denounced it by stressing ‘social responsibility’. Sin is not merely ignorance but a refusal to do good and to build right relationships – with God, nature, others, self.

    With globalisation’s obsession with capital and the market, New Age sells its wares well by unburdening its ‘believers’ of their guilt-and responsibility. Since, at the end, JCWL adopts market language and the New Age invitation to Christianity “to take the message of the cathedrals to the fair”, it will be fitting if all religions in India, more so Christianity, become ‘voices of conscience’ making people ‘feel bad’ at the mess we have created. Moreover, as religion has become a divisive force in India, too, religionists should network in taking responsibility for evil and evolve joint strategies to combat evil and injustice. Besides strategies, fresh religious symbols could be evolved to stress our commitment to a new world. Here, Indian Christianity is called to perform a prophetic role.

4. Conclusion: Jesus The Bearer of New Life for a New Age

Jesus was a harbinger of ‘good news’ and ‘life in abundance” (Jn 10:10). The life he promised and promoted was not some pie-in-the-sky but a concrete existential situation – epitomized by his ‘Kingdom ideal’ – wherein the poor were privileged, the hungry fed, the sinners made whole, the sick healed, and all (wo)men assured of their identity and dignity as daughters and sons of God. Moreover, the ‘life’ that Jesus promised was bought at a price – which he paid through self-sacrifice, sufferings and death. Challenging New Age idolatry, individualism and isolationism, Christians are called to preach the ‘ever ancient, ever new’ power of love manifest in the Crucified-Risen Jesus. If Christianity – and other religions in India – stress and strive for ‘life’ – true fullness of life for all – we will not only be able to propose meaningful ‘alternatives’ that New Age earnestly seeks, but proclaim the new face of The God of Life who constantly calls all women and men to new life in every age; New Age included.

Dept. of Christian Studies, University of Madras, Chennai

Fr. Francis Gonsalves SJ‘s choice of a title “An Aged God” is deprecatory considering that he quite evidently means the Christian God, the God of the “post-Christian west“, no matter that he qualifies it later. The words of an essay’s title leave an indelible impression. Knowing that, like Francis D’Sa, seen earlier, Francis Gonsalves too has a problem with the “Bearer of the Water of Life” part of the title of the Document. D’Sa found it “contrived” while Gonsalves describes its choice as a “weakness“. See my comments on page 41. Its amazing how learned theologians can nitpick and fuss on small issues like the title of a Document — which a common lay man like me could understand and relate to, and even find most apt — while ignoring the Church’s serious concern about the dangers of the New Age. I connected easily with the “pneumatological dimension” of the title, but Gonsalves is only interested in its “important repercussions for the ministry of dialogue“. Like the other contributors he is critical of the genuineness of the Document’s concern for “dialogue“. Once again, its dialogue, dialogue and dialogue. Dialogue should start with him!

I quote Gonsalves, “JCWL mentions this danger but could have more powerfully denounced it by stressing ‘social responsibility’“.
I copy once again from Hindu fundamentalist Sita Ram Goel, page 25 above: Cardinal Josef Tomko criticized theologians … for being more occupied with “social work” and “inter-religious dialogue” than with announcing the Gospel.


The Document can be taken as addressed to pastors as well as to those Catholics who are involved in New Age ignorantly or inadvertently. Francis
Gonsalves is both of these, though I am not sure that he is ignorant of the ramifications of New Age therapies and meditations because he has not only referred to them in this theological response of his to the Document but he has also written a story on Indian New Age nuns and priests that has been very popular on the internet for years.





In that story, reproduced below, he makes no moral judgements on them. Rather, he appears to be biased in their favour. He suggests that the Church has “not sufficiently recognized the value of Indic spiritual disciplines like Yoga, TM and Zen” and is anguished that the attitude of the Church “could even discourage Christians who find in Indic spiritual disciplines effective means of self-awareness that fosters deeper relationship with God“.


Gonsalves adds, “A similar blanketing is also evident in JCWL warnings against depth psychology. Today, psychology has provided humankind with very valuable tools to understand the human reality – especially with theories of the self, human needs, search for meaning, states of (un)freedom, etc. A more complex analysis of religions and psychologies would have helped in unearthing the real dangers of New Age while also leaving open the possibility of dialogue with religions and the need of further research in the field of psychology“.

I am glad that, in the very first paragraph of his paper, and again toward the end, he pointed out the Document’s concerns about the New Age in “modern psychology“, a subject on which I have made several articles and reports available. New Age psychology and counseling are becoming popular, with a number of Catholic institutions offering courses by leading priests and nuns.


In this article, the left-wing liberal National Catholic Reporter,
September 3, 2003 Vol. 1, No. 23 reports on the rampant New Age among priests and nuns in the Catholic Church in India.

Meditating and Medicating on the Margins

Francis Gonsalves S.J.

Fr. Francis Gonsalves is
a Jesuit of the Gujarat province

who lectures in systematic theology at Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi, and has published many articles on theology, spirituality and social justice.

While most believers raise their hands in worship, Catholic priest Swami Devaprasad, who harmonizes hatha yoga with Christianity, frequently raises his feet, too. In Pune, Buddhists are thrilled that Fr. Peter D’Souza conducts vipassana courses and that Medical Mission Sr. Ruth Manianchira heals hundreds through reiki.
Fr. Joe Pereira of Mumbai cures alcoholics and drug addicts through yoga, while in South India, Jesuit priests Ama Samy and Sebastian Painadath run Zen courses and Bhagavad Gita retreats, respectively, with rousing response.

Spirituality, not doctrine — the human body, not merely the mind — is the meeting ground of India’s modern missionaries who meditate and medicate on the margins between Catholicism and Indic religions. Moreover, their margin-ministries are moving the Indian church toward rediscovering the Indian Christ, and refurbishing Indian Christian-ness*.

The unitive force of spirituality

The word yoga derives from the Sanskrit yuj, which means “to unite” or “to yoke together.”
Swami Devaprasad describes yoga as “the quest to unite the jeevatma (individual soul) with the paramatma (the universal soul or divine reality), thus achieving equilibrium within oneself, and with others, nature, God.”

“Though we come from different religions, we all meet at the level of spirituality,” asserts Painadath, whose Gitasadhana “is an intense initiation into contemplative prayer based on the integrated spiritual transformation undergone by Arjuna under the impact of the divine Lord traced in the Bhagavad Gita.”

D’Souza explains that, “By turning one inward, vipassana leads one to the depths of Christianity, to the heart and lap of Christ.” He adds, “the priest is a guide leading people to deeper waters.” Likewise, reiki — meaning, “spiritually guided life force energy” — helps Manianchira unleash channels of spiritual power that lie latent within the depths of being. Indeed, the wellsprings of all religions surge from these spiritual depths.

Rediscovering the body

“During my seminary training, the Catholic church was too left-brain oriented,” muses
Joe Pereira, “resulting in a dichotomy between lofty dogma and actual practice especially as a ‘sexual celibate.’ In my thirty-five years of yogic practice I have come to listen to my body and even explore its wisdom.” The practice of yoga, which enhances psychosomatic healing, enabled Pereira to evolve a new model for the recovery of addicts within the psychosocial model of treatment.

Manianchira is enthusiastic about the healing powers of reiki: “a wonderful glowing radiance that flows through you, surrounds you, and treats the whole person — body, emotion, mind, spirit — creating extraordinary effects like relaxation, peace, security, well-being, and other miraculous results.”

The ‘just sitting’ human body in shikantaza or zazen is fundamental to the Zen tradition. This entails being fully present in the here and now, or as Ama Samy phrases it, “Just be-ing in one’s bodily fragility and inter-connectedness with the whole universe. It is a body-mind practice, a somatic act of mindfulness engendering detachment, equanimity, and holy indifference — a practice of letting-go and letting-be.”

While monasticism and Puritanism of the West have often led to utter neglect of the body or narcissism, Indian spirituality values the body. “The body is a true shrine within which to meet God,” stresses Devaprasad.




The social dynamism of spirituality

“Faith, without works, is dead” (James 2:17). The spiritual margas (paths) of bhakti (worship) and jnana (knowledge) are sterile if they do not flow into karma (action). Painadath insists that without a harmonization of the three margas, religious practices can be alienating.

In conformity with the charism of the Medical Missionaries in India, Manianchira has jettisoned the “hospital model” or “medicine-dispensing model” in favor of “not merely removing symptoms but addressing the root causes of illness which lie at the very depths of our being.” She strives for ‘integral healing’ and ‘sustainable health’ for all.

“There is no place for rituals in vipassana,” explains D’Souza. “Yet, vipassana helps one enjoy and appreciate the deeper meaning of rituals.” Transcending religious rituals through an institution called Maher in Pune, practitioners of vipassana strive to live a communitarian life while implementing socio-educational programs for the poor.

Rechristening Christ in India

Margin-missions endow religion with fresh meanings. In our postmodern world of fluid frontiers,
Ama Samy advocates the “practice of passing over and coming back — passing over into Zen, for instance, then coming back to our own Christian tradition and standing in the in-between.”

Consequent to the crisscrossing of creedal confines, conceptions of Christ change. Pereira and Swami Devaprasad unanimously worship Jesus as “The Supreme Yogi” who proclaimed, “I am in the Father and the Father in me” (John 14:11). Manianchira admits to calling upon the power of “Jesus the Healer” to empower her in her mission. “I often see Jesus as a reiki practitioner,” she confesses, “who preaches forgiveness and love as means of wholeness.”

A Hope for Holism

Not all Indian Christians support marginal missions.
Manianchira receives letters** spiced with scriptural sayings alleging that reiki and pranic healing are satanic systems. Fortunately, her religious community supports her fully. D’Souza and Devaprasad are less fortunate in garnering the goodwill of their congregations and superiors.

Among the ecclesiastical hierarchy, there is mixed response toward incorporating Indic spiritual systems into Christianity. Some bishops and priests support such moves. Others stump them. Surprising. A January symposium organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in Rome categorically confirmed: “We recognize that in the interrelated context of our contemporary lives, interreligious cooperation is no longer an option but a necessity.”*

Hopefully, Jesus the reiki Healer will draw us toward holism, and Jesus the Yogi will unite us to all peoples, nature, God.

*Final declaration of the participants in the symposium on spiritual resources of the religions for peace. Rome, January 16-18, 2003.

*This “moving the Indian church toward rediscovering the Indian Christ
and refurbishing
Indian Christian-ness” that Gonsalves describes is nothing else but NEW AGE. It is where interreligious dialogue and inculturation are heading and taking the Church along, Francis Gonsalves being one of their protagonists.

**”Manianchira receives letters spiced with scriptural sayings alleging that reiki and pranic healing are satanic systems“. The letters that Sr. Ruth Manianchira MMS received are from this ministry. After I visited the Holistic Healing Centre in, Bibwewadi, Pune years ago, before I learned how to use a computer, I wrote to the nuns there about the New Age errors and spiritual dangers of the alternative therapies that they use and also teach others. My typed report on the Centre is presently in hardcopy and is yet to be transferred to soft copy, so I am unable to reproduce the referred letters on this page. I doubt that I described reiki and pranic healing as “satanic systems”, to use Gonsalves‘ words quoting the nun, but I might have provided her evidence of potential diabolical dangers related to their use. I certainly called those therapies “occult”.


Francis Gonsalves SJ has had at least ten other articles published in the National Catholic Reporter [NCR] that dissents against Catholic Church teaching. One is on Bharatanatyam exponent Fr. Saju George SJ,

The Dancing Jesuit
Vol. 2 No. 42 March 29, 2005 [see my articles on Bharatanatyam and on Dancing in the Liturgy for the complete article]. Saju George dances at the altar, in the sanctuary, and during Holy Mass, a serious liturgical aberration. Bharatanatyam is, I have shown, a Hindu temple dance.


In the following NCR article, more aberrations in the name of interreligious dialogue:

Pruning pride and prejudice: Dialogue in India

National Catholic Reporter Online (USA), Global Perspective 1/16, July 16, 2003, by
Francis Gonsalves, S.J.

The Church in Asia has been a trailblazer in interreligious dialogue. However, Indian religious, laity and clergy whose work involves interreligious dialogue say stagnancy has swamped Church efforts to effectively encounter other religions.

In India, some say we have not progressed beyond the “institutional model” or “ashram/dialogue center model” of dialogue. The people of India expect more. And they want more.

The period after Vatican II, roughly 1967 to 1987, was a golden era of
dialogue with a proliferation of kaleidoscopic forms of worship, ashrams and dialogue centers, and saffron swamis chanting naamjaps laced with Om incantations. Raimundo Panikkar and Jesuit Tony de Mello were revered gurus of the time. […]

To be effective, dialogue must cut institutional binders.




Feminist theologian Dr. Astrid Lobo
and her Hindu husband, Dr. Kalpesh Gajiwala of Mumbai point out that
“the greatest obstacle to interreligious dialogue is religious conditioning which does not allow one to see beyond what is taught by the religious hierarchy.” “People are afraid to think for themselves, to trust their own God-experiences, to define their own perception of Truth,”
they added. […]

Sebastian Painadath, a Jesuit theologian, hopes to see the church change its language. “The Indian psyche resonates with mystical and exploratory language,” he said, but “Our theological language is too dogmatic, not exploratory, too conceptual, not mystical, too analytical, not symbolic.”

Bananas in Liturgy

Our meeting in Bangalore showed how much we have progressed in religious dialogue, but it also showed how far we have to go. At the meeting,
Jesuit theologian Michael Amaladoss
stressed the need for a deeper understanding of dialogue and the openness to encounter the other(s) unconditionally. We all agreed. But something strange happened.

I was surprised when we had a Eucharist on the very first morning of the meeting. We invited all the participants for the Eucharist. We spoke about all of us being brothers and sisters of one united India. Then at the offertory, the participants offered up the bread and wine, together with a plate of bananas. At communion, the sacred species and the plate of bananas were passed around. Catholics, obviously, consumed the host and wine. But, the people of other faiths were made to feel part of the “eating bit” by giving each a banana! END

At this interfaith “Mass”, the Hindu participants munched on a prasada of bananas
during the Holy Communion service probably laced with “OMs”!

Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, a radical feminist is working closely with priest-theologians for the ordination of women priests. See

Tony de Mello SJ was censured by Rome and his books banned. Michael Amaladoss SJ is yet another dangerous liberal theologian whom I have written about in several of my articles.


Theology outside the temple

National Catholic Reporter Online (USA), Global Perspective
1/30, October 22, 2003,

Francis Gonsalves, S.J.

Theology often recognizes the “Big Tradition” but overlooks “little traditions.”Feminist theology
is largely confined to issues of the so-called high-caste women or the educated urban women,” says Presentation
Sr. Shalini Mulackal, who is researching the religious practices of rural Dalit Christian women. “I hope to show that their God-concepts and religious practices enable them to be active agents of their own liberation.”

No dialogue, no theology

Eminent Indian theologian
Felix Wilfred*, who heads Chennai’s Department of Christian Studies, emphasizes the indispensability of dialogue in contextual theology. Indian theology is “faith seeking dialogue” (fides quaerens dialogum), stresses he, modifying St. Anselm’s classical definition of theology being “faith seeking understanding.” Dialogue is threefold: with cultures, with religions, with diverse disciplines. “The cultural context of West Bengal,” says
George Pattery, Director of the Kolkata RTC, “blends the best of goddess Kali and Marx, Tagore and Subhas Bose (nationalist), the minstrel Bauls and the aboriginal Santals who harmonize in a rare mixture of revelation and faith.” Likewise, Vidyajyoti’s cross-cultural celebrations of Karam, Onam and Pongal become wellsprings for theologising, since people’s songs and symbols, dances and dramas mirror that Mystery that every Indian soul savors. *A Jeevadhara editor

At the Department of Christian Studies, interfaith dialogues continue ceaselessly. Wilfred explains, “Our Department is part of a larger whole, namely, the School of Philosophy and Religious Thought, which embraces five sister departments: Philosophy, Vaishnavism, Saivism, Jainism, and Islamic Studies.” A common program of comparative religion and philosophy facilitates learning about religions from “insiders” (professors-religionists) of other religions during theological education. END

Shalini Mulackal PBVM, Professor of Theology, is a feminist theologian who wants women to be ordained.

Felix Wilfred SJ has been censured by Rome for his liberal writings:
Cardinal Castrillón, who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, also took aim at Indian
Fr. Felix Wilfred
, considered a leading Catholic expert in India on dialogue with other religions. He criticized Fr. Wilfred for saying that other religious traditions contain divine revelation. He also criticized the theologian’s idea that Christian revelation represents only one part of divine revelation. (CNS news)
Petrus, November 2002


Is Fr. Francis Gonsalves SJ a feminist? Where “man” and “men” are used, he could not resist using the inclusive “(wo)man” and “(wo)men“. Was he making a statement here? Is he in league with a section of theologians that militate for the ordination of women as priests? I would love to get my hands on his ““Women at Worship: An ‘Altar-nate’ View,” in The Axe 20/1-4 (April-June 2003): 3-5“.

Fr. Francis Gonsalves SJ is yet another prolific writer. His profile is at, a page of the site of the Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi, where he is Principal and Lecturer of Systematic Theology. He has taught at various Regional Theology Centres in India. Consider the adverse impact of the teaching of this “theologian” and others of his ilk on seminarians — our future priests — in formation.


Jesus Christ: The Answer to the New Age Quest

Jacob Parappally

The New Age has over the years selectively made use of the certain elements of classical religions and cultures. The questions and insights which evolve out of this process should be a challenge to recapture the neglected dimensions of a holistic Christian experience of faith in life. The language of the traditional dogmatic theology is not an effective answer to these questions.

What is the Christian response to the challenge of the New Age Religiosity or Spirituality that “fills much of the moral space created by the perceived bankruptcy of family, Church and government”?1 The document Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life prepared by the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue explains the meaning and challenges of the New Age phenomena with pastoral concern and shows how this religiosity undermines the basic Christian faith-affirmations. It shows clearly why the New Age themes are attractive to many people especially in Western countries, how it challenges the Church to be self-critical about its failure to offer to the people what they are searching for in spite of having them all in the living Christian tradition. The New Agers are probably laying stress on the neglected or the less-emphasized aspects of Christian doctrines concerning God, Jesus Christ, humans and the world.

1Michael Brown, The Channeling Zone: American Spirituality, in an Anxious Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 142

Faithful to its pastoral approach this document exhibits openness in its understanding of the New Age phenomena. It is dialogial in dealing with the New Age themes while affirming basic Christian doctrines. It avoids a condemnatory tone which is not unusual in dealing with issues of this kind and expresses a deep concern for those who could be misled by the false promises of an appealing religiosity.

1. Various Christian Responses to the New Age

The New Age religiosity defies all definitions. Some consider it a spirituality or religiosity with a pre-conceived idea that all organized religions are bad and all spiritualities are good. Some consider it a movement like other movements that emerge as a response to a particular need of the time. Unlike all other movements New Age has entered into all aspects of human life, namely, religious, cultural, social, political, economic and ecological and psychological. New Age movement takes from various belief systems and ideologies whatever is appealing to the human spirit. It takes from pantheism the idea that God is present in everything; from humanism the idea of the divine dimension of every human being; from Hinduism the belief in re-incarnation; from Christianity the love-command; from Buddhism the idea of non-violence, from Yoga the psycho-somatic training, from Group-dynamics the value of inter-personal communication, from parapsychology the extraordinary endowments or capabilities of humans; from Feminism the need for deconstructing all types of authority especially patriarchy, from Freedom-movements the idea of a life without anxiety from Eco-socialism the concern for the protection of the environment from Alternative-Lifestyle Movements the challenge of living a simple life; from the French revolution the principles of equality, liberty and fraternity; from astrology the belief that the zodiacal signs determine a particular epoch, from spiritualism the belief in the continuation of human existence after death and from the theory of evolution the possibility of further upward development all beings. It is a syncretism of the most appealing kind, unthreatening, non-dogmatic and non-authoritarian. It [New Age] appeals to anyone who finds the Church authoritarian, its doctrine dogmatic, its theology abstract, its structures oppressive and its attitude arrogant.
No wonder, then, the New Age movement attracts many in the Western countries, who are disillusioned with their experience of Christianity. Its world-view challenges the Christian world-view, its faith and morals.


    The Vatican Document lists a number of beliefs, ideologies, principles and practices that are often associated with New Age religiosity though some of them cannot be considered detrimental to the Christian faith or morals. Christian faith may ignore James Lovelock’s “Gaia Hypothesis” which proposes that the whole earth is a living organism because photo-synthesizing plants both produce oxygen we breath and control the atmospheric temperature but it cannot accept what the New Agers further develops from the Gaia Hypothesis, namely, a belief in the ‘mother earth’ from a pantheistic or monistic world-view. However, who cannot but admire the courage and conviction with which of some New Agers seek to protect the environment and eco-system. Would the Christian faith challenge the Christians to be more committed to the protection of the environment or raise prophetic voice against nations which continue to destroy God’s creation in order to satisfy the greed of a powerful minority? Would we reject the Christian understanding of ‘wholeness’ or ‘holiness’ because the New Agers use them with different meaning or enrich our own understanding of it by the challenges thrown by the movement? Should yoga and meditation and holistic medicine be rejected because the New Agers have injected into it a new philosophy and spirituality opposed to the Christian faith?
Could we deepen our understanding and experience of Cosmic Christ or abandon such an understanding because the New Agers make a caricature of this deep Christian mystery? The Vatican document on the New Age seems to give such an impression though the Pontifical Councils that prepared might not have such an intention. The document refers to Pope John Paul II recognizing the positive aspects of the New Age such as “the search for a new meaning of life, a new ecological sensitivity, and the desire to go beyond a cold, rationalistic religiosity”.2

2Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age’ (Bombay: Pauline Publications, 2003), p. 81

    If dialogue is the proper way of dealing with the New Age movement then what is good in it must be recognized as Cardinal Godfried Danneel’s pastoral letter on new religious movement does. In this pastoral letter the cardinal criticizes the New Age for its ego-centric world-view and its syncretism but he admits that “the New Age also offers good things: a sense of universal brotherhood, peace and harmony, raising people’s awareness, a commitment to bettering the world, a general mobilization of energies for the sake of good, etc. Nor are all the techniques they advocate bad: yoga and relaxation can have many good effects“.3 The challenge of the New Age needs to be taken seriously. It must be confronted theologically and pastorally.

3“Christ or Aquarius,” Catholic International 2/3 (1992):485 cited by John A Saliba, “A Christian Response to the New Age,” The Way 33 (July 1993): p.228.

Both Protestant and Catholic Churches are alarmed by the fact that many believers are attracted to the New Age and some have already been weaned away from Christian faith. Both Protestant and Catholic fundamentalists denounce the New Age as a satanic conspiracy to destroy the Church and condemn it without recognizing its positive contributions. Moderate Protestant response can be noted in Ted Peter’s approach to the New Age. According to him following propositions can guide Christians in their encounter with the New Age, namely, 1) A modest dabbling in New Age Spirituality is probably harmless; it may be even helpful; 2) The New Age vision is a noble- and edifying one; 3) Pastors, theologians and Church leaders should take the New Age movement seriously; and 4) The gnostic monism & the heart of the New Age teaching is dangerous because it leads to naiveté and to a denial of God’s grace.4

4John A Saliba, “A Christian Response to the New Age,” The Way 33 (July 1993): p.225.

Most of the Catholic writers responding to the challenges of the New Age while rejecting a satanic conspiracy theory do not go beyond an apologetic approach to the issues raised by the New Age. According to John Saliba they are convinced that the New Age is an antithesis of Christian belief with a few, if any, redeeming qualities. By evaluating the New Age teachings in the light of conservative Catholic theology, ‘their approach revolves around the identification of the false doctrines conceived as a list of propositional truth statements.5


5Ibid., 226

The Vatican document Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life too does not seem to go beyond this approach. However, David Toolan who encountered the New Age religiosity in a deeper level and yet analyzed its spirit and teachings dispassionately offers a better approach to the New Age phenomena.6 He sees that there is a continuity between the Christian thought and mystical traditions with some theological trends and the quest for meaning and healing in the New Age. As Christian theology has to incorporate the insights of modern developments in philosophy, psychology, physics and cosmology to make it meaningful and relevant for our times Toolan hopes that the Christian theology would also incorporate the best elements of the New Age.

6David Toolan, Facing West from California’s Shores: A Jesuit’s journey into New Age Consciousness (New York: Crossroad. 1987).

2. Jesus Christ the Answer to the New Age Quest

The New Age images of Jesus Christ vary. They range from considering Jesus to be one of the many teachers of wisdom to the eternal cosmic Christ. They include gnostic and docetic Christologies as well as apocryphal and esoteric Christological speculations. In the face of such a bewildering variety of Christologies the problem lies in the absolutization of one or the other images of Christ as the New Age image of Christ. The Vatican Document on the New Age has listed some of those images and has shown how these images differ from the orthodox Christian faith affirmation about Jesus Christ.7 However the title of the Document itself Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life gives an insight into the approach the Pontifical Councils of Culture and Interreligious Dialogue take in dealing with the New Age challenge of presenting the new millennium as the age of Aquarius, ‘the water-bearer’. The title does not seem to suggest a polarization of the two concepts of Christ but makes a bold assertion that Jesus Christ is the Aquarius that the New Age is speaking about or Jesus Christ is the one who is the real bearer of the water the New Agers are searching for. In the whole document this approach is not followed till the end. It is understandable. Paul or John, Justin, Clement of Alexandria or Augustine would have followed this approach as their experience of Jesus Christ was such that they would see everything Christic. Since no image of Christ or Christology can exhaust the mystery of Jesus Christ each in its own way expresses some aspect of Christ without excluding the other. Is Jesus Christ the Logos of the Greeks? Certainly he is. Is he also not a prophet? Undoubtedly he is. The questions about him can go on and on. Each time the believer would go on confessing that it is he. They would confess too that he couldn’t be what we know to be ungodly, inhuman and non-cosmic.

7Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, pp.65-66

    Jesus Christ, the Word who become flesh and dwelt among us, is also the light that enlightens everyone coming into the world and is the life of all. This basic affirmation gives an insight into the possibilities which are open to humans to encounter him. The early theologians of the Church interpreted Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Jewish expectations as well as the fulfilment of the hope cherished by the Gentiles of all times. Ignatius of Antioch (d. C.E. 110), for example, affirmed that Jesus was “our common name and common hope”8

8Ignatius of Antioch, Ephesians, 10.1; 1.2.

    The Christian proclamation, especially in the first three centuries, began with the basic assumption that Jesus Christ is “the expected one “of all peoples and cultures even if they had not expressed this expectation as the Jewish people did. It was assumed, too, that he was the answer even if the question was not articulated properly in some cultures. Therefore, the search of the early theologians was to find out those ultimate questions in the Graeco-Roman culture to which Jesus Christ was the answer.9


9J. Pelikan, Jesus though the centuries (New Haven and London: Yule University Press, 1985), p.34.

The early community proclaimed Jesus as the light of revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to the people of Israel (cf. Lk 2:32) J. Pelikan has rightly pointed out that the methods employed by the NT writers to interpret the meaning and message of Jesus successfully in terms of the Hebrew Bible, as the glory of Israel were used by the early theologians to interpret him as the light for revelation to the Gentiles in terms of Gentile writing.10

    Christian apologists were aware of the recognition accorded to the Gentile saints like Job, Jethro and Baalam [sic] in the Hebrew Bible. Since God’s revelation was not the monopoly of the Jewish people they could conclude, as Augustine did when he wrote, “it is not unreasonable to believe that there may have been men among other races to whom the mystery of Christ was revealed and who felt an impulse to proclaim what they knew.”11

So they recognized the prophesies about Christ in the literature of the Gentiles. For example, in the fourth Eclogues of Vergil, the Roman poet, they found the prophesies about a “new order” breaking forth with the returning of a virgin and “the birth of a child with whom the iron age of humanity will end and the golden age begin.” 12

10 Ibid., p.35.

11 Augustine, The City of God, books XVII-XXII, G.G. Walsh and D.J. Honan Trs. (New York: Fathers of the Church lnc. 1954). p.165.

12 Vergil Eclogues, 4, 5-52 cited by J. Pelikan, p.35

Such predictions of a gentile poet were easily recognized as referring to Christ. Though the prophesy was referring to emperor Augustus it was interpreted by emperor Constantine and Augustine as referring to Christ. Augustine contended that “it is of (Christ) that this most famous poet speaks.”13 The apologists and theologians like Justin and Clement of Alexandria had no difficulty in recognizing the quest for ultimate meaning as the quest for Jesus Christ and in the answers found by the Gentiles they found a quest for encountering Jesus Christ.

13Augustine, The City of God, X.7.

    The Christic experience of the apostolic and post-apostolic communities liberated their members to encounter God, humans and world in their inter-relationship. By the fact of incarnation everything was christified and everything becomes a sacrament of Christ in a new way. As Raimon Panikkar would say, everything is a Christophany, a manifestation of Christ.14 The post-apostolic writings are replete with such a rich variety of symbols for Christ, that, as J. A. Sanford points out, they “are almost inexhaustible”.15 For example, Christ is the tree,16
the flower,17 the fire,18 the milk,19 the stone,20 the city, 21 etc. There are many theriomorphic symbolizations of Christ as the good serpent, as an eagle, as a calf, as a lamb, as a lion, or as a worm (Ps 22:6) and the most important among them is the fish.22 The early Christian experience of the mystery of Christ was such that everything they encountered became a Christophany.

14R. Panikkar, “A Christophany for Our Times,” Theology Digest, 39: 1 (1992), pp. 3-21.

15J. A. Sanford, Mystical Christianity – A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John (New York: Crossroad, 1993) p. 24.

16Methodius, Banquet of the Ten Virgins, 9.3.

17Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, 2.8.38-39.


18Ibid., 3

19Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 1.6.

20Augustine, On the Trinity, 3.1.

21Augustine, City of God, 10.7.

22See J. A. Sanford, 25.


One way of recapturing the neglected dimension of the Christian experience of Jesus Christ in the context of the New Age images of Cosmic Christ and Creation spiritualities is to reaffirm the totality of the person of Jesus Christ, divine and human, immanent and transcendent, cosmic and meta-cosmic, historical and trans-historical. It was the approach of Paul and John who faced the gnostic and docetic religiosities and the logos philosophy of the Greeks of their time. They did not reject such philosophies and spiritualities altogether but they filled the best elements in them with their Christic experience and used them to communicate some deeper aspects of the inexhaustible mystery of Christ. At least in the title the Vatican document seems to have followed the approach of Paul and John in responding to the New Age.

We must admit that the best elements of the New Age are not new to Christian theology. They are the neglected elements of the rich Christian tradition often ‘rejected by the builders’ for reasons best known to them but created an impoverished theology that unwittingly gives space to a variety of dehumanizing, ego-centric, world-negating spiritualities and practices. This is an opportune moment to revitalize Christian theology and liberate it from all dogmalatry and exclusivism and make it truly catholic. Indian Christian theology can contribute much to the liberation of an exclusivistic theology and the spirituality that emerges from it and promote the birthing of a new spirituality and a theology which are more catholic, holistic, biblical and genuinely Christian.

Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune – 411 014

Fr. Jacob Parappally MSFS
is the third of three theologians* of the JDV to critique the New Age Document. He is a former president of the Indian Theological Association.
He is Professor in Systematic Theology and Rector, Tejas Vidya Peetha, MSFS Institute of Contextual Theology, Bangalore.

*The others are Errol D’Lima SJ and Francis D’Sa SJ

Rome is keenly aware of what is transpiring among theologians in the sub-continental Church and hence:

Vatican group looks at role of Indian theologians

Francis Rodrigues, Mangalore, January 20, 2011
A Vatican delegation is in India to discuss the role of Indian theologians
in the context of global theology.
Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on Jan. 16 began a seven-day closed door colloquium in Bangalore with 28 bishops and 26 leading theologians from India.
“We are discussing the role of the Indian theologians as responsible theologians,” said Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
The basis for the discussion is Donum Veritatis, the 1990 Vatican instruction on the role of theologians in the Church, the cardinal explained. He said their discussions included topics such as inculturation and pluralism.
All bishop participants have theological backgrounds, said Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona, a participant and head of the commission of doctrine and theology of India’s Latin rite bishops. The program ends on Jan. 22.
A theology professor said the Vatican delegation would first meet with bishops and theologians and later discuss the outcome with the bishops alone.
Another theology professor, who is not attending the colloquium, says globalization of culture in the modern world has led to the emergence of a global theology.
“The pluralistic theologians have begun to dilute Christianity as one of the many religions to go to God. In this context, such a colloquium could become an alerting occasion,” he told on condition of anonymity.



Another theologian says the colloquium also is to discuss Agendi Ratio Doctrinarum Examine (regulation for doctrinal examination), another document from Cardinal Levada’s congregation. This document aims to protect “true doctrine from the deviated theologians,” the priest told
Among the theologians at the meeting are
Jesuit Father Michael Amaladoss, a retired theology professor and Fransalian Father Jacob Parappally, president of the Indian Theological Association. END


Indian theologians discuss ‘uniqueness’ of Christ

Francis Rodrigues, Mangalore, January 26, 2011

Church struggles in presenting Christ as ‘only savior’ in a multi-religious context.

Indian theologians and bishops have told a Vatican-sponsored colloquium about the Church’s struggle in presenting Christ as the “unique and only savior” in a multi-religious context.

A team from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) led by its prefect Cardinal William Levada met with a group of theologians and bishops of India Jan. 16-19 in Bangalore.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), apprised about the struggles of the Indian Church in a paper. Twenty-six theologians attended the program where 29 Indian bishops and the six-member CDF team were present. Cardinal Gracias explained the religious, social, cultural and economic situation of India where Christians form only 2.3 percent of 1.2 billion Indians. It is a “struggle” to proclaim Christ meaningfully before followers of other religions and tribal religions so that they “understand, accept and follow Jesus,” the Indian Church leader said. Cardinal Gracias urged the Vatican to appreciate and encourage the work of theologians to communicate Christ to those “who have a different world-view, religious and philosophical convictions from that of the traditional Christian world-view.”

Jesuit theologian Father Errol D’Lima, in his paper, explained there could not be universal understanding of doing theology because of the challenge of pluralism. He stressed the need to appreciate Christian traditions, proclaiming the Christian message in the civic life and the need for accelerating dialogue as understood by Vatican II.

Another Jesuit theologian Father Michael Amaladoss
in his paper said since “the Church is not bound to any particular culture it can draw from cultures elements compatible with its faith.” His paper pointed out that all theology is contextual and “this is also true of Indian Christian theology.”

Carmelite of Mary Immaculate Father Sebastian Athappilly
emphasized the need of proclaiming Jesus Christ as the unique and universal savior. He noted that some seemed to have watered down this “uniqueness of Jesus Christ” in the context of religious pluralism.
However, he did not explain how this uniqueness of Christ could be communicated in situations that question this position.

Salesian Father Dominic Veliath, a theologian, suggested the Church’s attitude and lifestyle must reflect the teachings of Christ to communicate Christ.

Bishop Thomas Dabre of Pune, who heads the CBCI’s Doctrine and Theology Commission, wants theologians to consider the “faith of the entire people of God” in doing theology.

Archbishop Luis Ladaria, CDF secretary, in his paper asked theologians to “affirm the faith of the Church rather than personal opinions.”

However, mere repetition of what the Church teaches does not offer a service to the Church, he explained. The theologian, according to him, is called to have “a humble audacity at the same time openness to objective discussion, fraternal dialogue and readiness to modify one’s own opinions.”

A paper also was presented reflecting on a 1989 CDF letter: On Some Aspect of Christian Meditation (Orationis Formas). While asserting aspects of Christian meditation, the CDF had criticized some eastern forms of mediations as “erroneous ways of praying.”

Father Mathew Vellanickal in his paper, “Orationis Formas in an Indian Context” said the self-redemption theories propounded by some types of Eastern meditation techniques were incompatible with the Catholic faith.

Indian Theologian Association president
Father Jacob Parappally
that “lively exchange of views and opinions” followed presentation of each paper. “There was an atmosphere of cordiality, openness and mutual respect in seeking the truth together,” he added.

COMMENT by “Jacob”: Indian theologians have earned a reputation for being some of the most adventurous in the Catholic world today. This is largely a result of the pluralistic fabric of the country and a tendency to give positive credence to other religions. It is important that theologians do not depart from the doctrines of the Faith and continue to proclaim Jesus as the “unique and only savior”.


Fr. Parappally does not flay the Vatican Document. Much of what he wrote makes for good theologising.

But, when he asks “Should yoga and meditation and holistic medicine be rejected because the New Agers have injected into it a new philosophy and spirituality opposed to the Christian faith?
Could we deepen our understanding and experience of Cosmic Christ or abandon such an understanding because the New Agers make a caricature of this deep Christian mystery?“, I am saddened that he does not understand the implications of such syncretism.


Parappally cites Cardinal Godfried Danneels as saying, “Nor are all the techniques they advocate bad: yoga and relaxation can have many good effects” [larger source “A Christian Response to the New Age,” by John A Saliba]. The Belgian Cardinal might not have been clear on the New Age nature of yoga in 1992* when he wrote that pastoral letter. Much Catholic and other Christian evangelical information have become available since then. And there is plenty more in John A Saliba’s article that cites Catholic clergymen on the negative aspects of New Age. For instance, the succeeding lines to the above quote of Danneels are:

The letter’s tone suggests that the New Age gives alternative answers to humankind’s religious quest. It hints that there are several points of contact, such as mysticism, between the New Age and Christianity. It concedes that the New Age criticism of Christianity may not be completely unfounded. Its stress, however, is still on those doctrinal issues that make the New Age incompatible with Christianity. And it offers little speculation on what the New Age can contribute to Christian theology and spirituality.

A similar approach is taken by Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy of Miami. In a pastoral instruction entitled ‘The New Age Movement’, he asserts that ‘many of the elements of the New Age Movement are altogether incompatible with Christianity’.” It would have been helpful if Saliba and Parappally had included this.

There is a plethora of Catholic Internet resources, including articles by priests and by ex-New Agers chronicling the spiritual dangers of yoga. *Veritas Publishing, Ireland


Again, Parappally cites John A Saliba quoting Lutheran theologian Ted Peter, “A modest dabbling in New Age Spirituality is probably harmless; it may be even helpful“. Modest dabbling in New Age is something like being a ‘little pregnant’. You either are or are not. After describing ‘the New Age vision [as] a

noble and edifying one’, Ted Peter qualifies that with “Pastors, theologians and Church leaders should take the New Age movement seriously […] The gnostic monism & the heart of the New Age teaching is dangerous because it leads to naiveté and to a denial of God’s grace.” “Ted Peter’s approach” is certainly confusing.

As for Saliba, a Jesuit priest, I wouldn’t take him very seriously; according to Wikipedia,

Saliba has advocated a conciliatory approach towards new religions. He has argued that membership in such movements can serve as a temporary haven for young adults in a formative stage of their lives, and is not necessarily detrimental. He has been critical of the brainwashing concept espoused by the anti-cult movement.


Francis D’Sa SJ found the title of the Document “contrived” while Francis
Gonsalves SJ described its choice as a “weakness“. A third Jesuit, George Pattery opines that “the title of the document is itself the best approbation of what New Age movement is trying to convey“. But Fr. Jacob Parappally MSFS avers that “the title of the Document itself Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life gives an insight into the approach the Pontifical Councils of Culture and Interreligious Dialogue take in dealing with the New Age challenge of presenting the new millennium as the age of Aquarius, ‘the water-bearer’. The title does not seem to suggest a polarization of the two concepts of Christ but makes a bold assertion that Jesus Christ is the Aquarius that the New Age is speaking about or Jesus Christ is the one who is the real bearer of the water the New Agers are searching for… At least in the title the Vatican document seems to have followed the approach of Paul and John in responding to the New Age “.











[11] What We Need: A Reasoned Education for the New Age

Francis X. Clooney

In meeting the challenges of the New Age Christians have to make themselves well acquainted with the sources and experiences of the New Age. Further, a return to the genuine Christian sources in a new way is needed: we need to look at Christ with new eyes. This is possible only if we Christians are aware [sic] authoritarianism, insensitivity to women and violence to the earth, quite prevalent in traditional theology and Church praxis.

“Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life, is in many ways an exemplary document. It raises an important and timely issue in an informative manner; it includes a helpful glossary and bibliography; the array of religious images, ideas, and writings loosely grouped under the title “New Age” are placed in a historical perspective, diligently and ably reconstructed; there is a real effort not merely to lump disparate movements together; while the authors clearly worry about a pernicious influence of New Age religious movements on the faith and spirituality of Roman Catholics, they also seek to present the challenge as a positive occasion for honest self-scrutiny by Roman Catholics; the document rightly points out that some developments of ‘New Age thought – such as may overly stress the divinity of the world or the inner self, or entirely dismiss the roles of tradition and reason in the life of faith – are almost inevitably opposed to Christian faith; and yet, the appeal to the Roman Catholic tradition is not merely an appear to authority nor a distrust of what is new and outside Church control; rather it is rooted in a respect for the Roman Catholic way of bringing faith and reason into conversation. Indeed, were “Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life” proposed as the final word on New Age religions, it would be inadequate, since most issues are touched upon only lightly and only in a way that serves as a prelude to actual conversation. But if we take it as mapping the proposed conversation, within parameters appropriate to the Roman Catholic tradition, then it can be welcomed as a very helpful foundation and wise guide for further conversation. In the following paragraphs I propose several areas for further study and reflection.

    My premise is that the document’s emphasis on the importance of reason places before us two interconnected educational tasks: a deeper understanding of the Christian faith and spirituality, and a deeper understanding of New Age religious movements and their roots. For Christians, the first task is more important, of course, and in practice must be engaged first in Catholic communities. But relearning our tradition will require great honesty. As the document reminds us, “People feel the Christian religion no longer offers them – or perhaps never gave them – something they really need. The search which often leads people to the New Age is a genuine yearning: for a deeper spirituality, for something which will touch their hearts, and for a way of making sense of a confusing and often alienating world… If the Church is not to be accused of being deaf to people’s longings, her members need to do two things: to root themselves ever more firmly in the fundamentals of their faith, and to understand the often-silent cry in people’s hearts, which leads them elsewhere if they are not satisfied by the Church.”(1.5) The first challenge then is for the Church – particularly those in positions of authority, particularly the Vatican – to engage in humble self-scrutiny, to ask whether our Roman Catholic way of proceeding is not rightly seen (whatever the reality may be or should be) as authoritarian, officious, appearing to have nothing to learn, concerned more with externals than interior spiritual values, open to reasoning only as long as it leads to favored conclusions, uncomfortable with women and women’s ways of perceiving the world, frightened by new movements, particularly those arising from ordinary people’s intuitions instead of from Church offices, and in general resentful of the fact that even many Christians are finding spiritual sustenance outside officially approved ecclesiastical venues. We must examine ourselves honestly on these and other such matters, taking to heart the fact that others judge us not only more harshly, but perhaps with greater clarity, than we judge ourselves. In light of such reflection and repentance, then we can return anew to the rich Biblical and traditional sources of our faith – the texts, the rites and sacraments, the pieties and theologies, the mystical paths – and allow these to flourish in our new century.


    But we must also undertake what I have identified as a second task: a deeper understanding of New Age religious movements and their roots. This informative document enables us to start doing this, and our response to it should include a plan for the wider and deeper education required of persons who would be educated Christians in the 21st century. I suggest three ways to begin this education. First, we need actually to read the New Age literature. Much of the New Age subsists in sounds, smells, practices, to be sure, but at least we can begin by reading and discussing the works that sell well. Almost a decade ago, the quarterly publication of my university, The Boston College Magazine, (Summer 1995 issue, Volume 54, number 3) published a conversation of five university faculty members about New Age books whose sales averaged, at that time, over a million copies each: Sophy Burnham’s A Book of Angels, Jack Canfield’s and Mark Hansen’s Chicken Soup for the Soul, Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul, Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled and Further Along the Road
Less Traveled, and James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy. In a conversation provocatively entitled “Spirituality Lite”, the Boston College faculty honestly explored both the strengths and weaknesses of these popular New Age books, made pertinent comparisons and contrasts with classics of Christian spirituality, explored the social and cultural context for such works, and exchanged wise advice on how to read them while remaining attentive to the Christian tradition. Such conversations are possible, if one is willing to read; it is up to Catholic educators to facilitate both the reading and the consequent conversations.

    Second, we need to explore in depth some of the leading iconic figures of the New Age pantheon. In addition to older and founding figures such as Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant, footnote 15 lists an array of figures whose works are counted as influential by New Age practitioners: “When respondents were asked to name individuals whose ideas had influenced them, either through personal contact or through their writings, those most often named, in order of frequency, were Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, C.G. Jung, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Aldous Huxley, Robert Assagioli, and J. Krishnamurti…Paul Tillich, Hermann Hesse, Alfred North Whitehead, Martin Buber. Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Tarthang Tulku, Alan Watts, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Muktananda, D.T. Suzuki, Thomas Merton, Willis Harman, Kenneth Boulding, Elise Boulding, Erich Fromm, Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, Frederic Spiegelberg, Alfred Korzybski, Heinz von Foerster, John Lilly, Werner Erhard, Oscar Ichazo, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Joseph Chilton Pearce, Karl Pribram, Gardner Murphy and Albert Einstein.” This is of course a formidable list; we can assume that many of those on it might be surprised to find themselves so popular among New Age seekers.

    In any case, we need to re-read carefully works as disparate as those of Teilhard. Merton, Suzuki, and Krishnamurti, and to ponder the sources of their energy and enduring appeal. Why do many Catholics still love to read Merton in all the rich complexity of his meditations, studies, opinion pieces and poetry? While Teilhard is less known today than in past decades, what is it about his vision of the human future that still touches hearts and imaginations more eloquently than many more sober, approved classics? How did Suzuki manage to make the practice of Zen, itself so arduous and demanding, a path even young Catholics are willing to try, while some traditional Catholic spiritualities, also beautiful and arduous, gather dust? And while Krishnamurthy [sic] is hardly the kind of figure that anyone – himself included – would imagine could be easily integrated into a Catholic way of living, how ought we respond to his measured, reflective, and austere appeal for honest self-knowledge’ or to his famous 1929 insistence “that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect…Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path what so ever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along any particular path”? If, as the document rightly insists, it is Catholic to integrate faith and reason for the sake of an integral spiritual path, then it will not do merely to ignore Krishnamurthy [sic], or merely to announce that his views are anti-institutional and thus incompatible with normative Catholic teaching. It is more to the point, I suggest, for us to study his writings and lectures to learn from him, and to speak intelligently in response to his challenge. Finally, the documents authors rightly point out that
many New Age ideas and practices often seemingly bereft of tradition are in fact rooted in ancient, still living religious traditions, most particularly Hindu and Buddhist.

For instance, the document makes “the following observations on New Age connections to Hinduism: “the connection between the spiritual and the physical aspects of the person is said to be in the immune system or the Indian chakra system…” (2.2.3).; “reincarnation was a part of Hindu cyclical thought, based on the atman or divine kernel of personality (later the concept of jiva), which moved from body to body in a cycle of suffering (samsara), determined by the law of karma, linked to behavior in past lives. . .” (2.2.3); “a prominent component of Mrs. Blavatsky’s writings was the emancipation of women, which involved an attack on the ‘male’ God of Judaism, of Christianity and of Islam. She urged people to return to the mother- goddess of Hinduism and to the practice of feminine virtues …” (2.3.2); “many people are convinced that there is no harm in ‘borrowing’ from the wisdom of the East, but the example of Transcendental Meditation (TM) should make Christians cautious about the prospect of committing themselves unknowingly to another religion (in this case, Hinduism), despite what TM’s promoters claim about its religious neutrality…”(6.2) These are astute and apt allusions to make, and the authors thus rightly urge readers to search out the roots of “New Age religions” in “Old Age religions”. Our task, I suggest, is again a work of education, to aid Catholics in understanding the great religions of the world in depth and with accurate detail and appropriate contextual awareness. Here again, reason is an important factor in our response to the New Age, for it is reasonable to learn well the very old religious traditions from which sometimes ill-informed Catholics borrow eclectically rather than with care; by reason we can understand the doctrines and practice of those traditions in their proper contexts. Hindu and other religious traditions turn out actually to be our allies in offering a corrective to spiritualities that may be, or appear to be, rootless, privatized, bereft of tradition, and antagonistic to reason, since the great religious traditions share with us both the values and the actual practice of providing reasoned, communal foundations for spiritual practice. In the end, as the document again correctly observes, no amount of attentiveness or learning should change or weaken the essential Christian faith claim that “the Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord. He is at the heart of every Christian action, and every Christian message. So the Church constantly returns to meet her Lord.” (5) This does not change ever. But once we have examined ourselves in the light of the New Age religions (as well as in light of numerous other vital perspectives), we will be as it were cleansed of our own blinding and noxious fumes, and relieved of the needless, heavy baggage that sometimes seems to weigh down our Catholic tradition. We shall again be able to see Christ with new eyes, eyes opened, in this New Age.

As the document reminds us in explaining its paradigmatic image of the encounter of Christ and the woman at the well (Hence “the Water of Life” in the title), this encounter “has even been described [by Sister Helen Bergin, O. P.] as a paradigm for our engagement with truth. The experience of meeting the stranger who offers us the water of life is a key to the way Christians can and should engage in dialogue with anyone who does not know Jesus.” (5) Finding Christ in the stranger, even the stranger who is a New Age writer and practitioner, is a wonderful ideal that the educated, informed Catholic can hope to make a reality, in the new age that is our third millennium.

Boston College, U.S.A.

Fr. Francis Clooney SJ is
Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology at Harvard Divinity School and was the first president of the Society for Hindu-Christian Studies.
Francis D’Sa SJ found the title of the Document “contrived” while Francis
Gonsalves SJ described its choice as a “weakness“. George Pattery SJ approved of it; so has another Jesuit, Francis Clooney: As the document reminds us in explaining its paradigmatic image of the encounter of Christ and the woman at the well (Hence “the Water of Life” in the title), this encounter “has even been described [by Sister Helen Bergin, O. P.] as a paradigm for our engagement with truth. The experience of meeting the stranger who offers us the water of life is a key to the way Christians can and should engage in dialogue with anyone who does not know Jesus.” (5) Finding Christ in the stranger, even the stranger who is a New Age writer and practitioner, is a wonderful ideal that the educated, informed Catholic can hope to make a reality, in the new age that is our third millennium.




Introducing Myself: a Jesuit at Harvard

Francis X. Clooney, S.J.,
2007-12-15, Cambridge, MA.

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a Jesuit of the New York Province, which I entered in 1968, at the old St. Andrew’s Novitiate, just north of Poughkeepsie. For over two decades I taught in the Theology Department at Boston College, a very wonderful educational and theological environment. In 2005, however, I accepted a position at Harvard University, in the Divinity School, where
I teach Hinduism, Christian theology in light of Hinduism, and both in accord with the emerging field of Comparative Theology. I teach mostly graduate students, some of whom come over from Harvard’s Committee on the Study of Religion and Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, while occasionally a bright undergraduate comes my way.

I’ve recently finished two book projects, one a Christian commentary on three medieval Hindu mantras — brief prayers, words of worship and devotion — and the other a comparative reflection on the ideal and practice of loving surrender to God as taught by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1623), a Doctor of the Church and by
Sri Vedanta Desika (1268-1369), a great Hindu theologian of south India. Previously,

I had written on the Blessed Virgin Mary and Hindu Goddesses, and edited a book in which eight Jesuits wrote about our research and why we do it. In my spare time, I also study the work of the Jesuit missionaries in India, back to the time of St. Francis Xavier and the great scholar and pioneer in dialogue, Roberto de Nobili. On weekends I help out in a small parish south of Boston. As I post my comments over the months to come, I will focus on things I care about: the meaning of Catholic identity in a world of many religions; being a Jesuit today; the world of Harvard, and how we learn from the marvels and puzzles the modern global university and its divinity school put before us; what I learn from the students of every religious background, and so too from the people of my parish; and perhaps I will offer some comments on recent books. But surely other issues and questions will arise along the way, with your advice too!
Francis X. Clooney, S.J.


1. Welcome Frank! You are a wonderfully distinguished addition to our bloggers, and I look forward especially to your reflections on what it means to be Christian in today’s multi-religious world. What is the name of your new book on St. Francis de Sales and Sri Vedanta Desika?
James Martin, SJ

2. Welcome Father Clooney! For those of you who don’t know,
Fr. Clooney introduced me to Ramakrishna Vedanta
my freshman year at BC. His love of interreligious dialogue became a love of mine, leading me to write about the Song of Songs and a mystical Hindu poem for my senior thesis. He is one of the best men I have ever met and I was certainly sad to see him leave BC. I know that he has been welcomed at Harvard and hope he has found his home away from home!

3. I’d just add that the parish at which Fr. Clooney assists on weekends is constantly edified by his presence, poise, and preaching. We are privileged to count Frank among us as a parishioner and as a presider.

Posted By Deacon Mike Iwanowicz

4. Welcome Father Clooney! Harvard is blessed to have you. Please keep alert for the local priestly Society of the Holy Cross, also known as the schemers. Do not trust them; they employ the trick of friendship. Posted By Joe

5. Fr Martin – thanks for asking: my book is Beyond Compare: St. Francis de Sales and Sri Vedanta Desika on Loving Surrender to God, and will be published by Georgetown University Press in 2008. Posted By
Francis X Clooney SJ


Jesuit Teaches Class on Patanjali’s Sutras

Francis X. Clooney, S.J.,
8.5.08. The post originally appeared on
America Magazine‘s*

Several months ago I mentioned that I was teaching a seminar on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This fundamental yoga text, from nearly 2000 years ago, is brief — 195 very succinct verses — but it is the reference point for all the later yoga systems. I promised to report on the results of the seminar (with ten fine students) at its conclusion (this week), and so here (and hereafter) I offer some reflections.

Given the great popularity and accessibility of yoga — I was told recently that 20 million Americans practice some version of it — it may seem a bit too academic to go back and study the Sutras, but I was convinced by my seminar that this is very much worth the effort, even necessary if we are to know what yoga is all about.
Yoga is extremely supple in its ability to take on various rationales — nondualist, devotional, health-oriented, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. — and my impression is that even expert teachers of disciplined yoga practice are rather fluid — sometimes unhelpfully vague — in their explanations as to what it is all for. The Sutras help pin down a succinct attitude toward the practice and its purpose. Consider these select verses (in my own somewhat loose translation, indebted to published translations which I’ve consulted along with the Sanskrit text):

I.1-5 “Now, instruction regarding yoga. Yoga is the restraint of fluctuations in consciousness. With such restraint, the seer abides in his own-form; otherwise, the mind takes the form of the fluctuations. The fluctuations are fivefold: valid cognition, error, false conceptualization, sleep, and memory. They are afflicted or non-afflicted.”

I.12, 23 “Through practice and dispassion, the restraint of the fluctuations — or by dedication to the lord.”

I.47-49, 51 “When there is clarity in the non-reflective state, there arises calmness with respect to self, and then there is truth-bearing wisdom, which in content differs from wisdom that is taught or learned by inferences; for its object is specific. But when even that is restricted, everything is restricted, and that absorption that is final.”


However physical yoga may be, it is, in Patanjali’s view, primarily about the mind, its disturbances and distractions (fluctuations), and the way in which detachment, practice, and even devotion (dedication) can free the mind from what ails it — with results unimaginable for those comfortable with the constricted, distorted mind.

Only if such matters are clearly understood — as explained in the first chapter of the Sutras — will the physical practice, the breathing exercises, the expanded capacities and higher insights do the practitioner any good: unless you change the way you think, nothing you do will help you much. Each of these verses — and the rest of the 195 — merits close reading, since (in the Sanskrit at least) no word is superfluous, each makes a point.

My seminar was all about this close reading, with about eight of the classical and modern commentaries as our guide.

It was also, readers may recall, a comparative course, in the sense that I brought to bear on the Sutras insights from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which we read along with the Sutras. More on this in a later segment in this series of reflections, but I will close this one by observing that in linking the yoga to the Christian tradition, I am by no means a pioneer. Already in the 1950s,
Fr. Jean-Marie Déchanet**, a Benedictine priest working in the Congo, published La Voie du Silence and, in English, Christian Yoga, in which he expounded the salutary practices and, with extreme caution, made the case how and why Christians could benefit from yoga.

In the 1960, Fr. Gaspar Koelman, a Jesuit working in India, did a meticulous study of Patanjali, The Patanjala Yoga, that is invaluable even today. From a very different angle, in 1990 Ravi Ravindra, a Hindu scholar, published an insightful interpretation of the Gospel according to John entitled The Yoga of the Christ.

And — lest we forget — there have been many columns, essays, and letters by Christian leaders cautioning Christians against being enchanted by physical practices that ultimately mean a whole way of life — possibly or probably incompatible with Christian values.

So the fruits of my seminar — this latest
“Jesuit Yoga”
— need to be carefully assessed, for the sake of the general question,
How can we benefit from the ancient and wise tradition of yoga, as Christians?
My hope is to add at least two more to this series of reflections — Jesuit Yoga II and III — to spell out a bit more of what I mean. I also very much welcome comments from readers who (for better or worse) have brought yoga together with Christian (and/or Ignatian) spirituality.

Note to the studious reader: The Sutras are available in numerous translations, and those interested would do well to sample several, perhaps beginning with those by G. Feuerstein, C. Chapple and Yogi Ananda Viraj, or Barbara Miller. There are likewise numerous studies of the Sutras, and here I would recommend [for the determined reader] Ian Whicher’s The Integrity of the Yoga Darsana; more popular and accessible works are works such as B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on the Yoga Sutras, and Feuerstein’s several commentaries. END


*The America magazine blurb says:
America magazine, “The National Catholic Weekly”, “One of the nation’s oldest and most respected Catholic Magazines”. Don’t be fooled by that.

A column for the Jesuit magazine America, in which Rev. James Martin, S.J. criticized Pope Benedict XVI’s pro-life and pro-family message in Portugal as “bizarre,” and implied it was contrary to the Gospel, has been revised to omit the strongest language…- May 20, 2010 (

The new pope was installed on April 24, [2005] and on May 6 [2005] came the announcement that Father Thomas Reese, S. J., the editor of America magazine, had been forced to resign… The reaction on the Catholic left was outrage… Commonweal, The National Catholic Reporter, and America*** make up the media vanguard of the Catholic leftThe editorial content of America consistently challenges the Church’s teaching on issues like condoms, homosexuality and, most important of all, salvation through Jesus Christ.

For example, the September 2000 issue of America contained articles critical of the document Dominus Iesus published that year by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The writers took issue with the Congregation’s insistence that Catholics should believe that salvation is given only through Jesus Christ and His Church. – Jesuit Resignation Blamed on Benedict XVI, Deal W Hudson, The Window, June 3, 2005.

**Fr. Clooney does not reveal that Jean-Marie Déchanet left the priesthood, then the Church. [Déchanet promoted yoga in the Archdiocese of Bombay with the support of an international-level charismatic priest.]

***Fr. Clooney writes for leftist, liberal and dissenting magazines that purport to be Catholic. That is precisely the reason that Sebastian Painadath requested him to contribute to the Jeevadhara “Theological Response“. But, strangely, Clooney does not reveal the real side of him in his critique of the Document.


The Hindus – Are Here!

by Francis X. Clooney, S.J., 2008-07-02, Cambridge, MA.

June 27-30, 2008, I was in Orlando, Florida, for the
Seventh International Conference of the World Association of Vedic Studies (WAVES).
This is
a meeting of Hindus
who meet every second year for a conference that is in part a cultural event, in part a confidence-building gathering, and in part an academic conference. Most of those who came reside in the US, including a good number of young Hindus born in the West, but some participants came all the way from India. Some are professors in religious and philosophical studies, while others are professionals in other fields, but nonetheless deeply committed to their religion’s well-being.
I was there because I was invited to give the keynote address on the first night, on “How the Hindu community can contribute to religious life here in America.”




I stayed the entire weekend, knowing that I would enjoy the gathering, and also learn much from the papers given and from the conversations at meals and between sessions.

As an event, WAVES is a sign of a community that has “arrived” and is big enough to sponsor serious conferences, and yet is stilling finding its way. The Hindu community is well-established in the United States, and is largely very successful in business, technology, and the sciences; there are now Hindu temples in most large and medium-sized American cities, as well as many educational organizations, cultural centers, publications and websites, etc.
If one also counts yoga as a practice most closely connected to Hinduism, we can say that Hinduism is already having a great impact in the United States, and this influence is destined to increase in the next decades. In saying this, I realize that some readers will be not used to thinking about the Hindu community, since we usually think of Islam and Buddhism as the “newly arrived” religions that are having the most influence on our society. Perhaps
it is a blessing, though, that Hindus are simply here and flourishing, without any great fanfare or headlines.
But of course, with success there are also growing pains. One underlying theme of the weekend was the need to keep continuity between Hindu life and values in India and here in America — a problem that surely every immigrant group has faced. How do the venerable values of Hindu traditions still matter in today’s world? More implicitly, there seemed to be an underlying concern to sort out a love-hate relationship with the West: there is the legacy of colonialism, of centuries of Christian attacks on idolatry, paganism, and the deficiencies of the Hindus, and a feeling that even today, Indian culture and religion are little appreciated and understood in the West. So how to become increasingly American — while yet having doubts about the good will and welcome of the West and its Christian majority? How to fit in, while keeping traditional values? Should the community keep its distance from the American mainstream? Should Hindus try to build their own educational system, as did Catholic immigrants in the 19th century? Do temple worship and other ancient traditions need in some way to be “Americanized”?
The major point I tried to make in my opening address was that Hindus are now well placed to play an important role in the religious life of the United States, for reason such as these: they come from India, a large, diverse democracy in which many religions have long been present, and so our religious diversity is less of a shock than it is for many others; Hindus bring with them cultural and religious traditions that are complete, rich in literature and poetry, philosophy and theology, ritual and art, and so can remind us of how to live an integral familial and cultural life; the Hindu traditions are intellectually as well as religiously rich, and Hindus can bring intelligence to American conversations on religion, and spiritual vigor to the intellectual life; although Hindu beliefs cover a wide spectrum of views about the divine, many of the largest and most vigorous are theistic traditions, dedicated to a supreme God, or Goddess, or supreme divine couple — and so, despite expectations to the contrary, they can share with Christians a sense of God as Person, and of God’s will, grace, and salvific involvement in the world. Everything is in a sense different, of course, and there will be points of real contrast, but Hindus and Christians who believe in God can talk to one another on many levels. So, I said, it is possible and important for Hindus to make themselves heard in American life, showing that their beliefs and values are not exotic but quite relevant as we look to the future. I concluded by admitting that we — Americans and Catholics too — can learn much from Hindus, and together we can work to make our country a better, healthier, more spiritual environment.
Over the weekend, I had many conversations with individuals, and we did in fact find much to talk about. It helped, of course, that I have studied Hinduism for many years, but it was clear that we really did have something in common. My being a Catholic priest and Jesuit was a plus, not a negative, in part because Indians have great respect for the Jesuit educational institutions of India, and also because they have the highest respect for Jesus as a divine teacher. I would like to think that my experience on the weekend, and similar positive encounters across the country, indicate that the Hinduism is a underestimated blessing in American culture, and that we should not neglect Hindu-Christian relations even when other interreligious relationships seem to press upon us more vigorously.

The Hindu-Christian dialogue
is in a way the neglected dialogue that promises to teach us much about ourselves and America and about our Hindu sisters and brothers; I am confident it will grow during the decades to come.
Note: If you do not know much about Hinduism, you might start with Vasudha Narayanan’s Hinduism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places, and her edited collection (with Jack Hawley), The Life of Hinduism.


Fr. Clooney makes it abundantly clear where his, interests, loyalties and sympathies lie. Instead of lamenting the Hindu over-run of the Christian cultural legacy of the United States, he contributes to it.

We also see what Indian priest-theologians mean by interreligious dialogue. They are content for Hindus to accept “Jesus as a divine teacher”. There is no attempt to present him as the Son of God, Saviour and Redeemer. Theologians like Clooney contribute more insights on Hinduism to Hinduism in inter-faith dialogue. They take from Hinduism and give nothing of Christian revelation in return. And it is exactly the same thing that is happening in the inculturation process, which is why I call it “Hinduisation”.


Jesuit Yoga I

by Francis X. Clooney, S.J.,

The content of Jesuit Yoga I
is exactly the same as that of the above Jesuit Teaches Class on Patanjali’s Sutras



Jesuit Yoga II

Francis X. Clooney, S.J., 2008-05-15, Cambridge, MA.

One of the things that most attracts people to yoga, I think, is that
it is wholesome, challenging, and able to bring a deep sense of well-being to body, mind, and spirit — all without seeming to impose an alien worship on the practitioner. Even in the ancient Indian traditions, and certainly now in America, it has always seemed possible to practice yoga and at the same time maintain, even deepen, our original and continuing faith commitments. But at the same time, this very point is a source of worry for others, since yoga seems blithely unconcerned about matters of religion: as if its energies were elsewhere, making religious commitment seem not so much a problem, as simply optional.
If yoga is a powerful religious system, shouldn’t it conflict in a more direct way with Christian commitment? Or are we missing something?
Since yoga is many things to many people, there are probably many answers to this question; much depends on where we learned yoga, how we practice it, etc. But I do find a certain wisdom and challenge again in the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali (introduced in my last entry). Early in the Sutras, Patañjali remarks on the efficacy of turning to God. In I.12, he had said that the fluctuations of the mind are calmed by constant practice, and by the learning of dispassion, detachment. After some intervening matters, he adds, Or –by turning to the lord. (I.23) The Sanskrit word for “lord” here — ishwara — may or may not refer to God as ordinarily understood, but certainly an important strand of the yoga tradition has assumed that Patañjali is here offering that option, as if to say, “If not constant practice and dispassion, then try turning to the Lord — that will work too.” For many people, perhaps, the most effective path is turning to the Lord; to the person who is attentive and focused, the divine person in turn responds graciously, giving him or her the calmness and clarity desired.
Now it may be unsettling that Patañjali is so matter of fact about all this: bodily discipline can work; detachment can work; OR turning to the Lord can work. Being devotional is not the only way to achieve what one seeks, but it may indeed be your best way, so turn to the Lord. This openness may obviously be unsettling for some readers: you can find your way to peace through devotion — but you have other options too.
Patañjali goes on to describe this Lord: he is “untouched by afflictions, actions, the fruits of action, or their residue;” he is omniscient, with a knowledge that will not be surpassed; all teachers have learned from him, for he is not limited by time. (I.24-26)

One can reach him by repetition of the sacred word Aum, a practice that clears away obstacles and affords us heightened consciousness (I.27-29). There is no mention here of the ordinary resources of devotion, love, affection; rather, we find our way to this Lord through the holy word, which itself is effective in changing us. This is intriguingly like — and yet unlike — a Christian commitment to know God through the word of God.
All of this — there is much more that could be said — should be at least bracing and stimulating for us who are believers, dedicated to Christ, and yet too seeking calmness, clarity, dispassion, and freedom. It may be inaccurate for any of us to claim that our spiritual well-being is solely dependent on God. The rituals, practices, moral virtues and dispositions we cultivate over time may well give us much of what we find wholesome and helpful in our religion. It might even be that the Bible, as Word of God, inspires us in its eloquence and, over time, with the words by which we live our lives. God is at the core of all this but Patañjali may be asking us, How does God –plus the ritual and scripture and other things of your religion — help keep your life together?
Or, even more basically, we might ask: have we ever been intent enough in our spiritual practice, or deeply dispassionate enough, that we might realize what is means to say that turning to the Lord is an alternative even to my religion? It’s a good question for a Jesuit too: detachment, poverty, obedience, chastity, energy, vision, love — plus turning to the Lord?
(Note: I usually borrow a hopefully free image from the web to start my entries; this time, I happily

hit upon notice for yoga classes at Manresa House of Retreats, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Check it out on the web:

Clooney‘s contentions on the positive aspects of yoga and the Aum/OM mantra are patently false. There are almost a dozen articles on the subjects at my site presenting information collated from eminent Catholic resources. In the very Document that has critiqued, there is mention of the practice of yoga – twice. [Some of the traditions which flow into New Age are … yoga. #2.1 Yoga, Zen, transcendental meditation and tantric exercises lead to an experience of self-fulfilment or enlightenment. #]


Jesuit Yoga III: When the Object of Our Meditation Alone Illumines Us

Francis X. Clooney S.J.,
21.6.08, Cambridge, MA.

In a moment I will return, as promised, to reflections on my spring seminar on the Yoga Sutras and the Spiritual Exercises. But first, I wish to thank all those who have been commenting on my bi-weekly entries, particularly the last two, on the anniversary of my ordination as occasioning a lament, and on how it would be really ok if a Muslim were elected president [of the United States]. I decided that it would not be practicable to respond to your comments, but I did read them with great interest. I find that your views, in agreement or disagreement, fill out necessary dimensions of what we need to think about. So thanks!
Now, back to Jesuit Yoga: A key theme of the Yoga Sutras is the quelling of the distractions of the mind, activities ranging from the ways we know things in ordinary life to our mistakes about the world around us, and to our dreams, that reinvent reality, and our memories, that take us back through time.


Patañjali, author of the Sutras, sees as a key — perhaps the key — goal of Yoga the purification of these activities of the mind. This is first of all a matter of simplifying how we attend to reality, removing needless encumbrances and wrong impressions, so that our mental activities no longer distress and distract us. Second, though, Patañjali seeks the mind’s absolute calming, so that it reaches an utter quiet and stillness wherein we let go of even the seemingly fundamental consciousness of ourselves as subjects who know some thing or person as object of knowledge. In the end, it seems, there is left only a simple luminous instant, in which the object of knowledge simply radiates forth its presence — while the mind, made simple, is now a kind of witness, entirely given over to awareness of the graceful radiance of the hitherto mundane object.
Three sutras, translated a bit loosely here for the sake of clarity, help us to get a sense of Patañjali’s intent: The mind reaches a state of balance without discursive thought when memory is purified, and the object alone shines forth, as if emptied of its own form. (I.43) This balance is achieved through meditative practice: When the object of steady meditation alone shines forth as object, as if devoid of its own form, that is absorption. (III.3) Patañjali returns to this theme in the very last sutra: After the constituents of material reality have flowed back to their original state, no longer serving any purpose for a person, this is utter simplicity; or, this is steadfastness in one’s own form; it is “the power of being-consciousness.” (IV.34)
In the final installment of this series, Jesuit Yoga IV,
I will ponder what kind of person we are, if we end up where Patañjali wants to lead us. But here I wish to point out a connection between approaching this pure, luminous object of yoga and — perhaps improbably to many a reader — approaching the ultimate object of meditation in the Exercises: Jesus himself. The Second, Third, and Fourth Weeks are dedicated to long, loving contemplation respectively of the life and ministry of Jesus, his passion and death, and his final interactions with his friends after the Resurrection. Not only the purification expected in the First Week, but also the meticulous daily meditations of each day of each subsequent week, can be taken as moving the retreatant ever closer to a simple, intuitive gaze upon Jesus, a gaze freed finally from conscientious but ultimately tedious, irrelevant thoughts about myself, how I am meditating, what Jesus is supposed to mean for me, etc. Each day, the retreatant returns to that day’s meditation over and again, each time seeking out the single living point of contact with God in it, in order to settle there and find God in that moment, be it a Gospel word or action, an image or memory, or simply some view of Jesus in his life and death. It is a process of distillation, to get at the heart of things.
Most potent, in this regard, in light of the Yoga Sutras, is the fifth daily contemplation, “An Application of the Five Senses.” Ignatius advises the retreatant, who has spent the day purifying and distilling her meditation down to its purest and most powerful instances, to apply the spiritual senses to this tender object: By the sight of my imagination I will see the persons, by meditating and contemplating in detail all the circumstances around them… By my hearing I will listen to what they are saying or might be saying… I will smell the fragrance and taste the infinite sweetness and charm of the Divinity, of the soul, of its virtues, and of everything there… Using the sense of touch, I will, so to speak, embrace and kiss the places where the persons walk or sit. (Ganss translation) In each instance, Ignatius urges the retreatant to draw some profit, fruit from the contact. In the end, as usual — though with more potency now — he indicates that the retreatant should conclude with a colloquy, words addressed to the person/s she has encountered: direct address, now without any thing or any one between me and Jesus.
Thinking about this instruction in light of the Yoga Sutras, it seems to me that Ignatius too is teaching us to become ready for an utterly simple encounter with the object of our attention, by a simple, steady gaze upon the places and persons around Jesus, and finally by encounter with the object that cannot be surpassed. It is no small feat, Ignatius realizes, to get this close to Jesus, “as if” He were present in the place of our meditation. Like Patañjali, Ignatius is calling the practitioner to a deep humility, a suspension of self-concern before the object of one’s love, to a dwelling there. In Patañjali’s terms, this is a basking in the luminosity of the object; in Ignatius’ terms, it is a savoring of the fragrance and infinite sweetness of God fully present in Jesus. Neither author wants us to settle for less, for our pious ideas, theories about God, edifying ethical stances on how we ought to behave spiritually. Although such things may at some point matter, more important now is the simple, bare encounter.
None of this means that the Yoga Sutras and Spiritual Exercises are saying the same thing, echoing the same view of human nature, positing the same theology of our ultimate goal. Differences, perhaps important ones, remain. But Patañjali and Ignatius do share a practical sense about what we should do: use our place, surroundings, minds, ways of living, bodies, all for the sake of simplicity, not complication, until we are so simple that there is, as it were, nothing left but us seeing God and God seeing us.
If so, their concern for intelligent practice leading to unhampered encounter with reality itself is a shared goal that deserves our full attention, for a moment at least undistracted by our worries about the uniqueness, difference, and excellence of one tradition in relation to others. And, more constructively, if these small reflections are indicative, then re-learning the Exercises in light of the Sutras is a positive step we can take, both in study and in actual practice. Why not?
Where all this leaves us, when the practice is done, will be the theme of Jesuit Yoga IV. As usual — comments welcome, based on your own insights and spiritual practices.


Jesuit Yoga: the Finale

Francis X. Clooney, S.J., 2008-08-08, Cambridge, MA.



It is already nearly the middle of August, and soon the new academic year will be upon us. So it is time to finish the four-part series I began in May, based on my spring seminar at Harvard, on Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras, studied carefully but also read in light of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. (Ardent readers can scroll down through past entries here to find the three earlier parts of the series, the recommended translations, etc.) The final question I wish to address has to do with the end of the two texts: if a person practices yoga as understood by Patañjali or meditation as taught by Ignatius and if she or he reaches a fairly advanced state (by effort, by grace) — then what kind of person is this, and how does she or he live? Do Ignatius and Patañjali produce very different kinds of persons?

From two perspectives, the answer is relatively easy. First, if we step away from the practices actually recommended by Ignatius and Patañjali and think about Christian theology and Yogic theology (often allied with some Hindu tradition, or Buddhist) as general worldviews, we can quickly conclude to difference: since these Jesuit and yogic practices did not begin in the same place, and are clearly about different things, they could not possibly end in the same place. So, for better or worse, a person who practices yoga should in the end be very different from a person who lives by the Exercises.
A variant on this judgment-from-principle would be to conclude that since all religions flow toward the same goal, then all credible spiritual paths, such as those announced here, must form persons with the same higher moral and spiritual values. Second, though, we could just as easily conclude that almost no one, perhaps no one at all, is in a position to decide whether yogic and Ignatian practices form persons very much alike or very different: any person wishing to offer an intelligent view of the matter would have to have wholeheartedly given herself to that practice and the world it entails, over a long period of time. But no one, this theory goes, actually does this with two traditions, and so none of us really has the insight on the basis of which to make such a decision. So the question of where these practices end up could never be answered.

I take such views seriously, and do not wish to dismiss the value of deeply rooted beliefs in how things are, or ought to be. But I do wish to suggest, in light of the plea I have made that we read the texts and study what the authors are telling us that it may be that the Yoga Sutras and the Exercises leave us with open possibilities that practitioners of both traditions can welcome, theological differences aside.

At the end of the Exercises, Ignatius proposes to us a “contemplation to gain love,” which asks us to see the world as encompassed by God’s love. He tells the retreatant “to ask for interior knowledge of so great good received, in order that being entirely grateful, I may be able in all to love and serve His Divine Majesty.” (Mullan translation) In turn, then, the retreatant is guided to remember what God has done for her personally and in creation, to see how God dwells in all created things, how God works for us in all the things that comprise our world, and to see how everything descends into our world as a gift from God. In each of these four moments, Ignatius indicates that the retreatant should then offer herself to God in turn, with the well-known words, “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my intellect, and all my will—all that I have and possess. Thou gavest it to me: to Thee, Lord, I return it! All is Thine, dispose of it according to all Thy will. Give me Thy love and grace, for this is enough for me.” By tradition and in the experience of many, this offering is followed by a return to the world, to see God in all things, and to walk with Jesus in a life of service to our fellow sisters and brothers.

Patañjali’s Sutras, even more laconic than the Exercises, end with verses that have challenged interpreters for millennia. I give them here without footnotes, and in a slightly loose rendering that makes them a bit clearer than is the Sanskrit by itself: “For the person who no longer has interest even in clarity in meditation, there is true discernment, whence arrives the cloud of dharma that is samadhi. With that, both affliction and karmic results cease. And then, because there is infinite knowledge free from the impurity that covers all things, what still remains unknown is but a trifle. The constituents of matter have now fulfilled their purpose, and so their evolutions are done. This inverse flow of the constituents (to a steady-state condition), without any further purpose for the individual, is utter simplicity — steadfastness in one’s own self, with the power that is being-conscious.” (Sutras 4.29-34)

This is, to be sure, a very dense statement — that in many ways remains unclear to me too. But aspects stand out: advanced in yoga, this person is no longer attached even to meditation; with a clear eye, she or he sees the world as it is, and the integral state that has been sought (samadhi) comes of its own, like the gift of rain; all things are washed clean, and everything, as it were, is seen and known just as it is. Nature’s constituent elements are no longer in flux or turmoil, and so material things are no longer purposeful for this practitioner, who has everything, needs nothing. Her state is then “utter simplicity” (my latest effort to translate kaivalya), the true appropriation of self, a total awareness, consciousness.

But what does this person do at this point? One view might be that she does nothing, cares for nothing, since nothing more is needed, all that needs to be known is known, and both body and soul are at peace — no contacts, no goals, no relations. But to be a person who sees the world as a whole, as it were as God sees it, who has received all by grace, who acts only in utter freedom — such a state could actually describe both this yogic practitioner and Ignatius’ ideal retreatant: detached, free, at peace, acting without need.

But surely, one might object: Ignatius’ retreatant does not have complete awareness; Patañjali’s practitioner does not act out of love. Surely different states! This may be so; I do not dismiss the possibility. Or, the problem may be rather that since the Ignatian and yogic vocabularies, rightly and genuinely rooted in specific traditions, each fails to do just to what the other tradition is about, in its positive reality. It may be unfair to characterize the retreatant as deficient in awareness, or the practitioner as lacking in love. I suggest that we err on the side of generosity, and allow that these individuals, at this advanced stage, might recognize and welcome one another — integral persons, selfless, at peace, approaching the world without wanting something, with eyes open, in touch with Reality. Perhaps the two ideals might complement each other, as the Ignatian ideal infuses yoga with a language of love, and Patañjali’s ideal infuses the Exercises with a fuller sense of the utter simplicity and freedom of seeing the world serenely, all at once.



(And still, a simpler possibility remains: yoga can teach a practitioner of the Exercises how to give herself in love more serenely and freely, while the Exercises can teach yoga practitioners how to imagine a person, the Person, in whom the world reaches peace and becomes a gift again.)

Were all this the case, at least possibly so, we could imagine a more constructive and friendly conversation — speaking together, practicing together, studying together — among those who have inculcated the Ignatian ideal and those who live yogic simplicity. This would not be a way to prove which view of the world is better, and the competition of religions might have to stop for a moment — but it might make for a better world.

I conclude here this set of reflections on yoga and the Exercises, my excursion into “Jesuit yoga.” I really do welcome the input of readers, regarding what I’ve written, or (even better) from your own experience of how these traditions do or don’t come together, in the end. Please comment!


Back from India III: On Visiting Hindu Temples

by Francis X. Clooney, S.J., August 21, 2009, Cambridge, MA.

This is the third of five reflections on my recent trip to India, my 12th or 13th to the subcontinent. After some general comments on why I love
visiting India
and on caste. I turn now to one of the simplest and best religious opportunities available to those who visit India and avoid being simply a tourist or on a business schedule: namely, visiting Hindu temples. Anyone who visits India regularly has her or his own way of connecting with the culture, but I have always found visiting temples, preferably smaller temples that are not on tourist lists, one of the best ways to “get inside” India.
There are temples everywhere in India, some in places of dramatic natural authority — a hill top, the confluence of several rivers, the sea shore — and some connected by long tradition with a miraculous event or divine appearance. But many other temples seem to honor deities, gods and goddesses, in very specific locales, such as the base of a large tree, a rock imbedded in the roadside, or a place where someone built a shrine, long ago, in gratitude for prayers answered. Some temples honor great deities such as Rama or Krsna, Shiva or Kali or Sri Laksmi, while others, particularly goddess shrines, name a deity who seems to be known, by that name, only locally. And, of course, one finds everywhere shrines to Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, or to Hanuman, the monkey-deity who served Lord Rama in total devotion. (I will leave aside the fact that most Hindu homes have small interior shrines, sometimes in the kitchen, where daily worship is offered.)
Most temples include large compounds, open to the air, surrounded by walls, and with impressive gates and towers by which one enters. Inside a temple compound, there are expanses of cool stone, patios on which to sit, and small shrines one may visit in circling the courtyard. Some temples have pools for purification, and some have shops, particularly for ritual items related to worship, even inside the temple walls. Often, particularly in large cities, such temples provide the only open spaces, and they offer respite in the evening from the congestion of the surrounding streets. Music may be performed; on the walls of the temples, the poetry of ancient saints is inscribed; people sit, chat, watch others passing by. At the center of the courtyards, are the inner holy shrines, either a single main one, or several, for related deities, or for the male deity and his female consort. Some of these are marked “Hindu only,” but in many temples anyone who will enter reverently and quietly (and without camera) is welcome. There are rarely set times for services in temples, though morning and evening are favorite times to visit, when the prescribed worship of the deities occurs, offerings are made (usually fruit and vegetables, and with incense, flowers, oil lamps), and prayers offered by priest and devotee.
On this trip to India, I again made it a point to visit temples in each of the places I visited: in Jaipur, the relatively new and spotlessly clean
Laksmi-Narayana temple just near the university campus, and next to that, much older Ganesha and Hanuman temples. Early one morning, a group of us also drove out to
Galtaji, a lovely cool site up in the hills, where passing pilgrims come to bathe in holy streams. In Pune, I was able to visit some very ancient cave temples right in the center of the city, and also ascend a steep hill on the city’s edge to the Parvati Mandir, to which devotees come both for worship and for stunning views of the city. In Pondicherry, I visited a small shrine on a side street, near to the beach. In Trichy, I could enter (part way, barred eventually by a “Hindu only” sign) into one of India’s greatest temples, at
Srirangam: a very large temple expanse with lofty towers, and concentric walls, each surrounding still more closely the innermost holy shrines. While the shrine of the reclining Ranganatha — Visnu Narayana as lord of the temple — is not visible from outside it, the nearby sanctum of the goddess Sri is set up so that even from the outer doorway one can see all the way in. Also in Trichy, I climbed up hundreds of steps to the great Siva temple near the top of the hill known as
Rock Fort, and wound my way through the many rooms of the temple, each filled with lovely and holy images, all the way toward the innermost shrine.
But it was in Chennai itself that I was able to make repeated visits to very familiar temples, both in the old neighborhood of Mylapore, the old section of the city, and out in Thiruvanmiyur, where a large Siva temple and several smaller, very popular and crowded goddess temples welcome visitors. I’ve always told my students that it is best to visit temples more than once: first for the novelty, the architecture, and then later on to see the daily worship, the piety of the worshippers, the everyday holiness of the shrines
. So I am happy to visit the same temples more than once, and over the years. Some of the temples in Mylapore — the
temple for Siva, the Keshava and Madhava Perumal temples for Visnu, and the small but (to me) very holy Vedanta Desika temple where Visnu and Laksmi are worshipped in a small enclosed area — I have visited 20 or 30 times over the years and, in some of them, I know people from the neighborhood who welcome me with a smile and greeting.


Of course, the question arises: once we are beyond the must-visit temple stops of the tourist, what exactly are we doing when we visit Hindu temples? First, we are, in a very physical way, entering into Hindu life and spirituality, literally by small steps. It is an opportunity to learn, as a whole person, on a deeply spiritual level.
Some Christians, Indian and Western, will not enter temples at all, either because of a prohibition of idols, or because of the spiritual powers at work in temples — or because Christians simply do not visit Hindu temples.
But if you do visit, you can decide little by little how far to go: removing your shoes at the door is a must; circumambulating clockwise, as regular devotees do; choosing or not to join your hands in a respectful gesture in the front of the several shrines; entering, or at least looking into, the various holy sanctums, ideally with the knowledge that thus to see the consecrated image — and to be seen by the deity — is a religious action; and then to stand back respectfully, or step forward at touch the camphor flame as the priest brings it by, or sip the holy water (and rub it on one’s head), receive (or not) the fruit, raisins, nuts brought out from the shrine, and to receive a mark of red powder on one’s forehead. All of these actions are possible, as degrees of participation. The setting is such that one goes only as far as she or he is comfortable, can understand and make sense of.

But whether we see ourselves as observers or in some way as guests-who-participate-for-a-moment, the surrounding experience, all five senses touched, creates an atmosphere for prayer that seems right and holy. Temples are, I have found, wonderful places to pray. While many Hindus would be quite happy for us to pray to the deity in the temple, having seen and been seen, it is also ok to pray to God as we know God in the Christian tradition, in this holy place too: God in all things, all places. In fact, the closest analogue I know to a temple visit are the rich, full liturgies of Benediction — smells, bells, Latin hymns — that I remember from childhood, where rich sense experiences and music and worship led us into the presence of Christ manifest in the Eucharist.
There is of course much more to be said, if one were to attempt to write a theology of visiting Hindu temples, theorizing how God is present, who the Deities are, what coming-inside means. But for me, and I think for many others, it has been best to visit, to experience, to pray, without attempting any larger doctrinal claims. I am highly in favor of good theology, but sometimes it is wiser to be still, not-speak, holding off the explanatory impulse.
If you can go to India, do think of visiting temples as a religious act. But if you are reading this in a USA, think of visiting one of the many Hindu temples that are in our cities, towns, and neighborhoods. You can find many listings on the web, for instance at Harvard’s
Pluralism Project.
Next week, I will write something on interreligious dialogue as I found it on my trip. But let me know if you have questions or things you want to know about.


Back from India IV: On Dialogue

by Francis X. Clooney, S.J., 2009-08-29, Cambridge, MA.

So here is the fourth of my entries on my trip to India, this time regarding interreligious dialogue. (At the end of this entry, I will respond to three of the comments you’ve kindly posted in past weeks.) A good part of my trip was involved in what we can call interreligious dialogue — it is hard, in a way, to visit India without engaging in dialogue. On the one side, it is possible to say that dialogue is either so much a part of our lives today that it is simply our way of being religious — as Fr. Professor Peter Phan
might say,
being religious interreligiously. As you know, I have argued in this space in past months that the Church itself seems irreversibly committed to dialogue, as
presentations by Pope Benedict to interreligious gatherings have made clear.
One can also say that dialogue is deeply engrained in Indian ways of being-religious. Indians have always lived interreligiously, different religious communities rubbing shoulders, people seeing each other’s shrines, observing each other’s festivals, hearing each other’s music. In July, for instance, I visited some young Jesuits living in a slum community in Pune, India, and their commitment to living there — though not a project in dialogue — simply had to be interreligious, because Hindus, Muslims, and Christians live right next to one another, on the same narrow streets: no religious privacy is possible, and religious identity becomes a shared public event. It seems also in a way that institutional progress made after Vatican II has not been reversed:

Indian Churches look different now, perhaps more “Hindu” in some ways, and
seminarians and young nuns are trained in interreligious respect; so too,
ashrams such as the one at Shantivanam (which I’ve mentioned before) flourish, and continue to weave together many elements of Indian culture, as Hindu and Christian symbols and instincts are brought together in harmony. Those who reject communication and preach separation are definitely in the minority.
But there are some reasons to think that enthusiasm for dialogue is not as strong as it had been in the past. Like ecumenism in the West, dialogue in India has in a sense reached its limits: once people have learned to live together in respect, and no longer attack one another, no longer demeaning one another’s religions — what then? Here, Christian Churches are still separate, and ecumenism seems to be going nowhere; in India, it has been hard to get much beyond respect, into deeper, richer interreligious learning. Or, from a rather angle, it may be that some Indian Christians doubt the formal differences among religions presupposed by much dialogue — as if Hindus and Christians are significantly different, separate groups, such that they need to come to together, to talk to one another. Suppose differences are not so absolute — suppose Indian individuals are already, by nature, interreligious persons, sharing much culturally and spiritually — such that being entirely Christian or entirely Hindu, one on each side of the table as it were, no longer seems to make sense?



While in India, I came across a fine new book by
Fr. Michael Amaladoss, SJ, called Beyond Dialogue, in which he asks us to think beyond the fixities of identity much dialogue presupposes. We need to be careful not to assume that religious differences are so obvious and settled, that dialogue is a necessary task. It is a more dynamic, richer learning across boundaries, such that we learn and teach, in regular contact with our sisters and brothers of other religions.

Dialogue over a long period is also different from dialogue as a once-a-year phenomenon. As I mentioned in the first of this series, I have studied Hinduism for more than three decades, and have been visiting Chennai (Madras) for almost 30 years; some of my Hindu friends in Chennai I have known for 25 years. This means, I realized this summer, that dialogue is well thought of at a deeper level: dialogue between Hindus and Christians is accompanied by (what Ramon Panikkar and others have called) “the interior dialogue,” the transformation that occurs in each of us through serious and longer term learning across religious boundaries — so that we can no longer neatly divide ourselves religiously, one religion here, the other there. The long-term effect of my study of Hinduism, and visiting of temples, and so on, means that when I come to a dialogue, I cannot bring a “strictly Christian, entirely non-Hindu” persona to the dialogue; the conversations we are having, are also happening within me too. As a general rule, one might say: longer term commitment to dialogue need not lead to “unity of religions” or “disillusionment at where dialogue leads,” but it can prompt a deeper transformation of identity, since on each side of the dialogue, we are already changed even before we come into contact with another on a particular occasion. This does not mean that all religions are the same, or that for the Christian a total commitment to Christ becomes optional; it is simply that years of learning affect how it is that we find, receive, and live our commitment to Christ, in an interreligious and not solely Christian cultural context.
Two other points, to close. First, while in India, I was constantly in conversation with Hindus, and often able to carry on somewhat deeper conversations across religious boundaries on smaller and subtler points of theology and spirituality. Indeed, since Hinduism and Catholicism are complex, it is best that dialogue occurs on a smaller scale: How are we thinking about grace these days? What does worship mean, concretely? How does your liturgical calendar work? Why is fasting good? How does my religion or yours deal with secularization or scientific advances? What does your community now think about other religions? Can Hindus and Christians agree that our religions are still changing over time? It is on this smaller scale level that dialogue is actually very interesting — even if such conversations do not promise large-scale, major shifts in how religions are thought about.
Second, I also ran into continuing doubts about the motives for interreligious learning. Several of my best “dialogues” in India were with Hindus who are still deeply skeptical about why Catholics engage in dialogue. After all, for hundreds of years Catholics have tried to convert Hindus; both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have insisted that dialogue is part of a larger work of evangelization; preachers (Catholic, though more Protestant) still regularly contrast Christian wisdom with Hindu idolatry and darkness. So aren’t Catholics like me really intending, somewhere down the road, to convert Hindus? There are numerous Hindu websites dedicated to combating Christian mission; see for instance,
One Hindu gentleman insisted that however much any of us tries to be open and inclusive, in the end we all believe, or should believe, in the truth of our own religion, and its superiority over other religions. Another Hindu, voicing a view others have often expressed, said that everyone should mind his own business, attend to his own religion: other religions should be respected from a distance, left alone. When such doubts are raised, I tend to argue that while history does teach us sober lessons, today we can still prefer a new and non-competitive way of encounter as our first and ordinary manner of action — dialogue that is not a matter of conversion — in the sense of getting people to switch from one religion to another — nor a matter of competition, whereby gains in one religion mean losses in another. It can and should be more an exchange that is deeper, part of the life-breath of each tradition. But even now, as I write, I know that there will still be some Hindus, intelligent and thoughtful, who simply cannot believe that dialogue is anything but a way of undermining Hinduism. I know too that there are some Catholics who believe that dialogue should be subordinate to evangelization, even in a narrow sense of aiming at conversions in large numbers. Their views need to be respected, since we cannot make dialogue into a new orthodoxy that all must accept.
In my next (and last) entry in this series, I will talk about my research, what I learned in terms of my academic work while in India. But to close this entry, several quick responses to your comments:

1) In response to my entry on visiting temples, MMK, a Hindu,
said, “I am very curious about how your other Jesuit brethren respond to your studies in comparative theology. For one such as myself, often these experiences degenerate to a ‘condescending tolerance’ and a sense of superiority for being so.” Well, yes, we Jesuits are a diverse and clever lot, and it is hard for us to learn deeply from what each other does; while most Jesuits I know appreciate my work, in general terms, it would be rare for a fellow Jesuit to read more thoroughly or deeply what I write, or explore the implications of where my work leads. We all do this — we see, we admire, and then walk away from what others among us are doing. So while I find fellow Jesuits quite supportive of my work, only rarely do I find a fellow Jesuit who has the time and interest to respond intelligently to my work.” Such is life!

2) In response to my entry on visiting temples, Robert Buckmeier detected my “obvious restraint from judgment,” and asks, “What is your religious conviction, as well as your spiritual interest?” The latter part of my entry on temples was all about restraint from judgment, since judgments often enough end up being too loose or too negative; my approach, to visiting temples, has been more of the nature of saying, “Come and see.” Moreover: blogs, even for America, are not the place for deep theologizing! Much of my more extended, serious writing is theological reflection on the spiritual learning that is possible when we take each other’s religions seriously.




3) As for Chris who asks about the rather different attention of Swami Abhishiktananda and Bede Griffiths to the non-dual traditions of Hinduism — I can only agree with the implication that non-dualism of a radical sort is something quite different from more evident, ordinary temple worship; I respect those who move in that direction, but I find myself more drawn to temples and positive worship: God personal, incarnate. Moreover, I do not think that non-dualism, as usually posed, is a higher or better form of Hinduism than theistic, temple Hinduism. We need positive interreligious learning, as well as the path of silence and non-duality.
Thanks for these comments, and I welcome your posting more such comments. In the future, too, you can also email me directly if you’d rather not post a comment:


Back From India V: The Thousand Names of Jesus

by Francis X. Clooney, S.J., September 04, 2009, Cambridge, MA. [I have not reproduced the article]

Comment posted by Deacon Ron Rohlman:
I appreciate your writing and research and have an interest in Indian Hindu scholarship since my daughter began her studies in Asian religions, specifically Hindu and Indian Buddhism (she too was in India this summer researching texts) and now begins her second year as Associate Professor at the University of Calgary. She has encountered rejection from many priests for doing this type of scholarship. [Thank God!]


A Hare Krishna Swami Tells All

Francis X. Clooney, S.J.

I recently wrote a remembrance of a very old swami, Swami Sarvagatananda of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society. This time, I write of a middle-aged swami, who is by all accounts still very active in his ministry. The occasion is that recently I was sent a copy of The Journey Home: Autobiography of an American Swami, and asked if I could review it for a journal. I declined to do an academic review of the book since a) it would be difficult to describe and assess for an academic journal so vivid a first-person account, b) the scholar to do it would have to be expert in the era of spiritual journeys to the East and all kinds of details of religious places and practices in north India, as I am not; c) the book is documentary in a way, and one would also have to draw on the skills of an investigative reporter to report responsibly on what we read. But I trusted the person sending me the book, and I promised that instead I would call your attention to the book in this blog.

It is certainly an interesting story, the spiritual journey of one Richard Slavin who, born in 1950 in Chicago in a Jewish family, goes on a pilgrimage through India when he is about 19—one among many seekers who went to India in the 1960s and 1970s. His trip was most eventful and he had numerous adventures that are strikingly and entertainingly recounted in the book: large animals, unfriendly policemen, dubious and saintly teachers, exotic spiritual sites, robberies, mishaps on the road, friendships made and lost. Like many a spiritual autobiography, the external events and details turn out to be the setting for the author’s inner quest. His journey is a humbling, learning to be poor, a series of tests that push the author toward living by faith alone. Like any pilgrim, he does not see all of this along the way, but in retrospect sees how he was being quietly, insistently drawn toward God all the time.
After and through it all, he discovers the spiritual path he has followed since, becoming a dedicated swami—an ascetic, teacher, and leader—thereafter to be known as
Radhanath Swami. The photographs in the book make all this clear, reminding us of a series of gurus and swamis such as Swami Rama (founder of the Himalayan Institute of Yoga), J. Krishnamurti (wise man, teacher, writer), and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (who guided the Beatles, among others). He is also pictured with Mother Teresa in one photo, and with the Dalai Lama in another.

Radhanath seems deliberately—in the preface, on the cover—to be quiet about the fact that he is a swami in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the Hare Krishnas. Not that he hides the fact, since the climax of the book is after all his encounter with A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, charismatic founder of ISKCON. It is wise in a way not to make much of this connection on the cover, and instead to highlight the fact of this very human journey of spiritual discovery and grace. Readers might be distracted, too soon, by the overlay of an exotic tradition that remains ill-understood by most Americans. But to me, it is worth noting that ISKCON is by now a rich spiritual and theological tradition which, despite its difficulties and growing pains along the way, is maturing as a community true to its ancient Indian roots. Thus my decision to draw attention to the ISKCON connection in the title of this piece. Radhanath gives flesh and blood and spirit to ISKCON; this book is a good way to begin to understand what it means to be a Hare Krishna—willing to devote oneself to praise of God (Hare! Krishna!) who is present as Krishna, young, so very near in flesh and blood, loving as he is loved.
I must confess too that the book enabled me to think back on my own spiritual journey; he and I are the same age, and by 18, right in New York City, I had ventured my own life-long commitment to God, a great gift I received. (Readers may recall that I wrote about this last fall.) In a way, we were both saved by a spiritual insight into the love of God that carried us through those tumultuous years, and kept us going until now. In other ways, our lives have obviously been very different: born a Catholic, I am a Catholic; I have never really been on a quest for God, who seems to have been there—here—from the start. I am a professor, and my many visits to India have been by comparison extremely low-key and uneventful; readers of my autobiography would have to put up with descriptions of bookstores, research centers, and pictures of me sitting first at a typewriter, now at my computer.



There is much to be said about Christ and Krishna, of course. For centuries, books have been written on the topic, and Radhanath’s book does not seek to resolve the theological questions that arise when two great monotheistic traditions meet (for I do think ISKCON is a monotheistic form of Hinduism). In such an encounter, however reverently and graciously engaged, those of us who are Catholic will still have tough questions to ask ourselves, about God’s work outside the visible Church, in persons and in traditions. Reflective swamis too will want to ask about the meaning of God’s work in the lives of faithful Christians. But it will help all of us to hear each other’s stories, how God was found, how God finds us when we are young and keeps after us for a lifetime. We should imagine a kind of dialogue—not of religions or theologies this time—but of women and men of different traditions who, upon reaching a certain age, tell their stories with a certain wisdom and humor and in that way speak to one another across religious boundaries. In particular, Radhanath’s account invites us baby-boomers—readers of this blog included—to look a little deeper into how we found, lost, kept, gave away, were given (back) the faith—how we managed to find the 1960s a time of grace and wonder. For this invitation, we can all be grateful to Swami Radhanath. But judge for yourself; take a look at the book, see what you think.

Francis Xavier Clooney, S.J.
is a professor at Harvard Divinity School and a Roman Catholic Priest. He is the author of several books including, “Hindu Wisdom for All God’s Children” and “Hindu God, Christian God: How Reason Helps Break Down the Boundaries Between Religions.”

All this then is the consequence of dialogue, the “dialogue” that the contributors to the Jeevadhara “Theological Response” would have Rome [and all of us] engage in: temple visits, participation in Hindu temple rituals, paying obeisance to Hindu deities, syncretism, yoga and Aum chanting, writing on Hinduism, its gods and godmen, and so on. Clooney, like the other theologians, makes reference to New Agers and Theosophists like J. Krishnamurti, and dissenting liberals like Michael Amaladoss
SJ and Peter Phan. His familiarity with the Catholic ashrams movement and its leaders is also evident.

Nowhere in his writings does Clooney quote from Scripture, the Early Church Fathers, Church Documents or the lives of saints. He is completely immersed in his passion for Hinduism.


Francis Xavier Clooney

After earning his doctorate in South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago in 1984, he taught at Boston College until 2005, when he became the Parkman Professor of Divinity and Professor of Comparative Theology at Harvard Divinity School. His primary areas of scholarship are theological commentarial writings in the Sanskrit and Tamil traditions of Hindu India, and the developing field of comparative theology, a discipline distinguished by attentiveness to the dynamics of theological learning deepened and complexified through the study of traditions other than one’s own. He has also written on the Jesuit missionary tradition, particularly in India, and the dynamics of dialogue in the contemporary world. Clooney sits on a number of editorial boards, was the first president of the International Society for Hindu-Christian Studies and, from 1998 to 2004, was
coordinator for interreligious dialogue for the Jesuits of the United States.
Clooney has authored several articles and books;
his current projects include
an introductory volume on comparative theology, and a study of yoga
and Jesuit spirituality.

His Hindu Wisdom for All God’s Children is an introduction to comparative theology. It provides a brief history of his experience with Hinduism during Clooney’s time spent teaching in Nepal. This book doesn’t initially require much previous knowledge of Hinduism or Indian culture to understand and therefore provides a good initial introduction to comparative theology and Clooney. It also shows what we can learn about God from the Hindu religious tradition by taking a look at various Hindu gods. Hindu Wisdom for All God’s Children began first as a series of lectures given at John Carroll University in 1996 and was later developed into a book.

The book’s introduction is significant to understanding Clooney’s interest in eastern religions. As part of his early Jesuit training, Clooney was expected to teach high school. He chose to travel to Kathmandu, Nepal and teach ninth grade boys at St. Xavier’s School. Looking for a way
to teach moral values to his students, Clooney turned to the Bhagavad Gita.


On page 94, Clooney mentions the site Below is a link to one of their articles. Clooney regularly comes under attack on their site. But, as I have already pointed out in my reports on the New Community Bible and elsewhere, Hindus like the above writer believe that priests like Clooney are adopting the strategy of inculturation only in order to be able to evangelize and convert Hindus, whereas we know that the case is exactly the opposite.

From De Nobili to Clooney: The Christian Methods of Inculturation

By K. V. Ramakrishna Rao,
November 14, 2005; presented during the 12th session of the Tamilnadu History Congress, Mayiladuthurai, Tamilnadu, 30th October to 2nd November 2005.







How God is Related to the Human?

Dominic Veliath

Dei Verbum focuses on the relationship between God and the human persons as sharing in life. The advocates of the New Age however do not interpret it in this manner. The way grace has been understood in the Church could be a response to the questions posited by the New Age.

1. Introducing the Issue

    The document Jesus Christ The Bearer of the Water of Life. A Christian Reflection on the “New Age”, issued jointly by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, in Chapter Four, entitled: New Age and Christian faith in Contrast, articulates ten questions and contrasts the respective answers of Christianity and the New Age Spiritualities1:

1. Is God a being with whom we have a relationship or something to be used or a force to be harnessed’?

2. Is there just one Jesus Christ, or are there thousands of Christs?

3. The Human Being: Are there many individuals or is there one universal?

4. Is salvation a free gift from God or do we save ourselves?

5. Do we embrace truth or do we invent it?

6. Prayer and Meditation: are we talking to God or to ourselves?

7. Do we accept that there is such a thing as sin or are we tempted to deny it?

8. Are we encouraged to accept or reject suffering and death?

9. Is social commitment something to be positively sought after or something to be shirked?

10. Do we help to construct our future or is our future in the stars?

1Pontifical Council for Culture & Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life. A Christian Reflection on the “New Age”, c. 4.

The points articulated above, constitute, as it were, a mixed bag touching on issues connected with Fundamental Theology, Christology, Theological Anthropology, Soteriology, Asceticism, Epistemology etc. The Christian understanding, obviously in need of nuancing, is generally expressed in the first of the ten alternatives presented in each instance, whereas the document outlines what it considers to be the response of “New Age Spiritualities” in the second alternative.

In this brief reflection, it is not my intent to assess whether a particular expression or movement falls under the umbrella category of the “New Age Spiritualities”. Instead, I limit my focus to one of the assumptions underpinning these alternatives, viz. the relationship between God and the human being, which, according to the Vatican document, has been understood by the “New Age Spiritualities” in a flawed manner.

2. Articulating the Issue

For Catholic Christianity in general, the relationship to God is seen as constitutive of the human being as such; which is “creaturality” in its essence2. Though this relationship may be lived on the level of personal religious experience, it is nevertheless indispensable that one be able to situate and assure this experience also theologically, on the level of the intellectus fidei where it can withstand the fire of contestation.

2See Jean Daniélou, “Presence Moderne et Transcendance de Dieu”, in Monde Moderne et Sens de Dieu 1954), 67.

    This relationship has been articulated at two levels. On the level of Fundamental Theology, Judaeo-Christian reflection, basing itself on the Bible, has articulated the key category of “creation”, whereby the rest of reality is understood as totally dependent on God, without, however, being God.

This concept has been given intellectual depth and consistency especially by Scholastic Theology in terms of the category of causality. In its framework of understanding, God is neither the formal cause, nor the material cause of creation (both of which are intrinsic causes); He is the efficient and final cause of creation (both of which are extrinsic causes). In their inimitable style, the Scholastic theologians expressed this relationship in a pithy manner, asserting that, with respect to God, the rest of reality constitute plura entia, but not plus entis.

    This entire discussion, however, is raised to another level in the context of Revelation, Redemption and Salvation in Jesus Christ. In Catholic theology, this dimension has been conventionally dealt with in the treatise called “Grace”. The word “grace”, the English translation of the Latin word gratia, and the equivalent of the Greek charis, is itself symbolic of the Christian understanding of this relationship. It conveys three main ideas which are themselves symbolic of Christian Revelation: “condescending love, conciliatory compassion and fidelity.”3

    Grace becomes an open concept capable of embracing the whole of God’s gift of himself to the human and so capable of indefinitely various further particularization. It is not as though we were to itemize God’s gifts and call one of then: “grace”; it is rather that “grace” qualifies the whole of God’s self-communication as a gift beyond all telling.4

Roger Haight, in his book The Experience and language of Graces5 underscores the fact that “there can be many possible languages of grace or systems for understanding the relation between us and God”.6

Among the models mentioned are the following:

– A Metaphorical Understanding found in the Bible (God our Father and we God’s children)

– A Metaphysico-Ontological Understanding found in Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics wherein the relationship between God and human beings is articulated in terms of being. Grace is understood as a new “quasi-nature”.

– A Relationship with Special reference to human freedom, found in Augustine, Pelagius, and the so-called De Auxiliis controversy present in the Church from the XVI to the XVIII centuries.

– An Interpersonal Framework as for example in Martin Luther, whereby God accepts the human being in his/her unacceptability.

3Peter Fransen, The New Life of Grace, (Tournai 1969), 15.

4Cornelius Ernst, The Theology of Grace (Notre Dame, 1974), 29.

5Roger Haight, The Experience and Language of Grace, (New York 1979).

6Ibid. 24 ff.

– A Transformative Framework which finds its expression in the Tridentine Decree on Justification where the relationship is seen in its transforming effects on the human being.



– A Liberative Framework which emphasizes the relationship inasmuch as it involves the integral liberation.

    Most of the above conceptions contain a kernel of truth; most of them highlight some aspects of the Christian understanding of the relationship with God, though some to a lesser extent and with less authority. Of these attempts at articulation, some have the status of official dogmatic formulations of the Catholic Church (for example the Tridentine Decree on Justification),others are merely theological, while still others have been sharply criticised by the Catholic self-understanding, (for example, that of Pelagius and the Lutheran understanding)7. However, in the context of all these discussions and controversies, a Catholic Anthropology in its Christological implications was in the process of being gradually formulated.

3. Tracing the Contours of an Ongoing Catholic Anthropology in its Christological Implications

    In the course of history, the Catholic community, under the movement of the Spirit, has been in the process of articulating an anthropology which has become part of its vision. To pinpoint some of the milestones of the same:

3.1. In the Sixteenth Council of Carthage (418), against Pelagius, it has affirmed the universal need of all human beings for Christ.8

3.2. This is endorsed in the Second Council of orange (529) which will underscore the same need even to the moments of conversion and perseverance.9

7However, even in this regard, there has been a better understanding between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation regarding the issue of justification. Cf. The Joint Declaration by the Lutheran World Federation and Roman Catholic Church on the Doctrine of Justification, in L’Osservatore Romano, (Weekly English Edition), vol. 47 (1618), November 74, 1999, I-VIII.

8See in this regard, J. Neuner & J. Dupuis (eds.), The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Document of the Catholic Church, (Bangalore 1987), p. I35.

9See ibid. 136.

3.3. In the Decree on Justification of the Council of Trent, perhaps the most comprehensive of the Roman Catholic Church’s official teachings on Grace, the following points are made a) Justification is both a real remission of sins and a sanctification of the human person; b) This justification is from God but in the human persons, hence, their own; and involves a free acceptance on their part; however, it can be lost by mortal sin.10

3.4. The entire De Auxiliis controversy which characterised the Theology of Grace from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, can be envisaged as different attempts to safeguard God’s predestination rightly understood (The Dominican School with its proponent Domingo Baflez); and the on the other hand, human liberty (The Jesuit School with its proponent Luis de Molina)11. It is to be noted, however, that both systems tend to objectify the mystery of God assuming that “God is a cause on the same plane of meaning and reality as created causes”12.

3.5. During the Middle Ages, Thomistic theology, following Aristotle, tended to classify realities into natures; human nature was envisaged as the permanent principle whereby a human being is constituted as human. However, the end to which human beings are called far transcends their human nature. They are called to be children of God; this is known only by revelation – a goal which is termed “supernatural” (i.e. above nature), since it is not within the attainment of human nature. Consequently Scholasticism held that there was a radical distinction between the order of the natural and that of the supernatural – between nature and grace.13


3.6. But, in such a vision, the supernatural seems to figure solely from outside. This new life seems to be alien to human existence itself and superimposed on nature, accentuating the natural-supernatural divide. To deal with this problem the so-called Nouvelle Theologie exploited the idea of the natural ordination of human existence towards a desire for God.14

    But this created another problem, since this would undermine the total gratuity of grace and salvation; in a sense it would be owed to this natural desire and ordination.

10See ibid. 137-139.

11See in this regard, Nigel Abercrombie, “Grace in the Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries” in Edmund Fortman (ed.), The Theology of Man and Grace : Commentary,. Readings in the Theology of Grace, (Milwaukee 1966), 266-271.

12Leonardo Boff, Liberating Grace, (New York 1979).

13See Henri Bouillard, Conversion et grace chez S. Thomas Aquin, (Paris 1944).

14See Henri Rondet, art. Nouvelle Theologie, in Sacramentum Mundi IV, 234-236.

    3.7. Karl Rahner resolved this dilemma by positing the “supernatural existential”, according to which, since God desires the salvation of all, our concrete actual, historical state has already been raised up to the supernatural level from the beginning by the gratuitous supernatural call of God. This situation remains a free gift, but is never absent in the concrete. In a nutshell, Karl Rahner rejects all dualism in the Catholic understanding of the relationship between nature and grace.15

    To sum up the process: one can speak of an anthropology in the making which is integral to the Catholic vision according to which, the human being is situated in his/her total dependence on a triune God, without being God (creation). On another level, this human being is called to share God’s life through a gratuitous gift of God realized through Jesus Christ which is not his/her due as a human being. It is in this context that human freedom is situated.

4. The Catholic Anthropological vision vis-a-vis the New Age Spiritualities

    Some of the issues underpinning the New Age Spiritualities concern precomprehension, perspective, method and hermeneutics; the issues touch on the very parameters of theological reflection as it is understood by the Catholic community and are obviously alien to the community experience and articulation.

    Other paradigms, instead, bear testing. This testing, acknowledgement and authentication, at least as far as the Catholic community experience understands itself, has to be an ecclesial task, viz. to assess adequacy of the new paradigm to reflect in its own categories, the experience which the old paradigm had striven to understand and formulate16.

15See Karl Rahner, “Concerning the Relationship between Nature and Grace”, in Theological Investigations 1, 297 -317.

16Cf. J.T. Walsh. “Being Theologians in a Paradigm-Shift”, in Louvain Studies 9 (Fall 1982), 116-117.

In the encyclical Fides et Ratio, Pope John Paul II indicates certain criteria pertinent to the issue: a) Acknowledging the universality of the human spirit, whose basic needs are the same all over the world; b) While engaging cultures for the first time, recognizing that the Church cannot abandon what she has gained from her inculturation in the past (in the Greco-Latin thought in particular); c) The rejection of all isolationism. No particular tradition should remain closed in its difference and affirm itself by opposing other traditions17.



17Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 72.

    In the contemporary world of science, as Thomas Kuhn seems to suggest, progress is at times seen as a repeated attempt to construct models of understanding, to explain increasingly complex data. A new model of understanding constitutes a new paradigm. During a paradigm shift disputes tend to focus on fundamental paradigms rather than on “points of doctrine” or formulations. Often these new paradigms are discontinuous with old ones and can neither be understood nor evaluated by using an old paradigm. A new paradigm brings with it a new system of categories and discoursers.18

    That may be true, as far as the world of science and technology is concerned, however, it is to be noted that Catholic theological reflection, on the contrary, involves a certain catholicity in time, There is inset in the faith response a certain continuity with the past, which eschews all relativism, while not excluding explicitation or a deeper insight and growth in the understanding of the Christian fact19.

    The encyclical of Pope John Paul II Fides et Ratio has something pertinent to say on this matter. As regards the validity of “dogmatic statements it asserts the following: “… Dogmatic statements, while reflecting at times the culture of the period in which they were defined, formulate an unchanging and ultimate truth”20. Consequently, “the faithful must… shun the opinion, … that dogmatic formulas (or some category of them) cannot signify the truth in a determinate way, but can only offer changeable approximations to it, which to a certain extent distort or alter it”21.

18Thomas S Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, (The University of Chicago Press Ltd., London, Second Edition, Enlarged 1970), pp. xii+ 210.

19See in this regard Yves M. J. Congar, Tradition and the Life of the Church, (London 1964).

20Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 95.

21Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration in Defence of the Catholic Doctrine on the Church, Mysterium Ecclesiae, (24 June 1973), AAS 65 (1973), 403.

    The “New Age Spiritualities” tend to see themselves, to a considerable extent, as a post-Christian phenomenon. Coming down to some of the issues in question:

    1. God is a force to be harnessed. Such a stance would obviously go counter to the Christian understanding of God as personal and es distinct from the creature.

    2. There are thousands of Christs. A similar stance, would be reductionistic, given the Christian understanding of Jesus Christ as the Only Son of God made man; and as such unique and universal. On the other hand, the human being is only a creature called to share God’s life through grace.

    3. There is one universal being. Our future is in the stars. Such stances would go counter to the Christian understanding of the human being as person endowed with freedom and responsibility. True, ours is a “situated freedom”, but it is nevertheless freedom.

    4. We save ourselves. Such a stance, viewed in exclusivistic terms, is obviously reductionist and Pelagian.

    5. We invent truth. We are tempted to deny Sin. Such stances would eventually go counter to a Christian understanding of God, as one who is distinct from and confronts the human person in his/her freedom and responsibility.


5. Summing up

In the history of the Theology of Grace one encounters the figure of Michael du Bay (1513-1589), or Baius, as he is known in keeping with the Latinized form of his name. Imbued with almost “messianic” fervour, he set out to do for theology what the scholars of the Renaissance were doing for other branches of learning; that is to build up a theology as it were ab ovo, ”dispensing with all the intellectual equipment other than the indispensable minimum of basic principles and the scholar’s own wits, and so, by ignoring the accomplishments of the Middle Ages, to surpass them”22 ,But in the last analysis, as most scholars would admit, he only succeeded in repeating the mistakes of the past. Nigel Abercrombie calls Du Bay “the Pelagius of Paradise”23. Perhaps the same can be said to an extent of certain aspects of some of the “New Age Spiritualities”, which claim to be a post-Christian phenomenon. It would not be unwarranted to call it yet another instance, on the theological level, of the tested wisdom of the age-old adage”: Whoever ignores history is doomed to repeat its errors”.

Kristu Jyoti College, Bangalore

22Nigel Abercrombie, “Grace in the Sixteenth through Eighteen Centuries”, in Edmund J. Fortman (ed.). The Theology of Man and Grace, (Milwaukee 1966), 262.

23Ibid. 264.

Fr Dominic Veliath SDB‘s article is written in the spirit — sentire cum ecclesia — that is expected of a Catholic theologian. It successfully negates the pro-New Age positioning and anti-Rome stance of the other contributions.





































Malloossery P.O., Kottayam, Kerala 686041, Tel: 0481 2392530

Fr Joseph Constantine Manalel CMI, General Editor:;;;

Fr Felix Wilfred, Section Editor, Asian Centre for Cross Cultural Studies, 40/6A, Panayur Kuppam Road, Sholinganallur Post, Panayur, Chennai, TN 600119, Tel: 044 24530206, Fax: 044 24530443:;;;

Fr Sunny Maniyakupara, Section Editor:

Fr Augustine Mulloor OCD, Section Editor:

Fr Mathew Variamattom CST, Section Editor:

Fr Sebastian Painadath SJ, Section Editor, Sameeksha, Kalady P.O., Kerala 683574, Tel: 0484 2462805:;

Fr Jose Panthackal, Section Editor:

Fr Kuncheria Pathil, Section Editor, CMI Provincial House, PB. No. 401, AIR Road, Vazhuthacaud, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 695014 Cell: 9495519775:;

Fr George Karakunnel, Section Editor, St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Mangalapuzha Alwaye, Cochin, Kerala 683102 Tel: 0484 2606745:;

Fr John. B. Chethimattam, Section Editor, Contributor, EXPIRED

Fr P.T. Mathew SJ, Section Editor, Contributor, Regional Theology Centre, Sameeksha, Kalady P.O., Kerala 683574, Cell: 9496262396:;

Fr John Padipurackal, Section Editor:

Fr Mathew Paikada, Section Editor, Capuchin Vidyabhavan, Thellakom P.O., Kottayam, Kerala 686016, Tel: 9495525078:;

Fr Paul Puthanangady SDB, Board of Editors, Contributor, Visvadeep, Kristu Jyoti College, Krishnarajapuram, Bangalore 560036, Tel: 9448468030:;;

Fr Thomas Manickam, Board of Editors,

Swami Vikrant SDB, Board of Editors, Don Bosco Beatitudes, 50 Sundaram Street, Vyasarpadi, Chennai 600039, TN:

Fr Joseph Thayil SJ, Board of Editors, Papal Seminary, Ramwadi, Nagar Road, Pune 411014 Cell: 9822119006:;


Swami Tattwamayananda, Contributor, Vivekananda Vijnana Bhavan, Trichur 680002, Kerala.

Paul F. Knitter, Contributor, USA.

Fr Francis D’Sa SJ, Contributor, Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth [JDV], Pune 411014.

Fr George Pattery SJ, Provincial, Kolkata, Contributor, Visva-bharati University, Santiniketan, Kolkata:;

Fr Errol D’Lima SJ, JDV, Contributor, De Nobili College, Pune 411014, Tel: 020 41036340:;

Fr Francis Gonsalves SJ, Contributor, Vidyajyoti College of Theology, 4-A, Raj Niwas Marg, Delhi 110 054, Tel: 9868964049, Secretary –ITA:;

Fr Jacob Parappally MSFS, JDV, Contributor, Tejas Vidya Peetha (MSFS Institute of Contextual Theology), Kumbalgodu P.O., Bangalore 560 074, Cell: 9448908755:;;

Fr Francis Clooney SJ, Contributor, Harvard Divinity School, Boston College, USA:;

Fr Dominic Veliath SDB, Contributor, Executive Secretary, Doctrinal Commission – CBCI, Kristu Jyoti College, K.R. Puram, Bangalore 560036: dominicveliath; dominicveliath;


Of the above Jeevadhara editors and contributors to the “Theological Response“, all except Fr Sunny Maniyakupara, Fr Augustine Mulloor OCD, Fr Mathew Variamattom CST, [the late] Fr Thomas Manickam CMI, Swami Tattwamayananda, Paul F. Knitter, Fr Francis D’Sa SJ, Fr George Pattery SJ, and Fr Francis Clooney SJ are members of the INDIAN THEOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION [ITA];

This report was sent to 158 email addresses: 130 members of the Indian Theological Association including 8 Bishops, and 28 addresses of editorial and board members of Jeevadhara. 20 addresses of 17 addressees bounced, including 5 shown in red color above. From the balance 113, I received just three responses.


dominicveliath; dominicveliath
Sent: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 4:30 PM



Dear Rev. Fr. Dominic Veliath,

In the referred issue of Jeevadhara, yours is the only one of the twelve “Theological Response”s that does not attack or contradict or vilify the way the Church see “New Age” in its February 2003 Document. Thank you and God bless you.

I have recently completed a critique of the Jeevadhara “Theological Response” and it is available for viewing at



[When you click on the link, a page opens. With your cursor, move that page to your left. On the right side you will see a small box named “Premium Download”. Ignore it.

Below it there’s another small box saying “Please Wait” with time in seconds, maybe 45, turning over in a countdown. When it completes and reaches “0”, the box will show Regular Download. Click on it; another box will open. Click on “OK”. A page will open. Ignore anything that you may find on the page. At the top of the page you will find the green bar showing that the document is downloading. It may take another couple of minutes to complete the download.]

With kind regards, Michael Prabhu Catholic apologist, Chennai


Michael Prabhu
Sent: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 6:47 PM BCC: ITA members


Dear Reverend Bishops, Reverend Fathers, Reverend Sisters and lay members, and the office bearers of the
Indian Theological Association,

In the referred issue of Jeevadhara, there are twelve “Theological Response”s that attack or contradict or vilify the way the Church see “New Age” in its February 2003 Document.

I have recently completed a critique of the Jeevadhara “Theological Response” and it is available for viewing at

[Rest as above.] If you are unable to open the megaupload file, I will send my critique to you directly on request.

With kind regards, Michael Prabhu, Catholic apologist, Chennai


Michael Prabhu

Sent: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 4:55 PM To:
Sent: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 7:18 PM


BCC: Jeevadhara editors and contributors to the April 2004 issue.

Dear Reverend Fathers of
Jeevadhara and the contributors to the referred issue of Jeevadhara

In the referred issue of Jeevadhara, there are twelve “Theological Response”s that attack or contradict or vilify the way the Church see “New Age” in its February 2003 Document. I have recently completed a critique of the Jeevadhara “Theological Response” and it is available for viewing at

[Rest as above.] If you are unable to open the megaupload file, I will send my critique to you directly on request.

With kind regards, Michael Prabhu, Catholic apologist, Chennai



Sent: Friday, June 17, 2011 2:58 AM


Dear Fr. Tom,

I have sent the link to my subject-named report to those bishops, priests, nuns and lay persons — about 130 of them — who are members of the Indian Theological Association.

I am now sending it to you because you advised me to procure and read the May 2004 issue on New Age.

Your suggestion to me is included on page no. 1 of my critique which is of about 105 pages presently, and is yet to be uploaded on my web site.

Michael Prabhu {with forward of my above letter of June 15, 2011}



1. From: “Joseph Prasad Pinto” <> To: “prabhu” <>

Sent: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 11:08 PM


Dear Prabhu, I glanced through your long write-up. I feel that you are wasting your precious energies. No one is in complete possession of TRUTH. We are only seekers of TRUTH in our own aspects and share it with respect with others,
so that all may have abundance of life. Your views are twisted and turned; it appears that you are looking everything and many theologians through colored glasses. Throw away those colored glasses and be free and celebrate life in the
Creator and the whole of pluralistic humanity. Bye, Pinto [Fr Prasad Pinto OFM Cap., Vinayalaya, Sernath P.O., Varanasi, UP. 221007]


2. From:
George Thadathil
Sent: Thursday, June 16, 2011 7:47 AM


Dear Sir,

I am not able to download your article and am interested to read. Could you please forward the text as attachment. Thanks, 

Fr (Dr) George Thadathil sdb, Principal, Salesian College, Sonada & Siliguri Document sent 16th & 22nd; no response



3. From:
sebastian athappilly
Sent: Thursday, June 16, 2011 12:40 PM Subject: your critique

Dear Rev Fr (or Mr?) Prabhu, Please send me the critique of the Jeevadhara per email. I could not open the link you have shown. Fr Sebastian 

Pater Prof. Dr Sebastian Athappilly, CMI, Seelsorger, LKH Univ. Klinik, Graz Mobile phone (Handy): 0043-676-8742-6635 1) Wohnung (Residence): KATH. PFARRAMT St LEONHARD, LEONHARDPLATZ 14, 8010 GRAZ, Austria, Europe.

Telephone: Abends ab 21 Uhr (in the evenings from 21 hours): 0043-316-321679-18.

2) Office (Büro): LKH PFARRKANZLEI, AUENBRUGGERPLATZ 1/5, 8036 Graz, Austria. Telephone: Am Tag vom 9 bis 18 Uhr (daytime, from 9 to 18 hours): 0043-316-385-84069. Alternative email ids: xxx and xxx.


I sent the document as an attachment and Fr. Sebastian Athappilly responded:

sebastian athappilly
Date: Thu, 16 Jun 2011 17:37:55 +0530 (IST)


Dear Michael Prabhu,

Thanks once again. I have gone through your comments. I can only agree with you.

I presume you are a priest and theologian. I am only glad that you have critically evaluated the many writings and docs. In January this year there was a colloquium organized by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith and the CBCI Doctrinal Commission in India in Bangalore. I was one of those assigned to present papers. My paper was on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the universal Saviour, a position I cannot but firmly hold in the light of my faith based on the revelation in the Bible as well as the teaching of the Church. Have you brought your observations to the attention of the Nuncio and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? I have an acquaintance there and I also have some official contacts with the undersecretary Msgr. Marzotto. A Jesuit Fr. P. K. George from Shoranur is also very much concerned about the unorthodox teachings of some theologians in India and has discussed with me certain matters. If you would like, I shall give you the email address of my acquaintance or friend xxx working at the Vatican as well as the postal address of Fr P. K. George, SJ.

The authors or theologians of whom you have made critical remarks are all known to me from their writings and attitudes. I hope that the authorities really grasp the subtle and dangerous positions represented by some of the theologians, whether from America or India or anywhere. In face to face discussions or colloquia all of these theologians present often a different picture, namely of being loyal and orthodox, especially when there are persons from the higher authoritative circles. This is the joke!

In my articles and the latest book on CHRISTOLOGY Today (2007) I have sharply criticized the authors who are against the Vatican Document Dominus Iesus. I am still teaching at Dharmaram now as visiting professor.

God bless us all. Best wishes! Fr Sebastian


My reply to Fr. Sebastian Athappilly [edited for inclusion here]

sebastian athappilly
Sent: Friday, June 17, 2011 4:45 PM


Dear Father Sebastian,

I am neither a priest nor a theologian. I am a lay man, married to Angela, with two sons and three grandchildren… 

I sent the same letter regarding Jeevadhara to one hundred and thirty theologians including the Jeevadhara issue’s editors and contributors, and members of the Indian Theological Association whose email addresses I have. Like you, one other priest wrote and asked me for the document which I sent, but he did not respond again. One replied negatively…

So I am most happy to receive your encouraging fraternal letter…  

Yes, I am aware of the January Bangalore colloquium. I had copied a UCAN article on page 80 of the document that I sent you. Only after hosting it on megaupload, my co-worker found the UCAN report that cited your contribution: Indian theologians discuss ‘uniqueness’ of Christ I have now introduced in this revised report on page 81.

I congratulate you on your boldness and I praise and thank God for priests like you. You are the one in a hundred. There are more like you, but they are afraid to speak out. 

About Jesuit Father P. K. George from Shoranur, I have met him and have had the privilege of dropping him back at the Loyola College in Chennai after a meeting that he addressed. He has written to me a few times in the past, but I do not write letters any more except by email, which he does not have. Moreover he is very old and it is difficult to contact him/interact with him by phone, in the convent where he now lives. He is one of the good old warriors of the Church.

I have reproduced one of his booklets (1996) on my web site: THE NEW COMMUNITY BIBLE 4 – ONGOING ROBBERY OF FAITH





Regarding your statement, “In face to face discussions or colloquia all of these theologians present often a different picture, namely of being loyal and orthodox, especially when there are persons from the higher authoritative circles,” I fully agree with you. This happens when bishops visit the Catholic ashrams, or when feminists like Astrid Lobo Gajiwala or Sr. Rekha Chennattu, or theologians such as Fr Jerry Rosario SJ address the bishops.

God bless you. Love and prayers, Michael Prabhu


sebastian athappilly
Sent: Friday, June 17, 2011 8:37 PM


Dear Mr Prabhu, Your biography is very touching. It shows how the good Lord has been after you to win you for him. Finally he has captured you or you have opened yourself for his love. That you once left the Church and then returned like the prodigal son, gives much weight of conviction to your words. You will have also to share the cross of Christ. There are many enemies of Christ within and without. Be courageous! They will not be able to overpower the Church, though they may try it. As I went thru the few words of the UCAN report I observed that about me they have not written that I am a theologian. About all others it is mentioned there are theologians!

Pope John Paul II had invited me to participate in the Synod for Asia in 1998 as a theologian. In case you are interested in my books concerning our issues, I shall cite my works: Theology in India (2005) and Christology Today (2007). If you write to Dharmaram Publications, Dharmaram College, Bangalore 560029, they will send them immediately. They do not cost also much. My next classes in Bangalore (DVK) will be from 30 January to 17 February, 2012. Usually I teach each semester there. Hope to meet you or at least contact you further.

My God continue to bless you and your endeavours for his glory. There is no need to be discouraged. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, those who hunger and thirst for justice will be satisfied. I am attaching an article that has been published recently in a Festschrift. Fr Sebastian  




Vatican Document on New Age poses challenge for dialogue

URL not available

UCAN Commentary
October 15, 2004 PORVORIM, India

Concern over the New Age movement is primarily a Western preoccupation, while in Asia it fits into the more essential challenge of genuine dialogue with other religions, says a former Asian Church official. Commenting on a document the Vatican issued in 2003 on the New Age movement,
Father Desmond de Souza
portrays the challenge it sees in New Age religiosity as less of a problem in Asia than the “dismissive attitude” it continues toward other religions. The Indian
Redemptorist priest
asks in this commentary for UCA News whether the Asian Church can truly dialogue with people of other religions without being more open to their spirituality.

Father de Souza is a former executive secretary of the Office for Human Development of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC). He is now based in Porvorim, near the Goa state capital of Panaji, 1,910 kilometers southwest of New Delhi,
and is involved in retreat ministry. His commentary follows:

The Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued in August 2003 the document “Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of life – A Christian Reflection on the New Age.” The document describes itself as “an invitation to understand the New Age and to engage in a genuine dialogue with those who are influenced by New Age thought.” The New Age is not a direct threat to the Church but exerts a growing fascination on Christians, especially in the West, who after discarding traditional religious practices, look for spiritual experiences that would offer depth and direction to their life. It is not a coherent system of beliefs and practices, but a sort of canopy under which diverse neo-religious movements flourish. The New Age is a sign of the times that challenges the Church for a creative response.

Catholic theologians in India have raised some basic questions about the document
under three headings: context, method and content.
Each Vatican document is addressed to a certain historical context. The New Age document addresses a crisis apparently facing the Church in the West. It concedes that “New Age religiosity addresses the spiritual hunger of contemporary men and women,” and that “many Christians are not satisfied with the Church.”

Two places considered the powerhouses of the New Age are the Findhorn Garden community in northeastern Scotland and the Esalen Institute, a center for the development of human potential in California, the United States. Writers associated with the New Age – Madame Blavatsky, William Bloom, Fritjof Capra, C.G. Jung, William James – are all Westerners.

The New Age is hardly a universal problem. To insinuate that what is a Western Church problem today may become a global Church problem tomorrow smacks of a Western colonial mindset. For the Church in Asia, committed dialogue with religions in a multireligious society, rather than New Age fascination, is one of the most acute problems. For Pope Paul VI, “Dialogue is a new way of being the Church.”

The Vatican’s New Age document speaks of a “genuine dialogue with those who are influenced by New Age thought.” However, is genuine dialogue possible between a Church theology that claims to be “rational,” having “clear concepts of God,” and New Age thinking labeled “diffuse,” “eclectic” and “irrational?”

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue explains: “Dialogue is a two way communication. It implies speaking and listening, giving and receiving, for mutual growth and enrichment.”



If the Christian standpoint is the criterion to evaluate the New Age thought and practice, is genuine dialogue possible?

The document has certain derogatory remarks about other religious traditions when dealing with the challenge of the New Age. Prayer practiced in other religions is reduced first to “meditation techniques,” then to “psycho-social techniques” to “feel good,” and finally rejected as “non-prayer” or as mere “preparation for prayer.”

This dismissive attitude reflects an earlier document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “On certain aspects of the [sic] Christian meditation” (1989).

New Age thinking views mainline religions, with their authority structures and legislation that often bring pain and suffering to humans and the ecology, with a growing sense of dissatisfaction. The “religious relativism” that marks the “cultural environment of New Age phenomenon” will adversely affect every religious tradition, not just Christianity.

Will the FABC become more positive in reading the signs of the times by providing a forum for interreligious collaboration in the face of the New Age challenge? Would such a forum, formed with other Asian religions, address the growing dissatisfaction with the spiritual depth and sustenance that mainline religions now provide?

The Church’s attitude toward some of the New Age views, as expressed in the document, is similar to its reaction to the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo and Giordano Bruno (a Dominican monk who was executed after being condemned by the Inquisition) in the 15th and 16th centuries. Just as the scientific revolution demanded recognition of the truths discovered by science, the New Age demands a broadening of outlook and a willingness to understand and appreciate the spiritual truths found in belief systems outside Christianity.

But there are continuous warnings in the Vatican document that the New Age leads to pantheism or monism or Pelagianism by removing the essential differences “between Creator and creation, between man and nature or spirit and matter.”

The content of this document echoes the haughty Christology of “Dominus Iesus,” the 2000 declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that renewed an insistence on Jesus Christ as the “unique Savior of the world.”

The Asian bishops at the Synod for Asia (1998) stated clearly and insistently that Christians in Asia must find less haughty and more engaging ways to present Jesus as “the only Savior” and the Church as having the “fullness” or the final criterion of God’s truth. This mindset precludes genuine dialogue and prevents any possibility of relationship and cooperation with other religions. The New Testament has many titles for Jesus that represents various aspects of him as the ideal of faith. Can the Asian Church, without denying the uniqueness of Jesus, dialogue for instance with Buddhists, Jains or Hindus who have found this ideal of faith in the founders of their religions?

In “Fides et Ratio” (1998), Pope John Paul II said: “My thoughts turn immediately to the lands of the East, so rich in religious and philosophical traditions of great antiquity. Among these lands, India has a special place. … In India particularly, it is the duty of Christians now to draw from this rich heritage the elements compatible with their faith, in order to enrich Christian thought.” Will the FABC take courage from the inspiring words? END



Fr. Desmond de Souza C.Ss.R [] criticizes the 1989 Document ‘Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church On Certain Aspects of Christian Meditation‘ as well as the 2000 ‘Document ‘Dominus Iesus‘.

Fr. Desmond de Souza C.Ss.R was a senior functionary of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences [FABC]. Yet he opposes the pastoral [first Document] as well as the doctrinal [second Document] teachings of Rome. This supports the repeated accusations made by me in my various reports and articles that the FABC is under the malefic influence of Indian/Asian theologians. See Edmund Chia, following page.

Fr. Desmond de Souza C.Ss.R is obviously referring to the Jeevadhara May 2004 “Theological Response” to the New Age Document [Catholic theologians in India have raised some basic questions about the document
under three headings: context, method and content.] though he does not name it.



I have reproduced one news story [on pages 3 and 38]. Here is a couple more:

Indians of various religions shocked over “unnecessary” Vatican Document

INDIA NEW DELHI (UCAN) September 19, 2000 Source not available

Indians of various religions say the document “Dominus Iesus” is dismaying and seems to reflect an inability on the part of the Vatican to understand Asian reality. […]

Father John Fernandez, a theologian at St. Joseph’s Catholic Major Seminary in Mangalore, called for a serious dialogue between the “Western clergy who prepared the document and Asian theologians who (have to) live with it.” Father Fernandez, founding president of the Catholic Priests’ Conference of India, described the document as “far from realities” in trying to impose an “18th-century European faith on a 21st-century Asian Church.” […]

George Pinto, a professor in Goa University, said the Church’s Western leaders are uncomfortable with the East’s “rich tradition of pluralism, tolerance and interreligious dialogue.” He feared that unless the West learns more of the deep spiritual traditions of the East, Catholicism will “suffer the consequences of being close-minded and mere doctrinal theory.”



Jesuit Father Vasco Rego, rector of Bom Jesu Basilica in Old Goa, doubts the document’s ability to “draw Asian crowds to Jesus.” He said he regretted that the Church is distancing itself from others instead of seeking ways for “a deeper understanding of Asians experiencing God.”

He said that while Asian theologians are currently under fire for treading new ground in interreligious dialogue, “the future will progressively value their broader vision.”


The Asian Church in Dialogue with Dominus Iesus

By Edmund Chia, FSC March 2002

An entire issue of the Jeevadhara theological journal from India was dedicated to these responses. The various articles, written by scholars from across Asia, dismissed Dominus Iesus for its incompatibility with the experience of Asian Catholics with religious pluralism. […]

Aiming his guns even more pointedly, Ratzinger continues: “On the one hand, relativism is a typical offshoot of the Western world and its forms of philosophical thought … on the other it is connected with the philosophical and religious institutions of Asia especially, and surprisingly, with those of the Indian subcontinent”.

Thus, when Dominus Iesus was issued, it came as no surprise that many suspected the targets were the theologians from Asia in general and India in particular. Aside from Ratzinger’s specific mention of the “negative theology of Asia” in his introductory comments, a statement by Cardinal Edward Cassidy, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was also revealing. Cassidy, in appealing to Jewish leaders who had decided to boycott a Judeo-Christian function on account of the insensitive posture taken by Dominus Iesus, tried to explain: “The text is not directed to the ecumenical and interreligious realm, but to the academic world”. Cassidy then hit the nail on the head when he continued, “Above all, it was directed to theology professors of India, because in Asia there is a theological problem over the oneness of salvation”. [Zenit] It seems rather clear, therefore, that in the eyes of the Vatican, Asia is the “problem”, and hence the need for a document such as Dominus Iesus.


1. Who is this Edmund Chia?

Edmund Chia, F.S.C. [De La Salle brothers] from Malaysia, a frequent contributor to the East Asian Pastoral Review, is affiliated with the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC). He is the FABC executive secretary and secretary of its Office of Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs. A more comprehensive report of the survey in his article [The Sensus Fidelium of the People of God in Asia, 313-327] is available upon request at

2. We now know that Jeevadhara has made it a habit to lambast Vatican Documents. Edmund Chia has revealed that the Jeevadhara theologians banded together to “dismiss Dominus Iesus” as they did with the Document on the New Age.

3. However, we can be reassured by the knowledge that Rome is aware that “Asia is the “problem”” as far as rebelliousness, dissent and dissidence of theologians is concerned. See my compilation on DOMINUS IESUS. In it, I have reproduced some of the Jeevadhara critiques of DOMINUS IESUS that I found online:

Dominus Iesus, Or Rather, Servus Iesus

A Comment on Cardinal Ratzinger’s Dominus Iesus

By Leonard Swidler

Leonard Swidler, Professor of Catholic Thought, Temple University, Philadelphia, is the co-founder of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church and its current president. He is the Editor of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies (quarterly), and the Founder/President of the Dialogue Institute – Interreligious, Intercultural, International. With his wife, Arlene Anderson Swidler, he has written over 70 books. Further information about their work can be found at: He is a known dissenter, promotes the ordination of women priests and demands a “Catholic Constitution”.

See “Open letter from Leonard Swidler to Josef Ratzinger September 12, 2004

Also see: Information Related to Specific Dissenting Catechetical / Evangelization Programs



American theologian Paul Knitter who wrote in Jeevadhara in May 2004 against the New Age document is also one of the theologians who contributed to the Jeevadhara May 2001, Vol. XXXI No. 83 issue “A Journal of Christian Interpretation“: “Dominus Iesus and the Hermeneutics of Reception”.

So, too, Fr. Francis D’Sa S.J.: “Dominus Jesus and Modern Heresies“, Jeevadhara May 2001.

Fr. Michael Amaladoss S.J. [see pages 75, 81 and 94] is yet another Indian theologian who slammed Dominus Iesus in his article “Stop judging, that you will not be judged”
in the Jeevadhara May 2001 issue.




Different theologians had opposing opinions. To summarize what I had observed and commented on:

Page 41: Francis D’Sa SJ … avers that its title couldn’t be “more contrived” than what it is. But here is what I wrote in my summary of the Document serialized in The Examiner, the archdiocesan weekly of Bombay in May 2003:

The Coming New Age of Aquarius

According to astrology, “the Age of Pisces is due to be replaced by the New Age of Aquarius” in what is actually a purely astronomical shift of the vernal equinox which approximately every 2000 years passes through a new constellation of the zodiac.

The Pisces or fish (Gk. Ichthus) is associated symbolically with Jesus. New Agers maintain that with this transition, the era of Christ is ending and Aquarius the Water Bearer will now pour his water over the world to symbolize the coming of a new spirit and the dawn of a new age as was “set forth in the emblematic song ‘Aquarius’ in the 1969 musical ‘Hair’.” (#2.1; cf. New Age from a Biblical Viewpoint, M. Basilea Schlink, Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, 1988)

In the title, rejecting New Agers’ claims as false, the Church proclaims that
the true New Age was heralded in 2000 years ago by Jesus of Nazareth Who alone is the Giver of the Water of Life [John 4: 10-14], the Sender of the Spirit [John 14:16, 17] Who will reveal all truth to those who genuinely seek it (cf. #4, #5).

Holy Church could not have chosen a more apt title for this Document!!!!!

Page 72:
Francis Gonsalves SJ too has a problem with the “Bearer of the Water of Life” part of the title of the Document: he describes its choice as a “weakness“.

Page 82:
George Pattery SJ opines that “the title of the document is itself the best approbation of what New Age movement is trying to convey“.

But Fr. Jacob Parappally MSFS avers that “the title of the Document itself Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life gives an insight into the approach the Pontifical Councils of Culture and Interreligious Dialogue take in dealing with the New Age challenge of presenting the new millennium as the age of Aquarius, ‘the water-bearer’. The title does not seem to suggest a polarization of the two concepts of Christ but makes a bold assertion that Jesus Christ is the Aquarius that the New Age is speaking about or Jesus Christ is the one who is the real bearer of the water the New Agers are searching for… At least in the title the Vatican document seems to have followed the approach of Paul and John in responding to the New Age “.

The title of his own paper in Jeevadhara asserts that Jesus Christ is the answer to the New Age quest.


Page 85: George Pattery SJ approved of the title; so has another Jesuit, Francis Clooney: As the document reminds us in explaining its paradigmatic image of the encounter of Christ and the woman at the well (Hence “the Water of Life” in the title), this encounter “has even been described [by Sister Helen Bergin, O. P.] as a paradigm for our engagement with truth. The experience of meeting the stranger who offers us the water of life is a key to the way Christians can and should engage in dialogue with anyone who does not know Jesus.” (5) Finding Christ in the stranger, even the stranger who is a New Age writer and practitioner, is a wonderful ideal that the educated, informed Catholic can hope to make a reality, in the new age that is our third millennium.


This is what Cardinal Paul Poupard has to say concerning the choice of the title:

New Age
is a pressing religious, cultural challenge

By Cardinal Paul Poupard, President, Pontifical Council for Culture in L’Osservatore Romano March 5, 2003

The title itself of the document, from the outset, makes it clear that the Age of Aquarius will never be able to offer what Christ can offer. The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar (Jn 4,1-42), told in the Gospel of John, is the key text that has guided the reflection during the drafting of the preliminary report on the New Age Movement presented to you today.

Collaborative product of different offices of the Holy See

8. The nature and the importance of the Document will be better understood if I explain to you the way in which it was written. There is an inter-departmental study Commission that deals with sects and new religious movements. The Secretaries of the Pontifical Councils for Culture for Interreligious Dialogue and for Promoting Christian Unity as well as the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples make up such a Commission. In order to prepare this Document, the officials of the four aforementioned Vatican offices that were working on the text, were helped by an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Thus, it is clear that the Holy See saw the project as an opportunity to produce a sound, accurate Document. A long period of time was necessary for such a Document to appear.


BBC reports that the preparation of the Document took SIX years!:

Vatican sounds New Age alert



February 4, 2003

The Roman Catholic Church has warned Christians against resorting to New Age therapies to satisfy their spiritual needs. Publishing the results of a six-year study



A message concerning New Age spiritualities

By Bishop Nicola De Angelis of Peterborough Diocese, Ontario, Canada, February 25, 2004

[T]he Holy See … produced a sound and accurate document, reflecting the genuine understanding of the Church.




Wanting to Have Your New Age Cake and Eat It Too,

(Journal of Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies 2005) By Michael York, 2003

Certainly, for New Age, the role of astrology not only as a tool for understanding the self but in providing the rationale for the New Age of Aquarius as a literal or quasiliteral expectation has been central. For paganism, with its geo-centric framework in which the individual is the pivot by which the angles of the stars and planets are determined, there is at least the potential for much astrological development. In a 1994 paper entitled “Astrology: From Pagan to Postmodern?” Patrick Curry seeks to understand the hostility of the Church to astrology. He concludes that the monism and universalism of Christian monotheism are anathema to the pluralism and relativism of astrology. Curry (1994:71) speaks of the astrological commitment “to a multiplicity of gods or truths, and … to the ineradicable importance of personal participation, perspective and context. … [As] a pluralist and relativist practice, astrology really is pagan, irrational and superstitious.”

Curry continues by recognising that astrological divination, as a concern not with prediction but with intervention, is an enterprise that is “situated, local and participatory; [its acts of divination] produce not one big Truth but many little truths” (1994:73f). From this understanding, Curry argues that together Christian authorities, secular rationalists, Marxists and scientists as believers in a single determining reality are opposed to the ‘underdog’ position of polytheistic pagans and relativistic postmodernists alike. Curry (1994:75) concludes that neo-pagan polytheism might be the natural religion of postmodernism, a worldview of many truths and “not a new consensus but a new lack of consensus” (1994:74).

What has struck me most in Curry’s analysis, however, has been his recognition that pluralism is transforming the fundamental premises of modernism. In many respects, the Church’s drive to squelch differing opinions and understandings, along with scientific methodology and rationalism’s attempt to reduce all difference to “the logic of the same” (Martin 1992) conform to implications behind the archetypal hero Heracles’ effort to vanquish the many-headed Hydra. Heracles’ destruction of the Water Serpent was the second of his twelve labours. If the multiple heads of

the Hydra, however, are understood allegorically as the exegetical truths of paganism, relatively independent and different, the myth could be understood eventually as an allegory of the Church’s attempt to annihilate its spiritual predecessor. The Hydra itself is immortal, and for every head that is cut off, two would replace it.

The twelve labours of Heracles are frequently interpreted as the twelve monthly or zodiacal divisions of the year and indicative of the solar-hero’s annual round. Subsequent to its defeat, the Hydra was placed in the sky by the gods in that part of the celestial expanse that Aratus named ‘the Water’ – containing Pisces the fish, Cetus the whale, Capricorn the sea-goat, Delphinus the dolphin, Eridanus the river and Pisces Australis the southern fish as well the Hydra, and all governed by Aquarius. The constellation of Aquarius is that of the aquatic bearer pouring water from an urn. In Egypt he was understood as a river-god who holds a measuring rod for determining the rise of the Nile’s waters. By the middle ages he was re-interpreted as John the Baptist and compared to the Babylonian image of a man pouring water whilst holding a towel. However, this “simple change from a river-measuring rod to a towel” has been claimed to degrade “Aquarius from a River-god entity to an attendant in a bath house” (Brady, 1998:305f). So much for Christian reinterpretation; in fundamentals, it is Christ himself who, superseding Heracles, becomes the conquering hero who destroys the multiple truths or heads of ancient paganism.

But, curiously, although claiming that “The widespread New Age conviction that one creates one’s own reality is appealing, but illusory,” the Pontifical Council for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue titles its report wherein this statement appears as “Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age’.” Nevertheless, despite the non-Vatican supported but Christaquarian reinterpretation of Christ as the way-shower par excellence rather than the cosmically necessary atoning redeemer, pagan writer Marian Green (1987:135) identifies the Aquarian Water Bearer as the Grail Carrier “who has found the vessel of rebirth and brought it into the world that its redeeming waters may be poured out for all in need.” When it comes to Aquarius, he seems to be up for grabs by just about everyone.



The one common theme found in both contemporary western paganism and the New Age movement(s) is that there is no single authority of truth. For one, neither orientation possesses any decisive mechanism for determining who is and who is not a member. Truth, belief and practice are to be decided by the individual alone. Consequently, both Neo-paganism and New Age have emerged as spiritualities indicative of the pluralism of contemporary times. In a metaphorical sense, they are the Hydra reborn.

My current way of thinking is now to see New Age thought as a sub-sect of pluralistic paganism. Whilst there are many who would disagree – especially among those who identify as pagan (e.g., Rowan Fairgrove who considers that ‘new age’ is correctly pronounced to rhyme with ‘sewage’), there is no provision within contemporary paganism that is authoritative. The two spiritualities share an emphasis on self-determination, possess an inclination toward appropriation of ideas and practices from other religions, are antibureaucratic and institutional, seek spiritual restoration, the experience of enchantment and exploration of innovative practices, and, increasingly, an enhanced cherishing of ecological recovery and balance. If New Age thisworldliness is weak, it ultimately differs from contemporary paganism’s strong this-worldliness essentially by degree rather than by kind.

Furthermore, the two orientations are together united in their quest for recognition and survival vis-à-vis both traditional mainstream Christianity and any tendency toward a scientistic monopoly. In the New Age metaphor of a New Age, it is the precession of the vernal equinox into the sign of Aquarius that becomes indicative of the new Age of Aquarius as a hoped-for era of tolerance and diversity. Curiously in this context, Heracles as belligerent champion is being replaced by the more gentle Ganymede, the cup-bearer of the gods. In Aquarian symbolism, the Hydra whose name means ‘water’ is no longer slain but is now carried instead by the waterbearer and poured forth for the benefit of, presumably and hopefully, all humanity. In New Age expectation, the New Age itself is an idea whose time has come. In its pagan context, it is a multitudinous plurality, a vibrant Hydra comprising the source of life, that is in its very foundation democratic in principle, in workable viability and by collective insistence.


Response from Fr. Jacob Parappally MSFS, former president of the Indian Theological Association, Professor in Systematic Theology and Rector, Tejas Vidya Peetha, MSFS Institute of Contextual Theology, Bangalore, and one of the contributors to the JeevadharaTheological Response“:

Jacob Parappally
Sent: Monday, July 18, 2011 10:14 PM


Dear and Respected Michael Prabhu,

Greetings of Peace from Jacob Parappally MSFS

Thank you very much for sending your research study on Jeevadhara Issue on “New Age”!

Sorry for the delay in replying to you.

Whether one may agree with your observations or not it must be acknowledged that you have gone through all the articles thoroughly and raised your objections to some of the points discussed in the articles.

I appreciate your interest in this matter and your concern about issues that you think may be contradicting the Church’s teaching or at least not helpful for the faithful. With regard to our faith, I think, you and all the contributors of Jeevadhara issue are on the same side. We may differ in our understanding of communicating our faith meaningfully to others so that they may encounter the Living Lord whom we all believe in.

I wish you all the best in your effort to deepen your Christian faith and share it with others,

Yours fraternally in Christ,

Jacob Parappally MSFS

Jacob Parappally
Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 6:56 AM


Dear Fr. Jacob Parappally,

I truly do appreciate your honest assessment of my critique on the Jeevadhara “Theological Response” to the Vatican’s Document on the New Age, and I thank you very much for it.

However, I cannot agree with you that I and “all the contributors of Jeevadhara issue are on the same side” [to quote your words].

How could I possibly be on the same side as Paul Knitter, Francis Clooney SJ, Francis D’Sa SJ and others when they disagree with Rome, even reject magisterial authority? I am no theologian or scholar but, to the best of my knowledge and understanding, what they do is not “theologising”. Instead, they destroy the faith not only of ignorant lay Catholics but also of many innocent young men who are under formation in our seminaries.

My ministry seeks where possible to repair that damage and to restore that faith.

I do not just “think” [again, to quote you] that the opinions of some of the theologians who I write about may be “contradicting Church teaching”. Their writings are themselves evidence of that, and there are those other conservative theologians who speak and write to oppose those progressive and liberal ones. It was a priest from St. Peter’s Seminary, Bangalore, now in the CBCI, who gave me a copy of the May 2004 Jeevadhara issue. Both groups cannot be right at the same time.

While expressing my gratitude to you for your priestly blessings, I pray that God may bless you abundantly in your vocation. Have a good day. With kind regards, Michael Prabhu, Catholic apologist





Catholics and the New Age – A Closer Look at the Vatican Document: Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life – A Christian Reflection on the “New Age”

By Susan Beckworth
December 29, 2006

As a traditional Catholic, an important question I have often asked myself is why do some Catholics turn away from their faith and turn to New Age spirituality?

I have concluded that the answer can be found in one word — PRIDE. The pride comes from the desire to be like God; the same temptation that took place with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The temptation that says: “You are equal to God. You are the Creator.” These are some of the promises of the New Age Movement.

So what has the Church done to respond to this temptation? In 2003 the Vatican released a major document entitled Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life. (JCBWL) I would recommend that not only Catholic Christians read this worthwhile document, but all Christians because new age philosophies have migrated in all cultures and in all walks of life. In presenting this lengthy, 88-page document, Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said, “The New Age phenomenon is one of the most urgent challenges for the Christian faith.”

The Vatican report takes its title from the encounter between the Savior and St. Photini, the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4). Jesus Christ urges her to seek Him: The Way, the Truth and the Life. The Lord Jesus – not the zodiac’s water bearer (Aquarius) – Is the One Who bestows “Living Water.” Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life, aims to explain how the new age differs from Christian faith.

Categories: Eastern Meditation, new age

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