A message concerning New Age spiritualities
By Bishop Nicola De Angelis CFIC of Peterborough Diocese, Ontario, Canada, February 25, 2004
Website of Peterborough Diocese:
NOTE: THIS MESSAGE FROM BISHOP DE ANGELIS WAS PUBLISHED A YEAR AFTER THE RELEASE OF THE FEBRUARY 2003 VATICAN DOCUMENT ON THE NEW AGE- MICHAEL
“COME TO THE WATER ALL YOU WHO ARE THIRSTY…COME TO ME…AND YOUR SOUL WILL LIVE” (Isaiah 55:1-3)
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord:
May the peace of Christ be with you all.
During the last couple of months I have received a number of letters from the faithful of various parishes who asked me to state the teaching of the Church regarding NEW AGE MOVEMENT.
I want to be careful and respectful when answering the many questions formulated in the letters, because this issue is very delicate and it may be misinterpreted. In not answering, however, I would fail to exercise my role as a Bishop: to Teach, to Sanctify and to Govern in union with the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Church (Lumen Gentium 25). Indeed the people of God, who are entrusted to the Bishop’s care, have a right to receive authentic and clear Catholic teaching.
I have read in the letters of the faithful expressions such as these: “Bishop, we are very disturbed by New Age Movement…it is becoming more and more visible in prayer meetings, in our Schools, in houses of prayer…This is not Catholic teaching…Please find time to investigate this problem which could open the door to many problems…We need true spiritual nourishment and are hungry for it…”
“Our Catholic Faith and spirituality does not need to be ‘enriched’ by these antichristian practices which are promoted, most of the time and to our dismay, by people who should be faithful to the teaching of Christ. They are instead promoting agnosticism and pantheism. In doing so we believe that they do a disservice not only to the Church and society, but to themselves as well. …”
“You, Bishop De Angelis, have been appointed by our Holy Father as the Shepherd of our Diocese. Would you please look into some of these programs and put a stop to them? … Would you please tell us who has authority in the Catholic Church to teach in matters of Faith and Morals? … Would you please tell us who are these New Age people? Are they faithful to the teaching of the Church or have they abandoned the Church?”
Another letter comes from a well-informed, practicing Catholic who says: “During the many years of my academic and religious formation I learned that New Age, Yoga, Zen Buddhism movements are contrary and harmful to our Christian spirituality and that their theories and doctrines about God cannot be reconciled with our Christian faith. Can you Bishop tell me if I am right or wrong? If I am right shouldn’t you Bishop step in and stop those people who are promoting the spirituality or philosophy of these movements? …”
The letter goes on to say that “some of these people say that we have to live in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council which invites us to be open-minded in reaching out to the people of other faiths and traditions.
Dear Bishop, these people, under the banner of Vatican II, and misusing the authority of Vatican II, are not promoting dialogue with other faiths; they are promoting instead spiritualities that are contrary to our Christian Faith. They themselves don’t even have a vague idea of the spiritual and ecclesial richness that the Second Vatican Council brought about. It is irresponsible to promote other religions and spiritualities since we don’t even know ours. Why don’t they promote, for example, Jesus-centered Christian spirituality, or the teaching and spirituality of our Holy Father Pope John Paul II who, in his book ‘Crossing the Threshold of Faith’ (p.90) warns us, with regard to the ‘return of ancient gnostic ideas under the guise of the so-called New Age’, that ‘we cannot delude ourselves that this will lead toward a renewal of religion? It is only a new way of practicing gnosticism – that attitude of the Spirit that, in the name of a profound knowledge of God, results in distorting His Word and replacing it with purely human words’.”
Another letter concludes by inviting me to speak up in the name of the Church; to clarify the issue for so many good people who are waiting for an answer from their Bishop. These and many more questions that have been brought to my attention through a good number of letters and personal meetings with people, motivated me to write this message to all of you, with the hope that it might bear fruit, fruit that is rooted in our rich Christian spirituality and tradition.
Before offering some ideas on this subject, I wish to thank all the faithful who have written to me, those who spoke to me on the phone or in person, helping me understand the spiritual status of the Diocese. In this, like in many other cases, the input of lay people, in addition to that of the clergy, is invaluable. In thanking them I invite everybody else to feel free to express their opinions, particularly in writing letters. I assure you all that your letters and contacts with me will be kept in strict confidentiality. In doing so, together with the clergy, you help the Bishop in shepherding the Catholic faithful of the Diocese.
I wish I could be able to answer all the above questions, but I cannot, for lack of time and space. I invite you, however, to read the ninety-page Vatican Document on New Age called JESUS CHRIST THE BEARER OF THE WATER OF LIFE‘. Representatives of four Vatican Commissions worked together to prepare this Document. It is clear that the Holy See saw the project as an opportunity to produce a sound and accurate document, reflecting the genuine understanding of the Church. The principal editors of this document are the Pontifical Councils of Culture and for Interreligious Dialogue, and it is published by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana. In this short Church Document, to which I will refer as “Doc.” when quoting it, you will find exhaustive answers to the above questions
and many more explanations presented with rigorous theological and scriptural method. Confident that you will read it, I will limit myself here to give you some short points and comments as an indication of what New Age is all about.
While not everything in the New Age is harmful, I am limiting myself to examining and pointing out the negative and dangerous elements that can directly harm the life and faith of the believer.
If we try to give an overview to this movement, we see that New Age is not a religion. It is a very unstructured eclectic movement, “a syncretism of esoteric and secular elements” (Doc. 2.1.) that incorporates various experiences, beliefs and ideas from many different sources. We recognize in it the ancient Egyptian occult practices, Cabalism, early Christian gnosticism, Sufism, the lore of the Druids, Celtic Christian hermeticism, Zen Buddhism, Yoga, etc. (Doc. 2.1.). Although New Age advertises that it is open to all, a careful study of it’s “beliefs” shows a clear intolerance toward Christianity, which at times runs openly “counter to Christian Revelation” (Doc.1.4.).
New Age movement calls for a “paradigm shift”, a switch from reason to emotion and feelings, from any masculinity and patriarchy to a celebration of femininity (Mother Earth, Gaia), from the rejection of a personal and transcendent God to the affirmation of the centrality of the person. In New Age there is no distinction between good and evil. It maintains that “nobody needs forgiveness. Believing in the existence of evil can create only negativity and fear” (Doc.2.2.2.).
Some New Agers even believe that, since the human person can be perfected and achieve self-fulfillment through a wide variety of techniques and therapies, humans will eventually be divine and there will be no need of a transcendent God of Salvation, or Revelation. Humans will experience the “salvation hidden within themselves by mastering psycho-physical techniques which will lead to definitive enlightenment…The fundamental idea is that God is deep within ourselves. We are gods, and we discover the unlimited power within us by peeling off layers of inauthenticity…We are divine” (Doc.3.5.).
Not only are we divine, according to the New Age movement, but even Mother Earth, or Gaia, is divine and, through its concept of a “closed universe that contains God and other spiritual beings along with ourselves”, there is no escape but to fall into pantheism, the belief that there is no God but the combined forces of the existing universe. (Doc.2.3.1.).
As Christians, we believe to the contrary, 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” (ibid. cf. Gaudium et Spes, 19; Fides et Ratio, 22).
In New Age literature much is written about the “cosmic Christ” as espoused by Mathew Fox, former Catholic priest and New Age leader in California. But “a Gnostic belief in cosmic powers and some obscure kind of destiny withdraws the possibility of relationship to a personal God revealed in Christ” (Doc.3.3.). For us Christians, the real cosmic Christ is He who is involved intimately and personally in our lives; we are not locked into a cyclical pattern of cosmic events, but focus on the historical Jesus, especially his death and resurrection. The Christian concept of God is one of a Trinity of Persons, who has created the human race out of love, desiring to share His creation with His created beings. We Christians believe that our God is not identified with creation, but that He is both immanent (within) and at the same time, that He transcends (is beyond) creation. Christian spirituality, therefore, is “not so much our search for God but God’s search for us” (ibid), that we might share His life for eternity, to live with and in Him.
The Vatican Document points out that “in a cultural environment, marked by religious relativism, it is necessary to signal a warning against an attempt to place New Age religiosity on the same level as the Christian faith…it cannot be viewed as positive or innocuous… 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” (Doc.4). Some people say that there is nothing wrong in trying to learn something about other faiths, movements or other way of life. Here is what the Vatican Document says in this regard:
“Quite a few New Age groups welcome every opportunity to explain their philosophy and activities to others. Encounters with these groups should be approached with care, and should always involve persons who are capable of both explaining Catholic faith and spirituality, and of reflecting critically on New Age thought and practice. It is extremely important to check the credentials of people, groups and institutions claiming to offer guidance and information on New Age. In some cases what has started out as impartial investigation has later become active promotion, or advocacy on behalf of ‘alternative religions’…Some local New Age groups refer to their meetings as ‘prayer groups’. Those people who are invited to such groups need to look for the marks of genuine Christian spirituality, and to be wary if there is any sort of initiation ceremony. Such groups take advantage of a person’s lack of theological or spiritual formation to lure them gradually into what may in fact be a form of false worship”(Doc. 6.2.).
In his Pastoral Instruction on New Age, “A Call to Vigilance”, His Eminence Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, the Primate of Mexico, presents a brief analysis of the New Age phenomenon, outlining some of its elements most opposed to the Christian message: “It depersonalizes the God of Christian revelation. It disfigures the person of Jesus Christ, devalues his mission, and ridicules his redeeming sacrifice. It denies the unique, unrepeatable event of his Resurrection by affirming the doctrine of reincarnation. It empties the Christian concepts of creation and salvation of their content. It rejects the Church’s teaching authority and its institutional form. It relativizes the Gospel’s original, unique, and historically based content. It deforms writings of Christian mystics and turns their true meaning upside down. It irreversibly waters down the practices of Christian prayer. It discards the human person’s moral responsibility and denies the existence of sin. It misleads children and young people in their religious formation. It divides Christian families and exploits them for financial gain” (Pastoral Instruction on New Age, Mexico-Tenochtitian, January 7, 1996, p. 19).
Dear Catholic faithful, confident that you will read this important Church Document, I wish to conclude in thanking again those of you who wrote to me asking for clarification. My spiritual leadership cannot but be consistent with the leadership of the universal Church which clearly states that New Age theories and doctrines are not compatible with our Christian Faith and cannot be reconciled with it. The Church doesn’t force you to go one way or another. You are free to choose. If you choose to be faithful to your faith in Christ, then the time has come for you to say “NO” to New Age’s influence in your life and to stand up for your faith, telling others to do the same.
I hope all who read these pages will reflect on this issue during the season of Lent, and if you need repentance or conversion, to do so, and return to the Truth, for only the Truth will set you free. The Church reminds you that only Jesus Christ, through his death and Resurrection, can offer living water to all those who draw near to Him with an open mind and heart.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Nicola De Angelis, c.f.i.c, Peterborough Bishop – Ontario (Canada) You can buy the Document at St. Anthony’s Book Store, Tel. 705/745-6568, or go to the Vatican Web site at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_20030203_new-age_en.html
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