Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The New Age and Co-Opting Catholicism

My thought on the New Age has always been that it is anything but original.  Worming its way through history to find writers, saints, philosophers, and all the rest to adopt and morph into its own views, the New Age movement eventually becomes a Frankenstein's monster of pieces together parts.

Nonetheless, the popularity of the New Age is unbelievably - I have no official statistics on the subject, but my simple observations in bookstores, on television, and the like have all confirmed this.  It is nearly inescapeable.

In a rabid search for anything that might be conformable to its wishy-washy spirituality, it has co-opted the ancient Gnostics, various forms of pagan spirituality and religions, every form of Eastern religion and philosophy it can get its hands on, and now even Catholic authors and saints.

The most notable figures that have been co-opted by the New Age movement, both within and outside of the Church, are St. Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Merton, Bl. Julian of Norwich, and Meister Eckhart; however, a multitude of other writers pop up here and there - almost any female mystic is automatically portrayed as a powerful voice of the Spirit silenced by an evil collective of misogynistic patriarchs.  It's all rather exhausting.

The reason that I write this is to warn people that not every book one finds on these figures is safe - oftentimes, they are laced with heretical commentaries and interpretations that do to their writing what Morgoth did to the elves in Lord of the Rings, warping them into Orcs.

For example, St. Hildegard of Bingen, recently proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, has been co-opted largely by Matthew Fox, a former Dominican priest who left the Church to join the Episcopalians and a proponent of "Techno Cosmic Masses" and "Creation Spirituality".

Meister Eckhart is routinely misunderstood, and Fr. Seraphim Rose's words on St. Seraphim of Sarov could also apply here: "others try artificially to set his 'spirituality' against the 'institutionalized Church,' as if the two could be separated; still others would make him to be a 'charismatic' figure who justifies the empty ecumenical 'spirituality' of our own poor days; and a few imagine him to be a 'guru' whose experience places him 'beyond Christianity' and all religious traditions"1.  Eckhart has been adopted especially by Eckhart Tolle, who has made a career out of misinterpreting the German mystic. 

Thomas Merton is adopted by the New Age because of his sympathies to Eastern religions, especially Buddhism, all of which are incessantly distorted by the movement itself. 

The few examples above show that the New Age movement knows no bounds - to me, it is much akin to a cheap meat processing plant, producing mechanically-separated versions of great spiritual figures and writings, and forming them into neat little hot-dogs packed with all kinds of spiritually-detrimental additives.  Truly, it is a product of our time, I think.  It is empty and false ecumenism.

Unfortunately, most of the works by the three authors above inevitably come with New Agey commentaries and notes.  The funny thing is, the New Age seems entirely incapable of grasping the profound thought of these figures, especially St. Hildegard and Eckhart.  St. Hildegard's writings do focus very much on the natural world in some areas - they are also incredibly apocalyptic, prophetic, and entirely, thoroughly Catholic in their teachings.  Eckhart, if the New Age would bother to try and understand fully, was a faithful son of the Church, and admitted his errors - he also defended himself, not with ambiguous and fluffy spiritual statements, but with the authority of St. Thomas Aquinas, a figure that has nothing about him that could ever be warped into a New Age idea.

Why does the New Age movement seek to co-opt our writers and saints then?  My thought on it is that it is a spirituality that caters to the disgruntled person forced to go to church on Sunday mornings, the person whose pastor said something awful to them once and drove them away from the faith, the hurting person in need of a quick fix for an aching soul.  It also presents a non-committal form of spirituality, something I can see being increasingly popular in the secularized world; in essence, its a spirituality built on relativism and modifications of existing religions.

The point is, be careful out there.  As a Catholic, I think one should always be prudent in their spiritual reading.  This does not mean that one can only read good, orthodox Catholic writings - far from it.  I think it simply implies being aware, checking the ingredients, as it were.  In this age of spiritual relativism, it's more important than ever to do so, I think. 

1 - Little Russian Philokalia - Vol 1: St. Seraphim of Sarov, pg. 13


  1. Agreed! I was just at a used book store trying to find a book on st. Theresa of Avila, and there was a biography that turned out written by some questionable secular author and a book on the Church fathers written by Protestants -- all in the "Catholic" section. While both of these may have been fine, my money is limited, and I cannot waste it l on potential untruths. I am trying to learn the names of Catholic publishers to help myself identify books to purchase.
    As a Protestant flirting with Catholicism, it is really important to me to get at the truth.
    ~ still struggling

    1. google Audio Sancto.Good sermons,solid resources.

    2. MarcusGrodi.com, CHNetwork.org, theologicalforum.org, ScottHahn.com, Ignatius.com,

    3. Try starting with convert Scott Hahns book of his journey into the church...not only does he provide a great scriptural reason for his coming into the Catholic church,but he also names a vast amount of Catholic books and authors that led him deeper into his conviction..may God bless you on your journey..the name of Scotts book is Rome Sweet Home..he also has many great books regarding Catholic teachings and you won't find a better book based on Mary..the Mother of God than his Hail Holy Queen book.

    4. Here's where you can find some very traditional Catholic books that carry the nihil obstat and an imprimatur guaranteeing you the book is Catholic.


    5. Traditionalcatholicsermons.org. To hear the true Catholic faith.

  2. Not exactly on point with New Age, but you might want to check out Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat. I'm still in the beginning of the book, but he hold the premise that it's because we have not held onto orthodoxy, and allowed everyone to find/determine their own way, even within Christianity, that our nation is suffering decay.

    As a side note, thanks for all the traffic you've been sending to In God's Way. I hope you'll comment and keep me in check as I move into discussion of sacraments which I am less familiar with.

  3. Out of curiousity, have you read Fr. Seraphim Rose's book ORTHODOXY AND THE RELIGION OF THE FUTURE? He says that the religion of Antichrist will be a blend of New Ageism and the Charismatic movement.

  4. Constance Cumbey, the top Christian researcher on the New Age, speaks very positively about Seraphim Rose's work.

    Idler, I hope to be in touch with you about this topic via email in the near future. The New Age has been my primary area of research for the last several years. It is not an easy area to research because you immediately wade into the area of misinformation and disinformation, and this requires extraordinary levels of discernment, but I may be able to point you in the right direction with some things.

  5. Constance Cumbey only gives specifics on trends beloved Fr. Seraphim saw coming 10 years before her.

  6. Jack,

    Cumbey and Rose aren't in competition. Their work is complementary.

    Whether you intended it or not, your comment appears to trivialize Cumbey's work, and this may very well have the unfortunate effect of steering readers away from perhaps the top living expert on the New Age movement.

    As I wrote earlier, it is a difficult area to research because of the sheer amount of misinformation and disinformation. It is only through following Cumbey's work very closely that I was able to get a handle the subject at all.

    I haven't read Rose's work, but I suspect Cumbey covers a lot of terrirory that he does not - such as the subject of disinformation/misinformation, and how the fifth column works. She has some incredible stories about how her own work was suppressed and distorted by prominent members of her own Protestant faith community. I learned from her work how dirty this war really is.

    There is an excellent video on Youtube where she tells the story of how she became aware of the New Age movement.

  7. In fairness to a lot of the New Agers, it is largely an unfortunate reaction to a materialist culture which refuses to acknowledge or address the spiritual needs of human beings. Fr. Rose's phenomenal book "Nihilism" describes it as a reaction to what he labels "realism," which cannot acknowledge God or heaven or faith.

    The New Age movement is proof of the God sized hole in every human heart. (And by the way, "God sized" means it is really infinite in dimension.) But it's also proof of our stubborn unwillingness to follow His commandments. It really is back to the garden, "Ye shall be like Gods." It's a tragic and shallow response to "there is no God, except what you can purchase at the mall or the your Lexus dealer."

    Finally, while I am not Orthodox, I can think of no book that has more profoundly influenced my way of seeing the world than Fr. Rose's "Nihilism." My copy is thoroughly battered as I re-read it often. I find myself reading newspaper articles and locating facts and trends discussed in the article within the analytical framework he provides in that book.

    Thanks for a thoughtful piece. Let's not forget to pray for our brothers and sisters caught up in the New Age movement that the eyes of their hearts may seek and find God and the peace that only He can give us.

  8. In fairness to a lot of the New Agers, it is largely an unfortunate reaction to a materialist culture which refuses to acknowledge or address the spiritual needs of human beings. Fr. Rose's phenomenal book "Nihilism" describes it as a reaction to what he labels "realism," which cannot acknowledge God or heaven or faith.

    You have hit on an important point - the reason the New Age continutes to be so successful in drawing in many people of good will. I have heard Cumbey say that the New Age movement is divided into two groups - the beguiled and the beguilers (I am paraphrasing). Those at the very top know exactly what it is about, but many who follow have no idea what they are involved with. The beguilers use the vulnerability and ignorance of the beguiled in order to manipulate and deceive them.

    Here is a quote from a commentor at Cumbey's blog which is quite pertinent:

    I see the world boiling down to two points of view. Those that believe in a God that judges them and that they should submit there will to or those that worship themselves as Gods.

    I agree with Constance and her research on this topic for I have researched it for over 25 years and have came to the same independent conclusion of the Big plan of the adversary.

    Divide and concur all that believe in a one God that judges man is the best way to destroy whatever faith is the right one. If Christianity is the only way through Jesus Christ then we should be very afraid of the destruction and the battle wage between all the monotheistic faiths for that game will destroy us too. All you have to do is look at the Alliance for Civilizations to see that is the plan. Book after book state the same thing. It is not just Alice Bailey said it is what is happening today.

    People tend to dismiss the New Age as silly, but is a potent cultural force, with both religious and political wings. Do not be deceived as to what the actual end game is here.

  9. Good morning Jason!

    I hope to share my thoughts and experiences regarding the new age movement during the 1990's; and the explosion of new age FB pages, websites, tv time slots via Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, Katie Couric, et al. Unfortunately, being a poorly catechized Catholic or poorly formed Christian, for that matter, can definitely leave you vulnerable to the seductive qualities and harm present in this movement. Jason, I'm a little pressed for time so in the interim I wanted to leave you the following link to this magnificient document, which you may have already read. Jason, please consider sharing this document with our brothers and sisters; it truly deserves to be shared again and again and again! :-)
    Best regards, Mary.

  10. why have catholic writers started to use word "catholicism"...yes, I know its 'only a word', but I always heard 'isms' were negative elements, and recall a teaching by Cardinal Avery Dulles, but can't find it online...eg, secularism, communism, humanism, marxism, nazism, athiesm, socialism, ... etc etc....

    1. Anonymous,
      Oddly enough I have been giving thought to this very thing as well. I intended no negativity of course, but I think you have a point. I'll be more careful with this in the future.


  11. Great post Jason! In 2004 I chanced upon a copy of the Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Ferguson and it exposed the loose and yet guided network of players in this modern gnosticism—the heresy we need to begin calling the New Age heretical cult. You forgot to mention Teilhard de Chardin, whom they court as a patron saint. You might get an interesting thread going if you read Fulton Sheen's, Footprints in a Darkened Forest (1966) and specifically his Chapter 13 assessment of the renowned Jesuit’s legacy.

  12. Thank you, Jason, you are the 1st to acknowledge this 'ism' issue for me --- look at Barrons series, "Catholicism" (EWTN rolling it out like its great)...Donohues new book uses the word...we are all so 'confused vacuous and erroneous' (description of Cardinal Burke re formation of 'catholics' over past 30 years)...keep up your good work here...Peace to you and your family, Bernadette

  13. To compliment this article I recommend the author of the blog and its viewers read and share this Vatican document: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_20030203_new-age_en.html

    1. Right on Jim, Jesus Christ is the true Bearer of the Water of Life. The stars have a purpose, and are in Scripture. For example, the date of Good Friday/Easter has to fall in the Constellation of Aries (the sheep/lamb). We have to maintain the right attitude toward heavenly signs. Like the Star of Bethlehem, they can safely point the way if we see the mystery, thank God for the gift and always remember that it is for only for His will that we are being lead.

  14. The use of the word catholicism gives the notion that our faith is just another brand in the free market of ideas. The term in that context reduces it to just another choice you have.

  15. I come from a background in New Age. I studied tarot, auras, read all the current books, took classes, smudged my home, went to psychics, etc. And yes, I had visions. But my New Age experience was merely a bridge that enabled me to see the real truth, God's truth.

    And, after the Lord helped me cross that bridge, I, like Lot and his wife, could no longer look back. Because when I briefly did, I saw New Age for what it really was, darkness and evil.

    All of the things that I was looking for when in New Age, The Lord now provides in abundance. I am deeply and profoundly joyous and thankful He has watched over me.