Category Archives: Gnosticism

New Age


-by Michelle Arnold, Catholic Answers

New Age is a term that encompasses a broad spectrum of spiritual, philosophical, and theological thought developing in the West since the eighteenth century, mainly in counterpoint to (if not in direct reaction against) the rationalism of the Enlightenment. New Age suggests that adherents are seeking to usher in a new phase in human history (i.e., a “new age” or new epoch) through their spiritual practices and their philosophical and theological developments of traditional Western religious thought and practice.

It’s important to note, though, that these practitioners aren’t necessarily members of a specific religious institution or involved with an organized religious movement. Rather, the ideology is brought into existing belief systems and social structures. We might say that it’s more personal than institutional. In Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life, a 2003 document from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the New Age movement is described as “a loose network of practitioners whose approach is to think globally but act locally”:

“Because [the New Age movement] 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.”

Although there are earlier antecedents going back to the Enlightenment, much of New Age thought owes its origin to the Theosophy movement of the mid- to late nineteenth century. Theosophy is an esoteric religion that was formulated mainly by the Russian occultist philosopher Helena Blavatsky. In much the same way that Scientology was created from the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, so Theosophy was the brainchild of Madame Blavatsky, as she was called.

According to the Theosophical Society of America, which continues to promulgate Madame Blavatsky’s work, Blavatsky “traveled all over the world in search of wisdom about life and the reason for human existence. Eventually, Blavatsky brought the spiritual wisdom of the East and that of the ancient Western mysteries to the modern West, where they were virtually unknown.”

Basically, Theosophy is the pursuit of “knowledge of the Real, both in the universe and in human beings, by means of a holistic spiritual practice that includes study, meditation, and service.” Adherents of Blavatsky’s ideas believe, among other things, that “there are no mechanical laws,” “human consciousness is in essence identical with the ultimate Reality,” and that there is a “gradual unfolding of this Reality within us [that] takes place over a long period of time through reincarnation, which is one aspect of the cyclic law that is seen everywhere in nature.”

Many modern followers of New Age practices probably have never heard of Blavatsky and don’t consider themselves to be her disciples. But the roots of many New Age ideas, including a belief that reality is defined by human consciousness and a belief in human development through reincarnation, can be traced to Blavatsky’s works. In fact, some historians credit Blavatsky with popularizing modern occultism in toto, and all that sprang from it. Her biographer Gary Lachman observed that he “discovered that many of the paths I traced led back to Blavatsky. It seemed clear that practically everyone . . . owed something to her.”

Although Blavatsky may be considered by many scholars to be “the mother of modern spirituality,” what we know in Western society today as the New Age movement got its start in the countercultural movement of the 1960s. Music historian Andrew Grant Jackson traced the origins of the twentieth century movement to the popularity of the Beatles.

“It was George Harrison’s songs espousing Hindu philosophy and featuring Indian musicians, and the Beatles’ study of Transcendental Meditation, that truly kick-started [in the U.S.] the human potential movement of the 1970s (rebranded New Age in the 1980s). In this way, the musicians helped expand the freedom of religion that the United States was founded on to encompass options outside the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Because the New Age movement is highly individualistic and its adherents are found both within and outside traditional religion, the movement has been uniquely dependent on the commercial success and visibility of its gurus. From the 1980s onward, starting with the bestselling books of actress Shirley MacLaine, many of the fads of the New Age movement have been driven as much by Madison Avenue as they have been by spiritual ideals, a phenomenon noted in Bearer of the Water of Life as “a celebration of the sacredness of the self . . . [which] is why [the] New Age [movement] shares many of the values espoused by enterprise culture and the ‘prosperity gospel.’”

Is the New Age movement a religion? The late Jesuit theologian Fr. John Hardon defined religion as “the moral virtue by which a person is disposed to render to God the worship and service he deserves,” and noted that the word is “probably [from the] Latin religare, to tie, fasten, bind, or relegere, to gather up, treat with care.” These days, religion is often confused with philosophy or spirituality, both of which can be part of religion but are not synonyms for the word.

Many New Age adherents are members of organized religious institutions, including the Catholic Church, but the New Age movement is not institutional or organized. What adherents subscribe to is better defined as a philosophy or spirituality.

Philosophy, according to Fr. Hardon, is “the science in which natural reason, apart from divine revelation, seeks to understand all things by a knowledge of their first causes.” St. John Paul II called philosophy “one of [the] noblest of human tasks” and said it “is directly concerned with asking the question of life’s meaning and sketching an answer to it.”

New Age adherents hold to certain philosophical principles, which we’ll get into in more detail [later in the booklet]. Here, we’ll look at what the Church has said about New Age philosophy. In Bearer of the Water of Life, it is characterized this way:

“An adequate Christian discernment of New Age thought and practice cannot fail to recognize that, like second and third century Gnosticism, it represents something of a compendium of positions that the Church has identified as heterodox. John Paul II warns with regard to the “return of ancient gnostic ideas under the guise of the so-called New Age: 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. Gnosticism never completely abandoned the realm of Christianity. Instead, it has always existed side by side with Christianity, sometimes taking the shape of a philosophical movement, but more often assuming the characteristics of a religion or a para-religion in distinct, if not declared, conflict with all that is essentially Christian.””

Gnosticism is an ancient heresy, predating Christianity. Like the New Age movement, it was not so much institutional as it was personal, being brought into established religious movements by individuals seeking hidden knowledge. The Catholic Encyclopedia sums up gnosticism as “the doctrine of salvation by knowledge”—not public divine revelation, as understood in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but hidden knowledge revealed only to initiates (CCC 66–67).

Insofar as New Age practitioners promote avenues to hidden knowledge, it can be a form of modern gnosticism. This doesn’t necessarily mean that practitioners must be initiates in a secret society; like Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society of America, groups may be public and open. But what they claim to have is knowledge that wasn’t revealed in public divine revelation to God’s prophets and Christ’s apostles.

Spirituality is the means by which an individual relates to the transcendent. It can also refer to man’s immaterial soul, which is spirit, or [according to Fr. Hardon] “the property of being intrinsically independent of matter at least in essence and in some activities.” New Age practices generally are a form of spirituality in the first sense, that of the individual relating to the transcendent. It’s in this sense that many religious skeptics will say that they are “spiritual but not religious.” They value practices and ideologies that they believe will bring them closer to the transcendent, but they tend to spurn the obligations of conscience (doctrinal beliefs and disciplinary practices) that go with being involved in an organized religion.

In answer to whether the New Age movement is a religion, Bearer of the Water of Life states:

“The expression “New Age religion” is more controversial, so it seems best to avoid it, although New Age is often a response to people’s religious questions and needs, and its appeal is to people who are trying to discover or rediscover a spiritual dimension in their life. . . . At the heart of New Age is the belief that the time for particular religions is over, so to refer to it as a religion would run counter to its own self-understanding. However, it is quite accurate to place New Age in the broader context of esoteric religiousness, whose appeal continues to grow.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Oct 17 – The Heresy of Gnosticism

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-St Ignatius of Antioch (35-108 AD)

Even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, bringing swift destruction on themselves.” ~2 Peter 2:1

The Catholic Church makes a distinction between ‘material’ (Ed: “in reality, as a ‘matter’ of real fact”) and ‘formal’ heresy. Material heresy means in effect “holding erroneous doctrines through no fault of one´s own” as occurs with people brought up in non-Catholic communities, i.e. through ignorance, or accident of birth, and “is neither a crime nor a sin”.

The material heretic is ready and willing to be corrected, and assent, were the truth made plain to them.  BIG EXAMPLE:  ignorant, or less than perfectly trained, catechists, i.e. yours truly.  There are many scholarly types on the distribution for this blog for just this reason!  🙂 I rely on them to keep me, a) humble, and b) on the straight and narrow! We ignorants mean well, but we just don’t know better when the Internet is feeding us nonsense.  🙂  Thank goodness for copy/paste, or is it the work of the devil?  🙂  Thank you, auditors!!!!

Formal (Ed: knowing the truth, that it is held to be the truth by the Church, as a formal matter of dogma, and willfully rejecting it) heresy is “the willful and persistent adherence to an error in matters of faith”.   The formal heretic refuses to be corrected.  One must be baptized in order to be a heretic.  Those unbaptized are under the category “other”.

The Church holds that since God created Creation and deemed it “good” (Gen 1:31), it cannot, intrinsically, be evil, as some heresies have held.  For Catholics, the “glass is half-full”.  Heresies go by many names, through many ages.  They persist even into our modern world under guise.  It is said, “there are no new heresies”.  Bad thinking leads to bad action.  Some have suggested  modern forms of Gnosticism are Scientology and Freemasonry.


-by Br Isaac Augustine Morales, OP (Br Isaac received a doctorate in New Testament from Duke University and taught in the Department of Theology at Marquette University for four years before joining the Order.)

“From the earliest days, the Church has faced the perennial temptation to deny the goodness of material creation in general and of the human body in particular. The Platonic notion of the body as a “prison” from which the soul must escape has cropped up repeatedly throughout the Church’s history, only to be condemned every time someone proposed it.

We see one particular form of this error, the denial that Jesus really took on flesh and blood, reflected in the New Testament, and it is condemned in no uncertain terms: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 Jn 7). What is it that drives this temptation? And what makes the idea derived from it so pernicious that St. John calls those who embrace it “antichrist”?

The answer to the first question stems from two factors: the majesty of God and the messiness of creation. In the early centuries, God was seen as totally other than creation, in the words of 1 Timothy, “immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim 1:17). God transcends the world and, unlike us, is not subject to change, to corruption, to pain and suffering, to anything that belongs to this world. Contrast this picture of an ineffable God with creation, particularly after the fall: we are born, we grow old, we suffer, we die. To many it seemed unfitting for God to experience birth and to have His diapers changed, much less to endure the shame and torture of one of the cruelest forms of execution ever devised by men. This is one aspect of the scandal of the Incarnation: that the God who transcends creation has joined Himself so fully to it that he knows first-hand our challenges and our trials.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, whom the Church commemorates today, meditated on this mystery as he was being led to Rome for his own execution, and he condemns the denial of Christ’s real flesh and blood as forcefully as the Second Letter of John. In one of his letters Ignatius explains the importance of Christ’s actual flesh and blood:

But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer (they themselves only seeming to exist), then why am I in bonds? Why do I long to be exposed to the wild beasts? Do I therefore die in vain? Am I not then guilty of falsehood against [the cross of] the Lord?

There are at least two dangers in this denial of Christ’s real humanity and suffering: it empties Christian suffering of its purpose, and it implies deception on God’s part. To take the latter point first, if Jesus only appeared to be human and to suffer – if his looks are deceiving – then the Gospels lie to us. Jesus has nothing in common with us, and His life was a mere show – and a fraudulent One at that.

Closer to home for Ignatius, Jesus’ actual suffering in the flesh was closely bound up with his own impending martyrdom. In some mysterious way, Christ’s suffering takes up and incorporates the suffering of the members of his body:

By [the cross] He calls you through His passion, as being His members. The head, therefore, cannot be born by itself, without its members; God, who is [the Savior] Himself, having promised their union.

In His suffering and death, Christ manifests His solidarity with the human race, showing Himself to be a God who knows our trials not in some distant, indifferent way, but personally and experientially.

If the sole purpose of the Incarnation were Christ’s solidarity with us in our suffering, then Christianity would be little more than divinely sanctioned masochism. But for Ignatius, suffering – both Christ’s and ours – is not an end in itself, but rather a bridge to eternal life. It is by our suffering that we participate in Christ’s own sacrifice and through it come to the glory of His Resurrection. This is why one can rightly call a death at the jaws of lions a happy and peaceful one. The peace comes from the sure hope that death does not have the final victory – Christ has conquered it through the Resurrection.

Most of us are probably not ready to offer our bodies to the lions as Ignatius did, but we must remember that it was not on the basis of his own strength that he faced his death. He drew strength from feeding on Christ’s own Eucharistic flesh and blood, which he called the “medicine of immortality.” By feeding on this medicine we too can be strengthened to face our own trials and, God willing, pass through a happy death to the glory of the Resurrection.”

Love,
Matthew