The Church and the New Age Movement

John B. Shea
August 4, 2005
Reproduced with Permission

At the end of the millennium, the year 2000, a yearning for an age of freedom from the evils afflicting the world, the spirit of millenarianism, has returned as it has so many times before. It is not a sect, a religion, a single organization, a science or a philosophy. In some ways it is not even new. It is called a movement in order to indicate that it is a network of individuals and groups who share a world-view and a common desire to change the world.1

This so-called New Age movement is a cultural current that has engulfed the world today. There is therefore a pressing need for Catholics to understand authentic Catholic doctrine to properly assess New Age themes.2 New Age thought and practice is, like second and third century gnosticism, an assortment of positions that the Church has identified as contradicting the Catholic faith.

Astrologists believe that what they call the Age of Pisces, 0 - 2000 A.D. has ended and that the Age of Aquarius, 2000 - 4000 A.D. is at hand. In the historical wake of the events of the Renaissance and the Reformation, many are less inclined to obey external authority and think of religion in a way that leads to the notion that the self is sacred and to an exaggerated idea of freedom, self-reliance, and authenticity. Faith in God is often abandoned, except perhaps as a tool for self-advancement. Thus is the stage set for an imagined triumph and reign of the consumer culture.

A society that has undergone a breakdown of faith in the Christian tradition and in the unlimited process and progress of science and technology has now to confront the surprising return of gnosticism, a compendium of cosmic religiosity, rituals, and beliefs which had never really disappeared. Gnosticism has its origin in the pagan religions of Asia, Phoenicia, Egypt, Greece and Babylon, and also in astrology and Greek Platonism. Its basic tenet is the doctrine of salvation through knowledge. The New Age movement claims to be able to acquire this knowledge in an esoteric way through such methods as dream analysis and through the medium of a 'spiritual master'.

The central question about the New Age movement is how it defines spirituality. For the New Age devotee, spirituality means the use of the powers of nature and of an imaginary cosmic "energy" to communicate with another world and to discover the fate of an individual, or to help to make the most of oneself. Christianity, on the other hand, is an invitation to look outwards and beyond, to the "new Advent" of the God Who calls us to live in the dialogue of love.3 The New Age does not believe in a God Who transcends His creation, does not believe in good or evil, has no room for judgment or blame, and also holds that belief in evil is negative and causes only fear. It also fails to distinguish between God who created the universe and the universe He has created.

In light of the above, it may be of interest to take note of certain workshops, programs, and retreats, advertised on the internet, some of which have been offered under Catholic auspices in the Manresa Jesuit Retreat Centre, Pickering, Ontario,or in the Seton Spirituality Centre, Terrence Bay, Nova Scotia,the Kairos Spirituality-for-Social Justice (Faithful Companions of Jesus) Ottawa (as advertised in the Ottawa Diocesan News),the Galilee Mission Centre, Arnprior, Ontario (Sponsors-Oblates of Mary Immaculate), the Marguerite Centre, Pembroke, Ontario (Grey Sisters), Providence Renewal and Retreat Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, and St. Benedict's Retreat and Conference Center, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Listed below are some of the titles of the programs offered.

Some facts pertaining to the subject matters mentioned in these programs are given as follows.


For the past thirty years the works of psychologist Carl Jung have been used as a spiritual guide in the Catholic Church throughout the United States and Europe. Sister Pat Brockman O.S.U., who trained at the Jung Institute in Zurich, explains that dreams act as our "personal scriptures." She suggests "Dream Play" as a substitute for Catholic devotional practices such as the morning offering, acts of faith, hope and charity, examination of conscience, and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. The "Dream Play" that she recommends consists in naming, describing, interpreting, and dialoguing with the dream. She also holds that "Some think that the Church is the center of the world but we are really the center, the abode of God."4


In 1970, Peter A. Campbell and Edwin N. McMahon, Catholic priests with PhDs in Psychology, began to explore what they called "BioSpiritual Focusing", which they described as a practical process of allowing your feelings and emotions to act as passageways to your "body wisdom" - the "felt sense", and "a bridge to the Spirit," which allows you to enter into the "body life of the Spirit."5


Reiki is described by its advocates as an all present cosmic "energy" or "life force", and also as a supernatural knowledge and wisdom that comes from God. It is claimed to produce "spiritual healing" and "self-improvement." Its practitioners say that they can direct this energy through the palms of their hands that are applied to various parts of the body. It has no scientific foundation.

Echo - Spirituality:

The theory behind this spirituality is that the divine is present in all creation (panentheism) and that we are to expand our love of "neighbour" to include the entire cosmos. It is related to the philosophy of Teilhard de Chardin and to evolutionary theology, one of whose advocates is John Haughey, S.J. Echo-theologians hold that because humans are so intimately interconnected with the organic cosmos, we cannot come to completion without the cosmos, and that the universe is a single dynamic whole into which humans are imbedded. The earth is held to be self -organizing and self transcending. Humans are a" tool for the earth to explore itself." We are told to abandon "value assignments and blind judgments" and choose actions that are "effective and appropriate."6

Star in My Heart:

This is the name of a book by Joyce Rupp in which she reflects on her personal awakening to the feminine wisdom of Sophia, sometimes referred to as the feminine image of God. It contains information on mandalas, which are ritualistic geometric designs symbolic of the universe, used in Hinduism and Buddhism, as an aid to meditation.


This is based on the notion that each body part is represented on the hands and feet and that pressing on specific areas on the hands and feet can have therapeutic effects on other parts of the body. Reflexologists claim to work through the use of the 'energies of the nervous, electrical, chemical and magnetic systems of the body.' However, reflexology has not been scientifically demonstrated to influence the course of any illness. Done gently, it is a form of foot massage that may help people relax temporarily.

Praying with Kabir:

Kabir, (1398- 1448 A.D.) was a Sikh holy man who was influenced by a form of Muslim mysticism called 'Sufi'.

Centering Prayer:

This technique originated in St. Joseph's Abbey, a Trappist Monestery in Spencer, Mass. According to Father John D. Dreher, it is neither Christian nor prayer. It is essentially a form of self- hypnosis that makes use of a "mantra", a word repeated over and over, concentrating on one thing and introducing a hypnotic-like state. God is seen as a part of the universe who can be 'experienced' at the center of one's being, and not as one who is transcendent, who is other than us, and is a loving Father. It takes these characteristics from Hinduism, through the medium of Transcendental Meditation (T M). The introductory ceremony to T.M. involves worship of a dead Hindu guru and the mantras given those being initiated are in fact, the names of Hindu gods.7

The Enneagram:

The enneagram is a circular diagram with a nine- point star which symbolically describes nine personality types. It focuses on the ego, compulsions, and self-improvement. It is founded on pagan beliefs. There is no scientific proof that there are nine personality types. The enneagram is not science. Father Mitch Pacwa, once one of the first teachers of the enneagram, explains that the deepest problem with the enneagram is its theology. "The goal of the enneagram is different from the goal of Christianity ... Redemption wrought by the Cross is not and cannot be integrated into the enneagram theory of personality." The nine point star was originally used by Sufi mystics for fortune telling. Pacwa tells us that the modern version of the enneagram system was "a complete fabrication based on instructions an occultist named Oscar Ichazo received from a spirit he was channeling." The spirit directed him to take the seven capital sins and place them on the nine point enneagram diagram. He needed two additional capital sins so he added "deceit" and "cowardice". The claim is that we are born divine and when we are about three years old, we cover over that divinity with an ego type. One of the "nine capital sins" is at the core of each ego type. The purpose of the enneagram is to discover one's own type of driving force for one's actions or energy directions which one pursues. It is a "mirror of the soul." A priest in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1986, told St. Mary's parishioners that the idea of the enneagram is "to become balanced, or free enough to let the face of God shine forth, to become free enough to be led by the spirit."8 Father Pacwa points to the fundamental problem with the enneagram. "We humans cannot save ourselves and Salvation is a free gift of God's grace which no human can earn." In spite of this, no fad has engulfed Catholic retreat centers and seminaries in recent years, more that the enneagram.9

Dancing with the Cosmos:

Siva Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer, has become for many of different backgrounds, the symbol of Creative Energy. "The Supreme Intelligence dances in the soul ... for the purpose of removing our sin." (Unmai Vilakkam - Tamil text). Father Bede Griffiths, O.S.B., has stated that Christians must see Nataraja as the symbol of the risen Christ. The danger in his Neo-Hindu Christianity has been described as "a superficial attempt to give Hindu concepts Christian meaning and Christian concepts Hindu meaning. The result is a system, which is neither truly Hindu nor Christian."10

Creation Centered Spirituality:

Mathew Fox, a Dominican priest, was silenced by the Vatican in 1989, and dismissed from the Dominican order in 1993. The Vatican objected to Fox's refusal to deny belief in panentheism (God is all and all is God), his endorsement of homosexual unions in the Church, identifying humans as "mothers of God", and calling God "our Mother." The presence of the witch Starhawk, on the staff of his institute, the Institute for Culture and Creation Spirituality, caused another scandal. He disregards the harm done to creation by the sin of disobedience and borrows from de Chardin and Jung.

De Chardin fails to deal with the problem of sin. Fox opposes the idea of personal sin. Both fail to distinguish Creator from creature and good from evil, or to realize that the spiritual world is a battleground between God and the fallen angels. Fox is a pantheist. For him, God is interdependent with the cosmos both for His experience and His very being, an idea which is similar to that held by the proponents of evolutionary theology. Fox substitutes a "Cosmic Christ" Christianity for a "personal Saviour" Christianity.11

A Retreat with the Contemplative Mystic and Prophet - Edwina Gately:

Edwina Gately is a frequent 'Call to Action' speaker, provided the key note address for the May, 2002 Dignity/USA Conference in Buffalo, New York, and was one of three plenary session speakers for the March, 2002, New Ways Ministry Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. She has worked for womens' ordination, has challenged the deity of Jesus, and Church teaching about homosexuality. She promotes worship of the "mother goddess" and the practice of witchcraft, which she considers the spirituality of feminine wisdom.

Tai Chi:

Chi is considered to be an energy that flows through the body. Acupuncture and the practice of tai chi, meditation in motion, are said to allow this energy to achieve a balance between the opposing principles of yin and yang, thus ultimately leading to physical and spiritual well-being. This theory is based on the philosophy of Taoism.

Tao is the name given to a force that flows through every living being as well as the universe.

Therapeutic Touch:

This is the use of the palms of the hands, chakras, to channel the cosmic life energy field,' prana,' to heal a patient, a Hindu belief.


Yoga is a method of reaching one's highest potential, of merging the "I" with "God", and of attaining higher consciousness and freedom from ignorance, suffering and rebirth, by utilizing 'prana', or 'chi', the life energy or the universe.


Walking a labyrinth is said to clear the mind, discover sacred inner space, and access the truth in your soul. It is of Celtic, Mayan, Greek, Cretan, and North American Aboriginal origin.

Cosmic Culture of the Center:

Collapse of the world order is necessary for renewal of civilization. A new cosmic culture is needed, that is to be obtained by the development of spiritual, moral, intellectual and aesthetic faculties through systems of education and the media. This is a frankly pantheistic 'end of time' in which a new cosmic civilization emerges through the action of a "hierarchy of greater intelligence." This "greater intelligence" corresponds to de Chardin's notion of the "noosphere", the psyche of the cosmos regarded as a super-organism.12

Catholic Church Teaching

The Church regards the New Age movement's tenets as incompatible with Catholic Church teaching. They are based on various philosophies and religions, e.g. Hinduism, Taoism, Pantheism, and Gnosticism. Pope John Paul II called the New Age movement a "return to ancient Gnostic ideas" which held that one's salvation could be gained only by a secret knowledge reserved for the few. The New Age regards God, not as a Person with whom we can relate, but a force to be harnessed. It holds that salvation is not a gift of God but comes from our own efforts; that we can control our life beyond death by utilizing a cosmic life force, or soul, which exists throughout the universe; that there is not one Christ, but thousands of christs, enlightened masters; and that there is no sin.

The philosophy that dominates society today, as distinct from the thinking promoted by the New Age movement, is anti-metaphysical and irrational. It admits no moral claim beyond man's calculation of consequences, and its concept of freedom leads to the self-destruction of freedom and the tyranny of the powerful. God has no place in this philosophy.13

"There is a positive tone in New Age criticisms of the materialism of daily life, of philosophy, and even of Medicine and Psychiatry." The problems with New Age are in its answers to life's questions. Catholics therefore, must "root themselves ever more firmly in the fundamentals of their faith ... and understand the often - silent cry in people's hearts, which lead them elsewhere, if not satisfied by the Church." All are called to "come closer to Jesus Christ and follow Him. Since He is the real way to happiness, the truth about God and the fullness of life for every man and woman who is prepared to respond to His love."14

How then can New Age errors in religious institutions be corrected? The first responsibility for doing so lies with the religious superior, and that failing, with the local bishop. In accordance with Canon 375, bishops are teachers of doctrine and ministers of governance. This is divine law. Canon 678, n.1, tells us that "In matters concerning the care of souls, the public exercise of divine worship and other works of the apostolate, religious are subject to the authority of the bishops, whom they are bound to treat with sincere obedience and reverence." Canon 683, n.2, legislates that "If the diocesan Bishop becomes aware of abuses, and a warning to the religious Superior being in vain, he can, by his own authority deal with the matter."


1 Archbishop Norberto Rivera Carrera, "A Call to Vigilance" (Pastoral Instruction in New Age), published by The Catholic Review. Baltimore, MD., April/September, 1996. [Back]

2 Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, A Christian Reflection on the "New Age". Pontifical Council for Culture. Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. [Back]

3 John Paul 11, Encyclical Letter. Dominum vivificantem 18, May, 1986, 53. [Back]

4 Michael S. Rose, Jungian Nun Promotes the "God Within." Sister Pat Brockman, and Dream Analysis, St. Catherine Review July/August, 1998. Aquinas Publishing. [Back]

5 Institute of Biospiritual Research, [Back]

6 Society of the Holy Child Jesus, What is EcoSpirituality? Terri McKenzie, SHCJ, with input from EcoSpirituality Group members, John Haughey, S.J., Mary Southard, SCJ, and Justice Committee members. [Back]

7 Rev. John D. Dreher, "The Danger of Centering Prayer", Catholic Educator's Resource Center, This Rock (Nov. 1997): 14 - 16, published by Catholic Answers Inc. [Back]

8 Father Ray Aichele, (Spiritual Director of spiritual formation at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, Cincinnati, Ohio. The Times of St. Mary, parish newsletter for St. Mary's church in Hyde Park, Cincinnati. Dec.98/Jan 99. [Back]

9 Michael S.Rose, The Enneagram Theory of Personality, Why its use is incompatible with Christianity. St. Catherine Review, Jan/Feb. 1999. [Back]

10 Robert Fastiggi, (Associate Professor of Religious Studies at St. Edward's University, Austin, TX. and Jose Periera, Crisis, 1814, Washington, D.C. [Back]

11 Michael D. O'Brien, An Original Theology: Creation and Mathew Fox, The Canadian Catholic Review, April 1988. [Back]

12 Teilhard de Chardin, Science and Christ (London: Collins, 1968) p.82. [Back]

13 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Europe's Crisis of Culture. Lecture given at the Convent of Saint Scholastica, Subiaco, Italy, April 1, 2005. Zenit News Agency, ZE 05072629. [Back]

14 See reference number 2. [Back]