|Father Alessandro Olivieri Pennesi Responds
VATICAN CITY, 30 JUNE 2004 (ZENIT)
The spread of New Age and its use and
abuse of Christian elements make of the movement a challenge for the
baptized, says a specialist at the Lateran University.
Father Alessandro Olivieri Pennesi, a professor at the Mater Ecclesiae
Higher Institute of Religious Sciences of the Lateran, gave that warning
in an interview with ZENIT.
An international consultation on New Age, held by the Holy See from June
14-16, emphasized the need to know this phenomenon better in order to
provide more appropriate Christian answers.
Q: Why does the spread of New Age represent a challenge for Christians?
Father Olivieri Pennesi: New Age constitutes a great challenge for
Christianity. Not only because it is spreading on a global level, but
especially because it incorporates elements of Christianity, altering its
original meaning. For example, Jesus Christ is no longer recognized as Son
of God and only savior of the world.
There is the loss of the concept of truth; we are living in an age of pure
subjectivism. God has a thousand facets: cosmic energy, extra-cosmic
energy, a Mind, the All, we ourselves are God, etc.
If Jesus Christ is no longer the savior, people go in search of other
salvations which become "self-oriented salvation" through methods,
meditations, different practices, including magic. The eschatological
expectation is devoid of meaning, insofar as salvation is attainable after
some or many reincarnations.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle that must be addressed is, undoubtedly, the
loss of awareness of truth, which vitiates every attempt to use the
paradigms of reason.
Q: Is it true that "weak thought" and a particularly emotional approach to
New Age spirituality are quite widespread phenomena in the Catholic world?
Father Olivieri Pennesi: Some have said that New Age is "a phenomenon that
is typical of the postmodern culture, based on weak reasoning, ethical
relativism and consumerism." I cannot but agree with this statement.
New Age philosophy is spread in many forms and by many ways in a subtle
and almost imperceptible manner, says the Secretariat for Ecumenism and
Dialogue of the Italian bishops, and it is presented by highlighting its
features of universal love and defense of nature.
This proposal can lead to deceit insofar as it presents some objectives on
which it is easy to agree: harmony between man and nature, awareness and
commitment to improve the world, mobilization of all the forces for good
for a new unitary plan of life.
New Age empties the salvific event of Christ from its truth, singularity
and fullness. In fact, according to this line of thought, man can make
himself capable, through specific techniques, of experiencing the divine
without the aid of divine grace, effecting by his own strength his
salvation, on which universal harmony depends.
The 1989 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a
Letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church on certain aspects of
Christian meditation, is a reference text on the attention that must be
given to updating the ancient Gnosis, in which salvation takes place
through the conscience, [and is] esoteric, for the few.
In regard to New Age
Gnostic, which is to say more or less the same thing
practices, there are at the basic level, numerous examples.
To mention one: the last Vatican text on New Age refers to the use
the enneagram: a symbol originally of an initiation character developed in
an esoteric context, syncretist, which has subsequently been transformed
to a system of classification of the personality of nine psychological
types, which serves for the search for self-fulfillment by an esoteric or
This is pure Gnosis. In Anglo-American Christian environments, such a
method gains ground in the area of spiritual direction and guidance, so
the U.S. bishops have created an appropriate commission to discern this
Q: What are the conceptual characteristics that describe New Age? And what
are the main differences that characterize Christian doctrine?
Father Olivieri Pennesi: Douglas R. Groothuis, an American author, has
identified six characteristics of New Age thought: Everything is one;
everything is God; humanity is God; we must transform our conscience; all
religions are one; optimism in regard to cosmic evolution.
We can summarize in the following points what those of New Age generally
One, there is no source of external authority
only that of the interior
"the god within us." Truth as objective reality does not exist, says one
of the best-known spokespersons of New Age: actress Shirley MacLaine.
Two, the Creator is confused with his creation, believing that God is part
of creation and is not separated from the latter. They adopt the belief in
monism from the Eastern religions
that "everything is One"
only one essence of the universe, everyone and everything forms part of
Three, Christ, more than an individual, is a type of energy. This idea of
"Christ-like awareness" states that Jesus was not the only Christ, but
that he was predisposed to receive the "awareness of Christ," as were
Buddha, Krishna and Mohammed. This is a well-known teaching of Gnostic
occultism which has its roots in the Babylonian mystery religions.
Four, insofar as sin is concerned, while reference to Adam's sin is
silenced, it is affirmed, as "A Course in Miracles" states, that man's
principal problem is his ignorance of his divinity. Every perceptible
fault that man thinks he has is more an absence of knowledge; with this is
eliminated the need for salvation and for a savior.
Five, the New Age follower considers his good where he finds it. His
morality is in his criteria, trusting in what he feels is good.
Six, the traditional way of seeing the personification of evil as the
devil or Satan is clearly absent from New Age literature. In regard to
history and Lucifer's task, Benjamin Creme, a known speaker of the
movement, states that "Lucifer came from the planet Venus 18.5 million
years ago. He is the director of the evolution of our planet, he is the
sacrificial lamb and the prodigal son. Lucifer made an incredible
sacrifice, a supreme sacrifice for our planet."
Seven, New Agers take up again the old doctrine of the Eastern religions
on reincarnation, modifying it substantially in order to attain a
perfection through innumerable cycles of death and rebirth. Together with
this is the practice of so-called channeling through which disincarnated
entities will direct humanity's spiritual evolution.
Eight, in the document written by the Pontifical Councils for Culture and
for Interreligious Dialogue
Christ, Bearer of Living Water. A Christian Reflection on the New Age"
reads: "New Age has a marked preference for the Eastern and pre-Christian
religions, which are reckoned to be uncontaminated by Judeo-Christian
distortions. Hence great respect is given to ancient agricultural rites
and to fertility cults." Somewhat later "Gaia," Mother Earth, is
I think a denunciation is obvious of certain animalistic and environmental
ideologies which tend to re-propose a modern form of neo-pagan pantheism.
Q: What is your opinion?
Father Olivieri Pennesi: The divinization of nature, also known as "Gaia
hypothesis," in homage to Greek mythology, is the result of the move from
a correct safeguarding of the environment to forms of protection which I
believe remind one of the sacred cows of the Hindus.
The latter marks the influence of New Age ideas in the ecological movement
beginning with the first Earth Day in 1970, when the planet was recognized
as a living being, worthy of adoration. The incompatibility of this
veneration with Christian teachings is obvious and is stressed by those
who favor Gaia.
Many esoteric publications see biblical teachings as the cause of great
ecological problems. In an issue of Time magazine relating to
environmental problems, the Bible, and in particular the Book of Genesis
where man is given dominion over the earth and its inhabitants
mentioned as one of the reasons for the mistreatment of nature by man.
According to some environmentalists, the spread of Christianity led to a
negative development of a technology that would damage the earth.
In line with this attribution of guilt, the worship of Mother Earth and
the environmental ideology are also accompanied by the devaluation of the
human being, placed at the same level as the other "species" and even
accused of excessive and harmful fecundity.
It is symptomatic, in fact, that none of the many environmental
organizations present in the world equate the defense of nature and the
defense of human life; [hence they are not] pronouncing themselves against
Q: Cardinal Georges Cottier has said that New Age is "incompatible with
Catholic doctrine." What are the reasons for such an explicit
Father Olivieri Pennesi: It's true. The cardinal says that "the main
theses of New Age are incompatible with Christianity, what is more, they
According to the Vatican document "Jesus Christ, Bearer of Living Water. A
Christian Reflection on the New Age," "It is difficult to separate the
individual elements of New Age religiosity
innocent though they may appear
from the overarching framework which permeates the whole thought-world on
the New Age movement.
"The gnostic nature of this movement calls us to judge it in its entirety.
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. Since the New Age movement makes much of a communication
with nature, of cosmic knowledge of a universal good
thereby negating the revealed contents of Christian faith
cannot be viewed as positive or innocuous."