Interview with Massimo Introvigne, Expert in New
TURIN, Italy, 19 MARCH 2003 (ZENIT).
Massimo Introvigne, a leading expert in new religious movements,
analyzed the recently published Vatican document on New Age [Jesus
Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life], and
expounds on the incompatibility of the spiritual phenomenon with
Introvigne, director of the Italy-based Center for Studies in New
Religions says that "the New Age implies an alternative
spirituality to traditional religions," and warns that the
influence of New Age is evident among some Catholics, sometimes without
their realizing it.
Q: What is New Age?
Introvigne: Sociologists and historians of religion who have been
concerned with this subject respond that it is not a religious movement,
a religion, or a sect—a term that the Vatican document
also uses cautiously, explaining that it uses it in a
"sociological" sense and not in its current pejorative use—but
the result of a global network, which connects centers and groups that
have some characteristics in common, but are not sufficiently stable,
permanent or hierarchical to create a movement.
The New Age network avoids exact definitions; however, it is possible to
describe it along psychological, historical, sociological and doctrinal
The network's different components can be classified according to their
respective psychotherapeutic, religious or political interests. These
precede the New Age phenomenon but in a certain sense are modified by
their participation in the network.
What unifies the New Age network is an "alternative" spirit to
the prevailing religious tradition in the West, which is Christian, and
the hope of a new era, namely, the "New Age," or Age of
Aquarius, which will replace the Era of Pisces.
From this point of view, a historical-sociological study takes into
account the doctrinal element, although it states that the New Era
affirms it does not have a doctrine. At most it proposes a "vague
spirituality," thus leaving the effort of doctrinal reconstruction
with the interpreter.
Another contrasting view stems from the Protestant-evangelical movement
"against sects," which sees in the New Age—or rather,
"cult"—the ultimate sect, or better yet, the sect of sects.
Refuting the New Age apologists themselves, who talk—in a positive way—of
the "conspiracy of Aquarius," some evangelical and
fundamentalist authors—followed at times by some Catholics—see
behind the New Age a great conspiracy and powerful organization, endowed
with structures that are partly secret, destined to put an end to
There is a secular version of this conspiracy thesis, whose principal
exponent is French political expert Michel Lacroix, according to whom,
the New Age is a conspiracy of a political character endowed with
worrying links to National Socialism—a thesis that I regard as
Between the two descriptive points of view of the phenomenon, the
Vatican document pursues the path traced by historical-sociological
research, affirming that "the New Age is not a movement in the
sense usually attributed to the expression 'New Religious Movement,' nor
is it what is usually understood by the terms "cult" or
Rather, it is the result of a "global network," which the
document describes with a schema similar to the one I used in my book
"New Age & Next Age" [Piemme, Casale Monferrato 2000], a
book which the document quotes repeatedly, as well as the studies of
Wouter Hanegraaff, J. Gordon Melton and Paul Heelas, who describe the
field of academic research on the New Age.
As it is a document of the Catholic magisterium, emphasis is placed,
precisely, on the need to have a consistent doctrinal picture emerge—although
with the difficulties that this implies—reconstructed from the basis
of the authors quoted earlier, as well as with Christoph Bochinger's
Reference is also made—perhaps because of his influence in France—to
Michel Lacroix's positions, of which the document takes some points, but
his approach can be considered "exaggerated," according to the
Q: Is New Age so important that it warrants the attention of two Vatican
organizations, which have written a document on the topic?
Introvigne: What New Age manifests today is what the document calls a
narcissistic regression: From the great social utopias it reverts to
proposing the purely individual, private, entry into the "New
But, be careful: The step from the utopian phase to the narcissistic
phase does not mean that there are fewer persons involved, nor that the
"alternative" character of the underlying theme in regard to
the Christian faith does not continue in its irreducible radicalness.
Given that the New Age is a movement or "cult," it does not
have registered members, well-known or baptized leaders. It is difficult
to say how many people belong to it.
What is more, the very category of membership is altogether inadequate
in this case. The New Era is an influence not an institution, it does
not ask for conversions but insinuates sensations. Precisely because of
its ethereal and elusive nature, the Church regards it as particularly
While one cannot become a Raelian without knowing it, one can absorb
ideas from the New Age without realizing it.
Q: Has the New Age infiltrated Catholicism? How?
Introvigne: The document says so and the Pope said it years ago to the
U.S. bishops during their "ad limina" visit in May 1993. On
that occasion, the Pope affirmed that "New Age ideas sometimes
penetrate preaching, catechesis, study seminars and retreats, and
influence practicing Catholics, who perhaps are not aware of the
incompatibility of these ideas with the faith of the Church." It is
important to note that the Pope speaks of the penetration of ideas, not
of the infiltrations of a movement.
Personally, I ask myself if "infiltration" is the right word,
as it gives the idea of something organized or planned by someone. In
reality, no one organizes the penetration of New Age ideas in an
environment. Given that the New Age exists in a nebulous way, it
penetrates wherever it finds no barriers or obstacles.
To think that organized "conspiracies" and "plots"
exist means to be ignorant of the nature of this non-movement, and to
regard it more as a "cult," in keeping with the definition of
Protestant fundamentalist realms and some French secular realms. It is a
description that the Vatican document rejects.
Q: Is it possible to engage in New Age practices without harming the
Introvigne: Just as I explained, the New Age is difficult to describe or
delimit in a definition. In sociological terms it is a
"meta-network," namely, a "super-network," a place
of meeting of different networks that already existed prior to the New
Age and that are found around the New Era which is presumed to be
To participate in one of these pre-existing networks does not mean one
is a "New-Ager," it just means to have the occasion to enter
the "super-network," to pass through a door that one can
Some of these original networks, for example, the ones that unite those
who are devoted to some alternative medicines, are not necessarily
alternatives to the Catholic faith, but others are so, such as, for
example, spiritualism and occultism.
The Great New Age network, as the document explains, entails at least
one relativist epistemological option that cannot be accepted by a
Catholic who takes the faith seriously.
Q: New Age is described as a mistaken answer, but don't you think that
it implies a licit question in a chaotic world?
Introvigne: Yes, and it is another very important point of the document.
In this connection, New Age is a postmodern phenomenon: After the end of
the secular ideologies, an interest in the supernatural and the sacred
The questions that lead New Age followers to be interested in the
phenomenon are widespread in the postmodern world. And, in a certain
sense, this phenomenon represents a healthy reaction to the secular
ideologies of the 20th century.
Anyway, different answers can be given to these questions, and the one
the New Age offers is mistaken from the point of view of the Catholic
The document cautions against giving in to easy and quick condemnation:
It certainly condemns the error of the answer but it challenges
Catholics to elaborate a pastoral strategy that will address the
This task also forms part of the new evangelization, central element of
John Paul II's pontificate. ZE03031921