Presentation of Holy See's Document on New Age

Author: Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald


Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald
President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

See Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life
Also Presentations by Cardinal Paul Poupard
and Rev. Bernard Ardura

Dialogical nature of Christianity calls for faith and listening ability

One might ask why the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is following the phenomenon of the "New Age". We can answer that one reason is historical and another reason is area of responsibility, The study of alternative forms of religiosity has been a responsibility shared by several offices [of the Holy See] including our Council. The collaboration that in 1986 led to the document on the Sects or New Religious Movements, has continued. We are pleased to be able to present another result of this collaboration. With regard to the competence of our Council, the Constitution Pastor Bonus indicates that this dicastery "fosters and supervises relations with members and groups of non-Christian religions as well as with those who are in any way endowed with religious feeling" (art. 159).

Two forms of dialogue

The document presented today recognizes that people who are influenced by "New Age" have a true "religious sense". However, it is right to make a distinction when one speaks of dialogue. One form of dialogue is what takes place with the members of the established religions and includes meeting and reciprocal understanding, collaboration for peace and development, and a discussion of common spiritual values. Another form is that of accompanying the individual in his search. It is a dialogue between the Gospel and Culture, that includes an appeal for discernment. The Christian recognizes the positive aspects of his search, but, at the same time, in the light of Christ's mystery, recognizes the weaker points. One could speak, with the present study, of a "critical dialogue" (n. 2, p. 15). In the first place the document is addressed to pastors, spiritual directors, committed lay people and all who accompany the persons who are searching. Among them are Christians who are fascinated, sometimes without fully realizing the fact, by ideas that risk distancing them from the faith and spirituality of the Gospel.

Spirituality and doctrine

Two approaches are suggested for a comparison of the fundamental ideas of the "New Age" and the Christian faith. The first, considered in chapter 3, is that of spirituality. While recognizing the aspects of authentic spiritual searching which are found in the best expressions of "New Age"—as a search for harmony, unity, and an experience of the divine—the text points out the dialogical character of the Christian life that is founded on the eternal dialogue at the heart of the Trinity and shapes from within the conversation between God and the human creature, giving a new shape to interpersonal relations.

The second approach, developed in chapter 4, is a dialogue of the doctrinal kind. It is not expressed in the form of an organic doctrinal explanation—this would require an examination of the entire Catechism—but as an enunciation of fundamental questions to which the followers of the "New Age" and Christians respond differently. In fact, before the many practices linked to the "New Age" theories, we are invited to use for discernment, the lamp of the faith, to rediscover, in comparison with other proposals, what is the true alternative that Christ has brought to humanity.

In a spirit of dialogue, the Church looks beyond the circle of her own faithful: she looks at all the men and women who desire, in a humble attitude of dialogue, to bear the treasure that God has entrusted to them. In other words, the living water that Christ promised the Samaritan woman. This Gospel episode, commented on in chapter 5 of the document, gives valuable guidance for the attitude Christians should adopt toward those who follow other ways or who are inconsistent in their choices.

Some people might wonder if the interreligious dialogue would prefer not to recognize the positive value, the "seeds of the Word", the action of the Spirit in persons of other religious traditions, and also, in the more genuine "New Age" expressions. We can say that there is in the Church a profound faith in the dialogue that God carries on with every human being and in the final design of salvation. This conviction must guide each one of our meetings. But one can dialogue fruitfully only if our identity is clear. We cannot at the same time believe and not believe in a God who transcends history, believe and not believe in Christ, Saviour of humanity, believe and not believe in his unique mediation, etc. It is from our clear Catholic identity, from a living spirituality, that we can hold a true encounter. Those who adhere to such different religions as Hinduism or Buddhism also askus what is our faith and what is our spiritual experience. We cannot deny them the light that God has kindled in our hearts.

Church avoids any concept that is close to those of the New Age

I add one point, which is briefly treated in chapter 6.2. In the relationship with other religions, the Church avoids all that could give credibility to some concepts that are also present in the thought of "New Age": the thesis of the unity of religions, the conviction that all ways are equal, the evaluation of the pre-Christian religions as more genuine. Even the idea that man can create a religion, like a skilled workman or a chemist. Dialogue is not fog, it cannot get rid of the differences. Dialogue should take place in conformity with the Christian faith and our conversation-partnersmust know what it is that we believe.

Pastoral Issues

The whole of Chapter 6 is dedicated to pastoral issues. This study is intended as a means of exchange with the local Churches and with the centres for formation and culture in order to know better the religious scene and seek new ways of dialogue and witness. It is at the local level that one can study and give useful responses to those who are searching. This is not only a duty of pastors but of all who are actively involved in the mission of the Church.

The appendix contains useful material for anyone studying the "New Age" phenomenon: a list of pastoral documents on the theme, further studies of dialogue with Christianity, and works of a general character. I also call attention to the glossary: certain concepts have been picked, which are not only used in recent "New Age" works, but also as the title of more ancient currents of thought that are at the root of the fundamental ideas of this current. Although they are briefly summarized, they offer ideas for research and help us understand the cultural density of the phenomenon.

In his Letter NovoMillennio ineunte, Pope John Paul II addresses a pressing invitation to us to base our life and our action on contemplation of the face of Christ. Echoing this invitation, this study says: "There is also a call in all of this to come closer to Jesus Christ and to be ready to 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" (p. 12). 

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
5 March 2003, page 7

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