Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Byzantine Catholic meets New Age philosophy

     A friend of mine recently asked me to comment on some information that he received from someone in his Byzantine Catholic church. The information had to do with the identity of God and had for its source  teachings from Raimon Panikkar. According to the information our personal perspectives obscure God's identity. The information tried to demonstrate that the ways that we approach God are all relative since all that matters is the journey toward the experience. Panikkar as used in the information gave the analogy that we see God through the window of ourselves. For him the window shouldn't be a determining factor in how we understand God. For example, he said we look through a window and not at the window. The information claimed that whatever religion you might be in, we are all looking at the same god, but from our own window. My response to my friend was that God created the window so the window must matter.
     Some of us would be surprised at just how bad the New Age false teachings have invaded some of our churches. I remember when I was doing my undergraduate studies at a Roman Catholic university the New Age Philosophy was normative. During my studies there I was taught that names like Raimon Panikkar, Bede Griffith, and Thomas Merton were the face of mainstream Catholic teaching. It's my understanding that the head of the theology department there wanted to demonstrate the openness of Catholicism to the world. However, instead of showing what it meant to be a Catholic he had indoctrinated many into the false teachings of the New Age.
     In my situation I was fortunate to have a good foundation that prevented me from accepting the false teachings of the university. Two sources that contributed to my foundation were the teachings of Cardinal Ratzinger(now Pope Benedict XVI) and Vladimir Lossky. From the Cardinal I learned what Catholics actually believe about other Religions and from Lossky I learned the purpose of theology. According to Ratizinger Catholics are required to believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. For a Catholic to have any other position is unacceptable and not Catholic. In the teachings of Lossky your personal spirituality matters because theology and spirituality are one and the same. You cannot have spirituality that's separate from what you believe about God. Both Positions of Ratizinger and Lossky are unacceptable to the New Age.
     In my opinion the Latin theological tradition gives a very sharp approach in demonstrating the errors of the New Age, which is represented in Cardinal Ratzinger's DOMINUS IESUS. However, I believe the Byzantine theological tradition gives a more practical explanation to why the New Age teachings are false. First of all, in the Byzantine theological tradition even though God might be incomprehensible to human nature (the window) we can still know him by grace. Understanding that we can know him in the byzantine tradition is a major factor that demonstrates that the New Age teaching is false. It is also a determining factor that gives a definition to Christian morality.
     The fact that the Byzantine tradition says that we can know God implies something that New Age spirituality could never produce, which is a right way of life and belief. One of the lures of New Age spirituality has always been that it doesn't matter how you live or believe since the personal perspective is relative. In contrast, for Byzantine spirituality how you believe and how live determines just how you will experience God. To contradict what Panikkar said about the window the Byzantine tradition would say that the window matters because the window is all we have. We have to keep the window clean and focused. If your window is not clean with a right way of life you will not see God. In addition, if the window is not positioned with right teachings it cannot focus upon God.
     In summary, the major difference that Christians have with the New Age is that we believe that God has to reveal himself in order for us to know him. For the New Age there is no revelation but learning to connect with something that's natural to our state. For us the incarnation of Christ is way to restore humanity into a natural relationship with God. For them such an event is a way among many that helps us to realize what's within. What I have always found strange about the New Age teachers is that they claim that there is no right way but at the same time claim that theirs is right. Also,they say that personal perspectives are relative but at the same time say that theirs are not. In their approach these so called enlightened leaders come often with a message of peace and are perceived as spiritual people. The apostle Paul long ago warned us about such people when he said , "And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light".(2cor.11:14).It's unfortunate that even among our holy churches the masquerade is all too often seen.


  1. Thanks for this interesting reflection. One small correction, though. Dominus Iesus is not the personal work of Cardinal Ratzinger but the teaching of the Magisterium. It binds equally all those who are in communion with the Apostolic See, whether Latin or Byzantine or anything else. Incidentally that's why the Creed contained in it avoids the Latin liturgical formula (... Filioque procedit...) and uses instead the doctrinal form agreed at Constantinople.

  2. Wait... Thomas Merton isn't on the up-and-up? Strange... I thought he was...

    1. The jury is still out. He left us with a controversial life in his later years. What they were trying to push on us during my studies was that it was normal for Catholics to go to Buddhist monasteries and pray, as if there is no difference, and they used him as the forerunner.

  3. Would recommend the Vatican publication (pdf)
    Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life.
    Also former New ager Sharon Lee Giganti's web site