PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR CULTURE
PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE
THE BEARER OF THE WATER OF LIFE
A Christian reflection
on the “New Age”
John Paul II warns with regard to the “return of ancient gnostic ideas under the guise of
the so-called New Age: We cannot delude ourselves that this will lead toward a renewal of religion. It is only a new way of
practising gnosticism – that attitude of the spirit that, in the name of a profound knowledge of God, results in distorting
His Word and replacing it with purely human words. Gnosticism never completely abandoned the realm of Christianity. Instead,
it has always existed side by side with Christianity, sometimes taking the shape of a philosophical movement, but more often
assuming the characteristics of a religion or a para-religion in distinct, if not declared, conflict with all that is essentially
These reflections are offered primarily to those engaged in pastoral work so that they might be
able to explain how the New Age movement differs from the Christian faith. This study invites readers to take account of the
way that New Age religiosity addresses the spiritual hunger of contemporary men and women. It should be recognized that the
attraction that New Age religiosity has for some Christians may be due in part to the lack of serious attention in their own
communities for themes which are actually part of the Catholic synthesis such as the importance of man' spiritual dimension
and its integration with the whole of life, the search for life's meaning, the link between human beings and the rest of creation,
the desire for personal and social transformation, and the rejection of a rationalistic and materialistic view of humanity.
The following reflections are meant as a guide for Catholics involved in preaching the Gospel and
teaching the faith at any level within the Church. This document does not aim at providing a set of complete answers to the
many questions raised by the New Age or other contemporary signs of the perennial human search for happiness, meaning and
salvation. It is an invitation to understand the New Age and to engage in a genuine dialogue with those who are influenced
by New Age thought.
The document guides those involved in pastoral work in their understanding and response to New
Age spirituality, both illustrating the points where this spirituality contrasts with the Catholic faith and refuting the
positions espoused by New Age thinkers in opposition to Christian faith.
New Age is not, properly speaking, a religion, but it is interested in what is called “divine”.
The essence of New Age is the loose association of the various activities, ideas and people who might validly attract the
term. So there is no single articulation of anything like the doctrines of mainstream religions. Despite this, and despite
the immense variety within New Age, there are some common points:
– the cosmos is seen as an organic whole – it is animated by an Energy, which is also
identified as the divine Soul or Spirit – much credence is given to the mediation of various spiritual entities –
humans are capable of ascending to invisible higher spheres, and of controlling their own lives beyond death – there
is held to be a “perennial knowledge” which pre-dates and is superior to all religions and cultures – people
follow enlightened masters...
However, it is well to be aware that the doctrine of the Christ spread in New Age circles is inspired
by the theosophical teachings of Helena Blavatsky, Rudolf Steiner's anthroposophy and Alice Bailey's “Arcane School”.
Their contemporary followers are not only promoting their ideas now, but also working with New Agers to develop a completely
new understanding of reality, a doctrine known by some observers as “New Age truth”.
Spiritualism, theosophy, anthroposophy and New Age all see reincarnation as participation in cosmic
evolution. This post-Christian approach to eschatology is said to answer the unresolved questions of theodicy and dispenses
with the notion of hell. When the soul is separated from the body individuals can look back on their whole life up to that
point, and when the soul is united to its new body there is a preview of its coming phase of life. People have access to their
former lives through dreams and meditation techniques.
19th century esotericism is seen by some as completely secularised. Alchemy, magic, astrology and
other elements of traditional esotericism had been thoroughly integrated with aspects of modern culture, including the search
for causal laws, evolutionism, psychology and the study of religions. It reached its clearest form in the ideas of Helena
Blavatsky, a Russian medium who founded the Theosophical Society with Henry Olcott in New York in 1875. The Society aimed
to fuse elements of Eastern and Western traditions in an evolutionary type of spiritualism. It had three main aims:
1. “To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race,
creed, caste or colour.
2. “To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy and science.
investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.
“The significance of these objectives... should be clear. The first objective implicitly
rejects the 'irrational bigotry' and 'sectarianism' of traditional Christianity as perceived by spiritualists and theosophists...
It is not immediately obvious from the objectives themselves that, for theosophists, 'science' meant the occult sciences and
philosophy the occulta philosophia, that the laws of nature were of an occult or psychic nature, and that comparative religion
was expected to unveil a 'primordial tradition' ultimately modelled on a Hermeticist philosophia perennis”.(32)
A prominent component of Mrs. Blavatsky's writings was the emancipation of women, which involved
an attack on the “male” God of Judaism, of Christianity and of Islam. She urged people to return to the mother-goddess
of Hinduism and to the practice of feminine virtues. This continued under the guidance of Annie Besant, who was in the vanguard
of the feminist movement. Wicca and “women's spirituality” carry on this struggle against “patriarchal”
Jeremy Condick. firstname.lastname@example.org