The Questionable Opinions of Anthony DeMello, S.J.

KK asks: “I noticed on your website that you have a new age section and was wondering if you considered Anthony DeMello and his book Awareness to be new age?” 

My recommendation is to stay away from Anthony DeMello and his books which attempt to blend Buddhist and Taoist spirituality with Christianity in ways that the Vatican says often stray beyond the boundaries of authentic Christianity.

For those who don’t know, the Bombay-born DeMello, who died in 1987, was a Jesuit and writer who taught meditation techniques that blend Eastern religious thought, modern psychology, and the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. He claimed that people are asleep and need to wake up, open up their eyes, and see what is real—both inside and outside of themselves.

He was the author five best-selling books, including Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality, a book which combines Christian spirituality, Buddhist parables, Islamic sayings, Hindu breathing exercises and psychology. One of the messages of the book is that people need to “wake up” and learn how to live in the present and stop allowing the culture, conditioning, or what other people say to determine one’s world.

(For a great book on the wonders of living in the present moment – which teaches this subject in a way that is completely endorsed by the Church – see The Sacrament of the Present Moment, written by the great master of spiritual direction, Jean-Pierre DeCaussade. You can find it at Amazon. This book never leaves my nightstand!)

The problem with DeMello’s approach is that his blending of various religions often found him straying beyond authentic Christian teaching. For this reason, some of his opinions were condemned in 1998 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote:

“His works, which almost always take the form of brief stories, contain some valid elements of oriental wisdom. These can be helpful in achieving self-mastery, in breaking the bonds and feelings that keep us from being free, and in approaching with serenity the various vicissitudes of life. Especially in his early writings, Father de Mello, while revealing the influence of Buddhist and Taoist spiritual currents, remained within the lines of Christian spirituality. In these books, he treats the different kinds of prayer: petition, intercession and praise, as well as contemplation of the mysteries of the life of Christ, etc.

“But already in certain passages in these early works and to a greater degree in his later publications, one notices a progressive distancing from the essential contents of the Christian faith. . . . In these later writings, Father de Mello had gradually arrived at concepts of God, revelation, Christ, the final destiny of the human person, etc., which cannot be reconciled with the doctrine of the Church. Since many of his books do not take the form of discursive teaching, but are collections of short tales which are often quite clever, the underlying ideas can easily pass unnoticed.”

Some of the errors in DeMello’s work are significant, such as how he considers Jesus to be a “master alongside others,” the CDF states. “The only difference from other men is that Jesus is ‘awake’ and fully free, while others are not. Jesus is not recognized as the Son of God, but simply as the one who teaches us that all people are children of God.”

As a result, some of DeMello’s books now contain a caution: “The books of Father Anthony de Mello were written in a multi-religious context to help the followers of other religions, agnostics and atheists in their spiritual search, and they were not intended by the author as manuals of instruction of the Catholic faithful in Christian doctrine or dogma.”

DeMello, who was born Sept. 4, 1932 in Bombay, India, died suddenly of a heart attack at Fordham University in New York in 1987 at the age of 56. At the time of his death, his books were all the rage, and his popularity continues to this day. In fact, in spite of the Vatican’s stern warnings about his work, DeMello still receives favorable reviews among some Catholics.

DeMello’s books will do little to enhance your development in authentic Christian spirituality and could expose you to serious spiritual danger.

What most people don’t stop to consider is that dabbling in Buddhism, Taoism, and other pantheistic ideologies isn’t just a simple past time. These practices can expose one to occult influences which could have lasting and damaging effects upon the mind, body and soul. So unless one is attempting to communicate with the One, Holy and True God – and in ways that He has deemed acceptable – they need to understand that they are putting themselves at enormous personal risk.

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