Thank you! Though the new-age zen "spirituality" does exist within the church, I do not view any of it as of the true church or Christian teaching, and am very quick to disregard/condemn it. Another issue entirely, but there is no room for it to exist in the pre-V2 church. I look forward to reading these articles when my finals are over. I seem to see innovation after innovation within the Church; I can't imagine spiritual breakthroughs happening 2000 years after the fact, which I do not see in Orthodoxy. Thank you again!
You are right that the new-age “spiritual” trends in Roman Catholicism have developed mostly post-V2, but the seeds for this movement were planted by many pre-V2, such as Thomas Merton, Dom Bede Griffiths in India and his predecessors (Dom Henri Le Saux/Swami Abhishiktananda), etc; and it was V2 itself that initiated a new movement of spiritual openness to the non-Christian East that enabled these seeds to flourish. Much of contemporary “contemplative spirituality” in the West has arisen precisely out of the Interreligious Dialogues that were initiated by V2. RC monastics after V2 would meet with Buddhists and Hindu monastics and be astonished by their “spirituality”, which a breath of fresh air coming from the spiritually dry scholasticism, the Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, and the “prayer manuals” that came to characterize the “spirituality” of most RC monastic orders. The subsequent impact of this East-West dialogue on Roman Catholic spirituality is probably most thoroughly examined by a Roman Catholic writer who I highly respect, Mr. James Arraj, who sadly reposed not long ago. His book, “Christianity in the Crucible of the East-West dialogue” is something of a survey of Roman Catholic (mostly monastic) participants in this dialogue, and he demonstrates how quickly these participants embrace non-Christian Eastern spirituality and then shape their theology around their “spiritual experience”, resulting in (as an example) a Zen that uses Christian terminology rather than a Christianity that incorporates Zen (or some other) practice. I had reached the same conclusions as Mr. Arraj after attending some talks by some Mary Knoll Catholic Roshis who worked in Japan, that their “Christianity” was entirely swallowed up by, and evaporated in, their Zen. In speaking to crowds mostly of other Roman Catholics, all they could speak about was Zen, and were unable to address theological and dogmatic questions with any seriousness. The book by Mr. Arraj that I refer to can be read on-line at:http://www.innerexplorations.com/catew/christia.htm
Mr. Arraj’s entire site provides a very useful exploration of the tradition of John of the Cross, Carmelite spirituality, compatibility with Eastern non-Christian spiritual practice, Jungian psychology, etc. Mr. Arraj examined these subjects with an openness and a critical mind that is an extreme rarity. He was on a personal journey of sorts, and I think he would have found exactly what he was looking for in the writings of the Orthodox monk from Mt. Athos, Fr. Theophanes (Constantine), specifically in his work “The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart”, where he thoroughly examines Thomism in the light of Orthodox patristic anthropology and spiritual teaching and shows their basic incompatibility, demonstrating one reason why Roman Catholics cannot make progress in the Orthodox tradition of the Prayer of the Heart (Jesus Prayer) without actually becoming Orthodox. Sadly, when I wrote to Mr. Arraj to share with him the work of Fr. Theophanes, and much else that I had discovered in Orthodoxy (which he never seemed to explore for whatever reason), his wife replied to inform me of Mr. Arraj’s repose. http://timiosprodromos4.blogspot.com/
Zen and blatantly New Age spirituality within Catholicism, taught by Roman Catholics priests and monks, perhaps can be easily avoided where this is in fact explicit, but the general New Age spirituality clothed in Christian terminology is much harder to detect and much more pervasive than works which explicitly recommend Zen or other non-Christian practices. Go to any Catholic bookstore, for instance, and one will find the writings of Thomas Merton, Dom Basil Pennington, and likely those by Dom John Main, Dom Bede Griffiths, etc., all of which are of this same spiritual orientation. From experience, I find that the followers of these teachers begin quickly to feel more spiritual affinity with Buddhists and Hindus than with Christians that do not follow the “meditation” techniques and “spiritual” traditions advocated by such authors.
Rather than focusing on fringe elements in the Catholic Church why not check with the Dominicans...They have Holy Apostle's Seminary here in the NE that is a wonderfully orthodox seminary that is even better than some of the older pre-Vatican II seminaries in terms of clarity of teaching and solid historical grounding. I've taken courses with them and have never regretted any part of that experience.
What I speak of is not as fringe as perhaps you would like to think. I mentioned how these New Age spiritual trends are now often carefully packaged under the guise of Christian terminology, such that most who embrace these teachings and practices are convinced (or eventually convince themselves) that they are following something entirely Christian or Roman Catholic. It is important to realize that Vatican II enabled all of this in some sense has promoted it, but yet also this movement is a natural result of the spiritual wasteland of Roman Catholic “spirituality” that characterized pre-VII monasticism, which those like Merton felt compelled to rebel against. The reforms of V2 were precisely made at a period of climax in Roman Catholicism following a very long period of spiritual unrest, one which I am convinced originated with the separation of Roman Catholicism from the Orthodox Church.
Also there are third order Dominicans and Carmelites who have an extended and formal period of formation and study that continues on through out the entire period of your life in the order. The discalced Carmelites in particular will open your eyes to the traditional contempletive and apophatic life in the Catholic Church. Of course, you'd have to extend yourself a bit to do these things...beyond reading a book...
Before entering the Orthodox Church, we had a Carmelite monastery about 10 minutes from our home, and I would visit on occasion to sit in the booth and speak through the dark hole to the faceless voice of the elderly nun appointed to speak with visitors. Carmelite, Cistercian, and Carthusian monasticism all preserve something of the pre-Schism monastic tradition, the latter two being perhaps closest in spirit to Orthodox and patristic spirituality (at least in some respects). However, these Roman Catholic monastic traditions have failed to pass on a method or tradition of prayer that is connected to their teachings on contemplation. Dom John Main OSB, who learned to “meditate” from a Hindu Swami and later “Christianized” this practice in the form of “Christian Meditation” received letters from Carmelites, Cistercians, and Carthusians who were grateful for his writings precisely because he gave them a method of prayer. Many of these traditional Roman Catholic monastics (this was right around and just following V2) confided in him that in all the years spent in their respective contemplative Orders, they never learned how to truly pray. They were spiritually starved, and therefore were quick to adopt and absorb the Eastern spirituality of Dom John Main under Christian terminology. Such methods of “prayer” are today widely used by Carmelites, Cistercians, and Carthusians who have long lacked a method of prayer which would help them develop “spiritually” according to the contemplative spirit of their Orders. However, I became convinced in my experience that such methods do not lead to the experience of the Uncreated God but rather to the experience of our own created nature.
Here you may be interested in the following article by the esteemed Carmelite Earnest Larkin, who gives a very positive review of Centering Prayer and Christian Meditation, both of which are of Hindu origin and spiritual orientation. I can say this because I was heavily involved in these movements, giving retreats, leading groups, teaching these practices to others, etc. http://carmelnet.org/larkin/larkin014.pdf
This is not to say that in Roman Catholicism there is not real patristic spiritual teaching. I can think of one monk in particular who wrote very much in a patristic spirit, the Swiss Benedictine hermit Fr. Gabriel (Bunge). However, he just recently entered the Orthodox Church, and now says that “Orthodoxy is the fruit of my whole life as a Christian and a monk”. http://www.pravmir.com/article_1220.html
One of the key issues separating Orthodox and patristic spirituality from the post-Schism “spirituality” of the “Western Mystics”, as articles cited in an earlier post attempt to demonstrate, is the use of the imagination and the attitude towards visions. One work on the subject, which I have not read, may expand upon this further, “Imagine That…: Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Private Devotion” by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov:http://frsergei.wordpress.com/books/imagine-that-mental-imagery-in-roman-catholic-and-eastern-orthodox-private-devotion/
Some of this book’s contents can be read in the author’s following article:http://frsergei.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/mental-imagery-in-eastern-orthodox-private-devotion/
Essentially, one will find that much of the “Western Mysticism” of post-Schism Roman Catholicism is what in Orthodox tradition we would call demonic delusion, prelest, or plani. This is obviously a serious claim, but the fact that this element of spiritual delusion is found as much in Carmelite “spirituality” as in the spirituality of “Christian Meditation” and “Centering Prayer” is one reason why there is little surprise that a Carmelite such as Earnest Larkin would see “Christian Meditation” and “Centering Prayer” as perfectly compatible with Carmelite “spirituality”. For me, the key difference in these “spiritualities” was clarified best by the Orthodox monk Fr. Sophrony of Essex, who wrote:
Fr. Sophrony quoted in Hieromonk Damascene Christiensen’s Christ the Eternal Tao
“Attaining the bounds where 'day and night come to an end,' man contemplates the beauty of his own spirit which many identify with Divine Being. They do see a light but it is not the True Light in which there 'is no darkness at all.' It is the natural light peculiar to the mind of man created in God's image.
"The mental light, which excels every other light of empirical knowledge, might still just as well be called darkness, since it is the darkness of divestiture and God is not in it. And perhaps in this instance more than any other we should listen to the Lord's warning, 'Take heed therefore that the light which is in you be not darkness.' The first prehistoric, cosmic catastrophe - the fall of Lucifer, son of the morning, who became the prince of darkness - was due to his enamored contemplation of his own beauty, which ended up in his self-deification."
"since those who enter for the first time into the sphere of the 'silence of the mind' experience a certain mystic awe, they mistake their contemplation for mystical communion with the Divine, whereas in reality they are still within the confines of created human nature. The mind, it is true, here passes beyond the frontiers of time and space, and it is this that gives it a sense of grasping eternal wisdom. This is as far as human intelligence can go along the path of natural development and self-contemplation...
"Dwelling in the darkness of divestiture, the mind knows a peculiar delight and sense of peace... Clearing the frontiers of time, such contemplation approaches the mind to knowledge of the intransitory, thereby possessing man of new but still abstract cognition. Woe to him who mistakes this wisdom for knowledge of the true God, and this contemplation for a communion in Divine Being. Woe to him because the darkness of divestiture on the borders of true vision becomes an impenetrable pass and a stronger barrier between himself and God than the darkness due to the uprising of gross passion, or the darkness of obviously demonic instigations, or the darkness which results from loss of Grace and abandonment by God. Woe to him, for he will have gone astray and fallen into delusion, since God is not in the darkness of divestiture."
From “Christian Meditation” to “Centering Prayer” to other forms of “contemplative spirituality” in Roman Catholicism today, one finds similar reference to an experience of God which results from interior silence, and the “Christian contemplative” is often surprised and delighted to find that the “contemplatives” of other religious traditions share this same experience of God in silence. Such practitioners from different religions perhaps use terminology that differs by religious tradition, but they are often convinced that they are speaking of the same spiritual experience. This experience, however, is not the experience of God but is rather the experience of the expansiveness of one’s own created nature. By mistaking the experience of one’s own created nature for the experience of God, one falls into the delusion of spiritual self-worship which was the beginning of Lucifer’s fall, as Fr. Sophrony also says. I glimpsed this in my experience of these traditions, and as I discovered more of Orthodoxy I became convinced that while certain externals of Roman Catholic and Orthodox spiritual traditions may appear to be similar, spiritually they are not only incompatible but entirely unrelated. Only in Orthodoxy will one find a continuous tradition and comprehensive method of prayer, the complete teaching on man’s theosis and the relationship of prayer to this process, and comprehensive and sober examination of demonic delusion along with the factors which lead to this state and the safeguards against it, as well as the examples of countless saints from Apostolic times to the present time who have lived out this Apostolic tradition of theosis and carefully handed it down through the ages without interruption.