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Can I Trust Fr Anthony de Mello, SJ? (Part I of II)

Dear Dan, my spiritual director recently recommended I read a book by Fr. Anthony Demello, SJ. Are you aware of his writings? I am a bit concerned about what I am reading but I can’t put my finger on exactly what is making me so uncomfortable.

Maybe I should answer a different question first. “What should I read if I want to grow deeper in my faith?” The best answer is, 1) Scripture and the Catechism, 2) Relevant Church Documents, 3) Doctors of the Church, and 4) other writings recommended because of their faithfulness to the magisterium and their primary reliance on the teachings for the first three.

To answer your original question, the good news is that your instincts match those of Pope Benedict XVI. In 1989, then-Cardinal Ratzinger issued the following important statement of concern about Fr. de Mello’s writings (emphasis mine).

CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
NOTIFICATION CONCERNING THE WRITINGS OF
FATHER ANTHONY DE MELLO, SJ

The Indian Jesuit priest, Father Anthony de Mello (1931-1987) is well known due to his numerous publications AnthonyTonyDeMellowhich, translated into various languages, have been widely circulated in many countries of the world, though not all of these texts were authorized by him for publication. 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 place of the revelation which has come in the person of Jesus Christ, he substitutes an intuition of God without form or image, to the point of speaking of God as a pure void. To see God it is enough to look directly at the world. Nothing can be said about God; the only knowing is unknowing. To pose the question of his existence is already nonsense. This radical apophaticism leads even to a denial that the Bible contains valid statements about God. The words of Scripture are indications which serve only to lead a person to silence. In other passages, the judgment on sacred religious texts, not excluding the Bible, becomes even more severe: they are said to prevent people from following their own common sense and cause them to become obtuse and cruel. Religions, including Christianity, are one of the major obstacles to the discovery of truth. This truth, however, is never defined by the author in its precise contents. For him, to think that the God of one’s own religion is the only one is simply fanaticism. “God” is considered as a cosmic reality, vague and omnipresent; the personal nature of God is ignored and in practice denied.

Father de Mello demonstrates an appreciation for Jesus, of whom he declares himself to be a “disciple.” But he considers Jesus as a master alongside others. 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. In addition, the author’s statements on the final destiny of man give rise to perplexity. At one point, he speaks of a “dissolving” into the impersonal God, as salt dissolves in water. On various occasions, the question of destiny after death is declared to be irrelevant; only the present life should be of interest. With respect to this life, since evil is simply ignorance, there are no objective rules of morality. Good and evil are simply mental evaluations imposed upon reality.

Consistent with what has been presented, one can understand how, according to the author, any belief or profession of faith whether in God or in Christ cannot but impede one’s personal access to truth. The Church, making the word of God in Holy Scripture into an idol, has ended up banishing God from the temple. She has consequently lost the authority to teach in the name of Christ.

With the present Notification, in order to protect the good of the Christian faithful, this Congregation declares that the above-mentioned positions are incompatible with the Catholic faith and can cause grave harm.

The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved the present Notification, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation, and ordered its publication.

Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 24, 1998, the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist.

+ Joseph Card. Ratzinger
Prefect

+ Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B.
Archbishop Emeritus of Vercelli
Secretary

Given the “grave” theological errors of Fr. de Mello, his materials should obviously be completely avoided as even his earlier works, as noted by Cardinal Ratzinger, are tainted. As well, any spiritual director who would recommend his works should be suspect regarding their understanding of central Christian truths and spiritual theology.

As I noted in the beginning of this post, if we want to learn about prayer and ever-deepening devotion to God, the Church has no lack of rich texts and insights offered by scripture, the saints, and those who faithfully reflect their wisdom in our time.

+

Editor’s Note: Part II of this two-part series, which contains extensive additional information, can be found by clicking here.

Art: Tony de Mello, Mihai Andrei, 2005-10-28, CC-Universal Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons. Pope Benedict XVII, file copy.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio - Resources Edition, and the FireLight Student Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his "contagious" love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN's National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN's Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • Asydwy

    Thank you for this post..I too have run into this situation in a Contemplative Prayer group where we have been given work by this author to use in meditation. It never seemed ( the writings) to be truly Catholic but I ran into opposition from the director/facilitator ( a convert ) and had nothing concrete to back up my feelings. I might add that this director got her materials from a Center of Spirituality in the Baltimore/Washington,DC area which seemed to
    have promoted among its group lots of materials that seemed to dissent from the Faith. I have stayed with this group to try to “off-set” the promotion of what seems “soothing” ( tickles the ears) but heretical. Thanks again for this post!

    • Lflynn

      Is the Center of Spirituality in Baltimore/Washington DC an office through the diocese? His writings sound very harmful.

      • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

        No clue.

  • FrancesAnne

    Thank You…I was not aware of Pope Benedict’s comment on this priest…and over the years I too have come across and liked Fr. DeMello’s writings, but wondered about there fullness…so again, I am so glad I found this site for clarification of my walk of faith…Blessings

  • Your_pass

    Thank you for posing this question. I had the same concerns after purchasing a small book of his writings.

  • LizEst

    Thank you for this post. I, too, read something by de Mello on my own, prior to any spiritual direction. The Holy Spirit guided me away from that and guided me towards the Truth. Blessed be God.
    …I just found that little book of his, which I haven’t looked at in many, many years, and am tossing it out!

  • Glenn

    Thanks for this post Dan. I had the same experience with a Spiritual Director. As I looked into Fr. Demello I found the document by Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger as well. I was really taken back by the recommendation and spoke to my Spiritual Director about it. I have since decided to move on because I felt this person may not be totally faithful to the magisterium.

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Dear Glenn, you are a good man. I know that this kind of decision can be very difficult and I suspect you handled it with a great measure of charity.

      • Glenn

        Dan, it was a difficult situation, but, I received some great coaching on how I could handle the situation from an incredible brother in the faith. It made all the difference.

  • Mobrien7

    Hello,

    I am re-discovering my faith and thank you for this insight into some of the information I might find out there. Thank you for your web site – it is truly helpful.

    Mike

  • Guest

    I have just come across this Post though I had read the originating question from our Respondent. Catholics must always be very careful about the books/materials they read. I have always found it useful to get advice about what religious books/publications to to read from reliable sources – Priests/Lecturers of Theology in our Catholic Universities – where authentic Catholic Doctrine is disseminated and taught. Any writings which try to compare the Catholic Faith with other world religious disciplines or beliefs often lead to major errors which are dangerous for one’s fidelity to the Catholic Faith. Thank you, Dan for bringing out this danger so clearly in + Joseph Card. Ratzinger’s Notification with regard to Father Anthony de Mello’s writings. We have all been warned.

  • J. Anthony

    Discovering Anthony DeMello’s tapes and writings was like a lightning blast that changed my life. Although I probably will always be a child spiritually*, he introduced me to a sense of the connection between this earthly life and the next life, widened my horizon, which has given me hope and freed me from fear. In addition, his tapes have shown me that I have responsibilities in this quest. Perhaps Joseph former Card. and zealot Ratzinger, now Pope, can march his little red shoes to his library and listen to some of those heart-opening tapes.

    *Even though I am now 78 years old.

    J.Anthony, 7/22/11

     

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Dear friend, your comments are not a surprise to me. It is common for those who have a low view of the magisterium, and are thereby quick to disparage holy priests and bishops, often have inordinate attachments to those who teach error bring spiritual darkness to the Church. It is my sincere prayer that the Lord open your eyes and free you from this bondage. May you come to submit all you are to Christ before you meet him face to face.

      • Paulus Sutikno Panuwun

        Dear danburke .
        I know  that  the main important  of  the catholic  spirituals is  that we must believe that  Yesus  Christ  is  God . 
        I  think  De Mello its  self clearly  explain that  the most  important  if  we believe in Yesus is  to  do  what  God  want  us  to  do  , to  do  all  Yesus Job . And this  really  as Bible  said 100% . So I  really cannot understand with ekscommuniation , I think this also not  match  with  the spirit  of  II  Vatican Consille .
        By the  way i see  that  christian world collapse in the west  ( love  of  money  as BBC  said ) ,  so many  people  move to be  atheist  ,  to  spiritualism univeral  ,  I think  that  new  age is born as the church fail to do  Gods will , I do believe  that  De Mello is  the  one  good  man which help  the people to  understand  better  about  love  and  God  will .  

    • Paulus sutikno panuwun

      dear  Anthony .  I  am  Indonesian  Catholic  61 years  old ,  I  feel  really  happy after  listening many times  De Mello  Awareness ,  its  a  wonderfull .  Personnally  I  dont know  why  kardinal  Ratzinger  wrote  his  ekscommunication and  really  would like  to know how  is  his  oppinion after  25 years of De Mello return to his best Friend  .  I  think De Mello  just  want  to make  people  happy ,  have  inner peace , have   
      Love  and  its for all of the  people , not  only  catholics .

  • Alessandro P.

    Dear Dan,
    why is it so dangerous to have other ideas out of the ones proposed by the Church? Isn’t Jesus message about love, respect and freedom?Don’t forget that Galileo published his “ideas” under false name, and they survived till the Church (after some centuries) declared them truth. The Church can make mistakes. How can we be so arrogant to declare de Mello “incompatible”? To Jesus’ message or to the painted Jesus the Church proposes us every Sunday?
    There are some “no” that help your children grow up: don’t smoke, don’t take drugs, don’t drink alcoholics. We say them because we want the best for our offsprings. I assume the Church is doing the same here but she is not talking to immature children: she is talking to mature adults that must accept Jesus as a CHOICE, not an IMPOSITION. The Church is banning the book from people that can use their own brain to understand what is good and what is not. 
    de Mello brings awareness. How to say it is against Jesus to be awake?
    I hope not to offend anybody here because it is not my wish to do so. 
    I just assume that if God gave me a brain it was to reason on things, not just to resist the temptation to reason as a virtue. If God wasn’t to let me choose why not to incarnate me as a dog with a lash permanently limiting my movements? 
    This is difficult for me to understand…Alessandro, Italy

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Dear Alessandro – a few thoughts. The issue is not free thought but one of representation. You are free to read De Mello and you should be. There won’t be any Vatican police showing up at your door to sift through your books and haul you off to jail. With respect to representation, De Mello is a Catholic priest and thereby bound by his own free choice to accurately represent the truths of the Catholic Church. People look to priests and official representatives of the Church with trust that their teachings accurately represent Church teaching. There are plenty of folks who can and will provide other perspectives. So, the Church has an obligation to mitigate issues with people who represent it in some official capacity but who distort its teachings. The Church seeks to ensure clarity in its message. This clarity is our friend, not our enemy. There is nothing to discover with respect to De Mello’s thought. It is clearly divergent in key areas that the Church has always taught. The Galileo affair was a completely different kind of issue. Finally, if you have been helped by De Mello toward Christ, this doesn’t in any way validate the value of his writings but instead the grace of God who uses all things to bring us to him. I have been helped by a heretic myself but once I discovered that he was a heretic, I set the works aside and found other teachers who were helpful in the same area but who also accurately reflected the Church’s teachings. I am a Catholic – I want to know Catholic truth from Catholics. Blessings to you and thank you for your respectful approach to disagreement. It is refreshing.

  • Mary Ann Foster

    Wake up!

  • Karissa la Cour

    I read Awareness by de Mello and I must say I read it very quickly as I found it very interesting. This book, however, though a lot of insight in one’s emotions and how to learn to be more present in a ever busy chaotic world, often made statements that made me wary and cautious. I think this book could be very helpful but also should be read with caution and should be questioned just like anything else you read, of where this information is coming from and what it is based on. I completely agree with the above article. There was too much focus on what “I” could do without the assistance of our Creator.

  • Sergio Guzman

    He is a psychologist. Psychology deals with phenomenology, which is the position of the I, or the Transcendental Ego.

    His book is a psychology book. He speaks in dualistic language as to comminicate in the common frame of mind of the average person. He says in all his books that they are not metaphysical books.

    Pope Benedict XVI may need to have this reexamined. There is nothing heretical in his books, it just could be eisegetically misinterpreted by nominalists as actual comments on reality.

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Wow Sergio – glad you know better than one of the greatest theologians the Church has known. So – Demello is in! Who needs to listen to the Holy Spirit as He leads the Church anyway?

  • John Doe

    Dan, Its clear that you have not read enough…. God and his understanding does not lie in the books. You will need divine intervention or LSD to expand your horizons. Let not even talk about the RAT.
    Please shut your trap.

    • http://www.spiritualdirection.com/ Dan Burke

      Dear John Doe – thank you for your rebuke. I am certain that I have done something in this life to deserve your vitriol. Thank you. PS: Even so, I have no plans to shut my trap. My sincerest prayer for God’s blessings on you.

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  • Mary Floeck

    Thanks for this discussion and post. I rely on the authority of the Catholic Church and appreciate that we have a place to go to when we are confused. I know the Holy Spirit is alive and well and guiding the magisterium. I also very much appreciate the clarity and scholarship of Pope Emeritus Benedict XI. I see in many comments that there are those who value their own opinion over and above the teachings of the Church, as written and voiced by the then Cardinal Ratzinger. I have had the misfortune in my past of reading and being misled by a number of priests whose articles even appeared in diocesan newspapers. When one is a bit lost and trying to find his way, faulty direction does not help but only dangerously hinders the soul, as I have discovered in my own sinful life. Thank you Mr. Burke, and thank you Jesus for our Catholic Church and its magisterium!

    • LizEst

      Well said, Mary! Thank you for your witness…God bless you!

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  • A. Crawford

    I am amazed at the level of dissent in the comments here. I read Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction precisely because it is faithful to the Magisterium with generally solid and careful reactions. I truly appreciate the work you do here, Dan Burke and others who write for this blog. Satan works in very subtle ways; it has been prophesied (in Scripture and elsewhere) that in the end times, great confusion will reign, and it certainly appears that the confusion, at least, has arrived (obviously we are always living in the end times, as our own personal judgments always arrive SOON–life goes by in the blink of an eye). Thanks again for your work and the good that you do. I know the sufferings and sacrifices must be great. I will remember you in my Rosary today.

    • Dan Burke

      Thank you for your kind words friend. Please pray for us and for those who have been deceived.

  • LizEst

    Hi Charliko – A human being has to see every comment. I would urge you to become familiar with our FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions here: http://www.spiritualdirection.com/frequently-asked-questions particularly question 4 and it’s subquestions, of which we quote question 4.7 here:
    “Please be patient with the time it takes between when you comment and the time it takes to approve your comment. A human being looks at each comment and either approves or disapproves each one. Sometimes, research must be done to see if the comment and/or link included is faithful to the Magisterium. Sometimes, the moderator is at Mass or at prayer. Sometimes, dare I say, the moderator may even have to answer nature’s call. Please exercise patience with our system. It is for the good of all concerned.”

    • Charliko

      Actually it was not posted at all. I see nothing satanic in reading De Mello. Indeed Vatican II called for more inclusion. This is hardly a dissenting viewpoint. May you find the Peace of Christ.

      • LizEst

        Charliko – Respectfully, you are mistaken. There are two posts here: part one and part two. You have posted this comment (now) in part one. You posted your earlier comment in part two, which is on a different page … and here is the link to that post: http://www.spiritualdirection.com/2016/02/29/can-i-trust-fr-anthony-de-mello-sj-update-part-ii-of-ii As well, just because a person doesn’t see anything evil in something doesn’t mean it isn’t there. We must follow what the Church believes and teaches. In the case of Father Anthony de Mello, the Church has very clearly taught the dangers of his teaching. They are not in line with the Church. We are wise not to follow de Mello’s thinking.

      • Dan Burke

        “I see nothing satanic in reading de Mello” Charliko, if I showed my wife the engine of my car and noted to her that my carburetor was broken, she would nod and see nothing wrong with that observation. To be sure, she is a very smart woman, well educated, and holy. However, she knows little of car engines, what makes them work, and how to fix them when broken. My car, in fact, has no carburetor. I know that because I once had an interest in car engines. I built and replaced several from top to bottom. That you see nothing wrong with Fr. de Mello’s writings is no indication of an absence of good will or intelligence on your part – but it does reveal a lack of a sound theological and philosophical foundation from which to properly assess what is and what is not in keeping with the authentic Catholic faith. Good news – your lack is not without remedy – Pope Benedict was present at all four sessions of the Council as a theological expert. He was part of the formulation of the documents. He knew what was intended and what was written and has applied this insight and other theological wisdom to carefully examining Fr. de Mello’s writings. He has found them in grave error. I am grateful for your desire that we find the peace of Christ. I can assure you that I have – it is in the bosom of the Church that Jesus founded and that is still guided by the loving wisdom of the Blessed Trinity. My you find rest and peace there as well. Please remember that Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father” but by Him. The council didn’t call for inclusion, but a joyful invitation to this great reality.

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