This article appeared in the April, 1988, issue of The Canadian Catholic Review. Following it is an update on subsequent events concerning Matthew Fox, and some recent questions by the author.
An Original Theology: Creation and Matthew Fox
Michael D. O’Brien
“The circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.”
— G.K, Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Since 1972 Matthew Fox, OP, has been publishing books on spirituality, creativity, theology, ecclesiology, and just about every aspect of the life of faith. Increasingly prominent on the Catholic lecture circuit, he conducts seminars on his “creation-centered spirituality” at many Catholic colleges and some seminaries in Canada and the United States. His recent engagements have included keynote addresses at the American Midwest Catholic Education Conferences, a seminar for the American Council of Bishops, a seminar at the Dignity International Conferences (held in the Catholic cathedral in Seattle, USA), talks to Teachers of Religion and Ethics in Saskatoon, and a workshop in Victoria at which he appeared with Bishop Remi De Roo. Father Fox will return to British Columbia this July for a creation-spirituality workshop in Vancouver, with Bishop De Roo as one of the workshop leaders.
It is a measure of his popularity that for several years his books have been advertised and distributed in Canada by Novalis, the publishers of our national “missalette.” Although, technically speaking, this publishing house is only contracted by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, its publications carry a quasi-official aura of ecclesiastical approval in the mind of the average Canadian Catholic. In the case of Fox this is particularly damaging, because for the past decade his writings have espoused a plethora of errors. Paradoxically, he has remained largely unchallenged by Catholics, a situation due in part to the confusion any critic would experience in choosing points of debate. There are simply too many, and they are often expressed in pseudo-mystical language. Furthermore, the widespread climate of dissent within the Church has helped to camouflage his activities. Fox’s favorite platforms are colleges, where criticism is often silenced by the plea of academic freedom. He has gathered a following of educated lay people, especially among academics and religious .
In 1977 Fox founded the Institute for Culture and Creation Spirituality (ICCS) at Mundelein College, Chicago, USA. In 1983 he moved the Institute to Holy Names College, Oakland, USA, which is its present location. From this base he moves about the continent giving workshops on a brand of spirituality which borrows heavily from the fourteenth-century German mystic Meister Eckhart (ca 1260-1327). Eckhart was noted for the beauty of his mystical homilies, but also for an imprecision of theology which veered dangerously close to pantheism, quietism, and Beghardic thought. In 1329 Pope John XXII condemned seventeen of Eckhart’s propositions as heretical. A repackaged Eckhart is being popularized by the 1980 publication Breakthrough, a collection of his sermons accompanied by Fox’s extensive commentaries. Fox extracts several themes from Eckhart and unites them under a concept which he calls panentheism, which maintains that “it is basically wrong to think of God as a Person ‘out there’ or even of God as wholly Other ‘out there.’ God is in us and we are in God.” In the panentheism of Matthew Fox, God is not only interpenetrating with the world, but interdependent with it, and not only for his experiences but for his very being. This is mixed with Fox’s own imaginative theories of cosmic consciousness. He is an unabashed syncretist, borrowing at one moment from Teilhard de Chardin and Carl Jung, the next from Saint Teresa of Avila and Karl Marx, or from pagan mystics and Vatican II. Fox is a great integrator of ideas, not all of which are compatible.
In Whee! We, Wee, All the Way Home: A Guide to the New Sensual Spirituality (1980) he proposed an integration of the pursuit of ecstasy, symbolism, and struggle for social justice which he claimed was non-dualistic and therefore sensual. “We shall become ecstatic together or we will become extinct together,” he proclaimed. Love, justice, beauty, and sexual excitement were experiences of the divine, not to be inhibited by traditional spirituality. He frequently ignored and at times rejected the perennial wisdom of the Church about how the senses must function in order to avoid disordered passions. A Spirituality Named Compassion (1979) was similarly derived from selective reading of Scripture and psychological and sexual theories. It was a “new world vision” which he called “healing the global village.” Here he attempted to restructure spirituality away from what he condemned as “the male-dominated mystical teaching of Jacob’s Ladder.” He rejected the ascent to God as Hellenistic, not Biblical (ignoring numerous passages in the Old and New Testaments, including the words and actions of Jesus). The results of the ladder approach, he insists, have been hierarchical, violent, judgmental, and piteous rather than democratic, nurturing, just, and merciful.
Fox proposes “the more scripturally grounded symbol for our spirituality, Dancing Sarah’s Circle”—referring to Sarah, Abraham’s wife—a symbol of “birthing, creating, faithfulness.” Contrary to Fox’s symbology, the circle is not so much Biblical as pagan. It is obviously drawn from his preoccupation with Native American ritual, Jungian mandala symbolism, and the circle dances of witchcraft. He maintains that the circle is more dynamic than, and must replace, the “ladder” of the Cross. A spirituality of the Cross, he claims, has kept the hierarchical ladder intact by imprisoning the faithful in guilt. The description, from Vatican II, of the Church as “The People of God” is evidence for Fox of the circle’s prevailing over the ladder: “To define church as people or as folks is a far cry from defining it as hierarchy. It is Sarah’s cry, not a cry from the ladder top” (Original Blessing). He adds that the “cry for the ordination of women, married persons . . . and gay persons” is a further example of a coming victory. Fox avoids the more encompassing definition of Church as the “Body of Christ” which, as Cardinal Ratzinger has pointed out, is a concept expressing the Church’s New Testament character. “The People of God” refers to the distinctively Old Testament element of the Church, and it is a term that is balanced and complemented by others in the Council documents:
The Church does not exhaust itself in the “collective” of the believers: being the “Body of Christ” she is much more than the simple sum of her members. . . .
“The Church is not our Church, which we could dispose of as we please. She is, rather, his Church. . . . Here lies the decline of the authentic concept of “obedience.” If the Church, in fact, is our Church, if we alone are the Church, if her structures are not willed by Christ, then it is no longer possible to conceive of the existence of a hierarchy as a service to the baptized established by the Lord himself.”
—The Ratzinger Report
With the publication in 1983 of Fox’s Original Blessing a full-blown spiritual doctrine was revealed and given a name: “creation-centered spirituality.” In an attempt to reconcile his ideas with tradition, he says that two spiritual traditions have developed in Christianity. The more authentic, he claims, is “creation-centered spirituality” as opposed to “fall/redemption spirituality” which he blames on Saint Augustine:
“Augustine’s genius was in writing what is probably the first autobiography in the West. But here too lies his weakness. Too much guilt, too much introspection, too much preoccupation with law, sin and grace rendered Augustine, and the theology that was to prevail in his name for sixteen centuries in the West, oblivious to what the Eastern Christian Church celebrates as theosis, the divinization of the Cosmos. The fall/redemption preoccupations with personal salvation destroy justice and cosmic connection-making.”
Fox side-steps the fact that the degradation of creation was brought about by the sin of disobedience, and that creation is in the process of restoration only by virtue of the Cross of Christ, and our embracing it. This is the very heart of theosis, the “narrow gate,” the “scandal” through which the soul must pass in order to be united with God. Fox further ignores the fact that traditional Christian spiritualities are founded upon an authentic cosmology and are life-giving. Saint Augustine’s works, for example, contain numerous passages which passionately and reverently speak of creation. It is this kind of selectivity which quickly demolishes Fox’s credibility as a critic. He is just as selective in quoting saints and mystics to justify panentheism. Julian of Norwich, Saint Francis of Assisi, and John Scotus Erigena are employed without any mention of their uncompromising sermons on sin, repentance, and the Cross.
Clearly, Matthew Fox posits the sign of the Cross in opposition to the cosmos, which is another way of saying that the Church, primary upholder of the Cross, is the enemy of creation itself. There can be few accusations as devastating as this, especially in a culture of affluence where the Cross is rejected as an enemy of happiness and where, even among Christians, it is often reduced to an historical event. A Church which preaches the value of redemptive suffering will need much courage in our times. It will have to regenerate a strong spirituality of the Cross in order to meet the challenges of critics like Fox. She has already begun to do so with encyclicals such as John Paul II’s On the Mercy of God (1980) and On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering (1984). In the latter, John Paul II wrote, “Christ achieves the Redemption completely and to the very limit; but at the same time He did not bring it to a close.” Thus, whoever suffers in union with Christ “completes what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His Body, that is the Church” (Col 1.24). This is what John Paul II calls “the creative character of [human] suffering.”
Complementing this papal teaching is the birth of many new movements of lay and clerical spirituality which have as their goal the restoration of the world through the Cross. One thinks of the Focolare Movement, the Madonna House Apostolate, The Companions of the Cross, and a great number of others. Prayer and fasting are being revived everywhere, but more is needed in order to counter the momentum of what John Paul II has called “a culture of death.” The Church’s voice is invariably one of hope. Recalling the prophet Jonah and the conversion of Nineveh, recalling Pentecost, she knows that it is possible to reverse the tide of an entire age. Curiously, the most virulent protests against the Church as she raises her prophetic voice in favor of life arise from her own children. Indeed, an uninformed reader of Fox could easily develop the conviction that the only real sin is ecclesiastical sin. The assumption behind much of his writings is that the major fruit of the Western Church is chaos, destruction, and ultimately its own extinction.
The eruption of spiritualities such as “creation-centered spirituality” reveal areas of theology which remain underdeveloped. There is need for a strong Christological-Trinitarian framework for the theology of creation in the Western Church. A few people, such as Jean-Francois Bonnefoy, OFM, have broken much ground in this area. Bonnefoy examines the Epistles of Paul and the Book of Revelation as exponents of the absolute primacy of Jesus Christ in creation and in heaven in the unity of the Holy Trinity:
“ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty.’ Revelation 1:8
“At the end of the vision Christ is still more explicit: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ Revelation 22:13
“This application to Christ of a title formerly attributed to Yahweh is, in fact, a frequent phenomenon in both St. Paul and St. John. And in addition to the above citations . . . we find another such affirmation in the Prologue of John’s Gospel.”
—Christ and Cosmos, Patterson, NJ, 1965
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” —John 1:1
For John, Jesus is the Word made flesh, a word reverberating throughout the entire cosmos, but also a Word rejected and crucified by man so that the perfect restoration of the cosmos is delayed, though it remains virtually accomplished. In the interim, the darkness makes its last futile efforts to overpower the light, and it attempts to do so in every human soul. This is “the mystery of iniquity,” and it is most cunningly offered to man when it is disguised as light.
True light is not reached by circumventing the Cross but by entering into it. This is not the morbid and masochistic image of the Cross which Fox fears, but rather a profound path of love. True salvation frees man to engage in the dialogue of love between the Father and his creation. It can never be an absorption of personality into an amorphous “over-soul” wherein an ideal nature of humanity is realized. Fox is much like Teilhard de Chardin in that his tendency to a monistic view of salvation leads him to want to ignore real contradictions and to minimize the distinctions between Creator and creature and between good and evil. The absence in Teilhard’s work of any serious attention to the problem of evil is paralleled in Fox’s by opposition to the very idea of personal sin. Both fail to discern the spiritual world as a battleground between two fundamentally opposed forces: the Kingdom of God and the revolt of the fallen angels. Implicit in their thought is a reduction of the antithesis between good and evil to stages of evolution.
In his encyclical On the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World (1986) John Paul II describes as “spiritual ruin” the condition of the soul which refuses the necessity of repentance:
“The action of the Spirit of truth, which works towards the salvific ‘convincing concerning sin,’ encounters in a person in this condition an interior resistance, as it were an impenetrability of conscience, a state of mind which could be described as fixed by reason of a free choice. This is what Scripture usually calls ‘hardness of heart.’ In our own time this attitude of mind and heart is perhaps reflected in the loss of the sense of sin. . . . Pope Pius XII had already declared that ‘The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin,’ and this loss goes hand in hand with the loss of the sense of God.”
With Fox, as with all Modernists, the fundamental error is a failure to understand the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death. As Jesus is lifted up on the Cross he draws men back to the Father. He accomplishes this not by molding a homogenized mankind vaguely destined to evolve en masse out of its immaturity; rather, he frees the individual human person from slavery to sin and error; he affirms the freedom of the person to create diverse expressions of the truth; he preserves multiplicity as a gift, a sign in human nature of the infinite creativity of the Creator. There is nothing in this divine ecology which contradicts the absolute nature of revelation and the dogmas by which it is transmitted intact from generation to generation. This freedom flows from the wounds of Jesus Christ, from the wounds of God made flesh. This is an authentic cosmology. It can heal the fragmentation and depersonalization caused by the materialism of our era. Technological man is increasingly a homogeneous invention of the worst aspects of his culture. Only repentance, liberation from sin, and the birth of love can free man truly to create. Alternate “spiritualities” such as Fox’s promise a longed-for unity, but it is a false unity, a monistic parasite thriving on the human hunger for creativity and freedom. It replaces a sanctified multiplicity with eclecticism and syncretism, giving the illusion of broadness of vision while in reality deepening the interior fragmentation which must be held together by ever more tenuous (and at times bizarre) cosmologies. Like a drug which alleviates the pain but does not touch the disease, the dosage must be ever increased in order to sustain the illusion of health.
Fox states in Original Blessing that the Church must be willing to let go of “outdated dualistic paradigms” such as fall/redemption spirituality. With the splitting of the atom, he says, the human race has unleashed “a basic energy of the cosmos” which demands a “cosmic vision” of unity. Perhaps the terror of nuclear holocaust has had no small part in forming Fox’s thinking. In a dangerously divided world he posits the value of unity as an absolute. The Church is divisive, he feels, because it preaches rejection of the world; yet he fails to note that the Church makes the distinction between what is good and what is destructive in the world: above all we are to be divided from the tyranny of sin. Jesus himself brought division, which is the effect of proclaiming truth in a profoundly deluded and divided world (Luke 12.51). Fox preaches that the unification of man will come about by a change of spirituality which will integrate theology with theological praxis. Once the smoke of his rhetoric clears, Fox’s meaning becomes obvious: the Roman Catholic Church must change its theology to accommodate contemporary ideologies. What is needed, he says, is not so much a turning from sin as a turning from a certain idea of sin, toward what he calls the “Via Positiva”—a way of “affirmation, thanksgiving, ecstasy.” It is forgotten that only a person liberated from sin is capable of sustained affirmation, thanksgiving and, yes, ecstasy. Moreover, the free person becomes capable of joy.
One wonders if Fox has noted J. Robert Oppenheimer’s remark about his role in the invention of the atomic bomb: “. . . the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose” (Lecture at MIT, 25 November 1947). Science has provided scant evidence of the perfectibility of man. Medieval man may have believed that the sun revolves around the earth, but modern man uses all his knowledge and power to convince himself that the entire universe revolves around his own ego. One wonders which is the more dangerous form of ignorance. Which cosmology is more likely to damage creation? Medieval man at least understood the destructive nature of personal sin, a sense which appears to have atrophied in modern man. Fox maintains that a spirituality based on fall/redemption with its concentration on personal sin should be replaced by a concern for social sins such as “geocide, ecocide, and biocide.” But he fails to connect these evils to their source in personal sin, and his remedies are predictably global. As an alternative to the fall/ redemption spirituality he calls for a New World Order:
“Our era lures us to create the first global civilization on Earth. We are that generation that begins the creative transformation out of the whole world into a single community out of the diverse peoples of the planet.” —Manifesto for a Global Civilization
It is such passages which have alerted cult-watchers and critics in many branches of Christianity. Stephen Muratore, in the Epiphany Journal (Spring 1985) wrote:
“Creation-Centered Spirituality is actually a decoy, a lure away from the truly cosmic spirituality which is traditional Christianity. Christianity establishes the new creation by bringing the victory over original sin to bear on the soul and on society. Fox’s ‘creation-centered spirituality’ invites us to accept our fallen state as our only state. . . it does not aim at creating true prophets and saints, but at producing romantic social workers and politicos.”
The New Age Movement
Constance Cumby, a criminal lawyer from Detroit, USA, suggests that Fox’s spirituality aims at creating a far more dangerous kind of “New Man.” In two well-researched and documented books, The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow (Shreveport, 1983) and A Planned Deception (Detroit, 1985) she outlines the phenomenal growth of the New Age Movement. It is a network of thousands of organizations and communities throughout the world which has as its goal the ushering in of a New World Order that is not merely political but works for the radical transformation of all aspects of civilization into a new consciousness. It is a movement of unprecedented scope, ambition, and power. In A Planned Deception Cumby writes that Matthew Fox wields enormous influence across a vast spectrum of Catholic, mainline Protestant, Evangelical, New Age Movement, homosexual, witchcraft, and neo-pagan circles. She devotes an entire chapter to him and another to Teilhard de Chardin, citing both as important “spiritual fathers of the New Age Movement.” She further warns that Fox’s cosmic aspirations run dangerously close to the apostasy described in 2 Thessalonians 2. Such accusations might be dismissed as inflammatory and paranoiac were it not for the fact of Fox’s connections with the New Age Movement. Cumby says that in 1983 she attended a talk he gave to (Catholic) parish leaders at a conference sponsored by the Archdiocese of Detroit, during which he urged them to accept shamanism, witchcraft, and New Age philosophies.
Since 1983 Fox has employed “Starhawk,” one of the world’s most politically active witches, on the faculty of the ICCS at Oakland. She teaches ritual, feminist theology, and sexuality. She is quoted in an official organ of witchcraft circles as saying:
“Teaching ritual and the history of the Goddess religion to priests, ministers, nuns and Christian educators was a new experience but deeply rewarding. I found the students very open to new ideas, hungry for new forms of ritual and very creative.. . . I am very glad to discover such a strong movement within Christian churches that is sympathetic to the Pagan Spirit and willing to learn from the teachings of the Old Religion [witchcraft].”
— Circle Network News, Fall, 1983
It is important to note that her curriculum (and that of other teachers on the staff) is not taught as anthropology, but as bona fide spiritual paths into which the student is initiated. As extreme as this is, Fox’s syncretism is much broader still. In an appendix to Original Blessing he lists a “family tree” of those he feels have lived a creation-centered spirituality, concluding with non-Christian spiritual traditions such as Taoist, Sufi, Native American, African, and witchcraft. There is also an endorsement of “new Age mystics such as David Spangler, Jean Houston, Marilyn Ferguson.”
Spangler is a close associate of Fox’s and a major figure in the global New Age Movement. His Reflections on the Christ is a primer in diabolical possession disguised as an initiation into Light by “the angel of man’s inner evolution . . . the being we know as Lucifer.” Spangler teaches that “Satan” is a construct of Judaeo-Christian fears of spiritual experience:
“But the light that reveals to us the presence of the Christ, the light that reveals to us the path to the Christ comes from Lucifer. He is the light giver. … Lucifer comes to give us the gift of wholeness. If we accept it then he is free and we are free. That is the Luciferic initiation. It is the one that many people now and in the days ahead will be facing, for it is an initiation into the New Age.”
—Reflections on the Christ, Findhorn (Scotland), 1978
As incredible as it may appear, this deception is becoming increasingly popular. Its success may be due to what James Hitchcock has called the “religious illiteracy of the American people.” Most likely it is the fruit of the culture of affluence. Since the 1960s a generation has grown which is either indifferent to or hostile to organized religion. Yet the fundamentally spiritual nature of man draws him toward “spiritualities” where esoteric knowledge, experiences, and powers are to be enjoyed as possessions, as gratifications of appetite. In such cosmologies one is accountable to no one but oneself. The bait is the ancient temptation in Eden: to be like God, but without the obedience unto death which Jesus reveals as the only true way to the Father.
Saint Paul’s warning is appropriate here:
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”
—2 Corinthians 11:13-15.
Jesus himself warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt 7.15).
A fundamental doctrine of the New Age Movement is that Jesus is not the Christ but one of many “Christs” to be superseded by the new and greatest Christ who is soon to bring in the New Messianic Era. Of such teachings Scripture has hard things to say: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” (1 John 2: 22). Matthew Fox preaches a Christ different from the Christ of the Gospels, and gives public support to those whose goals are a new world order, a new world religion, and a New Age Christ. In the final line of Original Blessing he writes:
“Beginning with scientists in the nineteenth century and extending today to scientists, feminists, New Age mystics and social prophets, a veritable explosion of creation-centered spirituality is and has been occurring. If entire religious bodies such as Christianity could enter into this expanding energy field, there is no predicting what powers of passion and compassion might become unleashed.”
It is possible that Fox does not grasp the implications of his teachings. His writings indicate that he sees the New Age Movement and other pagan causes as incomplete fragments of a broader vision which he has encompassed and integrated in “creation-centered spirituality.” In reality he is a fragment of a global spiritual rebellion; his thought is one of many branches being used to corrupt the only Body on this planet capable of resisting the lie which began in Eden.
Postscript, sixteen years later . . . .
Since the above article was published a great deal of water has passed under the bridge. Three events involving Matthew Fox come to mind, each of which I attended.
In January of 1988 I was present as a private observer at a “worship service” held in the Roman Catholic cathedral of Victoria, B.C. It was presided over by the ordinary at the time, Bishop Remi DeRoo. The “liturgy” was advertised as the opening ceremony of the national convention of the Canadian Association for Pastoral Education. (C.A.P.E.), an organization of prison and hospital chaplains and counselors. The crowd of several hundreds that filled the cathedral to capacity was enthusiastic to say the least, and the intense reverence that emanated from it was directed not towards the Eucharistic Presence in the tabernacle, nor did it stem from any sense of the holiness of God’s house. There was no genuflecting, no obvious private prayer anywhere that I could see. The excitement of the noisy crowd as they awaited the arrival of the keynote speaker, Fr. Matthew Fox, was phenomenal.
The bishop and Fox processed side-by-side down the main aisle preceded by “acolytes” carrying bowls of incense and waving colored ribbons, to the accompaniment of a very modern hymn with lyrics of questionable theological merit. They arrived at the altar and from then on the “liturgy” roughly unfolded along the lines of the Liturgy of the Word of the Catholic Mass. After a solemnly intoned “A reading from the Book of Teilhard de Chardin,” and an extract from one of Teilhard’s books recited as if it were on par with sacred scripture, Matthew Fox stood and delivered the “homily.” First he praised Bishop DeRoo and Teilhard de Chardin as prophets, then went on to describe just what constitutes a great prophet. It was effortless for all present to conclude that the speaker himself fit the description quite nicely.
Fox spoke with conviction and compassion about the drastic condition of humanity in the modern world. At first there were no aggressive heretical assertions, though when Fox proclaimed, “I firmly believe that we must move from preoccupation with the historical Christ to a quest for the Cosmic Christ,” a few in the crowd began to look uncomfortable. Not many, only a few. There were no murmurs of disagreement; for the most part the crowd continued to hang on his every word. It was never stated who this Cosmic Christ really is. Is it Jesus? At this point, two or three orthodox Catholics were moved to leave the cathedral of their own volition, myself included. I should have stayed to the end, even just to pray in reparation. But I felt overcome with horror and a sense of dread, and at that point in my life I was not yet prepared to stand up in the midst of hundreds of people and refute the preacher, make a “public disturbance.” I had not anticipated what would be said in the sanctuary of God’s house, had never experienced anything like it, had no personal precedent with which to assess what should be done.
Though I felt like weeping, and even more like shouting out in protest, I was paralyzed. Like so many of my fellow Catholics, I sensed that if I were to do such a thing, it would have been perceived by others as simply irrational—solid evidence that I was all wrong. And though I knew I was not wrong, at that more immature stage of my life I was afraid of being “counterproductive.” I was, in a word, political, even if only passively so. I knew that something very close to an offense against our living Savior was being spoken from the pulpit that evening, but it took me totally by surprise. Perhaps I had heard it wrong, interpreted it in the worst possible light. Moreover, there was a Catholic bishop seated on his episcopal throne listening intently to the speaker, nodding and smiling his approval throughout. It was confusing.
A few days later the conference concluded with another “liturgy,” this time in the grand ballroom of the Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria. Patterned on the structure of the Roman Catholic Mass, it was celebrated by a Catholic priest, and “concelebrated” by an Anglican priestess and a Reformed minister. The penitential rite was notably absent, the words of the canon were radically changed, and all the “concelebrants” extended their hands and vocally recited the words of the Consecration. The interdenominational gathering was then invited to receive the “bread and wine.” I was not in attendance, though the event was described in detail by the press.
Disseminated throughout the conference were promotions for Fox’s Institute for Culture and Creation, and also for an upcoming workshop on “creation-centered spirituality” that was to be held the following summer at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Bishop DeRoo was a scheduled speaker, alongside Matthew Fox, the witch Starhawk, and other staff members of the I.C.C.S.
By the time the workshop opened, my article on Matthew Fox’s ideas had been published in the Canadian Catholic Review (see above). On the morning the workshop opened I stood on the public sidewalk outside the university conference centre, offering photocopies of the article to anyone entering the building to register for the weekend. It was startling to see the number of Catholic nuns in attendance. I knew some of them personally. These women were gentle, prayerful, compassionate people who had read Fox’s books and were attracted to his “compassion,” “creativity,” and “sensitivity.” Nothing I said, no matter how clearly and sensitively I expressed it, could dissuade them from going into the building. As they understood it, I was “closed” and they were “open.” Within a year or so, two of them had left their convents, abandoned their vows, and were actively espousing heretical ideas to many people who loved and admired them.
I had been offering my article for about half an hour when two men marched from the conference building and headed straight toward me. Their body language and facial expressions were totally hostile. Fists clenched, breathing heavily, an extraordinary black hatred in their eyes, they told me to leave. I replied that this was a public sidewalk and they had no right to demand me to leave. My article was not an attack upon Fr. Fox as a person, I argued, but an examination of his ideas. “Surely,” I said to these gentlemen, “you believe in academic freedom?”
They did not respond to this, but merely told me that if I did not leave within five minutes they would call the police and have me arrested. They turned on their heels and reentered the conference centre. It had not been a gentle, sensitive, or compassionate encounter. As I hastily assessed my options, I wondered how I would explain my arrest to my wife, how would I ever pay for a lawyer? When I heard a police siren wailing closer and closer on a nearby street, I walked to my car with as much dignity as I could muster, and drove away just as two squad cars screeched to a halt where I had been standing. I should have stayed and gone to jail, but I left. Once again, I had been unprepared.
All the way home, I pondered that utterly cold, utterly dark look in the eyes of the two men. I have experienced people being angry with me, and sometimes their anger was justified, sometimes not. But never have I, before or since, felt an emanation of malice on that scale. They had not once raised their voices. The wave of hatred that had come from them was not so much emotional as it was spiritual. Reading about the workshop in the newspaper a few days later, I learned that the men who had confronted me were a “Catholic” staff member of I.C.C.S. and a Protestant minister, both of whom were key advocates in their respective churches for the ordination of active homosexuals.
A couple of more years passed. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had demanded a “year of silence” from Fr. Fox. No preaching, public speaking, or writing during this period in which he was urged to reconsider the errors in his teachings. I heard little about him for a time, though it seemed that everywhere I went I kept stumbling upon his books—among friends and family members, in schools and rectories, convents and seminaries. People of good faith enthusiastically urged me to read his writings, because, they said, Fr. Fox was so “creative” and “compassionate,” and as an artist I would surely find this in tune with my own way of life. I always replied that I had already read his books, and that they contained ideas which were the antithesis of my way of life, both as an artist and as a Christian. Nothing I said seemed to convince them.
In the late 1980’s I moved with my family to eastern Ontario. Fr. Fox’s year of silence was over. One Sunday I saw in a Catholic diocesan newspaper an advertisement for a public talk that Fox would give at a Catholic church in Ottawa, sponsored by that parish’s social justice committee. I decided to attend. Thankfully, at the last moment the archbishop of the city refused permission for the event to be held on church property, and the site was changed to a large public auditorium. When I arrived, I found the hall packed full, about 600 hundred people in attendance.
The atmosphere was much the same as it had been in Victoria, though there now seemed to be an added excitement in the air. As we waited for Matthew Fox to appear, the conversations in the surrounding seats were animated, reverential. Fox was no longer merely a “prophet”, he was a “martyr-prophet.” He came onstage and approached the microphone to the accompaniment of thunderous applause.
By coincidence, the night before I had begun reading a book by Aldous Huxley, author of the well known classic Brave New World. Titled Brave New World Revisited, it had been written many years after that novel. Revisited is a collection of essays in which Huxley warns that the totalitarianism he had foreseen in his early novel was materializing in the post-war world at a much faster rate than he had anticipated. In a chapter examining the psychology of crowds he outlined the stages of manipulation that demagogue-tyrants use to work a crowd into a fever pitch of adulation and passionate conviction. Though I read the chapter with some fascination, I had not for a moment connected it to the man I would hear the following day.
Yet there it was. With growing amazement I listened as Matthew Fox led the crowd precisely through each distinct stage that Huxley had described. This was a moment of revelation for me, because for all his faults it would have taken a stretch of the imagination to equate gentle compassionate Matthew Fox with Hitler and Stalin. In fact many of the things he usually writes or says seem at first glance to be opposed to such tyrants.
At the very climax of his talk, having led the crowd to a state of emotional fervor, Fox erupted in a loud voice, shouting, “There are only two tyrannical regimes left on this planet: the Red Chinese and the Vatican!” He roared the final word, Vatican. At that point almost the entire audience leaped to their feet, cheering wildly and applauding. It took some minutes for them to calm down. It should be noted that the crowd was composed largely of Christians, and of these a majority were Catholics.
During the question period, all the questions put to the speaker were from enthusiastic devotees, with the exception of one. A woman approached the microphone, a person whom I knew to be a devout Catholic mother of eight, an intelligent, sensitive, compassionate and creative woman. In a gentle but clear voice she said:
“Fr. Fox, you have spoken a great deal tonight about the suffering of endangered species such as whales and wolves and seals. What is your opinion about the unborn child?”
This was greeted by hisses and boos from the audience.
For the first time Fox’s self-control faltered. Suddenly tense and flustered, he answered in an angry tone, “I do not like abortion, but I believe there should be an abortuary on every street corner!”
With that, the audience erupted in applause, Fox bowed, and left the stage. The standing ovation went on for several minutes.
In the ensuing years, Matthew Fox left the Catholic church, became an Anglican priest, and continues to conduct liturgies in San Francisco. I do not think his influence is as widespread as it once was, but his career within the Church has a great deal to teach us about the current state of the Body of Christ in some of the particular churches. I will not try to present a comprehensive analysis, but merely offer a layman’s random musings and questions on the matter. First the questions:
1) How did a man whose heterodox ideas were widely known and discussed in ecclessial circles obtain the most beneficial advertisement that a Catholic writer can obtain, namely the advertisement pages of our only national missalette, which can be found in practically every pew in the country?
2) Why did Novalis, a “Catholic” publisher, the publisher of our national bishops’ conference, agree to be the Canadian distributor for Bear & Co., one of the worlds foremost publishers of New Age material at the time?
3) Why did the advertisements for both Fox’s books and other material from Bear & Co, continue to be advertised in this way for years, despite repeated requests by priests and lay people to have it removed?
4) Why do heterodox and neopagan authors continue to be advertised in the missalette, as if this material were legitimate “spirituality”, as if the ideas promoted in these books were not hostile to the Church? Why is falsehood (advertised as Catholic thought) permitted in the very house of God?
5) What does this tell us about the ecclessiology, cosmology, and theology of the people at the national conference who make decisions about this sort of matter?
6) What are the implications regarding the merit or lack of merit in other decisions and pronouncements made by the CCCB?
7) Who makes the decisions that determine the theological, ecclessiological, and prudential guidance for the Church in Canada that comes from the CCCB? How do they attain their positions of influence? How do they retain their positions of influence?
8) Pronouncements of the CCCB have no authority to override the policies of individual bishops. Why, then, do so many individual bishops, with few exceptions, act as if the CCCB has this right?
9) Is the internal structure of the bureaucracy of the CCCB accountable to any authority other than itself?
10) Why have various documents of the CCCB either ignored or neutralized instructions from Vatican congregations?
Some final thoughts:
How else but as “openness to new ideas” could an apostasy enter and corrupt the Body of Christ from within. The blatantly diabolical would not have succeeded. Similarly, promulgation of the lower forms of vice would have alerted the faithful long ago to a spiritual and ideological invasion. The apostasy which has seized the majority of “practicing Catholics” in this land has been promoted as nuanced theology, as the free exercise of academic inquiry, as creativity and compassion.
“Theologians” such as Matthew Fox may lure a few souls out of genuine faith in Christ. Yet the damage they do to some individuals (as tragic as this is) is not as severe as the long-range damage they do to the entire configuration of perception—how our people as a whole assess reality. In a spectrum of extremely disordered “theology” to genuine theology, most people now try to situate themselves in a vaguely defined “center.” This is considered to be moderate, reasonable, balanced. The appearance of a flamboyantly dissident teacher within the household of the Faith pushes the poles, extends the range, and thus the perceived center is shifted. Subtler, more careful dissidents from then on appear to be people who make a legitimate contribution to the Faith, which in fact they do not.
What is so often forgotten is that the true center is never to be found at the exact mid-point between two poles, for this kind of midpoint is always shifting. The true centre is above and beyond the horizontal line. It is both the head and the heart of a vertical line which, with the horizontal, forms a cross. Christ himself is the true centre, and any particular church which mutates or abandons altogether the vision of the Cross has knowingly or unknowingly abandoned Christ.
Post-postscript: Now, in the year 2009, the Church in Canada is gradually righting itself, with the assistance of a new generation of apostolic bishops and dedicated priests, the spiritual sons of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.