Original Blessing. A Primer in Creation Spirituality
By Silvia Lanzi, March 18, 2011
We are not talking about the US actor who played “Lost”. The Matthew Fox which I have interviewed is a theologian, whose book “Original blessing” (translated into italian as “In principio era la gioia”) originated quite an earthquake in the Catholic world.
It’s the book for which this former Dominican friar was expelled from his religious order by Joseph Ratzinger.
Now, twenty years later, the book has been translated in italian and published by Fazi – the first of a series (“Campo dei fiori”) directed by Elido Fazi and Vito Mancuso.
How is it going to be received in Italy? Maybe it is too early to say. But surely this book is very peculiar within religious literature.
In this interview we can “taste” its savor. It is a very unusual one, but also very subtle, and it forces the reader to think.
You espouse the doctrine of panentheism. What does it mean? That God is both creator and demiurge? In what ways is this different from the traditional concept of God? In what ways God can be both immanent and creator?
What happens to the dichotomy spirit/matter? Panentheism means “all things are in God and God is in all things.” It is different from theism which is about a God “out there” or a God “up in the sky” and separate from us.
Panentheism names the Divine presence, the Holy Spirit, that courses through all things and in all things. We are like fish in water—the water is in the fish and the fish is in the water. That is how grace and the Spirit of God are envisioned by the great mystics.
It is the Christ in John’s Gospel saying “I am in you and you are in me.” It is the line from Book of Acts, “God is the one in whom we live, move and have our being.”
It is about the immanence of God but it also respects the transcendence of God–this is what makes it different from pantheism which restricts God to what is.
Panentheism allows God freedom and presence beyond our world or worlds. Panentheism is the mystical way of seeing our relationship to Divinity.
To cite two examples: Meister Eckhart says people are “ignorant” who see God as outside things.
Mechtild of Magdeburg says “the day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God and God in all things.” Amen.
The dichotomy between spirit and matter needs to be overcome. It is at the basis of so much dualism and hatred of the earth, of our bodies, of sexuality, of women.
It was Augustine who said “spirit is whatever is not matter”—which is the epitome of dualistic thinking.
Aquinas on the other hand fought Platonism and Augustine and said spirit is “the élan in everything,” the vitality in a blade of grass or a horse or anything else.
This is the end of dualism. Would that the Church had followed Aquinas instead of Augustine.
Today science helps us to melt our dualisms. For example, the late physicist David Bohm says that matter is “frozen light.” This is very important.
In my study on world spiritual traditions (One River, Many Wells), I have found that Light is the single most universal metaphor for Divinity around the world whether in Egypt, Buddhism (“be a light unto yourself”), Judaism (“Let there be light”) or Christianity (“I am the light of the world”).
We now know that for every molecule of light that is flesh (matter) in the universe there are a billion molecules of light that are not matter.
Thus we who are enfleshed light are rare in the universe! Matter is not an obstacle to spirit.
It is a special expression of spirit. We must quit scapegoating matter and “flesh.” I have written about this in depth in my book, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh.
To speak of “original blessing” seems truly a Copernican revolution for the Christian faith. But what of the original Catholic Christian faith remains in your work?
The teaching of “original sin” is decidedly not the teaching of the “original Catholic Christian faith.” It was first used by St Augustine in the late fourth century around the time the church inherited the Roman Empire. No Jew—including Jesus—ever heard of original sin. It is not in the Bible.
As a doctrine it is very useful in supporting empires because it makes people doubt the beauty of their own existence, it confuses people about their right to be here, and it sets people up for relationships of dominated and dominator.
It is a tool for Shame and controlling people via Shame. It is therefore very patriarchal and feeds patriarchy. It also puts doubt into the minds of minorities, whether women or gays or lesbians or people of color, etc.
It contributes to self-hatred and internalized oppression. It has also been picked up by modern consumerist society.
Consumer capitalism feeds on ideologies of original sin which are ideologies that say “you don’t have what counts within you so you must buy something from us to make up the difference.” Buy your way out of shame.
Original Blessing on the other hand is the opposite of a shame-based theology. We are all born noble with a 13.7 billion history. We all have beautiful work to do in this lifetime of ours.
As for my work, I have spent forty years trying to recover the oldest spiritual tradition of the Bible, that of creation spirituality, and the marvelous tradition of our ancestors– great mystic-prophets such as Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, Dante,
Julian of Norwich and many others in the tradition of Original Blessing (Hildegard talks about “original wisdom.”).
My work has included developing a pedagogy by which we can bring the mystic alive in people and the prophet or spiritual warrior as well. They go together. We are all meant to be mystics (lovers of life) and prophets (defenders of justice).
One renowned Biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan, has recently written that for St Paul (the earliest writer in the Christian Bible) you cannot be a Christian without being a mystic.
Instead of creating Christolotry we are all called to be “in Christ” and “other Christs.” Biblical scholars now agree that the historical Jesus came from the Wisdom tradition of the Bible which was the creation-centered mystical tradition.
We should all be renewing our Christian roots by returning to those roots that inspired Jesus.
The Wisdom tradition is nature-based, it is feminist (Wisdom is feminine in the Bible and around the world), it is cosmic, it honors creativity, it is a “friend of prophets” so it strives for social and eco justice and it is not afraid to “play” in the universe as Wisdom does in Proverbs 7.
Let’s speak about post-Vatican II Catholicism. Why is it still interesting for a friar who, as I understand, does not identify anymore with the Catholic Church?
One historian has called Vatican II the “greatest religious event of the twentieth century.” What a scandal it has been that the past two papacies have divorced themselves from all the important decisions of Vatican II.
That is why many wise people say secretly what I am saying publicly: That the present and past papacies are in schism. A pope and his curia has no right to abandon decisions of a valid Council of the Church.
How can anyone with a conscience identify with the pillaging of the Liberation Theology movement and base community movements of Latin America and of others committed to social justice in accordance with the teachings of Vatican II?
The Liberation Theology movements of Latin America were the most Christ-like incarnations of Christianity in hundreds of years and they were dismantled by the present and previous popes.
So too was the principle of collegiality that Vatican II espoused. And deep ecumenism and the call for interfaith sharing and common action for justice.
And the call for creative liturgical celebrations according to various cultural expressions.
The present and past papacy replaced justice-oriented Catholicism with the likes of the Legion of Christ (its founder was not only a sick pedophile but an admirer of dictator Pinochet who murdered about 700 people many of them priests, sisters and catholic lay leaders), Opus Dei (whose founder was
a sexist and fascist who actually admired Hitler and was rushed into canonization) and Communion and Liberation (Cardinal Law of Boston, who passed one pedophile priest around who abused over 150 children but who was the spokesman of Communion and Liberation in America has now been rewarded with a major basilica in Rome and he serves in the curia as one who appoints bishops!).
History will be slow to forgive this lurch to the right in the Catholic Church and history is marching very rapidly beyond the fascist patriarchs who pose as religious leaders while real followers of Christ are and have been murdered and tortured (Oscar Romero being just one such person) in the work of justice-making, defending of the poor, of the environment, of rain forests and more.
And what can we say of a papacy that forbids condoms in a time of AIDS and forbids birth control altogether in a time of excessive human population growth on this planet? I seek a post-Vatican Catholicism and a truly catholic Christianity—one that is authentically universal (or catholic) insofar
as it honors the universe and the earth and all creatures on it and that respects the wonderful diversity of various cultures and their multiple expressions of religion and celebration.
One that encourages new forms of worship that are often ancient forms such as dancing and drumming and the work of today’s DJ’s and VJ’s and art forms like rap that bring so much beauty and energy to worship today.
I have been working on these new forms which we call “The Cosmic Mass” for 16 years ever since the Anglican church offered me religious asylum.
The results are marvelous and I recommend it for all who want to make worship alive again.
I like the idea of “ecclesia sempre reformanda”. Do you think it is really possible? Is the Holy Spirit still at work in the Church or it is hindered by the hierarchies?
I believe that the past two papacies have so devastated the Catholic Church as we know it and have so turned their back on Vatican II that the Holy Spirit is telling us: Start over.
Start over in this new world where so many religions are rubbing elbows every day and where so much of mother earth is in peril that all religions must simplify their messages, travel lighter, and create the true mystics (lovers) and prophets (spiritual warriors) to save the earth and save our species.
Yes, the Spirit is alive and well but not necessarily in dry, frigid, fearful, religious institutions. The Spirit is alive where people are alive.
This is why the understanding of the Church as “people of God” (as distinct from curia and hierarchy) is so threatening to those who have climbed to the top of the ecclesial ladder.
Incorporating of science and the new cosmology is also an important part of religious renewal and expanded consciousness today.
And of course the return of the Divine Feminine to balance a healthy Sacred Masculine. The Black Madonna is alive and well. We need a sacred marriage today of the Green Man and the Black Madonna.
When Pope John Paul II lifted the condemnation of Galileo (we all held our breath for 450 years, didn’t we?), he stated that religion should learn a lesson from the big mistake the church made.
But it has not learned any lessons. Let us take the example of homosexuality. Homosexuality, like the question of the earth moving about the sun, is an issue for science to instruct us about.
And science has spoken. Eight to ten per cent of any given human population is homosexual. Moreover, we have found 464 other species with homosexual populations.
Thus, the old superstition that homosexuality is “unnatural” is proven wrong. Thomas Aquinas (who on this subject did not of course have the science we now have) nevertheless said: “A mistake about creation results in a mistake about God.”
Those who put down homosexuals are utterly mistaken about God’s creation and therefore about God. Nature desires sexual diversity.
Otherwise, why would so many heterosexual parents be giving birth to homosexual children? The present pope has written three diatribes against homosexuals.
Documents that are ugly and mean spirited (and the previous pope signed two of them). Not one of them contains any scientific reference (rather they contain references to his catechism).
The Holy Spirit therefore is working far, far beyond the confined boundaries of ecclesial prejudice and curial beauracracies.
Every movement for homosexual rights or for reinventing of technology along green principles is a work of the Holy Spirit. All movements for justice are the work of the Holy Spirit.
In your opinion, is it likely that the Italian edition of your book, 20 years after the original, will have the same groundbreaking effect and will sparkle the debate anew? And why has the book been translated now, so many years after the English edition.
I hope that this book will have an impact in Italy, the mother of so much wisdom and brilliance in Western history.
I do not know why it has taken 28 years to translate Original Blessing into Italian—but I am glad it has happened! The time is especially propitious
today to rekindle debate and thoughtful rethinking of Christianity and indeed of a global renaissance from the bottom up that is so needed if our species is to survive.
So I am excited by the interest being shown in my work in Italy at this time. The creation spiritual tradition is very much the Italian tradition – Francis, Aquinas, Dante, Fra Angelico, da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Bruno, Puccini, John XXIII – the list goes on and on.
With the present papacy so committed to control and so afraid of women, theologians, liberation theology, creativity in forms or worship, gays and lesbians, it is time that the Italians joined the debate and a movement to, perhaps, turn over the tables of the curial money-lenders in the Temple (basilica of St Peter’s) like Jesus did.
Or like the young people of Cairo recently did. We do not need violence. But we do need righteous moral outrage at the hijacking of Jesus’ teaching in the name of ecclesial power trips.
Would Jesus be at home in the Vatican today? Would Jesus side with fearful sexists and homophobes? Let the Vatican be the museum that it is.
And let us get on with the spirit and teachings of Jesus, uniting with other Christians and non-Christians to save our species and the earth as we know it.Time is running out.
Some people are called to work outside the church to give birth to new forms; others to work from within.
But we are all called to contribute like responsible adults so that the religion of our grandchildren will be more earth-centered, more joyful, more inclusive of the Divine Feminine and the Sacred Masculine, more inclusive of all life styles and all expressions of beauty where we serve one another and not heierarchy.
In my recent book “Christian Mystics” I share some brilliant thoughts from about 33 people from the Christian lineage, from Jesus through Thomas Berry.
It moves me to see the richness and the courage of our tradition. All that is worth saving from the burning building.
In May my new book comes out called “The Pope’s War: How Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Imperiled the Church and What can Be Saved.” There, in addition to exploring Ratzinger’s life and his allies and his enemies, I lay out what a renewed Christianity might look like and how to get there from here.
The dumbing down of the church by condemning over 97 theologians (of whom I was only one and whose names I list in the Appendix) plus the cover-up of pedophile priests by the hierarchy and the rewarding of hierarchy who put the institution ahead of children’s safety, the charging of $50,000 to be present for a private Mass with the pope (which a present Polish Cardinal did when he was the pope’s secretary)–what more proof do we need about the current corruption in the Catholic Church? 6.
You compare yourself to Martin Luther. Do you really believe that your work has been such an incisive one as Luther’s? I did something Luther did: I pounded 95 theses on the church door at Wittenburg.
I did this at Pentecost time in 2005 as my response to Cardinal Ratzinger making himself pope. (I knew Ratzinger quite well since he attacked me and my work for twelve years even though a formal committee of three Dominican theologians approved of my writings as being “within the tradition.”) I call for a New Reformation and what I do is to compare our times to those of Martin Luther in my book, A New Reformation.
The invention of the printing press is what truly motivated Luther’s times to reinvent theology and religious practice and today we have the electronic media that are empowering people to communicate in different and faster and more global ways than previously.
In Luther’s day there was a revival of Biblical scholarship and languages and today there is marvelous Biblical scholarship and also historical and scientific scholarship that opens human (and hopefully religious) consciousness.
There are global political movements and urgings that recontextualize things today as in his day there was the rise of nationalism.
And, of course, there is profound corruption in the institutional church bodies again today—in Catholicism vis a vis the flight from the spirit and letter of Vatican II and the pedophilia and its cover-up from the hierarchy and the grow dumbing down of the church, the return of the Inquisition, the flirtation with fascism.
In Protestantism, there is a vapid boredom and there is the rise of fundamentalism.
I am part of a community of caring theologians and other spiritual leaders who are urging all religions to get real, put spirituality before religiosity, reach out to other faith traditions and to science, to know and teach the treasures of our own traditions and to create the mystics and prophets, the spiritual warriors we need for our common survival.
As far as Luther goes, his 95 theses were really quite boring. They are all about indulgences.
In all humility, I think my 95 theses are much more interesting ranging as they do from “God is both Mother and Father” (1) and “God the Punitive Father is not a God worth honoring” (4) and “Eros is a virtue that combats acedia” (82) to “Loyalty and obedience are never greater virtues than conscience and justice” (69) and “Jesus said nothing about condoms, birth control or homosexuality” (70) and “homophobia is a serious sin.” (73).
But you are free to judge for yourself and to add or subtract your own theses as you wish.
Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality, Author Matthew Fox, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam 2000, 384 pages
* Thanks to Dr.Gianluigi Guglielmetto, Fox’s Italian translator, for his precious help with the interview
Italian translation: In principio era la gioia. Intervista al teologo Matthew Fox