A reformatted and somewhat edited version of Bede Griffiths' Vision of The New Age, as related in Chapter 13 of "A New Vision of Reality" published in 1989 by Templegate Publishers, Springfield, Illinois
Upon reading and transcribing Bede's Vision, I choose to share it.
Love, John Chuchman
This Vision involves a return to the perennial philosophy,
the ancient wisdom which
underlies all religion from the earliest times.
a respect for the traditional wisdom of primitive people,
the Australian Aborigines,
the American Indians
and the tribal
peoples of Asia and Africa.
We are re-discovering the wisdom of these people,
the harmony they achieved in their lives
and the very profound understanding they have of
how human life is related to the natural world about them
and to the world of spirits beyond them.
These people evidence an integrated, holistic view of life.
We do turn to the great religious traditions,
Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Taoist, Confucian, Shinto, Zoroastrian,
Judaic, Muslim and Christian.
These are systems of religion which had their origin
during the first millennium before Christ.
All are based on the perennial philosophy,
developed under different situations
and in different circumstances,
and all embody in their different ways
the ancient wisdom and the wholeness of life.
These different traditions
are to be seen as interrelated and interdependent,
each giving a particular and unique insight
into ultimate truth and reality
even though they all grew up apart and
mostly without contact with each other for many centuries.
When they did make contact
there was often rivalry, acrimony and conflict,
and as a result we have the disastrous divisions of religion today.
But we continue to learn,
that all the different religious traditions,
from the most primitive to the most advanced,
are interrelated and interdependent,
and that each has its own particular insights.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam must give up the exclusive claims
which characterize them.
This will free them to recognize the action of God in all humanity
from the beginnings of history.
All three tend to extreme exclusivism
and have brought so much conflict into the world.
Christians need to recognize
the limited character of their original revelation,
coming as it did from within a Semitic culture in
the limited world and thought-forms of the Ancient Near East.
Emerging from that world
it spread through the Roman Empire from Palestine through Greece to Rome.
For centuries the whole sphere of Christianity
was simply the Roman Empire centered around the Mediterranean
and completely without contact
with the greater part of Asia, Africa, America and Australia.
Christianity is a unique revelation of God in Jesus Christ
and that, although it was conditioned by the circumstances of its origin,
this revelation has a unique message for the whole world.
The Christian church began as a Jewish sect and
only gradually realized its vocation as a universal religion.
It developed its structures from the second century onwards
entirely in the context of Greco-Roman culture,
with an extension which must not be overlooked
in the Syrian East, in Egypt and Ethiopia.
The doctrine of the church remains essentially based on a Semitic foundation developed by the Greek genius in terms of Greek philosophy, while the
organization remains a Roman structure
built on the foundation of the original Jewish community.
In the course of the centuries
these structures within Christianity have been expanded
and a whole system of theology, philosophy and morality,
a sacramental order and an ecclesiastical hierarchy,
have been developed.
Though it derives from Jesus and the apostles in the first century,
the Christian church as such received its definitive structure
in the second century,
its evolution in the Roman Empire being determined by the circumstances of the time.
All these structures which we have inherited
are Western structures built on the foundation of the original Semitic revelation.
These structures of doctrine, discipline and sacrament
are thus historically conditioned.
They are integral elements in an historical development
which has taken place gradually over many centuries.
In the course of its history
- and this is the great tragedy :
the Asian and African churches were separated from the main body.
In Asia, where St Paul conducted his missions,
the churches which were centered on Antioch
were separated in the fifth century,
while the churches of Africa, based on Egypt and Alexandria,
were also separated.
The result was that by the fifth century
Asia and Africa were lost to the church.
Then in the eleventh century Eastern Europe, centered on Byzantium,
separated from Rome which was the centre of the Western church.
Finally, at the Reformation
the churches of Northern Europe were separated from Rome.
It is this tragically divided church that we have inherited.
The separations which have accumulated over the centuries
are all still present today.
My Vision sees
the reconciliation of these divided churches
as each recognizes the other as a particular expression of Christian faith and worship, and as each seeks to reconcile the differences.
There are valid elements in every Christian church.
Each is a way of expressing Christian faith and worship.
There are obvious limitations and obvious differences in each
but we will seek to discern the differences
and overcome the divisions,
in contrast to previous times
when we were engaged in dividing from one another
and in asserting our own values
at the expense of those of others.
Reconciliation within the Christian church
will involve recognition of different ministries.
The present ministries of the different churches
all derive from the second century or later.
In the New Testament
there is neither papacy, episcopacy nor priesthood.
The only priesthood, properly speaking, in the New Testament
is that of Christ himself and of the people,
which St Peter describes as a "holy priesthood".
It would be necessary to reconsider the different ministries in this light.
The present system of the papacy
dates from the Gregorian
reform of the twelfth century.
It is important to recognize that this movement had its value
at the time.
One must consider that each development of the church
was limited to its particular historic horizon.
It was only when the Eastern church separated from the Western
that the papacy began to develop its present structure.
The Eastern church will never be reconciled
with the present system of the papacy
which is an evolution of the last ten centuries.
In the fifth century there were five patriarchates:
Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome.
In the fifth century the primacy of the Pope, St Leo,
was fully recognized
but he was primus inter pares,
the first among equals,
and he never interfered in the affairs of the Eastern churches.
The patriarchs were responsible for the liturgy,
theology and the whole conduct of their churches,
just as the pope was solely responsible for the Western churches.
The Pope only appointed bishops in his own patriarchate.
So this was a very different structure of the church
from that of later centuries,
and yet it was a unified church.
In the second century emphasis is on the church itself,
rather than on bishops.
Bishops became more important in the course of time
but early on it was the church that was important.
Perhaps a possible function of Rome is to be
a center of unity rather than a center of power.
This would mean that Rome would no longer be
the center of power and domination
which it had become in the Middle Ages.
When we go back to the New Testament
there is neither episcopacy nor priesthood.
On the other hand we find a great many other different ministries.
St Paul speaks of apostles and prophets
but also of evangelists, pastors and teachers,
helpers and administrators.
So that was the structure of the church in the New Testament
and it seems that we have to go back to the New Testament itself
to restructure the ministries of the church.
In that light the ministries of other churches
which have no bishops
could be reconciled with the church as a whole.
We should also be aware that in the New Testament
women played a very considerable part in the ministry of the church,
and any attempt at renewing the structures of the church
demands that women have ministries in equality with men.
When the church has been opened in this way
to a more universal structure of ministry
it would be much more possible for her to open herself
to the cultures of Asia and Africa
and to answer the needs of the people in the Third World.
So far the church has had a European structure.
In its liturgy, theology, canon law and organization
it is a totally Western structure.
We must discover the possibilities of structuring the church,
not in the light of Europe,
but in the light of Asia, Africa and South America.
That is clearly where the future lies.
It may be that the basic communities in South America,
particularly in Brazil,
could provide a model for the church in the Third World.
In these communities lay people, men and women,
meet regularly to study the Scriptures,
to celebrate the Eucharist,
and to reflect on their life and experience
in the light of the Bible and the Eucharist.
They also relate their political and socio-economic problems
to their experience of the Bible and the Eucharist
and try to develop these aspects of their lives within this context.
These basic communities, in Brazil in particular
where there are tens of thousands of them,
are all in communion with the church,
but they are lay communities.
This kind of involved and committed community
may well be the model for a renewed Christian church.
Such communities could be compared to the monastic communities
at the break-up of the Roman Empire.
In many respects we seem to be entering a period
not unlike that of the Roman Empire in the fifth century
when the entire structure began to collapse.
It was monastic communities, integrated communities
with a physical, social base and a religious character,
which were the sources from which the new civilization emerged.
As economic, social and political tensions increase in the present world
there will be an ever stronger need for small communities,
based on the new vision of life,
which could in time form the basis of a new civilization,
like the monasteries in the Middle Ages.
These communities would be communities of men and women,
married and single, basically Christian
but also open to people of other religious traditions
and of other understandings also,
where a new culture would gradually be formed.
Along with this a new theology would be developed,
particularly as the church comes into contact
with the religious cultures of Asia and Africa.
Our present theology was first built up entirely in contact with Greek philosophy.
The whole system was based on divine revelation in the Scriptures
interpreted in the light of Greek philosophy.
Today theology has drawn on modern philosophy,
but nowhere until the present time
has the church succeeded in evolving a theology
based on the experience and the wisdom of Asia and of Africa.
Our present theology was evolved in Europe
and we have to look forward to a theology
which would evolve
in contact with Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian thought
and at the same time a liturgy
which would develop
from contact with the art, music and dance of Asian and African peoples.
It would be an assimilation of the cultures of Asia and Africa
into the life of the church,
just as in the early centuries
there was an assimilation first of the culture of the Greeks and the Romans
and then of all the "barbarian" peoples of Europe.
That was how the church emerged in the Middle Ages.
It brought its original Semitic wisdom, religion and faith
and interpreted it in the light of the Greek and the Roman world.
It assimilated the barbarian peoples
with their wonderful gifts,
creating that great church of the Middle Ages which we have inherited.
In this way we can envision the emergence of a new world culture
as the present materialist and mechanistic system breaks down
under the continued crisis of economic, social and political conflict.
One of the characteristics of this new culture would be its feminine aspects.
For three thousand years the world has been dominated
by patriarchal cultures
which overcame the ancient matriarchal cultures of the earlier ages.
We have now reached the limit of this masculine culture
with its aggressive, competitive, rational, analytic character.
We are moving now into an age where the feminine principle will be valued,
the yin in contrast to the yang.
We have now reached
the limit of the masculine culture,
and we are moving inevitably back to the feminine.
The feminine will sooner or later begin to take its proper place
with its characteristics of intuition, empathy and co-operation,
and with its holistic approach.
This will necessarily affect not only the economic, social and political orders
but also spirituality and religion.
The Christian religion has developed an entirely masculine concept of God.
We always speak of God as Father, and of the incarnation of the Son.
Even the Holy Spirit, which is neuter in Greek but masculine in Latin,
we have conceived normally in masculine terms.
In the Hebrew Bible, however, the Spirit, the ruach, is feminine
and in the Syrian church this same word was used of the Holy Spirit
when they spoke of "our Mother, the Holy Spirit".
That is found in the second and third centuries
but it does not seem to have survived after that.
The masculine character of the Godhead has prevailed since then.
There was however a feminine aspect of God in the Old Testament
and to some extent in the New, and in the
Christian tradition we have Julian of Norwich,
who speaks of Jesus as our Mother.
St Anselm of Canterbury does the same.
So apart from a few exceptions
the masculine character of God has strongly prevailed in the West.
By contrast, in India God is conceived both as Father and Mother.
Obviously theologically God may be conceived as both Father and Mother.
Being neither masculine nor feminine
God can be represented as either Father or Mother, or both,
in masculine and feminine terms.
In the Tantric tradition,
which derives from the ancient matriarchal culture,
the mother aspect of God is dominant.
In that tradition the whole universe is seen to derive from the Mother
all worship is offered to the Mother.
That is precisely the opposite of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
I envision a corresponding development in Christian theology
recognizing the feminine aspect of God
and the place of women in the ministry of the church.
There is no question of a return to a matriarchal society.
It is a matter of the recovery of feminine values
and the reconciliation of the masculine and the feminine.
When the truth of the transcendent order of reality is rejected
we cannot remain neutral.
We become exposed to the hostile forces which work in the unconscious
and bring spiritual destruction upon humankind.
Western Europe rejected the perennial philosophy at the Renaissance
and has been led step by step to the materialistic philosophy which rejects fundamental human values
and exposes humankind to the contrary forces at work in the universe.
The only way of recovery is to rediscover the perennial philosophy,
the traditional wisdom, which is found in all ancient religions
and especially in the
great religions of the world.
But those religions have in turn become fossilized
and have each to be renewed, not only in themselves
but also in relation to one another,
so that a cosmic, universal religion can emerge,
in which the essential
values of Christian religion will be preserved
in living relationship with the other religious traditions of the world.
This is my vision for the coming centuries
as a new world order emerges from the ashes of the old.