Vision of The New Age

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

A Vision

This Vision involves a return to the perennial philosophy,

the ancient wisdom which

underlies all religion from the earliest times.

It requires

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,

especially existentialism,

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.

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