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"Catholicism for the New Age: Matthew Fox and Creation-
Centered Spirituality" (an article from the Christian Research
Journal, Fall 1992, page 14) by Mitchell Pacwa, S.J.
The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is
Matthew Fox, a Catholic priest, has begun a movement of
"creation-centered spirituality" to turn people away from
emphasizing man's fall into sin and Christ's redemption. Instead,
he proposes that God's "original blessing" of creation is greater
than the effects of sin. Therefore, everyone should center on
finding God in creation. This will bring about the increased
creativity and love of the world that are needed to take the
human race into the 21st century.
Fox proposes these ideas, however, at the expense of
orthodox Christian doctrine. He ignores or rejects the central
scriptural themes of the need for redemption and the centrality
of Christ's death. Though Fox is bright and well educated, his
scholarship can often be shoddy and even deceptive, as long as it
makes his point. The Vatican has rejected his teaching and all
Christians should be alert to its dangers.
Father Matthew Timothy Fox O.P. (Order of Preachers,
commonly known as the Dominicans), has placed himself at the
center of a storm inside the Catholic church. What gave rise to
the conflict between Fox and Catholic leadership? Is Fox a
danger to the Christian church? These are questions we shall
seek to answer in this article.
Matthew Fox was born on December 21, 1940, entered the
Dominicans in 1960, and was ordained a priest in 1967. In 1970 he
received a doctorate, summa cum laude, from the Institut
Catholique (Paris) in Medieval theology.
His first popular book on prayer, _On Becoming a Musical,
Mystical Bear_ (1972), created the impetus which eventually led
to his establishing the Institute for Culture and Creation
Spirituality (ICCS) in 1977 at Mundelein College, a small
Catholic women's college in Chicago. He moved the ICCS to Holy
Names College, another small Catholic college in Oakland,
California in 1983, where it has remained to the present day.
The ICCS teaching staff includes Starhawk the witch (alias
Miriam Simos); Buck Ghost Horse, a shaman (mystic guide healer);
Luish Teish, a Yoruba (West African) voodoo priestess; and Robert
Frager, representing Sufism (Islamic mysticism). Typical of New
Age approaches to spirituality, some psychology is thrown in:
John Giannini, a Jungian analyst, and Jean Lanier, a Gestalt
therapist. Brian Swimme is the resident cosmologist, and
"geologian" (i.e., exponent of environmental wisdom) Fr. (Father)
Thomas Berry teaches on occasion.
Fox established Bear and Company to publish creation
spirituality books, such as _Earth Ascending,_ by Jose Arguelles,
originator of the 1987 "Harmonic Convergence," and _Medicine
Cards: The Discovery of Power through the Ways of Animals,_
complete with book and "medicine shield" cards. Later he founded
_Creation,_ a magazine sponsored by the Friends of Creation
Spirituality, Inc., whose president and editor-in-chief is Fox.
_Creation_ describes itself as "deeply ecumenical, deeply
cosmological, deeply practical and deeply alternative." A recent
issue portrays a nude Jesus Christ, seated in the yoga lotus
position, with antlers on His head (July/August, 1991). Another
shows the "Qetzalcoatl Christ," with the Lord's face in a picture
of Qetzalcoatl, the Aztec Plumed Serpent deity (May/June, 1992).
Fox's problems with the Catholic hierarchy began in 1984
when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Vatican's
department for protecting orthodoxy, asked the Dominican Order to
investigate Fox's writings. Three Dominican theologians examined
his books in 1985 and concluded they were not heretical. One of
them, Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P., reported at a 1991 lecture that
Fox's work did not seem worth condemning because it was too
superficial and did not appear to be a danger to the faithful. He
was wrong, as he now admits.
The Vatican continued to object to Fox's teachings, such as
his diminishing or even denial of original sin, refusal to deny
belief in pantheism (the belief that God is all and all is God),
endorsing homosexual unions in the church, identifying humans as
"mothers of God," and calling God "our Mother." The presence of
the witch, Starhawk, on the ICCS staff caused another scandal.
For these and other reasons, the Vatican in 1986 asked the
Dominican Master General to stop Fox. But the Chicago Dominican
superior, Fr. Donald Goergen, O.P., wrote a detailed defense on
Fox's behalf and let him go on.
In September, 1987 Ratzinger's Vatican office began its own
investigation of Fox and his teachings. Fr. Goergen received
charges against Fox in April, 1988, but claimed that Fox's
theological views had not been disproven. At this point the
Vatican insisted that the Dominicans prevent Fox from further
teaching and writing. Accordingly, the Master General asked Fox
to take a one year sabbatical to calm the situation. In a
"Pastoral Letter to Cardinal Ratzinger and the Whole Church," Fox
responded by publicly calling the Catholic church a dysfunctional
family because "power, not theology, is the real issue." Still,
he began a year-long silence on December 15, 1988.
On December 15, 1989, Fox resumed his busy teaching,
lecturing, and writing schedule -- including appearances at John
Denver's (New Age) Windstar Foundation and an Easter retreat at
Findhorn, Scotland (a prototype New Age community). In 1991 Fr.
Goergen ordered Fox to leave the ICCS in California and return to
Chicago or face dismissal from the Dominican order. Fox refused,
and at the time of this writing his dismissal awaits only the
Vatican's formal approval. If dismissed, Fox would remain a
priest, but would be forbidden to perform the sacraments.
Fox continues to have tremendous influence -- both within
and outside the Catholic church. Recently CNN International
featured him as a theologian speaking for the environment. His
books are used by nuns, are found at Catholic retreat houses, and
are distributed in bookstores -- religious and New Age alike.
Influenced by Fox, some nuns include wicca (witchcraft)
ceremonies in their rituals and celebrations, breaking the hearts
of believing Catholics who witness it. Creation spirituality (see
glossary) is taught to young children, neglecting the doctrines
of sin and redemption, but starting classes with a "Pledge of
Allegiance to the Earth."
*Carl Jung:* (1875-1961) A Swiss psychologist and one-time
associate of Sigmund Freud who founded a school of "depth
psychology." He was interested in myth and religion, but
personally believed in alchemy, the occult, and pantheism.
*creation spirituality:* Matthew Fox's name for his
religious approach. Its starting point and focus is on creation,
which is identified with God and the Cosmic Christ. He sets it in
opposition to belief in man's fall into sin and Christ's
*panentheism:* The belief that God is in everything and
everything is in God.
*cosmic:* Fox uses this to mean the whole universe, with its
laws of harmony and wholeness and its beauty.
*Cosmic Christ:* Though Fox affirms belief in the historical
Jesus, he considers the Cosmic Christ to be a "third nature" in
addition to the divine and human natures. By saying it is the "I
AM" in every creature, the Cosmic Christ is identified with
creation. The earth is called the Cosmic Christ.
*cosmology:* For Fox, the study of the cosmos or universe,
with a focus on a new paradigm based on Einstein's physics rather
than Newton's. It brings together science, mysticism, and art,
and tries to do away with all dualism.
In 1989, Reverend Lawrence Krause -- a graduate of the
American Baptist Seminary in Covina, California, and ordained by
the Covenant Church -- started the New Creation Fellowship and
Renewal Center in La Mesa, California. This appears to be a New
Age denomination inspired by Fox's ideas.
In this article, I shall examine Fox's teachings in some
detail, focusing primarily on his world view and his view of God
and Christ. I shall then examine Fox's reliability as a scholar,
for if his scholarship can be shown to be faulty, then everything
he teaches and writes becomes suspect.
FOX'S WORLD VIEW
Two questions in the introduction to Fox's book _Original
Blessing_ provide an important insight into his world view:
1. In our quest for wisdom and survival, does the
human race require a new religious paradigm [model]?
2. Does the creation-centered spiritual tradition
offer such a paradigm?
As the reader may guess, my answer to both these
questions is: yes.
A New Paradigm
Like many New Agers, Fox borrows the idea of a "paradigm
shift" from Dr. Thomas Kuhn, a historian of science. Kuhn
describes how people make models or paradigms of the universe to
direct their interpretation of its events. Science often shapes
the basic paradigms by which people view reality. Sometimes
scientific discoveries so severely affect the old paradigms that
they are abandoned for new and more useful ones.
Such a paradigm shift occurred when science changed from the
mechanistic idea of the universe, which is associated with Sir
Isaac Newton, to Albert Einstein's world of relativity. Newton
interpreted the universe as a huge mechanical system that
operates according to predictable, immutable laws (such as the
_law of gravity_). His paradigm compartmentalized the world into
discrete entities -- distinct constituent parts of the larger
Buckminster Fuller, Matthew Fox, and many others claim that
the new _Einsteinian_ paradigm has not yet been accepted in place
of the _Newtonian_ paradigm. Once it is, they say, a completely
new way of viewing the world will dominate. This new paradigm is
one that will link humanity with all creation, and will emphasize
the interconnectedness of all things. In other words, a
"wholeness" paradigm will replace Newton's mechanistic paradigm.
Fox is an evangelist of the inevitable new scientific,
religious, and philosophical paradigm. Evidently, he wants to
incorporate Christian theology and spiritual traditions into this
new paradigm. For Fox, it is important to note, Christian ideas
do not have priority over the new paradigm. Rather, Christianity
must change to fit the new ideas. If the church does not adapt
and lead the new way of thinking, "Mother Earth" will die, taking
everyone down with her. How, then, must the church change,
according to Fox?
To recover the wisdom that is lurking in religious traditions
we have to let go of more recent religious traditions....
Specifically,...an exclusively fall/redemption model of
spirituality....It [the fall/redemption model] is a dualistic
model [separating the sacred and profane] and a patriarchal
[father oriented, male dominated] one; it begins its theology
with sin and original sin, and it generally ends with
redemption. Fall/redemption spirituality does not teach
believers about the New Creation or creativity, about
justice-making and social transformation, or about Eros,
play, pleasure and the God of delight.
Fox identifies St. Augustine and his theology of humanity's
fall into sin and need for redemption as the prime culprit behind
today's problems. Wars (especially the threat of nuclear war),
ecological crises, boredom, unemployment, and the rest of modern
woes go back to St. Augustine's idea that people are born with
original sin in their souls. Fall/redemption theology leads to
"sentimentalism and fundamentalism," focusing on personal
salvation and a personal savior. As a result, Fox says, people
have "no ego, no self-respect, no tolerance for diversity, no
love of creation, no sense of humor, [and] no sense of sexual
identity or joy."
Frequently, as is typical with New Agers, Fox's books decry
society's and the church's emphasis on the brain's _left_
hemisphere, with its analytic, verbal, logical processes. Fox
wants people to incorporate the _right_ hemisphere of the brain,
with its emotion, connection making, mysticism, cosmic delight,
and orientation toward the maternal, silence, and darkness.
Fox believes his new paradigm will awaken the world to the
cosmic. Instead of Christ redeeming us from sin, Christ Himself
becomes cosmic, liberating everyone from the "bondage and
pessimistic news of a Newtonian, mechanistic universe so ripe
with competition ... dualisms, anthropocentrism, and ...
boredom." Fox's translation of Meister Eckhart (a thirteenth
century German mystic) says that all persons are "meant to be
mothers of God" and everyone is called to give birth to the
Cosmic Christ within themselves and society. Then, with St.
Hildegard of Bingen (a twelfth century Benedictine abbess),
Eckhart, and psychologist Carl Jung, everyone will know
themselves to be "divine and human, animal and demon. We are
Fox also identifies Christ with Mother Earth. For him,
Christ's redemption takes on new meaning and power in the Cosmic
Christ context if people see it as the "passion, resurrection,
and ascension of Mother Earth conceived as Jesus Christ
crucified, resurrected, and ascended." Holy Communion is
"intimate," "local," and "erotic" when it becomes "the eating and
drinking of the wounded earth."
A key aspect of the new paradigm is Fox's idealization of
feminist theology and rejection of patriarchal (father oriented)
religion. He advocates a return to maternal (mother oriented)
religion, like that of native peoples throughout the world. Their
"matrifocal [mother-centered] religion" helps them reverence God
as a mother, the earth as our mother, the universe as our
grandmother. They care for earth, he declares, and seek justice,
compassion, creativity, and harmony among people and within the
ecology. He preaches this religious ideal as the new paradigm of
"deep ecumenism," which will allow people of all religions to
come together at a mystical level.
Is Fox a New Ager?
Is Fox a New Ager? On the one hand, he freely employs New
Age ideas -- for example, he sets Newton against Einstein, the
right brain against the left, and mysticism as the basis of
religion, not dogma. He quotes New Age thinkers such as Fritjof
Capra, Buckminster Fuller, and Gregory Bateson. He suggests that
the "contemporary mystical movement known as 'new age' can
dialogue and create with creation spiritual tradition."
On the other hand, Fox criticizes New Age "pseudo-
mysticisms" such as interpreting "'past life experiences' in an
excessively literal way without considering the possible
metaphorical meanings." Dealing with "past lives," he allows, is
an acceptable technique of "working out -- often in a very
commendable and creative way -- the deep suffering and pain from
[people's] present life." While Fox's interpretation of past
life reading is not New Age, his _endorsement_ of the practice,
probably from a Jungian point of view, is unacceptable to
Scripture and Catholic teaching.
Fox criticizes other New Age trends which are: "all space
and no time; all consciousness and no conscience; all mysticism
and no prophecy; all past life experiences, angelic encounters,
untold bliss, and no critique of injustice or acknowledgment of
the suffering and death that the toll of time takes. In short, no
body. To these movements the Cosmic Christ says, 'Enter time.
Behold my wounds. Love your neighbor. Set the captives
Again, Fox does not reject New Age practices; he simply
wants them balanced by social justice, conscience, and concern
for the physical world. He prophesies in the name of the Cosmic
Christ that New Agers should love their neighbors and do justice.
New Agers would probably agree (many New Age thinkers and
activists, such as Capra, have raised the same concerns) and
merrily go to a conference on saving the environment, crystals,
Fox's analysis, however, is inadequate because he does not
reject the _occult_ practices of the New Age movement. Commending
witchcraft and shamanism (primitive spiritism) in his Institute
encourages disciples to investigate the occult in the guise of
learning the ways of "matrifocal" (mother-centered) primitive
religions in order to awaken the compassionate and creative
mother in everyone.
In Scripture, God calls us to be compassionate, loving, and
thirsty for justice. At the same time, however, He condemns the
occult practices of native Canaanite religion, its mother
goddesses Anath and Ashtarte, and its demand for human sacrifices
(Deut. 18:9-14). Furthermore, Starhawk's wiccan religion of the
goddess is explicitly pantheistic (all is _God_) and monistic
(all is _one_). This causes one to wonder whether Fox's
frequent commendations of Starhawk's work in reawakening the
goddess religion mean that he accepts pantheism after all.
Honesty requires him to state his true relationship to Starhawk's
wiccan theology: is he pantheistic or not?
Fox even affirms a qualified belief in the astrological
ages, as affirmed by Jung and New Agers. Fox calls astrology a
"tradition that offers us a glimpse into our own futures," but in
the same section he emphatically states, "What I present here is
not my personal belief in astrology (I do not _believe_ in
astrology) but a method of seeing the human consciousness
historically, where historical means both past and future."
For Fox, astrology is a "symbolic method of seeing our
futures" that "might have a valuable insight." Jung defends this
view "by arguing that astrological wisdom is significant for what
it tells us of the contents of our spiritual unconscious and, as
such, needs to be taken very seriously." Then Fox recounts
Jung's description of 2,000 year-long stages in human history:
the _bull_ (Taurus), from 4,000 to 2,000 B.C. -- representing
"primitive, instinctual civilizations"; the _ram_ (Aries), from
2,000 B.C. to A.D. 1 -- characterized by Judaism, conscience, and
awareness of evil; the age of the _fishes_ (Pisces), from A.D. 1
to 1997 -- "dominated religiously by the figure of Christ." The
symbol of the two fish swimming in opposite directions "implies a
dualistic spirituality that has so characterized Christian
thinking and, in particular, Christian mysticism. It implies a
Christ vs. anti-Christ tension."
Fox claims that the Piscean Age ends at the end of the
twentieth century "according to this theory, and if there is some
truth to it," the Age of Aquarius is opening soon. It will be
characterized by the symbol of water and "the deep," but he does
not explain the significance of this further. In the New Age,
"evil will be made conscious to every individual who may in turn
be made truly spiritual and responsible." Individuals will have
experiences of "the living spirit" in this spiritual age "where
both the spirits of ugliness (evil) and of beauty (God) will be
available to every person to choose in his own way." He says
it will also be an age of "reincarnation," not in the sense of
transmigration of souls, which he rejects, but of restoring the
_sensual_ and _incarnate_ sense again (i.e., people will have a
positive experience of getting back in touch with their
bodies). Fox foresees a changed church in the Age of
Aquarius, too: "Sensual sacraments and liturgies, church leaders
and schools, life-styles and working conditions -- there lies the
re-incarnational church for a post-Piscean Age."
The New Age movement gets its name from its belief that
society will soon be transformed (many expect this around the
turn of the millennium). This belief motivates many people to
support the movement because the changes are proclaimed as
inevitable and irreversible. Since no one can stop the inexorable
advance into the Age of Aquarius, it is reasoned, it makes more
sense to join it than fight it. Fox too is convinced that the old
Piscean Age, with its dualistic, Augustinian, Newtonian world
view, is dead.
I suspect that, like New Agers, Fox motivates himself and
others to change their ideology and theology because he is
convinced that a new, Aquarian Age is upon the world and the
church. However, what if he is wrong? What if 1997 does not usher
in the Age of Aquarius as he claims? Christianity has weathered
many dramatic upheavals in society -- from the destruction of
Israel in A.D. 70, through the collapse of the Roman Empire, the
French Revolution, and the atheistic persecutions of the Marxists
and Nazis. The church, the beloved Bride of Jesus Christ, will
survive _until He returns for her,_ through the period New Agers
call the Age of Aquarius and beyond.
Fox does the world and the church a disservice by not
teaching the whole Scripture and by accepting only parts. The
Greek word for heresy means taking parts out of the whole. While
Fox's love of creation and its God-given goodness is commendable,
his new paradigm is not. It becomes a vehicle by which Christians
are ushered into the New Age movement.
FOX'S TEACHING ON GOD AND CHRIST
A central element in the New Age movement is belief in
pantheism, the idea that God is everything and everything is God.
Where does Fox's doctrine of God and Christ place him? Although
he seeks to avoid this conclusion, his views on these
all-important subjects belong in the New Age category.
Fox explicitly rejects pantheism as a heresy that removes
God's transcendence and makes the sacraments impossible.
Instead, he holds to panentheism, which teaches that "everything
is in God and God is in everything." This idea has its home in
the late Neo-Platonism (a mystical philosophy which combined
ideas from Plato with Oriental, Jewish, and Christian beliefs) of
the Middle Ages, especially as represented by John Erigena,
Nicholas of Cusa, and Meister Eckhart. Because Fox does not like
Platonism, he dubs these Neo-Platonists "creation-centered
All three philosophers came under church scrutiny and
condemnation because their explicit claims of panentheism (which
is bad enough, since it holds that the creation is inherently
divine) masked an implicit pantheism. Fox has the same problem.
His quotation of Nicholas of Cusa sounds like pantheism, though
he calls it panentheism:
The absolute, Divine Mind, is all that is in everything that
is....Divinity is the enfolding and unfolding of everything
that is. Divinity is in all things in such a way that all
things are in divinity....
We are, as it were, a human deity. Humans are also the
universe, but not absolutely since we are human. Humanity is
therefore a microcosm, or in truth, a human universe. Thus
humanity itself encloses both God and the universe in its
Fox frequently quotes his version of Meister Eckhart:
The seed of God is in us....Now the seed of a pear tree
grows into a pear tree, a hazel seed into a hazel tree, the
seed of God into God.
I discover that God and I are one. There I am what I was, and
I grow neither smaller nor bigger, for there I am an
immovable cause that moves all things.
These and similar passages throughout Fox's books manifest
an understanding of Christ and divinity rooted in Fox's
translations and imagination rather than Scripture or church
teaching. Sounding remarkably like New Agers Mark and Elizabeth
Clare Prophet of the Church Universal and Triumphant, Fox wants
people to "birth" their own "I am," which is the experience of
the divine "I am." The reason for our existence, Fox tells us, is
to "birth the Cosmic Christ in our being and doing." Fox
believes that everyone can and should give birth to the Cosmic
Christ, which he believes will awaken the maternal within us.
Fox's Cosmic Christ sounds pantheistic and not at all like
Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. He writes, "The divine name
from Exodus 3:14, 'I Am who I Am,' is appropriated by Jesus who
shows us how to embrace our own divinity. The Cosmic Christ is
the I am in every creature." Again Fox sounds like the Church
Universal and Triumphant, claiming that Jesus appropriated His
divinity and we can do the same. This makes Jesus no more divine
than we are, as New Agers teach.
Fox tells us to "let go of the quest for the historical
Jesus and embark on a quest for the Cosmic Christ." Yet he
does not want Cosmic Christ theology to be believed or lived _"at
the expense of the historical Jesus"_ (emphasis in original).
Fox seeks a dialectic or interchange of ideas between the
historical and the cosmic so as to incorporate the prophetic and
the mystical. This requires a conversion from a "personal Savior"
Christianity, which is "anthropocentric and antimystical," to a
"Cosmic Christ" Christianity.
Which of Fox's statements do we believe? He is confusing and
contradictory. Perhaps he emphasizes the need for using the right
side of the brain (with its intuition, mysticism, and freedom
from dualistic, either/or thinking and the limitations of logic)
_because of his own illogic._ For many New Agers, the emphasis on
right brain nonthinking is the perfect defense against logic,
communication of ideas, the expertise of other people, and common
sense. Fox's thinking mixes New Age ideas and cliches with his
own faulty translations of old treatises from the fringes of
Christianity, as I will now demonstrate.
FOX'S FAULTY SCHOLARSHIP
While Fox's extensive interests and background include late
Neo-Platonist philosophy, Medieval spirituality, and ecology, his
scholarship is sloppy and embarrassing. He betrays the trust
placed by nonspecialists that scholars do their homework.
I first noticed difficulties with Fox's use of Scripture, my
own area of expertise. He mistranslates texts and misrepresents
linguistic findings to support his theological bias. For
instance, he writes: "The word for 'mountain' in Hebrew also
means 'the Almighty' and it comes from the word for breast.
Mountains are the breasts of Mother Earth, thus 'Come! Play on my
mountain of myrrh.'"
This is a confused batch of misinformation. "Mountain" in
Hebrew is _har_; the name "God Almighty" comes from the Akkadian
word, _El Shaddai_; "breast" in Hebrew is _shad,_ from the root
_shadah,_ which is not the root of _Shaddai (shadad is)._ While a
slight error if it were alone, Fox is mixing and matching
etymologies irresponsibly to make a feminist point, though one
that is nonexistent in Hebrew.
Another example occurs in his comments on the Song of Songs
(or Song of Solomon):
[The male lover in Song of Solomon] invokes the earth
goddesses in this charge; this man is not out of touch with
the pre-patriarchal spirituality:
I tell you O young ones of the holy city:
Do not arouse my lover before her time.
I charge you by the "spirits and the goddesses of the
by the gazelles and the hinds: Do not disturb my love
while she is at rest. (2:7; 3:5; 8:4)
Fox's translation and comments are faulty. The Hebrew has no
reference to spirits and goddesses but rather reads:
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem:
by the gazelles and by the hinds of the field:
Do not awaken, do not stir up love until she pleases. (2:7)
The Hebrew word "gazelles" is _sebaoth,_ similar to "hosts"
in the name "Lord of Hosts" (Lord _Sabaoth_). The Greek
Septuagint translates this word in Song of Songs 2:7 as "by the
powers and forces of the field." The Aramaic Targum has "by the
Lord of Hosts and by the Strength of the land of Israel." Paul
Jouon, S.J., a French Hebraist, considered this an allusion to
the armies of angels and their leaders, but the majority of
scholars see them as words for gazelles and deer, not as
references to earth goddesses.
Fox also abuses Hebrew etymology in claiming "the Hebrew
word for blessing, _berakah,_ is closely related to the word for
create, _bara_....The word for covenant, _beriyth,_ is also
directly related to the words for 'create' and for
'blessing.'" This is utter nonsense, on a par with claiming
that "carpet" originally meant dogs driving automobiles. _No
etymological connection exists among these Hebrew words._
Covenants and creation may be blessings, but Fox bases his point
on a false premise.
In another place Fox makes an erroneous claim about the
Hebrew language to support an equally erroneous statement about
God: "The with-ness of God is especially significant because,
while Greeks focus on nouns in their literature, Jews focus on
prepositions such as with, against, from, etc. The Covenant is a
sign of God's withness. To be without covenant would be
unbearable for the Jewish believer. God, then, is a preposition
for the Jew. And the preposition is basically one of presence, of
In fact, the Hebrew language does _not_ focus on
prepositions but on verbs, usually in the form of what Hebrew
grammarians call triliteral roots. The prepositions are
substantives derived from verbs. The words meaning "God" are not
prepositions, nor are they derived from prepositions. It is
absurd to call God a preposition.
Elsewhere Fox mistranslates Greek words that are not even in
the New Testament! He writes of "the counsel of Jesus to his
friends (substituting the word 'culture' for _kenosis_) when he
declared that they be 'in the culture but not of it.'" First,
the Greek word _kenosis_ (meaning "emptying") does not appear
anywhere in the New Testament. Why does Fox bother to
mistranslate it? Second, the saying of Jesus which he
reinterprets here is apparently John 17:16, "They [the disciples]
are not of the world [_ek tou kosmou_] as I am not of the world
[_ek tou kosmou_]." Perhaps Fox did not want to inform his
readers that neither Jesus nor His friends were "of the cosmos,"
a key word in Foxian thought.
Serious problems arise from Fox's translation of John 1:1-5,
9, 10, 12, and 14, where he uses the impersonal sounding words
"Creative Energy" to translate the Greek word _logos_ (usually
translated as "word"). The word "energy" is simply unacceptable
as a translation of _logos_. Further, instead of the personal
pronoun "he" (present in Greek), Fox uses "it" to refer to the
Word eleven times, though he calls "it" the "Child of the
Creator." Fox's depersonalization of the Word made flesh makes
Christ an impersonal energy. More evidence of a depersonalizing
tendency appears in a quote of thirteenth century saint and
mystic Mechtild of Magdeburg: "From the very beginning God loved
us. The Holy Trinity gave _itself_ in the creation of all things
and made us, body and soul, in infinite love" (emphasis
Fox also misrepresents the way Christians have allegorized
the Song of Songs, saying that they read "into the Jewish
tradition a dualism between body and soul and an alien original
sin mentality that are not there." However, it was the
rabbinic tradition that first allegorized the Song of Songs. Had
Rabbi Aqiba not insisted on an allegorical interpretation of the
Song, the rabbis would not have kept it in their Scripture canon.
Christians simply continued the Jewish tradition of allegorizing
the Song, though they adapted it to their understanding of Christ
and the church.
Training in Hebrew and Greek helped me catch all the above
errors, but I am not an expert in Medieval literature. When I
asked Medievalists about Fox's work, they noted its defective and
Dr. Barbara Newman, an expert on St. Hildegard of Bingen at
Northwestern University, is skeptical of Fox's work on St.
Hildegard. In a footnote she says of Gabrielle Uhlein's
_Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen_ and Fox's _Illuminations
of Hildegard of Bingen_ that the "so-called translations in these
volumes are not to be trusted." Newman's review of Fox's
edition of _Hildegard of Bingen's Book of Divine Works, with
Letters and Songs_ says: "The present book, like earlier
Hildegard volumes from this press [Bear & Company], raises
serious questions about the editor's integrity. " It is not a
translation from Hildegard's original Latin version but is from a
German abridgment, which Fox erroneously calls "a critical text."
One wonders why Fox did not use the original texts.
Newman says the introductions in Fox's volume are "rife with
errors about Hildegard's work," such as the false idea that she
founded monasteries for men or administered a small kingdom.
Instead of the feminist portrayed by Fox and company, Hildegard
"firmly defended social hierarchies, and believed in divinely
ordained gender roles," called God _Father and Son,_ and used
masculine pronouns for God. Neither was Hildegard a creation-
centered theologian, as Fox claims: "Hildegard's teaching is not
creation centered at all; it centers on the Incarnation...."
Newman concludes her review by saying, "the wholesale
misrepresentations that Bear & Company engage in cannot, in the
long run, serve the cause of human integrity by purveying
historical fallacies." 
Another critic is Simon Tugwell, O.P., who reviewed Matthew
Fox's _Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart's Creation Spirituality in
New Translation_ in the Dominican journal, _New Blackfriars._
Tugwell, proficient in Eckhart's thought and in Middle High
German language, thoroughly exposes Fox's poor scholarship.
First, Tugwell says Fox's translation is poor quality.
Instead of using the Middle High German of Eckhart's original,
Fox chose Quint's modern German translation of the original. _Why
did Fox not use the original language?_ Tugwell goes on to say
that Fox inaccurately translates Quint's text with "an
extraordinary number of mistakes." At times Fox does not
understand the syntax; at times he does not know the meanings of
words. But, Tugwell says, "sometimes it is difficult to avoid the
feeling that the mistranslation is deliberate, intended to
minimize anything that would interfere with the alleged
'creation-centeredness' of Eckhart's spirituality."
Tugwell says the historical introduction in this book "is so
dominated by wishful thinking and sheer fantasy that the reviewer
hardly knows how to begin criticizing it." When Fox alleged
Celtic influence on Eckhart, Tugwell found himself reduced to
"helpless, gibbering fury." He accuses Fox of "tendentious half-
truths, or...downright falsehood." For instance, Fox claims
Eckhart was a feminist influenced by the beguine movement
(semi-monastic sisterhoods going back to twelfth century
Holland), but in fact _no reliable evidence exists for either
assertion._ Also, Fox calls Eckhart, a Dominican, "the most
Franciscan spiritual theologian of the church" because he
rejected the dualist thoughts of Platonist philosophers. In fact,
St. Francis was _clearly_ dualistic because he said that the soul
lives in the body "like a hermit in a hermitage" and called the
body and soul "both men" inside the person. Fox ignores this
dualism in St. Francis, whom Fox has dubbed "creationcentered."
In short, then, Tugwell caught Fox committing significant errors.
Unfortunately, the appeal and use of Fox's
pseudotranslations are widespread. An American scholar visiting
Norwich, England stopped at a gift shop, and the racks displayed
all the Bear & Company translations. When the visitor explained
how faulty and inaccurate these translations were, the clerk
gushed, "That all may be true, but Fr. Fox has been such a help
to my spiritual life."
Why are the above criticisms significant for understanding
Fox and creation-centered spirituality? First, they throw the
rest of his scholarship into question. I certainly do not trust
his biblical scholarship; neither do a Hildegard of Bingen
scholar and a Meister Eckhart scholar trust his translations and
commentaries. Experts find Fox committing so many dumb mistakes
that he is either full of malarkey or, as some (including myself)
suspect, is deliberately deceitful. Since Fox has repeatedly
betrayed his trust as a scholar, why should he be trusted as an
authority on religious matters?
Second, Fox constructs much of his creation-centered
theology from _his own_ translations of Hildegard and Eckhart.
His faulty translations support a crumbly theological edifice.
Scholars can show that neither Sacred Scripture, St. Hildegard,
St. Francis, nor even Meister Eckhart are to blame for Fox's
peculiar theology. He must bear full responsibility (and
culpability) for this abominable approach to "spirituality."
IS ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY DYING?
Not all of Fox's concerns are wrong headed. Christians need
to show more love for creation and the environment. Growth in
compassion and creativity (in the analogous sense by which we
creatures _can_ be creative) is a laudable goal. As well, passion
for justice and concern for the poor are biblical
characteristics. Yet none of these requires us to abandon the
faith handed on to us by the apostles. We need not accept Fox's
view that "the Church as we have known it is dying," or that
"Christianity as we know it will _not_ survive for we know it now
in wineskins that are brittle, old and leaking." Christ
Jesus, truth incarnate, will renew the church and bring many
people to salvation through union with Him. We can depend on
Matthew Fox has invented a creation-centered theology that
tries to see everything in God and God in everything. His Cosmic
Christ is especially in the earth, and he would have us all learn
to find this Christ in ourselves and in the world. Clearly, Fox's
theology distorts historic Christianity into a crypto-New Age
system that leads people away from the real Christ of Scripture.
The warning of St. Paul is well-suited for this modern-day wolf
in clerical clothing: "See to it that no one makes a prey of you
by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition,
according to the elemental spirits of the universe [Greek:
_kosmos_], and not according to Christ. For in him the whole
fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of
life in him, who is the head of all rule and authority" (Col.
Father Mitchell Pacwa, S.J., is a Scripture scholar from Loyola
University at Chicago.
1 Matthew Fox, O.P., _Original Blessing_ (Santa Fe, NM: Bear and
Company, 1983), 9.
2 Ibid., 10-11.
3 Matthew Fox, O.P., _The Coming of the Cosmic Christ_ (San
Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988), 151.
4 Ibid., 182.
5 Ibid., 135.
6 Ibid., 137.
7 Ibid., 138.
8 Ibid., 149.
9 Ibid., 214.
10 Fox, _Original Blessing_, 16.
11 Fox, _Cosmic Christ_, 45-46.
12 Ibid., 141.
13 Starhawk, _The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion
of the Goddess_, 10th Anniversary Edition, Revised and Updated
(San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989), 10-11, 22, 23, 27.
14 Matthew Fox, _WHEE! We, wee All the Way Home: A Guide to the
New Sensual Spirituality_ (Wilmington, NC: A Consortium Book,
15 Ibid. Unfortunately, though Randy England's _Unicorn in the
Sanctuary_ (Manassas, VA: Trinity Communications, 1990), 122,
quotes Fox's statement about astrological ages rather
extensively, he omits Fox's denial of belief in astrology.
England should have been more fair and directed the criticism
16 Fox, _WHEE!_, ii-iii.
17 Ibid., iii.
18 Ibid., 183.
19 Ibid., 196.
20 Matthew Fox, _A Spirituality Named Compassion and the Healing
of the Global Village, Humpty Dumpty and Us_ (San Francisco:
Harper and Row, 1979), 256.
21 Fox, _Original Blessing_, 90.
22 Fox, _Cosmic Christ_, 126.
23 Ibid., 121.
24 Ibid., 154.
25 Ibid., 155.
26 Ibid., 154.
27 Ibid., 8.
28 Ibid., 79.
30 Ibid., 169.
31 Ibid., 170.
32 Marvin H. Pope, _Song of Songs: A New Translation with
Introduction and Commentary_, Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY:
Doubleday and Company, 1977), 385-86.
33 Fox, _Original Blessing_, 46.
34 Ibid. Here Fox cites a lecture by Dr. Ron Miller at ICCS,
Mundelein College, Chicago, 18 January 1982.
35 Matthew Fox, O.P., _On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear_ (New
York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1972), 66.
36 Fox, _Original Blessing_, 48.
37 Ibid., 62.
38 Barbara Newman, _Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard's Theology of
the Feminine_ (Berkeley: University of California Press,
39 Barbara Newman, review of Matthew Fox, ed., _Hildegard of
Bingen's Book of Divine Works, with Letters and Songs," Church
History_ 54 (1985), 190.
40 Ibid., 191.
41 Newman, _Sister_, 250.
42 Newman, review, 192.
43 Simon Tugwell, O.P., review of _Breakthrough: Meister
Eckhart's Creation Spirituality in New Translation_,
Introduction and Commentaries by Matthew Fox, _New
Blackfriars_ 63 (1982), 197.
45 Fox, _Cosmic Christ_, 31.
46 Ibid., 149.
End of document, CRJ0001B.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Catholicism for the New Age: Matthew Fox and Creation-Centered
This file was first made available as CR001J11.TXT, release 1.1,
February 19, 1993. Later it was given the name CRJ0001A.TXT
after an early revision of CRI's file name convention.
Update B, March 26, 1993, R. Poll, CRI
The preceding article was adapted from a chapter in Pacwa's
book _Catholics And The New Age_ available from Servant Press,
Ann Arbor, Michigan.
In a phone conversation yesterday Pacwa suggested that I
pass on the news that Fox has been "kicked out of his order"
since this article was first published.
(A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help
in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.)
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