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THEN AND NOW: JOACHIM OF FIORE And JOHN MCNEILL

Contrast the  following three statements: The first is a report of Pope Benedict’s address on March 10th of this year.

The Pope’s address to the weekly audience continued the reflections on St. Bonaventure that he had begun the previous Wednesday. In this second talk, the Holy Father concentrated on St. Bonaventure’s response to Joachim of Fiore and the “spiritual” Franciscans, who had taught that a new phase of history was beginning, in which the Church hierarchy would disappear and the enlightened faithful would be guided only by the Holy Spirit. “St. Bonaventure opposed that error, the Pope observed, and in rebutting it he upheld the true teaching of St. Francis of Assisi. The faithful should not follow radical new teachings, but should recognize that “there is no other Gospel, no other Church to be awaited.” The Franciscans, St. Bonaventure insisted, should work within the structure of the hierarchical Church.

The second reading is from John McNeill’s recent posting, Theology of Fallibility Part IV

There is no doubt in my mind that we are at present in a new stage of the collapsing Temple and the emergence of a new form of shepherding. Joachim of Fiore in the 13th century saw three stages in the development of God’s church. The first was the Church of obedience to the Father, the Church of Israel; the second was the Church of the Son, Jesus, which he identified with the hierarchical Catholic church. He prophesied that there would come the day when the hierarchical church, becoming superfluous, would in time dissolve and in its place would emerge the Church of the Holy Spirit. I believe that time is now. Ministry in the Church of the Holy Spirit will come from a direct call of the Holy Spirit to any baptized person from within their spiritual self-awareness. The task of authority will be to listen prayerfully to what the Holy Spirit is saying through the people of God. All authority will proceed from the bottom up and not from the top down. Every community should prayerfully discern spirits to select among their members the one whom God is calling to leadership. That individual could be a man or woman, married or single, gay or straight! The Church of the Holy Spirit must become a totally democratic church with no caste system, no higher or lower, totally equal, women with men, gays with straights; everyone possessing the Holy Spirit within them; everyone an authority.

(A 1573 fresco depicting Gioacchino da Fiore, in the Cathedral of Santa Severina, Calabria, Italy)

The third is by German spiritual master Eckhart Tolle and is taken from his book, A New Earth

SPIRITUALITY AND RELIGION

What is the role of the established religions in the arising of the new consciousness? Many people are already aware of the difference between spirituality and religion. They realize that having a belief system – a set of thoughts that you regard as absolute truth – does not make you spiritual no matter what the nature of those beliefs is. In fact, the more you make your thoughts (beliefs) into your identity, the more cut off you are from the spiritual dimension within yourself. Many “religious” people are stuck at that level. They equate truth with thought, and as they are completely identified with thought (their mind), they claim to be in sole possession of the truth in an unconscious attempt to protect their identity. They don’t realize the limitations of thought. Unless you believe (think) exactly as they do, you are wrong in their eyes, and in the not-too-distant past, they would have felt justified in killing you for that. And some still do, even now.


The new spirituality, the transformation of consciousness, is arising to a large extent outside the structures of the existing institutionalized religions. There were always pockets of spirituality even in mind-dominated religions, although the institutionalized hierarchies felt threatened by them and often tried to suppress them. A large-scale opening of spirituality outside of the religious structures is an entirely new development. In the past, this would have been inconceivable, especially in the West, the most mind-dominated of all cultures, where the Christian church had a virtual franchise on spirituality. You couldn’t just stand up and give a spiritual talk or publish a spiritual book unless you were sanctioned by the church, and if you were not, they would quickly silence you. But now, even within certain churches and religions, there are signs of change. It is heartwarming, and one is grateful for even the slightest signs of openness, such as Pope John Paul II visiting a mosque as well as a synagogue.


Partly as a result of the spiritual teachings that have arisen outside the established religions, but also due to an influx of the ancient Eastern wisdom teachings. a growing number of followers of traditional religions are able to let go of identification with form, dogma, and rigid belief systems and discover the original depth that is hidden within their own spiritual traditions at the same time as they discover the depth within themselves. They realize that how “spiritual” you are has nothing to do with what you believe but everything to do with your state of consciousness. This, in turn, determines how you act in the world and interact with others.


Those unable to look beyond form become even more deeply entrenched in their beliefs, that is to say, in their mind. We are witnessing not only an unprecedented influx of consciousness at this time but also an entrenchment and intensification of the ego. Some religious institutions will be open to the new consciousness; others will harden their doctrinal positions and become part of all those other man-made structures through which the collective ego will defend itself and “fight back.” Some churches, sects, cults, or religious movements are basically collective egoic entities, as rigidly identified with their mental positions as the followers of any political ideology that is closed to any alternative interpretation of reality.

But the ego is destined to dissolve, and all its ossified structures, whether they be religious or other institutions, corporations, or governments, will disintegrate from within, no matter how deeply entrenched they appear to be. The most rigid structures, the most impervious to change, will collapse first. This has already happened in the case of Soviet Communism. How deeply entrenched, how solid and monolithic it appeared, and yet within a few years, it disintegrated from within. No one foresaw this. All were taken by surprise. There are many more such surprises in store for us.

Editorial comment: Eckhart Tolle’s statement is significant, I believe, because it provides an interpretive framework or context within which to understand current events within the Roman Catholic Church. We are at an unprecedented moment in Western history in which the formal institutional forms of religion are losing their accustomed authority and increasing numbers of sincere spiritual seekers are searching for spiritual sustenance outside the institutional forms – and finding it! The church will certainly ‘survive’ in one form or another and will weather this crisis, but it will be profoundly transformed by this tectonic cultural and spiritual shift currently underway. One cannot go back  two hundred years or four hundred or six hundred for precedents of similar crises which the church has managed to survive. One must go back to the very origins of Christianity and the crisis that propelled it from being a minority Jewish sect into a worldwide universal religion open to all for an example of a comparable paradigm shift of similar magnitude. St. Bonaventure may have been ‘right’ for his day, the church and the community of believers were simply not yet ready for the implementation of Joachim of Fiore’s radical vision. But times have changed more radically than he could have anticipated, making Joachim of Fiore’s visions seem prescient indeed. And John McNeill joins the company of grand prophets who are pointing the way forward for all of us.

Addendum: This just in from National Survivor Advocates Coalition (NSAC) News (thanks to William Lindsey at Bilgrimage for the link to this at Voice from the Desert Blog)

Received from A. W. Richard Sipe

Pope Benedict XVI is a good man. He has served the Church long and well. It takes nothing away from his goodness to suggest that he should resign his office. Nine of his predecessors have resigned, most for the good of the Church. The clerical sex abuse crisis that now exposes a corrupt pattern and practice of a system has escaped and confused many good, brilliant people and left generations paralyzed. There is no need to point fingers.

However, the Roman Catholic Church is in a period of Reformation as profound (and breathtaking) as any its history has ever recorded. The voluntary resignation of Pope Benedict XVI would be a gesture that would match the epic challenge that faces Catholicism today. Such leadership would break the pattern and practice that holds the church hostage to a past that no longer serves the Christian message. The monarchy that rules the church has outlived its service in the evangelization of peoples, an evangelization that Paul the apostle taught and that Pope John Paul II championed. The People of God, hierarchy included, are shackled by a secret system designed to control rather than free them.

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