In the previous posting on this subject we examined the source of Monsignor John A. Ryan’s understanding of social justice and distributive justice as embodied in the two books that made him famous, A Living Wage (1906) and Distributive Justice (1916). As we discovered, Ryan’s definitions did not come from a study of Rerum Novarum, but from the utopian and religious socialist movements of the early nineteenth century that Rerum Novarum was intended to counter.
By analyzing Rerum Novarum from the perspective of the very things it was condemning, Ryan turned Catholic social teaching completely on its head. Thanks in large measure to Ryan, concepts lifted directly from socialism, modernism, and even the New Age were ensconced solidly in what many people even today assume as a matter of course is orthodox Christian thought.
Take, for instance, the New Age. . . .
Many people are familiar with the song “The Age of Aquarius” from the musical Hair (1967), with lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, music by Galt MacDermot. According to the Wikipedia,
The lyrics of this song were based on the astrological belief that the world would soon be entering the “Age of Aquarius”, an age of love, light, and humanity, unlike the current “Age of Pisces”. The exact circumstances for the change are “When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars.” This change was presumed to occur at the end of the 20th century; however, astrologers differ extremely widely as to when. Their proposed dates range from 2062 to 2680. Astrologer Neil Spencer denounced the lyrics as “astrological gibberish”, noting that Jupiter forms an astrological aspect with Mars several times a year and the moon is in the 7th House for two hours every day. These lines are considered by many to be merely poetic license, though some people take them literally.
|Blessed Joachim of Flora
On investigation, it turns out there is a bit more to the story behind “the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” The idea of a “New Age” is actually pretty old. In the western world, it seems to have started with the theological speculations of Abbot Joachim of Flora (cir. 1132-1202). Joachim divided history into three “dispensations”:
· The First Dispensation, that of God the Father. God the Father represents power and fear. This is the Old Covenant or Testament of the Jews.
· The Second Dispensation, that of God the Son. God the Son, the “Word made flesh,” represents the wisdom of the ages revealed in Jesus. This is the Catholic Church, the New Covenant or Testament of the Christians.
· The Third Dispensation, that of God the Holy Spirit. God the Holy Spirit represents the universal love that proceeds from the Gospel of Christ but transcends its literal meaning and abolishes the precepts of the natural law in favor of the supernatural law.
Joachim submitted all of his writings to the pope for approval. This was originally given, but then withdrawn and the teachings condemned after others seized on Joachim’s speculations and turned them into a new theology. Joachim himself is considered “blessed,” however, because of his obedience in submitting his work to the judgment of the Church.
As noted, the problem was that following Joachim’s death there were serious distortions of his doctrines, even forgeries attributed to him, primarily by individuals calling themselves “Joachists” or “Joachimists.” The Joachists were a sub-group of the dissident Franciscans known as the Spirituals.
The Spirituals eventually split from the main body of the Friars Minor and formed their own Order, the Fraticelli, claiming they were the only true disciples of Saint Francis of Assisi (1181/82-1226) and the only real Christians. According to G.K. Chesterton in his book, Saint Francis of Assisi (1923), however, all the Fraticelli did was invent a new religion centered on themselves instead of God and call it Christianity.
Teachings of the Joachists went far beyond the speculations of Joachim. Contradicting the teachings of Saint Francis, Spiritual Franciscans developed an alternative spirituality. This had faith instead of reason as its basis in an effort to circumvent the natural law, made Saint Francis greater than Christ, and put Joachim’s works (including or especially the forgeries) above the Bible.
Doing a “fast forward” to the nineteenth century, some of the “New Christian/Neo-Catholic” sects, democratic religions (socialism), and religions of humanity that arose following the French Revolution took the Fraticelli at their word as the only Christians worthy of the name. This was a claim repeated by the Fabian socialists in the twentieth century, especially R.H. Tawney — who was on the Executive Committee of the Fabian Society from 1920 to 1933 — in his books (The Acquisitive Society, 1920, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, 1926), largely because the Fraticelli advocated the abolition of all property and the overthrow of the social order to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth, to which Pope Pius XI juxtaposed the Reign of Christ the King.
In the nineteenth century, especially in the United States socialist utopias sprang up like mushrooms or (from a more orthodox Catholic and Protestant view of Christianity), like toadstools. One of these was Thomas Lake Harris (1823-1906), whose “Brotherhood of the New Life” eventually ended up in a commune in Santa Rosa, California in 1875.
Among the ideas of Harris were concepts that seem to have impressed the agrarian socialist Henry George (1839-1897) sufficiently for George to include them in his 1879 book, Progress and Poverty, considered one of the two most important American socialist books of the nineteenth century. (The other was the “nationalist fantasy” novel Looking Backward, 1888, by Edward Bellamy, 1850-1898.)
George’s influence was international in scope, and he was the inspiration for the formation of the Fabian Society in England, an offshoot of the Fellowship of the New Life. The Fellowship of the New Life was influenced by the American transcendentalist movement, especially as it found expression in the Brook Farm commune that adopted the principles of the variety of socialism founded by François Marie Charles Fourier (1772-1837) as bowdlerized by Albert Brisbane (1809-1890), and heavily criticized by Orestes A. Brownson (1803-1876).
|Cyrus Reed Teed, "Koresh"
Harris’s ideas were also formative to the ideas of another American, Cyrus Reed Teed (1839-1908), an advocate of what we would today call “alternative medicine.” In 1869 when he was experimenting with the presumed therapeutic effects of electric shocks, Teed was knocked unconscious.
While Teed was unconscious, he claimed to have received a visit from a divine spirit, whom he later referred to as “the Goddess.” The spirit informed him that he (Teed) was the new Messiah sent to redeem humanity and bring it into the New Age of the Age of Aquarius that had dawned with Teed’s birth.
Teed took the name Koresh as the Hebrew version of Cyrus as more fitting for the savior of mankind and established a utopian socialist community that lasted until 1961. (Morris, American Messiahs, op. cit., 146-147.) In 1894 the Christian socialist magazine The New Age began publication, which provided a venue not only for socialist, but also modernist and esoteric thought of all types, popularizing “New Age” as the name of the movement, and supported the liberal version of “Social Darwinism.” Under the editorship of Alfred Richard Orage (1873-1934) the magazine became something of an unofficial journal of the Fabian Society.
Ryan synthesized these various schools of thought in developing his theories, as we will see in the next posting on this subject.