"A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age'" doesn't give many absolute answers. But while saying some positive things about the New Age movement, it warns that New Agers' quest for spirituality and inner peace can't take the place of true Christian religion. And it highlights some core differences between New Age and Christian thought, particularly regarding the concepts of God, Jesus and sin.
While New Agers are waiting for an era when they are "totally in command of the cosmic laws of nature ... Christians are in a constant state of vigilance, ready for the last days when Christ will come again; their New Age began 2,000 years ago, with Christ," the document said.
The Vatican said the preliminary document was the result of requests by bishops for guidance on determining whether practices embraced by New Agers, including yoga, meditation and healing by crystals, were compatible with Christianity.
The 90-page booklet, which includes a glossary defining terms like "channeling," "karma," and "reincarnation," urges caution.
Monsignor Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told a news conference many aspects of the New Age movement were viewed positively by the church, such as the importance it places on protecting the environment. "But if one is brought to this by ascribing 'divineness' to the land, that's another thing," he said. "Music that relaxes you is good. But if this music empties prayer and prayer turns into just listening to music and falling asleep, it's no longer prayer."
The document, which was six years in the making, traces the history of the New Age phenomenon and notes the importance of the 1969 Woodstock festival and the musicial "Hair."
It lists feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of placing things to ensure a harmonious energy flow, as an "occult" New Age practice that emphasizes "being in tune with nature or the cosmos."
The document stresses that much of the New Age phenomenon is driven by marketing books, therapies, and crystals, and it notes some consider New Age just a label "for a product created by the application of marketing principles to a religious phenomenon."
The Vatican didn't say why the book was coming out now--more than 30 years after the New Age movement took hold in the United States and elsewhere--although it is current enough to acknowledge that yoga and crystals are enormously popular these days.
The booklet attributes such popularity, particularly in the Western world, to a "spiritual hunger of contemporary men and women" unsatisfied with existing religion, political institutions or science.
It offers some practical steps for priests to follow, saying the best way to counter the search for New Age remedies was to highlight the "riches of the Christian spiritual heritage." It encourages dialogue with New Agers, but stresses that their credentials must be checked. And it urges caution with groups that host prayer meetings or initiation ceremonies, saying they may lure people into a form of false worship.
The booklet was prepared by Fitzgerald's council and the Pontifical Council for Culture, with help from the Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
It is not considered to be the Vatican's final word on the matter. A definitive document will be published once the Vatican receives feedback from dioceses on the provisional one issued Monday.