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Esoteric Catholicism

Panel Chair: Helmut Zander | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

The contacts between the Catholic Church and esoteric thinking have not yet been studied in depth. In this panel, we discuss these interactions in order to explore the innovation potential of non-hegemonic groups and practices for people and groups rooted in their inherited Catholic tradition: we examine how “esoteric” – meaning mesmerist, spiritualistic or anthroposophic – beliefs and practices shaped and transformed some segments of Catholicism. Given that these developments are reciprocal, we also focus on the influence of a Catholic background on esotericism. We suggest analysing these processes in the Catholic Church with a model of internal differentiation, as opposed to the often-used model of external segmentation.

Maren Sziede

Catholic Mesmerists in Germany

This paper aims to explore the invention of a particular form of Catholic piety informed by mesmerism as being a major medical-religious current in the early 19th century. It suggests that Catholicism at the time was much more heterogeneous than usually accepted and examines a field of Catholic piety and theory building often neglected in Catholic historiography. There is a strand of German scholars that “Catholicised” mesmerist beliefs and practices. I will examine these developments, which started in the early 1820s and were located in two regional centres, Bonn and Munich, along with their protagonists K.J.H. Windischmann, J. Ennemoser and J. Görres. One main feature of these interpretations that mingled mesmerism and Catholic beliefs is the reference to mystical phenomena (stigmatisations and visions). I will argue that one cannot understand this so-called “ultramontane piety” without taking into consideration its mesmerist roots and the Catholic-mesmerist hybridisations.

Marco Pasi

Western Esotericism, Alternative Spirituality and Roman Catholicism in Modern Italy

Little research has been done about the way in which the religious background of a particular country has influenced the development of modern Western esotericism. Did modern Western esotericism develop in different ways in Roman Catholic countries with respect to Protestant countries? This paper will focus on the Italian case (less studied than, for example, its French counterpart) and more specifically on the way in which the arrival of new forms of esotericism and alternative spirituality in Italy in the second half of the nineteenth century interacted with the traditional religious predominance of Roman Catholicism in the country. The analysis will particularly focus on Giuseppe Mazzini’s (1805-1872) religious thought, and on the cultural and political legacy he left behind him after his death. The analysis will also focus on the response of the Church, which extended to the phenomenon of Catholic modernism at the turn of the twentieth century.

Helmut Zander

Robert Spaemann: Esoteric Dimensions of a Catholic Philosopher

This contribution aims at analysing an esoteric network within the Catholic Church. As an example will serve Robert Spaemann (*1927), a well-renowned philosopher in Germany and former holder of the Chair of Philosophy at the University of Munich. Though, on the one hand, an “orthodox” Catholic – he was engaged, for example, in the question of abortion or animal ethics –, Spaemann was also, unbeknownst to many, wrapped up in an anthroposophical milieu and formed part of an esoteric Catholic network (including, et al. the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar or the jurist Martin Kriele), in which he defended reincarnation and the meditative use of tarot cards as a means of access to secret knowledge. This paper will discuss Spaemann’s techniques of integrating these “esoteric” positions into an “orthodox” view as part of an internal Catholic differentiation. This case will enable us to discuss processes of pluralisation without external segmentation.

Philipp-Michael Porta

“The Prayer for Peace” at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna: “Esoteric” Marian Apparitions in an “Orthodox” Cathedral

This paper explores a certain type of contemporary Marian apparitions, which can be interpreted as an attempt to integrate “non-orthodox” practices into a larger Catholic belief system and which do not produce external segmentation. This contribution takes as a case in point the currently most famous and most important Marian visions in Central Europe, which took place in Međugorje (Bosnia-Herzegovina). These visions have not been recognised and have even been criticised by the Roman authorities. Nevertheless, they have been transferred to and reproduced at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. In 2013, thousands of people attended the "Prayer for Peace", where a visionary from Međugorje had a live vision of the Virgin Mary in front of the assembled audience. These visionary performances are inspired by spiritualistic and esoteric practices, which are integrated into a Catholic liturgical formula. The staging of the “Prayer for Peace” will be analysed, drawing on methods from theatre and media studies.


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