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de Mello, Anthony

DE MELLO, ANTHONY

Spiritual writer, retreat master, priest, member of the Society of Jesus; b. Sept. 4, 1931; d. June 2, 1987. De Mello was raised in an old Catholic family in Bombay, India, and eventually took degrees in philosophy (Barcelona), psychology (Loyola University, Chicago), and spiritual theology (Gregorian University, Rome). He entered the Society of Jesus in Bombay in 1947. De Mello was the founder and director of the Sadhana Institute of Pastoral Counseling near Poona, India. He sought the integration of Eastern prayer methods into classical Christian forms, particularly the Ignatian Exercises. His most famous work Sadhana was translated into 40 languages and was the distillation of scattered notes used in retreats or prayer workshops. It helped gain a wide readership for nine other books that he saw through publication in his lifetime. De Mello died while giving conferences at Fordham University.

De Mello's spirituality, while not anti-intellectual, gives priority to sensate or body centered modes of spiritual awareness. Stillness and breathing techniques in De Mello's system are reminiscent of the hesychist. Imagination or fantasy permits a kind of self-displacement into a new historical moment. A new story emerges, such as when a person imagines walking with Jesus along the Via Dolorosa or witnessing the miracle at Cana as if at the wedding party. Feelings and intuitions are key; devotions are more secondary. Meditation is the pathway to love, not necessarily greater knowledge or cognition of some tangible reality. True cognition emerges when love is engaged. Here De Mello echoes Teresa of Avila: "The important thing is not to think much but to love." In offering spiritual counsel De Mello exhibited a self-deprecating wit and never forced his positions on his retreatants, choosing rather to teach by suggestion.

De Mello left a large body of unpublished work, some of which he edited before his death, though he never authorized their publication. Motivated in part by these later, posthumous writings, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a notification that some of De Mello's ideas were "incompatible with the Catholic faith and can cause harm." The principal issue was the charge of indifferentism. The Congregation called for bishops to see to the withdrawal of De Mello's works and the cessation of further reprinting. Friends and Jesuit colleagues, particularly in India, publicly protested this move, seeing it as inhibiting Christian encounters and dialogue with Eastern traditions and beliefs.

Bibliography: a. de mello, Sadhana: A Way to God: Christian Exercises in Eastern Form (St. Louis 1978); Praying Body and Soul: Methods and Practices of Anthony De Mello (New York 1997). p. divarkar, "The Enigma of Anthony De Mello," America 179, no. 14 (1998): 813. w. dych, ed., Anthony De Mello: Writings (Maryknoll, N.Y. 1999).

[p. j. hayes]

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