What is Perennialism and Why Should we Know About It?

The Perennialist School, also known as the Sophia Perennis and the Traditionalist School, was founded around the 1920s by apostate René Guénon and has accrued many followers since. It is also therefore sometimes referred to as Guénonism, though it is actually just a repackaging, and presentation to modern Westerners, of ancient errors. This particular Neo-gnostic cult seems to be the only one which presents an immediate concern to Catholics (who recognise that the Vatican II sect is not the Catholic Church, and who consequently reject its heretical hierarchy) because some of its adherents have purportedly embraced “traditional Catholicism” and even the “Sedevacantist position” and thus have been active within Catholic circles, even up to the present day. Though there have been articles in French, Spanish and Italian, including one published in the IMBC’s Sodalitium magazine, exposing the dangers of this particular occult cult, there is an absence of such articles in our own language from our Catholic clergy. Consequently, True Restoration has translated the article on p. 11 of this edition of Sodalitium for the benefit of the English-speaking world in tandem with this overview.

For those unfamiliar with Sophia Perennis, it seems to possess the same basic tenets as the Theosophical Society founded by Madame Blavatsky and others but with only accidental differences; although there have been spats between these groups over certain aspects of disagreement. Despite protests to the contrary from its followers, this esoteric cult is not only a form of Neo-Gnosticism but in some ways overlaps with the New Age occultism. Their fundamental belief is that of the "Transcendent Unity of Religions" which includes what they refer to as the major world religions in their pure original form. They preach that in order to seek “Truth” and “Union” with "The Absolute" one must embrace and follow properly any one of the main “Traditional Religions.” These include originally: Catholicism, Hinduism, Judaism (including the Kabbalah), Orthodox Christianity and Islam. Buddhism and even certain ancient American Indian Tribal religions have come to be included by many of its followers in more recent times.

When analysing the concepts proposed by the Sophia Perennis philosophers, you will see that these authors' core belief in the Transcendent Unity of Religions includes their belief that all these religions were revealed by “the Absolute” (which seems to mean something like God, or whatever their religion happens to call their idea of God or one becoming as God). Hence, the authors all believe that Mohammed had revelations from this “Absolute,” that Hinduism is also founded on revelations from the “Absolute” etc. In the practical order, followers of this philosophy give primary loyalty to the Sophia Perennis and secondary or accidental/incidental loyalty to their chosen “Traditional Religion” – so their adherence to the practice of their chosen "revealed religion" is only insofar as exterior practices, and provided it serves their higher pursuit of knowledge (which they call “Gnosis”) and attainment of "the Absolute" in accordance with the principles of Perennialism.

The followers of this sect insist that their beliefs are supported by their chosen religion and seek to find ways to prove that these religions (including Catholicism) preach their “Transcendent Unity of Religions” – and some seem to believe these religions' majority of followers (i.e. all of us who are uninitiated into their Gnostic cult) are ignorant of this higher truth and the true metaphysics of their, and our, religion. This becomes apparent when a Catholic tries to tell them that one cannot be a Catholic and a Perennialist at the same time because the latter is condemned by the Church. However, a Perennialist is likely to claim that St. Augustine (whom they tend to simply call “Augustine”), other early Church Fathers and Catholic mystics throughout the history of the Church, supported their philosophy of a “primordial wisdom” found in all religions. They also hold Meister Eckhart and Plato in high esteem (being Neo-Platonists), whilst not being fans of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas; they tend to denigrate Scholastic/Thomistic Philosophy.

The Perennialists who choose Catholicism as their exoteric religion to practice, will agree with very many things we Sedevacantist Catholics profess, and oppose many things we oppose, including purportedly "Modernism"; so superficially (at least) they may seem to be genuinely "one with us.” However, they fundamentally disagree with Catholicism. Despite their protestations of how terrible the Vatican II church's ecumenical doctrine is (and they do decry this as an error), the reason for their objection is not the same as the reason why we Catholics decry it but simply because they object to Protestantism and other "non-traditional” forms that many moderns practice of the various "traditional religions." They simply prefer the most traditional forms – whilst also believing that outward forms and dogmas don’t really matter, anyway! Effectively, what they preach is just a nuanced twist of false ecumenism, which happens to superficially exclude “non-traditionalism” and syncretism in the exoteric sphere.

The Perennialists collectively form a seemingly large group spread across several religions. With their writings being published by their own organisation’s publishing house (World Wisdom Press) and others, including Novus Ordo publishers TAN and Angelico Press; their leading proponents hosting speaking events throughout the world; an extensive online library of articles; an active online forum with a breakdown of sections catering to whichever particular religion that a follower has chosen association – one can see that over the past nearly a century, they have expanded significantly and have a substantial support network to propagate their ideologies and maintain their devotees.

Titus Burckhardt, director of Urs Graf Swiss German publishing house which specialised in reproducing mediaeval illuminated manuscripts (a colleague of the similarly well-known and outspoken Sophia Perennis promoter of that era, Frithjof Schuon), in a private audience in 1950 presented Pope Pius XII with a three-volume quadrichromie facsimile, published by his company, of the Book of Kells (Evangeliorum quatuor codex Cenannensis), a book containing the four Gospels in the Celtic tradition believed to be created in a Columban monastery of Iona, circa 574 -800 A.D. According to Perennialists who have entered Catholic communities, Pope Pius XII gave his blessing to Burckhardt, and the other Perennialists who were with him at that audience, which they claim is proof that the Catholic Church approves of their philosophy. Yet, we know that a pope simply giving a blessing to a group of people presenting him a nice gift doesn’t constitute a sanction of whatever private beliefs these individuals might hold.

The main public proponent of this cult who eventually entered the Sedevacantist scene, is the late Dr. Rama Coomaraswamy. And another Perennialist author, who likewise would be familiar to most of our readers, is Dr. Wolfgang Smith. Books by both these authors have been sold not only among different groups of traditional Catholics, but even in Sedevacantist chapel bookstores, including: “The Destruction of the Christian Tradition,” “Teilhardism and the New Religion” and “The Problems with the New Mass.” The latter in particular, gained popularity amongst serious-minded Catholics, due to its damaging critique of the Novus Ordo Missae. The overall content is good because this Perennialist author largely sourced the material from the published writings on the subject from Catholic authors such as Fr. Anthony Cekada and Patrick Henry Omlor, thus gaining him credibility in the traditional Catholic scene. Similarly, Smith’s review of Teilhard de Chardin is rightly scathing of that Modernist, and being recognised as a correct and useful overview, it has likewise gained that author credibility in Catholic circles. This is in contrast with most other occultist and Gnostic authors active within the Novus Ordo, and other non-Catholic religions, who don’t pose much of a threat to Sedevacantist laity; given the laity generally would know to avoid all such unapproved religious sources.

Rama Coomaraswamy, son of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, was born into the microcosm of Sophia Perennis. His father was a prominent Perennialist advocate who identified with the Hindu religion. In general, though not strictly required, this Neo-Gnostic group recommends its followers practice the main exoteric “traditional religion” characteristic to their geographical location. Hence, upon moving from India to America, Canada and England, the preferred option was Catholicism. And this is the religion Rama chose to superficially join.

According to his brief biographical sketch on World Wisdom website:

“Although raised in the Hindu tradition, after the death of his father, Rama would convert to Catholicism. He was a firm traditionalist, and an ardent student of Church history and theology. For five years in his later life he was Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the St. Thomas Aquinas (Lefebrist) [sic] Seminary. He also always maintained his interest in traditionalist metaphysics and in traditional art.”

“Books written or edited by Rama P. Coomaraswamy

  • The Destruction of the Christian Tradition: Updated and Revised (author).
  • The Essential Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (editor and “Introduction”).”

It is necessary to understand that the use of the term “traditionalist” in the above extract is according to the Sophia Perennis definition and not our Catholic meaning. The utter bewilderment that a Catholic would experience upon discovering that a convert to our Faith, especially one who taught at an SSPX seminary, published books on Catholic topics and even went so far to (attempt to) be ordained as a priest (albeit serious doubt has been cast on the validity of his alleged ordination) could possibly reconcile being the editor and contributor to a collection of mostly Hindu writings, viz. his father’s works, is dispelled only by grasping that he was never a genuine convert. Rather, he always maintained his esotericist roots and beliefs, whilst outwardly professing to be a Catholic.

Modern-day students of the Sophia Perennis, who decide to choose Catholicism as their preferred exoteric “revealed religion” to practice, would be led by Rama Coomaraswamy’s writings and recommendations to recognise that the purest form of Catholicism is now to be found among the Sedevacantists, given we are the only ones who reject the Modernist Vatican II church, entirely. Even though it is unlikely that a solidly-educated Catholic attending a Sedevacantist chapel is going to become a Perennialist, what sometimes happens is a Perennialist starts attending one of these chapels, or participates in online discussion forums, presenting himself as being a genuine Catholic. Usually these Gnostics are savvy enough to know that what they believe as their highest principle is not what we Catholics believe, so they are cautious about being too open, too soon. However, over time, they tend to surreptitiously promote and seek to recruit others to their cult. Since Coomaraswamy’s books on traditional Catholic issues aren’t obviously Guénonist, these writings can be used to draw unsuspecting Catholics into trusting his scholarship and orthodoxy, to be later influenced in a deleterious way. Coomaraswamy in a clever and nauseating manner, typical of Guénonists and Gnostics in general, sought to convince others that Catholicism is consistent with Perennialism…but Holy Mother Church teaches otherwise.

After the death of Rama Coomaraswamy in 2006, arguably the most renowned Perennialist remaining active in the Catholic scene is Dr. Wolfgang Smith. As far as I know, he doesn’t openly profess the Sedevacantist position, yet his books and talks are promoted to some extent by Catholics who do hold that position. Dr. Smith specialises mostly in the field of Science, and he is clearly a serious scholar as can be seen from his research in that arena.

Many years ago I read his book, “Teilhardism and the New Religion” published by TAN. As far as I could tell it was a good book. I had no idea at the time of even the existence of the Sophia Perennis; therefore, I couldn’t have possibly known that the author was one of these esotericists. Later, I went on to read another title by the same author, “Science and Myth” which is essentially about the fundamental problems of Scientism. However, this book triggered alarm bells because, unlike the first, Smith’s Perennialist philosophies had been incorporated throughout – though not so obviously that a non-critical reader would necessarily notice them, nor recognise its potentially harmful influence. Consequently, any merit of his exposure of Scientism and its danger is negated by the other danger of his gnostic beliefs being presented in a positive framework. Since then, circumstances happened to force me to become much more au fait with this obnoxious and noxious, dark world of Neo-Gnosticism. Its presence in the Novus Ordo religion should come as no surprise to anyone but its having crept into traditional Catholic circles is very disturbing. Thus, knowing the key characters involved could prove very beneficial to many layman.

Dr. Smith also has given interviews, and worked on at least one film, on scientific subjects that aren’t totally distinct from issues pertaining to our Faith. His criticisms against Descartes’ erroneous notions (particularly "Cartesian Bifurcation"/mind-body Dualism), those against Darwinian Evolution via his defence of Young Earth Creationism, and his insights into the Geocentricity vs Heliocentricity debate, are weighty contributions that have attracted Catholics interested in such issues. Not surprisingly, as recently as February 2021, Smith’s booklet “Three Scientistic Heresies” is being promoted by the Feeneyite website, Catholicism.org. That website sells four of his books: including the abovementioned title and others with dubious titles such as, “Ancient Wisdom and Modern Misconceptions” and “Rediscovering the Integral Cosmos.” Truly, it can be said that Perennialist Gnosticism is active all around us. And what better way to infiltrate the Church with Neo-Gnostics – who sincerely believe that our Faith teaches that they have the truth – than specifically charging them to embrace wholeheartedly the exoteric practice of the Catholic Faith?

Related articles: "'Observations on the Influence of the Occult in Traditional Catholic Discourse' - Simplified overview."

English Translation of "A Great Initiate: René GuénonBy M. l’Abbé Curzio Nitoglia

Denzinger 2189: “Whether the doctrines, which today are called theosophical, can be in harmony with Catholic doctrine; and thus whether it is permitted to join theosophical societies, attend their meetings, and read their books, daily papers, journals, and writings. --Reply: In the negative in all cases.

Theresa

Theresa is Director of True Restoration Press and hostess of the Restoration Radio series, “The Catholic Home.” She is a cradle Catholic, homeschooling mother residing in Australia.

2 Responses

  1. April 5, 2021

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  2. April 5, 2021

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