Matthew Fox (priest)

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Matthew Fox
Ordination 1972 (Roman Catholic)
Personal details
Birth name Timothy James Fox
Born 1940 (age 74–75)
Madison, Wisconsin
United States
Occupation Episcopal priest, theologian

Matthew Fox (born Timothy James Fox in 1940) is an American priest and theologian.[1] Formerly a member of the Dominican Order within the Roman Catholic Church, he became a member of the Episcopal Church following his expulsion from the order in 1993. Fox was an early and influential exponent of a movement that came to be known as Creation Spirituality. The movement draws inspiration from the mystical philosophies of such medieval Catholic visionaries as Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, Saint Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Dante Alighieri, Meister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa, as well as the wisdom traditions of Christian scriptures. Creation Spirituality is also strongly aligned with ecological and environmental movements of the late 20th century and embraces numerous spiritual traditions around the world, including Buddhism, Judaism, Sufism, and Native American spirituality, with a focus on "deep ecumenism".

Fox has written 30 books that have sold millions of copies and by the mid-1990s had attracted a "huge and diverse following".[2] He was likened by academic theologians in one New York Times article to the controversial and influential 20th century Jesuit priest, philosopher and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, particularly for his interpretations of issues such as the doctrine of original sin and the Cosmic Christ and for the resulting conflicts with church authorities.[3]


Dominican friar[edit]

Fox, originally named Timothy James Fox, was born in Madison, Wisconsin. In 1967, when he entered the Roman Catholic Church's Order of Preachers (the Dominican order) he was given the religious name of "Matthew". He received master's degrees in both philosophy and theology from the Aquinas Institute of Theology and later earned a Doctorate of Philosophy in spirituality (graduating summa cum laude) from the Institut Catholique de Paris, studying with Marie-Dominique Chenu. After receiving his doctorate, Fox began teaching at a series of Catholic universities, beginning in 1972 in Chicago with Barat College of the Sacred Heart (later purchased by DePaul University and subsequently closed).

In 1976, Fox moved to Chicago’s Mundelein College (now part of Loyola University), to start the Institute of Culture and Creation Spirituality, which developed an alternative pedagogy that diverged from orthodox Catholic theology and would eventually lead to severe conflict with church authorities. The institute’s programs integrated such trainings as “art as meditation” and “body prayer” with an intention to recreate for modern practitioners the visceral, emotional and intellectual connections that Fox asserted early church mystics had had with their faith.[citation needed]

In 1983, Fox moved the Institute of Culture and Creation Spirituality to Oakland, California, and began teaching at Holy Names University, where he was a professor for 12 years.[4]

Also in 1983, Catholic Church leadership began officially reviewing Fox’s teachings and theological divergences. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Vatican administrative body charged with teaching and defending church doctrine – ordered a panel of Dominican priests and theologians to perform a two-year review of Fox’s writings.[5] When the initial findings found in Fox’s favor, Cardinal Ratzinger, later to become Pope Benedict XVI, rejected them and ordered a second review which was never undertaken.[6][7]

Among Fox’s controversial teachings is a belief in "original blessing", which became the title of one of his most popular books. The concept contrasts with the Roman Catholic doctrine that people are born into "original sin". Fox's proponents hold that his teachings are more gender neutral, ecology sensitive, and accepting of non-traditional sexuality, than church orthodoxy.[8]

In 1988, Fox wrote a public letter to Cardinal Ratzinger entitled "Is the Catholic Church Today a Dysfunctional Family?", which was subsequently widely disseminated by the National Catholic Reporter. Soon after, Cardinal Ratzinger issued an order forbidding Fox to teach or lecture for a year.[9]

In 1993, Fox’s conflicts with Catholic authorities climaxed with his expulsion from the Dominican order for "disobedience", effectively ending his professional relationship with the church and his teaching at its universities. Cardinal Ratzinger ordered the expulsion after Fox refused to respond to a summons to discuss his writings with his superiors in the Roman Catholic Church. According to Fox, among the issues, which he was asked to defend, were that he called God "Mother";” preferred the concept of Original Blessing over Original Sin; worked too closely with Native American spiritual practices; did not condemn homosexuality; and taught the four paths of creation spirituality—the Via Positiva, Via Negativa, Via Creativa and Via Transformativa instead of the church’s classical three paths of purgation, illumination and union.[10]

After his expulsion, Fox met young Anglican activists in England who were using "raves" as a way to bring life back to their liturgy and to attract young people to church worship. He was inspired to begin holding his own series of “Techno Cosmic Masses” in Oakland and other U.S. cities, events designed to connect people to a more ecstatic and visceral celebration and relationship with their spirituality.[11]

Episcopal priest[edit]

That initial Anglican connection became more formal when he was received into the Episcopal Church (Anglican Communion) as a priest in 1994 by Bishop William Swing of the Episcopal Diocese of California.[12]

In 1996, Fox founded the University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland, an outgrowth of his institutes at Mundelein and Holy Names. The university offered similar master’s degree programs in creation spirituality and related studies. It was initially accredited through an affiliation with New College of California, before shifting in 1999 to affiliate with the Naropa Institute of Boulder, Colorado, creating and running Naropa’s master’s degree program.[13]

The university also added a separate doctorate of ministry degree, with a curriculum based on his 1993 book The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood for Our Time, which talked about a "priesthood of all workers".[13]

Fox led the University of Creation Spirituality for nine years, then was succeeded as president by James Garrison in 2005. The institution was subsequently renamed Wisdom University.[14]

Since leaving the university, Fox has continued to lecture, write and publish books. In 2005, he founded an educational organization called Youth and Elder Learning Laboratory for Ancestral Wisdom Education (YELLAWE). The YELLAWE program is based on a holistic approach to education and creativity derived from Fox’s master’s level programs. It also includes physical training in bodily meditation practices such as tai chi. YELLAWE has operated in inner-city school systems in Oakland and Chicago and, as of late 2010, had announced plans to expand to school systems in Hawaii and Chattanooga, Tennessee.[15]

Creation Spirituality[edit]

Basic tenets[edit]

Fox’s conception of Creation Spirituality draws on both a close reading of early and medieval mystics within Catholic traditions as well as ecstatic and spiritual practices from numerous other faiths around the world, in an approach Fox called “deep ecumenism” for its connections across many spiritual practices. This was described most particularly in his book One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faith.

Creation Spirituality considers itself a “green” theology, emphasizing a holy relationship between humanity and nature. Accordingly, the protection of nature is considered a sacrament and an expression of God and a “Cosmic Christ”. This approach was endorsed by eco-theologian Thomas Berry among others. Fox’s book The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance delves more into these issues.

Fox also laid out other tenets of Creation Spirituality in some of his other books, particularly Original Blessing and A Spirituality Named Compassion.

Fox’s 1996 autobiography, Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest, describes his life as a Dominican priest and his struggle with the Vatican as he wrote about his experiences and understanding of early Christianity.

Fox also has authored or edited nearly 30 other books, largely on various spiritual teachings, teachers and mystics (listed below). He was the first to translate Meister Eckhart into English from the critical German editions along with a commentary on his work and helped to launch the Hildegard of Bingen revival. His book on the mysticism of Thomas Aquinas translates many of his works that have never before been translated into English, German or French.

Fox's theological positions have been categorized as a type of monism, specifically panentheism.[16]

Techno Cosmic Mass[edit]

Fox's "Techno Cosmic Mass" (more recently called "Cosmic Mass") is an attempt to combine the religious ritual of the Eucharist with dance and multimedia material, deejays, video jockeys and rap music. They evoke and connect spiritual rituals and the ecstatic energy of Techno music and rave parties. They developed from a group called the Nine O'Clock Service in Sheffield, England, in the late 1980s and early 1990s and were brought to the United States and further developed by Fox in the mid-1990s.[17]

95 theses[edit]

In 2005, while preparing for a presentation in Germany and following the naming of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, Fox created 95 theses that he then translated into German.

On the weekend of Pentecost, arrangements were made for him to nail these to the door of the Wittenberg church where Martin Luther nailed the original 95 Theses in the 16th century, an act often associated with the Protestant Reformation.[1][18]

The action fueled the creation of a lively blog involving tens of thousands of Germans. In his theses, Fox called for a new reformation in Western Christianity. In his supporting book, A New Reformation, Fox argued that two Christianities already exist and it is time for a new reformation to acknowledge that fact and move the Western spiritual tradition into new directions.[19]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Step into environment fray Peterborough Examiner
  2. ^ "Matthew Fox confronts life outside the Catholic Church", The Toledo Blade, 28 March 1993
  3. ^ O'Neill, Molly (17 March 1993). "AT SUPPER WITH -- MATTHEW FOX; Roman Catholic Rebel Becomes A Cause Celebre". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 March 2013. 
  4. ^ "Adventures in Creation Spirituality" by Charles Burack, Interreligious Insight; Volume 8, Number 2 July 2010 pp. 62–65
  5. ^ Allen, Jr., John L., "Vatican looks at ‘New Age,’ issues ‘appeal to discernment’", National Catholic Reporter,
  6. ^ Turbulent Priest Ministers to the New Age Soul: Martin Wroe meets the friar delivering ‘pagan heresy’ to packed churches by Martin Wroe, The Independent, UK, July 14, 1992
  7. ^ Fascism in the Church: Ex-Priest on "The Pope’s War," Clergy Abuse and Quelling Liberation Theology. Intervew. Democracy Now!, February 28, 2013.
  8. ^ Seeking the Feminine in God: Goddess worship accentuates female origins of the Almighty by Teresa Watanabe
  9. ^ Turbulent Priest Ministers to the New Age Soul: Martin Wroe meets the friar delivering ‘pagan heresy’ to packed churches by Martin Wroe, The Independent, UK, July 14, 1992
  10. ^ Molly O’Neill (March 17, 1993). "A Supper with Matthew Fox; Roman Catholic Rebel Becomes a Cause Celebre". New York Times. 
  11. ^ "Making a Joyful Noise: Rev. Matthew Fox Hopes His Sweaty Rave Masses Will Change the Way We Pray, Raving My Religion". New York Times Magazine. June 22, 1997. 
  12. ^ Fox, Matthew (1996). Confessions: the making of a postdenominational priest. [San Francisco, Calif.]: HarperSanFrancisco. p. 250. ISBN 0-06-062965-7. 
  13. ^ a b Rick DelVecchio (Feb 5, 1999). "East-West Naropa Institute Plans to Open in Oakland: Move is part of Jerry Brown's downtown plan". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  14. ^ Wisdom University
  15. ^ Lynn Trenning (September 18, 2010). "A mystic brings lessons in awe and creativity: In Charlotte, Matthew Fox will share what he thinks today's Christianity needs to thrive". Charlotte Observer. 
  16. ^ Robert Brow (June 16, 1989). "The Taming of a New Age Prophet". Christianity Today. 
  17. ^ The Way We Pray by Maggie Oman Shannon, Conari Press, ISBN 1-57324-571-2, p. 204-206
  18. ^ A New Reformation, Matthew Fox, (2006)
  19. ^ Theologian Nails 95 Theses for a New Reformation, Ekklesia (think tank), 7 June 2005

Further reading[edit]

  • Christ & Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times (Facets) by Joerg Rieger (2007), Augsburg Fortress Publishers, ISBN 0-8006-2038-0
  • Saints and Sinners: Walker Railey, Jimmy Swaggart, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Anton LaVey, Will Campbell, Matthew Fox by Lawrence Wright (1995), Vintage (paperback), ISBN 0-679-76163-2
  • Adventures in Creation Spirituality by Charles Burack, Interreligious Insight Volume 8, Number 2 (July 2010) pp. 62–74
  • Pope Benedict XVI: A Biography of Joseph Ratzinger by John L. Allen Jr. (2005), Continuum, ISBN 0-8264-1787-6, pp. 287–291

External links[edit]