A Jesuit priest from India and psychotherapist who became widely known for his books on spirituality, integrating ancient eastern traditions with Christianity. The popularity of his books also brought more critical attention as his spirituality seemed to evolve away from the safe waters of Christian Orthodoxy. After his untimely death, today in 1987 the Vatican was to publish a 'Notification' warning against his radical apophatic approach.
His teaching style using humour, storytelling and spirituality brought him to international fame, particularly through the network of Jesuit retreat houses. His credible portrayal of Eastern traditions often in short stories or parables, made him very popular in Europe, the United States, Canada, and Central America. An internationally acclaimed spiritual guide, writer and public speaker, de Mello hosted many spiritual conferences. He founded an institute for pastoral counselling in Poona in India which he renamed the Sadhana Institute and wrote two bestsellers called Awareness and The Way to Love, along with 11 other books that have been translated into 21 languages and have sold more than 2 million worldwide.
After his death, there was a flurry of publications under his name, which reflected both the growing spiritual demand for his writings in the West and also how reflected the publishing houses in India willingness to meet these demands. It was relatively cheaper to print out many books and lucrative to trade using his name, so many books were produced with content that was not his. Before his death a non-profit organization called the DeMello Centre was founded in 1984 based in New York, and claims on the internet to be the official site of Anthony De Mello.
In 1998, some of his opinions were condemned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Vatican department tasked with enforcing theological orthodoxy, previously known as the Holy Office. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, wrote for the Congregation: "Already in certain passages in [his] early works and to a greater degree in his later publications, one notices a progressive distancing from the essential contents of the Christian faith. ... With the present Notification, in order to protect the good of the Christian faithful, this Congregation declares that the above-mentioned positions are incompatible with the Catholic faith and can cause grave harm."
Some editions of his books have since been supplemented with the insertion of a caution: "The books of Father Anthony de Mello were written in a multi-religious context to help the followers of other religions, agnostics and atheists in their spiritual search, and they were not intended by the author as manuals of instruction of the Catholic faithful in Christian doctrine or dogma.”
The notification traced the development of De Mello’s teaching. With early writings revealing the influence of Buddhist and Taoist spiritual currents, remained within the lines of Christian spirituality and encouraged the contemplation of the mysteries of the life of Christ. Toward the later part of his life they noticed a change in his writing and a distancing from essential contents of the Christian faith. In place of the revelation they argued he substituted an intuition of God without form or image, to the point of speaking of God as a pure void. Mystical writings that talk about God by defining what he isn’t is called the apophatic tradition, and is very pessimistic about human language being able to talk about the Divine. De Mello was accused of a radical apophaticism that leads even to a denial that the Bible contains valid statements about God. The danger was that religions, including Christianity, become one of the major obstacles to the discovery of truth. "God" is considered as a cosmic reality, vague and omnipresent; the personal nature of God is ignored and in practice denied.
As a young Jesuit, DeMello was sent to Spain to study philosophy in Barcelona before undertaking ministry. He worked for a while in seminaries training young priest. Quite conservative in his theology as a young man and reluctant to explore other religions. Some of his peers noted that his experience in Spain led him to broaden his perspective and to lose much of his rigidity. A few of his talks which he allowed to be filmed, such as "A Rediscovery of Life" and "A Way to God for Today” are available on the internet. His brother Bill De Mello wrote a biography of him called ‘The Happy Wanderer’.