I’ve divided this out into 16 parts in order to keep each post to a reasonable length and allow me to really think about each part.
Traditional Catholic and Twelve Step Programs
by Sean Romer
as written for the Angelus magazine, September 2002
Compassionate, Irish-born Sr. Mary Ignatia of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine worked in the admitting office at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio. A sensitive soul who had weathered a nervous breakdown of her own, she was able to alternately offer tough demands and tender care to offset the emotional highs and lows that often served as harbingers of her patients’ drinking episodes. Fifteen thousand alcoholics became sober under her attention, and for her efforts she received a presidential commendation.33 In co-operation with Dr. Bob, Sr. Ignatia was largely responsible for St. Thomas becoming both the first hospital and first religious institution to open its doors to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Sr. Ignatia immersed herself in Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ and in The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, St. Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Therese of Lisieux. She influenced the thought, development, and content of Dr. Bob’s contributions to the Big Book and to the Twelve Steps contained therein.34
Dr. Silkworth worked at Towns Hospital in New York, where Bill Wilson was one of his frequent alcoholic patients. To Wilson the doctor shared his opinion that alcoholism was not just a malady of the mind and emotions, but of the body as well; Wilson was at once amazed, and set about to sober up his fellows with this bit of news that had been missing from prior efforts to help alcoholics.
Bill Wilson was introduced to the Oxford Group by an old boyhood friend in November of 1934. Wilson’s friend, in turn, was introduced to the Oxford Group by “Rowland H.,” a patient of Carl Jung’s. Jung told Rowland that there was no hope for curing alcoholism of his extreme type-no hope that is, unless he were to experience a “vital spiritual experience.” As a result, Rowland joined the Oxford Group in search of his spiritual awakening. In the Oxford Group meetings he passed along Jung’s message to his friend, who later carried the message about a spiritual renewal to Bill Wilson.
Jung’s peculiar philosophy morphed psychoanalysis and religion-in fact became a kind of religion. From Jung, Wilson received reinforcement in his thinking that religion of any sort was a tool for delving into one’s self and removing impediments to the Divine influence.
William James was a professor of psychology at Harvard University and an advocate of that American contribution to philosophy called pragmaticism. His The Varieties of Religious Experience was read by Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob, Rev. Shoemaker, Oxford Groupers, and many early A.A. members. James’s philosophy was essentially Emersonian Transcendentalism married to practical Protestantism. One result was the notion of a sort of elusive God that James called a “Higher Power,” a phrase appropriated by the A.A. program.
Emmet Fox was a New Thought minister who wrote and lectured on the philosophy of how a God-oriented mind changes the circumstances in one’s life. This philosophy emphasized cultivating a conscious awareness of God through techniques such as reasoning, intuitive realization, affirmation, and visualization. God, to the New Thought advocates, was in you, and you were in God; you became aware of this phenomenon by regularly uniting your own mind with the Universal Mind.
Seminal New Thought members included Phineas Quimby (an expert in mesmerism, which is a form of hypnotism involving animal magnetism) and Mary Baker Eddy (who later started the Christian Science religion). Drawing on many Western and Eastern sources, New Thought is one of the sources of the present-day New Age movement.
New Thought contributed a great deal to the beliefs of A.A., particularly through Fox’s lectures (Bill Wilson and other early A.A. groups often attended them)35 and books, his Sermon on the Mount being the most influential.