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Fidelity logos An Old Jewish Sect and the “Work of the Holy Angels”

by Father J.P.M. van der Ploeg, O.P.

From the November 1991 issue of Fidelity magazine



In early September of this year, a 26 year old women by the name of Elizabeth Huber was discovered wandering through the woods not far from the Austrian Headquarters of the Opus Angelorum (Work of the Holy Angels) near Innsbruck.  She had spent the week in the woods, burying herself, according to her own report, under a pile of stones, to escape from the curse of an Opus Angelorum priest as well as “the demons of the Opus Angelorum.”  Huber had lost weight and was in a state of exhaustion, disorientation and anxiety when discovered; however, in a few days she related some of the details of her “retreat” at the headquarters of the Opus Angelorum and what had driven her to flee. 

The retreat took place in a cabin in the forest.  Elizabeth and the other participants were repeatedly asked for dates when departed relatives had died and told repeatedly of their connection with the dead souls in the fires of Purgatory.  Huber also noticed strange sights and sounds in her room at night.  After inspecting the room she found gas jets which filled the room with the odors of fragrant oils and incense.  During the night Huber also heard screams.  By the time morning came, Huber had had enough.  Shortly after the gates to the compound were opened, she fled into the forest and disappeared.  When the local newspaper, after hearing of her disappearance, called the OA headquarters, it was told that the OA people had never heard of her, a fact registered in the records of the local police. 

It was a scenario right out of a cheap remake of an Edgar Allen Poe story, and the local press gave maximal attention to all of its Gothic details.  The Vienna newspaper Kurier featured a picture of the OA castle towering above the village with the headline “Castle of Demons holds a village in fear.”  The reaction, however, was hardly limited to the Austrian tabloids.  Two days after the story broke, the local ordinary of the diocese of Innsbruck, Reinhold Stecher, pressed Rome for a quick decision on the OA, complaining that the OA had still not responded to his demand that they distance themselves from all teachings on angels not sanctioned by the Church.  Stecher reminded Catholics that the OA had been forbidden any use of Church facilities in his diocese.  The liberal Catholic press in Austria used the occasion to attack Cardinal Ratzinger for allegedly shielding the group.  In the German speaking world, the OA had become a convenient stick for beating the Church and those within the Church in positions of authority, like Ratzinger. 

In neighboring Germany, Dr. Franz Heinrich, Director of the Catholic Academy in Munich, talked about the “general horror in Bavaria that a swamp of superstition like this could spread in our Church.”  Heinrich felt that the attraction of a group like the OA “had roots which reached back thousands of years in human history, back to the religious ideas of the Persians and ancient Hebrews, as well as to Gnosis and Dualism.”  In an article which appeared in the May/June l988 issue of Una Voce Korrespondena (“Ein alte juedische Sejcte und thr chistiliches Echo: Zur Problematikdes “Engelwerkes, “  [“An old Jewish Sect and its Christian Echo,”] pp. 157-175), Father J.P.M. van der Ploeg, O.P. shows that the OA is promoting a set of doctrines which goes back through the Cabala, the Jewish Gnostic writings, all the way to the writings of the Essenes, commonly known as the Dead Seas Scrolls. 

Ed.

The Essenes, a Jewish sect which lived in the time of Jesus near the shore of the lake of the Dead Sea, to the south of Jericho, is now known the world over because of its manuscripts.  These were discovered in 11 caves in the neighborhood of the ruins of a building, called in Arabic (Hirbet) Qumran.  It is generally supposed to have been the seat of the headquarters (or at least an important branch) of this Jewish sect. 

According to the well-known Jewish writer Flavius Josephus (first century A.D.) there were three principal Jewish sects in his time: the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes.  The Gospels only mention the first two and not the Essenes.  It has been said that John the Baptist was one of them and that Jesus of Nazareth had connections with them.  It is abundantly clear that Jesus was not an Essence and although John the Baptist may have had connections with them, it is pretty certain that he was not a member of the sect.

The discovery of the manuscripts of the sect (popularly called the “Dead Sea Scrolls,” though most of them are only fragments) in l947 and following years stirred many emotions and still does nowadays, because a number of those of Cave 4 (all in very fragmentary state) have not yet been published, though they were discovered more than 40 years ago.  It has been supposed by journalists that the fragments contain secrets which “the Vatican” and orthodox Jewish rabbis do not want to be published.  This insane accusation is utterly unfounded and we will not occupy ourselves with it in this article. 

That the Jews of Qumran were Essenes is nearly universally accepted.  Their tenets are characterized by their dualism, probably borrowed from the Persians and adapted to Jewish monotheism.  According to Zarathustra, the Persian prophet, the universe is governed by two independent principles, a good one and a bad one.  This system is called Dualism (duo = two) and has been taken over by Manicheism, Gnosticism, the medieval Catharists in France, as well as the Jewish Cabala, and other writings.  Persian dualism included the idea that there is a continuous struggle in the world between good spirits (under the command of the supreme good Principle, called Ahura Mazda) and the bad ones (commanded by Ahriman).  Dualism is an attractive theory because it explains the origin of the evil in a world created, according to us, by an eminently good God. 

Since the Babylonian captivity (begun in 586 B.C.) there has always been a large body of Jews in greater Persia, that is in Mesopotamia.  It seems that some of them were influenced by Persian dualism which they incorporated into Judaism.  Judaism is essentially a monotheistic religious; the doctrine of dualism cannot be reconciled with it.  Persian dualism, although totally un-Jewish was adopted by the Essenes.  According to them, human history is determined and explained by the continuous struggle of an immense army of demons, under the command of Belial or Beelzebub, as he may be called.  In this struggle man only plays a secondary role.  Men can only be auxiliary troops of the armies of either angels or demons, having joined their ranks.  At the end of time God will give the final victory to the army of the angels and to these men who have enlisted in it.  The bad ones, with their human auxiliaries, shall be thrown into hell and remain there forever. 

We find this theory in a document of Qumran called the “Rule of the Sect” or the “Manual of Discipline,” published in l951 (New Haven).  In the beginning God created the angels and all were good.  But many sinned and became bad spirits or demons.  Their two armies fight each other continuously and men join their ranks.  At the end of time final victory will be given by God to the good spirits and to the men who joined them (the “Sons of Light”), whereas the demons and their human henchmen (the “Sons of Darkness”) will forever remain in hell. 

In Persian dualism, Ahriman and his bad spirits are bad by nature; in the doctrine of the Essenes they have become bad because of their sin.  In this way essential dualism has been avoided and Jewish monotheism saved.  But it is clear to every student of Jewish religion that even the mitigated form of dualism, as professed by the sect of Qumran, is a Fremdkorper, as the Germans say; a “foreign body” in the doctrine of both Old Testament and rabbinic Judaism.  Human history is not determined by the invisible struggle of two armies of spirits, with God looking on in heaven and intervening at the last moment.  True, angels are sometimes sent by God to fulfill missions on earth and they may counteract the bad influence of the devil.  But this does not imply the universal, even cosmic dualism of Persia and Qumran. 

After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the Essenes practically disappeared from history.  The building of Qumran was destroyed in 68 A.D., and before its dispersal the community stored its manuscripts in nearby caves.  Some of them were already discovered in antiquity, but modern scholars did not pay much attention to these finds until the discoveries of l947 and following years. 

In a most remarkable way the doctrine of the permanent struggle of angles against devils as the determining factor of human history has been revived in our time in the “Work of the Holy Angels” or Opus Angelorum (OA) and its under-cover organization, the “Regular Canons of the Holy Cross.”  This order, of which St. Anthony of Padua was once a member, was originally founded in 1131 in Portugal (Coimbra).  Less than a hundred years ago it died out, and was again erected in l979, for priest-members of the OA.

Gabriela Bitterlich (l896-1978), an Austrian widow, can be considered the foundress of the OA.  Her father was a distinguished public servant, called Bernhard Gohnert, and in l919 she married on Dr. Hans Bitterlich, a lawyer and civil servant.  At the time of his marriage, he was a free-thinker, much interested in things like spiritism and all kinds of occultism.  In his later years he became a practicing Catholic.  In l932, when Gabriela expected a child, he did not want it and informed her that she should procure an abortion.  The abortion eventually happened, when at the request of her husband, Gabriela lifted a stature too heavy for her.  The husband was delighted, Gabriela sad.

Gabriela was no strange to visitations from beyond.  When she was only four years old, she saw her guardian angel.  Her little brother had locked her up somewhere in the house, and she could not free herself.  Suddenly, according to her testimony, a huge angel stood before her and unlocked the door!  In later times other angel’s appeared to her, and in l934 she saw for the first time a large group of them.  All these particulars and many other ones are found in her biography Sie schaurte die Engel (She saw the angels), written and published by her son Hansjorg Bitterlich, one of the leading priests of the OA. 

This work of 189 pages is not for sale (typical for the OA).  Though the son tries to glorify his mother as much as possible, the book contains some data which if well understood, do not cast Gabriela in a favorable light.  As a biography it is also essentially (and purposely) incomplete.  The reader is given no particulars about the revelations she is said to have received, nor when they were written down and with whose help.  Their subjects and contents are not revealed.  We read only a few things about her relations with her husband, his occupations, and his character.  That he was much interested in occultism is not told.  All these things were supposed to remain secret and the reader apparently has no right to know them.  But the author is good enough to tell us that the revelation his mother had received “was truly of global significance” and important for world history (Sie schaute die Engel, P. 108).

It is not easy to discover and to describe the tenets and practices of the OA, because many things we would like to know are kept secret.  Secrecy is one of the prominent features of the OA, and before l983 (when this was forbidden by Rome) every member had to make a vow of secrecy.  As soon as this was forbidden, Dr. Blasko (before his death in a car crash on the feast of the three holy Archangels), the leading “priest theologian” of the OA, declared that this Roman declaration did not absolve members who already made it from their vow of secrecy!  Moreover, it is abundantly clear that the practice of secrecy still prevails in the higher quarters of the OA.  When the Austrian and German bishops issued severe warnings against the OA, and some even forbad its activities in their respective dioceses, the OA leadership did hot reveal to its members the true reasons for the ecclesiastical sanctions.  Because of this silence, the common members of the OA, who are as a rule not initiated into many of its secrets, still believe that the OA is being unjustly persecuted by its evil enemies. 

In spite of the disiplina arcani (practice of keeping things secret) in the OA, some of its writings became known to the outside world.  The German Bishop’s Conference asked the Holy See to intervene and a number of writings of the OA had to be sent for examination to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.  A prominent member of the OA, who was the first elected superior general of the Canons of the Holy Cross, assured me that all the books of the OA had been sent to Rome.  This was not true because at least one of them, the Handbuch (Handbook) was not among them.  This was strictly reserved for the priests of the OA only and was not given to the ordinary members who did not even suspect its existence. 

It had also been loaned to one layman, whom the OA could fully trust.  When this man died, two priests of the OA presented themselves within a few days to the widow of the deceased to search his library for the secret books of the OA.  The Handbook was not found, but was later discovered among other books.  From there it got into the hands of auxiliary Bishop Heinrich Count von Soden Fraunhofen of Munchen-Freising.  The contents were appalling and he sent photocopies of its 819 pages to all the Bishops of German language countries and to some interested persons (I got one).  It contains, besides the names and offices of more than 600 angels and devils, passages full of insane and dangerous occultism of the worst kind.  A whole issue of this magazine could easily be filled with them, and therefore we can only quote a few. 

The general doctrine of the OA resembles that of the Qumran sect.  According to the OA the meaning of history lies in the continuous struggle going on between angels and devils.  After their sin, the bad angels were thrown out from heaven into the abyss of hell.  Before reaching this, some succeeded in clinging to stars or planets around the earth (Handbook p. 180), others are operating on the earth.  Through their “fields of force” (Kraftfelden) and the radiations they transmit (each demon on his own wavelength, p. 185), they act upon men. 

According to the OA the angels are much more powerful than the saints (in heaven), because the latter can only help us by their intercession with God, but the angels can intervene in our interest through their own power.  For this reason the veneration and cult of the angels ranks much higher in the OA than the cult of the saints.   One can see this in the so called Kalendarium. 

A number of doctrines and the corresponding practices of the OA are for the following reasons unacceptable (because of lack of space we mention only a few).

  1. In spite of Cardinal Ratzinger’s l983 warning, the practice of secrecy and the corresponding vow (of secrecy) are still considered valid for all who took it, above all for the members of the original nucleus.  The OA is wholly founded on the very secret revelations conveyed to Mrs. Bitterlich and not destined for the common man.  We are never told in any detain when and where she got them.  The members of the OA are to accept them without any proof of their credibility.  According to Vatican I, God has given evident proofs of the credibility of what has been revealed to us, above all miracles and prophecies.  In the OA the private revelations given to Mrs. Bitterlich are practically put on a par with the revelation of the articles of faith; OA members are asked to believe them without any proof of credibility.  Even their contents are kept secret for the uninitiated.  This is wholly unreasonable. 
  2. The theory that the course of human history is determined by the struggle of good and bad angels is neither Catholic nor Christian.  The work of our redemption by Jesus Christ is obscured by it and eventually relegated to secondary status. 

True the OA accepts the whole of Catholic doctrine, the Creed and dogma of the Church.  But the very prominent role played by the angels tends to obscure (not to deny) parts of its doctrine.  When one reads the Kalendarium, the Handbook and other writings, one finds himself in a strange world, no more in the Catholic one to which he is (or was) accustomed. 

  1. The OA knows the names of more than 365 angels (one for each day of the year) and of at least 243 devils (whose names are found in other writings of the OA according to the Handbook).  Many names are very strange indeed and though purporting to be “Hebrew,” they defy interpretation.  I suppose that a good deal of them originate from the fertile (and sickly) imagination of Mrs. Bitterlich.  Not a few have been taken from the Jewish Cabala (a syncretistic philosophical-theological Jewish tradition), as I have proved in my article in the Una Voce Korrespondenz.  Some of these names given to angels are reserved strictly to God – such as Jahwe Jah, Elohim – astonishing fact only to be explained by the influence of the Cabala.  According to the late priest, Dr. Blasko, the names of angels and demons already known from ancient sources were revealed a second time to Gabriela Bitterlich.  Blasko himself was a collector of those names.  Presumable, Mrs. Bitterlich got a number of already existent names from her husband, or at least from (his?) books. 
  2. In the Kalendarium one meets absurd allegations.  According to one of them three angels of the order of Seraphim (the highest one) are at the time only one angel (because they represent the Trinity).  This is absurd, because in the creation 3 = 1 is a contradiction.  One angel, called “Dimacheil” (a pseudo-Hebrew word with out meaning, one of the many of this kind; feast-day on Dec. 24) received from God the office of laying his hand on the womb of the Virgin Mary when she was about to give birth to her child (for this reason his feast-day is on the date mentioned above).  He did and still does the same with all the women of the whole world, beginning with our mother Eve.  A formidable task indeed!  Space is lacking to mention other incredible duties entrusted to angels. 

The clothes and attributes of the angels are described in such a way that it is difficult to believe, as some defenders of the OA say, that these descriptions are only to be taken in a spiritual sense.  Nowhere is the reader warned that he should do so.  In the OA angels and devils are not pure spirits. 

  1. Of all the writings of OA so far known the Handbook is the worst of all.  It was intended to be seen by only the initiated priests of the OA.  An exception was made by lending this book to a few trustworthy persons (an imprudence which led to its discovery, as mentioned above).  The book contains the list of angels, their place in the angelic hierarchy, their duties, clothes, symbols and other characteristics, known from the Kalendarium 

There is also a similar list of 243 devils, some of whose names recur in the other writings of the OA.  It is believed that sicknesses, temptations and other evils which happen to befall men are often caused by devils.  If a priest of the OA has a penitent who has persistent complaints of this kind they may be caused by one or more infernal beings.  In the Handbook, he can find the names of the devils who bring them about and the name(s) of the particular angel(s) whose special duty it is to fight these demons.  Then the penitent is told to invoke this angel (or these angels), who will deliver him from his evil.  It is all very simple, but only the priests of the nucleus of the OA are privileged to know it. 

No reason is given for this secrecy.  If the method described in the Handbook is a good one, this secrecy is in the highest degree a sin against charity and brotherly love.  So many people are sick, tempted, unlucky and if there were an easy means to get rid of all this, it should receive the highest form of publicity.  But alas, the OA reserved this information only to initiated members. 

When Bishop von Soden published the Handbook, Dr. Blasko (OA priest and leading theologian) uttered dire threats against him.  He made known that he was going to ask permission from the Vatican to drag him before the civil judge, to be condemned to pay a slander indemnity of 100,000 Deutsche Marks.  Before he got the indult, Dr. Blasko died. 

  1. According to the Handbook, the devils emit very dangerous radiations, which the book calls Wessensstrǒmungen (p. 179), i.e., emanations coming forth from the substance of the angels, a most absurd idea, which reminds on of the Cabala. 

That the radiations are of a material kind became clear to me for the first time in a long private conversation I had with Dr. Blasko years ago.  He wished to see me because I am a known expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls.  This proves that the similarity between the doctrine of the Essenes and that of the OA had not escaped him.  He told me that there are radiations in the cosmos which modern science cannot explain.  If scientists can discover them, this can only be with their instruments. Consequently the radiations alluded to were of a material kind (we saw that they have “wave-lengths”).  But according to Catholic doctrine, angels and devils are pure spirits, and no material radiation, no radiation at all can emanate from their substance. 

According to the Handbook the radiations of the devils easily pass through black cats, black hens and roosters (if you have some, beware!), smooth haired dogs, pigs, rats, and snakes.  Equally dangerous (by black magic) are freshly-plucked feathers of black hens, roosters, as well as the hair of cows, pigs, cats and other animals (Handbook, p. 182, 182).  Each demon radiates his own personal wave-length in accordance with his “number”, and he has a special “sign.”  If a “man of Satan” lays this sign in a shed of his enemy, this will soon swarm with devils.  The consequences are disastrous, as one may easily guess. 

If the devil happens to be Belial himself, the situation becomes very bad indeed.  His number is 45 and to fight his enemies he may use a square figure of nine small fields, in which the number are distributed thus: 

4

9

2

3

5

7

8

1

6

           

Each row makes up 15 and the sum of all of all of them is 45 (Handbook, p. 114, from where the diagram has been taken).  Belial spreads this terrible magic square “on creation” (p. 114) and fills every sub square with the number of devils indicated in the diagram.  If you are unlucky enough to have the devil Ismael as you adversary, your situation is still worse:  his number is 135 (= 4 x 34).  The commanding devils may also distribute their hellish henchmen in triangles (the most demonic figure there is), pentagons, hexagons and other figures.  The readers of this article are hereby warned!

Also dangerous are plants and mud.  I know a lady who was ordered by a priest of the OA to destroy a nice vase in her possession; because it was “dangerous” (it contained some mud).  Devils may lie in wait everywhere and therefore initiated members of the OA often pronounce exorcisms against them. 

Devils can also easily radiate through witches, midwives, Gypsies, revengeful old peasants (Handbook, p. 292).  Badly educated children roaming through the streets of a city or village easily fall into the clutches of demons and very bad things may happen. 

We could quote many more examples of these warnings, which ultimately originate from old and well-known popular superstitions, some of which are dangerous nonetheless.  The are now taught as having been revealed, with divine permission, by angels.  This is as preposterous as it is ridiculous. 

In l983 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith sent a letter to the president of the German Bishop’s Conference, then Joseph Cardinal Hǒffner.  In it the OA is told to keep to the doctrine of the angels as taught by the Church, its Fathers and its Doctors.  Evidently the “doctrine” concerning the angels of the OA is much more than what the Church allows; it is quite novel and quite incredible.  It has never been taught by the Church and it remains shrouded in secrecy. 

The same Congregation also prohibited the use of the “names” of the angels as known from “presumed revelations” received by Mrs. Gabriela Bitterlich.  In spite of this prohibition the OA continues to use its Kalendarium and other books, in which these names are prominent.  The vow of secrecy has also been prohibited.  Contrary to the spirit of this interdiction, the practice of secrecy continues as before. 

We ask those who continue to defend the OA, in spite of the interdictions of a good number of German and Austrian Bishops, and the warnings of Rome, to end the secrecy which is still practiced in the OA in such a high degree and not to distort the truth in their defenses.  If there is nothing to hide, let them lay their cards on the table! Let them tell us how many secret books the OA still has, and let them be available to everybody who is interested in them.  I have been in contact with various persons, former member of the OA, who became appalled when they were introduced to some of the more intimate secrets of the OA and its occult practices.  One of the assured me various times that all I wrote on the OA (the contents of this article and much more) is absolutely true.  When this person was about to leave the OA she was put under heavy pressure not to do so.  The same happened with other persons. 

Some defenders of the OA write extensive apologies in defense of it, but never enter into the objections raised above.  To these people I say, put the cards on the table gentlemen, and only then we will speak again – if you will still desire to do so.Fidelity


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