WHAT SPIRIT IS THIS?
AN INTERPRETATION OF "CHARISMATIC RENEWAL" AND ITS RELATION TO CATHOLIC TRUTH
The Catholic Church, as is proclaimed in the Second Vatican Councils Lumen Gentium, is the enduring light of all nations.
She was established by Our Lord Himself, who guaranteed that she would never be overcome by error, preach untruth, nor fail in her essential mission of sanctification and salvation, of incorporating those beloved and elect of God into the Divine life of Christ, for the Church is His very Body. Therefore, she can never lose her essential holiness, nor she can ever lack any of the gifts of the Holy Spirit necessary for her extension and edification; she can never lose, not even provisionally, any of the means whereby she sanctifies her faithful members.
Yet, throughout the nearly two-thousand years since her founding upon the rock of Peter, she has certainly been no stranger to individuals and movements which make the presumptuous claim to know better than the Church, to surpass her institutional boundaries, and to possess a unique and exclusive relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, there have been many would be prophets of new and extraordinary revelations, or spiritual manifestations which they claim add to or surpass the deposit of faith committed to the safekeeping of the Apostles and of their successors. Such individuals, often present themselves as the chosen prophets of a new Advent or apocalyptic revelation, or a new method of sanctification, or a short cut to to mystical enlightenment. At times demanding nothing less than that the Church and the faithful take them at their word, they inevitably claim to be the elect of the elect, the chosen elite of a new birth of spiritual insight. Throughout her recorded history, such incidents have been the rule rather than the exception.
As the late Monsignor Ronald Knox, in his masterful and authoritative work entitled "Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion" observed:
There is, I would say, a recurrent situation in Church History-using the word 'church' in the widest sense-where an excess of charity threatens unity. You have a clique, an elite, of Christian men and (more importantly) women, who are trying to live a less worldly life than their neighbors; to be more attentive to the guidance (directly felt, they would tell you) of the Holy Spirit. More and more, by a kind of fatality, you see them drawn apart from their co-religionists, a hive ready to swarm There is provocation on both sides; on the one part, cheap jokes at the expense of over godliness on the other, contempt of the half-Christians, ominous references to old wine and new bottles, to the kernel and the husk.
Then, while you hold your breath and turn your eyes away in fear, the break comes, condemnation or secession, what difference does it make? A fresh name has been added to the list of Christianities.
The pattern is always repeating itself, not in outline merely, but in detail.
(R.A. Knox, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion
University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1994)
Were he alive today, I believe that Knox would clearly discern this same "pattern, outline, and detail" most certainly in the history of the Pentecostal movement and the denominations which have sprung from it. No doubt, the same could be said with regards to individuals and tendencies which have arisen within the ranks of its more discreet successor, the Charismatic Renewal movement.
At this point I think it important to point out the fact that many well intentioned "renewalists" will object that the Church has also seem many orthodox "charismatic" movements and individuals throughout her history- and that these were also treated with a certain reserve, if not downright persecution, before their final acceptance into the life of the Church. On this matter I could not agree more. However, what distinguishes the true and authentic "charismatic" movements and individuals from other spurious movements is the indisputable fact that virtually all the of the authentically Catholic movements were begun by saints, whose orthodoxy was unquestionable. Such saints would never have dreamed of mitigating or dissenting from Catholic teaching, or embracing the spirituality or mysticism of heretics-not even for the sake of a misguided "ecumania".
Did Pachomius and St. Anthony of the desert found the monastic movement after being inspired by the writings of Basilides? Did St. Francis of Assisi embrace lady poverty only after his illumination at the hands of the roving bands of Cathari? As regards Saint Ignatius of Loyola -was it the Golden Legend that so aroused his fervor while in hospital, or was it Luthers theses? Did St. Francis de Sales draw his inspiration from Calvins Institutes? What about St. Grignion de Montfort-was his desire to propagate total consecration to the Blessed Mother based on his admiration of the fervor of the Jansenists, or of the Huguenots?
With the Charismatic Renewal, on the other hand, the facts are clear and undisputed. This movmement began in the Church almost entirely under the influence of Protestant theology and Pentecostal mysticism. As will be seen, it was a militant Protestant author, David Wilkerson and his book, The Cross and the Switchblade, along with another publication, equally Protestant in orientation, They Speak with Other Tongues, that piqued the spiritual expectation of the Duquesne students, and it was Protestant, Pentecostal ministers, and not validly ordained priests, who laid their hands on the students at their first "baptism in the Holy Spirit."
Although it has been able, in the intervening time period, to shed much of its openly Pentecostal and Protestant affectations, the Renewals Pentecostal roots remain a point of contention, and rightly so. And it is more a question of analyzing the movement itself, not all its participants-there is no question of judging anybody here. I have no desire (nor any right) to tar with the same brush all those who participate in the "Charismatic" renewal nor even all those who consider themselves "Pentecostals" or "Charismatics", since there are in such denominations many wonderful and sincere Christians, who put my own Christian life to shame. And based upon my many years of participation in the Catholic movement itself, I would not hesitate for a moment to say that a great many Catholics who participate in the "Renewal" do so as faithful Catholics. This is certainly the case with regards to those whose participation in said movement is of a peripheral nature and within the general context of the "official" Charismatic movement, which is, let us hope and pray, under the watchful eye and guiding hand of the Church's hierarchical magisterium.
It cannot be denied, however, that there is and remains within the Catholic Renewal a hardened nucleus of true believers, who style themselves messengers of a "New Pentecost" and of a so called "full gospel". As one who has read their writings, heard their speeches and attended their conferences, I know that such persons represent the majority of the Catholic Renewals leadership, and this is an openly acknowledged fact.
It is manifest that this clique of "hyper-spiritualists" exerts an unduly preponderant influence over the theological and spiritual orientation the movement has adopted during the thirty five or so years of its existence within the Catholic Church. As far as the ideology and theological orientation of this group is concerned, its members can be as far to the right as those who make up the so-called "covenant communities" (which are very near to being fundamentalist communes) and as far to the left end of the theological spectrum as those who practice Silva-mind control and Jungian dream-work.
J. Massyngberde Ford, in her work published in 1976 entitled Which way for Catholic Pentecostals? distinguishes two types of Catholic Charismatics or Pentecostals, a "Type I", which includes those members of the Renewal having most in common with the classic Pentecostals, and a less rigid "Type II" more in line (according to Ford) with traditional Catholic spirituality and mysticism, who are consequently more liberal in outlook:
The first type has a paraecclesial structure; a teaching, advisory, and executive magisterium; and a disciplinary system. It appears to be modeled on (a) the Church of the Redeemer, Houston Texas; (b) the Word of God Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the People of Prayer Community, South Bend, Indiana
The second type of Catholic Neo-pentecostalism is flexible and less structured. It is fully integrated with the theology and sacramentality of the contemporary Catholic Church, and is open to non-Pentecostal influences, and is deeply interested in Eastern Orthodox theology. (J. Massyngberde Ford, Which way for Catholic Pentecostals? Harper and Rowe Publishers, New York, NY 1976, pge 1)
In Fords estimation, "Type I" would include individuals like Ralph Martin, Kevin Ranhagan, Paul DeCelles, etc., who are perceived by many as fundamentalist oriented Catholics, and who are prominent in the Church today precisely because of their neo-Pentecostal beliefs. "Type II", on the other hand, would tend to be Catholics whose interest or participation in the "Charismatic Renewal" was merely incidental to their life as prelates, theologians or professionals; members of this group would included the late Cardinal Suenens, Mariologist Rene Laurentin, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, etc.
However, much has changed with regards to the Charismatic renewal since the work cited above was published. While many in the movement still retain a nostalgic attachment to the neo-Pentecostal "good old days", the movement certainly has not stood still; it has metamorphosed time and time again, and has seemed to have arrived at an "understanding" with the so-called Marian movement. Indeed, much of the attachment to the omnipresent (and for the most part, spurious) "apparitions and revelations" by members of the Marian movement seems to be directly influenced by a Pentecostal approach to spirituality. Many of those who would have formerly been repelled by neo-Pentecostalism are now inclined to accept it under the veneer of Marian devotion, and so have become, in a sense, "Type I" pentecostals.
On the other hand, many Catholics who would never have thought of participating in quasi-occult spiritual practices, such as divination and the interpretation of dreams, now do so under what they perceive to be the safe, Catholic aegis of the Charismatic movements more liberal wing.
It is apparent that the issue is no longer as cut and dried as Massyngbe Ford judged to be the case in the mid seventies. There is a threat to the essential underpinnings of the Catholic faith coming from both sides of the movement, in the sense that both adhere to a view of spirituality that is fundamentally experiential and subjectivist; and both, in more or less subtle language, seem to put forth the idea that there is, in these days, a new, charismatic, "super-church" in the making, which will inevitably supplant the antiquated institutions of historical Christianity. Those at the fringes of the movement tend (nowadays, using very cautious language) to consider any questioning of its hyper-spiritualism as, at best, a manifestation of a hard hearted "traditionalism" or intellectualism, and at worst, a diabolical the unpardonable sin of "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit." Again, I must caution the reader once more that what is to follow should in any way impugn the majority of Catholics who somehow participate in the Renewal and are faithful to the perrenial teachings of the Church.
Nonetheless, many ideas, concepts and teachings which are irreconcilable with Catholic truth have infiltrated the thinking of the faithful by means of the influence exercised by many radical members of the Renewals leadership.
Certain "Catholic neo-Pentecostals", appear willing to relinquish neither their radical Pentecostal mystical heritage, with its clear illuminist and messianist implications, or their attachment to the Catholic Church in what they appear to consider its "post-Vatican II" expression.
It is quite obvious that many of their most prominent and erudite spokesmen and theologians have attempted to proffer a synthesis of orthodox Catholicism with a radically pentecostal and protestantized mystical theology, as legitimately Catholic.
Others, from the left, have introduced an "ecumenized" or syncretistic spirituality which incorporates elements totally at variance with the notions of historical Christianity. In doing so, they have in effect stood the vast and magnificent treasure house of two thousand years of Catholic mystical and ascetic theology on its head.
One is certainly in no position to judge the interior motivation of such individuals, and should always attribute to them the best of intentions, but error is more often than not the result of good intentions that are misdirected or misinformed.
A large share of the movments propagandists seem to imply that the Catholic Church has lately been swept up in a "New Pentecost"and that there has occurred a new birth of the Spirits presence in the Church since the Second Vatican Council.
It would appear that they subscribe to that notion that is all too common within the Church today, that the post-conciliar Church is somehow more enlightened and blessed than was the pre-conciliar Church, and that no small amount of credit for this is due to the Charismatic Renewal Movement.
Lest some get the impression that I am unjustly setting up the twin evils of illuminism and messianism as straw men to knock down and strengthen this works arguments, the words of one of the movements most prominent and renowned theologians should be considered:
A traditional Catholic theology of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit is, without doubt, in need of critical re-formulation. The transformation of the seven "spirits" mentioned in Is. 11:1-2 into seven formally distinct supernatural "habits" of docility to the Spirit of Jesus is both exegetically and philosophically questionable. (Donald Gelpi, S.J., Ecumenical Problems and Possibilities in The Holy Spirit and Power: The Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Edited by Kilian Mcdonnell, O.S.B., Doubleday and Company, Garden City, NY, 1975, pge. 176)
Theologians like Gelpi merit admiration for their erudition and their sincere desire to "Catholicize" key elements of radical Pentecostal spirituality in order that they may be considered compatible with the traditional sacramental theology of the Church. No doubt, their desire to do so is born of a sincere love of the Church, and a desire to share with others experiences which to them are near and dear. Nevertheless, they cannot avoid entirely the language of illuminism and messianist revisionism of the Faith:
Tradtional Catholic restriction of the term "gift" to the sacrum septinarum is symptomatic of the alientation of pre-Vatican II Catholic Charismatic theology from biblical patterns of thought. It is also symptomatic of an unfortunate tendency in medieval Catholic theology to disassociate service to the community from personal sanctification. (ibid, pge. 177)
So the average Catholic is urged to view both the pre-Vatican II and pre-Charismatic renewal Church through the lenses of prejudice, epochal chauvinism, and downright contempt. "We now know better, we are the generation chosen to receive the abundance of the Spirits blessings. They were wrong and benighted," seems to be the message implied by so many of todays anointed "renewalists".
Jose Prado Flores, a prominent leader in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Mexico, expresses, albeit more exuberantly, much the same sentiments with regard to the "movement":
"Twenty years ago Cardinal Suenens celebrated the Eucharist from St. Peter's altar, reserved only for the Holy Father. It was the closing mass of the First World Charismatic Congress Ten thousand charismatics from every nation under heaven gathered around St. Peter's tomb.
"The Charismatic Renewal had been in the catacombs for many years and now the moment had come to emerge from its hiding place and walk up the Vatican hill. As St. Peter's successor, Paul VI received us all A harmonious song in tongues followed communion Suddenly, a young man stood up ... powerfully proclaiming a prophecy that we have seen come true, the coming of a new era of evangelization as never before seen in the Church
"Today, as in that prophetic congress of 1975, let us emerge from the catacombs once more and announce to Zion that our God reigns. .. The world needs our joy, our hope in the midst of trial. We suffer the same fate, but in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly. Now it is time (kairos) to answer with hope that never fails, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given us.
"Charismatic Renewal, you are a chance for the Church and the world today!
Catholic Renewal, the time has come to evangelize at all times until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ!" ( From the ICCRS Newsletter,September-December 1995 issue, Charismatic Renewal Services office, Vatican City.)
What is certainly implied in the above quotations (and they are certainly not anomalous with respect to the radical Neo-Pentecostal's contentions) is that the "baptism in the Holy Spirit" was somehow lacking in the Church prior to Vatican II and the beginning of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
According to the individuals cited above, the "baptism in the Holy Spirit" or " the pentecostal experience" (virtually interchangable terms) was a normative experience in the context of the Churchs sacramental life in the apostolic and post-apostolic Church, but was somehow lost or diminished in the succeeding centuries of the Churchs history.
Prado himself seems to insinuate that the greatest evangelization in the history of the Church is taking place, thanks in large part to the Renewal. Notwithstanding his enthusiasm, in view of the terrible attrition of Catholics to Protestant, mostly Pentecostal (!) sects in Latin America, his claim is highly debatable.
Now that the Renewal has come out of its "catacombs" (a phrase which implies that the movement is uniquely similar to the first martyrs of Christianity, and persecution by the Church itself!) it offers the Church a chance! As if the Holy Spirit could somehow fail her, or the promise of Jesus Christ to protect her from the jaws of death was rendered null and void, until the "movement" came along to restore it!
Here is another quotation, from a member of the International Charismatic Council which virtually oozes illuminism and veiled contempt for those who have not undergone the "Pentecostal experience":
"The Charismatic Renewal is in many ways much like other reform movements that took place in the long history of the Church and which are taking place today Yet there is an important difference. The Charismatic Renewal has paid close attention to the Holy Spirit, His life and mission to Christians and to the whole Church. It has helped put matters of the Holy Spirit back into the forefront in the lives of day-to-day Christians. It is a key force that is bringing back the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit to the clergy and laity alike.
One has to note regretfully that for many Christians, the Holy Spirit is still a "hidden God", the least known person of the Holy Trinity. He means next to nothing to the average Christian. Of course, we all know that there are three persons in God, but has the reality of the Holy Spirit gone beyond the realm of a mere abstraction of our Christian faith? Are we indeed aware of the Holy Spirit as a person, of His presence and actions, as were the first Christians? And what about the gifts of the Holy Spirit given by God for the upbuilding of the body of believers? Where is the manifestation of these "power tools" in the life of parishes, Catholic associations, ministries, and the like? Only if we, who are the living stones of the Church, are full of the Holy Spirit, will we be able to give Christ to others."
"Whatever distracts from the primary focus--the openness to the Holy Spirit--I do not want to see in the charismatic renewal," says a cautious Charles Whitehead, British chairman of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal (ICCR). .. "But I am concerned (!)when charismatic prayer groups include devotion to Mary and start praying the rosary," he told Charisma. "I do not see this as openness to the Holy Spirit, but rather as a return to traditional piety." (CHARISMA MAGAZINE)
Some within the Renewal are quite open about their contempt for "ordinary" Catholics, and the Catholic doctrine on justification, borrowing their theological concepts and language from anti-Catholic fundamentalists:
My experience after ten years of full time evangelization ministry in local church situations is that the overwhelming majority of Catholics dont even know the content of that [the salvation] message Practicing Catholic religion is still the ticket to heaven in most of our mindsa works based salvation. (Father Dimitri Sala, Chariscenter USA, vol. 23 April/May/June 1998 my italics)
Faced with such blatant and heretical rhetoric, it should be obvious that something is seriously amiss with much of the leadership of the Renewal. The hierarchy of the Church, has so far assumed a relatively benign attitude towards the Charismatic Renewal. Indeed, both Paul VI and John Paul II have voiced their cautious support for the movement (though there is nothing infallible in such statements). However, eventually the magisterium will, I feel, act in a decisive manner to clarify the true Catholic teaching on the charisms in the life of the Church and condemn the many intrusive, Protestantized errors and distortions which the more radical members of the Renewal have long wished to impose on the body of the faithful.
These must in the end come to terms with the history and origins of Pentecostalism and of the so called "ecumenical Charismatic movement" (which is, after all, their indubitable point of origin), and its erroneous notions with regards to the true nature of the "charismata" and their true place in the life of the Church.
The Church will also come to ultimately unmask the false irenicism practiced by many of
the movement's leaders, which is based upon a so called "unity in the Spirit"
which is in reality the subordination of the truths of revelation, of the Divine Truths
contained in Scripture and Tradition and taught authoritatively by the Church throughout
her history, to a shared, subjective and spiritually dubious experience generally referred
to as "Baptism in the Spirit," along with all the concomitant phenomena which it
implies. Lest these words sound harsh, harsher still to Catholic truth is what is implied
by many leaders in the radical Charismatic movement- a claim that this generation
possesses, by virtue of the "outpouring" or "latter rain", a fullness
of the Spirit's power which was somehow mitigated or hidden (subsequent to the Apostolic
Church) in previous epochs of Church history- only to manifest itself anew as a "New
Pentecost" as articulated by the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements of the
The Holy Spirit is eminently the Spirit of Truth, and it is His abiding solicitude as Advocate and Guide which has been the hope and assurance of Christians for these two thousand years. To affirm that His presence in the
Church was somehow insufficient or truncated throughout many centuries of her life, and that it is in this century alone that believers can truly experience the full fruit of His outpouring, is the grossest caricature of the reality, the shallowest of insults to His perpetual and loving indwelling of the Mystical Body of Christ. Such an attitude must be answered; it is in defense of Catholic truth and the indefectibility of the Church that we attempt to do so:
"And I say to thee: that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
"And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven." (St. Matthew XVI, 18-19)
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of God, the pillar and ground of truth. (I Timothy III, 15)
I do not believe that Our Lord would ask any less of us in the present generation.