WHAT SPIRIT IS THIS? AN INTERPRETATION OF "CHARISMATIC RENEWAL" AND ITS RELATION TO CATHOLIC TRUTH
MOVEMENTS IN THE HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
As I mentioned in the introduction, the phenomenon of a group or sect which arises from within the midst of the Catholic faithful, proclaiming itself as the unique vessel of a new revelation, as a restorer of ancient truths or disciplines, or as a prophetic precursor of doom, is nothing new or strange, especially when one studies history in the light of the accumulated wisdom of the Catholic Church. For the reader who wishes to make an in-depth study of the history of such movements, I could recommend no finer or authoritative work than that of Monsignor Knoxs Enthusiasm, which I quoted in the introduction; indeed, this work is considered by most Church historians to be the ne plus ultra on the subject.
Within the modest parameters of this work, on the other hand, I intend to establish, in a somewhat cursory fashion, that the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements bear a clear resemblance in many points of doctrine and practice to many movements and sects which have arisen throughout Church history. I also include certain groups and sects which came to life in Protestant England, Germany, and France. Obviously, no group or sect in this context would be a carbon copy of another; as we will see, they will all be seen to share many similar attributes, and so it is to be expected that they will diverge significantly as well. And I would not claim that the sects, movments and individuals mentioned are somehow direct descendants of one another, or that a secret charismatic freemason like organization has secretly been perpetuating the same errors and exaggerations throughout the history of the Church, only to achieve final triumph with the ascendancy of the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church. On the other hand, it should be obvious that there are striking similarities between the movements described here, and the Pentecostal-Charismatic Renewal movements in their more radical, protestantized and sectarian articulations; and that perhaps the main reason for this, is that human nature, being what it is, and religious error being what it is, that when attracted to one another they generally produce, as when the same chemicals are mixed, reactions which are more alike than dissimilar to one another, and that these phenomena have been observed as recurrent in the history not only of the Catholic Church, but of all churches and religious groups.
I cannot emphasize enough that I do not wish to give the reader the impression that all Catholic Charismatics, or even individual Pentecostals, are necessarily implicated in the negative elements of the movements in question- I merely desire to show that the common characteristics which the movements share serve to seriously question the modern Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements extravagant claims to be unique and sacrosanct "movements of the Spirit."
One of the first, and certainly the most notorious of the early "enthusiast" challenges to Church authority, originated in Phrygia in the last years of the second century, and centered around the self styled prophet Montanus, who claimed to be the voice of the newly descended Paraclete, along with his two "prophetesses" Prisca (or Priscilla) and Maxilla.
"Before his conversion, Montanus had been a priest of Asian religion of the Magna Mater (the pre-christian Mother Goddess) in which ecstatic states were not uncommon. When he became a Christian teacher, he was assisted in his work by his two prophetesses, Priscilla and Maximilla, who, it was said, went into trances and spoke the words of the Holy Spirit. Montanus followers also preached that the Spirit had a higher authority than the bishops (there was as yet no agreed upon scriptural canon) and that the last days were at hand.
"On the surface at least, the Montanist movement bears a striking similarity to early pentecostalism which also combined women prophets with trance and tongues and End Time Eschatology. (Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty First Century, Perseus Books, Reading Massachusets, 1995, pge. 90, my italics)
Given their similarity to the modern radical neo-Pentecostals, Father Rene Laurentin, the renowned Catholic Mariologist, apparently believes that the Montanists deserve a second hearing, if not a complete rehabilitation:
"Montanism has always been accused not only of extremism, rigorism, illuminism, and feminism, but also of having established a charismatic hierarchy that set itself up as rival of the official hierarchy. St. Jerome tells us that among the Montanists "the bishop comes third. They give first place to the patriarchs from Pepusa in Phrygia, and second place to those they call the koinonous; thus bishops fall back into the third and almost last place."
"But did the Montanists in fact deviate on this point? Despite a concordant reference in the Code of Justinian, we have no real proof that what Jerome says is true."
(Rene Laurentin, Catholic Pentecostalism, trans. by Matthew J. OConnell, Doubleday and Company, New York, NY 1977, pge. 136)
So Father Laurentin, in his zeal for defending anything that resembles the prophetic or charismatic, prefers to accuse St. Jerome himself of unjustly slandering the Montanists, rather than accepting what can only be considered the unanimous consent of the Fathers in regards to the Montanists.
Interestingly enough, Laurentin was subsequently caught in a situation very similar, when he assumed the role of chief apologist for the spurious apparitions at Medjugorje, thus placing himself in opposition to the local Bishop of Mostar.
Montanism's most famous convert was the great (previously) Catholic apologist Tertullian, who was apparently swept away by the great eloquence of the prophecies and the putative holiness of the sectaries. For the very reason of his having forsaken the unity of the Catholic Church for the Montanists, Tertullian is not considered a "Church Father" in the strict sense, although he holds a very high place as a Christian apologist, and writer. Tertullian went so far as to write a defense of the "prophet's" ecstasies, (which has since been lost) entitled De Ecstasi, and also described the manner in which the sect differentiated its own adherents from ordinary Catholics. The pneumatoi (the "spiritual") were considered those who believed in and followed the Montanist oracles, and the ordinary Catholics were considered as mere psychici, benighted servants of the flesh.
A rather illuminating thumbnail sketch of Montanus and the "Cata-Phrygians"
(out of Phrygia) as the sect was also known, can be gleaned from the following passage
taken from the "Ecclesiastical History" of Eusebius of Caesaria:
"Their opposition and their recent heresy which has separated them from the Church arose on the following account a recent convert, Montanus by name, through his unquenchable desire for leadership, gave the adversary opportunity against him. And he became beside himself in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the custom of the Church handed down by tradition from the beginning. Some of those who heard his spurious utterances at that time were indignant, and they rebuked him as one that was under the control of a demon But others imagining themselves possessed of the Holy Spirit and of prophetic gifts Thus, by artifice the devil, devising destruction for the disobedient secretly excited and inflamed their understandings which had already become estranged from the true faith. And he stirred up besides two women, and filled them with the false spirit, so that they talked wildly and unreasonable and strangely, like the person already mentioned. And the spirit pronounced them blessed as they rejoiced and gloried in him, and puffed them up by the magnitude of his promises."
(Eusebius of Cesarea, Ecclesiastical History, V, 14. Eusebius is quoting an anonymous writer of the second century.)
It is apparent, as our anonymous writer has stated, that there was a traditional way of prophesying recognized by the traditions Church "from the beginning". The characteristic, and pseudo-ecstatic babbling, or "talking wildly and unreasonably" of the Montanists (the reader is asked to keep this in mind when referred below to the published accounts of the happenings at Azusa Street) paroxysms, or trance like utterances had nothing to do with the manner of prophesying approved by the Church.
St. Epiphanius, in his work on heretics, describes one such "prophecy" made by the Montanist "Paraclete" himself, taking possession of the man Montanus:
"Finally, we will draw attention to another interesting case. In early Christian literature there exists a passage where the possessing spirit also makes statements as to the state of mind of the possessed at the moment of possession The quotation relates to Montan, the founder of Montanism
It is quite obvious that one of the objections against the Montanists on the part of the early Church fathers was the fact that the former claimed to be nothing more than the vocal chords of the Divine Spirit. This mode and manner of prophesying is totally contrary to the tradition of the Church, as well as the Old Testament prophetic tradition. The only instances in Scripture of the Spirit of God literally "taking over" the prophet, violently using his vocal chords to utter a prophetic oracle, thereby bypassing the human will deal with "enemies" of God- as in the case of Balaam, Caiphas, etc. God, when dealing with those who love Him, and desire to serve Him, desires to work through the instrumentality of the human will and intellect, which He gently moves and disposes according to His will, but never abolishes or "possesses" in the manner of a demonic spirit:
"And in intending to discourse to discourse concerning them, first, as I said, he (St. Paul) lays down the difference between soothsaying and prophecy, thus saying, Ye know that when ye were gentiles, ye were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might be led.
Now what he means is this: if any were at any time possessed by an unclean spirit and began to divine, even as one dragged away, so was he drawn by the spirit in chains: knowing nothing of the things which he utters. For this is peculiar to the soothsayer, to be beside himself, to be under compulsion, to be pushed, to be dragged, to be haled as a mad-man. But the prophet not so, but with sober mind and composed temper and knowing what he is saying, he uttereth all things. Therefore, even before the event do thou from this distinguish the soothsayer and the prophet.
(St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on I Corinthians, XXIX)
The instances of saints or mystics speaking in the first person as one of the Divine Persons of the Trinity, while not unheard of, is extremely rare in the history of Catholic mysticism. In any case, such cases categorically exclude the appearance of spirit possession or violent displacement of the mystics intellect, will or mental faculties:
"Ecstasy is of diabolical origin when the mind and the speech of the ecstatic are confused, as if he were being spurred on by someone else, or as if another were speaking through him
"Confusion of the mind is the characteristic of diabolical in contradistinction to true ecstasy in which the ecstatic expresses himself in words that redound to the glory of God."
(Pope Bendict XIV, On the Beatification and Canonization of the Saints, III, 49)
Even true, Divine ecstasy does not involve even a temporary abolition of the intellect and will, merely the suspension of the external senses. Such " voluntary possession" modes of prophecy were relatively common in pagan antiquity, as can be gleaned from descriptions of the Pythoness at Delphi and of the Mystery religions.
While a handful of the early Church fathers, in particular those influenced by the school of Alexandria, such as Athenagoras of Athens, may have on occasion been a little extravagant in their description of the manner in which God inspired the authors of Sacred Scripture and the prophets, this does not imply that the early Church did not exercise great discernment with regards to so-called prophecies and manifestations of the "charisms."
Accordingly there was little doubt in any orthodox and Catholic minds that the ravings and babblings of Montanus and his followers were nothing like the authentic and true prophecy of the Old and NewTestaments and the traditions of the Catholic Church.
Another illuminating, and more nearly contemporaneous account of the Montanists, was given by St. Hyppolytus:
But there are others who themselves are heretical in nature and are Phrygians by birth. Those have been rendered victims of error from being previously captivated by two wretched women, called a certain Priscilla and Maximilla, whom they supposed to be prophetesses. And they assert that that into these the Paraclete Spirit had departed; and antecedently to them, they in like manner consider Montanus as a prophet. And being in possession of an infinite number of their books, the Phrygians are overrun with delusion; and they do not judge whatever statements are made by them, according to reason; nor do they give heed unto those who are competent to decide; but they are heedlessly swept onward by the reliance they place on these impostors. And they allege that they have learned something more through these, than from law, and prophets, and the Gospels. But they magnify these wretched women above the Apostles and every gift of Grace, so that some of them presume to assert that there is in them a something superior to Christ some of these assent to the heresy of the Noetians, and assert that the Father himself is the Son, and that this (one) came under suffering and death (St. Hypollytus, Refutation of All Heresies, ch. 12)
It is remarkable that the anticipate those of the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, but truly so when one considers that many of them also adopted the "heresy of Noetus", or "modalism"- the idea that there is only one divine person in the Divinity and that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are merely three modes of expression of this one "hypostasis". This selfsame heresy was adopted, as we shall see, by many of the original leaders and disciples of the Azusa street revival, the cradle of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement!
The Montanists were initially condemned by the Bishops of Phrygia, but this did not prevent them from garnering the support of Rome, at least for a while, until, according to Tertullian, Praxeas, the monarchican heretic, came forth with accusations against both the Montanists and the Paraclete Himself:
after the Bishop of Rome had acknowledged the prophetic gifts of Montanus, Prisca and Maximilla, and in consequence of the acknowledgment, had bestowed his peace on the churches of Asia and Phrygia, he (Praxeas), by importunately urging false accusations against the prophets themselves and their churches, and insisting on the authority of the bishops predecessors in the see, compelled him to recall the the pacific letter which he had issued, as well as to desist from his purpose of acknowledging the said gifts. By this , Praxias did a twofold service for the devil at Rome: he drove away prophecy; he put to flight the Paraclete, and he crucified the Father. (Tertulllian, Against Praxeas)
Knox (opus cit. pp. 32-33), considers this account neither above suspicion nor beyond possibility. In any case, it should serve as an illustration of how God can make use of anyone, even a putative heretic like Praxeas, to preserve the Petrine rock from concessions to error.
Not surprsingly, the renowned John Wesley, the father of the "holiness movement" which is generally regarded as the spiritual matrix in which the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements were to take root a century later, thought well of Montanus and the Montanists:
"What Wesley wrote about the Montanists is instructive, and by reading between his lines we can see that he had to tread carefully. He knew of reports of tongue speaking in his own day, and he-like Paul-felt more than a little ambivalent about it. Nonetheless, about Montanus he is very straightforward. Wesley described him as a real scriptural Christian and extolled him as one of the best men ever upon the earth. The reason why tongue speaking and similar gifts had dissapeared, Wesley said, was that dry, formal, orthodox men had begun to ridicule such gifts because they themselves did not possess them." (Harvey Cox, opus cited, pge. 91)
The sect of the Messalians, which bears some striking similarities to the radical Charismatic-Pentecostal movements, arose from within the body of the faithful in the fourth century, and, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Enthusiasts from their peculiar tenet of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost by Whom they thought themselves inspired or possessed (enthous). The non-Christian sect of the Euphemites were also called Messalians, and Epiphanius (Haer., lxxx), our sole informant about these, considers them the forerunners of the Christian Messalians. The non-Christian Messalians are said to have admitted a plurality of gods, but to have worshipped only one, the Almighty (Pantokrator). They were forcibly suppressed by Christian magistrates and many of them put to death. Hence they became self-styled Martyriani. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Online Edition, Messalians, copyright, 1999 by Kevin Knight.)
It is only speculation at this point, but I wonder if the "Christian" Messalians were willing to share the "enthusiastic" experience of their putative spiritual mentors, the Euphamites, at the price of relinquishing what is and remains the sine qua non of every member of the true Church: adherence to the revealed truths of revelation, entrusted to the successors of the Apostles.
Theodoret of Cyrus provides a very interesting account of the Messalians:
"At this time also arose the heresy of the Messaliani they have also another designation which arose naturally from their mode of action. From their coming under the influence of a certain demon, which they supposed to be the Holy Ghost, they are also called enthusiasts." (Theodoret of Cyrus, History of the Church, IV, 10)
It is important to recognize, in light of the current proliferation of so called Pentecostal-Charismatic inspired "revivals", that it is quite easy for the devil and his legions to manifest themselves as angels of light (2 Cor. 11), and that it is not enough, as was the case of the Messalians, to merely wish to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit in order to obtain the gift of His divine presence. From this blind presumption, on their part, according to Theodoret, they went from error to error: they held a low opinion of manual labor, and considered their dreams prophetic. A striking parallel could be drawn with certain members of the radical "Catholic Charismatic" Movement:
"Of this heresy Dadoes, Sabbas were leaders, and others besides, who did not hold aloof from the communion of the Church, alleging that neither good nor harm came of the divine food of which Christ our Master said: Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood shall live for ever." (Theodoret of Cyrus, ibid.)
It is certainly no secret that Pentecostal spirituality had as its cradle the milieu of low-church sacramentarianism. Therefore, the denominations which descended from the original "neo-Pentecostal outpouring" despite their "last supper memorials", have no belief in the real presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament, and certainly even less regard for the Catholic Eucharist, and it can be said that they share this affinity with the ancient Messalians. This is to be expected of the Pentecostals, descendants of the Protestant low-church tendency, but how much of this error has entered into the radical "Charismatics" way of thinking?
While it is certain that many good Catholics who happen to participate in the Renewal have a great and fervent devotion to the Eucharistic Lord, there has always existed a parallel tendency within the movement to view the sacraments, even the Eucharist, as playing an ancillary and subordinate role to the experience of the "Spirit baptism." If such were not the case, why would so many "neo-Pentecostals" seek the laying on of hands from Protestant "pastors" who deny the Real Presence? Why would so many putative Catholics claim to have been spiritually enlightened only upon their reception of the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit"?
In the following account, Theodoret describes a meeting between a bishop of the Catholic Church and a Messalian heretic:
"Flavianus, also, the far famed high priest of the Antiochenes, on learning that these men (the Messalians) were living at Edessa and attacking with their peculiar poison all with whom they came in contact, sent a company of monks, brought them to Antioch, and in the following manner convicted them in their denial of their heresy Adelphius, who was a very old man, he accosted with expressions of kindness, and ordered to take a seat at his side. Then he said, We, oh venerable sir, who have lived to an advanced age, have more accurate knowledge of human nature, and of the trick of the demons who oppose us, and have learnt by experience the character of the gift of grace. But these younger men have no clear knowledge of these matters, and cannot brook to listen to spiritual teaching. Wherefore tell me in what sense you say that the opposing spirit retreats, and the grace of the Holy Spirit supervenes. The old man was won over by these words and gave vent to all his secret venom, for he said that no benefit accrues to the recipients of Holy Baptism, and that it is only by earnest prayer that the indwelling demon is driven out, for that every one born into the world derives from his first father slavery to the demons just as he does to his nature; but that when these are driven away then comes the Holy Ghost giving sensible and visible signs of His presence, at once freeing the body from the impulse of the passions and wholly ridding the soul of its inclination for the worst " (Theodoret, ibid.)
From this passage we can glean two things: first, as is well known, the Messalians considered the Sacrament of Baptism proper (and consequently all other Sacraments-just like the first Pentecostals) as of no value, and second, they placed the tangible sentient experience of the Holy Spirit above every other consideration, even to the point of considering all others who had not been "liberated" in a like manner to be literally indwelt by demons. Obsession with demons and demon possession is one of the characteristics of the radical charismatics- in gatherings known as "deliverance conferences", thousands of people have demons cast out of them-demons ranging those that cause sneezing attacks or nervous twitches, to those which are the result of satanic ritual abuse. Prominent charismatic Francis Macnutt is a name which comes to mind in this regard. In his book, Deliverance from Evil Spirits, Macnutt puts forth a demonology which borders on the paranoid- perfectly consonant with the deliverance or "prayer warrior" mentality. One gets the impression, after reading the book, that everything unpleasant from a psychological point of view has a demonic origin. (Francis Macnutt, by the way, is an ex-Dominican and ex-Catholic, who founded his own "church". This, of course, was not demonically inspired.) The more extreme members of the "Charismatic Renewal" have been instrumental in imbuing Catholic minds with what C.S. Lewis referred to as the "unhealthy interest" in the devils existence and activities:
"Concern about the presence and power of evil spirits seems to have developed among Catholic charismatics only after the renewal movment had been in existence for several years. This concern may be traced, at least in part, to the influence of the pentecostal Protestants Others are becoming deeply absorbed in tracts like Michael Harpers Spiritual Warfare, which describes the tactics to be used in attacking the diabolical enemy. There is now a much greater preoccupation with this phenomenon that there was when the movement began in 1967." (John H. Fichter, S.J., The Catholic Cult of the Paraclete, with a foreward by Donald Gelpi, Sheed and Ward, Inc. New York, NY, pge. 133)
This should not be construed as if I were questioning the existence of the devil and his legions, or their activities in the world.
Quite the contrary; I believe that the exaggerations and the extremes of both the Messalians and the contemporary "Deliverance Movement" lend themselves to the trivialization of the demonic in human affairs, and to a presumptious "prayer warrior" mentality which does not take into consideration the true teaching of the Church with respect to exorcism and demonology.
Incidentally, the devil himself can and often does allow exorcisms to take place, and even encourages such activity when it serves his purposes:
"The demons have also the following trick. They cry out the names of those whom they know to have none of the merits of holiness and to possess none of the fruits of the spirit. They pretend to be burnt up by the merits of such people, and to take flight from the bodies of the possessed "Fake Christs, and false prophets will rise up, and they will perform great signs and wonders so that if possible even the chosen will be led into error." (Mt. 24:24) (St. John Cassian, Conferences, XV, ch.1)
This should give pause to those radical members of the Charismatic Renewal who insist, in the manner of the Messalians, that the "Pentecostal experience" or so called "Baptism in the Holy Spirit", carried out by the laying on of hands by an "anointed" or "charismatic" prophet is essential for true liberation or deliverance from demons. Today, such a thing can be witnessed at the so called deliverance conferences, in which hyper-energized "evangelists" shout at and cajole the omnipresent demons they believe are haunting their congregations.
Blessed Joachim of Flora was a Cistercian monk of renowned holiness who lived during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The sanctity of his life itself was never in doubt; indeed, Dante gives Joachim an honoured place in his Paradiso, where Joachims praises are sung by Saint Bonaventure himself:
"Rabanus is here, and there shineth at my side the Calabrian abbot Joachim, dowed with prophetic spirit." (Paradiso, Canto XII, The Carlyle-Okey-Wicksteed Translation.)
Nonetheless, despite his being esteemed a prophet in his time, many of Abbot Joachim's writings were subsequently found to contain errors; for instance, it would appear that he denied the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit, and this particular error of his was solemnly condemned by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215:
"The abbot Joachim of Fiore (t1202) conceived the unity of the Three Divine Persons as a collective unit His teaching was rejected at the fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the teaching of Peter Lombardus, which he had attacked, was solemnly approved (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma
Another aspect of Joachims writings that generated controversy within the Church during the thirteenth century were his teachings regarding the three ages or dispensations of world history, the age of the Father, which lasted until the Incarnation, which ushered in the age of the Son, during which the Catholic Church would hold sway, and which would subsequently give way to the final age, the age of the Holy Spirit:
"Joachims followers held that the Incarnation and Passion of Christ were not the high point of the divine mercy to man. The reign of Christ was but a preparation for a more perfect dispensation, the reign of the Holy Ghost. This was now about to begin. There would no longer be a Church; the pope would resign his power to a new order of contemplatives; the active life would cease, and all Christendom would become a vast monastery of contemplatives, vowed to absolute poverty. Morover, the law of spiritual effort would cease, and the Holy Spirit being poured out in a new and perfect effusion of gifts and graces, the law of spiritual joy would reign unhindered." (Vincent Miceli, S.J., The Antichrist: Has he launched his final campaign against the Savior? Roman Catholic Books, P.O. Box 255, Harrison, N.Y., 1981, pge. 96. My italics)
. Nonetheless, his followers went well beyond what he himself had written, and speculated wildly about the nature of the "age of the Holy Spirit" to the point of predicting that there would be no more need of a ministerial priesthood, as "everyone would possess the fullness of the Spirit." This extremist position precipitated the solemn condemnation of Joachim's teachings by Pope Alexander IV in 1256. Nevertheless, one of the prominent Charismatic theologians, the irrepressible Father Laurentin, seeks to rehabilitate Joachimism, and at the same time, excoriate the theologians and churchmen who participated in its condemnation:
"The censure was the work of the intellectuals of the time, and an act of revenge. Joachim had accused Peter Lombard, the "Master of the Sentences" of setting up a quaternity in God, inasmuch as Lombard spoke of the Divine Essence as being in some sense prior to the three Persons The theologians, however, could not tolerate such an attack on the great master of Scholasticism . The condemner himself must be condemned. The theologians therefore accused Joachim of the contrary error: that he reduced the divine unity to the unity of a collectivity. The Latins leveled this objection against the Eastern tradition as well, yet it seems in Joachims case to have been simply a pretext we have every right to be suspicious of his condemnation by the Fourth Lateran Council." (Laurentin, opus cited, pp. 139-140)
Characteristically, Laurentin seems to infer that he has the right, in the name of the sacred Charismatic movement, to judge the Church of the past; how else can one interpret what he has written here? The Church never impugned Joachims reputation for holiness, or the value of many of his theological insights, but it certainly did condemn the errors which bear closest affinity to contemporary "Charismatic thought."
It is interesting to note the similarities between Joachim's "age of the
Spirit" and certain neo-pentecostal teachings such as the "Latter Rain
doctrine" and the "signs and wonders" movment, as well as the apocalyptic
pronouncements of many alleged Marian apparitions and "prophetic" movements
within the Church which
have sprung from the Charismatic movement, which speak of a "new Church of the Spirit" or a "new age of spiritual illumination.".
The novelty with regards to the three ages of the Church is in certain respects, eerily
similar to the dispensational, millenarian or chiliast eschatology which was the hallmark
of the early pentecostal movement- perhaps its driving force, as will be seen further on.
Apparently, Joachim never considered himself a prophet, merely a scriptural
exegete, yet, as Monsignor Knox indicates:
"This notion that the Church had failed, and the Divine revelation had been entrusted to a faithful remnant, was fostered, beyond doubt, by the milleniarian speculations of the time he had certainly commented on the Apocalypse, and every commentator on the Apocalypse is liable to stir up a hornets nest and Joachims reputation was such, both for holiness and learning, that he seems to have infected the age with an eschatological atmosphere, which it would be difficult to account for on any other ground. Even St. Bonaventure identified the coming of St. Francis with the breaking of the Sixth Seal, and a bull of Gregory IX began with the words, Since the evening of the world is now declining. Joachimism declined to leave the world in suspense; the Abbot died in 1201, but, less impatient for quick results than most prophets of doom, he only announced the coming of Antichrist for the year 1260." (Ronald Knox, opus cited, pge. 110)
DIGRESSION ON MILLENIALISM
At this point, I feel that in light of its importance as a driving force for so many "charismatic" movements throughout history, that a small digression on the error known alternately as chiliasm or millenarianism would be in order. This refers to the belief held by many christians, that at the Second Coming of Christ, or the Parousia, Jesus Christ will establish an earthly reign from the New Jerusalem in the company of His saints, and that this reign will last for a thousand years. Most proponents of this theory hold to a hyper-literalist interpretation of the symbolic language of the Apocalypse. Although it is undeniable that some of the early Church fathers held this belief in good faith, and merely as an opinion, as was the case with St. Justin Martyr. It was never an authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church.
In the foregoing passage, Trypho the Jew is querying St. Justin with regards to the latters belief in the millenial kingdom:
" do you really admit that this place, Jerusalem, shall be rebuilt; and do you expect your people to be gathered together, and made joyful with Christ and the patriarchs, and the prophets ? Then I answered, I am not so miserable a fellow, Trypho, as to say one thing and think another. I admitted to you formerly, that I , and many others, are of this opinion, and [believe] that such will take place but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise." (St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 80)
Therefore, it cannot be asserted, as is frequently done by many defenders of the doctrine of an earthly millenium , that such was ever taught by the Church as authoritative. An earthly millenial kingdom of sensual delights, as espoused by many sects, as well as by many of the early Pentecostals (sans, of course, the sexual connotations) was strongly condemned from the earliest times:
"We have understood that at this time Cerinthus, the author of another heresy, made his appearance. Caius, whose words we quoted above, in the Disputation which is ascribed to him, writes as follows concerning this man: But Cerinthus also, by means of revelations which he pretends were written by a great apostle, brings before us marvelous things which he falsely claims were shown to him by angels; and he says that after the resurrection the kingdom of Christ will be set up on earth, and that the flesh dwelling in Jerusalem will again be subject to desires and pleasures
"And Dionysius, who was the bishop of the parish of Alexandria in our day mentions this same man in the following words: Cerinthus, who founded the sect which was called after him, the Cerinthian, desiring reputable authority for his fiction, prefixed his name. For the doctrine he taught was this: that the kingdom of Christ will be an earthly one. And as he himself was devoted to the pleasures of the body and altogether sensual in his nature, he dreamed that the kingdom would consist in those things which he desired, namely, in the delights of the belly and of sexual passion
"Irenaeus says on the authority of Polycarp, that the apostle John once entered a bath to bathe; but learning that Cerinthus was within, he sprang from the place and rushed out the door and he advised those that were with him to do the same, saying, Let us flee, lest the bath fall, for Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, is within." (Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, III, 28)
The Church has solemnly and infallibly taught that there will be no earthly, sensual millenium, subsequent to the Parousia, and by definition, excludes groups or sects holding to such beliefs from the pale of her orthodoxy:
"The Sacred Scriptures inform us that there are two comings of the Son of God: the one when He assumed human flesh for our salvation in the womb of a virgin; the other when He shall come at the end of the world to judge all mankind. This latter coming is called in Scripture the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord, says the Apostle, shall come, as a thief in the night; and our Lord Himself says: Of that day and hour no one knoweth." (The Roman Catechism: The Creed, art. VII)
The true Catholic teaching with regards to the end of the world has always been and remains that the Parousia will take place at the end of the world, and will immediately precede the ressurection, the final judgement, and the new heavens and the new earth. Lately, there have been some within the Church who, in large part under the influence of spurious "private revelations" have put forth a mitigated form of millenialism. In true pentecostal fashion, they foresee a Joachimist like era of a "new outpouring of the Spirit", or a "new Church of the Holy Spirit" which will prepare the way for and precede the Parousia.
The concept of an earthly and imminent millenium, has always served as a matrix for the birth of groups and movements such as the Joachimists, similar to the Pentecostal-charismatic movements. As we shall see presently, the founder of what today could legitimately be considered the Protestant-fundamentalist version of eschatology- John Nelson Darby, was heavily influenced by the first pre-pentecostal tongues speakers and "prophets".
Darby popularized the idea of a "pre-tribulation rapture", dabbled heavily in Joachimist-dispensationalist ideas, via the influence of the tongue speakers and "prophets" known as the Irvingites, and as such, laid the foundation for the eschatological fiction of Hal Lindsays Late Great Planet Earth and the publication of reams of pseudo-apocalyptic literature in the evangelistic realm, some of which has crept into to circles which consider themselves Catholic.
THE MEDIEVAL (AND MODERN) HERESY OF A
SPIRITUAL AND INVISIBLE CHURCH
Closely related to the apocalyptic nature of the times, following in the wake left by the abbot Joachim, and subsequent to the death of St. Francis of Assisi, there were many movements both within and without the Franciscan order which constituted, in many cases, a rigorist reaction to what their adherents perceived to be a corruption or materialization of the Church, which, in their minds, should always remain as it was from the beginning, a poor and destitute Church with reference to worldly goods, yet rich in the spiritual gifts which were the fruits of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Although many of these mendicant and subsequent lay orders which were modeled on them were composed mostly of holy men and women and attempting the positive reform of religious life, and there were real and palpable problems with greed and corruption among many members of the clergy of the day, many of these groups mistook the legitimate cause of reform of discipline and habits within the Church, with laying the foundation for the heretical doctrine of a spiritual Church in contradistinction to the visible hierarchical Church. This has, throughout history, been the inevitable fruit of those who are so convinced that they are right in their opinions that they forget that if one wishes to reform the institution, one must first reform oneself. The true reform of ones life and character must always involve the virtue of humility; and no amount of charismatic impetus to reform or "renewal" can discount its importance.
The most prominent of these groups were the so called "Spiritual Franciscans"or Fraticelli, and, in their reactions to what they perceived as the inordinately opulent condition of the visible Church of the day, postulated a doctrine of two churches, one spiritual, one "carnal":
"Such were the beliefs abjured by Peter Lucensis, a Spaniard who belonged to Dolcinos Apostolic Brethren.
That when poverty was changed from the Church by St. Sylvester, then sanctity of life was taken from the Church. , and the devil entered into the companions of St. Sylvester in this world .that there is a double Church, the Spiritual and the Carnal; that the Spiritual Church is in those men who live in riches and honours such as are the bishops and the prelates of the Church of Rome This Church he says is that carnal Church of which John speaks in the Revelation, which he calls Babylon .
"The protest, in any case, in any case, was really a protest against the whole notion of an institutional, that is, a visible Church for the enthusiasts, there is only one Church, a Church invisible. Its membership consists of the names which are written in the book of life, whatever their sectarian affiliations
"Their real belief, like all enthusiasts, was that it did not matter who had founded your particular religious group, or when. What mattered was that you should follow Christ; if you did that, you were ipso facto inside the only Church that counted." (Knox, opus cited, pge. 113)
No doubt the Franciscan spirituals and their like minded contemporaries would be shocked to know that their ideas on the invisible Church would begin to come to full fruition in the Protestant revolt centuries later. Such a heretical concept of the Church as merely the "invisible body believers" as opposed to the institutional, hierarchical and teaching Church, was instrumental in informing the ideas of the Protestant reformers, and has had no small influence on so much of the heterodox theologizing currently taking place in the Church.
The error receives broad support today as well in the official hymns and handbooks of the radical Renewal, repeating endlessly " I am church, you are church, we are church", wildly distorting the true Catholic teaching on the People of God expressed in Lumen Gentium into the equivalent of a headless mob of energumens. In the minds of many of the most radical neo-pentecostals, the function of the Churchs hierarchy seems to be that of serving as ecclesiastical valets to the "anointed", charismatic leadership of the Renewal. Needless to say, the "spirit of Vatican II" is invariably invoked to shore up such thinking.
Such was the attitude of the first pentecostals, and might I add, what seemed to be implied by the first charismatics as well. Institutional religion and adherence to revealed truth was "stifling", "pharaisaical", "dogmatic"-what was needed was to transcend the denominational barriers and give free reign to the "Spirit" as is implied by the late Episcopal priest Dennis Bennett, considered the clerical founder of the "ecumenical Charismatic movement":
"The Charismatic renewal is the breaking forth of the Holy Spirit from the religious prison in which He has been confined through much of Christian history, so that He can begin to make Christians what they are supposed to be: centers of power and joy for the refreshing and healing of the world.
The Church is not primarily a preaching or teaching institution. It must be charismatic People are weary of talk about religion, whether by semi-believing intellectuals or arrogant fundamentalists, and they are especially weary of of ill-natured Christians who condemn everything and everyone " (extracted from Rev. Dennis Benett, Gods Strength for this Generation, from: The Charismatic Revival, the publication of the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, Ambridge, PA My italics.)
This, in a nutshell, is the classic, historically recurring indictment against the institutional Church by those who consider themselves somehow more spiritual than their contemporaries, members of a so called "spiritual Church" which has little need to bother with things like dogma, or creeds, but instead is a community based on a common spiritual experience, in which all, under their tutelage, must come to experience in order to be counted among the "blessed.":
David Wilkerson, the author of The Cross and the Switchblade, and thus a veritable guru to many members of the Catholic Charismatic movement, as it was this book that give the first impetus to those who were to participate in the "Duquesne weekend", prophesies the advent of the very kind of church being described here:
"A prophecy that rocked the Catholic charismatic community was pronounced in August, 1973, by the venerated author of The Cross and the Switchblade, David Wilkerson. This hero of the movement fell from grace when he revealed that the "clearest vision" he had ever received from God "He predicted that the warm reception Catholic Charismatics are receiving in the Catholic Church will not continue and that both Catholic and Protestant charismatics will be forced to leave their churches and form a supernatural church of true believers. "
Ralph Martin charged Wilkerson with "sensationalism" and an independent unwillingness to submit his vision to the scrutiny of others. Martin is sure that Wilkerson is demonstrating "traditional pentecostal prejudice against institutional churches." (Joseph H. Fichter, opus cited, pp. 125-126)
(While Ralph Martin is to be lauded for questioning one of the movements greatest "lights", I would like to pose this question to him: it was in the Pentecostal churches, where all of the so-called charismatic phenomena, such as "baptism in the Spirit, slain in the Spirit, modern glossalalia were supposedly restored to Christianity. Would the Holy Spirit Himself testify to this error? Would He give His witness to the "pentecostal prejudice against institutional churches", including the Catholic Church? Is He the Spirit of truth or not? Why did you seek Him outside the One, True, Church of Christ?)
However, the idea of a "Charismatic super Church" were apparently embraced by Martin in the early days of the Renewal within the Church, since he was a founding member of the illuminist, fundamentalist: "People of Praise" Covenant Communities in the early 1970s:
"The theology of community of Type I Pentecostals resembles that of the Radicals, even in the use of some images and metaphors, although with Type I the "baptism of the Spirit" together with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues (Team Manual, pp. 20, 27) takes the place of believers baptism with water and the Spirit. It has been demonstrated that Kevin Ranaghan and his colleagues see the creation of a concrete community as a natural consequence of "baptism in the Spirit"; that Ralph Martin and others aver that we are in an eschatological, perhaps even apocalyptic age; that Koller goes so far as to say that it is Gods plans to form a church; that Randall is not alone in modeling Pentecostal leadership on the pastoral Epistles (Cassette 156), thus creating a para-ecclesial structure. "(Massyngbe-Ford, op. Cit., pge. 47)
These so-called "Catholic" communities, under the aegis of the "annointing" of the Holy Spirit, arrogated to themselves the powers which belong only to members of the Churchs hierarchy:
The second issue to which the coordinators addressed themselves was the reasons for exclusion. I quote verbatim from a circular signed by the two overall coordinators of the community:
Exclusion from our community should be done for three reasons:
1) a person can be excluded for openly advocating things which are incompatible with Christianity. Sometimes this may involve things which would be acceptable in other Christian groups, but which call into question teaching that is the basis of our life together, e.g., if a person should openly teach that that tongues is not a gift of the Spirit, or that the Lord does not speak in prophecy today "(ibid, pp. 60-61)
The language of the radical Charismatics at times waxes highly offensive and contemptuous of "ordinary" Catholics:
"My experience in over 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 message Once they hear it, many-even leaders-arent interested in it Practicing Catholic religion is still the ticket to heaven in most of our mindsa works based salvation there are different gospels out there so we have a little modeling of what a true evangelistic spirit is within Catholicism " (Fr. Dimitri Sala, Chariscenter USA, April-June 1998, vol. 23 num. 2)
Father Laurentin goes even further, when he justifies the position of those who oppose the institutional church and the "charisms", contrasting the former in an uinfavorable light:
"Yet it is frequently claimed that institution and charisms are opposed. Is the claim ungrounded or even malicious? No To the extent that the ecclesiastical institution has taken the form of closed hierarchical and juridicial structures, and to the extent that it has been organized not on the basis of the charisms but by the appointment of clerics who monopolize possessions, knowledge, power, and initiative in the Church, the growth of the charisms has been stunted. They have been distrusted and therefore excluded or made peripheral or neutralized The historian could draw up a long list of the corpses, often difficult now to identify, that the institutional Church has thus strewn by the wayside of history." (Rene Laurentin, opus cit., pp 54-55)
Laurentin is attempting to establish a dichotomy that does not exist in the Church; one between charism and institution. From the time when St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, down to our own day, the Church has constantly taught that there is no real opposition between the two. The Church is eminently a divine institution, the Mystical Body of Christ, and her hierarchy is divinely established and led by the Holy Spirit., and this includes what pertains to the discernment of charisms. True mystics and prophets invariably obey the constituted and legitimate authority of the bishops in union with the Pope. It does not concern us that there were (and probably are) greedy and ambitious men who happen to be bishops. If the Holy Spirit, who is after all the soul of the Church, desires to bring a work to fruition by means of the charisms, He will dispose the hearts and minds of those in authority to accept the work of grace.
One should contrast the above sentiments, of those who would seek in their charismatic fervor to render the one true (and visible) Church of Christ into a spiritual wasteland of rules and regulations, populated by those of us who, in the words of Father Salas, think that "practicing the Catholic religion is still the ticket to heaven"- with those expressed by Pope Pius XII in his great encyclical, Mystici Corporis, given in 1943:
"It is an error in a matter of divine truth, to imagine the Church is invisible, intangible, a something merely "pneumatalogical" as they say, by which many Christian communities, though they differ from each other in their profession of faith, are united by a bond that is invisible to the senses
" We deplore and condemn the pernicious error of those who conjure up from their fancies an imaginary Church, a kind of society that finds its origin and growth in charity, to which they somewhat contempuously oppose another which they call juridicial. To draw such a distinction is utterly futile. For they do not understand that it was for the very same reason, namely , to perpetuate the salutary work of the redemption on this earth, that the divine Redeemer wanted the community of which he was the founder to be established as a society perfect in its own order and possessing all juridicial and social elements." (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 240, 257)
THE SPANISH "ALUMBRADOS"
The "Alumbrados" or "Illuminati" are certainly not as well known today as their later namesakes from Bavaria, the notorious "Illuminati" of conspiracy theory fame. Yet, in sixteenth century Spain, their prominence as supposed true mystics was to generate popular enthusiasm, ecclesiastical interest, and with the truth finally brought to light, the eruption of a serious scandal throughout the Catholic world.
They practised a mystical spirituality which was apparently quite close to what the Quietists would espouse centuries hence. The main objective of the Alumbrados was apparently the cessation of all activity by the human personality until this was taken over completely by the Holy Spirit, enabling the members of the movement or sect to achieve the unimpeded vision of the Blessed Trinity, thereby rendering the sacraments and other means of grace superfluous.
The most historically prominent member of the Alumbrados was the notorious Magdalene of the Cross:
" Magdalen of the Cross at the beginning of the century of St. Theresa of Avila, fooled almost the whole of Spain. She, while levitating, received the host, which detached itself from the hand of the priest and flew through the air before resting upon her tongue. On certain days she had either the stigmata or the sweats of blood hence the tide of enthusiasm of which she was the cause. Common people, parish priests, bishops, emperors, many venerated her and consulted with her. However, an apostolic visitor sent by Rome was shocked by some details he saw in her convent. He spoke to each of the sisters, and especially with the Mother Abbess, Magdalen of the Cross, who, eventually, confessed that, while a young shepherdess, she had sold her soul to the devil in exchange for the power of performing prodigies. Thus, she deceived everybody for thirty years." (Fr. Ludovic-Marie Barrielle, CP. CR. V., Rules for the Discerning of Spirits In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Angelus Press, Kansas City, MO., 1992, pges. 47-48)
One thing which strikes me about the case of Magdalen is that it was her craving for fame based upon the appearance of sanctity and false miracles which led her to make a pact with the devil himself.
While I am in no way accusing the radical charismatics of today of forming pacts with the devil, one cannot help but be put off by the ambience of "celebrity worship" which seems to surround such Renewal events as conferences, healing congresses, the Marian (read: Medjguorje) conferences, where attention is invariably focused on the platform, the stage and the "celebrity miracle workers" who are hailed as virtual living saints by adoring crowds. One of the characteristics of such "miracle workers" is their irritating habit of talking constantly and incessantly about themselves and their powers, and then insisting, with the most humble countenance they can muster, microphone in hand, that its "all just a gift of the Holy Spirit, and your humble servant is merely His instrument,"or words to that effect. Nevertheless, such a protest inevitably occurs after they themselves have received ample applause and kudos from the crowd.
Concomitant physiological phenomena were by no means lacking the rest of the Alumbrados privileged spiritual states of contemplation. One Fray Alonso was the author of a work denouncing the movement, known as the Memorial. I would ask the reader who is familiar with the more "neo-pentecostal" type of prayer groups to pay close attention to what Fray Alonso has written:
"When they [the Alumbradas] are in church, they act as if absorbed in thought, and sleepy. Many of them fall on the ground some of them utter terrible groans and sobs, and others have sweats and tremblings " (William Thomas Walsh, A Biography of St. Theresa of Avila, TAN Books and Publishers, Rockford, Ill., pge. 111)
Is it too much a leap of the imagination to compare these states to the paroxysms into which the extreme charismatics, especially women, are sometimes drawn? I have personally observed Charismatic women (especially those experiencing problems in their home life) doing this exact same thing in prayer groups on dozens of occasions, and many times in church. Working onseself into a cathartic emotional frenzy may not be a sign of diabolical intervention, but it is certainly not a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. And what about "being slain in the spirit"? Isnt Fray Alonso describing something quite similar?
Fray Alonso goes on to list some of the "mystical states" in which the Alumbrados periodically found themselves:
"Sentimiento Divino: according to this doctrine, is a movement of the senses, which comes with a body change and perceptible heat so strong in some persons that it burns them and parches them like a fever. This feeling comes in many ways and shows itself in many parts of thebody, generally in the heart, with a movement that makes it palpitate; oftentimes too, in the shoulders, in the breast, in the arms, in the palms of the hands, and sometimes the sufferer comes to feel the wounds of Christ.
"Warmth of God, or of the Holy Spirit: which is the same, is a kind of feeling consisting of only sensible heat which parches and inflames the flesh, so much so as sometimes to cause a breaking out on the face and other parts where it occurs This phenomenon is often attended by odors, faintings, raptures, sweating, sensible consolations, and sensible grief.
"Contrition for sin is a sensible grief which breaks the heart and makes them utter shrieks and groans, and sometimes it comes so violently that it makes the patient rabid and leaves him fatigued and exhausted
"Divine consolation is a sensible joy so powerful and so remarkable that sometimes they begin to dance and to leap about, and it lasts a long time and enthralls the patients in such wise that they eat their hands under that consolation, and go mad seeking for it. (Ibid. pges 111-112 my italics)
Let us compare these "symptoms" of the Alumbrados to the phenomena associated with the very beginning of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, the by now famous "Duquesne weekend", as recalled by Patti Gallagher Harrison, the "proto-Catholic Charismatic":
.Some felt Gods love so deeply that they couldnt do
anything but weep
felt a tremendous burning in their hands, or going
through their arms like fire. Others experienced a clicking in their throats, or a
tingling in their tongues. "You have to remember, we didn't know about the gifts of
the Holy Spirit," said Patti.) from: (What is Charismatic Renewal?" http://www.portsmouth-dio.org/)
This being the case, is it so unreasonable to conclude that not all that glitters is spiritual gold? Is it just possible that perhaps the Charismatic Renewal was jump started by an over active imagination on the part of the students in feverish expectation of signs and wonders, much like the Alumbrados?
THE CONVULSIONARY JANSENISTS
It is not possible, due to the limited scope of this work, to enter here into all the particulars of the Jansenist controversy.
Suffice it to say that during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centruries in France, the Jansenists, although they claimed to be the authentic and true sons and daughters of the Church, fell into increasing ecclesiastical disfavor due to their extreme rigorist view of the sacraments-communion, according to the Jansenists, should be received only after very severe penances and mortifications had been performed- and their mitigated Calvinistic teaching regarding grace, human nature, and free will.
The Jansenists were responsible for the establishment of the famous community of Port Royale, whose most illustrious inhabitant, of course, was the great mathematician and man of letters Blaise Pascal. It was at Port Royale that Pascal authored his famous Provincial Letters.
The Jansenists were initially characterized by a very strict morality, a theory of grace and election bordering on Calvinism, and were not at all open to anything smacking of "religious experience" or mysticism. But, little by little, the sectarian and illuminist nature of the movement would get the better of its radical devotees:
"Port Royal should have been above this; it had never forsaken the communion of the Catholic Church Pascal, in an almost latitudinarian vein, protests that there is no need of miracles now, as there was in the first ages of the Church, to be proof of her divine origin. But, as a crisis in Port Royals history, an event happened which gave a new and dangerous direction to Jansenist thought In 1656 Pascals neice was cured suddenly of an obsinate eye trouble, when she had been touched in the church of Port Royale by a relic, a Thorn supposedly from the Crown of Thorns It would not be in place here to consider the genuineness of the miracle, or its theological implications; both have been widely canvassed. The effect was, as Sainte-Beuve points out, that Port Royal accepted the miracle not as proof that the relic was a true relic, but as a proof that Port Royale was right and the Jesuits were wrong. From that time onwards the normal Catholic belief in ecclesiastical miracles was reinforced by a confidence that, when need arose, Almighty God could be trusted to perform Jansenist miracles. " (Ibid, pge 227)
Perhaps the reader could consider the fact that the Jansenists considered, from this point on, all miracles to be a vindication of their movement and not as a testimony to the power of God, or to the truths of revelation and the Catholic Church. Much the same attitude is expressed by certain charismatics, who claim that the so-called miracles taking place today-whether within the Catholic Renewal, or at the so called "signs and wonders" protestant revivals- look to such events as proof positive that validates their beliefs that the movement represents a unique anointing of the Holy Spirit, notwithstanding the fact that many of its most prominent members are opposed to Catholic teaching, and outside the Church.
When the dogmatic constitution "Unigenitus Deus" was issued (and confirmed by
Pope Clement XI in 1713), condemning their leading theologian's opinions, many Jansenists
not only refused to abide by the document, but chose to retrench their opposition by
taking refuge in the "miraculous" cemetery of St. Medard in Paris:
"The immediate occasion of all the trouble was the death of Francois de Paris, a pronounced Jansenist in deacon's orders who had acquired, in life, a reputation for sanctity it was as if he were determined, in his last moments, that any miracles which came to be associated with his name should be Jansenist, not merely Catholic, miracles "But in the summer of 1731, the cure of a paralytic gave a different turn to the proceedings it began when she was placed on the tomb of M. Paris, with 'extremely violent movements' the cures, from this date onwards, seem to have been normally, if not invariably accompanied by convulsions And now began, in the cemetery of St. Medard, that extraordinary dance of the convulsionaries You saw in the cemetery, 'men falling like epileptics, others
swallowing pebbles, glass, and even live coals, women walking feet in air You heard nothing but groaning, singing, shrieking, whistling, declaiming, prophesying, caterwauling' Women and girls , who played a great part in these exhibitions, excelled in capers, in somersaults, in feats of suppleness. Some of them twirled around on their feet with the lightning quickness of dervishes; others turned head over heels, or stood on their hands in such a way that their heels almost touched their shoulders . On the tomb itself you saw the Abbe Becheraud, hopping incessantly on one leg, and proclaiming his other leg, which was 14 inches shorter, was growing every three months A Jansenist pamphlet seems to suggest at first that all was done in a dumb show The author of the same pamphlet declares that he has heard more than a hundred times a convulsionary talking in an unknown language, and understanding any language that was spoken to her it must be admitted that much of the glossalaly was unintelligible
(ibid., pp. 375-378)
So, in retrospect, it would appear that the Convulsionaries had anticipated the Toronto, Pensacola, and Brownsville revivals by almost three-hundred years. In places like the Toronto Airport Vineyard, or the Brownsville Assembly of God, one can see people being mowed down "in the spirit" by a preacher who considers his hands to be the "machine gun of the Lord"-one can hear people moo like cows, bark like dogs, speak in duelling, unintelligible tongues, move their necks like chickens, faint, weep, moan, groan, roar, turn somersaults, and "become drunk in the spirit" by a minister who proclaims himself to be "Gods" bartender. (For an excellent account of these spurious spiritual movements, the reader is referred to Hank Hanegraaffs fascinating Counterfeit Revival: Looking for God in All the Wrong Places, Word Publishing, Dallas, TX 1997. Of course, we cannot endorse all of Hanegraaffs opinions. As he is an evangelical, he differs with the Catholic Churchs teachings in many respects. On the other hand, he is honest, candid, fair-minded, and sincerely attached to many historical truths of Christianity .)
Not only are the vast majority of the radical "renewalists" in the Church aware of the manifestations associated with the current, so called "revivals" or "blessings", some even publicly roar their approval of them, and wish that the Catholic Church could also experience a like "anointing". Patti Gallagher Mansfield, the celebrity "Proto-Catholic-Pentecostal" and an influential leader in the Renewal, at a conference celebrating the thirty year anniversary of the movement, virtually roars her approval of these obviously spurious manifestations:
The influence of the Toronto Blessing movement was also obvious. The conference worship team sang popular Toronto choruses such as "Sweet Wind" and "Mercy Is Falling," and people gathered at the stage after each session to seek a fresh anointing of the Spirit. Some of them fell backward on the floor after receiving prayer.
Gallagher-Mansfield was not the only one of the early Catholic Pentecostals to express outright approval for the so-called "Toronto Blessing":
This "Toronto Blessing" received some favorable comment at the June, 1997 Charismatic Conference: "Catholic" Charismatic pioneer Kevin Ranaghan, in his opening address, spoke of the "Toronto Blessing" as a true movement of the Holy Spirit. In so saying, this "anointed preacher", as they call each other, told 7,500 Catholics in the audience that barking like dogs and oinking like pigs is a true manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
None of the other speakers voiced any disagreement with this radical teaching from the podium. (Dr. John Vennari, Catholic Family News, vol .)
If even today many of us refuse to learn from the errors of history, it is not difficult to envision how the Jansenists could have fallen into equal extremities and spiritual depravities. Once one wonders from the sure path of orthodoxy and adherence to the Churchs Magisterium, anything can happen-and often does.
In the present few would call to mind the cemetery of Saint Medard; it has passed into the inevitable oblivion which must be the fate of the pseudo-miraculous and the falsely sacred.
The modern neo-pentecostals and radical Charismatics can lay claim to no prodigy, sign, or wonder which did not first manifest itself at that notorious burial ground; and without a doubt, future generations of the faithful will be equally oblivious to such contemporary monuments to hyper-spirituality as Medjugorje, Kathryn Kuhlman's tomb, and the Toronto Airport Vineyard.
At first glance, the errors and exaggerations of Quietism and semi-Quietism would appear to constitute the spiritual antipode to the mystical and spiritual world-view of the more radical Pentecostals and Charismatics. The Quietism of Molinos emphasizes what amounts to the doing away with human activity to the point of its oblivion, in order to achieve a perfect passivity of the soul, in order for God to act on that soul. God then effectively exercises complete and total control over ones will and intellect:
"It is evident therefore, that this acquired contemplation, which Molinos advised for all, was a passivity acquired at will by the cessation of every operation. Consequently he attributed to the contemplation acquired in this manner what is true only of infused contemplation, and with one stroke of the pen he suppressed asceticism and the practice of the virtues, considered by tradition to be the real preparation for infused contemplation and union with God. All spirituality was thus radically perverted." (Fr. Reginald Garrigou-La Grange, O.P., The Three Ages of the Interior Life, trans. By Sister M. Timothea Doyle, O.P., Tan Books and Publishers, Inc. Rockford, Ill., 1989, Vol. II, pge290)
The Pentecostal-Charismatic mysticism would appear, as we have indicated, to be the exact opposite of Quietism, or Molinism, since the Charismatics throw themselves into an exuberant worship with both body and soul, which seeks, not the abolition of the human faculties, but the "empowerment of the anointing", or something similar. And, in all fairness, Quietists such as Madame Guyon did not generally seek out mystical "feelings", or esteem such experiences.
Indeed, as one who has attended many charismatic prayer assemblies, it often appears that the Holy Spirit is not only invoked, but summoned, so strident and fervent are the pleas of "come Holy Spirit, come."
It is important to realize though, that, while they may appear to be poles apart with respect to their mystical theology and ascetical practices, in reality they are quite similar, in that both essentially preach an "effortless" spirituality. As I have said, many Catholics who participate in the Renewal do so in good faith and cannot be said to be any less devout or virtuous tthan the rest. But many of the more radical charismatics have in the past indulged in contemptuous remarks on the Catholic idea of living the virtues or of human effort, which is the backbone of Catholic mystical and ascetic theology, and in the Renewals early days, there was an extreme spiritual passivity preached by many radical charismatics.
One such example is provided by Father Seraphim Rose, a Russian Orthodox priest, in his outstanding work, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future:
" The "passivity" of the spiritistic sťance corresponds to what "charismatic" writers call a "kind of letting go All that can be done is to offer the self-body, mind, and even the tongue-so that the spirit of God may have full possession Such persons are ready-the barriers are down, and God moves mightily upon and through their whole being." (J. Rodman Williams, The Era of the Spirit, pp.62-63, as quoted in Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, Father Seraphim Rose, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA. 1975, pge. 133)
I fully agree with Father Seraphims conclusions about a mediumistic role in Pentecostalism and the Radical Renewal. There is good evidence to suggest that occult techniques played a prominent role at the inception of the Pentecostal movement, but that will be considered later. Father Seraphims reference, on the other hand, could as easily be applied to the mysticism of the Quietists as well.
I remember when the missionary parish I worked in in Baja California Sur was first swept by the Renewal in the early 1980s. There were many new members of the movement who drew the wildest conclusions imaginable about just to what extent God should be relied upon. "Let go and let God" became an all encompassing slogan in some cases. I can distinctly recall enthusiastic members of the prayer groups not worrying about putting gasoline in their cars while en route to "evangelize", as the Holy Spirit would keep the tank full; there was a story about one flat tire being inflated by the "Spirit". There were accounts of prayer groups begging God to "heal" air conditioners, men growing beards to "imitate Jesus in everything". In some cases, members were advised to take no action in insupportable domestic situations, as God would do everything necessary in the home.
I can recall one priest (a very kind and gentle one, at that) who took a group of hikers out onto the desert and trying to climb a volcano on the spur of the moment, without any water. This lark was apparently in response to a "prompting of the Spirit" and one of the group nearly died from heat exhaustion and dehydration. We let ourselves be harangued and insulted by itinerant "anointees", who were judged so on the basis of their lung power and their ability for hurling invective.
Most of the prayer groups no longer exist in the parish, and the Renewal has peaked and is in decline at present. Most of us who were there in those heady days look back in wonder and question how we could have ever believed such nonsense. It is not difficult to imagine why- we were totally imbued with the passivity of Quietism, although it did not present itself under that name, but under the guise of perfect or absolute faith. Informed by Charismatic pastors and much of the literature of the Renewal, we confused absolute "passivity" with true docility to the Holy Spirit. We considered any initiative in the realm of the spiritual as an insult to God and as a lack of faith.
Both the Quietist propositions of Molinos, and the semi-Quietism of Fenelon and Madame Guyon were eventually censured by the Church, but there was a time when Quietism was much in vogue among many members of the Churchs hierarchy:
There are deceptive currents in Church history, not unlike that under-tow in a lock stream, which for a time draws you up to the waterfall In seventeenth century Rome the signs were misleading; it looked as if the Church was going Quietist when in fact Quietism was doomed. But no one could have been blamed for reading the portents wrong. Pope Innocent XI had two secretaries in succession, Favoriti and Casoni, who were close allies of Molinos; according to Cardinal D Estrees, he was the eager recipient of Quietist revelations, and allowed himself to be guided by them Petrucci was rewarded for his Quietism with a mitre; was to be rewarded later with a cardinals hat. (Knox, op. Cit., pge 307)
Extreme Charismatics should take a lesson from the Quietist interval, since many of them now assume that the movement has been irrevocably accepted by, and incorporated into the Church, since positive things have been said about it by Paul VI and John Paul II. Nothing that the Popes have so far said with regards to the Renewal itself have involved the exercise of their solemn or ordinary magisterium, and there has likewise been no ratification on the part of the successors of Peter concerning the supernatural or mystical claims of the movement, or with regards to the "charisms" putatively possessed by the movement in abundance. Even if there is an atmosphere of "official acceptance" surrounding the movement in all its aspects, this by no means indicates that the case is closed. Warm feelings and friendly words, even if they originate with the supreme Pontiff, do not necessarily imply perpetual approval.
The Popes certainly have the last word on any subject in the Church, and no one is saying that the broad based and official Renewal movement has not borne some good fruits for the edification of the Church. Probably the Quietist movement also produced such fruits. The movements are good insofar as they are in possession of authentically Catholic elements, and what is valid within it are invariably the "proper gifts" of the Church, as "things which she can never lose", as is clearly stated in Lumen Gentium. But in the case of error, it is not enough for the "big picture" concept to prevail, as the stakes are just too high. There is no such thing as a theological proposition or a mysticism being ninety-nine point nine percent Catholic, and point one percent novelty or error. It is either all or nothing, as the stakes are simply too high for anything else.
Nothing which bears fruits for the Church in movements such as Quietism or the Renewal can be claimed to have originated either with the novelties of Molinos or Guyon, or in the pentecostal movement, the international Charismatic movement, or anywhere outside the Church. In light of these facts, we shall anticipate the final judgement of the Church, which may take decades, if not centuries.
Madame Guyon, the semi-Quietist, is perhaps the most famous proponent of the heresy. During the height of her prominence, she influenced many members of the ruling and ecclesiastical establishment in France. In the body of her writings, which admittedly contain much that is of value, she evinces an anti-intellectualism that is obvious:
I especially address those of you who are very simple and you who are uneducated You may think yourself the one farthest from a deep experience with the Lord; but in fact the Lord has especially chosen you! You are the one most suited to know Him well. (Jean Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, formerly titled: A Short and Very Easy Method of Prayer, The Seed Sowers Christian Book Publishing House, Auburn ME, 1975, pge. 2)
This obviously good and well intentioned lady was stating a half-truth here. God has certainly called all human beings to be His sons and daughters, and it could certainly be said that He has a special solicitude for those souls who are characterized by a child-like simplicity, humility, and innocence. But these qualities of soul spring from the virtues which the soul possesses by means of grace and the sacraments, and formal education or the lack of such has little to do with this innocence; on the contrary, culpable ignorance in matters of faith is considered a grave sin. The Church honors relatively uneducated saints like Bernadette and Martin of Porres; and she likewise venerates saints of great intellect such as the Apostle Paul, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.
Madame Guyons anti-intellectualism affected even her prominent followers, the most famous of which was Fenelon, the renowned Archbishop of Cambrai:
At the outset Fenelons letters show that he is suspicious, and still regards himself as a spiritual master but at the close he is a submissive disciple It is necessary to become a little child (that is to say her obedient child) and to be guided by the "not seeing" and the "not knowing." The most absolute obedience is imposed upon him: "Your littleness must extend itself to the point of believing and practicing what God causes to be said to you by me (Letter 108) Fenelon submitted to the oracle who declares herself infallible: "I am persuaded that God admonishes me by you, and gives me by you my daily bread. It is a state of complete infancy" ( Letter 93) He puts his resolutions into bad verse:
" I have a taste for infancy:
With my rattle content,
Weakness and obedience
Of me a little child have made.
Oh! Doctors, let me live,
Far from you, from self afar,
Leave me, for I will follow
The blind law of infancy"
(Augustin Poulain SJ, Revelations and Visions: Discerning the True and the Certain from the False and the Doubtful , translated by Leonora L. Yorke Smith, with an introduction by Bro. Frank Sadowski, SSP, Alba House, New York, NY 1998, pge. 112)
To reduce a sophisticated and brilliant man like Fenelon to such a state of childish dependency was no small achievement. Unfortunately, such antics are all too common within charismatic circles, and pose a common threat to the Church in general, and especially to priests. One hears of numerous cases wherein so called "charismatic prophetesses" form relationships with their spiritual directors or pastors similar to that of Madame Guyon and Archbishop Fenelon. Symbiotic, so-called "prayer-partnerships" are formed, which have the potential of creating scandal and becoming much more untoward than was the merely platonic relationship between Fenelon and Guyon.
Led by this attitude of anti-intellectualism, it is no wonder that Guyon followed her Quietist forebears into the depths of total passivity:
Abandonment is in fact the key to the inner court-the key to the fathomless depths Be careful; do not listen to the voice of your natural reasoning. You can expect such reasoning to well up within you
All Christians have spiritual needs; but the believer who has abandoned himself to the Lord no longer indulges in the luxury of being aware of spiritual needs
(Jeanne Guyon, opus cit., pp. 33-34)
Similar thinking (or not thinking!) was characteristic of many of the early pentecostals, as evinced by the words of one of the most prominent pioneers of pentecostalism:
I never sought "tongues." My natural mind resisted the idea. This phenomenon necessarily violates
human reason. It means abandonment of this faculty for the time. The human mind is held in abeyance fully in this exercise. And this is "foolishness", and a stone of stumbling, to the natural mind or reason. It is supernatural. We need not expect anyone who has not reached this depth of abandonment in their human spirit, this death to their own reason, to either accept or understand it. (Frank Bartleman, Azusa Street, with a Foreward by Vinson Synan, Logos International, Plainfield NJ, 1980, pge. 75. My italics)
While I would judge that most Catholic renewalists are more sober minded than those outside of the Catholic Church, especially those dedicated to reconciling the movment to the Churchs teachings, it cannot be denied that there have been serious outbreaks of fideism and Quietistic anti-intellectualism within their ranks.
Such a state is due mainly to the fact that most of the leaders in the Renewal were intitiated into the protestantized neo-pentecostalism of the late 1960s, and many have been unable to shake off the classic pentecostal mistrust of the intellect and of dogma that they undoubtedly acquired. Many of the aforementioned imply that there is somehow a dichotomy between the infused theological virtue of faith and one of its indispensible effects, the intellectual assent to revealed truths. So they set up a straw man, the concept of a dead, intellectual faith "of the head", of "rules and regulations", as opposed to the vibrant, charismatic saving faith of the heart:
"Too long, Catholics have been stuck in an intellectual approach to their religion" agrees Loretta Pehanich, assistant director of media relations for the diocese of San Jose, who puts herself on the "fringe" of the charismatic movement. For charismatic worshipers, renewal means Catholicism is "not a set of rules", she says. (Richard Scheinin, Charismatic Catholics: Exuberant worship style is part of a startling renewal for San Joseans, San Jose Mercury News, June 15, 1996)
One need only witness the emotional enthusiasm shown by many Catholic pentecostals at their prayer meetings to come to the suspicion that the subjective experience of the "heart" is more important than a balanced theological understanding of the religion they profess. The person who demonstrates the most enthusiasm is often considered the member who is most "Spirit-filled", and in some cases he or she is accepted as the normative leader of the local prayer group one does not expect well instructed Catholics to place such heave emphasis on subjective piety. (Joseph H. Fichter, opus cited, pge. 47)
It is certainly true that true faith is not a mere "intellectualism", and that a dry, philosophical knowledge of the articles of faith alone does not constitute "the faith that leads to salvation". But, just as certain charismatic critics of such "intellectual dryness" speak contempuously of so-called "head faith", it is also possible to take this controversy to the other extreme-as is often done in charismatic circles, and speak of an "emotion based belly faith." True faith, the infused theological virtue, is certainly more than intellectual knowledge, but intellectual assent forms an indisputable part of it:
For who cannot see that thinking is prior to believing? For no one believes anything unless he has first thought that it is to be believed. For however suddenly, however rapidly, some thoughts fly before the will to believe, and this presently follows in such wise as to attend them, as it were, in closest conjunction, it is yet necessary that everything which is believed should be believed after thought has preceded; although belief itself is nothing else than to think with assent. For it is not every one who thinks that believes, since many think in order that they may not believe. But everybody who believes, thinks, -both thinks in believing, and believes in thinking. (St. Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, Bk. I, ch.5)
All of these movements, in their heyday, enjoyed great popularity, and managed to
attract supporters from out of the spiritual and political "elite" of their
times; Montanism drew Tertullian away from the Catholic faith, Dante
places abbot Joachim in an exalted place in his 'Paradiso',and how could we avoid mentioning the greatest Jansenist of all, Blaise Pascal?
Yet all of these movements, in one way or another and in varying degrees, were eventually condemned by the Church. They all came to imply an illuminist Christianity, and an elite exclusivist view of spirituality. They were all heralded by their adherents, as great and miraculous movements of the "Spirit."
All this should at least give pause to those who insist that the Church has opened wide her doors, once and for all, to the radical and protestantized mysticism of the neo-Penteostals movement", or has stamped its seal of approval on most elements of radical charismatic spirituality.
All Catholics should keep in mind that if the Church is sometimes slow to act in correcting error-and this cannot be denied altogether-this is because she is all too familiar with human frailty and the vicissitudes of human culture and the fashions of the day. Oftentimes the Holy Spirit prefers that she simply wait for the error to die out. But this we can be sure of- once she has pronounced with the full weight of her authority on some such matter, it will be only a matter of time before the false doctrines and pretentious assertions of her adversaries will dissipate like letters traced on the waves of the ocean. The promises of Jesus to His Church are always kept, according to His eternal providence, not to our petty human timetables.