Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

The Father William Most Collection

Errors of Charismatics

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

The classic passage on charismatic gifts is in 1 Cor chapters 12 and 14. Although St. Paul does not use our technical terms, we can still find what he means.

Grace in general is any gift from God to man. There are two large categories: sanctifying and charismatic. The sanctifying graces are aimed at making the recipient holy. They include habitual (also called sanctifying) grace, and actual graces. Habitual grace does make the recipient holy; actual graces are aimed at that.

Charismatic graces are not aimed at making the recipient holy: they are for some other benefit, usually for the community. There are two groups, ordinary (the gift of being a good parent, good teacher, etc. These are given widely and freely) and extraordinary: the gift of tongues, of healing, of doing other kinds of miracles, etc.

God's principles are very different in the two categories. In sanctifying graces, He offers all without limit, since in the covenant, He has accepted the infinite price of redemption, and therefore owes it to Himself to give without limit. The only limit is imposed by us, by our lack of receptivity.

But with charismatic graces His principle is: The spirit gives what He wills, when and where He wills. Having these gifts does not even presuppose the state of grace. There is a frightening text in Mt 7:22-23: "Many will says to me on that day: Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out devils in your name, and work many miracles in your name? And then I will confess to them that I never knew you. Depart from me you workers of iniquity."

So it is clear: there is need of checking in every instance to see if the gift comes from a good or an evil spirit, or just from suggestion. Hence St. Paul in 1 Cor 12 said that when they were pagans, they went to dumb idols whenever they were driven by their leaders. So he needs to tell them: If a person is speaking in the Spirit of God, he will not say "Cursed be Jesus." Pagans often cursed the god who had gotten inside them. Also, no one can confess that Jesus is the Lord (divine) except by the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul does not mention suggestion, but of course we should. Many charismatics today are reluctant to admit that any checking is needed. They just say: Look it is what St. Paul talked about. But as we saw, Paul warned about the evil spirit. Some years ago I wrote a long series of columns for National Catholic Register, on the movement. Many letters came in. One woman on the west coast told me she had friends who knew several languages. A group of them went to a charismatic meeting, and were able to understand the tongues. They found some were praising God beautifully - but others were cursing Him. This is why St. Paul in 1 Cor 14 insists that at a meeting of the community no more than two should speak in tongues, and then only if there is someone who has the different gift of interpreting the tongues. The reason is clear: they may be cursing God!

Regrettably, many charismatics ignore these rules from St. Paul. They have more than two, they have even hundreds at a time. They try to say it is one thing to speak, another to pray in tongues. But Paul makes no such distinction and with good reason, as the experience just related makes clear.

St. Paul also knew that the Corinthians were getting vain over tongues. Hence in 1 Cor 14: he told them to be childlike, but childish.

Paul also felt the need to play down tongues. So in 1 Cor 12 he gave a list of special functions in the Church. He said that God has put the following members in His Church: first, apostles, second, prophets, third, teachers, then wonder-workers, then those with gifts of healing, then helpers of the poor, administrators, and those with various kinds of tongues. We note he mentions tongues last, and stops numbering after the first three - which are not the extraordinary type of gifts, they are of the ordinary type. (Prophecy in Paul does not mean usually foretelling the future, but giving a moving exhortation to the community). Almost all of chapter 14 of 1 Cor is a comparison of tongues and prophecy, with tongues coming off a poor second each time.

The danger of suggestion is very great. At a meeting of the Catholic Biblical Associaton in New York some years ago I spoke to a woman professor of Scripture, who was also a charismatic. She told me most cases are just suggestion. A Dominican priest who worked much with them told me the same thing.

In their chief journal New Covenant, I read an account about a woman - one of the Trapp family singers - who was at a meeting, did not have tongues, but wanted them. A man stood with her coaching her: Open your mouth, if any sound feels like coming, encourage it. Soon she was speaking something she thought sounded like Hawaiian, because it was mostly vowels.

In a Catholic Team Manual, Finding New Life in the Spirit, p.25 the candidate is instructed to say, after some preparation: "I ask you to baptize me in the Holy Spirit and give me the gift of tongues."

This is contrary to Vatican II. In On the Church §12 the Council distinguishes ordinary and extraordinary charisms: "The extraordinary gifts are not to be rashly asked for, nor should the fruits of apostolic works be presumptuously expected from them; but the judgment of their genuine character and the ordered exercise of them pertains to those who preside in the Church...."

The great St. Teresa of Avila, who had so much experience with extraordinary gifts, would be horrified. In her Interior Castle 6.9 she warns souls that when they learn or hear that God is giving souls extraordinary graces, "you must never ask or desire Him to lead you by that road." She goes on to explain why: First, it shows a lack of humility; second, one leaves self open to "great danger because the devil needs only to see a door left a bit ajar to enter; third, "when a person has a great desire, he convinces himself he is seeing or hearing what he desires." She adds that there are many holy people who have never had such things, and others who have them, and are not holy. This of course agrees with the warning of Our Lord Himself in Mt 7:22-23.

Finding New Life in the Spirit (Servant,1872) has sold 1,690,000 copies. It is a guidebook given to all participants in Life in the Spirit Seminars, developed by the Word of God Community out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Candidates are taught how to invite the gift of tongues, to make a buildup for it -- St. Teresa, as we said above, would worry that the door is left more than a little ajar. This is open to satan and/or autosuggestion. On p.25 the candidate is told to say: "I ask you to baptize me in the Holy Spirit and give me the gift of tongues."

Is this gift of tongues the same as that which the Apostles had on the first Pentecost? Then people of many different native languages did understand. The speakers of whom Paul tells us in general would not understand. Did the Apostles also know? Probably yes. Or was there a sort of miracle in the air, so that the Apostle spoke one language, the crowd understood in various languages? We do not know.

As we said, in 1 Cor chapter 14 St. Paul makes many comparisons and contrasts of prophecy and tongues. In the course of it he says: There are many lifeless things that make a sound, such as the flute or the harp. But if there are only indistinct sounds, who will know what is supposed to be played on the flute or harp? If a bugle gives out an unclear sound, no one will get ready for battle. So too, if someone in a tongue gives out a sound that cannot be understood, how will anyone know what it means? He will be talking to the air!

St. Paul continued: There are so many kinds of voices in the world - almost everything has a voice. But if the listeners do not know the meaning, the speaker and the listener are like foreigners to each other (cannot be understood).

So, since they are eager for charismatic gifts, they should seek them for the spiritual benefit of the church. So one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the gift of interpretation. If one prays in a tongue, his spirit prays, but his mind is left without fruit. What then? If one prays in the Spirit, may he also pray with his mind. If one sings in the Spirit, let him also sing in his mind.

If you blessed God in the Spirit, how would an outsider know what you were saying? You may give thanks to God beautifully - but the other gets no spiritual help.

Paul says he would rather speak five intelligible words to teach others, than ten thousand words in an unintelligible tongue.

He begs them not to be childish in their brains, but to be childlike in regard to malice. Let them be mature in their thinking.

Then St. Paul warns them by quoting Isaiah: "I will speak to this people in other tongues and in the lips of others. But even so they will not listen to me, says the Lord."

If the whole community comes together, and all speak in tongues, and an outsider comes in: will he not think them insane? But if many are using the gift of prophecy, and an outsider comes in, he is convinced of his sins, he is led to reflect on his case. The secrets of his heart are revealed [to him]. So, he will fall on his face and adore God and say: God really is among this community.

What is the practical conclusion? When they come together, suppose various ones have a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, a gift of interpretation. Everything must be controlled for spiritual benefit. So if there is to be speaking in tongues, there should be two or at most three, and one at a time. And someone should interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let those with tongues be silent in the church, and speak alone and to God.

Two or three prophets may speak at one meeting of the community, and the others should judge whether it comes from a good or an evil spirit. If someone who is seated gets a revelation, then the one speaking at the time should be silent. For all can have an opportunity to prophesy, but should do it one at a time, so all my learn and gain exhortation. The spirits of the prophets are under the control of the prophets. For God is not a God of uproar, but of peace.

In general this could be a valid form of spirituality provided that great care is taken. First, one must check each case, as we said above, to see if it comes from a good spirit, an evil spirit, or autosuggestion. Many charismatics object strongly to checking. There is also a great danger of elitism. Some charismatics say other Catholics are "dead." This could lead to spiritual pride, the most deadly of vices. They should recognize that there is a diversity of spiritual graces, so not all need to follow the same pattern. Yes, on the basic level, all must follow the same principles. But on the secondary level, there is room for much variation, e.g., compare St. Francis de Sales, a refined gentlemen, with St. Benedict Joseph Labre, who lived like a tramp, probably had body lice.

Some groups also reject devotion to Our Lady - a sure sign that something is very basically wrong. Others reject things the Church promotes, such as the Miraculous Medal or the Scapular - again, a sign of something very wrong. Still others say they do not need the Church, they have a direct line to the Holy Spirit. This is seriously in error. Some groups have a rigid authoritarian structure - even though no one of them has a valid claim to authority. The authorities are answerable to no one - this is very dangerous.

There is also a danger of excess emotionalism: normally God does give consolations (satisfactions in religion) to those who make the second conversion (begin to get very serious about pleasing God). But this does not normally last indefinitely: St. Francis de Sales warns that if it did, they might love the consolations of God rather than the God of consolations.(Cf. his Introduction to the Devout Life 4.13).

Some charismatics claim what they have is merely the activation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which does not happen in the usual Catholic. They call this Baptism in the Spirit. This too is a great error. All receive these Gifts along with sanctifying grace, and they have an increase at Confirmation and other times. But normally they do not show clear and overt effects until one is far advanced in the spiritual life - earlier, there may be latent effects. Still further, the effects of these Gifts are not the miraculous phenomena - that would be to confuse the sanctifying and the charismatic categories. Some also tend to be fundamentalistic in understanding Scripture.

Many charismatics today are trying to say all Catholics must be charismatic, that "baptism in the spirit" was routine in the Patristic age. We find this clearly in a booklet, Fanning the Flame, by Kilian Mc Donnell (Liturgical Press,1991). He cites a few patristic texts to try to show these phenomena were routine in the patristic age. But the texts given are few, just three are given: Fairly clear are those of Tertullian, St. Hilary, St. Cyril of Jerusalem. But the booklet admits on p.18 that: "Both Basil of Caesarea... and Gregory Nazianzus... situate the prophetic charisms within the Christian initiation, though they are more reserved in their regard than Paul." No quotes are given. Then we see a remarkable admission on St. John Chrysostom, quoted on the same page, "Chrysostom complained, however 'the charisms are long gone.'" St. Augustine, in City of God (21.5), has to argue strongly that miracles are possible, against those in his day who denied the possibility. He says that if they want to say the Apostles converted the world without any miracles - that would be a great miracle. If there were miraculous gifts commonly around, Augustine would have merely pointed to them. But he did not.

Still further, historically. The miraculous gifts were common in Paul's day, but at least by the middle of the next century became scarce in the mainline Church, but common in heretical groups. The present movement started in 1901 among Protestants. By 1925 there were about 38 denominations in the U.S. alone. Some decades later, in 1966. some Catholics, precisely by contact with the Protestants, asked that the Protestants lay hands on them, to receive tongues - for tongues were supposed to be the sign that one had been baptized in the Spirit.

Did not Pope Paul VI speak favorably of the movement? Yes, for there can be valid instances of it. But the dangers are very real and not too rare.

Alan Schreck, in Catholic and Christian (Servant,1984) says on p.11, in a quote from "Kilian McDonnell, O.S.B.": "Indeed the historical churches, Catholic and Protestant, owe a debt to classical Pentecostals for witnessing to the role of the spirit and his gifts." This is said to be necessary for the "full gospel".

Kilian McDonnell, on p.1 is called "leading Catholic ecumenist." He is also a leading Charismatic - one of the editors of Fanning the Flame, Liturgical Press,1991. Both that booklet and Schreck's work are striving hard to convince all that charismatic things are needed for the "full gospel." They seem to say that charismatic phenomena are merely the actualization of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, received at Baptism.

We need some distinctions here: In the broad sense, all graces are gifts from the Holy Spirit. But there are two major categories: (1) Sanctifying graces - these are aimed at the sanctification of the recipient. The term Gifts of the Holy Spirit normally refers to these; (2)charismatic graces - these are aimed at some benefit for the community, not directly for the sanctification of the recipient. Here are such things as tongues, praying in tongues, healing the sick.

The kind of phenomena we see at charismatic meetings definitely belong to the charismatic category - no sign of the sanctifying features regularly called effects of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Surely, no instances of infused contemplation being given en masse - it never is so given - nor routinely. The phenomena are tongues, praying in tongues, healing etc. These are very definitely part of the charismatic category, not the sanctifying category. So they are not an actualization of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which belong to the sanctifying category. Schreck has jumped categories.

So the thrust to at least imply all Catholics should be charismatic is invalid. The booklet, Fanning the Flame, cites a few Patristic texts to try to prove the same thing - that we have been neglecting things needed for the "full gospel". We saw these above, and they are few indeed, and not always clear.

Alan Schreck himself is not a very convincing witness. In Catholic and Christian, Servant,1984, he says

on p.2:"I hope it will be apparent to all that this book was not written to present Catholicism as the only legitimate form of Christianity and certainly not to critize [sic] other Christians, nor to 'prove them wrong' in their beliefs."

COMMENT: All other forms of Christianity are heretical and/or schismatic. They are not legitimate. And we should criticize them and prove them wrong in their heresies.

Pope Gregory XVI (DS 2730.Cf.Pius IX, DS 2915.Leo XIII,DS 3250) condemned "an evil opinion that souls can attain eternal salvation by just any profession of faith, if their morals follow the right norm."

p.3: "...we will assume that any perceived errors in the life or doctrine of other Christians are honest errors that any good Christian could make."

COMMENT: We grant most Protestants are in good faith - but we must not say that their errors are relatively minor. They deal with the very heart of the truth. Luther taught justification by faith - but did not know what St. Paul meant by that word faith. He thought it meant confidence that the merits of Christ apply to me -- there is no scholarly support at all for this. Instead Paul means: 1) belief in God's revelation' 2) confidence in His promises; 3) obedience to His commands (Rom 1:5), all done in love. Very different from Luther. So the very basis of his church is gone. Luther rejected the teaching authority of the Church. Luther taught, in Epistle 501:"Even if you sin greatly, believe still more greatly." One need not do anything if he has sinned, just believe it is all paid for. These are not small or honest errors. Objectively all outside have an obligation to investigate and find the truth. We should not make them comfortable in their errors by saying it is just an honest error that any good Christian could make.

p.63: "'The Decree on Ecumenism' states that the worship and liturgical actions of other Christian bodies 'can truly engender a life of grace and can be rightly described as capable of providing access to the community of salvation.'"

COMMENT: The quote is from On Ecumenism 3. But sadly, it quotes only part of the sentence, omitting context, and supplies a subject not in the original, namely "the worship and liturgical actions of other Christian bodies." Here is the actual text of the Decree: "In addition, out of the elements or goods by which, taken together, the Church herself is build up and made alive, certain things, or rather many and excellent things can exist outside the visible bounds of the Catholic Church: The written Word of God, the life of grace, faith, hope and love, and other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit and visible elements: all these things, which come from Christ and lead to Him, belong to the one-only Church of Christ. Even not a few sacred actions of the Christian religion are carried out among the brothers separated from us... which beyond doubt can really generate the life of grace, and are to be said to be apt to open the entry into the community of salvation."

We notice the things mentioned: (1) Scripture -- Protestants read it. (2) the life of grace-- yes, one can reach the state of grace without formally entering the Catholic Church, as Lumen gentium 16 says: "They who without fault do not know the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but yet seek God with a sincere heart, and try with the help of grace to fulfill his will, known through the dictate of conscience, can attain eternal salvation." Even pagans can do this. (3) faith - yes, outsiders can have faith, at least if they are not misled by Luther's great error on what faith is. (4) hope and love - again, even a pagan may attain these. (5) other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit--yes, if outsiders reach the state of grace, they also have the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. (6) and visible elements - Baptism if validly given. BUT We must note the next words in the decree: "all these things... belong to the one-only Church of Christ." In other words, it is not a protestant church as protestant that can provide these things -these are things that belong to the Catholic Church, which the Protestants have not completely rejected. (7) The next sentence says some religious actions are carried out in protestantism which can really generate the life of grace. Yes, Baptism does that. Reading of Scripture, prayers, and other things enumerated above in the first 6 items can do that. But again, it is not protestant worship as protestant that gives grace -- it is things the protestants have retained even after breaking with the one-only Church of Christ. As the previous sentence said: "they belong to the one-only Church of Christ."

To take the words as Schreck does would violate the condemnations of Gregory XVI, Pius IX, and Leo XIII cited above.

p. 62: (in this order to put it into the context of p. 63 just studied): "The Second Vatican Council does not make a distinction between a 'true church' (the Catholic Church), and other 'false churches,' ... this means that Catholics can honestly approach other Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ, without necessarily having in mind 'bringing them back to the fold' of the Catholic Church."

COMMENT: So, Schreck does not see a need to work for conversion - just leave them where they are. The same section of the decree does say that those validly baptized "are incorporated in Christ... and are rightly recognized by the sons of the Catholic Church as brothers in the Lord." To be incorporated into Christ means to become a member of Christ, that is, a member of His Mystical Body. But that Mystical Body is the Catholic Church. So validly baptized Protestants even though they do not know it are really members of the Catholic Church, and as such can be called separated brothers. But we should try to get them out of their dangerous errors, which can bring eternal ruin - cf. the major errors of Luther mentioned above.

p.166: "... the Gospel of Mark, probably the earliest Gospel written, presents Mary in a seemingly negative light, as one of Jesus' relatives who did not understand him or his mission. This is not surprising; according to Mark's Gospel, no one really understood Jesus or his mission, not even his closest apostles, until his crucifixion."

COMMENTS: 1)The passage in mind is Mark 3.20-35. Schreck does not mention that there are obviously three segments in this passage: (a) 20-21: The hoi par' autou see He does not take time out to eat. They say He is beside Himself, they go out to grab Him. (b) 22-30: Scribes charge He casts out satan by satan. (c) 31-35: His Mother and relatives come to a crowd where He is speaking. It is announced to Him. He says: Who is my Mother and my Brothers? He who does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me."

2) Schreck assumed without proof that the hoi par' autou, those about Him, included His Mother. This is not impossible, but Schreck says it flatly, without proof. Further, Schreck ignores the fact of three segments. Form Criticism has shown many times over that some Gospel passages are put together out of three once independent units. Therefore we cannot be at all sure that since His Mother is there in segment 3, she is also meant in segment 1. This is especially so in view of the odd, and unconnected second segment, which is very long compared to the other two segments.

3) Schreck also assumes not only that she is part of the group in segment 1 - far from proved - but also that she did not understand Him. The fact that the slow Apostles did not, does not prove she did not. But much more, Schreck, like Brown and others, in violation of Vatican II, On Revelation § 12, ignores the relation of one Gospel to another. Luke clearly presents her as the first believer - how then is she now lacking in faith? Still further, Vatican II, Lumen gentium § 56 says that at the start, at the annunciation, "embracing the saving will of God, with full heart and held back by no sin, she totally dedicated herself to the person and work of her Son."

4) Schreck makes her less than an ordinary Mother. An ordinary Mother, even when her son is clearly in the wrong, commonly stands up for him. Schreck is sure Our Lady did not, that she did not believe in Him. Even if we conceded she may have been in the group of segment 1, it does not follow that she went along with them in disbelief. She might well have gone along to try to hold the others down!

5) As for the words that whoever does the will of God is Mother and brother etc.-- Vatican II, Lumen gentium § 58 says that He while saying the kingdom is higher than reasons of flesh, "proclaimed blessed those who heard and kept the word of God, just as she was faithfully doing. Yes, one category is higher than the other- but she is at the peak in both!

So Schreck, who strains so much to give a favorable light on protestants, strains in the opposite direction to give an unfortunate image of her at this point.

Conclusion: There are many great and common dangers:

1) Autosuggestion. Charismatic gifts are given where and when the Spirit wills: 1 Cor 12:11. They are not to be induced. St. Teresa of Avila as we saw was fearful of suggestion and/or the devil.

2) Charismatics commonly disregard the injunction of St. Paul in 1 Cor 14:27-28 that at a meeting of the community at most 2 or 3 should speak in tongues, and then only if there is someone at hand to interpret. At Charismatic meetings numerous persons, even hundreds speak at once, and with no interpreter. Cases are known where persons who knew many languages understood them, and found some of them were cursing God.

3) Charismatics are very wrong in insisting that all Catholics must be charismatic. We saw they have inadequate Patristic foundation, and that they cross categories, supposing charismatic things could actualize gifts belonging to the sanctifying category.

4) In some cases charismatics become indifferent to the Church, or to the Blessed Virgin. A charismatic in a letter to me personally said priests should become involved, for charismatics need guidance. They do need guidance. But then I offered him some theological guidance - he strongly rejected it.



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