Monday, January 26, 2009

Does the Church need the Charismatic Renewal?

Anselm's wonderful quotes from different Magisterial documents on ecumenism really got me thinking about a topic that is not quite ecumenical in the strict sense but which is affected by many things pertaining to ecumenism, and that is the Charismatic Renewal.

I often laugh when Catholics complain about the excesses of charismatic worship within the Catholic Mass, because I myself came from Protestant Pentecostalism, which is about one-hundred times more extreme than Catholic charismatic worship. I sometime want to say, "You think waving your hands in Mass is extreme? You should've seen the churches I've been to!" I recall the yelling, people rolling on the floor, weeping, jumping, giving prophecies, laying on the ground beneath the pews jabbering...Of course, I understand the context is completely different. What is "extreme" in a Catholic Mass (or rather, what is or is not fitting) is different than a Pentecostal Protestant service, and there are entirely different criterion for judgment. But I still must snicker to myself, because I wonder how the same Catholics who are so put out by hand waving would react to the places I've been through...

But at any rate, that is really just food for thought. When I first returned to the Catholic Church, and even before, I started to feel a certain shallowness in the charismatic (Protestant) churches I had been attending, because it seemed to be based too heavily in emotionalism. I was thrilled when I returned to the Catholic Church to dive into the Church's rich intellectual and spiritual traditions, and to be able to study and grow my mind on stuff like Augustine and Thomas while being able to learn quiet contemplation at the feet of Teresa and Therese. In Catholicism, there is a perfect union between the active and contemplative, between intellectual and spiritual, between Peter and John, between flesh and spirit; it is a union that allows the devout worshipper to be a whole person and to truly find their own humanity even as they subject it to God's will.

It was in the middle of this new revert "high" that I first came in contact with Catholic charismatic practices through a "Life in the Spirit" seminar. I was shocked that such things existed in the Catholic Church, because as a baby Catholic coming out of Protestantism, I naturally (and I think somewhat rightly) thought of charismatic worship as a "Protestant" thing. I was surprised to find out that with all of the rich liturgical, intellectual and hagiographical traditions of the Church that there was anybody who was looking "outside" of this Catholic Tradition for anything else to supplement it. I dallied with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal a little bit, but found it unsatisfying and kind of wimpy (again, coming out of Pentecostalism, the charismatic worship of the Catholics seemed forced and inorganic - at least the Protestant Pentecostalism was more harmonious with the nature of their faith as a whole). There was something of a unnatural union in the idea of Catholic charismatic worship.

Now, as my pastor did when he recently preached on this, I am going to have to toe the line here and say that, yes, the charismatic renewal is a legitimate expression of Catholic worship and the Pope has in some way sanctioned it. But here is my real problem with it - the reason why while not outrightly rejecting it I have nevertheless been uncomfortable with it. The Charismatic Renewal is, in the last analysis, a spirituality from outside Catholicism that has been transplanted into it in recent times. This is where I take issue with some of the official or semi-official sanctions of the Renewal by the Magisterium. If the Magisterium wants to sanction this spirituality, then that's fine with me. That is it's perogative. But I question the grounds upon which it is sanctioned, and what I mean by this is the very tenuous attempt to connect the modern charismatic movement with the charismata and worship experienced by the first Christians.

Sure, the Church has never lacked charismatic gifts. That's obvious, but we are fostering a tremendous falsehood on people if we are trying to somehow connect modern charismatic worship with the charismatic gifts of the Church, simply because of the common use of the word charismata. I am much too busy to do all the research and cite the documents now, but if you look at John Paul II's letters endorsing the charismatic movement, you will see that they are based on a loose association of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the charismata of the Early Church with the alleged charismata manifest in the Charismatic Renewal. It is almost like he wanted to say "Yes, this is Catholic, and it is essentially Catholic; i.e., it has always been a part of Catholicism." One example I can give you is from his address to leaders of the Renewal on December 11, 1979. In that address, he made the statement that, "I am convinced that this movement is a very important component of the entire renewal of the Church" (source). I am not against saying that there is an important role that charismatics can play (as JPII said ), but is it going a bit far to say that this movement is a central component of the renewal of the entire Church?

One other example comes from then Cardinal Ratzinger, in the forward of a book written by Cardinal Suenens. In the forward, Ratzinger says:

At the heart of a world imbued with a rationalistic skepticism, a new experience of the Holy Spirit suddenly burst forth. And, since then, that experience has assumed a breadth of a worldwide Renewal movement. What the New Testament tells us about the charisms - which were seen as visible signs of the coming of the Spirit - is not just ancient history, over and done with, for it is once again becoming extremely topical [Renewal and the Powers of Darkness, Leo Cardinal Suenens (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1983)].

Here we see what I was talking about - a mention of the Charismatic Renewal followed by an immediate connection with the New Testament, as if the type of charismatic stuff we see now that had its origin in the 1960's is the exact same thing that was going on in the New Testament!

I'm sorry, but that is where I must protest. If you are looking for the origins of the Charismatic Renewal, it is not to the Early Church you must turn but to the 1906 Protestant Azusa Street Revival in California. Charismatic worship, as it is practiced today in the Catholic Church, is fundamentally Protestant and foreign to Catholic spirituality. Perhaps some Catholics want to deceive themselves and pretend that the Early Church or some of the saints were doing the liturgy the way some charismatic churches now do it, but it simply isn't so. Protestants don't lie to themselves on this issue, and most Protestants who are aware of Catholic charismatic liturgies applaud it as an introduction of a certain element of Protestantism into the Catholic Church. The website of the Azusa Street Revival says it plainly: "Every Church member that is charismatic of pentecostal has roots that stem from the Asuza Street Revival" (source).

The problem for me is that in embracing the Charismatic Renewal in its fullness, the Church is somehow saying that it was in "need" of this movement. Many charismatics will say this openly - the Church "needs" the Charismatic Renewal. If they do indeed believe this, then it is heresy. It is evident that charismatic worship stems from Protestantism, and as Anselm quoted from the Holy Office's Instruction On the Ecumenical Movement, 20 December 1949, the Church says that anything or anyone coming into the Catholic Church ought not to imagine that they are giving the Church some essential element from without her that she was somehow in need of:

It should be made clear to them that, in returning to the Church, they will lose nothing of that good which by the grace of God has hitherto been implanted in them, but that it will rather be supplemented and completed by their return. However, one should not speak of this in such a way that they will imagine that in returning to the Church they are bringing to it something substantial which it has hitherto lacked (II).

Yet this is exactly what we see with the Charismatic Renewal: a spirituality modern in its origin and fundamentally Protestant, hidden under a thin veneer of Catholicism and adopted whole-heartedly by the Magisterium which acts as if we are in dire need of this Protestant movement.

I do not doubt or deny the orthodoxy or fidelity of Catholics involved in the Renewal - the charismatic parish down the road from us gives out more seminarians every year than all the other parishes in the Diocese combined. But I do take issue with any idea that says that the Catholic Church, as it has traditionally existed, lived and prayed, is somehow deficient in the means it gives to people for their sanctification and that something "new" ought to be infused from the outside in order to renew it. As far as I can see, this idea is heresy, because all the means of grace and sanctification given to man are found within the Church and her sacraments as expressed in her traditional devotional life.


Bobby Bambino said...

Very well said. I couldn't agree more.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Permit me to speculate...

"However, one should not speak of this in such a way that they will imagine that in returning to the Church they are bringing to it something substantial which it has hitherto lacked."

The pictures of the Church given to us by St. Paul include a body with its members and an olive tree with branches and roots.

The returning (or first-coming) of members to the body may supply a function that was not yet performed, just like the grafting on of a branch may bear new fruit not yet borne. But the BODY has not changed, and the ROOTS have not changed: the same blood flows through the veins, the same nutrients flow through the branches. But not each member and not each branch and twig has the same function and response to that source.

Is it reasonable to assume that a person (or movement) in the Church is being used to manifest some fruit of the Church which may not have been exercised recently, if only because there was no chosen vessel for that charism?

So these new things are not "improving" or "adding to" the body or the tree, because they are not the heart nor head (that's the Eucharist and Christ) nor are they the roots (which again is Christ). But they are increasing the functioning of the body and bearing more (and maybe NEW) fruits.

Does this sound reasonable?

(I am not affiliated with or particularly vocal for or against the Catholic Charismatic Movement, although I question why such a "charismatic" movement would not be more embracing of traditional worship and practices (e.g. Gregorian chant, Latin).)

Boniface said...


I totally agree - there is a place for the Church to grow and be renewed by new movements, just like the Franciscans, Benedictines, etc. helped the Church to grow. But at the same time, I think we must be careful in how we express this reality. To say that the whole Church is in need of the charismatic renewal is going too far. Sure, perhaps some segments of the Church can benefit from it, but I am arguing against the position taken by some that the charismatic renewal is the sole hope for the Church in the 21st century, and that the model of Catholicism presented by the Renewal is the Church of the future. These thoughts are especially disturbing since the renewal is foreign to the Church's tradition.

Anonymous said...

As a Catholic who went to a Protestant K-12 (all 13 years) and have participated in numerous chapel services as part of the mandatory curriculum, I am relieved that the Catholic church is more temperate in its worship "equivalent" (I qualify the word "equivalent" because I believe that our Mass is far more beautiful and affords its participants the opportunities for grace and Sacraments whereas the Protestant services focus more on emotions and feelings as you've already pointed out). How many times have we gone to mass feeling like too tired or distracted? If one should go to a Service with the same attitude, the person probably will not get all the "feel-good" feelings out of it, but if the same person goes to Mass with that attitude, the person can still receive the Eucharist (provided the person is in a state of grace), the most important Sacrament of all. Love of God is not necessarily a feeling, but a spiritual state of being that is not always gauged by emotions.

While I understand that there are brothers and sisters in Christ that need to initially approach God through their feelings, it is good to encourage them to increase their understanding of what it is to be in love with God, that is, they will not always feel an overwhelming love for Him, but to have a mental and spiritual commitment to love Him through our thoughts and actions. Temperance is, after all, one of the cardinal virtues.

[[note to editor: this is Ritzi posting, but I absolutely despise my name because people who know me see it and will know exactly who I am. I've had my name on email lists and people I've met once or twice years ago will email me and say "are you Ritzi from wherever?" I'm posting with my initials from now on for my own sanity, RKL, but just wanted to let you know about that. Thanks!]]

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. Everyone I know who is involved in the Charismatic Renewal has the cultic attitude that "you need this." "This need to become entrenched into our parish." I know of seminarians (encouraged by other charismatic seminarians) who claim to have lost their faith because they couldn't speak in tongues, etc. It is dangerous and you are correct in calling this a heresy.

Yes good things could come from one's experience at a charismatic event, but people can learn how to pray at Medjugorje. People can be drawn to Mass by LifeTeen rock music. That doesn't make it a good thing and it certainly does not make it a necessary thing.

Norah said...

You have expressed for me all of my misgivings about the Charismatic movement.

I accidentally attended a one day retreat which was run by the Charismatic Movement and the determinedly cheerful women on the guitar and the priest who broke into babbling during the homily I found amusing.

The CaFE programme is run by charismatics. Fr Cantalamessa, Bishop Mark Coleridge and Marcellino D'Ambrosio are Charismatics but they don't push it.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

This post against the charismatic renewal is rather wrong-headed:

Steve Kellmeyer said...

This post is rather wrong-headed:

Steve Dalton said...

Boniface, your post on the Charismatic revival has been, IMO, unfairly criticized here. Take a look.

Boniface said...


Thanks. I responded to his lame critique. He also ignored the comments from the Holy Office on the ecumenical movement.

Steve Dalton said...

I don't know what's going on with Kellmeyer. He used to have some pretty good stuff on his site, but lately he's been putting out nonsense. See his horrible article on the see-through BVM statue that he posted a week and a half ago.

Boniface said...


You are right. The post you link to is rather wrongheaded.

The force of my argument is that the charismatic renewal comes into Catholicism from outside the Catholic Church, but the Holy Office specifically says that ecumenical activities are not to be carried out in such a way that Catholics feel they "need" anything from outside the Church. Thus the answer to my question - no, the Church does not NEED the charismatic renewal. That's not to say it's bad, just that we don't need it.

To compare something that came into the Church from Protestantism (the charismatic movement) with an order that grew out of something within Catholicism (the FSSP) is absurd.

Anonymous said...

I am of the opinion that there are quite a number of Catholics who have seen or experienced the "dumbing down" or trivialization of our authentic Catholic faith, as had been handed down thru the ages, i.e. Communion in the hand, the wreckk-o-vations of many of the altars and beauty of Catholic churches and turning them into warehouse-design, toying with liturgical music, changing words to be "politically correct or neutered, and so forth - need I say more. There are many who were asking, "what has happened?" Here is one significant reason that people were vulnerable to looking for a reason (sadly!!) to go to a watered-down, disappearing Church. The Catholic Charismatic Renewal filled a void. For myself and, there are others that I do know of, - this actually served to "catapult" myself into delving into Church History, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church - their writings, councils, documents, dogmas and learning far more about the lives of the Saints. Now I have become more Traditional than I have ever been! Little did I know that this would happen. I was not totally lost!

Joshua said...


You may know a close friend of mine, Joseph Gryniewicz. He has now entered religious life, glory to God.

I am interested in developing an apologetic for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, not withstanding the abuses and misconceptions therein. I am a "revert" to the CCR, having been raised in it and having left for a traditionalist Catholicism. I am no longer convinced of the intellectual rigor of the mainstream "traditionalist" arguments, but I gained a lot from my exposure to traditional devotional practices, and I especially love the Extraordinary Form and the Carmelites. If you'd like to dialogue with me sometime off this public blog, please let me know how to reach you. My intellectual background is in early phenomenology (personalism more broadly) and its synthesis with scholasticism. It is my experience that critics of CCR and non-Thomistic philosophy (they usually go together) misconstrue our positions. I hope to remedy that in dialogue.

You have two objections: (1) CCR came from Protestantism, so at least we should not say the Church needs it; (2) the NT Church's experience of charisms is entirely (or at least significantly) distinct from the CCR's experience. You also say anecdotally that you found the spirituality unsatisfying and kind of wimpy. *I don't take any criticism of the CCR personally, I'm just restating your view*

Ad (1). It's hard to pinpoint the exact origin of such a movement historically. Unlike heresies, religious orders, other personality based movements, the CCR is not easily traced to one or several individuals with an "idea"; on our view, the CCR is a broad movement of the Holy Spirit "like" a new pentacost, but certainly not something added to the Church or something not found within the Church already. If we are looking for particular persons or events, we need not go directly to the Azuza Street revival. In fact, Blessed Elena Guerra in the 19th century could be said to have pushed the Church along in Her devotion to the Holy Spirit. Don't forget that Pope Leo XIII consecrated the 20th century to the Holy Spirit in 1901 and on the same day, the Pentacostal Protestant movement broke out in the U.S. One could also say that the CRR is a fruit of Vatican II since historically there is often chaos after an Ecumenical Council, it would make sense that the Holy Spirit would move in extraordinary ways in anticipation of such chaos and confusion. Also keep in mind that that a Protestant influenced a Catholic to re-discover a truth already contained in Catholicism is not equivalent to a Protestant doctrine (heresy) being brought into the Church. There is nothing to say that the Holy Spirit did not first move in U.S. Protestants because they happened to be more docile to the Spirit than U.S. Catholics at the time. The CCR is not grafted into the Church via Protestant spirituality. Would not the magisterium have rejected it if that were the case?

Joshua said...

Ad (2). Our evidence of what the early Church experienced of the charisms is based on the writings of the Fathers and contemporaneous accounts. They are recounting their experience and we are burdened to apply referential exegesis as well as hermeneutic exegesis to understand it. We also have to apply this interpretation to today's experience. We cannot say with certainty that today's experience is definitely entirely different. And since the Church rejects cessationism (CCC 2003), we cannot say that the charisms only existed for the early NT time.

We can make conjecture about the supernatural character of what the CCR calls the gift of "tongues", saying that it's likely merely pyschological, but we cannot say theologically that it is not. The Church does not have an infallible interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14 which seems to indicate a non-linguistic prayer tongues, similar to what the early Church described as "jubilation". Granted, the Fathers do not interpret 1 Cor 14 to include prayer tongues, but they do describe the gift of jubilation which bears similarities to our experience in CCR. I have heard traditionalists (e.g. Fr. Chad from F.S.S.P) give homilies that essentially reduce tongues to speaking foreign languages needed in the 1st Century for conversion; akin to a cessation view. But this is actually a Protestant interpretation of the relevant passages.

There are other possible objections which you haven't yet raised, but I'll let you do that if you're interested. Thanks for your time!

Boniface said...

Hi Joshua!

Yes, I know Joe very well. He and I have had many conversations about this. We were even going to write a book together about how the charismatic renewal and traditionalism intersect in certain ways, but his entry into religious life kind of squashed that.

I get what you're saying, but my problem with the first point is that charismatic apologists have tended to try to go back in history and associate things with the renewal that are only incidentally related, or which do not evidence any presence of the specific elements that constitute charismatic Christianity. For example, I don't know anything about Blessed Elena Guerra, but St. Bernard of Clairvaux also promoted a strong devotion to the Holy Spirit. But "devotion to the Holy Spirit" is a common element of Christianity as such, not charismatic Christianity in particular. You can't convince me that there are precursors to the renewal prior to the 1900s by pointing out things like devotion to the Holy Spirit.

I guess we would have to ask what are the essential elements of the charismatic renewal? I would argue it's not devotion to the Holy Spirit, but an experiential encounter with the Holy Spirit in a specific manner - a manner that I can find no precursor for in historical Catholicism, save perhaps in some heretical movements. Not saying the CCR is heresy, but just, historically, that's all I see as precursors.

You said The CCR is not grafted into the Church via Protestant spirituality. Would not the magisterium have rejected it if that were the case? The answer to that is no, because the Magisterium is pretty clueless these days. What I am trying to figure out is if its promotion of CCR is an example of its cluelessness, or in spite of its cluelessness.

I would like to meet personally or chat privately. My email is

Dominic Pavan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Boniface said...

@Dominic, email me at