Musings on charismatism/Pentecostalism


28th January, 2002:

The conservative-charismatic connexion in the Roman Catholic restoration movement is a development of about 15 years’ standing that fascinates me. Marching for prolife I have befriended several dear people who happen to be charismatics. The movement itself is a late-1960s import into Roman Catholicism of Pentecostalism, a Protestant movement dating back to 1906.

Until now, with the notable exception of Fr Eusebios Stephanou mentioned by Fr Seraphim (Rose) in his rejection of the movement, I have observed the near-absence of this Protestant import from Orthodox and even Eastern Catholic life. Fr Thomas Loya and Bishop Kallistos make the point that the church as such IS ‘charismatic’, ‘Spirit-filled’, etc. Something the Orthodox tradition perhaps never lost touch with in practice, therefore next to no charismatic importation here. For example, in Orthodoxy much of the tradition of monastic eldership is truly charismatic. There have been plenty of lay spiritual fathers and mothers. Monasticism itself, rightly understood, can be seen as such.

Fr Eusebios is an isolated and controversial figure but IIRC from glancing at his site he’s not unorthodox theologically or even liturgically (no praise bands or overhead projectors) but the charismatic stuff is a kind of devotional add-on to the usual Orthodox stuff. He just seems enthusiastic (in the colloquial and hopefull not the Ronald Knoxian sense) about small-o and probably big-O orthodox Christianity.

One local charismatic leader, a layman with a radio programme (lovely old man, now departed), used to have his yearly prayer breakfast on a Sunday at a Ruthenian Catholic church, and his people would come to Divine Liturgy. (Again, part of the conservative-charismatic connexion?) Sadly, though, liturgically the experience didn’t seem to rub off on them. They might have dismissed it as ‘foreign’ with their low-churchness considered ‘normal’.

The movement and its people have a lot going for them, especially in their more recent Catholicising period: prolife, devoted to Our Lady and the Blessed Sacrament and thoroughly small-o orthodox.

Having said that, historically I have agreed with Fr Seraphim in his rejection of the movement as such.

To his words I will add some of my recent private correspondence with a friend (all quotations are of me):

FUS (Franciscan University of Steubenville — I visited there once 13 years ago) is a charismatic-movement, culturally protestantised wing of the restoration movement — ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ (WWJD) fads, silly bans on (or at least strong discouragement of) dating or unmarried couples displaying any physical affection, and Oral Roberts–style tent meetings with glossolalia and guitars, peculiarly Catholic charismatism involving apparition-chasing and mixed with some traditional devotions such as the Rosary and Perpetual Adoration... Anything except the Tridentine Mass or the Byzantine Liturgy (though icons are OK).

I see now there is some crossover between Byzantine Catholics and ‘the movement’. For instance I read with fascination an account of Fr Bryan Eyman and his youth group. I won’t dismiss all of Fr Bryan’s experiences out of hand as прелесть (delusion).

However, with Fr Seraphim’s warning still echoing in my ears, I agree about — the initiation with the laying on of hands with its quasisacramental ‘baptism in the Spirit’, the glossolalia and the ‘prophecy’? Dangerous. Protestant liturgics and music (the ‘praise’ and ‘worship’ guitar music of evangelicalism)? NO. ‘Holy laughter’ and barking like dogs? NO. (As mentioned above Mgr Ronald Knox warned of these delusions too — he called them ‘enthusiasm’.)

But enthusiastically (Greek en Theou, ‘with God’) singing and praying the traditional Byzantine Liturgy with congregational singing (à la Ruthenian usage)? Really ‘praying in the Spirit’ (and to the Father, through the Son)? Yes. Congregations adopting the raised-arms orans position for the Our Father? OK. I did it once with the congregation at Holy Transfiguration Melkite Church in McLean, Virginia and liked it.

So the movement as a whole and some of its vital components (like those I mentioned above) ARE прелесть, but God works where he will and I won’t deny the movement may have helped some people. I use a Book of Common Prayer but that doesn’t make me a disciple of Thomas Cranmer; catching some of the joy and community feel of the charismatics doesn’t necessarily make one a Pentecostal.

I rented an apartment for nine years from people like that: a ‘covenant community’ complete with ‘shepherding/discipling’ and rumours of arranged marriages (which they vehemently denied).

I never was a member. They found me too weird to be recruitable and so generally ignored me. (I was ‘trad’ back when trad wasn’t cool, you see.)

There were admirable things about this group — in many ways orthodox (as conservative Protestants can be) plus their emphasis on community is part of the mystery of the Church, but the aspects I mention above made it ‘verrrry scary, kids’.

These socially conservative Billy Graham wannabes were in bed with AmChurch here.

I told my friend that this group in its heyday recruited most of its members from a local ‘Catholic’ college and, perhaps a relic of the community’s (and the whole movement’s) late-1970s protestantising thrust, actually was in bed with the heretical ‘campus ministry’ (sharing resources and some staff), despite the charismatics’ social conservatism and the campus ministers’ liberalism.

All they had in common really other than a vague ‘it’s all about Jesus’ sentiment was a liking of do-gooder social gospelling (they venerated Tony Campolo) and a contempt for traditional Catholicism.

Both groups were liturgically militantly low-church. ‘Strummin’ for Jesus’.

The college, a frat/jock/yuppie establishment in the worst nouveau riche ‘Catholic’ tradition in America, was uneasy with the group’s proselytism and eventually kicked it off campus. Students complained it was a cult — at least one set of parents hired a deprogrammer — and they were right. (Not that the fratboy scene was any better, nor was the secondhand PCness of ‘campus ministry’.) Perhaps the community members’ rediscovery of Catholic theology and devotions (but not liturgy) ended their marriage to ‘campus ministry’.

I also observed to my friend, who has similar firsthand experience with charismatics, including ‘covenant communities’, that the nice older people I’ve met who are in the movement seem to be using tertiary things like Marian devotion and Perpetual Adoration, along with the Protestant-style enthusiasms, as emotional substitutes for the traditional Mass. The real centre of ‘Cathodox’ church life, the traditional Liturgy/Mass, is what these people hunger for but perhaps they don’t realize it.

The Orthodox/Byzantine Catholic tradition, which never separated piety from philosophy from theology like sometimes was said to happen in the postschism West, remains communal, liturgical, traditional and unshakeably theological. Because of that, it seems miraculously immune to the American Catholic veering towards Protestantism culturally that the charismatic movement is part of. ‘WWJD’ pietism fits in with American culture. The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, or a good liturgical-movement Tridentine (Anglo-)Catholic solemn Mass or conservative Novus Ordo Mass, does not.

By the way, there are Pentecostals who not only are in heresy but, like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, are no longer Christian: the ‘oneness’ Pentecostals deny the Trinity. I once read an article — in a charismatic magazine — describing how one minister had several ‘gifts’ and continued to have them even after falling into such apostasy. Makes you wonder who the ‘gifts’ came from.

If one attends a Methodist meeting, he imagines himself carried back to the times of Baal. Everyone is praying aloud, though not in concert. One shouts, another screams; some weep, some sing; while others, turning deathly pale, fall to the floor, foam at the mouth, groan as though in agony, and roll around convulsively, having, as they blasphemously assert, received the Holy Spirit.
— St John Nepomucene Neumann, early 19th century

From a message board:

My own view of the charismatic movement is that it is the attempt to substitute emotions for clear thinking in Christian spirituality. It is entirely the creation of late nineteenth-century holiness preachers who were heavily influenced by pietism. One can see it as a revival of ancient Montanism and Messalianism. The Messalianists claimed to have sensible experiences of the Holy Spirit and they were condemned for heresy.

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Pentecostalism grew out of Methodism, English Pietists who left Anglicanism in the late 1700s and were the wildfire revivalist religion of pioneer America. Inadvertent Methodist founder John Wesley was an Anglican priest and man to really admire, but as Bishop Butler said to him:

This pretending after special revelations of the Holy Spirit is a horrid thing, a very horrid thing.

GOD, who by the light of the Holy Ghost didst instruct the hearts of the faithful: grant that in the same Spirit we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in his consolation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

HEAVENLY King, the Comforter, Spirit of truth, who art everywhere present and fillest all things, treasury of blessings and giver of life: come dwell within us, cleanse us from all our sins and save our souls, O Good One.