(Why theology is good, and history helps.)
The title and first words (because that’s where they get the titles from) of a new statement from the CDF on charisms and new movements. Presented today, it was signed on May 15, Pentecost.
It’s not a long read, and it’s very good and helpful, particularly as we navigate through theses times in which we are continually presented with a vision of Church life that implies on a regular basis that the institutional Church and the Holy Spirit are at odds.
In summary, from an examination of the biblical texts regarding the charisms, it emerges that the New Testament, while not offering a complete systematic teaching, presents affirmations of great importance that orientate ecclesial reflection and practice. One must also recognize that we do not find a univocal use of the term “charism”; rather a variety of meanings are observable, which theological reflection and the Magisterium help us to understand in the context of the complete vision of the mystery of the Church. In the present document the attention is placed on the binomial highlighted in paragraph 4 of the Dogmatic ConstitutionLumen Gentium which speaks of “hierarchical gifts and charismatic gifts”. The relationship between them appears close and well-articulated. They have the same origin and the same purpose. They are gifts of God, of the Holy Spirit, of Christ, given to contribute, in diverse ways, to the edification of the Church. He who has received the gift to lead in the Church has also the responsibility of keeping watch over the good exercise of the other charisms, in such a manner that all contribute to the good of the Church and to its evangelizing mission, knowing well that the Holy Spirit distributes the charismatic gifts to whomever he desires (cf. 1 Cor 12:11). The same Spirit gives to the hierarchy of the Church the capacity to discern the authenticity of the charisms, to welcome them with joy and gratitude, to promote them generously, and to accompany them with vigilant paternity. History itself testifies to the multiform action of the Spirit, through which the Church, “built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the capstone” (Eph 2:20), lives her mission in the world.
The hierarchical and charismatic gifts, therefore, appear united in reference to the intrinsic relationship between Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Paraclete is, contemporaneously, the one who distributes efficaciously, through the sacraments, the salvific grace offered by Christ dead and risen again, and He is the one who bestows the charisms. In the liturgies of the Christian East, especially in the Syriac tradition, the role of the Holy Spirit, represented by the image of fire, helps to make this experience plainly manifest. Indeed the great theologian and poet Ephrem the Syrian said “the fire of compassion descends / and takes the form of bread”, indicating not only the Spirit’s action relative to transforming the gifts but also relative to the believers who eat the Eucharistic bread. The Eastern perspective, with the efficacy of its images, helps us to understand how, drawing near to the Eucharist, Christ gives us the Spirit. The same Spirit, then, by way of his actions in believers, feeds the life in Christ, leading them anew to a more profound sacramental life, above all in the Eucharist. In such a manner, the free action of the Holy Spirit in history reaches believers with the gift of salvation and at the same time animates them so they may respond freely and fully with the commitment of their lives.
I think this paragraph is quite strong and a good reminder to all of us about discernment and living out faith in Christ.
…15. If, in the exercise of the hierarchical gifts, the offer of Christ’s grace, to the whole People of God throughout history, is assured, nonetheless, each individual member of the faithful is called to accept and correspond to this grace personally in the concrete circumstances of their lives. The charismatic gifts, therefore, are freely distributed by the Holy Spirit, so that sacramental grace may be fruitful in Christian life in different ways and at every level. Because these charisms “are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church”, through their diverse richness, the People of God are able fully to live their evangelical mission, discerning the signs of the times and interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. The charismatic gifts, in fact, enable the faithful to respond to the gift of salvation in complete freedom and in a way suited to the times. In this way, they themselves become a gift of love for others and authentic witnesses to the Gospel before all mankind.
I appreciate that this document, produced over the signature of Cardinal Müller, CDF Prefect, pulls in the insights of Eastern Christianity – so important when speaking of the Holy Spirit.
Not being a theologian, and in particular not knowing a lot about this area of ecclesiology, I do wonder about something that struck me as missing from the discussion of evaluative criteria: issues related to closedness, secrecy and participation. It is alluded to in (e) and (h) – that openness to other charisms as well as an understanding of the social dimension of charisms matters. But it seems to me there is another level of this, and perhaps it is simply my fairly militant non-joiner personality at work here, but what turns me off of so many new movements and such is the elevation of the movement above the Church in terms of one’s own identity – in which being a part of the Neo-Catechumenate, Communion & Liberation, Opus Dei, the Charismatic Movement – is who you are more than simply being Catholic.
Historical detail is not normally a part of documents like this, but hopefully as others work to explain it, the Church’s historical experience in this area will be a part of those efforts, because they are so helpful in fleshing out the point: the times when the institutional church has acted imprudently, either with repressive harshness or laxity in relationship to charisms, movements that have gone off the rails (and there have been many), movements that have patiently endured and borne fruit and even movements that have had their time, been fruitful in a particular moment, but have receded, not because they “failed,” but because their purpose was borne out of and for particular needs that are no more.
All in all, it’s a welcome, balanced corrective to the current wave of false dichotomies and straw men arguments that suggest that the institutional Church is, almost by nature, opposed to the usually vaguely-defined work of the Spirit – unless, of course, it’s the particular representative of the institutional Church whose doing the talking at the moment.