Before we get into a discussion on the issue of speaking in tongues, there is another area that leaves much room for criticism within the Charismatic movement. That would be the Charismatic movement lacks a strictly defined definition in many cases. While we know that Charismatics generally advocate intense external manifestations of the Spirit, there is very little structure to such a movement. There is very little as to what defines the Charismatic. Two problems can possibly stem from such.
If there is not a precise definition, you will almost have to say that everyone must be Charismatic in order to be a true Catholic. Or that exhibiting the Charismatic experience is a mark of the superior Christians. Such an attitude is un-catholic to the core, yet it is a viewpoint that has considerable pull within Charismatic circles, as with many other Church movements today.
The Pontificate of John Paul II, if it can be known for one thing based on things dealing with Church discipline, can be the Pontificate of Church movements. Under his watch, numerous movements either were formed, or became prominent. The Charismatic group RENEW is one such movement of many gaining serious ground under JPII's pontificate. One could say that in attempting to truly usher in the 'New Springtime' he believed Vatican II gave us, he allowed many of these movements almost free reign to do whatever was necessary to succeed. One could say that while this approach has a few surface benefits, there are many more potential dangers that place the scale well out of balance.
Recently Italian journalist Sandro Magister, who should be required reading for anyone interested in Vatican politics and Catholic current events, covered a story written in La Civilta Cattolica which was a harsh critique of the dangers many Church movements like the Charismatics present to the Catholic Church. While other groups like Focolare are targeted as well, many of the points of this article ring very true for the Charismatics. That this magazine is the magazine of the Vatican Secretariat of State, one could draw the inference that in future Pontificates, exactly these issues will be dealt with. Indeed, Magister identifies it as:
The following are some of the dangers:
Dual Membership: For a group that is alleged to respect all the Charisms within the Body of Christ, and to promote those Charisms, many spiritual traditions and walks of life (certainly a work of the Holy Ghost) are looked down upon, as either they grab members of other movements, or have issues of dual enrollment. While some might view this point trivial, a very large identity crisis is occurring today within orders such as the Franciscans because of it. It seems while shunning traditional spirituality such as that of St. John of the Cross, they feel the need to shun the old orders as well.
Non-Catholic Influence: While not as much a problem as it is with movements like Focolare, there is a heavy influence of Protestantism within the Charismatic movement, as was documented already. Protestant heretics gave Catholics the 'char-schisms' of the spirit, and it was by their practicing of these so-called charisms as proof the Catholic Church was false that Pentecostalism flourished. In the name of ecumenism, the Charismatics are led in worship by Protestants (and indeed many times they are encouraged to attend Assemblies of God ceremonies) and it is felt an over-reliance upon Non-Catholic influence exists. If they were ever given more authority, they could damage the image of the Charismatic movement to the point where it shreds and idea of nominal Catholic identity.
The next problem, like Magister, I shall quote the original article in full, because it deserves special warrant:
Many times Charismatics could have priests that are simply at the disposal of the movement, they travel around and conduct their Praise and Worship sessions, say the Charismatic Masses, and really have no home diocese. There is an agreement in words, but that agreement can be broken at anytime, considering it has no juridical value, by new Episcopal authorities. The Charismatic movement operates essentially independent of the bishop, contrary to the old maxims of St. Ignatius of Antioch. They simply start their local prayer meetings and praise sessions. If the Bishop says no, many times they will simply just do so with Protestants.
Language Control: There is a final problem of language control that I feel exists within the Charismatic movement. That is, the exclusive style language they use makes almost no other conclusion other than "Charismatics are the only true Christians."
Many times we have all met those Charismatics who will say something along the lines of "If you aren't Charismatic, well are you open to the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian?" Or they will say that since emphasis was not placed upon tongues and other external manifestations, that before them nobody really understood the Holy Spirit.
We have already outlined the semantic problems with "Baptism in the Spirit." Another issue of semantics could arise with their "Praise and Worship" sessions. Personally, I feel that every Mass is a praise and worship session. Yet they will say that they cannot praise God in a certain structure. That's more mumbo-jumbo in denying the rightful place of God's house and the respected silence required before the Tabernacle. For them to state that a reverent church setting does not accommodate their charades and spiritual shenanigans, is also almost as if they're saying their form of praise and worship is the best or most acceptable. Again, this represents an un-catholic attitude - a totally non-Catholic attitude which has permeated so many over the last thirty-plus years.
Furthermore, for all their talk about the way the Spirit operates, and how He operates in different ways in different people (hence they can justify their existence when tendencies flat out contradict the Catholic spiritual masters) it seems as if they follow the maxim once laid out by my favorite political columnist Dr. Thomas Sowell: "Diversity for me, Not for Thee." One could say that, putting Protocol 1411 aside, the ascendancy of traditionalist groups such as the FSSP is the work of the Holy Spirit. While other seminaries close for lack of applicants, they are turning young orthodox men away from the priesthood because there isn't enough room for them. Their masses are always standing room only. Due to their work, and the work of other traditionalist organizations, a real movement towards liturgical tradition and traditional piety is being launched in the Catholic Church. Such popular devotions of the past and popular practices are on the rise. Yet rarely will you hear a Charismatic praise the work of the Spirit in such a movement. Indeed, such a movement indicates not a flowing of the Spirit, but a return to "traditional piety." If they are a movement that promotes the work of the Spirit in the Christian life, why are they only promoting their distinct view of spirituality, rather than all forms of spirituality, celebrating the Spirit's diversity in practice, but uniformity in truth?
As this musing has gone on long enough, in my next installment I will continue on problems with the Charismatics as a movement, and expound on some principles already laid out. As always, may God richly bless you.
vol 16, no. 12
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi