Friday, February 15, 2008

Confessions of an "Enthusiast"

Fr. Robert Hart

"There it is said that a recent convert named Montanus, while Gratus was proconsul of Syria, in his unbridled passion to reach the top laid himself open to the adversary, was filled with spiritual excitement and suddenly fell into a trance and unnatural ecstasy. He raved and began to chatter and talk nonsense, prophesying in a way that conflicted with the practice of the Church handed down generation by generation.”
Apolinarius as quoted by Eusebius in The History of the Church.

“And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”
I Corinthians 14: 32

I saw him for the first time in October of 1974, when I was sixteen years old, and only the year before had been brought into the Charismatic movement by a dramatic conversion. I was very impressed by the style and sophistication of this British intellectual, a former Cambridge Philosophy professor known throughout the world. But, he was not known as an academic, despite his credentials and background. He was known as a "Bible teacher," having been a Pentecostal preacher turned Charismatic leader, having led an unusual and interesting life following his own epiphany shortly after World War II. The combination of intellectual prowess and spiritual power caused me to feel that truly "he spake with authority, and not as the scribes."

And, he needed to be speaking with authority, for the topic of his ninety-minute talk was "deliverance," the word used in Charismatic circles for the exorcism of demons. He proceeded for that hour and a half to speak of the subject with clinical precision, drawing upon many years of experience in the world’s demon possession capital, Africa. This was authority for sure, for he spoke on one of the most frightening of subjects, for many people, with an obvious confidence that defied expectations. Was this faith or was it presumption, or stage acting? How could he speak with such ease and grace, with such conviction and certitude, in short, with such authority, on this topic that most people fear even to touch?

Even his name had flare- Derek Prince (1915 - 2003). His mastery of Greek and Hebrew, the complete absence of any trace of vulgarity, the combination of education and proper upbringing in a fine British Anglican home, made him seem out of place among the Pentecostals. They are supposed to shout, and roll on the floor, are they not? But this was the age of the Charismatic movement in the mainline Protestant churches, in the Episcopal Church, and in the Roman Catholic Church. So, his image was that of the progressive Pentecostals, the pioneers heralding the future. He spoke as a professor of logic, for that was who he had been, a Cambridge Fellow.

Using an overhead projector he drew up a list of just about every area of human health and psychology, and explained how a specific demon specialized in afflicting people in each and every category. He spoke as if he were a scientist, going about it with the aid of having been a logician, never boring the crowd, often inserting humor spontaneously. By the time he was finished not a person there would fail to see his own life as having been diagnosed and explained. So that is it; a demon in my grandfather is why I inherited this or that tendency, why I suffer this or that strong temptation to sin, or even this medical condition. Apparently demons stay in families you see. It was not comforting, such as "the devil made me do it" reasoning. Rather, it created hope that all could be shaken off so that life would be free of evils and temptations.

When his talk was ended, it was time for “ministry.” Everyone who wanted to be exorcised, that is, "delivered," was invited to stay. After a few people left, he led a short prayer in which everyone forgave any and all against whom they might harbor resentment. And then he began to command the demons to come out of the people, with his quiet and authoritative confidence, as he went down the list which he had written on the overhead projector, point by point in each category. On the stage was one very relaxed, cool man. In the auditorium was the appearance of pure hysteria.

"We move to the area of the emotions...spirit of depression, I command you to come out of these people..." And the crowd, numbering in the hundreds, would, as if on cue, begin screaming, shaking, at the very least coughing. Often descriptions of this sort of event present the image that people have lost self-control, have become mesmerized and are in some sort of group trance. The reality was in fact very different. All of the sights and sounds of Enthusiasms, and religious hysteria were present, except for the loss of control.

The fact is, everyone participating in this exercise (or exorcize?) was making the effort to free himself from the bondage that had been so thoroughly diagnosed during the talk. This was in fact a group of people who were retaining complete self-control and deliberately behaving as if, for the moment, all of them had gone insane. They stayed with him through to the end, participating willingly and following his lead, as he went down the whole list.

After this, which took about an hour, everyone there was free and clean, delivered of every evil and every potential evil, from sexual deviancy to cancer, from kleptomania to post nasal drip. And, if they would walk right before God, never slipping into any bad behavior, they would "keep" their deliverance. But the freedom one felt after being liberated from bondage could give way to a new problem- the fear that any slip, any sudden venial sin of anger (not that they would call it by that name), any involuntary feeling of lust, could bring back the demons.

When reading the passages from the Bible in which the Lord, or in one case St. Paul, directly drives the demons out of people, the indications are not as subtle as what was presented that night. It does not seem, in the scriptural accounts, as if most ordinary people needed this ministry; nor does it seem that the presence of evil spirits was hidden to the public. Nor does it seem as if, in scripture, the freedom given to people was something that could be lost easily in a moment of human weakness. Nor does it appear that the Lord ever spent ninety minutes creating a sort of mass spiritual hypochondria.

When I think back on that night I cannot help but believe that for most people, time spent confessing their sins to a priest, and receiving absolution, would have been far more worthwhile. But, I do remember learning a few useful things: I still hear that very British voice saying, "forgiveness is not an emotion; it is a decision." That was very useful indeed, and worth the whole evening. And, certainly it was worth the time to know that we should not fear the evil spirits, but that they are subject to us in Christ’s name. But, another thing I learned, on that and other occasions, is to be fair in judging by something other than appearance.

I have no doubt that religious Enthusiasms still exist, such as the descriptions of Montanus and his followers going into trances and behaving like lunatics, or, for example, Appalachian snake-handlers of the present. Often the descriptions we read of group fervor causing people to lose self-control seem- not to be ironic- more like cases of genuine demon possession (for I do believe that it is quite real) than anything done by the Holy Spirit "decently and in order."

But, when I read essays in which scholars try to explain the religious behavior of Charismatics, in most cases I have to laugh. People who roll around in a fit, whether of laughter or babbling, or who seek the excitement of "spiritual" experiences in trance like states, with visions and ecstasies, and make boastful and incredible claims of personal revelations, certainly do exist. But, when a writer describes the experience of Charismatics who "speak in tongues" as having to be accompanied by overwhelming emotion and loss of control, I know one thing. The writer is lazy; probably he has not seen these things at all, and writes based upon expectations rather than observations. Or he assumes that such things simply must involve loss of self-control, and so manages to ignore the parts of the picture that should dispel this prejudice.

At least he has not seen what I saw in the 70s and into the 80s. The truth is that people generally are very much in possession of themselves, and are using what they believe to be the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a very deliberate way. At least that was how it was in the days when the Charismatic movement was mainstream. Another and more important issue must be raised, and it must be in the form of a question.

Whether one believes what the Charismatics believe, or believes that it is sometimes real and sometimes not, in whatever complicated and variable fashion, or whether one completely rejects it, the question is, why do people seek the supernatural in their religion? And why did the Charismatic movement go mainstream only after the watershed of Vatican II and its effect upon, not only the Roman Catholic Church, but all of the Western liturgical churches? Why did it appear mainly among Roman Catholics, Anglicans and liturgical Lutherans?

Was this a reaction by people who saw their cherished beliefs and practices being changed, having the mystery removed, the beauty of the language stripped away? Three possibilities present themselves in these questions: Was the timing merely a coincidence? Was it part of the misguided revision of religious faith? Or was it a reaction? I am not calling into question the validity of the Charismatic gifts and experiences people had in those years (nor am I suggesting that it is all over), even though I do reject certain theological positions held by some of the people who have been part of it; I am asking instead, why did liturgical and mainstream Christians, that is traditional Christians, look for the experiences and gifts, and accept them?

I have to answer two of the questions: First, I do not believe in coincidences that involve large numbers of people over several years. Second, though the mainstream and Catholic Charismatics were using the new post Vatican II liturgies, about which they mostly had no choice, they were generally true believers rather than theologically "progressive" liberals. Therefore, though caught up in the revisions of their churches, they were not to blame for them. The generation that sought and received this entire Charismatic movement was the one that had learned the traditions of their churches in the old ways, but who were now forced to live with changes and revisions.

Was this a movement of Enthusiasts, or a desire that everything supernatural, lofty and powerful not be taken away, seemingly and quite often by the Church itself? Was this a measure to fill up a gap that opened once sacraments were reduced by minimalist doctrine into mere community events, and once God was no longer transcendent (I am referring to the generation in the late 60s and the 70s; before the introduction of many ideas that have since become commonplace)? Lex Orandi Lex Credendi: But when prayers address someone relegated to being almost a mere equal, and sound no more grand than a page from the newspaper, who can blame a good Catholic, Episcopalian or Lutheran for seeking to speak in tongues, "speaking mysteries to God?" And when a Church no longer confronts a real devil, who can blame someone for learning about "deliverance" from Derek Prince?

The appearance of (capital “e”) Enthusiasm in the Charismatic movement was, I know, just that: Appearance. Many unfortunate things happened, and quite a lot of unstable people were drawn into it, some manifesting paranoid delusions which they took for visions and revelations. Nonetheless, actions and behavior were, generally speaking, very deliberate whether right or wrong. The spirits of the prophets were subject to the prophets, and mostly they simply wanted that God be God. They wanted mystery to be part of their lives as Christians, and for worship to be foretaste of heaven. What they really wanted had been in the Tradition all along.


This article first appeared on Virtue Online, Sept. 11, 2004


Alice C. Linsley said...

"Forgiveness isn't an emotion, it is a decision." It is a big man who recognizes that something of value can be learned even in places of craziness.

Anonymous said...

As one who grew up as an Anglo-Catholic in the Charismatic movement, I am deeply aware of the tendecies about which you have written. However, I never considered the idea that the "thirst" for Charismatic renewal was caused by the upheaval of liturgical revision. Most folks within the "movement" blame the Tradition for creating the "stuffiness" that led people to seek deeper experiences. Yours is an interesting and insightful notion, and I'm quite agreeable to it.

I'm reminded of a quote (paraphrased) from a friend and colleague of yours, Fr. Pat Reardon:

"Many Christians today mistake the rush of adrenaline for the infusion of grace...and most of those are the ones with a lot of adrenaline."

Great article.


Fr Ronald Drummond+

poetreader said...

I spent 25 years as a pastor in, first, a rather extreme Pentecostal group, and, later, as a more centrist Evangelical/charismatic. My Episcopal Church (in 1977) was in the process of crash-and-burn, and I sought refuge. These folks knew a real God, who really acted and could be both loved and trusted, and that with a passion such as was endemic to the early church and seemingly discouraged wher I came from. What a contrast it was! In Pentecostal environs I found a deeply personal and power-filled relationship. I received spiritual gifts. I began to speak and sing in unknown tongues (and still derive great benefit from doing so in private), I witnessed many miracles, seeong a few healed instantly and dramatically at my hands, my poor unworthy hands. I have received what seemed to be supernatural direction, and which has proved to be right direction. In short, the charismatic phenomenon is real, and the 20th century efforts to deny that are both foolish and faithless.

However, after a couple of decades I began to realize that the phenomenon was a dangerous one if divorced from its proper environment, the Catholic and Apostolic Faith. There were extremes of emotionalism, there was a hankering after the miraculous for its own sake, a turning of Christianity into mere magic,there was, along with the denial of history, a deep distrust of knowledge, and there was a rejection of the world God made, as though it were evil in itself, and also a morbid fear of evil, manifest in the strange demon-hunting Fr. Hart describes.

I came back. I didn't leave behind any of the blessings I had obtained in that strange underworld, but I came back. The only place where charismatic experience really makes sense is within the solidity of a Patristic, historical, traditional, sacramental Catholic Church.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Fr. Drummond has brought two things that have set my mind churning.

Most folks within the "movement" blame the Tradition for creating the "stuffiness" that led people to seek deeper experiences.

The distance of a few decades helps us to see history with clarity that evades regarding current events. Why was is that at that particular time people from liturgical churches exhibited this unprecedented (for them) attitude? Why did it come only after such things as the "Green Book" (Services for Trial Use) and the Zebra Book (I forget the name), and the scandal of unbelieving clergy symbolically personified by James Pike? (The parallel for Roman Catholics, at least in most Western Countries, is obvious.) Did the traditional forms suddenly appear dead because many of the clergy, especially bishops- pastors and fathers in God-seemed to have lost the faith those forms express?(A lot could be said here about what kind of new priests were being manufactured in seminaries.)

Secondly, the mention of Fr. Reardon suddenly caused me to ask why there never was a Charismatic movement among the Orthodox? I believe I know why. In the essential ways that truly matter, the whole Orthodox Church never ceased to be charismatic and mystical. The people did not feel a need for any gap to be filled.

poetreader said...

My exodus from ECUSA probably wouldn't have happened is I'd still been in an AngloCatholic environment. When I was a regular attendant at Church of the Advent in Boston, I felt none of the spiritual dryness that led me to look further. I was, however, by then, in a theology-free zone, where worship was dry indeed, and, when Liturgical reform was felt there (to a large extent, I'm afraid, at my own pushing) the deadness was not relieved. I needed more, and the Charismatic movement seemed to supply that. It was probably fortuitous that I was led to denominational Pentecostalism. Yes, my experience is that it was the loss of faith, rather than any of the forms that caises this hunger.

There was indeed an Orthodox Charismatic Fellowship, but it never really took off, and seemed to stem from the handful of thoroughly ehtnic parishes that weren't really interested in Orthodoxy itself. I spoke with a simple Orthodox layperson, attempting to make a Pentecostal of him, and he said, "Why should I do that? I enter heaven at least once every week. I also recall reading an article by an Orthodox priest, in which he said, "We don't need a charismatic movement. Orthodoxy IS a charismatic movement."


Anonymous said...

Not to bring up a controversial subject, but this discussion brings to my mind the maelstrom of turmoil that has devastated the Charismatic Episcopal Church. I am not a member of that body, but have a number of close friends who either are members currently or have recently departed.

The ones of who left say that much of that body's trouble is due to a shift of emphasis by much of the heirarchy away from historical and sacramental roots and toward the independent charismatic and pentecostal roots from which so many of the leaders came.

When churches become so centered on the gifts and charisma of a particular leader, it's no wonder that situations arise which call to mind the unruly Corinthians, some of whom claimed Paul, some Apollos, etc...

It's also no wonder that many of those churches collapse after a scandal involving leadership.

A truly Charismatic life must flow from the wellspring of the ancient Faith in all its fullness. Unfortunately, it seems that many modern attempts at "convergence" are simply attempts to take a fundamentally flawed Pentecostal approach, and garnish it with some Catholic trimmings.

There is a wonderful article in the current AGAIN magazine of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese which is written by the wife of a former CEC priest who brought his flock into the Western Rite Vicariate of the Antiochians. Much of what is written relates to this discussion.


Fr Drummond+

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Like Ed, I have a charismatic/pentecostal background, and still speak in tongues in private prayer. Amen to what he said in his first comment in defence of the reality and validity of the gifts and the fire of the heart accompanying them.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I should add at this point that I, too, continue to benefit from my charismatic upbringing, particularly in the areas of healing prayer and discernment.

I do hope my comments came across as disparaging to the charismatic experience per se, for that was not my intention.


Fr Drummond+

Fr. Robert Hart said...

It seems obvious that Fr.Drummond meant to say "not disparaging."

David Chislett said...

G'day all!

I'm glad to see everyone being charitable to everyone else in this discussion.

You might be interested in an article I wrote on the Charismatic Renewal in 2002.

I actually still believe that the charismatic renewal was/is a genuine moving of the Holy Spirit, notwithstanding some of the extremes, hurts and pitfalls experienced by many. (And Fr Hart, having known personally the ministry of Derek Prince in contexts other than his slightly whacky focus on "deliverance" - away from the context of 2000 years of catholic discernment - and well before the "discipleship" controversy tore things apart, I am grateful for much of his influence.)



Fr. Robert Hart said...

It is difficult to post URLs in these comboxes. The best things is to divide them into two parts so that the whole address is at least visible. I believe we were being directed, in the above comment, to this URL, which only fits by dividing it in two here, and making people copy and paste with a little more effort.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart - Enjoyable piece, many thanks. Though I cannot pretend to have delved deeply into the subject, yours is the first time I have read mention of the generational nature of the Charismatic renewal. I was born in 1968 and save those who grew up in the tradition (granted, no small group in my native South) I know of few my own age who have had charismatic experiences. The same would hold true for my grandparents generation. Now for those in between though...I can truly say that I know of more Episcopal/Anglican clergy who began active ministries in the 1970s and 1980s who have had charismatic experiences than those who have not. Now this is of course anecdotal and nothing definitive can be drawn from it but I do think that you present a very strong case that the Charismatic Renewal was a phenomenon somehow linked to the western radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Having just read Bp. Chislett's article, which is quite worth reading, i was struck most by this paragraph:

Where are they? My anecdotal research indicates that very many no longer practise any form of Christian faith. There is also the amazing fact that some former charismatic clergy in the mainstream Anglican and protestant churches went on to become theological liberals, inhabiting a strange world of conflicting presuppositions held together by a subjective view of reality, every impulse of the human heart - and mind - being attributed to the Holy Spirit. The rest, not surprisingly, have tended to gravitate towards the catholic tradition in its Roman, Anglican or Orthodox manifestation (although in Australia there has not been the large movement that has taken place in the U.S.A. of charismatic, pentecostal and evangelical leaders - and in some cases entire congregations - making that journey together).

This is how I see it too. Those who were simply taken with the spiritual power, but who lacked discipline, not only veered off into Liberal theology; they created a vocabulary for bad theology. Everything rebellious, from women "priests" to the vote that approved Gene Robinson's consecration in 2003, was justified by language appropriated from the Charismatic movement. They were "led by the Spirit" and were acting "prophetically," and so forth. On the other hand, the very serious people from the Charismatic movement have often become the most devout and effective people in defending and spreading the depth and power of Traditional Catholic Anglicanism, or other kinds of Catholic, sacramental and Evangelical Christianity. It was real and powerful, and those who came through it can be very helpful or very destructive. Sort of like dynamite.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

...but I do think that you present a very strong case that the Charismatic Renewal was a phenomenon somehow linked to the western radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s.

To a large extent, a negative reaction to how that radicalism was tearing apart liturgical churches, and trampling everything sacred. Most people are not theologians, but they know when something is wrong. True believers will flee to God rather than away from Him. With so much of the love and beauty of the Faith drained from the liturgy, or so much of the truth challenged by the leaders of the Church who were supposed to proclaim the Faith, where else could many people turn?

People love to portray it as having been a wild Enthusiast movement, complete with loss of control. But, the truth is, the whole thing was mostly quite disciplined and very much in keeping with self-control and reason. This was true even of the setting I have described above, which is why the memory of that night stands out as an example of something very complicated and apparently self-contradictory.

poetreader said...

G'day, Y'r Rev'r'nce,
Thank you for that article. From my experience in the States, what you say is spot on. Even some of the more extreme denominational Pentecostal groups (like the Church if God of Prophecy in which I ministered) had a strong sense of discipline and a lively consciousness of bodiness. All of which was definitely in decline when I left those circles early in this century.

From the start there was much inadequate, much inaccurate, and not a small amount of the truly bizarre, but there was an awakening of something the Church Catholic needed to be reminded of. I believe it was of God, and, like many things initiated by God, came to be distorted by men. I, for one, would not be nearly what I am without the Charismatic Revival, but I would also be seriously deficient if I had not returned to the Tradition.


Anonymous said...

In Harry Potter language, I think I'm a squib.

In the north end parish in which I was raised, the 70s came and the Vicar decided that we should have a charismatic renewal. So we hotted up the hymns and talked the language of the Penties, but Nothing Happened. No galloping glossolalia--not even limping, lisping, stammering glossolalia. Just healing services after which people's illnesses followed their normal course, and a depleting congregation, the faithful unto death mainstay of which was the trio off elderly ladies who turned up weekly to Sunday Evening Prayer, which was the service at which the great renewal was to occur.

So if I am inclined to unease about matters such as these, please forgive me and excuse me, because I still bear the scars of my teenage experience. I am also given to mistrust mystics, because it doesn't seem to take much to turn them into gnostics, and in any case the mystical gift isn't creed specific.

What I can say with the full authority of actual experience is that whatever mystics may or may not have or want, squibs need the Tradition on which to hang their faith, because, apart from grace, which we squibs cannot perceive, faith is all we have.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Fr. Hart for clarifying my comment. I indeed meant to say NOT disparaging. Clearly I do not have the gift of typing...or maybe I just need to proofread my comments!


Fr Drummond+

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Sandra McColl wrote:
Just healing services after which people's illnesses followed their normal course

One of the very real heresies that did come from some Charismatics and Pentecostals amounted to an attack on the faith of people who did not receive miracles of healing. This added to the burden of illness the burden of a troubled conscience on the part of those who were afraid that their own faith was insufficient.

These problems were addressed well by Bp. Chislett in the article he pointed us to. I thank him for it.

In the Catholic Tradition miracles have always been considered a normal part of the Church's life, as has mysticism in various forms. The safety is in the established doctrine of the Church informed by the Scriptures as read and understood by the Church, and as prayed in the liturgy. In the Charismatic movement this safety was often missing even among Anglicans and other Catholics, and so they were sometimes influenced by every wind of doctrine, and forgot, or devalued, what they had been taught.

This too could have been caused by the factors I have mentioned, that is, the violence being done from within the Church, often by men in collars and mitres.

poetreader said...


I am a charismatic and something of a mystic, and (sometimes too proudly) wear both labels. It doesn't make me better than anyone else, nor closer to God, but I have thus received much that I, personally, would not have received, and thus would not have been able to use in minisering to others.

Having said that, I'm nearly as suspicious of a "charismatic movement", and of an unspecified "mysticism" as you are. I am first and foremost a Catholic Christian. Everything else is subservient to the Great Tradition, the Faith once delivered by the saints and handed down through the centuries. Without that, experience, of whatever variety, approaches meaninglessness, and, worse, becomes a vessel of immense potential harm.

God draws us into His presence, mystics in some indescribal deep manner, others in other ways. God gives gifts, grants miracles, and sometimes astounds by what He does. But all of this needs to be thooughly grounded in the Creeds, the Sacraments, the governance of the Holy Church, or it can easily become worse than useless.


poetreader said...

Please excuse my abominable typing. That, of course, should have been "indescribable".


John A. Hollister said...

If I am correct in my understanding, "mysticism" is, first and foremost, the search for a direct, personal experience of God, and especially of God the Holy Spirit. In this sense, then, Fr. Hart described a "charismatic" setting in which that search, and the "gifts of the Spirit" that the worshippers there believed to be a necessary part of that search, displayed a surprisingly controlled and disciplined way of going about it.

In fact, however, I, for one, was not the least surprised by that. I grew up in an environment of mysticism so staid, disciplined, and controlled that most of its practitioners were virtually unconscious that they were mystics; in fact, they tended to react as though insulted when I referred (descriptively, not pejoratively) to their characteristic technique as "middle-class mysticism".

But that, in fact, was what it was (and, for those who practice it, still is): a sober, easily-explained and hard-learned discipline that enables anyone who tries it conscientiously and long enough to have a direct, personal experience of the Holy Spirit's speaking to him or to her, and to have it over and over.

Where can this be found? Often right down the street, in the plain, spare meeting house of the Society of Friends, "the peculiar people called Quakers". In the traditional "silent meetings", each Sunday morning, they sit in silence, "centering down", willing away outside distractions, waiting for the Spirit to speak to one or another of them. And, usually, the Spirit responds, often in such a way that at the end of an hour or so, one finds that the messages that various Friends were moved to offer all formed a connected whole. More, as often as not, that connected whole was a message that one really, really needed to hear, or, as Friends say, "spoke to one's condition".

The problem with this, and the reason the Society is always on the verge of dying out (and the reason I had to leave it) is not that it is wild, or enthusiastic, or that it seduces one away from rationality. It is simply a problem of anthropology: we are beings of body, mind, and spirit and this very intellectualized technique employs the mind and reaches the spirit but leaves the body wholly unprovided for. Thus I often left Meeting knowing, with absolute certainty, that the Spirit had been present and speaking, but, despite that, still feeling somewhat empty and dissatisfied.

The Liturgy, on the other hand, addresses us simultaneously on all three levels of our being and feeds each of them, so that we can go out into the world with our basic hungers slaked enough to get us through another week.

So in the end, the problem with mysticism is that it addresses only one part of the spiritual life. When pursued to the exclusion of the other parts, is a religious emphasis that fails to take account of all of our needs.

That is probably why the characteristic "velocity", as traffic engineers say about parking (the "turnover"), or the "throughput", as other engineers say about other processes, of self-consciously "charismatic" religious groups tends to be so high numerically and so rapid.

John A. Hollister+

Albion Land said...

Canon Hollister,

Thanks for your very interesting comment.

As it happens, I have been reading a book on Orthodox spirituality in which there is a discussion of the 14th century dispute between St Gregory Palamas and Barlaam the Calabrian.

As I understand it, Barlaam was critical of the Orthodox monastic tradition of hesychia, or silent prayer, apparently first coining the phrase "navel-gazers." His argument was that liturgical prayer, and notably the sacraments, were what the church and Christians should be occupied with.

Gregory replied by arguing that the truly rounded Christian life required both forms of prayer.

Apologies in advance to those more familiar with the dispute for my extremely broad-brush treament of it. For the record, I would most heartily agree with St Gregory.

poetreader said...

Yes, Canon Hollister,

In my long search for an immediate knowledge of God, I had a fairly brief but enormously fruitful relationship with the Friends (Quakers)and finally came away with a similar dissatisfaction. The immediacy of experience seemed both to ignore the bodiness of the human being and also to render theology optional and ultimately unimportant. I had dabbled among various Oriental disciplines, found some valuable insights, but with such an admixture of absolute falsity that my Christian spirit had to flee. My 25 years among the Pentecostals came from an appreciation of the profound link between spiritual immediacy and physical response that lies at the core of the movement, but even there much was lacking in food for the mind. After a quarter century there, I found my way back to the ancient Catholic Tradition where a dogged insistence upon theological truth, and the physicality of sacraments and liturgy comes packaged with the freedom to seek immediacy in a number of different ways, including the classically mystic, the silent, and the charismatic. There is no lack to the Catholic other than a lack he imposes upon himself, and the structures of the Tradition support, rather than limit the immediacy of experience.


Anonymous said...

And indeed, Ed, the Catholic way leaves plenty to keep a squib occupied.