Charismatics are people belonging to a movement which revived the Christian phenomena of “speaking in tongues,” or glossolalia. The movement is truly a revival of Pentecostalism, except now is has spread throughout the majority of Christianity including the Catholic Church. Before the Charismatic movement Pentecostalism was separated from most of the Christian world.
To fully understand this and the importance of the present Charismatic movement within Christianity one must review the partial history of Pentecostalism in the last century. During the first half of the twentieth century Pentecostalism was practiced mainly within the Protestant Pentecostal and Assemblies of God Churches. Their memberships truly believed in and practiced “speaking in tongues.” It was their belief that the practiced which is Biblically recorded, Book of Acts 2:1-4, as occurring among the first Christians continued to the present. Many of the members declared their church started on Pentecost Sunday, the first Biblical record of the occurrence of Christ’s apostles speaking in tongues.
Most of the Pentecostal churches in the United States can trace their beginnings to the revival movement in the Negro Holiness Church in Los Angeles in 1906. A few can even trace their formation back to the “Latter Rain” revival conducted by A. J. Tamlinson, a salesman for the American Bible Society and founder of the Church of God in 1903. The first schism within the churches occurred in 1917. The Church of God split into two separate branches. Throughout the rest of the century other splits have occurred. Churches of the denomination, as well as denominational churches associated with both the Pentecostal and Assemblies of God Churches, appear mostly in the South, West, and Middle West. Also, there are hundred small store- front churches. Those having larger congregations belong to the Pentecostal World Conference, an international fellowship with no permanent headquarters. Churches of both denominations are in other countries too.
These first churches mainly believed in the charismatic gifts of speaking in tongues, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and healing. The first gift was what they were best known for; when members spoke in tongues they frequently exhibited highly emotional, sometimes trance-like behavior, and spoke in a nonsensical, syllable language. Since many members were African-American or lower-class whites they were disrespectfully called “holy-rollers.” The isolation of these denominations preaching Pentecostalism was not one sided; they thought they practiced the correct approach in praising God, and the rest of Christianity was denounced as liberal.
Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s Pentecostalism started to be looked differently upon by other Christian denominations. It was the South African Pentecostal leader David J. du Plessis who began bridging the schism between the churches. Du Plassis was “disfellowshipped” from the Assemblies of God in 1962 for this action in cooperation with the World Council of Churches (WCC). Joining the ecumenical movement was the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (FGBMFI), a Pentecostal worshipping group founded by African-American Demos Shakarian, a California dairyman and millionaire.
The gifts of the Spirits, which are what the Greek words charismata, or charisms mean “spiritual gifts” were beginnings to be spoken of more freely even by those within the other churches. Many within churches not practicing Pentecostalism, it was discovered, believed they had received the Holy Spirit but had not revealed it. Their reluctance to do so was because the speaking in tongues and healing gifts were looked upon by many as sideshow events, and not appropriate Christian worship. The first traditional minister to declare his experience was Dennis Bennett, pastor of St. Marks Episcopal church in Van Nuys, California. His revelation in 1960 divided the congregation causing Bennett to be moved to a Seattle, Washington parish where he continued preaching his charismatic renewal.
The charismatic movement had begun, others were coming forth revealing their experiences including those within the Catholic Church. One of the first public attentions drawn to this was what came to be known as the “Duquesne Week-end”. This occurred in February, 1967, about a year after four Duquesne University professors in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania started praying together to stir up fervor within their Catholic faith. A small group of individuals met with these faculty members for a weekend. One engaged couple had heard of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and they desired it, so asked the professors to pray with them so that the Spirit would more fully enter their lives. The party quietly went to an up stair bedroom where they prayed. Soon all felt the Spirit of Christ as the Spirit was manifested in the gift of tongues in which the young man and woman praised God.
Simultaneously, unbeknown to them upstairs, elsewhere in the house a girl felt drawn to the chapel where she felt an almost intangible presence Spirit of Christ. In awe she left the chapel, and ran to urge others in the house to join her. When gathered in prayer in the chapel the Holy Spirit poured Himself upon them.
To their testimony no one was forced; they just individually encountered the Holy Spirit as others had several weeks before. Some students praised God in new languages; others quietly wept for joy; others prayed and sang. They prayed from ten at night until five in the morning. They all were not immediately touched but throughout the night God dealt with each person in a wonderful way.
This occurrence at Duquesne University in 1967 is thought to be the beginning of the Catholic Charismatic Movement and the answer to the prayer of Pope John XXIII who ushered in the Second Vatican Council, in 1964, with the hope that the Holy Spirit would create a “New Pentecost” and a transformation in the Church. The event was also seen as giving emphasis to Pope Paul VI’s encouragement to exercise the charisms as he continually proclaimed the necessity of the Holy Spirit to manifest Christ’s presence in the Church.
Also, many think this charismatic movement brings a renewing power to the Church. They believe that this is a part of Christ’s promise: “‘I will make all things new’ (Revelation 21:5). In this light, we can see that the charism of tongues is certainly a drop of `newness’ that will eventually increase into a torrent of grace.”
It would be a grave mistake, however, to leave the impression the this charismatic gift of speaking in tongues has just suddenly came alive again. No, with a brief examination of history one realizes that it, with the other charismatic gifts, have been mentioned by several individuals. One possible explanation as to why this charismatic gift was not mentioned too much in the very early church was that Christians were often thought of as monsters, or odd people, to say the least. They were hated and persecuted by the Romans for not adoring the Roman gods. To openly admit they frequently spoke in foreign and nonsensical sounding languages would only be stirring up more trouble for themselves.
Another explanation is that the early church focused more upon the source of the gifts, namely the Church, the nature of Christ, and the function of the Holy Spirit, than the gifts themselves.
Many of the well known, early churchmen of the Catholic church mention speaking in tongues. One notably is the priest and writer on Scripture Origen in the second and third centuries. He held two predominant views concerning the gift. First, he held that speaking in tongues was similar to xenolalia, it enabled one to preach in a foreign language, however, when the language was learned the charism ended.Origen, also, said it was a valid form of prayer.
In the Council of Nicene speaking in tongues took on another characteristic, that of jubilation. It is described as the expressions of rejoicing praise to God, either in song, dance, or vocal prayer. These seemed to be the qualities described in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. It was a wordless prayer from the heart when words could not express the feelings of the heart of the worshipper to God.
By St. Augustine’s time the gifts of tongues were thought to only have occurred in the times of the apostles. The gift had served to help then evangelize the early church. Augustine also thought miracles only occurred during the time of the apostles until he witnessed a the sight restored to a blind man near the bones of martyrs in Milan. It seems that Augustine held a similar opinion as Origen concerning the gift of tongues, it had been given to bridge foreign languages, but in his time Christianity was widely accepted and there was a common language throughout the Roman empire.
However, in his City of God Augustine relates how his attitude changed when he witnessed two children cured of a physical disorder caused by trembling and convulsions. The cures took place on sequential days at the shrine of the martyr St. Stephen at Easter time. They were inspired by a dream to come to pray. On Easter the boy was instantly cure, and the next day the girl was cured. On both occasions the people in the entire church burst forth with prayers of thankfulness, praise, and rejoicing to God. All went forth to God. Augustine wrote “The people shouted God’s praises without words, but with such a noise that our ears could scarcely stand it. What was there in the hearts of all this clamoring crowd but the faith of Christ, for which St. Stephen shed his blood?”
In the Middle Ages men of the Church and others recognized the charism gift of speaking in tongues as having the characteristics mainly of xenolalia and jubilation. It was believed the gift principally helped to preach to people in foreign languages. St. Romuald, founder of the Camaldolese monks, is said to have received the “tongues of angels” before he died. The gift is mentioned in the writings and teaching of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the founder of the Cistercian Order. Also, it was in the Franciscan Order as the jubilation possessed by St. Francis. The latter is commentated upon by Eddie Ensley in his Sounds of Wonder, (New York, Paulist Press, 1977). “in early Franciscan literature actual sounds of certain jubilations are written out, and these descriptions are strikingly similar to descriptions of modern day glossolalia of the Charismatic Renewal.”
The great Scholastic theologian of the 13th century St. Thomas Aquinas definitively describes this jubilation, “an unspeakable joy, which cannot be expressed. The reason that this joy cannot be expressed in words is that it is beyond comprehension”
Others did use the gift as xenolalia such as St. Anthony the Wonder-Worker of Padua, (1195-1231), a Franciscan, Fernando de Bouillon of Lisbon, who was well known for his brilliant and poetic sermons which he gave in several languages while journeying across Italy and France. It is further recorded that St. Dominic Guzman, a Spaniard and founder of the Order of Preachers, instantly knew German when required to speak to seminarians in Germany. Another Spanish Dominican, St. Vincent Ferrer, was to have possessed the gift and converted thousands in western European countries.
St. Francis Xavier, a participant in founding the Society of Jesus, is said to have received the gift of tongues by which he performed numerous of miracles, healing the sick, and even raising the dead. He later traveled to India, Japan, and China preaching the gospel. It is thought he spoke in Spanish, but people heard him in their own languages.
St. Teresa of Avila, one of the great mystic writers of the 16th century, wrote of jubilation. She often participated in jubilation through tongues as was as dance and song. Along with her Carmalite sisters she participated in liturgical celebrations, in which she improvised melodies by which to praise God. She described the “supernatural benefit from the manifestation of this charism of praise as one that lifts the soul into the joy of God and is not forgotten but `impressed upon the imagination.'” Sometimes such jubilation would bring on a spiritual inebriation which lasted the entire day.
It is recorded that those of the Catholic faith were not the only ones possessing these charismatic gifts. They were found among Protestant sects too, such as the Huguenots of Cevennol in Southern France. Members exhibited gifts of prophecy, tongues, visions and apparitions. Most receiving these gifts were children who soon became called “the little prophets of Cevenned.”
It seems apparent that other saints and spiritual writers during this period were familiar with the charismatic gift of jubilation. They included St. John of the Cross, St. Philip Neri, Dante Alighieri, Martin Luther, and Francis Bacon. Even though they may not have alluded specifically to speaking of tongues, there is no doubt from their writings that they knew of the phenomenon.
From this historical review of Christianity it is evident that the charismatic gifts of tongues, baptism of the Holy Spirit, healing, and jubilation have never been lost since the first Pentecost. Belief in such gifts resided within Protestant movements and denominations as well and stemmed from the theology of John Calvin and John Wesley. Such movements believed in the direct baptism of the Spirit, inner conversion, and the possible signs accompanying these experiences. “There are four principal expressions: 1) The Puritans or Reformed Sealers who believe the experience of being sealed in the Spirit guarantees salvation; 2) the Wesleyan and Wesleyan-Holiness movements which see this as a sanctifying event to perfect love; 3) the Keswick movement which views this as an endowment with power for the service of God; and 4) the classic Pentecostal movement, which believes that baptism in the Spirit is manifested only by tongues.”
Although there is sufficient evident to clearly indicate that thousands, if not millions, have and do believe in the charismatic gifts there are still arguments waged against their reality. Hypotheses are put forth to explain their existence in psychological and physiological terms. Richard Quebedeaux, in The New Charismatics, II, tries to say the success of the charismatic phenomena lies in Western society’s rediscovery of the supernatural and the occult. He compares the social attraction with psychics, astrology, and near-death experiences to the charismatic gifts of tongues, healing, and exorcism, saying they both are similarly appealing.
However, psychological researcher James H. Hyslop indicates even though such Christian events seem occult, to him healing miracles, casting out devils, and Christ’s divination skills and resurrection proved the survival of the soul and the psychic nature of Christianity.
Concerning the phenomena of the charismatic gift of tongues one article states that no study has been conducted concerning its rationale, but it appears that deep emotional feelings are released through the medium of unintelligible syllables which by-pass the inhibitions associated with normal language and intellectual concepts.
The article further adds that babies and youngsters tend to eagerly express emotions in nonsensical syllables. Often vocalists frequently used similar methods such as singer Janis Joplin.
Whatever is said, it is up to the reader to apprehend the phenomena presented within this article, but it does seem these charismatics achieve an unique and close relationship with their God. A.G.H.