III.C.3 Catholic Charismatic Movement

Part III  –  Application to Pentecostal Theology




a.   Catholicism Reaches Out for the Baptism

The Charismatic movement swept into Catholicism through revivals that occurred at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, the University of Notre Dame, and Michigan State University.  This revival among Catholics seems to have been significantly-inspired by Assembly of God pastor David Wilkerson’s (1963) book; The Cross and the Switchblade, which recounted the work of the Holy Spirit among New York City gangs and drug-addicts and John Sherrill’s (1963) book; 
They Speak with Other Tongues.

This was also a time when Catholics seem to have been particularly receptive to the message of the baptism given events at the recently-held Second Vatican Council (1962-65) convened by Pope John XXIII.  This council had tremendous significance in terms of reforms within the practices and order of the Catholic Church as the Vatican officially abandoned its “Fortress Theology” adhered to since the Council of Trent which assumed an unyielding posture against Protestantism.  The result was that Catholic-policy was liberalized & a plea for ecumenism was made.[1]  As well, Pope John called for a New Pentecost.[2]  Thus a general accommodation for the Charismatic-movement was allowed to form within the organized Catholic structure.

The events that more directly-precipitated Pentecostal-experience within Catholicism began In 1966, the year following Vatican II when two theology professors from Duquesne University read the books by Wilkerson and Sherrill and thereupon began to seek out someone for themselves who had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and who had spoken in tongues.

They claimed their endeavor was successful and that they had received the baptism while in a Presbyterian prayer group under the assistance of an Episcopal priest.    The two men then participated in a college-retreat on the weekend of February 17-19, 1967 in order to introduce the experience to other Catholics.

As they read the first four chapters of the book of Acts and David Wilkerson’s book a great sense of expectancy was felt among those attending.  That evening at a birthday party for one of the priests, one-by-one students slipped away from the group to go pray and seek the Spirit’s baptism.  At one point a student was suddenly “slain in the Spirit” as he walked into the room.  He reported:

 I cried harder than I ever cried in my life, but I did not shed one tear.  All of a sudden Jesus Christ was so real and so present that I could feel Him all around.  I was overcome with such a feeling of love that I cannot begin to describe it.[3]

 What had commenced as a birthday party was moved into the chapel to become “the first totally Pentecostal Catholic prayer meeting”.[4]

After hearing about the events at Duquesne University, certain students and faculty leaders of Notre DameUniversity began to seek the same experience and met in the home of Bert Ghezzi.  While they claimed to have received the baptism there were no Pentecostal-manifestations that would signify as such.  Therefore they sought out the assistance of Pentecostal-minister Ray Bullard – a member of the Assemblies of God and the Full Gospel Businessmen. [5]  After arriving at Bullard’s home the party insisted they had already been baptized in the Holy Spirit even though they had not spoken in tongues on the grounds “we could see it in our lives”.  While they resisted the Pentecostal-doctrine of Initial Evidence, they report that . . .

The issue got resolved because we were willing to speak in tongues if it were not seen as a theological necessity to being baptized in the Holy Spirit.  At a certain point we said we were willing to give it a try, and a man explained to us what was involved.  [6]

As hands began to be laid upon them, members of the Catholic-visitors began to speak in tongues.  When they were asked whether they would be departing Catholicism, they rejected the thought on the premise that “being baptized in the Holy Spirit was completely compatible with our belief in the Catholic Church.”[7]

Catholicism has historically not shared-in the dispensational-assumptions held by Evangelicals that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were extinguished upon the close of the apostolic-era.   Therefore once the Pentecostal-experience was established at the “intellectual capitol of American Catholicism”,[8] the baptism had no difficulty gaining acceptance in other Catholic circles and growing into that movement that has become known as the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

b.  Catholic-Treatment of the Restored Pentecostal-Doctrine

Amidst the sudden awakening in Catholicism to the Pentecostal-experience (if not Pentecostal teaching) the well-known ecumenical Pentecostal David du Plessis urged Catholics at the 1969 conference in Notre Dame to be Pentecostal within their Catholic tradition.  Catholics seem to have required little convincing.  Rather than Catholicism being Pentecostalized, the doctrines of Pentecost underwent a catholicizing at the hands of Catholic scholars and teachers after the experience became common to the church in the late 1960’s.  Catholic scholars surprisingly viewed the baptism as an inherently Catholic phenomenon and saw little inconsistency with this assertion and the fact that the Pentecostal-experience had been virtually missing from Catholicism during much of recorded-history.  Therefore for many Catholics that had experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit, basic theology and patterns of worship did not substantially change.  Catholics still largely adhered to practices that shocked most Pentecostals such as; devotion to the virgin Mary, infant baptism, use of the rosary, and the use of icons as objects of adoration.

Catholic scholars generally acknowledge the heavy-emphasis their belief-system places upon church tradition as having a weight substantially-proportionate to that of Scripture.  Therefore it is not surprising that rather than Catholicism altering its doctrine to conform with Pentecostal-teaching, Pentecostal-doctrine had to be reworked to conform with Catholic tradition and to evade the implication that the Catholic ecclesiastical-system had been void of the Spirit’s work up until the present-day.  The Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements states:

Catholics will instinctively reject the idea that for most of its history the church had lacked something as essential as the experience of the power of the Holy Spirit and that it regained this only at the beginning of the twentieth century with the onset of the Pentecostal movement.  [9]

This denial that there was ever a dearth of spiritual life would seem remarkably incongruent with the plea at Vatican II for a “New Pentecost”.

While Evangelicals have commonly regarded the Spirit’s impartation as occurring at the moment of “belief”, Catholicism focuses rather upon the outward sacraments, teaching that the Holy Spirit is imparted rather at the administration of the sacrament of Christian initiation[10] – a view resoundingly rejected by Evangelicals as a subordination of God’s sovereignty to mean human ritual.  Therefore if the evangelical view (ie. of the Spirit’s impartation upon “belief”) was inconsistent with Pentecostal-doctrine, then the Catholic-view is ever-further a-field from Pentecostal teaching.   In light of the quickly-burgeoning movement within Catholicism, scholarship was forced to rework traditional theology to accommodate for the baptism of the Holy Ghost – a difficult matter indeed given its very-externalized-view of the sacraments.

In response to the renewal Catholic teachers (and most notably Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan) situated the experience “within a Catholic theological framework”.[11]  Catholic scholars adopted a view of Spirit-baptism similar to that of Episcopal-priest Dennis Bennett, ie. that we “receive the release”[12] of the Holy Spirit.  According to Catholic-scholar Ralph Del Colle:[13]

Rather than interpreting Spirit-baptism as the reception of a new event of grace, they spoke of it as “renewal and actualization of baptismal initiation.”  They wanted to be clear that Spirit baptism was “not a sacrament nor a replacement for any sacrament”, yet at the same time it was related to the sacramental initiation undergone by baptized and confirmed Catholics.  So one should properly, according to this theological interpretation, be concerned with the existential renewal and actualization of baptismal grace, not the reception of the baptism in the Holy Sprit but its renewal.  In other words, Spirit baptism was being identified with the sacramental initiation of Christians, now renewed through faith-filled prayer.”[14]

Again, the Pentecostal-baptism was relegated to a mere “actualization” of something already possessed but somehow dormant until discovered:

In this case the function of the baptism in the Spirit was to initiate the awareness and exercise of the gifts that were already there.[15]

This raises the question; ‘If Catholics already possessed the Spirit, in what way did the Pentecostal-movement benefit them?’  According to Catholic-scholar Ralph Del Colle,[16] the answer is that . . .

. . there would have been no Charismatic renewal (including a Catholic one) without the Pentecostal doctrine of Spirit baptism as a gift for the already converted Christian.  In other words, the classical Pentecostal doctrine of subsequence enabled its reception by Christians within the historic churches.[17]

However, this would be a misuse of the concept of subsequence.  While there was an initial assumption among Pentecostals at a very early stage that the baptism constituted a third blessing following sanctification this view would ultimately be held by a small minority given the benefit of  experience and the general-acceptance after 1911 of Durham’s Finished Work doctrine.   While it may be said that classical Pentecostal-teaching regarded the baptism as a work subsequent to conversion, this was not to say that conversion was the same as the impartation of the Holy Ghost so as to imply that the baptism was a work subsequent to receiving the Holy Ghost.  Simply put, there existed no classical Pentecostal “doctrine of subsequence” in the sense implied by Del Colle.   There was nothing about classical Pentecostal doctrine to provide a basis for the reworked Catholic pneumatology due simply to the fact that the common-Pentecostal teaching did not point to conversion as itself constituting the reception of the Holy Spirit.  For doctrine sympathetic to the Catholic presuppositions, they would have to borrow from late-developing Charismatic teaching.

While the Pentecostal movement had been substantially marginalized and ignored by the mainline denominations, the Charismatic Movement forced them to come into formal positions concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  The Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements states that:

The majority of denominations adopted positions of cautious openness, neither welcoming CR [Charismatic Renewal] with enthusiasm nor rejecting it as inauthentic.  They generally accepted in principle the validity of the charismata but rejected the Pentecostal theology of a second baptism subsequent to conversion and the necessity of glossalia.     Most, however, make a genuine effort to recognize the positive elements of new life brought by CR to the churches. [18]

Some of the most notable of the denominations standing in open and unqualified resistance to the restored experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit were; the Southern Baptists, the Church of the Nazarene, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

While Charismatic churches would commonly acknowledge speaking in tongues as the expected indicia of the Spirit’s baptism, the doctrine of Initial Evidence continues to be the clearest demarcation between Pentecostal and Charismatic bodies.  In fact, in terms of pneumatology, the Charismatic-view seems to run more consistent with the Catholicized-pneumatology rather than Pentecostal.  We might also observe that as time moves on, this distinction may grow increasingly academic given the relative lack of strong teaching and strength of conviction within the Pentecostal churches.  Further, the free-flow of membership between denominations and a generally-decreasing-emphasis upon doctrine and laxity in conformity therewith has substantially relegated the Pentecostal doctrine of Initial Evidence to academia and its theologians.  For many Pentecostal assemblies today the doctrines of Pentecost seem to exist as little more than an historical artifact left by a former generation.

[1] Catholic-liturgy was no longer to be read in Latin, but rather in the native-languages, the clergy was now to face the laity, guitars were made acceptable, modern-clothing for nuns, encouragement to pray with non-Catholics, scripture-reading was now allowed & encouraged, etc.

[2] Article is; Roots of Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church, by Edward O’Connor, C.S.C., from Aspects of Pentecostal & Charismatic Origins, Vinson Synan, Editor © 1975, Logos International, Plainfield, NJ 07060, pages 174-183

[3] The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition; Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century by Vinson Synan © 1971, 1997 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. pg. 246-247.

[4] Ibid. pg. 247

[5] The Full Gospel Businessmen International was founded in 1952 in the midst of the Latter Rain Revival and was known for its very evangelistically-liberal philosophy in regards to Charismatic-practice.

[6] Ibid. pg. 248

[7] Ibid. pg. 248

[8] Synan’s terms – Ibid. pg. 249

[9] Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Burgess, McGee, & Alexander © 1988 – Article is Catholic Charismatic Renewal at pg. 117

[10] Ibid pg. 118

[11] Perspectives on Spirit Baptism, Edited by Chad Owen Brand; Article is Spirit Baptism; A Catholic Perspective, by Ralph Del Colle, PhD, Assoc. Prof. of Theology, Marquette Univ. pg. 247 & 250.

[12] Bennett’s own words from How to Pray for the Release of the Holy Spirit, by Dennis Bennett © 1985 Bridge Publishing, Inc. pg ix;  “Folks find it hard to receive the release of the Spirit because they don’t know exactly what it is, and what is supposed to happen to them . . .”

[13] Ralph Del Colle, PhD, Assoc. Prof. of Theology, Marquette Univ., Milwaukee, WI.  Author of Christ and the Spirit; Spirit Christology in Trinitarian Perspective, published by Oxford Univ. Press.

[14] Perspectives on Spirit Baptism, Edited by Chad Owen Brand; Article is Spirit Baptism; A Catholic Perspective, by Ralph Del Colle, PhD, Assoc. Prof. of Theology, Marquette Univ. pg. 250

[15] Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Burgess, McGee, & Alexander © 1988 – Article is Catholic Charismatic Renewal at pg. 118

[16] Ralph Del Colle, PhD, Assoc. Prof. of Theology, Marquette Univ., Milwaukee, WI.  Author of Christ and the Spirit; Spirit Christology in Trinitarian Perspective, published by Oxford Univ. Press.

[17] Perspectives on Spirit Baptism, Edited by Chad Owen Brand; Article is Spirit Baptism; A Catholic Perspective, by Ralph Del Colle, PhD, Assoc. Prof. of Theology, Marquette Univ. pg. 244.

[18] Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Stanley M. Burgess & Gary B. McGee, Editors ©1988, Regency Reference Library, at page 136


About Lamp-Stand

I was converted to the faith of Jesus Christ in 1982 at which time I received water baptism and Spirit baptism. In the Spring of 2008 I was led of the Spirit through a process of repentance upon which I had an encounter with Christ that worked a profound change upon my inner being. I became aware that I had been forgiven a great debt of sin. I soon felt the Lord's direction that I close my office that my energies not be divided from the study of doctrine.
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