"Baptism in the Spirit" and the Teaching of the Catholic Church

I was intrigued to read John Allen’s recent series on Fr Cantalamessa, the Preacher for the Papal Household (here, here, and here). I was especially intrigued to read about the former Archbishop of Newark’s antagonism toward the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement in his archdiocese. I was also spurred on to read some more of Fr Cantalamessa’s teaching (especially No Need to Fear Charismatic Renewal Cantalamessa CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 26, 2003 and Baptism in the Holy Spirit by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFMCap). And I have become especially concerned about CCR’s use of the term “Baptism in the Spirit”.

[Side note: Here’s a pet theory of mine. There are many Catholics who belong to Charismatic Renewal who are not really interested in the full suitcase of Charismatic spirituality, but who are more accurately “evangelical” Catholics. They are attracted to CCR because of the vibrant faith, the seriousness of their religion, their zeal for spreading the gospel. But often these folk are not long term adherants to CCR because in the end they don’t swallow the “Baptism in the Spirit” stuff. It’s a real pity there isn’t a CER (Catholic Evangelical Renewal), but then that should be the whole Church–and yes, I know that the CCR thinks that the whole Church should be charismatic too.]

As a Lutheran I was strongly alerted against the incorrect interpretation of this phrase. Lutherans had a strong and healthy distrust of anyone claiming to have had an experience of the Holy Spirit apart from the Sacraments and the external Word of God. Thus, Luther railed against the “enthusiasts”, and modern day Lutherans railed against the new Holy Joes in the Pentecostal movement. Bottom line for Lutherans: When the Scriptures talk about being baptised “in/with” the Holy Spirit, they were refering to the Christian sacrament of baptism with water in the name of the Holy Trinity, which conferred the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the recipient.

As a Catholic, I have found that I have only had to modify this thinking in two respects:

1) Confirmation is the completion of Baptism, and in this respect is a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the active and mature ministry of the Christian. The Second Vatican Council taught that “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed” [LG 11; cf. OC, Introduction 2].

2) In the free sovereignty of God, the Holy Spirit can and does act apart from the sacraments and the ministry of the Church. Again, Lumen Gentium 12: “It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues…” — although this statement is not followed with a “but also through” statement. What that “also” might be is thus left open. I, in my Lutheran spirituality, would say “but also through the Word of God”.

I am disturbed therefore to read stuff like this:

[We should make an] uncompromising distinction between a “pre-charismatic” Christian and a charismatic Christian – a distinction that seems to needle many non-charismatics, and raises the hackles of some theologians whom I love to challenge. The Pentecost experience of becoming charismatic by being “baptized in the Spirit” (Acts 1:5) is something clearly distinct from and beyond the experience of becoming a Christian by being “baptized into Christ” (Rom. 6:3) by water.

…Dissenting theologians [my emphasis] claim that it was the Church that corporately received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and all Christians partake of that general outpouring… In this view, the baptism in the Spirit is not an additional experience subsequent to becoming a Christian, but a privilege that everyone experiences by simply being a Christian and thus partaking of the fullness of the Spirit-presence of the Church from the time of water-baptism. What makes a Christian Charismatic? Fr. John Hampsch

Well, shoot me, but I’m a “dissenting theologian” in this case. This interpretation of the meaning of the phrase “baptised in the Spirit” is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, whatever Fr Cantalamessa or Fr Hampsch might have to say on the matter. In fact, you can search all you like, but you will find no reference to “baptism in the Spirit” along these lines anywhere in the Catechism, the Second Vatican Council, or the teaching of the Popes. Do a search on the new (excellent) search engine on the Vatican Website for “Baptism/Baptized in the (Holy) Spirit”, and you will turn up diddly-squat on this topic.

Over the next few week’s I hope to post more on this subject, outlining why I do not accept CCR’s interpretation of the Scriptures with reference to what they call “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” I do want to stress, however, that I am not calling into question the experience of the Holy Spirit which CCR folk claim to have had. I believe in the experience, and I have seen its effects. I am simply questioning the wisdom and rectitude of calling this experience a “Baptism in the Spirit”, and linking it to scriptural passages in which such terminology appears to be used and in which a similar experience appears to have taken place.

For now, I leave you with the question Cardinal James Hickey addressed to the “Mother of God Community” on September 23, 1995:

More specifically, I believe there is a great need to clarify the meaning of “baptism in the Spirit” as it relates to all the sacraments, but especially in relationship to sacramental baptism and the sacrament of confirmation. Sacramental baptism is recognized by all Christians — Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant churches as the principal sacrament of initiation and the foundation of the Christian life. “Baptism in the Spirit,” a gift characteristic of the charismatic renewal, helps one live out the call to holiness received in baptism; it helps to revivify the divine gifts received in sacramental baptism, in the other sacraments and in the entire tradition of the Church. However, “baptism in the Spirit” is not essential to the Christian life; those who do not receive “baptism in the Spirit” are not second-class Christians! James Cardinal Hickey Address to Mother of God Community September 23, 1995

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One Response to "Baptism in the Spirit" and the Teaching of the Catholic Church

  1. Christine says:

    With the increasing Hispanic population Charismatic Catholicism is on the upswing in the U.S.

    It has been very divisive in some parishes but it is definitely not going away and is expected to change the flavor of American Catholicism substantially.

    I know of one Catholic parish in Florida where the praise music and worship are so pentecostal one would wonder if one were in a Catholic church.

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