Pentecostalism closer to Catholicism than any other form of Protestantism?

It’s an intriguing idea. Recall that Louis Bouyer concluded, in his book “Spirit and forms of Protestantism“, concluded that (as I summarised in an earlier blog):

That the best hope Protestantism has of rediscovering true Christianity is to pay attention to the elements of “revivalism” in its history; and that correspondingly these “revivalist”, “pietistic” and “mystical” elements (which keep cropping up in Protestantism) might also become bridges back to authentic Catholic Christianity.

Now here is a lengthy reflection on the phenomena of Pentecostalism from John L. Allen. Bouyer wrote his book before the Pentecostal “explosion”, but I think what he calls “revivalism” surely finds its clearest expression today in the Pentecostal (and Charismatic) movement. Allen concludes his essay like this (and I quote him in full, because it is all important):

Yet on some key issues that formed the fault lines of the Protestant Reformation, Pentecostals are arguably closer to Catholics than to the Evangelicals. While classical Protestants stress the doctrine of sola scriptura, that the Bible alone is the only guide to faith, Pentecostals believe in on-going revelation through the Spirit [okay, Catholics don’t actually believe this as such, but we do believe in the ongoing deepening of understanding of the once-for all revelation in Christ]. Similarly, classical Protestantism believes in salvation through faith alone, while many strains of Pentecostalism believe in a faith manifested in holy living and the fruits of the spirit – in other words, both faith and works. Pentecostals and Catholics also tend to see grace and nature as complementary, unlike classic Reformation theology which sees a radical discontinuity. Pentecostalism has a sensual, earthy spirituality similar to some forms of popular Catholic devotion.

For these reasons, Harvey Cox has dubbed Pentecostalism “Catholicism without priests,” meaning an expression of folk spirituality without the Roman juridical system or complicated scholastic theology. Despite strong tensions between Pentecostals and Catholics, these structural parallels suggest a basis for long-term dialogue. They also may help explain why so many Catholics in various parts of the world have found Pentecostalism congenial, since it’s not entirely foreign to their own religious instincts.

And there is an intriguing comment submitted by Matthew Del Nevo, who says he is “a Catholic philosopher and theologian who also teaches in the Pentecostal National College here in Sydney” (anybody know him?). He says:

I know both Catholicism and Pentecostalism well from the inside. One important thing Pentes have in common with Catholics is a belief in the real presence of the Holy Spirit. The real presence of the Holy Spirit for both experiential, not just a cerebral belief. An experience of real relation with God. All Protestantism by contrast is based on ‘right belief’. Protestentism is confessionally based. Pentecostalism is experientially based. John Allen’s insights are correct. I have a forthcoming book the thesis of which is that Pentecostalism is as different from Protestantism as Protestantim is from Catholicism. One more note: this is harder to see in the North American context where Evangelical ‘belief-based’ theology dominates Pentecostalism, but the best Pentecostal theologians like Velli-Matti Karkkainen (Fuller) agree with me.

Worthy of some further exploration, I think.

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3 Responses to Pentecostalism closer to Catholicism than any other form of Protestantism?

  1. teajay says:

    The pentecostals that I’ve interacted with have had a very negative view of Catholicism, but perhaps that is because they were North American groups.

    The parts of Catholicism I liked (in fact I saw them as essential to any coherent religious world-view) were the juridical system of authority and the scholastic theology(!) So without them I saw little to respect.

    The people I dealt with would aggressively defend their beliefs even though they were poorly constructed (leading to many confrontations) and would claim miracles at the drop of a hat even when the evidence was ambiguous at best (leading to the impression that critical thinking was not only not valued but actively discouraged).

    I hope that the form of pentecostalism that dominates in the future does not resemble the forms that I have encountered.

  2. eulogos says:

    Have you read Ronald Knox’s “Enthusiasm”?

    I think that a false dichotomy is being drawn here in the citation from Del Nevo. Catholicism isn’t based on “right belief’? What about the wording of the very detailed Athanasian Creed to the effect that “this is the Catholic faith which unless a man hold entire he cannot be saved.” ? Protestantism isn’t experience based? What about the emphasis on the experience of being saved, of having a felt conviction that one is one of those predestined for heaven? (In Calvinism.)

    I would say that a religion of experience and feeling without doctrine is very dangerous. Of course a religion of doctrine only intellectually grasped is ultimately useless, but the counter to that is not emotion but the true assent of the will and the whole self. Fides formata caritas is true faith and can exist when the soul is dry and can summon no emotion, even when it is afflicted by repugnance and doubt. (For instance the recent revelations about Mother Teresa’s spiritual life, or the dryness and doubt in which Therese of Liseaux lived the last months of her life.)
    Susan Peterson

  3. Agnes Ainsworth says:

    The greatest danger in the Catholic Charismatic movement is the belief that the charisms are new in the Church. They’re not. Many in the movement recognize that extraordinary gifts of the Spirit have always been manifested in the Church, especially when in periods of great falling away. Read any life history of the saints to see the phenomenon. Considering the widespread apostasy in these times, wouldn’t heaven intervene with apparitions and mystical revelations as has happened in the past. Interestingly many Charismatics are recognising this but with a powerful lobby who refuse to accept the devotions requested by previous mystics such as the Rosary, Divine Mercy, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Stations of the Cross etc and see devotions as a backward step for evangelisation.
    In my experience, of over thirty years of loose connection with renewal, “charismatics” usually return to a fervent practice of their traditional Catholicism and accept the teachings of the Church, even if they don’t see the need for praying of “devotions”.

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