JULY 26, 2013
Principles of Discernment in Evaluating Books
Compiled by the St. Padre Pio Center for Spiritual Warfare – Bro. Ignatius Mary, OMSM(r), CCL, L. Th., DD, LNDC
Index of Books on Spiritual Warfare
Books Recommended and Not Recommended to Catholics
Introduction: Principles of Discernment
SPECIAL NOTE: Since this is a Catholic Website and a Catholic apostolate, our recommendations are made from a loyal Catholic point-of-view with just and equitable consideration of the knowledge and wisdom of our “separated” brethren (non-Catholic).
Throughout this essay we may use the terms “non-Catholic” and “Protestant” interchangeably. In either usage we are referring to all Christian groups that are not Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.
The terms “Evangelical”, “Fundamentalist”, and “Pentecostal” refer to specific sects within the non-Catholic world.
The term “misguided Catholics” refers to Catholics who have adopted or who are contaminated by ideas or theology or practices from non-Catholic sources that are inconsistent with Catholic teaching, discipline, and worldview.
We focus on the Evangelical, Fundamentalist, and Pentecostal groups in this essay only because they are the most involved in Spiritual Warfare. Our comments about what to watch for, however, applies to ALL groups, regardless of religious or denominational tradition.
Principles of Discernment:
Within the Catholic world there are relatively few books dealing directly with Spiritual Warfare — that is specifically on demonology and deliverance. The Catholic heritage does give us a wealth of books and writings of the Saints and others of great spirituality and devotion in which Spiritual Warfare is ancillary. We can learn much from them.
Since Catholic publications do not include many books on demonology and deliverance, we have selected a few books written by non-Catholics that provide excellent analysis of the subjects they contain. By non-Catholics we mean mostly works of the Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Pentecostal communities. It is primarily those communities that have taken the most interest in the area of demonology in the modern era. As a result of their interest, the Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Pentecostal communities have researched and written on this subject probably more than any other groups.
A general caution, however, is needed in reading any non-Catholic volume. There are fundamental differences between Catholics and non-Catholics in theology, ecclesiology, philosophy, and worldview. Thus we must be “on watch” for these differences whenever reading a non-Catholic book or, for that matter, any book written by a misguided Catholic who has been influenced by non-Catholic ideas inconsistent with Catholicism.
Catholics should not venture into studying non-Catholic writings without guidance or without solid and proven personal knowledge and experience in Catholic teaching and worldview. That caution includes the non-Catholic books on our Recommended Books list.
Those volumes we cannot recommend, or can recommend only with a Caution Alert need to be approached by Catholics only with the greatest caution and circumspection.
Our Index of Books Not Recommended to Catholics on Spiritual Warfare includes those books which are either not recommended, or that are on a “caution alert.”
Our Index of Recommended Books on Spiritual Warfare [under construction] includes those Catholic and non-Catholic books that we recommend, or recommend with qualification.
Concerning some general cautions about non-Catholic books, we offer some guidelines for Catholics to consider when reading non-Catholic books in general, and Spiritual Warfare books in particular.
In constructing these guidelines we are reviewing and comparing the Catholic teaching and worldview with the typical and mainstream Evangelical, Fundamentalist, or Pentecostal teaching and worldview. Since there are many factions within these non-Catholic faith traditions it is not surprising that many groups may contradict each other in their beliefs on Spiritual Warfare. Some groups are fanatic in their presumptions. For example, we know of many groups who think that if one contracts a common cold then such a person needs to be exorcized of the “demon of the common cold”. This extremism is ridiculous. Some of the books that come from this or similar extremist or intellectually careless views will be found on our Index of Books Not Recommended to Catholics on Spiritual Warfare.
It is wise to remember the adage of C.S. Lewis found in his book, The Screwtape Letters:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about demons. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.
We take this advice ourselves in our own involvement in Spiritual Warfare and when analyzing books (Catholic or non-Catholic) we look to see if the author is taking that advice.
Spiritual Warfare, in general, involves mostly principles and understandings of the faith that find little disagreement between Catholic Christians and non-Catholic Christians. Since most of what we know about demonology comes from the Holy Scriptures and from clinical field observations, Catholic Christians and non-Catholic Christians generally share a common experience and understanding of the basics of Spiritual Warfare.
It is not so much that Catholic Christians and non-Catholic Christians differ on Spiritual Warfare; it is mostly that the non-Catholic Christians have a “Readers Digest” understanding of it — that is an abridged understanding. This is to be expected since non-Catholic Christians, and especially Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Pentecostals, do not have the fullness of the faith that has been entrusted by Christ Himself to the Catholic Church.
The areas in which Catholics and Evangelicals/Fundamentalists/Pentecostals differ in their thinking and practice of Spiritual Warfare are mostly in the areas of ecclesiology (specifically the authority of the Church versus the authority of the believer) and the royal priesthood (as opposed to the ministerial priesthood and the roles of each).
Other areas that have an effect on the thinking of Spiritual Warfare include sola scriptura (as opposed to a fuller understanding of Divine Revelation deposited in Sacred Tradition and Written Tradition), the Communion of the Saints (and its role in Spiritual Warfare), Soteriology (the nature of justification & sanctification), the nature and use of the Sacraments, and the nature of the Charismatic gifts of the Spirit.
What to Watch For: Ecclesiology & the Royal Priesthood
The primary element in ecclesiology to watch out for in the teachings of non-Catholic Christians is the presumption that all authority is given to all believers rather than certain authority reserved to the ministerial priesthood.
We must remember that Jesus established a ministerial priesthood and although we are all a part of the “royal priesthood” there are delineations of roles. For example, the passages in the Book of James about anointing the sick is reserved to the priest and the Sacrament of Anointing. These passages are not referring to any member of the laity performing this function. It is for the priest alone to perform this function. The Laity, however, can make similar, but non-sacramental, anointment with those to whom they have a paterfamilias relationship (a royal priestly relationship) such as with one’s family. The way in which the anointing with oil is employed, however, must not too closely resemble the Sacrament of Anointing that must be reserved to a priest.
Also reserved to priests alone are practices that constitute a “solemn” exorcism and even then a priest cannot perform this rite without the express permission of the bishop. Thus, since solemn exorcism is reserved to priests alone, technically all non-validly ordained priests, including Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Pentecostals, do not have the authority to perform the full-blown exorcism of fully possessed people. The laity (whether Catholic or not), however, may perform lesser forms of exorcism technically called “simple” exorcisms, but commonly referred to as deliverance.
Regardless of whether the simple exorcism (deliverance) is performed by a priest or layman, for Catholics at least, the issue of imprecatory commands and speaking directly to the demons and asking them for information is, as of 1985, restricted to Solemn Exorcisms only. That means that no priest or layman may use that method outside of a solemn exorcism authorized by a bishop. (See Inde Ab Aliquot Annis: On The Current Norms Governing Exorcisms, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith September 29, 1985; Translated by Father Gabriele Amorth, Exorcist of Diocese of Rome)
There may be other matters that laymen, Catholic or non-Catholic, may perform that should be reserved only to the valid priesthood. One needs to be on-watch for those issues.
What to Watch For: Sola Scriptura
This area is a fundamental difference between Catholics and Protestants. The primary thing to remember here is that the Bible does not have all knowledge about spiritual issues. The Bible itself affirms that there are many teachings not written in Scriptures — though the Bible is where most of our information comes from. Nevertheless, we must also listen to what Sacred Tradition has to teach us about the nature of the devil, demons, angels, spirituality, free will, etc. There are times when the Protestant presumptions about the nature of the devil and how he works is limited due to his avoidance of Sacred Tradition and sometime might even be wrong. For example, a minority of Protestants believe that Christians cannot be possessed, that the Holy Spirit cannot reside in a body that is possessed by a demon. This is false. Christians can be possessed just as they can also lose their salvation (which we will speak about below). Protestants may also have unusual ideas about the devil in relation to the “end times” due to the reliance upon “Dispensationalism” and other innovations of eschatology that circulate among Protestant groups.
What to Watch For: Communion of the Saints
Many Protestants, and particularly Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Pentecostals, all who utterly misunderstand the Catholic doctrine of the Communion of the Saints, will identify this Catholic doctrine as occultic (speaking to the dead and/or saint worship). In reading books on Spiritual Warfare be watchful of this bias as they may specifically treat the Communion of Saints as an act of the devil. Also be watchful for their own interpretation of Communion of the Saints which is taken by them to mean only a communion or fellowship among what Catholics call the “Church Militant” (those Christians still on the earth).
What to Watch For: Soteriology
The nature of Salvation is the other major contention between many Protestants and Catholics. These differences can have direct relevance in how we deal with a demonized person. The debate here is between the false notion of justification “by faith alone,” versus the Catholic teaching of justification by faith worked out in love; and the notion of “once-saved-always-saved” versus Catholic teaching of the possibility of falling from grace. Be watchful of these false notions. Such misunderstandings lead some to believe that Christians cannot be possessed. As mentioned above, the Church makes no such presumption and clinical evidence has convinced most Protestants as well as Catholics that Christians can certainly be possessed.
The lack of proper understanding of mortal sin and venial sin, the State of Grace of the soul, the ability to lose one’s salvation (a soul not in a state of grace) can all lead to errors in counseling and dealing with clients who are demonized, or with people reading books seeking to help themselves. We must realize that we can indeed lose our salvation through the commission of mortal sin. We must also realize the Church’s teaching on diminished responsibility concerning grave sin. We must realize how Satan can manipulate us and inspire us to sin.
Thus we need to be watchful of ideas and statements that are based upon such false presumptions as “once-saved-always-saved” and/or “justification by faith alone.”
What to Watch For: The Sacraments
For most Protestants the Sacraments just simply don’t exist. The primary notion to look out for is how the Protestant deals with the concept of forgiveness and accountability for sin. The Protestant really has no objective way to ask for absolution and thus has no real accountability. Interestingly, most Protestants these days do understand the need for “confession” and talk about seeking out an “accountability partner”. Well Catholics already have an “accountability partner”. He is called a priest.
Thus when Protestants talk about asking for forgiveness and/or accountability partners we need to understand that within the context of the Sacrament of Confession.
Protestants simply do not understand healing power of the Sacraments, or of the Sacramentals, such as Holy Water, Holy Salt, relics, etc. The Sacramentals will be seen by them as superstitions at best, and demonic contrivances at worst.
What to Watch For: The Charismatic Experience
The Charismatic Renewal has been a great blessing in the Church in that it has inspired thousands to “…fan into flame the gift” that is within them (2 Tim 1:6). Although the Church has ensured theological correctness in the Renewal, unfortunately many in the Charismatic Renewal have borrowed terminology and practices (praxiology) from the Pentecostals that is in error.
Deliverance work is a major facet of the practice of spiritual gifts in the Charismatic experience. Abuses stemming from incorrect ideas about gifts by Catholic Charismatic Deliverance Teams became serious enough that by 1985 the Holy See placed restrictions upon what can or cannot be done outside of a solemn exorcism. (See Inde Ab Aliquot Annis: On The Current Norms Governing Exorcisms, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith September 29, 1985; Translated by Father Gabriele Amorth, Exorcist of Diocese of Rome).
It is particularly important in evaluating books and teaching about Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance written by Catholics or non-Catholics that “Pentecostalisms” be discerned and watched for. The contributions of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal can be beneficial as long as it remains close to the Church not only in theology, but also in praxiology; Pentecostalisms must be avoided. (Please refer to our article, Charism Gifts that Build Up the Church (PDF) for a detailed evaluation and review of the Charismatic Renewal).
Although most of the meat of the issue will be similar between Catholics and Protestants, there can be many potholes in the road that can pull your steering out of alignment. That is why Catholics need to be very cautious in reading non-Catholic material — particularly Pentecostal material or any material, even written by Catholics, that is influenced by Pentecostal notions.
Catholic Books Not Recommended
All books by Francis MacNutt
—Deliverance from Evil Spirits: A Practical Manual
—Prayer that Heals
—The Power to Heal
—Praying for Your Unborn Child
—Overcome by the Spirit: The Extraordinary Phenomenon that is Happening to Ordinary People
—The Nearly Perfect Crime: How the Church Almost Killed the Ministry of Healing
Although there is a lot of good material in Mr. MacNutt’s books, we cannot offer an overall positive recommendation. Mr. MacNutt is a laicized priest who is so concerned about ecumenism that the Catholic distinctives has faded away in favor of not offending non-Catholics. He is more a Pentecostal charismatic with all the erroneous praxiology about healing, spiritual warfare, the gifts of the Spirit, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit that comes with Pentecostalism.
While it is true that one could, if they know what to look for, sift through and filter out the non-Catholic or pseudo-Catholic notions and worldview and thereby find some good material, we would ask why risk it when there is no legitimate information in his books that cannot be found in the books of solidly orthodox Catholics who are Catholic and can be trusted to present a thoroughly Catholic teaching and worldview instead of some combination of Protestant Pentecostal/Catholicism.
The very best book ever written on spiritual warfare is not for sale anymore: Exorcism and the Church Militant by Thomas Euteneuer.
The second best book is Onward Catholic Soldier, by John LaBriola.
Vatican exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth’s books are recommended.
It is very difficult to find Catholic sites on spiritual warfare that are accurate.
Protestant Books Not Recommended
Pigs in the Parlor: A Practical Guide to Deliverance by Frank and Ida Mae Hammond
One of the hallmarks of testing private revelations is whether or not such private revelations contradict the teachings of the Christian faith or contradict known truths of other types.
In Chapter 21 entitled “Schizophrenia” there is a section called, the Schizophrenic Revelation Mr. Hammond introduces this section by sounding knowledgeable: “The disturbance and disintegration of personality known as schizophrenia or dementia praecox is frequently encountered by the deliverance minister.”
He continues: “The Lord has graciously given us a special revelation on the problem which enables us to deal with such cases more effectively. Since this revelation came to my wife, Ida Mae, I have asked her to to write the remainder of this chapter.”
So far so good — until we read the details of Ida Mae’s “revelation”.
In working with a client named Sarah, Ida Mae allegedly received a revelation that Sarah’s problem was schizophrenia. There is no way to know what Sarah’s problem may have been since there is no reference to a psychiatric examination or any information that may help us to speculate on her problem.
The true “revelation,” however, comes in the definition of schizophrenia that God gives to Ida Mae. She first tells us that she studied psychology a little bit in college and had a passing familiarity with some psychological terminology. She states further, “I reached back in my memory to recall that schizophrenia is sometimes referred to as ‘split personality.'”
Here we begin to see a problem. There is no such psychiatric term of “split personality.” This term is an inaccurate and misleading slang often used by non-professionals to refer to schizophrenia.
The Ida Mae claims to quote from God Himself the definition of Schizophrenia (she puts quotation marks around the following):
“Schizophrenia is a disturbance, distortion or disintegration of the development of the personality. You will no longer call her Sarah but ‘Sarah One’ and ‘Sarah Two’, for she has more than one personality in her.”
This is NOT the definition of schizophrenia. Multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia are two different conditions with two separate definitions:
1. Schizophrenia: A psychotic disorder characteristically marked by a retreat from reality with delusion formation, hallucinations, emotional disharmony, and regressive behavior. (Source: Brain Institute of the University of Florida Online Dictionary of Neuroscience)
2. Multiple Personality Disorder: is called Dissociative Identity Disorder in the DSM IV. This condition is a dissociative disorder, which is a different class of disorder than Schizophrenic disorders, where “one person who appears to be two or more entirely different personalities and characters.” (Source: Concise Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry)
The question is now begged: How could God give this woman a revelation revealing the true nature of schizophrenia that includes a definition of multiple personality when schizophrenia and multiple personality are two separate classes of psychiatric disorders with two completely different definitions?
It is also interesting that the alleged definition from God parallels the common misunderstanding of these disorders that is typical among laymen — the same false definition Ida Mae gives in her false revelation.
This illustrates just another problem of the Charismatic tendency to rely upon subjective and mediumistic “revelations” that are mostly derived at best from their subconscious and not from God. In any event, God would not confuse schizophrenia and a dissociative disorder. Ida Mae’s revelation is false and derives either from Satan, the father of lies, or from her own mind — either way it is false.
Given that the Hammonds are of the type of Charismatics who rarely think with reason, but rather with subjective and even mediumistic approaches, and given that we have proof-positive that Ida Mae’s “revelation” is false, we cannot possibly recommend this book.
The only portion of this book that has some limited value is a chart of demonic groupings and attributes. Especially in Deliverance Counseling in which we are not allowed to ask demons for their names, we must refer to them by attribute. The Hammond’s have a chart in their book as an example of the various attributes demons may take on. Other than that, there is no value in this book.
Spiritual Warfare Question and Answer Forum
St. Michael’s Questions and Answer Forums
There are around 1600 different questions answered by Bro. Ignatius Mary at the above link. –Michael
Are imagination techniques allowed in counseling sessions?
Answered by Bro. Ignatius Mary, OLSM+, August 24, 2004
My son read a book called “The Catholic Warrior” by Robert Abel. He bought it at a Charismatic conference. There are some errors in it about praying to Mary and the saints. This man thinks that because he prayed to St. Jude for something that he wanted but which turned out not to be good for him that he made St. Jude into an idol and got around what God wanted for him. He’s very mixed up about praying to Our Lady too.
Abel states “Marian devotions become unhealthy when Catholics pray directly to Mary instead of praying in communion with Mary.” Another statement: “…If the statue of St. Paul inspires me to fight the good fight of faith like he did, then the image is a healthy form of honor. But the second I start to pray to Paul, pouring out my heart to him, trying to acquire spiritual favors behind God’s back, then it becomes a form of witchcraft.”
Now my son is an adult with a good solid grounding in the Catholic faith and he could see through this in a moment.
In another part of the book Abel talks about imagination techniques where he helps a person go back into her past and visit the little girl from her childhood. If she was unloved as a child she would invite Jesus into the scene to heal the hurts of being unloved. Also as an adult she would be in the scene showing love to herself as a little girl. He also talks about going through something similar when a thought came to him when he was in front of the Blessed Sacrament about a hurt he suffered when he was a child. He goes back in thought, invites Jesus into the scene, Jesus heals him and he comforts him self as an adult in the scene.
Now my question is in light of the author’s views of praying to saints should I take what he says about these imagination healings seriously? Is such a thing possible to do anyway? Does the Church approve of this technique? Linda
You are correct, I believe, to be skeptical of this person if he is teaching such things. If he, as a Catholic, cannot understand the rather simple doctrine of Communion with the Saints, and especially if he is to rebelliously teach contrary to the Church on this, then he cannot be trusted on other things.
Jesus Himself said that if one cannot be trusted on small things, then he cannot be trusted with big things.
As for this practice of “going back” in imagination to be healed of past wounds, I find such practice to be dangerous. Jesus can heal such wounds without such a practice. Memories can be healed without such a practice. This technique, by the way, is a popular one in New Age psychobabble. Such methods can lead to “false memories” and can also open one up to spiritual experiences not of God.
The “imagination” is the level in which we can be sifted like wheat by the devil. This is one reason why role-play games such as Dungeons and Dragons are so dangerous, as is allowing ourselves to be exposed to pornography or any other improper images. The Bible tells us to guard our senses because of this reality.
Since I have not read the book, and cannot afford to buy it, I cannot speak directly in review of the book or Mr. Abel in terms of the book as a whole. Nevertheless, a review by Michael Brown does reveal the problem of the man’s ideas about the saints. Mr. Brown dismisses this problem and endorses the book anyway. I think Mr. Brown is wrong in doing that. From my experience whenever I find a writer who flirts with heresy (and denying the efficacy of praying to the saints is a flirtation with heresy), then where else has the person been contaminated in his thoughts?
Sometimes, such contaminations can be very subtle as to easily miss them. Even if the book is useful apart from the problematic parts, it cannot be recommended to the general public as not everyone who reads it will be so discerning as to skip the problem parts. Besides, there are plenty of other books that can give similar information without the “problem parts” so why not go with an author who is in communion with the Church on all things?
This, again, is a problem coming from Charismatics. I am not surprised a book like this is promoted by Charismatics many of whom often tend to lack the discernment God gave a toadstool due to their reliance upon emotion and subjective experience, and sometimes Pentecostal influence.
My generic advice is to avoid any books or people who claim to be Catholic but do not stand firmly upon the Rock of the Church and her teachings. And always take a double-check to books written by or endorsed by so-called Charismatics to be sure they are thoroughly Catholic and do not stray into Pentecostalism or into what is called sensualism – a reliance upon subjective experience and emotion over and above the faculty of reason (Sensualism can, in some cases and at its worst, lead to heresy or some other form of heterodoxy; in most cases it leads to mis-directed notions and views, misplaced devotions, and errors in orthopraxy). God Bless, Bro. Ignatius Mary
Another book that http://www.saint-mike.org warns Catholics against reading is Fr. Peter B. Coughlin‘s
Understanding the Charismatic Gifts.
Charism gifts building up the Church
(Excerpt from the Rule of St. Michael) 2004, Order of the Legion of St. Michael
[…]Misdirected and False Teachings
There is much misdirected and even false teaching found in the Pentecostal and Protestant “charismatic movements”, and even sometimes among the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. As pointed out above, Catholics ought to take care to ensure their beliefs and practices with the charismatic experience are not only fully obedient with Catholic teaching, but also consistent with the praxiology, philosophy, and worldview of Catholicism. Catholics in the Renewal need to take care that they do not seek to create a Pentecostalism within the Church. We need to always avoid “seeking the gifts of the Giver and not the Giver of the gifts.” Indeed, in respect to the Catholic worldview they ought to divorce themselves altogether from the following problematic or erroneous Pentecostalisms:
(f) On the Predominance of Sensualism (Empiricism)
The primary problematic characteristic of the charismatic experience in Pentecostalism and in much of the Catholic Renewal, even greater than the undue emphasis on Tongues (see subparagraph. (i) below), is the predominance of Sensualism. Sensualism is the notion derived from Empiricism52
that the senses (experiences and emotions) are sufficient principle of all our ideas and knowledge.53
Indeed, God has created us as sensory beings. We experience the world through our senses. We are, in fact, a “sacramental people.” A “sacrament” is a visible manifestation discerned by the senses of an invisible reality. This is why God has given us the Seven Sacraments and numerous “sacramentals”—because He knows we experience reality through our senses. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Man’s natural path to knowing things only his mind can grasp is thorough what he perceives with his senses … All our knowledge originates in sense-perception…”54[The fact of positive supernatural revelation]. The same Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certitude by the natural light of human reason from created things; “for the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” [Rom 1:20] Once such knowledge is gained, it must be tested and authenticated. Reason informs our sense perception. This is the role of reason. This is why Vatican I dogmatically proclaimed (De fide) that God can be certainly known by human reason by virtue of creation:
55 The Great Angelic Doctor helps us to understand. He teaches us that in God’s creation of living creatures exist up to three “souls.” The first soul is the “vegetative soul.” This is the life force of all living creatures—plants and animals. Next is the “sensitive soul.” This gives animals the faculty of experiencing the world about them and responding to that world through the senses. The third type of soul is the “rational soul.” This is the faculty that is the “image of God” given only to human beings. Human beings have all three kinds of soul; animals have the sensitive and the vegetative; plants have only the vegetative. And thus the Catechism concludes: Feelings or passions are emotions or movement of the sensitive appetite that incline us to act or not to act in regard to something felt or imagined to be good or evil. (CCC 1763) In themselves passion are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will . (CCC 1767) While human beings experience the world about them through the faculty of the sensitive soul (the senses), those experiences must be “qualified” and interpreted by the rational soul (reason). Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, identifies this empiricism (sense predominance), when isolated from reason, as a threat to Christianity 56. This leads us back to the official Church teaching that the senses, the passions, must be governed by reason (CCC 1767). Given this teaching of the Church, it is critically important for those who are involved in the Charismatic Renewal to “reason” through their experiences and not presume anything about their experiences on the weight of their experiences alone. We need to “test the spirits,” we need to know the presumptions behind the things we believe, we need to know where our beliefs and practices originate, we need to evaluate and to analyze the suppositions, consequences, and ramifications of what we believe and practice. To not evaluate and test our experiences against such “reasoned” analysis is to flirt with imprudent, problematic, or even erroneous ideas and notions that can lead us astray or at least rob us of the fullness of the victorious Christ-Life. Many in the Renewal exaggerate the empirical if not isolate it from reason. The leader of the Charismatic Renewal in Canada offers us an example of this exaggeration in his book, Understanding the Charismatic Gifts, in which it is suggested that we will “just know” if our Tongues was not from the Holy Spirit.57
The Letter to Bishops on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation speaks in some detail about the danger of one aspect of this exaggeration. This Curia document is important to review, since the phenomenon of Tongues is very similar to the effects of classical meditation.58 […]
(h) On the Distribution of the Gifts
Another very common example of misdirected teaching is that each of us has the all of the “manifestation gifts.”59
These are the gifts that to some degree are present in each of us although one or the other may predominate, making us have a particular motivating force or direction in our lives. In light of this false teaching, it is important to re-emphasize and for members to understand that we do not all possesses the same “charismatic” gifts — the gifts are varied (1 Cor 12:14) and are distributed by God as He sees fit” (1 Cor 12:18), not as we desire. Despite this clear statement of St. Paul, leaders of the Charismatic Renewal teach the opposite. For example, Father Coughlin, in his book previously cited, states:
These are the gifts that to some degree are present in each of us although one or the other may predominate, making us have a particular motivating force or direction in our lives.60
It is fascinating to note that Father Coughlin quotes Romans 12:6-8 immediately before the statement quoted above. “These are the gifts…” refers to the Romans passage he quotes in his text. That quote from Romans begins with these words: “Let each one of us, therefore, serve according to our different gifts…” He repeats several times throughout his book that everyone has all the charism gifts.61
(i) On What Is Evidence of Spiritual Maturity
Although most Catholics generally understand this point correctly, it is important, in the face of misdirected teaching on this subject among non-Catholics, to understand that no particular charismatic gift is evidence of spirituality or maturity. No particular gift is evidence of “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Neither is the manifestation of a “private prayer language” evidence of “baptism in the Spirit” or of some level of maturity or spirituality. The gift of a “private prayer language”, as with all gifts, may be given by God to whom He pleases and as He sees fit. Thus, not everyone will exhibit this particular “gift.” 62
The true evidence for spirituality, maturity, and “baptism in the Spirit,” according to Holy Scripture and Church teaching, is the “Fruit of the Spirit” which is love (1 Cor 13:1-3; Gal 5:22-26).
While Catholics in the Renewal understand this point intellectually and articulate the point correctly in their rhetoric, their behavior often implies something else to an onlooker or a seeker. The emphasis on Tongues (subpara. (i) below) and especially the idea that Tongues is the way to “pray in the spirit” or to pray more “perfectly” (see subpara. (j) below) are two major ways that at least implies that being “spiritual” requires “Tongues.” An attitudinal assent, praxiology, and consistent understanding throughout the charismatic experience must follow intellectual assent to this doctrinal point.
(j) On the Emphasis on the Gift of Tongues and Other Sigil Gifts
Despite the clear teaching of Scripture, the Charismatic Renewal, in one fashion or another, to one degree or another, seems to maintain an emphasis upon the Gift of Speaking in Tongues and upon a private prayer language.
St. Paul spends a great deal of time admonishing the Church at Corinth against their immaturity and abuse of the Gifts, and especially that of Tongues. One of St. Paul’s instructions on this subject is found in 1 Corinthians 14:6-12: Now, brethren, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how shall I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will any one know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves; if you in a tongue utter speech that is not intelligible, how will any one know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning; but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves; since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. But earnestly desire the higher gifts. (1 Cor 11:31a) Father Coughlin, however, writes, “each gift is of equal value. No one is greater than another.”63
57 Father Peter B. Coughlin, Understanding the Charismatic Gifts (Hamilton, ON: C.C.S.O. Bread of Life Renewal Centre, 1998, book handed out in a “Life in the Spirit” Seminar in Watertown, South Dakota in May 2006), 75:
Sometimes people are concerned with the origin of the gift and are afraid the Tongues may be false (originating from their own spirit). It should be generally presumed, in this case, that it is by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and not one’s own spirit, since one would know if they were “making it up.” This is a most remarkable statement for a person to make. The ability for human beings to delude themselves is quite high. Phenomena like “tongues” can easily be a psychogenic experience. For a priest, let alone the top charismatic priest in Canada to give this advice is extremely troublesome and alarming. Father Coughlin repeats his alarming advice on page 74: The biggest block to praying in Tongues initially is “head knowledge,” in that a person is responding to the Lord from their head (intellect) rather then from their heart… (they) don’t understand the why of Tongues, which is a yielding of control of the tongue over to the Lord. The good Father’s advice seems to be saying that we are to turn off our intellect (that faculty God has given us to guide us and to help us discern truth from error through the virtue of Reason), so that control of our “tongue” may be given over to the Lord. Nowhere in Scripture or Tradition are we advised to suspend our intellect with its faculty of reason in order to “yield control” over to the Lord. Such advice is reflective of the Gnostic heresy called Pseudognosticism. A footnote in the document cited below in Endnote #58 defines pseudognosticism as a notion that “considered matter as something impure and degraded which enveloped the soul in an ignorance from which prayer had to free it, thereby raising it to true superior knowledge and so to a pure state. Of course, not everyone was capable of this, only those who were truly spiritual; for simple believers, faith and observance of the commandments of Christ were sufficient.” Rhetoric in the Catholic Renewal that “tongues” allows one to pray “more perfectly” seems to reflect this pseudognostic notion.
SPECIAL NOTE: This book is decidedly not to be recommended in our view as it contains many spiritually dangerous ideas. We also do not recommend Dove Publications of Pecos, New Mexico as their literature contains much Pentecostalism, though from the particular brochures we reviewed Father Coughlin’s book is far more problematic.
58 Christian Meditation, nn. 8-11, 18-19. The good Father’s advice also describes a similar practice in Eastern Meditation whereby one suspends the intellect and yields oneself to the “spirit.” The Letter to Bishops states in a section called, “Erroneous Ways of Praying’: 8. Even in the first centuries of the Church some incorrect forms of prayer crept in. Some New Testament texts (cf. 1 Jn 4:3; 1 Tim 1:3-7 and 4:3-4) already give hints of their existence. Subsequently, two fundamental deviations came to be identified: Pseudognosticism and Messalianism, both of concern to the Fathers of the Church. There is much to be learned from that experience of primitive Christianity and the reaction of the Fathers which can help in tackling the current problem. In combating the errors of “pseudognosticism” the Fathers affirmed that matter is created by God and as such is not evil. Moreover, they maintained that grace, which always has the Holy Spirit as its source is not a good proper to the soul, but must be sought from God as a gift. Consequently, the illumination or superior knowledge of the Spirit (“gnosis”) does not make Christian faith something superfluous. Finally, for the Fathers, the authentic sign of a superior knowledge, the fruit of prayer, is always Christian love. 9. If the perfection of Christian prayer cannot be evaluated using the sublimity of gnostic knowledge as a basis, neither can it be judged by referring to the experience of the divine, as “Messalianism” proposed.
These false fourth-century charismatics identified the grace of the Holy Spirit with the psychological experience of his presence in the soul. In opposing them, the Fathers insisted on the fact that the soul’s union with God in prayer is realized in a mysterious way, and in particular through the sacraments of the Church. Moreover, it can even be achieved through experiences of affliction or desolation. Contrary to the view of the Messalians, these are not necessarily a sign that the Spirit has abandoned a soul. Rather, as masters of spirituality have always clearly acknowledged, they may be an authentic participation in the state of abandonment experienced on the cross by our Lord, who always remains the model and mediator of prayer. Both of these forms of error continue to be a “temptation for man the sinner.” They incite him to try and overcome the distance separating creature from Creator, as though there ought not to be such a distance; to consider the way of Christ on earth, by which he wishes to lead us to the Father, as something now surpassed; to bring down to the level of natural psychology what has been regarded as pure grace, considering it instead as “superior knowledge” or as “experience.” 10.
Such erroneous forms, having reappeared in history from time to time on the fringes of the Church’s prayer, seem once more to impress many Christians, appealing to them as a kind of remedy, be it psychological or spiritual, or as a quick way of finding God. Similar techniques were subsequently identified and dismissed by St. Teresa of Avila who perceptively observed that “the very care taken not to think about anything will arouse the mind to think a great deal,” and that the separation of the mystery of Christ from Christian meditation is always a form of “betrayal” (see: St. Teresa of Jesus. Vida 12, 5 and 22, 1-5). 11. However, these forms of error, wherever they arise, “can be diagnosed” very simply. The meditation of the Christian in prayer seeks to grasp the depths of the divine in the salvific works of God in Christ, the Incarnate Word, and in the gift of his Spirit. These divine depths are always revealed to him through the human-earthly dimension.
Similar methods of meditation, on the other hand, including those which have their starting-point in the words and deeds of Jesus, try as far as possible to put aside everything that is worldly, sense perceptible or conceptually limited. It is thus an attempt to ascend to or immerse oneself in the sphere of the divine, which, as such, is neither terrestrial, sense-perceptible nor capable of conceptualization. This tendency, already present in the religious sentiments of the later Greek period (especially in “Neoplatonism”), is found deep in the religious inspiration of many peoples, no sooner than they become aware of the precarious character of their representations of the divine and of their attempts to draw close to it. The passions (empirical faculty) are neither good nor evil in themselves, but they must be guided by reason, as already mentioned, and must be guarded from their natural tendency toward selfishness. The emptying of the mind (turning off the intellect) in prayer refers to this emptying of selfishness, not a denial of created things, of which the intellect is a major gift. Paragraphs 18-19 of the Letter to Bishops speaks of this: 18. The seeking of God through prayer has to be preceded and accompanied by an ascetical struggle and a purification from one’s own sins and errors, since Jesus has said that only “the pure of heart shall see God” (Mt 5:8). The Gospel aims above all at a moral purification from the lack of truth and love and, on a deeper level, from all the selfish instincts which impede man from recognizing and accepting the will of God in its purity. The passions are not negative in themselves (as the Stoics and Neoplatonists thought), but their tendency is to selfishness. It is from this that the Christian has to free himself in order to arrive at that state of positive freedom which in classical Christian times was called “apatheia,” in the Middle Ages “Impassibilitas” and in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises “indiferencia.” This is impossible without a radical self-denial, as can also be seen in St. Paul who openly uses the word “mortification” (of sinful tendencies). Only this self-denial renders man free to carry out the will of God and to share in the freedom of the Holy Spirit. 19. Therefore, one has to interpret correctly the teaching of those masters who recommend “emptying” the spirit of all sensible representations and of every concept, while remaining lovingly attentive to God. In this way, the person praying creates an empty space which can then be filled by the richness of God. However, the emptiness which God requires is that of the renunciation of personal selfishness, not necessarily that of the renunciation of those created things (i.e., the intellect) which he has given us and among which he has placed us.
59 1 Corinthians 12:7: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophesy, discernment, tongues, interpretation of tongues.
60 Coughlin, 3.
61 e.g., Coughlin, 71: “Yet everyone who wants it could yield to the gift (of tongues), since it is present in everyone who believes and is filled with, or baptized, in the Holy Spirit” and “The spirit indwells with every gift…”
62 In addition to the text of endnote #21, it is also important to emphasize and repeat the point made in the main text that God may not give this “gift” of a Private Prayer Language to everyone. Not having such a “gift” does not depreciate the level of one’s spirituality, maturity, or grace in any way. However, Father Coughlin seems to disagree and to assert, rather, that those filled with the Spirit will have this and every other gift. See endnote #61 above.
63 Coughlin, 5.
VASSULA RYDEN-BRO IGNATIUS MARY
CATHOLIC CHARISMATIC RENEWAL-BRO IGNATIUS MARY