In his speech at the Communion and Liberation gathering in Rome last weekend, Pope Benedict XVI said this:
"In the message to the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements, May 27, 1998, John Paul II repeated, that in the Church there is no contrast or contraposition between the institutional dimension and the charismatic dimension, of which the movements are a meaningful expression, because both are co-essential to the divine constitution of the People of God, and in the Church even the essential institutions are charismatic, and, in any case, the charisms, in one way or another, have to institutionalise themselves in order to have cohesion and continuity."
I'm delighted to hear the Pope reaffirm the reality of the "charismatic dimension of the Church. Because dissent can take forms that would surprise most parishioners of St. Blogs.
Last spring, I sat in a meeting with a group of orthodox theologians, scholars, and pastors with doctorates, and listened to one very conservative scholar (who was not a theologian himself but very influential man who forms priests) vehemently assert that there was no such thing as "the charismatic dimension of the church". I pointed out that Pope John Paul II had talked about the charismatic dimension of the church and its "co-essential nature" with the institutional several times in major addresses. He just shook his head, unimpressed by mere papal teaching.
If fact, he went on to insist that charisms didn't really exist at all outside hierarchical functions. The 481 references to the word "charism" and its cognates in magisterial teaching since V2 and the debates in the Council on the charisms in the context of the apostolate of the laity didn't phase him. He implied that the term "charism" in the English documents was the result of a mistranslation of the Latin word "munus" meaning task or office.
(Since this isn't exactly Da Vinci Code territory - all the Latin originals being readily available on the Vatican website - I went home and looked up 38 important passages in eight major conciliar and magisterial documents where the English translation uses the word "charism". The passages about the responsibility of the clergy to honor, call forth, and help the laity discern their charisms and the passages about the importantance of the laity discerning their own charisms. In all cases but one, the Latin original was charismata or some cognate thereof. In one case, the Latin word was the "dones", meaning gift. In no instance, was the word "munus" translated into English as "charism".
It was the theological equivalent of an urban legend. To wit, that a ill willed hoax had been perpetrated on the Body Catholic by the simple expedient of a translation slight-of-hand . A hoax that had been repeated throughout the decades by two generations of translators every time a magisterial document referred to charisms. And no theologian, including Josef Ratzinger, in the only institution on earth which still uses Latin in its daily round, had noticed for 40 years.
Unless, of course, the Latin editions on the Vatican website have been corrupted by the same band of conspirators. . . . and the originals are buried in an archbishop's casket in St. Sulpice! Wow, this is bigger than I thought. )
Then he insisted that the concept of the "People of God" (a phrase that occurs 41 times in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 106 times in the documents of the Council and 650 times in magisterial teaching since the early 60's.) was no longer valid, having been completely replaced and subsumed by the theology of "communio".
The other men in the group tried gently and then humorously to take issue with him but he was adamant. Privately, several told me later that the whole thing was absurd and inexplicable.
I must admit that I was completely floored. I had just met my first highly placed "conservative" dissenter who wasn't even attempting to make an argument for his assertions. He wasn't thinking critically at all. He was emoting using theological categories. It was as though he was trying, by sheer force of will, to erase large portions of the past 40 years of Church teaching and history.
In my travels, I've witnessed people on all sides of the spectrum do that. Under the right circumstances, we are all capable of doing it.
A truly Catholic faithfulness demands more of us: that we maintain a fundamental trust that the Holy Spirit have never ceased to guide the Church - in 1950 and in 1980. It is about remaining open and grateful for the whole Tradition of the Church - pre and post Vatican II and in all its breadth; ecumenism and the liturgy, evangelization and social teaching. Faithfulness demands that we not try to use one part of the Church's teaching or history to supress or bludgeon another part into oblivion in defense of our pet theories or personal preferences.
And faithfulness demands a basic attitude of humility and docility. Having striven for genuine expertise in one small area of the Church's teaching, I am exceedingly aware of the vast continents of Church teaching and life about which I am exceedingly clueless. A certain humility and willingness to trust the judgment of the Church is required even of the most learned Catholic. All of us are called to Docility.
So I'm very grateful that Pope Benedict, whom this gentleman could hardly accuse of being either "liberal" or theologically incompetent, reinterated the validity and "co-essential" reality of the charismatic last weekend.
Because it has been part of the Tradition since St. Paul. And the Didache, Ignatius of Antioch, The Shepherd of Hermas, Justin Martyr, Ireneus, Tertullian (in his pre-Montanist days), Origen, Eusebius, Hilary of Poitiers, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzus, the Apostolic Consitutions, John Chrysostom, and Thomas Aquinas. And yes, the second Vatican Council and all magisterial teaching since.
I hope his nibs was listening. More importantly, I hope I'm listening.