We did not even know there was one.


FOLLOWING THE ADVICE OF the CFR podcast your host went on a binge of used book buying. Footnotes in books lead to other footnotes. I mentioned back in September that I was reading Ralph Martin’s Hungry for God. One of the footnotes there suggested I should read Did you Receive the Spirit? by Fr Simon Tugwell, OP. You know me if there’s an OP I’m going to read it. I found this on Thriftbooks and added it to my to-read pile.

The presentation style is, I’ve learned, a classic of mid-Century theology. Following St Thomas (as in, for example, the Summa) the writer tries to present all possible arguments in a good a light as possible and then, in the middle of the book, pulls out critical tools. I wasn’t expecting that and so, for the first half of the book, I thought that Tugwell was endorsing the Charismatic Experience (this may be why Martin likes the book).

In the middle of the book, it becomes clear that the author has a critique of charismatic Christianity. Yet, as this critique unfolds it is clear that Tugwell is not rejecting the charismatic movement completely. However, he has some serious questions and even more serious reservations.

Many Protestants – and many Catholics – assume that the charismatic gifts were taken away from the church at some point. There are now no more Prophets or Healers, no miracle workers. Yet Tugwell points out that’s not the case. The Church has seen all the gifts throughout her history: I was surprised at the implication that many of the church’s saints had experienced what can only be called “charismatic renewal”. Yet this was part of his argument. Dominic spoke in Tongues, Catherine of Siena was a prophet in the fullest sense of the word. Any saint who experiences on-going conversation with God, Tugwell, argues, is doing just exactly what the Charismatics claim to have “recovered”. He also suggested that our terms have changed. What we think of as “Infused Contermplation” is a more theologically described process of Charismatic illumination. What we see in any legitimate visionary’s story is simply more of the same. Private Revelation is another way of classifying some of the gifts in use today.

The author takes to task those Catholics who have bought the Charismatic arguments hook, line, and sinker: a critique of sacraments or Catholic Theology is proof not that one is “more spiritual” than us Catholics, but rather that one is simply a Protestant with very little Catholic Formation.

However, the author also has an ongoing critique of Catholicism throughout the book pointing out that there are places where the church needs to learn from the charismatics.

When the Tradition is healthy, it communicates a wholeness of personal and corporate experience, and understanding of and familiarity with scripture, not as dead words from the past, but as a kind of living language, and a mature and develop a Christian culture and wisdom. Unfortunately, we are all more or less victims of a fragmented, and often moribund, tradition. Spirituality and dogma have parted company, and theology has tended to shrink to a handful of isolated and rigid slogans, generally survivors from long-forgotten, once real, controversies. Until recently, Catholic exegesis was proportionately sterile, bearing fruit, if at all, largely by way of sentimental misapplication of texts.

Did you Receive the Spirit, p.38

The author is quite clear that this “sentimental misapplication” is an ongoing and unfortunate process where am I members of the church are brought to accept quite-orthodox doctrines simply by rote memorization rather than experience or even understanding. The charismatic movement calls the church to an experience that leads to accepting doctrine but, Tugwell makes clear, often there is no attempt to steer folks to orthodoxy, no guardians of the tradition to offer correctives and thus a person “with an experience” can often go off quite haywire. It is suggested that it is searching for or requiring this experience that causes this haywiring. We should take what God gives us and not go looking for something more. This brings up my one serious criticism of the book.

The author clearly explains in several cases that the gifts of the Spirit are giving (along with the other Charisms) in baptism to the individual Christian and, thus, to the whole Church. How should they be activated? While the author offers very sound suggestions about submission to God and prayer he only briefly touches on the Sacrament of Confirmation or (in the Byzantine Rite) Chrismation. These offer the “seal of the Holy Spirit” to the believer. This Holy Mystery is intended to be the experience of Pentecost for the Ihdividual believer. The CCC says:

1302 It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.

1303 From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:
– it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”;
– it unites us more firmly to Christ;
– it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
– it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
– it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross: Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.

1304 Like Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the “character,” which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness.

1305 This “character” perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and “the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi Ex Officio).”

I realize the Catechism comes out some 22 years after the book in question but the teachings were there already. What Simon Tugwell is asking for is that each person in the Church experience the Holy Mystery of Confirmation exactly as intended and that each of us then go out and actually do something with it. It’s not that I believe the author rejects this idea. He gets prayer, Bible Reading, community, and all sorts of other things into this slim volume. Apart from a brief passage on pages 76 and 77 confirmation just doesn’t get many column inches.

The middle of the book considers what we might consider the doctrine of the Pentecostal Movement: that after baptism there is a second thing but you have to get and this second thing most often (sometimes required to be) evidenced by “Speaking in Tongues”. The author makes it clear that he is sympathetic to the general ideas but he rejects the requirement of any of this as legalism. There is a VERY interesting discussion of how the Church can make idols out of anything (asceticism, monasticism, etc) and how the Holy Spirit moves us away from these idols. Tugwell worries that the Charismatics are making idols here. Coming into the church requires only baptism and the Saints have, for two millennia, grown up most often without any speaking in tongues or other gifts. There is nothing to seek after – God gives what he wills and what is needed in a time and place and an individual’s soul for their salvation.

There is one ancient and quite respectable tradition, According to which, as we try to live Faithfully following the practices of the church and such special Graces as we may receive, we enter gradually ever more deeply into the mysteries of Christ, without any dramatic or critical turning points on the way.

Ibid, p.88

Tugwell goes on to suggest (strongly) that praying in groups in a non-liturgical way is a sure sign of the Spirit’s presence. That being able to meet and be held accountable with a small group of Christians on a regular basis and to pray with them is the best way to have one’s heart opened to the promptings of the Spirit. This is also, he suggests, exactly what is missing in the lives of many Catholics and exactly what we could gather from the Pentecostals.

There are several very interesting passages in the book which will probably show up in other blog posts, especially one about Catholic Identity and our desire to change labels on ourselves, to make us hyphenated Catholics – and how that makes us exactly NOT Catholic. In fact, it makes us Protestant. There’s some great reflection on the Council (V2) as well as the Role of the Laity. He points out how our individual resistances or rejections of the Charisms offered by the Holy Spirit are psychological blockages that need to be worked on – by God if we will but let him. And there are mystical flights that moved to tears this reader.

This book is not still in print. Yet, if the reader can find a copy I highly recommend it for two reasons: 1) the author is a theologically erudite and solidly orthodox Catholic who can write about this topic in a style easily understood by the lay reader; and 2) the author’s willingness to explore the possibilities that the gifts never left the Church and are – in fact – quite visible in the lives of the saints (Dominic, Catherine, and Aquinas stand out for the writer) is quite surprising. In fact, I’m now looking forward all the more to my next reading on this topic: Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries by Kilian McDonnell and George T. Montague. This book is very relevant as we continue to explore the themes on which it touches, most especially the role of the Laity. The number of times when “why won’t Father do this…” comes up in daily life is astounding. The gifts of the Spirit – including Holy Orders – are given to the entire body of Christ exactly for the entire body of Christ. He – the Spirit – requires that the Entire Body of Christ engage in them.

This is an on-going discussion. I’ve mentioned this before but I will close with it here and now. We can see something is missing.

As our deacon formation class was wrapping up the Book of Acts, our professor, Dr Wendy Biale, noted that the Holy Spirit seems like a very real presence to the Apostles. He tells them things, he sends dreams, he gives instructions. In his book, You Can Understand the Bible, which we used in class, Peter Kreeft gives a list of things (in sum):

  1. The spirit is her personally, directly, and concretely as a person.
  2. Miracles are done so powerfully through Paul that even his handkerchiefs are an agency for healing.
  3. Demonic activity appears and exorcism is needed.
  4. Confession, repentance, and turning away from sin or clear and strong.
  5. The faith is so strong that the unbelievers are offended.
  6. Worship is such a joy that long church services are common.
  7. Christians are ready to die as martyrs.
  8. The good news is preached as a historical fact not just as values.
  9. The faith is not politicized: all powers are subject to Christ.
  10. The church is bold, brave, and even brazon.
  11. Prophecy abounds.
  12. Angels interact with humans, not as myths or symbols but as real persons.
  13. Though very tiny the church is Infamous. They have turned the world upside down

Dr Kreeft asks – and this book by Tugwell echoes the asking – why isn’t it like that now?

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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