The Charismatic Gifts

Author: Rev. William G. Most

The ordinary charismatic gifts, the invisible gifts that help us fulfill our state in life, are widely given. The extraordinary are given when and to whom the Spirit wills, as St. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 12.11. They are not routine today, though they were in the first generation Church, as we see from 1 Cor 12-14.

Some have claimed that these extraordinary graces are ordinary and were ordinary for the first centuries. But the Patristic texts cited for this view are few. Fairly clear are those of Tertullian (an early pentecostalist who eventually left the Church), St. Hilary, and St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Already by the fourth century, however, St. Augustine had to argue that the accounts of miracles in the early Church were not mere fables. In the East, St. John Chrysostom also noted that the age of the charismatic gifts as a regular occurence had long since ended. It is clear from the history of the early Church that as soon as Christians could point to the rapid spread of the Faith and the witness of martyrs in order to make converts, God began to give the charismatic gifts less frequently‹they were always by their nature extraordinary, and long before the time of Augustine and Chrysostom, they were no longer necessary on a large scale.

Thus, it is not true that extraordinary charismatic gifts are simply actualizations--putting to work--of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that all Catholics have. Remember, the special charismatic things belong to one category, the seven Gifts to another. One cannot suppose graces from one side of this divide will actualize those from the other side.

Still further, the possession of extraordinary charismatic favors does not even prove those who have them are in the state of grace. We think of the frightening words of Our Lord Himself in Mt 7. 22-23: "Many will say to me on that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name cast out devils, and have done many marvels in your name? And then I will admit to them: I never knew you: depart from me you workers of iniquity."

Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 12 said of the extraordinary gifts: ". . . they are not to be rashly sought, nor should one presumptuously expect of them the fruits of the apostolic works; but the judgment as to whether or not they are genuine, and as to their ordered use pertains to those who are in charge in the Church . . . ." When these gifts are used with careful discernment of spirits and obedience, they are "fitting and useful for the needs of the Church" (Ibid.).

Electronic text (c) Copyright EWTN 1997.