This month, Roman Catholic charismatics mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of their movement. Beginning on page 24, journalist Julia Duin reports the highlights of their history and the questions they now face. Below, CT senior editor J. I. Packer offers his analysis of the meaning of the Catholic charismatic movement and its Protestant counterpart for church life in the nineties and beyond.
Roman Catholics would be the first to declare that of all God’s twentieth-century surprises, none has startled them more than the charismatic renewal in their own church during the past 25 years. Though its estimated 50-plus million adherents make up less than a tenth of world Catholicism, they are probably more than a fifth of the Pentecostal-charismatic constituency worldwide, and these numbers are very remarkable. So is the spread of such a movement as this in a Catholic context.
Roman Catholics are not, of course, the only people whom the emergence of the renewal has jolted. Many Protestants are still unable to tune in to the new music, the singing in the Spirit, the hand-and arm-waving in praise and prayer and orchestrated rituals of Spirit-baptism, exorcism, and healing, and the slayings in the Spirit that have marked the movement wherever it has gone. Some Protestants, like some Catholics, refuse to take these things seriously, seeing them only as the crudities of an immature spiritual escapism. Others find the renewal disturbingly triumphalist, unself-critical, and inward-looking; and most church leaders (not all) seem currently to view it as a wayward development needing correction and control.
But the Catholic version of the renewal is especially astonishing, in two ways. First, it is mainly lay led, with priests and theologians ...1
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