Jungian and Catholic?
Part IV

Chapter 10: The Charismatic Movement


We have reached the stage of applying our interactive approach to the relationship between Jung's psychology and Christian spirituality. In the past, Christian reflection on the interior life could draw on the general principles of a philosophical psychology and practical rules of thumb derived from personal experience, but it did not have access to a genuine natural science of the psyche, for such a science did not yet exist. Let's apply this interactive approach to the Catholic Charismatic movement to see how well it will function in practice.

In the Catholic Charismatic movement a central place is given to the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the gifts which are received through it. These include speaking in unknown tongues, interpretation of these tongues, healing, and resting in the Spirit. Catholic Charismatics do not identify the baptism in the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues but there is a strong connection between the two. As Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan, two well respected Catholic Charismatics put it: "Today in the worldwide Pentecostal movement, and among Catholics who have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, praying in tongues is the normal and expected sign of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is usually, but not always, the first gift exercised. It is unquestionably a physical concretization of the presence of the Spirit." (Catholic Pentecostals Today, p. 165)

What are the circumstances that surround the reception of this gift? People are often prayed over and hands imposed upon them with an expectation that the gift will be received. In some people the tongues come quickly and fluently, and in others with more difficulty, and in one case recounted by the Ranaghans, a young man "yielded to tongues while he was sound asleep." (p. 147) Further, the tongues are not actual languages nor are the interpretations of the tongues demonstrated to be translations as if two independent interpreters would arrive at the same translation. Given these facts, it is possible to frame a Jungian style explanation. Under the expectation of a new and different experience of God, circumstances that lower the barrier between the conscious and the unconscious, and a yielding to the unconscious that gives it more energy, the unconscious makes itself heard in an outpouring of sounds patterned after language but not a real language, but something that expresses the subordination of the ego to a greater reality that is called the Holy Spirit, and it is accompanied by a feeling of completion and satisfaction. An explanation along these lines may well be true, but we would not be faithful to our interactive approach if we imagine it to be a complete explanation. The more reflective among the Charismatics like the Ranaghans accept the possibility of a natural explanation but argue, rightly I think, that such an explanation does not rule out the possibility that God can use this experience as a means to grow in the spiritual life. (p. 149-151)

But this does not mean that there cannot be a tendency within the Charismatic movement to minimize the scope and power of the psychological dimension. Even if we avoid in theory the two extremes Of reducing the charismatic experience to an experience of the unconscious, or claiming it to be a purely spiritual experience, we can still have a practical attitude that identifies the various charismatic gifts with the direct working of the Holy Spirit, and this is the tendency I want to examine further under the twin lights of Christian spirituality and Jungian psychology.

From the perspective of Christian spirituality the Charismatic movement has strong similarities to other ways of initiating people into a serious interest in the life of prayer, for example the exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola and the Cursillo movement. While Charismatics might want to argue that it differs from them because it is a renewal of the original Pentecostal outpouring on the Apostles, it is also possible to argue that it differs because it more obviously stimulates the unconscious than these other ways and we cannot automatically assume that the movement has some more privileged intrinsic nature. When it is seen in the light of the doctrine of John of the Cross it is similar to how he describes the state of beginners in the life of prayer who have a tangible and sensible form of spirituality. For St. John at the time of interior conversion we turn from the things of the world to the things of God, but often what draws us to spiritual exercises is as much the sweetness and consolation we experience in them as it is God Himself. We make use of our natural faculties of sense, imagination, reason, memory and will to reach out to God, and God, as it were, makes use of these same channels to touch us. What else could God do? But our faculties are limited and driven in part by the enjoyment they find in the experience so that our experience of God is limited and our motive for seeking Him imperfect.

At first glance the Charismatic experience may seem to be an exception to St. John's way of beginners because its advocates might argue that these experiences do not come through the working of the natural faculties but are a direct gift of the Holy Spirit. But on closer scrutiny this kind of reasoning does not hold up. It is true that the gifts are not the product of ego-consciousness, but it is only by remaining in a pre-psycho logical world where ego-consciousness is identified with the entire human soul that it would be concluded that what is non-ego is the work of God - or the devil. It is this insistence on divine or demonic origins and a failure to take the unconscious seriously that often mars the Charismatic movement.

The result of this attitude can be a certain trivialization of the spiritual. Each of our feelings or moods that we clearly recognize as being non-ego must then be given a special meaning in keeping with its supernatural origin. Each utterance or tongue or vision or dream must be a special messenger from God. Each event in our lives, no matter how ordinary, must be searched for the direct working of the Holy Spirit. And each decision we make needs the imprimatur of the Spirit. All this fosters a lack of psychological and spiritual realism. Our view of how God, both in nature and through grace, acts in our lives is seen in a distorted way and we end up taking for the work of God what is the work of our own psyches.

It is much more reasonable to accept the Charismatic experience as something intimately united to the unconscious and extend St. John's working of the natural faculties to include the unconscious, Then instead of seeing these gifts as identical to mystical contemplation we can view them as one of the more palpable forms of St. John's sensible spirituality which draws us to a serious life of prayer. If we apply this approach, then we would see something like tongue speaking as limited because of its connection with the unconscious and we would not be surprised if at a certain point in the tongue speaker's development the urge to speak in tongues will diminish and perhaps even vanish, and instead of this being the loss of some sort of direct communication of the Spirit and therefore regrettable, it could be viewed as a sign of progress in going by faith.

What is necessary is a deeper appreciation of the scope and depth of the unconscious in regard to all the Charismatic gifts. Let's look briefly at Charismatic healing services. Without reducing such services to purely psychological phenomena there is often a strong psycho, logical dimension present that is not sufficiently taken into account. Take, for example, the case of Fr. Ralph Di Orio, one of the best known Catholic Charismatic healers. He is a sincere and dedicated priest, yet at the same time when we listen to him describe his services the psychological dimension of them and his unawareness of it becomes apparent.

"...during a Charismatic service, I am completely out of character. It is not 1. Something is in me... There is a Spirit of God functioning through me... As I walk among you, some of you will feel electricity going through you right out of my body... I don't know how God does it. Curvatures of the spine will begin straightening out... Another phenomenon which continuously and constantly occurs during our services is the 'slaying in the spirit'... Some of you will be falling down, or entering a state of divine spiritual ecstasy... The saints used to experience this type of prayer; it is called 'ecstatic union'." (The Man Beneath the Gift, p. 163-164) "During a service, I enter a state of being that is neither consciousness nor unconsciousness, but a mixture of the two. In this trancelike state, I am aware and unaware at the same time. In the early days of my healing ministry, I was confused by what was happening to me. But as time passed and my experience grew, I understood that I myself am 'slain in the spirit' during a service, that I enter into an ecstatic union with God and so am completely under His power." (p. 182)

What does one of Fr. Di Orio's services look like from the outside? At one that I attended Fr. Di Orio started by trying to establish what I would call an emotional rapport with the crowd, and he was apparently irritated when it did not grow as quickly and deeply as he desired. It was as if this rapport was vital to attempts at healing. Then he tried various healings. Did he actually heal anyone'? I don't know. There seemed to be no medical screening beforehand nor any attempt at follow through afterwards.

In one case I was close enough to observe a hearing impaired woman who went forward as a sign that her hearing had improved, but a little while later I noticed her companion still signing to her. What conclusions can be drawn about such healing services? It is entirely possible that people experience spiritual, psychological and even physical healings. But before they are announced as such they ought to be subject to impartial medical scrutiny. Even if there are healings it is unwise to attribute them without any further reflection to the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit, for natural explanations are still possible and in some cases even probable. Further, it is a theological mistake for Fr. Di Orio to identify being "slain in the spirit" with mystical union, for psychological explanations of this state seemed called for, as we will see in a moment, and such an identification would make mystical union something that can be transmitted and acquired under human initiative which has never been Catholic teaching. Finally, during the course of the healing service I attended, Fr. Di Orio left the distinct impression that the people who were not being healed might not be trying hard enough to cast out the evil spirit causing their problem. It is a serious mistake to leave that sort of impression with some person sitting in a wheelchair who has the greatest desire to be healed. It is no part of sound Catholic teaching that their illnesses are the direct result of evil spirits or that they are in some way responsible for it. Subsequent to this meeting, a statement appeared in the diocesan paper where the meeting was held attempting to correct this impression.

Just what is this being "slain in the spirit" that Fr. Di Orio is talking about? For an answer we can turn to the study of Léon-Joseph Cardinal Suenens, a strong advocate of the Catholic Charismatic movement, entitled, A Controversial Phenomenon: Resting in the Spirit. The Cardinal describes this behavior, which he thinks would be better called the falling phenomenon, in the following way: a person literally falls backwards. Most people who have this experience are suffering from some sort of problem generally more psychological than physical. (p. 19) Most often they are initiated into this experience by someone who is familiar with it or who is used to praying over people and it occurs in the context of prayer meetings large and small, often with the atmosphere of expectation. Those who fall report "a sense of a special presence of God, a feeling of euphoria and peace" and are conscious, or sometimes only partially conscious, or unconscious, and a few experience various sorts of visions and voices and "in some cases, the subject bursts into tears, cries out or laughs uncontrollably." (p. 21) After the experience, "most people state that they feel spiritually, emotionally and physically refreshed" though some experience fear and confusion, and there is a reported healing of the various problems that they had entering into the experience, as well as a new love of prayer. (p. 23)

But the critical issue for Cardinal Suenens is whether 11we are dealing with a special intervention of the Holy Spirit... or with a natural phenomenon which - in some cases and under certain circumstances - can be beneficial." (p. 33) He finds no foundation for this experience in the Scriptures and quotes John of the Cross on the danger of all these palpable phenomena in the spiritual life. In fact, the very tangible nature of this falling argues, in Cardinal Suenens' mind, against it being a direct working of the Holy Spirit Who "works neither in human tumult nor on an assembly line" and "by delicate spiritual touches rather than by physical manifestations." (p. 51) And he concludes, "Everything I have said on the Spirit's unpredictable and sovereignly free action excludes any idea of a healing service conducted with the foreknowledge that the falling phenomenon is bound to occur… God's action is not compatible with the many implica~i`ons of psychological induction, suggestion, etc." (p. 52)

Cardinal Suenens makes the important distinction between the possibility that God can use this experience to bring about good effects and the declaration that the phenomenon itself is a result of a direct action by the Holy Spirit. For myself, I think that the arguments that he used about falling could just as well be used about tongue speaking and healing, and the members of the church community and its leaders should exercise a healthy critical reserve about these kinds of things. When this is not done the Charismatic movement, in a strange and paradoxical way, joins hands with their foes, the proponents of a radical Jungian spirituality. Both want to collapse the interaction of God and the human soul into one dimension even though the Charismatics do it by ignoring the soul and their opponents by ignoring a transcendent spiritual dimension.

The kind of reasoning that we have been applying to the Charismatic movement can be used, as well, when it is a question of visions and revelations. Without denying the possibility that there can be genuine visions and revelations, many Catholics have tended to ignore the psychological dimension that exists in them. This psychological aspect may, in certain cases, provide a satisfactory answer to their origin without there being any need to admit any direct action of God. And even when the person receiving the vision is favored with authentic contemplative graces, this does not mean that the vision itself is a direct communication from God even if the person receiving it thinks that it is. Karl Rahner in his perceptive, Visions and Prophecies takes up this very issue and convincingly argues that the genuine grace of contemplative union can cause a reverberation in the psyche that helps form and condition whatever vision is seen or voice heard. (Cf. St. John of the Cross and Dr. C.G. Jung, p. 154-155)

Jacques Maritain reaches convergent conclusions following a more indirect path. Maritain believed in the apparition of Our Lady at La Salette and had written a large study of them which remains unpublished. He tells the story of his involvement in his Notebooks. (p. 81ff) What is of interest to us here is not his evaluation of the apparition but evolution of his thought about these kinds of events. In an interview he had with Pope Benedict XV in April of 1918, the Pope had expressed his opinion that the apparition was "beyond doubt", but the words used by the Blessed Virgin were not. They may have been effected by the imagination of the seer Melanie. Maritain, on the other hand, believed that the words were literally true. Many years later Maritain asked himself if he still felt the same and concluded he would have formulated his response to the Pope differently: "I believe in the full authenticity of the reported words" without this implying that everything is to be taken literally. The reason for this shift is to be found in his deeper understanding of the psyche. Even in the case of a genuine apparition where words are produced by a divine agent these words make use of the human faculties.

"Then one can think that utterances coming from heaven, and really heard, and authentically transmitted, have passed through the instrumentality of typical or ‘archetypal' mental perspectives present in the unconscious or the spirit of the messenger, without, for all this, the meaning or the letter of the message being changed, such as was intended from on high to reach us... all of this designated in terms essentially mysterious which, even reported exactly as they are heard, are true 'literally' as to the general practical sense which is intended to be communicated to us, but not as to the particular mental perspectives, nor to the particular imagery, nor to the words taken according to the human measure through whose instrumentality a transcendent thought is signified to us." (p. '92-93) In other words, even if we accept the words of the revelation to be divinely inspired, then we still will have to struggle to understand them. But if we take Rahner's more radical proposal to heart, even the words themselves can be seen as an effect of the interaction of the mystical experience and the psyche receiving it, and we would have to inquire as to the meaning of both the literal words and their interpretation. Given this situation, it is no wonder that John of the Cross recommends that we go by faith and not by dependence on more palpable experiences.

Maritain footnotes this discussion with some interesting comments about Jung: "I do not believe, as Jung seems to do, in a psychological heredity, thanks to which archetypal representations would be transmitted to our unconscious. Nor do I believe in a collective Unconscious as a supra-individual entity in which each would participate." (p. 92, note 1) Whatever Jung may have done early in his career to leave this impression, we have seen that neither one of Maritain's comments fits Jung's mature thought. Maritain continues this footnote by giving his own views about the unconscious in which "one should replace the notion of the collective unconscious with that of an influence unconsciously received by each one (to diverse degrees) of the cultural community, and one should replace the notion of psychological heredity with that of cultural heredity." In short, there is a cultural influence on the unconscious of the spirit of the person receiving the revelation which shapes it. And aside from this kind of unconscious influence "the word 'archetype' can refer, not only to historically transmitted primitive forms, but also to structures or to modalities of action fundamentally natural to the human mind, which can manifest themselves in all by mere spontaneous convergence, implying no historical influence and no historical transmission." What Maritain has done, in fact, is to criticize a mistaken but widespread view of Jung, and then to articulate his own view which turns out to be the beginning of a philosophically formulated equivalent to it. Our psyches bear the deep imprint of an immense cultural past and at the same time we are influenced by the archetypal structure of the soul. And any evaluation of spiritual experiences will have to take both these aspects of the unconscious into account.



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