Immediate and Mediated Experiences:
Problems about the Charisms
As far as the questions of our friend James Likoudis are concerned, I would
say that there are indeed difficult problems. People who claim the gift of
speaking in tongues, of causing healings, well, if this be the case, if they claim such gifts, this would leave me rather perplexed and particularly
make me fear that if the gifts were authentic, they might be lost if they are
claimed. That is, I do remember that in general (and though one might quote
St. Peter, Acts 3: 1-12, in a contrary sense), the Saints who have these gifts, particularly miracles, healings, etc., were rather wanting to hide these
gifts than to claim them. Now, this does not, of course, exhaust the problem,
and so, I think you know well that in the world of today, there is not on the
part of many a great interest in the mysteries of angels and devils. No, and
you know also that a small minority of apostles of satanic cults are very
fascinated. However, it seems to me that one cannot understand the Mystery of
the Church and various gifts without having recourse to the consideration of
the holy angels in the Church and of the possible activities of devils against it.
This afternoon, preparing myself for our meeting, I was reading the articles
from St. Thomasí Summa dealing with the possibilities of the
devils to prophesy, to make miracles. In the treatise on Prophecy in the II
Part of the II Part, Question 173, art. 5, I was very impressed to see that St.
Thomas Aquinas recognized that, after all, devils can, as they are angels, as
they are pure spirits, and as dominating the cosmic world, can do many things
that we men and women of this earth can not do.
They know many things, even in an actual way, that we can not know. And so,
they can on the basis of their knowledge, simulate prophecies, simulate miracles.
The Angelic Doctor does not believe they can do true miracles, that they
can be truly prophets, but they can, he says, communicate some
aspects of their knowledge to man. It seems to me, if we read the Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 7, that Christ explicitly foresees that a certain number of extraordinary things will be done by the devils –
apparently extraordinary things – and will somehow put in difficulty His own disciples.
"Many will say to Me on that day!
Lord, Lord, was it not in Your Name that we prophesy, and in Your Name that we drove out demons, and by Your Name that we did many mighty acts. Then, I will say to them,
I never knew you, Go away from Me, you who do wrong."
(Matt. 7: 22)
And the Fathers of the Church, the Doctors of the Church, reflecting on
such texts, have recognized that there could be things claimed by men as
prophecies and miracles, and in reality operated by the devils on the basis
of their natural power. This does not mean, of course, that
all the healings, all the prophecies we hear about, are coming
from devils. This means that it is not so easy to be sure from whence they come.
And I recognize that they may come also, a certain number of them, from the Holy Spirit; some of them may be purely natural phenomena. However, I think that the main point is to do what the Saints do — to relativize all this : gifts of tongues, gifts of healing – all this is secondary. In the eyes of Paul, the gift of prophecy (i.e., the charismatic explanation of the Scriptures) is in its turn secondary in comparison with the supreme charism of Charity. Indeed, it seems to me that there is today in our world a fascination (especially, I must acknowledge in the Anglo-Saxon world, but not only) – a fascination around this term "EXPERIENCE". And, of course, the charismatics, in the sense of the members of the Charismatic Renewal, know much better than I do, what are not only the advantages but the perils included in the Movement. And so, they also know probably better than I do, how this recourse (which we hear so often today) to experience — is really the occasion of grave confusions.
If you look at philosophical dictionaries, if you look at the definition
of what is experience, you will find unanimity that experience implies
evidence and intuition. In other words, experience is an immediate knowledge. Well, it is precisely against the pretension of an earthly immediate knowledge of God
and of the action of God, that St. Paul in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, chapters 13 and 14, warned the Corinthians. It is a doctrine of the faith which Paul
exposed in Chapter 13 when he said that "Here below we see as in a mirror"
and that it is only after death (except, of course, in the hypothesis of an act of beatific vision before our death which some theologians have thought possible) that
we come to the evidence, the intuition, the immediate experience of God – if hopefully, we come to it.
And so, I see today the urgent necessity
of recalling such truths which seem to me to be amazingly absent from the
contemporary theological panorama, and again, particularly amazingly absent from the
in-general cautiously-elaborated rules, theological criteria about charisms set
forth in Belgium about three or four years ago by an international group of
Catholic theologians who also gave in to this so fascinating fashion of the exaltation of experience. After all this, I would wish to add that one can speak
of the mediated experience. And I think that this is really what many people
inside and outside the Charismatic Renewal, have in view. They really do not want, if they are reasonable, to speak of an immediate experience. They want to speak of a mediated experience.
But the consequences of such a distinction are very far reaching. For instance, this group of international theologians at Louvain was
speaking of a more or less immediate experience of the Holy Spirit. Well, I
regret to say that as long as we are in this world there is no immediate experience
of the Holy Spirit. I cannot on the level not only of my senses but even of my
ideas – without the revelation in words and deeds (the revelation through the
mediation of human words and human deeds) – I cannot distinguish the Holy Spirit from the Father or the Son, nor can I here below ever see (if not admitted to the beatific vision) the divine essence of the Holy Spirit. And I canít, of course,
on the basis of the convictions of faith (which is different from experience, for
faith is a knowledge through human concepts of the divine word in human language) — on the basis of faith I can say that I probably experience the action of the Spirit; I can judge without pretending to an infallible certitude that I am in a
state of grace. If I had immediate experience of the Spirit, I could be absolutely
sure of being in a state of grace. And this is, without private revelation
(in words), impossible here below.
And so, it seems that we ought to correct our ways of speaking to avoid the
language of experience or to justify it with the adjective mediated.
Otherwise, since those who hear us also read and hear persons who use
this word "experience" in its normal, universally accepted philosophical
meaning of immediate evidence, we are inducing them in error. Even though our
charity reaches God immediately, and though Godís action on us can also be
immediate, we have no immediate experience of it.
So, I would say that nonetheless there exists, there has always existed
in the Church during the last 20 centuries extraordinary gifts of healing, of
prophecy (in the sense of revealing in advance future events, acts of
contingent freedom, etc.), of speaking in tongues. But I would say that
precisely it is one of the snares of the devil to try and retain too much of
our attention about these secondary things to the detriment of the major
charism of prophecy (in the sense of the transmission of Divine Revelation)
and of the still greater charism of Charity. So the very discernment of spirits inclines us to relativize all these secondary things, recognizing in them possible gifts of God and declaring that, after all, for our own salvation
and for the salvation of others, we donít need to know. We just go on building
up the Church with the charisms we have already received and of which we donít
declare ourselves too sure.