The Greek term charisma denotes any good gift that flows from God's benevolent love (charis) unto man; any Divine grace or favour, ranging from redemption and life eternal to comfort in communing with brethren in the Faith (Rom., v, 15, 16; vi, 23; xi, 29). The term has, however, a narrower meaning: the spiritual graces and qualifications granted to every Christian to perform his task in the Church: "Every one hath his proper gift [charisma] from God; one after this manner, and another after that" (I Cor., vii, 7 etc.). Lastly, in its narrowest sense, charisma is the theological term for denoting extraordinary graces given to individual Christians for the good of others. These, or most of these, are enumerated by St. Paul (I Cor., xii, 4, 9, 28, 30, 31), and form the subject-matter of the present article. They are: "The word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, the grace of healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, the discerning of spirits, diverse kinds of tongues, interpretation of speeches" (I Cor., xii, 8-10). To these are added the charismata of apostles, prophets, doctors, helps, governments (ibid., 28).

These extraordinary gifts were foretold by the Prophet Joel (ii, 28) and promised to believers by Christ: "And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils: they shall speak with new tongues," etc. (Mark, xvi, 17, 18). The Lord's promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts, ii, 4) at Jerusalem, and, as the Church spread, in Samaria (Acts, viii, 18), in Caesarea (x, 46), in Ephesus (xix, 6), in Rome (Rom., xii, 6), in Galatia (Gal., iii, 5), and more markedly in Corinth (I Cor., xii, 14). The abuses of the charismata, which had crept in at this latter place, induced St. Paul to discuss them at length in his First Epistle to the Corinthians. The Apostle teaches that these "spiritual things" emanate from the Spirit who quickens the body of the Church; that their functions are as diversified as the functions of the natural body; and that, though given to individuals, they are intended for the edification of the whole community (I Cor., xii).

Theologians distinguish the charismata from other graces which operate personal sanctification: they call the former gratiae gratis datae in opposition to the gratiae gratum facientes. The "gifts and fruits of the Holy Ghost", being given for personal sanctification, are not to be numbered among the charismata. St. Thomas (Summa Theol., I-II, Q. cxi, a. 4) argues that the Apostle (I Cor., xii, 8-10) "rightly divides charismata; for some belong to the perfection of knowledge, as faith, the word of wisdom, and the word of science; some belong to the confirmation of doctrine, or the grace of healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, the discerning of spirits; some belong to the faculty of expression, as kinds of tongues and interpretation of speeches." It must, however, be conceded that St. Paul did not intend to give in these two verses a complete enumeration of charismata, for at the end of the chapter he mentions several more; besides he makes no attempt at a scientific division. Englmann (Die Charismen, Ratisbon, 1848) distinguishes two categories of charismata:

  • charismata tending to further the inner growth of the Church;

  • charismata tending to promote her outer development.

To the former belong the gifts which help the dignitaries of the Church in performing their offices; to the latter the gift of performing miracles. This division seems indicated in I Peter, iv, 10, 11: "As every man hath received grace [charisma], ministering the same to one another. . . If any man speak, let him speak, as the words of God. If any man minister, let him do it, as of the power, which God administereth." Seven of the charismata enumerated by St. Paul fall into the first category:

  • the Apostolate;

  • the cognate office of prophecy;

  • the discerning of spirits;

  • the office of teacher;

  • the word of wisdom and science;

  • helps;

  • the gift of governing.

Five belong to the second category:

  • increased faith;

  • the power of miracles;

  • in specie the healing of the sick;

  • the gift of tongues;

  • the interpretation of tongues.

Charismata given for the inner life of the Church

(1) The Apostolate deservedly heads the list of God's extraordinary gifts to man for the building up of the Church. The Apostolic office contains in itself a claim to all charismata, for the object of its ordinary working is identical with the object of these special gifts: the sanctification of souls by uniting them in Christ with God. The Apostles received the first great effusion of charismata when the Holy Ghost descended on them in the shape of fiery tongues, and they began to speak in diverse tongues. Throughout their whole missionary activity they are credited with supernatural powers by Scripture, history, and legend alike. The legend, however fanciful in its facts, is built upon the general sense of the Church. Through the Apostles the fullness of Christ's gifts flowed on to their helpers in various measure, according to the circumstances of persons and places.

(2) Prophecy, the gift of knowing and being able to manifest things hidden from the ordinary knowledge of man. "There were in the church which was at Antioch prophets and doctors, among whom was Barnabas, and Simon who was called Niger, and Lucious of Cyrene, and Manahen . . . and Saul" (Acts, xiii, 1). Agabus "signified by the Spirit, that there would be a great famine over the whole world, which came to pass under Claudius" (Acts, xi, 28). Philip the evangelist "had four daughters, virgins, who did prophesy" (Acts, xxi, 8, 9). These prophets were at times allowed to know and reveal the secrets of hearts (I Cor., xiv, 24, 25); they spoke "that all may learn, and all may be exhorted" (I Cor., xiv, 31), which implies that they were enlightened in the Faith above their fellows. Their gift was not a permanent one: for while one prophet was speaking a sudden revelation might come "to another sitting" and then the speaker must "hold his peace" (I Cor., xiv, 30). The object of prophecy was to speak "to men unto edification, and exhortation, and comfort" (ibid., 3, 4). Paul ranks this charisma above all others: "be zealous for spiritual gifts; but rather that you may prophesy" (I Cor., xiv, 1). "For greater is he that prophesieth, than he that speaketh with tongues. . ." (ibid., 5). It appears to have been so frequent in the early Church as to be considered a special, although extraordinary, office. At Antioch "prophets and doctors" are linked together (Acts, xiii, 1), and "God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors . . ." (I Cor., xii, 28; cf. Eph., iv, 11). In the course of time prophecy became less common, without, however, ever disappearing altogether.

(3) The discerning of spirits should be distinguished from natural or acquired insight, or shrewdness of judgment; it is the supernatural gift enabling its possessor to judge whether certain extraordinary manifestations are caused by a good or an evil spirit, or by natural agents. St. Paul associates it with prophecy: "Let the prophets speak, two or three; and let the rest judge" (I Cor., xiv, 29). This judging or discretion was necessary to prevent and correct abuses which might easily come in the train of prophecy. The discerning of spirits was possessed in a marked degree by many saints, and it is not uncommon now among confessors and spiritual directors.

(4) The Doctor's office was to preach and teach the Faith permanently in some community assigned to their care. The Apostles themselves and the evangelists mentioned with apostles, prophets, doctors, and pastors (Eph., iv, 11) went from place to place founding new Churches; the Faith could only be maintained by permanent teachers fitted for their work by special gifts. Thus St. Paul writes to Timothy: "The things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men, who shall be fit to teach others also" (II Tim., ii, 2). Such faithful men are the catechists in missionary countries.

(5) The word of wisdom and the word of knowledge (logos sophias, logos gnoseos). Wisdom (sapientia) is in St. Paul the knowledge of the great Christian mysteries: the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ, and the indwelling in the believer of the Spirit of God (I Cor., ii, passim; cf. Eph., i, 17). Knowledge (gnosis, scientia) likewise implies acquaintance with the religion of Christ, though in a lesser degree (I Cor., i, 5). In I Cor., viii, 1-7, "knowledge" denotes the special knowledge that all heathen religion is vain, that "there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him". The word of wisdom and the word of knowledge seem to be degrees of the same charisma, viz., the grace of propounding the Faith effectively, of bringing home to the minds and hearts of the listener with Divine persuasiveness, the hidden mysteries and the moral precepts of Christianity. The charisma in question was manifested in the speech of St. Peter to the multitude on the day of Pentecost (Acts, ii) and on many occasions when the heralds of the Faith being delivered up, took "no thought how or what to speak:, for it was given them in that hour what to speak" (Matt., x, 19).

(6) Helps (antilepseis, opitulationes) is a charisma connected with the service of the poor and the sick performed by the deacons and deaconesses (Acts, vi, 1). The plural is used to mark the many forms assumed by this ministry.

(7) Government (kyberneseis, gubernationes) is the special gifts bestowed on the rulers of the church for the faithful exercise of their authority. This charisma is connected with all the grades of the hierarchy, with the Apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests, with doctors and deacons and administrators. St. Gregory calls the government of souls the art of arts; if it is so at all times, we must expect to find it endued with more special Divine assistance when the nascent Church was struggling against all the powers of Jew and Gentile.

The second series of charismata (those tending to promote the outer development of the Church) is not connected with any special office. These graces show the power of God at work in the members of the new Church; they were intended to strengthen the faith of believers and to dispel the incredulity of outsiders.

Charismata given for the outer development of the Church

(1) Faith, as a charisma, is that strong faith which removes mountains, casts out devils (Matt., xvii, 19, 20), and faces the most cruel martyrdom without flinching. Such faith, common at the beginning, has been granted by God in all ages to saints and martyrs, and to many holy men and women whose hidden lives offered no occasion for miracles or martyrdom.

(2) The working of miracles (energema dynameon, operatio virtutum) is the God-given power to perform deeds beyond the ordinary power of man. Under this charisma are comprised the many signs mentions by Mark (xvi, 17, 18): "In my name they shall cast out devils: they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover". St. Peter heals the infirm and sick and such as were troubled with unclean spirits (Acts, v, 15, 16); Philip works miracles in Samaria (Acts, viii, ); St. Paul suffers no harm from the viper that hung on his hand (Acts, xxviii, 3-5); St. Peter raises Tabitha from the dead (Acts, ix, 40).

(3) Healing (charisma lamaton, gratia sanitatum) is singled out by St. Paul among other miracles because it was probably the most frequent and the most striking. The plural is used to indicate the great number of infirmities that were healed and the variety of means used in the healing, e.g. by pronouncing the name of Jesus (Acts. iii, 6), by the imposition of hands, by anointing with oil, by the sign of the cross.

(4) The gift of tongues and (5) the interpretation of tongues (collectively known as glossolalia) are described at length in I Cor., xiv. In what did glossolalia exactly consist?

  • It was speaking, opposed to being silent (I Cor., xiv, 28), yet

  • not always in a foreign tongue. On the day of Pentecost the Apostles did indeed speak the various languages of their hearers, but the still unbaptized Gentiles in the house of Cornelius "speaking with tongues, and magnifying God" (Acts, x, 46) and the twelve newly baptized Ephesians speaking with tongues and prophesying (Acts, xix, 6) had no reason for using any strange tongue. Again, instead of the expression "speaking with tongues" Paul uses the alternative phrases, "speaking in a tongue", "by a tongue", "with a tongue" (I Cor., xiv, 2, 4, 13, 14, 27). The object of the gift was not to convey ideas to listeners, but to speak to God in prayer (ibid., 2, 4), an object for which a foreign language is unnecessary. Lastly -- and this argument seems conclusive -- Paul compares glossolalia, as regards its effect, with talking in an unknown language; it is, therefore, not itself an unknown language (ibid., 11).

  • It was an articulate language, for the speaker prays, sings, gives thanks (ibid., 14-17).

  • The speaker was in a kind of trance -- "If I pray in a tongue, my spirit [pneuma] prayeth, but my understanding [nous, mens] is without fruit" (ibid., 14).

  • on unbelievers glossolalia made the impression of the marvellous; perhaps it recalled to their mind the religious ravings of hierophants: "Wherefore (i.e. because unintelligible) tongues are for a sign, not to believers, but to unbelievers. If . . . all speak with tongues, and there come in unlearned persons or infidels, will they not say that you are mad?" (I Cor., xiv, 22, 23).

  • The gift of tongues is inferior to that of prophecy: "Greater is he that prophesieth, than he that speaketh with tongues: unless perhaps he interpret, that the church may receive edification" (ibid., 5).

  • The charisma of interpretation is, then, the necessary complement of glossolalia; when interpretation is not forthcoming, the speaker with tongues shall hold his peace (ibid., 13, 27, 28). Interpretation is the work either of the speaker himself or of another (ibid., 27). It takes the form of an intelligible address; the explanation was to follow the speech with tongues as regularly as the discerning of spirits succeeded prophecy (I Cor., xiv, 28, 29).

Among the Fathers it is sententia communissima that the speaking with tongues was a speaking in foreign languages. Their interpretation is based upon the promise in Mark, xvi, 1, "They shall speak with new tongues", and on its final fulfilment in the gift of tongues to the apostles (Acts, ii, 4). A new tongue, however, is not necessarily a foreign language, and a gift which had a special use on the day of Pentecost appears purposeless in meetings of people of one language. There are, besides, textual objections to the common opinion, although, it must be owned, not quite convincing [see the second point above]. Many explanations of this obscure charisma are proposed, but not one of them is free from objection. It may indeed be that there is some truth in all of them. St. Paul speaks of "kinds of tongues", which may imply that glossolalia manifested itself in many forms: e.g. in the form of foreign languages when required by circumstances, as with the Apostles; as a new language -- "a kind of speech distinctive of the spiritual life and distinguished from common speech, which to the exuberant feeling of the new faith appeared unsuitable for intercourse with God" (Weizsacker); or as the manifestation of the unspeakable groanings of the Spirit, asking for us, and causing us to cry, "Abba, Father" (Rom., viii, 15, 26). I Cor., xii-xiv, with commentaries; ST. THOMAS, II-II, QQ. clxxvi-clxxviii; ENGLMANN, Die Charismen (Ratisbon, 1848 -- best book on the subject); SCHRAM, Theol. mystica, 435; SEISENBERGER in Kirchenlex., s. v.; ID. In BUCHBERGER, Kirchl. Handlexikon; WEIZSACKER, Apost. Age, II, 254-75.


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