Question: Jesmy John
They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4), the Charismatics seem to monopolize the Holy Spirit and their “speaking in other tongues” seems incoherent and gibberish. Do you think that the Holy Spirit is also working in poets, artists, philosophers and politicians?
Answer: Jacob Parappally MSFS
It must be clearly stated that nobody has the monopoly over the Spirit of God. No Church, no institution nor individual can claim that it has the monopoly of the Holy Spirit because, “the wind blows where it wills and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whether it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The so called, glossolalia or the gift of tongues was a phenomenon seen in the early Church when the members of the Church came together to worship as a community. The ecstatic outbursts in utterances of syllables which may or may not have any meaning would have made any outsider think that they were intoxicated with an intake of wine or any other liquor. Immediately, after the Pentecostal effusion of the Spirit, when the people of different countries heard the message of salvation through Jesus Christ in their own languages as the apostles proclaimed it, some thought they were drunk (Acts 2:15-16).
The incoherent sounds made by those who are in a psycho-spiritual state can be considered as an uninhibited vocal prayer without any conceptual formulation which a formal vocal prayer requires. A person who prays in tongues seems to express in sounds his or her inner feelings of devotional praise and thanksgiving. It could be considered a positive prayer before God like the babbling sounds of children who are free to express their emotions through them before their loving father and mother. In the so called prayer in tongues neither the one who prays nor the listeners understand what is prayed. For this reason, St Paul says: “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silence in Church and speak to himself and to God” (1 Corinthians 14:27-28). In the beginning of the Pentecostal movement in the early 20th century in the Protestant Churches and its emergence in the Catholic Church in the late 60s of the last century emphasized the importance of speaking in tongues as a sure sign of one’s baptism in Spirit. In spite of the fact that some of the leaders of the Catholic Charismatics play down the importance of it because of the criticism from the official Church and biblical scholars, many in the Charismatic movement still consider it as a special gift of the Spirit to them. They seem to believe that it gives them a special identity as ‘elite’ believers.
Any spiritual elitism whether practiced by those who follow meticulously the traditional Christian piety and practices or by those enthusiastic and vibrant Charismatics, is a modern expression of the pharisaic spirituality which Jesus condemned in His time. A Pharisee enumerating his good works and practice of law before the Lord and boasts about his state of righteous life and condemns the depravity of the poor publican who seeks God’s mercy find various expressions in the Church today. The spiritual elitism of some of the Church leaders and the Charismatics smack certain disdain of the spiritually poor. Those who may not follow all the rules and regulations of the Church and may not be doing all pious exercises may be closer to God because they know their weakness and sinfulness and are true to themselves before God like the publican of Jesus’ parable.
The gift of tongues was never considered something greater than any charism of the Holy Spirit. However, those who do not have a sense of true identity in Christ seek to project themselves with a false sense of superiority over other believers when they claim to have the gift of tongues. The utterances of syllables and words which may have a meaning in any spoken language of the world would evoke wonder at the working of Spirit in some believers. But they should know that in the history of the Church such phenomenon was never considered greater than a virtuous living of Christian faith. According to great Thomas Aquinas, the gift of tongues in the New Testament, is an ability to speak every language, given for the purposes of missionary work. He explained that Christ did not have this gift because His mission was to the Jews, “nor does each one of the faithful now speak same in one tongue”; for “no one speaks in the tongues of all nations, because the Church herself already speaks the languages of all nations” (Summa Theologica Q 176). Whatever gift the Holy Spirit bestows on the faithful is for the building up of the Body of Christ or the Church and not for any individual benefit or individual glory. Nobody can claim any charism of the Holy Spirit and nobody can consider it a privilege! The Spirit of God acts in and through those who are true to themselves and stand before God with humility, docility and openness to the promptings of the Spirit and follow the guidance of the Spirit though the well-informed and well-formed voice of the conscience of a person!
The Spirit of God beyond Boundaries
No system can define or confine the Spirit of God. It is in the Spirit of God that we live, move and have our being. For this reason, the symbols of the Spirit are breath, wind, water, fire etc. In almost all religions the Spirit of God is an impersonal power that pervades the universe. But the biblical experience of the Spirit of God is personal. The Spirit of God is the life-giving, creative and transformative power of God. The Spirit of God was present at the beginning of creation. According to Irenaeus of Lyons, God created the world with his two hands: the Spirit and the Word. The Spirit of God continued to be present in the history of the chosen people giving visions and guidance, empowering the prophets for prophetic utterances. The people of God believed that the Messiah would be full of the Holy Spirit when He would come. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD” (Is 11:1-2). The fulfillment of the prophecy about the Messiah is seen in the infancy narrative affirming that, that the birth of the Messiah is through the power of the Spirit. Not only at the baptism of Jesus but also throughout the public ministry of Jesus it was the Spirit who was working through Him. At the beginning of the ministry itself, quoting Isaiah (61:1) Jesus announced that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him to proclaim liberation and wholeness (Luke 4:18). After His death and resurrection the Spirit was given to the apostles to continue Jesus’ mission in the world (Acts 1:8f). The mission of Jesus is continued in the Church and world through the Holy Spirit. The salvation or wholeness brought about by Jesus is actualized in the world through the Spirit of the Lord.
The Church is the temple of the Holy Spirit. So too, every believer who accepts Jesus Christ as his or her Lord and Saviour becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19) and the Body of Christ at baptism. This is the personal presence of the Spirit in a believer who surrenders himself or herself to the indwelling Spirit and lets himself or herself be led by the Spirit to be another Christ in the world. However, the Spirit of the Lord is not the monopoly of the baptized. Every human being, created in the image and likeness of God, the Trinity, is a temple of the Spirit. This is a general presence which can be transformed into a personal presence when the person in total freedom surrenders himself or herself to the Spirit. Indeed, it is a grace! Such personal presence of the Spirit can be detected in the lives some humans beyond the boundaries of the Church or Christianity. Those persons who live a life of total dedication in self-emptying service of other humans, those who live for the values of justice, love, equality, peace, reconciliation, communion etc. indeed live a life of the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord is a Spirit of communion and is the Divine Power that is present and active in every human unfolding as humans!
Therefore, every creative expression of human spirit in art, architecture, poetry and philosophies that endanger human well-being and unfolding as humans and care for the entire creation cannot but be the inspiration and the action of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of God in Artists, Poets and Philosophers
It is the Christian faith that everything good, true and beautiful has only one source that is God who is Absolute Good, Absolute Truth and Absolute Beauty. It is God’s Holy Spirit who actualizes the goodness, truth and beauty in the world through the mediation of God’s creation, especially through the crown of God’s creation, namely, human beings. Every creative activity that promotes life, goodness, truth and beauty whether it is a scientific discovery, technological innovation, forms of art and architecture, creative writings, poetry or philosophies is a participation in the creative action of God in the history of humans and in their world through God’s Spirit. Indeed, every work that is to sustain life and promote it, is a sharing in God’s work. It must also be acknowledged that all these creative activities can be perverted by human’s misuse of freedom for destruction of humans, societies and nature by creating anarchy, negativity, destruction, division and disharmony. God’s Holy Spirit can be grieved only through humans’ misuse of their God given freedom. Therefore, the discernment of the spirits is needed in recognizing art, poetry and philosophies andto see whether they promote human life and values and the care for the entire creation or their destruction. In every poet and artist, in every philosopher and social reformer, who stands for the rights of humans and the nature, God’s Spirit is active and alive. Every good, true and beautiful inspiration and its actualization as well as every art and philosophical insight that promote life and truth have their source in the Spirit of God who dwells in the depth of every human being making him/her a temple of God!