God never does the same thing twice, not even snowflakes, much less the outpouring of His Spirit on human flesh. He cries out “"Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”[i]
In order to understand the Charisms, the Gifts of the Spirit, we have to look at the Incarnation and its implication for us and also at the same time view the Charisms in the context of the larger work of the Spirit which is our deification, or sanctification. When the Spirit of God comes to dwell in us he comes with all that he is, including both the fruit of the Spirit and the Charisms. Let me remind you of Gregory Palamas teaching on deification:
The grace of deification . . . transcends nature, virtue and knowledge, and . . . “all these things are inferior to it.” Every virtue and imitation of God on our part indeed prepares those who practice them for divine union, but the mysterious union itself is effected by grace. It is through grace that “the entire Divinity comes to dwell in fullness in those deemed worthy,” and all the saints in their entire being dwell in God, receiving God in His wholeness, and gaining no other reward for their ascent to Him than God Himself. “He is conjoined to them as a soul is to its body, to its own limbs”; judging it right to dwell with believers by the authentic adoption, according to the gift and grace of the Holy Spirit.[ii]
Reference: 1 Corinthians 3:16 16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?[iii]
If the Holy Spirit is in you, joined “as a soul to its body, to its own limbs,” the whole of the Spirit dwells within you; you cannot pick and choose what part of the Spirit of God you want to possess. John the baptizer states a principle that applies to the Incarnate Christ and to all who are called by His name: “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.”[iv] You cannot have half a cup of the Holy Spirit. However what you experience depends on your receptivity and openness. That is why the Psalmist says, “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart.”[v] Our hearts are enlarged by sharing in the ministry of God’s love incarnate in our hearts, by loving God with all our hearts, souls and bodies, and by loving our neighbors as ourselves.” It is the work of responsive love that enlarges our hearts.
On the Charisms
The word “charismatic” is derived from the Greek word “charism,” a New Testament word for a gift of the Holy Spirit. Cardinal Suenens of Belgium once said, “No charisms, no Church.” Both Christ and His Church are charismatic in nature. All ministry of the Holy Spirit in and through the Church is carried out by the charisms of the Holy Spirit. The shape of the ministry of the Church is determined by the charisms of the Holy Spirit. Where this is no longer true, you have only a dead and lifeless orthodoxy.
The charisms of the Holy Spirit are so evident in the life and ministry of Jesus that His very title “Christ” refers to the Chrism, or Anointing of the gift giving Spirit of God. We ourselves are called “Christians.” The word was originally an insult referring to “little anointeds.” We are in a deep sense charismatic, precisely because we bear the name Christian. That is why at every confirmation the Bishop prays over the new confirmands saying, “By the sealing of your Holy Spirit you have bound us to your service. Renew in these your servants the covenant you made with them at their baptism. Send them forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before them; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.” Palamas anchors his teaching on charisms in the life of prayer.
Indeed every man of sense knows well that most of the charisms of the Spirit are granted to those worthy of them at the time of prayer. “Ask and it shall be given”, the Lord says. This applies not only to being ravished “even to the third heaven”, but to all the gifts of the Spirit. The gift of diversity of tongues and their interpretation, which Paul recommends us to acquire by prayer, shows that certain charisms operate through the body…. The same is true of the word of instruction, the gift of healing, the performing of miracles, and Paul’s laying on of hands by which he communicated the Holy Spirit.
Reference: 2 Corinthians 3: 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.[vi]
It is prayer, that dynamic and living connection with God through His Spirit, that releases the Gifts of the Spirit in His people in response to the ministries to which each person is called. There is an old principle, “God never calls anyone to minister without standing ready to equip that person for ministry.” Palamas goes on to say:
In the case of the gifts of instruction and of tongues and their interpretation, even though these are acquired by prayer, yet it is possible that they may operate even when prayer is absent from the soul. But healings and miracles never take place unless the soul of the one exercising either gift be in a state of intense mental prayer and his body in perfect tune with his soul.
In short the transmission of the Spirit is effected not only when prayer is present in the soul, a prayer which mystically accomplishes the union with the perpetual source of these benefits; not only when one is practicing mental prayer, since it is not recorded that the apostles uttered any audible words at the moment of laying on their hands. This communication takes place, then, not only during the mental prayer of the soul, but also at those moments when the body is operating, when for instance the hands through which the Holy Spirit is sent down are touching the man who is being ordained. How can you say that such charisms involving the body are not just as much gifts of God, given for the good of those who pray to possess them, alleging as your reason that those “ravished to the third heaven” must forget what concerns the body.[vii]
The basic gifts of the Spirit are listed in I Corinthians 12:4-11, but the New Testament in other places lists approximately twenty-six gifts of the Spirit, although the gifts of the Spirit should not be limited to just those actually listed in either Old or New Testaments.[viii] The Spirit is infinite in nature and in the variety of His works.
I4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.[ix]
God’s exhortation to his people is “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” We cannot relive the past, but we can be open to a future unfolding of the Charisms and ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Lord is doing a new thing. It is at once Biblical, Sacramental, and Growing in the Spirit. It is deeply rooted in Scripture, tradition and the theology and history of the Church, and it is a logical continuation of those things that the Church has always believed. It is a new thing in that it is a fresh experience of the Holy Spirit, Who Himself makes all things new. It is not God’s intention that we fondle faded glories, but that we renew His work in this present time by opening our minds and hearts and surrendering to the Lord who breathes new life into His people.
[i] Isaiah 43:18-19
[ii] Gregory Palamas, The Triads, The Classics of Western Spirituality, (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1983), pp. 52-53.
[iii] 1 Corinthians 3:16
[iv] John 3:34
[v] Psalm 119:32
[vi] 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
[vii] Palamas, p. 83
[viii] In the Old Testament Moses speaks of the Gifts of the Spirit given to Bezalel: Exodus 35:30-31 "See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; 31 and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship,
[ix] 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. Note also from the Second Book of Homilies in the sermon “On the Coming Down of the Holy Ghost and the Manifold Gifts Thereof, “The holy Ghost doeth alwayes declare himselfe by his fruitfull and gracious giftes, namely, by the worde of wisedome, by the worde of knowledge, which is the vnderstanding of the Scriptures, by faith, in doing of miracles, by healing them that are diseased, by prophesie, which is the declaration of GODS mysteries, by discerning of spirits, diuersities of tongues, interpretation of tongues, and so foorth. All which giftes, as they proceede from one spirit, and are seuerally giuen to man according to the measurable distribution of the holy Ghost: Euen so doe they bring men, and not without good cause, into a wonderfull admiration of GODS diuine power (1 Corinthians 12.7-11). [1562-1563]