Reading: The Charismatic Movement
from Jungian and Catholic?

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 on 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-psychological 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.

Up to The Catholic Charismatics
Back to Jungian and Catholic?