Response to Martin Parmentier on Baptism and Spirit Baptism in the Church Fathers

Fr. Kilian McDonnell

When the Prague conference was being organized Michael Harper asked me whom I wanted to respond to my paper I asked for Martin Parmentier because he has the technical skills. I knew that he would press me where I needed to be pressed. Praise is always nice to receive, but, ultimately, it is not very helpful. Criticism, backed by scholarship, is far more useful.

At the beginning I wish to note the agreement between Parmentier and myself on the basic issue of the whole book, namely, In the New Testament there are not two baptisms (water baptism and Spirit baptism), but only one: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph 4:5).

Let me take Parmentier's points one at a time.

1. Texts must be read without an agenda.

The issue here is proof texting. It is one thing to go to a text looking for what one wants it to say. It is another to let the text speak for itself, even when it says something one wants to hear. He points to the text from Tertullian as a case in point. Parmentier contends that he text of Tertullian, as I read it, posits "an intrinsic connection between water baptism and the charismata as separate items [which] would be too good to be true." Parmentier is correct in pointing to the care with which one must read texts which agree with one's theological position. But the logic of Parmentier dictates the necessity of rejecting any reading which is too good to be true.

The translation is based on one proposed to me by Francis Sullivan, who could be called "a hostile source" because he has an alternate explanation of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and does not support mine. Secondly, the translation I have given is similar to the translation given by Christine Mohrmann, a Dutch specialist in early Christian Latin, who has done extensive translations of Tertullian.(1) She renders the text, including the Latin word subiacere, much as I do: "Ask from the Lord, that as a special privilege, the variety of gifts of graces which are bound up with baptism."(2) Mohrmann identifies "the gifts of graces" as those of 1 Corinthians. Contrary to Parmentier and in agreement with my translation, Mohrmann ties the charisms not to the baptized, but to baptism. But the baptized are not pieces of wood. Within the liturgy of baptism they do ask that the abundance of charisms be granted them.

2. Do the charisms "occur only in connection with baptism?" (my emphasis)

Parmentier reads my research to say that only within baptism do the charisms occur. This is not my position. I have four points.

a) I have pointed out that in the early church there is a pattern which indicates that the charisms were imparted during Christian initiation. Parmentier interprets this pattern as a law, something I have never claimed. A pattern is a pattern, and a law is a law. I have never suggested that I have decisively proven that charisms are imparted only with Christian initiation. They may well be imparted outside of initiation also. I have not argued against that position. But I do not find evidence that the charisms were imparted outside of baptism. I find much evidence that charisms occurred outside of initiation. But occurrence is not the same thing as generation.

b) Most of the evidence, by far the vast majority of the texts referring to charisms in post-biblical texts, occur in non-liturgical texts. Specifically Parmentier mentions martyrdom and healing. He could have mentioned others. Here I have no quarrel with Parmentier. But the texts which he mentions only say that the Christians exercised these charisms. As far as I have been able to determine, nothing is said, either one way or the other, of when those charisms were imparted. It would not invalidate my position if the text actually said that the charism was imparted only during the process of martyrdom itself, because I have been talking about a pattern not a law. It would, indeed, be curious if every time a charism was exercised, note was made "this gift was received at baptism." Charisms were understood to be part of the Christian life and life in the community.

c) I am not suggesting, and no one in antiquity suggested, that everyone, independent of disposition, emerges from Christian initiation vigorously exercising the prophetic gifts. It is a patristic commonplace that many Christians do not manifest in their lives what they received in baptism, including the charisms. I refer, for instance to Hilary of Poitier in the fourth century who says that the charisms are "profitable gifts" (per quas dationum utilitates)(3) and then adds "Let us make use of such generous gifts."(4) The charisms are given to the church. The authors cited demonstrate that the charisms belong to the life of the community (not primarily to the individual). Because the charisms are for the building up of the body of Christ, the church, they are quite naturally imparted when the candidates become members of the community at initiation. What could be more natural?

d) Behind Parmentier's objection, and it surfaces a number of times in his paper, is the assumption that I believe that a charisms is a spiritual "thing." To put a ridiculous point on it, some think of charisms as "Spirit-boxes" within us, containing spiritual powers. (Parmentier would certainly not hold this exaggerated position.) But a charism is not a thing. A charism is only the manner in which the invisible Spirit within comes to visibility in the service of the body of Christ, the Church, and in the service of the world.

3. If there was a coherence between sacramental baptism (which is baptism in the Holy Spirit) and the charisms, where and how did this relationship get lost?

Neither George Montague nor I felt under any obligation to research this question. It is the topic of a another book. But three indications can be given.

a) The widespread practice of infant baptism. We know that Tertullian protested against the practice of infant baptism and wanted babies to come to be baptized when they were more mature. We also know that Origen thought that infant baptism was an apostolic tradition. Whether infants were baptized in New Testament times is a matter of dispute. But no one disputes that when the church was in a mission situation, and the followers of Christ went out to preach the gospel, they preached to adults, not to infants. And therefore most of the baptisms were adult baptisms. But later, when there was a more stable Christian population, infant baptism became more common. This may have contributed to less awareness of the charisms. But the many non-liturgical references indicate that the charisms were a fact of the life of the early church. The charisms, including the prophetic charisms, never died out completely. A church without charisms is a non-church.

b) The rise of Montanism. In the book authored by George Montague and myself, I discuss something of the rise of Montanism.(5) Montanism was never a heresy, but it was consistently treated as one. Because of this the charisms became suspect. One who exercised a prophetic charism could easily be suspect of being a Montanist. Therefore it became difficult to promote the charisms at the heart of the church's liturgy, the rite of Christian initiation.

c) There was a tendency in early Christianity for charisms to be taken over by the hierarchy, e.g. prophecy taken over by the bishops.(6)

4. In the book charisms are linked especially to asceticism.

The book, Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit is about the relation of the charisms to Christian initiation. Therefore I have not covered the vast number of references to the charisms in the post-biblical period in non-liturgical settings. As I went through the material I was on the outlook for references in non-liturgical sources which indicated when and how the charisms were imparted. Out of the vast number of references to the Spirit two locations (no exclusive) of the charisms in the early church were noted in the book, Christian initiation and the ascetic/monastic movement. By location I do not mean when they were imparted, but when references are made to the occurrence of charisms. I speak of the "monasticizing of the charisms" through the ascetic/monastic movement in chapter 23 of the book.(7) Though that chapter is concerned with the Syrian tradition, the tendency to sequester the charisms for those who gave their lives completely to Jesus Christ was broader than Syriac speaking regions. More than that, there is a tendency to speak of the Spirit in relation to "the worthy," those who have dedicated their lives to prayer and asceticism. This is clear in Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil, among others. This emphasis on the Spirit (and the charisms) at work in the lives of the ascetics (not necessarily clergy) is present also in those who recognize that the Holy Spirit and the charisms are imparted in baptism and therefore present in the lives of all true Christians. Not a clean situation. There is a biblical basis for this. The New Testament obviously does not know two kinds of Christians, those who have the Spirit and those who do not. Still, there is a difference between those who have the Spirit and live according to the Spirit, and those who have the Spirit but live oriented to the flesh (sarkikos of 1 Cor 3:3). The person of the Spirit (pneumatikos) is the person who knows God's saving work by virute of the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:13-15).(8) An even greater difference exists between the person living in the Spirit and the natural human being (psuxikós). The ascetic/monastic tradition built on this distinction between sarkikos and pneumatikos. Parmentier is correct that in this stream "a very long preparation before someone may be counted worthy of a specific charism." The "someone" is a person who has committed his/her life entirely to the Lord. In this development the charisms were too alienated from their relation to Christian initiation, as can be seen in the New Testament section of the book written by George Montague.

The charisms are the equipment which one needs to live a productive life in the Christian community. Therefore they are given when one enters into that community. This is the meaning of the texts cited in the book. Whether one responds or not to what was given in baptism differs from person to person.

The truth the ascetic/monastic negelected was the charisms are not tied exclusively to spiritual maturity. A spiritually immature person can possess a true charism and exercise it badly. Therefore such a one needs guidance. The charisms belong to the Christian equipment and therefore are given in initiation.

Still, there is a biblical truth even in the exaggerated sequestering of the charisms by ascetics and monastics, namely, some persons respond at a more radical level, and come to "a break through point" where they live the life of the Spirit at a deeper level. "Star differs from star" (1 Cor 15:41) is valid not only in the resurrection, but in the Christian life. This is one of the reasons for the various structures of sanctification in Classical Pentecostalism (e.g. two levels [conversion and baptism in the Holy Spirit] or a three levels [conversion, sanctification, baptism in the Holy Spirit]).

A further truth found in the exaggerated sequestering of the charisms is the experience of the church in those who give their lives entirely to Christ and the gospel. The experience of the church is that charisms often become operative in a person's life when the commitment is deepened, when one walks more consciously in the life of the Spirit, when one seeks God at a more radical level.

I summarize: a) The charisms belong to the nature of the Christian life received through faith at initiation. b) There is a basis in the New Testament between those who have the Spirit but do not walk in the Spirit, and those who have the Spirit and do. The effects of the indwelling Spirit in the two groups is different. c) In the post-biblical tradition the ascetic/monastic movement began to appropriate the charisms as belonging to those, celibate persons, not necessarily clerical (in fact almost all were lay persons), who have given their lives totally to the Lord. These are those whom -- so they believed -- not only had the Spirit but walked in the Spirit. This sequestering of the charisms was not a good development, but it has a biblical truth embedded in it. d) The experience of the church shows that charisms often become operative when one mades a firmer commitment to the gospel and to seeking God.

5. Charisms occur outside of baptism.

Yes, I freely admit that charisms are manifest outside of baptism. In fact, the vast majority occur outside of baptism. That is not the issue. The issue is what was the pattern in the early church by which the theologians explained the imparting or generating of the charisms. This is not the same as the occurence of charisms. The pattern (not a law) is that they were imparted during the rites of Christian initiation. Is it in my view impossible that the charisms are imparted outside of baptism? Not at all. Take the case of a person belonging to the Salvation Army. This group does not have sacraments. No baptism, no eucharist. Can a Salvation Army person receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Most certainly, and can receive the fullness. Why? Because the imparting of charisms at initiation constituted a pattern not a law. We do not have exhaustive evidence. What evidence we do have, suggests the charisms were imparted within initiation. But the Spirit is free.

Further, the sacraments are not prisons. The Spirit is not shut up in the sacramental system. The Spirit blows where the Spirit wills, also outside of the sacraments.

6. Extraordinary charisms occur outside of Christianity (and therefore outside of initiation).

Here the answer must be nuanced. I would readily grant that there are extraordinary spiritual events, perhaps healings and prophecies, as well as tongues, outside of Christianity. But I would be very careful about moving from phenomenology (description of the events) to theology (granting authentic religious content in the Christian sense) too easily. The actions of a non-Christian prophet may be identical in terms of verbalization and the psychological state as that of a Christian prophet. The phenomenon, the speaking of higher realities in a heigthened language, may be the same. However, I would hesitate to name the prophetic activity of the non-Christian a charism, in the sense used in Christianity. I say "hesitate," because I would not want to exclude the possibility of the Holy Spirit moving a non-Christian prophet in a particular case to prepare for the reception of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If the sacraments are not prisons for the Spirit, so neither is Christianity. The Spirit can blow where the Spirit wills, also outside of Christianity. (This in no way makes Christ or Christianity just one religion among many. I hold to the unique character of Jesus Christ and of Christianity. Anyone who obtains salvation obtains it only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. "There is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved" Acts 2.12) But if one accepts that principle, that does not mean that one can, without further ado, equate Christian charisms with like activity in non-Christian religions. Not at all. Charisms in a Christian context are for the up-building of the Body of Christ, which is the church, and the furtherance of the kingdom of God. Is the function in a non-Christian context of an activity which is phenomenologically identical with what occurs in a Christian context (charism) necessarily identical as to theological content. I think not.

7. Can new forms of charismatic activity emerge?

Yes, I would agree with Parmentier that they can.

8. Is it possible for a non-baptized person who believes in Jesus Christ to exhibit a charisms?

The basic reality is faith in Jesus Christ and his gospel. All the sacraments are sacraments of faith. It is not a question of faith on the one hand, and the sacraments on the other. An unbaptized believer certainly has more than nothing. What? But that depends on the Spirit.

One cannot use the freedom of the Spirit to invalidate baptism and the Eucharist. For instance, if one says, since the Spirit is free and works both in a sacramental and a non-sacramental context, the sacraments have no reason to exist. Or since the Spirit is free and works in both Christian and non-Christian contexts, Christianity has no reason to exist. The issue: what is God's economy of salvation? The churches perceive the economy of salvation to include sacraments or ordinances, the preaching of the Word. Though God has an economy of salvation, God is free to act outside of it as we perceive it. We are not free to act outside of God's own plan. The early church read the New Testament evidence to mean that normally the charisms are imparted during Christian initiation because that was part of God's economy of salvation.

9. The early church knew other contexts for generating charisms.

There seems to be a confusion between generating and occurence. There were many, many occurences of charisms outside of the sacramental context. In fact, most of them. But nothing is said about when those charisms were imparted or generated. Were they imparted at the moment when they occured? If they were generated in a non-sacramental context, where is the evidence? The text may only say that a charism was exercised, healing for instance, without indicating when that charism was imparted. Remember how difficult it is to draw lines here. If the Spirit is imparted through faith and the sacraments, and if a charism is not a thing, but the Spirit itself imparted in faith and baptism coming to visibility in the upbuilding of the church, then one cannot determine exactly when that charism is imparted. The early church thought that the charisms were imparted during Christian initiation because of the New Testament evidence, and because the charisms belonged to the Christian equipment to live in community. This also was in harmony with what they actually experienced. That is the answer we have available.

There is a danger here of both asking questions which should not be asked and giving answers which cannot be given. The early church called it "prying into the mystery of God." We have to admit our limited knowledge. We cannot systematize the Spirit. Or in Parmentier's formulation, one cannot force the Spirit into a straitjacket, into a form which is too programmed. What we can do is try to determine from the scriptures what is the broad economy or plan of salvation, honor it, know that we are bound by it, but God is not.

10. Is not my theological explanation rightly called "the time bomb theory?"

One way of dealing with a theological position one does not agree with is to make a caricature of it, or burlesque it. The name "time bomb theory" is essentially a burlesque. But even burlesques can contain an important question. Here the important question is: can a grace given in the past be revived or "stirred up" in the present? The author of 2 Timothy is speaking of Timothy's faith which was found first in his grandmother, Lois, and then in his mother, Eunice. The author continues: "For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands" (1:6). Is it "a time-bomb" to revitalize, to reappropriate, at a later date a gift given earlier through the laying on of hands. The same principle is used in our manner of speaking of baptism in the Holy Spirit, as will be explained in the next section.

11. Are there two baptisms in the Holy Spirit?

In my view, no. There is only one. "One Lord, one faith, baptism." The thesis upon which Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit is built is that there is not a) a sacrament of baptism and then b) a baptism in the Holy Spirit. What appears to be two is, according to the biblical and post-biblical evidence, one. The book relates the of the Syrian tradition (Philoxenus) which talked as though there were two baptisms, though, in fact, they only believed in one. The Syrian church practiced infant baptism (so this is not just a Roman and western tradition). And they believed that the Holy Spirit was imparted at infant baptism. This they called first baptism. But they also believed that when persons give themselves completely to the gospel, then the Spirit, given in infant baptism, becomes operative in a new way. The charisms, especially the prophetic one, become operative. They called this second baptism. It was only a manner of speaking because they believed in one baptism. This was a kind of stirring up the gift which had been received at baptism.

In the Catholic charismatic renewal many speak in the same way. The Spirit given in infant baptism comes to visibility in a new way when hands are laid on persons to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This second reality they call baptism in the Holy Spirit, though theologically it is only a revitalization, a reappropriation of the first, which is properly the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This is similar to (but not identical with) what Catholics for centuries called the "reviviscence of the sacraments."(9)

One should add that this view does not go on the assumption that all the graces one receives during one's life are only an actualization of the graces given at baptism. That would be to exaggerrate. What seems to be given at baptism is the spiritual equipment to live in community, the Spirit and the charisms. There may well be other graces given later.

12. How programmed should we make theology?

We try to discern the economy of salvation revealed in the scriptures and lived out in the life of the church. This is the proper task of theology. But we must not be too systematized, too programmed. How many impartings of the Spirit was widely discussed in patristic times. We should be reluctant to close doors. We should even be reluctant to ask too many questions. I record here a remark made in 1945 by K.L. Schmidt, reviewing the history of trinitarian reflection: "There can be no doubt that in the course of the history of dogma [of the trinity] many things, very many things, even too many things, have been decided, because many, very many, even too many, things have been asked."(10) Otto Kuss quotes Schmidt specifically in relation to the person of the Holy Spirit.(11)

We cannot know everything and we cannot systematize to the point that we have taken everything into account. No human understanding of how God acts in history is without rough edges and gaps. God is God.

13. Parmentier prefers Francis Sullivan's theory of baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Francis Sullivan's theory is a perfectly acceptable one. The reason for Parmentier's preference is that the Spirit has more freedom. I deny that there is any restriction of freedom in my presentation. Then, as I point out in the book, Sullivan's theory is based on a text from St.Thomas, which is about one thousand years older that the first of my texts cited. Further, it seems strange to me that Thomas Aquinas does not mention, directly or indirectly, the texts I cited. These are not minor personages, but recognized as persons especially reliable in handing on the faith and the practice of the church. I conclude that the relationship between Christian initiation and the charisms had been lost to the consciousness of the church. The church not only remembers, but forgets. And has to be reminded.

Had Thomas Aquinas been aware of the texts, he would not have allowed persons of such eminence go unremarked. Therefore, Thomas Aquinas sought another manner of explaining the appearance of the charism of prophecy in the church, that is through the multiple sendings of the Spirit. Obviously the explanation is acceptable. As I said above, how many impartings of the Spirit there are was widely disucssed in patristic times. Nonetheless, the early church which lived closer to the the New Testament experience and witness had a different explanation, one based on Christian initiation.

14. The explanations of McDonnell and Sullivan are individualistic.

This is a total surprise to me. I let Father Sullivan answer for himself. In my presentation the charisms are not directly and immediately related to the individual but to the community; to the community first, and then only to the individual. The charisms are situated within the church as kononia/communio. To become a Christian (and to receive the Holy Spirit and the charisms) is to be integrated into an already existing Christian community. One cannot become a Christian in isolation, but only by becoming a member of the local Christian communion through initiation, which is by definition a communal celebration of the local church. The charisms are directed toward the building up of the community. The charisms are not the most basic Christian reality. Of a more primary order is God life dwelling within us, common to all Christians. How can this be an individualistic presentation?

Sometimes I am asked how this view has been received by the church. First, it is the most widespread view within the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.(12) Some criticism of it has been published by Paul Turner.(13) George Montague and I responded.(14) Robert Imbelli in Theological Studies felt that the authors "have impressively made their case."(15) In Tijdschrift voor Theologie the Dutch liturgist Herman Wegman made some criticism as to method but found the central thesis of the book convincing.(16) No major criticisms were noted in the review by A. Toubeau appearing in Nouvelle Revue Théologique.(17)

No official response from the Catholic church is expected. However Archbishop Paul J. Cordes, at the appointment of Pope John Paul II, was for ten years the episcopal advisor to the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office in Rome. Archbishop Cordes has recently published Call of Holiness: Reflections on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal(18) This document is not an official statement of the Holy See, but comes out under the name of Archbishop Cordes. It is the result of seven years of consultation with international leaders in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. The view proposed in Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the view adopted by Archbishop Cordes.(19)

Before closing I would like to append ways in which the view proposed in the book support the Classical Pentecostal views of baptism in the Holy Spirit. But first I want to state the main difference. This is a sacramental view based on communal initiation into the community. Classical Pentecostals have a non-sacramental view.

I enumerate some areas of agreement.

1. This view shows that baptism in the Holy Spirit is not peripheral but central, because it is within the context of initiation into the central mysteries of the faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus. (In a Catholic context one would say that baptism in the Holy Spirit does not belong to private piety, but to public liturgy, to the official prayer of the church.)

2. This view shows that baptism in the Holy Spirit was integral to the rite of the Christian initiation in the early church. There are not two baptisms; only one. Sacramental baptism is baptism in the Holy Spirit. (Christians need only be made aware of this and expect the full life in the Spirit.)

3. If baptism in the Holy Spirit is integral to Christian initiation then it is normative for all baptized.

4. While this view does not understand tongues as initial evidence, it proposes something close to it. Tongues have a privileged place in relation to the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Therefore one can expect that many, not necessarily all, who receive the baptism will speak in tongues.

5. While the charisms are given a place of honor in the Christian life, this view is not oriented to the Christian life dominated by the charisms. Living the life of faith, living the divine life, living the fullness of life in the Spirit, or what Catholics call grace, is of a more primary spiritual order. (As are faith, hope and charity.) Charisms are second order religious realities. This does not mean they are unimportant.

6. This view also stresses the necessity of conversion as a pre-condition. (This is not peculiar to the sacramental understanding of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Francis Sullivan's view also calls for conversion.) Without conversion one is play acting.

I wish to thank Martin Parmentier for the careful critical look at the book. Again, he has done George Montague and myself a great service, and has done it in a truely scholarly way. I am deeply grateful to him. I was wise in suggesting his name to Michael Harper.

1. Tertullianus: Apologeticum en Andere Geschriften (Utrecht: Specturm, 1951).

2. The Dutch translation: ....vraagt dan van den Heer, dat, als een bizonder voorrecht, de verscheidenheid der genadegavem met den doop verbonden zij. Ibid. 271.

3. On the Trinity 8.30; Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina (CCSL) 62a.341.

4. Ibid. 2.35; CCSL 62.70-71.

5. Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit Evidence from the First Eight Centuries, 2nd rev. ed. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991) 116-132.

6. J.L.Ash, "The Decline of Ecstatic Prophecy in the Early Church," Theological Studies 37 (1976) 227-252.

7. "Philoxenus and the Syrians: The Monasticized Charisms," 321-338.

8. Albert Schweizer, "pneuma, pneumatikos," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament eds. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich; 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) 6.436-437.

9. Bernard Leeming, Principles of Sacramental Theology (Westminster: Newman, 1956) 266-267; 278-279.

10. "Das Pneuma Hagion als Person und als Chrisma," Eranos-Jahrbuch 13 (1945) 229. In the prologue to the Summa Thomas Aquinas, writing in a broader theological context, warns against "the multiplication of useless questions, articles and arguments."

11. Der Römerbrief 3 vols.; (Regensburg: Pustet, 1963-1978) 2.584.

12. Even before the publication of Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit (the scholarly presentation of the evidence), and of "Fanning the Flame" (the popular presentation of the research) the relating of baptism in the Spirit to the sacrament of baptism was the most generally accepted view. After the publication in 1991 the sacramental view has gained wider and firmer hold in Catholic circles. The scholarly book is published in seven languages, popular presentation is officially published in nine languages, and unofficially about twenty languages all together.

13. "Forum: Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit," Worship 70 (1996) 446-452.

14. "A Response to Paul Turner on Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Worship 71 (1997) 51-71.

15. 53 (1992) 344-345.

16. 32 (1992) NR 1, 95-96.

17. 114 (1992) 110-111.

18. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1997).

19. It is cited by name twice, pages 11 and 16. The scholarly book by George Montague and myself has been translated into seven languages, the popular pamphlet "Fanning the Flame" (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991) into eighteen languages.