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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Personal/Theological Notebook: Talking Rahner on Being Spiritual AND Religious w/Christine and Kelly 
27th-Aug-2008 10:53 am
Friendship-Erik Mike Mark
Still digging away in the literature review, and being compelled to re-write tons of material as I dig deeper and learn more, constantly having to revise my earlier impressions and interpretations regarding the development of a Catholic understanding of spiritual gifts or "charisms." The idea of "charismatic" theology is more complicated to talk about today since the rise of the "charismatic" movement in the late 1960s/early 70s, and people's association of the word "charismatic" with the particular characteristics of that movement, like a Pentecostal focus on speaking in tongues, and ecstatic forms of worship. What I'm looking at is much more basic and broad: a notion of charisms, of spiritual gifts that is integrated into all "natural" human gifts and capacities and extends them to supernatural lengths. It's like in physics today when we talk about "uncertainty" and the complex relationships of chaos theory: we cannot easily quantify the extended impact of human action, and, I think, if God is in the mix, this obviously holds true for the actions of the Holy Spirit joining in with our own actions. We cannot separate the supernatural from the natural; we cannot separate the spiritual from the religious.

I had a bit of fun running into a few folks last night, to both of whom I ended up trying to explain a bit of these thoughts. Christine was over at the library as I fetched a book, back from Australia and working on her Doctoral Qualifying Exam questions. I noticed she had Coffey's Theological Studies article on "The Whole Rahner on the Supernatural Existential," and mentioned how impressive I thought that article was. I then found out that she had seen Coffey over her break, back home in Sydney, traveling to see him with her brother and meeting him for the first time. That's when I first realized that he had just retired before she arrived here. She said he seemed really eager and excited to talk the material at length, apologizing for starting to virtually launch into a full lecture. Since he retired at the height of his powers, I can imagine that he'd be really missing the classroom. I can't imagine losing that. So we talked about her DQEs and the set-up she's giving herself and some of the topics she's pursuing, and compared notes with my own experience, which of course was insane and hardly a model anyone should follow, given that four of the five topics I pursued were completely new to me and unrelated to my coursework. So she seemed jazzed and excited for the new year.

A bit later, back at the Ardmore, I ran into my neighbour Kelly on the stairs for the first time since I got back from all my travels, and apparently she was just back from some of hers, too. We got to talking a bit of compare/contrast with what I was doing now, and with her starting to look at post-doc medical-related programs after she finishes up her dental degree this year. Her boyfriend Mark, who I met earlier this summer, is in seminary and thinking of a theological career, and so she's not scared of hearing the subject as so many are. And so I tried to explain the current state of the research in a quick way, which of course was a hopeless task. But the random ebb-and-flow of the conversation was fun, and she disabused me of my conception of her field being a little more "set in stone" simply for being scientific and free of the ideological considerations I'm used to from the humanities or the social sciences. It was cool to hear new examples simply of how emerging technologies like medical modeling and record-keeping are altering even something as focused and concrete as dentistry, and I could see the thrill the creative edge of her field gave her, which made for fun chat as she's somehow both engaging and relaxing to talk with. She's on a quest to find something more hospital or even trauma-oriented to do after graduation rather than a regular practice, which would make her work much more collaborative and a continued learning experience.

The most passage from reading this evening was from Rahner’s The Dynamic Element in the Church, pp. 58-59, speaking in 1958 right to the “spiritual, but not religious” half-truth that people settle for today. He uses the word "charismatic" in the way people today mean "spiritual," and he talks about how that is integrated into, expanded by, and made far more effective by its being brought into the institutional aspects we call "religion":
The Spirit has always held sway anew in the Church, in ever new ways, always unexpectedly and creatively, and bestowed his gifts of new life. He has never abolished official authority and laws, which after all derive from one and the same Spirit, but again and again brings them to fulfillment in ways other than those expected by the “bureaucracy”, the merely human side to office, which exists even in the Church. And he has again and again brought the hierarchy and the whole institutional element to recognize this influence of the Spirit. That is not the least of his repeated miracles. The love of martyrdom was a charisma which existed side by side in the early Church with cowardice, calculation and compromise. Charismata too were the numerous waves of monastic enthusiasm which led to ever new religious communities from Anthony and Pachomius down to the many such later foundations of the nineteenth century, even if many such later foundations appear to have sprung more from shrewd, almost secular, aims and from a need for organization, than from an original impulse of the Spirit.

With regard to such charismatic enthusiasm for the evangelical counsels, which can only be followed through God’s grace, it must be realized that not only the first emergence of such a mentality, which, of course, nearly always forestalls or occurs apart from and indeed, to all appearance, in spite of the institutional elements in the Church, but also the institutionally organized transmission and canalization of such gifts and graces of the Spirit, belong to the charismatic component of the Church. Not only Francis but the Franciscans too are charismatics of they really live in a spirit of joyous poverty. What would Francis mean to the Church if he had not found disciples throughout the centuries? He would not at all be the man of charismatic gifts in the sense we have in mind here, but a religious individualist, an unfortunate crank, and the world, the Church and history would have dropped him and proceeded with their business. But how could he possess disciples, many disciples, who have really written into the actual history of the Church something of the ever-young grace of the Spirit, if these disciples and the soul of the poor man of Assisi had refused on principle to be faithful to this Spirit of theirs under the yoke of ecclesiastical law, of statutes, vows and obligation that derives from the liberty of love? It is precisely here that it is clear that the charismatic element belongs to the Church and to her very ministry as such. She has the courage, the astonishing and impressive courage, and many holders of office may well not realize what they are doing thereby, to regulate the charismatic element in the Church’s life, to formulate “laws” concerning it, and to “organize” this Spirit.
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