Where Did the Eight Criteria the Vatican Just Gave for Discerning Charisms Come From?

Frank Cash - Rome

Frank Cash - Rome

The Church is blessed constantly with new charismatic groups that renew her spirit; however, at the same time, the hierarchy is responsible for discerning these charismatic gifts especially when they refer to new spiritual families in the Church. How does she discern this? In Iuvenescit Ecclesia 18, eight criteria are given. These criteria are not necessarily exhaustive but give an outline for discernment. At least two other lists have been given in the last 30 years, one in Christefidelis Laici 30 and the other by the CCCB (Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops). I want to find where the criteria in Iuvenescit Ecclesia came from and I find this is mainly from Christefidelis Laici 30 but also a few other sources.

The first criterion, “The Primacy of the vocation of every Christian to holiness,” is almost verbatim from Christefidelis Laici, “The primacy given to the call of every Christian to holiness,” especially considering “call” and “vocation” are 2 options for the same Latin word. The Canadian Bishops list the criterion: “Every ecclesial movement be conspicuously seen and bent on being an effective instrument of holiness for its members.” The universal call to holiness has always been in the tradition of the Church but finds its clearest expression in Lumen Gentium 39-42.

The second criterion is, “Commitment to spreading the Gospel.” This takes a more evangelistic turn than the fourth criterion in Christefidelis Laici, “Conformity to and participation in the Church’s apostolic goals.” This evangelistic turn in Iuvenescit Ecclesia is seen in the fact that it quotes Pope Francis’s exhortation on proclaiming the Gospel, Evangelii Gaudium, stating how authentic charisms are, “Channeled into an evangelizing impulse.” The same paragraph of Evangelii Gaudium refers back to Lumen Gentium again, where it talks about how every Christian is called to give prophetic witness and thus spread the faith. The CCCB doesn’t seem to emphasize this criterion as one of its six.

The third criterion, “Profession of the Catholic Faith,” is almost the same as Christefidelis Laici’s second criterion: “The responsibility of professing the Catholic faith.” The Canadian bishops have a slightly different terminology, using “Authentic doctrine.” This criterion seems almost too obvious as the boundaries of the Catholic Church are determined by such a profession of faith or authentic doctrine.

The fourth criterion, “Witness to a real communion with the whole Church,” seems like a synthesis of the third in Christefidelis Laici. Christefidelis Laici talks about Pope and bishop instead of whole Church: “The witness to a strong and authentic communion in filial relationship to the Pope, in total adherence to the belief that he is the perpetual and visible center of unity of the universal Church, and with the local Bishop.” This criterion, like the third seems self-evident as one who is not in communion with the Church is no longer Catholic. Instead of communion, the CCCB focuses on, “A duty to hold themselves accountable to the competent ecclesial authority,” which is a consequence of communion with the Church through her hierarchy.

The Fifth, “Recognition of and esteem for the reciprocal complementarity of other charismatic elements in the Church,” seems to have no direct parallel in Christefidelis Laici 30 despite a footnote referencing it. However, the Canadian bishops used it as a criterion: “an ecclesial movement should strive to have some knowledge of and contact with the other existing ecclesial movements in the local Church.” Christefidelis Laici talks about the relationship of a charismatic element with the hierarchy and the rest of the Church while this criterion in Iuvenescit Ecclesia refers to relationships between various charismatic elements. Let me give an example: I’m in Regnum Christi and the criteria in Christefidelis Laici only referred to my (and Regnum Christi’s) respect for pastors and bishops while the criteria in Iuvenescit Ecclesia adds on my respect For Focolari, for the charismatic movement, for Opus Dei, and for similar groups. This is a valuable criterion as we charismatic groups can be competitive with each other. I remember sitting with a table of Dominicans at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast a few weeks back and they told a bunch of jokes about Franciscans and Jesuits – their competition was in jest but at times competition between religious communities has become a serious hindrance to the Church.

The Sixth criterion is: “Acceptance of moments of trial in the discernment of charisms.” It refers to how those living a charism have, “Humility in bearing with adversities”, such that, “The true relation between genuine charism, with its perspectives of newness, and interior suffering, carries with it an unvarying history of the connection between charism and cross.” This criterion has not been seen for movements before but Mutuae Relationes 12 spoke of it as one of the signs of authentic charisms for religious communities and Iuvenescit Ecclesia directly quotes it as a source. If we take the Regnum Christi movement as an example, we can see how accepting it’s time of suffering in the past few years shows humility and acceptance of the cross which confirms it as an ecclesial charism.

The Seventh criterion, “Presence of spiritual fruits such as charity, joy, peace and a certain human maturity,” is mentioned in Christefidelis Laici but more as a conclusion than an actual point. Christefidelis Laici states: “The fundamental criteria mentioned at this time find their verification in the actual fruits that various group forms show in their organizational life and the works they perform, such as: the renewed appreciation for prayer, contemplation, liturgical and sacramental life, the reawakening of vocations to Christian marriage, the ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life; [etc.]” I think it is obvious that fruits will come from charisms where people are faithful to the call of God. Those of us in movements need to be a little cautious to not seek fruits for their own sake but instead welcome them as fruits of our hard work and fidelity to inspirations and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The final criterion of Iuvenescit Ecclesia, “The social dimension of evangelization,” rephrases the final criterion in Christefidelis Laici, “A commitment to a presence in human society,” while emphasizing the evangelizing aspect. The CCCB is similar to Christefidelis Laici in that it refers to: “Social Involvement.” This evangelizing aspect brings out a reality Francis mentioned in Evangelii Gaudium: “The kerygma has a clear social content: at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others.” When we care for the sick, poor or marginalized, we not only elevate their human dignity, we evangelize in a way that shows the mission of evangelization is at the heart of the Church’s mission. Inés San Martin pointed out that specific emphasis on the social dimension is new, but I think it is also in continuity with what came before.

Finally, the Canadian bishops give one criterion that neither Vatican document gives and which must be carefully interpreted to avoid the hierarchy stifling movements and other charismatic realities: “The criterion of implantation stipulates that every ecclesial movement and association be conspicuously rooted and involved in the life of the parish and in some area of its mission: celebrating, evangelizing, caring, teaching and participating.” Their intent seems to be ensuring the members of movements participate in their local parishes and don’t abandon them due to their participation in a movement. However, this is criterion would be misapplied if it were read as implying that all apostolates of lay movements needs to be run through the parish or that all lay movements need to help in the ministry specific to the parish. In Apostolican Actuositatem, Vatican II taught laity “Are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven,” and their call to apostolate does not depend on priests or bishops but they “Derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head.” Restricting the apostolate of movements to parishes goes against both their primary apostle in the world and their right and duty independent of their pastor. Some charismatic elements – take the Catholic Medical Association for example – have a specific mission outside parishes although the members should still participate in parishes. Misinterpreting this criterion leads to a self-referential Church which Pope Francis has repeatedly warned against.

These criteria in Iuvenescit Ecclesia have come to birth over time in the Church from various sources. Hopefully, applying them leads to more presence of charismatic gifts in the Church and greater collaboration between bishops and pastors and the various charismatic organizations like movements.

Links: Iuvenescit Ecclesia, Christefidelis Laici, Evangelii Gaudium, Lumen Gentium, and the CCCB statement on movements.

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2 thoughts on “Where Did the Eight Criteria the Vatican Just Gave for Discerning Charisms Come From?”

  1. ” …Instead of communion, the CCCB focuses on, “A duty to hold themselves
    accountable to the competent ecclesial authority,” which is a
    consequence of communion with the Church through her hierarchy.”

    Is the word “competent” used as a potential caveat to dissent from holding ” themselves accountable” ?

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