The History of Spiritual Gifts

The spiritual gifts of prophecy, speaking in tongues and healing seemed to have disappeared from the mainstream of the church’s life by the middle of the third century. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian all testify to the continuing experience of such gifts before then, but in the fourth century Chrysostom and Augustine of Hippo thought of them as belonging to the past.

This was in large part due to the increasing institutionalisation of the church, in the course of which chrismation (anointing with oil) progressively replaced charismata as the sign of the Spirit. The body of Christ came to be conceived of as a hierarchical structure, and the phrase “gifts of the Spirit” was referred more frequently to Isaiah 11:2.

Over the centuries there were successive claims that one or more of the more striking gifts had been restored—most notably by the early Montanists (second century). Joachim of Fiore (1132–1202), many of the Anabaptists, and the early Quakers—but such claimants were usually either pushed to the fringes of Christianity or persecuted outright. More recently, events have taken a different turn. Renewed interests in spiritual gifts, particularly healing and glossolalia at the end of the nineteenth century heralded the emergence of Pentecostalism in the twentieth century.

With the acceptance of Pentecostalism as a third or fourth main stream of Christianity (beside Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism), and charismatic renewal within the older denominations, the charismatic dimension of Christian life and worship has steadily gained recognition, not least among the Catholics.

Categories: Theology

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