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Religion Library: Holiness and Pentecostal


Written by: Arlene Sanchez Walsh

Montanus is probably one of the more well-known of the early Church proponents of direct experience with the Holy Spirit, but not all such would be labeled as heretics.  Church leaders who claimed to have had some charismatic experience included noted heretic-hunter Irenaeus (c. 115-202), Origen (c. 185-254), Augustine (354-430), Symeon (Eastern Orthodox) (949-1022), and even Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274); they are joined by a host of early and medieval mystics of the 15th and 16th centuries.

Many of these figures would describe phenomena that contemporary Pentecostals would identify as Pentecostal gifts of the Spirit, or at least, Pentecostal-like phenomena.  Irenaeus was believed to have had the gift of prophecy, discernment of spirits, and exorcism.  Origen was reported to have healed people, exorcised demons, and engaged in other assorted "signs and wonders."  Some mystics, including Eastern Orthodox figures Symeon the New Theologian and Seraphim of Sarov, discussed phenomena such as  "baptism of the Holy Spirit," uncontrollable bouts of crying, and visions of the Transfiguration (akin to the description in Matthew 17) overtaking them for hours on end. 

Some significant Church leaders did describe what Pentecostals today would believe is glossolalia.  Francis Xavier (1506-1552), Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419), Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), and Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), among others, describe something akin to Ignatius's description of prayer: "During the interior and exterior loquela (speech) everything moves me to divine love and to the gifts of loquela divinely bestowed." (Spiritual Diary, #222). 

Despite the controversy that followed such experiences (nearly all who admitted having these experiences risked attracting the wrath of Church officials charged with rooting out all suspected challenges to ecclesiastical authority), some of the most well-known Christian figures have reported these experiences, made these practices a part of their theological legacies, and often paid a heavy price for insisting that they had direct access to revelation through the Holy Spirit.  Throughout history, those who claimed these experiences were often targeted as heretics, threatened with persecution (such as the Inquisition), and, if they posed enough risk to Church authority, were removed from any mantle of leadership.  Thus, groups as varied as the Spanish "alumbrados" (Enlightened Ones), the Jansenists, or a legion of Christian mystics, have been made to answer for taking what was supposed to be the domain of the Church (access to revelation), and making it available to anyone who asked for it. 

By the mid 1700s, early forms of contemporary Pentecostalism began to emerge from what began as a reformation movement within Anglicanism; they resulted in a global movement that has influenced nearly every different tradition of Christianity.