Rome, May 1897: "We ought to pray to and invoke the Holy
Spirit, for each one of us greatly needs his protection and his help".1
These are the words of Pope Leo XIII, who urged Catholics "to know,
love and pray to" the Third Person of the Trinity and decreed that on
the days prior to the feast of Pentecost, a Novena should be made to the
Holy Spirit, during which the unity of all Christians was to be prayed
for (cf. nn. 3, 13).
"That the Church is a divine institution is most clearly proved by
the splendour and glory of those gifts and graces with which she is
adorned, and whose author and giver is the Holy Ghost.... The manner and
extent of the action of the Holy Ghost in individual souls is no less
wonderful, although somewhat more difficult to understand inasmuch as it
is entirely invisible".2
Los Angeles, United States of America, April 1906: The press reported
bizarre happenings in a small Protestant congregation that was meeting
in a popular neighbourhood on Azusa Street. The headlines are
significant: "Disgusting scenes at Azusa Street Church"; "Rolling on the
floor in Smale's Church"; "The earthquake"; "Weird Babel of tongues";
"New sect of fanatics is breaking loose".3
But what did those concerned have to say?
The members of the Church in question, the majority of whom were
African Americans, declared with conviction: "We have received the gift
of tongues (I Cor)". And that is not all.
These persons of humble background said that they were "filled with the
Holy Spirit" while they worshipped. This is why they prayed ceaselessly,
witnessing to Christ well on into the night, and they "received the
power to interpret the Bible"; some had visions or prophesied, while
others spoke of being sanctified or of having obtained divine healing.
History shows that similar experiences also occurred in very
different places, such as Topeka [Kansas], U.S.A. (1901), Great Britain
(1904), Norway and Sweden (1907), and Chile (1909). This special
outpouring of the Spirit, to be later called "Baptism in the Holy
Spirit", was repeated in various parts of the globe in people with
different Christian affiliations, first in individuals, then in groups
and entire movements.
There was already news of "revivals" or holiness movements. From 1906
and the events of Azusa Street, the birth of the Pentecostal Movement
was identified; from that time, explicitly Pentecostal denominations
appeared (Classical or First Wave Pentecostals).
Individuals, groups and movements who had this experience often decided
(or some say were compelled) to split from the Christian communities to
which they belonged and to create new ecclesial structures or
A 'personal Pentecost'
The Pentecostal Movement is continuing to grow and expand. The gap
between the Pentecostal Movement and the other Ecclesial Communities is
increasing in parallel, for since these communities have not received
the "charismatic outpouring" or have rejected this Pentecostal Christian
expression, Pentecostals believe they lack a fundamental grace.
When the experience of "Baptism in the Spirit" took place in the
historical Churches in the 1950s, and later was experienced by Catholics
in 1967, the Pentecostal attitude changed: "Those who have received the
Holy Spirit can be listed among the saints and have obtained salvation".
The fact that these Christians retain membership in their original
community (the Second or Charismatic Wave) gives rise to a new
situation: Classical Pentecostals recognize communion with those who
have been baptized in the Spirit, but not with the Christian community
to which they belong, even if the action of the Holy Spirit in some of
their members is "evident".
In the 1980s, the third wave came into being, that is, groups of
people who had experienced this "personal Pentecost", but who belonged
neither to the Classical Pentecostals nor the Charismatics; hence, they
are known as Non-Denominational Pentecostals.
This "surprise of the Spirit" has been positively received by all
Pentecostals, since through their "Baptism in the Spirit" they recognize
Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
From all the above, it is clear that just such a religious
experience, distinct from conversion and usually accompanied by
though not in all cases
gifts of the Spirit, is one of the characteristic elements of
Pentecostalism in all its forms.
Numerically speaking, Pentecostals overall constitute the second
largest Christian group after Catholics, and the one that is most
rapidly expanding; today, therefore, there is talk of a certain
"Pentecostalization of Christianity".
Zurich, Switzerland, June 1972: The agreement signed in
Rome the previous year inaugurated the International
Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue with certain leaders and Churches of the
Classical Pentecostals. It was the first initiative of its kind. The
dialogue led to the beginning of mutual knowledge.
How different we felt at that time! How remote from one another we
considered our communities to be! Our respective expressions of faith
Moreover, animosity and even rivalry persisted in the field of mission,
not to mention an enormous theological gap.
It was a matter of the representatives of a Church and a Movement who
were meeting to become acquainted with each other and to deepen their
knowledge of their respective spiritualities. The items on the agenda
also included the special events that accompanied the
Pentecostal phenomenon, its conditions and its authentic Christian
The dialogue partners were not only seeking to formulate a
description of the experience of "Baptism in the Spirit", but were also
reflecting on the value of the Christian identity and Christian life in
In this first phase that corresponds to the first two periods of the
talks, each lasting five years,4 some mutual
misunderstandings were clarified and certain mistaken ideas rectified.
In the Commission for Dialogue, Pentecostals accepted the challenge of
expressing their own theological formulations and interpretations of the
Bible more exhaustively.
For their part, Catholics experienced in the first person that
carrying on a dialogue does not mean facing realities as we please or
realities with which we have an affinity, but trying to understand
others as they are and accepting the way they speak of themselves.
Mission: convergence and conflicts
With the passing years, various common developments have followed the
initial investigation: the reflection on the Church as communio
is one stage in this process. Although Catholics and Pentecostals agree
in recognizing the Church's role in the history of salvation, in
conceiving of the Church as created by the Holy Spirit and the Holy
Spirit as the principle of her life and the source of her unity, certain
very serious problems have not yet been solved.5
Subsequent to the ecclesiological reflections, which represent an
innovation and take into account the, incipient Pentecostal interest in
them, the Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue focused on the theme of
"Mission", reflecting on evangelization, proselytism and common witness.6
The dialogue has been able to note surprising points of convergence
between Catholic and Pentecostal approaches to mission despite the
strong conflicts that remain. To deal with these conflicts the
Commission has proposed to the faithful of both traditions that they
shift the work to new areas in light of the call to unity.
Speaking of this topic means that we are actually touching on the
consequences of the division between Christians and that we realize we
are acting as though Christ were divided!
Bolton, Canada, July 1998: During this fifth phase of
the International Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue, aware that Christianity
involves the whole person and is rooted in the person's life, the
Commission asked itself a fundamental question: how does one become a
Christian? The answer is not as simple as we might believe.
Our way of interpreting the Bible often differs and the value that
our respective traditions attribute to the Fathers of the Church also
Furthermore, in treating such fundamental topics as Christian
Initiation as Faith (1999), Conversion (2000), Christian Experience
within a Community (2001) and Discipleship (2002), the Commission
compared the different approaches of the respective ecclesial
New areas of reflection have emerged: experience, grace and the need
for a tangible experience of grace; the importance of an informed
decision of faith, and faith as a gift; conversion as an event or
process, one that involves various events.
In this study, which could also be undertaken with other Christian
communities, we must point out as specific to the dialogue with
Pentecostals the theme of "Baptism in the Spirit" and its relation to
Christian initiation (1998).
As Catholics and Pentecostals, we recognize the importance of the
outpouring of the Spirit in the life of the Church through grace, signs
and gifts. Even though "the Holy Spirit dwells in all Christians" (cf.
Rom 8:9) and despite the different manifestations of the Spirit,
Pentecostals claim not only that "Baptism in the Spirit" has a special
theological importance, but also that it is important as an experience
of grace; it produces greater openness that in turn permits further
manifestations and gifts of the Spirit.
We can then ask ourselves: is "Baptism in the Spirit" a unique
reactualization of Pentecost? Is it a 20th-century innovation or were
there similar experiences in the early centuries? Does being Christian
have a normative dimension? Are Christians who have experienced "Baptism
in the Spirit" different from those who have not? If so, in what does
this difference consist? If not, what contribution does spiritual
reality make to Christian life?
The dialogue, which is consulting Sacred Scripture, the witness of
the Fathers of the Church and the theological reflections of both
traditions, is formulating a preliminary answer to each one of these
questions. We hope that the Final Report, on which work was also done in
2004, will be completed at the plenary session in Summer 2005.
1 Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Divinum Illud Munus,
On the presence and admirable virtue of the Holy Spirit, Rome, May 1897,
2 Ibid., nn. 6, 7.
3 Excerpts from newspapers of the period, collected
by Dr Cecil Robeck and presented at the Dialogue Session in July 2003.
4 Cf. International Catholic Pentecostal Dialogue,
Final Report of the First Phase (1972-1976), in: Pontifical Council
for Promoting Christian Unity, Information Service (IS/SI) 32
(1976/111); Final Report 1977-1982, in: IS/SI 55
5 Cf. Perspectives on Koinonia, Final Report of the
Third Quinquennium (1985-1989), in: IS/SI 75 (1990/IV).
6 Cf. Evangelization, Proselytism and Common Witness,
Relations in the Fourth Phase (1990-1997), in: IS/SI 97