Jakob Egeris THORSEN. Charismatic Practice and Catholic Parish Life. The Incipient Pentecostalization of the Church in Guatemala and Latin America. Leiden, the Netherlands & Boston: Brill, 2015. pp. 242. ISBN 978-90-04-29165-2. Reviewed by Pierre HEGY, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY 11530.

 This is a PhD dissertation defended at the Aarhus University in Denmark. This research presents a double thesis: that there is an incipient pentecostalization of the Catholic Church in Guatemala, and as a result there is a”strengthening of Catholic confessionalism, driven by a pentecostalized vision of the Church.” (2-3)

This work consists of six chapters. There are two theological bookends (chapter 2 and 6) and between the two, three chapters of ethnographic and cultural analysis. Hence this study would be considered applied theology in the U.S. It is also what makes its value.

The first chapter presents the development of the charismatic movement in Latin America where there are now about 74 million Catholic charismatics (22). Today Brazil has at the same time most Catholics, most Pentecostals, and most Catholic charismatics in the world (23-24). Guatemala is now about 40% Protestant and 54% Catholics. According to the Pew research, 62% of Guatemalan Catholics are charismatic, versus 57% in Brazil (45).

Chapter two sets up the parameters that will be used in the analysis of the empirical findings. There is first a global presentation of the various “models of the church” in a two dimensional chart: the north-south dimension represents integration versus opposition to the world, and the east-west dimension contrasts universalism and particularism. Thus “ church as institution” is on the universal side while “church as evangelical herald” is more on the particularist side, and both are more antagonistic to the world than the servant model. According to the conclusion of the book (thesis 2), the charismatic movement is in the evangelical herald quadrant, being both particularist and antagonistic to the world.

Of special interest to this study is the presentation of cardinal Ratzinger’s ecclesiology. On the axis universalism versus particularism, Ratzinger clearly favors the former, according to his famous statement, “The universal Church ... ontologically and temporally is prior to every particular Church.” (74). The ontological genesis of the church is otherworldly, not sociological, because she “grows from within and moves outwards, not vice-versa... [through] prayer and the communion of the sacraments” (73-74). For Ratzinger, the church is communio rather than People of God, a concept he found too democratic, too horizontal, and too much of this world. Hence he favored opposition to rather than dialogue with the world. Finally, the universal Church is that of the papacy; the main criterion of universalism is communion with and support for the church of Rome. The last chapter will gauge the charismatic movement according to these criteria.

Chapter 3 presents the findings of a six months stay in a middle class parish on the outskirts of Guatemala City. The pastor of the parish was an American priest in his eighties. He welcomed lay movements of all kinds but requested that the two charismatic groups relinquish all links with the charismatic renewal. He also supervised the selection of their lay preachers and did not allow any charismatic singing or praying during the liturgy. The charismatics were a minority among the twenty or so prayer groups. Since parish life was mainly directed by the parish council where the charismatics had a strong voice, the author can show that there is a progressive pentecostalization in this parish and by way of inference, in the Latin American church. This is also the conclusion of most sociological researchers, a conclusion usually not well received by Catholics as the author found out. There is a misunderstanding here. Most Catholics might understand postecostalization as the Protestantization of beliefs and practices, which they reject. The claim of sociologists is quite different. Research shows that most historical Protestant and increasingly Catholic churches use similar language of praise and worship, similar preference for spontaneous rather than rote prayers, and the same kinds of music (alabanzas). The theologies of the various churches, however, may be quite different.

In chapters 5 and 6 the author turns to theological interpretations. The CELAM document of Aparecida (2007) is a key indicator of theological changes, as suggested by the use of the key words of “mission ([used] 140 times), Spirit (149), encounter with Jesus (47), conversion (46) experience (44), joy (73).” These are terms of the charismatic or pentecostalized language. Prominently absent is the liberationist language of involvement in the secular world. The Catholic Church has become one player among others in a pluralistic society, preaching like evangelicals the good news of peace and joy through conversion and an encounter with Jesus. This corresponds to the “herald” model in Dulles’ typology.

There is also a new emphasis on the dichotomy of church and world. Evangelization through inculturation found in the Santo Domingo document is absent in Aparecida. The world is seen negatively, and there is no interest in dialogue with the world as called for by Gaudium et spes. Hence the Ratzinger model of the church seems appropriate. While there is an emphasis on the universal dimension of the church through fidelity to pope and bishops, there is also increased confessionalism though the exaltation of the most typical Catholic icons: the sacraments, devotion to the Virgin Mary, unflinching obedience to authority, and support for the church’s sexual morality. The charismatic renewal thus seem to fulfill “the agenda of Pope Benedict, which was to secure a distinctively Catholic identity and create ‘a creative Christian minority’ amidst a pluralistic and increasingly secular world.” (204)

This is a rare book combining empirical research and theological reflection. The author is exceptional in his knowledge of German, English, and Spanish theological and ethnographic works. One can only hope for a greater collaboration between the researchers in the various language groups and disciplines.