The word charism or charisma (from Gr. χάρισμα) denotes a gift freely and graciously given, a favor bestowed, a grace. Charism as understood in the Bible is first treated, then its relation to the individual possessing it, and finally its meaning for the corporate Church.
In The Bible
Except for two variants in the Greek Version of Sirach (Sir 7.33; 38.30) and Theodotion's translation of Psalms 30(31).22, the use of the word charism in the Bible is confined to the New Testament, in which it occurs 17 times, principally in Romans and 1 Corinthians. The usage, however, is not uniform, varying between a general meaning equivalent to grace (χάρις) and the technical meaning, which is treated here.
Technical Usage. In its technical meaning, a charism is a spiritual gift or talent granted by God to the recipient not primarily for his own sake but for the benefit of others "in order to perfect the saints for a work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ," i.e., the Church (Eph 4.12; see also 1 Cor 14.26). Saint Paul gives it a quasi definition in 1 Cororinthian, 12.7 as a "manifestation of the Spirit for profit," i.e., for the profit of others.
Some eight lists of charisms occur more or less clearly in the New Testament: (1) Rom 12.6–8; (2) 1 Cor 12.4–10; (3) 1 Cor 12.28–31; (4) 1 Pt 4.10, and, without mention of the term, (5) 1 Cor 14.6, 13; (6) 1 Cor 14.26 and (7) Eph 4.11 as well as (8) Mk 16.17–18. Although these lists are neither uniform nor complete, it is possible to group the charisms contained in them according to similarity of function and to arrive at their probable meaning, as follows.
Various Kinds of Charisms. Teaching charisms comprise those of apostles ('απόστολοι) or itinerant missionaries (Didache 11.3–6), evangelists (εύαγγελίσται; see evangelist) or preachers of the gospel, prophets (προφ[symbol omitted]ται) who spoke in God's name under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and teachers (διδάσκαλοι) who instructed the Christians and catechumens. To the teaching charisms one may also conjoin those of exhorting (παρακαλε[symbol omitted]ν), speaking (λαλε[symbol omitted]ν), and hymnody (ψάλλεην), as well as the more important, yet more indefinable, utterances of knowledge and wisdom (λόγος γνώσεως and λόγος σοφίας), i.e., of different grades of supernatural understanding.
Service charisms include gifts for governing and guiding as well as serving, since administration is interchangeable with ministration among Christ's followers, e.g., presiding (προστασία), governing (κυβέρνη σις), ministering (διακονία), giving (μετάδοσις), mercy (ἔλεος), and services of help (άντιλήμψεις). The exercise of Holy Orders might possibly be included here as well.
Extraordinary or miraculous charisms embrace the gifts of healing (ἴαμα), miracles (δυνάμεις), faith (πίστις), such as would "move mountains," exorcism ('εξόρκωσις), and immunity from harm arising from deadly things such as serpents or poison. Among miraculous charisms of the intellectual order would be included prophecy (προφητεία), in as far as it involved revelation ('ατόκάλυψις), reading of hearts, or prediction of future events, and the gift called Discernment of Spirits (διάκρισιτ πνευμάτων), i.e., the supernatural ability to distinguish between true and false spiritual phenomena (see discernment, spiritual). Finally, the popular Gift of Tongues or glossolalia (λένη γλωσσ[symbol omitted]ν), and the related interpretation, or possibly translation, of tongues ('ερμηνεία γλωσσ[symbol omitted]ν) complete the lists.
Value. Although the phenomenon, if not the name, of charismatic gifts was evident in the Old Testament (e.g., in Moses, the Prophets), the full outpouring of the Spirit was reserved for messianic times [Ps 67(68).19; Eph 4.7–13]. This was particularly true of the Church's early years, when it needed special helps for its consolidation, survival, and expansion. Human pride, however, tended to overemphasize the spectacular gifts such as tongues, and it became necessary for the Church's leaders, e.g., in 1 Corinthians ch. 12–14, to remind Christians of (1) the common source of all gifts, the Holy Spirit; (2) the comparative value of the charisms, e.g., prophecy far surpassing tongues; (3) the superiority of love ('αγάτη) over all charisms; and (4) what should be the orderly interaction of hierarchical and charismatic functions in the Church.
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek, 350–51. a. lemonnyer, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928–) 1:1233–44. É. osty, Les Épîtres de St. Paul aux Corinthiens [Bible de Jérusalem, 43 v., each with intro. by the tr. (Paris 1948–54) 37; 1949] 52–60. g. ricciotti, Paul the Apostle, tr. a. zizzamia (Milwaukee 1953) 171–79. j. bonsirven, Theology of the New Testament, tr. s. f. l. tye (Westminster, Md. 1963) 324–31. f. prat, The Theology of Saint Paul, tr. j. stoddard, 2 v. (London 1926) 1:127–33, 423–28.
[w. f. dicharry]
In the Church
In accordance with the technical meaning of the word charism as found in the New Testament and particularly in Saint Paul, theology defines charism as a gratuituous gift from God, supernatural, transitory, given to the individual for the good of others, for the benefit of the church. This section discusses: (1) the nature of this gift, namely, what it consists of and what it implies in the individual receiving it; and (2) the different types of charisms as theology views them.
Nature. The early Fathers and ecclesiastical writers used the word loosely in the sense of grace or gift. Saint Thomas Aquinas stated that it is a grace given by God not for the personal justification or sanctification of the individual, but for the spiritual welfare of others. It differs essentially from the type of grace that renders the individual pleasing to God or holy in His sight (gratia gratum faciens ). All grace, as the very name implies, is gratuituously given (gratis data ) by God; yet, since charism lacks the added perfection of rendering the individual holy, it retains for its name the merely generic term of gratuituously given grace (gratia gratis data; see Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 111.1 ad 3). In this sense charisms differ from sanctifying or actual grace, from virtues, gifts of the Holy Spirit (see holy spirit, gift of), and from graces of state of life. All these graces are entitative or operative habits or dispositions that inhere in the subject and have as their primary purpose the subject's perfection.
Charisms on the other hand may be given to the individual in a purely instrumental manner to accomplish some salutary effect in others. Thus a charismatic person might not necessarily be a holy person, although ordinarily God will use as His instrument one who is close to Him. As a matter of fact at times there might exist a correlation between certain gifts of the Holy Spirit and certain charisms, for instance, between the gifts of wisdom and counsel on the one hand, and the charisms of supernatural understanding and discernment of spirits on the other. In these cases the individual is instrumentally empowered with extraordinary ability to communicate to others that which he had received permanently through a gift.
The superiority and permanency of those graces that render the individual holy do not detract from the ontological and supernatural perfection of charisms. Charisms are the product of special intervention of God in man's faculties and operation. Metaphysically speaking, they may be reduced to the category of accidents, of transitory qualities or instrumental operative powers by which man's faculties are elevated to behavior beyond their natural capacity. They consist in different types of intellectual illuminations, in facility of communication with others, in ability to perform miraculous deeds, etc.
In the strictest sense charisms stand only for extraordinary gifts such as prophecy, glossolalia, etc. Yet, gifts such as ecclesiastical jurisdiction, exercise of Sacred Orders, and infallibility also fulfill the definition, for all these are supernatural, freely given gifts ordained for the benefit of the Church. These latter gifts, however, are more permanent in nature.
Types. Arrangements or classifications made by theologians are somewhat arbitrary. Saint Thomas, visualizing the role of these gifts in the Church precisely in a doctrinal and apologetic function, states that "they are ordained for the manifestation of faith and spiritual doctrine" (Summa theologiae 3a, 7.7). With this criterion in mind he divides charisms into three categories (Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 111.4). First, there are those charisms that empower the apostle with extraordinary knowledge of divine things. This is done by special faith, by word of wisdom (cognition of divine things, λόγoς σoψίας), and word of knowledge (cognition of human affairs, λόγς γυώσεως). Second, he numbers those charisms by which one may efficaciously confirm in the eyes of his audience the divine origin of his teachings. Through these he instrumentally performs deeds that are proper to God—prophesies, discerns spirits, heals, and works miracles. Finally he considers those charisms concerned with the actual deliverance of the gospel, by which the minister of it is enabled to present efficiently the divine doctrine to his audience. To this realm of charisms belong glossolalia and the related interpretation.
See Also: prophecy (theology of).
Bibliography: Dictionnaire de théologie catholique: Tables générales, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50) 1:582–83. j. gewiess and k. rahner, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 2:1025–30. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 1907–53) 3:579–98. x. ducros, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932–) 2.1:503–07. c. pesch, De gratia, v.5 of Praelectiones dogmaticae, 9 v. (Freiburg 1910–22), app., "De gratiis gratis datis."
[r. j. tapia]