"Affirming the Gifts of the Spirit"
by the Rt Revd Dom Alistair Bate, OSBA, MA.Div.
Rather I intend to treat the “Gifts of the Spirit” from a Liberal Catholic and esoteric perspective drawing on my own experience of these gifts. I hope that this mainly autobiographical little piece might encourage others to explore their own spiritual potential in exercising some of the rarer gifts of the Spirit.
First of all let me say that in my early teens I did the Pentecostal thing quite thoroughly, enjoyed singing “in tongues” and “getting slayed in the Spirit”,with the best of them”, but thankfully by the age of sixteen I had enough common sense to see that this was no environment for a gay boy who had no intention of being crucified for his sexuality. My discovery of Anglo-Catholicism and with it the deep mystical tradition of the sacramental churches was truly a God-send and happily I found that the same religious ecstasies also occurred in the sacramental context. Of course ecstasies or “consolations” as they are often called in Catholic circles, should never be an end in themselves, but they certainly make walking the path easier for those of us who are spiritually feeble.
Two years in an Anglican Benedictine monastery laid an invaluable foundation in Christian mysticism and the devotional path to the Divine for which I will be ever grateful, but I felt that something was still missing. After a most unfortunate foray into the Roman Catholic Church and reception back into the Church of England I found that additional and special something in Spiritualism, whilst continuing to practice Anglo-Catholicism. My father had been an active Spiritualist and we had mediums in the family, so for me discovering Spiritualism in London in the late 1980's was something of a home coming. With my father's encouragement I attended a couple of “Development Circles” for a few years and I developed some degree of proficiency as a a clairvoyant. However, it takes more than simply the development of natural psychic gifts to make a medium; wisdom and maturity are also essential and at that time I didn't have much of either. One medium told me from the platform, “Spirit will do great things through you but not as as a 'platform medium' ” and another told me on one occasion that I would be a monk (again). Over the years I have received tremendous evidence of survival and wonderfully helpful and loving guidance from the world of Spirit, but to be honest it is the proof that I have unknowingly given others which has amazed me more than anything. When you know for sure that you didn't know something and yet that information comes through clairvoyantly, and is accepted as evidence, that is the best proof of all.
Today I work more as a Psychic Counsellor and healer but mediumship still comes through in this context, as well as in the context of spiritual direction and the Liberal Catholic Healing Service. My training as a medium also enabled me to open up to the extraordinary sacramental powers given at ordination and now as a bishop I am very conscious of two things in the course of my sacramental work; firstly, the importance of being spiritually and psychically open as a channel for Divine Power, and secondly; to be conscious of the presence of the angels and saints who work with us. Dear Bishop Wedgwood, for example, never misses an ordination and always lays on spiritual hands and I know other bishops in our lineage who have had similar psychic experiences with both +Wedgwood and +Leadbeater.
There may be some who read this article who think I'm quite deluded, which is understandable. Not everyone has had the opportunities I've had to prove these things for themselves and “test the Spirits to see if they be of God”. (1 John 4:1) I have no mission to convert, as we are all going to the same place and the sceptics will know the truth soon enough. Rather, I am more concerned to speak to those mainstream Christians who do not necessarily disbelieve this phenomena, but who for some reason think that exercising these spiritual gifts is contrary to orthodoxy. Of course spiritual gifts – like sexuality, for example – can be abused and misused, but in my experience the vast majority of mediums, readers and healers (at least in civilised countries) are honourable people with good intentions who are in fact used as channels of divine love and healing power. If only the same could be said of Christian clergy, some of whom clearly do more harm than good. By their fruits shall ye know them.
The Anglican establishment itself recognised the great contribution which Spiritualism could make to the life of the church when in 1937 the Archbishops commissioned a report on Spiritualism, which was at that time a strong and vibrant movement in England. The Commission was headed by the Bishop of Bath and Wells and several other high ranking churchmen. However, the commission did not return to the Archbishops with the condemnation of the Spiritualist movement which they had anticipated and, as a result, sadly the report was suppressed. This has been the almost invariable attitude of institutional churches down through the centuries. I am no feminist, but even I have to acknowledge, that the “Patriarchal” churches have hated anything spiritual which they could not fully control, whether that be Gnosticism, Catharism, Freemasonry or in this case Spiritualism. Given the unexpected findings of the commission the Anglican bishops were faced with a dilemma; integrating mediumship into the ministry of the church as the report recommended would require a rejection of almost two thousand years of anti-esoteric prejudice, not to mention having to find a means of regulating mediums - most of whom were women – which was a particular problem in those days before female ordination. In the event, war broke out and it was easier just to shelve the document and try to forget about it.
Thankfully, however, in the 1960's the report came into the possession of A W Austen the editor of Psychic News newspaper, who published it. After publication he commented, “My printing of the report gave to the rank and file of the Church of England the guidance that had been denied them by the House of Bishops. To Christians all over the world it broke the news that a Committee of influential Churchmen, examining Spiritualism on behalf of the Church and at the request of the Archbishops had found that it was true and could be a valuable addition to the Christian ministry.”
By this time of course Spiritualism was not the only alternative religion in Britain which stressed the importance of the Gifts of the Spirit. Liberal Catholicism and similar jurisdictions had made a significant impression on the esoteric scene by the mid twentieth century, and to them I now turn.
Even today the great strength of Spiritualism is the demonstration of spiritual gifts and the provision of evidence of survival to those who mourn. It is a very practical religion and offers real hope and comfort to many, but of theology, mysticism and theurgy it knows very little and cares even less, so those of us who have an interest in personal mystical development must look elsewhere. The esoteric churches provide a space where generally the spiritual gifts as practiced in Spiritualism are affirmed, whilst at the same time the emphasis is on the highest calling; union with the Divine through the sacraments, which we might call a theurgical system.
"The Science of the Sacraments" by the Rt Revd Charles Leadbeater is a basic textbook for Liberal Catholics and many other esoteric Christians, not because everything written therein is 'gospel truth', but rather because it established a new hermaneutic; a method for understanding the sacraments that relies heavily on clairvoyance, intuition, the imagination and personal experience. It has therefore a great deal in common with Spiritualism, though on the surface the two might seem as different as chalk and cheese. One man, in particular, brought these pieces of chalk and cheese together and held them together during his life-time, a bishop in my succession named Harold Percival Nicholson, who was the founder and Patriarch of the Ancient Catholic Church. Archbishop Harold was called by God to do exactly what the Church of England should have done in 1939. He created a space at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Clapton, where the sacraments were celebrated with all due beauty and decorum, as one might expect, but at the same time he created a space for the exercise of mediumship and regular spiritual healing both of people and their pets, as the above photo of the Cathedral Notice Board well illustrates. The church had wide appeal and at one time had several clergy, chapels and reasonably large congregations. ++Harold was a truly charismatic man and sadly, as is so often the case, his work did not really retain its momentum or his vision after his passing, but I am confident that he leads and guides his spiritual kindred from the world of Spirit, which is in part why I have written this article. His spiritual influence is strong on those of us equipped to be aware of it.
A recent Mass in London with one of our priests and several of his occultist friends has made it very clear to me that our traditional Liberal Catholicism, far from being the the museum piece of a few appreciative souls might have a wider appeal than we sometimes think. The ultimate magic of attaining a sense of Divine Union (Theosis), offered by the sacramental approach still has a greater appeal to discerning souls than the thrill of psychic phenomena, useful and essential though this may be. To my mind these two should have a symbiotic relationship one to the other just as the "Gifts of the Spirit" and the "Fruit of the Spirit" are but different sides of the same coin. The gifts of the Spirit need to be exercised in the service of the humanity and for the glory of God and our religious tradition is ideally placed to provide a spiritually healthy context in which they may be expressed.
May Bishops Harold, James and Charles and all the saints bless our endeavours and enable us to take their vision forward into the new millenium.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines." (I Corinthians 12: 4-11)
The Seven Principles of Spiritualism
- The Fatherhood of God.
- The Brotherhood of Man.
- The Communion of Spirits and the Ministry of Angels.
- The Continuous Existence of the Human Soul.
- Personal Responsibility.
- Compensation and Retribution Hereafter for all the Good and Evil Deeds done on Earth.
- Eternal Progress Open to every Human Soul.