A History of Charisma by John Potts (auth.)

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By John Potts (auth.)

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These letters were an efficient way for Paul to communicate instruction to a range of communities; writing was also the medium that most suited his communication abilities. 1 Caravaggio, The Conversion of St Paul, 1601. Caravaggio conveys the intensity of Paul’s conversion, experienced as a visceral and emotional event. This experience set the tone for Paul’s belief in the transforming power of charis or divine grace. letters, which were read aloud to congregations. Even his opponents, who were eager to highlight his shortcomings – ‘his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account’ – acknowledged the skill and persuasive power of his writing: his letters ‘are weighty and strong’ Paul Invents Charisma 33 (2 Cor 10: 10).

On trial after his arrest, Peter delivers a speech while ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ that so impresses with its boldness that he is freed (5: 8–13); elsewhere, galvanising delivery of sermons is considered a sign of the Spirit. The one instance in Acts of the Spirit visiting extraordinary powers on ordinary individuals occurs when Peter preaches to an audience of both Jews and gentiles. The Holy Spirit ‘fell on all who heard the word’, amazing the Christian Jews because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.

The shortcomings of this comparative approach 22 A History of Charisma are revealed when rival interpretations contest their Weberian credentials. 42 The entanglements and confusions encountered in this comparative approach derive from its ahistorical nature. Holy men and miracleworkers in various cultures at different times performed divergent social roles: some may have been leaders, and others were regarded as sages, counsellors, storytellers, healers. The indiscriminate labelling of these individuals as charismatic in Weber’s sense wrenches them from their cultures and their historical periods.

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