History of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit


History of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

June 6th, 1965 @ 10:50 AM

John 14:16

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

John 14:6

6-6-65    10:50 a.m.


On the radio  and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the morning message on The History of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  This is the third message prepared and delivered on this subject.  For a long time—how long I do not know—but for a long time, every Lord’s Day morning, there will be prepared and delivered a message in this pulpit on the presence, and the power, and the meaning of the Holy Spirit of God.  It is a study that brings to my own soul an incomparable new understanding.  And it is my earnest and humble prayer that in these days God will give to us a new knowledge of the presence of the Spirit in our congregation and in our own souls.

The background of these three messages has been a Word of our Lord in the fourteenth chapter of the Fourth Gospel.  Our Savior said, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, even the Spirit of truth; that He may abide with you for ever” [John 14:16-17].  That would mean then that when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon His people at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4], He has remained in this earth throughout the centuries since, will continue to remain until the consummation of the age.  If that is true then we may learn and we may follow the story of the doctrine and of the movement of the Holy Spirit in these centuries since Pentecost.

And it was my persuasion as I studied that for us to know the two thousand years of history past in which the Holy Spirit of God has worked in the earth and in which the churches of the Lord have sought to delineate or to refuse His presence among us, it would be an infinite help to us as we seek to understand His meaning and His message today.  So where we left off last Sunday we shall begin today.  And we shall finish this brief historical background in this hour.

Now in the controversies of the churches in the apostolic and following age, the great creeds were born.  A creed was an attempt on the part of the people of God to write succinctly and clearly the mind of God in the truth of Christ.  The first one was the Apostles’ Creed.  It dates clear back and back to the days of the apostles themselves.  Then following those tremendous Christological controversies of those first centuries, the second great creed was written in 325 AD.  The leaders of all the churches of Christendom were gathered in a little town in Asia Minor by the name of Nicaea presided over by the emperor of the Roma Empire, Constantine.  And out of that came the famous and marvelous Nicene Creed.  But following the Council of Nicaea there was still agitation concerning the presence and the meaning of the Third Person of the Trinity.  The Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed merely said, “We believe in the Holy Ghost,” nothing beyond.

But in the next council, that at Constantinople in 381 AD, they spelled out the belief of the people of God regarding the third person of the Trinity.  And this is what they said, “We believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.”  And that was a reflection of the exact word of Scripture in John 15:26: “But when the Paraclete has come, whom I will send unto to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father.”  And that is what they placed in the creed, “the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father.”  And that was the Creed of Christendom, the orthodox belief of all the people of the Lord throughout those early centuries.

But in 589 AD in Toledo, a city in Spain, there was called together the representatives of the Latin Church, the Western Church presided over by the Bishop of Rome, the pope of Rome.  And without consultation with the patriarch of Constantinople, the primate of the Greek Eastern Church in the Eastern Roman Empire, the Western Church gathered in Toledo in 589, added one word to that creed, “We believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, filioque, and the Son;” that one word, filioque.

The Eastern Church was not counseled with when that one word was added to the creed.  It is altogether scriptural to add it.  For example in the next chapter, John 16 and [verse] 7, the Lord had said:

Nevertheless I tell you…It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Paraclete will not come…but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.

[John 16:7]

But the Eastern Greek Church said not so, for the Scriptures say “He proceedeth from the Father” [John 15:26].  But the Western Latin Church said, “But He also proceedeth from the Son”; so they added the word, “who proceedeth from the Father, filioque, and from the Son”; and that split the churches of Christendom into two vast separated groups: the Western Church, Latin speaking, presided over by the pope of Rome and the Eastern Church, Greek speaking, presided over by the patriarch of Constantinople.

And so vicious and bitter was that controversy between them that finally in the year 1054 AD, the Legate of Rome, the representative of the Latin Church, placed on the high altar of Saint Sophia, the cathedral of the Primate of the Greek church, this terrible excommunication, and I quote, “Let them be, let them be anathema maranatha with Simoniacs, Valerians, Arians, Donatists, Nicolaitans, Savarians, Pneumatomachi, Manichaean, Nazarenes, and with all heretics, yea, with the devil and his angels, amen, amen, amen.”  And that sealed this curse, that sealed the permanent division between the Latin and the Greek churches, the Western and the Eastern churches which remains to this day.  And they divided over that doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit.

Now in those tragic and terrible days with increasing menacing force, the Muslim Turk began to threaten the very existence of the Eastern Empire and the Greek Church.  In their desperation, the Greek Church came to the Council of Constance in 1414, asking for help.  For without the help of the Western world, there was no possibility of the Eastern Empire surviving.  That appeal was turned down.  In 1431, at the council in Basil, Switzerland, the Eastern Church again made appeal for the West to help, and it was turned down.  And in final desperation in 1439, the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Patriarch of Constantinople themselves made personal appeal for the West to help against the terrible encroaching victories of the Muslim Turk, and it was finally turned down.  The end came in 1453.  One of the most dramatic passages in all English literature is Edward Gibbons’ description of the fall of Constantinople, in 1453.

It had all of the vital issues involved as in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD under Titus.  The war was led by two marvelously able military generals: Sultan Mohammed II, who led the Muslim Turk, and the Emperor Constantine Paleologus, one of the greatest emperors of the Roman Empire and the last; a man worthy to sit upon the throne of all of his great predecessors.  When the walls were broken and the Turks poured into the city, there was no cry.  There was no panic.  The people offered unto God the sacrifice and ablation of their prayers, and their adoration, and their love for the Lord.  And when they rose there from, the emperor refusing to outlive his empire, dashed into the thick of the battle and was slain with the multitude of the dead.  The Sultan gave the city up to plunder.  The last bastion was the great cathedral, Saint Sophia, built in 500 AD by the Emperor Justinian and the most famous church in all the world.  The axes of the Turks soon battered down the great doors and when the soldiers came in they all were slain.  The young were carried off into a worse fate and the glorious church of Saint Sophia was converted into a Muslim mosque.  And it is so today.

As I walked under that giant dome, larger than a baseball diamond; built in a day when steel was unknown, the most magnificent architectural pile of the earth and the very heart and symbol of the ancient Christian world; as I walked under the dome of great Saint Sophia, I reviewed all of the centuries of that past history.  And what a tragedy and what a despairing discouragement, what a blot, what a stain; and it has been that from the beginning––dividing, dividing, and dividing, and warring, and hating, anathematizing, and damning, and cursing.  And in this instance over one Latin word.  Oh, the story of the Spirit of God trying to make malleable the perverse and depraved sinful spirit of man even in His churches.

Now we follow it through.  After those days we enter the Middle Ages; dark and the Spirit almost unknown.  It was the doctrine of the teaching of the church that no man could understand the Word of God by the Spirit of the Lord.  And the interpretation of the Word was only in the hands of priests.  And it was expressly said that the Spirit of God could not enlighten the Word, but it could be understood only as they interpreted it.  Conversion was unknown.  Regeneration was never experienced except in rare instances and the churches fell into darkness, and sacramentalism, and ignorance, and superstition.  Wherever the Spirit of God withdraws, there follows after nothing but darkness, and superstition, and sacramentalism.

Then in those dark days, there came a refreshing visitation from above, itself a work of the outpouring of the Spirit of God.  In the 1500s came the Reformation.  And the Reformation explicitly gave itself to this great doctrine: that the Holy Word of God by the illumination of the Spirit of the Lord could be made known and could be recognized by each individual man; any man who would open his heart to the truth and would read the open Word.  That was why the Reformers preached the doctrines of the Holy Spirit, the work of Christ for us, and the work of the Holy Spirit in us.  And that is why they translated the Word of God out of the official Greek Scriptures into the vernacular of the people.  And that is why they sought to teach the people to read and to know the Word of God.  The days of the Reformation were apostolic.  They were apostolic in their dependence upon the Spirit of God and upon their exalting the Holy Word of the Lord.  They were great days.  They were magnificent days.  They were days of the outpouring and the fullness of the presence of the adorable third person of the Trinity.

Then came again, as inevitably and it always does, then came again that sterile, dry, blistering, burning, desert wind, and the Spirit of God largely withdrawn.  There lived immediately following the Reformation, there lived Socinus, the father of the Unitarian movement with its vile and vicious attack against the Trinity.  There followed Arminius, who magnified the human will in conversion and relegated the Holy Spirit to a minor role.  And there came the awful and withering curse of deism.  Deism swept over the churches of England and spilled over the churches of continental Europe.  Oh, the typical representatives of deist thinking––and this is unbelievable––one of the typical representatives of deist thinking is Voltaire, Voltaire.  The Holy Spirit, none; the imminence, the presence of God, none; if there was a God in creation, then He is withdrawn Himself and no longer concerns Himself with this universe.  That is deism.  And it withered the churches of God.  They died.

Then in the 1700s came again that marvelous spiritual outpouring.  We call it in history the Great Awakening under John Wesley and Charles Wesley, one of them preaching and one of them singing in England and George Whitefield, the most incomparable preacher of Jesus the world has ever known.  I haven’t time, but to read the work of George Whitefield is like reading the work of the apostle Paul, as though Paul could preach like Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Amos, and Apollos all at the same time.  No man has ever arisen before or since, with the marvelous, incomparable eloquence of George Whitefield.  Coming to America, and there linking his heart and hand with Jonathan Edwards, it was a mighty revival.  It turned the entire English speaking race God-ward and heavenward.  And instead of going through the dark, bloody days of the French Revolution, England experienced revival and America was turned to God!

There were lectures prepared and delivered on the Holy Spirit.  The great modern missionary movement was born, William Carey in 1792.  All this happened in the 1700s.  William Carey gathered together his band of Baptist preachers at Kettering and sent out their first missionary, himself going to India.  Oh, what days they were!  In America, the period and the spirit of revival, and pioneer outreach, and the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God; and as American preachers went westward they carried that marvelous spirit of evangelism with them.

Then followed again the dirge, and the curse, and the sterile drought of that blistering wind of man’s inability to learn––that it is of God, and not of reason, that it is of heaven, and not of earth; that it is of faith, and not of judgment and rational, critical, cynicism.  Then came the period of the German rationalistic movement and the higher critical movement of this last, the nineteenth century.  And it withered the world.

There was a time when it looked as if Japan would be solidly Christian.  There was a time when it looked as if Thailand, Siam, would be solidly Christian.  There was a time when it looked as if the age of Philadelphia [Revelation 3:7-13] had come, the age of the open door; with the whole world open to the message of Christ where we moved God-ward and heavenward.  And in those days, in the very heart of the nineteenth century, and in those days there poured into the schools, there poured into the seminaries, there poured into the pulpits, and there poured into the churches of the Lord in the whole Earth this thing of rational criticism, higher criticism.  And they took the Book and they studied it.  They took out the supernatural.  They denied the miracles, and they violently attacked the Trinity.  No such thing as the deity of our Lord and that brought down with it of course the deity of the Holy Spirit; no miracles, no visitation of God among us, everything to be explained on the basis of a man’s natural judgment.

And that has spilled over into the modern movement of neo-orthodoxy.  The new orthodox movement, the movement, current fad of theology in the world today has nothing to say about the Holy Spirit.  I would suppose that to almost a man they would deny His distinct and separate personality.  They would look upon His work as a manifestation of the work of God, some kind of an influence, or some kind of an “it.”  These are the things that in the last century took away the great spirit of revival, and conquest, and missions, and left the churches dead, and sterile, and dry, and unable.

Now in those days there was born a movement, in the last century, in the nineteenth century, there was born a movement––and how to judge that movement, I am still at a loss to know.  And as I study and continue to ask of God, I pray the Lord will speak to my mind, my understanding, and my heart.  Whether it’s for good or whether it’s for bad, one thing that movement did against the sterility, and the dryness, and the joylessness, of what intellectualism had done to the churches of Jesus; at least that movement brought attention to the fact that the Holy Spirit is still in this world and that He is still to be reckoned with.  And it is a revelation that at least still we ought to know, and to meet, and that there is such a thing as joy superb and unspeakable in the power, and presence, and unction of God upon His people.  I refer to the Holiness movement.  I refer to the Pentecostal movement.

John Wesley was what you would call a Pentecostal, a Holiness.  John Wesley is what you would call an old-time, old-fashioned Holiness sanctified preacher.  John Wesley gave birth to that phrase “a shouting Methodist.”  And one of the great doctrines of John Wesley was the entire sanctification of life, so given to God and so given to the Lord that he lived above sin––the doctrine to live above sin, sanctification.  Now as that doctrine proceeded and finally came to power and birth, in the last century a reaction against the sterility of the churches; there are three parts in it.

One: that in sanctification the heart is purged; the life is delivered from original sin, depravity.  I do not believe that.  I do not think any man in this life ever reaches that place where the drag of his old human nature doesn’t pull him down.  However you may purpose to be holy and however you may give your life to serve God, that old human nature still is with you.  As Paul wrote in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans, “What I want to do, I do not do; and what I do not want to do, that I do [Romans 7:15, 19].  O, cursed man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” [Romans 7:24].  That’s my experience.  That’s the experience of every life I’ve ever observed.

And when John Wesley was talked to about it, he said, “But if a man never gives himself to rise above the evil of this world and of his own human nature, then how could it ever be hoped that we might achieve the perfection, and the glory, and the grace of Jesus in this present life?”  And I concur in that.  There is much, there is much in that preaching of John Wesley that would move any man’s soul.  Well, that’s the doctrine, that in sanctification it is possible for old original sin, and old original self, and old carnal body to be purged away and for a man to be given holy to God.

All right, a second part of that doctrine: it was the doctrine that this experience is subsequent to our salvation, and is a different and altogether experience with God.  A man is saved.  That is one experience.  Then later subsequently, he has this sanctification.  He has this “second blessing” they call it.  One time he’s saved, and in the next time, God makes him a pure creature; a sanctified, holy individual; a separate, altogether different experience.

And then a third thing about the doctrine and it comes instantaneously like a man is converted; one moment he’s lost, the next moment he’s saved and it comes immediately.  One moment he doesn’t have it, then the next moment the power of a sanctifying, purifying Spirit of God comes upon him, and he is sanctified, the “second blessing” coming instantaneously and with it, as they avow, signs of His coming, of His presence: speaking in tongues, other things that are characteristic of the Pentecostal movement.

Well, what of these things?  I have looked.  I have searched.  Were it not for the Pentecostals, we would have very few Christian converts in great areas of this world.  Out on these mission fields in country after country after country, it is those holiness people wrestling with the vile, and vicious, and darkened problems of paganism.  And they are winning converts and turning men to God.  And all that is involved in that doctrine, we shall let God teach us.  We shall let God save.  If it is possible for us to be sanctified, God grant it, God grant it.  If it is possible for us to have a renewed baptism, or enduement, or endowment, or refreshment of the Holy Spirit of God, God grant it, God grant it.  If it is possible for us to be given the miraculous powers of those ancient men of God, the Lord grant it.

Much of it in my studying I have already concluded.  There is much of it that I have already I think been able to see and to understand.  But there is one part of it I’m still waiting upon God for.  Lord, that it not be in language, that it not be in syllable, that it not be in letter, but O God, that the delivery of the message, and the living of the life, and the working of the deed might be in the unction and in the power of the Holy Spirit, that our faith, our conversion should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power and demonstration of the Spirit of God [1 Corinthians 2:5].  And we shall wait.  We shall pray.  We shall seek.  We shall ask and we shall see.

Now I have a few minutes left.  Let me continue.  Here are some things that two thousand years of the history of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit; here are some things that are very apparent.  I name several of them.  One, wherever a people, a congregation, a minister, a professor, anywhere in the world; wherever a people give themselves to intellectual rationalism, the Holy Spirit will withdraw immediately.  He is gone.  He is gone.  Whenever men come to the place that they tear apart the Word of God; that they deny the holy inspiration of the Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20]; that they refuse the prophecies, and the revelations, and the promises of this Holy Book; therein and immediately the power of the Holy Spirit is withdrawn.  A man is left to himself, his own reason, his own ability, his own human ingenuity, but God doesn’t help him anymore!  The Lord doesn’t work with him anymore.  He has chosen human strength, and a hand of a human life, and God leaves him.  This is what a man can do.  This is what a human mind can think.  This is what one human life is able to do, but he doesn’t have what God is able to do, and the presence, and power of the Lord upon him.

When a man gives himself to rationalism, to higher criticism, the Spirit of God leaves him.  And it’s a strange thing when a man is converted, when he’s regenerated, every syllable of this Book, every miracle in it, every prophecy and every promise comes to life vividly, and powerfully, and wonderfully.  Isn’t that an amazing thing?  You may have a Ph.D. in every, in every great scientific field in the world, but if you are a regenerated man, if you are a converted Christian, however your fine intellectual attainments, you will find your heart easily receptive to the marvelous revelations here in the Word of God.  Isn’t that a wonderful thing?  We must hasten.

We are following in past history the lessons we learned in the story of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  First one: rationalism and immediately the Holy Spirit is withdrawn.  All right a second one––and this was an amazing thing to me––ritualism will dismiss the Holy Spirit from a service; ritualism.  I never had thought of that particularly.  I had been in these great and marvelous churches, and I have seen their pageantry and their pomp.  But I don’t know.  I never had thought about how many people are converted in them; how many people find the Lord in them; how many people are saved in them.  I never had put the two together.

But in studying one of the great books of all time, Dr. George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, one of the great theologians of Scotland; on page three-hundred twenty-eight, that marvelous ecclesiastical wrote this, quote: “To one fact all history gives a harmonious testimony in the ratio in which the ritualistic element ascends, the spiritual element descends; the elevation of the one being the depression of the other.”  As a church becomes more ritualistic, and more ritualistic, and more ritualistic, and the sensual elements in worship arise; the true glory of the church, namely the power and presence of the Holy Spirit of God, descends, and descends, and descends.  And it’s like a seesaw.  As ritualism rises, the power of the Spirit diminishes.  And as the power of the Spirit rises, the ritualistic element is obviated.

I never had particularly thought about that.  And in my studying, I read a little something that illustrated it precisely.  One of these little old ladies was over there in England, walking around through Westminster Abbey.  And the guide was extolling this, many of you’ve been there, and that, and that.  And the little old lady broke in and said, “Young man, young man, young man.  Stop that chatter, stop that chatter.  Tell me, has anybody been converted in this church lately?”  Oh, law me!  Have you ever been to church in Westminster Abbey?  Have you ever been there?  I could not imagine, I could not conceive in my fondest imagination, I could never imagine anybody being saved in Westminster Abbey.  It just never had occurred to me.

I never have thought about these things as such until I began reading these books on the history of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  I may not have seen anybody converted in the services I have attended in Westminster Abbey.  But, my brother, I couldn’t tell you the number of times, under an arbor made out of leaves or out of hay, or down a trail covered in sawdust, or on a street corner, or in a barn, I have seen people gloriously converted and saved.  It isn’t ritual, but it is by the power of the living God.  Anytime that I have prayed and talked to God about this, anytime the Holy Spirit of Jesus wants to take over any of these services, fine, fine; let God have it.  Let God have it.

Why, in reading of the glorious visitation from above, I read of a preacher who stood up and took his text and he read, “Behold the Lamb of God” [John 1:29] and that’s as far as he got.  Just that much of his text and people began to be saved.  And they fell on their knees and began to ask God for forgiveness and mercy.  And the services were filled with the testimony, and the tears, and the commitment, and the marvelous changing of the lives of the people, when the Holy Spirit took over the service.

O, take it Lord!  Anytime, Lord, You want to cut my sermon in two, do it.  Anytime, Lord, You want to do anything in the service, do it.

That’s where this prayer rail came from as you know.  Preaching in California to the preachers at a Nazarene assembly; all the preachers of California brought there by their executive leader, I never thought anything about it.  Nazarene assembly, and the Nazarenes always have a mourners’ bench.  And while I was preaching on a Wednesday night there in California, one of those men stood up.  One of the preachers stood up into the aisle, and down to the front, and fell there at the mourners’ bench, and began to sob out his heart before God––right there, right there in the middle of my preaching, in the middle of my sermon.  There was another one stood up, and another one, and another one came down and fell at the mourners’ bench and began to cry their hearts out unto God.

When I came back here to Dallas, I got a letter from a man, never did know him, and he said, “I’m writing this letter to apologize to you.  I want to beg your pardon.  I want to ask you to forgive me.”  He said, “I was the man that stood up and came down to the front while you were preaching and cried my heart out unto God.”  He said, “I never intended to do anything like that.”  He said, “I never did anything like that in my life.  I never dreamed I’d ever do anything like that.”  But he said, “I had quit the ministry.  I had resigned.  The work was too heavy, and it was too hard, and I had quit.”  And he said, “Before, finally I left the church, I thought I’d accept the secretary’s invitation since my way was paid and go hear you preach.”  And he said, “While you were preaching, the Holy Spirit came upon me, and I gave my life again, and anew to the Lord.  And I’m back here in my pastorate and God is blessing me as I work for Him.  But I want you to forgive me.  I didn’t intend to do it.”

I wrote him back.  I said, “Man, not anything that’s ever happened in my ministry has moved my heart more than that night when you came down there, and fell on your face, and poured your heart unto God.”

And I came back here to Dallas, and I have never struggled with anything in my life as I did trying to get up enough nerve to put this prayer rail here at the front of this church.  It’s not in any Baptist church I know of in the world, and it’s something that nobody else ever does in our faith and communion.  And I thought, “O, what if the people are offended?  And what if the people don’t like it?  And what if they oppose it and look upon it as something of an innovation that’s not of God, but of men?”  But we did it.  And from that day until this, God has added something sweet, and precious, and blessed to the services in this dear church.

O Lord, teach us.  O Lord, speak to our souls.  O God, open our minds to understand and give us an answer by fire from heaven.

Now, we must sing our song.  And while we sing the appeal; you, somebody, you, give your heart to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8].  Come and stand with us here at the point before men and angels, “Here I stand, Lord.  Here I come.  I’m taking the Lord as my Savior [Romans 10:8-13].  I’m putting my life in the fellowship of the church” [Hebrews 10:24-25].  A couple, “Pastor, I’m bringing my whole family.  This is my wife, and these are our children.  All of us are coming.”  However God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now.  Make it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell

John 14:16


I.          Procession of Holy Spirit

A.  Early creeds only
stated belief in Holy Ghost, nothing beyond

1.  Council
at Constantinople in 381 AD (John 15:26)

B.  Western
Church added one word without consulting Eastern Church in 589 AD

1.  Controversy
led to excommunication of Eastern Church in 1054

C.  Muslim Turk began to
threaten existence of Eastern Empire, Church

      1.  Fall of
Constantinople in 1453

II.         Pre-Reformation Middle Ages

A.  Churches fell into
darkness, sacramentalism, ignorance, superstition

III.        The Reformation of the 1500’s

A.  Word of God by
illumination of Spirit could be made known to any man

IV.       The Post-Reformation

A.  Socinus founded
Unitarian movement

B.  Arminius magnified
human will in conversion

C.  Deism denied
imminence of God and any work of Holy Spirit

V.        The Great Awakening in 1700’s

A.  John Wesley, Charles
Wesley, George Whitfield

B.  Churches conscious
of presence of Holy Spirit

VI.       Modern

A.  Rationalism, higher
criticism and Modern Neo-orthodoxy

B.  Pentecostal reaction
– doctrine of sanctification (Romans 7:15, 24)

VII.      Lessons we learn

A.  Signs of the lack of
want of the Spirit’s power

      1.  Rationalism

      2.  Ritualism