Book Review: Soldiers: German POWs on Fighting, Killing, and Dying

Soldiers: German POWs on Fighting, Killing, and Dying, by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer is an eye-opening book about the amorality and monstrosities of German soldiers in the Second World War and how this mindset developed.

Soldiers: German POWs on Fighting, Killing, and Dying, by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer

Sönke Neitzel, a German historian and “currently Professor of Military History at the University of Potsdam”(1) and Harold Welzer, a German social psychologist, combine to build a definitive and unassuming portrait based on taped conversations of Germans detained in Allied war prisons. These were secretly done and transcribed by British and American intelligence agents during the Second World War. These dialogues helped the Allied forces better understand the technological and strategic initiatives within the German military during the War. However, the social and moral dynamics found in these discussions had little strategic value and were left unused for over five decades.

Neitzel accidentally found out about these records while working as a visiting lecturer in Glasgow in 2001. Further investigation uncovered a large library of over 100,000 pages. Neitzel contacted Harold Welzer who was electrified about the findings: “. . .men were talking live, in real time, about the war and their attitudes towards it. It was a discovery that would give unique, new insight into the mentality of the Wehrmacht and perhaps of the military in general.”(2)Pg. Ix Indeed, the documents revealed a rich wealth of information to build a historical and psychological portrait. The findings offered lessons not only on the German war machine, but war in general.

Their analysis dispelled the myth that German soldiers were merely following orders or that the violence was committed by a few rogue groups or leaders. The dialogues portrayed the everyday soldier, airman, or seaman, along with the upper echelons of military brass were compliant in the atrocities. Even the civilian administration was guilty. The mass executions were a lure for a good show, a “semipublic spectacle with a high amusement value.” The circumstances extended even to police officers who wanted to kill someone for the thrill of the experience.(3)Pg. 137

The book does not delve into the hearts and minds of soldiers and leaders who worked inside the concentration camps, only those captured in battle.

The authors sought to discover what influenced German soldiers to shift into an amoral and monstrous mindset. They concluded the most important factors were unlimited power, unbridled youth, shame, group dynamics, and the military frame of reference. The analysis ruled out any socio-economic status, religious identity, education level, or ethnicity as a contributing factor. Nor was ideology a force. Most soldiers were apolitical.(4)Pg. 319 The infamous SS or its armed wing, Waffen units, were neither entirely responsible. Soldiers in the general armed forces, the Wehrmacht, had also perpetrated severe violations. The actions were consistent of any participant in the German enterprise.

Wartime soldiers are by and large youngish men who have been separated from their real or would-be partners and freed from many social constraints. When stationed in occupied areas, they are given the sort of an individual power they would never enjoy in civilian society.” (5)Pg. 165

Soldiers were most concerned with their own individual survival, their next home leave, the loot they could pilfer, and the fun they could have, and not the suffering of others, especially those considered racially inferior. Soldiers’ own fate was always at the center of their perception. Only in rare cases did the fate of enemy troops or occupied peoples seem worthy of note. Everything that threatened one’s own survival, spoiled the fun, or created problems could become the target of unlimited violence.(6)Pg. 77

The book is a much harsher reality than the one portrayed in the movie, Schindler’s List, but less intense than the narrative provided by Philippe Aziz, in his book, Doctors of Death, — which focused on the German medical leadership and experimentation on Jewish subjects. The atrocities being widespread and not restricted to loose canons or hierarchical force was also substantiated by Edwin Black in his book, IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation where he shows that low-level clerks and commoners who did the data entry for identifying Jewish identity in Nazi-occupied territories were also direct contributors to the holocaust.

The prison conversations bring to light the general war problem of autotelic violence“violence committed for its own sake without any larger purpose.”(7)Pg. 49 This is a natural outcome when the modern rules of law are suspended in times of war. The authors shared a conversation of a Luftwaffe observer named Lieutenant Pohl, who said it only took him three days to get used to the violence. After the fourth day, he enjoyed shooting down soldiers — it was breakfast amusement. On one occasion he wanted to drop bombs on a crowded Polish town because he was so full of rage and he didn’t give a damn. “It would have been great fun if it had come off.”(8)Pg. 46

Another conversation shows how autotelic violence had become routine:

“We sank a children’s transport. . . which gave us great pleasure.”(9)Pg. 69

Neitzel and Welzer make a formative statement that the rape, tortures, mass killings, forced plunder, genocides, and other war-related fatalities were nothing new in the historical annals of war. The difference was the increased dimension and expression of such phenomena exercised by the Germans. The introduction of new technology and weaponry – the switch from horses, cannons and bayonets to planes, tanks, semi-automatic rifles, and weapons of mass destruction, allowed for death and destruction beyond any historical framework. This greatly expanded the ability to destroy without any limit.(10)Pg. 321 The coverage of later wars and revolts by the revered journalist, Robert Fisk, clearly points out that these evils are not a proprietary problem of Germany, but an expression of humanity’s dark side wherever a social system collapses and there are no limits on violence.(11)See the The Great War for Civilisation for more info Another distinction within the German establishment was the elimination of certain groups that had “nothing to do with the war itself.”(12)Pg. 76

The authors build a framework to answer why out of 17 million members of the Wehrmacht, there were only 100 attempts at rescuing Jews.(13)Pg. 100 They believe the solution can be found in their frame of reference. The frame of reference was built around military values in a wartime situation. It became extreme because German society was passive, tolerant of repression, restricted their opinions to the private realm, and did not question the military value systems.(14)Pgs. 34–35 More importantly was the individual soldier’s relationship with his immediate comrades. Going against the group existential existence, even if the purposes are inhuman, is tantamount to the individual’s emotional or physical death.(15)Pg. 336

Naturally, the horrendous acts of violence against Jews are included in many conversations. These come as no surprise, but the callousness and the uncaring does. Soldiers got extra rations, pay incentives and other perks for execution duty.(16)Pg. 126Ff But a switch began to happen as the war began to shift into Allied control. More emphasis was placed on hiding the killings, including exhuming bodies and destroying any evidence. There was a certain fear that if the Germans lost the war, Jews would look for revenge.

The prisoners conversations about sexual assaults, rapes and violence against women was shocking. The soldiers’ dialogues carried the sense of pleasure and power without any remorse. While some women did receive better treatment, it was far from altruistic — the soldiers traded protection for a sexual favours. The women were eventually shot and killed in order to hide the abuses and avoid public shame of sex with a Jewish woman. There was also rampant prostitution. The authors described that the sexual predation was widespread throughout the military and led to a major spread of gonorrhoea and syphilis that overwhelmed the medical facilities. Antibiotics treatment had not been introduced yet, and contracting a VD severely weakened the military’s available manpower. The military responded by setting up and sponsoring brothels in order to counter this.

But without doubt, sex was part of soldiers’ everyday existence – with a whole series of consequences for the women involved.(17)Pg. 169

A statistic for the amount of rapes, violence, and murders against women done by German soldiers has never been given. However, the conversations by the soldiers indicate the rate must have been significantly high.

The overall discussions were so dark, contorted and distasteful, that my mind has difficulty imagining them. But they compelled me to ask, what kind of persons are we dealing with here? How could men with such strong values of hard work, respect, and honour, turn dark so quickly and heartlessly? How could they go home and speak to their wives, mothers or sisters about what they did? Once the war was over, was there a place for them to live? Or did their conscience already die and they moved about as empty shells?

The authors answered the first two questions. The latter questions about the post-war lives of these soldiers are left unanswered. How could these people find peace? Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch woman dispatched to a concentration camp by the Nazis for concealing Jews in her family home, and author of Hiding Place gave one clue. While giving a speech in Germany shortly after the War, a former prison guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp approached her, though not familiar with each other, asked her for forgiveness against the cruelty he enacted on the people at Ravensbruck. She felt both were liberated through the act of forgiveness: letting go of her bitterness that could cripple one’s body and soul, and him, from the prison of his guilty conscience.(18) Was this type of remorse and wanting catharsis widespread with post-war soldiers, or was Ten Boom’s encounter an exception? Soldiers: German POWs on Fighting, Killing, and Dying, would have been a more powerful book if the authors followed up interviewing a few of these prisoners that did such atrocities to find whether they remained defiant or later became remorseful.

The popular term today in military mental health circles for soldiers in this circumstance is called moral injury — the “reaction stemming from perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs.”(19)Psynopsis: Canada’s Psychology Magazine Most literature on moral injury tend to treat the person as a victim and a mental health problem. I think the authors of Soldiers: German POWs on Fighting, Killing, and Dying would dispute the claim of the perpetrator as a victim. Although many situations can be a perceived sense of guilt and not real, the victims of a person committing a moral injury are either dead, disabled or emotional invalids, while the perpetrator goes on living. This is a cop-out that avoids addressing the moral failure and prevents the perpetrator to admit wrongfulness and receive full catharsis.

The stories shared in the book evoke such anger for real justice. If there is no remorse given by the perpetrators, or any attempt to say sorry to those who have been wronged, the only solace is that these people will have to answer before God at the day of reckoning for the blood of the innocents.

What can be learned from this book for today? This is not a book about ideology but the everyday person in the German military. The idea that, I don’t give a rat’s ass about anything except what affects me, was consistent within all the discussions and a key undertone among many others. A condition that allows hatred to ignite and go unchecked. A mindset that allows the person to complete instructions even against one’s moral convictions, and removes the person from any social responsibility. This circumstance opens a pandora’s box of monstrous proportions when no rules exist. Apathy is a much harder vice to correct than hatred and is the essence of inhumanity. This is not a simply a problem of World War II Germany – examples can be found in almost any major modern conflict in the world. Every society has to guard against this sin.

Would I recommend this book? This is one of the most difficult readings I have ever done. It is well written, researched and documented, but the subject matter is grisly. This book is not recommended for the casual reader, or for anyone personally haunted by the bitterness of war, but a source work for the historian, social psychologist, teacher, or journalist. Neither should one attempt to read in one, two or three sittings. The very nature forces one to read only bits at a time and put it away for a while.

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References   [ + ]

An English translation of Blessed Andrew Speaking in tongues

An English translation of Andrew the Fool speaking in tongues. As found in the Vita S. Andreae Sali by Nicephori Presbyteri.

Saint Basil the Fool
Saint Basil, a Fool for Christ by By Sergei Kirillov. Andrew the Fool followed this nonconformance tradition practiced in Eastern Orthodox circles.

Andrew the Fool, often cited as Andrew of Constantinople, or Andrew Salus, was a christian follower known for his odd lifestyle that would be classified under some form of a mental illness by today’s standards. However, many biographers believe it was a ruse purposely done by Andrew. There is a rich tradition of holy fools in Eastern Orthodox literature.

The Eastern Orthodox Church holds that holy fools voluntarily take up the guise of insanity in order to conceal their perfection from the world, and thus avoid praise.

Some characteristics that were commonly seen in holy fools were going around half-naked, being homeless, speaking in riddles, being believed to be clairvoyant and a prophet, and occasionally being disruptive and challenging to the point of seeming immoral (though always to make a point).(1)

The greater part of Nicephore’s narrative illustrates the tenth-century perceptions of mental illness. However, the aim of the Gift of Tongues Project is not to cover this aspect but a fourfold-purpose in pursuing the subject of speaking in tongues.

There are two small but important snippets on speaking in tongues found here. The first narrative describes both Andrew and a servant miraculously switch into the Syriac language for the purpose of conversing privately. This circumstance allowed both parties to speak freely while others in the same room did not have the ability to understand what they were talking about. The second one was where Andrew had the spiritual ability to see inside people’s lives and name their secret sins. Added to this miracle was the supernatural ability to speak to each person about their innermost secrets in their native tongue. Once again, the supernatural ability to speak in a foreign language was for the purpose of confidentiality. Whatever was spoken was strictly between Andrew and the person. Andrew’s miracle eliminated any possibility of public shame.

Andrew was a Slav by birth and an educated slave. He was released by his master due to his alleged insanity. He lived during the tenth-century in Constantinople.(2) See also He is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church. His name hardly registers in the annals of Western Christianity.

There are two brief references to him speaking in tongues. Here is a translation of the actual texts relating to his speaking or arguably the people miraculously hearing him speak in their language.

First reference to speaking in tongues

Translated by Charles A. Sullivan from the Greek as found in Nicephori Presbyteri. Vita S. Andreae Sali. MPG. Vol. 111. Col. 699-702

While these were chatting about things, one of the slaves of Epiphanius, who was appointed for his father’s catering, recognized with spiritual insight the Venerable One’s calling (how he knew such things, God only knows). This one sat at his feet, entreating God with tears that he would be imparted such works himself. The righteous man knew what it is, the very thing the servant was earnestly pleading provision for. Wishing to converse with him alone, he was transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit along with the speech of the servant to a language between them, and the Venerable One remained seated, and was speaking to him in Syriac in everything that he wanted. The servant furthermore said “except that I am not worthy nor should I entreat to you such things that would beget equality.” Then the Venerable One replied to him that “you cannot bear the sweatings and the digging of ditches in regards to this fame, seeing that the way is of oppression and of infinite toil and distress. Remain rather as one with godliness and dignity being trained under your lord Epiphanius the great things for you and the matters respectful of salvation,(3)Hebrews 6:9 fleeing fornications, grudges, and the list of the other remaining passions. What is the need for you to subject yourself with such punishments?” Then the servant said to him, “If you therefore wish to give ear to me about my misery, say to me you cannot do this.” Then these matters were heard, the Venerable One fell silent.

61. Epiphanius, seeing the sudden(4)ὰνθραν cannot find the Greek definition, depending on the Latin translator for this one change of language by his servant which he never learned to speak, he reckoned in his heart these things and spoke, “Blessed of a miracle! The Holy Saints can do so great a work! The Blessed One beseeched of the Lord for the servant, a grace on behalf of this person’s request, what then he was going to become, and a voice came to him saying: “This is not helpful, back off from this undertaking! Show him how great a matter it is, he should not aspire such things like your low stature.” Therefore, the Blessed One spoke to the Angel standing nearby. “Fill the cup of pleasure, from which the grace upon grace has flourished for me.” Thus, the angel of the Lord completed the task. And the Blessed One said to him, “Υοu will drink this resting on my feet.” Then immediately, he was given to drink the thing unable by normal people to see(5)Ὁ δὲ εὐθέως ἀοράτω and the servant began to do a similar appearance to the divinely inspired father Andrew, which upon seeing this, brings a smile to the joyful one. On the other hand, Epiphanius, seeing the matter unfolding, was disturbed, fearing lest he should bring any kind of indignation by his father, so he said to the Blessed One, “I require of you, servant of God, not to do this thing inside the house of my father, lest at some point he would regard you with contempt[ref]ἐξουδενωθείσῃ cannot be found in most popular Greek dictionaries, is it a regional variation of ἐξουθενωθείσῃ? This is how it is translated here. and God shall be blamed instead of goodness, and you can witness him hating and cursing me to the ancestry, and after that moment never bring you again. I therefore beseech and request that you do not dismiss my trivial request. Remember one day my love of your household servant.”

His second reference to speaking in tongues

Translated by Charles A. Sullivan from the Greek as found in Nicephori Presbyteri. Vita S. Andreae Sali. MPG. Vol. 111. Col. 703-704.

As they seated around him, the Blessed Andrew saw with a keen eye of understanding the work of each one, and with what kind of error each one had committed. And wishing that he could help them, having turned around, he began to give a speech, uttering a certain parable. So these people were listening and feeling shame regarding the words of the Venerable One, as if they carried a flame with reverence, these were numb from shuddering, some were confused and fearful, others who felt ashamed were withdrawing. For indeed, in the simplicity of the Righteous one, the speech sharply named the sins of everyone — both in what manner and how they committed them. And then this occurred: he identified the sins in each person’s language. The people who are captivated by this event said, “This man is acquainted with the things about me.”

A few technical notes

This text is based on the Greek found in Migne Patrologia Graeca. I am sure there are other better versions available, but finding those versions so far has eluded me. So, the MPG copy will have to suffice. An English translation is already available, The life of St. Andrew the Fool : edited by Lennart Rydén but only a few select libraries carry this item throughout the world. Rather than attempting the cumbersome and time-consuming task of interlibrary loan, I translated the pertinent sections about tongues myself.

Nicephori Presbyteri’s writing style has very many similarities to another local writer during that period, Michael Psellos. Both incorporate a wide vocabulary of Greek languages, Attic, Doric and Ionic and like to write in a Greek faux-renaissance fashion. Nicephori’s writing style is B grade because the author is not always clear with his subjects and predicates. There are points in the writing where the reader/translator is forced to fill in some missing thoughts.

The idea of speaking in tongues being for the purpose of private, confidential instruction is unique among the shifting tides of the christian doctrine of tongues throughout the centuries.

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Blessed Andrew speaking in tongues — the original texts

Andrew of Constantinople speaking in tongues – the original Greek and Latin.

Andrew of Constantinople, also known as Andrew the Fool, lived in the tenth-century. An English translation along with technical notes will be posted within the next seven days.

First reference to speaking in tongues

As found in Nicephori Presbyteri. Vita S. Andreae Sali. MPG. Vol. 111. Col. 699 — 702


ξʹ. Ταῦτα αὐτῶν ὁμιλούντων εἷς τῶν οἰκετων Ἐπιφανίου, ὁ ἁφωρισμένος εἰς τὸ ὀψώνιον τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτου, [πνευματικοῖς ὃμασιν] ἐπιγνοὺς τὴν τοῦ Ὅσίου ἐργασίαν (πῶς δὲ ταῦτα ἐπέγνω Θεῷ μόνῳ γνωστόν) καθισας πρὸ τῶν ποδῶν αὐτοῦ, δάκρυσι καθικέτευε τόν Θεόν ὑπὲρ αὑτοῦ τοῦ γενέσθαι αὐτὸν τοιαύτης ἐργασίας. Ἔγνω δὲ τῷ πνεύματι ὁ Δίκαιος τί ἐστιν ὅπερ ὁ παῖς ἐξελιπάρει κομίσασθαι, καὶ βουλόμενος κατʹ ἰδίαν ὁμιλῆσαι αὐτῷ, τῇ δυνάμει τοῦ ἁγιου Πνεύματος μετέστρεψεν καὶ τὴν ὁμιλίαν τοῦ παιδὸς εἰς τἠν τῶν διάλεκτον, καὶ καθεζόμενος ὁ Ὅσιος, ὡμίλει αὑτῷ Συριστὶ ὅσα ἑβούλετο. Ὁ δὲ παῖς ἔλεγεν, Ἑάν ούκ ἡδυνόμην,(1) ἡδυνάμην ούκ ἄν παρεκάλουν σοι τοιοῦτος γενέσθαι ὁποιος εἷς καὶ αὺτος. Ὁ δὲ Ὅσιος λέγει πρὸς αὐτόν· Οὐ δύνασαι ὑποφέρειν τοὺς ἰδρῶτας καὶ τὰ σκάμματα τῆς ἁρετῆς ταύτης, ἐπειδὴ βιαστή ἐστιν ἡ ὀδὸς, καὶ ἀπείρου πόνου καὶ μόχθου· μένε οὖν μᾶλλον καθὰ εἵ ἐν εὐσεβείᾳ καὶ σεμνόντητι, διδασκόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ κυρίου σου Ἐπιφανίου τὰ κρείττονά σοι καὶ σωτηρίας ἐχόμενα, φεύγῶν πορνείαν, μνησικακιαν, καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν παθῶν τὸν κατάλογον· καὶ τί σοι χρεία ἀναγκαις τοιαύταις σεαυτόν καθυποβαλειν ; Ὁ δὲ παῖς εἶπεν αὐτῷ· Εἰ οὖν βούλει τῆς ἐμῆς ἑλεεινότητος ὑπακοῦσαι, λέξαι μοι ὄτι οὐ δύνασαι τοῦτο ποιῆσαι. Ταῦτα δὲ ἀκούσας ὁ Ὅσιος ἡσύχαζεν.

ξαʹ. Ὁ δὲ Ἐπιφάνιος Βλέπων τὴν ὰνθραν μεταβολὴν τῆς γλώττης τοῦ παιδὸς, ὅτι ἃ μὴ μεμάθηκεν ὰπεφθέγγετο, ὲν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτου ταῦτα συνὲβαλεν καὶ λέγει· Βαβαὶ τοῦ θαυματος, πόσα οἱ Ἅγιοι δύνανται ! Ὁ δὲ Μακάριος ἐδεήθη τοῦ Κυρίου περὶ τοῦ παιδὸς, χάριν τῆς ὲκείνου αἰτήσεως, τί ἄρα δεϊ γενέσθαι· καὶ ἥλθεν φωνὴ αὑτῷ λέγουσα· Οὐκ ἒστιν τοῦτο συμφέρον, ἄπαγε τοῦ ἐγχειρήματος· δεῖζον αὐτῷ πρᾶγμα ὁποῖόν ἐστιν, μὴ ὡς ἁδυνάτου σου, τοιαῦτα καταψηφίσηται. Ὁ οὖν Μακάριος ἔφεσε τῷ Ἀγγέλῳ τῷ ἐφεστῶτι· Πλῆσον τὸ ποτήριον τῆς θυμηδία, ἀφ’ ἧς ἡ χάρις τοῦ κατ` ἐμὲ χαρίσματος ἑπήνθησεν. Ἐποίησέν τε ὁ Ἄγγελος Κυρίου· καὶ λέγει πρὸς αὐτὸν ὁ Μακάριος· Ποτιεῖς ἐκεῖνον τὸν ἐπι τῶν ποδῶν μου καθήμενον. Ὁ δὲ εὐθέως ἀοράτω, ἐπότισεν αὐτὸν, καὶ ἤρξατο ὁ παῖς παραπλήσια σχήματα πράττειν ἐοικότα τῷ θεοφόρῳ πατρὶ, ὅστις ὁρῶν αὐτὸν ἐμειδία εὐφραινόμενος. Ὁ δὲ Ἐπιφάνιος ὁρῶν τὸ γεγονὸς ἑταράχθη, φοβηθεις μή ποτε ἑπαναδράμῃ πᾶσα ἀγανάκτησις τοῦ πατρὸς αὺτοῦ, καὶ λέγει πρὸς τὸν Μακάριον· Δέομαί σου, δοῦλε τοῦ Θεὸς, μὴ ποιήσης τοῦτο τὸ πρᾶγμα ἐπι τῷ οἰκέτῃ τοῦ πατρός μου, μή ποτε καὶ αὐτὸς ἐξουδενωθείσῃ, καὶ ὁ Θεὸς ὰντὶ ἀγαθοῦ βλασφημηθήσεται, καὶ ἐμὲ μεμισημένον καὶ ἐπάρατον δείξῃς τῷ γεννήτορι, καὶ οὐχ ἔξω τοῦ ὲντεῦθεν εἰσαγαγέσθαι σε. Παρακαλῶ οὗν καὶ δέομαι μὴ κενὴν ἀποπέμψης τὴν δέησίν μου, μέμνησο μιᾶς ἡμέρας ἀγάπην ἐμοῦ τοῦ οἰκέτου σου.


60. Dum talibus inter se colloquiis vacant, quidam e domesticis Epiphanii, paternæ mensæ cibisque parandis inserviens, ubi suspicatus Sanctum ejusque (sed quomodo, solus Deus noverit) assecutus est mentis oculis vivendi rationem, procidit ad pedes illius, multis cum lacrymis supplicans, pro se ut intercederet apud Deum, impetraretque ut sibi quoque istiusmodi institutum sectari liceret. Sanctus autem, quid alter supplicibus obtinere precibus niteretur cognoscens, cupiensque seorsim cum solo colloqui, mutavit sancti Spiritus virtute vernaculam servi linguam in Syriacam ; locutusque Syriace cum illo est, quæcunque vellet. Cum vero Andream compellans, famulus non se precari, diceret, ut in societatem vitæ illius admitteretur, si pares sibi vires non essent ; negavit Andreas, posse ipsum sudores laboresque, ad tam sublime virtutis culmen enitentibus subeundos, superare : quoniam via, inquiebat, prærupta et æclivis, laboriosa et difficilis admodum est. Quare auctor tibi sum, ut in præsenti statu constanter pietati religionique operam des, et a Domino tuo Epiphanio diligenter discas, quæ ad virtutem salutemque tuam maxime conducunt : fornicationem fuge, injuriarum obliviscere, alias affectiones universas tempera : quae enim talibus te subjiciendi necessitas urget ? Ad haec famulus : Si vis, inquit, miserrimae meæ vilitati obsequi, dic, quod non potes id effectum dare. Quibus auditis obticuit Andreas.

61. Interea vero Epiphanius, animadvertens, subita linguae mutatione famulum suum, quae nunquam didicerat, in medium proloqui, impensius rem animo perpendit exclamavitque : Papæ! Quantum miraculum ! Quid Sancti non efficiant ! Beato autem Andrea Dominum precibus pro famulo, qui eas enixe flagitarat, interrogante, quid tandem de illo futurum esset, allapsa vox est, ita inquiens : Neutiquam illud expedit, apage, cum isthoc consilio : ostende ipsi quanta res sit, impares ei vires esse ad talia aggrediendum. Andreas igitur ait Angelo adstanti sibi : Imple calicem hunc liquidæ voluptatis mero, cujus olim gustu diviniæ gratiæ donis cumulatus sum. Parentique mox angelo : Da, inquit, illi ad pedes meos prostrato potandum. Quod factum continuo est modo invisibili ; cœpitque famulus similes plane gestus exprimere deiferi patris Andreæ, qui illum conspiciens non se temperavit a risu. At Epiphanius rei novitate turbatus, veritusque, ne patri hinc suo commoveretur bilis, talibus Sanctum precibus adorsus est : Amabo te, famule Dei, ne tali modo patris mei famulum affici patiaris ; ne forte et tu ipse malum tibi accersas, et Deus pro bonis blasphemias recipiat, et me patri meio odiosum atque exsecrandum reddas, neque audebo deinceps te huc introducere. Oro igitur atque obsecro, ut irritas ne velis esse preces meas, memor amoris et beneficii a me servo tuo tibi aliquando praestiti.

Second reference to speaking in tongues.

As found in Nicephori Presbyteri. Vita S. Andreae Sali. MPG. Vol. 111. Col. 703 – 704


ξγ´. Ὡς οὖν ἐκαθέσθησαν κύκλῳ αὐτοῦ, ὁ μακάριος Ἀνδρέας τῷ νοερῷ τῆς διανοίας ὄμματι ἐώρα ἑνὸς ἑκάστου τὰ ἔργα, καὶ ποίῳ σφάλματι ἕκαστος αὑτῶν προκατείληπτο· καὶ θέλων αὐτοὺς ὠφελῆσαι, τροπευσάμενος ὁμιλίαν ἥρξατο λέγειν, παραβολήν τινα ἐρευγόμενος. Αὐτοὶ δὲ ἐνωτιζόμενοι τοῦ Ὁσίου τὰ ῥήματα καὶ αἰσχυνόμενοι, ὡσεὶ φλόγα τῇ αἰδοῖ μετεφέροντο, οἱ δὲ φρίκῃ συνεσφίγγοντο, ἄλλοι ἰλιγγίουν καὶ ἐτρόματτον, ἕτεροι αἰσχυνόμενοι ἀνεχώρουν· ἡγὰρ ἁπλῇ τοῦ Δικαίου(2)Text actually has Δικσίου instead of Δικαίου. I think this may be a typographic error ὁμιλία, πάντων τὰ ἁμαρτήματα ἁποτόμως ἥλεγχεν, ποίῳ τρόπῳ καὶ πῳς ταῦτα ἐξειργάσαντο. Καὶ δὴ τοῦτο θαυμαστότερον, ὅτι ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ ἑκάστῳ αὐτῶν ἥλεγχεν τὸ ἁμάρτημα· ἔλεγον δὲ ὐπολαμβάνοντες· Δι`ἑμὲ ταῦτα ὁμιλεῖ οὓτος ὁ ἄνθρωπος.


63. Considentibus itaque illis et Epiphanium corona cingentibus, vidit Andreas perspicaci mentis oculo, quid quisque operatus esset, quos errores delictave commisisset : cumque omnibus recte consultum vellet, exordio dicendi facto, parabolam quamdam in medium protulit. Illi vero ejus verba sensumque assequentes, pudore suffusi sunt, non secus quam si flamma ignis abstitisset a facie eorum, alii rigebant horrore, a sensibus fere abibant, alii metuebant ac trepidabant, nonnulli prae verecundia se subducebant : simplex enim et incompta viri sancti oratio universa eorum peccata praecise redarguebat, pandebatque quo modo et fine commissa essent. Qua in re illud in primis mirandum venit, quod cuilibet suum in sua lingua manifestaret peccatum, pensitantibus dicentibusque apud se : Hunc mea homo ille causa sermonem instituit.

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The Legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

The connection between the sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary, Francis Xavier, and speaking in tongues.

St. Francis Xavier depicted at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. A monument celebrating the Portuguese age of exploration.
St. Francis Xavier depicted at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. A monument celebrating the Portuguese age of exploration.

The story of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues is a complex one that straddles between the real and mythical person. Though a celebrated pioneer, great organizer, highly adaptive educator, and a prolific networker, his legend is even better. This is a study of Francis Xavier, how he became connected with and the controversy surrounding his speaking in tongues. In the end, the reader will understand how the christian doctrine of tongues was understood and practiced in this era.

The controversies that surround Xavier speaking in tongues put him into the top five narratives of the christian doctrine of tongues throughout the centuries.

Research was a lengthly process. This is a summary of the findings. For the actual source texts, extended quotes, and translations, see Technical Notes on Francis Xavier Speaking in Tongues

Who was Francis Xavier?

Francis Xavier lived from 1506 to 1552 and originally hailed from Sanguesa, in a country state called Navarre. The kingdom of Navarre is long gone, but the city of Sangüesa continues to exist in the northernmost reaches of Spain. This city borders on France and is a short distance from Portugal. Xavier studied in Paris, and after finishing his education, made his way to Venice where he passionately worked among the sick. King John the III of Portugal had solicited Ignatius of Loyola and his newly formed Society of Jesus to evangelize the West Indies, especially the regions controlled by Portugal. Ignatius had already selected a number of individuals which excluded Xavier, but due to sickness of one of the original members, he was called in as a replacement. Thus began the story of one of the greatest foreign missionaries of all time.

Continue reading The Legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

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Technical Notes on Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

The following are quotes from the principal sources on the real Francis Xavier and the legend of his speaking in tongues. This is a quotes only document — a comparative analysis of all this information is in the final stages and will be posted as a separate article.

The debate and controversy that surrounded St. Francis Xavier’s alleged speaking in tongues was a source of internal friction within Catholicism, especially the among the Jesuits themselves, and a rallying point for Protestants. The real Francis Xavier did not speak in tongues, but the legend of Francis did.

How this legend began and grew is an interesting and complex story.

This leads into a journey about how Medieval Catholics viewed speaking in tongues; what it meant to them, how it was applied, and the politics that surrounded this practice.

The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues ranks within the top five themes throughout the two-thousand-year history of the christian doctrine of tongues. There is no doubt that this legend is the most complex one out of any documents in the Gift of Tongues Project. There are numerous reasons why the mystery of Francis Xavier is difficult. The original documentation is multilingual; spanning Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Latin, and French. The subject is wrapped in Medieval Catholicism, which has its own unique history, customs, personalities and procedures that outsiders such as myself have a difficult time to grasp. Xavier’s gift of tongues is deeply embedded with international and national politics. The topic is shrouded in religious symbols and shifts into the Protestant realm where Rationalists especially took critical aim. It spans across continents and new worlds that most Europeans hardly knew at the time. The maps, names and locations mentioned in the texts are far from the modern English mind.

This article is produced to meet a requirement of the Gift of Tongues Project which is the digital capturing of source texts. The following are actual quotes from testimonies, writers, and publications that highly influenced and perpetuated this myth. These are actual quotes with little or no commentary from myself relating to Xavier speaking in tongues. They are organized according to date; from the earliest publications shortly after Xavier’s death, all the way into the twentieth-century. The Italian, Spanish and Portuguese originals are not digitally captured because I have no knowledge of these languages or the ability to do data-entry in them. However, links to the original text along with an English translation is supplied where appropriate.

This file is designed for the researcher, not for the casual reader. This is the longest article found in the Gift of Tongues Project because of the amount of source material. It may take a few moments to load the full contents into the browser, please be patient.


  • Pedro de Ribadeneira
  • Giovanni Pietro Maffei
  • Horatius Tursellinus
  • João de Lucena
  • The Book Monumenta Xaveriana:
    • Emanuel Fernandez
    • Thomas Vaz
    • Antonio Peirera
    • Pope Urban VIII
  • Daniello Bartoli
  • Dominique Bouhours
  • Pope Benedict XIV
  • John Douglas
  • Hugh Farmer
  • Charles Butler
  • Henry James Coleridge
  • Andrew Dickson White
  • A Jesuit response to Andrew Dickson White
  • Edith Anne Steward
  • James Brodrick
  • Georg Schurhammer
    • Volume II
    • Volume IV

Continue reading Technical Notes on Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

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