Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: I Corinthians

Portions of a commentary on I Corinthians attributed to Cyril of Alexandria translated into English.

The translations selected are those relating to the doctrine of tongues.

Tradition asserts the text by Cyril, further study indicates some pieces are from the works of Didymus of Alexandria. Although the majority belongs to Cyril, it cannot be exactly determined which pieces are Didymus’ accounts. For more information see Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues Intro.

I Corinthians 12:9(1)Translated from: S. Cyrilli Alexandrini. In Epistolam I Ad Corinthios. XII, 9. MPG Vol. 74, Col. 887

Thus we say these things to be the works of powers through the oneness of the Spirit. But if another prophesies something, it is still not apart from the Spirit. And so a different person has the discernments of spirits, it is nevertheless from the same Spirit. Concerning the works of the spirits, it has been spoken about before. He verily confidently asserts that it is given to those so that they were skillful with various languages, and also translations as well. For we say this gift itself was supplied in the time and also need in a well ordered manner. But for those ones who were speaking in languages, and furthermore did not know them beforehand, and these ones translating understood, nevertheless [they were] not in the custom of such sounds existing in the past. The divine Paul confidently asserts that it was certainly given to them then to speak in languages, not as an allotted portion(2) ie: not something to be repeated and expected as a typical part of the Christian experience of the gifts but in the form of a sign for believers. Indeed he was explaining the prophetic word in such a way he supported, that “in strange tongues and foreign lips I will speak to this people and they will not believe such a thing.” The Spirit works the dispensation of gifts in each one in a variety of ways. So that for instance, they say, this body is certainly joined together by the parts pachu(3) It means material, substance or unspiritual. Not sure how to translate it in this context. and from land, so also is Christ, truly His body, that is to say the Church, mindfully apprehended to unity through the many multitude of the faithful, possessing the most perfect composition.

Now for this reason also the divine David says that she [the Church] is to be clothed in colored guilded clothing, [Psalm 45:10] it is the same of the gifts, I think, also valued as well in the manner of signs. ■

I Corinthians 14:2(4)Translated from: S. Cyrilli Alexandrini. In Epistolam I Ad Corinthios. XIV, 2. MPG Vol. 74, Col. 889ff

“For if one speaks in a language, he does not speak to men, but to God.”

It detracts them from what ought to be practiced, as the ability to speak in languages is certainly greater to its own glory than the act of interpreting the things of prophets. Regarding these things having been displayed among us, faith and also hope and definitely of love for both God and the brethren, which also all of the law has the fulfillment [in it], let him add the remaining things.(5) Latin has: then at last the remaining things are also to be added For at that time, and at the very time we will be the ones filled of these gifts by God, and we will be enriched in the gifts by the Spirit. I say in regards to have the ability to prophesy, that is a person who can interpret the things of the prophets. For the once only incarnation of the Only Begotten who suffered and also rose from the dead, and of whose ministry has been brought to perfection among us, of such was yet the precise time of prophecy, surely the [function of] prophecy will be about such things? Therefore the one who prophesies about such things would be nothing different, except that one only has the ability to explain about a prophecy, and as in those who are revealing(6) καταλευκαίνοντες This only exists in Cyril’s writings. It is from the root καταλευκαίνω Stephanus Vol. 4, Col. 1125 indicates the root means to uncover a rock. The Latin is explanantes, “to explain”. for those who are listening, then from whom are the ones who confirm the word to the true thing.(7) Latin has “et deinde sermonem nostrum secundum rei veritatem ex ipsis confirmantes”—and henceforth from these are the ones who confirm our speech according to the truth of the matter. We will be upright and also steadfast advisors of the most noble things.(8) Latin has “recti veracesque erimus optimarum rerum interpretes”—We will be the most upright and truthful interpreters of the most useful matters.

Therefore, it says, “the one who speaks in a language, [is] rather not to men, but he speaks to God”.(9) I Corinthians 14:2 typically reads, ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ ἀλλὰ θεῷ, οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀκούει while Cyril has, γλώσσῃ λαλῶν, οὐκ ἀνθρώποις μᾶλλον, ἀλλὰ τῷ Θεῷ προσλαλεῖ. Cyril’s use of προσλαλεῖ is especially noted. It is more emphatic than λαλεῖ. There is no other instance of this I Corinthians 14:2 written this way. The Latin translator identified this slight nuance and used alloquitur instead of loquitur. His word order is subject-object-verb instead of subject-verb-object. His text seems to conform more to classical Greek than that of Koinê here. How then, what kind of meaning [is the language] that states “for no one hears?”

For if perhaps the ability is given to a certain one of the disciples to be able to speak in the language of the Medes, and a different one [of the disciples to speak in] Elamite,(10) Latin: Nam si alicui discipulorum tribuatur fortasse copia loquendi lingua Medorum, alii autem Elamitarum. “Now if some of the disciples were perhaps imparted to be speaking the language of the Medes in abundance, but yet others Elamite” then who will be the ones hearing, [is it] the things about their message perhaps being spoken about to the synagogues of the Jews(11) εἶτα ταῖς Ἰουδαίων προσδιαλέγοιντο συναγωγᾶις or rather to the [Church] assemblies of the Greeks? Rather, what kind of profit will be of these words? For it will amount to nothing, except only of God who has known everything(12)Latin: præter solum Deum quem nihil latet, quidquam intelliget—except only God whom nothing escapes notice, He understands any person. For “in the Spirit,” it says, “he speaks mysteries.” Therefore it is observed, the one who speaks in whatever way to God, speaks in the Spirit.(13)Latin expresses this whole part differently i nam Spiritui, inquit, mysteria loquitur ; ergo Spiritus Deus est—for in the Spirit, it says, he speaks mysteries; now the Spirit is God. Therefore God naturally is the Spirit. Therefore the one who speaks in a language, “rather to God,” it says, “and he is not speaking to men.” On the other hand, “the one who prophesies speaks edification, consoling, and encouragement to men.” In fact one observes that to prophesy is to interpret the matters of the prophets in such things through which the word of encouragement is being established, and the mind of those who have been initiated is to be led into the truth about Christ. He also elsewhere shows beyond comparison that the activity of interpreting the prophets is in superiority than the act of speaking in a language.(14)ὅν ἐν ἀμείνοσι τοῦ γλώσσῃ λαλεῖν τὸ διερμηνεύειν τὰ προφητῶν use of the comparative genitive here. “For he builds himself up,” it says, “the one who is speaking in a tongue.” Of course he understands himself, but someone else, absolutely nothing. This one, who makes use with the voices of those holy prophets and with predictions in regards to [the] testimony, builds up the Church. Greater then also in the highest ranks, and in the most splendid hopes is the application of prophecy. Indeed it is better to mutually build up the Church than himself alone speaking out in a language.” ■

I Corinthians 14:5(15)Translated from: S. Cyrilli Alexandrini. In Epistolam I Ad Corinthios. XIV, 2. MPG Vol. 74, Col. 891

“Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy;” (NASB)

Seeing that it was unexpected, and truly a gift of the gods,(16)Latin has divinum munus—a divinely inspired gift; the translator is trying to move away from the plural form of gods in Cyril’s Greek. that men being of Hebrew background were being empowered to speak in languages of others,(17)Latin has alienis…linguis—in foreign languages not that some suppose the Apostle rashly determined the nature of the practice to be purposeless, saying it had been given through the work of the Spirit.(18)Latin: it had been given by the work of the Spirit in some respects For it was given as a sign for believers, he favorably approves [the practice] and says, “Now I wish all of you to speak in tongues,” for he clearly cuts-off at once the eagerness in this certain thing, and moves to a better one, “even more that you prophesy.” Greater and more palpable the orator is who prophesies than the one who speaks in a language. The one who brings forth [in a language] shows that this is not entirely unprofitable in this action for those who hold such things [dear] and those who are listening.(19)Latin: Quanquam ne hunc quidem plane inutilem audientibus esse ostendit dicens—Yet he shows that this is certainly not completely unprofitable for those who are listening. “Except if there is no interpreter,” that is to say, if he does not have someone who always sits near and interprets for the beginners.(20)τοῖς μυσταγωγουμένοις Latin: initiatis—novices, or those who have done introductory rites in the Christian faith.(21) Latin: qui initiatis interpretetur—that he is supposed to interpret for the initiates

I Corinthians 14:10(22)Translated from a mixture of two manuscripts: The primary: Cyrilli Alexandrini. Cyrilli: Archiepiscopi Alexandrini In D. Joannis Evangelium. Edited by Philippus Edvardus Pusey. London: Oxford. 1872, Pages 293-294. And some additions from, S. Cyrilli Alexandrini. In Epistolam I Ad Corinthios. XIV, 10. MPG Vol. 74, Col. 891

“And none of them is without a voice.”

“Any persons of the status of itinerant teachers(23)Εἰσεφοὶτων This word is not fully known. This is the only usage in any manuscript found so far. It comes from the root, φοιτάω in the Churches who are endowed in the work of the Spirit should have the ability to speak in languages. Therefore it is necessary that prayers are to be made in these same languages, and certainly for the entreaties of those things, that is to say, of a Psalm,(24)ψαλμῳδίας The recitation and singing from the Book of Psalms was a common part of the ancient Church liturgy. these ones who have the ability to proclaim(25)κεχρῆσθαι It is in the passive and this suggests “to be declared, proclaimed by an oracle, to consult a god or oracle, to inquire of a god” in the language of those who are present. Certainly they were not doing this, indeed the persons who congratulate themselves in a self-satisfied way with the gift of languages, they were neither doing psalms or prayers. Paul teaches this, that if there does not exist persons who are hearing [with the] knowledge of the language, which those who have the gift are speaking forth, [then there is] no advantage out of the matter. For numberless are the nations and all the languages of mankind.(26)ἄφωνον δὲ οὐδὲν τῶν ἄπαξ τελούντων ἐν λογικοῖς ἤ ἐν ἀνθρώποιςFor “Without a voice,” [is] never once about the business in respect to the things of reason or mankind.” This piece was ignored as it seems to be a printer error as similar; a better copy is printed in the next sentence.

He says, “Without a voice,” [is] absolutely never about the business in respect to the things of the reason, that is, in [concern to the things of] mankind. But if perhaps some may not have known the power of every voice, and certainly neither can these ones know his language, they will be barbarians to each other. Yet these ones are in fact correctly supposed to speak according to his own voice. It is necessary therefore those who are wishing to teach in other [languages], that the word should be uttered(27)προσαράξας aor part masc nom sg. The Greek Dictionaries have only a faint account of this word and I am unsure whether the translation is satisfactory here. accustomed for those for those who are listening.

If in fact then the unintelligible sound was also an unaccustomed voice, the striking(28)ἐρεύγεσθαι literally to belch out, utter, roar. vainly produced in purposelessness with some type of noise,(29)πεποίκε μάτην εἰκαίῳ τινὶ κτύπῳ προσαράξας μόνον τὴν μανθάνοντος ἀκοήν I am uncomfortable with this translation of this text. My first thoughts are that this Greek is a later emendation from a number of sources and not correctly edited. There are missing parts and possibly mis-spellings in the Greek. only the sound [is] heard of one who knows [the language].

It is necessary, he says, that those wishing to teach, that the word is to be spoken(30)λαλεῖν accustomed for those who are listening, after that he works for folly. For he that speaks in languages alone does not build up the Church.■

I Corinthians 14:12(31)Translated from two manuscripts: Cyrilli Alexandrini. Cyrilli: Archiepiscopi Alexandrini In D. Joannis Evangelium. Edited by Philippus Edvardus Pusey. London: Oxford. 1872, Pages 294-295, and S. Cyrilli Alexandrini. In Epistolam I Ad Corinthios. XIV, 10. MPG Vol. 74, Col. 891

“Seeing that you are zealous about the things of the spirit.”

He defines the spirit in these things [as] the bestowment(32)The Latin is translated as: “He says the Spirit in this place is the grace having been given through the Spirit” by the agency of the Spirit, that is, the ability to speak in languages. “If then”, he says, “I was to have offered prayers in the Churches by the Spirit,”(33)Ἐὰν οὖν, φησὶ, τὰς ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις εὐχὰς προσεύξωμαι Πνεύματι This is not the same text as found in any common Greek I Corinthians 14:12 text and not used by any other writer either. I may be mistakingly applying this as a Bible verse, but it appears this is what Cyril meant. that is, one who entirely has furnished(34)ἀποκεχρημένος This verb is only found in two other occasions outside this text. There are no dictionary definitions to be found. The parallel Latin was consulted here, abutens, from abutor “to use up any thing, to use to the end, to consume entirely; “and from κεχρημένος which is the perf part masc nom sg m/p of χράω — to furnish what is needful, to furnish the needful answer, to declare, pronounce, proclaim. I have put together these two evidences with the translation, “one who has entirely furnished.” in the language by the agency of the Spirit, I will have an unfruitful mind. For it is necessary for the person who should strain to the uttermost in prayers and those who are performing to seek for salvation by God, that it is not to be given a level of merit by a language [used], and a natural result of speaking in a [specific] language.(35)Latin: non autem lingua semet jactare, atque in loquendi gloria acquiescere. On the other hand one is not to boast, or to find pleasure in the act of speaking glory in a language itself. In such a case an unfruitful mind develops, and the person who obtains favor for himself [has] not one advantage from such a [selfish] ambition either. ■

I Corinthians 14:15(36)Cyrilli Alexandrini. Cyrilli: Archiepiscopi Alexandrini In D. Joannis Evangelium. Edited by Philippus Edvardus Pusey. London: Oxford. 1872, Pg. 295

“I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the mind.”

It is necessary on my behalf, it says, if I indeed should choose to be praying in a language,(37)Latin: et lingua per Spiritum data uti velim — in a language having been given by the Spirit that I would wish. that is to say, to be fond about speaking in a language; to eagerly try would not occupy an unfruitful mind, and not only would it produce speaking in a language, but to awaken the mind within me.(38)ἀλλὰ διεγείρειν ἐν ἐμαυτῷ τὸν νοῦν. The MPG version has, συναγείρειν δὲ ὥσπερ ἐν ἐμαυτῷ τὸν νοῦν. The MPG text is awkward and unclear and forced the Latin translator to go dynamic, imo potius meam veluti mecum mentem colligere — as if it is my own language that is assembled together with my own mind and if I should perhaps sing a Psalm(39)ψάλοιμι. Most standard dictionaries omit the ecclesiastical usage of this word and emphasize the playing of a stringed instrument. However, the Latin, the context, and the root of the word all suggest Psalm singing. in a language, for the act of singing a Psalm [is] nothing inferior and for the mind is the power in the understanding of the psalmody,(40)understand the nuances and art of psalm singing and of the prophets, and one is not bound to stop incomprehensible(41)ἀζητήτους. It is rarely used. Lidell and Scott suggests unexamined or untried which the Latin tends to agree. Lampe’s, Patristic Lexicon suggests insearchable or incomprehensible. The context here agrees with Lampe. words such as these. For if I wish to be speaking useless sounds,(42)εἰκαίας. This word is associated with the official function of the Church reader, who read from the pulpit to the assembly. Stephanus Dictionary (Vol. 2. Col. 219) refers to as εἰκαίας ἀναγνώστης. Cyril may have not meant this correlation here. The use of this word in this way may be a tradition after the time of this writing. “I have become a noisy gong.” (NASB).

On which account the one who prophesies is better, that is(43) ἤτοι especially when used in close proximity to automatically suggests whether… or, but the context, and the Latin suggest that is. A further look into this disjunctive particle suggests that it can be used in this way. I have tried the standard usage of whether… or and it just doesn’t make sense here. One of the historical definitions of prophecy is to read-out loud the divine Scriptures with an interpretation interpreting the divine writings in the Church, than simply enjoying the use(44)κατακεχρῆσθαι Perfect Infinitive middle passive. If the root is from χράω then the Latin and the above translation is correct. If it is from καταχράω which means to suffice, satisfy, or less often, abuse, the meaning could shift towards a more negative viewpoint. If it is from καταχράομαι to make use of a thing for a purpose, to waste, make ill use of a thing, to abuse, misuse, to treat ill, to kill. The translation could possibly read, “On which account the one who prophecies is better, that is, interpreting the divine writings in the Church, than simply enjoying wasting time with languages. with languages.

Which one then will be the better alternative? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the mind. In this case once more it is with the spirit, he speaks with the gift by means of the Spirit.

Seeing that an overseer(45)σκοπὸς could show the unprofitability for him by means of the most greatest and moral senses [about] the act of speaking in a language, because a follower may not have the ability to clearly understand the meaning [concerning] the things of the prophets in alternative ways, and he(46)the one who is publicly speaking in a language brings up other [languages] through which some would have wished to understand a person who speaks clearly. ■

I Corinthians 14:16-17(47)Cyrilli Alexandrini. Cyrilli: Archiepiscopi Alexandrini In D. Joannis Evangelium. Edited by Philippus Edvardus Pusey. London: Oxford. 1872, Page 296

Else if you shall bless in the spirit(48)τῷ πνεύματι instead of πνεύματι without the article. This is consistent with the Byzantine but not present in the Tischendorf edition. Results analyzed from how will the one who makes the room of the laypeople understand say the “Amen”?(49)This text is no different in the Cyrillian text from the Biblical one. However, I am translating it as the author(s) of this catena understood it. See the article, The ἀναπληρῶν of I Corinthians 14:16.

When, it says, you are to speak(50)λαλῇς, [and] the one who was appointed in the position of the laity,(51)ὁ γεμὴν ἐν τάξει τῇ τοῦ λαϊκοῦ κείμενος if he would have no knowledge of your voice, how will he appropriately supply(52)πρσυπακούσεται the Amen in their own thanksgivings or prayers? For that the custom of the Churches is to compose(53)συγκαταλήγειν from the verb καταλήγειν which, according to Timothy J. Moore implies “delivery of poetic or other formalized texts in a mode approaching everyday speech.” He believes that oracles were communicated via καταλήγειν and were, ” usually in highly formal language and would have been pronounced with some melodic elaboration.” See Music in Roman Comedy by Timothy J. Moore. συγκαταλήγειν is not used outside of this text but I take this to mean to compose, recite, or speak together. their voices(54)τὰς The feminine accusative plural article does not have the noun that it is supposed to articulate. Nor is its antecedent entirely clear. The only logical antecedent would be from φωνὴν found in the first sentence of this paragraph. Therefore expanded, it should be τὰς φωνάς under authority with the prayers of the prefects(55)τῶν ἡγουμένων together in all clarity. For these ones bring closure in their priestly voice, appropriately supplying the Amen with their own supplications to God, because it appears to be lacking in completion by the priests, it is to be finished in the meters of the common people, as if “[He has blessed them that fear the Lord] both small and great.”(56) Psalm 113:21 the English translation by L.C.L. Brenton, as found at Elpenor. as God can hear(57)παραδέχοιτο Latin: excipiat. Literally to receive, receive from, take out; remove; follow; receive; ward off, relieve; in the unity of Spirit.

For these are common folk who join their own [voices](58)τὰς ἑαυτῶν — no noun here. See comment 40 for more information. with the prayers of the priests, they believed that these are intended to be agreeable things. God calls to bring forth to the altar of the burnt sacrifices and needy offerings to the overseer, so that the little bit in the end mixed together, becomes acceptable to God.

For in all these things we are in the Lord. Therefore on this account when he says, you should speak in a language — for this is to bless in the spirit. The person [the overseer] did not have knowledge about what you would say, “How will he say the Amen in respect to his own blessing.”(59)The Greek text here is italics suggesting it is a Bible quotation πὼς ἐρεῖ τό Ἀμὴν ἐπι τῇ ἰδίᾳ εὐχαριστίᾳ ; but I do not see any manuscript with such wording. For how can you rightly do it alone, namely existing inside your mind, nevertheless “the other is not built-up.” For it is in fact necessary that all should achieve which pertains to us towards the building up and profit of the brethren. ■

Unfortunately this catena abruptly cuts-off here, skipping verses 18-40, and the next portion references I Corinthians 15 — which addresses a different theme. There are no more remarks about the tongues doctrine after I Corinthians 14:17.


A full synopsis of Cyril of Alexandria on tongues including commentaries, translations, and notes can be found at the Gift of Tongues Project menu. Scroll down to the Cyril of Alexandrian sub-category.



Charles Sullivan is a researcher and writer on topics of textual criticism, linguistics, theology, Christian mysticism and philosophy. He also frequently likes to delve into contemporary social and ethical issues from a faith perspective.

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