Pope Benedict XIV on the Gift of Tongues

The gift of tongues as a criterion for Sainthood as found in Pope Benedict the XIV’s treatise, De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione (around 1748 AD).

This is a carefully written and well documented work into what constitutes the gift of tongues, procedures required to investigate the phenomenon, and notable examples.

"Benedetto XIV (1675-1758)" by Carlo Vandi
“Benedetto XIV (1675-1758)” by Carlo Vandi

The following is translated from Benedict XIV. De Lambertinis Opus De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione.(1)De Lambertinis Opus De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione. Aldina: Prati. Volume III. New Edition. 1830. Pg. 547ff. Comparative work was done with De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione. Volume 3. Rome: Nicolaus et Marcus Palearini. Academiae Liturgicae Conimbricensis Typographi. 1748. Pg. 724ff

Pope Benedict the XIV’s treatise on the Gift of Tongues

Translated by Charles A. Sullivan. Translation is in beta format.

6. The Gift of the diversity of languages is inferior to the Gift of prophecy according to the writing of Apostle I Corinthians 14:5 Greater is he who prophesies than the one who speaks in languages. Man cannot achieve through this Grace that he can speak foreign languages elegantly or lavishly at all. So this very one who speaks can be understood by others and understand others is only very close to a natural expression. That is to say, the Gift is being given for the benefit of others clearly for the purpose of enlarging the cultivation of the faith. It is not necessary for such a matter that the speaker should skillfully speak a refined type of languages, but that it is sufficient so that he can also become acquainted with the common language of whatever nation. It is deduced from Acts 2:2ff that the bestowed Grace of kinds of languages was with the holy Apostles. Whereby St. Luke wrote in this way:

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak. Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. And when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded in mind, because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue. And they were all amazed, and wondered, saying: Behold, are not all these, that speak, Galileans? And how have we heard, every man our own tongue wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews also, and proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians: we have heard them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all astonished, and wondered, saying one to another: What meaneth this?(2)Douay-Rheims Bible

Though he was going to be pleased by these men that they were to instruct the world in the faith of Christ with divine wisdom — of such worship, way of life and the craft of writing was to be simple, lest a person would claim some human command of a language or authority to such a great work for himself. Hence, it is to be brought up, that the Grace of diverse tongues is not bestowed for the purpose that one who possesses the gift is going to elegantly or richly speak foreign languages. Whereby the Apostle says, I Corinthians 1:21, “it pleased God, by the foolishness of our preaching, to save them that believe,”(3)Douay-Rheims and afterwards, verse, 27 “But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, etc. . . That no flesh should glory in his sight.”(4)Douay-Rheims, then 2:1, “when I came to you, came not in loftiness of speech or of wisdom.”(5)Douay-Rheims along with 2:4, “my speech and my preaching was not in the persuasive words of human wisdom.”(6)Douay-Rheims

7. How then and what way was it done that the Apostles who were speaking were being understood by everyone is debated between the important teachers of the Church.(7)Doctores For this Grace could be discussed in these two ways: one way was from the perspective of those hearing, the other way from those speaking. For it was either a singular utterance of words alone or in a singular language with the Apostles preachings, and at the same had been understood by every man who was present of diverse languages, or, the type and familiarity of the diversity of languages had been poured into the Apostles themselves and having been given to them the ability to speak all these; not simultaneously with the form of a singular sound but having been received by succession and according to the occasion.

St. Thomas weighs this question in 2. 2. quast. 176. ar. 1. where he teaches that it was necessary that the Gift of languages was to be given to the Apostles by God. When they were sent out for the purpose of teaching others and that they were poor people, consequently for such a situation it would have been difficult to find anyone who could faithfully interpret his words or other speakers words explained by them. Then in the opposite to this thought that God could have done — those who are speaking in only one language were understood by everyone, and so they did not have to have the skill for the sake of preaching in all languages. Aquinas then responded:

“Reply to Objection 2. Although either was possible, namely that, while speaking in one tongue they should be understood by all, or that they should speak in all tongues, it was more fitting that they should speak in all tongues, because this pertained to the perfection of their knowledge, whereby they were able not only to speak, but also to understand what was said by others. Whereas if their one language were intelligible to all, this would either have been due to the knowledge of those who understood their speech, or it would have amounted to an illusion, since a man’s words would have had a different sound in another’s ears, from that with which they were uttered. Hence, a gloss says on Acts 2:6 that “it was a greater miracle that they should speak all kinds of tongues”; and Paul says (1 Corinthians 14:18): “I thank my God I speak with all your tongues.”(8)Question 176. The grace of tongues as found in The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. Second and Revised Edition, 1920. Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province Online Edition Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3176.htm(9)Benedict’s reference is word-for-word with the contemporary edition used for studying Aquinas.

8. This reference of St. Paul makes for the explanation of St. Thomas, I Corinthians 14:18, “I thank God that I speak in languages more than all of you.” The reason then happens by it having been imparted at the same time, because this gift has not only become necessary in order that the hearers could understand the Apostles speaking but also that other unbelievers who are speaking with one another can be understood by the Apostles. They could answer their questions and solve difficult things which have been proposed.

They copiously join with the discourse of this Doctor:

  • Suarez, tom. 1. de Gratia, prolegom. 3. cap. 5. a num. 47 usque ad n. 55. Scacchus de not. Et sign. Sanctit. Sect. 8. cap. 6.
  • Viguer loco supra cit. cap. 9. vers. 8.
  • Salmanticenses in cursu Theol. Tom. 3. in arbore praedicamentali // 17. n. 168. et seqq.
  • Thyraeus de apparitione vocali lib. 2. cap. 14. They admit all can be possible and perhaps can even be done that according to the various conditions of situations at any time, the Apostles speak in one mode of language to everyone, although they were being understood as diverse languages by the hearers.
  • Mathauccius follows such things in pract. Theologo-Canon. Ad causas Beatificat. Et Canoniz. tit. 3 cap. 3. ar. 2. // 5. a.n. 55. usque ad 62
  • Optime Silvius about 2. 2 D. Thomae qu. 176. ar. 1. “It is undeniable, in fact when it was about to happen at some point, that while one person was speaking in one language, they were being understood as diverse and foreign languages by the hearers, for example when Peter preached in a raised voice to the multitude mixed together.(10)miscellaneam . . . But we teach, the Apostles are not just with this mode and likewise with the gathering of the Saints as well — actually in fact we rather suppose this ought to be reckoned: these very ones were speaking in diverse languages, as they were every kind, to whom it was necessary to speak them. (11)Benedict lifted this quote form Silvius’ work. The original can be found in the book S. Theologiæ Doctoris in Academia Duacena

9. Christ the Lord without doubt had the most perfect knowledge of every language, but it was not required that he was to speak in all the languages since He intended to preach to one race alone, namely the Jews. Whereby D. Thomas noted loc. cit. ad tertium, and Thomas Bozius carefully weighed de signis Ecclesiae lib. 6. sign. 22. cap. 5. n. 1. Silvius loc. cit. expands on D. Thomas and says, it is very likely Christ the Lord did not use another language publicly and before an audience than that which was familiar to the people of Judaea. Since this very one came Himself for the intent of preaching exclusively to these, but at the same time he used various languages privately on the occasion that so required. He spoke to the Gentiles while in Egypt: that he has been found also speaking to an audience that had gathered from the diverse nations, John ch. 12 even as the Tribune speaks and cohort of Roman soldiers, next to the Chief Priests, Magistrates of the temple, and Elders. Luke. 22 Although He may have used one language, without doubt Syriac, at that time familiar to the Hebrews so that it would have been understood by everyone present, although not everyone were skilled in the Syriac language. On the other hand, it had been given not only to the Apostles, but in addition to many others also the Gift of kinds of languages had been freely given by God for the benefit and building up of the faithful.

There are noted examples collected by Bagatta in oper. de admirandis orbis Christiani tom. 2. pag. 153. We will submit some in this place from which it can be distinguished as the first rather than the second way that the Grace has been bestowed by God to some of his servants of whom are being compelled to speak.

In the Life of St. Sophiae, sive Cadoci Episcopi Beneventani et Martyris edited by Bollandus, die 24, Januarii tom. 2. cap. 1. Pag. 604. it reads, “Cadocus finally reaches Jerusalem, visits the local holy places in a place which the Lord united the language of the nations. Inspired by these things, he began to speak in diverse languages”. In the life of St. Teliai Episcopi Landavensis among the same Bollandus, ad diem 9. Februarii cap. 2. num. 8 pag. 309. tom. 2. these are considered: “seeing that the love of Divine words burning in their hearts, it was deeply lacking with their language, the solitude and want was impressed upon him in a wonderful way. So that because he was satisfied by the people’s prayers being made and their dedication, he began to explain the Scriptures and each one standing near heard him speaking their own language.” And the same gift bestowed upon his companions, clearly with the Saints – David and Paternus, the same author bears witness loc. Cit.“then David and Paternus arose and they preached to the people, and meanwhile everyone perfectly comprehended them in their own language.”

In the Passione SS. Viginti Martyrum Laurae S. Sabae apud Bollandianos ad diem 20. Martii cap. 7. n. 73. pag. 177. It is related how one among them desirous of learning the Greek language so that he could devote himself to reading aloud of the Scriptures. He could in no way acquire the means to learn it: “However, fallen asleep, he was visited by one of the holy Fathers Anastasio Protodiacono, of whom we recall above, had been a familiar acquaintance with this Father, and asked about the source of sorrow. Thereupon he explained his slowness in learning by which the Holy one smiles, Open the mouth, he says, increase whatever language to me. And he had something belonging to him, brings and brushes a new cloth, and cleans it, when the fat and muddy thickness once had been cleaned, it disappeared. Presbyter who was sleeping woke up at once. Moreover, he was emboldened, because from that great day he could articulate fluent speech in that language with the ability to understand, to the extent of which having been set free whether in the art of reading, or added in the development of yielding instantly an elegant language, so that this very one was in astonishment himself. He was stupefied about his cure in respect to the grace of God and also the holy ones.”

In the chronicles about the life of St. Pachomius and Theodori, ad diem 14. Maji. among a citation by the Bollandists, cap. 3. It records St. Pachomius wanting to correct a certain Roman man, that used Latin and Greek speech, which himself was unfamiliar with, only experienced in the Egyptian language. For this reason he poured out prayers for three hours to God, in order that he could be of assistance to his Brother. A paper had been brought down from heaven that was inscribed, which he read. He then thoroughly learned the languages of all the nations. Then he immediately came to the Brother, the author adds, that he began to use such in Latin indeed and in the Greek language without any error within which the brother was astonished.

This testimony is being offered of St. Vincent Ferrer by St. Antonio 3. part. Sum. Histor. Tit. 23. capt. 8 //. 4. “Moreover, he was an act of astonishment with this and with the Apostolic Grace that the preaching in the Catalan language was being understood yet by other peoples who did not know that language.” Henricus Spondanus agrees, in continuat. Annal. Car. Baronii ad an. 1403. num. 7. “in fact this is a person exhibiting of the entire evangelical preachings from the times of the Apostles because this public address was understood in the native and common speech of Catalan by foreign races who had no knowledge, for they heard not only with respect to close regional ones, but also the most remote ones too, from teachers to those unlearned, nobility to those of the lowest ranks. For he gave a speech in so great a length while no one weakened with weariness.”

And so the Rotae Auditories had spoken in the matter of the case of Francis Xavier, ad tit. de dono linguarum etc.“Xavier became evident with the gift of languages, and certainly in the languages of diverse races which he was not acquainted with. When he addressed them for the sake of the Gospel, he was speaking elegantly and so unencumbered, as if he that had been and educated in that condition. He is not rarely affected, so that while preaching to the men of diverse nations, each one heard him speaking his own language.” Thomas Bozius reports this very thing of St. Aloysio Bertrando, loc. Cit. n. 3.

Among the letters of S. Francis Xavier (editas a P. Horatio Tursellino post vitam ejusdem Sancti) epist. 5. lib. 3. pag. 105. he thus speaks personally of the same thing, “God grant that we may acquire such a thing first as the Japanese language in order to explain the divine doctrine. Then we finally will do with zeal the certain work of the matters of Christianity. We indeed move about now among them something like mute statues. For these people are all talking and occupied about us, in fact we are silent, unaccustomed to their native speech. We have become a child again in the present time in the process of learning the elements in this language.” Jacobus Piceninus (12)Giacomo Picenino draws from these words that he would not have been provided with the gift of languages. But Cardinal Gotti vigorously refutes him. tom. 1. de vera Ecclesia cap. 2 // 4. n. 44. While the Saint might not have had the mastery of languages at one moment, and could be distinguished with the gift of languages by God in another one, as it happened with the Apostles, to whom had been bestowed of the divine gift of languages, and not immediately after the start of their calling, but when the Holy Spirit descended upon them.”

10. There seems to be no doubting that it can be, with God allowing, similar things done by a demon. For in fact it can, while he stirs the functions of the voice, so to move it, so that he could have unrolled such a tongue, so then he speaks. For he can also form words from the air diverse kinds that conform to the ears of those hearing which the one doing the speaking does not reveal.

Wherefore St. Hieronymus recalls in In the Life of St. Hilarion that he had cured someone in a melancholic state who was previously speaking Syriac words, by ejecting the demon. And it is common among the signs of a demon to someone possessed, that there is certainly nothing more than if some woman, or peasant and the untaught should contend about theological mysteries, who, before one was possessed, he was ignorant, then he was speaking either Greek, Hebrew, Latin, German or another kind of exotic language. Whereby Gaspar a Rejes observes in Elysio jucundar. quaest. campo quaest. 27. ar. 4. therefore, if a discussion occurs in the sacred congregation on the rites about this Grace with respect to the endowment of the gift of kinds of languages having been freely given wherein an occasion to discuss the matter of a certain Servant of God, that the matter be a question of his Beatification and Canonization, that it should be claimed about him by the Postuloribus that they would have declared the gift of languages, that is to be divinely skillful in many languages. It is necessary that he should be demonstrated with languages of which he has been inspired by the testimony of honourable men, and from the time the skill appeared and have used without hindrance with them, when the opportunity presented him.

As Matthaecius advises in pract. Theologo-Canon. Ad causas Beatificat. Et Canonizat. Tit. 3. cap. 3. ar. 2. //. 5. num. 68. and the Rotae Auditores describe in detail in the case cited in the report of St. Francis Xavier tit. De dono linguarum. If it certainly is being claimed by the Postuloribus, the Servant of God speaks only one language. It is necessary the one who hears, so let the witnesses be brought forward who argue that this is true, that they had heard him speaking their own language, let us suppose Latin, or Italian, etc. Let other witnesses be brought forward of diverse races, who should identify him speaking at that time also and had heard him employ their language, clearly a German with German, Spaniard with Spanish, Gallos with Gallican, English with the English language, and so etc., And in addition everyone must be in agreement in the matter about what God’s Servant had spoken, according to the things which are being considered by the Auditores Rotae loc. cit in addition one ought to observe these things or whether some kind of foolishness had imperceptibly grown in the use of these languages, for example, if he should have done it for the mass appeal of the multitudes, or the gold of the most distinguished persons, whether for the purpose for obtaining monies, or glories, or the speaker would have spoken empty things. For these factors can reveal that the use of diverse languages has not been produced by God. Because if the speaker has spoken the great things of God, if he had profited with languages, that they cause conversion from sins, or unbelievers, these are the most reliable signs that he has been granted with the gift of languages by God, and this ought to be the biggest reason of this matter in the case of Beatification and Canonization. The virtue in the heroic action wherein the evidences having been especially brought forward, thus Matta observes:
de Canoniz. SS. Part. 3. cap. 4. n. 18. et 19 Mathaeuccius loc. cit. num. 68. Scacchus de Notis, et sign. sanctit. sect. 8. cap. 6. pag. 649.

11. The last grace having been freely given of which the Apostle speaks is Interpretation of Speeches(13)sermonum not sermonem as found in I Corinthians 14:9 which can be explained in two ways. One is that the Interpretation of a Speech is being conveyed for the significance of the words. The other is that it can be understanding about the words which have been selected with insights and things that transcend normal intelligence.ref]mysteriis[/ref] While the first way to interpret a speech is to set forth one word of a distinct language through to the words of another language, but to teach the things that transcend normal intelligence(14)mysteria which lie hidden in the words, and are often not being understood by them who are not unfamiliar with the significance of the words. Suarez teaches as well tom. 1. de Gratia, prolegom. 3. cap. 5. num. 55. et seqq. To the first way, the translation of the seventy interpreters(15)Septuaginta ought to be considered, who under Ptolemy Philadelphus(16)Ptolemy II Philadelphus together with the greater public opinion, not from the disordered lacunae(17)manuscripts that have sections or pieces missing of a small brook, or from the well known and popular books: Chaldean, Syrian and from the Samaritan codices, but they constructed their version from the purest Hebrew fountains. This is how Jean Morin prevailed with solid arguments against Rabbi Azarium. Whether they had made this version, and the same number had been shut-up in cells just as Justin, Irenaeus, and Cyril of Jerusalem reckoned, or as St. Hilarion considered more likely — gathered in a certain public place in their own great basilica having been removed from every disturbance and noise.

They consider about a second way which they reason about the Translations(18)Interpretibus of the holy Saints of the Apostles. For Peter had used Mark as a translator, and Paul had Titus as a translator, of whom, II Corinthians 2:12 it says, “And when I was come to Troas for the gospel of Christ and a door was opened unto me in the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus.”(19)English translation from Douay-Rheims Bible Accordingly, the translators at hand sustained the work by their Apostles, and so Titus with Paul, or when, with these very ones are speaking in some other nationality, for example to the Romans, there would have been others in the audience who would not have known a Latin word. Then it was apparent that the role of translators is needed at that moment, or when the Apostles speaks very difficult things in comprehension that a translator existed at that moment to explain it. As Cardinal Baronius concluded after a long discussion in annal. Ad an. 45. n. 37.

12. Suarez follows with Cardinal Baronius loc. cit. n. 61. et seqq. but Estius as found in comment. ad cap. 2. epist. 2. ad Corinth. It is believed that it cannot be learned how the office of the Translator practised by Titus relating to ways to speak from one to the other and how Paul could have been afflicted by so great a sorrow when Titus did not come to Troas — so his work was not to be in the way which had been arranged. For it is said that Paul then preached in the regions of Asia, Achaia, and Macedonia in which the Greek language was in common use. Moreover, Paul equalled knowledge of languages to a divine miracle;(20)alternative translation: Paul attained knowledge of languages by a divine miracle that he could utter equally speak the Greek and Hebrew languages with ease, and for this reason that it was unlikely him who was perhaps in need of a Translator, to such a degree that his soul would have been troubled that having had left Troas, he would have departed to a place in Macedonia to search for his interpreter. He added, the Apostles preaching among the multitude, that their speech had adapted to the comprehension of the crowd, which they delivered it in vast and lengthy amounts on the faith, and the uncommon things that transcend normal intelligence were held back. Whereby the same Apostle in I Corinthians 2:6 says, “Howbeit we speak wisdom among the perfect.”(21)Douay-Rheims and 3:1 “could not speak to you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal. As unto little ones in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not meat: for you were not able as yet.”(22)Douay-Rheims Estius also draws from the same that Paul did not have a need for an explanation of the uncommon things that transcend normal intelligence and of the more obscure matters by Titus. And he concluded that the spirit of Paul did not have rest when he did not meet Titus because he had sent him to Corinth. This was because he was to bring a warning or they improved already by themselves. Cornelius follows with respect to Lapide(23)Cornelius A. Lapide II Corinthians chapter 2 where he has this: “There was also another reason why Paul would have proceeded from Troas into Macedonia for intention of meeting with Titus. In fact with regards to Titus who was dispatched to Corinth, he was eager to know the state of the Corinthians. He had promised Corinth before that he would return. From which chapter 7, verse 6,(24)II Corinthians 7:6 it says that he had been comforted by the coming of Titus relating among the Corinthians the mourning and the zeal for Paul. On the other hand, Titus appears to report to Paul that it is not yet the right time for preparing to return to Corinth. Consequently, Paul delayed his journey to Corinth, and he sent to them in advance a letter which outlined the right way to them and corrected the errors of the Corinthians.” Moreover, this should be sufficient for discussion. In fact in this matter that pertains to the reasons for the Beatification and Canonization, it appears to be quite difficult for me that his occasion presents the opportunity to discuss about this Grace – the Interpretation of Speeches. In fact it can happen, and often does happen, that having the obscure mysterious things of the Scriptures being clearly communicated were to be separate from human study by any servant of God, that is not to the Grace of Interpretations of Speeches but to the knowledge which has infused within, of which will pertain to the above.


For further information:

  • You can also use the edited and amplified version redacted by AB Emm. De Azevedo called, Doctrina de Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum (amplified). Although this copy is visually easier to read, it omits a fair amount of the original, assuming the reader can fill in the blanks where necessary.

  • The above Latin was digitized from an 1830 edition. The typography of that work was easy and clear to read. It used modern fonts, whereas the older editions have different ligatures and font styles. If you need to verify with an older edition, this can be found at Google Book’s website, Doctrina de Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum (older edition)

For more information:



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.

Latest posts by charlesasullivan (see all)

References   [ + ]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *