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Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues: Part 1

This four-part series follows the perceptions of miracles and the doctrine of cessationism from inception until now in the protestant church, especially as it relates to the doctrine of tongues.

Click on the image to view the full infographic.

Table of Contents

  • Part 1
    • Introduction
    • Reasons for the rise of Cessationism
  • Part 2
    • The Excess of Miracles in the Medieval world
    • The earlier De-Emphatics: John Chrysostom, Augustine Bishop of Hippo, Cyril of Alexandria*, and Thomas Aquinas
  • Part 3
    • The Early Protestant De-Emphatics: Martin Luther and Jean Calvin
    • The Church of England and Miracles
      • The Puritan Influence: William Whitaker, William Perkins, James Ussher, the Westminster Confession, and later Confessions
      • The Latitudinarians
      • The Rationalists and Deists
  • Part 4: Cessationism from the 1800s and onwards: the Baptists, Presbyterians, B. B. Warfield, christian higher education, John MacArthur, and more.

    Introduction

    Cessationism is a religious term used in various protestant circles that believe miracles in the church died out long ago and have been replaced by the authority of Scripture. Cessationist policy is typically found in Presbyterian, conservative Baptist, Dutch Reformed churches, and other groups that strictly adhere to early protestant reformation teachings.

    It is a doctrine that had its zenith in the late 1600s, waned a bit in the 1800s and recharged in the 1900s. Today, the doctrine of cessationism has considerably subsided. However, it cannot be ignored if one is doing a thorough study of the doctrine of tongues. It is an important part of history.

    According to cessationists, defining or explaining the contemporary Renewalist (Pentecostals, Charismatics and Third Wavers) practice of speaking in tongues or any other miracle outlined in Scripture is an outdated question. They don’t happen today. Therefore it is not necessary to do an in-depth historical or theological analysis about the nature and purpose of miracles in the present world.

    This survey is part of the Gift of Tongues Project whose fourfold aim is to identify, collate, translate (where necessary) and trace the doctrine of tongues from inception until the early 1900s. The doctrine of cessationism was not planned to be a part of the Project. However, later research has demonstrated it has an important story to tell in relation to the doctrine of tongues and it must be included.

    The subject of cessationism deeply touches on the nature and definition of miracles—one of the most complex questions in the christian faith.

    Theologians have attempted to harmonize the mystery of miracles with common sense and science for centuries but the definitive answer still remains elusive. Although no movement or person has ever conclusively resolved this tension, the quest to find an answer is an interesting adventure.

    Cessationism is not a black and white subject and takes a few surprising twists and turns. For example de-emphasis is a more suitable term at the birthing of the movement because the earliest protestant leaders still believed in miracles, albeit in a restricted sense. Cessationism refers to a later strand that outrightly denies the possibility of any faith initiated miracle in the present age.

    Reasons for the Rise of Cessationism

    Cessationism began as one of the earliest protestant doctrines. It can be understood from a variety of perspectives.

    First of all, it was a theological counter against the excess of miracles and veneration of saints. The protestant backlash was to outrightly denounce these features. An alternative framework was formulated for christian living which emphasized exclusive obedience to the precepts and truths found in the Bible without any reference or emphasis on miracles. They concluded nothing supersedes, parallels, or equals Scripture. The doctrine generally subscribed to the idea that miracles tended to appear less and less as the New Testament period closed. The logical conclusion was that miracles ceased at this time.

    This created a new problem. Such an emphasis on Scripture alone can lead to Bibliolatry—that is the worship and adoration of the Bible itself. It becomes a legal text that one is obligated to follow regardless of the reason, conscience or consent. It cannot be questioned and the guardians of the ancient texts can become tyrants in the application of the principles. Words and semantics then become the forefront of Scripture rule and lead into an abstract world of interpretation that only a few higher authorities can understand and apply. The reader will discover a small taste of this as they progress through this article.

    Secondly, the doctrine developed as a counter-argument. The Catholic Church argued that the Protestant Movement was illegitimate because it lacked confirmation through miracles. The Protestants volleyed back that the catholic world had legitimized unorthodox activities through the manipulation of supposed miracles to the point of changing the christian identity, its doctrines, and overriding Scripture. The rejection of catholic miracles became a rallying point in the protestant identity and became one of their base principles.

    Thirdly, cessationism developed in an era of England’s fear and hatred of Catholicism. England in the late 1600s was politically rife with anti-Catholicism—any semblance of catholic association was certain to be discarded. There were constant fears of a ‘Popish plot’ to undermine English society and almost any negative political event could be ascribed to this.(1)http://www.moyak.com/papers/popish-plot-england.html English theology incorporated this fear in their writings and was reflected in the development of cessationism.

    The rejection of catholic miracles at the earliest protestant inception did not completely eradicate the concept of miracles. The Reformists still believed in a limited view of miracles, especially ones that could not be traced to the catholic rites. However, within a century after the Reformation, the de-emphasis began to expand past the anti-Catholicism and develop its own distinct structure. The doctrine became an eclectic mixture of ideas collected from the rationalist movement and concepts unique to English theology.

    Catholic literature demonstrably showed that the manifold expressions of miracles perpetuated throughout their history. The Protestant counter argument was this—the majority of miracles expressed by Catholics over these 1800 years were exaggerated imaginary expressions that can be reduced to myths and legends. When one reads many of the miraculous accounts in historic catholic literature, the explanations go beyond suspending the regular laws of nature and venture into the world of incredulous that lacks any common sense. This argument of imaginative miracles has some logical truth to it that cannot be quickly dismissed. On the other hand, one cannot throw out every supposed catholic miracle. Each one has to be evaluated on its own merit. While the majority is easy to toss away for faulty logic, a small group may pass. A serious look may show some precious truth at the initial event, but the story became greatly exaggerated later on that obscures the original fact. Regardless, these disputed miracles remain perceptions that must be respected at minimum for their didactic and historical value.

    For more information on the perpetuation of tongues in the Catholic Church, read A Catholic History of Tongues: 30 to 1748 AD

    The protestant community was divided on the topic of miracles. Cessationism was not actively promoted within the large Methodist or the burgeoning Holiness movements that were popular in the late 1800s.

    The cessationist movement does have some high profile early church supporters and the reasons why early protestants supported this claim make good sense. A few important early church writers found that the visual display of miracles can easily lead to exhibitionism, pride, and personal gain. The art of miracles had little value in developing a moral christian character which many like Origen, Chrysostom, and Augustine prized.

    The de-emphasis of miracles according to protestant tradition was initially led by Chrysostom and Augustine. However, these early protestant writers fail to clarify that this concept was never universally accepted and laid dormant for almost 1100 years.

    Cessationism was never a grass-roots movement, nor did it ever become a central doctrine that represented the wide swath of protestant sects throughout Europe or in England. It is a doctrine never embraced by the Catholic Church. Neither was it consistently applied or interpreted. It became part of a doctrinal system promoted by the puritan thinkers in the 1600s and has been articulated in different forms ever since.

    The next three articles are an expanded story of de-emphasism/cessationism. Particular emphasis is placed on the Church of England, its splinter groups, and the evolution of this doctrine in the Americas. The doctrine of tongues will be touched on lightly.


    Click here for Part two of the series Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues: Part 2.

    References   [ + ]

    Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues: Infographic

    An infographic on the doctrine of cessationism. How it fits into the larger debate on miracles, and its consequent effect on the doctrine of tongues.

    Cessationism, Miracles, Tongues, Chrysostom, Origen, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, Didymus of Alexandria, Thomas Aquinas, Church of England, Puritans, Richard Hooker, Rationalists, Deists, Anti-Catholicism, Conyers Middleton, David Hume, Thomas Hobbes, Presbyterians, Baptists, Princeton Theological Seminary, John MacArthur

    Early Pentecostal Tongues: Part 3

    Pentecostal solutions to the missionary tongues and gibberish crisis.

    This is part-three of a four-part series covering how the traditional definition of tongues all but died and was replaced by the pentecostal practice of glossolalia — an umbrella term for the language of adoration, singing and writing in tongues, and/or a private act of devotion between a person and God.

    The first article contained introductory comments. The second gave a detailed account on the twofold problems of pentecostal tongues that needed to be addressed immediately. The first was the failure of the miraculous missionary tongues and the second was the conclusion of outside observers believing the participants were simply practising gibberish.

    This work delves into how the early pentecostals solved the doctrinal tongues crisis.

    This research draws from the early pentecostal newspapers and authors. Special notes will be made where there are references to publications and authors who are from the higher criticism perspective. This is important because, as will be shown, the early pentecostal leaders were heavily influenced by a number of these authors and works.

    Early Pentecostal Tongues builds on a previous series that focused on the origins of glossolalia doctrine in the early 1800s called The History of Glossolalia. The emphasis of the original series was how the concept of glossolalia overtook the traditional definition and became the only option in most primary, secondary and tertiary source materials produced after 1879. As will be shown, the dominance of higher criticism in the publication realm helped shape the framework for pentecostal tongues as well.

    For those new to the Gift of Tongues Project or to the subject of speaking in tongues, The History of Glossolalia, is a good place to star in order to understand the following.

    Table of Contents

    Looking for a Solution

    • Ignore the Problem
    • Utterance vs. Gift of Tongues
    • Writing and Singing in Tongues
    • Tongues as an expression of praise and adoration
    • Tongues as a Heavenly or Private Prayer Language
    • Tongues as Glossolalia

    Looking for a Solution

    The redefinition process started almost simultaneously after speaking in tongues became fashionable in 1906.

    The solutions are various. A few adhere to the traditional definition, while most looked to the popular religious encyclopedias, dictionaries and commentaries for answers.

    Ignore the Problem

    A prevalent theme in Pentecostal histories is to ignore that there was any tension at all. A miracle happened and delving into the details are not necessary.

    This especially can be found with the early pentecostal editor, writer and pioneer, Stanley Frodsham. His book“With Signs Following: the Story of the Pentecostal Revival in the Twentieth Century,” was once the definitive book on anything Pentecostal by a Pentecostal. First published in 1926, and revised many times, even after 1946, it is a very good, well documented book. Likely the best of any early Pentecostal histories. The first 17 chapters of the book documents people miraculously speaking in foreign languages, and then an unexplained shift occurs in the last portion of his writing. He concludes at the end of the book that christian tongues is a secret speech, something between man and God.(1)Stanley Howard Frodsham. With Signs Following: the Story of the Pentecostal Revival in the Twentieth Century. Missouri: Gospel Publishing House. 1946. Pg. 269 He never delved on what necessitated or caused this change.

    Stanley Frodsham first encountered the pentecostal movement while a young man in England. His first personal encounter with speaking in tongues happened at A. A. Boddy’s church in Sunderland, England. Frodsham then started a religious periodical out his hometown, Bournemouth, called Victory. He later moved to the United States and was the editor for the Assemblies of God magazine called the Pentecostal Evangel. His involvement with Pentecostalism along with his editing and writing numerous compositions over the decades gave him a quasi-official status for creating an early biography of the movement.

    This has been a very popular approach.

    Utterance vs. Gift of tongues

    One would naturally look at the Azusa Street based Apostolic Faith newspaper to see how they resolved the tongues problem. Unfortunately, the Mission was mired in personal conflict that took away all the momentum they had accrued. By 1909, Azusa was becoming a figurehead and a symbol, not a source of authority. The initial thrust and evangelistic zeal was composed of people from the east-coast and mid-west that converged upon Azusa. The power quickly shifted to these centres soon after the pentecostal outburst occurred.

    Clara Lum and Florence Crawford were the longtime editors of the Apostolic Faith Newspaper which originated at Azusa Street and later moved their publishing office to Portland, Oregon, in 1909. The reasons are unclear about the move but historians believe it was a personal rift between Seymour and Crawford. Rumour has it they took the mailing list with them which severely crippled the Azusa Street Mission.

    Florence Crawford

    Perusing their Portland articles, the sense of awe is gone. The editorial reported little about what was happening internally within Los Angeles or Portland and reprinted snippets from other like religious periodicals.

    The Apostolic Faith (Portland) Newspaper engaged with another like newspaper Bridegroom’s Messenger on an important theological level about speaking in tongues. The original editor of the Bridegroom’s Messenger, G. B. Cashwell, found his pentecost at Azusa Street and brought this energy back to Atlanta. The impact of Cashwell and his newspaper was considerable within the holiness hotbeds of the southeastern United States. In the seventh issue of the Bridegroom’s Messenger their was a formative theological assertion about speaking in tongues:

    This speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives utterance is not the gift of tongues. Those who speak in tongues as the Spirit gives utterance have not the power to control it at will, it seems that it comes at such times as they are in close touch with God, the Spirit takes their tongues and speaks through them, gives them utterance. Those who have the gift of tongues, seem to be able to speak different kinds of tongues, and seem to be able to speak at will.(2)The Bridegroom’s Messenger. Feb. 1, 1908. Vol. 1. No. 7

    Clara Lum and Florence Crawford, not wanting to be excluded from the discussion, and having almost 18 months to percolate on the subject, disagreed on a key point—they knew of no one who has ever had the ability to know and control which language they were speaking and change it on the fly. They also included a clause against the abuse of this gift which was not included in the Bridegroom’s Messenger:

    We have no Scripture for speaking in tongues except as the Spirit gives utterance. It is not you that speaks, but the Holy Ghost, and He will speak when he chooses. Don’t ever try to speak at will. “It is not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord.” What is not of the spirit is of the flesh or the devil. We know that some, by getting out of the Word, have been led off into fanaticism and have become a prey for the devil. If we go beyond the Word in any demonstration, it leads into wild fire and fanaticism. Up to date, we know of no one that has received the real gift of tongues, for if they had, we believe they could go out and preach to any nation in their own tongue.(3)The Apostolic Faith (Portland) July 1909. No. 8

    Their statement solved two problems that plagued the movement. They concluded the person who miraculously utters does not know what foreign language they were speaking in, and even if they did, it was not a controlled condition, and therefore not suitable for missionary purposes. The gift of tongues was for those who had the miraculous ability to speak a foreign language at will and consequently a powerful tool for missionary and evangelistic purposes. Unfortunately they never witnessed this gift of tongues ever happening. This is antithetical to what was published in 1906 and may be the closest thing to an apology that existed about Azusa street.

    Secondly, the one who uttered in a language was an escape clause. Few, if any, knew exactly what the person was speaking. The expression was the result of a personal divine encounter that could not be immediately explained. Lum and Crawford were released from making any judgements or critical evaluations of the occurrences because of this.

    Their editions after 1911 are much more subdued on the miracles of tongues with far fewer testimonies. By 1918, the only reference is general and appears as a narrative of the movement’s former days.

    Writing and Singing in Tongues

    The missionary tongues emphasis is dominant but the idea of writing in tongues also has some influence. The Irvingites had a demonstration of this writing in tongues doctrine in the 1830s and in the early 1900s, one of Charles Parham’s students, Agnes Ozman, was credited with writing in tongues, and another account described shortly by a Lillian Garr also strengthens that this was a frequent practice.(4)The Apostolic Faith Newsletter. April 1907. Vol. 1. No. 7. Pg. 1

    A sample of Agnes Ozman’s writing in tongues can be found on the internet or in James Goff’s Fields White Unto Harvest: Charles F. Parham and the Missionary Origins of Pentecostalism

    The appearance of writing in tongues shows that missionary tongues wasn’t entirely absolute and there was a subculture that had other traditions developing.

    Singing in tongues is unique to the pentecostal movement. The Apostolic Faith Newspaper (Portland) described it in this way: “. . .One of the manifestations that followed Pentecost was the heavenly singing by a chorus of voices in supernatural sweetness and harmony. It was melting—wonderful. Praise God, many missions have had it since then. The song is inspired, it is an anointing of the Spirit. God gave new voices to old men and women and to people who had never been able to sing, and to those that had lost their voices.”(5)The Apostolic Faith (Portland) July and August, 1908. Vol. II. No. 15

    Frank Bartleman described his Azusa experience as a new song and described the environment in musical terms. He first described the event as a linguistic miracle and then described a parallel experience as a personal emboldening to sing. “I felt after the experience of speaking in “tongues” that languages would could come easy to me. And so it has proven. And also I have learned to sing, in the Spirit. I never was a singer, and do not know music.”(6)Frank Bartleman. How Pentecost came to Los Angeles. NP. 1925. Pg. 74ff

    The above is a YouTube video demonstrating singing in tongues at a contemporary International House of Prayer meeting.

    Writing and singing in tongues is symbolic for Pentecostals to channel feelings of an inexpressible joy. A 1916 edition of the Weekly Evangel described it as such: “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men but unto God.”–(I Cor. 14:2) The language of which the apostle is here speaking seems to have been of a very peculiar sort–an unintelligible vocal utterance, that which is often manifested at this present day, in great spiritual revivals. We are constituted that when there rises up in our souls a strong rush of tender emotions we feel utterly incapable to put them into words. If expressed at all they can only be in the quivering lip, the gleaming of the eye and the convulsive chest. The groans, the sighs, the rapturous shouts cannot be interpreted.”(7)”Speaking in an Unknown Tongue” by John S. Mercer. Weekly Evangel. April 22, 1916. Vol. 136. Pg. 6

    There may be much more to this speaking in tongues genre but there is very little historical literature to go by. It may have been passed down through oral rather than literary traditions.

    Tongues as an expression of praise and adoration

    Out of all the solutions, this is the major one.

    The Apostolic Faith Newspaper slowly crept out of being at the forefront of the pentecostal voice. They were victims of their own success. New voices edged out the old ones, and a general sense of structure was beginning to develop.

    Pentecostal authorities began to look critically at the speaking in tongues issue. The experiential factor that A. G. Garr pronounced God ordained and needed no defence or explanation was not sufficient for a growing and increasingly fractured movement.

    The early Pentecostal search for an answer was a difficult one as they had not developed any analytical form of analysis. The highly respected pentecostal scholar, Gary B. McGee, described the early pioneers as high on personal experience and low on academic study or reflection. If they did reflect, they would not draw from their own distinct intellectual thoughts. The movement, having no history before the late 1800s, borrowed from scholars of other protestant traditions, assuming that “Pentecostal teachings could be easily integrated with some of these formulations without undermining the credibility of Pentecostal beliefs.”(8)Initial Evidence: Historical and Biblical Perspectives on the Pentecostal Doctrine of Spirit Baptism. Edited by Gary B. McGee. Oregon: Wipf and Stock. 1991. Pg. XVI

    The conservative religious nature of the pentecostal movement, largely due to the influence by its holiness parent, also added to the complexity of the problem. They were totally opposed to any form of biblical interpretation that represented the German school of higher criticism. This strong position was featured in a 1919 edition of the Pentecostal Evangel — the voice of the Assemblies of God. They wrote;

    These Assemblies are opposed to all radical Higher Criticism of the Bible and against all modernism or infidelity in the church, against people unsaved and full of sin and worldliness belonging to the church. They believe in all the real Bible truths held by all real Evangelical churches.”(9)Pentecostal Evangel. December 27, 1919. Volume 320 and 321. Pg. 5

    This established the pentecostal community identity with the fundamentalists on biblical authority. The polemic was limited to this threat and did not extend to the writings on higher criticism related to speaking in tongues. Furthermore, it will be demonstrated the conclusion supplied by higher criticism became the framework for the various pentecostal practices on tongues.

    As previously stated in the introduction, lacking in-depth theological training, biblical or ecclesiastical language skills, missing a comprehensive view of church history, and a dislike for anything that represented an institutional christian position, they turned to the English Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and writers that they felt were non-dogmatic in order to solve the tongues dilemma. They especially had a great love for the German turned American historian and theologian, Philip Schaff; the Anglican writer, theologian and Dean of Canterbury, Frederick Farrar; the Anglican theologians Conybeare and Howson, and a very short list of other authors and publications. The early Pentecostals felt safe that Schaff’s American identity and the Anglican writers were reliable sources, free from modern bias.

    This examination will show how much Pentecostals depended on the above authors for their new definitions and how much influence these authors accidentally had with this movement.

    None of the following authors being examined or quoted would admit such an association, but the data is clearly evident.

    V.P. Simmons

    V. P. Simmons was the first one to attempt to reconcile the pentecostal experience of the 1900s with the German glossolalia timeline.

    Simmons was a regular contributor to a pentecostal periodical called, The Bridegroom’s Messenger which was started by the G. B. Cashwell. Many pentecostal denominations today such as the Assemblies of God and the Church of God (Cleveland) can trace their history to G. B. Cashwell in some form.

    It only took the third publication of the Bridegroom’s Messenger to attempt this connection. An article titled, “A History of Tongues” by V. P. Simmons (Frostproof, Fla.) was the first and foremost work on the subject. Simmons was a temperance worker, emphatic about the second coming of Christ, and had been involved with tongues speaking movements since the late 1850s. He was highly respected by the Bridegroom’s Messenger.

    See V. P. Simmons on the Church History of Tongues for the original article.

    This same work was repeated two more times in the Bridegroom’s Messenger throughout the years.(10)Republished in February 1, 1908. A version very similar to his but the initials of someone else; Feb. 1, 1911. Vol. 4. No. 79. He also published “Historians Dodging Tongues” June 1. 1909. Vol. 2. No. 39 The article was converted into tract form by the same newspaper and advertised for sale in the March 1, 1908 edition.

    The article had a direct influence for over two-decades. The last reprint found was in a denominational newspaper called the White Wing Messenger (March, 1928) – which represented the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee).(11)March 31, 1928. Vol. V. No. 7 Pg. 3 and continued in April, 14, 1928, Vol. V. No. 8 The Church of God is one the oldest and largest pentecostal denominations in the world.

    This is his timeline for speaking in tongues.

    1. He starts with Irenaeus in the second century
    2. The Montanists(12)Library of Universal Knowledge. Vol. 10, Pg. 160-161; A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology Vol. 3  Pg. 1561-1562
    3. Tertullian
    4. Cyprian
    5. The Camisards(13)The Library of Universal Knowledge, Vol. III, Page. 352
    6. The Quakers and early Methodists
    7. The Lasure movement in Sweden
    8. The Irish revival in 1859
    9. Edward Irving(14)Encyclopedia of Religious knowledge, Vol. II, page 1119
    10. The Second Adventists/Gift Adventists
    11. Charles G. Finney

    The structure from 1 to 8, with the exception of Cyprian, is similar to what is found in Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church(15)Volume 1. Pg. 237 and the Religious Encyclopedia(16)W. Möller, “Montanism,” Philip Schaff, ed., A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn, Vol. 3. Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. pp.1561-1562. which was edited by Schaff. Simmons does not break Schaff’s structure. Instead, he adds the Irvingites, which happened before the Quaker’s and Methodists, after Schaff’s list ends.

    Simmons was hesitant about including Quakers and Methodists to the history of tongues because there was no primary information that connected them. However, since Schaff included them in his analysis, he left it in the list. The Second Adventists (a movement distinct from the present Second Day Adventists) is his own contribution because he personally knew the leaders.

    The reference to the Camisards by consulting the Library of Universal Knowledge was to show that he wasn’t completely dependent on one author.(17)The actual copy from the Library of Universal Knowledge: A Reprint of the Last (1880) Edinburgh and London Edition of Chambers’s Encyclopaedia. Vol. III. New York: American Book Exchange. 1880. Pg. 352 “There was a singular psychologic or spiritual phase in the history of the C. that must be noticed. It was a sort of inspiration or ecstasy. The subject who had endured long fasting, became pale, and fell insensible to the ground. Then came violent agitations of the limbs and head; and finally the patient, who might be a little child, a woman, or half-witted person, began to speak in good French of the Huguenot Bible, warning the people to repentance, prophesying the immediate coming of the Lord in judgment, and claiming that these exhortations came directly from the Holy Ghost.”

    He desperately wanted to connect Pentecostalism with Montanism; “Montanism was simply a reaction of the old, the primitive Church, against the obvious tendency of the Church today to strike a bargain with the world, and arrange herself comfortably in it.” However, he failed to cite it properly and attributed it to Schaff even though it was written by W. Möller in editor Schaff’s A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology entry on Montanism.

    Secondly, he asserted that the early church leader Irenaeous, Tertullian, and Cyprian endorsed and defended the Montanists speaking in tongues. This is historically incorrect. There is no literature from any of these writers substantiating such a fact. The only connection can be made is that Tertullian supported the Montanist overall cause, but did not specifically cover Montanist tongues.

    Neither did Simmons realize that the key word for tongues, γλῶσσα glossa, does not exist in the critical text related to Montanism. This, along with a number of other problems, makes the case for speaking in tongues by the Montanists a weak one, if at all.

    For more information on the Montanists and their alleged speaking in tongues see; A Critical Look at Tongues and Montanism

    Simmons would have been better off to side with the Donatists. This was a group described by Augustine. They would have been a better faith movement to identify with because they were proponents of tongues-speaking and were opponents of the institutional catholic church.

    After Cyprian, he recognized that almost 1600 years of history had been omitted. He believed this was because most academics concealed the practice. “ They evidently consider tongue talking a fanaticism, a weakness, to be kept out of sight.”(18) V. P. Simmons. “Historians Dodging Tongues.” Bridegroom’s Messenger. June 1, 1909. Vol. 2. No. 39 He felt that Schaff, along with a person named Andrew Findlater, LL. D., acting editor of encyclopedia of universal knowledge, as two historians that did not suppress the subject.(19) V. P. Simmons. “Historians Dodging Tongues.” Bridegroom’s Messenger. June 1, 1909. Vol. 2. No. 39

    Simmons did not provide an alternative 1600 year history of tongues that would inevitably draw from Catholic sources or review pertinent christian literature in the original texts. — a significantly large corpus hardly translated into English. He felt content the concealment by the establishment for over this period as a sufficient conclusion. This interpretation fit nicely in with the Pentecostal narrative.

    A 1931 edition of the Bridesgroom’s Messenger updated Simmon’s timetable and added a few additions from the Catholic Encyclopedia. Francis Xavier was referenced where it was written: it “is said to have made himself understood by the Hindus without knowing their language.”(20)Bridegroom’s Messenger. March 1931. Vol. 24. No. 279 This is a slight improvement over Simmon’s original. However, the Bridesgroom’s Messenger failed to comprehensively examine Xavier. The Sainthood process for Xavier was partly decided on the basis of speaking in tongues. However, the reality was otherwise. Xavier had linguistic difficulties. The successful political pedalling for his Sainthood, which had serious economic benefits for many parties involved, had been a source of embarrassment for the Catholic Church. It led to Pope Benedict the XIV issuing a treatise on the subject that set forth clear investigative rules for determining whether a person divinely spoke in tongues or not.

    For more information on the legend of Francis Xavier see: Francis Xavier Speaking in Tongues

    William Manley and the Household of God

    In 1909, William Manley, another participant directly blessed at the Azusa Street church, and well known as an evangelist, published a detailed article in his Household of God periodical titled “Tongues: Their Nature and Use According to the Commentators”. The article compiled a list of books and commentaries to prove that speaking in tongues was a language of praise and thanksgiving; purposely shifting the emphasis away from foreign languages. Who was the author and when was this published? We know Manley was the editor and possibly the author. The article cannot be located in the incomplete Household of God archive. However, a reprint can be found in the Bridesgroom’s Messenger in the January 15th, 1909 edition.(21)Bridegroom’s Messenger. Jan. 15, 1909. Vol. 2. No. 30

    The work cited a number of critical commentaries: (Clicking on the names will take you directly to their books and pertinent pages cited on tongues):

    Adam Clarke; Matthew Henry; Henry Alford; Philip Smith; Gotthard Lechler; Cunningham Geikie; Frédéric Godet; Jameson, Faucette and Brown; John Fulton (actually James Vernon Bartlett); and especially Philip Schaff. Schaff was the last on the list and given by far the longest quotation. (22)Bridegroom’s Messenger. Jan. 15, 1909. Vol. 2. No. 30. This was a reprint from another religious periodical called the Household of God. The article demonstrates how quickly the definition had evolved since 1906.

    A closer look at the commentators selected gives some detailed clues on how editor Manley and Pentecostals in general were inclined to reach a conclusion of speaking in tongues being a language of prayer and adoration.

    • Adam Clarke, was one of the leading theologians in the Methodist movement. He promoted the idea of it being a tongue for the expansion of the Gospel.

    • Matthew Henry was a presbyterian minister in the early 1700s whose written works greatly impacted later protestant leaders. Manley quoted from him to assert that speaking in tongues is a manifestation of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

    • Henry Alford “The great work of his life, however, was his Greek Testament (4 vole., London, 1849-61; thoroughly revised in subsequent editions), which introduced German New Testament scholarship to English readers. . .”(23)http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc01/htm/iii.iii.vii.htm He was a disciple of August Neander — the foremost writer and promoter of tongues as glossolalia.

    • Philip Smith admittedly followed Schaff’s guidance along with another influence, canon Robertson. He admits he shares their defects.(24)British and Foreign Evangelical Review. London: James Nisbet & Co. 1878. Pg. 569

    • Gotthard Lechler studied in Germany and was a disciple of August Neander.(25)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gotthard_Victor_Lechler

    • Cunningham Geikie was a prolific presbyterian theologian and writer with strong ties both in Canada and England. He doesn’t appear to fit in any equation. His books contain a high number of references to German sources and in one of his publications thanks a certain Professor G. Ebers of Leipsic, Germany for his contributions.(26)Cunningham Geikie. Hours with the Bible: In Light of Modern Discovery and Knowledge. Vol. 1. New York: John B. Alden. 1886. Pg. V Charles Spurgeon and Franz Delitzsch highly recommended his works.(27)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cunningham_Geikie His quotation by Manley gives the sense that there is a comprehensive community of theologians from different christian movements that are all in agreement with speaking in tongues.

    • Frédéric Godet, a Swiss-Protestant theologian, studied in Germany and was especially influenced by Neander.(28)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric_Louis_Godet

    • David Brown, the author of the commentary on the Book of Acts for Jameson, Faucett, and Brown’s Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Whole Bible was one of the few who had no connection with Germany, but was an assistant to Edward Irving.(29)https://www.ccel.org/ccel/brown_d Mr. Irving and his movement was the precedent setting event in protestant history that awoke the tongues debate out of a slumber and into a hotly debated subject.(30)See The Irvingites and the Gift of Tongues for more info.

    • John Fulton was the editor of Ten Epochs of Church History that the Household of God lifted the citation from. Many authors contributed to the Ten Epochs. The quote in this case was from James Vernon Bartlett. There is little biographical information on either one.

    • Philip Schaff was left for the end of the article and was given slightly more space than the rest of the quotations. One of the more important Schaff quotations emphasized praise, adoration and a personal religious language.

      “It was an act of self devotion, an act of thanksgiving, praying, singing within the Christian congregation by individuals who were wholly absorbed in communion with God, and gave utterance to their rapturous feelings in broken, abrupt, rhapsodic, unintelligible words. It was emotional rather than intellectual. * * * * the language of the spirit or of ecstasy as distinct from language of the understanding.”(31)The Household of God says it is citing Schaff’s History of the Christian Church. Vol. 1. Page 230ff

    • More about Schaff will be explained in Part 4.

    The reader can clearly see a pattern developing here where the Pentecostal framework for speaking in tongues was based on higher criticism. The combination of pentecostal experience plus the higher criticism approach of it being a language of adoration was a natural fit.

    It is noteworthy to see three who were left off the list that would have appealed to the pentecostal protestant sense. The great seventeenth-century churchman and Hebraist John Lightfoot, whose commentary on I Corinthians, especially his coverage on tongues, published in English in 1859, was a masterpiece. John Gill, whose commentary follows that of Lightfoot, or Jean Calvin’s Commentary on Corinthians. None of these would easily agree with the above observations.

    A. B. Cox

    A. B. Cox wrote for the Bridal Call: Western Edition in 1919 on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit where he devoted some thought to the history of speaking in tongues. The magazine was started by popular pentecostal media icon Aimee Semple Mcpherson. She is noted as one of the major influences in the rise of Pentecostalism. Not much can be obtained about Mr. Cox except for his contribution to the Bridal Call.

    A look at his historical timeframe on tongues is similar to that of Simmons. He went into a few more details but there are some flaws.

    • Cox asserted that Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, most of the church fathers believed the disciples of Pentecost were miraculously and permanently endowed with the power of foreign languages. This statement, with maybe the exception of Augustine, cannot be substantiated from these early church writers themselves.

    • The following quotation; “Augustine wrote in the fourth century, “We still do what the apostles did when they laid hands on the Samaritans and called down the Holy Ghost on them, in the laying of hands. It is expected that converts should speak with new tongues,” cannot be substantiated in any of Augustine’s works.

      This citation has become part of the pentecostal myth. It is found in the Church of God Evangel in 1933,(32)See Paul H. Walker below and was also repeated by the well known pentecostal theologian and radio speaker, Carl Brumback in his 1947 work, What Meaneth this? A Pentecostal Answer to a Pentecostal Question.(33)Carl Brumback. What Meaneth this? A Pentecostal Answer to a Pentecostal Question. Missouri: Gospel Publishing House. 1947. Pg. 91

    • Cox cites Gregory of Nazianzus to make a connection with the tongues of Babel, but makes no mention of Gregory’s miracle of tongues paradox—a central aspect of Gregory’s coverage on tongues. It makes the researcher ask if Mr. Cox actually looked at the text itself or simply lifted his quote from a third party source.

    • He goes on to claim further sources Oshausen, Baumgarten, Thiersch, Lechler, Hackett, Glaag, Plumptre, Schaff, Schmiedl and Zeller. Most of these are German higher criticism authors with an exception of Edward Hayes Plumptre. Plumptre was entirely familiar with the German position on tongues. His analysis was hesitant, but still followed their framework.(34)Edward Hayes Plumptre “Tongues, Gift of” as found in A Dictionary of the Bible. William Smith, ed. London: John Murray. 1863. Pg. 1555ff A further look at sources by Cox demonstrates that this was an edited copy from Schaff’s History of the Christian Church(35)https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc1.i.IV_1.24.html

    Paul H. Walker

    Mr. Walker was an important leader in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) denomination between the 1920s and 1960s. His article, “The Baptism with the Holy Ghost and the Evidence” written 1933, goes into historical detail to assert his position. It is one of the more lengthy works that follows the typical pentecostal historical framework. There are a few problems:

    • He cited Frederick Farrar’s book, Darkness to Dawn as a primary source, though it is only a work of fiction.

    • He too cites the same spurious reference to Augustine about converts being expected to speaking in tongues.

    It must be noted that he too references Schaff’s History of the Christian Church in his reference to speaking in tongues through the ages.(36)The Church of God Evangel. Nov. 18, 1933. Vol. 24. No. 37. Pg. 6

    Tongues as a Heavenly or Private Prayer Language

    The shift from missionary tongues to language and adoration allowed the definition to move into a new direction. One of the effects of this transition allowed the concept tongues as a heavenly devotional language—a language of men and angels. Most mixed this concept with the traditional one of foreign languages believing that the definition allowed for either to happen.

    The first one was posted on April 22nd, 1916 for the “interest of the Assembly of God” on the nature of speaking in tongues.

    This is not a gift of different languages as some have believed, but is an emotional or heavenly language, in which the speaker speaks only to God.(37) “Speaking in an Unknown Tongue” by John S. Mercer. As found in The Weekly Evangel. April 22, 1916. Vol. 136. Pg. 6

    The author then supports his claim from the Pulpit Commentary that it was “an unintelligible vocal utterance,” and that it was sometimes a human language, others heavenly or angelic ones. (38) IBID The Weekly Evangel. April 22, 1916. Vol. 136. Pg. 6

    Two months later, another article was posted that credited its teaching from A. A. Boddy and the pentecostal movement in England. There was a heavy emphasis on Conybeare and Howson’s Life and Epistles of St. Paul,” and Philip Schaff’s “Apostolic Church”. With these evidences the author included a double answer that integrated both the old and new definitions:

    We see that the belief that the gift was for the preaching of the Gospel to foreigner, is unfounded. Foreign people did certainly hear their own languages on the day of Pentecost (the disciples were not, however, on that occasion, preaching the Gospel but magnifying God–the common use of the gift) therefore the Spirit must have sometimes given a known language.(39)The Weekly Evangel. June 3, 1916. No. 142. Pg. 4

    A 1920 edition of their publication acknowledged the ability to divinely speak a foreign language but moreso encouraged the personal aspect; “With an understanding of the private use of the gift of tongues as a medium of expressing the heart’s deepest emotions, a greater field of usefulness opens before us, and Christian believers should have a greater interest in being filled with the Spirit and power for the accomplishing of divine work in the world than they have in merely—for their own comfort and satisfaction–getting rid of a troublesome inward disposition.”(40)The Pentecostal Evangel. April 17, 1920. Nos 336 and 337. Pg. 7

    A writer by the name of Herman L. Harvey weighed in on the subject for Aimee Semple McPherson’s, Bridal Call: Western Edition and he too vacillated on the definition. He gave more emphasis on the personal expression as a human, angelic or prayer language and did not believe speaking in tongues was for missionary activity. He cautioned about an unspecified group in California (clearly referring to the Azusa Street revival) who had made a “sad mistake,”(41)The Bridal Call: Western Edition. Los Angeles: The Bridal Call Publishing House. II, April Number 11 for promoting such a doctrine.

    Tongues as Glossolalia

    Even though the early pentecostal followers were fond of historical criticism as it related to speaking in tongues, they hardly embraced the word glossolalia as a term that described their experience. There are some brief moments that surprise such as the Bridegroom’s Messenger (1909) that first quotes Schaff and then adds that the glossolalia at Pentecost was an act of worship and adoration, not a miraculous speech for the conversion and instruction of the masses.(42)Bridegroom’s Messenger. Jan. 15, 1909. Vol. 2. No. 30 The writer understood the word close to its original intention, but this was not always the case. A writer named B. F. Wallace wrote in a 1916 periodical and defined glossolalia as speaking miraculously in a foreign language.(43)Weekly Evangel. April 8, 1916. No. 134 Another account in 1920 states it can be declaring the works of God or uttering real languages on earth.(44)Pentecostal Evangel. April 17, 1920. Nos. 226 and 337. Pg. ??

    In 1947, Donald Gee who is considered one of the fathers of the pentecostal movement went so far as to call tongues ecstatic speech, but he did not go so far as to call it glossolalia. However, it appears to be the same thing to him. Gee taught that the view of early pentecostals on missionary tongues was “mistaken and unscriptural”(45)The Pentecostal Movement: A Short History and An Interpretation for British Readers. NL. NP. 1941. He then clarified the current pentecostal definition on tongues: “From the data presented to us in the Scriptures, it seems clear that the gift of tongues consisted of a power of more or less ecstatic speech, in languages with which the speaker was not naturally familiar.”(46)Donald Gee. Concerning Spiritual Gifts. Missouri: Gospel Publishing House. 1972. Pg. 62

    Glossolalia does not appear to take any serious usage in the pentecostal realm until about the 1960s. The Pentecostal Evangel Magazine starts to use it as an abbreviation for speaking in tongues. In a 1962 issue it related about a Lutheran outbreak and described it as a “. . .“spiritual speaking,” known among theologians as “glossolalia” goes back to Christ’s Apostles. . .”(47)Pentecostal Evangel. Nov. 18, 1962. Pg. 28 The Magazine produced a special edition in 1964 with an article promoting glossolalia,(48)Pentecostal Evangel. March 29. 1964. Pg. 18 and in the same year one more article and formation of a glossolalia archive occurred. The first one was a sort of clarification which avoids defining the very nature of tongues:

    You may wonder, “what is meant by the word ‘Glossolalia’? It is a theological term applied to the practice of speaking with other tongues. . . it is as old as the Bible. Back in the days of the apostles (over 19 centuries ago) the followers of Jesus experienced glossolalia.(49)Pentecostal Evangel. April 26. 1964. “Speaking with Other Tongues.” Pg. 9

    The second one was the Assemblies of God announcement that they were setting up a “depository of writings on glossolalia (speaking in tongues)” at their main headquarters.(50)Pentecostal Evangel. Nov. 1, 1964. Pg. 6

    A current popular pentecostal leader, Rev. Heidi Baker, wrote a thesis entitled Pentecostal Experience: Towards a Reconstructive Theology of Glossolalia in 1995. She branded speaking in tongues as glossolalic prayer. An idiom which she described as an “embodiment and manifestation of God’s real presence to the Pentecostal community and the Church in our world. . . Pentecostal glossolalic prayer may be seen as God’s supernatural union with a person in a pre-conceptual, contemplative way and as an “incarnation” of this in a certain person’s life.”(51)Heidi Baker. Pentecostal Experience: Towards a Reconstructive Theology of Glossolalia. Thesis. Kings College, University of London. 1995. Pg. 5 I have never heard this being used by a lay pentecostal follower, preached from the pulpit, nor in any other pentecostal literature. Baker was attempting to wrap a comprehensive philosophical framework around tongues and wanted to retain the pentecostal distinctive while doing so. She failed to see the earlier connection between higher criticism or the early development of the word glossolalia when she built her argument. By ignoring or unaware of the antecedents, she demonstrates how thoroughly integrated the higher criticism influence has become. It is part of the DNA of pentecostal experience and no longer questioned.


    Next: Early Pentecostal Tongues: Part 4 The connection between early pentecostalism and the writings of Schaff, Farrar, Conybeare and Howson and a few select others.

    For more information

    References   [ + ]

    A Catholic History of Tongues: 30 to 1748 AD

    A catholic history of speaking in tongues from the first Pentecost until the rule of Pope Benedict the XIV, 1748 A.D.

    This summary is the first portion of a three-part series on the christian doctrine of tongues from inception until the 1920s. For a general overview about the christian doctrine of tongues and the framework that governs the following research, see Summary of the Gift of Tongues: Introduction.

    The following are the results of a detailed study of early church, medieval and later medieval catholic writers through seventeen-centuries of church life. The results are drawn from the Gift of Tongues Project which had a fourfold purpose to:

    • uncover new or forgotten ancient literature on the subject
    • provide the original source texts in digital format
    • translate the texts into English and add some commentary
    • to trace the perception of tongues in the church from inception until modern times.

    Table of Contents

    • A pictorial essay on the catholic history of speaking in tongues.
    • A short observation on pentecostal tongues
    • The doctrine of tongues from the first to third-century
    • The golden age of the christian doctrine of tongues: the fourth-century
      • The connection between Babel and Pentecost
      • Hebrew as the first language of mankind and of Pentecost
      • Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon
      • Augustine on tongues transforming into a corporate identity
      • Gregory of Nyssa and the one voice many sounds theory
      • Gregory Nazianzus on the miracle of speech vs. the miracle of hearing
    • The expansion of the christian doctrine of tongues from the tenth to sixteenth-centuries
      • Later Medieval accounts of speaking in tongues
      • The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

    A pictorial essay on the catholic history of speaking in tongues

    The graphic below is to assist the reader in quickly understanding the passing tradition of speaking in tongues throughout the centuries in the Catholic Church. The rest of the document will describe these findings. Click on the links throughout this document for more details, or go directly to the Gift of Tongues Project for actual source texts.

    Catholic perceptions of pentecostal tongues from inception until 1750; Origen in the second-century, he wrote very little though many have diverse opinions on his stance; Pachomius, knew only Coptic Greek but miraculously spoke in Latin; Gregory Nazianzus in the fourth-century, wrote an argument that pentectostal tongues could either be a miracle of speaking or hearing. He believed it to be a miracle of speech. Tyrannius Rufinus translates Nazianzus text into Latin and misunderstands the text and leaves both the miracle of speaking and hearing as equal options. This begins a thousand-year debate. The Venerable Bede in the eighth-century initially believed it to be a miracle of hearing but changed his mind. Michael Psellos in the tenth-century resolved the paradox but it was in Greek. The Latin world was still waiting. Thomas Aquinas solved it as a miracle of speech but his stance was never adopted. The church concluded that tongues can be both a miracle of speech or hearing. Medieval Hagiographers had many biographies of saints speaking in tongues-- the endowment of speaking a foreign language or those hearing in their native tongue. Andrew the Fool spoke in confidential tongues. Francis Xavier was partly canonized on speaking in tongues but later shown he never had this ability. Much to the embarrassment of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict the XIV wrote a powerful treatise on tongues and defined a process on what the gift of tongues is, is not, and a process for investigating. His efforts caused the expression to become remote or actively pursued.

    A short observation on pentecostal tongues

    The large corpus of material studied and compared demonstrate that the christian doctrine of tongues was related to human languages for almost 1800 years. The mechanics of how this happened differed. There were perceptions of it being a miracle of speech, hearing or both. There were no references to angelic speech, prayer language, glossolalia, or ecstatic utterances until the nineteenth-century. The glossolalia aspect is covered in Part 2 of this series.

    The Pentecost event as described by the writer Luke in the first part of the Book of Acts has far more coverage than Paul’s address to speaking in tongues throughout ecclesiastical literature. The ancient christian authors were split on the theological symbolism of Pentecost. Pentecost was either understood as a symbol of the Gospel becoming a universal message beyond the bounds of the Jewish community or a theological symbol for the Jewish nation to repent.

    The focus of this summary is the nature and mechanics behind speaking in tongues. The exploration of tongues as a theological symbol can be found throughout the source texts documented in the Gift of Tongues Project.

    The doctrine of tongues from the first to third-century

    The first Pentecost happened somewhere between 29 and 33 A.D., depending on which tradition one chooses to date the crucifixion. The event was listed close to the start of an account written by the physician turned writer, Luke. A work which is universally addressed today as the Book of Acts. The Pentecost narrative is very brief. As already mentioned in the Introduction, the English version of this text describing the Pentecost miracle contains approximately 206 words. Perhaps 800 if one includes Peter’s sermon. 206 words that have echoed throughout history and has inspired hundreds of millions to ponder and often replicate in their own lives.

    The readership of this summary is assumed to have thorough knowledge of this passage and have come here for more information. The following is the histories of tongues after the first Pentecost.

    The earlier church writers who lived between the first and third centuries, did mention the christian doctrine of tongues such as Irenaeous, who stated it was speaking in a foreign language. There was also Tertullian who recognized the continued rite in his church but fails to explain anything more than this. Neither of these writers contain sufficient coverage in their text to make a strong case for anything other than its existence.

    Origen
    Origen, 184 — 254 AD

    The debate inevitably leads to Origen – one of the most controversial figures on speaking in tongues. Modern theologians, commentators, and writers all over the broad spectrum of christian studies believe Origen supports their perspective. This has created an Origen full of contradictions. Origen was a third-century theologian that can be viewed as either one of the greatest early christian writers ever because of combining an active and humble faith with a deep intellectual inquiry into matters of faith. On the other hand, he was mistakenly labeled a heretic after his death for his limited view of the Trinity. He lived at a time the Trinity doctrine was in its infancy and wasn’t fully developed. His views didn’t correlate with the later formulation and he was posthumously condemned for this. After careful investigation about his coverage on speaking in tongues, Origen hardly commented on it. If one is to draw a conclusion with the limited coverage by him is this: he didn’t think there was anyone pious enough during his time for this task, and if they were, it would be for cross-cultural preaching.

    The golden age of the christian doctrine of tongues: the fourth-century

    Due to the devastating effects of the persecutions by the Roman emperor Diocletian in the third-century, there is hardly any christian literature to choose from the first to third-centuries. This dramatically changes in the fourth-century when Christianity becomes a recognized religion, and later the foremost one within the Roman Empire. This is where things get really interesting.

    The fourth-century began to unfold greater details on speaking in tongues. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote that Peter and Andrew spoke miraculously in Persian or Median at Pentecost and the other Apostles were imbued with the knowledge of all languages. The founder of the Egyptian Cenobite movement, Pachomius, a native Coptic speaker, was miraculously granted the ability to speak in Latin.

    The doctrine of tongues divided into five streams in the fourth-century. The first interpretation was the speaking in Hebrew and the audience heard in their own language. The second was Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon. The third was the one voice many sounds theory formulated by Gregory of Nyssa. Fourth, the transition of a personal to a corporate practice represented by Augustine, and last of all the tongues paradox proposed by Gregory Nazianzus. Some may reckon that two more belong here – the cessation of miracles and the Montanists. Both Cessationism and Montanism are perceptions developed during the eighteenth-century. These theories will unfold further down in the summary chronology.

    Before winding down the path of these five options, it is necessary to take a quick look at the confusion of tongues found in the Book of Genesis. This story has an important relationship with the discussions to follow.

    The connection between Babel and Pentecost

    One would assume that the reversal of Babel would be one of the early streams of thinking about Pentecost. This proposition is surprisingly not the case. The idea that the ancient christian writers would connect the confusion of languages symbolized by the city Babel in the book of Genesis with Pentecost because both are narratives revolving around languages seems logical. The book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, has a brief narrative that described how mankind originally had one language. This oneness changed with their determination to build a tower to reach into the heavens which was stopped by the introduction of a plurality of languages. Although the text is minimal and lacking details, the text suggests some form of arrogance and self-determination apart from God. The tower also represented mankind’s ability to collectively do great evil. In response, God chose to divide the one language into many languages and scatter mankind throughout the earth in order to curb this amassing of power. The overall traditional record does not associate Pentecost as a reversal of Babel.

    The connection between God giving the commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai would appear to be the better correlation. The old covenant, that is the law of the ancient Israelites, was spoken by God and heard by Moses, then later given in a written form. The Talmud states that God spoke this to Moses in 72 languages – a number understood to symbolically mean in all the languages of the world. The new covenant, the law of grace, was given by the apostles in fiery tongues on the Mount of Olives at Pentecost – these apostles and 120 more miraculously spoke in a whole host of languages. The Jewish community today annually celebrates the giving of the law of Moses and call this day Shevuot which calculates the same days after Passover as Pentecost does. However, this holiday is not an ancient one and does not trace back to the first-century when the first Pentecost occurred. Luke does not mention a direct connection to Shevuot and neither do any of the ancient christian writers.

    The Babel allusion prevailed discreetly in later dialogues, especially two concepts. The first one related to which language was the first language of mankind, and how that fit into the Pentecost narrative. The second relating to the one voice spoken many languages heard theory.

    Hebrew as the first language of mankind and of Pentecost

    There is a substantial corpus about Hebrew being the first language of mankind within ancient christian literature and a tiny allusion to Pentecost being the speaking of Hebrew sounds while the audience heard in their own language. This position about Pentecost does not clearly flow throughout the seas of christian thought, only in the shadows.

    The idea of Hebrew as the first language of mankind starts with the early Christians such as first-century Clement, Bishop of Rome, fourth-century Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, for at least part of his life (He changed his position later). The concept of Hebrew being the original language of mankind was repudiated by fourth-century Gregory of Nyssa and then endorsed again by the eighth-century historian and theologian, the Venerable Bede. In the tenth-century Oecumenius, Bishop of Trikka believed that Hebrew was a divine language, because when the Lord spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus, it was in Hebrew.

    The eleventh-century philosopher-theologian, Michael Psellos, referred to an ideology that placed Hebrew as the first common language. He alluded that Pentecost could have been the speakers vocalizing in Hebrew while the audience heard it in their own language. This was a reflection of a possibility in his mind, not a position he endorsed. Thomas Aquinas too mentioned this explanation, but quickly moved onto better, more rational theories.

    The speaking of Hebrew sounds and the audience hearing in their own language was a small theory that never gained widespread attention. It was played about, but never became a standard doctrine with a vibrant local or international appeal.

    See Hebrew and the First Language of Mankind for more information.

    Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon

    A writing loosely attributed to the fifth-century Pope of Alexandria, Egypt, Cyril of Alexandria, described Pentecost as the “changing of tongues.” Pentecost was the use of foreign languages at Pentecost as a sign for the Jews. This event was a miraculous endowment and those that received this blessing in @31 AD continued to have this power throughout their lives, but it did not persist after their generation.

    Cyril represented the city of Alexandria at the height of its influence and power throughout Christendom. His biography concludes that he was deposed because of quarrelsomeness and violence. There are unsubstantiated claims that he was responsible for the death of the revered mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and scholar Hypatia. Although his history comes to a sad demise, his earlier stature and his near-universal influence requires careful attention on the subject of Pentecost. His ideas of Pentecost may have been an older tradition passed down and reinforced by him. The theory of a temporary miracle restricted to the first generation of christian leadership is hard to tell because there is little information about this theory before or after his time.

    However, the theory arose again in the thirteenth-century with no references inbetween. The celebrated scholastic writer and mystic, Thomas Aquinas, weighed in on the temporary question. Whenever a theological subject has been addressed by Aquinas, it is worth the time to stop and consider. There is no person in christian history that had assembled such a broad array of the various christian traditions, writers, texts, and Scripture into a systematic form of thought. Not only was Aquinas systematic, but also a mystic. The combination of these qualities gives him a high score in covering the doctrine of tongues.

    He held a similar position on Pentecost to that of Cyril of Alexandria, though he does not mention him by name. He believed the apostles were equipped with the gift of tongues to bring all people back into unity. It was only a temporary activity that later generations would not need. Later leaders would have access to interpreters which the first generation did not.

    Aquinas’ argument is a good and logical one, but the christian history of tongues does not align with this conclusion. After Aquinas’ time, there are numerous perceived cases of the miraculous endowments that contradict such a sentiment. Neither can Cyril’s thought be traced down through the centuries to numerous writers and be claimed as a universal or near-universal teaching.

    The temporary idea of Pentecost was restricted to this miracle alone. There is no implied idea that this temporality extended to miracles of healing, exorcisms, or other divine interventions.

    Augustine on tongues transforming into a corporate identity

    Augustine, Bishop of Hippo
    Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 354 — 430 AD

    The christian rite of speaking in tongues transferring from a personal to a corporate expression was espoused by Augustine Bishop of Hippo. This was created over his lengthy and difficult battle with the dominant tongues-speaking Donatist movement.

    The Donatists were a northern African christian group; broken off from the official Catholic Church over reasons relating to the persecutions against Christians by edict of emperor Diocletian in the third-century. After the persecutions abated, a controversy erupted in the region over how to handle church leaders who assisted with the secular authorities in the persecutions. This became a source of contention and it conflagrated into questions of church leadership, faith, piety, discipline, and politics. One of the outcomes was a separate church movement called the Donatists. At the height of their popularity, the Donatists statistically outnumbered the traditional Catholic representatives in the North Africa region. At the height, it had over 400 bishops.

    The Catholic Church was in a contest against the Donatist claims of being the true church. One of the assertions the Donatist’s provided for their superior claim was their ability to speak in tongues. This forced Augustine to take the Donatists and their tongues doctrine seriously and build a vigorous offense against them.

    Augustine’s polemic against the Donatists has generated more data on the christian doctrine of tongues than any other ancient writer and gives a good lock into perceptions of this rite in the fourth-century.

    Augustine attacked the Donatist claim of being the true church in a number of ways.

    • One was through mocking, asking when they laid hands on infants whether they spoke in languages or not.

    • Or he simply stated that the gift had passed. The cessation statement was one of many volleys that he made.

      This cessation needs further clarification. Augustine meant that the individual endowment of miraculously speaking in foreign languages had ceased from functioning. The corporate expression still remained. It cannot be applied to mean the cessation of miracles, healings, or other divine interventions. Augustine was exclusively referring to the individual speaking in tongues. Nothing more.

    • In other words, the individual expression of speaking in tongues changed into a corporate one – the church took over the function of speaking in every language to all the nations.

    He described Pentecost as each man speaking in every language.

    This transformation from individual to corporate identity was referenced by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth-century in his work, Summa Theologica, but built little strength around this theme. He left it as is in one sentence.

    There is no question that the semantic range of this experience fell inside the use of foreign languages. He used the term linguis omnium gentium “in the languages of all the nations” on at least 23 occasions, and linguis omnium, speaking “in all languages”. Neither does Augustine quote or refer to the Montanist movement in his works.

    The Bishop repeatedly answers the question “If I have received the holy Spirit, why am I not speaking in tongues?” Each time he has a slightly different read. What did he say? “this was a sign that has been satisfied” — the individual expression has been satisfied. He then offers a more theological slant in his Enarratio In Psalmum, “Why then does the holy Spirit not appear now in all languages? On the contrary, He does appear in all the languages. For at that time the Church was not yet spread out through the circle of lands, that the organs of Christ were speaking in all the nations. Then it was filled-up into one, with respect to which it was being proclaimed in every one of them. Now the entire body of Christ is speaking in all the languages.”(1)Augustine. Enarratio in Psalmum. CXLVII:19 (147:19)

    One has to be very cautious with Augustine on this topic. He was pitting the Catholic Church as the true one because of its universality and inferring that the Donatists were not so ordained because of their regionalism. His answers were polemic than theological in nature.

    Augustine’s polemical diatribes against the tongues-speaking Donatists never became a universal doctrine. The individual to the corporate idea has indirect allusions in John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria’s works, but nothing concrete. The concept faded out within a generation and references to him on the subject by later writers is not very frequent.

    See Augustine on the Tongues of Pentecost: Intro for more information.

    Gregory of Nyssa and the one voice many sounds theory

    Gregory of Nyssa
    Gregory of Nyssa, 335 — 394 AD

    Gregory of Nyssa represents the beginning of the evolution of the christian doctrine of tongues that has echoes even today.

    Gregory of Nyssa was a fourth-century Bishop of Nyssa – a small town in the historic region of Cappadocia. In today’s geographical terms, central Turkey. The closest major city of influence to Nyssa was Constantinople – which at the time was one of the most influential centers of the world.

    This church father, along with Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great were named together as the Cappadocians. Their influence set the groundwork for christian thought in the Eastern Roman Empire. Gregory of Nyssa was an articulate and a deep thinker. He not only drew from christian sources but built his writings around a Greek philosophical framework.

    Gregory sees parallels between Babel and Pentecost on the nature of language but produces different outcomes. In the Pentecost story, he explained it as one sound dividing into languages during transmission that the recipients understood.

    Gregory of Nyssa’s homily on Pentecost is a happy one which began with his reference to Psalm 94:1, Come, let us exalt the Lord and continues throughout with this joyful spirit. In reference to speaking in tongues, he wrote of the divine indwelling in the singular and the output of a single sound multiplying into languages during transmission. This emphasis on the singularity may be traced to the influence of Plotinus — one of the most revered and influential philosophers of the third-century. Plotinus was not a Christian, but a Greek/Roman/Egyptian philosopher who greatly expanded upon the works of Aristotle and Plato. He emphasized that the one supreme being had no “no division, multiplicity or distinction.” Nyssa strictly adhered to a singularity of expression by God when relating to language. The multiplying of languages happened after the sound was emitted and therefore conforms to this philosophical model. However, Nyssa never mentions Plotinus by name or credits his movement in the writings examined so far, so it is hard to make a direct connection. There is an influence here.

    What was the sound that the people imbued with the Holy Spirit were speaking before it multiplied during transmission? Nyssa is not clear. It is not a heavenly or divine language because he believed mankind would be too limited in any capacity to produce such a mode of divine communication. Neither would he understand it to be Hebrew. Maybe it was the first language mankind spoke before Babel, but this is doubtful. Perhaps the people were speaking their own language and the miracle occurred in transmission. I think speaking in their own language is the likeliest possibility. Regardless, Gregory of Nyssa was not clear in this part of his doctrine.

    This theory did not solely rest with Gregory of Nyssa. He may be the first to clearly document this position, but the idea was older. There are remnants of this thought in Origen’s writing (Against Celsus 8:37) – though it is only one unclear but sort of relevant sentence and hard to build a case over

    Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, pokes at this too, but is unclear. He mentions on many occasions “one man was speaking in every language” or similar.(2)Sermo CLXXV:3 (175:3) What does this mean? How can one man speak simultaneously in all the languages at the same time? Even if a person sequentially went through 72 languages speaking one short sentence, it would take over ten minutes and wouldn’t be considered a miracle – only a simple mnemonic recitation. Augustine didn’t make any attempt to clarify this statement. He was playing with the one voice many sounds theory in a polemical sense and altered the nuance. The idea shifted to the connection between oneness and unity, which in Latin, are similar in spelling. He wanted to emphasize that those who spoke in tongues do it for the sake of unity. He was arguing anyone who promoted speaking in tongues as a device to divide the church is a fleshly and evil endeavor.

    The concept takes us to the fifth-century where Basil of Seleucia, a bishop of Seleucia in a region historically named Isauria – today a south central Turkish coastal town known as Silifke. Basil of Seleucia followed the literary trail of John Chrysostom and copied many of his traits, but in the case of Pentecost, he adds the one voice many sounds description.

    See An analysis of Gregory of Nyssa on Speaking in Tongues for more information.

    Gregory Nazianzus on the miracle of speech vs. the miracle of hearing

    Gregory Nazianzus
    Gregory Nazianzus, 329 — 390 AD

    Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus were acquaintances in real life, perhaps more so because of Gregory of Nyssa’s older brother, Basil the Great. Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great had a personal and professional relationship that greatly impacted the church in their dealings with Arianism and the development of the Trinity doctrine. Unfortunately, a fallout happened between Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great that never was repaired.(3)Frienship in Late Antiquity: The Case of Gregory Nazianzen and Basil the Great This has little bearing with the topic at hand, but builds a small portrait surrounding the key figures of the fourth-century who discuss the doctrine of tongues.

    Gregory Nazianzus recognized the theory of a one sound emanating and multiplying during transmission into real languages. He seriously looked at this solution and compared against the miracle of speaking in foreign languages. He found the one sound theory lacking and believed the miracle of speech was the proper interpretation. Perhaps this is a personal objection to Nyssa or a professional one based on research. There are no writings between Nyssa or Nazianzus that allude to a contested difference between them on the subject. Nyssa’s contribution to the christian doctrine of tongues has long been forgotten in the annals of history, but Nazianzus has survived. On the other hand, the theory itself posited by Nyssa never did vanish. These two positions by Nyssa and Nazianzus set the stage for an ongoing debate for almost two millennia.

    Who is Gregory Nazianzus? Most people have not heard of him before but his contributions to the christian faith are many. This fourth-century Bishop of Constantinople’s mastery of the Greek language and culture is exquisite and hard to translate into English. Much of the wonder and power of his writing is so deeply connected with these two elements it feels like an injustice to translate. His works come across as dry and esoteric in an English translation whereas in the Greek he is a well-spring of deep thought. Many church leaders during his period preached and then published the homily. Nazianzus likely wrote first and preached later. His works do not come across as great sermons, but great works of writing. All these factors have contributed to him being relatively obscure in the annals of christian history – even though in the fourth-century he was on the same level of prestige as Augustine or John Chrysostom.

    The description of Pentecost as either a miracle of speaking or hearing became the focal point of Gregory Nazianzus in the fourth-century when he wrote in one of his Orations that these both were potential possibilities, though he clearly believed Pentecost as a miracle of speech. Unfortunately, a Latin translator, Tyrannius Rufinus, misunderstood some finer points of Greek grammar when translating and removed Gregory’s preference of it being a miracle of speech and left both as equal possibilities. The majority of Western church leaders were unfamiliar with Greek and relied on Tyrannius’ Latin text. Tyrannius’ mistake created a thousand-year debate of the miracle being one of either speaking or hearing.

    See Gregory Nazianzus on the doctrine of tongues intro for more information

    The speech versus hearing argument was brought up again the seventh-century by the Venerable Bede, who wrote two commentaries on Acts. The Venerable Bede lived in the kingdom of the Northumbrians (Northern England. South-East Scotland). He was brilliant in so many areas. Astronomy, mathematics, poetry, music and a literature were some of his many passions. His writing is very engaging and fluid – a good read. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People makes him the earliest authority of English history.

    Venerable Bede
    The Venerable Bede, 673 — 735 AD

    His first commentary delved deeply in the debate, and studying only the Latin texts, concluded it was a miracle of hearing. In his second commentary, he was not so convincing. He changed his mind, alluding Pentecost was a miracle of speech and conjectures it could have been both a miracle of speaking and hearing. The outcome didn’t really matter to him. Perhaps he took this conclusion to avoid saying he was initially wrong.

    Another noteworthy discussion about the Nazianzus paradox was presented by Michael Psellos in the eleventh-century. His own biography is not one of the religious cloth, but civic politics. His highest position was that of Secretary of State in the highly influential Byzantine City of Constantinople. He was a Christian who had a love-hate relationship with the church. One of the lower moments in that relationship was his choosing Plato over Aristotle. The Church tolerated the non-christian writings of Aristotle, but frowned on Plato. Psellos studied theology but loved philosophy, and this was a continued source of contention.

    It is surprising that his complex weave of Greek philosophy and christian faith in a very conservative christian environment did not get him into more serious trouble than he encountered. He was way ahead of his time. His approach to faith, Scripture, and intellect took western society five hundred or so more years to catch-up.

    Michael Psellos was caught between two very distinct periods. He lived in the eleventh-century and still was connected to the ancient traditions of the church, but also at the beginning shift of intellectual and scholarly thought that modern readers come to rely on. He bridged both worlds. This is why his work is so important.

    He thought highly of his opinions and liked to show-off his intellectual genius. After reading his text, it is not clear whether he was trying to solve the riddle of Nazianzus’ miracle of hearing or speech, or it was an opportunity to show his intellectual mastery. Regardless of his motives, he leaves us with a rich wealth of historic literature on speaking in tongues.

    What did Psellos write that was so important? Two things. He first clears up the Nazianzus paradox stating that it was a miracle of speaking. Secondly, he particularly clarifies the similarities and differences between the ancient Greek prophetesses going into a frenzy and spontaneously speaking in foreign languages they did not know beforehand, and with the disciples of Christ who also spontaneously spoke in foreign languages.

    Psellos had a detailed knowledge of the pagan Greek prophets and explains that the ancient female prophets of Phoebe would go in a form of frenzy and speak in foreign languages. This is a very early and important contribution to the modern tongues debate because there is a serious scholarly connection given to the ancient Greek prophets going into ecstasy and producing ecstatic speech with that of Pentecost. The christian miracle is named a synergism of the ancient Greek practice of ecstatic speech in order to make the christian faith a universal one.

    Psellos may be the oldest commentator on the subject and must be given significant weight. His knowledge of ancient Greek philosophy and religion is unparalleled even by modern standards. It is also seven hundred years older than most works that address the relationship between the christian event and the pagan Greek rite.

    He described the Pentecostal speakers spoke with total comprehension and detailed how it exactly worked. The thought process remained untouched but when attempting to speak, their lips were divinely inspired. The speaker could change the language at any given moment, depending on what language group the surrounding audience belonged to. He thought this action a miracle of speech, and sided with Nazianzus.

    The total control of one’s mind while under divine influence was what differentiated the christian event from the pagan one. The Greek prophetesses, as he went on to describe, did not have any control over what they were saying. There was a complete cognitive disassociation between their mind and their speech while the Apostles had complete mastery over theirs.

    Last of all Psellos introduces a concept of tongues-speaking practised in the Hellenic world that has to do with the use of plants to arrive in a state of divine ecstasy. He also quickly described pharmacology too in this context, but it seems the text infers it was used in the art of healing. His writing is somewhat unclear at this point, but there was a relationship between the two. Perhaps tongues speaking practised by the ancient Greeks was part of the ancient rite of healing. It is hard to be definitive with this because his writing style here is so obscure. He warns to stay away from the use of exotic things that assist in going into a state of divine ecstasy.

    Thomas Aquinas tried to conclude the tongues as speech or hearing debate. Aquinas proceeded to use his argument and objection method for examining the Nazianzus paradox. In the end, he clearly stated it was a miracle of speech. His coverage was well done. However, this attempt was not successful in quelling the controversy.

    Thomas Aquinas
    Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274 AD

    Another aspect that Aquinas introduced was the relationship between the office of tongues and prophecy. The topic has lurked as early as the fourth-century but never in the forefront. Aquinas put the topic as a priority. Given that he was a mystic and lived in the world that heavily emphasized the supernatural, this comes as no surprise. He believed that the gift of tongues was simply a systematic procedure of speaking and translating one language into another. The process required no critical thinking, spiritual illumination, or comprehension of the overall narrative. He believed the agency of prophecy possessed the means for translating and interpreting but added another important asset – critical thinking. One must be cognisant of the fact that his idea of critical thinking is slightly different from ours. He includes spiritual illumination along with intellectual acuity as a formula for critical thinking. The prophetic person had the ability to understand the meaning behind the speech and how it applied to one’s daily life. Therefore, he felt prophecy was a much better and superior office than simply speaking and translating.

    The expansion of the christian doctrine of tongues from the tenth to eighteenth-centuries

    The tenth to sixteenth-centuries could be held as the golden age of tongues speaking in the Catholic Church, and arguably the biggest era for the christian doctrine of tongues. The next two-hundred years that reached into the eighteenth-century was the civil war that raged between protestants and catholics that put miracles, including speaking in tongues, in the epicenter. These eight-centuries were the era of super -supernaturalism in almost every area of human life. Speaking in tongues was common and attached to a variety of celebrity saints – from Andrew the Fool in the tenth to Francis Xavier in the sixteenth. This period had established the doctrine of tongues as either a miracle of hearing, speaking or a combination of both.

    Later Medieval accounts of speaking in tongues

    For example, the later legend of thirteenth-century had Anthony of Padua, a popular speaker in his time, spoke in the language of the Spirit to a mixed ethnic and linguistic gathering of catholic authorities who heard him in their own language. What was the language of the Spirit? This was never clarified in the text or by any other author and remains a mystery.

    Vincent Ferrer in the fourteenth-century was a well-known evangelist, perhaps in the top 50 in the history of the church. He visited many ethnic and linguistic communities while only knowing his native Valencian language. His orations were so great and powerful that it was alleged people miraculously heard him speak in their own language.

    There were also revisions by later writers to earlier lives of saints such as Matthew the Apostle, Patiens of Metz in the third, and the sixth-century Welsh saints, David, Padarn and Teilo. They were claimed to have spoken miraculously in foreign languages.

    Speaking in tongues was also wielded as a political tool. The French religious orders, l’abbaye Saint-Clément and l’abbaye Saint-Arnould, had a strong competition between each other during the tenth and fourteenth centuries. L’abbaye Saint-Clément proposed their order to be the foremost because their lineage traced back to a highly esteemed and ancient founder. L’abbaye Saint-Arnould countered with St. Patiens who had the miraculous ability to speak in tongues.

    The account of Andrew the Fool has an interesting twist in the annals of speaking in tongues. Andrew the Fool, often cited as Andrew of Constantinople, or Andrew Salus, was a tenth-century 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 who feigned insanity as a form of a prophetic and teaching device. The story of Andrew the Fool’s miraculous endowment of tongues was used to facilitate a private conversation between Andrew and a slave while attending a party. This allowed them to talk freely without the patron of the party becoming privy to the conversation and becoming angry about the matter being discussed.

    The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

    Francis Xavier
    Francis Xavier, 1506 — 1552 AD

    The sainthood of Francis Xavier in the sixteenth-century, and the incredulous notion that he miraculously spoke in foreign languages brought the gift of tongues to the forefront of theological controversy. Protestants used his example of how Catholics had become corrupt, to the point of making fictitious accounts that contradict the evidence. A closer look demonstrated that the sainthood investigation process was flawed on the accounts of him speaking in tongues. On the contrary, a proper examination showed Francis struggled with language acquisition. His sainthood with partial grounds based on speaking in tongues was a later embarrassment to the Society of Jesus to whom Francis belonged to. The Society of Jesus is an educational, missionary and charitable organization within the Catholic church that was ambitiously counter-reformation in its early beginnings. The Society of Jesus still exists today and is the largest single order in the Catholic Church.

    The mistaken tongues miracle in Francis’ life also was a headache for the Catholic Church leadership itself. This led to Pope Benedict XIV to write a treatise on the gift of tongues around 1748 and describe what it is, isn’t and what criteria should be used to investigate such a claim. He concluded that the gift of tongues can be speaking in foreign languages or a miracle of hearing.

    This treatise was a well-written and researched document. No other church leader or religious organization, even the Renewalist movement, have superseded his work in validating a claim for speaking in tongues. After his publication, the investigation of claims for tongues-speaking in the Catholic Church had significantly declined.

    Next article in this three-part series:

  • A Summary of the Gift of Tongues Project: the Protestant Experience is in development.
  • For further reading:

    References   [ + ]

    An analysis of Gregory of Nyssa on speaking in tongues

    Gregory of Nyssa on divine speech, human languages, and Pentecost.

    gregory_of_nyssa

    Gregory of Nyssa, along with Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, and Gregory Nazianzus, set the framework for the christian doctrine of tongues from the fourth-century and onwards. Although there are other narratives during this period such as John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Pachomius, these did not have the future impact on this doctrine as the above three accomplished.

    The focus of this article is on Gregory of Nyssa. His name is hardly known, if at all, in chapels, streets, or coffee shops today, but in his time, he was a powerful writer, speaker, and teacher. His influence was widespread throughout all christendom.

    Gregory of Nyssa was a fourth-century Bishop of Nyssa – a small town in the historic region of Cappadocia. In today’s geographical terms, central Turkey. The closest major city of influence to Nyssa was Constantinople – which at the time was one of the most influential centers of the world.

    Gregory of Nyssa, along with Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great were named together as the Cappadocians. Their influence set the groundwork for christian thought in the Eastern Roman Empire. Gregory of Nyssa was an articulate and a deep thinker. He not only drew from christian sources, but built his writings around a Greek philosophical framework.

    His theory of divine speech and human languages demonstrate an important perspective in the history of the christian doctrine of tongues.

    Nyssa’s idea of divine and human language

    Gregory wrote a detailed treaty against a man named Eunomius who had a large following in the christian community, but in matters of theology slightly changed some constants that better suited his philosophy of god and life. There were many subtle shifts that go beyond this study. However, the controversy brings to light Gregory’s views of speaking in tongues.

    Eunomius brought up the question whether God spoke in human language, specifically the Hebrew language. Gregory answered by building his thesis around the confusion of languages written in the Book of Genesis. His observations gave a number of valuable thoughts. The first one being that language is a human invention allowed to grow and develop, and that God Himself does not speak in human language as His normal mode of communication.

    As he wrote in Contra Eunomium:

    So that our position remains unshaken, that human language is the invention of the human mind or understanding. For from the beginning, as long as all men had the same language, we see from Holy Scripture that men received no teaching of God’s words, nor, when men were separated into various differences of language, did a Divine enactment prescribe how each man should talk. But God, willing that men should speak different languages, gave human nature full liberty to formulate arbitrary sounds, so as to render their meaning more intelligible.(1)NPNF2-05. Gregory of Nyssa Pg. 276

    Whenever Gregory referred to God speaking, he left the word ambiguous in Greek as voice (phônos — φῶνος).

    The avid reader may find that the English translation of the treatise Contra Eunomium found in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. second series doesn’t prove this theory. This is a problem of the English translation which in other areas is a good one, but fails when it comes to differentiating between the Greek nouns, glossa which is the noun for language and phonos which means sound or voice (γλῶσσα and φῶνος).

    Secondly, Gregory believed that there was only one language before the confusion of languages at Babel. What exactly this language was, he doesn’t know. He left this one ambiguous too, using voice again, rather than language in the majority of occasions, especially highlighted in this key passage “μιᾷ συνέζων φωνῇ πάντων ἀνθρώπων τὸ πλήρωμα,” “the aggregate of men dwelt together with one voice among them.” The word here for voice is φωνῇ not language as the original English translation of this text provided.(2)See a href=”http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf205/Page_276.html”>NPNF2-05. Gregory of Nyssa Pg. 276 for the full text

    He didn’t believe man’s original language was the language of God because God did not use human language as the basis of His natural way of communicating. Aware that Hebrew was proposed as the first original language, he reckoned that Hebrew is neither the oldest language of the world and impossible for this to be the case.

    But some who have carefully studied the Scriptures tell us that the Hebrew tongue is not even ancient like the others. . .(3)NPNF2-05. Gregory of Nyssa Pg. 276

    Nyssa’s idea of Pentecost

    Gregory does not make the Pentecostal event related in the Book of Acts as a reversal of Babel. Instead, he sees parallels between the two stories on the nature of language with different outcomes. In the Pentecost story, he explained it as one sound dividing into languages during transmission that the recipients understood.

    The emphasis on God speaking in an ambiguous voice (φῶνος) remains consistent between the two stories:

    For at the river Jordan, after the descent of the Holy Ghost, and again in the hearing of the Jews, and at the Transfiguration, there came a voice from heaven, teaching men not only to regard the phenomenon as something more than a figure, but also to believe the beloved Son of God to be truly God. Now that voice was fashioned by God, suitably to the understanding of the hearers, in airy substance, and adapted to the language of the day, God, “who willeth that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.(4)NPNF2-05. Gregory of Nyssa Pg. 275

    Gregory believed the sound of God speaking at in the events of Jesus’ baptism, and the transfiguration was not a language, rather, it was a sound that had the ability to adapt during transmission into a targeted human language.

    Now when one reads his accounts of Pentecost, this same formula is found with those imbued with the fiery tongues.

    In his treatise Contra Eunomium he wrote:

    We read in the Acts that the Divine power divided itself into many languages for this purpose, that no one of alien tongue might lose his share of the benefit.(5)NPNF2-05. Gregory of Nyssa Pg. 276

    And then again in his homily De Spiritu Sancto sive in Pentecosten:

    Consequently, the narrative of the Book of Acts says that while these people are gathered in the upper room, is the dividing up in each one the pure and supernatural fire in the form of languages according to the number of disciples.

    So then these people are thus discoursing in Parthian, Mede, and Elamite in the other remaining nations, adapting their voices with respect to authority to every state language. Even as the Apostle says, “I wish five words to speak with my mind in the Church in order that I may benefit others than a thousand words in a tongue.” Truly at that time the benefit was the same language begotten into foreign languages so that the preaching to those ignorant of the truth would not be in vain when those preaching thwart them by a single voice. Now indeed while existing according to the same sounding language, it is necessary to seek after the fiery tongue of the Spirit for the illumination of those who dwell in darkness through error.(6) My translation from Migne Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 46. Col. 695Ff

    Gregory of Nyssa’s homily on Pentecost is a happy tome which began with his reference to Psalm 94:1, Come, let us exalt the Lord and continues throughout with this joyful spirit. In reference to speaking in tongues, he wrote of the divine indwelling in the singular and the output of a single sound suggesting a miraculous multiplication into languages during transmission. This emphasis on the singularity may be traced to the influence of Plotinus — one of the most revered and influential philosophers of the third-century. Plotinus was not a christian, but a Greek/Roman/Egyptian philosopher who greatly expanded upon the works of Aristotle and Plato. He emphasized that the one supreme being had no “no division, multiplicity or distinction.”(7)As found in the Philosophy Basics website Nyssa strictly adhered to a singularity of expression by God when relating to language. The multiplying of languages happened after the sound was emitted and therefore conforms to this philosophical model. However, Nyssa never mentions Plotinus by name or credits his movement in Contra Eunomium so it is hard to make a direct connection. I believe that there is some influence here.

    What then was the sound that the people imbued with the Holy Spirit were speaking before it multiplied during transmission? Nyssa is not clear. It is not a heavenly or divine language because he believed man would be too limited in any capacity to produce such a mode of divine communication. Neither would he believe it to be Hebrew. Maybe it was the first language mankind spoke before Babel, but this is doubtful. Perhaps the people were speaking their own language and the miracle occurred in transmission. I think speaking in their own language with a miraculous transmission is the likeliest possibility. Regardless, Gregory of Nyssa was not clear in this part of his doctrine.

    The differing views between Nyssa and Nazianzus on Pentecost

    Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus were acquaintances in real life, perhaps more so because of Gregory of Nyssa’s older brother, Basil the Great. Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great had a personal and professional relationship that greatly impacted the church in their dealings with Arianism and the development of the Trinity doctrine. Unfortunately, a fallout happened between Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great that never was repaired.(8)Frienship in Late Antiquity: The Case of Gregory Nazianzen and Basil the Great

    Gregory Nazianzus recognized the theory of a one sound emanating and multiplying during transmission into real languages. He seriously looked at this solution and posited this against the miracle of speaking in foreign languages. He found the one sound theory lacking and believed the miracle of speech was the proper interpretation. Perhaps this is a personal objection to Nyssa or a professional one based on research. There are no writings between Nyssa or Nazianzus that allude to a contested difference between them on the subject. Nyssa’s contribution to the christian doctrine of tongues has long been forgotten in the annals of history, but Nazianzus has survived. On the other hand, the theory itself posited by Nyssa never did vanish. These two positions by Nyssa and Nazianzus set the stage for an ongoing debate for almost two millennia.

    The story doesn’t end here. It is just the beginning. The debate continues to grow and the results are found in a series of articles on Gregory Nazianzus on the doctrine of tongues

    References   [ + ]