Tag Archives: Edward Irving

Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues: Part 4

How the doctrine of cessationism percolated within certain Church of England splinter groups and especially those that immigrated to America. How cessationism later had its own American flavor.

This is part 4 of the series of Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues. Part 1 was an introduction with a general summary. Part 2 uncovered the medieval psyche surrounding the supernatural, miracles, and magic. Part 2 also contained the protestant review of early church history on miracles. Part 3 demonstrated how the Church of England, especially through the influence of the Puritans, officially formulated the doctrine of cessationism.

John Wesley and the Methodists on Miracles

John Wesley preaching outside a church

As shown, the doctrine never really became a universal one in the Church of England, and neither did it become a factor in its prodigy — the evangelistic and fast-growing Methodist movement. The Methodists were a reform group within the Church of England in the 1730s, but later became independent in 1795. This independence happened four years after the founder of the movement, John Wesley, had died. The worship and liturgy was very similar to its parent organization.(1)https://www.britannica.com/topic/Methodism

Wesley himself gave a sermon called The More Excellent Way about the existence of miracles. He wrote that their cessation was incorrect:

It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the church for more than two or three centuries We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian, and from a vain imagination of promoting the Christian cause thereby heaped riches, and power, and honour, upon the Christians in general; but in particular upon the Christian clergy. From this time they almost totally ceased; very few instances of the kind were found. The cause of this was not (as has been vulgarly supposed) “because there was no more occasion for them,” because all the world was become Christian. This is a miserable mistake; not a twentieth part of it was then nominally Christian. The real cause was, “the love of many,” almost of all Christians, so called, was “waxed cold.” The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other Heathens. The Son of Man, when he came to examine his Church, could hardly “find faith upon earth.” This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church — because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left.(2)The More Excellent Way Sermon 89:2

A retired methodist pastor and blogger, Craig L. Adams, looked into Wesley and miracles and concluded: “Thus we can say that Wesley would not have fully endorsed either cessationism or pentecostalism. Extraordinary gifts and miracles have not necessarily ceased, but they are not necessary proofs of the Holy Spirit, either.”(3)https://craigladams.com/blog/john-wesley-and-spiritual-gifts/

The Irvingites and Miracles

Edward Irving
Edward Irving

This article will stop for a moment and reiterate that the doctrine of cessationism is unique to the reformed branch of churches (Presbyterian, Baptists etc.) and does not reflect the greater traditional protestant psyche which led more to de-emphasism or in many cases continuation. This will be documented in a later article. However, another item besides the Methodists shall be included and that is of Edward Irving who was a cleric of the Scottish Church along with his congregation based in London, England, during the 1820s. His leadership and congregation were controversially engaged in the restoration of the gifts. Irving was well aware of two strong influences: the Scottish Church belief in the cessation of miracles and the rise of rationalism within the greater English religious community. He countered both with the restoration of miracles:

This power of miracles must either be speedily revived in the Church, or there will be a universal dominion of the mechanical philosophy; and faith will be fairly expelled, to give place to the law of cause and effect acting and ruling in the world of mind, as it doth in the world of sense. What now is preaching become, but the skill of a man to apply causes which may produce a certain known effect upon the congregation? — so much of argument, so much of morality; and all to bring the audience into a certain frame of mind, and so dismiss them well wrought upon by the preacher and well pleased with themselves.(4)Edward Irving. The Collected Writings of Edward Irving in Five Volumes. Gavin Carlyle ed. Vol. 5. London: Alexander Strahan. Pg. 479

Irving proceeded to state:

I know nothing able to dethrone this monster from the throne of God, which it hath usurped, but the reawakening of the Church to her long-forgotten privilege of working miracles.(5)Edward Irving. The Collected Writings of Edward Irving in Five Volumes. Gavin Carlyle ed. Vol. 5. London: Alexander Strahan. Pg. 480

The Scottish Church took exception to Irving’s unorthodox activities and was referred to the London Presbytery for review in 1832. He was not charged with reviving the supernatural rites of tongues and healing which he abundantly broke from the Scottish Church tradition. Rather, he was charged with not following procedural issues such as allowing women to speak. In doing so he was found guilty and defrocked. (6)on allowing unlicensed speakers and females to speak, allowing the church service to be interrupted on the Sabbath, and giving time in church for the expression of the gifts. Oliphant, Margaret. The Life of Edward Irving, Minister of the National Church, London. London: Hurst and Blackett, Publishers. 1862. Vol. 2. pg. 261 The procedural route was chosen because of the theological controversy surrounding cessationism. There would be less of a chance of clearly settling the problem if this manner was chosen.

For more information on the Irvingites, see The Irvingites and the Gift of Tongues.

The Migration of the Church of England breakoffs to the Americas

The Puritan strand in England had run its course after the late 1600s, but its influence had moved with the migrants to the United States. The tradition of cessationism passed on with the puritan-based members of the Church of England – mainly those who settled in New England. It was also found with the Presbyterians who crossed the Atlantic from Scotland. A separation group of Puritans from the Church of England called the Pilgrims, along with the Baptists, and the Congregationalists, also carried the seeds of cessationism.

The Baptists

The reader will be stopped for a moment and to ponder on the Baptist influence. Religious persecution in England caused many christian groups calling for reform in the Church of England to immigrate to other countries. The Baptist contingent was one of them and its migration to the United States included the doctrine of cessation. One of its American proponents was Augustus Strong (1836–1921). He was a first-rate thinker and a well studied student. He worked his way up from Yale, and over the years became the President of Rochester Theological Seminary. He wrote a compelling argument on miracles which was one of the better ones from a traditional perspective. He fully understood the rationalist angle that a miracle is a suspension of natural law or a manipulation of nature. He carefully disputed that miracles were of a personal nature that happened inside the person’s mind and not an external or visible act. He provided a well worded alternative framework for a miracle being something different and more wonderful that included the supernatural. This is a good piece of literature, but he breaks the momentum with this statement:

We may not be able to mark the precise time when miracles ceased. There is reason to believe that they ceased with the first century, or at any rate with the passing away of those upon whom the apostles had laid their hands. So long as the Scripture canon was incomplete, there was need of miracles. When documentary evidence was at hand, miracles were seen no longer. The fathers of the second century speak of miracles, but they confess that they are of a class widely different from the wonders wrought in the days of the apostles.(7)Augustus Strong. Philosophy and Religion: A Series of Addresses, Essays and Sermons Designed to Set Forth Great Truths in Popular Form. New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son. 1888. Pg. 146

His great thinking was restrained to the bounds of baptist cessationist policy.

The Baptist themselves are a hard organization to follow the flow of cessationism through the centuries. The emphasis on the independence on the local congregation allows for flexibility in this area. They dropped the cessationist clause in the New Hampshire Confession of Faith in 1844. Why it was dropped is unknown. Historical practice shows they have remained structurally immune to the christian mystical experience.

There are earlier exceptions with the Baptists. The noted historian, Jane Shaw, would disagree that Baptists were definitive cessationists. She believed that new divine healings were occurring amongst the Particular Baptists though cautiously expressed. Further details or what epoch the Particular Baptists were operating are not known at this time.(8)Jane Shaw. Miracles in Enlightenment England. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 2006. Pg. 49 An 1883 edition of the Presbyterian Review disagrees with a protestant minister named Rev. A. J. Gordon, a Baptist writer, preacher and composer from Boston, who wrote a book called, The Ministry of Healing, Or, Miracles of Cure in All Ages. He argued miracles from the Moravians, the Huguenots, the Covenanters, the Friends, Baptists, and Methodists were still happening.(9)Marvin R. Vincent “Modern Miracles” as found in The Presbyterian Review Vol. 15. Charles A. Briggs, Francis L. Patton editors. New York: Anson D. F. Randolph and Company. 1883. Pg. 481 and see also A. J. Gordon. The Ministry of Healing, Or, Miracles of Cure in All Ages. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1882. Pg. 78

The largest present religious training institution for Baptists is The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This institution does not have any reference to cessationism in their doctrinal statement. However, within the Southern Baptist community there is some type of oral commitment to cessationism. One clue is from the Southern Baptist Convention. They recently changed their internal policy on speaking in tongues and now will give consideration to missionary applicants who do so. The previous policy outrightly rejected them.(10)http://www.charismanews.com/us/49661-southern-baptists-change-policy-on-speaking-in-tongues

The Presbyterians

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the bastion of american cessation belief belonged to the presbyterian theologians of Princeton Theological Seminary. This was especially found in the Principals of the Seminary; Charles Hodge (1797–1878), his son A. A. Hodge (Principal from 1878 to 1886) and Benjamin Warfield (Principal from 1887 to 1921). Warfield, in fact, is considered the last conservative leader of Princeton Theological Seminary.(11)https://www.theopedia.com/bb-warfield

Charles Hodge, Principal, Princeton Theological Seminary
Charles Hodge

Charles Hodge, whom some have called the Pope of Presbyterianism(12)http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Presbyterian-Pope-Thomas-Kidd-01-04-2012 was highly influential on the topic of cessationism—even though he never directly wrote on the subject. Being the principal and teacher of one of the leading theological seminaries during his era and a prodigious writer, Hodge helped establish and shape conservative American Protestantism for generations. Cessationism by his time was already lodged deeply within the Reformed psyche and needed no explanation. Neither was this an open topic for discussion. This left Hodge leeway to move into other theological topics, especially the encroachment of rationalism on the traditional protestant faith. Charles Hodge excelled at this because his large and comprehensive education demonstrated a well-rounded understanding of the rationalistic spirit of his times.(13)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Hodge

After his death, the leadership torch of Princeton was passed on to his son, Archibald Alexander Hodge. Archibald similarly attacked the tenets of rationalist christian thinking rather than defend traditional protestant doctrine. Just like his father, he didn’t need to defend his faith because that was already stated and needed no revision. His coverage can be found in A Commentary on the The Confession of Faith. With Questions For Theological Students and Bible Classes, which was published by the Presbyterian Board for the purpose of teaching “theologians, Bible-class scholars, ruling elders, and ministers”.(14)A.A. Hodge. A Commentary on the The Confession of Faith. With Questions For Theological Students and Bible Classes. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work. 1869. Preface The semantics and logic contain a high degree of difficulty. He slightly altered the cessationist formulation in his approach, choosing the word revelation over miracle. Revelation is God expressing His divine will through miracles, the supernatural, act or order of nature. It is a more comprehensive word than miracles.

The order of miracles according to A. A. Hodge is too ambiguous to use in the cessationist clause, but there is an admission by him that miracles do exist, but veiled it in wordiness. He understood miracles as part of a comprehensive order of life that were “fixed in their occurrence by God’s eternal plan” and the “order of nature is only an instrument of the divine will, and an instrument used subserviently to that higher moral government in the interests of which miracles are wrought.”(15) A.A. Hodge. A Commentary on the The Confession of Faith. With Questions For Theological Students and Bible Classes. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work. 1869. Pg. 140 These are deep and complex thoughts that are almost cryptic. A. A. Hodge was attempting to work around the cessationist tenet that miracles cannot occur after the establishment of Scripture. He knew that miracles could occur today, but how could he manage an explanation without changing the fundamental cessationist framework? He rationalized that any miracles subsequent to the foundation of Scripture was pre-ordained at the creation of the world and part of the course of nature built by God.

Benjamin Warfield
Benjamin Warfield

The pinnacle of cessationist theory is held in the name of the last conservative principal of Princeton Theological Seminary, Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851–1921). Unlike the high semantics of Charles Hodge, and the middling ground of A. A. Hodge, Warfield used everyday language to express both that miracles stopped around 100 AD.

How long did this state of things continue? It was the characterizing peculiarity of specifically the Apostolic Church, and it belonged therefore exclusively to the Apostolic age—although no doubt this designation may be taken with some latitude. These gifts were not the possession of the primitive Christian as such; nor for that matter of the Apostolic Church or the Apostolic age for themselves; they were distinctively the authentication of the Apostles. They were part of the credentials of the Apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confined them to distinctively the Apostolic Church, and they necessarily passed away with it.(16)B. B. Warfield. Counterfeit Miracles. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1918. Pg. 5

Warfield’s work was not unique. He took from Conyer’s Middleton’s work, Free Inquiry and simply updated it. He cites his name over 23 times. Warfield correctly asserts about the power of Middleton’s argument:

After a century and a half the book remains unrefuted, and, indeed, despite the faults arising from the writer’s spirit and the limitations inseparable from the state of scholarship in his day, its main contention seems to be put beyond dispute.(17) B. B. Warfield. Counterfeit Miracles. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1918. Pg. 31

Warfield’s commendation about Middleton still rings true today. The traditional protestant community, including the present renewalist movements, have not engaged in the important debate that Middleton made popular. No person or group has reconciled it within a christian framework or outright refuted it. It is a tension that still remains.

Warfield spent more time on outlining the counterfeit miracles than explaining the nature and purpose of miracles. He was happy with his short definition that they ended before 100 AD.

He used his theological framework as a basis to attack the catholic history of miracles and many of the legends and myths surrounding them. This is a predictable Protestant approach to miracles. A notable section is his assessment of the protestant miracles; especially the Irvingites, the Christian Science movement, and faith healers.

He does not note any individual faith healers, but the most prominent one during his day, John Alexander Dowie, was opposed to physicians and medical assistance including pharmaceutical intervention. Dowie was so influential and popular that he built a city outside of Chicago and called it Zion. 6000 devotees initially settled there.(18)http://faith.galecia.com/essays/wolfe-dowie-zion-city The city still stands today, though its early foundational roots have been shaken off. The Holiness movement itself had its share of faith healers and those that promoted the great physician over human doctors and medicine.

Jon Ruthven, author of On the Cessation of the Charismata deeply delved into Warfield’s motivations. He believed that there were a variety of influences that pressed upon Warfield when he wrote his book Counterfeit Miracles — many of which were eroding the traditional base of Protestantism.(19)Jon Ruthven. On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Post-Biblical Miracles. 1993. Reprint 2008. Pg. 7 and 40 An interesting factor that Ruthven noted was a personal one. Warfield’s wife was struck by lightning on their honeymoon and became an invalid for the rest of her life. Ruthven wrote that we can only speculate on the impact, but it must have been significant.(20)Jon Ruthven. On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Post-Biblical Miracles. 1993. Reprint 2008. Pg. 43

After the death of Warfield in 1921, the traditional Princeton message lost its momentum and the Presbyterian Church was confronted with more pressing internal matters. The era of Presbyterian influence on the American religious conscience was in serious decline.

1920s to Today

Cessationism was found elsewhere in the religious American psyche. One of the more important guardians was Lewis Chafer. Chafer was originally a Congregationalist minister – another offshoot of the Church of England that subscribed to the Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order, 1658. This declaration reaffirmed the ceasing of the gifts. Chafer was known for two important features of American Christianity. The first one related to him being mentored by Cyrus Scofield, whose Scofield Reference Bible had a major influence on the spread of a distinct christian framework called dispensationalism. Although Scofield emphasized little on cessation in his work,(21) “Tongues and the sign gifts are to cease, and meantime must be used with restraint, and only if an interpreter be present” http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/sco/co1014.htm the mere association with his stature gave Chafer a national audience. Secondly, Chafer helped form a christian higher education institution called the Evangelical Theological College in 1924, which later became known as Dallas Theological Seminary. As one of the dominant suppliers of higher education teachers and pastors for almost 100 years, their doctrinal stance has reached christian communities throughout the world.

Lewis Chafer himself held to cessationism,(22)Lewis Chafer. He That is Spiritual. New Edition. Philadelphia: Sunday School Times Company. 1919. Pg. 57 and this translated into Dallas Theological Seminary holding a similar position. Their doctrinal statement contains this certainty:

We believe that some gifts of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues and miraculous healings were temporary. We believe that speaking in tongues was never the common or necessary sign of the baptism nor of the filling of the Spirit, and that the deliverance of the body from sickness or death awaits the consummation of our salvation in the resurrection.(23)https://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinalstatement/

Dallas Theological Seminary’s wording of cessation is a polemic against the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. The Holiness movement and its child progeny, the Pentecostals blossomed in the early 1900s with an emphasis on the restoration of the early church and miracles. This led to a revival in the cessationist doctrine to counteract them such as the above statement. Jon Ruthven observed this fact; “the advancing front of charismatic growth has precipitated showers of polemical books and tracts, virtually all of these reiterating this cessationist premise.”(24)Jon Ruthven. On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Post-Biblical Miracles. 1993. Reprint 2008. Pg. 3

By no means is Dallas Theological Seminary the only one producing traditional christian leaders of the cessationist strain. There are others such as Moody Bible Institute,(25)https://www.moodyglobal.org/beliefs/sign-gifts/ but the importance has quietly disappeared. Traditional reformed background schools are losing appeal to a new generation of Christians. Young Christians entering into higher education are predominately from a renewalist background (Pentecostals, Charismatics and Third Wavers). The precipitous drop of enrollment in higher christian education institutions has forced many schools to be more flexible or drop this doctrine altogether.

John F. MacArthur
John F. MacArthur

All contemporary discussions surrounding cessationism inevitably will lead to the strong opinions of the American radio host, church pastor, and author, John F. MacArthur. He may be one of the most controversial theological figures in the American christian community today.

Mr. MacArthur reaffirms the traditional reformed perspective on miracles. The only difference between MacArthur and his ancient Puritan influenced theologians is that he traded the virulent anti-Catholicism for anti-Charismaticism. Indeed, the parallels between the excesses found in mystic catholicism and the charismatic movements are very similar, and there are serious problems of credibility. He uses numerous examples of Charismatics to demonstrate miracles no longer exist and the acts they are performing are a sham.

His arguments are based on Scriptural references alone and there is no reference to the philosophical or rational attachments that have grown with the movement over the centuries. His message is simplified and intended for a mass audience. His approach and framework for writing on miracles is very similar to that of B. B. Warfield.

He makes the same mistake from the tradition instituted by the Protestants at the Reformation who threw out all catholic experiences related to miracles—not even giving it a status as myth or legend or even seeing the social context that framed such activities. MacArthur has simply changed the name of Catholicism to that of Charismatics and modernized the reformed script. This is reflected in his book, Strange Fire:

Charismatics now number more than half a billon worldwide. Yet the gospel that is driving those surging numbers is not the true gospel, and the spirit behind them is not the Holy Spirit. What we are seeing is in reality the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity. The Charismatic Movement was a farce and a scam from the outset; it has not changed into something good.(26)John F. MacArthur. Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. Nashville: Nelson Books. 2013. Pg. Xvii.

Much like the ancient Reformers before him, MacArthur points out some very real and tangible abuses in the realm of miracles, especially in the realm of faith healing. He takes such charges to the extreme and cites adherence to cessationism as a pillar of the true christian faith. On the other hand, the charismatic movement has become intransigent and refuses to make the necessary changes, just like the initial reaction of the medieval Catholic Church. This is history repeating itself.

You are at then end of this series. For the previous articles on this topic.

References   [ + ]

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.


    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

    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, 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   [ + ]

    Speaking in tongues Quiz 2

    Gift of Tonques Quiz 2

    So you think you know a lot about speaking in tongues? The first quiz was made over 6 months ago and the feedback was amazing. So here is the second part. This Quiz has fourteen questions that covers the time period from the fourth to nineteenth-centuries. There is a legitimate way to cheat. All the answers are found at the Gift of Tongues Project website by reading the summary of the church father or movement listed. Good luck!

    Congratulations - you have completed Gift of Tonques Quiz 2.

    You scored %%SCORE%% out of %%TOTAL%%.

    Your performance has been rated as %%RATING%%

    Your answers are highlighted below.
    Shaded items are complete.

    If you want to try the original test, here it is too:

    Gift of Tongues Quiz 1

    So you speak in tongues, know someone who does, or are simply curious about the subject? The following 16 questions will see how well you know the subject. The questions range from contemporary tongues speaking today, all the way back to the 1500s. The questions start easy and quickly move to being very hard. Good luck!

    Congratulations - you have completed Gift of Tongues Quiz 1.

    You scored %%SCORE%% out of %%TOTAL%%.

    Your performance has been rated as %%RATING%%

    Your answers are highlighted below.
    Shaded items are complete.