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Early Pentecostal Tongues: Part 2

The Missionary Tongues, the Missionary Dilemma, and Gibberish.

This is part two of a four-part series on early pentecostalism that covers 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 was the introduction. This second essay attempts to demonstrate three factors. First of all, to show how ingrained the missionary tongues movement had become. Secondly, how the missionary tongues movement had identifiably failed. Third, how the public perception greatly differed and saw this revival simply as harmless gibberish and not a miraculous outbreak.

The solutions to work around this failure and the public tension are the focus of Part 3. Part 4 focuses on the influence of higher criticism authors on the present pentecostal tongues.

Table of contents

Part 2: The Crisis of Early Pentecostal Tongues

  • The Missionary Tongues Movement
  • The Missionary Tongues Dilemma
  • The Gibberish Movement

The Missionary Tongues Movement

The 1800s was where the traditional definition of a miracle of speaking or hearing one or more foreign languages had gained an alternative explanation called glossolalia. This was created by German academics to explain the speaking in tongues phenomenon exercised by the London-based Irvingites in the 1830s. These academics expanded their conclusion about the Irvingites and used it to explain the first Pentecost found in the Book of Acts and St. Paul’s address about tongues in the Corinthians assembly.

The idea of the German glossolalia had not yet influenced the Wesleyan or holiness movements before 1900 and is not part of initial story that culminated at Azusa Street.

Speaking in tongues during this period within these movements was the perceived miraculous ability to speak in a foreign language. More specifically, this era began to develop a sense it was specifically for missionary expansion.

C. T. Studd, a young missionary with China Inland Mission, wrote about promising the claim of Mark chapter 16. This chapter has one verse that asserts that believers shall be empowered to “speak in new tongues.” When C. T. Studd and seven others arrived in China in 1889, they thought they had been empowered to speak in a language the Chinese could understand. While attempting to supernaturally speak, he wrote: “. . .they did not understand us at all at first at Hanchung—thought us idle fanatics.” They were embarrassed and quickly learned that God wanted them to study the language.(1)The Evangelisation of the World : a Missionary Band: a Record of Consecration, and an Appeal. B. Broomhall ed., London: Morgan and Scott. 1889. Pg. 53

The Christian Missionary Alliance Church waddled through the missionary tongues issue in the late 1800s. The concept can be first traced an unnamed author who wrote in the Friday, February 12, 1892 Alliance periodical. The person believed that the supernatural ability to speak in tongues should be cautiously be sought for in every foreign missionary endeavor. On the other hand, it should not be assumed to happen in every circumstance:

Certainly we do expect, in every case where it is claimed by humble believing prayer, a supernatural assistance in acquiring the native language, and we should not be surprised in any case to hear of the direct bestowal of the power to speak an unknown tongues. But we are not prepared to teach this as a definite scriptural promise for all who go to preach the Gospel to the heathen, or consider a lack of faith on the part of any worker who has not received this special gift.(2)Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly. Friday, February 12, 1892. Vol. VIII. No. 7

Almost six-months later, another article was posted in the Alliance magazine by a young missionary by the name of W. W. Simpson (no relation to A. B. Simpson) eager to go to Shanghai. He was hoping for the promise in Mark 16 to miraculously acquire a new language, and if it were not so, then he would study.(3)Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly. Friday, July 1, 1892. Vol. IX. No. 1. Pg. 13

The founder and leader of the Christian Missionary Alliance, A. B. Simpson, saw that this missionary shortcut to learning foreign languages was a consistent problem. His response was likely connected with young missionaries being trained in his bible college. He finally stated in 1898:

In our own day there is the same strained and extravagant attempt to unduly exaggerate the gift of tongues, and some have even proposed that we should send our missionaries to the foreign field under a sort of moral obligation to claim this gift, and to despise the ordinary methods of acquiring a language. Such a movement would end in fanaticism and bring discredit upon the truth itself. We know of more than one instance where our beloved missionaries have been saved from this error and led to prosecute their studies in foreign languages with fidelity and diligence, and their efforts have been rewarded by supernatural help in acquiring languages in a remarkably short time, but not in despair of proper industry and the use of their own faculties under God’s direction in acquiring these languages.(4)Wednesday, February 9, 1898. Vol. XX. No. 6. The Worship and Fellowship of the Church: Weekly Sermon. Pg. 126

A. B. Simpson

W. B. Godbey was a revered Wesleyan preacher and one of the most popular and influential speakers in the late 1800s. He felt the immediate supernatural ability to speak in a foreign language was becoming more apparent in his time and noted missionaries in Africa were fulfilling this promise. He was excited that this was “amid the glorious prophetical fulfillment of the latter days.”(5) W. B. Godbey. Spiritual Gifts and Graces. Cincinnati: M.W. Knapp. Pg. 42

The story then moves over to one of the pentecostal founders: Charles Fox Parham, He was a self-appointed itinerant/evangelist in the early 1900s who had an enormous early contribution to the modern tongues movement. It was his teaching and missional emphasis that encouraged a number of his followers, especially Lucy Farrow, and later William Seymour to go to California and be major patrons in the Azusa Street Revival.

Parham was heavily influenced by A.B. Simpson, and two other controversial notables during this period: Alexander Dowie and Frank Sandford. What they all had in common was the restoration of the primitive church and the imminent coming of the end.

Simpson has already been described. Dowie’s contribution was a mystical one that impacted Parham and gave him authority to inquire within the supernatural realm but there was little correlation with tongues. Sandford had a direct effect on Parham’s view of speaking in tongues. Sandford was a speaker full of charisma and passion that attracted over 600 followers who resided in a community controlled by him named Shiloh in Durham, Maine. He was a christian mystic with apocalyptic ideals who mixed British Israelitism, modern missions, and divine interventions in the everyday life. (6)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Sandford

There was an outbreak of tongues speaking in Sandford’s commune that Parham observed while visiting. This excited Parham who believed the supernatural imposition of foreign languages was a precursor to the end. (7)Harold Hunter. Beniah at the Apostolic Crossroads: Little Noticed Crosscurrents of B.H. Irwin, Charles Fox Parham, Frank Sandford, A.J. Tomlinson. CyberJournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research.

Charles Parham

Secondly, he learned from Sanford’s tract, “The Everlasting Gospel”, about a woman named Jenny Glassey given the miraculous ability to speak and draw and sing in foreign languages. Unfortunately, I do not have access to this tract, but another publication by Sandford called Tongues of Fire described Glassey’s giftings in detail:

May 31. This has been a day of waiting on God to get further orders. Had the joy tonight of hearing Brother Black and Sister Black and Sister Glassey sing a part of the ninth Psalm in an African tongue. Sister Glassey has at different times spoken while in the Spirit, in Greek, French, Latin, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and several African dialects, words and sentences given her by the Holy Ghost. She has also written many letters of the Greek and Hebrew alphabet. Words in as many as six of these languages have been recognized as such by one who has studied classics, thus proving the genuineness of God’s gifts to our sister. He who said, “They shall speak with new tongues” is proving his words true, thus enabling one like Sister Glassey to preach the “everlasting gospel” to any soul on this globe, with the necessary language at her disposal.(8)Tongues of Fire, July 15, 1898 pg. 107 from an article entitled “Notes from my Journal While En Route for The City of The Great King” by Willard Gleason. As found at fwselijah.com

With all the evidence at hand, the variables led to one deterministic conclusion, the end was nigh, and the era of the supernatural was about to begin. Parham and students of his bible school in Topeka, Kansas, sought this gift and it happened on New Year’s Eve 1901 – Agnes Ozman began to miraculously speak and write in Chinese for three days, unable to speak English.(9)Mrs. Charles F. Parham. The Life of Charles Parham: Founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement. Baxter Springs. NP. 1930 Fourth Edition 2000. Pg. 52

Thus began the germination of a new movement that would go beyond the figure of Parham himself. This is where the story now turns west to Los Angeles.

See Charles Parham on Speaking in Tongues for more information.

All roads in the Pentecostal movement point to Los Angeles in some particular way. A place where a small church called the Apostolic Faith Mission led by William Seymour, a student of Charles Parham, was just beginning. The name of the church is secondary to its location; 312 Azusa Street. This is where the first outbreak of tongues had become viral news for the first time in almost 70 years. The last two times such an outbreak had such a large attraction was Francis Xavier’s missionary journeys to India and Japan in the mid-1500s and the Irvingites in the 1830s. Xavier’s tongues ability was later proven to be a myth more than fact, but held dearly for a brief time by Catholics throughout Europe while the Irvingites influence was because of their location. They were situated in London – the heart of the British Empire which granted them influence throughout the world.

The Azusa experience in 1906 brought speaking in tongues to the international attention of the religious community and the curiosity of both local and national newspapers. Clara Lum and Florence Crawford, editors of the official newspaper of the Azusa Street Revival called the Apostolic Faith believed it to be the supernatural endowment of a foreign language. The Apostolic Faith had copious citations of people miraculously speaking in numerous foreign languages.

The following early 1970s video is a short excerpt from Mattie Cummings, who was present at the initial Azusa gatherings when she was eight-years old and recalls the miracle of speaking in foreign languages. She does not mention any other alternative definitions. She was interviewed by the noted pentecostal historian, Vinson Synan.

See also the first edition of the Apostolic Faith Newspaper at the Pentecostal Archives site. The newspaper unequivocally promoted tongues as a miracle of foreign languages.

The Missionary Tongues Dilemma

However a serious problem surfaced almost immediately with the gifting of missionary tongues. Those missionaries who went out to a foreign land with the presumption of having the miraculous ability to speak the language of their target group, found upon arrival that it didn’t work.

This tension was especially noted with Alfred and Lillian Garr. Alfred and Lillian were high-profile personalities in the holiness movement that received their baptism with speaking in tongues at the Apostolic Faith Mission. Their names frequently appear in the earliest pentecostal literature. The Garr’s came from a Methodist background and were trained at the well-known Asbury Theological Seminary. Over time, the Garr’s departed from Methodism and joined a holiness movement called the Burning Bush. The Burning Bush leaders requested them to lead a church in Los Angeles. It was through this move that Alfred visited the Apostolic Faith Mission and received his baptism and speaking in tongues. His wife joined shortly after in this experience. In a church experience where Mr. Garr was speaking in tongues, he believed a man from India understood that he was speaking in a number of different languages of India, one of them certainly in Bengali. It took less than a year for Garr and his wife to depart for India and start a new life. When they arrived in India, they discovered the gift of tongues did not follow.

A pentecostal leader in England, A. A Boddy, had succinctly asked A. Garr about his gift. Did the supernatural endowment help Garr when he arrived in India? Did others similarly empowered also demonstrate this phenomenon? Garr answered that he did not have the ability. Neither did he see any others succeed. He wrote that the supernatural language he possessed had changed a number of times before he arrived and was no longer of use in his present circumstances. This problem did not shake his faith, because he believed God gave it, and even though it did not help at the moment, that was good enough for him.

See A Missionary Crisis on Speaking in Tongues for the actual letter.

This sort-of admission took some time to develop. Lillian Garr wrote to the Apostolic Faith Newspaper’s April 1907 edition stating that 13 or 14 missionaries and others had received Pentecost while they lived in India, but she omitted any reference to tongues speech. Rather, she shifted the emphasis to interpretation, song, writing in tongues and other manifestations.(10)Apostolic Faith Newspaper. April 1907. Vol. 1. No. 7. Pg. 1 A number of months later the Garrs announce that they no longer were involved in evangelistic efforts because of the linguistic barrier. They shifted focus to equip long-term missionaries who already had these skills.(11)Apostolic Faith Newspaper. June to September 1907. Vol. 1. No. 9

Allan Anderson, one of the foremost authorities on pentecostal history states that many so-called endowed missionaries were disillusioned upon arrival, but does not elaborate.(12)The Azusa Street Revival and the Emergence of Pentecostal Missions in the Early Twentieth Century. By Alan Anderson. As found in Transformation. 23/2 April 2006. Pg. 109 The recognition of disillusionment is rarely documented in any pentecostal works.

Why these people didn’t confirm these languages by a reputable authority, or seek affirmation from a native speaker in the language they purported to speak before departing adds another level of mystery in the whole narrative.

The Gibberish Movement

A second problem immediately became apparent. The public perception of those speaking in tongues was perceived as the childish babbling of fanatical adherents. The tabloids began turning to a mocking tone and viewed such practices as a form of entertainment—an alternative to the circus. For example the New Zealand Herald, April 3, 1908 reprinted an article from a London newspaper with some added commentary. The author followed a pentecostal service in Islington — a burough in London, England.

The newest sect of rabid revivalists had a fit of temporary insanity last night (says the London Express of April 3) at a small hall in Upper-street, Islington.

The show was held under the auspices of “Holy Brother” Wilson, an Irish-American, assisted by another “holy brother,” who, by his accent, should be of the same nationality.

(The writer narrates different portions of the service and then adds) . . .The “gift of tongues” was loudly invoked, and the gift arrived a little more quickly than anyone anticipated. An anaemic looking girl in the middle of the hall rose to her feet, and let out a yell like a steam siren:—

“Ouchicka—ouchicka—ouchicka,
Hoo—hoo—hoo.
Havaa—howaa.”(13)New Zealand Herald. XLV. May 23. 1908. Issue 13757

The Apostolic Faith church in Los Angeles faced similar criticism. The Los Angeles Times wrote a 1906 piece titled, Weird Babel of Tongues. It was written in a condescending and outright mocking tone. The author described the church service and speaking in tongues:

“You-oo-oo gou-loo-loo come under the bloo-oo-oo boo-loo;” shouts an old colored “mammy;” in a frenzy of religious zeal. Swinging her arms wildly about her, she continues with the strangest harangue ever uttered. Few of her words are intelligible, and for the most part her testimony contains the most outrageous jumble of syllables, which are listened to with awe by the company.

Let Tongues Come Forth

One of the wildest of the meetings was held last night, and the highest pitch of excitement was reached by the gathering, which continued to “worship” until nearly midnight. The old exhorter urged the “sisters” to let the “tongues come forth” and the women gave themselves over to a riot of religious fervor. As a result a buxom dame was overcome with excitement and almost fainted.

Undismayed by the fearful attitude of the colored worshipper, another black women [sic] jumped to the floor and began a wild gesticulation, which ended in a gurgle of wordless prayers which were nothing less than shocking.

“She’s speaking in unknown tongues;” announced the leader, in ah [sic] awed whisper, “keep on sister.” The sister continued until it was necessary to assist her to a seat because of her bodily fatigue.(14)LA Times. April 18. 1906. Pg.1 The actual copy was taken from unnamed MS Word text found floating on the internet.

These reported experiences in the newspapers forced a perception that early pentecostals had serious difficulty to prove otherwise.

There were insider challenges from the movement itself. People like Charles Parham and W. B. Godbey did not believe that the Azusa participants were speaking foreign languages and railed against them.(15)Mrs. Charles F. Parham. The Life of Charles F. Parham: the Founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement. Fourth Printing. 2000. Baxter Springs. Kansas. 1930. Pg. 163; On Godbey and many other holiness leaders see Vinson Synan. Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1997. Pg. 127 However, one must keep in mind that there may have been political and personal problems between Parham and the Azusa Assembly that eventually led to Parham’s disassociation or dismissal. The tongues issue may have been a retaliatory measure.

Representatives of the Christian Missionary Alliance went to a pentecostal meeting in Chicago to assess the movement and struck a more conciliatory tone than Parham and Godbey. They concluded that the experience was not representative of Pentecost but more like what St. Paul described in his letter to the Corinthians – “a means of communication between the soul and God.”(16)The Christian and Missionary Alliance. July 27, 1907. Vol. XXVIII. No. 4. Pg. 44 “Notes from the Home Field”

In 1908, a Baptist minister turned psychologist and then president of Colgate University, G. B. Cutten, looked at the issue from a psychological perspective and deduced that it was nothing more than an emotionally inspired state by those who were of the lower class and didn’t know any better.(17)G. B. Cutten. The Psychological Phenomena of Christianity. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1908. Pg. 52

These factors pushed the movement to a crisis point. Either they had to admit that the tongues outbreak was incorrect or redefine the experience.

How did they resolve this tension? This can be found in the next article: Part 3: Solutions to the Pentecostal Tongues Crisis.


For more information

References   [ + ]

Vincent Ferrer and the Gift of Tongues

Joan_de_Joanes_-_St_Vincent_Ferrer_-_WGA12062

Vincent Ferrer was a Dominican missionary in the 14th century (1350 to 1419 AD). Legend has it that his native tongue was Valencian, a dialect of Catalan spoken in Spain. He didn’t know any other language.

“Catalan is not, as some believe, a dialect of Spanish, but a language that developed independently out of the vulgar Latin spoken by the Romans who colonised the Tarragona area. It is spoken by 9 million people in Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Isles, Andorra and the town of Alghero in Sardinia.”(1)http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/22/catalan-language-survived

As an itinerant missionary whose travels brought him throughout western Europe, the lack of language preparation would have been a severe hindrance. To make matters worse, he knew only Valencian, which was a localized language. Very few within Europe had the ability to understand his native tongue. According to the account found in Acta Sanctorum this was overcome by the miracle of those hearing. He spoke in Valencian and the people understood his words perfectly in their own language.

The writer of this piece in Acta Sanctorum refers to the language of the British people as distinct from all others and only known by them. Little did the writer know that their language would become the lingua franca the world over 400 years later.

A biographer, Ranzano, Bishop of Lucera, recounts part of Ferrer’s life in this way:

He converted a prodigious number of Jews and Mahometans, heretics and schismatics. He visited every province of Spain In this manner, except Galicia. He returned thence into France, and made some stay in Languedoc, Provence, and Dauphine. He went thence into Italy, preaching on the coasts of Genoa, in Lombardy, Piedmont, and Savoy; as he did in part of Germany, about the Upper Rhine, and through Flanders. Such was the fame of his missions that Henry IV, King of England, wrote to him in the most respectful terms, and sent his letter by a gentleman of his court, entreating him to preach also in his dominions. He accordingly sent one of his own ships to fetch him from the coast of France, and received him with the greatest honours. The saint having employed some time in giving the king wholesome advice, both for himself and his subjects, preached in the chief towns of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Returning into France, he did the same from Gascony to Picardy. Numerous wars, and the unhappy great schism in the church, had been productive of a multitude of disorders in Christendom; gross ignorance, and a shocking corruption of manners, prevailed in many places; whereby the teaching of this zealous apostle, who, like another Boanerges, preached in a voice of thunder, became not only useful but even absolutely necessary, to assist the weak and alarm the sinner. The ordinary subjects of his sermons were sin, death, God’s judgments, hell, and eternity. He delivered his discourses with so much energy that he filled the most insensible with terror.(2) “From his life, written by Ranzano, Bishop of Lucera, in order to his canonization, in Henschenius with the notes of Papebroke. See Touron, Hommes Illustres de l’Ordre de St. Dominique t. iii.; Fleury, b. cx.” http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/FERRER.htm

As per the goals of the Gift of Tongues Project, the Latin source text along with an English translation is provided below.

English Translation from the Latin Text

Many in addition were used to being astonished about the miracle by him, because a number of them who heard the very man preach, that they were frequently so many, more were forced to stand a long distance from him. Yet they distinctly heard his speech — not smaller to those who were a great distance than those who were nearby. Moreover, that speech was outstanding in all ways upon him because that which he taught was confirmed by many distinct and miraculous signs, of which things we relate below. Indeed, that it is worthy with great admiration, because the gift of languages, even as also by the former Apostles, had been granted to him. For while through those regions together, which we mentioned above that he spread his preachings, having always spoken his Valencian and had been the maternal tongue. Yet each person, both young and old ones and either sex, were comprehending his speech every single word perfectly. Just as if he was born in the country of every single one of them and had been speaking their language. Many from Greece, Germany, Sardinia, Hungary and others born in other places who did not know except their mother tongue, nor understand another, prepared to the places in which Vincent was preaching. They gathered together with others for the purpose of listening and, they confessed at the end of his words being made with them that they understood the individual words of the man of God, no less than if they had heard him speaking their own language. In that region of Gaul, which we call in our time Britain, whom the French call the British British-speakers of whom the language is understood to these only. Although very many of them know how to speak the French language, many yet do not speak except their own language, and they understand no other, who yet distinctly understood the man of God speaking his own native language, that the children and women together would have gained too the greatest fruit from his beneficial instruction.(3)My translation. See also Christine F. Cooper-Rampato’s translation as found in The Gift of Tongues: Women’s Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages, Pg. 26 – 27

The original Latin Source

As found in Vita S. Vincentii Ferrerii. Lib. II. AAS April 5. Ch. 3. Verse 14. Pg. 493

Multi insuper quasi miraculum de eo admirari solebant, quod eum numerus eorum qui eum prædicantem audiebant, frequentissime tantus esset, ut plures ab eo longissimo intervallo distare cogerentur ; non tamen minus ab eis qui plurimum distantes erant, quam ab eis qui erant proximi, distincte audiebatur sermo ejus. Illud autem omnium præstantissimum erat in eo, quod ea quæ docebat, multis signis clarissimisque miraculis confirmabat, de quibus infra narrabimus. Magna etiam admiratione dignum illud est, quod donum linguarum, sicut et veteribus Apostolis, ei concessum est. Cum enim per illas singulas regiones, quas supra memoravimus suas prædicationes diffunderet, et sua Valentina ac materna lingua fuerit semper locutus ; tamen singuli, tam pueri quam ætate provecti utriusque sexus, ejus sermonem per singula verba percipiebant, perinde ac si in singulorum patria fuisset natus, et eorum idiomate fuisset locutus. Multi quoque e Græci, Teutonici, Sardi, Hungari, et alii in aliis locis nati, qui non nisi materna lingua loqui sciebant, nec aliam intelligebant, devenientes ad loca in quibus prædicabat Vincentius, cum aliis ad audiendum concurrerunt et tandem facto verborum ejus fine fassi sunt se singula viri Dei verba percepisse, non minus quam si eorum lingua eum loquentem audissent. In illa Galliæ regione, quæ nostro tempore Britannia dicitur, sunt quidam populi, quos Galli vocant Britones Britonizantes, quorum lingua solis ipsis cognita est, et quamvis plurimi eorum lingua Gallorum loqui sciant, multi tamen non nisi sua lingua loquuntur, et nullam aliam intelligunt : qui tamen virum Dei, suo materno idiomate loquentem, distincte intelligebant, ita ut singuli quoque pueri et feminæ maximum fructum ex salutifera ejus doctrina perceperint.

References   [ + ]

Nazianzus’ Tongues of Pentecost Paradox

The paradox of Nazianzus’ two choices on understanding the tongues of Pentecost, and how this debate continued for almost a millennium.

Gregory posited two theories about Pentecost in his typical Greek philosophical style. Were the apostles speaking in a sound or single voice, and the hearers supernaturally hearing their own? Or was it simply a miracle of spontaneously conversing in foreign languages unknown beforehand by those speaking?

He brought up both points of view, and in the end sided with it being a miracle of speech. However, a Latin translation error later obscured his intent and gave equal credence to both points of view with no resolution as to which case was the right one. This stirred up many debates over the centuries. This essay journeys into Gregory’s work in the original Greek to decipher what he meant and then traces the development of this thought through the eyes of the Latin Church.

See Alex Poulos’ translation from the Greek of Gregory Nazianzus’ Oration 41.

Gregory Nazianzus’ original Oration On Pentecost was penned in Greek during the fourth century. However, we have few, if any Greek manuscripts that date earlier than the ninth century attributed to Gregory’s Orations.

This is where a copy translated by a man named Rufinus’ becomes important. He translated the work from Greek into Latin during the fifth century and remains one of the oldest texts on the subject. However, his translation does not exactly parallel the available Greek editions. Some argue that Rufinus took too much liberty when rephrasing important elements and, therefore, the results are an amplified version. The amplification may be true, and consequently, it must be read with some caution as an original source text.

One must keep in mind that the Latin work was by far more popular than the Greek text. Largely because the Western Church world was Latin-based. The Latin translation set the basis for their understanding of Nazianzus’ Orations. It is a key point in the history of the tongues dogma.

See Rufinus on Gregory of Nazianzus Work on Pentecost, which contains the actual Latin text translated into English.

Who was Rufinus? “(Rufinus Aquileiensis; 340/345 – 410) was a monk, historian, and theologian. He is best known as a translator of Greek patristic material into Latin.”(1)Wikipedia He was heavily influenced by the Alexandrian Church community, especially that of Didymus the Blind.

It can all be traced back to where Rufinus failed to identify an important distinction which would have changed the nature of his translation, he misunderstood the particle αρα, ara as ἅρα instead of ἆρα. The first being then, so, naturally, as it appears, and the second a particle introducing a question. The small markings above the first letter, which are hardly bigger than the tip of a pen, help to pronounce the word. In this case, it makes a world of difference how it ought to be pronounced. The definition depends on this.

One must not be too hard on Rufinus in making this mistake. He lived in an era where those markings hardly existed. In his time, one had to know instinctively that the pronunciation was different by the context. These markings, called diacritics, were hardly used or widespread during his time. For contemporary translators of ancient Greek they are a godsend – it saves hours of study and avoids errors.

Rufinus understood the first option in translating the text, which gives more credence to the miracle of hearing than Nazianzus intended.

A second problem flows from the first. In the Greek text, a brief sentence follows the two preferences that were given to show which one was his choice. Gregory believed that it was a miracle of speaking, when he wrote: Καθὰ καὶ μᾶλλον τίθεμαι, “Regarding this one, I much prefer”.(2) My own paraphrase. Alex Poulos has it translated as “I much prefer this approach” However, Rufinus did not include this statement in his translation. That would be a natural process if he understood it as being ἅρα instead of ἆρα. This caused even more controversy.

It may be argued that the Greek text, Καθὰ καὶ μᾶλλον τίθεμαι was a later emendation. The text was theoretically added after Rufinus’ time that posited Gregory had preferred the miracle of speaking. The Rufinus Latin translation of the original is older than the present Greek manuscripts that we have available today. So it is an argument requiring further investigation. A look into a Syriac version of Gregory’s work, which draws from manuscripts older than most Greek Oration texts, provides an answer that it did exist.

It does contain the miracle of speaking clause — though a modern editor of this text has a note that the sense here is not clear.(3)”den Satz verstanden hat, ist nicht klar” Sancti Gregorii Nazianzeni opera. Versio Syriaca, II. Orationes XIII et XLI . Belgium: Brepols Publishing. 2002 Pg. 90 Claude Detienne, a specialist in these works, believes the existent Syriac works of Nazianzus’ Orations show obvious signs of revision and cannot be relied upon as close to the original.(4)Corpus Christianorum Series Graeca. Vol. 41. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers. 2000 Pg. 178 However, Detienne fails to demonstrate how this is revised, or how it relates to this instance.

The structure of Oration 41 itself demonstrates it did exist. If one reads the Gregory text further where he goes on to correlate the tongues of Pentecost with that of Babel, it infers that he did support the miracle of speaking.

Another item for evidence which supports Nazianzus’ miracle of speaking is that of Thomas Aquinas. He stated; “Whereby a gloss of Gregory says that the Holy Spirit appeared upon the disciples as fiery languages and gave knowledge to all languages,”(5)Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica: On the Grace of Tongues in English, IIa IIae q. 176. Translation is mine. “ubi dicit Glossa Gregorii quod spiritus sanctus super discipulos in igneis linguis apparuit, et eis omnium linguarum scientiam dedit.” which clearly shows that he understood Nazianzus believing it to be a miracle of speaking.

Also if Gregory’s preference is found in his argument structure. It is styled in a Greek rhetorical argument called an enthymeme. That is two arguments laid out with no conclusion stated because the right one is too obvious. The apparent one being that the miracle consisted of people miraculously speaking in foreign languages.

In order for this enthymeme to work, Gregory purposely changed the biblical passage of Acts 2:6 from τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ to ταῖς ἰδὶαις φωναῖς. This is because the argument of one sound emanating and the miracle of hearing could not use the actual wording from the Book of Acts which has τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ. The Biblical text relates specifically to language, not sounds. If it was one sound being brought forth, the people would have heard it as a sound, not as a language. The miracle consisted internally within the mind after what the ears heard. Without this change from language to sound, Acts 2:6 naturally supports a miracle of speaking, and Gregory would lack any argument. Nowhere else in any manuscript or writer is there found the switching of τῇ ἰδίᾳ διαλέκτῳ to ταῖς ἰδὶαις φωναῖς. If this weren’t done, the enthymeme wouldn’t work. As an enthymeme, φωναῖς can work either way. So he set this word as the basis for his argument.

Gregory’s particular word usage in his Orations, chapter 41, is reminiscent of the Neoplatonic leader and writer, Plotinus in his work entitled the Ennead 6.4.12.

Plotinus: “Think of a sound passing through the air and carrying a word; an ear within range catches and comprehends; and the sound and word will strike upon any other ear you may imagine. . .”(6)http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1271&chapter=4120&layout=html&Itemid=27. Thanks to Alex Poulos for pointing this out.

Gregory wrote:

“As supposed: in the first manner it was one voice being sounded forth, and on the other, many being heard, to such an extent the air emitting a loud sound, so that I should say more clearly; from the one sound many sounds were made.”

This is too close to be accidental. Neoplatonic theory, and especially Plotinus, would likely have assigned the miracle of Pentecost of a sound emanating from the lips and the receiver converting the sound into whatever they want. This one sound theory have been an easy association for fourth-century Greeks to make. Gregory acknowledged this theory in his coverage of the Pentecostal tongues miracle.

Further to this, Gregory provided some more information in a different part of the text about it being a miracle of speech. However, it is not an easy one to notice on the first read and requires some explanation. Here is the text:

“That it may well be while these ones are speaking in the sounds of those who are hearing, the very thing is produced in foreign languages.”(7)ᾖ, λαλούντων φωναῖς ταῖς ἰδίαις τῶν ἀκουόντων, ὅπερ γίνεται, ἀλλοτρίαις This is a difficult passage to understand. Ἀλλοτρίαις, which is used for foreign languages, is ambiguous here. Does it mean simply internal sounds created in the mind, such as described by Philo of Alexandria as explained further down, or foreign words? The Jacob Bullius Latin published text in the sixteenth century chose to italicize this word, suggesting an important keyword that has religious significance. However, no further explanation is given as to why it is italicized.

A few Latin writings relating to Oration 41 may provide some much-needed clues. Answers specifically can be found from Bede’s understanding of this word, and the Latin translation of Nicetas of Serrone’s copy of Oration 41. They carefully touch on this word using externus. It clearly was conceived by them as the outward manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s arrival with languages; not an internal miracle worked out within the mind of the hearer.

The Syriac produces a more literal approach to ἀλλοτρίαις. Its translation is ܒܢܘܟܪ̈ܝܬܐ, bnokrita, which the Payne-Smith dictionary described as “foreign, strange, unusual, alien.”(8) J. Payne Smith – p. 332 as found at http://dukhrana.com/lexicon/search.php The whole Syriac text on Oration 41 along with this keyword infers that they spoke in foreign languages that had no linguistic parent-child relationship with their domestic language. It wasn’t simply a Hebrew speaker speaking in Aramaic, or Persian, where they share some basic commonalities, or an Attic speaker relating in Doric, which comes from the Greek lineage. What the people spoke at Pentecost was beyond their known language families; it went into far-off, strange, and exotic languages that could not be easily adapted or trained by the human intellect on such short notice. It was a miracle.

A Greek source was found in the fourth-century that used this word in a similar context. This was John Chrysostom’s 35th Homily on I First Corinthians, where he clearly wrote it in the dative, ἀλλοτρίᾳ to mean a foreign language.(9) MPG Vol. 61. In Epist. I Ad Corinth. Hom. XXXV. Col. 300

Oration 41 forces one to ask: did Gregory write the text in such a way to demonstrate the miracle of hearing was the dominant dogma during his time, the second as his personal opinion and the better alternative? The lack of historical texts available to us today on such a subject make it difficult to determine.

There are vestiges of the one voice, many sounds theory in Jewish literature, Plotinus, Philo of Alexandria, and in at least one of the Church Fathers that gives it some credence.

The Midrash Rabbah tried to explain how God communicated to Moses on Mt. Sinai and encountered the same theological problem. It wrote that God spoke in all the languages of the world, which consisted symbolically of 70 languages. “R. Johanan said: it was one voice that divided itself into seven voices and these into seventy languages. R. Simeon Lakish said: [it was the voice] from which all subsequent prophets received their prophecy… The meaning, however, of ‘the voice of the Lord is with power’ is that it was with the power of all voices,”(10)Midrash Rabbah. Trans. by S. Lehrman. London: Soncino Press. 1961. 3rd ed. Vol.? Pg. 336

Added to this is a quote from Shab. 88b. “Every phrase which issued from the mouth of the All-powerful divided itself into seventy languages”.(11)A. Cohen. Everyman’s Talmud. New York: Schocken Books. 1975. Reprint of the 1949 edition. Pg. 62

However, this is not a universal position. There have been thoughts found in both Jewish and Christian writings that believe the personal language of God is Hebrew.

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

The Talmud indicates that the subject of one voice many sounds pre-dates Gregory theologically, but one must be careful. The Talmud was penned between the third and sixth centuries, and the contributors were not immune to Neoplatonic influences that may have an effect on their coverage of the divine language.

An important author to consult on this subject is the first century Hellenistic Jewish Biblical Philosopher,(12)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philo Philo of Alexandria. He concluded that God could not be confined to a human voice. The voice was something different when He spoke to Moses and the people:

But the power of God, breathing forth vigorously, aroused and excited a new kind of miraculous voice, and diffusing its sound in every direction, made the end more conspicuous at a distance than the beginning, implanting in the soul of each individual another hearing much superior to that which exists through the medium of the ears.(13)http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/philo/book26.html

It was a form of sound that was non-human in origin and bypassed the ears. It was processed directly in the mind.

In the fifth century Theodoret of Cyrus connected the one voice emanating with a twist — he connected it with the Trinity:

“and seeing that also at the forming of man it says, “Let us make man according to our image and likeness.” Naturally then also dividing the one voice into many, it brings companions the Son and the holy Spirit.”(14)My translation. MPG: Vol 83. Graecarum affect Curatio -II De Principio. Col. 845

The Venerable Bede, the Northeast England seventh century monk who had talents in history, theology, astronomy, and so much more delved into this subject as well. On the topic of the mechanics behind the tongues of Pentecost, he quoted the sixth century Pope Gregory the First, whose wordplay makes it appear as if it is one sound being expressed in languages. God is the sound, who enters the soul silently, and when the person speaks, the fire of the invisible sound produces external languages. He was playing with an old thought, but giving current values.

““And suddenly a sound was made from heaven as if of a mighty wind coming” etc. The Lord indeed appeared by means of fire as the blessed Pope Gregory explains, but made through inner speech itself. And neither the God of fire, nor the sound made a noise but by that which was externally produced, this was expressed in respect to what was conducted on the inside. That it rendered within the disciples as ones who had come on fire, with zeal and skill in the word, the outside showed the fiery tongues. Therefore the elements had been brought up in accordance with an outward sign, that the persons were experiencing the fire and the sound by the true invisible fire and the hearts were being taught by the voice without sound.”(15)Translated by me from MPL. Vol. 92 Bedæ Venerabilis: Super Acta Apostolorum Expositio. Col. 945

This was playing with the sound and the miracle of hearing dogma, but yielding speaking in foreign languages.

Bede has both elements of Pentecost being a miracle of hearing or speaking in his initial commentary on the Book of Acts. He vacillates between both, but the edge is slightly towards hearing.

“…that while the hearers were of the diverse nations, each one according to their language coming from this one speech itself, which had been uttered by the Apostle, that it entered upon the hearer and seized the intellect. Except perhaps according to this, it seemed those who are hearing to be a greater miracle than those who were speaking.”(16)My translation. from MPL. Vol. 92 Bedæ Venerabilis: Super Acta Apostolorum Expositio. Col. 945-948. See http://charlesasullivan.com/3409/bedes-initial-commentary-on-acts-21-19/ for more info

Bede questions and even withdraws the idea of hearing being the miracle in his later edition of his commentary on Acts entitled, The Book of Reflections on the Acts of the Apostles, stating that Gregory believed it to be a miracle of speaking. However, this was a tacit admission because directly after this correction, he wrote:

“On the other hand I do not think this to be an error. If either of the two can be trusted to have taken place, and that the apostles in the holy Spirit clearly understood the languages of the nations and had the ability to speak, and the words too were in whatever language expressed by a great miracle, to all who were hearing, that they equally had the ability to learn.”(17)Translated by me. MPL. Vol. 92. Bedæ Venerabilis: Liber Retractationis In Actus Apostolorum. Col. 998-1000

There must have been some internal discussion, or unmentioned manuscript that he sourced to cause this change. Even though he made a correction, it appears it was a grudging one. He didn’t want to be completely wrong, and thus minified the whole argument. If the miracle was of hearing or speaking, it was a miracle, and why bother to be so opinionated on either side? He felt the only difference was a semantical one.

Bede described the person under the influence of the Spirit sequentially going through the languages of the universes demonstrates that he is paraphrasing the Rufinus Latin edition for his thoughts. He does delve into mentioning one Greek word on the topic but fails to reference any Greek after this.

Saint Maximus the Confessor, a seventh century Byzantine theologian who had a major impact on theology and mysticism during this time period, also delved into the Nazianzus text, but did not add any new interpretations, or resolution.(18) See Alex Poulos’ translation and commentary, https://mapoulos.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/maximus-the-confessor-on-spiritual-gifts/

The debate between these two ideas started to die down by the time of Thomas Aquinas, who stated definitively in the quote earlier on, that Nazianzus believed the tongues of Pentecost to be a miracle of speech. However, it may still have been in dispute during his time, as at least two authors, the tenth century Michael Psellos, and the twelfth century Church leader, Nicetas of Serrone,(19)Could be the eleventh-century, I arbitrarily guess here from the order of MPG due to lack of information have supplied effort to resolve the problem.

Michael Psellos is an important contributor to the tongues issue. He is one of the most interesting and mysterious persons encountered in the Gift of Tongues Project. His biographical footprint is very small which adds to his mystique. The Catholic New Advent website described him as a “Byzantine statesman, scholar, and author, born apparently at Constantinople, 1018; died probably 1078. . . his many-sided literary work and the elegance of his style give him a chief place among contemporary scholars,” which really doesn’t explain too much. Stratis Papaioannou has a much better description from his book, Michael Psellos: Rhetoric and Authorship in Byzantium, described him both as a “pompous rhetorician”, “ingenious thinker”, and notoriously self-centered.(20) Stratis Papaioannou. Michael Psellos: Rhetoric and Authorship in Byzantium. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2013. Pg. 3 He was quite wealthy and had a wide network of friends and associates.

The New Advent article proceeds to explain that he lived both in and around Constantinople (today known as Istanbul) and was politically involved with various leaders working his way up to being the Secretary of State. He had a love-hate relationship with the Church where one of the lower moments in that relationship was his stance on choosing Plato over Aristotle. The Church tolerated the non-Christian writings of Aristotle but frowned on Plato. He studied theology but loved philosophy, and this was a continued source of contention.

He liked to write in the old classical Greek style, using Greek rhetoric, and copious references and assumptions derived from Neo-Platonist, Christian, and classical Greek writers. He gave a comprehensive view of Pentecost from a variety of sources that remains unmatched. The one caveat is the English reader comprehending his use of Greek rhetoric.

He completely agreed that the miracle of speech was Nazianzus’ personal position on Pentecost. He consideredthis an absolute. However, it is unsure which position he believed was best by the way he wrote. Perhaps he didn’t care about the proper solution and found the paradox a form to express his rhetorical skills and his comprehensive knowledge at great length – possibly the most on the subject than any other author. His argument demonstrates that he combines the Biblical Pentecost with portions of Rufinus’ translation, along with reviews of Neo-Platonists such as Porphurios, Iamblichus, and Proclus, and analyzed the madness of those prophetesses of Apollo who “burned with madness” and spoke Assyrian, Persian, and Phoenician with metre and rhythm that was was not learned beforehand. Psellos does not make a connection between the Greek prophetesses and the Christian rite of tongues, rather he made a clear distinction. The prophetesses were in a drug induced inspired state and were out of their senses when they spoke, whereas the Apostles, although supernaturally inspired, were in complete control of their faculties and understood the languages they spoke and heard.(21)See Psellos on the Tongues of Pentecost

This then takes us to Nicetas of Serrone, who lived and worked around the Constantinople area (now Istanbul, Turkey), and specifically Heracalea. (22) a name given to so many locations, I am not so sure what area of the north east Meditteranean it is He copied Nazianzus’ work and added some modern commentary to it. He, unfortunately, did not resolve the tension; it simply was a restatement of the original text with contemporary words.(23)For the Greek see Alex Poulos’ transcription from the Greek miniscule: https://mapoulos.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/gregoryandnicetasonpentecost2.pdf For the Latin see MPG Vol. 127. Col. 1477ff. There is no English translation that I am aware of. It does prove that the debate still raged on.

It appears that there were many fourth century Christian, Neoplatonic, and Jewish communities who favoured that God spoke in one voice, and the hearers understood the words in their own language. Not all of these camps wrote on Pentecost but had their own various reasons for arriving at the same conclusion. In the case of Pentecost, they would have understood it was a miracle of hearing. Nazianzus had carefully weaved an argument that recognized such a position but posited that it was a miracle of speaking. However, because of cultural influences, and the key omissions by Rufinus in his Latin translation of Nazianzus’ key text on the subject, the miracle of hearing persisted as a minor church doctrine at least to the eighth century, and likely more. ■

References   [ + ]

Augustine on the Tongues of Pentecost in English

An English translation of the texts relating to the christian doctrine of tongues by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.

For introductory notes, purpose, and background to these translations, go to Augustine on the Tongues of Pentecost: Intro

1. In Epistolas Joannis et Parthos (407–409 AD)

As translated by Charles Sullivan. MPL Vol. 35. Augustine. In Epistolas Joannis et Parthos VI:10 (6:10) Col. 2025ff


In the earliest times the holy Spirit was falling upon those who believe and was given the ability to speak(1) loquebantur in languages, which they had not previously learned,(2) Note the switch from the imperfect to the pluperfect tense, which Augustine has seldom used. I think he is strongly reiterating that they did not know these languages in the past. even as the Spirit was giving them utterance. These were signs adapted for the time. For it was in this manner necessary that the holy Spirit to be shown in all the languages which the Gospel of God was(3) Not sure if the verb should be placed here, but it makes the most sense so far. about to run around all the earth through all the languages. That it is to be a sign and has passed. Can it now be to those receiving the laying of hands when they receive the holy Spirit, is there an expectation with this, that they must speak in languages? Or rather when we laid hands on those(4) istis is used here, which means Augustine thinks of this suggestion contemptuously, though I can’t properly put this in the translation. infants, does anyone of you pay attention to whether they were speaking in languages or when it was seen of them that they did not speak in languages, was it according to the perverseness of the heart with some of you that you would say, “These did not receive the holy Spirit, for if they had received, would they be speaking in languages even as was done in times past? Then, if it should not now be appointed as the evidence of the presence of the holy Spirit through these miracles, from what point does it take place, from which point does each one know that he himself has received the holy Spirit? He should examine his own heart, if he loves a(5) The ancient English translator has “his brother” though no pronoun exists in Greek. I think Augustine is addressing this is on an impersonal level like “If he loves any type of brother, whatever comes in his path”. brother, the Spirit of God dwells with him. Let him see, let him demonstrate himself(6) seipsum is not a pronoun found in Perseus website, nor commonly found in grammars. Whitaker’s Words briefly states it as a self-pronoun, but why all of a sudden did Augustine switch to this? Whitaker believed it to be a later pronoun. I am assuming after the time of Augustine, as I have not found this used elsewhere and believe it odd to find it here. personally in the eyes of God. He should examine in him if the love is of peace and unity, the love of the Church which has been spread throughout the whole earth. He should not only apply his attention to love a brother, which he has applied before him, for we do not see many of our brothers and we are joined in the unity of the Spirit with them.


Enarratio in Psalmum (396–420 AD)

2. Enarratio in Psalmum LIV:11

As translated by Charles Sullivan. MPL Vol. 36. Augustine. Enerratio in Psalmum LIV:11 (54) Col. 636


“Drown, O Lord, and divide(7) Gen. 11:7, Submerge and divide are in the 2nd person sing. imperative here. Augustine’s text is different from the standard “descendamus et confundamus” as the Latin Vulgate. Augustine’s text is not in agreement with our common Septuagint or Hebrew either. their languages. He paid close attention about those who are troubling and feigning(8) I am having a difficult time with this line “Attendit tribulantes se et adumbrantes se,” with themselves, and he selected this, not in anger, brothers. Those who brought evil amongst themselves, it is made ready for them that they should be drowned, those who unite in evil, it is made ready for them that their languages should be divided. They could work together for a good purpose and the their languages could be in harmony. If then, “my enemies together were whispering against me” and states “all the evils against me”(9) I am almost thinking that Augustine is going by an altogether different Latin Bible now, as the differences are so great. It is worth a further look by someone. The emendation of the Bible verses with chapter and book in his writings are a much later convention after his time. Even the adverb idipsum is supposedly a later medieval word. What can be attributed to Augustine as solely his creation or a later emendation? (Ps. 40:8), they could be destroyed together in evil. For their languages should be divided, that they should not be in harmony together among themselves. Drown, O Lord, and divide their languages. “Drown”, why? Because they raised themselves up. “Divide”, why? Because they plotted evil in unison. It is to be remembered their high building after the flood which was built of arrogance. What kind of arrogance did they mean? We should not be destroyed in a flood, we shall make another high building (Gen. 11:4). Within the arrogance, they considered themselves protected, they built another tall building, and the Lord divided their tongues. Then at that time they began to not be able to understand each other. From here the origin of many languages was found. Certainly before this there used to be one language and one language was beneficial for unity, one language was beneficial for mankind, but on the other hand, whereby those gathered had been instructed(10) praecipitata est has a wide semantic range and I felt most comfortable with this usage. in the unity of pride, the Lord spared these ones(11) illis is a dative but direct translation here just does not make good English. so that instead He took to dividing the languages, lest they were to build a pernicious unity with the ability to understand each other. The languages were divided by reason of mankind’s pride, tongues were brought together through the agency of the humble apostles. The spirit of pride scattered the languages. The holy Spirit brought together the languages. Certainly when the holy Spirit fell upon the disciples they spoke in all the languages, from this point they understood everything (Acts 2:4). The languages which had been scattered, they were brought together as one. Consequently if now they are in a rage and are not of the faith, He made them to have been separated by language. They want one language, for this purpose they come to the Church, because the language of the flesh is in diversity, one is the language within the faithful soul.


3. Enerratio in Psalmum XCVI (96)

As translated by Charles Sullivan. MPL Vol. 37. Augustine. Enerratio in Psalmum XCVI (96) Col. 1247ff – on the conversion of Cornelius


And because Cornelius was of the gentile race and also those who were with him had not been circumcised, so that they would not hesitate to deliver the Gospel to the non-circumcised, the holy Spirit came, and filled them before Cornelius was baptized and those who were with him, and they began to speak in languages. The holy Spirit had fallen upon no one, except those who had been baptized. He had fallen on those ones stated above before baptism. For Peter was hesitantly embracing whether he ought to baptize the uncircumcised. The holy Spirit came and they began to speak in languages. …Because a vision had greatly demonstrated to Peter, [this vision] pointed out [that] it spread out all things for them, such as the way Cornelius believed, because before the gentile man was to be baptized, the holy Spirit came upon him.


4. Enarratio in Psalmum CXLVII:19 (147:19).

As translated by Charles Sullivan. MPL Vol. 37 Augustine. Enarratio in Psalmum. CXLVII:19 (147:19) Col. 1929


Read the Acts of the Apostles, if perhaps I am inventing, how the disciples had been gathered together in that place, when the holy Spirit came in order to demonstrate to you what the Lord is saying, “By the origins from Jerusalem”(12) I think he is playing with Acts 1:4 here, which has a different reading in the Latin today than what Augustine is looking at. just as the holy Spirit came in all those who spoke in every language. Why then is there no [present] ability to speak in all the languages? See that sounds went out in every language. Why presently to whomever the holy Spirit is granted, that he is not speaking in all the languages? This was a proof at that time of the holy Spirit’s coming into men that they were speaking in all languages. Now you are bound to be called something, a teacher of false doctrine? Because has not the holy Spirit been given? Am I not saying when? Is He being given or not given? If He is not being given, what is it that motivates you for the purpose of speaking, being baptized and giving out praises? What is it that motivates you? You are celebrating foolish things. He is given now. If He is given [then the following question is to be asked] why are to those He is imparted on not speaking in all languages? Can it be the gift of God has waned, or the fruit is inferior? The tare and also the wheat have grown “Allow both to grow until the harvest” (Matt. 13:30). It was not said, Let the tare multiply and the grain diminish. 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. To those which it is not yet speaking, it will be speaking in the future. For the Church will multiply until it shall seize all the languages [in the entire world]. Hold fast with us until that time had come near, and you shall arrive with us to that which had not yet drawn near. I intend to teach you to speak in all the languages. I am in the body of Christ, I am in the Church of Christ. If the body of Christ is now speaking in all the languages, [then] also I am indeed speaking in all languages; to me it is that of Greek, Syrian, Hebrew, it is of every nation, because in unity, I am of every nation.


Sermons transcribed into writing attributed to Augustine (393–430 AD)

5. Sermo CLXXV:3 (175:3)

As translated by Charles Sullivan. MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo. CLXXV:3 (175:3) Col. 946


Then the actual promise came and the holy Spirit came, filled the disciples, they began to speak in the languages of all the nations. The sign in these was advancing unity. Namely then one man was speaking in every language because the unity of the Church was bound to speak in every language. They were frightened who were hearing. For they knew the men to be uneducated ones, that they were men of only one language. They were amazed and astounded, because those men of one language or at most two [languages] were speaking in the languages of all the nations.(13) This is almost repeated verbatim in Augustine’s City of God


6. Sermo CCLXV:10 (265:10)

As translated by Charles Sullivan. MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXV:10 (265:10)(14) MPL has “Caput X – 12” why the discrepancy between Latin and English, I do not know, but I will be conservative and follow the Latin. Col. 1224


What conditions are there in the coming of the holy Spirit? The holy Spirit came, first of all filled, causing them to speak in every language. Each man speaking in every language. What other type did it signify, than unity with every language? These things having been preserved in this, approved in this, reinforced in this, fixed in the unshaken love of God, let us praise the Lord, you children and say hallelujah [Ps. 112:1]. But is it to be in one place [of this earth]? From where and all the way to? From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is worthy of praise.(15) Psalm 112:3.


7. Sermo CCLXVI:2 (266:2)

As translated by Charles Sullivan. MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXVI:2 (266:2) Col. 1224-1225


The advent of the holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The unity of the Catholic Church has been signified by gift of tongues. Certainly then we celebrate the solemnity of the holy Spirit’s coming. For on the day of Pentecost, whose day now begins, there was in one place 120 souls, to which are the Apostles and the mother of the Lord and those of the other sex praying and expecting what was promised in Christ, this is the coming of the holy Spirit.

It was not a foolish hope of one’s own anticipation, because it was not a false promise of that which is promised. It was being hoped for, it came and a clean vessel, so that he could be received by anyone, He came. “Their appeared to them the distribution of tongues even as of fire, which rested on each one of them, and they began to speak in in tongues as the spirit gave them utterance.” Each man was speaking in every language, it was being announced beforehand because the Church was about to be in every language. One man was a sign of unity. Every language by one man, every nation in unity.


8. Sermo CCLXVII (267)

As translated by Charles Sullivan. MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXVII (267) Col. 1230ff


On the Day of Pentecost

Chapter I. The Solemn Observance of the holy Spirit’s Arrival

The solemnity of today’s day brings about the recollection concerning the great and great merciful Lord God, which was poured out on us. In fact for that reason the solemn festival is being celebrated, not that it had been done only a single time, that it was to have been deleted from memory. Indeed the solemn time received the name by that which is habitually performed in the midst of the year. How the perpetuity of the river is spoken, because it is not dried out in summer, but flows through the entire year. For that reason it is perennially during the year. Just like the solemn festival that is custom to celebrate in the midst of the year. We celebrate today the coming of the holy Spirit. For the Lord sent from heaven the holy Spirit which He promised to the earth. And in such a manner because He had promised from heaven that which was about to be sent. “He is not able to come, unless I go, as long as I go, I may send him to you” (John 6:17)

He was crucified, He was dead, He arose, He ascended: He was with-holding in order that He would fill-up which He had promised. His disciples were expecting this of the wind when it was written “120” (Acts 1:15), ten times the number of apostles. For He chose 12 and in 120 He sent the Spirit. They were then expecting this promise in one house and praying. Because they were desiring now themselves for the faith, for speech, and in actual spiritual longing, they were new [wine]skins, awaiting the new wine from heaven and it came. Indeed now that magnificent grape had been reckoned and glorified. For we read in the Gospel, “For the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified,” (John 8:39).

Chapter II. The Gift of Tongues

Now that it has appeared, you have heard a great miracle. Everyone who had drawn near had spoken one language. The holy Spirit came, they were filled, they began to speak in the various languages(16) I could translate lingua as ‘tongue’ rather than ‘language’ but it would only serve to confuse the modern reader, and I think Augustine intended it to mean language in the strictest sense. I will use language throughout my translation with this noun. of all the nations, which they had not known nor had they been acquainted with, but He was teaching who had come. He entered inside, they were filled, it poured out. And then this was a sign; whoever was receiving the holy Spirit, when having been filled with the Spirit, suddenly began speaking in all the languages (Acts 10:46). The Epistles themselves show us not only these 120. Afterwards men believed, they were baptized, they received the holy Spirit, they were speaking in the tongues of all the nations.

They who had drawn near had become terrified, others were astonished, others mocked so that they would say, “They are drunk, they are full of new wine” (Acts 2:1-3). They were mocking and one or another were speaking the truth. For the wineskins had been filled with the new wine. You have heard when the Gospel is read, “No one puts new wine in old wineskins” (Matt 9:17), The fleshly does not comprehend the spiritual. The flesh is old, grace is new. How much man is been restored into a better state, he comprehends by so much more because he truly tastes the truth. The fresh wine was in bubbling motion and the tongues of the nations were breathed out with the ebullionating new wine.

Chapter III. Why the Gift of Tongues is not yet being withdrawn

Can it be brothers, the holy Spirit not been given now? Whoever thinks this is not deserving to receive. He is being given and now. Why then is no one speaking in the tongues of all the nations just as he spoke who at the time was being filled with the holy Spirit? Why? Because this was a sign that has been satisfied. What is this? When we have celebrated the forty days, let yourselves recall, because we have mentioned to you that the Lord Jesus Christ has brought together and has arisen His Church.

The disciples were asking, “When will be the end of the age?”, and this, “It is not for you to know the times or the minutes which the Father has placed in His control.” Yet He was pouring out what He completed today. “For you shall receive the wealth of the holy Spirit coming upon you, and you will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in all of Judea and Samaria and through the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8). The Church was at that time in one house, it received the holy Spirit, He was in a few persons, He was in the languages of all the circle of lands. Behold how far it has extended now.

For respect to which this small Church was speaking in the tongues of the nations, how is it, except that this great Church is presently speaking to the east even as the west with the tongues of all nations? It is being completed now which was promised at that time. We have heard, we have seen, “Hear daughter, and see!” [Ps 34:11]. It was written to the queen herself, “Hear daughter and see!” Hear that which was promised! See that which was completed!

Your God nor your betrothed deceived you, nor did He deceive you who provided a dowry with His blood. He did not deceive you whom He made property of horrible beauty and unclean virginity. By you were promised yourself, but that which was promised in smallness, now was then fulfilled in greatness.

Chapter IV. The holy Spirit, so to speak as the soul of the Church body, does not reside outside of the Church

No one has then said, “I have received the holy Spirit, why am I not speaking in the languages of all the nations?” If you wish to have the holy Spirit, direct your course my brothers. Our spirit who gives life to every man is called a soul and you see what the soul does to the body. It stirs up all the parts. He sees by the eyes, hears by the ears, breathes by the nose, speaks by a language, closes by the hands, walks by the feet. It puts all the parts together in order that they should live. It gives life to everything in each function. The eye does not hear, nor the ear see, nor a language see, and the ear and eye do not speak. But nevertheless lives, the ear exists, a language exists. They are different functions. A life to share. So it is with the Church of God. In one who was sanctified, produces miracles, another who was sanctified speaks the truth, in another who was sanctified preserves virginity, in another was sanctified an honest marriage. In some this and others that. Each one works peculiar but they live equally. How the soul is of the body of man is the holy Spirit of the body of Christ, which is the Church. The holy Spirit is doing this in every Church, which the soul is doing in every part of one body. But look how cautious you are. Look how watchful you are. Look how fearful you are when held together within the body, nay, but rather, away from the body some piece is cut off, a hand, a finger, a foot, is it to follow the soul?

While it is in the body, it lived. When having been cut off, it gives up life. Just as man is a Catholic Christian, when in the body he lives, the heretic, when having become cut off, the piece cut off does not follow the Spirit. If you wish to live in the holy Spirit, preserve charity, love, truth, desire unity from now until eternity. Amen.


9. Sermo CCLXVIII (268)

As translated by Charles Sullivan. MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXVIII (268) Col. 1231ff


On the Day of Pentecost, II

1. The holy Spirit commits to the unity of the Church universal by the gift of tongues. On account of the holy Spirit having arrived, this present day is solemn to us, 50th from the resurrection of the Lord, but reckoning 7 x 7 results in 49. One is being inserted, that oneness is being given in trust with us. What then did the holy Spirit’s personal arrival do, what did it deliver? Whence did it point out His own presence.

Everyone spoke in the languages of the nations. There was in one place 120. 10 by the order of 12, the sacred number of Apostles in the divine mystery, is tenfold. Then some, each one in which the holy Spirit came, they began to speak in each one of the languages of the nations, to this one a different language, and to this one another, and was it as if they divided between them these languages of the nations? Not in this manner, but each man, one man was speaking in the languages of all the nations. One man was speaking in the languages of the nations: the unity of the Church is in the languages of all the nations. Behold also this unity of the Universal Church being commissioned upon has been spread out throughout the whole world.

2. The holy Spirit outside the Church does not exist. Whoever has the holy Spirit is in the Church, which is speaking in all the languages. Whoever is outside this Church, does not have the holy Spirit. For that reason indeed the holy Spirit deemed to reveal itself in the languages of all the nations, so the one that perceives to have the holy Spirit itself, that person is sustained(17) “continetur” can be translated in two ways here, either the person is promoting unity in the Church or receives a blessing by doing such. I think it is the latter. in the unity of the Church, which is speaking in all the languages. “One body”, Paul the Apostle says, “One body and one spirit (Eph. 4:4)…”

[Augustine goes on for a number of paragraphs explaining Church unity here and we skip a verse.]

4. Christ entrusts the unity of the Catholic Church through the Apostles. [Col. 1234] …in the 40th day he ascended into heaven, and now on this present day everyone who were drawing near(18) “implentur omnes qui aderant, loquuntur”: aderant is in the imperfect and the other verbs are in the present. An odd combination, but I think Augustine is presenting the thought here that the Church has to practically speak in the languages of the nations in order to be a universal body. Otherwise, it is not functioning properly. are filled with the holy Spirit, and are speaking in the languages of all the nations. Likewise, unity itself is being qualified by means of the languages of the nations, by the rising Lord and by the ascending Christ: it is being proven by the holy Spirit’s coming today.(19) Augustine. Sermo. MPL. CCLXVIII. Vol. 38. Col. 1231ff


9. Sermo CCLXIX (269) – Augustine’s polemic against the Donatists.

As translated by Charles Sullivan. MPL Vol. 38 Augustine. Sermo CCLXIX (269) Col. 1234ff


On the Day of Pentecost, III

1. The coming of the holy Spirit with the gift of languages announces unity of the Church through all the nations. Against the Donatists.(20) “Against the Donatists” in the header, suggests to me that the title was a later interpolation.

We celebrate the coming of the holy Spirit with an annual celebration. One is obligated for this solemn coming together, reading, and speech. The first two are done,(21) persoluta sunt properly rendered in English is “paid”. It just doesn’t seem to make sense here, I need to look further into the semantic range of this verb. because you have also regularly come together and while it was being read, you listened. Let us pay respect to the third: let not the oneness in belief and action(22) obsequium. of our language be lacking in Him who also bestowed all the languages to the unlearned, and brought under the yoke the languages of the learned in all the nations and brought together the diverse languages of the nations for the unity of the faith. “for there came”, and then was added, “a sound suddenly from heaven, which was generating a violent wind: and different tongues appeared to them even as fire, which also possessed each one them. They began to speak in tongues even as the Spirit gave them the ability to utter.”(Acts 2:2-4)(23) I can’t help take a cursory glance at Augustine’s quote of Acts 2:2-4 and how it appears demonstrably different than what the commonly used Latin Vulgate. It doesn’t change the meaning, but it is interesting. I also used “tongues” instead of “language” in quoting the Biblical text, as I cannot alter English Biblical translation tradition.

For this wind did not blow out, but invigorated. That fire did not consume, but excited; He had been filled-up in them, as had been prophesied so much before, “There are no languages, speeches, of whose voices are not heard, for they were made for the purpose of the Gospel being distributed”, which follows, “Their sound goes through all the earth and their words to the ends of the earth” (Psalms 18:4-5).(24) Once again the verse quoted by Augustine is worded significantly different from what we have in the Latin Vulgate.

Namely, the holy Spirit was foretelling in the languages of all the nations, which it was giving to them, [these people] whom had only learned one language of their own nation (with respect to which He preferred that it be the sign of His own presence at that time)(25) This comment in brackets appears to be a later interpolation.if not all the nations who are bound to believe in the Gospel; in the first case [of those who were individually] of the faith, was it not after this certainly the unity of the Church speaking in all the languages? What are they saying about this, that those in the Christian fellowship, which is bearing new fruit and increasing in all the nations, be unwilling to incorporate or even be yoked together? How then are they to deny the holy Spirit has come into the Christian now? Why then that anyone speaking the languages of the nations is now neither with us nor with those others (because previously the coming was his sign), unless it is now being finished(26) impletur is pres. pass. 3rd sg. It is something not yet completed. because in the past it was made a sign?

On the other hand is anyone ever able to deny that the holy Spirit is coming in the Christian still today? Why then [is it] now neither among us, nor speaking anything among those in the languages of the nations (because it was at that time the sign of His coming), unless it is now being fulfilled in what was being signified back then?

Namely also back in the past one of the faithful was speaking in every language: and now the unity of the faithful ones is speaking in all the languages. Now then for that reason all of our languages exist, because we are members of the body in which they thrive.


10. Sermo CCCLII:2 (352:2)

As translated by Charles Sullivan. MPL Vol. 39. Augustine. Sermo. CCCLII:2 (352:2) Col. 1550


When the holy Spirit was sent which was promised beforehand, and the Lord fulfilled the truth of His promise to the disciples who had received the holy Spirit, as you knew, they began to speak in all the languages, that in respect to those who were present, everybody was recognizing their own language.


11. Retractiones

An excerpt from his later works in life that emended/clarified his earlier writings.


What I also said, that those miracles were not allowed to continue in our times, lest the soul should always seek after things visible, and mankind should wax cold by their frequency, who had been inflamed by their novelty, is certainly true. For when hands are laid on the baptized, they do not receive the Holy Ghost now, in such a manner as to speak with the tongues of all the nations; nor are the sick now cured by the shadow of Christ’s preachers as they pass by them, and others such as these, which, it is manifest, did afterwards cease; But what I said, is not so to be understood as if no miracles are believed to be performed now in the name of Christ : for I myself, when I wrote that very book, (De Vera Religione,) knew that a blind man had received his sight in the city of Milan, at the bodies of the Milanese martyrs, and several others besides; nay, such numbers are performed in these our days, that I neither can know them all, nor though I knew them, could I enumerate them.(27)English as found in The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany. Edinburgh: Printed for Archibald Constable and Company. 1824. Pgs. 688-689. The Latin: Item quod dixi: nec miracula illa in nostra tempora durare permissa sunt, ne anima semper visibilia quaereret et eorum consuetudine frigesceret genus humanum, quorum novitate flagravit, verum est quidem; non enim nunc usque, cum manus inponitur baptizatis, sic accipiunt spiritum sanctum, ut loquantur linguis omnium gentium, aut nunc in Christi sanantur infirmi, et si qua talia tunc, quae postea cessasse manifestum est, sed non sic accipiendum est, quod dixi, ut nunc in Christi nomine fieri miracula nulla credantur. nam ego ipse, quando istum ipsum scripsi librum, ad Mediolanensium corpora martyrum in eadem civitate caecum inluminatum fuisse iam noveram et alia nonnulla, qualia tam multa etiam istis temporibus fiunt, ut nec omnia congoscere nec ea, quae congnoscimus, enumerare possimus.


There are still even more citations that Augustine wrote about the gift of tongues. Sermo CCLXXI (271) MPL Vol 38 Col. 1246; Enarration in Psalmum. LIV:11 (54:11) MPL Vol 36 Col. 636ff; Enarration in Psalmum. XCVI:8 (96:8) MPL Vol. 37 Col. 1247; Enarratio in Psalmum. CXLVII:19 (147:19) MPL Vol. 37 Col. 1929: And In Joannis Evangelium XXXII:6-7 MPL Vol. 35 Col. 1645 and XCII:1 MPL Vol. 35 Col. 1863.

References   [ + ]

Augustine on the Tongues of Pentecost: Intro

st-augustine-of-hippo(1)

An analysis of Augustine’s writings on speaking in tongues.

Augustine wrote a considerable amount on the subject which first appears to be an open and shut case, but a closer look reveals a diversity of thought propelled by political influences.

The conflict with the rival Donatist movement gives one of the earliest and extensive articles of tongues speech in the church. His coverage dispels the notion that the institutional church after Pentecost had quashed or ignored the christian rite of tongues.

The theories on speaking in tongues during Augustine’s time.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 354-430 AD, was likely aware of the different theories on the subject. His contemporaries Gregory Nazianzus (329 to 390 AD) had posited that there are two options for the Pentecost outburst of tongues: it was either a miracle of hearing or of speaking, and more likely the latter. John Chrysostom (349 to 407 AD) held similar views to Augustine on the diminished role of divine tongues in the individual expression. An earlier North African leader named Pachomius (292 to 346 AD) was mythologized as having been divinely enabled to temporarily speak Latin. The first century BC Jewish Hellenistic philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, didn’t write about the gift of tongues, but he did cover the mechanics behind God speaking. He held that when God spoke it was in a sound that would implant in the hearers mind, bypassing the ears, being beyond human language.

Was it a miracle of speaking or hearing?

Sometimes he favored the miracle of speaking while others times of hearing. He does tend to allude to the idea of the miracle of one voice emanating and the hearers miraculously hearing in their own language.

  • “they began to speak in the languages of all the nations,”(1)Sermo. CLXXV:3
  • “they began to speak in all the languages, that in respect to those who were present, everybody was recognizing their own language,”(2)Sermo CCLII:2
  • “Each man speaking in every language”,(3)Sermo CCLXV:10
  • “Each man was speaking in every language, it was being announced beforehand because the Church was about to be in every language. One man was a sign of unity. Every language by one man, every nation in unity.”(4)CCLXVI:2

His coverage is found in a number of other Sermons(5) Sermo CCLXVII and CCLXVIII and in his work on the Psalms. In Enarratio in Psalmum he wrote this particular puzzling entry, “See that sounds went out in every language.”(6)Enarratio in Psalmum CXLVII:19 (147:19)

He picks and chooses given the situation. It appears that the mechanics behind how those divinely spoke in tongues was of no interest to him or was a priority. He had an apologetic motive against the large Dontatist movement, who asserted that they were the true Church. One of their confirming signs was that they spoke in tongues.(7)Augustine on Tongues and the Donatists

There is no question that the semantic range of this experience fell inside the use of foreign languages, nothing more. 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.

Augustine on the question, Should everybody speak in tongues?

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.”(8)Sermo CCLXVII (267), MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXVII (267) Col. 1230ff. My translation In the writing called In Epistolas Joannis et Parthos, he jests with those who take this position, “when we laid hands on those infants, does anyone of you pay attention to whether they were speaking in languages. . .?”(9)MPL Vol. 35. Augustine. In Epistolas Joannis et Parthos VI:10 (6:10) Col. 2025ff and 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.”(10)Augustine. Enarratio in Psalmum. CXLVII:19 (147:19)

The gift of tongues changed from an individual to a corporate expression.

The last one brings on an important theological perspective by Augustine on the doctrine of tongues. The gift being expressed through individuals has died, and now has been transferred to and operated by the corporate Church. More of this doctrine can be found in the next article, Augustine on Tongues and the Donatists.

Augustine about the cessation of tongues and miracles

This patristic leader’s position on miracles has been highly debated for 1600 years. This is apparent in the tongues citations provided above. However, the most disputed piece is not on tongues but on miracles itself as found in his work, De vera religione where he wrote:

Another thing which must be considered is the dissension that has arisen among men concerning the worship of the one God. We have heard that our predecessors, at a stage in faith on the way from temporal things up to eternal things, followed visible miracles. They could do nothing else. And they did so in such a way that it should not be necessary for those who came after them. When the Catholic Church had been founded and diffused throughout the whole world, on the one hand miracles were not allowed to continue till our time, lest the mind should always seek visible things, and the human race should grow cold by becoming accustomed to things which when they were novelties kindled its faith. On the other hand we must not doubt that those are to be believed who proclaimed miracles, which only a few had actually seen, and yet were able to persuade whole peoples to follow them. At that time the problem was to get people to believe before anyone was fit to reason about divine and invisible things. No human authority is set over the reason of a purified soul, for it is able to arrive at clear truth But pride does not lead to the perception of truth. If there were no pride there would be no heretics, no schismatics, no circumcised, no worshippers of creatures or of images. If there had not been such classes of opponents before the people was made perfect as promised, truth would be sought much less eagerly.(11)De Vera Religione 25 (47) as found in Augustine: Earlier Writings. The Library of Christian Classics. Translated by John S. Burleigh. Philadelphia: the Westminster Press. 1953. Pg. 248

This was written around 390 AD. 37 years later Augustine revisited this statement and softened his stance by adding in his Retractiones:

For when hands are laid on the baptized, they do not receive the Holy Ghost now, in such a manner as to speak with the tongues of all the nations; nor are the sick now cured by the shadow of Christ’s preachers as they pass by them, and others such as these, which, it is manifest, did afterwards cease; But what I said, is not so to be understood as if no miracles are believed to be performed now in the name of Christ : for I myself, when I wrote that very book, (De Vera Religione,) knew that a blind man had received his sight in the city of Milan, at the bodies of the Milanese martyrs, and several others besides; nay, such numbers are performed in these our days, that I neither can know them all, nor though I knew them, could I enumerate them.(12)Retractiones. English translation found in The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany. Vol. 15. Edinburgh: Printed for Archibald Constable and Company. 1824. Pg. 688

What did Augustine intend? I have never seen in any Patristic literature where a church leader made a complete and concise reversal or retraction of a theological concept. This may be the closest that Augustine could achieve without having amassed some percieved shame or criticism of his legacy. A complete avowal would also have legitimized the majority Donatist movement whose emphasis on the gift of tongues symbolized their fidelity. Augustine spent decades in theological dispute with them on that very subject.

It is no surprise when he stated that miracles still occur, but some do not, he listed the individual speaking in tongues as the first example that is no longer utilized. This is in keeping with his various polemical assaults against the Donatists.

A specialist in Augustine, Prof. Jan den Boeft, considers the Retractiones text wanting. He thinks that Augustine is referring to the cessation of only a few miracles including speaking in tongues while most continued.(13)Jan Den Boeft. The Apostolic Age in Patristic Thought. A. Hilhorst ed. Leiden: Brill. 2004. Pg. 61 Prof. Boeft makes a proper connection between Chrysostom and Augustine on the de-emphasis on miracles whereby miracles were considered unimportant in the development of christian character and often antithetical. The penchant for miracles was considered a gateway to pride. Chrysostom had shifted the element of miracles away from the individual and moved the practice to the rituals and symbols of the corporate church and the cult of deceased saints.

See Chrysostom on the Doctrine of tongues for more information.

Augustine on the tongues of Corinth.

There was not found in any of his writings a theological analysis about the problem in Corinth. He does refer to I Corinthians 13:1 “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels…” over eight times. This appears to be a popular verse used by him in his argumentation against his Donatist rivals. He used this passage to emphasize brotherly love over ambition.

The neglect of Augustine on this subject.

It is surprising that his works have not entered into the primary source books as a central author explaining and defining the christian tongues doctrine. This problem is not unique just to Augustine. This is covered in more detail at the following article: Examining the Source Books on Glossolalia and Christian tongues.

It is also vexing how many of his works, which includes the tongues-passages, do not have popular English translations. He is one of the foremost writers who has withstood the test of time. One of only a handful of authors of any genre has managed to do that. If his works were more widely available in English, it would have changed the dynamics of the discussion over the last century.

His works are well written and thought-out with an easy-to-read style which most readers will come to appreciate.

For more info;

  • see the next article, Augustine on Tongues and the Donatists

  • Or the actual English translations of the important texts by Augustine relating to the Christian doctrine of tongues, Augustine on the Tongues of Pentecost in English. ■

  • References   [ + ]