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Tertullian on the Doctrine of Tongues

Tertullian woodcut

When it comes to glossolalia and Tertullian, it is the making of a mountain out of a molehill.

It is unfortunate that the second century church leader, Tertullian, has been given a prominent seat on the subject, while authors such as, Cyril of Alexandria, Augustine, Gregory Nazianzus, The Ambrosiaster text, Epiphanius, Michael Psellos, and many more ecclesiastical writers who wrote specifically on the christian doctrine of tongues, have been largely ignored.

A critical analysis of Tertullian’s supposed reference to the christian doctrine of tongues supports such a claim.

There is one facet of this study that is indisputable — Tertullian believed the gift of tongues and interpretation, along with many other gifts, such as healing, were still operative during his time. However, he failed to specify if this was simply speaking a foreign language by those trained in such languages, a supernaturally inspired speaking in another language, or something else. He simply stated that it existed and added nothing more.

The oft-cited Tertullian text on the doctrine of tongues is found in Against Marcion Book V. 8:7-12, and it is not a strong connection. But for the sake of readers wanting to find out for themselves, a translation, and explanation have been provided. The actual translation and Latin text can be found by reading Tertullian on Tongues: A New English Translation. All the comments below are based on this text and translation.

Tertullian was a poster boy for the nineteenth century and later higher criticists who made the case that tongues was nothing more than religious frenzy, a glossolalic outburst that had antecedents in pagan Greek religions. The development of this modern doctrine is treated in greater detail in Introduction to the History of Glossolia. These are a series of articles which traces the inception of the doctrine of glossolalia in the 1800s, its overtaking the traditional Christian position, and its evolution. If one is to use a more comprehensive methodology and trace the christian doctrine of tongues using historical Christian literature from inception to the twelfth century, Tertullian’s contribution appears minimal.

The initial approach to including Tertullian in the Gift of Tongues Project was to post both the Latin text alongside an already published English translation by Peter Holmes. His translation was published in 1885 as part of the well-known series, Ante-Nicene Fathers, which today is easily available on the internet.(1)http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-35.htm#P7138_2070665 However, it was found wanting from technical and readability perspectives. Ernest Evans updated the translation in 1972, and great improvements were made, but the portion relating to the supposed tongues speech still remained obscure.(2) Tertullilan. Adversus Marcionem. Edited and Translated by Ernest Evans. Glasgow: The Oxford University Press, 1972. Pg. 561 The goal of my translation was to make this portion of Tertullian clearer for the modern reader.

Tertullian on Tongues: A New English Translation is partially based on Holmes text, along with some help from Ernest Evan’s translation.

There are a number of differences.

First of all, Tertullian comes across in the Latin text as more combative against Marcion, even mocking. An attempt was made to make that more apparent.

Secondly, the translation of the Latin keyword lingua was changed from tongue to language. This makes it closer to the intent of Tertullian. This is an editorial decision made early on in the Gift of Tongues Project and is consistent with almost all of the translations found on this site. For more information please read, The Difference Between Language and Tongues.

Thirdly, the feature of Tertullian’s work is not about tongues but the role of women in the church and and how Tertullian felt that there was too much female authority in the Marcionite sect. He stated that women have the right to prophesy, but not to instruct; a practice which was happening in the Marcionite movement, and thus considered heretical. The address to languages in the church is happenstance.

Tertullian was positing that women could not be moral, political, or theological leaders in the church at large. He had a compromise and that was the office of prophecy. This was considered a high status in the Church and women could have a significant impact through this agency. Tertullian appears to be a misogynist in modern terms, but his concept of women being able to prophesy may have been revolutionary for his day. More research on this aspect needs to be done.

There are two key phrases that set-up the scenario and are difficult to translate:

Aeque prescribens silentium mulieribus in ecclesia, ne quid discendi, duntaxat gratia loquantur

and

ut semel dixerim nosse non debuit nisi in destructionem

Holmes has the first translated as: “when enjoining on women silence in the church, that they speak not for the mere sake of learning.”

His English translation really makes no sense. Why would women not be allowed to speak because they may learn something? This seems contradictory. Ernest Evans comes closer with his translation “when he enjoins upon women silence in the church, that they are not to speak, at all events with the idea of learning.”

It still lacks clarity, so my translation went to a more literal state, “this apostle recommends silence of the women in the Church, nor that women should speak anything specifically for the reason that a male is going to learn.” In other words women are not to instruct in the church. Perhaps this means women are allowed to instruct other women, but never to preach, educate, or lead a male or mixed gender audience.

The second phrase, “ut semel dixerim nosse non debuit nisi in destructionem,” is not as hard once the first difficulty above is understood. Holmes has, “let me say once for all, he ought to have made no other acquaintance with, than to destroy it.” This is a nebulous translation. Who or what is the person having an acquaintance with and what is to be destroyed? It is not clear. Evans somewhat clarifies it, “he had no right to take note of except for its destruction.” It is closer, but the antecedent is still wanting. My translation contains the following that hopefully clarifies Tertullian’s intent, “let me say once for all, that he ought not to know [what the woman is teaching] except for its repudiation.” The words in the square brackets do not exist in the Latin but put here so that the English reader understands Tertullian’s argument.

Tertullian was mocking Marcion and previous English translations have downplayed this aspect. One of the important keywords that suggest the mocking is a proper understanding of amentia. Holmes has it as rapture, indicating the mind is in some joyful, exuberant state. Evans translated it as, “which means abeyance of mind,” suggesting that the mind in that moment is unoccupied and controlled by other influences. It seems unclear what he exactly means here. However, amentia has negative connotations. The text, id est amentia clearly comes across as condescending. The Lewis and Short Latin dictionary describes amentia as a negative mental state: “the being out of one’s senses, beside one’s self, madness, insanity.”(3) http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3Damentia. and William Whitacker has it as, “madness; extreme folly, infatuation, stupidity; frenzy, violent excitement.”(4) From my digital application Latin Words for OS X based on William Whitacker’s Latin Dictionary. When I first read these dictionary entries, my mind immediately jumped to the Greek equivalents; the adjective used by Origen, μανικός, manikos, or the verbal form found in Michael Psellos’ work, μαίνομαι both which refer to people disposed to madness, frenzied, symptoms of madness, enthusiastic, or inspired. Both Origen and Psellos use the word distinct from the Christian experience and reserved it to exclusively describe the historical practices of the ancient Greek prophets and their peculiar acts of prophesying. Tertullian’s work is heavily structured on a Greek philosophical framework, and this was likely his intention too at the use of amentia. The second century writer, by use of this word, is making the case that Marcion’s practice does not have a Christian lineage, but the synthesis of ancient Greek religion, especially that of their prophets. It was folly, and one of the evidences among many that Marcion indeed was a heretic. It has little or no relation to the christian doctrine of tongues.

The most suitable translation for id est amentia is, “that is in madness.”

The understanding of amentia is dependent on the use of the subjunctive in this passage. Holmes has elected to understand it as a jussive, which forces the translator to subsequently understand amentia as an inspired state. Whereas, since Tertullian is mocking Marcion, it should be understood as a potential subjunctive.

Another set of critical words for those looking at the connection between Tertullian and the christian doctrine of tongues is si qua linguae interpretatio accessit. My translation reads, as if an interpretation of languages had occurred. Holmes translated it as, whenever an interpretation of tongues has occurred to him. Tertullian was not attacking Marcion directly in this passage, but specific mystical practices performed by the female gender within his movement which was outside church tradition. Holmes ascribes it to Marcion directly, which cannot be established from the Latin text.

Holmes understood si qua to mean whenever which doesn’t fit here for a number of reasons. Si is about a condition that may or may not happen. The use of Whenever leads the reader to believe a durative process that happens throughout time, which doesn’t rightly fit into a conditional paradigm.

The use of qua here reinforces the idea of a conditional concept. Brad Inwood, author of Seneca: Selected Philosophical Letters has offered a clue as to how to understand this word in his analysis of Seneca in the first century. He suggests that Seneca used qua adverbally, referring back to Greek philosophy, and should be understood as tamquam(5) Brad Inwood. Seneca: Selected Philosophical Letters: Translated with Introduction and Commentary Oxford University Press. 2007. 85.33-5 which, according to Whitacker’s Words means, “as, just as, just as if; as it were, so to speak; as much as; so as.” It has already been noted before that Tertullian heavily utilizes a Greek framework to structure his writing, and this would be consistent for his usage.

The use of accessit in the text is another clue to this conditional clause. It is in the perfect indicative, which was a surprise, not in the subjunctive, which was to be expected. It is a simple conditional, which indicates a factual condition. Tertullian was drawing a caricature of the prophet(s) going into a state of madness, akin to those of the Greek prophets, and feigning the ability to understand different languages.

Another clue on his definition, and it is not a complete one, is his mention of Isaiah 28:11, that the Creator would speak in languages foreign to the Jews of Israel, and that the gift of tongues was a prophetic fulfillment of this. This statement restricts Tertullian’s view on the gift of tongues to that of foreign languages. However, he doesn’t elaborate whether it is a natural, supernatural or mystical ability to speak in foreign languages, and so it doesn’t give a complete picture.

Tertullian, wrote elsewhere about mystical events, especially in Treatise of the Soul, Book 9, where he described a woman endowed with mystical powers. He was not negative in any way towards this woman but simply was reporting these talents. He does not include in any description an ability to speak in tongues. Therefore, this passage has been left out of the Gift of Tongues Project.

A challenge in translating this text is the lack of manuscripts. The digital copies found on the internet do not list what manuscripts they are composed of, and some of the Latin words used, such as duntaxat, seem to be later additions. However, the Tertullian manuscripts, as compared to Gregory Nazianzus and other leading church fathers, are hard to find, and those that do exist, are found in expensive books. These books are not readily available in my regional university libraries. There have been moments in critical spots where seeing actual manuscripts would have been helpful, but did not do because of these limitations.

This study clearly demonstrates that the information supplied by Tertullian on the christian doctrine of tongues is not very valuable, nor is it a smoking gun. It is a slight reference, but nothing substantial enough to advance anyone’s cause. ■

References   [ + ]

Tertullian on Tongues: a New English Translation

Tertullian: Against Marcion. Book V. 8:7-12

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Seeing as the Creator especially promised the gift of the Spirit in the latter days; and moreover Christ appeared in these latter days as the dispenser of spiritual gifts to which the apostle says, ”But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent His Son,”(1) Galatians 4:4 and again, ”Because the time is now in short supply”,(2)”Quia tempus iam in collecto est” — perhaps from I Cor. 7:29 “hoc itaque dic fratres tempus breve est” and it is evident that this gift of the Spirit leads with praises towards Christ. Now compare the types between the apostles and Isaiah: “To one is given”, he says, “by the Spirit the word of wisdom;” and Isaiah steadfastly prefers the spirit of wisdom. “To another, the word of knowledge;” this will be the spirit of understanding and counsel. “To another, faith by the same Spirit;” this will be the spirit of holiness(3)religionis and fear of the Lord. “To another, the gifts of healing, and to another the working of miracles;” this will be the power of might. “To another prophecy, to another another discerning of spirits, to another various kinds of languages, to another the interpretation of languages;” this will be the spirit of knowledge.(4)agnitio See how the apostle is bringing together and developing the concept of one spirit and in the prophet’s precise way that applies about interpreting. I can say this very thing that he has harmonized throughout the many and diverse members of our body the unity of the various gifts into a structured form, and on the same theme he shows the Lord in regards to the human body and Holy Spirit, which he did not want the merits of the gifts to be in the context of a spiritual body, nor did he establish such things in the context of a human body in relation to love, which is naturally put ahead too over all the other gifts. This guided the apostle as the lead principle to be established and because Christ esteemed this: “You shall love your neighbour as your own self.”(5)This is an abbreviated version of Luke 10:27 “diliges Dominum Deum tuum ex toto corde tuo et ex tota anima tua et ex omnibus viribus tuis et ex omni mente tua et proximum tuum tua et proximum tuum sicut te ipsum.”

When he mentions that it is written in the Law, he is recalling the Creator is going to proceed to speak in other languages and lips, he validates this reference with the gift of languages — a different gift here of the Creator cannot be shown with special mention. Equally so, this apostle recommends silence of the women in the Church, nor that women should speak anything specifically for the reason that a male is going to learn, (yet shows the right for the ability to prophesy is currently also given to the female participant, he additionally assigns a veil with with the woman who prophesies), he reinforces from the Law the responsibility of the woman is someone who ought to be subordinate, which, let me say once for all, that he ought not to know [what the woman is teaching] except for its repudiation.(6)nosse non debuit nisi in destructionem Let us now move from the spiritual things, the matters themselves ought to prove which of us blindly claims his god, and whether it is possible to oppose against our side, and even if the Creator promised these things for His Christ who had not yet been revealed, as being only destined to the Jews, getting ready to have His works in His time, in His Christ, and in His people. Marcion is then to exhibit gifts from his god, some prophets, who nevertheless have spoken not from the human sense, but by the spirit of God, which the things to come are going to be proclaimed, and the secrets of the heart are going to be exposed.(7)cordis occulta traduxerint He is probably showing some type of psalm, vision, prayer, merely a spiritual thing, in ecstasy, that is in madness,(8)Tertullian is mocking the form of worship as lacking structure and simply creating stupidity and senselessness like the ancient Greek prophets. It is trying to be spiritual but lacks any definition. as if an interpretation of languages had occurred.(9)accessit Let him show to me also a woman who exaggerates among them that can prophesy according to those most sacred women(10)ex illis suis sanctioribus feminis — I think this is not be taken literally but referring to a religious order of women but lack information to be conclusive about this If all these things are being easily made known by me, and by all means these things work together in one accord as a basic principles, the construct of the arguments, and teachings of the Creator, without doubt Christ, the Spirit, and the apostle will be of my God. It contains my statement that anyone would have been certain to examine.

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Partially translated and revised by Charles A. Sullivan. Some portions are directly taken from the translation by Peter Holmes’ found in the Ante–Nicene Fathers. Vol. 3 (1885).

For the actual Latin text, click on the following link, Tertullian on Tongues: the Latin.

References   [ + ]

Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: I Corinthians 14:2

A translation from the Greek of a Catena on I Corinthians 14:2 attributed to Cyril of Alexandria on the doctrine of tongues.

A large portion of the Catena on 14:2 is a discussion that revolves around defining prophecy and its relationship with tongues. There is a slight historical definition of the tongues event in the Book of Acts, but not totally clear. The text demonstrates here that the concept of prophecy was already highly developed by the fifth century.

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

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

It detracts them from what ought to be practiced. as the ability to speak in languages is certainly greater to its own glory than the act of interpreting the things of prophets. Regarding these things having been displayed among us, faith and also hope and definitely of love for both God and the brethren, which also all of the law has the fulfillment [in it], let him add the remaining things{{3}}[[3]] Latin has: then at last the remaining things are also to be added [[3]]. For at that time, and at the very time we will be the ones filled of these gifts by God, and we will be enriched in the gifts by the Spirit. I say in regards to have the ability to prophesy, that is one can interpret the things of the prophets. For the once only incarnation of the Only Begotten who suffered and also rose from the dead, and of whose ministry has been brought to perfection among us, of such was yet the precise time of prophecy, surely the [function of] prophecy will be about such things? Therefore the one who prophecies about such things would be nothing different, except that one only has the ability to explain about a prophecy, and as in those who are revealing{{4}}[[4]] καταλευκαίνοντες This only exists in Cyril’s writings. It is from the root καταλευκαίνω Stephanus Vol. 4, Col. 1125 indicates the root means to uncover a rock. The Latin is explanantes, “to explain”. [[4]] for those who are listening, then from whom are the ones who confirm the word to the true thing.{{5}}[[5]] Latin has “et deinde sermonem nostrum secundum rei veritatem ex ipsis confirmantes”—and henceforth from these are the ones who confirm our speech according to the truth of the matter. [[5]] We will be upright and also steadfast advisors of the most noble things.{{6}}[[6]] Latin has “recti veracesque erimus optimarum rerum interpretes”—We will be the most upright and truthful interpreters of the most useful matters. [[6]]

Therefore, it says, “the one who speaks in a language, [is] rather not to men, but he speaks to God”.{{7}}[[7]] I Corinthians 14:2 typically reads, ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ ἀλλὰ θεῷ, οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἀκούει while Cyril has, γλώσσῃ λαλῶν, οὐκ ἀνθρώποις μᾶλλον, ἀλλὰ τῷ Θεῷ προσλαλεῖ. Cyril’s use of προσλαλεῖ is especially noted. It is more emphatic than λαλεῖ. There is no other instance of this I Corinthians 14:2 written this way. The Latin translator identified this slight nuance and used alloquitur instead of loquitur. His word order is subject-object-verb instead of subject-verb-object. His text seems to conform more to classical Greek than that of Koinê here. [[7]] How then, what kind of meaning [is the language] that states “for no one hears?”

For if perhaps the ability is given to a certain one of the disciples to be able to speak in the language of the Medes, and a different one [of the disciples to speak in] Elamite,{{8}}[[8]] Latin: Nam si alicui discipulorum tribuatur fortasse copia loquendi lingua Medorum, alii autem Elamitarum. “Now if some of the disciples were perhaps imparted to be speaking the language of the Medes in abundance, but yet others Elamite” [[8]] then who will be the ones hearing, [is it] the things about their message perhaps being spoken about by the synagogues of the Jews{{9}}[[9]] εἶτα ταῖς Ἰουδαίων προσδιαλέγοιντο συναγωγᾶις [[9]] or rather by the [Church] assemblies of the Greeks? Rather, what kind of profit will be of these words? For it will amount to nothing, except only of God who has known everything{{10}}[[10]]Latin: præter solum Deum quem nihil latet, quidquam intelliget—except only God whom nothing escapes notice, He understands any person. [[10]] For “in the Spirit,” it says, “he speaks mysteries.” Therefore it is observed, the one who speaks in whatever way to God, speaks in the Spirit.{{11}}[[11]]Latin expresses this whole part differently i nam Spiritui, inquit, mysteria loquitur ; ergo Spiritus Deus est—for in the Spirit, it says, he speaks mysteries; now the Spirit is God.[[11]] Therefore God naturally is the Spirit. Therefore the one who speaks in a language, “rather to God,” it says, “and he is not speaking to men.” On the other hand, “the one who prophesies speaks edification, consoling, and encouragement to men.” In fact one observes that to prophesy is to interpret the matters of the prophets in such things through which the word of encouragement is being established, and the mind of those who have been initiated is to be led into the truth about Christ. He also elsewhere shows beyond comparison that the activity of interpreting the prophets is in superiority than the act of speaking in a language.{{12}}[[12]]ὅν ἐν ἀμείνοσι τοῦ γλώσσῃ λαλεῖν τὸ διερμηνεύειν τὰ προφητῶν use of the comparative genitive here. [[12]] “For he builds himself up,” it says, “the one who is speaking in a tongue.” Of course he understands himself, but someone else, absolutely nothing. This one, who makes use with the voices of those holy prophets and with predictions in regards to [the] testimony, builds up the Church. Greater then also in the highest ranks, and in the most splendid hopes is the application of prophecy. Indeed it is better to mutually build up the Church than himself alone speaking out in a language.” ■

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

Aquinas on Tongues: ICor 14:23-26

A translation of Thomas Aquinas on I Corinthians 14:23 — 26 from the Latin into contemporary English.

Translated from the Latin text: Reportationes 088 R1C cp 14 Pg. 389ff lc5

I Corinthians 14:23 – 26


A gloss suggests that perhaps in this place a different reason commences for making clear the purpose. But according to what has been written, it is not, except for one reason which has been settled and as it were, he is in the middle of his argument, namely that prophecy is more valuable than that to which the gift of tongues is ordained for. From which place he does two things in respect to this. With the first he demonstrates the divisiveness(1) inconveniens: typically means, “not suiting, dissimilar” but I think Aquinas is on a word-play here with I Corinthians 14:23 “si ergo conveniat universa ecclesia” He is using inconveniens here as the opposite to conveniat. which follows to such an extent to the unbeliever by the gift of tongues. From which place it says, “However if all [speak in tongues]”. The falling-out(2) inconveniens which follows from the gift of tongues without prophecy applies as well to the unbeliever. It is because they are being reckoned of an unsound mind who thus speak only in tongues, though the gift of tongues is to be ordained for the conversion of unbelievers, as is already well known.

And this is what he says, “However if all [speak in tongues] etc.,”. as if he is saying, “it is well known from this place that tongues are not something that ought to be preferred to prophecy because, “if [the Church] comes together”, specifically all the believers, “in one”, not only in body but also with the mind, “and the multitude of believers was one heart, etc.,” (Acts 4:32) are to be speaking in tongues, to foreign letters,(3) Larcher has this section as “strange, or speak unknown and obscure things” In the contemporary English Christian tradition this would be a correct rendering, but it is not reflective of the text. My translation follows it more literally. Aquinas is including reading of a foreign text as part of speaking in tongues. or they are speaking unfamiliar and not recognized things,(4) vel loquantur ignota et obscura and, as long as they speak in a disorderly way, “someone uneducated enters”(5) “intret aliquis idiota,” The Aquinas text has this all in the singular and the Vulgate has it in the plural. “intrent autem idiotae” that is he who does not understand except his own language or the “unbeliever” for the reason which tongues had been given, “will they not say this,” that they are saying as follows, “that you are mad?” (6) Douay-Rheims In fact whoever is not being understood is being reckoned as mad. For if a language is being understood and nevertheless the things which they are saying are concealed, it is still bad if it they are not to be explained. Because those who remain confident of the heathens who were concealing things which they did in their ritual on account of their own shame, can believe of you if you speak in secret. And this too is something of madness.

A contrary argument. It is the same to speak in tongues and to speak clearly enunciating [the Latin words] (7) “Although written Latin had remained homogenous, the pronunciation of spoken Latin had come to vary considerably from one part of Europe to another. How was spoken Latin to be unified as part of the movement to promote the cohesion of the Carolingian state? It was decided that Latin pronunciation should be firmly anchored to spelling and that when Latin was read out it should be pronounced litteraliter, ‘sounding every letter’, without accommodating the speaker’s pronunciation of local phonology as had traditionally happened in Romance-speaking regions.” French, from dialect to standard. By R. Anthony Lodge. Pg. 91 to such a degree for the uneducated. Since then everyone is to speak clearly enunciating in the Church, that all is being said in Latin. It appears that it is madness in the same way. One ought to say to this: Madness existed in the early Church on that account because they were unacquainted in the custom of the Church, consequently they were ignorant of what they should do here unless it was to be explained to them. But certainly in the present all have been educated. Although from this point everything is being spoken in Latin, they still know what is taking place in the Church.

Consequently when he says, “On the other hand, if all prophecy,” he shows what usefulness follows from the gift of prophecy, and in regards to this he does three things. First he shows what kind of thing follows through the usefulness of prophecy in reference to the unbeliever. With the second he shows how this is going to follow where it says, “For the secrets, etc.,” [v25]. Third, he adds what kind of effect is to come out of such an experience, where it says, “and so, falling down on his face, etc.,” (8) Douay-Rheims Then he says it is well known that the unbelievers are not feeling convicted by the gift of tongues.

“if then…” but instead; if these who come together, “prophecy,” that is all are to speak for the purpose of being understood, whether they explain the Scriptures or likewise revelations to them that they are interpreting things which have been brought about. (9) interpretentur: the Aquinas text usually reserves this word for actively utilizing the prophetic office. I say all not at the same time, but one after another they ought to prophecy in such a way. “and there come in,” (10) Douay-Rheims specifically [to] the Church, “anyone uneducated,” (11) I am not sure if the Aquinas text is referring to verse 24 or 25 which has the same structure. He does differ with either here by using “idiota aliquis” instead of either the Vulgate’s “intrent autem idiotae” verse 24 or “intret autem quis infidelis vel idiota” verse 25 who does not have [the ability] except a mother tongue, this is good in respect to what follows after, because, “He is being convicted about some error,” (12) Aquinas text: ” convincitur de aliquo errore” Vulgate: “convincitur ab omnibus” which is being shown to him. “after you showed me, I am confused” (Jeremiah 31:19) (13) I am not sure if the Aquinas Biblical reference of Jer. 31:19 parallels the Vulgate, where it starts or ends. about everything which they prophecy. “He is judged by all,” (14) Douay-Rheims as if he [Paul] is saying, the person is being shown the condemnation by his evil habits and sins.

“But the spiritual,” (15) Aquinas text: “spiritualis autem…” as opposed to the Vulgate: “spiritalis autem” that is a teacher, (16) Latin: “doctor”: a Church leader with a strong reputation in theology and a moral lifestyle “judges everything, etc.,” For these two things he values prophecy, namely for the purpose of establishing of faith and the instruction of character. Moreover, how is this good to follow from the gift of prophecy? (17) There is no question mark in the Latin but I think it should be there. “quomodo autem hoc bonum sequatur ex prophetiae dono” He supplies it when he says, “the secrets of [his] heart,” that is it can be understood in three ways. One way and this is to be literal, that some in the early Church possessed the gift, they theoretically knew the secrets of the hearts and the sins of man. Whereby it is read of Peter, (Acts 5:1ff) that he condemned Ananias about the falsified value of land. And according to this it is read, “the secrets,” that is his hidden sins, “they are made evident,” by those who show them.

In another way from this, wherein someone sometimes touches on many things in preaching that men carry in the heart, as it is well known in the books of the blessed Gregory, where it says anyone can discover almost every emotion of the heart, as if he is saying that they are being exposed because “the secrets of his heart,” that is those things that they carry in the heart. “As the faces of them that look therein, shine in the water, so the hearts of men are laid open to the wise.” (18) Douay-Rheims (Proverbs 27:19) They are laid open, that is they are being touched by them. In another way, because other times that this is being said about the secret of the heart that it is an uncertain entity to anyone and cannot be authenticated by him.

And it is being read according to this, “the secrets of his heart,” that is secrets about something in his heart which things he was doubting and not believing, they are laid open, namely when one frequently goes to Church they are made open to him. Likewise, Augustine speaks about himself that he went to the Church only for the singing and yet in that place he was uncertain about many things and in regards to this, things which he did not come for, were laid open to him. In fact reverence was the outcome because having been proven guilty, he was revering God. And it is to this that [Paul] says, “And so the one falling down,” that it is from that then he was proven guilty of and clearly shown the secrets of his heart, “the one falling down on the face will adore God,” “and falling down they adored him,” (Matthew 2:11) in respect to which it is a sign of reverence. On the other hand about the obstinate ones, it is being read that they fall backwards. “The way of the wicked is darksome: they know not where they will fall,” (19) The Vulgate has the sentence in the subjunctive: “via impiorum tenebrosa nesciunt ubi corruant” while the Aquinas text in the future tense:”via impiorum tenebrosa, nesciunt ubi corruent” (Proverbs 4:19). The true elect fall down on the face because it shows with whom he is being prostrated for, that it is a sign of reverence, “they praised the Lord, falling on their faces,” (Matthew 2:11 and Leviticus 9:24). “in His presence, the Ethiopians will prostrate,” (20) The Vulgate reads, “ante eum procident Aethiopes” and the Aquinas text has, “coram illo procident aethiopes”. Larcher realized the difference and skipped verse 9 altogether thinking 71:11 was the correct one. However, verse 9 is correct. and not only will he show reverence to God but also to the Church, because, “one who affirms,” ought to say that God is truly, “among you,” which you are prophesying in the Church. “We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.” (21) Douay-Rheims. (Zechariah 8:23).

Consequently, it appears that the gift of prophecy is useful in relation to the unbelievers.

“How is it then, brethren?” (22) Douay-Rheims. In this verse here he maps out for them in relation to the use of the gifts of speech. And in regards to this he does two things. With the first he shows in which way they ought to maintain themselves towards the use of these gifts. With the second he constructs the principal intent. Where it says, “Wherefore, brethren, be zealous to prophesy,” etc., (23) Douay-Rheims. In regards to the first he does two things. With the first he shows how in an orderly manner they ought to maintain themselves in the use of the gifts of speech. With the second he expresses their presumption, where it says, “Or did the word [of God come out from you?] etc.” (24) Douay-Rheims. The Vulgate reads: “an a vobis verbum” while the Aquinas text has: “an a vobis sermo”. He does three things in regards to the first. With the first he shows how in general they personally are obligated to behave in all the gifts. With the second, how they personally must behave in respect to the gift of tongues. With the third, he shows how they personally must behave in respect to the gift of prophecy. Where it says, “Let two or three prophecy” etc., (25) The Vulgate reads: “prophetae duo aut tres dicant”, whereas the Aquinas text has “prophetent duo aut tres”. He therefore says: to prophecy is better than to speak in tongues.

“How is it then, brethren,” should the speech be delivered? For this delivery in fact is to be applied: for instance, “When you come together,” it is obvious that one [person] does not have all the gifts and therefore it is not expected to be utilized in anyone of you all of the gifts, but to each one a gift which he specially receives from God and that it should be much better for the building up [of the Church].

“Every one of you have,” some special gift, “some have a psalm,” (26) Vulgate Reads: “unusquisque vestrum psalmum habet.” while the Aquinas text has: “alius habet psalmum”. that is a song for the purpose of praising God’s name, or explains psalms. “He will lead me upon my high places [singing psalms],” (Habakkuk 3:19).

“Another has,” “a teaching,” that is he possesses public speaking for the purpose of building up character, or for an explanation and spiritual experience. “A man is known by his learning,” (27) Douay-Rheims. Vulgate reads: “doctrina sua noscetur vir,” while the Aquinas text has, “doctrina sua cognoscitur.” (Proverbs 12:18). Another has an apocalypse, that is a revelation, whether in dreams or in a vision by some means. “God is in heaven who reveals mysteries,” (Daniel 2:8).

“Some have a tongue,” that is the gift of tongues, or for the purpose of reading the prophets. (28) “vel legendi prophetias” – I am not sure how to translate prophetias here. Larcher has it as “he reads prophecies” but I think it is the actual reading office here from a portion of the Bible. “And they began to speak in various tongues, etc.,” (Acts 2:4).“Another interpretation,” (I Corinthians 12:10) “To others interpretation of speech,” etc., But these are being mapped out in such a way because either they are from solely from natural ability or they for the praise of God, and so he says, “has a psalm,” or for the instruction of a neighbour, and likewise says, “has a teaching.” If they are from God alone it follows in two ways: either they are inwardly hidden ones and says as follows, “has an apocalypse,” or externally hidden ones and he says as follows, “has a tongue.” And to the manifestation of these is a third, specifically, “interpretation,” and it must be done, “that all may be edified.” “Let every one of you please his neighbour unto good, to edification.” (Romans 15:2).■


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Aquinas on Tongues: ICor 14:13-17

A translation of Thomas Aquinas on I Corinthians 14:13-17 from the Latin into contemporary English.

Translated from the Latin text: Reportationes 088 R1C cp 14 Pg. 388 lc3

I Corinthians 14: 13 – 17


1C3. The Apostle above demonstrated the excellency of the gift of prophecy over the the gift of tongues by having taken up the rationale by reason of exhortation’s function. In fact he showed the same thing by reason of the function of prayer. For we perform these two things by means of a language, namely prayer and exhortation. (1) exhortationem: in Evangelical circles this old word is still understood, but in contemporary society it is now considered archaic. There is no modern equivalent found so far, so it is left as is. In regards to this, he does two things: For the first, he proves by reasonable grounds the excellency of prophecy over the gift of tongues. Secondly, by examples. In which place it says, “I give thanks to my God, etc.,” [v18] he does two things in respect to this. First he points out the necessity of prayer. Secondly, in regards to prayer, he demonstrates how more valuable the gift of prophecy is over the the gift of tongues. “For if I am about to pray in a tongue, etc.,” [v14] He therefore spoke regarding the first:(2) dixit: this is in a perfect tense and I use this as the marker on how to translate the rest of the paragraph where some verbs can be translated as either present or perfect. I said that the gift of tongues without the gift of prophecy has no value. “and therefore [he who speaks in a tongue]” [v13] since the process of interpreting is an act of prophecy which is more excellent than that [of the gift of tongues]. The one who speaks in a tongue, whether unknown or foreign, or some hidden mystery, “let him pray,” namely to God, “that he may interpret,” [v13] (3) Douay-Rheims that is, let thanks be given to the one who is about to interpret himself “praying that God would open the door,” (Col. 4:3).

A gloss differently explains, “Let him pray. For it said to pray in two ways, namely either to plea or to persuade God,”(4) Aquinas means by plea here is a prayer to avoid or take away something negative such as sickness, poverty, harm etc. The prayer to persuade is to ask for something beneficial. as if he is saying, “the one who speaks in a tongue, let him pray” [v13] that is, so that he may persuade, “that he may interpret,” [v13] and so this gloss takes [to mean] prayer through this whole chapter. But this is not the apostle’s intention, but in fact [it is] for a plea to God. “For if I am about to pray, etc.,” [v14] this shows prophecy has more value than the gift of tongues with the one who is about to pray, and this is shown in two ways. First, the reason is taken up from the perspective of the one who is praying. Secondly from the perspective of the one hearing. In which place it says, “else, if you were to bless, etc.,” [v16] in respect to the first, he does two things: with the first he is setting the rationale for putting forward [a position]. Secondly he removes an objection, in which place it says, “what is it then, etc.,” [v15] In reference to the first, one ought to understand that prayer is twofold. One is private, when anyone in fact prays within himself or for himself. The other [is] public when anyone prays before the people and for others and whichever way it happens to be used, both the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy. He therefore wishes to show that in whichever method [there is] more value in the gift of prophecy than in the gift of tongues. In the first case with regard to private prayer, the speaker, if someone should be uneducated, who does his own prayer, says a Psalm, or Our Father and does not understand that which is saying, such a thing is praying in a tongue. It does not make any difference whether he should pray in words having been granted him by the holy Spirit or someone else’s words. And if there should be another who prays and understands what he is saying, this one prays and prophecies.

It is evident that it is more profitable for the one who prays and understands than one who only prays in a tongue, who in fact does not understand what he is saying. For the one who does understand, he is being reinvigorated also in regards to both the intellect and to affection. On the other hand, the mind of him who does not understand is without the fruit of reinvigoration. Since from this instance it is better one should be refreshed in regards to [both] the affections and intellect than in regards to affection alone. It is evident that in prayer the gift of prophecy [has] more value than the gift of tongues alone. And this is what he said: I say that “Let him pray, that he would interpret, for I am to pray in a tongue,” [v13-14] that is if I use the gift of tongues which results in the act of prayer so that I mention in some way something I do not understand, then, “my spirit,” [v14] that is, the holy Spirit having been given to me, “prays,” [v14] who inclines and moves my for the purpose of prayer. And whatsoever I gain in the prayer itself, because this specific thing, which I am being moved by the holy Spirit, is the reward for me. “For what we should pray, as necessity dictates, we do not know, but the holy Spirit himself makes us to ask.” (Romans 8:26)(5) The Aquinas text reads, “nam quid oremus, sicut oportet, nescimus, sed ipse spiritus sanctus postulare nos facit.” whereas the Vulgate reads, “nam quid oremus sicut oportet nescimus sed ipse Spiritus postulat pro nobis gemitibus inenarrabilibus.” Or, “my spirit,” [v14] that is my reasoning, “prays,” [v14], that is it composes for me what I am to say those things which are for the purpose of good, whether special words or of other holy ones. Or “my spirit,” [v14] that is the power of seeing with the mind’s eye. “prays,” [v14] inasmuch they are the voices or likeness of bodies wholly constructed in the mind without being conceptualized by the intellect. He therefore supplies: “my mind,” [v14] that is my intellect, “is fruitless,” [v14] because it does not comprehend. Therefore [again] prophecy or interpretation is better in prayer than the gift of tongues. But is it possible at some time, or that whoever prays, and does not understand what he is praying, is to be without the fruitfulness of prayers? It is to be concluded that the fruitfulness of prayer is twofold. One fruit is the reward that aids the person, the other fruit is spiritual encouragement and devotion having been conceived by prayer. And one is being deprived in regards to the fruit of spiritual devotion who does not listen for that which he prays or does not understand. But on the other hand in reference to the rewarding fruit, it is bound to be said that one is deprived, because there exists many prayers without a reward, since a person has the ability to speak with difficulty one Our Father, without the mind potentially being brought to another subject. And therefore it ought to be said that when one who is praying diverts by these [words] which he says, or when someone in one rewarding deed does not continuously think in whatever pleasing act, because he does this on account of God, it does not discount the reckoning of a reward. The reason of which is [this]: because in all the meritorious deeds, which are ordained for the right end, it is not required that the intention of the one who is performing be connected with the end according to whatever deed.

But on the other hand the first thrust, which motivates the intention, continues to work in completion. Furthermore, if someone is distracted in some particular [thing] and this first thrust does the whole work of merit, unless it is being interrupted by a contrary affection which is diverting from the initial end to a contrary end. But it ought to be known that attentiveness is threefold. One is by the words which a man says and this is sometimes harmful inasmuch it impedes devotion. Another is to the sense of the words, and this is harmful, but not as much harm. Third is to the end and this is better and pretty much necessary. This is nevertheless what the Apostle means:“the mind is without fruit,” [v14], it is understood regarding the fruit of refreshment.

[Verse 15] “What is it then? etc.,”(6) Douay-Rheims because someone could say: on account of whoever that prays in a tongue is without the fruit of the mind, but nevertheless the spirit prays, surely is not one then obligated to pray in the spirit? For this reason the apostle removes this [thought] saying that one ought to pray in both ways as with the spirit and the mind because a person ought to serve God concerning everything which he has from God. But he has the spirit and the mind from God and therefore he ought to pray according to both.“With his whole heart he praised the Lord, etc.,”(7) Douay-Rheims (Ecclesiasticus 47:10) and for that reason he says, “I will pray with the spirit, I will pray also with the mind, I will sing with the spirit, etc.,” and so he says I will pray and sing because prayer whether it is for the purpose of averting(8) ie: praying that something physically or circumstantially may not become a reality God [from doing something], like he says, “I will pray,” or for the purpose of praise, like he says, “I will sing”. Concerning these two “Is any of you sad? Let him pray: Is he cheerful in mind? Let him sing,”(9) Douay-Rheims (James 5:13), “Let us praise the Lord, etc.,” (Psalm 9:12)(10) The Vulgate reads “cantate Domino” whereas the Aquinas text has “psallite domino” “I will pray with the spirit,” that is seeing with the mind’s eye, “and with the mind” that is with meaning.

[Verse 16] “Else, if you will bless, etc.,” here he shows the following that the gift of prophecy is more valuable than the gift of tongues. Furthermore, in public prayer which is when the priest publicly prays, where sometimes he says things that he does not understand, sometimes to some extent which he does understand. And in reference to this he does three things. He first posits a rationale. Secondly, he explains it. In which it says, “How is he to say, etc.,”(11) Aquinas has “quomodo dicit” while the Vulgate has “quomodo dicet” and thirdly he proves what he presupposed. In which place it says, “because what [you are saying he does not know] etc.,” he therefore says, I said that the gift of prophecy in private prayer has more value. “else,” but on behalf of, and in public because “if you shall bless,” that is you were to give a benediction, “with the spirit,” that is in a language which is not to be understood, or with the power of mindful observation and having been moved by the holy Spirit.
“Who is to complete the matter for the uneducated?”(12) Aquinas has “quis supplet locum idiotae” while the Vulgate has “qui supplet locum idiotae”. My translation varies considerably from the Douay-Rheims “how shall he that holdeth the place of the unlearned” I am translating Aquinas here on how he understood the text to mean, and this changes the translation. Particularly with the uneducated, it is being asserted that this person only knows the language in which he was born. As if it were to say: “who is to speak that what he ought to speak in the place for the uneducated? so that he [the uneducated] is to say, “amen,” and therefore it says, “how should he say amen to your blessing?”(13) The actual “Reportationes” manuscript I am working from does not have the “amen” in the actual copy, “quomodo dicet super tuam benedictionem?” I think this is a copyist error at some point and am sure it belongs there. Whereby a gloss explains, it is: “how can he share in the blessing having been made by you in the name of the Church?”“In which he that is blessed upon the earth, shall be blessed in God, amen:”(14) Douay-Rheims (Isaiah 65:16). Amen is the same as let it be done, or it is so(15) This is lifted directly from Larcher’s translation. as if it should be said, “If he does not understand what you are saying, how will he adhere himself to the things which have been said by you? Certainly he has the personal ability to adhere, yet if he does not understand, but only in a general and not in a special [way], because he cannot understand anything of the value that you are speaking except that you are probably merely giving a blessing. But why do they [the priests] not give the blessing in the common [tongue], that they may be understood by the people and adhere themselves more to them? It has been said that this had been done(16) “hoc forte fuit” – why he used this construct instead of the subjunctive, I don’t know why. in the early church, but afterwards, the faithful ones were taught and knew what they heard in the common office, the benedictions take place in Latin.

[verse 17] Consequently he demonstrates why [the uneducated] cannot say “amen,” when it says, “for you certainly,” that is “could well enough give thanks,”(17) Aquinas text has this piece in the subjunctive “tu gratias agas bene deo” while the Vulgate uses the simple present. It can arguably change the nuance of the text, and I have chosen to follow the mood that the subjunctive suggests.. Inasmuch he does not understand [it] in a specific way, although he probably understands in general and is built up, like this: “Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth: but that which is good, to the edification of faith,” (Ephesians 4:29), and for that reason it is better that he [the priest] should not only bless in a tongue, that he must interpret and explain, granted that you who give thanks, are to do it well.■


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