Tag Archives: Protestant

Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues: Part 3

The question of miracles from Martin Luther to the Church of England.

This is part 3 of a series surveying the doctrine of cessationism.

Part 1 was an introduction and a general summary. Part 2 gave a background to the medieval mindset that was highly dependant on the supernatural, magic and mystery in daily living. It also covered the re-examination of earlier christian history by prominent English leaders to demonstrate that miracles had ceased.

This series has a tertiary focus on the role of speaking in tongues within the cessationist doctrine. Those who adhere to a strong adherence to cessationism categorize tongues as a miracle, and since all miracles have ceased, the christian rite of tongues is no longer available. Any current practice is considered a false one.

This forces this series to shift away from the christian doctrine of tongues, and move into the protestant doctrine of miracles.

This article will demonstrate the Puritans were largely responsible for shaping the doctrine of cessationism through various means, especially the Westminster Confession. This doctrine may be the English Church’s most recognizable contribution to the protestant revolution throughout the world.

The Protestant De-Emphasis

One the most distinct differences between the early Protestants and Catholics was the concept of divine revelation. The Catholics believed in progressive revelation: religious belief and behaviour can evolve over the centuries. New doctrines can be added or subtracted. The channel by which this happened was through the symbol of miracles. God could express His present will to mankind through this agency. It could happen through an event, a saint, or institution. This allowed the church to include practices and beliefs such as the veneration of saints, mariology, purgatory, celibacy, additions to the Bible (the Apocrypha) and indulgences. The powers of church authority were given equal authority to that of Scripture through the confirmation of alleged miracles.

Early Protestants rejected the idea of progressive revelation whereby new doctrines and behaviors could be added. They believed in static revelation instead—a concept that limited miracles only to define doctrine from either the first – or at the latest fourth-century. After that, the age of doctrine development was closed. There were to be no additions or subtractions to the framework outlined in Scripture. Scripture was the final authority in christian affairs and cannot be overruled or added to by later miraculous revelations.

The question about how far miracles were limited after the formation of the church is the one that became the centre of attention in the protestant world.

The role and nature of miracles in the protestant church will now be closely examined.

Martin Luther

Painting of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472--1553)
Martin Luther

One of the most well-known names attached to the early Protestant movement is Martin Luther (1483–1546). His writings and sermons vacillated on this subject of miracles, though in the end he was a de-emphasizer. Specifically, he believed whatever miracles that did occur could not create or validate a new doctrine. Neither could it supercede Scripture. Philip M. Soergel, a specialist in medieval and early modern European history, looked into his attitude towards miracles and answered:

Luther’s statements held out the possibility that the “age of miracles” had ceased, but his praise of faith’s potentialities tended to undercut that conclusion all the same. This tendency–insisting on the one hand that the apostles were able to work miracles for a time only to establish the Church and on the other hand maintaining that faith has its own miracle-working power–continued to interact in Luther’s mature evangelical theology. The interplay betweeen these two notions prevented Luther from articulating a firm doctrine of the “cessation of miracles,” as it did for his later sixteenth-century followers as well. As in other areas of his thought, the Reformer proved to be cautious about making blanket pronouncements, since such judgements might presume to know the will of God and the workings of the Holy Spirit.(1)Philip M. Soergel. Protestant Imagination: The Evangelical Wonder Book in Reformation Germany. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2012. Pg. 41

For the curious, here are two quotes from his written sermons that show his vacillation on miracles.

  • The first, “Thanks be to God that we have no longer any need of miracles; the Gospel doctrine has been established by signs and wonders sufficient, so that no one has any cause to doubt them.”(2)Martin Luther. Sermons on the Gospels For the Sundays and Principal Festivals of the Church-Year. No translator given. Columbus: J. A. Shulze. 1884. Pg. 246

  • And in another sermon he contrarily wrote:

    A person may called into the preaching office in one of two ways. The first one is directly from God, the other through His people, which is also simultaneously from God. Those called immediately must not be believed unless they are certified because their preaching is accompanied by miracles. That is what occurred in the case of Christ, and His apostles, whose preaching wast attested with accompanying signs. Then, when a preacher called in this way might come and say to you [Matthew 16], “God is speaking to you here. Receive the Holy Ghost,” as they must preach, you must then, of course, ask, “What sign do you give so that we can believe you? If it is only your words then we will pay no attention to them since you, from out yourself, could not say anything worth hearing. But if you work a miracle with it, then we will carefully examine what kind of doctrine you have, and whether or not you speak the Word of God.” . . .

    Do not just believe people because of evidence they give when they attest to the spirit in them with signs and wonders. Do not only look at the fact that they are doing miracles, for the devil can also work miracles.(3)Martin Luther. Festival Sermons of Martin Luther. Translated by Joel R. Baseley. Michigan: Mark V Publications. 2005. Pg. 3-4

It is noted how little Luther referred to the subject of miracles. Perhaps this may be a problem of an analysis done only in the English translations without referring to the original German. No comprehensive work by an authoritative writer so far has shown any disparity between the German and English in this area and so it must be assumed that Luther hardly addressed it.

Jean Calvin

Jean Calvin by an anonymous painter in the 1500s.
Jean Calvin

Jean Calvin (1509–1564) was the administrative genius behind the early Reformation. What Luther started, Calvin structured. He added to the miracles debate with slightly more depth from Luther, but still fell short of being a hard cessationist.

The Catholic Church had criticized the Protestant movement as unsanctioned by God because it was never validated through the agency of miracles. Calvin countered this message by writing:

They are unreasonable when they demand miracles of us. For we are not inventing any new gospel, but we maintain as the truth that gospel confirmed by all the miracles which Jesus Christ and His apostles ever did. You could say that in this distinctive way they go beyond us, that they can confirm their teaching by continuous miracles which are being done up until today. But they claim miracles which are so frivolous or lying that they would undermine the spirit and make it doubt when otherwise it would be at peace. Yet, nevertheless, if these miracles were the most amazing and admirable one could imagine, they would have no value at all over against God’s truth, since by rights the Name of God should be hallowed always and everywhere, whether by miracles or by the natural order of things. Those who accuse us would have more semblance of cover if scripture had not warned us about the right use of miracles.”
. . . So we do not lack for miracles, which are most certain and not subject to ridicule. On the contrary, the miracles which our adversaries claim for themselves are pure tricks of Satan when they draw people away from the honor of their God to vanity.(4)Jean Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion: The First English Version of the 1541 French Edition. Translated by Anne McKee. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2009. Pg. 11-12

Nowhere here does he express the cessation of miracles, rather he outlined the abuse of it.

Some authors have quoted Calvin’s Commentary on the Gospel of John, 20:30-31 to express his support of miracles. However, he does not qualify his statement for or against modern day miracles. He does suggest that miracles do excite the mind to comtemplate God’s power. This could be construed as his condoning of miracles during his time. Let the reader examine the following text itself and see if this is true or not.

Although, therefore, strictly speaking, faith rests on the word of God, and looks to the word as its only end, still the addition of miracles is not superfluous, provided that they be also viewed as relating to the word, and direct faith towards it. Why miracles are called signs we have already explained. It is because, by means of them, the Lord arouses men to contemplate his power, when he exhibits any thing strange and unusual.(5)Jean Calvin. Commentary on the Gospel of John. Vol. II Translated by William Pringle. Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society. 1847. Pg. 281

It is not a strong statement that one can build a thesis on. The portrait one can draw from Calvin is a hesitancy to miracles and that one ought to be very careful. He aligns with the protestant mantra that miracles must not be used to supercede Scripture.

The Church of England and Miracles

The 1600s demonstrate the concept cycling from de-emphasism to cessationism, especially within the English realm.

The Church of England was officially formed in the 1530s after King Henry VIII was not granted a divorce from his wife, Catherine of Aragon, by the Catholic authorities. The initial institution had no stance on miracles and little to no anti-catholic sentiment. This was reflected in their confessions of faith developed in 1572 called the Thirty-Nine Articles.

The Church of England was pulled in many different directions concerning miracles in the next 150 years. There are four distinct, but interweaving themes; the Puritans, Latitudinarians, Rationalists, and the Presbyterians.

The Puritan Influence

This is the section where the doctrine of cessationism takes off. The Puritan influence on the Church of England, and its splinter groups were immense. Puritan thought may be one of the least studied or understood modes of thought in western literature. Though never a party, nor an independent religious sect, and no person to call as its historic leader, their impact was immense.

The Puritans were an activist movement within the Church of England that sought to rid itself of any catholic identity and zealously pursued for a greater purity in worship and doctrine. They allied later with the Scottish Presbyterians on many matters of doctrine including cessation of miracles. Their influence was at its zenith between 1642 to 1660. The public during this 18 year period was generally fatigued over the over-emphasis on Scriptural adherence, even on the smallest matters. There was a feeling that both the Churches of Scotland and England had traded the superstitions of Catholicism for the the rigorous enforcement of Scripture–a dry legalism that forced absolute obedience with little freedom of expression or ideas. This period was a time where the British Isles were broken into political, religious and military factions. King Charles II decreased the puritance prominence in 1660. He settled the internal warring factions in what was called the Restoration. The puritan movement was sidelined from active participation in the Church of England from that point on.

Puritan thinkers were strong proponents of cessationism, and it is their legacy that we owe this doctrine. This will be explained in further detail shortly.

The Presbyterians were a slightly later offshoot of the Scottish Protestant movement which held tightly to the teachings of Jean Calvin. The Scottish cleric, John Knox, a student of Calvin, ensured this tightly knit relationship. The movement especially gained momentum after the English Civil War in 1651 and the name Presbyterian began to be attached. In 1650 the Scottish Church created their first confession. It did not contain any reference to miracles.(6)http://www.creeds.net/Scots/ However, they did adhere to the cessationalist teaching found in the Westminster Confession earlier in 1646 (explained further down), and later became one of the louder proponents in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The puritan influence is the more important one, because Presbyterians eventually adopted their line of thinking about miracles. The following is a brief outline of the puritan doctrine cessationism.

William Whitaker

William Whitaker, English theologian,  (1548--1595)
William Whitaker

William Whitaker (1547–1595) was an Anglican theologian and Master of St. John’s College, Cambridge. The Latin-English dictionary he devised and published is still commonly used by Latin students around the world today. More importantly to this discussion, he contributed to the first chapter on the Westminster Confession of Faith which contained the cessation clause.(7)Garnet Milne. The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Cessation of Special Revelation: The Majority Puritan Viewpoint on Whether Extra-Biblical Prophecy is Still Possible. Great Britain: Paternoster. Reprinted by Wipf and Stock Publishers. 2008. Pg. 52 Whitaker firmly established the authority and position of Scripture over miracles and veneration.(8)This was concluded by an examination of his work, A Disputation on the Holy Scripture Against the Papists, especially Bellarmine and Stapleton. Cambridge: The University Press. 1849. There may be better information in another work, though I haven’t seen it yet

William Perkins

William Perkins, English Theologian (1558–1602)
William Perkins

William Perkins (1558-1602) was a Cambridge educated cleric of the Church of England. He was a gifted orator and popular writer. Although he was a follower of Calvin, his works outsold Calvin by a significant margin inside England. He was staunchly conservative and dogmatic, but yet did not join the puritan ranks. His legacy was greatly esteemed by both the Puritans and Presbyterians. However, the degree of influence is a matter of scholarly debate.(9)Garnet Milne. The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Cessation of Special Revelation: The Majority Puritan Viewpoint on Whether Extra-Biblical Prophecy is Still Possible. Great Britain: Paternoster. Reprinted by Wipf and Stock Publishers. 2008. Pg. 50

His writings clearly outline that a practicing Protestant should avoid any outward exhibitions of miracles for two reasons. The first one was that the expression would be too close to being Catholic. He made a clear connection between Catholicism, miracles, and the devil. This was Perkin’s primary reason for rejecting miracles in the system of christian faith.

Secondly, he drew lessons from the catholic aspiration for miracles and applied it human nature. He believed people seek to do wonders for personal or occupational gain. Both of these factors are outlined in his book, Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft:

It were easier to show the truth of this, by examples of some persons, who by these means have risen from nothing, to great places and preferments in the world. Instead of all, it appeareth in certain Popes of Rome, as Sylvester the second, Benedict the eight, Alexander the sixth, Iohn the 20 and the twenties one, &c. who for the attaining of the Popedom (as histories record) gave themselves to the devil in the practice of witchcraft, that by the working of wonders, they might rise from one step of honour to another, until they had seated themselves in the chair of the Papacy. So great was their desire of eminence in the Church, that it caused them to dislike meaner conditions of life, and never to cease aspiring, though they incurred thereby the hazard of good conscience, and the loss of their souls.

The second degree of discontentment, is in the mind and inward man; and that is curiosity, when a man resteth not satisfied with the measure of inward gifts received, as of knowledge, wit, understanding, memory, and such like, but aspires to search out such things as God would have kept secret: and hence he is moved to attempt the cursed art of magic and witchcraft, as a way to get further knowledge in matters secret and not revealed, that by working of wonders, he may purchase fame in the world, and consequently reap more benefit by such unlawfull courses, then in likelihood he could have done by ordinary and lawful means.(10)Updated English copy from William Perkins. A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft. Cambridge: Cantrell Legge. 1618. Pg. 10-11

Perkins believed that since the Gospel has been established there was no further need for miracles at all.

Therefore if Ministers now should lay their hands on the sick, they should not recover them: if they should anoint them with oil, it should do them no good, because they have no promise.(11)Updated English copy from William Perkins. A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft. Cambridge: Cantrell Legge. 1618. Pg. 232

He continually attacked the Catholic Church on their continued abuse of miracles and how the age of miracles had passed:

This gift continued not much above the space of 200 years after Christ. From which time many heresies began to spread themselves; and then shortly after Poperie that mystery of iniquity beginning to spring up, and to dilate itself in the Churches of Europe, the true gift of working miracles then ceased, and instead thereof came in delusions, and lying wonders, by the effectual working of Satan, as it was foretold by the Apostles, 2. Thess. 2. 9. Of which sort were and are all those miracles (Pg. 239) of the Romish Church, whereby simple people have been notoriously deluded. These indeed have there continued from that time to this day. But this gift of the holy Ghost, whereof the Question is made, ceased long before.(12) Updated English copy from William Perkins. A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft. Cambridge: Cantrell Legge. 1618. Pg. 238

Perkins was reacting against both against Catholicism and superstition. These two entities promoted miracles through ceremony, rituals and recitation of specific words.(13)As described in the book: Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. Sixth Series. Vol. VIII. David Eastwood ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1998. Pg. 176 Perkins didn’t realize the these three behaviours were instituted in the earlier church to correct the problem of selfish personal ambition through the agency of miracles. For example the fourth-century church father John Chrysostom wanted to take the power away from individuals and move it into ceremony, rituals and institutional authority instead.

Perkins logic is confusing. He allows for the devil to produce enchantments and sorceries that seem like miracles, albeit for diabolical purposes, but denies any alternative power of the church or the Christian to produce miracles.

His idea owns that no human can produce or be a direct causative agent for miracles. Instead, the ancient persons involved in administering a miracle were passive agents, a conduit that God used. The emphasis was on the agency not the person(14) William Perkins. A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft. Cambridge: Cantrell Legge. 1618. Pg. 243 This forced Perkins to contemplate the miracles Jesus produced. If Jesus was part human, then how could He actively bring about miracles at His command? Perkins made an exception here. He described that Christ had a dual man/God nature. The miracles were not produced from the man nature, but normally from the God one. On the raising of Lazarus it was the combination of both.(15)William Perkins. A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft. Cambridge: Cantrell Legge. 1618. Pg. 16

He expanded the definition of evil and satanic to any expressions of the catholic faith. This was consistent with many other protestant leaders.

James Ussher (1581–1656)

James Ussher (1581--1656)
James Ussher

This scholar, theologian and cleric for the Church of Ireland (a member of the Anglican Church community) was best known for his work for dating the day of creation. He was a student of William Perkins.

Similar to Perkins, Ussher issued a direct attack on the Catholics and their supposed miracles with vehemence:

That seeing the Popes Kingdom glorieth so much in wonders, it is most like, that he Antichrist; seeing the false Christs and false Prophets shall do great wonders to deceive (if it were possible) the very Elect, and that some of the false Prophets prophesies shall come to pass, we should not therefore believe the doctrine of Popery for their wonders sakes, seeing the Lord thereby trieth our faith; who hath given to Satan great knowledge and power to work stranger things, to bring those to damnation who are appointed unto it.(16)James Ussher. A Body of Divinity or the Sum and Substance of Christian Religion. London: R. J. for Jonathan Robinson, A. and J. Churchill, J. Taylor, and J. Wyatt. 1702. Pg. 392

Ussher then concluded the above thought with this:

Are not miracles as necessary now, as they were in time of the Apostles?

No verily. For the doctrine of the Gospel being then new unto the world, had need to have been confirmed with miracles from heaven: but being once confirmed there is no more need of miracles; and therefore we keeping the same doctrine of Christ and his Apostles, must content ourselves with the confirmation which hath already been given.

What ariseth out of this?

That the doctrine of Popery is a new doctrine, which had need to be confirmed with new miracles; and so it is not the doctrine of Christ, neither is established by his miracles.(17)IBID James Ussher. A Body of Divinity or the Sum and Substance of Christian Religion. Pg. 392

The Westminster Confession

Westminster Confession of Faith

At the height of the Church of England’s puritan influence was the development and enactment of the Westminster Confession in 1646. The goal of this confession was to codify the protestant sects in England into a united system of faith. It still has force today in some religious jurisdictions.

The Westminster Confession has two articles important to miracles:

  • The first one was under the first section relating to the authority of Scripture where it states that God has ceased in further revealing his will through the written Word. What has been already accomplished in His sacred Word is final. There are no additions.(18)http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds3.iv.xvii.ii.html

    The ceased word is very ambiguous and controversial. Garnet Milne in his excellent book, The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Cessation of Special Revelation: The Majority Puritan Viewpoint on Whether Extra-Biblical Prophecy is Still Possible summed up the interpretation of ceased as this:

    An analysis of the writings of the Westminster divines reveals their pervasive commitment to a cessationism of a rather comprehensive kind, In their exposition of the key texts of Eph. 1:17-18, Heb. 1:1-2, and Joel 2:28-32/Acts 2:17, a large proportion of the divines contend that the possibility of further revelation has ceased, both for the purposes of doctrinal insight and for ethical guidances. They repeatedly contrast the role of Scripture with phenomena such as dreams and visions as means of divine communication, and argue that the latter modalities are firmly confined to the past.

    From a range of other biblical texts the divine adduce further reasons as to why the church ought no longer expect revelation from a source outside of Scripture itself. Extra-biblical revelation is restricted to the eras of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles. Special revelation for the governance of the church is said to have ceased. Warnings are issued against the inherent dangers of appeals to immediate inspiration, and the cessation of such revelation is linked to the cessation of miracles. Old Testament texts in particular tend to be read analogically. The Scriptures as a whole are presented and appealed to as the final supernatural revelation of God for all purposes.(19)Garnet Milne. The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Cessation of Special Revelation: The Majority Puritan Viewpoint on Whether Extra-Biblical Prophecy is Still Possible. Great Britain: Paternoster. Reprinted by Wipf and Stock Publishers. 2008. Pg. 145

    Although Milne properly addressed the puritan concept behind this word, the Westminster Confession was purposely ambiguous for those in the non-puritan ranks. The ambiguity of ceased allowed for a degree of flexibility in interpretation among the various protestant English factions that the Westminster Confession hoped to unite.

  • Secondly, this confession held that the Pope was the antichrist (20)Section VI http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds3.iv.xvii.ii.html though this has been revised in the most recent versions. Anti-Catholicism and their alleged false miracles were a source of unity among the various protestant branches.

The Westminster Confession of Faith set the standard for later English Protestant confessions such as the Savoy Declaration modified for Congregationalists in 1658, and the London Baptist Confession of 1689. They both contained the cessation clause.


Latitudinarianism was a phrase attached to a certain mode of thinking in the early Church of England. This was not a large movement, but their membership contained a considerable influence. Latitudinarians emphasized an alliance of science and religion and often were at odds against the more conservative and dogmatic puritan thinkers. The perception of miracles was approached clinically and in more rational, philosophical and scientific manners, but theoretically accepted. A strain of anti-catholicism and the rejection of their miracles as patently false connects them with the rest of the Church of England.

The major contributor to the formation of the the Latitudinarian movement was the Anglican priest and theologian, Richard Hooker (1554–1600). He did not address the problem of miracles at all. Although he had some doctrinal problems with Catholic theology, he wasn’t absolute and completely rejectionist of Catholicism either. His works were aimed more squarely against the conservative puritan faction of the Church of England whom he held were extreme in their views.

Richard Hooker (1554--1600)
Richard Hooker

Western society owes an intellectual debt to the Latitudinarians such as the Protestant turned Catholic turned Protestant again and then accused by both sides of being a rationalist, William Chillingworth (1602–1664); the Archbishop of Canterbury John Tillotson (1630–1694); and the writer, philosopher and cleric Joseph Glanvill (1636–1680). Glanvill was an interesting thinker. He envisioned a future where mankind would be able to communicate throughout the world via the ether.

The late 1600s and early 1700s found the proponents of miracles from not from English theologians but from scientists such as the astronomer, mathematician, and physicist, Isaac Newton, and John Wilkins the founder of the oldest scientific community, the Royal Society.(21)Stephen Paul Foster. Melancholy Duty: The Hume-Gibbon Attack on Christianity. NL: Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. 1997. Pg. 101 – the author is presenting this from M. Burns, The Great Debate on Miracles: From Joseph Glanville to David Hume. Both of these figures aligned closely with the Latitudinarians.

None of these leaders promoted the cessation of miracles.(22)For more information on Latitudinarians see Joseph Waligore’s, “Christian deism in eighteenth century England” as found in the International Journal of Philosophy and Theology. 2014. Vol. 75, Issue 3. Pg. 11

The Rationalists and Deists

Hooker not only influenced the Latitudinarians but his writings licensed others to use reason, commons sense, and intellectual inquiry in their religious pursuits. The explanation of the following people fall under the list belonging to the Church of England because everyone under English control belonged to it, whether they liked to or not, and were heavily influenced by their values. On the other hand, the conservative Church of England followers and break-away groups were often seriously critical of the following named people. They would not define them as representing the christian religion.

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was one of the philosophers who added to Hooker’s cry for reason. Hobbes stumbled through his idea of miracles and it is hard to decipher a clear position because of his semantics and wordiness. He does reaffirm the mantra that miracles had ceased.(23)Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan Chapter 32 “Seeing therefore miracles now cease, we have no sign left whereby to acknowledge the pretended revelations or inspirations of any private man;” But on the other hand, he was very cautious about naming anything a miracle. He believed the layman was ignorant of the science behind any event and too easily fell into calling something a miracle. For example, the occurrances of nature which one does not understand was often considered a miracle. Secondly, Hobbes was concerned about those who faked miracles for public attention. All ideas of miracles should be put under the scrutiny of reason by the individual and the church. The natural outcome would be that there was a natural explanation that would ultimately exclude the concept of a miracle.(24)Leviathan Chapter 37. “For in these times I do not know one man that ever saw any such wondrous work, done by the charm or at the word or prayer of a man, that a man endued but with a mediocrity of reason would think supernatural:”

The next entry inevitably leads to the framework on miracles built by the well-known philosopher and physician John Locke (1632–1704). This brilliant thinker, best known for his influence on the wording and structure of the American Constitution, found a way that comfortably balanced reason and religion in his writings.

His work, Discourse on Miracles (1706), demonstrated this skill. He believed in miracles but in an uncertain sense. What a miracle is to one person, may not be to another. It depends on a person’s grasp of universal laws and science. This matter of perception would be especially true in his time where the gap in scientific knowledge was so great and the understanding of human physiology was small. He believed that the amount of claims for miracles were far greater than the actual ones that have occurred. He follows Hobbes’ structure but softer in regards to religion. He set out some general rules for determining a divine miracle.(25)The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes. Vol. 8. 12th ed. London: C. and J. Rivington. 1824. Pg. 262ff.

The two most controversial and debated names on the topic of miracles is Conyers Middleton (1683–1750), and David Hume (1711–1776).

Conyers Middleton was a church historian who promoted the idea that miracles and signs were not necessary for defining christian truth, practice, or polity. The dispute against miracles and signs was the centerpiece in his, Free Inquiry, which was unique and highly controversial when it was first introduced. By applying common sense to principles of faith over mysticism, he sought to distance the protestant identity and authority from that of the Catholic Church. His opinions still resonate today.

Cover of Free Inquiry by Conyers Middleton

Middleton does address the doctrine of tongues but it is limited. He fails to take in a larger corpus of ecclesiastical literature to draw his conclusions. By using such a small sampling, he could easily state that the gift of tongues died within the first century church and not have to wrestle with the likes of Pachomius, Augustine, or the historical context of the Corinthian tongues problem, which was not mystical at all, but a functional one. He slightly addressed Chrysostom’s texts to support his argument but further elaborates the subject when he published, An Essay on the Gift of Tongues but the work adds hardly anything new to the debate.

The more traditional theologians of the time spent considerable effort to refute his claims about miracles. For example, William Dodwell, a contraversialist, theologian, and minister, took it upon himself to refute Middleton with his book, A Free Answer to Dr. Middleton’s Free Inquiry. In doing so Dodwell was conferred a Doctorate of Divinity by Oxford.(26)http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Dodwell,_William_%28DNB00%29 However, his refutation failed to produce the desired results. Middleton’s work has perpetuated while his has fallen into obscurity.

Middleton’s work had such a great impact that the legendary evangelist John Wesley saw the need to refute in a letter to Dr. Conyers Middleton. Wesley’s response is largely forgotten in the annals of history, being powerfully overshadowed by the legend of Free Inquiry whose primitive arguments still stand, and have been greatly expanded upon by cessationists and scholars living today.

For further information see: Conyers Middleton and the Doctrine of Tongues

David Hume (1711–1776) is a hard one to describe. His opinions were not representative of the church but yet he used the symbols and language of the church and christian faith.

This distinguished thinker has to be included because his influence was so widespread. He is one of the pillars of western philosophy. To ignore his thoughts on the subject would be unacceptable.

Hume was sceptical of any miracle and promoted the idea that believing in anything unsubtantiated is foolish. He accepted that there was a chance for a miracle to occur, but only if it has been properly examined. In this case, he believed not one has been properly substantiated throughout history using a valid procedure to verify such a claim. He totally rejected the claim of a person or group testifying of the fact. He wanted factual evidences over perception. This lack of facts led him to conclude that christian miracles do not exist, and the whole christian story is based on fiction. “whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.”(27)David Hume. An Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding. L. Selby-Bigge, ed. London: Oxford University Press. 1894. Sec. X, Part II (101) Pg. 131

His ideas were picked up by Baden Powell (1796–1860) – a mathematician and a priest of the Anglican Church. His articulation of faith and science was introduced in a more open environment than that of Hume. He believed that miracles was but a definition by mankind to describe a natural event not understood. Every miracle can be explained by natural means, except that mankind has yet to understand the mechanics that caused it. People of higher intelligence, because of their insights into science and the laws of nature, found miracles much less common than the layperson.(28)Essays and Reviews: “On the Study on the Evidences of Christianity,” by Baden Powell. London: John W. Parker and Son. 1860. Pg. 107

There are more rationalists/deists of England that can be drawn from but this is sufficient for the reader to understand. They set the seeds of intellectual thought that lives with us today. The role of the miraculous and the supernatural have been relegated to matters of faith and not physical reality. The issue of tongues fit into the category of a faith event that was categorized in an unexplainable psychological condition that one day will be understood as science advances.

References   [ + ]

Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues: Part 2

This is part 2 of the series on cessationism, miracles, and tongues. This article gives a background on why miracles were de-emphasized during the Reformation. Secondly, it delves on the protestant review of early church history and their interpretation of miracles.

For information on this overall series and a general summary go to Cessationism, Miracles and Tongues: Part 1

The Excess of Miracles in the Medieval World

Cessationism or the critical examination of miracles cannot be fully understood without first understanding the medieval environment they were birthed from. The following gives a brief portrait of the mystical medieval world and why there was an urgent need for correcting the abuse of miracles.

The Gift of Tongues Project has always been a multi-disciplinary approach and the study of the medieval age in relation to the doctrine of tongues has some unique challenges. The tenth to thirteenth-centuries showed an increase in intellectual inquiry. A time where a coherent belief system was developing that included both the rational and the supernatural. This approach was especially apparent in the teachings and writings of Thomas Aquinas in the 1200s. However, after Aquinas, the momentum disappeared in the Western European world and a coherent belief system had disintegrated. There are a variety of factors that have contributed to this. The first one being the plagues that ravaged the European, Asian and African continents. The Centers for Disease Control estimates 60% of the European population was destroyed. This percentage is highly disputed though we do know a considerable amount of the population died or were affected.(1)https://www.cdc.gov/plague/history/.

The people behind the traditions, those familiar with the Greek language and culture that Europe rested its identity on along with the guardians of the classical Roman institutions were largely gone. This created a huge social, economic and religious vacuum.

The political and social instability that the plagues created, the real threat of a Muslim invasion, and the ensuing internal wars demonstrated that the social constructs and belief systems of European Christianity were not sufficient in confronting real world problems. In many respects, the plague and its unintentional consequences started Europe on the road to redefining itself.

These factors forced Europe to move beyond themselves and discover new lands, peoples and cultures. It allowed for the interchange of ideas old and new, and opened up commercial opportunities.

The emotional scars caused by the plagues and wars left an indelible impression that the glitter of Christianity was lost. The instability felt by medievalists reinforced the religious sense that a power struggle between the forces of good and evil was happening on their christian soil. Medieval people believed the elements of nature, wars, plagues, health, weather, agriculture, prosperity, success and lack thereof could be traced back to these powers. Mankind was involved in this cosmic battle and could garner stability in two ways.

Firstly, through a rigorous attempt to purify communities and individuals from any perceived evil, ridding itself of witches, divination, and other works perceived to be of the devil. Satan could employ natural laws against humanity and to defeat him directly could result in ecological, physical and human harmony. Germs, bacteria, hygiene, and pathogens were still yet to be discovered.

There was a heightened sensitivity to personal holiness in this period. There was a subconscious but pervasive assumption that a nation that pursued absolute purity in the form of leading a sincere, upright and pious life with a rigid adherence to church customs could defer the wrath of God and put people in God’s good books. This was believed a precursor that would lead into both physical and economic prosperity.

This was a time where saint veneration was high. Lawrence Cunningham, a University of Notre Dame professor, covers this problem in his book, A Brief History of the Saints . He wrote that there was a certain danger where peoples and countries were simply replacing their ancient deities with saints names. This was a problem highlighted especially by Erasmus and the leaders of the Reformation.(2) Lawrence S. Cunningham. A Brief History of the Saints. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. 2005. Pg. 25

Sainthood was big business. The canonization of a saint had significant economic and political benefits for the saint’s hometown. This created a concerted effort for communities to promote localites for sainthood. Franco Mormando, a scholar at the The Jesuit Institute of Boston College, described this interplay in his coverage of St. Francis Xavier’s canonization process. He described that there was an enormous cost in both time and money and requiring the patronage of “powerful people in high places”(3)Franco Mormando. Francis Xavier and the Jesuit Missions in the Far East. An Anniversary Exhibition of Early Printed Works. Franco Mormando and Jill G. Thomas ed. Massachusetts: The Jesuit Institute of Boston College. 2006 in order for this to succeed. St. Francis lived in the 1500s and his missionary exploits opened up the European imagination to new and exotic worlds. He also was a positive representation of catholic veracity in a time when the church was losing so many followers to Protestantism.

Xavier’s legendary status unravelled after the sainthood process. Part of his sainthood nomination was the allegation that he spoke in tongues. It was found documented in his own letters that he had difficulty learning other languages, but this was ignored. His canonization demonstrated serious flaws which many Protestants noted and documented later on. It took well over a hundred years before the Catholic Church revised their canonization process in light of this error.

For more information about the myths surrounding the St. Francis canonization see The Legend of Francis Xavier Speaking in Tongues.

The sepulchres of the saints were famous because it was believed the bones of saints could bring healing by simply touching or being near their tomb. For example, the alleged skull remains of Chrysostom was brought out for a brief public viewing in 2007 at the Monastery of Mt. Athos. It was claimed to be healing people who appeared by it.(4)http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/01/contemporary-miracles-of-st-john.html

The Protestant movement refuted the idea of saint veneration and their supposed miracles.

Indeed, the most popular book of the Medieval age, Legendae Aurea (The Golden Legend), is a compilation of stories relating to the saints full of hyperbolic miraculous accounts. Not even the original collator believed them all to be true, but this reflects the world that they lived in.(5)Read the Golden Legend itself or follow Lawrence S. Cunningham’s brief synopsis in: A Brief History of the Saints. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. 2005. Pg. 32

The overemphasis on miracles, the supernatural, myth, and magic during this period was widespread. The noted Anglican historian, William Lecky (late 1800s) pointed this out in his well-written work, History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe:

There was scarcely a village or a church that had not, at some time, been the scene of supernatural interposition. The powers of light and the powers of darkness were regarded as visibly struggling for the mastery. Saintly miracles, supernatural cures, startling judgments, visions, prophecies, and prodigies of every order, attested the activity of the one, while witchcraft and magic, with all their attendant horrors, were the visible manifestations of the other.(6)William Lecky. History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe. Vol. 1. New York: D. Appleton and Company. 1919. Pg. 27–28

Lecky didn’t differentiate between catholic or protestant communities with this problem and goes into great detail documenting such habits.

Professor Jane Shaw, a history buff and an Oxford now Stanford University professor, adds similar sentiments to that of Lecky:

Holy places and objects, and the rituals associated with those material manifestations of the divine, were vital to late medieval piety. Medieval England was a sacred landscape filled with pilgrimage sites and shrines: the tombs of famous saints such as Thomas Becket at Canterbury; the shrines of local saints such as Frideswide in Oxford; and sites of other relics, such as that of the ‘true bloo’ at the Cistercian Abbey in Hailes, Gloucestershire. The shrines at all these and many other places such as Westminster, Canterbury and St Albans were places of pilgrimage to which the sick went to be healed, hoping for a miracle.

. . . The belief system that undergirded this set of religious practices was challenged and many of its material manifestations destroyed at the Protestant Reformation. For many of the sixteenth-century reformers and their Protestant heirs, miracles had ceased with biblical times. Miracles were to be viewed with suspicion precisely because they were associated with intermediary figures and objects — saints, relics and holy places — and all the ritualistic trappings of Roman Catholicism. Most Protestants came to think it wrong to claim that a human institution had the power to work miracles: saints and relics were unnecessary, interrupting the newly privileged relationship between God and the individual, and therefore challenging God’s omnipotence. To rely on anything but this relationship with God was, for the strictest of Protestants, blasphemous. Even petitionary prayer was seen as suspicious by some; a person should not tempt providence for the impossible. Only scripture was to be the bedrock of faith. Signs and wonders were to be discarded for the promises made by God in his Word.(7)Jane Shaw. Miracles in Enlightenment England. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 2006. Pg. 21

The powers of light versus darkness was a dominant ideology during the medieval age. This period cannot be understood without inclusion of this thought process. The rational and scientific markers that historians look for in tracing the development of Western thought were but in their infancy at this stage.

There is one more influence that should be noted and that is the improvement of literacy and increased availability of literature. This countered an environment that allowed imagination and credulousness to thrive.

The introduction of the printing press in 1440 brought about a drastic change in Europe. Margaret Aston, in her book, Lollards and Reformers: Images and Literacy in Late Medieval Religion described how the press challenged the traditional role of the church:

Ecclesiastical attitudes towards the role of books and the written word in the church’s main task of making and teaching believers, had been fixed long before and were slow to change. They were geared to a world in which literacy was a preserve of the minority, and the minority were churchmen. The church had developed in a society whose culture was predominantly oral, and in which it had to be assumed that the mass of believers were, and would remain, remote from the world of letters and learning.(8)Margaret Aston. Lollards and Reformers: Images and Literacy in Late Medieval Religion. London: The Hambledon Press. 1984. Pg. 105

Ms. Aston demonstrates that medieval society was an oral culture that was highly illiterate. Studies suggest that literacy was less than 20% in the 1400s.(9)Literacy by Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina Functional literacy may even be less, but began to increase after this period.

Magic, miracle, and wonder were a part of the medieval psyche. As will be shown, the great abuse of such offices caused a counter-reaction by the early Protestants. Their response was the de-emphasism of miracles, and later an outright denial of any miracles by some.

In order for the English Protestant Movement to justify such a de-emphasis, it had to relook at christian history and reframe the history of miracles in the church. The following is a brief look at their review.

The De-Emphatics

The de-emphatics and cessationists from the sixteenth-century onwards asserted their doctrine by the so-called silence of miracles in post New-Testament early church literature. Some demonstrated the silence permanently occurred after 313 AD when the church had established itself as an accepted religion within the Roman empire. Others argued that it occurred after the Scripture canon had been closed and there was no longer any need for miracles to establish the authority of the Bible. There were others who believed miracles declined after the Apostles died in the first-century. All of these arguments revolve around early church literature having a decreased emphasis on miracles.

However, this logic has two difficulties. First of all, the cessationists failed to acknowledge that there was a shift in approach to the christian life in the first four-centuries. This was greatly due to the cultural shift of Christianity from Jerusalem to Rome. The fourth-century writers were greatly interested in developing doctrines around a Greek philosophical framework than in emphasizing the miraculous. The stress was on acquiring knowledge in such a way that changed a person’s worldview and applying these life-lessons in everyday life. In fact, if one does not comprehend the Greek philosophical underpinnings in this period, then understanding of the earlier church writers is compromised.

St. Paul noted this when he stated the Jews look for signs and the Greeks for wisdom.(10)I Cor. 1:22 Miracles still appeared, but were considered a tertiary phenomenon in the christian life.

Secondly, the later cessationists omit a wide swath of alleged miracles that abound in ecclesiastical literature. These miracles are all rejected, carte blanche, because they are Catholic in origin. They are rarely mentioned, not even negatively, or even referred to as a myth or legend. This total disregard in protestant histories, commentaries, and references makes it appear that the church was silent on miracles during this period when it was not. This has misled many later Bible students on the topic.

John Chrysostom and Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, were considered the patrons of cessationism according to the later protestant-based historians. More recent analysis have found Cyril of Alexandria* as part of this historical connection.


In almost every piece of tongues literature referencing the church fathers, the following quote from Chrysostom is sure to be cited:

This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity has produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?(11)Homily 29 on First Corinthians. Translated by Talbot W. Chambers. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 12. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/220129.htm.

This is a leading statement by those of the cessationist movement who believe the supernatural era was completed at the founding of the church. This belief concludes that the miracle of tongues did not perpetuate itself after this. Therefore, it is not necessary to trace the definition, or evolution of the doctrine of tongues because anything defined after the first-century is based on a false supposition.

Did Chrysostom really believe miracles had ceased? A further look is yes if one does not look at all the information and no if the information is examined more closely.

If one reads his works, he demonstrated an openness to miracles happening through an anointed person. Perhaps he is following in the same line of thinking as Origen that the decline in miracles was due to the lack of altruistic, pious, and holy individuals in his generation.(12)see Origen on the Gift of Tongues for more info. He never named anyone in his lifetime ever achieving this status. This was likely why Chrysostom venerated deceased saints who had achieved a high spiritual status in their lives that very few could ever achieve. He believed that they had miraculous powers even after they died and those attending by their graves could muster restorative power.

See Chrysostom on the Doctrine of Tongues for more info.

Chrysostom demonstrated a cautionary approach to miracles. His response reflected a man who lived a very ascetic and restrictive lifestyle. He believed the goal of every Christian’s life was not the outward activity such as healings or miracles, but the purity and selflessness of the inner soul. He minimized individualism and espoused corporate good.

The examination of the Corinthian text on tongues that he declared obscure was restricted to the Corinthian context. He took a different approach about Pentecost in his homilies On the Holy Pentecost. He bluntly dived right in, stating that believers do not need signs. External things are insignificant. He knew his audience would not completely buy into this and added about the nature and continuation of Pentecost: “But I see that to be a teaching extending out for a long time. On which account I am going to bring an end to the word while adding a few thoughts.”(13)My translation. Homily on the Holy Pentecost 1:4(b) to 5 He never completely finished the topic. It would have been helpful for posterity that he did. So he left us with a lot of question marks as to what he meant.


Augustine 354 — 430 AD.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354 – 430 AD), stated in De Vera Religione that miracles had ceased once the church was established. Thirty-seven years later, he realized his original work was being taken out of context and revised this comment, stating that while he first wrote De Vera Religione there were incredible miracles of the christian faith happening within his world. However, he believed the penchant for miracles was a distraction from the building of true christian character. He felt that if miracles were continually practiced and emphasized as a primary vehicle for propagating the christian faith people would become bored with this form of entertainment and disregard the greater message behind it. Jan Den Boeft, an emeritus professor of Latin, Free University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University, found that Augustine believed that Pentecostal tongues along with some other miracles would no longer be repeated.(14)Jan Den Boeft. The Apostolic Age in Patristic Thought. Leiden: Brill. 2004. Pg. 58

Augustine also thought along the same lines as Chrysostom that those individuals who strongly promoted miracles were in a place where great pride could sweep in.

For more information see Augustine on the tongues of Pentecost Intro.

Cyril of Alexandria*

cyril of alexandria

Cyril of Alexandria* in the fifth-century believed tongues had ceased. In the Alexandrian-based Commentary on Zephaniah it is stated that those endowed with the miraculous ability to speak in foreign languages a the first Pentecost had it for the rest of their lives but the miracle did not persist after these persons died.(15)See Cyril of Alexandrian on Tongues Part 1 My translation taken from Migne Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 71. Col. 1005ff

The asterisk here indicates an authorship problem about the fifth-century Alexandrian passages relating to speaking in tongues. The texts available today are attributed to Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria (376–444 AD) but some are mixed together with texts from the famous theologian and teacher, Didymus of Alexandria (313–398 AD). We can’t really properly ascribe proper attribution because of this. So an asterisk will suffice. Not all Alexandrians took this stance as the earlier church leader, Pachomius (292–348 AD), was described as one was granted the ability to speak in tongues.(16)Pachomius on Speaking in Tongues

Why Cyril of Alexandria* was excluded from the cessationism debate is perplexing. Perhaps the reason was his Alexandrian Greek heritage. His works never made it into the Latin-based Roman Catholic world—an institution the Protestants greatly relied upon for information. Or that Protestants had excepted Chrysostom and Augustine from their anti-Catholic bias. Cyril of Alexandria failed to make the cut.

Thomas Aquinas

No study on the subject of the church and miracles can avoid this thirteenth-century dominican friar, catholic priest, philosopher, theologian and mystic. Aquinas took Augustine’s idea that the miracle of tongues had shifted from the individual to the corporate church. He further concluded that this office was no longer needed because the institutional church now had the availability of interpreters and native speakers of almost every language in the world—a miracle was no longer necessary.(17) Summa Theologica. IIa IIae q. 176 a. 1 The “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas. Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Second and Revised Edition. 1920.

Aquinas’ commentary on the Book of Matthew 10:18 is sure to be cited about the cessation of miracles:

But if you ask why that power is not given to preachers now, Augustine answers that already visible is the greatest miracle, namely, that the entire world has been converted. Therefore, either there were miracles performed, and then I have proved my point; or if there were not, that is the greatest, because the entire world has been converted by fishermen, the lowliest of men.(18)http://dhspriory.org/thomas/SSMatthew.htm#10

This quote is indeed very puzzling because Aquinas very much believed in the miraculous and the supernatural. Any cursive reading of his works will easily demonstrate this. His description of miracles in another writing called Contra Gentiles demonstrated serious attention to the issue in the present tense and not as an historical antecedent.(19) http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles3b.htm#101 An in-depth reading of his lectures in I Corinthians also supports the infusion of christian mystical living. He portrays the supernatural gift of prophecy still in use.(20)http://charlesasullivan.com/2309/aquinas-on-tongues-i-cor-141-4/ It is difficult to understand Aquinas without the sense of the Divine interaction in both corporate and personal affairs.

Jon Ruthven, a professor at Regent University, took a deep look at the question of Thomas Aquinas and miracles. He concluded:

According to Aquinas, the central function of miracles was to serve as a signum sensibile, a testimonium to guarantee the divine source and truth of Christian doctrines, particularly the deity of Christ. To explain the lack of visible miracles in his day, Aquinas asserted that Christ and his disciples had worked miracles sufficient to prove the faith once and for all; this having been done, no further miraculous proof of doctrines could be required. In a number of other places, however, he vitiates this position by maintaining that miracles can recur if they aid in confirmation of preaching and bringing mankind to salvation. But even beyond this, Aquinas suggested that believers of great sanctity may exhibit miraculous gifts of the Spirit, a doctrine that strengthened the veneration of shrines and canonization of saints via miracles. A widespread belief in these last two exceptions, which essentially contradicted cessationism, resulted in the excesses surrounding miracles which precipitated the Reformation.(21)Jon Ruthven. On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Post-Biblical Miracles. 2008. Pg. 20–21

The Matthew 10:18 commentary quote about cessation just seems too out of step for Aquinas compared to the majority of his writings. He was always attempting to fuse the supernatural within a Greek philosophical framework.

Chrysostom, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria*, and Aquinas’ supposed similar stances on the gifts and especially speaking in tongues never took hold nor became a universal thought in the christian faith. Speaking in tongues, the gift of healing, prophecy, visions, exorcisms and more were encouraged and hoped for throughout the medieval age.

Continuance of perceived miracles is outside the purpose of this series, though it is clearly found in the majority of christian literature throughout the centuries. In respect to speaking in tongues, this perception can be found exercised sporadically through the ages. See A Catholic History of Tongues: 30 to 1748 AD for more information.

References   [ + ]

A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe

The book A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe (2 vols., 1865) is a seminal piece of literature. This well written work helps to provide valuable insights for the modern reader with the backstory on the conversion of Europe from a mystical to a rational society.

This book was written by William Lecky, an Irish-Anglican historian and politician (1838–1903). He greatly succeeded in studying and narrating the complex and evolving web of rationalism, morals, miracles, the supernatural, Catholicism, and Protestantism into a systematic and comprehensive portrait.

His work assists this blog in three different ways. Firstly, it demonstrates why the patristic writings were blotted out of the modern history on the doctrine of tongues. Lecky provided the logic behind this notable absence. (The following article on this blog The Historical Rejection of Patristics and its Legacy covers this in detail.)

Secondly, the book provides some history behind the doctrine of cessation in the protestant movement. He gives some hints as to why this doctrine arose.

Thirdly, he contributes to another interest of this blog and that is with the intersection of faith and mental health. He outlined a period that was consistently engaged in moral and spiritual purity – one which was percieved to bring them safety, health, stability, and protection from the elements. It was the antidote for humanity’s ills. Science was considered tertiary in this struggle for security. The greatest enemy to these four aims was the devil and his army of angels. Society felt that the active pursuit and limitation of the powers of evil would ensure their personal physical, emotional, and spiritual security. This fight against the devil allowed the excess imagination of many to run wild and caused countless executions. This supernatural crusade was especially against women. Many of whom were accused of being witches. Most of these women today would likely be listed with some form of mental illness, but back in this period, there was little concept of such a thing. It is a sad chapter in Western history.

However, this was not always the exclusive approach by the Church. Jean Claude Larchet demonstrates in his book Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing that at least from the Eastern Christian Church perspective, the treatment of mental health by the institutional church has had some progressive and merciful aspects too.

The reader must keep in mind that the irrational social response to the fear of the unknown cannot be restricted or blamed on the christian faith. It is a problem of the human psyche. Today we wrestle with the same problems of fear. Our world has significantly changed after the events of 9/11. The ever apparent fear of terrorists at the door have weakened citizen rights and has created serious suspicion upon any Muslim or anybody who looks Arab. The United States decision to ban citizens from seven Muslim dominated countries from entering their land underscores this irrationalism. This is but one of many examples. North American society is now driven by an irrational culture of fear in almost all of its decision making.

Many readers will not have the time to soak in Lecky’s voluminous treaty. The following are snippets from his work. The book itself is available at the Online Library of Liberty.

Quotes from A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe

Pg. 27 “There is certainly no change in the history of the last 300 years more striking, or suggestive of more curious enquiries, than that which has taken place in the estimate of the miraculous. At present, nearly all educated men receive an account of a miracle taking place in their own day, with an absolute and even derisive incredulity which dispenses with all examination of the evidence. Although they may be entirely unable to give a satisfactory explanation of some phenomena that have taken place, they never on that account dream of ascribing them to supernatural agency, such an hypothesis being, as they believe, altogether beyond the range of reasonable discussion. Yet, a few centuries ago, there was no solution to which the mind of man turned more readily in every perplexity. A miraculous account was then universally accepted as perfectly credible, probable, and ordinary. There was scarcely a village or a church that had not, at some time, been the scene of supernatural interposition. [Pg. 28] The powers of light and the powers of darkness were regarded as visibly struggling for the mastery. Saintly miracles, supernatural cures, startling judgments, visions, prophecies, and prodigies of every order, attested the activity of the one, while witchcraft and magic, with all their attendant horrors, were the visible manifestations of the other.”

Pg. 32 is in reference to cleansing the nation of perceived evil, and of demons, witchcraft and sorcery, the author goes into great detail showing the innumerable deaths that were caused by this superstitious conflagration.

Pg. 32 “Such was the attitude of the Church of Rome with reference to this subject, but on this ground the Reformers had no conflict with their opponents. The credulity which Luther manifested on all matters connected with diabolical intervention, was amazing, even for his age; and, when speaking of witchcraft, his language was emphatic and unhesitating. ‘I would have no compassion on these witches,’ he exclaimed, ‘I would burn them all!’ In England the establishment of the Reformation was the signal for an immediate outburst of the superstition; and there, as elsewhere its decline was represented by the clergy as the direct consequence and the exact measure of the progress of religious scepticism. In Scotland, where the Reformed ministers exercised greater influence than in any other country, and where the witch trials fell almost entirely into their hands, the persecution was proportionately atrocious.”

Pg. 36 “Indeed, the philosophy of madness is mainly due to Pinel, who wrote long after the superstition had vanished; and even if witchcraft had been treated as a disease, this would not have destroyed the belief that it was Satanic, in an age when all the more startling diseases were deemed supernatural, and when theologians maintained that Satan frequently acted by the employment of natural laws.”

Pg. 37 “It may be stated, I believe, as an invariable truth, that, whenever a religion which rests in a great measure on a system of terrorism, and which paints in dark and forcible colours the misery of men and the power of evil spirits, is intensely realised, it will engender the belief in witchcraft of [pg. 38] magic. The panic which its teachings will create, will overbalance the faculties of multitudes. The awful images of evil spirits of superhuman power, and of untiring malignity, will continually haunt the imagination. They will blend with the illusions of age or sorrow or sickness, and will appear with an especial vividness in the more alarming and unexplained phenomena of nature.”

Pg. 63 “Amid all this strange teaching, there ran, however, one rein of a darker character. The more terrible phenomena of nature were entirely unmoved by exorcisms and sprinklings, and they were invariably attributed to supernatural interposition. In every nation it has been believed, at an early period, that pestilences, famines, comets, rainbows, eclipses, and other rare and startling phenomena, were effected, not by the ordinary sequence of natural laws, but by the direct intervention of spirits. In this manner, the predisposition towards the [Pg. 64] miraculous, which is the characteristic of all semi-civilised nations, has been perpetuated, and the clergy have also frequently identified these phenomena with acts of rebellion against themselves. The old Catholic priests were consuin mate masters of these arts, and every rare natural event was, in the middle ages, an occasion for the most intense terrorism. Thus, in the eighth century, a fearful famine afflicted France, and was generally represented as a consequence of the repugnance which the French people manifested to the payment of tithes. In the ninth century, a total eclipse of the sun struck terror through Europe, and is said to have been one of the causes of the death of a French king.”

Pg. 69 “We find then that, all through the middle ages, most of the crimes that were afterwards collected by the inquisitors in the treatises on witchcraft were known; and that many of them were not unfrequently punished. At the same time the executions, during six centuries, were probably not as numerous as those which often took place during a single decade of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In the twelfth century, however, the subject passed into an entirely new phase. The conception of a witch, as we now conceive it—that is to say, of a woman who had entered into a deliberate compact with Satan, who was endowed with the power of working miracles whenever she pleased, and who was continually transported through the air to the Sabbath, where she paid her homage to the Evil One—first appeared. The [Pg. 70] panic created by the belief advanced at first slowly, but after a time with a fearfully accelerated rapidity. Thousands of victims were sometimes burnt alive in a few years. Every country in Europe was stricken with the wildest panic. Hundreds of the ablest judges were selected for the extirpation of the crime. A vast literature was created on the subject, and it was not until a considerable portion of the eighteenth century had passed away, that the executions finally ceased.”

Pg. 81 “When the belief is confined to the lower class, its existence will be languishing and unprogressive. But when legislators denounce it in [Pg. 82] their laws, and popes in their bulls; when priests inveigh against it in their pulpits, and inquisitors burn thousands at the stake, the imaginations of men will be inflamed, the terror will prove contagious, and the consequent delusions be multiplied.”

Pg. 84 -85 “I know, indeed, few stranger, and at the same time more terrible pictures, than are furnished by the history of witchcraft during the century that preceded and the century that followed the Reformation. Wherever the conflict of opinions was raging among the educated, witchcraft, like an attendant shadow, pursued its course among the ignorant; and Protestants and Catholics vied with each other in the zeal with which they prosecuted it. Never was the power of imagination—that strange faculty which casts the shadow of its images over the whole creation, and combines all the phenomena of life according to its own archetypes—more strikingly evinced. Superstitious and terror-stricken, the minds of men were impelled irresistibly towards the miraculous and the Satanic, and they found them upon every side. The elements of imposture blended so curiously with the elements of delusion, that it is now impossible to separate them. Sometimes an ambitious woman, braving the dangers of her [Pg. 85] act, boldly claimed supernatural power, and the haughtiest and the most courageous cowered humbly at her presence. Sometimes a husband attempted, in the witch courts, to cut the tie which his church had pronounced indissoluble; and numbers of wives have, in consequence, perished at the stake. Sometimes a dexterous criminal availed himself of the panic; and, directing a charge of witchcraft against his accuser, escaped himself with impunity. Sometimes, too, a personal grudge was avenged by the accusation, or a real crime was attributed to sorcery; or a hail-storm, or a strange disease, suggested the presence of a witch. But, for the most part, the trials represent pure and unmingled delusions. The defenders of the belief were able to maintain that multitudes had voluntarily confessed themselves guilty of commerce with the Evil One, and had persisted in their confessions till death. Madness is always peculiarly frequent during great religious or political revolutions; and, in the sixteenth century, all its forms were absorbed in the system of witchcraft, and caught the colour of the prevailing predisposition.”

Pg. 86-87 “It is very difficult for us in the present day to do justice to these works, or to realise the points of view from which they were written. A profound scepticism on all subjects [Pg. 87] connected with the Devil underlies the opinions of almost every educated man, and renders it difficult even to conceive a condition of thought in which that spirit was the object of an intense and realised belief. An anecdote which involves the personal intervention of Satan is now regarded as quite as intrinsically absurd, and unworthy of serious attention, as an anecdote of a fairy or of a sylph. When, therefore, a modern reader turns over the pages of an old treatise on witchcraft, and finds hundreds of such aneedotes related with the gravest assurance, he is often inclined to depreciate very unduly the intellect of an author who represents a condition of thought so unlike his own. The cold indifference to human suffering which these writers display gives an additional bias to his reason; while their extraordinary pedantry, their execrable Latin, and their gross scientific blunders, furnish ample materials for his ridicule. Besides this, Sprenger, who is at once the most celebrated, and, perhaps, the most credulous member of his class, unfortunately for his reputation, made some ambitious excursions into another field, and immortalised himself by a series of etymological blunders, which have been the delight of all succeeding scholars.”

Pg. 102-103 “The foregoing pages will, I trust, be sufficient to elucidate the leading causes upon which witchcraft depended. They will show that it resulted, not from accidental circum stances, individual eccentricities, or even scientific ignorance but from a general predisposition to see Satanic agency in life. It grew from, and it reflected, the prevailing modes of religious thought; and it declined only when those modes were weakened or destroyed. In almost every period of the [Pg. 103] middle ages, there had been a few men who in some degree dissented from the common superstitions; but their opinions were deemed entirely incomprehensible, and they exercised no appreciable influence upon their contemporaries.”

Pg. 114-115 “From the publication of the essays of Montaigne, we may date the influence of that girted and ever enlarging rationalistic school, who gradually effected the destruction of the belief in witchcraft, not by refuting [Pg. 115] or explaining its evidence, but simply by making men more and more sensible of its intrinsic absurdity.”

Pg. 119 “The history of witchcraft in Protestant countries differs so little from its history in Catholic ones, that it is not necessary to dwell upon it at much length. In both cases, a tendency towards the miraculous was the cause of the belief; and the degree of religious terrorism regulated the intensity of the persecution.”

Pg. 157 “Nothing could be more common than for a holy man to be lifted up from the floor in the midst of his devotions, or to be visited by the Virgin or by an angel. There was scarcely a town that could not show some relic that had cured the sick, or some image that had opened and shut its eyes, or bowed it head to an earnest worshipper.”

Pg. 159 “All this has now passed away. It has passed away, not only in lands where Protestantism is triumphant, but also in those where the Roman Catholic faith is still acknowledged, and where the mediæval saints are still venerated.”

Pg. 161 “If these propositions be true—and I scarcely think that any candid person who seriously examines the subject can [Pg. 162] question them—they lead irresistibly to a very important general conclusion. They show that the repugnance of men to believe miraculous narratives is in direct proportion to the progress of civilisation and the diffusion of knowledge.”

Pg. 163 “We find, accordingly, that from the very beginning, Protestantism looked upon [Pg. 164] modern miracles (except those which were comprised under the head of witchcraft) with an aversion and distrust that contrasts remarkably with the unhesitating credulity of its opponents. The history of its sects exhibits, indeed, some alleged miracles, which were, apparently, the result of ignorance or enthusiasm, and a very few which were obvious impositions.”

Pg. 169 “Middleton met it by an attack upon the veracity of the Fathers, which was so eloquent, so uncompromising, and so admirably directed, that all England soon rang with the controversy. He contended that the religious leaders of the fourth century had admitted, eulogised, and habitually acted upon principles that were diametrically opposed, not simply to the aspirations of a transcendent sanctity, but to the dictates of the most common honesty.”

Pg. 171 “If the Fathers were in truth men of the most unbounded credulity and of the laxest veracity; if the sense of the importance of dogmas had, in their minds, completely superseded the sense of rectitude, it was absurd to invest them with this extraordinary veneration. They might still be reverenced as men of undoubted sincerity, and of the noblest heroism; they might still be cited as witnesses to the belief of their time, and as representing the tendencies of its intellect; but their pre-eminent authority had passed away. The landmarks of English theology were removed. The traditions on which it rested were disturbed. It had entered into new conditions, and must be defended by new arguments.”

Pg. 186 “Whatever is lost by Catholicism is gained by Rationalism; wherever the spirit of Rationalism recedes, the spirit of Catholicism advances. Towards the close of the last century France threw off her allegiance to Christianity, endeavoured to efface all the traditions of her past, and proclaimed a new era in the religious history of mankind. She soon repented of her temerity, and retired from a position which she had found untenable. Half the nation became ultramontane Roman Catholics; the other half became indifferent or Rationalist.”

Pg. 194-195 “. . .and the spirit of Rationalism has become the great centre to which the intellect of [Pg. 195] Europe is manifestly tending. If we trace the progress of the movement from its origin to the present day, we find that it has completely altered the whole aspect and complexion of religion. When it began, Christianity was regarded as a system entirely beyond the range and scope of human reason: it was impious to question; it was impious to examine; it was impious to discriminate. On the other hand, it was visibly instinct with the supernatural. Miracles of every order and degree of magnitude were flashing forth incessantly from all its parts. They excited no scepticism and no surprise. The miraculous element pervaded all literature, explained all difficulties, consecrated all doctrines. Every unusual phenomenon was immediately referred to a supernatural agency, not because there was a passion for the improbable, but because such an explanation seemed far more simple and easy of belief than the obscure theories of science. In the present day Christianity is regarded as a system which courts the strictest investigation, and which, among many other functions, was designed to vivify and stimulate all the energies of man. The idea of the miraculous, which a superficial observer might have once deemed its most prominent characteristic, has been driven from almost all its entrenchments, and now quivers faintly and feebly through the mists of eighteen hundred years.”

Technical Notes on Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

The following are quotes from the principal sources on the real Francis Xavier and the legend of his speaking in tongues. This is a quotes only document — a comparative analysis of all this information is in the final stages and will be posted as a separate article.

The debate and controversy that surrounded St. Francis Xavier’s alleged speaking in tongues was a source of internal friction within Catholicism, especially the among the Jesuits themselves, and a rallying point for Protestants. The real Francis Xavier did not speak in tongues, but the legend of Francis did.

How this legend began and grew is an interesting and complex story.

This leads into a journey about how Medieval Catholics viewed speaking in tongues; what it meant to them, how it was applied, and the politics that surrounded this practice.

The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues ranks within the top five themes throughout the two-thousand-year history of the christian doctrine of tongues. There is no doubt that this legend is the most complex one out of any documents in the Gift of Tongues Project. There are numerous reasons why the mystery of Francis Xavier is difficult. The original documentation is multilingual; spanning Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Latin, and French. The subject is wrapped in Medieval Catholicism, which has its own unique history, customs, personalities and procedures that outsiders such as myself have a difficult time to grasp. Xavier’s gift of tongues is deeply embedded with international and national politics. The topic is shrouded in religious symbols and shifts into the Protestant realm where Rationalists especially took critical aim. It spans across continents and new worlds that most Europeans hardly knew at the time. The maps, names and locations mentioned in the texts are far from the modern English mind.

This article is produced to meet a requirement of the Gift of Tongues Project which is the digital capturing of source texts. The following are actual quotes from testimonies, writers, and publications that highly influenced and perpetuated this myth. These are actual quotes with little or no commentary from myself relating to Xavier speaking in tongues. They are organized according to date; from the earliest publications shortly after Xavier’s death, all the way into the twentieth-century. The Italian, Spanish and Portuguese originals are not digitally captured because I have no knowledge of these languages or the ability to do data-entry in them. However, links to the original text along with an English translation is supplied where appropriate.

This file is designed for the researcher, not for the casual reader. This is the longest article found in the Gift of Tongues Project because of the amount of source material. It may take a few moments to load the full contents into the browser, please be patient.


  • Pedro de Ribadeneira
  • Giovanni Pietro Maffei
  • Horatius Tursellinus
  • João de Lucena
  • The Book Monumenta Xaveriana:
    • Emanuel Fernandez
    • Thomas Vaz
    • Antonio Peirera
    • Pope Urban VIII
  • Daniello Bartoli
  • Dominique Bouhours
  • Pope Benedict XIV
  • John Douglas
  • Hugh Farmer
  • Charles Butler
  • Henry James Coleridge
  • Andrew Dickson White
  • A Jesuit response to Andrew Dickson White
  • Edith Anne Steward
  • James Brodrick
  • Georg Schurhammer
    • Volume II
    • Volume IV

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