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The Legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

The connection between the sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary, Francis Xavier, and speaking in tongues.

St. Francis Xavier depicted at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. A monument celebrating the Portuguese age of exploration.
St. Francis Xavier depicted at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. A monument celebrating the Portuguese age of exploration.

The story of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues is a complex one that straddles between the real and mythical person. Though a celebrated pioneer, great organizer, highly adaptive educator, and a prolific networker, his legend is even better. This is a study of Francis Xavier, how he became connected with and the controversy surrounding his speaking in tongues. In the end, the reader will understand how the christian doctrine of tongues was understood and practiced in this era.

The controversies that surround Xavier speaking in tongues put him into the top five narratives of the christian doctrine of tongues throughout the centuries.

Research was a lengthly process. This is a summary of the findings. For the actual source texts, extended quotes, and translations, see Technical Notes on Francis Xavier Speaking in Tongues

Who was Francis Xavier?

Francis Xavier lived from 1506 to 1552 and originally hailed from Sanguesa, in a country state called Navarre. The kingdom of Navarre is long gone, but the city of Sangüesa continues to exist in the northernmost reaches of Spain. This city borders on France and is a short distance from Portugal. Xavier studied in Paris, and after finishing his education, made his way to Venice where he passionately worked among the sick. King John the III of Portugal had solicited Ignatius of Loyola and his newly formed Society of Jesus to evangelize the West Indies, especially the regions controlled by Portugal. Ignatius had already selected a number of individuals which excluded Xavier, but due to sickness of one of the original members, he was called in as a replacement. Thus began the story of one of the greatest foreign missionaries of all time.

Continue reading The Legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

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

Continue reading Technical Notes on Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

St. Matthew Speaking in Tongues

A Medieval account on the apostle Matthew speaking in tongues.

The following is a modified version of William Caxton’s 1483 English translation of the Latin work, Legendae Aurea, commonly known in English as the Golden Legend. A highly popular book during the Medieval era.

The text as it is found in the Golden Legend

Matthew appeared with two names: Matthew and Levy. Matthew is meant a hasty gift, or a giver of counsel, or Matthew is said of the Latin ‘magnus,’ and Greek ‘theos,’ that is God, as it were a great God. Or of the Latin ‘manus,’ that is a hand, and the Greek ‘theos,’ that is God, as it were the hand of God. He was a gift of hastiness by hasty conversion, a giver of counsel by wholesome preaching, great to God by perfection of life, and the hand of God by writing of the gospel of God. Levy is interpreted obtained, or applied, or added, or appointed. He was obtained and taken away from gathering of taxes, he was applied to the number of the apostles, he was added to the company of the evangelists, and appointed to the catalogue of martyrs.

Matthew the apostle preaching in a city that is called Nadaber in Ethiopia, found there two enchanters named Zaroes and Arphaxat, who enchanted the men by their art, so that they desired everything that should seem deprived in soundness of mind and use of limbs. Which were so elevated in pride that they were adored by men as if God himself. Then Matthew the apostle entered into that city and was lodged with the eunuch of Candace the queen, whom Philip baptized. Then he laid bare the illusions of the enchanters, that whatever they did to men for destruction, that Matthew turned into health. Then this eunuch demanded of S. Matthew how he spoke and understood so many languages. And then St. Matthew told him when the Holy Ghost descended He had given knowledge of all the languages. As to those who had wanted to build a tower up into heaven, because the confusion of languages, they ceased from building, rather the Apostles built a tower not of stones but of upright qualities through the knowledge of all the languages, by the which all that believe shall mount up into heaven.(1)Modification and modernization of Caxton’s text done by me. The original English text can be found at: http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/goldenlegend/GoldenLegend-Volume5.asp#Matthew Volume 5: 71. English by William Caxton, 1483

Here is the original Latin text.

As taken from Jacobi A. Voragine. Legendae Aurea: Vulgo Historia Lombardica Dicta. Dr. Th. Graesse ed. Lipsiae. 1850. Pg. 622ff.

Matthaeus binomius exstitit, scilicet Matthaeus et Levi. Matthaeus autem interpretatur donum festinationis vel donator consilii. Vel dicitur Matthaeus a magnus et theos, quod et Deus, quasi magnus Deo, vel a manus et theos, quasi manus Dei. Fuit enim donum festinationis per festinam conversionem, donator consilii per salubrem praedicationem, magnus Deo per vitae perfectionem, manus Dei per evangelii conscriptionem. Levi interpretatur assumtus vel applicatus sive additus aut appositus. Fuit enim assumtus ab exactione vectigalium, applicatus numero apostolorum, additus consortio evanglistarum et appositus catalogo martirum.

Matthaeus apostolus in Aethiopia praedicans in civitate, quae dicitur Nadaber, duos magos nomine Zaroen et Arphaxat reperit, [623] qui ita homines suis artibus dementabant, ut, quoscunque vellent, membrorum officio et sanitate privare viderentur. Qui in tantam superbiam eruperunt, ut se quasi Deos ab hominibus facerent adorari. Matthaeus autem apostolus praedictam civitatem ingressus et apud eunuchum Canadacis reginae, quem Philippus baptizaverat, hospitatus ita magorum praestigia detegebat, quod quidquid ipsi faciebant hominibus in perniciem, hoc ipse converteret in salutem. Eunocho autem sanctum Matthaeum interrogante, quomodo tot linguas loqueretur et intelligeret, exposuit ei Matthaeus, quod spiritu sancto descendente omnium linguarum scientiam reperisset, ut, sicut illi, qui per superbiam turrim usque in coelum aedificare volebant, prae confusione linguarum ab aedificatione cessaverunt, sic apostoli per omnium linguarum scientiam turrim non de lapidibus, sed de virtutibus construant, per quam omnes, qui crediderint, in coelum adscendant.

The above narrative describing Matthew speaking in tongues is a later addition to the tongues doctrine. The narrative is from the Legendae Aurea which can draw from some very old oral traditions, and others more recent to its time. Although this does not reflect the actual life of Matthew, it gives a valuable insight on how the late Medieval Church understood speaking in tongues. In this case, it was the supernatural ability to speak in foreign languages.

For more information on Medieval Catholic literature on speaking in tongues, see the following introductory article, Late Medieval Speaking in Tongues.

References   [ + ]

Pope Benedict XIV on Tongues: Technical Notes

Technical notes on the translation of Pope Benedict XIV’s treatise, De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione as it relates to the gift of tongues.

Translating Pope Benedict the XIV’s gift of tongues coverage was a difficult challenge. First of all, it is because it is a late Medieval Catholic work. I am not familiar with the rites, traditions, or intellectual thoughts of this community. It was an eye-opener as the translation process proceeded to show how the Catholic writers of this era were intellectually and theologically engaged. Benedict the XIV demonstrates a rich wealth of Catholic thinkers, writers and leaders dwelling on the gift of tongues. So much so, this treatise should have always been a primary source by any academic investigating the subject.

This silence of Medieval Catholic thought has erroneously led me to believe that this genre had nothing valuable to offer in the theological realm relating to the Christian doctrine of tongues. My attempted translation of Pope Benedict the XIV exposed such a trespass in my thought.

The Protestants during this era make absolutely no mention of these great Catholic thinkers, nor do these Catholic thinkers make any reference to any Protestant thinkers in their works. The lack of cross-citation by both parties shows how deep the resentment towards each other was. I never knew how deep this was until the translation of Benedict’s treatise. This also uncovered my own trespass in this area: both my Evangelical and Jewish teachers have almost exclusively exposed me to either Protestant or German influenced academic writings.

The gift of tongues has been a controversial subject for over one-hundred years in modern Christianity. Why did this work remain so obscure and never made it into the regular discussion? That is a question that I repeatedly ask and answer throughout the Gift of Tongues Project — ancient writers such as Augustine, Nazianzus, Bede, Michael Psellos, Thomas Aquinas, John Lightfoot etc., who have made a serious contribution to the topic but rarely, if ever, are cited. This neglect is related to ignorance of historic literature, access to source materials, and now, apathy.

The lack of English translations is the most serious contributor. Only about 20% of the Church Fathers have ever been translated into English, and those that have been, are often condensed or abridged. This leads many eager students of the Bible to believe that the historic Church was silent on the subject of tongues and, therefore, irrelevant.

This ignorance was further embedded because of the problem of access. Even if a person had the ability to read Greek or Latin, the access to original materials was extremely difficult. Before the advent of Google Books and the like, there was no universal method to peruse books such as Pope Benedict’s De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione. I wouldn’t have found it, nor known about it had it not been for Google Books. In the pre-internet days, even if I knew about its existence, it likely would not have been sourced by me. This book would be too old and would require reading in a library’s rare book collection reading room and would not be available through inter-library loan. The only option would be to fly to the city which had a library that held this book and research it there; that is if, of course, permission was granted. Certain credentials, such as an M.A. or Ph.D., or faith affiliation may be required of the institution to use their materials.

These difficulties previously made it almost impossible to do a proper study on this subject.

The third factor is apathy. The Pentecostal/Charismatic appetite for historical research is very diminished. The last decade has enabled the incredible widespread availability of manuscripts and ancient books unheard of in the vestibules of history. This condition should bring about a resurgence in ancient studies within the confines of Christianity. However, there has been little or no impact. In the case of my the Gift of Tongues Project, the availability of ancient materials is wholeheartedly embraced.

The type of Latin was a challenge to translate for two reasons. I am not familiar with late Medieval Latin which has different nuances to fifth-century Latin writers such as Augustine, bishop of Hippo. Medieval Latin has progressed and has new forms to recognize. Plus Benedict the XIV extensively quoted many authors in his era. These quotations often had different style and influences. Some writers had Spanish or Portuguese as their mother tongue, and I think this crept into their Latin writing styles.

The Latin contained words that refer to classic Catholic thoughts, rites, practices and legalities that I have no familiarity with, nor could any succinct references to their meanings be found. For example, the reference to “Rotae Auditores.” The term is obvious from the context that it is some high-ranking Catholic authority, but any subsequent search for an English description has not outlined a clear meaning. So, this Latin term is left unchanged in my English translation. This is the same for “Postuloribus.” This noun is rendered every time by Benedict in the ablative. The “Postuloribus” refers to some kind of office that examines the authenticity of miracles attributed to Saints. At least, that is what it appears to mean in the text. I cannot find a clear definition for this as well. So, it is left in its ablative original state in the English translation. It should be put into a nominative form for better usage in the English tongue, but the ablative just sounds nicer.

One of the first challenges of this translation was Benedict’s word choice for the word language: idiomata instead of the traditional word, lingua. This led into an interesting foray into Medieval thought. This journey starts with the thirteenth-century English philosopher and Franciscan Friar, Roger Bacon who distinguishes between language (lingua) and cognate languages (idiomata).(1)Henry Osborn. The Medieval Mind: A History of the Development of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Ages. The Floating Press. 2013. Pg. 825 This brings us to the same century with the renowned Italian writer and poet, Dante, best known for his work, Divine Comedy. He wrote a treatise on the history of languages called, De vulgari eloquentia — an attempt to give respectability and acceptance of local languages in relation to the dominant and assimilating Latin language. He too, used ydioma (2)his way of writing idioma among other definitions to describe language after the fall of Babel. Before the fall, he used lingua.(3)My own reading from De vulgari eloquentia and also recognized by the Dictionary of Untranslateables: A Philosophical Lexicon. (A translation of Vocabulaire Européen des Philosophy) Barbara Cassin, ed. Transl. by Steven Rendall, Christian Hubert, Jeffrey Mehlman, Nathanael Stein, and Michael Syrotinski. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 2004. Pg. 549

The whole discussion in the thirteenth-century on idiomata is a simplified attempt at understanding languages and their cognates. The concepts discussed by Bacon, Dante and Medieval commentaries are abstract and hard to understand to the modern mind. It didn’t bring closure to what I thought Benedict intended.

Further contemplation was required and I speculated. Did Benedict understand idiomata in the way Dante or Bacon promoted it? Or did the Medieval Latin language simply have a preference for idiomata as the standard word for language at the time with no other baggage? Would Benedict have chosen idiomata over lingua because it meant a greater miracle? One has to take this theory to its evolutionary point. If one miraculously spoke only in the most original languages, not cognates, then that would only be a few languages spoken, and they would hardly be understood. For example, If one spoke in cognates, such as Attic, Doric, or Ionian Greek instead of the older Mycenaean Greek, which Medievalists may argue as the original source of the Greek language, then the people in that particular Greek region would understand. The greater miracle would not be in speaking a language but in the cognates.

If this was the way that Benedict understood the use of idiomata then this brings about a second difficulty. How does one translate idiomata? There is no English equivalent. I searched for how other translators translated this text in different texts and a 100% simply used language as the English equivalent. I followed the same pattern as these other translators and used language. It is the best that can be done given the limitations of the English language in this matter.

The astute reader who is comparing the Latin text to the English translation may find the translation of the Latin word “mysteria,” too amplified. In majority of cases it has been translated in my translation as, “ insights and things that transcend normal intelligence.” The standard translation would be mysteries which refer to some mysterious, esoteric knowledge that only a special inspired person or institution could possess. In the English mind it is something that a cult or secret society would practice. I don’t think this was the intention of Benedict at all. He simply believed mysteria to mean something that would be too advanced or over the heads of those who were unfamiliar with the Christian message. To dive into the realms discussing the Trinity, propitiation, substantiation or other in-house discussions would dissuade new entrants, and so these type of discussions should be reserved for mature Christians.

The infinitive as a means of indirect discourse was used extensively throughout with se but then rules were broken too where eum was used at least once instead. Other times the subjunctive was used to acheive the same purpose.

Benedict refers to books and people never heard of before. These are authors and books totally neglected in the Protestant and German writings. People like Suarez, Cardinal Baronius, Scacchus, Thyraeus, Viguer, Salmanticenses, Mathauccius, Optime Silvius, Bagatta etc., I have been able to find some original author’s books referred to by Benedict, and a first glance shows some well-thought reasonings on this topic – much better than the majority of Protestant thinking in this era.

I don’t know who these people were or their English equivalent surnames. I left their names untranslated.

The translation is based on De Lambertinis Opus De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione. Aldina: Prati. Volume III. New Edition. 1830. Pg. 547ff. Where the page was hard to read, a second, different edition was consulted, De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione. Volume 3. Rome: Nicolaus et Marcus Palearini. Academiae Liturgicae Conimbricensis Typographi. 1748. Pg. 724ff.

The 1830 edition was preferred because the print copy was easier to read. The book had transferred some older glyph types (especially the ‘s’) into modern typographic conventions.

For the actual English translation go to Pope Benedict the XIV on Tongues: the English Text.

For the actual Latin copy go to Pope Benedict the XIV on Tongues: The Latin Text

References   [ + ]

Late Medieval People Speaking in Tongues

Introduction to the late-Medieval accounts of Christians speaking in tongues.

Medieval Hagiographa accounts are an important part of the christian narrative and have a special section in the Gift of Tongues Project. The Medieval doctrine of speaking in tongues demonstrate this practice has progressed from the fourth-century. However, Medieval literature is steeped in christian mysticism and often saturated with excessive miracles and witnesses of the supernatural. Many works are good, some bad, and others in between. One has to be conscious of discerning between what is real and myth within these documents. This is not an easy thing to separate. Even if a certain story is indeed myth, it plays an important role of story telling and teaching, reflecting the perceptions of that time. It should not be easily discounted. The stress here is to investigate with a sympathetic and cautious attitude.

The Christian Hagiography section in the Gift of Tongues Project is dependent on a number of sources. Two of them are by far the most prominent. The first one, The Legenda Sanctorum, was originally compiled from earlier sources around 1260 by Jacobus de Voragine. He was an Italian chronicler and archbishop of Genoa.(1)http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08262b.htm This book soon evolved and settled into the name Legenda Aurea “because the people of those times considered it worth its weight in gold”.(2)http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08262b.htm

Jacob de Voragine attempted to make short biographies of hand-selected Christian Saints and attached these personalities with a specific day in the year for remembrance. His biographies portrayed these Christian heroes in mythical proportions with sensational miracles and epic supernatural tales. These descriptions are a fanciful read, but these accounts cannot be taken as factual historical documents. Neither is it easy to discover where these perceptions were first established and how far back these thoughts go in history. However, it does reflect the theological, mystical and intellectual perceptions of the late-Medieval period. This is very helpful for the Gift of Tongues Project. Portions of their stories demonstrate how the late-Medieval Church and society understood the christian doctrine of tongues. Perceptions do not necessarily need to be right or real. They simply are what they are.

For a full history and debates about Legenda Aurea’s credibility, see the Catholic based New Advent website article: Legenda Aurea.

Legenda Aurea was constantly being updated, translated and distributed throughout Christendom. By 1450, with the aid of the printing press, the Legenda Aurea began to outnumber the Bible in editions. Fordham University claims it was the most printed book in Europe between 1470 to 1530 and over 900 manuscripts are available today.(3)http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/goldenlegend/

An English edition, called the Golden Legend, has its own unique history and is described at Fordham University’s website;

There have been numerous translations, into English and other languages. The Golden Legend was one of the first works produced by the English printer William Caxton. This was reproduced and “modernized” frequently. Now, the standard English version is the 1993 translation by William Granger Ryan. The 1993 version is a full translation, unlike his earlier 1941 translations, which summarized many of the stories.

The English references used at the Gift of Tongues Project will be the 1931 edition edited by F.S. Ellis and found housed at Fordham University’s Golden Legend website.

Some Saints listed under Christian Hagiographa section may overlap with earlier mentions in the Gift of Tongues Project outline, but the Hagiographa stories will not be integrated with them. They will remain separate. This is because these hagiographa are late-Medieval perceptions. They are stories that do not fit in the earlier narratives. These works align with the religious experiences, perceptions, and expectations found in the thirteenth to nineteenth centuries. It is a reflection of these times and little to do with anything earlier.

The Acta Sanctorum is another work similar to Legenda Aurea and plays an important part for late-Medieval studies. ProQuest has digitally captured the entire 68 volume work and describes it as;

“. . .a principal source for research into the societies and cultures of early Christian and medieval Europe. Our knowledge of this period relies heavily on Hagiographa literature, and specifically on this monumental collection of texts, published over a period of 300 years by the Société des Bollandistes.”

The resurgence of interest in Hagiographa materials in recent years reflects the growing recognition of their value to historical research of many kinds—social and ecclesiastical history, art and architecture, literature, folklore, and ethnology. Acta Sanctorum records every detail of domestic and public life. It’s an inexhaustible fund of information on every aspect of life from the beginning of the Christian era to the end of the 16th century.(4)http://www.proquest.com/products-services/acta.html

The Christian Hagiographa section of the Gift of Tongues Project wishes to thank Christine F. Cooper-Rompato’s excellent book, The Gift of Tongues: Women’s Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages for bringing to light such important sources from the late-Medieval period. It is the best book on the christian doctrine of tongues published so far.

I had thought that the genre of tongues speakers in the late-Medieval Church was small and careful attention, except for one or two persons, was not necessary for this period. Cooper-Rompato dispelled this notion.

This author makes an important assertion about Medieval tongues being ubiquitous during this period.

. . .descriptions of the xenoglossic gift became more popular in the later Middle Ages because there occurred an “expectation of tongues”; once the miracle entered the horizon of expectation of audiences, the miracle propagated itself. The miracle also became an important proof of sanctity. . . . To call attention to the lack of xenoglossia in the life of a popular holy preacher would seem to indicate that by this period the gift of tongues was almost expected in the vitae of famous preacher, and that if a prominent preacher perceived as blessed did not receive it, an explanation was deemed necessary.”(5)The Gift of Tongues: Women’s Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages Pg. 14

As per the mandate of the Gift of Tongues Project, a digital copy of the pertinent texts will be available in the original language, along with an English translation, and some commentary.

There are a number of Christian Saints who spoke in tongues according to the Medieval accounts and they will be added on a person by person basis. This will happen on a weekly or bi-weekly basis until complete. The best way to keep up with the latest additions is to become a subscriber. This can be done by clicking the subscribe button found on the right sidebar.

The following Saints will be documented. If completed, a link will be available in a bold font:

There are also women who spoke in tongues according to Christine F. Cooper-Rompato that needs documenting. These are a bit harder to cover. Cooper-Rompata described that female accounts of speaking in tongues are different from male accounts. They are accidental, semi-private, temporal, and convey a lack or limit of control. They are also frustratingly brief accounts.(6)The Gift of Tongues: Women’s Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages Pg. 40

This genre is in development and will be included later on.

References   [ + ]