Tag Archives: Thomas Aquinas

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   [ + ]

Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues: Part 1

This four-part series follows the perceptions of miracles and the doctrine of cessationism from inception until now in the protestant church, especially as it relates to the doctrine of tongues.

Click on the image to view the full infographic.

Table of Contents

  • Part 1
    • Introduction
    • Reasons for the rise of Cessationism
  • Part 2
    • The Excess of Miracles in the Medieval world
    • The earlier De-Emphatics: John Chrysostom, Augustine Bishop of Hippo, Cyril of Alexandria*, and Thomas Aquinas
  • Part 3
    • The Early Protestant De-Emphatics: Martin Luther and Jean Calvin
    • The Church of England and Miracles
      • The Puritan Influence: William Whitaker, William Perkins, James Ussher, the Westminster Confession, and later Confessions
      • The Latitudinarians
      • The Rationalists and Deists
  • Part 4: Cessationism from the 1800s and onwards: the Baptists, Presbyterians, B. B. Warfield, christian higher education, John MacArthur, and more.


    Cessationism is a religious term used in various protestant circles that believe miracles in the church died out long ago and have been replaced by the authority of Scripture. Cessationist policy is typically found in Presbyterian, conservative Baptist, Dutch Reformed churches, and other groups that strictly adhere to early protestant reformation teachings.

    It is a doctrine that had its zenith in the late 1600s, waned a bit in the 1800s and recharged in the 1900s. Today, the doctrine of cessationism has considerably subsided. However, it cannot be ignored if one is doing a thorough study of the doctrine of tongues. It is an important part of history.

    According to cessationists, defining or explaining the contemporary Renewalist (Pentecostals, Charismatics and Third Wavers) practice of speaking in tongues or any other miracle outlined in Scripture is an outdated question. They don’t happen today. Therefore it is not necessary to do an in-depth historical or theological analysis about the nature and purpose of miracles in the present world.

    This survey is part of the Gift of Tongues Project whose fourfold aim is to identify, collate, translate (where necessary) and trace the doctrine of tongues from inception until the early 1900s. The doctrine of cessationism was not planned to be a part of the Project. However, later research has demonstrated it has an important story to tell in relation to the doctrine of tongues and it must be included.

    The subject of cessationism deeply touches on the nature and definition of miracles—one of the most complex questions in the christian faith.

    Theologians have attempted to harmonize the mystery of miracles with common sense and science for centuries but the definitive answer still remains elusive. Although no movement or person has ever conclusively resolved this tension, the quest to find an answer is an interesting adventure.

    Cessationism is not a black and white subject and takes a few surprising twists and turns. For example de-emphasis is a more suitable term at the birthing of the movement because the earliest protestant leaders still believed in miracles, albeit in a restricted sense. Cessationism refers to a later strand that outrightly denies the possibility of any faith initiated miracle in the present age.

    Reasons for the Rise of Cessationism

    Cessationism began as one of the earliest protestant doctrines. It can be understood from a variety of perspectives.

    First of all, it was a theological counter against the excess of miracles and veneration of saints. The protestant backlash was to outrightly denounce these features. An alternative framework was formulated for christian living which emphasized exclusive obedience to the precepts and truths found in the Bible without any reference or emphasis on miracles. They concluded nothing supersedes, parallels, or equals Scripture. The doctrine generally subscribed to the idea that miracles tended to appear less and less as the New Testament period closed. The logical conclusion was that miracles ceased at this time.

    This created a new problem. Such an emphasis on Scripture alone can lead to Bibliolatry—that is the worship and adoration of the Bible itself. It becomes a legal text that one is obligated to follow regardless of the reason, conscience or consent. It cannot be questioned and the guardians of the ancient texts can become tyrants in the application of the principles. Words and semantics then become the forefront of Scripture rule and lead into an abstract world of interpretation that only a few higher authorities can understand and apply. The reader will discover a small taste of this as they progress through this article.

    Secondly, the doctrine developed as a counter-argument. The Catholic Church argued that the Protestant Movement was illegitimate because it lacked confirmation through miracles. The Protestants volleyed back that the catholic world had legitimized unorthodox activities through the manipulation of supposed miracles to the point of changing the christian identity, its doctrines, and overriding Scripture. The rejection of catholic miracles became a rallying point in the protestant identity and became one of their base principles.

    Thirdly, cessationism developed in an era of England’s fear and hatred of Catholicism. England in the late 1600s was politically rife with anti-Catholicism—any semblance of catholic association was certain to be discarded. There were constant fears of a ‘Popish plot’ to undermine English society and almost any negative political event could be ascribed to this.(1)http://www.moyak.com/papers/popish-plot-england.html English theology incorporated this fear in their writings and was reflected in the development of cessationism.

    The rejection of catholic miracles at the earliest protestant inception did not completely eradicate the concept of miracles. The Reformists still believed in a limited view of miracles, especially ones that could not be traced to the catholic rites. However, within a century after the Reformation, the de-emphasis began to expand past the anti-Catholicism and develop its own distinct structure. The doctrine became an eclectic mixture of ideas collected from the rationalist movement and concepts unique to English theology.

    Catholic literature demonstrably showed that the manifold expressions of miracles perpetuated throughout their history. The Protestant counter argument was this—the majority of miracles expressed by Catholics over these 1800 years were exaggerated imaginary expressions that can be reduced to myths and legends. When one reads many of the miraculous accounts in historic catholic literature, the explanations go beyond suspending the regular laws of nature and venture into the world of incredulous that lacks any common sense. This argument of imaginative miracles has some logical truth to it that cannot be quickly dismissed. On the other hand, one cannot throw out every supposed catholic miracle. Each one has to be evaluated on its own merit. While the majority is easy to toss away for faulty logic, a small group may pass. A serious look may show some precious truth at the initial event, but the story became greatly exaggerated later on that obscures the original fact. Regardless, these disputed miracles remain perceptions that must be respected at minimum for their didactic and historical value.

    For more information on the perpetuation of tongues in the Catholic Church, read A Catholic History of Tongues: 30 to 1748 AD

    The protestant community was divided on the topic of miracles. Cessationism was not actively promoted within the large Methodist or the burgeoning Holiness movements that were popular in the late 1800s.

    The cessationist movement does have some high profile early church supporters and the reasons why early protestants supported this claim make good sense. A few important early church writers found that the visual display of miracles can easily lead to exhibitionism, pride, and personal gain. The art of miracles had little value in developing a moral christian character which many like Origen, Chrysostom, and Augustine prized.

    The de-emphasis of miracles according to protestant tradition was initially led by Chrysostom and Augustine. However, these early protestant writers fail to clarify that this concept was never universally accepted and laid dormant for almost 1100 years.

    Cessationism was never a grass-roots movement, nor did it ever become a central doctrine that represented the wide swath of protestant sects throughout Europe or in England. It is a doctrine never embraced by the Catholic Church. Neither was it consistently applied or interpreted. It became part of a doctrinal system promoted by the puritan thinkers in the 1600s and has been articulated in different forms ever since.

    The next three articles are an expanded story of de-emphasism/cessationism. Particular emphasis is placed on the Church of England, its splinter groups, and the evolution of this doctrine in the Americas. The doctrine of tongues will be touched on lightly.

    Click here for Part two of the series Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues: Part 2.

    References   [ + ]

    Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues: Infographic

    An infographic on the doctrine of cessationism. How it fits into the larger debate on miracles, and its consequent effect on the doctrine of tongues.

    Cessationism, Miracles, Tongues, Chrysostom, Origen, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, Didymus of Alexandria, Thomas Aquinas, Church of England, Puritans, Richard Hooker, Rationalists, Deists, Anti-Catholicism, Conyers Middleton, David Hume, Thomas Hobbes, Presbyterians, Baptists, Princeton Theological Seminary, John MacArthur

    A Catholic History of Tongues: 30 to 1748 AD

    A catholic history of speaking in tongues from the first Pentecost until the rule of Pope Benedict the XIV, 1748 A.D.

    This summary is the first portion of a three-part series on the christian doctrine of tongues from inception until the 1920s. For a general overview about the christian doctrine of tongues and the framework that governs the following research, see Summary of the Gift of Tongues: Introduction.

    The following are the results of a detailed study of early church, medieval and later medieval catholic writers through seventeen-centuries of church life. The results are drawn from the Gift of Tongues Project which had a fourfold purpose to:

    • uncover new or forgotten ancient literature on the subject
    • provide the original source texts in digital format
    • translate the texts into English and add some commentary
    • to trace the perception of tongues in the church from inception until modern times.

    Table of Contents

    • A pictorial essay on the catholic history of speaking in tongues.
    • A short observation on pentecostal tongues
    • The doctrine of tongues from the first to third-century
    • The golden age of the christian doctrine of tongues: the fourth-century
      • The connection between Babel and Pentecost
      • Hebrew as the first language of mankind and of Pentecost
      • Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon
      • Augustine on tongues transforming into a corporate identity
      • Gregory of Nyssa and the one voice many sounds theory
      • Gregory Nazianzus on the miracle of speech vs. the miracle of hearing
    • The expansion of the christian doctrine of tongues from the tenth to sixteenth-centuries
      • Later Medieval accounts of speaking in tongues
      • The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

    A pictorial essay on the catholic history of speaking in tongues

    The graphic below is to assist the reader in quickly understanding the passing tradition of speaking in tongues throughout the centuries in the Catholic Church. The rest of the document will describe these findings. Click on the links throughout this document for more details, or go directly to the Gift of Tongues Project for actual source texts.

    Catholic perceptions of pentecostal tongues from inception until 1750; Origen in the second-century, he wrote very little though many have diverse opinions on his stance; Pachomius, knew only Coptic Greek but miraculously spoke in Latin; Gregory Nazianzus in the fourth-century, wrote an argument that pentectostal tongues could either be a miracle of speaking or hearing. He believed it to be a miracle of speech. Tyrannius Rufinus translates Nazianzus text into Latin and misunderstands the text and leaves both the miracle of speaking and hearing as equal options. This begins a thousand-year debate. The Venerable Bede in the eighth-century initially believed it to be a miracle of hearing but changed his mind. Michael Psellos in the tenth-century resolved the paradox but it was in Greek. The Latin world was still waiting. Thomas Aquinas solved it as a miracle of speech but his stance was never adopted. The church concluded that tongues can be both a miracle of speech or hearing. Medieval Hagiographers had many biographies of saints speaking in tongues-- the endowment of speaking a foreign language or those hearing in their native tongue. Andrew the Fool spoke in confidential tongues. Francis Xavier was partly canonized on speaking in tongues but later shown he never had this ability. Much to the embarrassment of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict the XIV wrote a powerful treatise on tongues and defined a process on what the gift of tongues is, is not, and a process for investigating. His efforts caused the expression to become remote or actively pursued.

    A short observation on pentecostal tongues

    The large corpus of material studied and compared demonstrate that the christian doctrine of tongues was related to human languages for almost 1800 years. The mechanics of how this happened differed. There were perceptions of it being a miracle of speech, hearing or both. There were no references to angelic speech, prayer language, glossolalia, or ecstatic utterances until the nineteenth-century. The glossolalia aspect is covered in Part 2 of this series.

    The Pentecost event as described by the writer Luke in the first part of the Book of Acts has far more coverage than Paul’s address to speaking in tongues throughout ecclesiastical literature. The ancient christian authors were split on the theological symbolism of Pentecost. Pentecost was either understood as a symbol of the Gospel becoming a universal message beyond the bounds of the Jewish community or a theological symbol for the Jewish nation to repent.

    The focus of this summary is the nature and mechanics behind speaking in tongues. The exploration of tongues as a theological symbol can be found throughout the source texts documented in the Gift of Tongues Project.

    The doctrine of tongues from the first to third-century

    The first Pentecost happened somewhere between 29 and 33 A.D., depending on which tradition one chooses to date the crucifixion. The event was listed close to the start of an account written by the physician turned writer, Luke. A work which is universally addressed today as the Book of Acts. The Pentecost narrative is very brief. As already mentioned in the Introduction, the English version of this text describing the Pentecost miracle contains approximately 206 words. Perhaps 800 if one includes Peter’s sermon. 206 words that have echoed throughout history and has inspired hundreds of millions to ponder and often replicate in their own lives.

    The readership of this summary is assumed to have thorough knowledge of this passage and have come here for more information. The following is the histories of tongues after the first Pentecost.

    The earlier church writers who lived between the first and third centuries, did mention the christian doctrine of tongues such as Irenaeous, who stated it was speaking in a foreign language. There was also Tertullian who recognized the continued rite in his church but fails to explain anything more than this. Neither of these writers contain sufficient coverage in their text to make a strong case for anything other than its existence.

    Origen, 184 — 254 AD

    The debate inevitably leads to Origen – one of the most controversial figures on speaking in tongues. Modern theologians, commentators, and writers all over the broad spectrum of christian studies believe Origen supports their perspective. This has created an Origen full of contradictions. Origen was a third-century theologian that can be viewed as either one of the greatest early christian writers ever because of combining an active and humble faith with a deep intellectual inquiry into matters of faith. On the other hand, he was mistakenly labeled a heretic after his death for his limited view of the Trinity. He lived at a time the Trinity doctrine was in its infancy and wasn’t fully developed. His views didn’t correlate with the later formulation and he was posthumously condemned for this. After careful investigation about his coverage on speaking in tongues, Origen hardly commented on it. If one is to draw a conclusion with the limited coverage by him is this: he didn’t think there was anyone pious enough during his time for this task, and if they were, it would be for cross-cultural preaching.

    The golden age of the christian doctrine of tongues: the fourth-century

    Due to the devastating effects of the persecutions by the Roman emperor Diocletian in the third-century, there is hardly any christian literature to choose from the first to third-centuries. This dramatically changes in the fourth-century when Christianity becomes a recognized religion, and later the foremost one within the Roman Empire. This is where things get really interesting.

    The fourth-century began to unfold greater details on speaking in tongues. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote that Peter and Andrew spoke miraculously in Persian or Median at Pentecost and the other Apostles were imbued with the knowledge of all languages. The founder of the Egyptian Cenobite movement, Pachomius, a native Coptic speaker, was miraculously granted the ability to speak in Latin.

    The doctrine of tongues divided into five streams in the fourth-century. The first interpretation was the speaking in Hebrew and the audience heard in their own language. The second was Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon. The third was the one voice many sounds theory formulated by Gregory of Nyssa. Fourth, the transition of a personal to a corporate practice represented by Augustine, and last of all the tongues paradox proposed by Gregory Nazianzus. Some may reckon that two more belong here – the cessation of miracles and the Montanists. Both Cessationism and Montanism are perceptions developed during the eighteenth-century. These theories will unfold further down in the summary chronology.

    Before winding down the path of these five options, it is necessary to take a quick look at the confusion of tongues found in the Book of Genesis. This story has an important relationship with the discussions to follow.

    The connection between Babel and Pentecost

    One would assume that the reversal of Babel would be one of the early streams of thinking about Pentecost. This proposition is surprisingly not the case. The idea that the ancient christian writers would connect the confusion of languages symbolized by the city Babel in the book of Genesis with Pentecost because both are narratives revolving around languages seems logical. The book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, has a brief narrative that described how mankind originally had one language. This oneness changed with their determination to build a tower to reach into the heavens which was stopped by the introduction of a plurality of languages. Although the text is minimal and lacking details, the text suggests some form of arrogance and self-determination apart from God. The tower also represented mankind’s ability to collectively do great evil. In response, God chose to divide the one language into many languages and scatter mankind throughout the earth in order to curb this amassing of power. The overall traditional record does not associate Pentecost as a reversal of Babel.

    The connection between God giving the commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai would appear to be the better correlation. The old covenant, that is the law of the ancient Israelites, was spoken by God and heard by Moses, then later given in a written form. The Talmud states that God spoke this to Moses in 72 languages – a number understood to symbolically mean in all the languages of the world. The new covenant, the law of grace, was given by the apostles in fiery tongues on the Mount of Olives at Pentecost – these apostles and 120 more miraculously spoke in a whole host of languages. The Jewish community today annually celebrates the giving of the law of Moses and call this day Shevuot which calculates the same days after Passover as Pentecost does. However, this holiday is not an ancient one and does not trace back to the first-century when the first Pentecost occurred. Luke does not mention a direct connection to Shevuot and neither do any of the ancient christian writers.

    The Babel allusion prevailed discreetly in later dialogues, especially two concepts. The first one related to which language was the first language of mankind, and how that fit into the Pentecost narrative. The second relating to the one voice spoken many languages heard theory.

    Hebrew as the first language of mankind and of Pentecost

    There is a substantial corpus about Hebrew being the first language of mankind within ancient christian literature and a tiny allusion to Pentecost being the speaking of Hebrew sounds while the audience heard in their own language. This position about Pentecost does not clearly flow throughout the seas of christian thought, only in the shadows.

    The idea of Hebrew as the first language of mankind starts with the early Christians such as first-century Clement, Bishop of Rome, fourth-century Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, for at least part of his life (He changed his position later). The concept of Hebrew being the original language of mankind was repudiated by fourth-century Gregory of Nyssa and then endorsed again by the eighth-century historian and theologian, the Venerable Bede. In the tenth-century Oecumenius, Bishop of Trikka believed that Hebrew was a divine language, because when the Lord spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus, it was in Hebrew.

    The eleventh-century philosopher-theologian, Michael Psellos, referred to an ideology that placed Hebrew as the first common language. He alluded that Pentecost could have been the speakers vocalizing in Hebrew while the audience heard it in their own language. This was a reflection of a possibility in his mind, not a position he endorsed. Thomas Aquinas too mentioned this explanation, but quickly moved onto better, more rational theories.

    The speaking of Hebrew sounds and the audience hearing in their own language was a small theory that never gained widespread attention. It was played about, but never became a standard doctrine with a vibrant local or international appeal.

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

    Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon

    A writing loosely attributed to the fifth-century Pope of Alexandria, Egypt, Cyril of Alexandria, described Pentecost as the “changing of tongues.” Pentecost was the use of foreign languages at Pentecost as a sign for the Jews. This event was a miraculous endowment and those that received this blessing in @31 AD continued to have this power throughout their lives, but it did not persist after their generation.

    Cyril represented the city of Alexandria at the height of its influence and power throughout Christendom. His biography concludes that he was deposed because of quarrelsomeness and violence. There are unsubstantiated claims that he was responsible for the death of the revered mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and scholar Hypatia. Although his history comes to a sad demise, his earlier stature and his near-universal influence requires careful attention on the subject of Pentecost. His ideas of Pentecost may have been an older tradition passed down and reinforced by him. The theory of a temporary miracle restricted to the first generation of christian leadership is hard to tell because there is little information about this theory before or after his time.

    However, the theory arose again in the thirteenth-century with no references inbetween. The celebrated scholastic writer and mystic, Thomas Aquinas, weighed in on the temporary question. Whenever a theological subject has been addressed by Aquinas, it is worth the time to stop and consider. There is no person in christian history that had assembled such a broad array of the various christian traditions, writers, texts, and Scripture into a systematic form of thought. Not only was Aquinas systematic, but also a mystic. The combination of these qualities gives him a high score in covering the doctrine of tongues.

    He held a similar position on Pentecost to that of Cyril of Alexandria, though he does not mention him by name. He believed the apostles were equipped with the gift of tongues to bring all people back into unity. It was only a temporary activity that later generations would not need. Later leaders would have access to interpreters which the first generation did not.

    Aquinas’ argument is a good and logical one, but the christian history of tongues does not align with this conclusion. After Aquinas’ time, there are numerous perceived cases of the miraculous endowments that contradict such a sentiment. Neither can Cyril’s thought be traced down through the centuries to numerous writers and be claimed as a universal or near-universal teaching.

    The temporary idea of Pentecost was restricted to this miracle alone. There is no implied idea that this temporality extended to miracles of healing, exorcisms, or other divine interventions.

    Augustine on tongues transforming into a corporate identity

    Augustine, Bishop of Hippo
    Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 354 — 430 AD

    The christian rite of speaking in tongues transferring from a personal to a corporate expression was espoused by Augustine Bishop of Hippo. This was created over his lengthy and difficult battle with the dominant tongues-speaking Donatist movement.

    The Donatists were a northern African christian group; broken off from the official Catholic Church over reasons relating to the persecutions against Christians by edict of emperor Diocletian in the third-century. After the persecutions abated, a controversy erupted in the region over how to handle church leaders who assisted with the secular authorities in the persecutions. This became a source of contention and it conflagrated into questions of church leadership, faith, piety, discipline, and politics. One of the outcomes was a separate church movement called the Donatists. At the height of their popularity, the Donatists statistically outnumbered the traditional Catholic representatives in the North Africa region. At the height, it had over 400 bishops.

    The Catholic Church was in a contest against the Donatist claims of being the true church. One of the assertions the Donatist’s provided for their superior claim was their ability to speak in tongues. This forced Augustine to take the Donatists and their tongues doctrine seriously and build a vigorous offense against them.

    Augustine’s polemic against the Donatists has generated more data on the christian doctrine of tongues than any other ancient writer and gives a good lock into perceptions of this rite in the fourth-century.

    Augustine attacked the Donatist claim of being the true church in a number of ways.

    • One was through mocking, asking when they laid hands on infants whether they spoke in languages or not.

    • Or he simply stated that the gift had passed. The cessation statement was one of many volleys that he made.

      This cessation needs further clarification. Augustine meant that the individual endowment of miraculously speaking in foreign languages had ceased from functioning. The corporate expression still remained. It cannot be applied to mean the cessation of miracles, healings, or other divine interventions. Augustine was exclusively referring to the individual speaking in tongues. Nothing more.

    • In other words, the individual expression of speaking in tongues changed into a corporate one – the church took over the function of speaking in every language to all the nations.

    He described Pentecost as each man speaking in every language.

    This transformation from individual to corporate identity was referenced by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth-century in his work, Summa Theologica, but built little strength around this theme. He left it as is in one sentence.

    There is no question that the semantic range of this experience fell inside the use of foreign languages. He used the term linguis omnium gentium “in the languages of all the nations” on at least 23 occasions, and linguis omnium, speaking “in all languages”. Neither does Augustine quote or refer to the Montanist movement in his works.

    The Bishop repeatedly answers the question “If I have received the holy Spirit, why am I not speaking in tongues?” Each time he has a slightly different read. What did he say? “this was a sign that has been satisfied” — the individual expression has been satisfied. He then offers a more theological slant in his Enarratio In Psalmum, “Why then does the holy Spirit not appear now in all languages? On the contrary, He does appear in all the languages. For at that time the Church was not yet spread out through the circle of lands, that the organs of Christ were speaking in all the nations. Then it was filled-up into one, with respect to which it was being proclaimed in every one of them. Now the entire body of Christ is speaking in all the languages.”(1)Augustine. Enarratio in Psalmum. CXLVII:19 (147:19)

    One has to be very cautious with Augustine on this topic. He was pitting the Catholic Church as the true one because of its universality and inferring that the Donatists were not so ordained because of their regionalism. His answers were polemic than theological in nature.

    Augustine’s polemical diatribes against the tongues-speaking Donatists never became a universal doctrine. The individual to the corporate idea has indirect allusions in John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria’s works, but nothing concrete. The concept faded out within a generation and references to him on the subject by later writers is not very frequent.

    See Augustine on the Tongues of Pentecost: Intro for more information.

    Gregory of Nyssa and the one voice many sounds theory

    Gregory of Nyssa
    Gregory of Nyssa, 335 — 394 AD

    Gregory of Nyssa represents the beginning of the evolution of the christian doctrine of tongues that has echoes even today.

    Gregory of Nyssa was a fourth-century Bishop of Nyssa – a small town in the historic region of Cappadocia. In today’s geographical terms, central Turkey. The closest major city of influence to Nyssa was Constantinople – which at the time was one of the most influential centers of the world.

    This church father, along with Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great were named together as the Cappadocians. Their influence set the groundwork for christian thought in the Eastern Roman Empire. Gregory of Nyssa was an articulate and a deep thinker. He not only drew from christian sources but built his writings around a Greek philosophical framework.

    Gregory sees parallels between Babel and Pentecost on the nature of language but produces different outcomes. In the Pentecost story, he explained it as one sound dividing into languages during transmission that the recipients understood.

    Gregory of Nyssa’s homily on Pentecost is a happy one which began with his reference to Psalm 94:1, Come, let us exalt the Lord and continues throughout with this joyful spirit. In reference to speaking in tongues, he wrote of the divine indwelling in the singular and the output of a single sound multiplying into languages during transmission. This emphasis on the singularity may be traced to the influence of Plotinus — one of the most revered and influential philosophers of the third-century. Plotinus was not a Christian, but a Greek/Roman/Egyptian philosopher who greatly expanded upon the works of Aristotle and Plato. He emphasized that the one supreme being had no “no division, multiplicity or distinction.” Nyssa strictly adhered to a singularity of expression by God when relating to language. The multiplying of languages happened after the sound was emitted and therefore conforms to this philosophical model. However, Nyssa never mentions Plotinus by name or credits his movement in the writings examined so far, so it is hard to make a direct connection. There is an influence here.

    What was the sound that the people imbued with the Holy Spirit were speaking before it multiplied during transmission? Nyssa is not clear. It is not a heavenly or divine language because he believed mankind would be too limited in any capacity to produce such a mode of divine communication. Neither would he understand it to be Hebrew. Maybe it was the first language mankind spoke before Babel, but this is doubtful. Perhaps the people were speaking their own language and the miracle occurred in transmission. I think speaking in their own language is the likeliest possibility. Regardless, Gregory of Nyssa was not clear in this part of his doctrine.

    This theory did not solely rest with Gregory of Nyssa. He may be the first to clearly document this position, but the idea was older. There are remnants of this thought in Origen’s writing (Against Celsus 8:37) – though it is only one unclear but sort of relevant sentence and hard to build a case over

    Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, pokes at this too, but is unclear. He mentions on many occasions “one man was speaking in every language” or similar.(2)Sermo CLXXV:3 (175:3) What does this mean? How can one man speak simultaneously in all the languages at the same time? Even if a person sequentially went through 72 languages speaking one short sentence, it would take over ten minutes and wouldn’t be considered a miracle – only a simple mnemonic recitation. Augustine didn’t make any attempt to clarify this statement. He was playing with the one voice many sounds theory in a polemical sense and altered the nuance. The idea shifted to the connection between oneness and unity, which in Latin, are similar in spelling. He wanted to emphasize that those who spoke in tongues do it for the sake of unity. He was arguing anyone who promoted speaking in tongues as a device to divide the church is a fleshly and evil endeavor.

    The concept takes us to the fifth-century where Basil of Seleucia, a bishop of Seleucia in a region historically named Isauria – today a south central Turkish coastal town known as Silifke. Basil of Seleucia followed the literary trail of John Chrysostom and copied many of his traits, but in the case of Pentecost, he adds the one voice many sounds description.

    See An analysis of Gregory of Nyssa on Speaking in Tongues for more information.

    Gregory Nazianzus on the miracle of speech vs. the miracle of hearing

    Gregory Nazianzus
    Gregory Nazianzus, 329 — 390 AD

    Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus were acquaintances in real life, perhaps more so because of Gregory of Nyssa’s older brother, Basil the Great. Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great had a personal and professional relationship that greatly impacted the church in their dealings with Arianism and the development of the Trinity doctrine. Unfortunately, a fallout happened between Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great that never was repaired.(3)Frienship in Late Antiquity: The Case of Gregory Nazianzen and Basil the Great This has little bearing with the topic at hand, but builds a small portrait surrounding the key figures of the fourth-century who discuss the doctrine of tongues.

    Gregory Nazianzus recognized the theory of a one sound emanating and multiplying during transmission into real languages. He seriously looked at this solution and compared against the miracle of speaking in foreign languages. He found the one sound theory lacking and believed the miracle of speech was the proper interpretation. Perhaps this is a personal objection to Nyssa or a professional one based on research. There are no writings between Nyssa or Nazianzus that allude to a contested difference between them on the subject. Nyssa’s contribution to the christian doctrine of tongues has long been forgotten in the annals of history, but Nazianzus has survived. On the other hand, the theory itself posited by Nyssa never did vanish. These two positions by Nyssa and Nazianzus set the stage for an ongoing debate for almost two millennia.

    Who is Gregory Nazianzus? Most people have not heard of him before but his contributions to the christian faith are many. This fourth-century Bishop of Constantinople’s mastery of the Greek language and culture is exquisite and hard to translate into English. Much of the wonder and power of his writing is so deeply connected with these two elements it feels like an injustice to translate. His works come across as dry and esoteric in an English translation whereas in the Greek he is a well-spring of deep thought. Many church leaders during his period preached and then published the homily. Nazianzus likely wrote first and preached later. His works do not come across as great sermons, but great works of writing. All these factors have contributed to him being relatively obscure in the annals of christian history – even though in the fourth-century he was on the same level of prestige as Augustine or John Chrysostom.

    The description of Pentecost as either a miracle of speaking or hearing became the focal point of Gregory Nazianzus in the fourth-century when he wrote in one of his Orations that these both were potential possibilities, though he clearly believed Pentecost as a miracle of speech. Unfortunately, a Latin translator, Tyrannius Rufinus, misunderstood some finer points of Greek grammar when translating and removed Gregory’s preference of it being a miracle of speech and left both as equal possibilities. The majority of Western church leaders were unfamiliar with Greek and relied on Tyrannius’ Latin text. Tyrannius’ mistake created a thousand-year debate of the miracle being one of either speaking or hearing.

    See Gregory Nazianzus on the doctrine of tongues intro for more information

    The speech versus hearing argument was brought up again the seventh-century by the Venerable Bede, who wrote two commentaries on Acts. The Venerable Bede lived in the kingdom of the Northumbrians (Northern England. South-East Scotland). He was brilliant in so many areas. Astronomy, mathematics, poetry, music and a literature were some of his many passions. His writing is very engaging and fluid – a good read. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People makes him the earliest authority of English history.

    Venerable Bede
    The Venerable Bede, 673 — 735 AD

    His first commentary delved deeply in the debate, and studying only the Latin texts, concluded it was a miracle of hearing. In his second commentary, he was not so convincing. He changed his mind, alluding Pentecost was a miracle of speech and conjectures it could have been both a miracle of speaking and hearing. The outcome didn’t really matter to him. Perhaps he took this conclusion to avoid saying he was initially wrong.

    Another noteworthy discussion about the Nazianzus paradox was presented by Michael Psellos in the eleventh-century. His own biography is not one of the religious cloth, but civic politics. His highest position was that of Secretary of State in the highly influential Byzantine City of Constantinople. He was a Christian who had a love-hate relationship with the church. One of the lower moments in that relationship was his choosing Plato over Aristotle. The Church tolerated the non-christian writings of Aristotle, but frowned on Plato. Psellos studied theology but loved philosophy, and this was a continued source of contention.

    It is surprising that his complex weave of Greek philosophy and christian faith in a very conservative christian environment did not get him into more serious trouble than he encountered. He was way ahead of his time. His approach to faith, Scripture, and intellect took western society five hundred or so more years to catch-up.

    Michael Psellos was caught between two very distinct periods. He lived in the eleventh-century and still was connected to the ancient traditions of the church, but also at the beginning shift of intellectual and scholarly thought that modern readers come to rely on. He bridged both worlds. This is why his work is so important.

    He thought highly of his opinions and liked to show-off his intellectual genius. After reading his text, it is not clear whether he was trying to solve the riddle of Nazianzus’ miracle of hearing or speech, or it was an opportunity to show his intellectual mastery. Regardless of his motives, he leaves us with a rich wealth of historic literature on speaking in tongues.

    What did Psellos write that was so important? Two things. He first clears up the Nazianzus paradox stating that it was a miracle of speaking. Secondly, he particularly clarifies the similarities and differences between the ancient Greek prophetesses going into a frenzy and spontaneously speaking in foreign languages they did not know beforehand, and with the disciples of Christ who also spontaneously spoke in foreign languages.

    Psellos had a detailed knowledge of the pagan Greek prophets and explains that the ancient female prophets of Phoebe would go in a form of frenzy and speak in foreign languages. This is a very early and important contribution to the modern tongues debate because there is a serious scholarly connection given to the ancient Greek prophets going into ecstasy and producing ecstatic speech with that of Pentecost. The christian miracle is named a synergism of the ancient Greek practice of ecstatic speech in order to make the christian faith a universal one.

    Psellos may be the oldest commentator on the subject and must be given significant weight. His knowledge of ancient Greek philosophy and religion is unparalleled even by modern standards. It is also seven hundred years older than most works that address the relationship between the christian event and the pagan Greek rite.

    He described the Pentecostal speakers spoke with total comprehension and detailed how it exactly worked. The thought process remained untouched but when attempting to speak, their lips were divinely inspired. The speaker could change the language at any given moment, depending on what language group the surrounding audience belonged to. He thought this action a miracle of speech, and sided with Nazianzus.

    The total control of one’s mind while under divine influence was what differentiated the christian event from the pagan one. The Greek prophetesses, as he went on to describe, did not have any control over what they were saying. There was a complete cognitive disassociation between their mind and their speech while the Apostles had complete mastery over theirs.

    Last of all Psellos introduces a concept of tongues-speaking practised in the Hellenic world that has to do with the use of plants to arrive in a state of divine ecstasy. He also quickly described pharmacology too in this context, but it seems the text infers it was used in the art of healing. His writing is somewhat unclear at this point, but there was a relationship between the two. Perhaps tongues speaking practised by the ancient Greeks was part of the ancient rite of healing. It is hard to be definitive with this because his writing style here is so obscure. He warns to stay away from the use of exotic things that assist in going into a state of divine ecstasy.

    Thomas Aquinas tried to conclude the tongues as speech or hearing debate. Aquinas proceeded to use his argument and objection method for examining the Nazianzus paradox. In the end, he clearly stated it was a miracle of speech. His coverage was well done. However, this attempt was not successful in quelling the controversy.

    Thomas Aquinas
    Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274 AD

    Another aspect that Aquinas introduced was the relationship between the office of tongues and prophecy. The topic has lurked as early as the fourth-century but never in the forefront. Aquinas put the topic as a priority. Given that he was a mystic and lived in the world that heavily emphasized the supernatural, this comes as no surprise. He believed that the gift of tongues was simply a systematic procedure of speaking and translating one language into another. The process required no critical thinking, spiritual illumination, or comprehension of the overall narrative. He believed the agency of prophecy possessed the means for translating and interpreting but added another important asset – critical thinking. One must be cognisant of the fact that his idea of critical thinking is slightly different from ours. He includes spiritual illumination along with intellectual acuity as a formula for critical thinking. The prophetic person had the ability to understand the meaning behind the speech and how it applied to one’s daily life. Therefore, he felt prophecy was a much better and superior office than simply speaking and translating.

    The expansion of the christian doctrine of tongues from the tenth to eighteenth-centuries

    The tenth to sixteenth-centuries could be held as the golden age of tongues speaking in the Catholic Church, and arguably the biggest era for the christian doctrine of tongues. The next two-hundred years that reached into the eighteenth-century was the civil war that raged between protestants and catholics that put miracles, including speaking in tongues, in the epicenter. These eight-centuries were the era of super -supernaturalism in almost every area of human life. Speaking in tongues was common and attached to a variety of celebrity saints – from Andrew the Fool in the tenth to Francis Xavier in the sixteenth. This period had established the doctrine of tongues as either a miracle of hearing, speaking or a combination of both.

    Later Medieval accounts of speaking in tongues

    For example, the later legend of thirteenth-century had Anthony of Padua, a popular speaker in his time, spoke in the language of the Spirit to a mixed ethnic and linguistic gathering of catholic authorities who heard him in their own language. What was the language of the Spirit? This was never clarified in the text or by any other author and remains a mystery.

    Vincent Ferrer in the fourteenth-century was a well-known evangelist, perhaps in the top 50 in the history of the church. He visited many ethnic and linguistic communities while only knowing his native Valencian language. His orations were so great and powerful that it was alleged people miraculously heard him speak in their own language.

    There were also revisions by later writers to earlier lives of saints such as Matthew the Apostle, Patiens of Metz in the third, and the sixth-century Welsh saints, David, Padarn and Teilo. They were claimed to have spoken miraculously in foreign languages.

    Speaking in tongues was also wielded as a political tool. The French religious orders, l’abbaye Saint-Clément and l’abbaye Saint-Arnould, had a strong competition between each other during the tenth and fourteenth centuries. L’abbaye Saint-Clément proposed their order to be the foremost because their lineage traced back to a highly esteemed and ancient founder. L’abbaye Saint-Arnould countered with St. Patiens who had the miraculous ability to speak in tongues.

    The account of Andrew the Fool has an interesting twist in the annals of speaking in tongues. Andrew the Fool, often cited as Andrew of Constantinople, or Andrew Salus, was a tenth-century christian follower known for his odd lifestyle that would be classified under some form of a mental illness by today’s standards. However, many biographers believe it was a ruse purposely done by Andrew. There is a rich tradition of holy fools in Eastern Orthodox literature who feigned insanity as a form of a prophetic and teaching device. The story of Andrew the Fool’s miraculous endowment of tongues was used to facilitate a private conversation between Andrew and a slave while attending a party. This allowed them to talk freely without the patron of the party becoming privy to the conversation and becoming angry about the matter being discussed.

    The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

    Francis Xavier
    Francis Xavier, 1506 — 1552 AD

    The sainthood of Francis Xavier in the sixteenth-century, and the incredulous notion that he miraculously spoke in foreign languages brought the gift of tongues to the forefront of theological controversy. Protestants used his example of how Catholics had become corrupt, to the point of making fictitious accounts that contradict the evidence. A closer look demonstrated that the sainthood investigation process was flawed on the accounts of him speaking in tongues. On the contrary, a proper examination showed Francis struggled with language acquisition. His sainthood with partial grounds based on speaking in tongues was a later embarrassment to the Society of Jesus to whom Francis belonged to. The Society of Jesus is an educational, missionary and charitable organization within the Catholic church that was ambitiously counter-reformation in its early beginnings. The Society of Jesus still exists today and is the largest single order in the Catholic Church.

    The mistaken tongues miracle in Francis’ life also was a headache for the Catholic Church leadership itself. This led to Pope Benedict XIV to write a treatise on the gift of tongues around 1748 and describe what it is, isn’t and what criteria should be used to investigate such a claim. He concluded that the gift of tongues can be speaking in foreign languages or a miracle of hearing.

    This treatise was a well-written and researched document. No other church leader or religious organization, even the Renewalist movement, have superseded his work in validating a claim for speaking in tongues. After his publication, the investigation of claims for tongues-speaking in the Catholic Church had significantly declined.

    Next article in this three-part series:

  • A Summary of the Gift of Tongues Project: the Protestant Experience is in development.
  • For further reading:

    References   [ + ]

    Speaking in tongues Quiz 2

    Gift of Tonques Quiz 2

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

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

    Gift of Tongues Quiz 1

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

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