Cyril of Jerusalem on the Miracle of Pentecost

Cyril of Jerusalem wrote a surprising description on the miracle of tongues. Cyril lived in the fourth century and was a bishop of Jerusalem. He wrote in his Catechism:

“And they began to speak in foreign tongues, even as the Holy Spirit prompted them to speak.” The Galilean Peter and Andrew spoke Persian or Median. John and the other Apostles spoke all the tongues of various nations, for the thronging of multitudes of strangers from all parts is not something new in Jerusalem, but this was true in Apostolic times. What teacher can be found so proficient as to teach men in a moment what they have not learned? So many years are required through grammar and other arts merely to speak Greek well; and all do not speak it equally well. The rhetorician may succeed in speaking it well, the grammarian sometimes less well; and he who is skilled in grammar is ignorant of philosophical studies. But the Holy Spirit taught them at once many languages, which they do not know in a whole lifetime. This is truly lofty wisdom, this is divine power. What a contrast between their long ignorance in the past and this sudden, comprehensive, varied and unaccustomed use of languages.

The multitude of those listening was confounded; it was a second confusion, in contrast to the first evil confusion at Babylon. In that former confusion of tongues there was a division of purpose, for the intention was impious; here there was a restoration and union of minds, since the object of their zeal was pious. Through what occasioned the fall came the recovery. They wondered, saying: “How do we hear them speaking [our own tongue]?” There is nothing to wonder at, if you are ignorant. For even Nicodemus was ignorant of the coming of the Spirit, and it was said to him: “The Spirit breatheth where he will; and thou hearest his voice, but thou knowest not whence he cometh, and whither he goeth.” If when I hear His voice I know not whence He comes, how can I explain what He is in essence?

This is a translation found in The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation. The Works of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem. Volume 2. Transl. by Leo P. McCauley, S.J. and A.A. Stephenson. Washington, DC; The Catholic University of America. Pg. 106-107. There is no publication date given in the book but Google Books suggest it was published in 1969.

This book was found in a local university library. It is odd that such an important English translation on the subject and in existence for over 40 years has never been part of the tongues discussion.

But then, this is a large part of my research project, the lack of easy access to Patristic literature in the original and so few being translated in English are the main factors that have led to our contemporary understanding and practice of tongues today.

There are many more writers than Cyril of Jerusalem that have written on the subject. One will find a number examples on this website with more to come.

If you are interested in the actual original text, this can be found at: Migne Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 33. Col. 987

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