Aquinas on Tongues: I Corinthians 14:27-33

A translation of Thomas Aquinas on I Corinthians 14:27-33 from the Latin into contemporary English.

Translated from the Latin text: Reportationes 088 R1C cp 14 Pg. 390 lc6

I Corinthians 14:27–33

The Apostle maps out here how they ought to conduct themselves in regards to the gift of tongues. In respect to this, he does it in two ways. With the first he shows in which they ought to utilize the gift of tongues. With the second when they ought to cease from [its] use. In that place it says, “But if there will be no [interpreter], etc.” he then says, with the first, that the manner in which the gift of tongues ought to be applied is to be such among you that “If any,” which is if someone should speak in a tongue, that is he is going to narrate visions or dreams, of such things, a speech probably cannot be done by many on account of the occupation of time in tongues and no place remains for the prophets and generates confusion but, “Let it be by two,” that is by two persons, and if necessary it ought to have been done according to “the most three,” that it should be enough at three.

“In the mouth of two or three, etc.,” (Deuteronomy 17:6) but it must be noted that this habit for the most part is being served in the Church for we have the [public] readings and the epistles and also the gospels in the place of tongues, and for that reason it follows in Mass two are being delivered, because only two are being said whose antecedent is to the gift of tongues, specifically the epistle and the gospel. Accordingly in Matins many are done, in fact you say three readings in one. For in the former times they used to read a nocturn the next three night watches separately. Now however they are being spoken at the same time but on the other hand the procedure is not only to be preserved in regard to the number of those who are speaking but as well in regards to the way [it is done]. And this is what he says, “and through sharing,”1 that is in order that those who are speaking are to follow in turns with one another, a fact that one is to speak after another, or “through sharing,” that is interrupted, specifically that one is to speak on part of a vision or of instruction and is to explain it, and afterwards another and explains the very thing being shared and so follows one after another. Preachers have become accustomed to preserve that way when they are to preach to men of an unknown tongue by means of an interpretation.2 And for that reason it says, “Let one interpret.”3 as a result he says, “if there will not be available, etc.,” he shows when it is not to be practiced with tongues, saying that the one who is about to speak is through sharing and the one ought to interpret but, “if there will not be available,” anyone [who is an], “interpreter,” that is who understands, [then] those who have the gift of tongues, “are to keep silent in the Church,” that is he4 is not to speak because he himself understands and this silence is to be manifested in prayer or in meditation. “I will speak in the bitterness of my soul, I will speak to God, etc.,” (Job 10:1). “On the other hand the prophets two [or three let them speak], etc.” The apostle is setting out here for them as to how they ought to conduct themselves with respect to the use of prophecy. In regards to this he does two things. With the first he shows in which way prophecy is to be utilized also in respect to the number and to the order [of things]. With the second he shows to whom the use of prophecy is being prohibited. In which place it says, “the women in the Church [let them keep silent], etc.,” In regards to the first he does three things. With the first he points out the order by which the gift of prophecy ought to be applied. With the second he applies a reason regarding this, where it says, “for you can all [prophecy], etc..” With the third he removes and objection where it says, “the spirits of the prophets [are subject to the prophets], etc..” With the first he defines the number of those using the appointed gift. With the second he points the manner or order by which it ought to be utilized where it says, “But if any thing [be revealed to another sitting], etc.,” In regards to the first it is noted that the use of prophecy [is] according to what the apostle seems to grasp here. It is to forward the word of encouragement to the people, by which [the word] clarifies the sacred Scriptures. Because also there was in the early Church many who possessed this gift from God and the faithful were not yet multiplied, but confusion and weariness did not exist, the apostle wishes that all who are qualified to explain the prophecies and the sacred Scripture are to prophecy, but also to those ones who have been designated. And this is what he says, “the prophets [two or three let them speak], etc.,” as if he was saying: “I do not wish that everyone who comes together [prophecy]” but “two” only or at most, “three” as the need requires for one to perform as a speaker, “let them speak,” that is they are to encourage and furthermore this is designed to agree to Scripture. “In the mouth of two or three [witnesses every word may stand],”5 (Matthew 18:16).

“However the others,”6 namely those who do not gain [from it] “let them judge,” them who are being put forward by these demonstrations, specifically whether good or bad may have been said: what good has been said can result in commendation, and what bad has been said can result in causing one to retract [the statement]. See I Corinthians 2:15 “the spiritual man is to judge everything.” On the other hand it is the order which is being observed in the designated gift which is waiting to be used, that if one of those who were sitting and remain silent, and they judge, had made some better revelation than those who were encouraging are currently standing in front, now those who are standing ought to sit and him to whom is a better revelation ought to rise and encourage. And this is what he said, “But if anything,” to the one sitting “has been revealed” in fact by the holy Spirit, “the prior” one standing, “let him keep silent” and grant him [the honor]. “come before one another in honor” (Romans 12:10). And it is for this reason because according to this way “you are able” as one who has submitted “to prophecy by one at a time,”7 that is everyone namely “that all,” that is the greater “may learn, and all” that is the lesser “may be encouraged.” “A wise man who hears [shall be wiser],” (Proverbs 1:5).

And if someone should say “O apostle, I cannot keep silent while another is to prophecy or yield to sitting from which I have become [stirred] because I cannot restrain the Spirit who speaks in me,” follow that with Job 4:2, “Who is able to hold words which have been conceived?” As a result the Apostle removes this when he says, “and the spirit of the prophets, etc.,” as if he is to say, on the contrary he can well be silent and sit down because, “the spirit of the prophets that is the spirit who gives the prophecies, and sets in plural with the number on account of the many revelations roused in him, “are subject to prophets” even in reference to knowledge. Because as Gregorius says that the spirit of prophecy is not always present to the prophets, from whom it is not a habit, as it certainly is with knowledge. In fact it [knowledge] was intended to follow in a different way, that furthermore in reference to knowledge, it would be subject to them, and they could have utilized it whenever they so desired, and not to have used [as well]. But [prophecy] it is a certain power or impression by God who illumines and touches the heart of the prophets, and then only when they are being touched in this way do they become aware. One arrives at the fact that he is not subject to them in the same way [as knowledge]. Neither is the word of the Apostle to be understood according to this, but the spirit of the prophets are subject to prophets in reference to the proclamation because in fact it is in their power when they want to pronounce or not to pronounce that which they are being shown to them. And so the excuse has no such value worth mentioning because the spirit does not compel that you are not able to keep silent.

And this is to be true, he demonstrates when he says, “for He [God] is not of dissension, etc.,” and he made so great a reason. God never compels to that from which a quarrel or conflict is to arise but peace. But if the spirit of prophecy was to compel men for the purpose of speaking, then it would be a cause of dissension, because they want so much to always speak or teach or to not keep another from speaking regarding things which others were likely being thrown into confusion. Therefore, the holy Spirit does not compel man to speak. “The God of peace and life will be with you, etc.”8 But nevertheless because to this point one is able to object that he was not doing this, that he only mandated with those which he refers specifically to and not to other Churches, from which place also it can appear as an annoyance, therefore the Apostle supplies this is not only to them but also to be taught in every Church. And this is what he says, “as also I teach in all the churches of the saints,”9 specifically about the use of tongues and prophecy. (See I Corinthians 1:10) “that you all speak the same thing.”

This is the last significant reference to the doctrine of tongues in I Corinthians 14. Therefore, the rest of the chapter has been left untranslated.

Unless specified otherwise, all English Bible verses are quoted from the Douay-Rheims translation of the Latin Vulgate.

For more information:

  1. I Corinthians 14:27 “et per partes”
  2. “interpretationem” — the Elementary Lewis Latin dictionary says that it can also mean translation. The Aquinas text is stating that the preacher would speak to foreigners which would require a translation
  3. Only one interpret so as to not cause any confusion
  4. Men are only to speak in the Church, not women so this is gender correct for this time period.
  5. The Aquinas text also has “supra xvii, v. 6” which normally would mean “see I Corinthians 17:6” but there is no such chapter. Larcher ignores this reference and I agree with him and follow suit.
  6. “Caeteri vero,” whereas the Vulgate has just “ceteri.”
  7. Aquinas text has “prophetare per singulos,”the Vulgate has “per singulos prophetare”
  8. Aquinas text has “dues pacis et dilectionis erit vobiscum.” The Vulgate has “Deus dilectionis et pacis erit vobiscum”
  9. It is odd here that the Douay-Rheims follows something similar to the Aquinas text when the Vulgate is missing “doceo”–I teach.

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