Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues

A translation, research, and analysis of the catenas attributed to Cyril of Alexandria about Pentecostal and Corinthian tongues.

A worthy study because Cyril reveals some interesting facts of an ancient Church liturgy that sheds some light on the mystery tongues of Corinth.

Cyril of Alexandria was the Pope of Alexandria, Egypt, in the early fifth century “at the time Alexandria was at its height in influence and power within the Roman Empire.”1 He was a prolific writer, and was well-educated in the writings of Origen, Eusebius, Didymus, and many more.

He represents an important era in tracing the development and transmission on the Church doctrine of tongues.

The writings are in the form of a catenae, which format is best described by the Catholic Encyclopedia found at the New Advent website:

Collections of excerpts from the writings of Biblical commentators, especially the Fathers and early ecclesiastical writers, strung together like the links of a chain, and in this way exhibiting a continuous and connected interpretation of a given text of Scripture. It has been well said that they are exegetical anthologies.

These fragments of patristic commentaries are not only quite valuable for the literal sense of Scripture, since their text frequently represents the evidence of very ancient (now lost) manuscripts; they are also serviceable to the theologian (dogmatic and mystical), to the ecclesiastical historian, and to the patrologist, for they often exhibit the only remains of important patristic writings.2

One must be always be cautious of a catena. The commitment to keeping the exact text intact is not a priority and could easily be slightly altered by copyists. The catenas often are poorly published reproductions as well. However, the original texts are lost and these are the best ones that presently exist. It has to be assumed that the intent of the message is still preserved.

These catenae are not considered authored solely by Cyril. Philip Pusey stated that there are notes sometimes inserted from the works of Didymus of Alexandria in Cyril’s catena of I Corinthians.3 It cannot be determined exactly which pieces are Didymus’ accounts.

It is considered here that the writings are predominately Cyril of Alexandria with some added opinions by Didymus of Alexandria. The Gift of Tongues Project is more concerned about the original time the work was first written than the authorship. The Project’s main aim is to build a chronology of the tongues doctrine throughout the centuries. The so-called Cyril writings reflect the opinion of the Alexandrians in the fifth century, even if complete knowledge regarding who penned the original work is not entirely clear.

The first step was to identify the Cyrillian writings on the subject. Since their was no digital database available of these works when this study began, this had to be done manually.

This was made going page-by-page through the Migne Patrologia Graeca volumes relating to Cyril’s works. Philippus Edvardus Pusey’s 1872 version called Cyrilli: Archiepiscopi Alexandrini In D. Joannis Evangelium was also consulted.4

The following works attributed to Cyril of Alexandria are found to have references to either the tongues of Acts or Corinth: Zephaniah (Sophonias in Latin), Acts and I Corinthians.

The catenas attributed to Cyril are not lineal at all. They skip many verses. The catena on I Corinthians 12-14 amply demonstrates this; the column begins with chapter 12:9, followed by 12:12, immediately after is 14:2, then 14:5, 14:10, and 14:12. The verses in-between these numbers are not published.

The manuscripts contain only one or two paragraph excerpts for each of the verses. These were likely taken from much larger works done by Cyril that are lost to us today. It would have been ideal to see the whole work instead of a catena.

Even with the shortcomings of the catenae format, the Cyrillian texts have much to offer on the subject and it will be interesting to see what it all means in the end.

The goal here is threefold:

  • to translate the works from the Greek, with some assistance from the parallel Latin, for the English audience to read for themselves,
  • to analyze and provide commentary on the findings,
  • to provide the original texts in Greek and Latin for those interested.

The translations will have some short commentaries in the footnotes. A full analysis and commentary is being left for the last article on this series.

A synopsis of this project, translations, and notes on Cyril of Alexandria on tongues, can be found at Gift of Tongues Project menu and scroll down to the Cyril of Alexandrian sub-category.

  2. Catenae at New Advent
  3. Cyrilli: Archiepiscopi Alexandrini In D. Joannis Evangelium. Philippus Edvardus Pusey, ed. London: Oxford. 1872. Pg. VII
  4. Cyrilli: Archiepiscopi Alexandrini In D. Joannis Evangelium. Philippus Edvardus Pusey, ed. London: Oxford. 1872

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