Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Technical Notes on Acts

A medieval commentary of the Book of Acts from a fragment attributed to the fifth century Church Father, Cyril of Alexandria.

The following is an English translation of a text relating to tongues and Pentecost. It comes from a supplement to Cyril’s works as found in Migne Patrologia Graeca.

It is highly doubtful that Cyril of Alexandria is the author of this work but it does represent to the medieval mindset on the tongues of Pentecost. For more information on the background, textual analysis and authorship of this text, go to The Cyril of Alexandria Text on Pentecost.

S. Cyrilli Alexandrini Archiep. Supplementum. Fragmenta in Acta Apostolorum

Translation based on Migne Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 74. Col. 757ff. (Ex Catena Crameri, Oxonii 1838)

English Translation of the Greek Text

Cyril. Some, on the one hand, were speaking in languages, and furthermore these ones did not know them beforehand. Meanwhile those proficient in the art of interpreting were taking note, indeed the ears were not now in the manner and custom of such things as this happening. On a different note, the divine Paul confidently asserts with those that were then given the gift to speak in languages, was not an emphasis in a gifting part but as in the form of a sign for believers. And indeed so he provided a persuasive word, having as follows: “That in strange tongues and foreign lips I will speak to this people and they will not believe such a thing.”1 The Spirit dispensed the distribution of the gifts in a variety of ways. So that for instance, they say, this body is certainly joined together by the parts pachu2 and from land, thus also is Christ, truly His body, that is to say, the Church, mindfully apprehended to unity through the many multitude of the faithful, possessing the most perfect composition.

and a little after3 Therefore when the priests under the sun4 were thinking to clearly speak to every language and nation the Gospel and salvation message, a sign was the giving of tongues to them. Men being Galileans, and raised up according to Jewish custom, Hebrews and certainly those from Hebrew lineage, Medes and Parthians too, and to be sure, Elamites and those from the the middle dwellers of the rivers,5 Cappadocia and as well Egypt that they were speaking in their languages. The use was effected in them by the work and grace of the Spirit. For it was written as such, “There appeared to them tongues being distributed as of fire,” etc. Except [how] the manner of stewardship was being done. Not all were approving of the action. When they were at once speaking in different languages, these ones making the grace by the agency of the Spirit as it were something of a show and those who receive the sign [as] an extravagant opportunity. Those unworthy were bound to be lecturing from the holy prophets and make a case about the Gospel doctrines, as6 from things in heaven and in fact from those many who are preaching.7 These people extol as well upon the ability to speak in tongues only, and in fact of this one and only were they supposing it is needful to lay claim to. And that which has been done was in rash actions to the more important things. ■

The English translation of the Greek here appears sloppy, and abrupt. This is not the fault of the translation, but because of the text. This Greek text appears to be a cut-and-paste work of a copyist, who took quotations out of a number of works and pasted them together into a logical sequence. As one reads the many other translations listed on this site attributed to Cyril of Alexandria, many of the sentences are found elsewhere.

A later Latin translator took this Greek copy about Pentecost and put much effort into making it flow better. Below is my English translation of this Latin work:

English Translation of the Latin Text

Some were speaking in languages unknown beforehand. Others were given the work to interpreting these things in the presence of men who greatness of things such as this were by no means quite attentive. Paul indeed asserts to this not having been imparted as a sign of grace but a symbol to those who were of faith, which he says these words in the end, “In other tongues and lips I am going to speak to this people, and neither will they hear such a thing.” Therefore the holy Spirit makes a dispensation of grace. Even as, it says, the body is based on by pieces of dense air and earth, that is also Christ, more correctly His body, that is the Church, continuing in the many holy saints, being joined together in spiritual unity.

And a little later. Therefore when the earthly priests wish to announce the Salvation-Gospel in every language and to all the peoples, they received the gift of languages. Men originating from Galilee, native in Idumea, Hebrews by parents of Hebrews, with Medes and Parthians, Elamites and to those who dwelled in Mesopotamia, Cappadocians and further off to the Egyptians, they were speaking in their own language. In fact the grace of the holy Spirit was working in them. For it has been written; “And there appeared among them a distribution of tongues, even as fire,” etc. Certainly at the beginning not everyone was making sense of these things. In fact afterwards they began to speak in other languages, these ones changing the divine gift of the Spirit into haughtiness and showing off, by now unworthily producing to teach about the sacred prophets and also to instruct about the evangelical doctrines, obviously which had long before and divinely been proclaimed. Thus these ones having too much pride about the gift of tongues are repeating everything to that which already happened, they were immediately pursuing no other matter.

A full synopsis of Cyril of Alexandria on tongues including commentaries, translations, and notes can be found at the Gift of Tongues Project menu. Scroll down to the Cyril of Alexandrian sub-category.

  1. « Ἐν ἑτερογλώσσαις καὶ ἐν χείλεσιν, ἑτέροις λαλήσω τῷ λαῷ τούτῳ, καὶ οὐδ’ οὕτως πιστεύσουσιν. »
  2. It means material, substance or unspiritual. Not sure how to translate it in this context.
  3. This appears to be an editorial note. It suggests that something was skipped just before this.
  4. all over the world
  5. Mesopotamia
  6. ὡς is considered a misspelling here and should read ὧς
  7. ὡς ἄνωθεν τε καὶ ἐκ πολλοῦ προκεκηρυγμένου

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