The Venerable Bede on the doctrine of tongues. An English translation of his initial commentary on the Acts of the Apostles chapters 2:1-18.
Translated by Charles A. Sullivan from MPL. Vol. 92 Bedæ Venerabilis: Super Acta Apostolorum Expositio. Col. 945-948
Bede’s Initial Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles
“And when the days of Pentecost were completed, they were all together in the same place,” that they are being narrated to have been up high. For whoever longs to be filled by the holy Spirit, it is necessary that they should climb above the residence of flesh to the contemplative mind. Just like also the forty days, by which the Lord after His resurrection had dwelled with the disciples, they note the Church rising together of those who live abroad, so on the fiftieth day that the holy Spirit is being received, a completion of blessed peace, that the work of the temporary Church will be repaid in an eternal 10,1 He will suitably pronounce. For the calculated number 40 adds 10 more itself from its equal parts, and it makes 50. Half of 40 is 20, the 4th by that of five,2 5th x 8, 8th x 5, 10th x 4, 20th x 2, 40th x 1. For 20,10, 8, 5, 4, 2, and 1 make 50.3 For it is easy to figure-out the form of this calculation, seeing the present strife is the joy of the 50th4 to us,5 as if secretly generating the imperishable, from which the Apostle teaches: “For that which is at the present moment and the trivialness of our trouble, works greatness in us, the eternal weight of glory above measure” [I Corinthians 4:17]6
But the reality is our supreme happiness of the body and soul, we are the ones who pride ourselves in immortality that is being nourished in the eternal vision by the substance and blessing of the Trinity.7 For we exist in four well known distinguished parts of the body. In the inner man, from every heart, soul and mind together, we desire to love God. And this is the perfect 10 of life, that we are to be joyful in the present vision of divine glory. The truth is about to be observed adjoining history that is in the writings of the early authorities, the day of Pentecost, that is, the 50th, which the Law was given, was reckoned after the slaughter of the lamb. This is also not from the passion of the Lord, but as the blessed Augustine explained, 50 days from His resurrection, which the holy Spirit had been sent, it is being reckoned, that, with the evidence taking place of the long standing proof.8 He [the Spirit] Himself most evidently consecrated the day of the Lord with His arrival. In that critical moment of time, the Passover day of the Lord demonstrated that it must be celebrated. For as it is here, and as well as God appeared in a vision of fire, as it says in Exodus, “And all Mount Sinai was on a smoke: because the Lord was come down upon it in fire.”9
“And suddenly a sound was made from heaven as if of a mighty wind coming” etc. The Lord indeed appeared by means of fire as the blessed Pope Gregory explains, but made through inner10 speech itself. And neither the God of fire, nor the sound made a noise but by that which was externally produced, this was expressed in respect to what was conducted on the inside. That it rendered within the disciples as ones who had come on fire, with zeal and skill in the word, the outside showed the fiery tongues. Therefore, the elements had been brought up in accordance with an outward sign, that the persons11 were experiencing the fire and the sound by the true invisible fire and the hearts were being taught by the voice without sound.
“And there appeared to them parted tongues, as it were of fire:”12 That is to say the holy Spirit appeared in fire and languages, because everyone whom he filled are on fire together and these ones are producing phrases. Certainly these ones are on fire from it, and are speaking from it. At the same time it also demonstrates that the holy Church has opened wide the boundaries throughout the world. [The Church] is going to speak in the voice of all the nations.
“And they began to speak in various languages.” How the arrogance of Babylon scattered the unity of languages, [and] the humbleness of the Church gathers it back. Moreover, the variety of languages spiritually signifies the gifts of different graces. The holy Spirit is certainly not being inconsistently understood, for that reason the gift of tongues had been given to men before anything else, by which in the form of human wisdom on the outside and becoming learned, and being taught, that it was to demonstrate how easy it can be to make wise men by means of the wisdom of God which is inside them.
“Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.”15 I think it is appropriate to seriously ask, who were at this place, and from where were the captive Jews? Seeing that those who had been in Egypt or Babylonia had already been freed. While the Jews had not yet come to the Romans in captivity, and clearly the revenge itself was to be imminent about the crime that was committed against the Saviour.16 Therefore it remains to be done, so that captivity is to be understood to have been done under Antiochus17 that he certainly destroyed not much time before.18
“Because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue.”19 One should ask in this place why each one was hearing in their own language those speaking the great things of God?
Either [one of the two]: those that they were speaking such in the various words of every language generated what they spoke, that is, each of them here now, yet now again a different language being spoken, so that it was to proceed through every language.
Or rather20 was it more astonishing to this than their speech that whatever language was being spoken, these ones proclaimed in the hearing of each and every person, they were understanding according to their own language. That with the word of grace by whichever apostle in the Church teaches (In fact it was necessary to speak one [language] and one speech with leaving the rest silent in order to reach everyone who heard).21 The speech itself was to possess this in its own power, that while the hearers were of the diverse nations, each one according to their language coming from this one speech itself, which had been uttered by the Apostle, that it entered upon the hearer and seized the intellect. Except perhaps according to this, it seemed those who are hearing to be a greater miracle than those who speaking.
“And those who inhabited Mesopotamia, and Judaea and Cappodocia.” In this place it signifies Judaea not entirely gentile but part of those, this is the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, for one may see clearly the distinction Samaria, Galiliee, Decapolis, and of others in the same province concerning the regions. Although that everyone were speaking in the one language of Hebrew, nevertheless, the native style of each speaking had a distinctiveness. From where also Peter in the passion of the Lord with respect to a Galilean is being identified by that which is his speech.
“Jews also, and proselytes.”22 Proselytes, that is, they called them strangers, who, these ones derive origin from the gentiles, they were wishing rather to choose circumcision and Judaism, like Achior in the Book of Judith is described to have done. Then not only, do they say, are they Jews by birth that had visited from different regions, certainly too it is about those having been born with a foreskin, they adhere to the custom.23
“But others mocking, said: These men are full of new wine.” Mocking although they were giving true witness to something belonging to the ancient mysteries. That not in old wine, while in the Church wedding, but they had been filled with the freshness of the spirit’s grace. Indeed, now it had come the new wine in new skins, while the Apostles not in the oldness of letter, but were to resound in the newness of the Spirit of God’s great work (Rom. 7).24
“For these are not drunk, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.”25 The holy Spirit is about to proclaim glory in the indivisible way of the Trinity, He conveniently descended in the third hour. And because what was written above, “They were persevering in prayer,”26 they correctly feel the holy Spirit in the hour of prayer that it was to be pointed out by the readers27 that the grace of the holy Spirit is not easily to be felt. Neither can the mind, which is based on worldly senses, rise up in the thought of heavenly things. For three times to which Daniel in the day did he bow his knees, and it was chosen28 to worship at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, it is understood by the Church. Whereby also the Lord is the one who sends the holy Spirit in the third hour, sixth — rises to the cross, and the ninth — lays his own soul down. It has been deemed most worthy to recount and sanctify these same hours for the rest of us.
“I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh:”29 The word of offering shows the abundance of excess, because the holy Spirit exists through the agency of grace which brings about pardon, not as formerly the power with the prophets and priests only, but in everyone everywhere in either sex within relations and persons. For that is to be in all flesh, it was explained in accordance with the prophet.30
“And they will prophecy,” (it says) “your sons and daughters,” etc. . . . “and I will show wonders in heaven above, and a sign on earth below.”31 Wonders in heaven, a new star appeared with the Lord being born, while going up to the cross, the sun was darkened, and heaven itself was covered in darkness. A sign on the earth, because the earth trembled by Lord sending the Spirit, it uncovered tombs, moved stones, and brought up the many revived bodies of the saints who had gone to sleep.■
Need information on Bede and the subject matter? The following link may help: The Venerable Bede on the Doctrine of Tongues.
- Latin:denario. Lidell and Scott, Perseus Version, wrote it meant a coin, whether silver or gold, with a specific value, or simple 10, but later could generally mean money. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=denario&la=la#lexicon
- Latin:”em” I don’t know what this word actually means in this context, perhaps it is a manuscript error, but can’t think it could be anything other than 5
- He is adding up these consecutive numbers to equal 50. Bede was well versed in math, though his audience did not have such an ability, so he used very basic math. Was Bede dabbling in numerology here, or was it showmanship? It could be a little of both.
- jubilæi: the year of Jubilee according to the Jews. Bede is being symbolic here using 50 to mean liberation, which can only happen through trial and struggle.
- awkward Latin: quoniam praesens conflictus gaudium nobis jubilæi. It is missing the verb, which I assume is suppose to have est
- My translation. The Douay-Rheims is not always best in communicating the Latin translation in contemporary English, and I am trying to translate as Bede understood the text to mean.
- nos immortalitate gloriantes summæ et beatæ Trinitatis æterna visione satiari.
- “qui, redeunte signi veteris exemplo” I am not sure exactly what he means here and my translation remains rough.
- Douay-Rheims. Exodus 19:18
- per semetipsum locutionem interius fecit. It is important to both Bede and Gregory the use of interius. This is important.
- The Latin clearly means “it” and not “they” as some English translations have
- Vel certe quia requies ejus indicatur in sanctis.– Bede is connecting to a previous paragraph where current suffering brings on holiness.
- licet jam et ipsa immineret ultrix commissi de Salvatore piaculi – I have my doubts that this is actually the original part of Bede’s work. it appears to be a later insertion.
- Antiochus Epiphanes
- Almost 200 years before.
- utrum… an — “Or rather” is from the Latin “an” which Whitaker’s Works says: “can it be that (introduces question expecting negative answer/further question)” which should then be interpreted as a hypothetical position that Bede did not agree. However, Lidell and Scott at Perseus “Sometimes the opinion of the speaker or the probability inclines to the second interrogative clause (cf. infra, II. E.). and this is made emphatic, as a corrective of the former, or rather, or on the contrary.” I think the context along with Lidell and Scott is the correct implementation here.
- This parenthesis exists in the original Latin copy of MPL. I interpret this parenthetical text to be a later emendation by a copyist/editor
- The uncircumcised. What exactly Bede means about the uncircumcised is not clear. It could mean the Jew who was born uncircumcised and continue to promote what Bede thinks is an unnecessary practice, which he frowns upon, or that those gentiles who have converted, ie: the uncircumcised, adhere to the custom too.
- Romans 7:6 “so that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” Douay-Rheims
- amplified from Acts 1:14
- legentibus: organized community prayer in Bede’s time was associated with a reader(s). Lector is a better known synonym.
- Joel 2:28
- portions of Acts 2:17 and 19, my translation.