Rufinus on Gregory Nazianzus' work on Pentecost

Rufinus’ fifth century Latin translation of Gregory Nazianzus’ Oration On Pentecost 41:15-16 translated into English.

Rufinus’ translation is an important element in tracing the development of the doctrine of tongues from the fifth century onwards.

Gregory Nazianzus’ original Oration On Pentecost was penned in Greek during the fourth century. However, we have few, if any Greek manuscripts that date earlier than the ninth century attributed to Gregory’s Orations. Over time, texts tend to lose, gain, be emended, modernized, and all sorts of other changes over the process of being recopied. Not that this is necessarily bad, but if one wants to be sure about the initial intent, it is important to find or build a text closest to the original.

This is where Rufinus’ work becomes important. It was originally written in the fifth century and remains one of the oldest texts on the subject. However, the work does not exactly parallel the available Greek editions. Some argue that Rufinus took too much liberty when rephrasing important elements and therefore the results are an amplified version. This may be true, and therefore it must be read with some caution as an original source text.

However, this Latin work was by far more popular than the Greek text in the Latin-based Church world, and set the basis for their understanding of Nazianzus’ Orations. It is a key point in the history of the tongues doctrine.

Who was Rufinus? “(Rufinus Aquileiensis; 340/345 – 410) was a monk, historian, and theologian. He is most known as a translator of Greek patristic material into Latin.”1 He was heavily influenced by the Alexandrian Church community, especially that of Didymus the Blind.

Oration 41:15-16

Translated by Charles Sullivan from Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum.2

15. Therefore the Apostles were speaking in various and diverse languages, and until the present [moment], an unfamiliar3 voice was being let out by these very ones who were speaking. This was a sign that had previously been foretold to the unbelieving peoples, when it says as, “In other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people, and neither so will they hear me, says the Lord.”4 It needs to be asked in this place as to how each one was hearing these very ones speaking in their own languages the mighty things of God. Either those that were speaking such in the various words of every language, generated what was being said. That is for example, each one of them speaking in one language which having been paused here again, was again to change himself to another, and again to to another, and was to run through in such a way through the many or all languages.

Or rather, was it more astonishing to this, than their speech which they were speaking, whatever language was to have been spoken, it was being understood by each one hearing according to their own language. That is for example, by whichever one apostle in the Church says, (In fact it was necessary to speak one [language] and one speech while leaving the rest silent in order to reach everyone who heard), the speech itself was to possess this in its own power, so that while the hearers were of the diverse nations, each one according to the their own 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, that it may appear those who are hearing to be a greater miracle than those who speaking. On the other hand, those who were thus speaking were likewise thought to be drunk by the unbelieving who are ignorant about hearing the voices of the Holy Spirit.

16. The ancient division of languages is also certainly to be marvelled at, in the situation that the unity had become an alliance of iniquity was wrongly coming together for the most arrogant and impious construction of a building. But the exertions were being restrained with the wicked who had been averted of the conspiracy by the separation of the voice and also in the unfamiliar sound. Truly much more wonderful is such a division. Because in fact there was at the time a division from one into many who had become ignorant and different between each other, that now through the many being restored to the one like-mindedness and harmony. And they were indeed diverse gifts but was also given the gift of discretion, which can be distinguished and understood from the good [usage of language] which is better.5 But this certainly does not appear to me unprofitable since David says, “Submerge, O Lord, and divide their tongues.” Why? Because they valued all the words of destruction, the deceitful tongue. Can it [the oneness of language] be clearly shown through these such tongues that we now presently see destroying the nature of the divine and the unity of the sacred substance? Yes, it is to be capable of such things.■


The Latin version of this text can be found here: Gregory Nazianzus’ Oration 41:15-16 in the Latin.

This is one part of a multi-series on Gregory Nazianzus on the doctrine of tongues. For more articles on this subject, go to the The Gift of Tongues Project and scroll down to the Gregory sub-section.

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum. Vol. XXXXVI. Tyranni Rufini Opera . Pars I. Augustus Engelbrecht, ed. Lipsiae. 1910. Pg. 160ff.
  3. sermo ignotus — ignotus can mean strange, unknown, unacquainted with, ignorant of.The emphasis here is not the nature or type of voice, but that the Apostles did not know previously the language they were speaking.
  4. I Corinthians 14:21 based on Isaiah 28:11
  5. a bono quod melius est.

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