An English translation of the texts relating to the Christian doctrine of tongues by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.
Table of Contents
- In Epistolas Joannis et Parthos
- Enarratio in Psalmum
- Sermons transcribed into writing attributed to Augustine
- Sermo CLXXV:3 (175:3)
- Sermo CCLXV:10 (265:10)
- Sermo CCLXVI:2 (266:2)
- Sermo CCLXVII (267)
- Sermo CCLXVIII (268)
- Sermo CCLXIX (269)
- Sermo CCCLII:2 (352:2)
- References Untranslated
Augustine was one of the most prolific writers on the gift of tongues. This fact is largely due to his attack on the Donatists–a rival and popular African group who felt themselves superior because they remained pure during the Diocletian persecution. Augustine posits that one of their distinctions was speaking in tongues–a sign that they were the true church.
For more information, go to Augustine on the Tongues of Pentecost.
The following are English translations of Augustine’s Homilies and texts that relate to speaking in tongues.
Unless noted otherwise, all translations were completed by Charles Sullivan.
MPL Vol. 35. Augustine. In Epistolas Joannis et Parthos VI:10 (6:10) Col. 2025Ff.
In the earliest times the holy Spirit was falling upon those who believe and was given the ability to speak1 in languages, which they had not previously learned,2 even as the Spirit was giving them utterance. These were signs adapted for the time. For it was in this manner necessary that the holy Spirit to be shown in all the languages which the Gospel of God was3 about to run around all the earth through all the languages. That it is to be a sign and has passed. Can it now be to those receiving the laying of hands when they receive the holy Spirit, is there an expectation with this, that they must speak in languages? Or rather when we laid hands on those4 infants, does anyone of you pay attention to whether they were speaking in languages or when it was seen of them that they did not speak in languages, was it according to the perverseness of the heart with some of you that you would say, “These did not receive the holy Spirit, for if they had received, would they be speaking in languages even as was done in times past? Then, if it should not now be appointed as the evidence of the presence of the holy Spirit through these miracles, from what point does it take place, from which point does each one know that he himself has received the holy Spirit? He should examine his own heart, if he loves a5 brother, the Spirit of God dwells with him. Let him see, let him demonstrate himself6 personally in the eyes of God. He should examine in him if the love is of peace and unity, the love of the Church which has been spread throughout the whole earth. He should not only apply his attention to love a brother, which he has applied before him, for we do not see many of our brothers and we are joined in the unity of the Spirit with them.
Enarratio in Psalmum (396–420 AD)
MPL Vol. 36. Augustine. Enerratio in Psalmum LIV:11 (54) Col. 636.
“Drown, O Lord, and divide7 their languages. He paid close attention about those who are troubling and feigning8 with themselves, and he selected this, not in anger, brothers. Those who brought evil amongst themselves, it is made ready for them that they should be drowned, those who unite in evil, it is made ready for them that their languages should be divided. They could work together for a good purpose and the their languages could be in harmony. If then, “my enemies together were whispering against me” and states “all the evils against me”9 (Ps. 40:8), they could be destroyed together in evil. For their languages should be divided, that they should not be in harmony together among themselves. Drown, O Lord, and divide their languages. “Drown”, why? Because they raised themselves up. “Divide”, why? Because they plotted evil in unison. It is to be remembered their high building after the flood which was built of arrogance. What kind of arrogance did they mean? We should not be destroyed in a flood, we shall make another high building (Gen. 11:4). Within the arrogance, they considered themselves protected, they built another tall building, and the Lord divided their tongues. Then at that time they began to not be able to understand each other. From here the origin of many languages was found. Certainly before this there used to be one language and one language was beneficial for unity, one language was beneficial for mankind, but on the other hand, whereby those gathered had been instructed10 in the unity of pride, the Lord spared these ones11 so that instead He took to dividing the languages, lest they were to build a pernicious unity with the ability to understand each other. The languages were divided by reason of mankind’s pride, tongues were brought together through the agency of the humble apostles. The spirit of pride scattered the languages. The holy Spirit brought together the languages. Certainly when the holy Spirit fell upon the disciples they spoke in all the languages, from this point they understood everything (Acts 2:4). The languages which had been scattered, they were brought together as one. Consequently if now they are in a rage and are not of the faith, He made them to have been separated by language. They want one language, for this purpose they come to the Church, because the language of the flesh is in diversity, one is the language within the faithful soul.
MPL Vol. 37. Augustine. Enerratio in Psalmum XCVI (96) Col. 1247ff – on the conversion of Cornelius.
And because Cornelius was of the gentile race and also those who were with him had not been circumcised, so that they would not hesitate to deliver the Gospel to the non-circumcised, the holy Spirit came, and filled them before Cornelius was baptized and those who were with him, and they began to speak in languages. The holy Spirit had fallen upon no one, except those who had been baptized. He had fallen on those ones stated above before baptism. For Peter was hesitantly embracing whether he ought to baptize the uncircumcised. The holy Spirit came and they began to speak in languages. …Because a vision had greatly demonstrated to Peter, [this vision] pointed out [that] it spread out all things for them, such as the way Cornelius believed, because before the gentile man was to be baptized, the holy Spirit came upon him.
MPL Vol. 37 Augustine. Enarratio in Psalmum. CXLVII:19 (147:19) Col. 1929.
Read the Acts of the Apostles, if perhaps I am inventing, how the disciples had been gathered together in that place, when the holy Spirit came in order to demonstrate to you what the Lord is saying, “By the origins from Jerusalem”12 just as the holy Spirit came in all those who spoke in every language. Why then is there no [present] ability to speak in all the languages? See that sounds went out in every language. Why presently to whomever the holy Spirit is granted, that he is not speaking in all the languages? This was a proof at that time of the holy Spirit’s coming into men that they were speaking in all languages. Now you are bound to be called something, a teacher of false doctrine? Because has not the holy Spirit been given? Am I not saying when? Is He being given or not given? If He is not being given, what is it that motivates you for the purpose of speaking, being baptized and giving out praises? What is it that motivates you? You are celebrating foolish things. He is given now. If He is given [then the following question is to be asked] why are to those He is imparted on not speaking in all languages? Can it be the gift of God has waned, or the fruit is inferior? The tare and also the wheat have grown “Allow both to grow until the harvest” (Matt. 13:30). It was not said, Let the tare multiply and the grain diminish. Why then does the holy Spirit not appear now in all languages? On the contrary He does appear in all the languages. For at that time the Church was not yet spread out through the circle of lands, that the organs of Christ were speaking in all the nations. Then it was filled-up into one, with respect to which it was being proclaimed in every one of them. Now the entire body of Christ is speaking in all the languages. To those which it is not yet speaking, it will be speaking in the future. For the Church will multiply until it shall seize all the languages [in the entire world]. Hold fast with us until that time had come near, and you shall arrive with us to that which had not yet drawn near. I intend to teach you to speak in all the languages. I am in the body of Christ, I am in the Church of Christ. If the body of Christ is now speaking in all the languages, [then] also I am indeed speaking in all languages; to me it is that of Greek, Syrian, Hebrew, it is of every nation, because in unity, I am of every nation.
Sermons transcribed into writing attributed to Augustine (393–430 AD)
MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo. CLXXV:3 (175:3) Col. 946.
Then the actual promise came and the holy Spirit came, filled the disciples, they began to speak in the languages of all the nations. The sign in these was advancing unity. Namely then one man was speaking in every language because the unity of the Church was bound to speak in every language. They were frightened who were hearing. For they knew the men to be uneducated ones, that they were men of only one language. They were amazed and astounded, because those men of one language or at most two [languages] were speaking in the languages of all the nations.13
MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXV:10 (265:10) Col. 1224. 14
What conditions are there in the coming of the holy Spirit? The holy Spirit came, first of all filled, causing them to speak in every language. Each man speaking in every language. What other type did it signify, than unity with every language? These things having been preserved in this, approved in this, reinforced in this, fixed in the unshaken love of God, let us praise the Lord, you children and say hallelujah [Ps. 112:1]. But is it to be in one place [of this earth]? From where and all the way to? From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is worthy of praise.15
MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXVI:2 (266:2) Col. 1224-1225.
The advent of the holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The unity of the Catholic Church has been signified by gift of tongues. Certainly then we celebrate the solemnity of the holy Spirit’s coming. For on the day of Pentecost, whose day now begins, there was in one place 120 souls, to which are the Apostles and the mother of the Lord and those of the other sex praying and expecting what was promised in Christ, this is the coming of the holy Spirit.
It was not a foolish hope of one’s own anticipation, because it was not a false promise of that which is promised. It was being hoped for, it came and a clean vessel, so that he could be received by anyone, He came. “Their appeared to them the distribution of tongues even as of fire, which rested on each one of them, and they began to speak in in tongues as the spirit gave them utterance.” Each man was speaking in every language, it was being announced beforehand because the Church was about to be in every language. One man was a sign of unity. Every language by one man, every nation in unity.
MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXVII (267) Col. 1230ff.
On the Day of Pentecost
Chapter I. The Solemn Observance of the holy Spirit’s Arrival.
The solemnity of today’s day brings about the recollection concerning the great and great merciful Lord God, which was poured out on us. In fact for that reason the solemn festival is being celebrated, not that it had been done only a single time, that it was to have been deleted from memory. Indeed the solemn time received the name by that which is habitually performed in the midst of the year. How the perpetuity of the river is spoken, because it is not dried out in summer, but flows through the entire year. For that reason it is perennially during the year. Just like the solemn festival that is custom to celebrate in the midst of the year. We celebrate today the coming of the holy Spirit. For the Lord sent from heaven the holy Spirit which He promised to the earth. And in such a manner because He had promised from heaven that which was about to be sent. “He is not able to come, unless I go, as long as I go, I may send him to you” (John 6:17).
He was crucified, He was dead, He arose, He ascended: He was with-holding in order that He would fill-up which He had promised. His disciples were expecting this of the wind when it was written “120” (Acts 1:15), ten times the number of apostles. For He chose 12 and in 120 He sent the Spirit. They were then expecting this promise in one house and praying. Because they were desiring now themselves for the faith, for speech, and in actual spiritual longing, they were new [wine]skins, awaiting the new wine from heaven and it came. Indeed now that magnificent grape had been reckoned and glorified. For we read in the Gospel, “For the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified,” (John 8:39).
Chapter II. The Gift of Tongues
Now that it has appeared, you have heard a great miracle. Everyone who had drawn near had spoken one language. The holy Spirit came, they were filled, they began to speak in the various languages16 of all the nations, which they had not known nor had they been acquainted with, but He was teaching who had come. He entered inside, they were filled, it poured out. And then this was a sign; whoever was receiving the holy Spirit, when having been filled with the Spirit, suddenly began speaking in all the languages (Acts 10:46). The Epistles themselves show us not only these 120. Afterwards men believed, they were baptized, they received the holy Spirit, they were speaking in the tongues of all the nations.
They who had drawn near had become terrified, others were astonished, others mocked so that they would say, “They are drunk, they are full of new wine” (Acts 2:1-3). They were mocking and one or another were speaking the truth. For the wineskins had been filled with the new wine. You have heard when the Gospel is read, “No one puts new wine in old wineskins” (Matt 9:17), The fleshly does not comprehend the spiritual. The flesh is old, grace is new. How much man is been restored into a better state, he comprehends by so much more because he truly tastes the truth. The fresh wine was in bubbling motion and the tongues of the nations were breathed out with the ebullionating new wine.
Chapter III. Why the Gift of Tongues is not yet being withdrawn
Can it be brothers, the holy Spirit not been given now? Whoever thinks this is not deserving to receive. He is being given and now. Why then is no one speaking in the tongues of all the nations just as he spoke who at the time was being filled with the holy Spirit? Why? Because this was a sign that has been satisfied. What is this? When we have celebrated the forty days, let yourselves recall, because we have mentioned to you that the Lord Jesus Christ has brought together and has arisen His Church.
The disciples were asking, “When will be the end of the age?”, and this, “It is not for you to know the times or the minutes which the Father has placed in His control.” Yet He was pouring out what He completed today. “For you shall receive the wealth of the holy Spirit coming upon you, and you will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in all of Judea and Samaria and through the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8). The Church was at that time in one house, it received the holy Spirit, He was in a few persons, He was in the languages of all the circle of lands. Behold how far it has extended now.
For respect to which this small Church was speaking in the tongues of the nations, how is it, except that this great Church is presently speaking to the east even as the west with the tongues of all nations? It is being completed now which was promised at that time. We have heard, we have seen, “Hear daughter, and see!” [Ps 34:11]. It was written to the queen herself, “Hear daughter and see!” Hear that which was promised! See that which was completed!
Your God nor your betrothed deceived you, nor did He deceive you who provided a dowry with His blood. He did not deceive you whom He made property of horrible beauty and unclean virginity. By you were promised yourself, but that which was promised in smallness, now was then fulfilled in greatness.
Chapter IV. The holy Spirit, so to speak as the soul of the Church body, does not reside outside of the Church
No one has then said, “I have received the holy Spirit, why am I not speaking in the languages of all the nations?” If you wish to have the holy Spirit, direct your course my brothers. Our spirit who gives life to every man is called a soul and you see what the soul does to the body. It stirs up all the parts. He sees by the eyes, hears by the ears, breathes by the nose, speaks by a language, closes by the hands, walks by the feet. It puts all the parts together in order that they should live. It gives life to everything in each function. The eye does not hear, nor the ear see, nor a language see, and the ear and eye do not speak. But nevertheless lives, the ear exists, a language exists. They are different functions. A life to share. So it is with the Church of God. In one who was sanctified, produces miracles, another who was sanctified speaks the truth, in another who was sanctified preserves virginity, in another was sanctified an honest marriage. In some this and others that. Each one works peculiar but they live equally. How the soul is of the body of man is the holy Spirit of the body of Christ, which is the Church. The holy Spirit is doing this in every Church, which the soul is doing in every part of one body. But look how cautious you are. Look how watchful you are. Look how fearful you are when held together within the body, nay, but rather, away from the body some piece is cut off, a hand, a finger, a foot, is it to follow the soul?
While it is in the body, it lived. When having been cut off, it gives up life. Just as man is a Catholic Christian, when in the body he lives, the heretic, when having become cut off, the piece cut off does not follow the Spirit. If you wish to live in the holy Spirit, preserve charity, love, truth, desire unity from now until eternity. Amen.
MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXVIII (268) Col. 1231ff.
On the Day of Pentecost, II
1. The holy Spirit commits to the unity of the Church universal by the gift of tongues. On account of the holy Spirit having arrived, this present day is solemn to us, 50th from the resurrection of the Lord, but reckoning 7 x 7 results in 49. One is being inserted, that oneness is being given in trust with us. What then did the holy Spirit’s personal arrival do, what did it deliver? Whence did it point out His own presence.
Everyone spoke in the languages of the nations. There was in one place 120. 10 by the order of 12, the sacred number of Apostles in the divine mystery, is tenfold. Then some, each one in which the holy Spirit came, they began to speak in each one of the languages of the nations, to this one a different language, and to this one another, and was it as if they divided between them these languages of the nations? Not in this manner, but each man, one man was speaking in the languages of all the nations. One man was speaking in the languages of the nations: the unity of the Church is in the languages of all the nations. Behold also this unity of the Universal Church being commissioned upon has been spread out throughout the whole world.
2. The holy Spirit outside the Church does not exist. Whoever has the holy Spirit is in the Church, which is speaking in all the languages. Whoever is outside this Church, does not have the holy Spirit. For that reason indeed the holy Spirit deemed to reveal itself in the languages of all the nations, so the one that perceives to have the holy Spirit itself, that person is sustained17 in the unity of the Church, which is speaking in all the languages. “One body”, Paul the Apostle says, “One body and one spirit (Eph. 4:4)…”
[Augustine goes on for a number of paragraphs explaining Church unity here and we skip a verse.]
4. Christ entrusts the unity of the Catholic Church through the Apostles. [Col. 1234] …in the 40th day he ascended into heaven, and now on this present day everyone who were drawing near18 are filled with the holy Spirit, and are speaking in the languages of all the nations. Likewise, unity itself is being qualified by means of the languages of the nations, by the rising Lord and by the ascending Christ: it is being proven by the holy Spirit’s coming today.19
MPL Vol. 38 Augustine. Sermo CCLXIX (269) Col. 1234ff.
On the Day of Pentecost, III
1. The coming of the holy Spirit with the gift of languages announces unity of the Church through all the nations. Against the Donatists.20
We celebrate the coming of the holy Spirit with an annual celebration. One is obligated for this solemn coming together, reading, and speech. The first two are done,21 because you have also regularly come together and while it was being read, you listened. Let us pay respect to the third: let not the oneness in belief and action22 of our language be lacking in Him who also bestowed all the languages to the unlearned, and brought under the yoke the languages of the learned in all the nations and brought together the diverse languages of the nations for the unity of the faith. “for there came”, and then was added, “a sound suddenly from heaven, which was generating a violent wind: and different tongues appeared to them even as fire, which also possessed each one them. They began to speak in tongues even as the Spirit gave them the ability to utter.”(Acts 2:2-4)23
For this wind did not blow out, but invigorated. That fire did not consume, but excited; He had been filled-up in them, as had been prophesied so much before, “There are no languages, speeches, of whose voices are not heard, for they were made for the purpose of the Gospel being distributed”, which follows, “Their sound goes through all the earth and their words to the ends of the earth” (Psalms 18:4-5).24
Namely, the holy Spirit was foretelling in the languages of all the nations, which it was giving to them, [these people] whom had only learned one language of their own nation (with respect to which He preferred that it be the sign of His own presence at that time)25if not all the nations who are bound to believe in the Gospel; in the first case [of those who were individually] of the faith, was it not after this certainly the unity of the Church speaking in all the languages? What are they saying about this, that those in the Christian fellowship, which is bearing new fruit and increasing in all the nations, be unwilling to incorporate or even be yoked together? How then are they to deny the holy Spirit has come into the Christian now? Why then that anyone speaking the languages of the nations is now neither with us nor with those others (because previously the coming was his sign), unless it is now being finished26 because in the past it was made a sign?
On the other hand is anyone ever able to deny that the holy Spirit is coming in the Christian still today? Why then [is it] now neither among us, nor speaking anything among those in the languages of the nations (because it was at that time the sign of His coming), unless it is now being fulfilled in what was being signified back then?
Namely also back in the past one of the faithful was speaking in every language: and now the unity of the faithful ones is speaking in all the languages. Now then for that reason all of our languages exist, because we are members of the body in which they thrive.
MPL Vol. 39. Augustine. Sermo. CCCLII:2 (352:2) Col. 1550.
When the holy Spirit was sent which was promised beforehand, and the Lord fulfilled the truth of His promise to the disciples who had received the holy Spirit, as you knew, they began to speak in all the languages, that in respect to those who were present, everybody was recognizing their own language.
An excerpt from his later works in life that emended/clarified his earlier writings.
What I also said, that those miracles were not allowed to continue in our times, lest the soul should always seek after things visible, and mankind should wax cold by their frequency, who had been inflamed by their novelty, is certainly true. For when hands are laid on the baptized, they do not receive the Holy Ghost now, in such a manner as to speak with the tongues of all the nations; nor are the sick now cured by the shadow of Christ’s preachers as they pass by them, and others such as these, which, it is manifest, did afterwards cease; But what I said, is not so to be understood as if no miracles are believed to be performed now in the name of Christ : for I myself, when I wrote that very book, (De Vera Religione,) knew that a blind man had received his sight in the city of Milan, at the bodies of the Milanese martyrs, and several others besides; nay, such numbers are performed in these our days, that I neither can know them all, nor though I knew them, could I enumerate them.27
There are still even more citations that Augustine wrote about the gift of tongues. Sermo CCLXXI (271) MPL Vol 38 Col. 1246; Enarration in Psalmum. LIV:11 (54:11) MPL Vol 36 Col. 636ff; Enarration in Psalmum. XCVI:8 (96:8) MPL Vol. 37 Col. 1247; Enarratio in Psalmum. CXLVII:19 (147:19) MPL Vol. 37 Col. 1929: And In Joannis Evangelium XXXII:6-7 MPL Vol. 35 Col. 1645 and XCII:1 MPL Vol. 35 Col. 1863.
- Note the switch from the imperfect to the pluperfect tense, which Augustine has seldom used. I think he is strongly reiterating that they did not know these languages in the past.
- Not sure if the verb should be placed here, but it makes the most sense so far.
- istis is used here, which means Augustine thinks of this suggestion contemptuously, though I can’t properly put this in the translation.
- The ancient English translator has “his brother” though no pronoun exists in Greek. I think Augustine is addressing this is on an impersonal level like “If he loves any type of brother, whatever comes in his path”.
- seipsum is not a pronoun found in Perseus website, nor commonly found in grammars. Whitaker’s Words briefly states it as a self-pronoun, but why all of a sudden did Augustine switch to this? Whitaker believed it to be a later pronoun. I am assuming after the time of Augustine, as I have not found this used elsewhere and believe it odd to find it here.
- Gen. 11:7, Submerge and divide are in the 2nd person sing. imperative here. Augustine’s text is different from the standard “descendamus et confundamus” as the Latin Vulgate. Augustine’s text is not in agreement with our common Septuagint or Hebrew either.
- I am having a difficult time with this line “Attendit tribulantes se et adumbrantes se,”
- I am almost thinking that Augustine is going by an altogether different Latin Bible now, as the differences are so great. It is worth a further look by someone. The emendation of the Bible verses with chapter and book in his writings are a much later convention after his time. Even the adverb idipsum is supposedly a later medieval word. What can be attributed to Augustine as solely his creation or a later emendation?
- praecipitata est has a wide semantic range and I felt most comfortable with this usage.
- illis is a dative but direct translation here just does not make good English.
- I think he is playing with Acts 1:4 here, which has a different reading in the Latin today than what Augustine is looking at.
- This is almost repeated verbatim in Augustine’s City of God
- MPL has “Caput X – 12” why the discrepancy between Latin and English, I do not know, but I will be conservative and follow the Latin.
- Psalm 112:3.
- I could translate lingua as ‘tongue’ rather than ‘language’ but it would only serve to confuse the modern reader, and I think Augustine intended it to mean language in the strictest sense. I will use language throughout my translation with this noun.
- “continetur” can be translated in two ways here, either the person is promoting unity in the Church or receives a blessing by doing such. I think it is the latter.
- “implentur omnes qui aderant, loquuntur”: aderant is in the imperfect and the other verbs are in the present. An odd combination, but I think Augustine is presenting the thought here that the Church has to practically speak in the languages of the nations in order to be a universal body. Otherwise, it is not functioning properly.
- Augustine. Sermo. MPL. CCLXVIII. Vol. 38. Col. 1231ff
- “Against the Donatists” in the header, suggests to me that the title was a later interpolation.
- persoluta sunt properly rendered in English is “paid”. It just doesn’t seem to make sense here, I need to look further into the semantic range of this verb.
- I can’t help take a cursory glance at Augustine’s quote of Acts 2:2-4 and how it appears demonstrably different than what the commonly used Latin Vulgate. It doesn’t change the meaning, but it is interesting. I also used “tongues” instead of “language” in quoting the Biblical text, as I cannot alter English Biblical translation tradition.
- Once again the verse quoted by Augustine is worded significantly different from what we have in the Latin Vulgate.
- This comment in brackets appears to be a later interpolation.
- impletur is pres. pass. 3rd sg. It is something not yet completed.
- English as found in The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany. Edinburgh: Printed for Archibald Constable and Company. 1824. Pgs. 688-689. The Latin: Item quod dixi: nec miracula illa in nostra tempora durare permissa sunt, ne anima semper visibilia quaereret et eorum consuetudine frigesceret genus humanum, quorum novitate flagravit, verum est quidem; non enim nunc usque, cum manus inponitur baptizatis, sic accipiunt spiritum sanctum, ut loquantur linguis omnium gentium, aut nunc in Christi sanantur infirmi, et si qua talia tunc, quae postea cessasse manifestum est, sed non sic accipiendum est, quod dixi, ut nunc in Christi nomine fieri miracula nulla credantur. nam ego ipse, quando istum ipsum scripsi librum, ad Mediolanensium corpora martyrum in eadem civitate caecum inluminatum fuisse iam noveram et alia nonnulla, qualia tam multa etiam istis temporibus fiunt, ut nec omnia congoscere nec ea, quae congnoscimus, enumerare possimus.