Basil of Seleucia's Explanation of Pentecost

A translation of one of Basil of Seleucia’s homilies on Pentecost. It is an important piece to tracing the doctrine of tongues through the centuries.

Basil of Seleucia was a fifth-century bishop in a region titled, Seleucia in Pieria, now known as the city of Antakya (Turkey).1

As translated from Migne Patrologia Graeca Vol. 64. Col. 420 to 421. Supplementum Ad S.J. Chrysostom Opera. Homilia in S. Pentecosten.

As it transpired in the past; and the flame was flickering upon mount Sinai and Moses was being taught about establishing the framework of the Law in the midst of the fire. Now then from the highest place a fire was kindling a flame, running above the apostles heads. Moses at that time is the one who set the Laws for the Hebrews in motion for the salvation of the nations. For this reason the memory of the ancient wonder is being mixed together2 for new things, and once more the fire is being aroused in the same semblance of the exhibitions, that those things in the present times are believed to be about the one and the same God. For that reason it is the fashioning3 of divided languages4 so that it would make those who are receiving this, teachers. So that those moved in the midst of the fire, were authorized as educators of the inhabited world.5

For in the past, one voice and also one language6 rules over all, the audacity of the tower brought on division, and a struggle of languages7 that ensued8, brought to an end the war against heaven. And innumerable languages,9 with myriads of sounds thoroughly frightened, and nevertheless they did not find10 the one sound heard, because they were not in agreement on11 the singular voice. But a single language12 was diced apart,13 and divided the minds,14 and a dissolved language15 restrained the hands. Now, on the other hand, the gift16 has synthesized the divided tongues17 upon the mouth into each one the specific language. 18The outward grace extends the boundaries of the master, and births19 the many roads of faith.

O incredible wonders!20 The Apostle was speaking21 and an Indian22 was being instructed. A Hebrew was uttering a sound, and a foreigner being educated. The sound of grace being made known, and the hearer understanding the word. Goths were recognizing23 the sound. The Ethiopians recognized the language24 Persians were marveling about this one speaking, and who was teaching foreign nations by the agency of one language.25 How much the nature was enlarged for the various races, so great the outward grace was being richly adorned with languages.26 On this account then the nature of the fire, which is dividing, is multiplying exponentially the work, for a stream of light is the richness of the gift. By all means the nature of the fire which was kindled was not seen to diminish, but the impartation is growing.27 Thus the gift being poured forth is multiplying the river. In fact the one torch-fire is in the process of kindling infinite yellow-flames, and demonstrates that all these things are arranged with luminous wonders. And the light of the torches is not passing away. In this way the gift of the Spirit crosses over28 from one to the other, and fills those ones, and from these proceeds to the others.29 On this account the gift comes at that moment upon the apostles first, and these ones,30 as if the gift had seized the Acropolis, and flows to the believers, all are being filled, and it does not stop the streams of the gift. Therefore, the language31 of fire was lighting upon. Additionally, each disciple was a vessel of innumerable languages,32 and they were loquaciously speaking to those present, and these debate about the teachers prize 33 And those present were spectators of the wonder. And the multitude of hearers, who have been divided by the nation, was not lacking, because with the words in the local vernaculars belongs the apostle’s persuading language.34 For even as having been immersed in things, these are receiving the sound35 by the touch of the fire, the knowledge they grasped was instantaneous. And a faith that was being explained, and a gift that was astonishing, and a God that was made known. ■

For background notes and analysis relating to this translation see Basil of Seleucia on Pentecost: Notes.

The dating of the original text is fifth century, though the authorship is not completely certain. Indications suggest it was Basil of Seleucia. For more information on the authorship, see A Chrysostom Conundrum.

For the actual Greek and Latin source, see Basil of Seleucia: Greek and Latin text.

  1. I previously cited the city Seleucia in Isauria – today a south-central Turkish coastal town that is known as Silifke. This was in error.
  2. ἀνεμίγνυτο
  3. τορνεύεται
  4. γλῶσσας
  5. παιδευταὶ τὴς οἰκομένης ὑπάρξωσι
  6. γλῶσσαν
  7. γλωσσῶν
  8. ἀντεισείη
  9. γλῶσσαι
  10. εὕρίσκον
  11. ἐπινεὺουσαν
  12. γλῶττα
  13. τμηθεῖσα
  14. γνὼμας
  15. γλῶττα
  16. χάρις really “gift” is not the greatest translation here, but a traditional English Bible equivalent. I think “external grace” which I will interchange throughout.
  17. γλώσσας
  18. τὴν γλῶσσαν
  19. τεκνουμενη
  20. ῞Ω τῶν παραδόξων θαυμάτων!
  21. ἐλάλει The Latin has “concianabatur” — deliver a public speech
  22. Ἰνδὸς A person from India
  23. ἐπεγίνωσκον A verb found only in Ionian
  24. τὴν γλῶτταν
  25. καὶ ἔθνη βάρβαρα ὑπὸ μιᾶς ἠρδεύετο γλώττης
  26. ταῖς γλῶτταις
  27. ἀλλ᾽ἡ μετάδοσις, αὔξησις•
  28. μεταφοιτῶσα
  29. καὶ τοὺς ἑτέρους πληροῖ, καὶ ἀφ᾽ὧν προέισι
  30. τούτους
  31. γλῶσσα
  32. γλωσσῶν
  33. τῶν διδασκαλικῶν ἀγώνων ἀπτόμενοι Latin has it as “et in magisterii stadium se intermittunt” and another Latin text, “ad certamina prædicationis se conferentes.” Basil takes a short literary allusion to this being a prize often rewarded after struggling and competing in a competition at the Acropolis.
  34. γλώσσης
  35. τἠν φωνὴν

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