Monthly Archives: June 2010

Notes on Translating Ambrosiaster’s Corinthians 12-14

The Ambrosiaster Manuscript: Notes on the English Translation of I Corinthians Chapters 12-14

The purpose of this translation was to bring background and definition to the gift of tongues sequences in the Ambrosiaster writer(s) commentary on Corinthians.

Because most people are unfamiliar with the Ambrosiaster writings and this is the only known online translation of the I Corinthians work in English, it was imperative to first introduce some notes and then move into commentary of his text.

1. The Goal of this Translation

The Ambrosiaster text has a number of key passages that ties in with Epiphanius’ description of the problems at Corinth. The references to the historic use of the gift of tongues by Ambrosiaster manuscript are brief but very important. It is critical that the translation and interpretation of the text must be understood within the context of Ambrosiaster manuscript as a whole. A familiarity with the author(s) style and intentions, acknowledgement of the historical background to the text and acceptable translation standards are also requirements in order for the conclusion to stand under critical inquiry.

2. The Ambrosiaster Manuscript from a Literary Perspective

The key to understanding the Ambrosiaster manuscript from 12:28 up to 14:30 was the polemic against personal ambition. One cannot achieve honour or merit before God by one’s status, achievements or human success.

The work also stressed equality between the classes. It taught that all are in possession of the gifts of God and it had nothing to do with ones social status. For example I Corinthians 14:30:

“That if it [any thing] would be a revelation to someone else who is sitting, the first is to be silent.” That is, [it is] preferable he is to allow for the one below [his status] in order that if he is able, he should speak. Not that it is to be done reluctantly, because the gift can be given also to that person. While he appears to be inferior because he has not been allowed for more useful things. For just as the whole cannot be parceled out in one, although better, it cannot be for some, however much inferior that nothing is being imparted [to them], for no one is devoid [of some type of gift] in the grace of God.

The work was written from a pastoral perspective to encourage and inspire the members of the Church. It is not intellectually deep nor a masterpiece of literary genius when compared to Augustine, Gregory Nazianzus, Thomas Aquinas or the like. On many occasions, it simply re-phrases Paul’s writing in contemporary terms of that time with little historical, social or theological reflection.

3. Problems with Authorship and Dating

Although the Ambrosiaster manuscript has its origins in the fourth century, the Latin style suggests that this is a later manuscript. There are some good clues that suggest this document is at least 8th century. First of all the work is also not built around a neo-platonic framework which was totally typical and expected in fourth century writings. Another clue relates to later Latin writers and translators of Greek texts. The grammatical style and word selection is very similar to that of Thomas Aquinas and not of the Venerable Bede or Augustine.

Gerald L. Bray in his Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians By Ambrosiaster, touches greatly on this subject and concluded;

“Ambrosiaster’s commentary can be broken down into two, or possibly three, principal recensions. Untangling these can be a delicate task, because in later centuries there was a good deal of cross-pollination, as monastic copyists incorporated elements from different recensions into their own text. It is possible that Ambrosiaster left his work in a semipolished state, which was then touched up for publication by literary executors who smoothed out some of its rough edges and filled in material that was either missing from the manuscript(s) they had or that was felt to be needed in order to make sense of what Ambrosiaster wrote. But it is also possible that Ambrosiaster produced the different versions himself, perhaps with a variety of audiences in mind. The style of the shortest recension is lapidary to the point of obscurity, and in some ways is more like a series of lecture notes than a finished commentary. It is often difficult or impossible to know what Ambrosiaster meant, and the second and third recensions were trying to explain the obscurities of the shortest text. Sometimes they are genuinely helpful and illuminate the commentary, but there are places when later hands digressed from Ambrosiaster’s thought pattern and added material that is either irrelevant or contradictory.”1

From my perspective this work is an evolutionary one with its beginnings in 360 or so AD with many redactions, especially the 11th or 12th century, and the addition of Biblical verses put this version around the 14th.

For example, the writing in I Corinthians 14 makes an abrupt change. It starts with simplistic, get-to-the-point writing that is not so difficult to translate. When one reaches verse 30, it makes a strong shift. The translation difficulty increases substantially. It becomes wordy and shifts more into an Aquinas type of thought. I actually changed my approach to translating his commentary on Corinthians after 14:30 as a document akin to a Thomas Aquinas writing. There were too many parallels in style in form.

The text after 14:30 also appears to be fragmented. The train of thought seems to be interrupted and does not flow very well. This is not so much a problem of my English translation but a direct result of what appears to be editorial snippets pieced together by Latin redactors as some sort of mnemonic trigger.

Gerald Bray’s work and translation on Ambrosiaster is considered a definitive work and ought to be consulted in any research work on the subject.

Also Bray’s comment on the Ambrosiaster text being a heavily redacted one is an important note. The Ambrosiaster manuscript is not alone in this tradition. The Chronicon Paschale is a good example of this type of tradition where an original piece has been added to over the centuries. The 7th century or so Chronicon is based on Jerome’s writings, which are heavily influenced by Eusebius, and Eusebius owes much work to Africanus.

In my mind, this does not cause any problems of accuracy or legitimacy of the original manuscript. This is an evolutionary document that traces a line of thought throughout the centuries on the Christian faith as outlined in the Book of Corinthians. What we have today is a bona-fide manuscript at the endpoint in its own evolution.

It does however invite questions of authorship. No one knows who the original author was, nor the names of editors who expanded the text throughout the centuries. It may be best to simply reference this as the Ambrosiaster manuscript and not cite any author.

This work is not cited by the popular ancient Latin writers such as Augustine, Bede, Aquinas, etc., and at least within my readings so far, any Greek Patristic writer. If this manuscript was available to these ancient leaders, or it did circulate, the quality of this writing may have been dismissed by the above as a B-grade publication.

4. Bible Versions

It is obvious Ambrosiaster is working from different Bible than what has evolved into the Vulgate. Some have called it the Old Latin or the Itala version. Traditionally, when I come across a Biblical citation in a Latin commentary, I merely input the Douay-Rheims English translation instead of attempting to translate the Latin into English myself. However, because of the multitude of minor differences between this text and the Vulgate, it forced me to translate the Biblical texts entirely on almost every occasion.

Variant Latin Biblical texts are not uncommon to come across with Latin Patristic writers. There is no equivalent in Christian history that reflects the broad spectrum of differences that are contained in Latin Bible versions.

The goal of this translation is not to compare the citation of Biblical texts to any Greek or non-Latin sources. It is merely to translate what is written here and noting any difference from the Vulgate.

5. Some Translation Notes

The translation provided herein has only gone through two stages of the translation process. The first one is the direct translation from the Latin with some attention to English grammar and meaning. The second pass was to improve on the English meaning and grammar.

More time and energy could be spent on improving the flow in the English, and there are some passages that are problematic and may require a re-translation. Since the central focus of this work is to discover the background and meaning to the christian doctrine of tongues, efforts to complete this translation to a final level will not be considered, except for the passages relating to the gift.

It is still in a good stage for researchers to get a first look into the Ambrosiaster manuscript and decide whether to look into this text any further.

The use of the subjunctive is highly utilized. If anyone needs some experience in translating the Latin subjunctive, this is the writing to practice with. Some thoughts on the subjunctive in more detail can be found at the following article Latin and the Subjunctive.

This is the first time I have encountered the use of nominal sentences in Latin (a sentence lacking the verb esse ‘to be’ but the writer assumes the reader understands that it is inferentially there.)

The use of the pronoun “se” concerns me when translating Latin. This fear can be traced to my knowledge of French where se used in a pronominal sense alters the meaning of the verb. I don’t know if this rule applies to Latin, but if it does, I have missed it.

If there are colloquialisms in the text, I have probably missed them.

Translating the Gerundive. The gerundive appears quite frequently in this text and required some thoughtful attention. The conclusion to this journey can be found on a previous essay The Mysterious Latin Gerundive.

One must note the approach to some Latin keywords:

The translation of the Latin charitas. In our Reformation thinking, this is supposed to be translated into English as love. However, Ambrosiaster wrote well before the Reformation and did not think on these same lines. Love may arguably may be right but charity is a word that better reflects his intentions. Even if one disagrees with the contemporary Catholic teaching of the word, this is what they thought at that time. One cannot change that.

The reader must note that the English translation for lingua throughout the document is translated as language, which is a synonym for tongue. If one was to insert the word tongue every time the word language appears, it changes the nuance and it becomes a more mystical, undefined reality. However, this is not what the author(s) intended, so the translation remains as language. See the blog article: The Difference Between Language and Tongues for more details.

6. The Result of this Research as it relates to the doctrine of Tongues

The text was written in the imperfect tense when relating to the doctrine of tongues. The writer(s) approached it historically with no reference to any modern practice; it solely wanted to convey what Paul and the Corinthian congregation were thinking or doing. Unlike the coverage on prophecy, which does go into some detail, the gift of tongues never goes beyond Paul’s description.

The Ambrosiaster manuscript contains an important text on the role of tongues, the law and the influence of Hebrew in the early Church.

The Ambrosiaster commentary on I Corinthians 14:19:

(Vers. 19) “But in the Church,” it is said, “I wish to speak five words according to the law that I may also build up others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” He [Paul] says it to be more useful speaking in small words in the making of a speech in order that everyone should understand than to have a lengthy speech in obscurity. [Col. 270] These were from the Hebrew who at length in the Syrian language and for the most part by Hebrew women who were indulging in homilies or presentations for approval. For they were boasting calling themselves Jews according to the right of Abraham, that the same apostle held this to no account teaching, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Indeed these ones who are mimicking, they prefer to speak in their unknown language to the people in the Church which belongs to them.”

There a number of elements to address but the first one that captures the readers attention is the alternate Biblical text, “I wish to speak five words according to the law…” Normally this should read, “however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind…” (NASB). The NASB version more closely aligns with the Greek manuscripts than does the Ambrosiaster text.

Why the insertion of law instead of mind? One must be cognizant of the fact that the difference in Greek between law and mind is one letter νὸμον “law” and νόος “mind”. It would be easy to mix these two up by a copyist. However, this is not the only place where law is used. Epiphanius in his Against Haeresies text also acknowledged the use of this verse in a translation. More details on this can be found in the article, Epiphanius on the Problem Tongues of Corinth.

One assumption some may make by reading this text was that the Ambrosiaster writer(s) was of Jewish descent or influence, having understood a Judaic background to the Corinthian saga. As one reads through the text, one will discover that this is not the case. The author(s) had a narrow view of Judaism. For example, the commentary on I Corinthians 14:21 reads:

Thus one is able also to understand that because many of the Jews were spiteful and therefore it was not worthy to speak to them the Gospel in a revelation, that they spoke to them in parables, and therefore that it is not being shown to them who are the ones who understand because they were wicked neither also would they reform themselves. While the ones who have merit were benefitting themselves to hear the words of God by means of the the exposition.

As outlined in the commentary on I Corinthians 12:28, it did recognize the influence of Jewish custom on the early Church:

“Third teachers.” That he says the teachers who, since the epistles and the readings out loud [and traditions]*4* must be preserved in the Church, were giving the young men initial instruction in the custom of the synagogue because the tradition of these people, it was prepared to be brought over to us.

This was qualified to reduce the Jewish influence and demonstrate the Church had taken it over. The commentary on Corinthians 14:31 further opines:

(Vers. 31) “For you are all to prophecy by each one at a time, that all are to learn, and all are to be encouraged.” This tradition is of the Synagogue which he wishes us to continually follow because he is certainly writing to Christians but to those who have been reared Gentiles, not from the Jews. That the ones that remain are possibly debating, seniors with rank according to the throne, attending on the tribune’s seats, the most extraordinary on the pavement above the mats. If anyone would be [in] a revelation, the one that must be gifted is to receive in advance a designated place, neither one ought to be looked down upon, because they are the members of the body.”

It is clear from the above texts that the writer(s) were not Jewish and were scape-goating the ethnic Jews with whatever problems existed in the Church.

The Bible quotation by the Ambrosiaster writer(s) was not intended by them to be an exegesis of Jewish custom or practice but were simply citing a verse from their Bible, which in this case happened to be the Old Itala Latin version. The Ambrosiaster author(s) simply had not made any emendation or elucidation to the text.

The author(s) also had a much broader definition of what the law comprised. The author(s) believed Isaiah 28:11 (See his commentary on I Corinthians 14:21) to be part of the law. In some ancient Christian circles, the whole Bible canon was considered a legal text, which the Ambrosiaster manuscripts promoted as well.

For example, the commentary of I Corinthians 12:1 supplies an almost fundamentalist view of Bible interpretation:

So also the ones worshiping God, they are to exist with the form of the law of the Lord, these ones march as if it is to be pleasing with the Lord. In fact the form of every piece of the law ought to appear in the occupation and the behaviour of the worshiper.”

The Ambrosiaster text suggested that the problem of the Corinthians tongues was that of women speaking in Aramaic in a predominately Greek based church.

The conclusion of Hebrew women speaking in Aramaic is only referenced historically. It does not use this as an example for how the office of the gift of tongues was to be used in the Church.

The author(s) believed that since an outside party, ie: the Jews, had introduced this problem, it was not reflective with their perception of the true Church, its community and what it really practiced.

This is the only historical reference made to the gift of tongues. The practical interpretation the author(s) promoted for their own interpretation and application was different. For example, the commentary found at I Cor. 14:27 demonstrated a total lack of recognition regarding the historical aspect and delves into understanding the text from a literal-simplistic perspective:

(Vers. 27) If any speaks in a language, by two, or at the most three and specifically that one shall interpret,” This is, two or three and no more are to be speaking in languages but one at a time, not each at the same time. Lest they were to appear to be insane. “at the most three.” Lest the ones speaking in languages and their translations were to occupy the day and prophets do not have the time explaining the Scriptures which they are illuminators of the whole Church.

As one can immediately see, there is not much added by the Ambrosiaster writer(s) to the Pauline text on tongues. There is no practical application or demonstration of how the Pauline text on tongues influenced or was applied in their contemporary Church worship.

The author(s) do not see the need to explain why so many people were permitted to speak at once or any antecedents that led to this type of practice.

The manuscript does delve into Paul’s address about tongues. Here are some highlights, though there are more:

Chapter 12:28 “”Kinds of languages”. That the gift of God is to know many languages. “Interpretation of words.” When this is granted to some by the grace of God that he has the expertise of languages which require translations.”

Chapter 13:9-10 “In fact who can do it that can grasp all the human languages, is that of God?”

Chapter 14:10-11 “Certainly he does not teach it being desirous that in turns they be seen with each other by a foreign language of a barbarian.”

It is clear that the Ambrosiaster writer(s) believed the tongues of Corinth to be actual foreign languages. There was nothing mystical in their minds.

Chapter 14 (Vers. 22) Therefore languages they are as a sign.” This is, the words of God have been concealed by a veil of unknown languages, nor do they appear by deceit, and when the unknown languages are being heard, it is to be a sign, because it was made on account of faithlessness, lest the ones hearing are to understand. “By all means it is not for those who believe, but for the non-believers.” [Col. 271] This is what he said, because they go on in languages to the unbeliever for the purpose of hiding the meanings.

The writer(s) here in 14:22 fail to distinguish who is a believer and unbeliever. Why would someone speak in a foreign tongue to a pagan Roman or a Barbarian? What would this benefit the Christian cause? They failed to answer this critical question.

Chapter 14 (Vers. 26) “What is it then brothers? When you come together each one of you has a song.” That is they are speaking praise to God through song.” He has a teaching.” This is, he has a narration of the meaning by spiritual wisdom. “He has a revelation.” That is, prophecy regarding the hidden things by the agency of the holy Spirit is a basis for discussion which reaches to the mind of every person. “He has a language.” That those who were able to speak in a language, they were not to be discouraged, he permitted them to speak in languages. Still yet interpretation was to follow. He therefore says, “He has an interpretation.” That if an interpreter was to be present, a spot was to be given belonging to those preparing to speak in languages.”

The idea that the gift of tongues in Corinth was the speaking of a foreign language was not new to the Ambrosiaster writer(s). This was typical of ecclesiastical tradition.

7. The Ambrosiaster Manuscript on the role of Prophecy

The Ambrosiaster writer(s), along with Thomas Aquinas, spends far more time with the function and definition of prophecy than defining the literary problems of tongues in I Corinthians 14.

The office of the prophet is kept completely separate and distinct from the gift of tongues.

8. Disclaimers

The nuances of anti-semitism and the role of women in this composition do not reflect my own personal opinions. Nor is this translation meant to be a vehicle to promote such knowledge. It is submitted to the reader that this attitude should not be accepted or promoted. The reader should always be aware that the ancient Christian writers were susceptible to the influences of their time, whether good or bad, just like anyone else and it should be read with a watchful eye.

This has not been reviewed or approved by an experienced or reputable authority. Use the translation at your own risk. Also, this translation can change without notice.

9. The Actual Translations and Latin Original

The Neo-Tongues Movement: Part 2

This portion of the neo-tongues movement series is aimed exclusively at finding, collating, translating and examining all the writings of the gift of tongues penned by Augustine.

No other 4th century author wrote more on the miracle of tongues than Augustine.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 354-430 AD, ported the neo-tongues tradition similar to that of Gregory Nazianzus and the Greek Fathers to the Latin Church. He is one of the key leaders responsible for making it a universal doctrine. His writings were less technical than that of Gregory’s but this was his strength. He was one of the most premiere populist religious writers ever, and was able to reach a vast spectrum of the diverse and rich Christian community.

His works are well written and thought-out with an easy-to-read style which most readers will come to appreciate.

One will find that he believed that the miracle initially was expressed through individuals at the founding of the Gospel. After the Gospel began to expand, the Church took over the miracle. It had shifted from an individual to a corporate one. The Church’s purpose was to speak in the language of unity and oneness to all the nations.

Augustine often used the corporate theme polemically against the the Donatists – a group that thought they were the true Church because they spoke in tongues. The Donatists are detailed further below. However, it is not always the Donatists that he is addressing. The tone of his writings indicate this doctrine was inside his community as well.

The Bishop repeatedly answers the question “If I have received the holy Spirit, why am I not speaking in tongues?” in many of his writings and each one has a slightly different read. First of all he addresses the logical conclusion of such an argument on an individual level. In his second approach he carefully switches the question in his rebuttal because the question, although partially correct, is too narrow.

The texts are ordered by sequence as they are found in Migne Patrologia Latina. Click on any of the following headers to read the text.

1. In Epistolas Joannis et Parthos.

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.3 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 was4 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 those5 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 a6 brother, the Spirit of God dwells with him. Let him see, let him demonstrate himself7 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.

2. Enarratio in Psalmum LIV:11

MPL Vol. 36. Augustine. Enerratio in Psalmum LIV:11 (54) Col. 636

Just like Gregory Nazianzus, Augustine believed the tongues of Pentecost to be the reversing of what happened at the tower of Babel.

“Drown8 , O Lord, and divide9 their languages. He paid close attention about those who are troubling and feigning10 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”11 (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 instructed12 in the unity of pride, the Lord spared these ones13 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.”

3. Enerratio in Psalmum XCVI (96)

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.”

Many charismatics and pentecostals would like to know Augustine’s thoughts on this Biblical narrative on Cornelius conversion and subsequent speaking in tongues, so this passage was included. Overall this passage does not represent Augustine’s theology on tongues in any great way. It is a minor representation when compared to other more extensive writings. Here Augustine felt that this was a didactic for Peter to expand his religion to other ethnic communities. Cornelius and his household spoke in tongues which indicated that holy Spirit indeed dwelled in them and therefore the gentile peoples should not be refused for baptism or excluded from the Messianic community.Tongues broke the concept of exclusivity; it is not only for the Jews but for all the world to embrace the good news.

4. Enarratio in Psalmum CXLVII:19 (147:19)

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”14 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.

5. Sermo CLXXV:3 (175:3).

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.15

5. Sermo CCLXV:10 (265:10)

MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXV:10 (265:10)16 Col. 1224

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.17

6. Sermo CCLXVI:2 (266:2)

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.

7. Sermo CCLXVII (267)

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 languages18 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 seee, 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 the you wish to live in the holy Spirit, preserve charity, love, truth, desire unity from now until eternity. Amen.”

8. Sermo CCLXVIII (268)

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 sustained19 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 near20 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.21

Clearly here Augustine was not so concerned about the miracle of tongues. He saw it as a means to the final state of unity – a condition of perfection, unity within the Church throughout every nation and language.

There are many subjects here that Augustine addresses, but it is clearly a polemic against another entity who claim to be superior to Augustine’s Church because of their use and continuation of tongues. He counters it by saying that whoever speaks in tongues speaks in the unity of the Church. If they are not pursuing unity then they are not a part of the Church.

9. Sermo CCLXIX (269) – Augustine’s polemic against the Donatists.

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.22

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,23 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 action24 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)”25

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)”.26

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)27 if 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 finished28 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.

10. Sermo CCCLII:2 (352:2)

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.

11. An analysis of Augustine on Tongues and the Donatists

If it were not for the Donatists, Augustine would not have left such a legacy about the nature and purpose of tongues in the Church. The Donatists represent much more historical value on the gift of tongues than do the Montanists.

The beginning of Sermo 269 defined the entity as the Donatists. Although the text referring to the Donatists appears to be a later editorial insertion by Migne and has been scrubbed out in the official edition found at the Sant’ Agostino website, it was simply declaring the obvious. The movement was Augustine’s main local rival and he drew from this tension.

The Donatists were a northern African christian group; broken off from the official Catholic Church over reasons initially relating to the persecutions of Christians by edict of the emperor Diocletian early in the 4th century. After the persecutions abated, a controversy erupted in the region over how to handle Church leaders who assisted with the secular authorities in the persecutions. This become a source of contention and it conflagrated into questions of Church leadership, faith, piety, discipline and politics. The Donatists transformed into a separate Christian movement and statistically outnumbered the traditional Catholic representatives in the region. At the height it had over 400 bishops.29

Augustine was the Catholic Bishop of the ancient city of Hippo which was near the epicentre of the whole movement. He wrote against the Donatists trying to persuade them through logic and by state law to come back into the fold.

Because no Donatist published materials exist today that counter any of the arguments by the Catholic Church, the attack on the Donatists could be read in two ways. First of all, they may have asserted themselves as the true Church because because they personally spoke in tongues and the Catholic Church did not. However many scholars do not believe the Donatist schism to be one of theological differences. Even if the concept of personal tongues speaking is true, Augustine may have been exaggerating the Donatist position for polemical reasons to show that they were heretics. It could have been isolated incidents with certain individual Donatists or sects and not central to the Donatist movement at all.

Secondly, and more likely, asserting that tongues as being a sign of unity, not dissension like the Donatists were accused of doing, was simply a good argument for Augustine to utilize.

Whatever the case, Augustine’s refutation against the Donatists leads to some very important writings on the subject.

Augustine may have been responding to a Donatist theological position in Sermo 267, Chapter 3: “Chapter III. Why the Gift of Tongues is all but Withdrawn

Brothers, has the holy Spirit not been given now? Whoever thinks this is not deserving to receive. He is 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. “

Here Augustine illustrated that a theology was being advocated during his time that if one receives the holy Spirit, then one must speak in tongues.

Augustine approached this theological question repeatedly in a number of works. One argument pointed out the theological problems related to this concept: “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 those 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?” In Epistolas Joannis et Parthos. VI:10 (6:10)

What does it mean “this was a sign that has been satisfied”? This leads into his main treatise on the gifts of tongues.

The answer was best expressed in Enarratio in Psalmum CXLVII:19 (147:19). He believed that the question of why individuals during his time who have received the holy Spirit were not speaking in tongues was not the right question to ask. It was no longer an individual miracle but a corporate one. If one was to look for individual instances after the Church had extended into the world it would not be found, because that phase is over:

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. “

He further added that the true Church had taken on the duty to fulfil the promise of tongues to speak to all the nations and bring all peoples into unity, which it continued to miraculously do; “for since 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 merely a fulfillment as to which was promised at that time.” The “fulfillment as to which was promised at that time,” should not be interpreted to mean cessationalism but rather that this was an office that was established at the foundation and confirmed functioning since then.

Sermo 268 also confirms Augustine’s belief the Church took on this role: “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 sustained30 in the unity of the Church, which is speaking in all the languages.”31

Augustine illustrated in Sermo 266:2 that the Church became an international entity because of the gift of tongues and this office confirms its validity: “the unity of the Catholic Church has been signified by gift of tongues.”

This is where one has to be very cautious with Augustine on this topic. He was pitting the Catholic Church as the true one because of its universality and inferring that the Donatists were not so ordained because of their regionalism. It was a masterfully crafted argument using the neo-tongues theology as his basis. As found in Sermo 268 “The holy Spirit commits to 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 oneness32 is given in trust with us.” It was not only Augustine that had forwarded this position, Optatus of Milevus wrote the same around 370 AD, listing the countries the Catholic Church has spread to and then concluded to the Donatist leader Parmenian, “In none of the above named countries, said Optatus to the Donatis, Parmenian, are your people found, except in a corner of Africa. O, ungrateful and foolish presumption, said he, that you should attempt to persuade men that you alone have the true Catholic faith.”33

He was also very careful in defining this phenomena, using the term linguis omnium gentium “in the languages of all the nations” on at least 23 occasions, and linguis omnium, speaking “in all languages”, which makes it totally clear that Augustine believed the gift of tongues to be foreign languages in some way, shape or form.

An important question one should ask is, ‘how did Augustine think the speakers in the Biblical accounts spoke in all the languages?’

His writings give a consistently clear answer: Sermo. CLXXV:3 “they began to speak in the languages of all the nations”; Sermo CCLII:2 “they began to speak in all the languages, that in respect to those who were present, everybody was recognizing their own language.”; Sermo CCLXV:10 “Each man speaking in every language”; CCLXVI:2 “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.” It is also found in Sermo CCLXVII and CCLXVIII and especially Enarratio in Psalmum. CXLVII:19 (147:19) “See that sounds went out in every language,”. Augustine is agreeing with Gregory Nazianzus that it was one sound from the speaker, and the audience was hearing it in their own language. This doctrine became more clearer later in the Church as outlined in the next chapter, The Neo-Tongues Movement Part 3

His Latin literary style takes on a characteristic nuance. He is playing with the words unos ‘one,’ as in one individual and unitas as in ‘unity’, ‘One’ being the initial outpouring of the Spirit and ‘unity’ the continued expanding result of the initial miracle. Augustine felt that unity was the end-goal, and languages the vehicle.

There are not found in any of his writings a theological analysis about the problem in Corinth. But he does refer to I Corinthians 13:1 “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels…” over eight times. This appears to be a popular verse used by him in his argumentation against his Donatist rivals. He used this passage to emphasize brotherly love over ambition.

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.

12. Methodology

All the writings of Augustine in Migne Patrologia Latina were visually scanned for references to the gift of tongues, noted and later translated. This was done between 1986 and 1992 before the onset of any real digital availability.

MPL has numerous edits and interpolations of the Augustinian text and often the wording or the style quickly departs from what appears to be atypical of the text. An Italian-based website, Sant’ Agostino appears to have cleaned up these problems quite a bit. Some spellings too have been updated. However, this site was only recently discovered and not used as the basis of this work. Another site, has the original MPL untouched and the ability to turn on and off Migne’s notations. This is the closest to the physical copy that I worked from.

The original English translation originally posted was from the initial period of my Latin learning over 20 years ago and was novice at best. This was partially due to the tedious problem of having to translate without the aide of any digital media, which incredibly speeds up the rate of translation and opens up a far greater array of resources. It has been greatly updated since then and this document will continue to be corrected or added to if new information arrives.

The majority of the English translations are translated by myself from Migne Patrologia Latina and the reader must be aware that although I am professionally trained in Greek and Hebrew, I am self-taught in Latin. Great care has been made in translation accuracy and there is strong confidence in this work but there always exists an element of error that was possibly overlooked.

13. Conclusion and Further Reading

Augustine and Gregory Nazianzus may not have been the founders of the neo-tongues movement but the spirit of that epoch set the definition to closely align with the Trinity. The concept of tongues being correlated with oneness and unity became an unquestionable doctrine. The next section deals with how this concept legally became entrenched into actual Church polity and perpetuated for almost a millennia.

This passing of tradition can be found in the next article: The Neo-Tongues Movement: Part 3, which covers the ecclesiastical tongues phenomena from the 6th to 11th centuries and a few remnants after that period.

If you haven’t read already, the first part of this series can be found here: The Neo-Tongues Movement: Part 1

Origen on the Doctrine of Tongues


A critical look at the references and controversies regarding Origen on the christian doctrine of tongues.

This work was produced because there is so much contradictory often even misleading statements concerning Origen’s position. It necessitated a closer look into all the available materials made by Origen on the subject in order to arrive at a definitive conclusion.

Table of Contents

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Methodology
  • 3. The works of Origen as it relates to the doctrine of tongues:
    • The Jeremiah Homily
    • Selecta in Ezechielem
    • Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles
    • Commentary on the Book of Romans
    • Commentary on Corinthians, Header 49
    • Against Celsus
  • 4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

The divergent opinions about Origen can be found in the most dominant pieces of religious literature and these contradictory opinions create more problems than solutions. For instance Cleon Rogers Jr. stated in the well-known Bibliothecra Sacra that Origen wrote nothing on it,1 while C.M. Robeck Jr. believed Origen stated the gift to be for cross-cultural preaching.2 T.C. Edwards believed Origen along with other Church Fathers indicated that it was no longer in existence in the third century,3 to which R. Leonard Carrol wrote that Origen believed it did still occur.4

Many modern writers have read Origen simply to find out if the gift had ceased or persisted like Richard Quibedeaux who concluded that Origen simply didn’t approve of the phenomenon,“Origen, in the third century, and Chrysostom, in the fourth, both disparaged the accounts of speaking in tongues, and rejected its continued validity.”5

On the other hand a school of thought known as higher-criticism promoted tongues as an ecstatic utterance within the works of Origen. For example, Johannes Behm, author of the gift of tongues in the highly praised Theological Dictionary of the New Testament associated one of Origen’s sentences to mean that tongues was an ecstatic utterance.6 PKE Feine in the The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge also corroborates with a similar theme to Behm.7

These differing conclusions demonstrate the need to examine Origen in a comprehensive and detailed way.

Origen lived around 185-254 AD and it is traditionally held that he lived in Alexandria, Egypt. His works are one of the few pre-300 AD Patristic publications available today. Because of this, his works hold special interest. Origen had a broad range of competencies: from the the use of the Hebrew language to Greek philosophy, and this was reflected in his writings. He used Neo-Platonist and Neo-Pythagorean frameworks to interpret Scripture. This has to be understood in approaching, translating and explaining the results of his writings concerning the doctrine of tongues.

2. Methodology

The methodology used to discover Origen’s position was fourfold. First it was to collate a comprehensive corpus of materials by Origen on the subject from the available Greek and Latin texts, which was completed by visually scanning each page of the Origen writings found in Migne Patrologia Graeca and two different medieval copies of the Corinthian Catena originally attributed to Origen. Secondly it was to translate them into English with critical notes. Third, it was to compare any existing popular traditional English translations with my translations. This will answer two important questions: have the past translations and the lack of comprehensiveness misled readers in his intent? Does the translation clearly portray what Origen intended? Last of all this is a literary approach using historical-criticism. It is not to look for texts that validate modern-day conservative or pentecostal theologies. It is to pursue Origen speaking on his own terms which may or may not line-up with our present day theologies.

Translating Origen is not a simple task. The Greek that the manuscripts are supplied in has its own regional style, use and vocabulary which is consistent with other texts influenced by those who had a close connection to the Christian centre of Alexandria, Egypt.

Below is a list of the passages that are historically attributed to Origen related to the Christian doctrine of tongues, with a translation and brief commentary.

3. The Works of Origen as it relates to the doctrine of tongues:

The Jeremiah Homily

MPG. Vol. 13. Col. 384ff.

This text relates to the division of languages as described in the Book of Genesis. The Genesis account of language division was an important passage to many Church fathers who built a framework for defining the tongues phenomenon.

For that reason at a certain point in time, men were not moving from the east, nor had God scattered them. When the occasion came when they moved from the east and a man said to his neighbour, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven”.8 God speaks9 concerning these things. “Come and go down, let us confuse there their language.”10 And each one is confounded, scattered abroad upon a certain place of the earth.11 The people, the one before Israel who is in Judaea, on the other hand are not sinners. The one who had sinned is being confounded [and] then is scattered everywhere from the inhabited world.12 Understand such a thing about me and about all of us. Some in the Church of the first born ones having been registered their name in heaven, in which [is] mount Zion and the living city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem.■

This interpretation reflects an old Christian tradition. A number of other Church Fathers interpreted this passage to mean that all the people spoke one language at Babel, and due to their sin, many languages came into being so that mankind could not universally participate in evil.

It was hoped that such coverage would lead to some evidence on the christian doctrine of tongues, but once again this doesn’t happen. Origen doesn’t make any unusual claims here at the division of languages that leads to any alternate solution what Luke or Paul wrote about.

Selecta in Ezechielem

MPG. Vol. 13. Chapter 3. Col. 773

This piece is remotely related to his concept of tongues but does provide a little background.

“For [you are not being sent] to a people of unintelligible speech,”13 For if they were not holding their words superficially, yet their heart was [equal to] their mouth14 according to the depth of the thoughts15 and so by no means were you to have gone to the house of Israel. But neither were they a people who utter difficult speech.16 For their language, or rather the word, has neither something difficult and witty or stibos.17 These ones at any rate are of a vain language.18

From whence the necessity that you go to those who are departing from your custom. It was said with praise, “unintelligible speech and difficult language,” [and] indeed these things have been spoken .19 And see that about those from the gentiles, these peoples who are foreigners from the house of Israel, it is being prophesied about these things, which the Hebrew prophet would have not been able to hear on account of their foreign language20 Moreover in profound lips these ones can speak because they are not in the habit of comprehending the divine books superficially21 but believe in respect to the knowledge of the law.■

The following was translated and collated because of its parallels with Isaiah 28:11 Indeed, He will speak to this people Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue (NASB) which Paul used in attempting to solve the tongues controversy found in I Corinthians 14. It is interesting the depth that Origen goes on to explain this passage but evermore remains oblivious to any reference to the christian doctrine of tongues. This would have been an ideal place to make a connection.

There are a number of words Origen used in reference to language:

  • έτερόγλωσσον, heteroglôsson, when he described the Hebrew prophet not being able to hear because of “their different tongue,” which is simply referring to a foreign language.

  • Βαθύχειλος καὶ ὁ βαρύγλωσσος bathucheilos and baruglôssos, stammering lips and foreign tongue — he lifted these words from the Greek Septuagint of Ezekiel 3:5. These are once again references to foreign languages.

  • κουφόγλωσσοι kouphoglôssoi, vain languages. This is a unique term that I have not been able to find in any dictionary so far. The Latin parallel translation provides it as vain language, and if the greek noun is broken into two parts, κουφός, which means vain22 and γλωσσοι languages then one arrives at the same type of definition.

Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles

MPG. Vol. 14. Col. 829

Unfortunately there is only a small section of this ancient work available today–a fragment less than one page. It sheds a bit of light, though nothing conclusive. The history of this text is unknown, I am depending on Migne Patrologia’s ascribing it to Origen being legitimate which isn’t always the best procedure to follow, but for now it will temporarily be assumed as such. As more information comes to light on this text, this article will be updated.

It was necessary to fulfill the Scripture which the Holy Spirit foretold out of the mouth of David concerning Judah.”23 In which it was written in the Psalm concerning Judah. Someone might have perhaps asserted that the Holy Spirit did not speak. For the words clearly are of the Saviour speaking. “O God, pass not over my praise in silence; for the mouth of the sinner and the mouth of the crafty [man] have been opened against me: they have spoken against me with a crafty tongue.”24 And [proceeds] until the following; “and let another take his office of overseer.”25 How then, since the Saviour is the one saying these things, does Peter say, “It was necessary to fulfill the Scripture which the Holy Spirit foretold out of the mouth of David?”26 Perhaps then that we learn in this place such a thing. The Holy Spirit makes visitation in visible form27 in the prophets. And if he should personify God, God is not the one who is speaking but the Holy Spirit speaks from the character of God. If he should personify Christ, it is not Christ who is speaking but the Holy Spirit from the character of Christ speaking. Thus if even he should personify the prophet, or those people, or some one at some time he is personifying, the Holy Spirit is every character.■28

This is the only existing fragment attributed* to Origen on the Book of Acts. The most important concept that can be taken from this passage is the yet undefined elements of the Trinity. The Trinity here is in an early form, almost as if Origen visualizes three gods. His concern was about choosing which one of the Trinity was being personified in speech through the prophets. There are no references to the christian doctrine of tongues here, yet, it would be a good place for it to exist.

Commentary in the Epistle to the Romans

Origen’s Commentary on the Book of Romans has its own interesting history. It was originally written in Greek but the most extant copy available today is a Latin translation provided by Rufinus of Aquileia around 405 AD29 — though the copy we are dealing with here seems to be much later and may include numerous interpolations and edits.

(a) Romans 1:13

Origen on the mission of Paul and his obligation to bring the Gospel to all the nations and how he accomplished it through the charism of languages.

MPG. Vol. 14. Book I:13. Col. 859ff

The following is a translation from the Latin:

It must be understood that as he who trades many pearls, comes upon a precious one, sold everything, and acquired that one, so that anyone who begins with many fruits, is destined to strive for the one perfect fruit. Now one must ask how the Apostle is under obligation to the Greeks and the non-Greeks, to the wise and the foolish ones — namely what did he learn from them that he was obligated to them? I certainly think that he had become indebted with the diverse nations because he was speaking in the languages of the nations which he received through the gift of the Holy Spirit, even as he himself said, “I speak in tongues more than you all.”30 Because then he did not acquire the knowledge of languages on his own account alone but for those he was about to preach, the debt is being accomplished to all these of whom he received the knowledge of many languages from God.■

Origen clearly believed that Paul was endowed of the Holy Spirit to speak in many languages so as to make the Good News an international one. However, he did not state how Paul arrived at such a blessed condition. It is not clarified whether the Holy Spirit empowered Paul learning a language by natural means through study, that he was being prepped since birth in such a vocation, or immediate revelation.

Since this is such an important point, the actual text is provided here in the original Latin:

Sciendum est quod sicut is qui margaritas negotiabatur plures, inveniens unam pretiosam, vendidit omnes, et emit illam unam ; ita quis a pluribus fructibus incipiens, ad unum perfectionis tendere debet fructum. Requirendum nunc est quomodo Apostolus Græcis et barbaris, sapientibus et insipientibus debitor est. Quid enim ab ipsis acceperat, unde eis debitor fieret ? Arbitror diversis quidem gentibus inde eum effectum esse debitorem, quod omnium gentium linquis eloqui accepit per gratiam Spiritus Sancti, sicut et ipse dicit : “Omnium vestrum magis linguis loquor. Quia ergo linguarum notitiam non pro se quis, sed pro his quibus prædicandum est accipit, debitor omnibus illis efficitur quorum accepit a Deo linguæ notitiam.31

(b) Romans 6:13

This translation is based on two different editions. MPG. Vol. 14. Book VI. Col. 1100 And Origenous ta heuriskomena panta, edited by CHE Lommatzschen.32

For if the Spirit of Christ lives in you, it appears necessary with the Spirit to restore his own dwelling place, and the temple being restored. Yet I wish this itself that what it is being said whether the Spirit of Christ, or the Spirit of God or Christ Himself dwelling in us, what kind should be considered: whether such Spirit is being given to everyone from the beginning, and afterwards is being put aside by the most wicked and hostile things to God,33 according to that which was written, “My Spirit will not remain as such in man because they are flesh” (Gen. 6:3).34 Cannot it be that it has been given afterwards: in life as a due reward and in faith as a grace, according to these things which are being pointed out in the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit came upon each one of them as it were as a fiery language. We certainly even teach in the Gospel when the Saviour Himself, after He resurrected from the dead before the disciples, said, “Receive the Holy Spirit, and He breathed on each one of them” (John 20:22).35 Whence it appears to me that this gift is collected by merit and by the upright life and being increased with each one according to the progress of faith and grace. And how much the pure soul is being rendered, the more abundantly the Spirit is going to be poured into it. He also said that, “My Spirit will not continue as such in man because they are flesh” (Gen. 6:3). One considers that point further as seeing that their soul has reneged to the singular servitude of the Spirit, [and] turned themselves backwards to the servitudes entirely of the flesh, furthermore the soul itself to which intimately joined itself to the flesh and after had become one, received the name [‘flesh’].

Now the Spirit is able to possess in diverse ways. Whether he is being possessed of the Spirit of Christ, according to that which we said above, by divine inspiration, whereby he says, “Receive the holy Spirit, and He breathed on each one of them” (John 20:22). And again in the same way which is being said carried out in the Acts of the Apostles36 that the apostles were speaking in diverse tongues. That way is also which is being referred in the book of Kings where the Scripture says, “And the Spirit came upon Saul and he began to prophecy” 37

This is yet another way that when the Savior, after the resurrection, [on] the journey spending time and explaining the Scriptures with Cleopha and another disciple, he blew38 into them by means of the breath of his mouth in order that they were to speak to those, “Was not our hearts burning within us when He opened to us the Scriptures?” 39 Are you willing to know that not only while Jesus was in the process of speaking He delivered His Spirit to those ones listening, but also those who speak the word of God in His name, has he handed over the Spirit of God to those ones listening? See in the Acts of the Apostles as to how Peter is speaking to Cornelius. Cornelius himself is filled with the holy Spirit and those who were with him. From which point also if you should speak the word of God and speak faithfully from a pure conscience, nor40 should you be proven unworthy in your words, as if you were to teach one thing, and do another, it can happen that, by your speaking, the fire of the holy Spirit should inflame the hearts of those who have heard, that they consequently may warm up with enthusiasm and be on fire for for the purpose of entirely completing what you teach, that they may fulfill the deeds what things they have learned with words, and have sense to “seek the things above”,41 and “not the things upon the earth”.42

He thought the miraculous use of tongues of Pentecost to be speaking in foreign languages. He didn’t address the subject of cessation. This indicates that there was no cessationist movement or religious doctrine at that time that he needed to address. The passage shows that tongues would have been a tertiary issue to him far off his radar. Origen clearly demonstrates in the above text, and as well found in the Corinthians 49 one exhibited further down, that his main mission was the development of people with deep convictions who acted out on these beliefs. Origen wrote that as the faith of the Christian deepens, so does the manifest life, And how much the pure soul is being rendered, the more abundantly the Spirit is going to be poured into it — in other words he felt the problem of signs and wonders had more to do with the lack of pious individuals to complete the task than anything else during his time.

Origen made a parallel between tongues and prophecy. His quoting of I Samuel 10:10 “And the Spirit came upon Saul and he began to prophecy,” referred to prophecy and tongues having a similar function. This is not unique. Thomas Aquinas maintained a similar position in the 13th century. Aquinas believed tongues and interpretation to be inferior to prophecy because they were simplistic in nature — a mechanical process that had more to do with language and syntax and little to do with meaning. The office of prophecy meanwhile could do both. See Thomas Aquinas on the Doctrine of Tongues Intro for more information.

(c) Romans 7:6

The Latin can be found at: MPG. Vol. 14. Book VII:6. Col. 1119ff and Origenous ta heuriskomena panta, edited by CHE Lommatzschen Pg. 117ff.43

The following translation is from: Fathers of the Church, Volume 104 : Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Books 6-10, by Thomas P. Scheck 44

And he is like a teacher who accepts a student who is both a raw recruit and completely ignorant of the alphabet. In order to be able to teach and instruct him, he is forced to stoop down to the elementary attempts of the student and he himself first pronounces the name of each letter so the student learns by repeating. And in a way, the teacher himself becomes like the beginning student, saying and practicing the things that the beginner needs to say and practice. In this way as well then, when the Holy Spirit sees that our spirit is being harassed by the struggles of the flesh and does not know what or how it ought to pray, he, like the teacher, first says the prayer that our spirit, if it longs to be a pupil of the Holy Spirit, should imitate. He offers groanings by which our spirit may be taught to groan in order to re-propitiate God with itself. But if the Spirit indeed teaches, and our spirit, i.e., our mind, should by its own fault not follow, then the teacher’s lesson become unfruitful to it.

Because he knows that this mystery is being accomplished within man, Paul was also saying, “For if I speak with tongues, my spirit prays, but my mind is without fruit.” There he calls his own spirit the Holy Spirit’s grace that is given by God to men. For this reason as well, when he encourages us not to possess this benefit of the Holy Spirit unfruitfully, he goes on and says, “What then? I shall pray with the Spirit and I shall sing a psalm with my mind.”Although Paul then has indicated that these things are unutterable and are accomplished by unutterable groanings, nevertheless we have set forth to the best of our ability a graphic representation, as it were, of the things that are accomplished spiritually, which [Paul] himself offers in a hidden manner. “He who is spiritual should test everything,” and if he is able to trace out something more lofty in these matters, he should keep it to himself; for a “trustworthy man conceals matters in his spirit.” Yet those who demand from God prosperity for themselves in the present life and health or riches or honors need to be admonished that they do not know what or how to pray. For it often happens that present gains and secular honor yield the loss of the soul and its eternal reproach. And for this reason we ought instead to keep to what the Lord has taught us to say in prayer, “Thy will be done.”■

This passage, along with Romans 1:13, was cited by C.M. Robeck Jr. in The New International Bible Encyclopedia as an affirmation that Origen “viewed it as a bridge to cross-cultural preaching.”45 Romans 1:13, is a good argument, but here in 7:6, it is difficult to find the connection.

Origen wrote here on reading and singing the Psalms. Origen’s citation of I Corinthians 14:15 here is unusual, “What is is this then? I will pray with the spirit, I will also pray with understanding. I will speak the psalm with the spirit, I will speak the psalm with understanding.” It is slightly different than the majority of manuscripts, especially those transmitted and used in English translation which generally read,“I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also” (NASB).

This textual variation does not exist in any other Greek or Latin manuscript. One may initially think this is simply a problem of a faulty Origen manuscript. However, this same verse does occur again in another of his writings, De Principiis.46 This makes a strong case that it was part of Origen’s Bible which then requires a closer look.

The Latin Vulgate reads, “psallam spiritu, psallam et mente.47 The keyword is Psallam, which is translated in the Latin to English Bible by Douay-Rheims, “I will sing”48 Lewis and Short’s Latin Dictionary defines psallam as, “to play upon a stringed instrument; esp., to play upon the cithara, to sing to the cithara. …In partic., in eccl. Lat., to sing the Psalms of David.”49 The English translation misses out on the liturgical aspect relating to the Book of Psalms.

This forces one to make a comparison to the Greek. The Greek text of I Corinthians 14:15 reads, “ ψαλῶ τῷ πνεύματι, ψαλῶ δὲ καὶ τῷ νοΐ.50 The English Bibles are unanimous in it meaning some form of singing, such as the NIV Bible, “I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.”51 The key-word here is ψαλλῶ used in the future tense form ψαλῶ, psalô, which Liddell and Scott’s, A Greek-English Lexicon defines as, “mostly of the strings of musical instruments, play a stringed instrument with the fingers, and not with the plectron. …later, sing to a harp.”52 It refers to people playing an instrument, not the vocal chords but singing appears to be the only way to translate it.

Ψαλλῶ also sounds very similar to the name of the Book of Psalms. Is this coincidence? Or could Origen be getting mixed up with this word himself?

Psalm 138:1 shows the difficulty of this word in translation. Most English Bibles have this translated similarly to the NIV “with all my heart; before the “gods” I will sing your praise,”53 which doesn’t capture the nuance of the word psalô at all, but it does force an English translator of the Septuagint, L.C.L. Brenton, into some problem-solving. He translated it as, “with my whole heart; and I will sing psalms to thee before the angels.”54 The Hebrew text offers no further clarification but later Hebrew tradition asserts that Psalm singing was an integral part of synagogue worship.55 It is my opinion that Origen simply refers here to I Corinthians 14:15 as the public reading or singing of the Book of Psalms.

Commentary on Corinthians, Header 49

Translated from the Greek as found in: Claude Jenkins, “Documents; Origen on I Corinthians,” Journal of Theological Studies 10 (1909). Pg. 29ff and another version found in Catenae: Graecorum Patrum in Novum Testamentum. Tomus V. J.A. Cramer. ed. Oxonii.1844. Pg. 249

Any Bible reader would get excited to find a copy of Origen on Corinthians. However, Origen has a different idea on how to approach this book. In fact, he takes it into a different direction that is not experiential at all and more into what the western mind would designate as Greek philosophy.

The concept of tongues is not appreciably found here. It is about the role of the intellect and knowledge in the Christian life. But for the readers sake, who may think there is something here that I am overlooking, a passage is included. The selection is the one that most closely aligns with anything related to the mystery of the corinthian tongues.

This Corinthian Catena, found in the Jenkin’s version and the slightly different Cramer edition, is strange in the way that it was typographically set. It took some time to figure out the reasons for what appeared at first in the Cramer edition to be misprints, but a closer look showed it was just a clumsy way of doing Bible citations. Jenkins’ attributed the manuscript he worked from around the 16th century,56 though the word usage is primarily preserved from a much earlier era.

An initial translation was done by me about a decade ago before the explosion of digital texts and dictionaries. The first edition that was previously posted here was a labor intensive process to find problem or little used words. On many occasions I had to find the same word used in Chrysostom’s or other early church father texts. This meant to spend additional time to read, analyze, study the context, and see if the meaning applied to Origen’s instance. This occurred on so many occasions I started to feel unsure if this text was only Origen’s account or a compilation of a few different authors. Today, after reviewing all the texts again and with the assistance of a better set of resources, this is not the case. There is a unified consistency of style and word usage throughout the majority of these works that point to a single author which is Origen.

Here is the translation:

XLIX (49) xiii 1-2 “And I will show you a way beyond excess”.57 “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” 58

We seek then if whoever can have prophecy and know all the mysteries outside of love, and if it be completely given to someone that every mystery is to be known. For Paul declares, “If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know.”59 And again, “in part” he says, “we know and we prophecy in part.”60 When the perfect shall come, the perfect will cease to be in parts. For it is clear to him about saying these things about himself and likewise the apostles that the ability to know all the mysteries or knowledge does not exist. Therefore how does he say these things which shows acquaintance about possessing the ability to know all knowledge and all mysteries? If we should see in this instance the introduction concerning the words in which he says, “And I show you still a way beyond excess,”61 and apprehend what is beyond excess it is to be for all things having been clearly explained.62 Therefore beyond excess is, as also the Greeks have concurred, a word of emphasis exaggerating for the sake of the truth, and these [following] are to furnish63 by example: that they speak about certain things being whiter than snow — not that anything possibly can be whiter than snow but was spoken beyond excess64 And more, certain horses run like the wind65 — not that there is the ability to do such as this, but because of emphasis, in order that it would demonstrate66 the swiftness of horses, this phrase has been mentioned such about them. For another [example] in the Scripture it is being read of the Psalms concerning the sea, “They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths”,67 This very thing is impossible but that it was being spoken for the sake of emphasis. For you will also find manner written in the Law about excess where it was written, we saw68 “great cities fortified to heaven”.69 So how can this be? But it is being spoken with exaggeration70, not wholly resembling [what] the very word itself signifies but that it would show the greatness of the waves or the lowness, and the greatness of the walls or whatever resemblance of such things.

Thus also now the apostle takes a hypothesis over the result of having examined attributes of gifts over attributes of love.71 Not that it is capable for the gifts to do this, and those of such greatness72 without love. Or that it is possible in this life to factually know all knowledge73 without love, or to have so great a faith even as to remove mountains, but it is the one who wishes to show that love is supposed to be preferred more exceedingly in the yoke than one who had spoken the word. He then says it is necessary they eagerly seek after love.

If74 the angels who are speaking to one another in these languages by which mankind [does] also, inasmuch concerning angels that some on the one hand perhaps are Greeks and on the other Hebrews and others Egyptians? Or is this strange about naming the realm concerning the division of angels? Whether perhaps in fact as there are many dialects with mankind, so are they in the same way also with angels? If God should have granted to us from some point in time from the essence of humanity to have been arranged onto the angelic realm, the Gospel of my Lord Jesus Christ says, they will be “like an angel and sons of God, being sons of the resurrection,”75 will we no longer be in need with the language of man but with the language of the angelic? As for example one language of children and the other the voice of the ones with perfect clearness, thus every language within mankind is as if a language of children, but the angelic, is as if belonging to the perfect and clear ones of men? At any rate languages also are equally there corresponding to the conformance of equanimity,76 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal”.77 For example “sounding brass” gives an unintelligible sound, likewise “the tinkling cymbal” [gives] nothing clear. Furthermore, a language and also of angels beyond excess is to be it’s independent behavior outside of love, is not understood. For nothing is clearly or manifestly produced more than men or indeed angels like love. Indeed without the presence of love, the one who speaks is nothing.

What is the difference between knowledge and the comprehending of mysteries? The apostle speaks concerning the two matters. I indeed therefore consider the pursuit to figure-out about the apparent things to be knowledge, a more encompassing essence than that of mysteries. Since knowledge is in part, the expertise of mysteries exists. Meanwhile, when one is bound to try and figure-out about unspeakable mysteries and more divine things, which this is the ability to know the mystery, as, on the one hand, that is the general word of knowledge, while on the other hand no longer since all knowledge that the mind comprehends about the mysteries is that which has been spoken, “but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory”.78 Since I indeed know this, then I have the knowledge of mysteries. “And if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains.” It was written in the Gospel, “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”79 The one having faith the size of a little mustard seed, has the whole faith.■

Origen did not think that it should be interpreted literally when Paul wrote about the tongues of men and angels. He believed it to simply be a literary device known as hyperbole to get across the idea of love.

Modern readers of Origen on I Corinthians may find his coverage to be too much in lofty philosophical terms. This was not Origen’s intention at all. He was being very pragmatic relative to his time. His concern in his coverage of I Corinthians was not in the literalness of the text but a personal application; how a person can be transformed and make positive decisions for daily living. The problem tongues of Corinth was not a core issue to the Christian life and therefore was not a priority for Origen to address.

Origen spends a considerable amount of time regarding knowledge. This is very interesting but outside the scope of this article. More on the relationship between Origen and knowledge can be found here: Origen on Knowledge.

The ancient Jews also taught about the language of love and directly connected this with the Hebrew language such as found in the Jewish writing, Genesis Rabba; “What is the difference between the prophets of Israel and the prophets of the Gentiles? …He communicated with the Gentile prophets only in half speech but with the prophets of Israel He communicated in full speech, in language of love, in language of holiness, in the language wherewith the ministering Angels praise Him.”80 Origen first began his treatise on Angels comparing their language with the language of mankind with no intention of entering the discussion of what linguistic style defines an angelic language.

Against Celsus

The most controversial of Origen texts relating to the doctrine of tongues is the writings found in Against Celsus.

Origen wrote this piece as a rebuttal against a well-known anti-Christian literary work published 70-80 years previous called, The True Word by an author named Celsus. Not much is known about Celsus; his original writings lost to us today, except that which can be found in Origen’s work.81 Against Celsus. This is the most popular work of Origen known to the Western reader, and is cited relating to the christian doctrine of tongues.

The English translation here is one found ubiquitous on the internet and in scholarly citations. Frederick Crombie is the translator and his work can be found in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, which is the basis for the internet editions. The publication used here is from 1872, but I found no difference in later ones.

(a) Against Celsus 3:46

And if you come to the books written after the time of Jesus, you will find that those multitudes of believers who hear the parables are, as it were, “without,” and worthy only of exoteric doctrines, while the disciples learn in private the explanation of the parables. For, privately, to His own disciples did Jesus open up all things, esteeming above the multitudes those who desired to know His wisdom. And He promises to those who believe upon Him to send them wise men and scribes, saying, “Behold, I will send unto you wise men and scribes, and some of them they shall kill and crucify.”[1] And Paul also, in the catalogue of “charismata” bestowed by God, placed first “the word of wisdom,” and second, as being inferior to it, “the word of knowledge,” but third, and lower down, “faith.”[2] And because he regarded “the word” as higher than miraculous powers, he for that reason places “workings of miracles” and “gifts of healings” in a lower place than the gifts of the word. And in the Acts of the Apostles Stephen bears witness to the great learning of Moses, which he had obtained wholly from ancient writings not accessible to the multitude. For he says: “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.”[3] And therefore, with respect to his miracles, it was suspected that he wrought them perhaps, not in virtue of his professing to come from God, but by means of his Egyptian knowledge, in which he was well versed. For the king, entertaining such a suspicion, summoned the Egyptian magicians, and wise men, and enchanters, who were found to be of no avail as against the wisdom of Moses, which proved superior to all the wisdom of the Egyptians.82

This passage makes it very clear where Origen’s priority was in Biblical exegesis. Wisdom and knowledge were key and provides the framework for interpretation. This was why he emphasized so much the knowledge words in Corinthians at the expense of a literal interpretation. His ranking of wisdom first in the order of importance, with faith being the third, and tongues being off the list, demonstrates again that the concept of tongues was not high on his priority list.

(b) Against Celsus 7:3

Celsus goes on to say of us: “They set no value on the oracles of the Pythian priestess, of the priests of Dodona, of Clarus, of Branchidæ, of Jupiter Ammon, and of a multitude of others; although under their guidance we may say that colonies were sent forth, and the whole world peopled. But those sayings which were uttered or not uttered in Judea, after the manner of that country, as indeed they are still delivered among the people of Phœnicia and Palestine—these they look upon as marvellous sayings, and unchangeably true.” In regard to the oracles here enumerated, we reply that it would be possible for us to gather from the writings of Aristotle and the Peripatetic school not a few things to overthrow the authority of the Pythian and the other oracles. From Epicurus also, and his followers, we could quote passages to show that even among the Greeks themselves there were some who utterly discredited the oracles which were recognised and admired throughout the whole of Greece. But let it be granted that the responses delivered by the Pythian and other oracles were not the utterances of false men who pretended to a divine inspiration; and let us see if, after all, we cannot convince any sincere inquirers that there is no necessity to attribute these oracular responses to any divinities, but that, on the other hand, they may be traced to wicked demons—to spirits which are at enmity with the human race, and which in this way wish to hinder the soul from rising upwards, from following the path of virtue, and from returning to God in sincere piety. It is said of the Pythian priestess, whose oracle seems to have been the most celebrated, that when she sat down at the mouth of the Castalian cave, the prophetic Spirit of Apollo entered her private parts; and when she was filled with it, she gave utterance to responses which are regarded with awe as divine truths. Judge by this whether that spirit does not show its profane and impure nature, by choosing to enter the soul of the prophetess not through the more becoming medium of the bodily pores which are both open and invisible, but by means of what no modest man would ever see or speak of. And this occurs not once or twice, which would be more permissible, but as often as she was believed to receive inspiration from Apollo. Moreover, it is not the part of a divine spirit to drive the prophetess into such a state of ecstasy and madness that she loses control of herself. For he who is under the influence of the Divine Spirit ought to be the first to receive the beneficial effects; and these ought not to be first enjoyed by the persons who consult the oracle about the concerns of natural or civil life, or for purposes of temporal gain or interest; and, moreover, that should be the time of clearest perception, when a person is in close intercourse with the Deity.”83

The comments on this section above are combined with (c) below.

(c) Against Celsus 7:8-9

[8] “I do not know what led Celsus, when saying, “But what things were spoken or not spoken in the land of Judea, according to the custom of the country,” to use the words “or not spoken,” as though implying that he was incredulous, and that he suspected that those things which were written were never spoken. In fact, he is unacquainted with these times; and he does not know that those prophets who foretold the coming of Christ, predicted a multitude of other events many years beforehand. He adds, with the view of casting a slight upon the ancient prophets, that “they prophesied in the same way as we find them still doing among the inhabitants of Phœnicia and Palestine.” But he does not tell us whether he refers to persons who are of different principles from those of the Jews and Christians, or to persons whose prophecies are of the same character as those of the Jewish prophets. However it be, his statement is false, taken in either way. For never have any of those who have not embraced our faith done any thing approaching to what was done by the ancient prophets; and in more recent times, since the coming of Christ, no prophets have arisen among the Jews, who have confessedly been abandoned by the Holy Spirit on account of their impiety towards God, and towards Him of whom their prophets spoke. Moreover, the Holy Spirit gave signs of His presence at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, and after His ascension He gave still more; but since that time these signs have diminished, although there are still traces of His presence in a few who have had their souls purified by the Gospel, and their actions regulated by its influence. “For the holy Spirit of discipline will flee deceit, and remove from thoughts that are without understanding.”[9] But as Celsus promises to give an account of the manner in which prophecies are delivered in Phœnicia and Palestine, speaking as though it were a matter with which he had a full and personal acquaintance, let us see what he has to say on the subject. First he lays it down that there are several kinds of prophecies, but he does not specify what they are; indeed, he could not do so, and the statement is a piece of pure ostentation. However, let us see what he considers the most perfect kind of prophecy among these nations. “There are many,” he says, “who, although of no name, with the greatest facility and on the slightest occasion, whether within or without temples, assume the motions and gestures of inspired persons; while others do it in cities or among armies, for the purpose of attracting attention and exciting surprise. These are accustomed to say, each for himself, ‘I am God; I am the Son of God; or, I am the Divine Spirit; I have come because the world is perishing, and you, O men, are perishing for your iniquities. But I wish to save you, and you shall see me returning again with heavenly power. Blessed is he who now does me homage. On all the rest I will send down eternal fire, both on cities and on countries. And those who know not the punishments which await them shall repent and grieve in vain; while those who are faithful to me I will preserve eternally.’” Then he goes on to say: “To these promises are added strange, fanatical, and quite unintelligible words, of which no rational person can find the meaning: for so dark are they, as to have no meaning at all; but they give occasion to every fool or impostor to apply them to suit his own purposes.”84

The portion about signs becoming less used, “and after His ascension He gave still more; but since that time these signs have diminished, although there are still traces of His presence in a few who have had their souls purified by the Gospel, and their actions regulated by its influence,” indicates that he still believed in miracles, but acknowledged a decline in their occurrences. As previously stated, he posits the problem on the availability of qualified persons to do such a thing as opposed to the Holy Spirit no longer operating in this fashion anymore.

Origen felt that Celsus’ argument on the definition of prophecy, or how it was delivered, was too ambiguous. This was why he wrote: “First he lays it down that there are several kinds of prophecies, but he does not specify what they are; indeed, he could not do so, and the statement is a piece of pure ostentation.”

Against Celsus is a key-text for many scholars tracing the Christian tongues as a form of ecstatic utterance. This school of thought has established a parallel between the gift of tongues and historic Greek practices. The popular dictionary in the early 20th century, The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, wrote;

Origen, Contra Celsum vii., ix “quotes Celsus to the effect that both in and outside the sanctuaries people exhibited ecstatic phenomena and uttered unknown, unintelligible speech.”

And then concluded;

But in the passages in the New Testament under discussion it is best to take glossa in the metaphorical sense as a technical term denoting a strange and unwonted form of words. With the meaning it occurs not only in the literary moments but as employed by the common people especially in referring to phenomena which seemed supernatural or unordinary, like the utterances of the pythia, of poets, or of the muses. This could then easily be taken over by Christianity…”85

Johannes Behm pointed this out as well in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament:

“Nor is there lacking a connection between Hellenistic prophecy… or Celsus description of the impulse of Christian ecstatics (Orig. Cels., 7, 8 f.), namely, after prophetic utterances, which are intelligible even though uttered with the claim to be spoken by a divine Ego.”86

The ubiquitous Greek dictionary, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, also used these two chapters to make the correlation, “There is no doubt about the thing referred to, namely the broken speech of persons in religious ecstasy. The phenomenon, as found in Hellenistic religion, is described esp. by ERhode (Psyche’ 03, Eng. trans. ‘25, 289-293) and Reitzenstein; sf. Celsus 7, 8;9.”87

An important omission exists in their argument — the keyword, γλωσσα-glôssa tongue, does not exist in the texts they refer to. This is an integral word in the christian doctrine of tongues and is extremely hard to make a complete argument without this.

They could argue inference or plausibility. After reviewing the quoted sections, the following snippets are what could be deduced as their evidence.

  • 1) 7:3 “The prophetic Spirit of Apollo entered her private parts; and when she was filled with it, she gave utterance to responses which are regarded with awe as divine truths.” Utterance (ἀποφθἐγγεται) here is the same root as used in Acts 2:3.

    It is not known from the text what is being uttered. Whether a foreign language, muttering, or some exalted spiritual language, is not defined.

  • 2) 7:3 “Moreover, it is not the part of a divine spirit to drive the prophetess into such a state of ecstasy and madness.” Ecstasy (ἔκστασιν) is not found in the important Biblical tongues passages. It is used in Genesis 2:21, Numbers 13:32, Mark 5:32, Luke 5:26 (which have no correlation) and Acts 3:10. The closest reference is in Acts 3:10, the ecstasy is concerned about the response of the people to the miracles, and is typically translated as amazed or astonished. It doesn’t refer to the state of the person filled with the tongues of fire. Neither does madness (μανικην), manikên, appear in any of the Biblical texts or ecclesiastical works discussing the doctrine of tongues.

    It is incorrect to assume that the word utterance or religious ecstasy automatically produces forms of unintelligible speech. For example, the eleventh century writer Michael Psellos characterized the speech of the pagan Greek prophets in ecstasy as speaking in foreign languages. Even with that knowledge Psellos strongly felt that there was no correlation with the christian doctrine of tongues.88

  • 3) The last verse of Origen’s Against Celsus 7:9 initially appears to strengthen the concept of the pythian priestess speaking in unintelligible words. This is not in the Greek. It is a problem only present in the English translation. Here is Crombie’s translation:

    “Then he goes on to say: “To these promises are added strange, fanatical, and quite unintelligible words, of which no rational person can find the meaning: for so dark are they, as to have no meaning at all; but they give occasion to every fool or impostor to apply them to suit his own purposes.”

    A further analysis is required. It will take a number of steps to decipher the text. The first priority is to look at the Greek text:

    Ταῦτ᾽ἐπανατεινάμενοι προστιθέασιν ἐφεξῆς ἄγνωστα καὶ πάροιστρα καὶ πάντῃ ἄδηλα, ὧν τὸ μὲν γνώμα89 οὐδεὶς ἄν νοῦν ἔχων90 εὑρεῖν δύναιτο· ἀσαφῆ γὰρ καὶ τὸ μηδέν, ἀνοήτῳ δὲ ἤ γόητι παντὶ περὶ παντὸς ἀφορμὴν ἐνδίδωσιν, ὅπῃ Βούλεται, τὸ λεχθὲν σφετερίζεσθαι.91

    The second step is to look at the Latin translation. It is surmised that some earlier English translators depended on whatever previous Latin translation existed in order to figure out problem passages in any Greek translation. So the Latin here is offered too to see if there are any clues:

    Quibus addit : magnificis promissis adjiciunt ignota, fanatica, prorsus tenebricosa, e quibus ne sapiens quidem eruere sensum possit, adeo obscura sunt et nullius sententiæ. At stupido cuique aut impostori locum dant illa ad quamcunque rem pro libitu accommodandi.92

    Crombie did reference the Latin for his translation and used the words promises, fanatical and impostor, and the sentence structure directly from it.

    There was another influence too. One of the other features of many English translators from the 1800s was to transpose their initial translations into well-written free flowing versed English. They sometimes sacrificed literal adherence for this effect. Crombie appears to have done this as well.

    With all this information at hand, a fresh translation and analysis is required based on the original Greek. Here is a new translation in contemporary English:

    These, who are speaking long and wordy, continuously add unknown, crazy, and obscure things in every way, of which on the one hand, no one who has a mind possesses the ability to make sense [out of it]. For the content is enigmatic93 and good-for-nothing. On another note, it grants to every fool or charlatan the opportunity in the act of speaking to make it up in whatever way he pleases about anything.94

    The are a number of important points here;

    • Unintelligible words used for ἄδηλα is presumptive. Although unintelligible is part of its semantic range, it is not common. Stephanus’ Lexicon does not include unintelligible as part of its definition.95 I Corinthians 14:8 has ἄδηλον φωνὴν adêlon phônên, uncertain sound in reference to the sound of a trumpet. The person in the Against Celsus text is speaking obscurely to conceal the true facts. Ἄδηλος is commonly used to mean obscure, hide or be uncertain. If Origen meant unintelligible words, he would have perhaps used ἄσημον φωνήν as found in the I Corinthians Header 49 catena or ἀγνωστστατοι γλῶσσαν96 More evidence would be required to use unintelligible and especially unintelligible words here.

    • If the persons described as raving mad are in a prophetic state, it should not be assumed they spoke in undefined ecstatic utterances. It could be high priestly speech, an old dialect reserved for only the religious faithful, exalted regular language, or a foreign language. It is not described in any detail what the prophetess spoke. The immediate correlation between Christian prophecy and tongues is not demonstrated. Such an assumption from this passage cannot be made.

    • If anything, Origen is describing people as lunatics in their behaviour, not specifically in the speech they employ.

    • Origen’s central theme in most of his writings is on knowledge. The emphasis in this section are about those lacking knowledge and the consequence of it. Little else can be derived from this.

The collective information gathered so far demonstrates the references to Origen on the gift of tongues in the sourcebooks has been highly selective. The choosing of Against Celsus 7:8-9 promotes a view that parallels ancient Greek phenomena, but it neglects far weightier passages in reaching this conclusion found in his Commentary on the Book of Romans. The references from Against Celsus are not a description of Christian practice within the Christian Church. This is an elaborate assumption that cannot be substantiated.

The following which has rarely been quoted but needs coverage:

(d) Against Celsus 8:37

“In the next place, Celsus forgets that he is addressing Christians, who pray to God alone through Jesus; and mixing up other notions with theirs, he absurdly attributes them all to Christians. “If,” says he, “they who are addressed are called upon by barbarous names, they will have power, but no longer will they have any if they are addressed in Greek or Latin.” Let him, then, state plainly whom we call upon for help by barbarous names. Any one will be convinced that this is a false charge which Celsus brings against us, when he considers that Christians in prayer do not even use the precise names which divine Scripture applies to God; but the Greeks use Greek names, the Romans Latin names, and every one prays and sings praises to God as he best can, in his mother tongue. For the Lord of all the languages of the earth hears those who pray to Him in each different tongue, hearing, if I may so say, but one voice, expressing itself in different dialects. For the Most High is not as one of those who select one language, Barbarian or Greek, knowing nothing of any other, and caring nothing for those who speak in other tongues.”97

It further strengthens the idea of Origen supporting the christian doctrine of tongues as speaking in foreign languages.


The above translations and commentaries provide a deep insight into Origen’s world. Origen wasn’t concerned with the doctrine of tongues and didn’t specifically teach on the subject. We find evidences of the doctrine as happenstance while he pursued building frameworks on the importance of knowledge and wisdom in the Christian daily life. When he does briefly write on the topic, he expressed it as the miraculous endowment of a foreign language. This definition explains his stance on the miracle at Pentecost, but nowhere in any presently available manuscript does he describe the problem at Corinth. There is not enough information from him to state that this practice had ceased or propagated — though it would appear Origen would attribute the problem to the lack of religious devout persons in his generation to carry on the task. Scholars that have quoted from his works to defend their positions have been too vague, especially the ones promoting the idea of tongues as a syncretism with Greek ecstatic utterances. The passages, when looked into more detail, do not support such presuppositions.■