Monthly Archives: October 2011

Aquinas on Tongues: ICor 14:18-22

A translation of Thomas Aquinas on I Corinthians 14:18 — 22 from the Latin into contemporary English.

Translated from the Latin text: Reportationes 088 R1C cp 14 Pg. 389 lc4

I Corinthians 14: 18 – 22

Ic4. This apostle shows the excellency of the gift of prophecy over the gift of tongues by the reasons which had been established on his own part. And concerning this he does two things: first he brings thanks concerning the gift of tongues which had been given to him by God. Secondly, he proposes himself as an example for them. Where it says, “But in the Church I wish, etc.,” He goes on to say, “I give thanks, etc.,” as if he was to say, “Therefore I do not despise the gift of tongues, because I say that the gift of prophecy is more excellent but [tongues] ought to be retaining a high value as well”. From which it says, “I give thanks, etc.,” Therefore it is about the one who is in the act of giving thanks. “In all things give thanks,”1 (I Thessalonians 5:18). Or “I give thanks,” as if he is trying to say, “Therefore I do not despise the gift of tongues, as if one who is lacking in it, but on the contrary I have it.” And therefore he says, “I give thanks, etc.,” and not that they were to understand that all were speaking in one language.2 He says, “I speak with all your tongues,”3 “The Apostles were speaking in a variety of languages,”4 (Acts 2:4).

“But in the Church,” He sets himself here as an example, as if he is saying: “if I have the gift of tongues as you also [have], you ought to do that which I do.” “But I wish,” that is rather I wish, “to speak in the Church five,” that is only a few words, “words with my sense,” that is with understanding, namely that I should understand and be understood. And because of this, “that I may instruct others also: than ten thousand,”5 that it is in whatever great a number, “words in a tongue.,”6 , seeing that [this type of] speaking is not for understanding in whatever way it is going to be done, as explained above. They are saying something with respect to the reason he says, “five,” because the apostle seems to prefer that he would rather wish to say one prayer for the purpose of understanding than many without understanding. But prayer, according to the grammarians, in order for this having to make perfect sense, it must have five [things], namely the subject, predicate, copula verb, the determination of subject and predicate.7 To others it appears better for that reason because it ought to be spoken with understanding, in order that others may be taught. Therefore he asserts, “five,” because the teacher owes five, namely:

  • The nature of belief, “These things speak and exhort,”8 (Titus 2:15).
  • What one is compelled to do: “Go ye into the world, etc.,”.
  • What one is compelled to avoid, namely sins. “flee as if from the face of a snake, etc.,” (Ecclesiasticus 21:2), “show my people wickedness, etc.,” (Isaiah 58:1).
  • One must be about hope, namely the eternal reward. “of which salvation they have inquired, etc.,” (I Peter 1:10).
  • One must be about fear, namely the eternal punishments, “go, those who must speak evil, into the eternal fire, etc.,”9

“My brothers, do not be unwilling, etc.,” He shows here the excellency of the gift of prophecy over the gift of tongues, the reason having been established by the part of the unbelievers. He does two things in reference to this. First, he raises attention and answers those who have been attentive. Secondly he argues his proposition, where it says, “what is written in the Law?”10 According to the first the apostle seems to exclude the cloak11 of excuse belonging to anyone who for that reason teaches rude and superficial things as if they show themselves as one’s preferring to live in simplicity, and for that reason the ones who do not care about the details do not arrive at anything that relates to the matter of truth. These ones possess the word of the Lord for this, “unless you be converted, and become as little children, etc.,”12 (Matthew 18:3).

But the Apostle excludes this when he says, “do not become children in sense,”13 that is do not become that type who speaks and teaches childish, useless, and stupid things. See the previous (remark in I Corinthians 13:11), “when I was a child, etc.,”14 . But what must you do to become children? With affection, not with understanding. So he consequently says, “but in malice,”15 whereby it ought to be known that children lack in actively thinking about evil and thus for that reason we ought to become children. “but in malice be children,”16 and they are lacking in actively thinking about good, and so we ought not to be children, on the contrary, we ought to be perfect men. And so for that reason he says, “and in sense be perfect, etc.,”17 that is you were to be perfect to discern [between] good and evil. From which it says, “But strong meat is for the perfect, etc.,” (Hebrews 5:14). Therefore it is not to be praised in your simplicity which is being opposed to wisdom, but simplicity which is being opposed to cunning. And for that reason the Lord says, “be wise as serpents,” (Matthew 10:16). “But I would have you to be wise in good and simple in evil,” (Romans 16:19).

Consequently when he says, what is written in the Law?” he is arguing for a purpose. Whereby it ought to be noted this argument, as is well known by a gloss, it was being distinguished by many parts, but according to the intention of the apostle it did not seem that it was to be applied in this topic except for one reason. And his reason is for the purpose of showing that the gift of prophecy is more excellent than the gift of tongues. It is such as this – all that is more valuable to this over the other is ordained first and better than that other which has been ordained for this. But nevertheless, the gift of prophecy is ordained for the conversion of the unbeliever than the gift of tongues, yet the prophets are more valuable for this than the gift of tongues, therefore prophecy is better. 18

In respect to this reasoning he does two things: With the first he shows the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy to what they are ordained for. Secondly he shows that the gift of prophecy is more valuable when it says, “if then the whole [Church], etc.,” in respect to the first he does two things. With the first he introduces authority.

With the second he argues by reason of authority at the proposition where it says, “wherefore tongues, etc.” In reference to the first it ought to be known that this is what he says, “what is written in the Law?”

It can be by the Law or by inquiry, as if he should say, “you ought not become children in senses but to be one who has become righteous,19 and this is to see and know the Law. From which place you are to be ones who have become righteous in senses, based on the fact that you know the Law, and in the Law, what is written about tongues? Some [tongues] are useless anytime for that to which they have been ordained, but clearly if I should speak in diverse tongues, specifically in the [tongue of the] people of the Jews, nevertheless man does not hear, etc.

It can be by the remissive Law,20 “what is written in the Law?” as if he is saying: “Refuse to be moved like children for something which is to be eagerly desired who do not discern either the good or the not so good. It should be that you eagerly strive and consequently should prefer the better good but be as ones who have become perfect in the senses, that is you should be able to discern between the good and the greater good and eagerly strive in such a way.

And this happens, if you think what is written in the law, “seeing that in other [tongues and other lips], etc.,” [along with the verse] (Wisdom 6:16), “To think, therefore, upon her, is perfect understanding”.21 And he says, “in the Law?” one must not accept the Law strictly as the five Books of Moses only, as it states, “that all things must needs be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses, etc.,”22 (Luke 24:44) but for the whole Old Testament, as it states, “But that the word may be fulfilled which is written in their law: they hated me without cause.”23 (John 15:25). This is written yet in Psalms 24:19.24

This authority is received from Isaiah 28:11 where our account has, “In the utterance of speech and in other languages he will speak to this particular people.” This then is written [in I Corinthians 14:21]: “In such other languages,” that is in the diverse kinds languages, and “in speech,” that is in the diverse idioms and ways [a language] is able to be pronounced, “I will speak to this people,” namely to the Jew, this was a sign specifically given for the conversion of the Jewish people. “and neither so will they hear,”25 because in fact they did not believe in the sign which had been seen. “Blind the heart of this people, etc.”26 (Isaiah 6:10).

But why did God give them a sign if they were not destined to be converted? There are two reasons. One reason is because although not all were converted, nevertheless some were. “For the Lord did not cast away His people, etc.”27 Another reason is for the purpose that their damnation to appear more just, until their wickedness appears more clearly. “If I had not come and spoken to them, [they would not have sin: but now they have no excuse for their sin.] etc.”28 (John 15:22).

Consequently when he says, “Therefore tongues, etc.” He proves with reason for the proposition by the authority which had been introduced as if he is to say, “by this it is clearly shown that the gift of tongues had been given. “Not for believers for the purpose of believing, because they already believe.”29 “Not according to your speech, [that we believe] etc.,” (John 4:42)30 but for the unbelievers, that they be converted.

On the other hand two explanations are set by Ambrose in this place in a gloss, which are not literal ones.31 One of which is that which he may be saying, like in the Old Testament I spoke to the Jewish people through tongues, that is through figures of speech, and through the lips, that is temporal good things32 to [the Jews] whom the promise is going to be acted on, so, until now in the New Testament, I speak also “in other lips”, that is in spiritual things, nor yet will they heed me in such a way, namely in reference to their multitude.33

Therefore tongues have been given “not for believers but unbelievers” for the purpose of making specifically evident their unbelief.

The other [the second reason given by the gloss] is “in other tongues”, that is obscure and allegorical, “I speak” because they are unworthy. “They will not heed [me says the Lord]”, that is they will not understand. As a result he shows for what purpose prophecy is ordained to be, namely for the instruction of the faithful ones who already believe. “Prophecies which have been given are…”34 “not for the unfaithful ones, who do not believe.” “Lord, who has believed our report?” (Isaiah 53:1) but for the faithful ones, that they believe and may be instructed. “Son of man, I have made you a special envoy, etc.,” (Ezekiel 3:17)35 “When prophecy would have failed, etc., the people will be scattered.”36

For more information:

Aquinas on Tongues: ICor 14:13-17

A translation of Thomas Aquinas on I Corinthians 14:13-17 from the Latin into contemporary English.

Translated from the Latin text: Reportationes 088 R1C cp 14 Pg. 388 lc3

I Corinthians 14: 13 – 17

1C3. The Apostle above demonstrated the excellency of the gift of prophecy over the the gift of tongues by having taken up the rationale by reason of exhortation’s function. In fact he showed the same thing by reason of the function of prayer. For we perform these two things by means of a language, namely prayer and exhortation. 1 In regards to this, he does two things: For the first, he proves by reasonable grounds the excellency of prophecy over the gift of tongues. Secondly, by examples. In which place it says, “I give thanks to my God, etc.,” [v18] he does two things in respect to this. First he points out the necessity of prayer. Secondly, in regards to prayer, he demonstrates how more valuable the gift of prophecy is over the the gift of tongues. “For if I am about to pray in a tongue, etc.,” [v14] He therefore spoke regarding the first:2 I said that the gift of tongues without the gift of prophecy has no value. “and therefore [he who speaks in a tongue]” [v13] since the process of interpreting is an act of prophecy which is more excellent than that [of the gift of tongues]. The one who speaks in a tongue, whether unknown or foreign, or some hidden mystery, “let him pray,” namely to God, “that he may interpret,” [v13] 3 that is, let thanks be given to the one who is about to interpret himself “praying that God would open the door,” (Col. 4:3).

A gloss differently explains, “Let him pray. For it said to pray in two ways, namely either to plea or to persuade God,”4 as if he is saying, “the one who speaks in a tongue, let him pray” [v13] that is, so that he may persuade, “that he may interpret,” [v13] and so this gloss takes [to mean] prayer through this whole chapter. But this is not the apostle’s intention, but in fact [it is] for a plea to God. “For if I am about to pray, etc.,” [v14] this shows prophecy has more value than the gift of tongues with the one who is about to pray, and this is shown in two ways. First, the reason is taken up from the perspective of the one who is praying. Secondly from the perspective of the one hearing. In which place it says, “else, if you were to bless, etc.,” [v16] in respect to the first, he does two things: with the first he is setting the rationale for putting forward [a position]. Secondly he removes an objection, in which place it says, “what is it then, etc.,” [v15] In reference to the first, one ought to understand that prayer is twofold. One is private, when anyone in fact prays within himself or for himself. The other [is] public when anyone prays before the people and for others and whichever way it happens to be used, both the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy. He therefore wishes to show that in whichever method [there is] more value in the gift of prophecy than in the gift of tongues. In the first case with regard to private prayer, the speaker, if someone should be uneducated, who does his own prayer, says a Psalm, or Our Father and does not understand that which is saying, such a thing is praying in a tongue. It does not make any difference whether he should pray in words having been granted him by the holy Spirit or someone else’s words. And if there should be another who prays and understands what he is saying, this one prays and prophecies.

It is evident that it is more profitable for the one who prays and understands than one who only prays in a tongue, who in fact does not understand what he is saying. For the one who does understand, he is being reinvigorated also in regards to both the intellect and to affection. On the other hand, the mind of him who does not understand is without the fruit of reinvigoration. Since from this instance it is better one should be refreshed in regards to [both] the affections and intellect than in regards to affection alone. It is evident that in prayer the gift of prophecy [has] more value than the gift of tongues alone. And this is what he said: I say that “Let him pray, that he would interpret, for I am to pray in a tongue,” [v13-14] that is if I use the gift of tongues which results in the act of prayer so that I mention in some way something I do not understand, then, “my spirit,” [v14] that is, the holy Spirit having been given to me, “prays,” [v14] who inclines and moves my for the purpose of prayer. And whatsoever I gain in the prayer itself, because this specific thing, which I am being moved by the holy Spirit, is the reward for me. “For what we should pray, as necessity dictates, we do not know, but the holy Spirit himself makes us to ask.” (Romans 8:26)5 Or, “my spirit,” [v14] that is my reasoning, “prays,” [v14], that is it composes for me what I am to say those things which are for the purpose of good, whether special words or of other holy ones. Or “my spirit,” [v14] that is the power of seeing with the mind’s eye. “prays,” [v14] inasmuch they are the voices or likeness of bodies wholly constructed in the mind without being conceptualized by the intellect. He therefore supplies: “my mind,” [v14] that is my intellect, “is fruitless,” [v14] because it does not comprehend. Therefore [again] prophecy or interpretation is better in prayer than the gift of tongues. But is it possible at some time, or that whoever prays, and does not understand what he is praying, is to be without the fruitfulness of prayers? It is to be concluded that the fruitfulness of prayer is twofold. One fruit is the reward that aids the person, the other fruit is spiritual encouragement and devotion having been conceived by prayer. And one is being deprived in regards to the fruit of spiritual devotion who does not listen for that which he prays or does not understand. But on the other hand in reference to the rewarding fruit, it is bound to be said that one is deprived, because there exists many prayers without a reward, since a person has the ability to speak with difficulty one Our Father, without the mind potentially being brought to another subject. And therefore it ought to be said that when one who is praying diverts by these [words] which he says, or when someone in one rewarding deed does not continuously think in whatever pleasing act, because he does this on account of God, it does not discount the reckoning of a reward. The reason of which is [this]: because in all the meritorious deeds, which are ordained for the right end, it is not required that the intention of the one who is performing be connected with the end according to whatever deed.

But on the other hand the first thrust, which motivates the intention, continues to work in completion. Furthermore, if someone is distracted in some particular [thing] and this first thrust does the whole work of merit, unless it is being interrupted by a contrary affection which is diverting from the initial end to a contrary end. But it ought to be known that attentiveness is threefold. One is by the words which a man says and this is sometimes harmful inasmuch it impedes devotion. Another is to the sense of the words, and this is harmful, but not as much harm. Third is to the end and this is better and pretty much necessary. This is nevertheless what the Apostle means:“the mind is without fruit,” [v14], it is understood regarding the fruit of refreshment.

[Verse 15] “What is it then? etc.,”6 because someone could say: on account of whoever that prays in a tongue is without the fruit of the mind, but nevertheless the spirit prays, surely is not one then obligated to pray in the spirit? For this reason the apostle removes this [thought] saying that one ought to pray in both ways as with the spirit and the mind because a person ought to serve God concerning everything which he has from God. But he has the spirit and the mind from God and therefore he ought to pray according to both.“With his whole heart he praised the Lord, etc.,”7 (Ecclesiasticus 47:10) and for that reason he says, “I will pray with the spirit, I will pray also with the mind, I will sing with the spirit, etc.,” and so he says I will pray and sing because prayer whether it is for the purpose of averting8 God [from doing something], like he says, “I will pray,” or for the purpose of praise, like he says, “I will sing”. Concerning these two “Is any of you sad? Let him pray: Is he cheerful in mind? Let him sing,”9 (James 5:13), “Let us praise the Lord, etc.,” (Psalm 9:12)10 “I will pray with the spirit,” that is seeing with the mind’s eye, “and with the mind” that is with meaning.

[Verse 16] “Else, if you will bless, etc.,” here he shows the following that the gift of prophecy is more valuable than the gift of tongues. Furthermore, in public prayer which is when the priest publicly prays, where sometimes he says things that he does not understand, sometimes to some extent which he does understand. And in reference to this he does three things. He first posits a rationale. Secondly, he explains it. In which it says, “How is he to say, etc.,”11 and thirdly he proves what he presupposed. In which place it says, “because what [you are saying he does not know] etc.,” he therefore says, I said that the gift of prophecy in private prayer has more value. “else,” but on behalf of, and in public because “if you shall bless,” that is you were to give a benediction, “with the spirit,” that is in a language which is not to be understood, or with the power of mindful observation and having been moved by the holy Spirit.
“Who is to complete the matter for the uneducated?”12 Particularly with the uneducated, it is being asserted that this person only knows the language in which he was born. As if it were to say: “who is to speak that what he ought to speak in the place for the uneducated? so that he [the uneducated] is to say, “amen,” and therefore it says, “how should he say amen to your blessing?”13 Whereby a gloss explains, it is: “how can he share in the blessing having been made by you in the name of the Church?”“In which he that is blessed upon the earth, shall be blessed in God, amen:”14 (Isaiah 65:16). Amen is the same as let it be done, or it is so15 as if it should be said, “If he does not understand what you are saying, how will he adhere himself to the things which have been said by you? Certainly he has the personal ability to adhere, yet if he does not understand, but only in a general and not in a special [way], because he cannot understand anything of the value that you are speaking except that you are probably merely giving a blessing. But why do they [the priests] not give the blessing in the common [tongue], that they may be understood by the people and adhere themselves more to them? It has been said that this had been done16 in the early church, but afterwards, the faithful ones were taught and knew what they heard in the common office, the benedictions take place in Latin.

[verse 17] Consequently he demonstrates why [the uneducated] cannot say “amen,” when it says, “for you certainly,” that is “could well enough give thanks,”17. Inasmuch he does not understand [it] in a specific way, although he probably understands in general and is built up, like this: “Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth: but that which is good, to the edification of faith,” (Ephesians 4:29), and for that reason it is better that he [the priest] should not only bless in a tongue, that he must interpret and explain, granted that you who give thanks, are to do it well.■

For more information: