Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Technical Notes on Acts

The nature, purpose and problems of translating a medieval narrative on Pentecost and tongues attributed to the fifth century Church Father, Cyril of Alexandria.

The initial purpose of translating was to find out and demonstrate to English readers Cyril of Alexandria’s position on Pentecost from his commentary on the Book of Acts.

The commentary on Acts is not available as a complete edition. Only a small part exists today.

This text is an odd work. It does not make complete sense, and is a large shift in thought from any Ecclesiastical literature on the subject–especially fifth century. Halfway through the Cyril text, it makes an abrupt literary transition. The author(s) write that the people speaking in tongues at Pentecost became arrogant and narrow minded. Whether this is referring to the actual apostles or the other 120 that spoke in tongues at this event is not clear.

A closer look reveals this is not a work that St. Cyril authored. It is a digest of Cyril’s works done by a later copyist. One cannot find an accurate date found from word usage or style, and since this is a printed text, dating cannot be ascertained through calligraphy. It can be broadly assumed a medieval work. Although it is not the work of St. Cyril, it still has some importance in respect to a medieval view of the mystery of tongues. The author(s) do provide some clues as to how the medieval Christian world viewed and interpreted the doctrine of tongues.

What evidences are used to conclude this?

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Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Zephaniah

The christian doctrine of tongues attributed to Cyril of Alexandria from the commentary on the Book of Zephaniah.

The following is an English translation by Charles Sullivan from Cyril’s Commentary on Zephaniah the Prophet. This translation only covers Zephaniah 3:8-11 where one can find a substantive definition of Pentecost. Not only does it describe what it is, but whether the miracle persisted, or was a one time experience. Analysis and commentary will follow in a later article. In order to assist the reader in building context to this particular translation, Zephaniah 3:8-11 has been provided at the bottom of the document.

This is part of a multi-article series on the texts attributed to the fifth century Egyptian based Church Father, Cyril of Alexandria. However, history, and the manuscript evidence supports that the texts attributed to him are not solely his. For more information on this, see Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues.

The actual Greek copy can be located at Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues

S. Cyrilli Alexandrini Archiep. Commentarius in Sophoniam Prophetam.1

39. It says that concerning Babylonia which had been conquered and concerning those being displaced in the ruin of arrogance, the nations will learn the vengeful force of God against it (Babylon). The ones who at some time laugh at the falling down and destroyed Israel and when the opposite happens they were to see the house being this brilliant and these ones going down again to the holy city, the opposition, who had utterly destroyed at one time those ones plundered, were then about to change the language2 and the rest in high praises to God. Indeed in the old days those shaking the heads and thinking and also saying that the Jewish people were conquered, certainly to prevail that it is of God perhaps somehow assisting with them according to the leader of the Babylonians. Therefore when they were about to notice the cycle of events turning into the opposite, then they will change tongues3 according to their generations, whether by tribe and race and into praises upon God. They could have chosen, I surmise, also to serve under one yoke and to bring offerings, and if they should be somewhere afar in the sphere of lands including those who dwell in the lands of the Ethiopians. And this indeed, let it be spoken in regards to the account up to this time.4.

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