Monthly Archives: December 2012

Notes on the Doctrine of Tongues in De Trinitate

An analysis of the Church doctrine of tongues found in the fourth century Alexandrian work De Trinitate — traditionally attributed to Didymus of Alexandria.

The authorship of this work is not settled. Tradition ascribes the author to be Didymus of Alexandria. This writer, grammarian and teacher, stands at the forefront as one of Alexandria’s most prominent leaders. Although his name has lost prominence within the annals of history, his influence and contribution to the Christian world during his time was immeasurable.

However, there is a dispute on the authorship. Alisdair Heron argues in the book, The Making of Orthodoxy that it is not certain that Didymus is the author of this work.

For some two hundred years following its mid-eighteenth-century discovery by Mingarelli in a manuscript lacking title page and the opening chapters, the De Trinitate was regarded as the chief surviving work of Didymus the Blind (313–98), the last really distinguished leader of the catechetical school in Alexandria. Mingarelli based his ascription in part on the numerous and striking verbal parallels between this work and Didymus’ De Spiritu Sancto, which survives only in Jerome’s Latin translation. The last generation, however, has seen a remarkable shift in scholarly opinion on the matter: the discovery of the Toura papyri in 1941 and the ascription to Didymus of a series of extensive biblical commentaries contained in them has led in turn to comparisons of these works with the De Trinitate which seemed to support the conclusion that Didymus could not also have been the author of the latter. If correct, this conclusion not only requires a radical revision of the entire picture of Didymus and his theological teaching developed before the discovery of the Toura papyri; it also leaves the De Trinitate – a major work by any standards – floating in the void of anonymity. In recent years, study of Didymus has concentrated on the Toura commentaries; the De Trinitate has received relatively scant attention, though it is arguably more theologically substantial and significant than the commentaries, whether or not Didymus is the author.

Bryce Walker also addresses manuscript problems with another work attributed to Didymus’ De Spiritu Sancto, which may have an impact on understanding De Trinitate. He described on his blog that the oldest text of De Spiritu Sancto is in Latin.1 There was no mention of De Trinitate having the same problem. I wasn’t aware of this background information while translating De Trinitate until completion, but found on a few occasions that the Greek was following Latin structure and wondered if this was a later Greek reproduction based on the Latin. However, some of the Greek word usage is old and reminiscent of this Alexandrian era. There is not enough convincing evidence to prove that this is a later Greek translation from the Latin. However it is tenable that there were emendations or editorial inserts done by Latin based copyists.

Or it could be a collective effort of the fourth century Christian community based in Alexandria? It was one of the most influential theological centers within Christendom. Its influence can be found in almost any subject during this period.

Perhaps it was a person or movement trying to copy the diction and prose of an earlier generation in their writing style.

In the case of the Gift of Tongues Project, dating a text is more important than authorship for discovering and analyzing the transmission of this doctrine over the centuries. It appears most of the work is fourth century, and has an Alexandrian style. It may or may not be Didymus as the original author, though tradition has ascribed it as such.

Regardless, De Trinitate is a well written theological work.

Consequently, when one comes across an Alexandrian based work such as De Trinitate, it requires careful attention.

This work is an important one to study for the Gift of Tongues Project to proceed in it’s goal of tracing the development and evolution of the doctrine of tongues in the Church from inception until now.

It is also hoped that this document will clarify the theology outlined by Gregory Nazianzus. If one reads the coverage of Gregory Nazianzus and later writers on this subject, the doctrine of tongues has three potential interpretations. One is that the speakers emitted sounds and the hearers miraculously understood it in their own language, or that the speakers miraculously spoke in every language, or it was a miracle of both hearing and speaking. The presently available Gregory texts leaves too much ambiguity as to which one was the most historically accepted.

The base copy worked from was the Greek text found in Migne Patrologia Graeca. The Latin parallel was closely watched for any differences.

If Didymus did write this, then this document is the only place where he made reference to the doctrine of tongues. His works in Migne Patrologia Graeca have been visually scanned for relevant coverage on this topic, and only three references have been located, and they are all found in De Trinitate. It is a large work that not only has the Trinity as the central theme but seeks to integrate all forms of Christian thought into this ideology. Thus the doctrine of tongues has slight references to this.

The relevant passages have been digitized, and translated. The English translation can be found at An English Translation of the Tongues Passages found in De Trinitate, and the original Greek text along with the Latin parallel translation, The Greek and Latin texts on the Doctrine of Tongues found in De Trinitate.

The first reference in De Trinitate concerning the doctrine of tongues can be found in the coverage about the division of languages in the Book of Genesis.2 This one hardly provides any substantial detail. It follows the customary path of early Christian interpretation of linking the doctrine of tongues with the confusion of languages rather than connecting it to the voice or voices God spoke to Moses with at Mount Sinai.

The second reference in De Trinitate has more information.3:

And they were speaking as well in different languages, “even as”, it says, “the Spirit was giving them to utter.” And the Galileans were understanding the instruction of Parthians, Medes, Persians; and the different sorts of foreign speech of mankind, including also Greek, and the Ausonian language. Many voices were indeed produced, and were showing of such things, we are destined to discover about the age to come, when having been liberated from the bonds of this present world, which corresponds to the voice of Paul, “Where there is not among them Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, but Christ is the all and in all.” And clearly he meant the same identical essence as according to the Trinity, “Christ is all and in all.” Where seeing that we seek. . .

There are a number of clues that can be picked-up from here. The text offered support for the miracle being those speaking in foreign languages, but the wording suggests that these people miraculously spokes sounds too, which parallels the second theory of the miracle being in the hearing.

The text defined those who were miraculously endowed Galileans. By leaving this so general, the author(s) recognize that more people just than the Apostles were gifted on that day, but who and how many, is left for the reader to decide.

It is clear here from the text that those who were endowed not only miraculously spoke but also understood foreign languages. It does not clarify if this was a temporary event, or a gift which these people possessed for the rest of their lives.

The text also added the Greek and the Ausonian to the list of languages being spoken at Pentecost. Ausonian was the language of Southern Italy. It is argued to be close to, if not Latin, while others state it is independent and older than that of Roman Latin. The written intent was to transform the Pentecost phenomenon from a semitic event, to a universal one.

There are new keywords to the tongues doctrine never used before:

  • συνίεσαν to understand as found in:

    And the Galileans were understanding the instruction of Parthians, Medes, Persians. . .

    This verb is found in Homeric and other classical Greek works. This would not be unusual to find with Alexandrian authors whose vocabulary is often similar. It also could mean that the Apostles were competently hearing or perceiving other languages.

  • ὁμιλίαν instruction. This is found in the same sentence shown above, but will show it once more to avoid confusion:

    And the Galileans were understanding the instruction of Parthians, Medes, Persians. . .

    This word can be found also in Acts 20:11 but is seldom used in the New Testament, nor in reference to the doctrine of tongues. It is the source by which we use the word Homily in many Church services today. It meant here that those who were endowed understood the instruction, that is, the philosophy and religion of the foreign nations, and could speak the Gospel within that context.

  • ἀλλοθρόων which root is speaking a strange tongue, strange, alien:4

    . . .and the different sorts of foreign speech of mankind

    This sentence portion is from the Greek καὶ ἀλλοθρόων ἄλλων ἀνθρώπων. The writer(s) is once again strengthening the argument through these word selections that the miraculous endowment is a universal one, not just a localized event that only the semitic nations could comprehend.

  • πολύφωνοί having many tones, having many voices, loquacious, talkative, manifold in expression:5

    Many voices were indeed produced

    The text noted that the speech was in manifold voices. This causes some confusion. Up until now, it is clear that the people miraculously spoke in foreign languages. It is assumed that one person spoke in Persian, while another Mede, and the list goes on. Here it is not clear. Was it each person speaking in manifold voices at one moment? Or was the person sequentially going through the languages of the nations while speaking? This is a mystery many of the Church fathers have so far left ambiguous and the text also does not clarify.

The third reference in De Trinitate to tongues speaking is weak.6 It strings together a number of references relating to the Holy Spirit and fire, including the tongues sequence in the Book of Acts. It simply is quoting Acts 2:4 among other Bible quotes without expressing any explanation to the meaning of the passage itself. It was translated, analyzed and posted in keeping with one of the goals of the Gift of Tongues Project — to be as comprehensive as possible. In the past, many researchers have selectively chosen passages to support their cause while omitting other pertinent information.

The writing style of De Trinitate contains rapid sequential thoughts. It is depending on the audience to know their Bible and topics at hand, and to fill in the obvious blanks. It skips very quickly from one thought to another. It also created difficulty translating because it was hard to understand one specific sharp transition — the text containing the negative example of Ananias to the positive example of those possessing the Holy Spirit. The transition was too fast and unclear.

De Trinitate on the doctrine of tongues does not reveal any new concepts additional to that of Gregory Nazianzus. It is clear that the text supported a miraculous form of comprehending and speaking many human languages. There are no references to the Montanists or Donatists. They were not a central or controversial part of the tongues doctrine during his time.

An English Translation of the Tongues Passages found in De Trinitate

An English translation of the texts relating to the doctrine of tongues as found in De Trinitate — a work traditionally attributed to Didymus of Alexandria.

For the actual Greek text, go to The Greek and Latin texts on the Dogma of Tongues found in De Trinitate.

Didymi Alexandrini. De Trinitate Liber Primus. XVIII:31. MPG. Vol. 39 Col. 348

In the Book of Genesis, regarding the building of the tower1 the God and Father has revealed the blessed substance, His own Son and His holy Spirit said: “Come, having gone down let us confuse their language so that each one, they were not to be able to hear the voice of [his] neighbour.”2

And I think as well Moses also shows the equality of the Trinity. He set forth one vine in three roots,3 nowhere then has another root spoken in greater quantity, lest anyone reckon the one person over the other, but all of these in fact we believe three to converge into one deity. On this account the divinely inspired Scripture prevents to make [any form of] hierarchy [within the Trinity] in the altar in which the Three receives praise.

Didymi Alexandrini. De Trinitate Liber Secundus. MPG. Vol. 39. Col. 728ff

“For through the agency of the laying of hands they were freeing4 men from various maladies, even when the shadow of Peter’s body falls5 [upon someone], while Paul’s personal6 handkerchiefs too brought about healings.7 And Paul certainly wrote to the Romans, “In respect to the one who believes, that there is to be more than enough for you in the hope [and] in the power of the holy Spirit.”8

In this perspective Peter was confidently calling out the devil, declaring9 the divine essence of the holy Spirit, saying to Ananias, “How is it10 that Satan has tempted your heart that you are deceiving the holy Spirit?” For who is the one being lied to? [Peter] who was [under] the influence said,“You did not lie to man but to God.”11

For there was not any kind of reverence in them, who is reduced to that of riches,12 or13 who breathes injustice, or does not see what is the right thing,14 or is not in a state of mind15 concerning the pure nature of the Trinity, as perhaps it was he who ascended the foremost world thrones, and this one possesses in the hands the highest powers.16

But on the contrary they were taking no notice of the purple authority17 itself, they were masters of riches, possessing the undiminishable treasure of the holy Spirit.

And they were speaking as well in different languages, “even as”, it says, “the Spirit was giving them to utter.”18 And the Galileans were understanding19 the instruction20 of Parthians, Medes, Persians; and the different sorts of foreign speech of mankind,21 including also Greek, and the Ausonian language.22 Many voices23 were indeed produced, and were showing of such things, we are destined to discover about the age to come, when having been liberated from the bonds of this present world, which corresponds to the voice of Paul, “Where there is not among them Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, but Christ is the all and in all.”24 And clearly he meant the same identical essence as according to the Trinity, “Christ is all and in all.” Where seeing that we seek. . .

Unfortunately the Greek source text abruptly terminates here, and restarts at a new section that does not pick-up where this text left-off.

Didymi Alexandri. De Trinitate Liber Secundus. MPG. Vol. 39. Col. 501

“The water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life,”25 He said this concerning the holy Spirit, where those who believe were destined to receive from Him. And this too, “For we have become partakers of Christ.”26 Then “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,”27 And it was exceedingly fitting such a thing being said in the Book of Acts28 “And there appeared to the apostles tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested upon each one of them, and they were all filled with the holy Spirit.”29 And to which was said by John, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire,”30 by which is similar to the oracle31 by Moses, “God is a consuming fire,” and by Isaiah, “For behold, the LORD will come in fire.”32

A Religious Look at Miracles and Mental Illness

Personal and historical observations of mental illness from a christian perspective.

If one reads the Gospels and analyzes the healings that Jesus did, approximately a third involved what is now classified as some form of mental illness. That was a large part of His ministry.

The Gospels were written over two thousand years ago and the mental health statistics have hardly changed. The Canadian Mental Health Association has calculated that 21.3% of Canadians will have a mental health issue in their lifetime.1 It is an important topic for the christian community to address.

What exactly is mental illness and how to deal with it from within a christian framework is a difficult question to answer. Some say it is a demon, others, only biological, and most simply ignore the subject. A large majority of ministers refer the mentally ill to skilled practitioners.

The interplay of faith, demons, and mental illness is a subject that is obscure and hard to nail down. There is so little, if any, good literature from a faith perspective on the subject. There is yet to be seen a history of the doctrine of mental illness from the inception of the church until now. If there are some graduate students from a faith perspective looking for a thesis subject, consider this one.

Pierre Gilbert’s Demons, Lies and Shadows is one of the few books that addresses the definition and nature of the subject, but is not a full framework. There are also books such as the American Exorcist by Michael Cuneo, or, Ronald Howard’s Charismania. Cuneo’s book is polemical in nature against most current practices, and does not build a Christian framework. I have not read Charismania but it appears to be polemical as well.

Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing comes closest to building a christian doctrine for mental illness. Unfortunately, it dwells on the historical aspect of mental illness in the Eastern Church and does not show a religious progression to modern practices.

The ancients didn’t understand the body chemistry as we do today either and many conditions they would ascribe to demons can now be scientifically understood. The ancients wouldn’t have any knowledge about cancer, especially brain cancer. The effects of brain cancer are far reaching and effect a large range of mental capacities. It can cause once stable people to become impulsive. Some can become compulsive liars, others can turn angry and violent, some can inflict self-harm or punish others, and many more. The same type of conditions can happen after someone sustains a concussion – most likely through a car accident or through a contact sport, or falling and hitting their head.

Nor would the ancients have understood epilepsy, whose seizures cause people to fall to the floor and violently shake.

Strokes can cause changes in moods and personalities. For example I heard the story about an esteemed person and positive contributor in a nearby community. One night, while sleeping, he woke up and started angrily shouting and screaming at his wife. This never abated. Afterwards, he would scream and shout at every person he met for no apparent reason. He was out of his wits. It was found that he suffered a stroke which effected this part of the brain. The concept of strokes wouldn’t have been understood by the ancients either and this sudden change in condition would likely have been subscribed to demons.

Neither would the ancients have understood the chemical effects of substance abuse. In the case of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder this may have hardly existed because their conservative religious environments did not allow women to imbibe. But let us entertain in some epochs of european and christian history that it did. This is an irreversible brain condition due to mother’s intake of alcohol, usually excessive, during the child’s gestation period in the womb. The physical effects would likely have caused the ancients to believe this was demonic.

These people are not demon possessed, not even close. Our understanding of the body is still in the pioneer range. There is so much more to learn. What differentiates a physical malady from a spiritual one? I don’t know.

Antiquity did not have human environmental contributors either like leaded gasoline. This was a hidden epidemic that some attributed to higher rate of violence, ADHD, and lowered intelligence. Since the legislated removal of lead in gas, these figures have declined. How many man-made chemicals are affecting our brain functions, moods, and temperaments? We don’t know, and it is a far more complex situation. We wish the simple solution of casting out a demon could solve it.

There are those who think they are struggling with depression but have lifeskill problems – they don’t know how to problem solve or properly communicate and this leads to all sorts of expressions and behavioral patterns. But then there are others who struggle with depression and it can be traced to an environmental or physical factor. Some are born in a geographic area where the ground does not contain enough iodine, and this is known to cause cognitive impairment. Others suffer through malnutrition, which can also have severe consequences on emotional and intellectual development. Some can be born with slight impairments with body chemistry, or have undeveloped or interrupted parts of the brain from birth which regular medicine cannot detect and is expressed in some form of mental illness. It can be hardly recognizable with some and others it can be severe.

What if a doctor examines a person with a psychological condition such as clinical depression, bi-polar disorder, borderline personality, etc., and finds no known physical cause? Do these have situations any association with the spiritual realm? This is a loaded question, which may not be the right one to ask. There is no properly designed christian framework that can answer.

The ministry of Jesus demonstrates a sensitivity in this area and He did heal people who had mental issues. So how can we transfer this spiritual discipline to today’s mental health challenges? Here are a few examples from a few of my own experiences that demonstrate the tension.

“No matter how much you pray, it won’t make any difference. You left her for too long before bringing her in and the illness has progressed.” This was a psychiatrist’s response to us bringing Susannah* in a completely deluded state. She had transformed from a bubbly waitress one day into a serious form of psychosis the next. When it first began, her husband called a number of people including myself to assist in this situation. We came and prayed, exorcized, and then prayed some more. Things happened but nothing that permanently altered the situation to the better. There was also the natural hope that time and rest would do restorative work. Over a short period of a few days, it was clear neither worked. Out of fear of her potentially hurting herself or someone else, she was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where she was evaluated by the psychiatrist and immediately admitted.

After staying a number of months in a hospital, and having received post-psychiatric help, the woman returned to her old self. The modern medical solution was the most beneficial.

Then there was Bill. Bill was staying at the Salvation Army emergency shelter for men in Winnipeg. A place where I was employed as a residential care worker. Bill had been standing vertically in one position for over two days. He hardly blinked or moved. The modern word for this describes him as in a catatonic state. Given his uncertain past, and the potential for violence, police were called to escort him to the hospital. In the meantime, I prayed with him. He didn’t move nor blink throughout the whole prayer, but a tear began to trickle down his left eye. The prayer had penetrated his innermost being. Something happened. I do not know what, but it was significant. Shortly afterward, the police took him away. I don’t know whatever resulted with Bill. I am sure medical intervention helped significantly.

It is not unusual to attend a hyper-Charismatic Church and see people prayed over for an emotional condition. Some who are prayed for scream out loudly, fall to the floor and convulse. What these screams, falling, and convulsions are, I do not know. Nor do I understand what the long-term emotional results from this are. There appears to be some temporary relief, but nothing permanent.

The ritual implies at the outset that the person is bad and needs to be expunged of some sort of evil. For people suffering from depression, who often struggle with an inner voice that says, “I am not good enough” in the first place, this may give an initial temporary high, but in the long-run increase negative tendencies and inhibit full recovery.

The simple prayer formula for addressing mental illness could make people with emotional scars more skeptical. If they come to a minister or lay leader looking for emotional healing, and leave unchanged, they are turned-off from religion because of unmet expectations.

Exorcisms may be re-victimizing the already victimized. For example, a portion of mental illness can be traced back to sexual abuse. This may be a minority in the mental health community but I have frequently come across many people deeply impacted by such an injustice. The pain, loss, and anger are sometimes so intense that it detaches a person from certain types or all of reality. Some hyper-charismatic or -pentecostal persons may mistake these expressions to be demon influenced and attempt to rectify the situation through exorcism. By doing so, they have twice-shamed the person and intensified the conflict raging inside. The evil circumstances and the perpetrator that influenced their specific situation are left untouched and the injustice is further reinforced. In these situations, these people do not need an exorcism, they are need of long-term affirmation and loving support in a healthy and stable environment.

There are occasions where prayer, if used correctly can liberate a person from the depths of injustice, but if prayer is improperly used, it can significantly do more harm than good.

On the other hand, the church often does get it right. Take George Munsden* for example, who has Tourette’s syndrome. For whatever reason, this syndrome caused George not only to have the tics and involuntary flailing of the arms, but also could swear full paragraphs, and frequently produce the middle finger. I knew George from his residency at the Salvation Army and discovered that he was a decent man. He attended Calvary Temple — one of the largest and oldest pentecostal churches in Winnipeg. He sat on the first bench on the balcony, muttering curse words, involuntary flailing his arms, and often producing the middle finger while the preacher spoke. But no one seemed surprised nor were taken aback. The security didn’t even take a second glance. It was just George.

One must be cautious too and not reject the supernatural world entirely. Something does occur that is beyond the normal in some circumstances but it is like playing with fire. Used improperly and in ignorance, it can damage people emotionally. One must always keep in mind what is best for the person at hand.

There is no current answer to this tension, but let me conjecture for a moment. When people were brought or came before Jesus seeking emotional healing, was He really doing an exorcism, or was the narrator describing it as a demonic episode because he couldn’t think of another explanation and this was the default for anything that cannot be explained? Jesus healed, didn’t take the time to reveal how He did it, and left it for our own imaginations to examine. Perhaps, He knew that the person had brain cancer, a stroke, fetal alcohol, or so many other conditions, and healed this malady. We couldn’t rationalize the phenomenon, so we simply ascribed it to being a demon – a word denoting something we don’t understand and out of our realm. This is far from a satisfactory solution and I am probably revising history to fit in our modern paradigm, but it is the best explanation yet.

When I see someone now with a serious emotional condition needing intervention, an exorcism prayer is no longer used — though oft tempted. I now treat them like George, or refer them to a medical institution or specialist. When the day comes when there is more information on mental illness from a christian framework, then I may change my position.■

See also the following articles: