The Early Protestant De-Emphatics: Martin Luther and Jean Calvin
The Church of England and Miracles
The Puritan Influence: William Whitaker, William Perkins, James Ussher, the Westminster Confession, and later Confessions
The Rationalists and Deists
Cessationism from the 1800s and onwards: the Baptists, Presbyterians, B. B. Warfield, christian higher education, John MacArthur, and more.
Cessationism is a religious term used in various protestant circles that believe miracles in the church died out long ago and have been replaced by the authority of Scripture. Cessationist policy is typically found in Presbyterian, conservative Baptist, Dutch Reformed churches, and other groups that strictly adhere to early protestant reformation teachings.
It is a doctrine that had its zenith in the late 1600s, waned a bit in the 1800s and recharged in the 1900s. Today, the doctrine of cessationism has considerably subsided. However, it cannot be ignored if one is doing a thorough study of the doctrine of tongues. It is an important part of history.
Pentecostal solutions to the missionary tongues and gibberish crisis.
This is part-three of a four-part series covering how the traditional definition of tongues all but died and was replaced by the pentecostal practice of glossolalia — an umbrella term for the language of adoration, singing and writing in tongues, and/or a private act of devotion between a person and God.
The first article contained introductory comments. The second gave a detailed account on the twofold problems of pentecostal tongues that needed to be addressed immediately. The first was the failure of the miraculous missionary tongues and the second was the conclusion of outside observers believing the participants were simply practising gibberish.
This work delves into how the early pentecostals solved the doctrinal tongues crisis.
This research draws from the early pentecostal newspapers and authors. Special notes will be made where there are references to publications and authors who are from the higher criticism perspective. This is important because, as will be shown, the early pentecostal leaders were heavily influenced by a number of these authors and works.
Early Pentecostal Tongues builds on a previous series that focused on the origins of glossolalia doctrine in the early 1800s called The History of Glossolalia. The emphasis of the original series was how the concept of glossolalia overtook the traditional definition and became the only option in most primary, secondary and tertiary source materials produced after 1879. As will be shown, the dominance of higher criticism in the publication realm helped shape the framework for pentecostal tongues as well.
For those new to the Gift of Tongues Project or to the subject of speaking in tongues, The History of Glossolalia, is a good place to start in order to understand the following.
Table of Contents
Looking for a Solution
Ignore the Problem
Utterance vs. Gift of Tongues
Writing and Singing in Tongues
Tongues as an expression of praise and adoration
Tongues as a Heavenly or Private Prayer Language
Tongues as Glossolalia
Looking for a Solution
The redefinition process started almost simultaneously after speaking in tongues became fashionable in 1906.
The solutions are various. A few adhere to the traditional definition, while most looked to the popular religious encyclopedias, dictionaries and commentaries for answers.
Ignore the Problem
A prevalent theme in Pentecostal histories is to ignore that there was any tension at all. A miracle happened and delving into the details are not necessary.
This especially can be found with the early pentecostal editor, writer and pioneer, Stanley Frodsham. His book“With Signs Following: the Story of the Pentecostal Revival in the Twentieth Century,” was once the definitive book on anything Pentecostal by a Pentecostal. First published in 1926, and revised many times, even after 1946, it is a very good, well documented book. Likely the best of any early Pentecostal histories. The first 17 chapters of the book documents people miraculously speaking in foreign languages, and then an unexplained shift occurs in the last portion of his writing. He concludes at the end of the book that christian tongues is a secret speech, something between man and God.1 He never delved on what necessitated or caused this change.
Stanley Frodsham first encountered the pentecostal movement while a young man in England. His first personal encounter with speaking in tongues happened at A. A. Boddy’s church in Sunderland, England. Frodsham then started a religious periodical out his hometown, Bournemouth, called Victory. He later moved to the United States and was the editor for the Assemblies of God magazine called the Pentecostal Evangel. His involvement with Pentecostalism along with his editing and writing numerous compositions over the decades gave him a quasi-official status for creating an early biography of the movement.
This has been a very popular approach.
Utterance vs. Gift of tongues
One would naturally look at the Azusa Street based Apostolic Faith newspaper to see how they resolved the tongues problem. Unfortunately, the Mission was mired in personal conflict that took away all the momentum they had accrued. By 1909, Azusa was becoming a figurehead and a symbol, not a source of authority. The initial thrust and evangelistic zeal was composed of people from the east-coast and mid-west that converged upon Azusa. The power quickly shifted to these centres soon after the pentecostal outburst occurred.
Clara Lum and Florence Crawford were the longtime editors of the Apostolic Faith Newspaper which originated at Azusa Street and later moved their publishing office to Portland, Oregon, in 1909. The reasons are unclear about the move but historians believe it was a personal rift between Seymour and Crawford. Rumour has it they took the mailing list with them which severely crippled the Azusa Street Mission.
Perusing their Portland articles, the sense of awe is gone. The editorial reported little about what was happening internally within Los Angeles or Portland and reprinted snippets from other like religious periodicals.
The Apostolic Faith (Portland) Newspaper engaged with another like newspaper Bridegroom’s Messenger on an important theological level about speaking in tongues. The original editor of the Bridegroom’s Messenger, G. B. Cashwell, found his pentecost at Azusa Street and brought this energy back to Atlanta. The impact of Cashwell and his newspaper was considerable within the holiness hotbeds of the southeastern United States. In the seventh issue of the Bridegroom’s Messenger their was a formative theological assertion about speaking in tongues:
This speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives utterance is not the gift of tongues. Those who speak in tongues as the Spirit gives utterance have not the power to control it at will, it seems that it comes at such times as they are in close touch with God, the Spirit takes their tongues and speaks through them, gives them utterance. Those who have the gift of tongues, seem to be able to speak different kinds of tongues, and seem to be able to speak at will.2
Clara Lum and Florence Crawford, not wanting to be excluded from the discussion, and having almost 18 months to percolate on the subject, disagreed on a key point—they knew of no one who has ever had the ability to know and control which language they were speaking and change it on the fly. They also included a clause against the abuse of this gift which was not included in the Bridegroom’s Messenger:
We have no Scripture for speaking in tongues except as the Spirit gives utterance. It is not you that speaks, but the Holy Ghost, and He will speak when he chooses. Don’t ever try to speak at will. “It is not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord.” What is not of the spirit is of the flesh or the devil. We know that some, by getting out of the Word, have been led off into fanaticism and have become a prey for the devil. If we go beyond the Word in any demonstration, it leads into wild fire and fanaticism. Up to date, we know of no one that has received the real gift of tongues, for if they had, we believe they could go out and preach to any nation in their own tongue.3
Their statement solved two problems that plagued the movement. They concluded the person who miraculously utters does not know what foreign language they were speaking in, and even if they did, it was not a controlled condition, and therefore not suitable for missionary purposes. The gift of tongues was for those who had the miraculous ability to speak a foreign language at will and consequently a powerful tool for missionary and evangelistic purposes. Unfortunately they never witnessed this gift of tongues ever happening. This is antithetical to what was published in 1906 and may be the closest thing to an apology that existed about Azusa street.
Secondly, the one who uttered in a language was an escape clause. Few, if any, knew exactly what the person was speaking. The expression was the result of a personal divine encounter that could not be immediately explained. Lum and Crawford were released from making any judgements or critical evaluations of the occurrences because of this.
Their editions after 1911 are much more subdued on the miracles of tongues with far fewer testimonies. By 1918, the only reference is general and appears as a narrative of the movement’s former days.
Writing and Singing in Tongues
The missionary tongues emphasis is dominant but the idea of writing in tongues also has some influence. The Irvingites had a demonstration of this writing in tongues doctrine in the 1830s and in the early 1900s, one of Charles Parham’s students, Agnes Ozman, was credited with writing in tongues, and another account described shortly by a Lillian Garr also strengthens that this was a frequent practice.4
The appearance of writing in tongues shows that missionary tongues wasn’t entirely absolute and there was a subculture that had other traditions developing.
Singing in tongues is unique to the pentecostal movement. The Apostolic Faith Newspaper (Portland) described it in this way: “. . .One of the manifestations that followed Pentecost was the heavenly singing by a chorus of voices in supernatural sweetness and harmony. It was melting—wonderful. Praise God, many missions have had it since then. The song is inspired, it is an anointing of the Spirit. God gave new voices to old men and women and to people who had never been able to sing, and to those that had lost their voices.”5
Frank Bartleman described his Azusa experience as a new song and described the environment in musical terms. He first described the event as a linguistic miracle and then described a parallel experience as a personal emboldening to sing. “I felt after the experience of speaking in “tongues” that languages would could come easy to me. And so it has proven. And also I have learned to sing, in the Spirit. I never was a singer, and do not know music.”6
Writing and singing in tongues is symbolic for Pentecostals to channel feelings of an inexpressible joy. A 1916 edition of the Weekly Evangel described it as such: “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men but unto God.”–(I Cor. 14:2) The language of which the apostle is here speaking seems to have been of a very peculiar sort–an unintelligible vocal utterance, that which is often manifested at this present day, in great spiritual revivals. We are constituted that when there rises up in our souls a strong rush of tender emotions we feel utterly incapable to put them into words. If expressed at all they can only be in the quivering lip, the gleaming of the eye and the convulsive chest. The groans, the sighs, the rapturous shouts cannot be interpreted.”7
There may be much more to this speaking in tongues genre but there is very little historical literature to go by. It may have been passed down through oral rather than literary traditions.
Tongues as an expression of praise and adoration
Out of all the solutions, this is the major one.
The Apostolic Faith Newspaper slowly crept out of being at the forefront of the pentecostal voice. They were victims of their own success. New voices edged out the old ones, and a general sense of structure was beginning to develop.
Pentecostal authorities began to look critically at the speaking in tongues issue. The experiential factor that A. G. Garr pronounced God ordained and needed no defence or explanation was not sufficient for a growing and increasingly fractured movement.
The early Pentecostal search for an answer was a difficult one as they had not developed any analytical form of analysis. The highly respected pentecostal scholar, Gary B. McGee, described the early pioneers as high on personal experience and low on academic study or reflection. If they did reflect, they would not draw from their own distinct intellectual thoughts. The movement, having no history before the late 1800s, borrowed from scholars of other protestant traditions, assuming that “Pentecostal teachings could be easily integrated with some of these formulations without undermining the credibility of Pentecostal beliefs.”8
The conservative religious nature of the pentecostal movement, largely due to the influence by its holiness parent, also added to the complexity of the problem. They were totally opposed to any form of biblical interpretation that represented the German school of higher criticism. This strong position was featured in a 1919 edition of the Pentecostal Evangel — the voice of the Assemblies of God. They wrote;
These Assemblies are opposed to all radical Higher Criticism of the Bible and against all modernism or infidelity in the church, against people unsaved and full of sin and worldliness belonging to the church. They believe in all the real Bible truths held by all real Evangelical churches.”9
This established the pentecostal community identity with the fundamentalists on biblical authority. The polemic was limited to this threat and did not extend to the writings on higher criticism related to speaking in tongues. Furthermore, it will be demonstrated the conclusion supplied by higher criticism became the framework for the various pentecostal practices on tongues.
As previously stated in the introduction, lacking in-depth theological training, biblical or ecclesiastical language skills, missing a comprehensive view of church history, and a dislike for anything that represented an institutional christian position, they turned to the English Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and writers that they felt were non-dogmatic in order to solve the tongues dilemma. They especially had a great love for the German turned American historian and theologian, Philip Schaff; the Anglican writer, theologian and Dean of Canterbury, Frederick Farrar; the Anglican theologians Conybeare and Howson, and a very short list of other authors and publications. The early Pentecostals felt safe that Schaff’s American identity and the Anglican writers were reliable sources, free from modern bias.
This examination will show how much Pentecostals depended on the above authors for their new definitions and how much influence these authors accidentally had with this movement.
None of the following authors being examined or quoted would admit such an association, but the data is clearly evident.
V. P. Simmons was the first one to attempt to reconcile the pentecostal experience of the 1900s with the German glossolalia timeline.
Simmons was a regular contributor to a pentecostal periodical called, The Bridegroom’s Messenger which was started by the G. B. Cashwell. Many pentecostal denominations today such as the Assemblies of God and the Church of God (Cleveland) can trace their history to G. B. Cashwell in some form.
It only took the third publication of the Bridegroom’s Messenger to attempt this connection. An article titled, “A History of Tongues” by V. P. Simmons (Frostproof, Fla.) was the first and foremost work on the subject. Simmons was a temperance worker, emphatic about the second coming of Christ, and had been involved with tongues speaking movements since the late 1850s. He was highly respected by the Bridegroom’s Messenger.
This same work was repeated two more times in the Bridegroom’s Messenger throughout the years.10 The article was converted into tract form by the same newspaper and advertised for sale in the March 1, 1908 edition.
The article had a direct influence for over two-decades. The last reprint found was in a denominational newspaper called the White Wing Messenger (March, 1928) – which represented the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee).11 The Church of God is one the oldest and largest pentecostal denominations in the world.
The structure from 1 to 8, with the exception of Cyprian, is similar to what is found in Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church15 and the Religious Encyclopedia16 which was edited by Schaff. Simmons does not break Schaff’s structure. Instead, he adds the Irvingites, which happened before the Quaker’s and Methodists, after Schaff’s list ends.
Simmons was hesitant about including Quakers and Methodists to the history of tongues because there was no primary information that connected them. However, since Schaff included them in his analysis, he left it in the list. The Second Adventists (a movement distinct from the present Second Day Adventists) is his own contribution because he personally knew the leaders.
The reference to the Camisards by consulting the Library of Universal Knowledge was to show that he wasn’t completely dependent on one author.17
He desperately wanted to connect Pentecostalism with Montanism; “Montanism was simply a reaction of the old, the primitive Church, against the obvious tendency of the Church today to strike a bargain with the world, and arrange herself comfortably in it.” However, he failed to cite it properly and attributed it to Schaff even though it was written by W. Möller in editor Schaff’s A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology entry on Montanism.
Secondly, he asserted that the early church leader Irenaeous, Tertullian, and Cyprian endorsed and defended the Montanists speaking in tongues. This is historically incorrect. There is no literature from any of these writers substantiating such a fact. The only connection can be made is that Tertullian supported the Montanist overall cause, but did not specifically cover Montanist tongues.
Neither did Simmons realize that the key word for tongues, γλῶσσα glossa, does not exist in the critical text related to Montanism. This, along with a number of other problems, makes the case for speaking in tongues by the Montanists a weak one, if at all.
Simmons would have been better off to side with the Donatists. This was a group described by Augustine. They would have been a better faith movement to identify with because they were proponents of tongues-speaking and were opponents of the institutional catholic church.
After Cyprian, he recognized that almost 1600 years of history had been omitted. He believed this was because most academics concealed the practice. “ They evidently consider tongue talking a fanaticism, a weakness, to be kept out of sight.”18 He felt that Schaff, along with a person named Andrew Findlater, LL. D., acting editor of encyclopedia of universal knowledge, as two historians that did not suppress the subject.19
Simmons did not provide an alternative 1600 year history of tongues that would inevitably draw from Catholic sources or review pertinent christian literature in the original texts. — a significantly large corpus hardly translated into English. He felt content the concealment by the establishment for over this period as a sufficient conclusion. This interpretation fit nicely in with the Pentecostal narrative.
A 1931 edition of the Bridesgroom’s Messenger updated Simmon’s timetable and added a few additions from the Catholic Encyclopedia. Francis Xavier was referenced where it was written: it “is said to have made himself understood by the Hindus without knowing their language.”20 This is a slight improvement over Simmon’s original. However, the Bridesgroom’s Messenger failed to comprehensively examine Xavier. The Sainthood process for Xavier was partly decided on the basis of speaking in tongues. However, the reality was otherwise. Xavier had linguistic difficulties. The successful political pedalling for his Sainthood, which had serious economic benefits for many parties involved, had been a source of embarrassment for the Catholic Church. It led to Pope Benedict the XIV issuing a treatise on the subject that set forth clear investigative rules for determining whether a person divinely spoke in tongues or not.
In 1909, William Manley, another participant directly blessed at the Azusa Street church, and well known as an evangelist, published a detailed article in his Household of God periodical titled “Tongues: Their Nature and Use According to the Commentators”. The article compiled a list of books and commentaries to prove that speaking in tongues was a language of praise and thanksgiving; purposely shifting the emphasis away from foreign languages. Who was the author and when was this published? We know Manley was the editor and possibly the author. The article cannot be located in the incomplete Household of God archive. However, a reprint can be found in the Bridesgroom’s Messenger in the January 15th, 1909 edition.21
The work cited a number of critical commentaries: (Clicking on the names will take you directly to their books and pertinent pages cited on tongues):
A closer look at the commentators selected gives some detailed clues on how editor Manley and Pentecostals in general were inclined to reach a conclusion of speaking in tongues being a language of prayer and adoration.
Adam Clarke, was one of the leading theologians in the Methodist movement. He promoted the idea of it being a tongue for the expansion of the Gospel.
Matthew Henry was a presbyterian minister in the early 1700s whose written works greatly impacted later protestant leaders. Manley quoted from him to assert that speaking in tongues is a manifestation of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Henry Alford “The great work of his life, however, was his Greek Testament (4 vole., London, 1849-61; thoroughly revised in subsequent editions), which introduced German New Testament scholarship to English readers. . .”23 He was a disciple of August Neander — the foremost writer and promoter of tongues as glossolalia.
Philip Smith admittedly followed Schaff’s guidance along with another influence, canon Robertson. He admits he shares their defects.24
Gotthard Lechler studied in Germany and was a disciple of August Neander.25
Cunningham Geikie was a prolific presbyterian theologian and writer with strong ties both in Canada and England. He doesn’t appear to fit in any equation. His books contain a high number of references to German sources and in one of his publications thanks a certain Professor G. Ebers of Leipsic, Germany for his contributions.26 Charles Spurgeon and Franz Delitzsch highly recommended his works.27 His quotation by Manley gives the sense that there is a comprehensive community of theologians from different christian movements that are all in agreement with speaking in tongues.
Frédéric Godet, a Swiss-Protestant theologian, studied in Germany and was especially influenced by Neander.28
David Brown, the author of the commentary on the Book of Acts for Jameson, Faucett, and Brown’s Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Whole Bible was one of the few who had no connection with Germany, but was an assistant to Edward Irving.29 Mr. Irving and his movement was the precedent setting event in protestant history that awoke the tongues debate out of a slumber and into a hotly debated subject.30
John Fulton was the editor of Ten Epochs of Church History that the Household of God lifted the citation from. Many authors contributed to the Ten Epochs. The quote in this case was from James Vernon Bartlett. There is little biographical information on either one.
Philip Schaff was left for the end of the article and was given slightly more space than the rest of the quotations. One of the more important Schaff quotations emphasized praise, adoration and a personal religious language.
“It was an act of self devotion, an act of thanksgiving, praying, singing within the Christian congregation by individuals who were wholly absorbed in communion with God, and gave utterance to their rapturous feelings in broken, abrupt, rhapsodic, unintelligible words. It was emotional rather than intellectual. * * * * the language of the spirit or of ecstasy as distinct from language of the understanding.”31
More about Schaff will be explained in Part 4.
The reader can clearly see a pattern developing here where the Pentecostal framework for speaking in tongues was based on higher criticism. The combination of pentecostal experience plus the higher criticism approach of it being a language of adoration was a natural fit.
It is noteworthy to see three who were left off the list that would have appealed to the pentecostal protestant sense. The great seventeenth-century churchman and Hebraist John Lightfoot, whose commentary on I Corinthians, especially his coverage on tongues, published in English in 1859, was a masterpiece. John Gill, whose commentary follows that of Lightfoot, or Jean Calvin’s Commentary on Corinthians. None of these would easily agree with the above observations.
A. B. Cox
A. B. Cox wrote for the Bridal Call: Western Edition in 1919 on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit where he devoted some thought to the history of speaking in tongues. The magazine was started by popular pentecostal media icon Aimee Semple Mcpherson. She is noted as one of the major influences in the rise of Pentecostalism. Not much can be obtained about Mr. Cox except for his contribution to the Bridal Call.
A look at his historical timeframe on tongues is similar to that of Simmons. He went into a few more details but there are some flaws.
Cox asserted that Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, most of the church fathers believed the disciples of Pentecost were miraculously and permanently endowed with the power of foreign languages. This statement, with maybe the exception of Augustine, cannot be substantiated from these early church writers themselves.
The following quotation; “Augustine wrote in the fourth century, “We still do what the apostles did when they laid hands on the Samaritans and called down the Holy Ghost on them, in the laying of hands. It is expected that converts should speak with new tongues,” cannot be substantiated in any of Augustine’s works.
This citation has become part of the pentecostal myth. It is found in the Church of God Evangel in 1933,32 and was also repeated by the well known pentecostal theologian and radio speaker, Carl Brumback in his 1947 work, What Meaneth this? A Pentecostal Answer to a Pentecostal Question.33
Cox cites Gregory of Nazianzus to make a connection with the tongues of Babel, but makes no mention of Gregory’s miracle of tongues paradox—a central aspect of Gregory’s coverage on tongues. It makes the researcher ask if Mr. Cox actually looked at the text itself or simply lifted his quote from a third party source.
He goes on to claim further sources Oshausen, Baumgarten, Thiersch, Lechler, Hackett, Glaag, Plumptre, Schaff, Schmiedl and Zeller. Most of these are German higher criticism authors with an exception of Edward Hayes Plumptre. Plumptre was entirely familiar with the German position on tongues. His analysis was hesitant, but still followed their framework.34 A further look at sources by Cox demonstrates that this was an edited copy from Schaff’s History of the Christian Church35
Paul H. Walker
Mr. Walker was an important leader in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) denomination between the 1920s and 1960s. His article, “The Baptism with the Holy Ghost and the Evidence” written 1933, goes into historical detail to assert his position. It is one of the more lengthy works that follows the typical pentecostal historical framework. There are a few problems:
He cited Frederick Farrar’s book, Darkness to Dawn as a primary source, though it is only a work of fiction.
He too cites the same spurious reference to Augustine about converts being expected to speaking in tongues.
It must be noted that he too references Schaff’s History of the Christian Church in his reference to speaking in tongues through the ages.36
Tongues as a Heavenly or Private Prayer Language
The shift from missionary tongues to language and adoration allowed the definition to move into a new direction. One of the effects of this transition allowed the concept tongues as a heavenly devotional language—a language of men and angels. Most mixed this concept with the traditional one of foreign languages believing that the definition allowed for either to happen.
The first one was posted on April 22nd, 1916 for the “interest of the Assembly of God” on the nature of speaking in tongues.
This is not a gift of different languages as some have believed, but is an emotional or heavenly language, in which the speaker speaks only to God.37
The author then supports his claim from the Pulpit Commentary that it was “an unintelligible vocal utterance,” and that it was sometimes a human language, others heavenly or angelic ones. 38
Two months later, another article was posted that credited its teaching from A. A. Boddy and the pentecostal movement in England. There was a heavy emphasis on Conybeare and Howson’s Life and Epistles of St. Paul,” and Philip Schaff’s “Apostolic Church”. With these evidences the author included a double answer that integrated both the old and new definitions:
We see that the belief that the gift was for the preaching of the Gospel to foreigner, is unfounded. Foreign people did certainly hear their own languages on the day of Pentecost (the disciples were not, however, on that occasion, preaching the Gospel but magnifying God–the common use of the gift) therefore the Spirit must have sometimes given a known language.39
A 1920 edition of their publication acknowledged the ability to divinely speak a foreign language but moreso encouraged the personal aspect; “With an understanding of the private use of the gift of tongues as a medium of expressing the heart’s deepest emotions, a greater field of usefulness opens before us, and Christian believers should have a greater interest in being filled with the Spirit and power for the accomplishing of divine work in the world than they have in merely—for their own comfort and satisfaction–getting rid of a troublesome inward disposition.”40
A writer by the name of Herman L. Harvey weighed in on the subject for Aimee Semple McPherson’s, Bridal Call: Western Edition and he too vacillated on the definition. He gave more emphasis on the personal expression as a human, angelic or prayer language and did not believe speaking in tongues was for missionary activity. He cautioned about an unspecified group in California (clearly referring to the Azusa Street revival) who had made a “sad mistake,”41 for promoting such a doctrine.
Tongues as Glossolalia
Even though the early pentecostal followers were fond of historical criticism as it related to speaking in tongues, they hardly embraced the word glossolalia as a term that described their experience. There are some brief moments that surprise such as the Bridegroom’s Messenger (1909) that first quotes Schaff and then adds that the glossolalia at Pentecost was an act of worship and adoration, not a miraculous speech for the conversion and instruction of the masses.42 The writer understood the word close to its original intention, but this was not always the case. A writer named B. F. Wallace wrote in a 1916 periodical and defined glossolalia as speaking miraculously in a foreign language.43 Another account in 1920 states it can be declaring the works of God or uttering real languages on earth.44
In 1947, Donald Gee who is considered one of the fathers of the pentecostal movement went so far as to call tongues ecstatic speech, but he did not go so far as to call it glossolalia. However, it appears to be the same thing to him. Gee taught that the view of early pentecostals on missionary tongues was “mistaken and unscriptural”45 He then clarified the current pentecostal definition on tongues: “From the data presented to us in the Scriptures, it seems clear that the gift of tongues consisted of a power of more or less ecstatic speech, in languages with which the speaker was not naturally familiar.”46
Glossolalia does not appear to take any serious usage in the pentecostal realm until about the 1960s. The Pentecostal Evangel Magazine starts to use it as an abbreviation for speaking in tongues. In a 1962 issue it related about a Lutheran outbreak and described it as a “. . .“spiritual speaking,” known among theologians as “glossolalia” goes back to Christ’s Apostles. . .”47 The Magazine produced a special edition in 1964 with an article promoting glossolalia,48 and in the same year one more article and formation of a glossolalia archive occurred. The first one was a sort of clarification which avoids defining the very nature of tongues:
You may wonder, “what is meant by the word ‘Glossolalia’? It is a theological term applied to the practice of speaking with other tongues. . . it is as old as the Bible. Back in the days of the apostles (over 19 centuries ago) the followers of Jesus experienced glossolalia.49
The second one was the Assemblies of God announcement that they were setting up a “depository of writings on glossolalia (speaking in tongues)” at their main headquarters.50
A current popular pentecostal leader, Rev. Heidi Baker, wrote a thesis entitled Pentecostal Experience: Towards a Reconstructive Theology of Glossolalia in 1995. She branded speaking in tongues as glossolalic prayer. An idiom which she described as an “embodiment and manifestation of God’s real presence to the Pentecostal community and the Church in our world. . . Pentecostal glossolalic prayer may be seen as God’s supernatural union with a person in a pre-conceptual, contemplative way and as an “incarnation” of this in a certain person’s life.”51 I have never heard this being used by a lay pentecostal follower, preached from the pulpit, nor in any other pentecostal literature. Baker was attempting to wrap a comprehensive philosophical framework around tongues and wanted to retain the pentecostal distinctive while doing so. She failed to see the earlier connection between higher criticism or the early development of the word glossolalia when she built her argument. By ignoring or unaware of the antecedents, she demonstrates how thoroughly integrated the higher criticism influence has become. It is part of the DNA of pentecostal experience and no longer questioned.
Next: Early Pentecostal Tongues: Part 4 The connection between early pentecostalism and the writings of Schaff, Farrar, Conybeare and Howson and a few select others.
A catholic history of speaking in tongues from the first Pentecost until the rule of Pope Benedict the XIV, 1748 A.D.
This summary is the first portion of a three-part series on the christian doctrine of tongues from inception until the 1920s. For a general overview about the christian doctrine of tongues and the framework that governs the following research, see Summary of the Gift of Tongues: Introduction.
The following are the results of a detailed study of early church, medieval and later medieval catholic writers through seventeen-centuries of church life. The results are drawn from the Gift of Tongues Project which had a fourfold purpose to:
uncover new or forgotten ancient literature on the subject
provide the original source texts in digital format
translate the texts into English and add some commentary
to trace the perception of tongues in the church from inception until modern times.
Table of Contents
A pictorial essay on the catholic history of speaking in tongues.
A short observation on pentecostal tongues
The doctrine of tongues from the first to third-century
The golden age of the christian doctrine of tongues: the fourth-century
The connection between Babel and Pentecost
Hebrew as the first language of mankind and of Pentecost
Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon
Augustine on tongues transforming into a corporate identity
Gregory of Nyssa and the one voice many sounds theory
Gregory Nazianzus on the miracle of speech vs. the miracle of hearing
The expansion of the christian doctrine of tongues from the tenth to sixteenth-centuries
Later Medieval accounts of speaking in tongues
The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues
A pictorial essay on the catholic history of speaking in tongues
The graphic below is to assist the reader in quickly understanding the passing tradition of speaking in tongues throughout the centuries in the Catholic Church. The rest of the document will describe these findings. Click on the links throughout this document for more details, or go directly to the Gift of Tongues Project for actual source texts.
A short observation on pentecostal tongues
The large corpus of material studied and compared demonstrate that the christian doctrine of tongues was related to human languages for almost 1800 years. The mechanics of how this happened differed. There were perceptions of it being a miracle of speech, hearing or both. There were no references to angelic speech, prayer language, glossolalia, or ecstatic utterances until the nineteenth-century. The glossolalia aspect is covered in Part 2 of this series.
The Pentecost event as described by the writer Luke in the first part of the Book of Acts has far more coverage than Paul’s address to speaking in tongues throughout ecclesiastical literature. The ancient christian authors were split on the theological symbolism of Pentecost. Pentecost was either understood as a symbol of the Gospel becoming a universal message beyond the bounds of the Jewish community or a theological symbol for the Jewish nation to repent.
The focus of this summary is the nature and mechanics behind speaking in tongues. The exploration of tongues as a theological symbol can be found throughout the source texts documented in the Gift of Tongues Project.
The doctrine of tongues from the first to third-century
The first Pentecost happened somewhere between 29 and 33 A.D., depending on which tradition one chooses to date the crucifixion. The event was listed close to the start of an account written by the physician turned writer, Luke. A work which is universally addressed today as the Book of Acts. The Pentecost narrative is very brief. As already mentioned in the Introduction, the English version of this text describing the Pentecost miracle contains approximately 206 words. Perhaps 800 if one includes Peter’s sermon. 206 words that have echoed throughout history and has inspired hundreds of millions to ponder and often replicate in their own lives.
The readership of this summary is assumed to have thorough knowledge of this passage and have come here for more information. The following is the histories of tongues after the first Pentecost.
The earlier church writers who lived between the first and third centuries, did mention the christian doctrine of tongues such as Irenaeous, who stated it was speaking in a foreign language. There was also Tertullian who recognized the continued rite in his church but fails to explain anything more than this. Neither of these writers contain sufficient coverage in their text to make a strong case for anything other than its existence.
The debate inevitably leads to Origen – one of the most controversial figures on speaking in tongues. Modern theologians, commentators, and writers all over the broad spectrum of christian studies believe Origen supports their perspective. This has created an Origen full of contradictions. Origen was a third-century theologian that can be viewed as either one of the greatest early christian writers ever because of combining an active and humble faith with a deep intellectual inquiry into matters of faith. On the other hand, he was mistakenly labeled a heretic after his death for his limited view of the Trinity. He lived at a time the Trinity doctrine was in its infancy and wasn’t fully developed. His views didn’t correlate with the later formulation and he was posthumously condemned for this. After careful investigation about his coverage on speaking in tongues, Origen hardly commented on it. If one is to draw a conclusion with the limited coverage by him is this: he didn’t think there was anyone pious enough during his time for this task, and if they were, it would be for cross-cultural preaching.
The golden age of the christian doctrine of tongues: the fourth-century
Due to the devastating effects of the persecutions by the Roman emperor Diocletian in the third-century, there is hardly any christian literature to choose from the first to third-centuries. This dramatically changes in the fourth-century when Christianity becomes a recognized religion, and later the foremost one within the Roman Empire. This is where things get really interesting.
The fourth-century began to unfold greater details on speaking in tongues. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote that Peter and Andrew spoke miraculously in Persian or Median at Pentecost and the other Apostles were imbued with the knowledge of all languages. The founder of the Egyptian Cenobite movement, Pachomius, a native Coptic speaker, was miraculously granted the ability to speak in Latin.
The doctrine of tongues divided into five streams in the fourth-century. The first interpretation was the speaking in Hebrew and the audience heard in their own language. The second was Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon. The third was the one voice many sounds theory formulated by Gregory of Nyssa. Fourth, the transition of a personal to a corporate practice represented by Augustine, and last of all the tongues paradox proposed by Gregory Nazianzus. Some may reckon that two more belong here – the cessation of miracles and the Montanists. Both Cessationism and Montanism are perceptions developed during the eighteenth-century. These theories will unfold further down in the summary chronology.
Before winding down the path of these five options, it is necessary to take a quick look at the confusion of tongues found in the Book of Genesis. This story has an important relationship with the discussions to follow.
The connection between Babel and Pentecost
One would assume that the reversal of Babel would be one of the early streams of thinking about Pentecost. This proposition is surprisingly not the case. The idea that the ancient christian writers would connect the confusion of languages symbolized by the city Babel in the book of Genesis with Pentecost because both are narratives revolving around languages seems logical. The book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, has a brief narrative that described how mankind originally had one language. This oneness changed with their determination to build a tower to reach into the heavens which was stopped by the introduction of a plurality of languages. Although the text is minimal and lacking details, the text suggests some form of arrogance and self-determination apart from God. The tower also represented mankind’s ability to collectively do great evil. In response, God chose to divide the one language into many languages and scatter mankind throughout the earth in order to curb this amassing of power. The overall traditional record does not associate Pentecost as a reversal of Babel.
The connection between God giving the commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai would appear to be the better correlation. The old covenant, that is the law of the ancient Israelites, was spoken by God and heard by Moses, then later given in a written form. The Talmud states that God spoke this to Moses in 72 languages – a number understood to symbolically mean in all the languages of the world. The new covenant, the law of grace, was given by the apostles in fiery tongues on the Mount of Olives at Pentecost – these apostles and 120 more miraculously spoke in a whole host of languages. The Jewish community today annually celebrates the giving of the law of Moses and call this day Shevuot which calculates the same days after Passover as Pentecost does. However, this holiday is not an ancient one and does not trace back to the first-century when the first Pentecost occurred. Luke does not mention a direct connection to Shevuot and neither do any of the ancient christian writers.
The Babel allusion prevailed discreetly in later dialogues, especially two concepts. The first one related to which language was the first language of mankind, and how that fit into the Pentecost narrative. The second relating to the one voice spoken many languages heard theory.
Hebrew as the first language of mankind and of Pentecost
There is a substantial corpus about Hebrew being the first language of mankind within ancient christian literature and a tiny allusion to Pentecost being the speaking of Hebrew sounds while the audience heard in their own language. This position about Pentecost does not clearly flow throughout the seas of christian thought, only in the shadows.
The idea of Hebrew as the first language of mankind starts with the early Christians such as first-century Clement, Bishop of Rome, fourth-century Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, for at least part of his life (He changed his position later). The concept of Hebrew being the original language of mankind was repudiated by fourth-century Gregory of Nyssa and then endorsed again by the eighth-century historian and theologian, the Venerable Bede. In the tenth-century Oecumenius, Bishop of Trikka believed that Hebrew was a divine language, because when the Lord spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus, it was in Hebrew.
The eleventh-century philosopher-theologian, Michael Psellos, referred to an ideology that placed Hebrew as the first common language. He alluded that Pentecost could have been the speakers vocalizing in Hebrew while the audience heard it in their own language. This was a reflection of a possibility in his mind, not a position he endorsed. Thomas Aquinas too mentioned this explanation, but quickly moved onto better, more rational theories.
The speaking of Hebrew sounds and the audience hearing in their own language was a small theory that never gained widespread attention. It was played about, but never became a standard doctrine with a vibrant local or international appeal.
A writing loosely attributed to the fifth-century Pope of Alexandria, Egypt, Cyril of Alexandria, described Pentecost as the “changing of tongues.” Pentecost was the use of foreign languages at Pentecost as a sign for the Jews. This event was a miraculous endowment and those that received this blessing in @31 AD continued to have this power throughout their lives, but it did not persist after their generation.
Cyril represented the city of Alexandria at the height of its influence and power throughout Christendom. His biography concludes that he was deposed because of quarrelsomeness and violence. There are unsubstantiated claims that he was responsible for the death of the revered mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and scholar Hypatia. Although his history comes to a sad demise, his earlier stature and his near-universal influence requires careful attention on the subject of Pentecost. His ideas of Pentecost may have been an older tradition passed down and reinforced by him. The theory of a temporary miracle restricted to the first generation of christian leadership is hard to tell because there is little information about this theory before or after his time.
However, the theory arose again in the thirteenth-century with no references inbetween. The celebrated scholastic writer and mystic, Thomas Aquinas, weighed in on the temporary question. Whenever a theological subject has been addressed by Aquinas, it is worth the time to stop and consider. There is no person in christian history that had assembled such a broad array of the various christian traditions, writers, texts, and Scripture into a systematic form of thought. Not only was Aquinas systematic, but also a mystic. The combination of these qualities gives him a high score in covering the doctrine of tongues.
He held a similar position on Pentecost to that of Cyril of Alexandria, though he does not mention him by name. He believed the apostles were equipped with the gift of tongues to bring all people back into unity. It was only a temporary activity that later generations would not need. Later leaders would have access to interpreters which the first generation did not.
Aquinas’ argument is a good and logical one, but the christian history of tongues does not align with this conclusion. After Aquinas’ time, there are numerous perceived cases of the miraculous endowments that contradict such a sentiment. Neither can Cyril’s thought be traced down through the centuries to numerous writers and be claimed as a universal or near-universal teaching.
The temporary idea of Pentecost was restricted to this miracle alone. There is no implied idea that this temporality extended to miracles of healing, exorcisms, or other divine interventions.
Augustine on tongues transforming into a corporate identity
The christian rite of speaking in tongues transferring from a personal to a corporate expression was espoused by Augustine Bishop of Hippo. This was created over his lengthy and difficult battle with the dominant tongues-speaking Donatist movement.
The Donatists were a northern African christian group; broken off from the official Catholic Church over reasons relating to the persecutions against Christians by edict of emperor Diocletian in the third-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 became a source of contention and it conflagrated into questions of church leadership, faith, piety, discipline, and politics. One of the outcomes was a separate church movement called the Donatists. At the height of their popularity, the Donatists statistically outnumbered the traditional Catholic representatives in the North Africa region. At the height, it had over 400 bishops.
The Catholic Church was in a contest against the Donatist claims of being the true church. One of the assertions the Donatist’s provided for their superior claim was their ability to speak in tongues. This forced Augustine to take the Donatists and their tongues doctrine seriously and build a vigorous offense against them.
Augustine’s polemic against the Donatists has generated more data on the christian doctrine of tongues than any other ancient writer and gives a good lock into perceptions of this rite in the fourth-century.
Augustine attacked the Donatist claim of being the true church in a number of ways.
One was through mocking, asking when they laid hands on infants whether they spoke in languages or not.
Or he simply stated that the gift had passed. The cessation statement was one of many volleys that he made.
This cessation needs further clarification. Augustine meant that the individual endowment of miraculously speaking in foreign languages had ceased from functioning. The corporate expression still remained. It cannot be applied to mean the cessation of miracles, healings, or other divine interventions. Augustine was exclusively referring to the individual speaking in tongues. Nothing more.
In other words, the individual expression of speaking in tongues changed into a corporate one – the church took over the function of speaking in every language to all the nations.
He described Pentecost as each man speaking in every language.
This transformation from individual to corporate identity was referenced by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth-century in his work, Summa Theologica, but built little strength around this theme. He left it as is in one sentence.
There is no question that the semantic range of this experience fell inside the use of foreign languages. He used the term linguis omnium gentium “in the languages of all the nations” on at least 23 occasions, and linguis omnium, speaking “in all languages”. Neither does Augustine quote or refer to the Montanist movement in his works.
The Bishop repeatedly answers the question “If I have received the holy Spirit, why am I not speaking in tongues?” Each time he has a slightly different read. What did he say? “this was a sign that has been satisfied” — the individual expression has been satisfied. He then offers a more theological slant in his Enarratio In Psalmum, “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.”1
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. His answers were polemic than theological in nature.
Augustine’s polemical diatribes against the tongues-speaking Donatists never became a universal doctrine. The individual to the corporate idea has indirect allusions in John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria’s works, but nothing concrete. The concept faded out within a generation and references to him on the subject by later writers is not very frequent.
Gregory of Nyssa and the one voice many sounds theory
Gregory of Nyssa represents the beginning of the evolution of the christian doctrine of tongues that has echoes even today.
Gregory of Nyssa was a fourth-century Bishop of Nyssa – a small town in the historic region of Cappadocia. In today’s geographical terms, central Turkey. The closest major city of influence to Nyssa was Constantinople – which at the time was one of the most influential centers of the world.
This church father, along with Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great were named together as the Cappadocians. Their influence set the groundwork for christian thought in the Eastern Roman Empire. Gregory of Nyssa was an articulate and a deep thinker. He not only drew from christian sources but built his writings around a Greek philosophical framework.
Gregory sees parallels between Babel and Pentecost on the nature of language but produces different outcomes. In the Pentecost story, he explained it as one sound dividing into languages during transmission that the recipients understood.
Gregory of Nyssa’s homily on Pentecost is a happy one which began with his reference to Psalm 94:1, Come, let us exalt the Lord and continues throughout with this joyful spirit. In reference to speaking in tongues, he wrote of the divine indwelling in the singular and the output of a single sound multiplying into languages during transmission. This emphasis on the singularity may be traced to the influence of Plotinus — one of the most revered and influential philosophers of the third-century. Plotinus was not a Christian, but a Greek/Roman/Egyptian philosopher who greatly expanded upon the works of Aristotle and Plato. He emphasized that the one supreme being had no “no division, multiplicity or distinction.” Nyssa strictly adhered to a singularity of expression by God when relating to language. The multiplying of languages happened after the sound was emitted and therefore conforms to this philosophical model. However, Nyssa never mentions Plotinus by name or credits his movement in the writings examined so far, so it is hard to make a direct connection. There is an influence here.
What was the sound that the people imbued with the Holy Spirit were speaking before it multiplied during transmission? Nyssa is not clear. It is not a heavenly or divine language because he believed mankind would be too limited in any capacity to produce such a mode of divine communication. Neither would he understand it to be Hebrew. Maybe it was the first language mankind spoke before Babel, but this is doubtful. Perhaps the people were speaking their own language and the miracle occurred in transmission. I think speaking in their own language is the likeliest possibility. Regardless, Gregory of Nyssa was not clear in this part of his doctrine.
This theory did not solely rest with Gregory of Nyssa. He may be the first to clearly document this position, but the idea was older. There are remnants of this thought in Origen’s writing (Against Celsus 8:37) – though it is only one unclear but sort of relevant sentence and hard to build a case over
Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, pokes at this too, but is unclear. He mentions on many occasions “one man was speaking in every language” or similar.2 What does this mean? How can one man speak simultaneously in all the languages at the same time? Even if a person sequentially went through 72 languages speaking one short sentence, it would take over ten minutes and wouldn’t be considered a miracle – only a simple mnemonic recitation. Augustine didn’t make any attempt to clarify this statement. He was playing with the one voice many sounds theory in a polemical sense and altered the nuance. The idea shifted to the connection between oneness and unity, which in Latin, are similar in spelling. He wanted to emphasize that those who spoke in tongues do it for the sake of unity. He was arguing anyone who promoted speaking in tongues as a device to divide the church is a fleshly and evil endeavor.
The concept takes us to the fifth-century where Basil of Seleucia, a bishop of Seleucia in a region historically named Isauria – today a south central Turkish coastal town known as Silifke. Basil of Seleucia followed the literary trail of John Chrysostom and copied many of his traits, but in the case of Pentecost, he adds the one voice many sounds description.
Gregory Nazianzus on the miracle of speech vs. the miracle of hearing
Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus were acquaintances in real life, perhaps more so because of Gregory of Nyssa’s older brother, Basil the Great. Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great had a personal and professional relationship that greatly impacted the church in their dealings with Arianism and the development of the Trinity doctrine. Unfortunately, a fallout happened between Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great that never was repaired.3 This has little bearing with the topic at hand, but builds a small portrait surrounding the key figures of the fourth-century who discuss the doctrine of tongues.
Gregory Nazianzus recognized the theory of a one sound emanating and multiplying during transmission into real languages. He seriously looked at this solution and compared against the miracle of speaking in foreign languages. He found the one sound theory lacking and believed the miracle of speech was the proper interpretation. Perhaps this is a personal objection to Nyssa or a professional one based on research. There are no writings between Nyssa or Nazianzus that allude to a contested difference between them on the subject. Nyssa’s contribution to the christian doctrine of tongues has long been forgotten in the annals of history, but Nazianzus has survived. On the other hand, the theory itself posited by Nyssa never did vanish. These two positions by Nyssa and Nazianzus set the stage for an ongoing debate for almost two millennia.
Who is Gregory Nazianzus? Most people have not heard of him before but his contributions to the christian faith are many. This fourth-century Bishop of Constantinople’s mastery of the Greek language and culture is exquisite and hard to translate into English. Much of the wonder and power of his writing is so deeply connected with these two elements it feels like an injustice to translate. His works come across as dry and esoteric in an English translation whereas in the Greek he is a well-spring of deep thought. Many church leaders during his period preached and then published the homily. Nazianzus likely wrote first and preached later. His works do not come across as great sermons, but great works of writing. All these factors have contributed to him being relatively obscure in the annals of christian history – even though in the fourth-century he was on the same level of prestige as Augustine or John Chrysostom.
The description of Pentecost as either a miracle of speaking or hearing became the focal point of Gregory Nazianzus in the fourth-century when he wrote in one of his Orations that these both were potential possibilities, though he clearly believed Pentecost as a miracle of speech. Unfortunately, a Latin translator, Tyrannius Rufinus, misunderstood some finer points of Greek grammar when translating and removed Gregory’s preference of it being a miracle of speech and left both as equal possibilities. The majority of Western church leaders were unfamiliar with Greek and relied on Tyrannius’ Latin text. Tyrannius’ mistake created a thousand-year debate of the miracle being one of either speaking or hearing.
The speech versus hearing argument was brought up again the seventh-century by the Venerable Bede, who wrote two commentaries on Acts. The Venerable Bede lived in the kingdom of the Northumbrians (Northern England. South-East Scotland). He was brilliant in so many areas. Astronomy, mathematics, poetry, music and a literature were some of his many passions. His writing is very engaging and fluid – a good read. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People makes him the earliest authority of English history.
His first commentary delved deeply in the debate, and studying only the Latin texts, concluded it was a miracle of hearing. In his second commentary, he was not so convincing. He changed his mind, alluding Pentecost was a miracle of speech and conjectures it could have been both a miracle of speaking and hearing. The outcome didn’t really matter to him. Perhaps he took this conclusion to avoid saying he was initially wrong.
Another noteworthy discussion about the Nazianzus paradox was presented by Michael Psellos in the eleventh-century. His own biography is not one of the religious cloth, but civic politics. His highest position was that of Secretary of State in the highly influential Byzantine City of Constantinople. He was a Christian who had a love-hate relationship with the church. One of the lower moments in that relationship was his choosing Plato over Aristotle. The Church tolerated the non-christian writings of Aristotle, but frowned on Plato. Psellos studied theology but loved philosophy, and this was a continued source of contention.
It is surprising that his complex weave of Greek philosophy and christian faith in a very conservative christian environment did not get him into more serious trouble than he encountered. He was way ahead of his time. His approach to faith, Scripture, and intellect took western society five hundred or so more years to catch-up.
Michael Psellos was caught between two very distinct periods. He lived in the eleventh-century and still was connected to the ancient traditions of the church, but also at the beginning shift of intellectual and scholarly thought that modern readers come to rely on. He bridged both worlds. This is why his work is so important.
He thought highly of his opinions and liked to show-off his intellectual genius. After reading his text, it is not clear whether he was trying to solve the riddle of Nazianzus’ miracle of hearing or speech, or it was an opportunity to show his intellectual mastery. Regardless of his motives, he leaves us with a rich wealth of historic literature on speaking in tongues.
What did Psellos write that was so important? Two things. He first clears up the Nazianzus paradox stating that it was a miracle of speaking. Secondly, he particularly clarifies the similarities and differences between the ancient Greek prophetesses going into a frenzy and spontaneously speaking in foreign languages they did not know beforehand, and with the disciples of Christ who also spontaneously spoke in foreign languages.
Psellos had a detailed knowledge of the pagan Greek prophets and explains that the ancient female prophets of Phoebe would go in a form of frenzy and speak in foreign languages. This is a very early and important contribution to the modern tongues debate because there is a serious scholarly connection given to the ancient Greek prophets going into ecstasy and producing ecstatic speech with that of Pentecost. The christian miracle is named a synergism of the ancient Greek practice of ecstatic speech in order to make the christian faith a universal one.
Psellos may be the oldest commentator on the subject and must be given significant weight. His knowledge of ancient Greek philosophy and religion is unparalleled even by modern standards. It is also seven hundred years older than most works that address the relationship between the christian event and the pagan Greek rite.
He described the Pentecostal speakers spoke with total comprehension and detailed how it exactly worked. The thought process remained untouched but when attempting to speak, their lips were divinely inspired. The speaker could change the language at any given moment, depending on what language group the surrounding audience belonged to. He thought this action a miracle of speech, and sided with Nazianzus.
The total control of one’s mind while under divine influence was what differentiated the christian event from the pagan one. The Greek prophetesses, as he went on to describe, did not have any control over what they were saying. There was a complete cognitive disassociation between their mind and their speech while the Apostles had complete mastery over theirs.
Last of all Psellos introduces a concept of tongues-speaking practised in the Hellenic world that has to do with the use of plants to arrive in a state of divine ecstasy. He also quickly described pharmacology too in this context, but it seems the text infers it was used in the art of healing. His writing is somewhat unclear at this point, but there was a relationship between the two. Perhaps tongues speaking practised by the ancient Greeks was part of the ancient rite of healing. It is hard to be definitive with this because his writing style here is so obscure. He warns to stay away from the use of exotic things that assist in going into a state of divine ecstasy.
Thomas Aquinas tried to conclude the tongues as speech or hearing debate. Aquinas proceeded to use his argument and objection method for examining the Nazianzus paradox. In the end, he clearly stated it was a miracle of speech. His coverage was well done. However, this attempt was not successful in quelling the controversy.
Another aspect that Aquinas introduced was the relationship between the office of tongues and prophecy. The topic has lurked as early as the fourth-century but never in the forefront. Aquinas put the topic as a priority. Given that he was a mystic and lived in the world that heavily emphasized the supernatural, this comes as no surprise. He believed that the gift of tongues was simply a systematic procedure of speaking and translating one language into another. The process required no critical thinking, spiritual illumination, or comprehension of the overall narrative. He believed the agency of prophecy possessed the means for translating and interpreting but added another important asset – critical thinking. One must be cognisant of the fact that his idea of critical thinking is slightly different from ours. He includes spiritual illumination along with intellectual acuity as a formula for critical thinking. The prophetic person had the ability to understand the meaning behind the speech and how it applied to one’s daily life. Therefore, he felt prophecy was a much better and superior office than simply speaking and translating.
The expansion of the christian doctrine of tongues from the tenth to eighteenth-centuries
The tenth to sixteenth-centuries could be held as the golden age of tongues speaking in the Catholic Church, and arguably the biggest era for the christian doctrine of tongues. The next two-hundred years that reached into the eighteenth-century was the civil war that raged between protestants and catholics that put miracles, including speaking in tongues, in the epicenter. These eight-centuries were the era of super -supernaturalism in almost every area of human life. Speaking in tongues was common and attached to a variety of celebrity saints – from Andrew the Fool in the tenth to Francis Xavier in the sixteenth. This period had established the doctrine of tongues as either a miracle of hearing, speaking or a combination of both.
Later Medieval accounts of speaking in tongues
For example, the later legend of thirteenth-century had Anthony of Padua, a popular speaker in his time, spoke in the language of the Spirit to a mixed ethnic and linguistic gathering of catholic authorities who heard him in their own language. What was the language of the Spirit? This was never clarified in the text or by any other author and remains a mystery.
Vincent Ferrer in the fourteenth-century was a well-known evangelist, perhaps in the top 50 in the history of the church. He visited many ethnic and linguistic communities while only knowing his native Valencian language. His orations were so great and powerful that it was alleged people miraculously heard him speak in their own language.
There were also revisions by later writers to earlier lives of saints such as Matthew the Apostle, Patiens of Metz in the third, and the sixth-century Welsh saints, David, Padarn and Teilo. They were claimed to have spoken miraculously in foreign languages.
Speaking in tongues was also wielded as a political tool. The French religious orders, l’abbaye Saint-Clément and l’abbaye Saint-Arnould, had a strong competition between each other during the tenth and fourteenth centuries. L’abbaye Saint-Clément proposed their order to be the foremost because their lineage traced back to a highly esteemed and ancient founder. L’abbaye Saint-Arnould countered with St. Patiens who had the miraculous ability to speak in tongues.
The account of Andrew the Fool has an interesting twist in the annals of speaking in tongues. Andrew the Fool, often cited as Andrew of Constantinople, or Andrew Salus, was a tenth-century christian follower known for his odd lifestyle that would be classified under some form of a mental illness by today’s standards. However, many biographers believe it was a ruse purposely done by Andrew. There is a rich tradition of holy fools in Eastern Orthodox literature who feigned insanity as a form of a prophetic and teaching device. The story of Andrew the Fool’s miraculous endowment of tongues was used to facilitate a private conversation between Andrew and a slave while attending a party. This allowed them to talk freely without the patron of the party becoming privy to the conversation and becoming angry about the matter being discussed.
The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues
The sainthood of Francis Xavier in the sixteenth-century, and the incredulous notion that he miraculously spoke in foreign languages brought the gift of tongues to the forefront of theological controversy. Protestants used his example of how Catholics had become corrupt, to the point of making fictitious accounts that contradict the evidence. A closer look demonstrated that the sainthood investigation process was flawed on the accounts of him speaking in tongues. On the contrary, a proper examination showed Francis struggled with language acquisition. His sainthood with partial grounds based on speaking in tongues was a later embarrassment to the Society of Jesus to whom Francis belonged to. The Society of Jesus is an educational, missionary and charitable organization within the Catholic church that was ambitiously counter-reformation in its early beginnings. The Society of Jesus still exists today and is the largest single order in the Catholic Church.
The mistaken tongues miracle in Francis’ life also was a headache for the Catholic Church leadership itself. This led to Pope Benedict XIV to write a treatise on the gift of tongues around 1748 and describe what it is, isn’t and what criteria should be used to investigate such a claim. He concluded that the gift of tongues can be speaking in foreign languages or a miracle of hearing.
This treatise was a well-written and researched document. No other church leader or religious organization, even the Renewalist movement, have superseded his work in validating a claim for speaking in tongues. After his publication, the investigation of claims for tongues-speaking in the Catholic Church had significantly declined.
Gregory of Nyssa on divine speech, human languages, and Pentecost.
Gregory of Nyssa, along with Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, and Gregory Nazianzus, set the framework for the christian doctrine of tongues from the fourth-century and onwards. Although there are other narratives during this period such as John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Pachomius, these did not have the future impact on this doctrine as the above three accomplished.
The focus of this article is on Gregory of Nyssa. His name is hardly known, if at all, in chapels, streets, or coffee shops today, but in his time, he was a powerful writer, speaker, and teacher. His influence was widespread throughout all christendom.
Gregory of Nyssa was a fourth-century Bishop of Nyssa – a small town in the historic region of Cappadocia. In today’s geographical terms, central Turkey. The closest major city of influence to Nyssa was Constantinople – which at the time was one of the most influential centers of the world.
Gregory of Nyssa, along with Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great were named together as the Cappadocians. Their influence set the groundwork for christian thought in the Eastern Roman Empire. Gregory of Nyssa was an articulate and a deep thinker. He not only drew from christian sources, but built his writings around a Greek philosophical framework.
His theory of divine speech and human languages demonstrate an important perspective in the history of the christian doctrine of tongues.
Nyssa’s idea of divine and human language
Gregory wrote a detailed treaty against a man named Eunomius who had a large following in the christian community, but in matters of theology slightly changed some constants that better suited his philosophy of god and life. There were many subtle shifts that go beyond this study. However, the controversy brings to light Gregory’s views of speaking in tongues.
Eunomius brought up the question whether God spoke in human language, specifically the Hebrew language. Gregory answered by building his thesis around the confusion of languages written in the Book of Genesis. His observations gave a number of valuable thoughts. The first one being that language is a human invention allowed to grow and develop, and that God Himself does not speak in human language as His normal mode of communication.
As he wrote in Contra Eunomium:
So that our position remains unshaken, that human language is the invention of the human mind or understanding. For from the beginning, as long as all men had the same language, we see from Holy Scripture that men received no teaching of God’s words, nor, when men were separated into various differences of language, did a Divine enactment prescribe how each man should talk. But God, willing that men should speak different languages, gave human nature full liberty to formulate arbitrary sounds, so as to render their meaning more intelligible.1
Whenever Gregory referred to God speaking, he left the word ambiguous in Greek as voice (phônos — φῶνος).
The avid reader may find that the English translation of the treatise Contra Eunomium found in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. second series doesn’t prove this theory. This is a problem of the English translation which in other areas is a good one, but fails when it comes to differentiating between the Greek nouns, glossa which is the noun for language and phonos which means sound or voice (γλῶσσα and φῶνος).
Secondly, Gregory believed that there was only one language before the confusion of languages at Babel. What exactly this language was, he doesn’t know. He left this one ambiguous too, using voice again, rather than language in the majority of occasions, especially highlighted in this key passage “μιᾷ συνέζων φωνῇ πάντων ἀνθρώπων τὸ πλήρωμα,” “the aggregate of men dwelt together with one voice among them.” The word here for voice is φωνῇ not language as the original English translation of this text provided.2
He didn’t believe man’s original language was the language of God because God did not use human language as the basis of His natural way of communicating. Aware that Hebrew was proposed as the first original language, he reckoned that Hebrew is neither the oldest language of the world and impossible for this to be the case.
But some who have carefully studied the Scriptures tell us that the Hebrew tongue is not even ancient like the others. . .3
Nyssa’s idea of Pentecost
Gregory does not make the Pentecostal event related in the Book of Acts as a reversal of Babel. Instead, he sees parallels between the two stories on the nature of language with different outcomes. In the Pentecost story, he explained it as one sound dividing into languages during transmission that the recipients understood.
The emphasis on God speaking in an ambiguous voice (φῶνος) remains consistent between the two stories:
For at the river Jordan, after the descent of the Holy Ghost, and again in the hearing of the Jews, and at the Transfiguration, there came a voice from heaven, teaching men not only to regard the phenomenon as something more than a figure, but also to believe the beloved Son of God to be truly God. Now that voice was fashioned by God, suitably to the understanding of the hearers, in airy substance, and adapted to the language of the day, God, “who willeth that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.4
Gregory believed the sound of God speaking at in the events of Jesus’ baptism, and the transfiguration was not a language, rather, it was a sound that had the ability to adapt during transmission into a targeted human language.
Now when one reads his accounts of Pentecost, this same formula is found with those imbued with the fiery tongues.
In his treatise Contra Eunomium he wrote:
We read in the Acts that the Divine power divided itself into many languages for this purpose, that no one of alien tongue might lose his share of the benefit.5
And then again in his homily De Spiritu Sancto sive in Pentecosten:
Consequently, the narrative of the Book of Acts says that while these people are gathered in the upper room, is the dividing up in each one the pure and supernatural fire in the form of languages according to the number of disciples.
So then these people are thus discoursing in Parthian, Mede, and Elamite in the other remaining nations, adapting their voices with respect to authority to every state language. Even as the Apostle says, “I wish five words to speak with my mind in the Church in order that I may benefit others than a thousand words in a tongue.” Truly at that time the benefit was the same language begotten into foreign languages so that the preaching to those ignorant of the truth would not be in vain when those preaching thwart them by a single voice. Now indeed while existing according to the same sounding language, it is necessary to seek after the fiery tongue of the Spirit for the illumination of those who dwell in darkness through error.6
Gregory of Nyssa’s homily on Pentecost is a happy tome which began with his reference to Psalm 94:1, Come, let us exalt the Lord and continues throughout with this joyful spirit. In reference to speaking in tongues, he wrote of the divine indwelling in the singular and the output of a single sound suggesting a miraculous multiplication into languages during transmission. This emphasis on the singularity may be traced to the influence of Plotinus — one of the most revered and influential philosophers of the third-century. Plotinus was not a christian, but a Greek/Roman/Egyptian philosopher who greatly expanded upon the works of Aristotle and Plato. He emphasized that the one supreme being had no “no division, multiplicity or distinction.”7 Nyssa strictly adhered to a singularity of expression by God when relating to language. The multiplying of languages happened after the sound was emitted and therefore conforms to this philosophical model. However, Nyssa never mentions Plotinus by name or credits his movement in Contra Eunomium so it is hard to make a direct connection. I believe that there is some influence here.
What then was the sound that the people imbued with the Holy Spirit were speaking before it multiplied during transmission? Nyssa is not clear. It is not a heavenly or divine language because he believed man would be too limited in any capacity to produce such a mode of divine communication. Neither would he believe it to be Hebrew. Maybe it was the first language mankind spoke before Babel, but this is doubtful. Perhaps the people were speaking their own language and the miracle occurred in transmission. I think speaking in their own language with a miraculous transmission is the likeliest possibility. Regardless, Gregory of Nyssa was not clear in this part of his doctrine.
The differing views between Nyssa and Nazianzus on Pentecost
Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus were acquaintances in real life, perhaps more so because of Gregory of Nyssa’s older brother, Basil the Great. Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great had a personal and professional relationship that greatly impacted the church in their dealings with Arianism and the development of the Trinity doctrine. Unfortunately, a fallout happened between Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great that never was repaired.8
Gregory Nazianzus recognized the theory of a one sound emanating and multiplying during transmission into real languages. He seriously looked at this solution and posited this against the miracle of speaking in foreign languages. He found the one sound theory lacking and believed the miracle of speech was the proper interpretation. Perhaps this is a personal objection to Nyssa or a professional one based on research. There are no writings between Nyssa or Nazianzus that allude to a contested difference between them on the subject. Nyssa’s contribution to the christian doctrine of tongues has long been forgotten in the annals of history, but Nazianzus has survived. On the other hand, the theory itself posited by Nyssa never did vanish. These two positions by Nyssa and Nazianzus set the stage for an ongoing debate for almost two millennia.
The history of Hebrew as the first language is a fascinating story that travels through Patristic, Rabbinic, and the Greek worlds. It is an open debate that has raged on for over 1,500 years.
The perception of the Hebrew language in Western literature, especially by the ecclesiastical writers is an interesting theological exploration that seldom is talked or written about. Since it is the language of the Old Testament Bible, it obviously has some kind of reverent status among Judaism and Christianity. How this sacred language is viewed and applied varies. One of them being that Hebrew was the first language of mankind, another promoting Hebrew as the language which God personally used, and there is an allusion to the use of Hebrew with the pentecostal tongues outburst. It then begs the question, was Hebrew the first language of mankind?
Well, the answer is obvious that Hebrew wasn’t the first language of mankind. Historical linguists could easily prove such an assertion. In fact, Hebrew isn’t even one of the oldest languages. However, perception and reality are not parallel terms in the world of religion. This is an investigation into the perception of Hebrew as the first language.
The primacy of Hebrew was established in the Church at an early stage. A Syriac manuscript attributed to Clement (fourth Bishop of Rome 88-99 AD) categorically stated that Hebrew was the first language of mankind, “until then, only one language, Hebrew is dear to God.”1
Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, originally believed it to be not only the original language of mankind but also the language of the prophets and of divine authority:
. . . and Heber is singled out for mention before all the sons of Shem, though he is in the fifth generation from him, and the language that the authority of patriarchs and prophets has safeguarded, not only in their discourses but also in the sacred books, is called Hebrew. Surely when the question arises in connection with the division of languages, in what domain that early common language could have survived–and beyond any shadow of doubt the punishment involved in change of language was not imposed in any domain where this language survived–what other answer comes to mind save that it persisted in the family of the man from whose name its own was derived? Thus we find no slight indication of the righteousness of this tribe, in that, when other peoples were stricken by the change of languages, it alone was exempt from any such penalty.2
However, the thirteenth-century philosopher-theologian, Thomas Aquinas, believed that Augustine had later retracted this view.3 Even if the theology was wrong, it still represented the perception of Hebrew by a noticeable percentage in the fourth-century church.
There was a push-back to the theory of Hebrew being the first language of mankind. The foremost opponent was the fourth-century church father, Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory was a very articulate thinker who brought in a broad range of subjects into his works. He specifically addressed the nature of human language in his work, Contra Eunomium, where he described that the Hebrew language was not an ancient one, and absurd that anyone thought that the personal language of God was Hebrew.4
Gregory of Nyssa’s treaty did not entirely dispel the belief that Hebrew was the original language. At least two-sixth century leaders supported Hebrew as the first language of mankind. The sixth century Joannes Malalas wrote that Adam spoke in Hebrew.5 Procopius of Gaza believed that Heber at the tower of Babel was the only one to preserve the first language of Hebrew because he resisted participating in the building of the tower.6 The theory does not stop at the sixth-century.
The eighth-century historian and theologian, Bede, believed the initial language was Hebrew until the flood.7
The tenth-century Oecumenius, Bishop of Trikka, believed when Christ spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus, it was in the Hebrew language.8
The eleventh-century philosopher-theologian, Michael Psellos, referred to an ideology that placed Hebrew as the first common language. He also postulated that Pentecost could have been the speakers vocalizing in Hebrew while the audience heard it in their own language. He does not necessarily endorse either of these views. He was expressing a number of possibilities to interpret the Pentecost text found in the Book of Acts.9 Another eleventh-century writer, George Kedrenos, borrowing from the same tradition that Malalas subscribed to, suggested that the only language Adam knew was Hebrew.10
Hebrew as the first language is not a dominant theme in Rabbinic writings. There is one distinct incidence of this being the divine language in the later work called the Sefer Haggada, “And the Lord spoke from Sinai. This is the Hebrew language”,11 but this contradicts the standard Talmudic teaching that God spoke in all the languages at Mount Sinai.
Jewish thought claimed that they had a direct connection to the Angelic realm because of their knowledge of Hebrew:
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.12
The sanctity of Hebrew was used as a polemic against the encroachment of Greek and Aramaic into the Jewish community. One of the volleys against them was the fact that the Angels only understood prayers in Hebrew:
For R. Johanan declared: if anyone prays for his needs in Aramaic [ie. a foreign tongue] the ministering Angels do not pay attention to him because they do not understand that language.13
There was a constant tension with the Rabbis on whether learning a language other than Hebrew should be encouraged even though Greek was an economic and social advantage. “Asked R. Joshua: should men teach his son Greek? he said to them ‘He shall teach us in an hour that there is no day and night”.14
Of course, the ancient Greeks and their adherents could not comprehend any language other than their own being the divine or first language. They especially couldn’t think of Hebrew as the viable alternative.
The Greeks believed their language and culture to be superior to anything else. For example, the last non-Christian Roman Emperor, Julian, rejected what was then known to be the sect of the Galileans (Christianity) because it was not of Greek origin, nor wrought from the Greek language, and worse yet, it came from something obscure and unimportant as Hebrew. This can be gleaned from an argument by the fifth-century Pope of Alexandria, Cyril. He wrote a lengthy refutation against Julian’s diatribe. Here is an important quote relating to Hebrew being a sacred language;
For you esteem very lightly the distinguished men with the one subsequent Hebrew language that went a different way from the Greek, and I reckon that your Ausonian which was made for everyone, that you arranged it a certain number? Furthermore, has it not been truly said to us that if we wish to understand the straight and narrow, the Greek language is not about to be held as the author of religious devotion. . . And so we are taught that the greatest place of moral virtue is through the sacred writings of the divinely inspired Scriptures. Nevertheless, we use such things for the preparation of sound teachings with Greek thoughts since we are not familiar with the Hebrew language.15
The Greeks understood that their language was supreme and this attitude carried over into the Roman world. One of the greatest Roman leaders and Orators, the Latin-speaking Cicero, so highly valued the writings of the Greek Philosopher Plato that the god Jupiter “were it his nature to use human speech, would thus discourse.”16
Why Hebrew was so elevated by a number of prominent Christian leaders throughout the centuries in one aspect but neglected in most western ecclesiastical theological discourses is a mystery. Internal church discussions have historically been built on the Greek or Latin language.
As mentioned earlier, one cannot deduce what the first language of mankind was. Joseph Naveh, in his book, Early History of the Alphabet may be getting closer to the first language. He proposes that Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Greek, Latin and a host of other languages can be traced to a Proto-Canaanite language.17 Hebrew itself is in the middle of the Proto-Canaanite pack of later developed languages. He is restricting his knowledge to Semitic languages only, and this does not go back far enough. Sumerian is by far an older language, but that too may have been one of many languages that existed around 2700 BC. It is one of the few to have survived in written form from that period that is available to us today. There are not enough physical forms of written ancient languages that date far back to make any credible claims of a first language.
The debate on the first language of mankind had actually started as early as the fourth century among the fathers of the Church. St Jerome, St Chrysostom, and St Augustine claimed that Hebrew was the most ancient language while St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Ephrem the Syrian contradicted this claim (the latter claimed Syriac as the first language). Up to the seventeenth-century, the debate was still open, and the Church still maintained Hebrew as the divine language. Brian Walton, editor of the famous Polyglot Bible published in 1657, declared: “The first language, Hebrew, most certainly comes from God himself; on that there should be universal agreement.” In 1669, John Webb (1611-1672), and English architect and antiquarian, claimed Chinese as the first language in his A Historical Essay Endeavouring (sic) a Probability that the Language of the Empire of China is the Primitive Language (London, 1669). In his controversial work Histoire critique du Vieux Testament, censured in 1678, Richard Simon had dismissed the idea of a divine language taught by Adam to God; he still supported the hypothesis that Hebrew could be the first language, although he was ready to express some doubts about it.
The fourteenth-century Italian poet and philosopher, Dante Alighieri, best known for his work The Divine Comedy also deeply contemplated on this subject in De vulgari Eloquentia:
“So the Hebrew language was that which the lips of the first speaker moulded.”18
From this basis Dante built his premise on the development of languages from one singular language to the many that were expressed in his day. He intended to write four volumes on the subject but abandoned the project after one and a half. The reasons why he stopped is unknown.
Dante leads to one of the most popular publications printed in the 16th century, The Golden Legend (Latin: Legenda aurea or Legenda sanctorum). This book was written by Jacobus de Voragine and was a collection of biographies about the lives of the Saints. The author tends to elevate these Saints into mythical proportions and lands this work into the realm of folklore. However, the work reflects the theological opinions and emotions of that time. Mr. Voragine taught that Adam named all the animals in the Hebrew language because there was no other language except this one.19
There is a variety of responses to this question and the conclusion depends on one’s religious affiliation and background. I once asked an older Mennonite woman what language God spoke in, and she quickly replied, “German” because every time she reads the Book of Genesis, where God spoke in the garden, He said, “Adam wo bist du?”
This is another demonstration that the answer to this intriguing doctrine may never end.
Augustine’s argument against the Donatist’s gives one of the richest earlier accounts on the Christian doctrine of tongues.
If it were not for the Donatists, Augustine would not have left such a legacy about the tongues of Pentecost and how it was perceived during his time. Their conflict with Augustine offers a wealth of information on the subject — much more than the Montanist movement.
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 fourth 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 became 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.1
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.
Since all the information on the Donatists on the gift of tongues can only be found in Augustine’s writings and there is yet to be found any materials written firsthand by the Donatists on this topic, it is difficult to assess the situation from a neutral perspective. It forces the researcher to postulate on a few outcomes regarding the Donatists and tongues. First of all, they may have asserted themselves as the true Church because they personally spoke in tongues and the Catholic Church did not. Secondly, Augustine’s polemic against their use of Christian tongues was a perceived weakness that he could exploit. In reality it may have not been central to the Donatist movement at all.
He may have been using the gift of tongues as a diversion from thornier issues between the two parties. This topic was a simple way to demonstrate the Catholic Church’s superiority over what was perceived as a populist heresy than to delve into the dark history of the Church under persecution and the betrayal of many key leaders.
Secondly, and more likely, the political argument that tongues was supposed to be 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 was likely 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.”2
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?”3
What does it mean “this was a sign that has been satisfied”? It shouldn’t be taken as absolutist. It refers to the individual act of speaking in tongues ceasing, not the corporate miracle.
Augustine meant that the individual endowment of miraculously speaking in foreign languages had ceased from functioning. The corporate expression still remained. It cannot be applied to mean the cessation of the corporate miracle of tongues, miracles, healings, or other divine interventions. This was not his intention.
Augustine had categorized the gift of tongues in his day as a miraculous corporate act of the Church. It had transferred from the individual. The following demonstrates this development of thought.
This corporate definition can clearly be found in a number of Augustine’s works. The first example is found 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. 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.”4
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 that 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 sustained in the unity of the Church, which is speaking in all the languages.”5
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. One can see a direct blow on the Donatists in Sermo 268 where the emphasis is on unity, which is a word play found in the Latin and lost in the English, inferring anyone creating disunity, such as the Donatists who were promoting their brand of speaking in tongues, was heretical.
“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 oneness is given in trust with us.”6
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.”7
Augustine attempted in a number of ways to eradicate or control the Donatists, but without complete success. It is not entirely known when the Donatist movement died, but it is generally held to have happened in the seventh century under the Arab conquests.8
The Latin text, found in Migne Patrologia Latina, emphatically states that Augustine was arguing against the Donatists — even the chapter headings have their names labelled. But this is a later interpolation. The header text referring to the Donatists was a later editorial insertion included in the Migne edition. It does not exist in the official edition found at the Sant’ Agostino website. However, this is not a big problem. It was simply declaring the obvious. The movement was Augustine’s main local rival and he drew from this tension.
As translated by Charles Sullivan. 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. 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 was3 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 those4 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 a5 brother, the Spirit of God dwells with him. Let him see, let him demonstrate himself6 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.
Enarratio in Psalmum (396–420 AD)
2. Enarratio in Psalmum LIV:11
As translated by Charles Sullivan. MPL Vol. 36. Augustine. Enerratio in Psalmum LIV:11 (54) Col. 636
“Drown, O Lord, and divide7their languages. He paid close attention about those who are troubling and feigning8 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”9 (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 instructed10 in the unity of pride, the Lord spared these ones11 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)
As translated by Charles Sullivan. 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.
4. Enarratio in Psalmum CXLVII:19 (147:19).
As translated by Charles Sullivan. 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”12 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.
Sermons transcribed into writing attributed to Augustine (393–430 AD)
5. Sermo CLXXV:3 (175:3)
As translated by Charles Sullivan. 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.13
6. Sermo CCLXV:10 (265:10)
As translated by Charles Sullivan. MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXV:10 (265:10)14 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.15
7. Sermo CCLXVI:2 (266:2)
As translated by Charles Sullivan. 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.
8. Sermo CCLXVII (267)
As translated by Charles Sullivan. 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 languages16 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 see, 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 you wish to live in the holy Spirit, preserve charity, love, truth, desire unity from now until eternity. Amen.
9. Sermo CCLXVIII (268)
As translated by Charles Sullivan. 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 sustained17 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 near18 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.19
9. Sermo CCLXIX (269) – Augustine’s polemic against the Donatists.
As translated by Charles Sullivan. 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.20
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,21 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 action22 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)23
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).24
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)25if 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 finished26 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)
As translated by Charles Sullivan. 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.
An excerpt from his later works in life that emended/clarified his earlier writings.
What I also said, that those miracles were not allowed to continue in our times, lest the soul should always seek after things visible, and mankind should wax cold by their frequency, who had been inflamed by their novelty, is certainly true. For when hands are laid on the baptized, they do not receive the Holy Ghost now, in such a manner as to speak with the tongues of all the nations; nor are the sick now cured by the shadow of Christ’s preachers as they pass by them, and others such as these, which, it is manifest, did afterwards cease; But what I said, is not so to be understood as if no miracles are believed to be performed now in the name of Christ : for I myself, when I wrote that very book, (De Vera Religione,) knew that a blind man had received his sight in the city of Milan, at the bodies of the Milanese martyrs, and several others besides; nay, such numbers are performed in these our days, that I neither can know them all, nor though I knew them, could I enumerate them.27
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.
An analysis of Augustine’s writings on speaking in tongues.
Augustine wrote a considerable amount on the subject which first appears to be an open and shut case, but a closer look reveals a diversity of thought propelled by political influences.
The conflict with the rival Donatist movement gives one of the earliest and extensive articles of tongues speech in the church. His coverage dispels the notion that the institutional church after Pentecost had quashed or ignored the christian rite of tongues.
The theories on speaking in tongues during Augustine’s time.
Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 354-430 AD, was likely aware of the different theories on the subject. His contemporaries Gregory Nazianzus (329 to 390 AD) had posited that there are two options for the Pentecost outburst of tongues: it was either a miracle of hearing or of speaking, and more likely the latter. John Chrysostom (349 to 407 AD) held similar views to Augustine on the diminished role of divine tongues in the individual expression. An earlier North African leader named Pachomius (292 to 346 AD) was mythologized as having been divinely enabled to temporarily speak Latin. The first century BC Jewish Hellenistic philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, didn’t write about the gift of tongues, but he did cover the mechanics behind God speaking. He held that when God spoke it was in a sound that would implant in the hearers mind, bypassing the ears, being beyond human language.
Was it a miracle of speaking or hearing?
Sometimes he favored the miracle of speaking while others times of hearing. He does tend to allude to the idea of the miracle of one voice emanating and the hearers miraculously hearing in their own language.
“they began to speak in the languages of all the nations,”1
“they began to speak in all the languages, that in respect to those who were present, everybody was recognizing their own language,”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.”4
His coverage is found in a number of other Sermons5 and in his work on the Psalms. In Enarratio in Psalmum he wrote this particular puzzling entry, “See that sounds went out in every language.”6
He picks and chooses given the situation. It appears that the mechanics behind how those divinely spoke in tongues was of no interest to him or was a priority. He had an apologetic motive against the large Dontatist movement, who asserted that they were the true Church. One of their confirming signs was that they spoke in tongues.7
There is no question that the semantic range of this experience fell inside the use of foreign languages, nothing more. He used the term linguis omnium gentium “in the languages of all the nations” on at least 23 occasions, and linguis omnium, speaking “in all languages”. Neither does Augustine quote or refer to the Montanist movement in his works.
Augustine on the question, Should everybody speak in tongues?
The Bishop repeatedly answers the question “If I have received the holy Spirit, why am I not speaking in tongues?” Each time he has a slightly different read. What did he say? “this was a sign that has been satisfied.”8 In the writing called In Epistolas Joannis et Parthos, he jests with those who take this position, “when we laid hands on those infants, does anyone of you pay attention to whether they were speaking in languages. . .?”9 and then offers a more theological slant in his Enarratio In Psalmum, “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.”10
The gift of tongues changed from an individual to a corporate expression.
The last one brings on an important theological perspective by Augustine on the doctrine of tongues. The gift being expressed through individuals has died, and now has been transferred to and operated by the corporate Church. More of this doctrine can be found in the next article, Augustine on Tongues and the Donatists.
Augustine about the cessation of tongues and miracles
This patristic leader’s position on miracles has been highly debated for 1600 years. This is apparent in the tongues citations provided above. However, the most disputed piece is not on tongues but on miracles itself as found in his work, De vera religione where he wrote:
Another thing which must be considered is the dissension that has arisen among men concerning the worship of the one God. We have heard that our predecessors, at a stage in faith on the way from temporal things up to eternal things, followed visible miracles. They could do nothing else. And they did so in such a way that it should not be necessary for those who came after them. When the Catholic Church had been founded and diffused throughout the whole world, on the one hand miracles were not allowed to continue till our time, lest the mind should always seek visible things, and the human race should grow cold by becoming accustomed to things which when they were novelties kindled its faith. On the other hand we must not doubt that those are to be believed who proclaimed miracles, which only a few had actually seen, and yet were able to persuade whole peoples to follow them. At that time the problem was to get people to believe before anyone was fit to reason about divine and invisible things. No human authority is set over the reason of a purified soul, for it is able to arrive at clear truth But pride does not lead to the perception of truth. If there were no pride there would be no heretics, no schismatics, no circumcised, no worshippers of creatures or of images. If there had not been such classes of opponents before the people was made perfect as promised, truth would be sought much less eagerly.11
This was written around 390 AD. 37 years later Augustine revisited this statement and softened his stance by adding in his Retractiones:
For when hands are laid on the baptized, they do not receive the Holy Ghost now, in such a manner as to speak with the tongues of all the nations; nor are the sick now cured by the shadow of Christ’s preachers as they pass by them, and others such as these, which, it is manifest, did afterwards cease; But what I said, is not so to be understood as if no miracles are believed to be performed now in the name of Christ : for I myself, when I wrote that very book, (De Vera Religione,) knew that a blind man had received his sight in the city of Milan, at the bodies of the Milanese martyrs, and several others besides; nay, such numbers are performed in these our days, that I neither can know them all, nor though I knew them, could I enumerate them.12
What did Augustine intend? I have never seen in any Patristic literature where a church leader made a complete and concise reversal or retraction of a theological concept. This may be the closest that Augustine could achieve without having amassed some percieved shame or criticism of his legacy. A complete avowal would also have legitimized the majority Donatist movement whose emphasis on the gift of tongues symbolized their fidelity. Augustine spent decades in theological dispute with them on that very subject.
It is no surprise when he stated that miracles still occur, but some do not, he listed the individual speaking in tongues as the first example that is no longer utilized. This is in keeping with his various polemical assaults against the Donatists.
A specialist in Augustine, Prof. Jan den Boeft, considers the Retractiones text wanting. He thinks that Augustine is referring to the cessation of only a few miracles including speaking in tongues while most continued.13 Prof. Boeft makes a proper connection between Chrysostom and Augustine on the de-emphasis on miracles whereby miracles were considered unimportant in the development of christian character and often antithetical. The penchant for miracles was considered a gateway to pride. Chrysostom had shifted the element of miracles away from the individual and moved the practice to the rituals and symbols of the corporate church and the cult of deceased saints.
There was not found in any of his writings a theological analysis about the problem in Corinth. 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.
The neglect of Augustine on this subject.
It is surprising that his works have not entered into the primary source books as a central author explaining and defining the christian tongues doctrine. This problem is not unique just to Augustine. This is covered in more detail at the following article: Examining the Source Books on Glossolalia and Christian tongues.
It is also vexing how many of his works, which includes the tongues-passages, do not have popular English translations. He is one of the foremost writers who has withstood the test of time. One of only a handful of authors of any genre has managed to do that. If his works were more widely available in English, it would have changed the dynamics of the discussion over the last century.
His works are well written and thought-out with an easy-to-read style which most readers will come to appreciate.