Tag Archives: Catalan

Vincent Ferrer and the Gift of Tongues


Vincent Ferrer was a Dominican missionary in the 14th century (1350 to 1419 AD). Legend has it that his native tongue was Valencian, a dialect of Catalan spoken in Spain. He didn’t know any other language.

“Catalan is not, as some believe, a dialect of Spanish, but a language that developed independently out of the vulgar Latin spoken by the Romans who colonised the Tarragona area. It is spoken by 9 million people in Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Isles, Andorra and the town of Alghero in Sardinia.”(1)http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/22/catalan-language-survived

As an itinerant missionary whose travels brought him throughout western Europe, the lack of language preparation would have been a severe hindrance. To make matters worse, he knew only Valencian, which was a localized language. Very few within Europe had the ability to understand his native tongue. According to the account found in Acta Sanctorum this was overcome by the miracle of those hearing. He spoke in Valencian and the people understood his words perfectly in their own language.

The writer of this piece in Acta Sanctorum refers to the language of the British people as distinct from all others and only known by them. Little did the writer know that their language would become the lingua franca the world over 400 years later.

A biographer, Ranzano, Bishop of Lucera, recounts part of Ferrer’s life in this way:

He converted a prodigious number of Jews and Mahometans, heretics and schismatics. He visited every province of Spain In this manner, except Galicia. He returned thence into France, and made some stay in Languedoc, Provence, and Dauphine. He went thence into Italy, preaching on the coasts of Genoa, in Lombardy, Piedmont, and Savoy; as he did in part of Germany, about the Upper Rhine, and through Flanders. Such was the fame of his missions that Henry IV, King of England, wrote to him in the most respectful terms, and sent his letter by a gentleman of his court, entreating him to preach also in his dominions. He accordingly sent one of his own ships to fetch him from the coast of France, and received him with the greatest honours. The saint having employed some time in giving the king wholesome advice, both for himself and his subjects, preached in the chief towns of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Returning into France, he did the same from Gascony to Picardy. Numerous wars, and the unhappy great schism in the church, had been productive of a multitude of disorders in Christendom; gross ignorance, and a shocking corruption of manners, prevailed in many places; whereby the teaching of this zealous apostle, who, like another Boanerges, preached in a voice of thunder, became not only useful but even absolutely necessary, to assist the weak and alarm the sinner. The ordinary subjects of his sermons were sin, death, God’s judgments, hell, and eternity. He delivered his discourses with so much energy that he filled the most insensible with terror.(2) “From his life, written by Ranzano, Bishop of Lucera, in order to his canonization, in Henschenius with the notes of Papebroke. See Touron, Hommes Illustres de l’Ordre de St. Dominique t. iii.; Fleury, b. cx.” http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/FERRER.htm

As per the goals of the Gift of Tongues Project, the Latin source text along with an English translation is provided below.

English Translation from the Latin Text

Many in addition were used to being astonished about the miracle by him, because a number of them who heard the very man preach, that they were frequently so many, more were forced to stand a long distance from him. Yet they distinctly heard his speech — not smaller to those who were a great distance than those who were nearby. Moreover, that speech was outstanding in all ways upon him because that which he taught was confirmed by many distinct and miraculous signs, of which things we relate below. Indeed, that it is worthy with great admiration, because the gift of languages, even as also by the former Apostles, had been granted to him. For while through those regions together, which we mentioned above that he spread his preachings, having always spoken his Valencian and had been the maternal tongue. Yet each person, both young and old ones and either sex, were comprehending his speech every single word perfectly. Just as if he was born in the country of every single one of them and had been speaking their language. Many from Greece, Germany, Sardinia, Hungary and others born in other places who did not know except their mother tongue, nor understand another, prepared to the places in which Vincent was preaching. They gathered together with others for the purpose of listening and, they confessed at the end of his words being made with them that they understood the individual words of the man of God, no less than if they had heard him speaking their own language. In that region of Gaul, which we call in our time Britain, whom the French call the British British-speakers of whom the language is understood to these only. Although very many of them know how to speak the French language, many yet do not speak except their own language, and they understand no other, who yet distinctly understood the man of God speaking his own native language, that the children and women together would have gained too the greatest fruit from his beneficial instruction.(3)My translation. See also Christine F. Cooper-Rampato’s translation as found in The Gift of Tongues: Women’s Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages, Pg. 26 – 27

The original Latin Source

As found in Vita S. Vincentii Ferrerii. Lib. II. AAS April 5. Ch. 3. Verse 14. Pg. 493

Multi insuper quasi miraculum de eo admirari solebant, quod eum numerus eorum qui eum prædicantem audiebant, frequentissime tantus esset, ut plures ab eo longissimo intervallo distare cogerentur ; non tamen minus ab eis qui plurimum distantes erant, quam ab eis qui erant proximi, distincte audiebatur sermo ejus. Illud autem omnium præstantissimum erat in eo, quod ea quæ docebat, multis signis clarissimisque miraculis confirmabat, de quibus infra narrabimus. Magna etiam admiratione dignum illud est, quod donum linguarum, sicut et veteribus Apostolis, ei concessum est. Cum enim per illas singulas regiones, quas supra memoravimus suas prædicationes diffunderet, et sua Valentina ac materna lingua fuerit semper locutus ; tamen singuli, tam pueri quam ætate provecti utriusque sexus, ejus sermonem per singula verba percipiebant, perinde ac si in singulorum patria fuisset natus, et eorum idiomate fuisset locutus. Multi quoque e Græci, Teutonici, Sardi, Hungari, et alii in aliis locis nati, qui non nisi materna lingua loqui sciebant, nec aliam intelligebant, devenientes ad loca in quibus prædicabat Vincentius, cum aliis ad audiendum concurrerunt et tandem facto verborum ejus fine fassi sunt se singula viri Dei verba percepisse, non minus quam si eorum lingua eum loquentem audissent. In illa Galliæ regione, quæ nostro tempore Britannia dicitur, sunt quidam populi, quos Galli vocant Britones Britonizantes, quorum lingua solis ipsis cognita est, et quamvis plurimi eorum lingua Gallorum loqui sciant, multi tamen non nisi sua lingua loquuntur, et nullam aliam intelligunt : qui tamen virum Dei, suo materno idiomate loquentem, distincte intelligebant, ita ut singuli quoque pueri et feminæ maximum fructum ex salutifera ejus doctrina perceperint.

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Benedict XIV on Tongues: Analysis

Discovering and understanding Pope Benedict the XIV’s treatise on the gift of tongues.

tongues speaker

The exposition on the gift of tongues is found in his larger work , De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et Beatorum Canonizatione. Written around 1748 AD, this is a critical piece that should be included as a primary source for the gift of tongues discussion.

This official Catholic document on tongues is a very big surprise because it has never been noted in the tongues discussion before. This text was accidentally found while trying to find source works for Anthony of Padua. Pope Benedict XIV’s coverage shows he was one very intelligent person.

Xenoglossia, or in long form, the miraculous and instantaneous speaking in a foreign language not known beforehand, was my assumption with Benedict’s work and the documented Medieval tongues-speaking Saints. Benedict initially seemed to fit in with the xenoglossia paradigm. However, he switches positions after quoting Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas was pivotal in addressing the tongues debate that continued in the Latin Church for over a millennium.

Aquinas liked to use logical arguments that reasoned for and against the tongues as either a miracle of hearing or speech and only later does he confide which side he takes. After he narrated both arguments, he concluded that it was a miracle of speaking. This seemed to be a clear point but one which Benedict ignores.

The debate about whether the miracle was one of hearing or speaking started with Gregory Nazianzus in the fourth-century. He posited in his argument a Greek enthymeme: that is two arguments with only one possible solution. The two arguments were the miracle of hearing and the miracle of speaking. The latter argument was the obvious choice to Nazianzus. However, the Latin translator of the text, Tyrannius Rufinus, omitted a key part of the argument that did not display Nazianzus’ preference. This omission was based on the understanding of a Greek particle: αρα was it to be understood as ἄρα or ἆρα? Note the differences at the top in the first letter α in both examples. Most readers probably don’t know Greek or easily see the difference in pronunciation by the differing diacritics between the two. In most cases, this does not matter, but here, it is extremely important. In Tyrannius’ time, he did not have the benefit of diacritics, that is the markings above and below the Greek letters to advise the reader on how to pronounce the text. Tyrannius was not a native Greek speaker and chose the wrong pronunciation, which led to an incorrect translation. The misunderstanding of this particle is not hard to do. I did the same thing while first trying to translate the Greek Nazianzus text with the diacritics available.

For more information see the following article,Nazianzus’ tongues of Pentecost Paradox

This translation led Latin readers, who dominated the greater European world, to think that both arguments were given equal footing. Many thinkers like the Venerable Bede, and Michael Psellos, among others, attempted to resolve the dilemma. All the studies up until now concluded that the debate continued and was finally settled by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth-century. However, Benedict the XIV’s coverage demonstrates the arguments of hearing or speaking had continued even in the eighteenth-century – far longer than what I thought and had previously concluded.

This work quotes the actual Aquinas text which shows the preference for the miracle of speaking. Benedict does not accept Aquinas’s conclusion, rather he accepts both arguments as being true. He believed the gift of tongues can be both. It can be a miracle of speaking in foreign languages in one instance, and in other cases can be a miracle of speaking in one language with the audience hearing it in their own different native tongue.

He posits examples of scholars holding opinions on this issue. Some align to the miracle of hearing like Vincent Ferrer who spoke in Catalan and the audience heard him speak in their language, while others, like Pachomius, who could speak in Latin and Greek that he did not know beforehand.

This Pope was keen on determining a methodology on defining when an actual miraculous event of tongues occurred. These certain questions and processes must be completed before validating a claim:

  • It would have to pass through a special committee, the Postuloribus and then to a higher-ranking authority, the Rotae Auditores(1)This is the name used in his text. I don’t have any further information on this high-ranking group

  • A testimony by honourable men.

  • If a person is speaking in only one language and the hearers hear him in multiple languages then this process should be employed, “Let other witnesses be brought forward of diverse races who should identify him speaking at that time also and had heard him employ their language, clearly a German with German, Spaniard with Spanish, Gallos with Gallican, English with the English language, and so etc., And in addition everyone must be in agreement in the matter about what God’s Servant had spoken.”

  • If it is done for personal or pecuniary gain, it should be ruled out.

  • It can be counterfeited by demons and this must be ruled out.

  • Signs of conversions from unbelief or sins should accompany. These are one of the more reliable signs.

Benedict clearly states that at least one of the accounts of a Saint speaking in tongues was questionable. He is suspicious of St. Aloysio Bertrando’s account:

“God has devised that we are going to thoroughly learn the Japanese language for the purpose of divine matters. Then we finally will do with zeal the certain work of the matters of Christianity. We indeed move about now among them something like mute statues. For many speak and are stirred with this among us, in fact we are silent to those things of the native speech itself. We have become a child again in the present time in the process of learning the elements in this language.”

Benedict documents one leader, Jacob Picenius, against this being a miracle, while another, Cardinal Gottus strongly refutes Picenius, arguing that perhaps this instance wasn’t a miracle, but God can intervene at a later time. A simple reading of the text gives Picenius a strong edge here.

The treatise has no recognition of the Montanists as part of the Christian doctrine of tongues, nor does it have any recognition of tongues as a private prayer language. He does not associate ecstasy as a prerequisite condition before speaking in tongues. Ecstasy was a common expectation with the Saints, especially propagated by Teresa of Avila in the sixteenth-century.(2) see Thoughts on Ecstasty, Private Revelation and Prophecy The usage of the term Gift of Tongues within his document demonstrates that he did not see a difference between the Corinthian tongues and the tongues of Pentecost. He merged these two accounts together. Neither does he take into account any Protestant scholarship on the subject, or the tongues practices of the Camisard Huguenots that happened in France earlier in his century.(3)See The Camisards, tongues and prophecy

His work dispelled two myths. The first one related to late Medieval Catholic writers being silent on the gift of tongues. They were not. This myth has perpetuated because so few late Medieval Catholic writers have ever been translated into English.

The second myth has to do with the definition of tongues. It is not correct that the Medieval Church believed it was simply a miracle of speaking in a foreign language not known beforehand. Christine F. Cooper-Rampato used xenoglossia exclusively throughout her excellent book: The Gift of Tongues: Women’s Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages.(4)Christine F. Cooper-Rampato. The Gift of Tongues: Women’s Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages. USA: Pennsylvania State University. 2010 Wikipedia defines it is a “phenomenon in which a person is able to speak or write a language he or she could not have acquired by natural means.”(5)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenoglossy Some examples of xenoglossia by her, especially that of Vincent Ferrer, who spoke in his native Catalan language and others miraculously heard him in their own, do not fit into this definition. The Medieval Catholic definition was more complex than Rampato assumed.

For further reading:

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