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Chrysostom on the Doctrine of Tongues

Johnchrysostom

A review of John Chrysostom’s works as it relates to the Christian doctrine of tongues.

His works on the doctrine of tongues is not so cut-and-dry as many portray him. A further look demonstrates far more complexity with grey areas and questions that remain unanswered.

This fourth-century Church Father is one of most quoted authors of the subject. His popularity on the topic is due to the great reverence associated with his name, the easy access of English translations, and his connection to miracles by the highly influential eighteenth-century writer Conyers Middleton. However, Chrysostom’s work is not a primary source that many have elevated it to. There are much better sources elsewhere.

Who was John Chrysostom and what did he contribute to the subject?

John got the title Chrysostom — which means golden mouthed, not because it was his last name, but to his great eloquence. This term was applied to him well after his death. Anyone reading one of his homilies can tell that he had the intellectual acuity combined with public acumen, and articulate speaking skills. He is one of the few that spoke or wrote in the first person within the community of ecclesiastical writers. He was considered the defacto standard for all that followed him in the Eastern Byzantine Christian world.

This is a look at his coverage of the subject with three important questions to be answered.

  • Did he believe that miracles had ceased in the Church altogether and so the idea of Christian tongues in the contemporary Church is moot?

  • What did he think happened at Pentecost? Was it the instant ability to speak in foreign languages, or was it something else?

  • What did he think of the Corinthian problem of tongues?

  • Did he recognize or argue against the Montanist practice of tongues?

Chrysostom on Montanism

The Montanist question will be answered first because it is the simplest. He didn’t recognize any Montanist contribution to either tongues or miracles in any of his texts.

Chrysostom on the tongues of Pentecost

Chrysostom clearly defined the doctrine of tongues as the spontaneous utterance of a foreign language unknown beforehand by the speaker. There was no concept whatsoever of a private, ecstatic or heavenly prayer language in his coverage.

Speaking in tongues was an issue that he was keenly aware of. He was constantly being asked that question, and felt it necessary to make a reply in his Homily, On the Holy Pentecost:

For if one wishes to demonstrate our faith, we believe this has been done without an assurance of a pledge or signs with it. Except those ones who have received first the sign and pledge, do not believe it concerning the unseen things. I, on the other hand, indeed show a complete faith without this. This is therefore the reason why signs are not happening now.(1)See A Snippet from Chrysostom’s “The Holy Pentecost” Homilies on the Pentecost 1:4(b) to 5. My translation

His answer was that signs were for the unbeliever. The faithful require no external signs for assurance because the Christian life is an internal matter of the heart and mind. If one depends on signs as the most important factor in personally knowing God, or as the stimuli that motivates in the Christian life and witness, then signs and miracles are the guiding force in life. It becomes the central part of one’s identity which must constantly be pursued. Chrysostom favored the ascetic inward life of devotion, acceptance, and good deeds as the guiding principle in the Christian life over being directed by external signs. Miracles and signs were too abstract and impersonal as a framework for daily Christian living.

Chrysostom on the tongues of Corinth and his effects on later interpretations

In almost every piece of tongues literature referencing the Church fathers, the following quote from Chrysostom is sure to be cited:

This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity has produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?(2)Homily 29 on First Corinthians. Translated by Talbot W. Chambers. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 12. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/220129.htm.

This is a leading statement by those of the cessationist movement who believe the supernatural era was completed at the founding of the Church. This belief concludes that the miracle of tongues did not perpetuate itself after this. Therefore, it is not necessary to trace the definition, or evolution of the doctrine of tongues because anything defined after the first century is based on a false supposition.

The fourth century leaders Chrysostom, and Augustine, along with the fifth century Cyril of Alexandria carried similar thoughts on the subject, though each one represented this concept slightly different. Augustine restricted his opinion that only the individual expression of tongues had ceased, not the corporate one. Other miracles such as healing, prophecy, etc., were still viewed as operative.(3) see Augustine on the Tongues of Pentecost Intro Cyril of Alexandria held that the miraculous endowment of languages at Pentecost was a temporary sign for the Jews. Those that received this blessing continued to have this power throughout their lives, but it did not persist after their generation.(4) see Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Conclusion The association between these three demonstrates that there must have been an interpretive movement of this kind in the fourth and fifth centuries that bordered on a universal thought. However, there are problems. It doesn’t take into account the tongues-speaking experience of the fourth century Egyptian Monastic leader, Pachomius. The writers of this account display him speaking miraculously in an unlearned foreign language, and no one in antiquity has disputed or countered the theological legitimacy.(5)see Pachomius on Speaking in Tongues Basil of Seleucia who tried 50 years later to emulate Chrysostom’s style and wrote a commentary on Pentecost, did not overtly carry on this tradition,(6)see Basil of Seleucia on Pentecost but then he didn’t disprove it either. It was simply omitted in his coverage. Neither was the doctrine found in eighth century John of Damascus texts, who liberally borrowed from Chrysostom’s works.(7)see John of Damascus on Tongues: Notes However, this is from a small sampling, more materials may come up on these two I haven’t read that may contradict my opinion. Michael Psellos in the tenth century failed to recognize any of these three in his comprehensive coverage on tongues, choosing to exclusively follow Gregory Nazianzus.(8)see Michael Psellos on the doctrine of Tongues On the other hand, Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century sided with Augustine that the miracle of tongues had switched from an individual, to a corporate expression.(9)see Thomas Aquinas on the Miracle of Tongues These examples demonstrate that the cessationalist doctrine of tongues was dominant and powerful during the fourth and fifth centuries, but it was not universal. It did perpetuate, but it was not the defacto standard.

The one who captivated this doctrine for centuries was Gregory Nazianzus. His technical approach can be traced in Christian literature for well over a thousand-years. He did not address whether tongues ceased or perpetuated, he solely concentrated on the mechanics on how this miracle operated at Pentecost.

For more information on Gregory Nazianzus on the doctrine of tongues, see, Gregory Nazianzus on the doctrine of Tongues Intro.

The earliest that Chrysostom’s name prominently recirculated after the fourth century in connection with miracles and the doctrine of tongues was by the English Church historian, Conyers Middleton, who wrote the controversial and game-changing 1749 work, Divine Inquiry. Middleton outlined that signs and miracles have not occurred since the time of the apostles. It was written both as an antidote against the excesses of Christian mysticism during his time and the establishment of the Protestant identity separate from the Roman Catholic authority. His scant reference to Chrysostom in the above work, along with more details found in, An Essay on the Gift of Tongues,(10)Conyers Middleton’s Essay on the Gift of Tongues gained attraction to Chrysostom’s thoughts on the subject after a long slumber. The concept became a stolid symbol for the conservative protestant identity in 1918, when the last theological leader of a united Princeton Seminary, B.B. Warfield, published, Counterfeit Miracles.(11)http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/warfield/warfield_counterfeit.html#one Warfield utilized Chrysostom as a champion of that cause. The golden mouth preacher found a prominent proponent which renewed an interest in his works within the western world. The theological idea of cessation grew prominent in many theological circles and today is known as cessationism.

Chrysostom on Miracles

Did Chrysostom really believe miracles had ceased? A further look is yes if one does not look at all the information and no if the information is examined more closely. There has been some mulling over this since the publication of Free Inquiry where Middleton himself showed some difficulties with Chrysostom on the subject.(12) Conyers Middleton. A Free Inquiry – New Edition. London. J. and W. Boone. 1844. Pg. 103 He cited many examples from Chrysostom about the nature of demons and their remedies; such as letters about a young friend of Chrysostom, Stagirius, who chose the monastic life, and had both physical and emotional issues which Chrysostom sought healing through exorcism.(13) The original text is found in Ad Stagirium a daemone vexatum. MPG. Vol. 47. Col. 423-448 Another one was cures using consecrated oil,(14)Homilies on Matthew. 32 and also believed that the sign of the cross was a “defence against all evil, and a medicine against all sickness, and affirms it to have been miraculously impressed, in his own time, on people’s garments,”(15) IBID Divine Inquiry Pg. 103 and lastly that forcing one possessed by a demon to be near or touching the tomb of a Christian martyr, can bring about healing.(16) In Julianum Martyrem. MPG. Vol. 50. Col. 669 There is more to miracles to Chrysostom than what was supplied by Middleton. In Homily 38 of the Acts of the Apostles, Chrysostom described a boy who was miraculously healed.(17) Acts of the Apostles. Homily XXXVIII, as found at New Advent. Translated by J. Walker, J. Sheppard and H. Browne, and revised by George B. Stevens. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 11. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Many of these stories revolve around demons which were considered a normative experience in Greek everyday life. It was not an unusual or extraordinary event. This was so prevalent that it would not be labelled as a special gift that only happened at the birthing of the Church. Added to this fact that Chrysostom believed the central Christian identity was “to enlist in Christ’s army for warfare against the devil and his hosts”.(18)Rowan A. Greer. The Fear of Freedom: A Study of Miracles in the Roman Imperial Church. Penn State Press. 2008. Pg. 54

Secondly the healing of the young boy was either a direct intervention by God, or by the laws of nature. It was not attributed to the powers of a faith healer, which Chrysostom believed whose office had died. The healing via consecrated oil, and the sign of the cross suggests that Chrysostom believed that miracles had transferred from the individual and into the corporate Church expressed in the form of rituals. This is a similar concept espoused by Augustine who believed that the gift of tongues did not die, but rather its expression switched from the individual to the Church.(19) See Augustine on the Tongues of Pentecost for more info.

The downgrading of miracles is consistent with Greek philosophic principles, in which even St. Paul recognized as different from Jewish perceptions, “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom.”(20) I Corinthians 1:22 NASB Signs were not a priority, understanding and applying meaning was utmost. This was very evident even at the time of Origen whose coverage of I Corinthians dwelled greatly on the concept of knowledge rather than the literalness of the text.(21) See Origen on Knowledge

Chrysostom demonstrates a cautionary approach to miracles. His response reflects a man who lived a very ascetic and restrictive lifestyle. The goal of every Christian’s life was not the outward activity such as healings or miracles, but the purity and selflessness of the inner soul. He very much minimized individualism and espoused corporate good. This can be gleaned from his writing found in his Homilies in Matthew 9:32;

For, as to miracles, they oftentimes, while they profited another, have injured him who had the power, by lifting him up to pride and vainglory, or haply in some other way: but in our works there is no place for any such suspicion, but they profit both such as follow them, and many others.(22) Homily on Matthew 9:32

He also outlined here the real danger of pride within those who perform miracles and cautioned against this type of leadership. Conversely, he demonstrated an openness to miracles happening through an anointed person. He believed many succumb to the temptation of pride. Perhaps he is following in the same line of thinking as Origen that the decline in miracles was due to the lack of altruistic, pious, and holy individuals in his generation.(23)see Origen on the Gift of Tongues for more info. He never named anyone in his lifetime ever achieving this status. This was likely why Chrysostom venerated deceased saints who had achieved a high spiritual status in their lives that very few could ever achieve. He believed that they had miraculous powers even after they died and those attending by their graves could muster restorative power. This veneration in some Churches still exist today. The alleged skull remains of Chrysostom’s body, was brought out for a brief public viewing in 2007 at the Monastery of Mt. Athos. It was claimed to be healing people who appeared by it.(24)http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/01/contemporary-miracles-of-st-john.html

Rowan A. Green took a deep look at Chrysostom and miracles in his book, The Fear of Freedom: A Study of Miracles in the Roman Imperial Church, and felt pressed to ask the question, what is Chrysostom worrying about? He answered by writing, Chrysostom identifies the quest for miracles with the magical practices he naturally supposes Christians must avoid. Still more, the Jews tend to become scapegoats in Chrysostom’s polemic.(25) The Fear of Freedom: A Study of Miracles in the Roman Imperial Church. Penn State Press. 2008. Pg. 56

Another dynamic may be the idea of political stability. The central authority of the Church was based on literature, liturgy, ritual and offices, which were uniformly observed and established. If signs and wonders became the central focal point, it would have severely challenged the structure of the Church and could bypass established leadership, and all other established principles.

Clues into finding Chrysostom’s definition on the doctrine of tongues

Chrysostom had further important points in his Homilies on I Corinthians which is imperative to look into:

I Corinthians 14:3. . . .And it was thought great because the Apostles received it first, and with so great display; it was not however therefore to be esteemed above all the others. Wherefore then did the Apostles receive it before the rest? Because they were to go abroad every where. And as in the time of building the tower the one tongue was divided into many; so then the many tongues frequently met in one man, and the same person used to discourse both in the Persian, and the Roman, and the Indian, and many other tongues, the Spirit sounding within him: and the gift was called the gift of tongues because he could all at once speak various languages. . .

I Corinthians 14:10 There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and no kind is without signification:” i.e., so many tongues, so many voices of Scythians, Thracians, Romans, Persians, Moors, Indians, Egyptians, innumerable other nations. . .(26)Homily 35 on First Corinthians. Translated by Talbot W. Chambers. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 12. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. .

It is consistenly found in Chrysostom’s hermeneutic that the tongues of Babel, Pentecost and Corinth were the same thing. He mixes verses from many books to make a linear narrative on the doctrine.

His conclusion that tongues-speech in I Corinthians was obscure, his virulent anti-semitism, and narrow literalist interpretations all contributed to difficulty understanding this subject. He could not comprehend a Jewish antecedent as a background to Paul’s narrative of I Corinthians.

The Spirit sounding within him?

The above passages demonstrate that the miracle of Pentecost was the supernatural endowment of speaking in different languages. One portion of the text requires some additional thought. What did he mean by “the Spirit sounding within him.”? The actual Greek reads: τοῦ Πνεύματος ἐνηχοῦντος αὐτῷ which should properly be translated as:

While the Spirit teaches to him

This is slightly different from the standard English translation quoted above. It changes the nuance and should then read: “and the same person used to discourse both in the Persian, and the Roman, and the Indian, and many other tongues, while the Spirit teaches to him: and the gift was called the gift of tongues because he could all at once speak various languages.”

The old English version leaned on the Latin translation of the text which emphasized the idea of the Spirit sounding within (insonantes Spiritu) rather than the Greek which, according to Donnegan’s Greek Dictionary, believed Chrysostom used the word in other works to mean to teach or instruct.(27)Donnegan Pg. 494 [677] Secondly the Latin put the text into the ablative rather than keep the sense of the Greek genitive absolute.

The reader may think that this is an innocuous point being made. There are a number of ways to understand the tongues miracle. The first one was that the person thought in their own language and as they began to speak, their thoughts were divinely intercepted and their lips produced sounds in different foreign languages, which the Latin translation could be understood leaning towards. It was an external miracle. Therefore there was little intellectual involvement on behalf of the speaker. Or it can be that the speaker spoke a single language, and the hearers heard in their own language. Another argument was that the miracle happened internally. The person miraculously understood and comprehended a language not previously known, had immediate fluency, along with full voluntary control of what he was saying, which the Greek tends to promote. The text illustrates that Chrysostom believed it was an internal miracle. He did not explain whether this was a temporary phenomenon with those at Pentecost, or that it persisted with them throughout their lives.

The Corinthian tongues being a liturgical language?

Chrysostom further wrote an analysis of I Corinthians 14:15 that dwelled on the subject of tongues as a special foreign language used in the Church service:

I Corinthians 14:15 See how this one gradually building the argument demonstrating that such a thing is not only unprofitable for everyone else, but for himself, if it is so, his mind is unfruitful?

If someone should utter on in the Persian language, or in some foreign one, and additionally he does not know what he is saying, therefore it will also henceforth be alien to him, not just to another person, because the mastery of the voice would not be understood. In fact, there were formerly many having the gift of prayer by aid of a language. The language was being uttered — a prayer language being emitted whether in the Persian or Roman voice, and meanwhile, the mind did not know the thing being spoken.(28) translation is mine

The text infers here that Chrysostom was aware the earlier Church had a religious liturgical language issued in the form of prayer, and it was supposed to be used universally throughout Christendom — however, he wasn’t sure what that liturgical language was. His guess was either of the two more prominent languages within his realm; Latin or Persian. He did acknowledge that there were once people skilled in this practice within the Church liturgy, but not within his time. This is an odd statement because Cyril of Alexandria, whose influence in Alexandria, Egypt, was only forty years later, stated that a Christian liturgical language, along with an interpreter-like-person called the keimenos was still in use within the Churches of Egypt.(29)See Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Conclusions for more info.

Chrysostom also pointed out that those previously who read or spoke in the religious liturgical language did not necessarily know what they were reading or saying. They were trained to simply read out the sounds, or speak them out from memory. It shows that this practice had been abandoned in the Antioch area by his time but not necessarily throughout the universal Christian community.

Some Additional thoughts about Chrysostom on tongues

His fourth homily on the Acts of the Apostles clearly spells out that Pentecost was the supernatural endowment of one or many foreign languages.(30)Saint Chrysostom. Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and The Epistle to the Romans. Vol. XI. as found in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post Nicence Fathers of the Christian Church. Philip Schaff, ed. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1899. Pg. 25ff

He also provides more material from his homilies On the Holy Pentecost about the passages in the Book of Acts where people being baptized, miraculously spoke in foreign languages:

The person in the process of being baptized immediately was uttering in the sound of the Indians, Egyptians, Persians, Scythians, and Thracians — one man was taking on many languages. (31)See A Snippet from Chrysostom’s “The Holy Pentecost”

He takes a position here that the person was spontaneously speaking in all the languages of the world. It is a broad statement which doesn’t explain the mechanics behind this. Was the person speaking a few words in one language, then switching to a second, and so on, until complete? Wouldn’t that take far too long? And would it be considered a miracle only to say a few words in each language and then switch to another?

These questions are unfortunately not answered. Chrysostom himself realized this in his address on the doctrine of tongues in his homilies On the Holy Pentecost. He bluntly dived right in, stating that believers do not need signs. External things are insignificant. He knew his audience would not completely buy into this and added, “But I see that to be a teaching extending out for a long time. On which account I am going to bring an end to the word while adding a few thoughts.”(32)My translation. Homily on the Holy Pentecost 1:4(b) to 5 He never completely finished the topic. It would have been helpful for posterity that he did. So he left us with a lot of question marks as to what he meant.

This may be the reason why Nazianzus’ writing of the subject perpetuated for centuries and his opinions did not. ■

References   [ + ]

Book Review: Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing

Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing: Teachings from the Early Christian East by Jean-Claude Larchet is an examination of mental illness from an Eastern Christian perspective.

It is very well done work on the topic at hand, but it is not intended to prescribe therapeutic solutions for those who are suffering, or dealing with a person struggling with some form of mental illness. One has to read it for the historical value. It is a detailed history on the perceptions and practices by various Eastern Church leaders on the subject.

The author’s knowledge of both modern psychological conventions and Eastern Church practices regarding this subject is finely interwoven. There is some very well documented work here.

It is partly an apologetic of the Eastern Church writers in light of modern psychiatry. Larchet strives to promote that these Church leaders were very thoughtful and insightful in relation to those who had mental illness. He clearly demonstrates that these leaders were not foolish and neither quick to attach a demonic definition to everyone who had mental health issues.

He does go into significant detail showing that many of the Eastern Church leaders discerned that it was a multifaceted problem — a physical disease or injury, a persons temperament, demonic influences, and a number of other variables could be valid sources of a persons mental suffering. Some of the solutions to this problem were a patient long-time intervention, one-on-one intense relationships, a specialized prayer, holy oil, singing or reciting scripture, seclusion, fasting, and encouraging sufferers to participate in their own healing as much as possible. Larchet does not demonstrate any serious negative viewpoints on the treatment offered by these Eastern Church leaders.

It outlines a general idea on how to deal with mental illness within a Christian context, but fails to build a clear doctrine. A large number of Church leaders are introduced on the subject but there is no perceivable pattern or evolution of thought around this issue.

This book hardly addresses the theological basis of mental illness and spirituality. It assumes that readers know what demons are, and that they do exist. He hardly addresses these axioms. Neither does it address the question of why there was so much emphasis on expelling demons in Jesus’ ministry while other Jewish literature was less inclined to do the same during this period. Nor did he express what the influences were that led to the informal structure Eastern Christians used in response to this malady.

Jennifer Doane Upton would disagree with the assessment of this book so far, she takes an altogether different perspective in her book review found at the publisher’s website, Sophia Perennis:

Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing presents the viewpoint on mental disorders held by the early Church Fathers, and in so doing provides a fresh “new” look at psychotherapy, as seen from the standpoint of a tradition which knows the human being as composed of body, soul and Spirit, and gives precedence to the Spirit. The author, Jean-Claude Larchet, is a practicing psychiatrist as well as an Eastern Orthodox Christian.

One wonders if he is choosing the best writers on the subject and ignoring the poorer ones, such as the writings of Pachomius, who believed that anyone who has a demon had a sign of a physical entry point. It was Pachomius duty to find the entry point and expel the demon, whether it was in the finger, foot or whatever. Although the many writers he lists are prominent, one questions whether their opinion was the popular one, or did the masses follow something similar to Pachomius.

This is definitely not a how-to guide on distinguishing between mental illness and demonism. If anything Larchet promotes that the eastern fathers treated whatever state the person was in with respect, though some of their practices seem barbaric to our standards — like placing a violent-to-self or -other type person in a secured sack until the anger abates.

The real strength of this book is in two observations. The first one is the Eastern Church perception of a psychological condition they called acedia — a type of sadness equivalent to what we call depression. The book itself does not make this correlation but it seems close. It goes on to list various remedies that do not deal with the sadness directly but with addressing or limiting the various expressions of sadness to cure it. It also demonstrates that ancient authors have identified a human condition whose appearance has not changed even to this day.

The second is found in the last chapter, entitled, A Most Singular Kind of Folly: The Fool For Christ. It has little to do with defining mental disorders at all, but is about a stratum of Christians who purposely pretended to be mentally ill for various reasons; whether for attaining humility through abuse or rejection, or it was a representation for detachment from this world, or it was for charity purposes. For if one feigned madness, this gave entrance to world of the low and downtrodden. This association became a source of ministry.

It is not a difficult book to read. The author does use some technical vocabulary but never quotes esoteric texts in the original Greek or Latin to prove his point. Everything can be understood by the English reader.

The whole subject of the relationship between mental illness and spiritual influences is severely under-represented in Christian literature, The author is one of the few, and maybe the only one, that has attempted such a rigorous examination. It is a good start. Hopefully more researchers will use this to build a more complete framework.

Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing: Teachings from the Early Christian East by Jean-Claude Larchet, Translated by Rama P. Coomaraswamy and G. John Champoux, can be found at Amazon. It is only available in print format.

See also the previous article on this subject A Religious Look at Miracles and Mental Illness.

The Historical Rejection of Patristics and its Legacy

How the overemphasis on Christian mysticism from the sixteenth century onwards, and the reaction to it, removed Patristic literature from the public conscience.

Contemporary study of ecclesiastical literature has delegated most records to the realm of myths and legends; it is not reliable for any historical pursuit. Therefore, any serious study of the subject has been popularly abandoned.

How did this happen?

The story begins with the emergence of the Renaissance era, especially so in Italy. The Renaissance is a fundamental movement that started in fourteenth-century Europe and spread throughout the western world. Indeed, it is the framework we live by today. The revitalization sparked a renewed interest in classical learning, languages(1)http://history-world.org/renaissance.htm, science, and literature.

The invention of the printing press, the fall of Constantinople to Muslim invaders which led to the emigration of Greek teachers and their valuable manuscripts, and the insatiable thirst for acquiring manuscripts, even by force, by luminaries such as Poggio Bracciolini, allowed for a greater expression of intellectual curiosity.

This intellectual freedom not only was found in some catholic circles such as Dante, and Erasmus, but became a cornerstone, and influenced the burgeoning protestant faith, especially those of Germany and England whose christian traditions and ways of thought have deeply influenced the English speaking world for centuries.

The correction against mystic rule

The ecclesiastical and political authorities during the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries were occupied with the works of the devil and intent on cleansing their society of any perceived evils. The ideal world was one that pursued holiness; questions of science, and explanations behind the forces of nature were matters of little importance. Their imagination ran wild with witches who flew on brooms during the Sabbath, demonic influences, possessions, exorcisms, people transforming into wolves, and hexes to name a few extravagances. This enthusiasm encouraged the authorities to rid themselves of such evils through tortures, and trials. These commonly led to purging by fire, or strangulation.

For more information the following works are recommended:

Lecky described a world where miracles and superstition had become seriously ingrained within the towns and cities:

Nothing could be more common than for a holy man to be lifted up from the floor in the midst of his devotions, or to be visited by the Virgin or by an angel. There was scarcely a town that could not show some relic that had cured the sick, or some image that had opened and shut its eyes, or bowed it head to an earnest worshipper.(2)William Lecky. History of the rise and influence of the spirit of rationalism in Europe, Volume 1. New York: D. Appleton and Company. 1888. Pg. 157

He saw no difference in the attitudes between either the Protestants or the Catholics on the subject.

Church authority and leadership, which was often the government at the time, was established through the confirmation of miracles. If God so sponsored such a divine activity in a person or institution, how could the general population or individuals question such an institution or person? It was as if going against God.

Mysticism on a personal level is not a problem, but a whole society cannot operate being run by mystics or mystical guidance. It was a source of severe psychological, emotional, and social damage with everyone involved; a tyranny of fear. The only way to bring about correction was to sever the connection with the foundation of miracles and the supernatural. In order to accomplish this, the ancient ecclesiastical texts had to be removed from their high authority.

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) through his idea of miracles and it is hard to decipher a clear position because of his semantics and wordiness. He does reaffirm the mantra that miracles had ceased. Partly out of the abuses that he had witnessed, and the other was because most miracles, if examined with the proper apparatus and intelligence, would be found to be a natural phenomena.(3)See Leviathan Chapter 32 and 37 for more information.

The great philosopher and physician John Locke (1632–1704) didn’t reject miracles altogether, but recognized the need for certain criteria to be met.

The eighteenth century English philosopher David Hume was one of the first to make such a clear attack against the abuse of miracles. He introduced a new structure based on reason in his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. He included a methodology on defining miracles with little representation to that of religion.

The deletion of Patristic literature as a reliable source

When Conyers Middleton published Free Inquiry, he brought a death-blow to Patristic miracles and their authority. Middleton rallied that the miracles by the Church Fathers were dubious:

. . . and knowing no distinction between faith and credulity, take a facility of believing, to be the surest mark of a found Christian. Their arguments are conformable to their principles: for instead of entering into the merits of the cause, and shewing my opinion to be false or contradictory to any truth subsisting in the world, they think it a full confutation of it, to prove it contrary to the belief of the primitive ages, to the testimony of the ancient Fathers, and to the tradition of the Catholic Church: by the help of which venerable names, they insinuate fears and jealousies, of I know not what consequences, dangerous to Christianity, ruinous to the faith of History, and introductive of a universal skepticism. Terrors purely imaginary; grounded on error and prejudice ; which if suffered to prevail, would produce consequences more to be dreaded ; subversive of all true religion, as well as of every thing else, that is rational and virtuous among men.(4)A free inquiry into the miraculous powers, which are supposed to have subsisted in the Christian church, from the earliest ages through several successive centuries by Conyers Middleton, 1749. Pg. Vff

William Lecky described how deep the cultural shift changed towards Patristic writings after the conclusion by Middleton:

It is manifest that an attack of this kind opened out questions of the gravest and widest character. It shook the estimate of the Fathers which had been general, not only in the Church of Rome, but in a great degree among the ablest of the Reformers. In the Church of England especially, the Patristic writings had been virtually regarded as almost equal in authority to those of the inspired writers.(5)William Lecky. History of the rise and influence of the spirit of rationalism in Europe, Volume 1. New York: D. Appleton and Company. 1888. Pg. 170

. . . if the Fathers were in truth men of the most unbounded credulity and of the laxest veracity ; if the sense of the importance of dogmas had, in their mind, completely superseded the sense of rectitude, it was absurd to invest them with this extraordinary veneration. They might still be reverenced as men of undoubted sincerity, and of the noblest heroism ; they might still be cited as witnesses to the belief of their time, and as representing the tendencies of its intellect ; but their pre-eminent authority had passed away. The landmarks of English theology were removed. The traditions which it rested were disturbed.(6)William Lecky. History of the rise and influence of the spirit of rationalism in Europe, Volume 1. New York: D. Appleton and Company. 1888. Pg. 171

From this point onwards the Church Fathers were either ignored entirely or were reduced to a collection of stories, and legends.

Middleton’s arguments rested on a number of patristic writers. Five in particular were prominently displayed: Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Irenæus, Clemens of Alexandria and Tertullian.

He noted some inconsistencies with the texts:

There is such an uniformity in all the primitive accounts of them, tho’ given by different Fathers and in different ages, of the Devils being scourged, burned and tortured by the Christian Exorcists ; and of their howlings, discourses and confessions, that they all seem to have been cast in the same mould ; and to have been the copies of an original story, transcribed by the later writers from the earlier than the natural descriptions, of what each of them had severally seen, at different times, and in distant places.

This evolution leads to Germany and the example of Erwin Rohde who authored one of the greatest works on the pagan Greek religion called Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks. He was a great classical scholar and monumental writer in the latter half of the nineteenth-century.

However, when one peruses his literary masterpiece the reference to ancient christian literature is noticeably absent. But then, Rohde is not the only one to ignore the patristic writers. This approach can be found in commentaries, theological works, and Greek dictionaries produced in this period onwards. For example, in a study to determine the ecclesiastical doctrine of tongues, which is based on the Greek word γλῶσσα, glôssa, the source-books severely limit the Patristic references to only seven. These seven are not the best selections from the corpus of works available on the topic. It makes the ecclesiastical writers appear silent on the topic. Instead, the majority of the source-books concentrate on finding a definition from Greek classical sources, sparingly utilizing any Patristic works to validate the classical claim. They do not let the term stand on ecclesiastical usage.

This rejection of ancient ecclesiastical literature has gone to excess. A better balance in coverage is required. The ancient church fathers should not be considered infallible or their records sacred, but should be valued as key-pieces of literature reflective of different epochs.

The decline of the study of Patristics cannot be restricted simply to the rise of rationalism but reduced also because of anti-catholic bias. For this reason it was a diminished genre in Protestant circles. For example, Isaac Taylor wrote in 1842 that the Nicene miracles should be rejected because they “were wrought chiefly, or exclusively, in attestation of those practices and opinions which the protestant churches have rejected as popish.”(7)Ancient Christianity and the doctrines of the Oxford tracts for the times, Volume 2 by Isaac Taylor. Pg. 356

Mark Pattison, a Church of England priest who served as a rector at Oxford’s Lincoln College opined similar sentiments in the late 1800s:

In this protestant delineation, the church starts in the apostolic age in perfect purity, and is perverted by a process of slow canker, till it has become changed into its opposite, and is now the church not of Christ, but of anti-christ, an instrument not for saving men but for destroying them.(8)Mark Pattison. Isaac Casaubon: 1559–1614. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1892. Pg. 322

One must keep in mind too that patristics have been so badly neglected in the last two hundred years or so that it is a historical researchers gold-mine. There is likely an ecclesiastical writer’s narrative that can create a new perspective on any given topic.

What was mysticism replaced with?

The fundamental answer is philosophy with a sprinkling of common sense; which to many scholars meant classical Greek and Latin writers. This was a call to antiquity to awaken the slumbering mind from the present darkness and regain the paradise lost. A more thorough explanation is provided below.

The Rationalists were more structured in Germany, seeking to supplant such dogma and replace it with common-sense, intelligence and science without removing religion altogether. Johan Gottfried von Herder in Religion und Lehrmeinungen, produced such a sentiment and this was similarly promulgated by Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher in his Reden über die Religion an die Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern. Otto Pfeleiderer summed it up best in his 1890 publication The Development of Theology in Germany Since Kant and its Progress in Great Britain since 1825 and was convinced that both von Herder and Schleiermacher found that religion is a personal conviction than one of institutional social control. It cannot be forced. People must be allowed to express their religious identity.

The object of the two books was essentially the same ; they protested against religion being confounded with the opinions of the schools, whether theological or philosophical, and against its being mixed up with politics ; in word, against dogmatic and politico-ecclesiastical Christianity. They insisted, on the other hand, of the inwardness of the religious life, the immediateness of religious feeling, and especially on the free play of religious individuality.(9)The Development of Theology in Germany Since Kant and its Progress in Great Britain since 1825. By Otto Pfeleiderer, D.D., Translated by J. Frederick Smith. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co. 1890 (as reprinted by http://www.forgottenbooks.org/info/9781440068423) Pg. 44

David Hume made his case from philosophy in the late 1700s with his publication, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.(10)An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and it evolved a century later to Germany where Erwin Rohde produced his highly praised work, Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks.(11) A sample chapter of this great work is found at Rohdes, Psyche:The Cult of Souls He along with many others supported Greek classical philosophy as the solution because it was untouched by religious dogma, institutions, subservience to myths, and allowed free inquiry. On this subject Rhode wrote:

This was the direction pursued by these earliest pioneers of philosophy ; and they pursued it unhampered by any subservience to mythical or religious modes of thought. . . . And in fact, the foundations were now laid of that tremendous structure of free inquiry, which finally succeeded in weaving out of its treasure new worlds of thought, where even those who had quarelled or were dissatisfied with the old religion (now inwardly falling into decay for all its outward appearance of being at the most brilliant zenith of its powers) might yet find a refuge if they would not fall back upon sheer nothingness.

. . . Religion on its side was not represented by any priestly caste which might have been led to take up arms for religion and for what it believed to be its own interest alike. Theoretic contradictions might the more easily remain unobserved when religion depended so little upon fixed dogma or upon a world-embracing whole of opinions doctrines ; while Theology, wherever it accompanied the worship of the gods (εὐσέβεια), which was the real core of religion, was, just as much as philosophy, the business of individuals and their adherents gathered together outside the limits of the official religion of the state. Philosophy (except in a few special and unrepresentative cases) never sought open war with religion–not even with the weakened and diluted religion of the masses. In fact the juxtaposition of philosophy and religion (with theology itself by their side) sometimes went beyond the external conditions of the time, and affected the private intellectual life of certain thinkers. It might seem as if religion and philosophy were not merely different but dealt with different provinces of reality, and thus even strict and philosophically minded thinkers could honestly and without imagining disloyalty to philosophy, adopt particular and even fundamental conceptions from the creed of their fathers, and allow them to grow up side by side and at peace with their own purely philosophical ideas.[ref]Erwin Rohde. Psyche: The Cult of Souls and the Belief in Immortality among the Greeks. Trans. by W.B. Hillis. New York: Books for Libraries Press. Reprint 1972. First Published 1920. Pg. 362

Click on the link to go to Part 2 More on the Historical Rejection of Patristics

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