How the doctrine of cessationism percolated within certain Church of England splinter groups and especially those that immigrated to America.
This is part 4 of the series of Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues. Part 1 was an introduction with a general summary. Part 2 uncovered the medieval psyche surrounding the supernatural, miracles, and magic. This same article also contained how the protestant movement revised the perceptions of miracles in the early church from the traditional catholic opinion. Part 3 demonstrated how the Church of England, especially through the influence of the Puritans, officially formulated the doctrine of cessationism.
The most populous splinter group from the Church of England was the Methodist movement. This is where the analysis starts for Part 4.
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is a religious term used in various protestant circles that believe miracles in the church died out long ago and have been replaced by the authority of Scripture.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.
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.
A detailed account of the 19th century Irvingite Church and its founder Edward Irving; who they were, what they believed, and why they are considered the source of the modern tongues movement.
Edward Irving was a Scottish clergyman in London, England during the 1830s. Pockets of England were in a period of prophetic expectation and excitement — a sense that the end was drawing near and the supernatural gifts of the original Apostles would return. Margaret Oliphant, one of the foremost biographers of Irving’s life, described this angst among her generation: “unclaimed and unexercised supernatural endowments, which had died out of use so long, would be restored only at the time of the Second Advent, in the miraculous reign, of which they form a fitting adjunct,”1 and “that the Holy Ghost ought to be manifested among us all, the same as ever He was in any one of the primitive Churches.”2
Irving had this same prophetic feeling and believed that when the Holy Spirit had been released for the end of the world, one of the significant expressions of this occurring would be through the appearance of supernatural tongues — the same manifestation described in the Book of Acts. Oliphant wrote that Irving and the movement found it fulfilled in a woman named Mary Campbell. Here is a portion of the description given by Oliphant:
“When in the midst of their devotion, the Holy Ghost came with mighty power upon the sick woman as she lay in her weakness, and constrained her to speak at great length, and with superhuman strength, in an unknown tongue, to the astonishment of all who heard, and to her own great edification and enjoyment in God, –’for he that speaketh in a tongue edifieth himself.” She has told me that this first seizure of the Spirit was the strongest she ever had…”3
Another Biographer, Washington Wilks, remained more decidedly general on who started it and did not specifically ascribe it to Campbell:
“When therefore, in the spring of 1830, he heard of Scottish women speaking as did the Twelve on the day of Pentecost, he suspected no travestie of that wondrous story, but felt only hope and thanfulness. He despatched an elder to inquire into the thing, who brought back a good report, and found the tongues of flame sitting on his own wife and daughters,”4
Margaret Oliphant declared that Mary’s experience was the beginnings of the modern tongues movement, “It was thus that agitating and extraordinary chapter in the history of the modern Church, which we have hereafter to deal with, began.”5 She also added that the movement grew fast and became a national phenomenon, “There is not a corner of this part of the island where the subject of Prophecy and the Second Advent have not in the Church firm and able supporters.”6
Irving himself became very popular. On at least one occasion he spoke before 12-13,000 people.7 One Church he pastored began with 50 people and quickly went up to 1500.8 Seating became a problem and had to be resolved with the issuing of tickets.9
The concept of a tongues revival had become a top story in “every periodical work of the day,”10 and made its way into the then popular Fraser’s Magazine, where Irving was granted three articles on the topic. This helped to quickly expand this message.
Irving had a wide range of influence. Washington Wilkes described it best:
“The Duke of York repeated his visit, and carried with him other members of the royal family. …The parliamentary leaders of both sides, and even the Tory premier, Lord Liverpool (much to the lord Eldon’s horror)–the judges, and barristers of every degree–fashionable physicians and medical students–duchesses, noted beauties, city madams–clerics and dissenters–with men and women who rather followed the fashion than made particular to either intellect or religion…”11
It also extended to the philosophical arena, where he held a friendship with the philosopher/writer, Thomas Carlyle; an acclaimed figure when London was at its peak of world dominance.12 Carlyle’s community included people such as Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alfred Tennyson, John Stuart Mills and more.
What attracted Carlyle to the movement was not his longtime friendship to Irving or the Second Advent angst expressed in Tongues and Prophecy, but to “root out Established Churches altogether,”13 which was a reference to the Scottish National Church. Carlyle reflected the public wariness of this Church entity. This may have been part of the initial attraction with such a wide audience. When Carlyle wrote the obituary of Edward Irving in the Fraser’s magazine in 1834, he exclaimed how Irving opposed the fashion of the day and sought after the spiritual; an antithesis to was occurring in the Church during that era.
Irving’s end-time fervour, prophecy and gift of tongues became so popular that some reactionary forces began to develop. Andrew Drummond, author of Edward Irving and his Circle described that anti-Irvingite pamphlets were disseminated to counter Irvings theology and practices.14
The gift of tongues was central to Irving’s message, believing that this was the precursor to the end of the world. In Irving’s personal appearances and speeches, the emphasis on tongues-speaking was central to his platform. So much so, Thomas Carlyle had him nicknamed “gift-of-tongues Irving.”15
Over the years, Irving’s emphasis on tongues became a serious point of disagreement with Carlyle. To Carlyle, this was no longer an intellectual or religious pursuit, but a personal one that led Carlyle to believe Irving was mentally unstable. Carlyle described this state in some of his letters, “his body and mind seem much broken; yet if he could but live, we rather fancied he might shake off the Tongue-work.”16 And that he was overzealous with it, “the Tongue concern is quite out in this quarter: my poor lost Friend! Lost to me, to the world and to himself.”17 One night Irving demonstrated personally the gift of tongues to Carlyle and company, to which Carlyle wrote, “with singular calmness, [Irving] said only “There, hear you, there are the Tongues!” And we too, except by our looks which probably were eloquent, answered him nothing, but soon came away, full of distress, provocation, and a kind of shame.”18
His prominence as a national and international phenomenon was a short lived span of three to four years. Oliphant summed it:
“Never was congregation of Scotch Presbyterians, lost in the mass of a vast community, which never more than half comprehends, and is seldom more than half respectful of Presbyterianism, so followed by the observation of the world, so watched and noted. In the mean time, the mystic world within concentrated more and more around the only man who to bear the brunt, he whom the outside world accused of endless vagaries, whom his very friends declared to be seeking notoriety at any cost, and from whose side already the companions of his life were dropping off in sad but inevitable estrangement…”19
Wilks took on a different, albeit more populous conclusion:
“Fashion had gone, her idle way, to gaze on Egyptian crocodiles, Iroquois hunters, or what else there might be: forgetting this man–who, unhappily, could not in his turn forget.”20
The biggest question in relation to this work, relates to what Irving and his followers thought this gift of tongues to be. Mary Campbell initially thought herself to have miraculously spoken in the language of the Pelew islands, which M. Oliphant noted could not be authoritatively disputed.21 On at least one occasion it was believed to be Turkish or Chinese.22 The definition immediately became a source of discussion. For example, there was an account of a member of the Regent Square Church who argued that the gift of tongues was not a short-cut to missionary success;23 inferring that the gift of tongues was xenoglossolalia. This question also brought on the debate of whether a spirit-filled Christian really needed to perform the intensive process of studying a language, or wait for a spiritual infilling which would consequently render the spontaneous ability.
Robert Baxter, a close and controversial associate to Irving, initially believed it to be a foreign language, for when he spoke in tongues:
“of which he recognised Latin and French, both of which he appears to have understood previously; and Italian, which his wife recognised; and a fourth language, which she declared to be Spanish. Mr. B. forgets to state whether he had ever studied these latter languages, and he confesses that his wife neither remembered nor was able to translate what he spoke in them.”24
One must note that Baxter recanted on all that he had said or done later on, but the quote above still validly reflects what the common opinion was at the time.
Andrew Drummond also described in his book, Edward Irving and his Circle, that Irving had changed his position on the gift of tongues. It moved from the historic traditional position to that of a dual one. He made a distinction between the tongues of Pentecost and that of Corinth.
“The final article in Fraser’s Magazine appeared in April, 1832. He opens by claiming that tongue-speech was same form of utterance given at Pentecost; whereas in his March article he distinctly denied that glossolalia in his time was designed as a miraculous way of evangelising by languages unlearnt – Pentecost being unique and modern manifestations resembling rather those at Corinth.”25
It is clear here that Irving believed that the xenoglossolalia that occurred in the Book of Acts, was unreproducible. The question naturally arises then, what did Irving think was the tongues at Corinth.
Drummond once again supplied the answer, “Irving replied that he had not the least idea of the meaning of Tongues”, and “aspired to be no more than the humble pastor of the flock”.26 It is clear from both Oliphant’s history and especially Carlyle’s correspondence that tongues was integral to Irving’s religious experience. His “least idea” statement initially may lead the reader to believe that he was avoiding the definition, but in reality, it was an important part of his glossolalic doctrine which will be clarified in the following paragraphs.
First of all George Pilkington’s first-hand experience with Edward Irving and his followers documented a clue to his theology. Pilkington thought he was destined to be a tongues interpreter in Irving’s assembly but shortly discovered major problems. In his autobiographical writing, The Unknown Tongues discovered to be English, Spanish, and Latin; and the Rev. Edward Irving proved to be erroneous in attributing their utterance to the influence of the Holy Spirit, he outlined the perceived failures, specifically about his participation in the use of glossaly in the public worship. He assumed the glossaly as nuances of different languages mixed together, and attempted to publicly expound translations. In the initial try, he was called into a meeting with Irving and his leaders, by which he was told, “You cannot interpret by human understanding; interpretation must be given by the Spirit.”27 Irving believed tongues to be entirely divine and to be mixed with human reason or language he thought to be impossible. If humans were to be able to define it, then it is no longer supernatural.
Another person named Vero Catholicus, who personally visited Edward’s Church around 1830, gave another clue about Irving’s opinion on tongues:
“I accordingly took convenient lodgings in London and attended Mr. Irving’s Lectures, &c. especially at 6 every morning for about a week, when he closed his lectures on “the Unknown Tongues.” His reasoning to prove that the unknown tongue spoken in the apostolic times as well as by themselves, was in many instances a language not spoken or understood by any people of the earth, and only to be comprehended by immediate revelation, was to my mind quite unsatisfactory and inconclusive…”28
Thomas Carlyle noted that whatever Irving was doing had little association with a human language. This was demonstrated by a meeting where Irving walked around with his child in his arms and “burst forth a shrieky hysterical, “Lah lall lall!” (little or nothing else but l’s and and a’s continued for several minutes)”29
Wilks gave a very good commonsense observation of the whole matter:
“The mental condition out of which it arose was just then a very common one in the religious world, and is not without parallel in ecclesiastical history–namely, despair of the world’s conversion by the ordinary methods of evangelization; and the desire of supernatural manifestations as a prelude to the Lord’s second advent.”30
Oliphant also notes that there is a discrepancy between the definition at the start of the movement and later on, “the hypothesis of actual languages conferred seems to have given way to that of a supernatural sign attestation of the intelligible prophecy.”31
Pilkington, Vero Catholicus, and Oliphant clearly demonstrated that Irving and his followers later believed that the gift of tongues was a heavenly language that could not be translated by human interpreters. Any attempt to do so was to limit the divine into human terms, a concept that was sacrilegious to the Irvingites.
It is clear from the evidence submitted so far, that Irving and his followers shifted from the traditional position of tongues being a spontaneous utterance of a foreign language unknown beforehand by the speaker to a heavenly language. Which naturally begs the question, why?
Obvious nonetheless and described from his article in Fraser’s Magazine, the historical gift of tongues as outlined in the Book of Acts was not happening in the context of his community. This brought on a serious dilemma, the gift of tongues was so central to Irving believing the end-time was coming, that he could not withdraw an activity already stated to have begun. This forced Irving and his followers into a quick re-definition.
Did Irving and his circle come up with this new definition themselves or did they borrow from some other source?
Irving had the intellectual capacity to come up with his own definition and also to borrow from the literary and philosophical community. He was well-read and aware of the current theology. Wilks described him thusly, “though devoted to the pulpit, he had prepared himself for a possible application to the bar, and indeed for any learned profession. He added large classical knowledge to his mathematical excellence, and acquaintance with the modern languages and their literature to both”.32 The naming of his literary favourites also demonstrates a strong intellectual capacity: “I fear not to confess that Hooker, and Taylor, and Baxter, in theology; Bacon, and Newton, and Locke, in philosophy; have been my companions, as Shakespeare, and Spencer, and Milton, have been in poetry.”33 He also treasured the works of the Spanish Jesuit priest, Manuel Lacunza. It inspired him to publish a translation of Lacunza’s work regarding the second coming in 1827.34 More importantly was his close relationship with Thomas Carlyle who lived with him for a brief period and was a writer concentrating on German literature for English Magazines.35
At the same time Irving redefined tongues as a non-xenoglossolalic language not understood by the people on earth, German theologians introduced a similar sentiment with the Irvingites albeit from a more scientific perspective. Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer in his book, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Corinthians, attributed the redefinition to two German scholars, Friedrich Bleek and FC Baur.36“Bleek believes that glôssai is a poetic, inspired mode of speech, whereas Baur believes it to be “a speaking in a strange, unusual phrases which deviate from the prevailing use of language.” – partly borrowed from foreign languages.”37 Meyer does not indicate exactly when Bleek or Baur introduced this thinking, but does date the opposition to it; 1829 for Bleek, and 1830 for Baur, which falls right into the same years as Irving’s prominence.
It was 1830 when the Scottish women first spoke in tongues38 which began the Irvingite movement and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Irving syncretized this German definition within the context of their experience, especially when the original definition was failing.
Irving had made the personal decision to allow the practice of utterances in all the Regent Church services. This became very disruptive. The Trustees of the Regent Square Church advised Irving that this gift no longer be part of the Sunday worship service, but free to do otherwise on any other day. Irving refused, “If it be so, it will be simply because I have refused to allow the voice of the Spirit of God to be silence in this church… And now I am ready to go forth and leave them, if the Lord’s will be so. If we should be cast out for the truth, let us rejoice; yea, let us exceedingly rejoice,”39 believing it to be an unholy thing to deny such an expression and if forced to do so, he would resign.
This matter was referred to the London Presbytery in 1832, where he was charged with allowing the Church service to be interrupted on the Sabbath, speaking by people not licensed; neither members or seatholders, allowing females to speak, and for the Church service to have a time for the gifts. Note that neither tongues nor prophecy is mentioned specifically.40 The Presbytery concluded:
“…that the charges in said complaint are fully proven; and therefore, while deeply deploring the painful necessity thus imposed upon them, they did and hereby do, decern that the said Rev. Edward Irving has rendered himself unfit to remain the minister of the National Scotch Church aforesaid, and ought to removed therefrom, in pursuance of the conditions of the trust-deed of the church.”41
The Times newspaper gave a strong indictment on Irving and his band of tongues speakers, “It would, indeed, have been a subject of wonder had they come to a different conclusion, though they had the benefit of a concert upon the ‘tongues’ from the whole male and female band of Mr. Irving’s select performers….- when he profaned the sanctuary of God, but introducing hideous interluded of ‘the unknown tongues,’ it was impossible any longer to tolerate the nuisance.”42
Two years later in 1834, Irving died of tuberculosis.
Irving and associates began a new independent Church, called the Catholic Apostolic Church, and although he was one of the central figures in the initial development, he was not considered the founder.
The Catholic Apostolic Church continued with their understanding of this gift until the gradual decline of this movement in 1901.43
The broad evangelical movement in that century did not accept the theology of the Irvingites or the Catholic Apostolic Church as a fundamentalist standard. Rather, many, if not most, exemplified them as frauds and charlatans, as the following examples provide.
The Christian examiner and Church of Ireland magazine 1833, wrote:
“I am strongly inclined to adopt Mr. Baxter’s opinion, and conclude that there really is now, as there was in the case of the French prophets, and that of other honest but misled souls, a special agency of the evil spirit, and that Mr. Irving and Sir R. Bulkeley are the passive subjects and victim of supernatural delusion, so as to believe a lie.”44
The great Ulster revival in 1859, in which William Arthur, a leader and extensive writer on the subject, was well aware of the Irving doctrine of tongues and purposely excluded it:
““THEY began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” It is not said, “with unknown tongues.” In fact, the expression, “unknown tongues,” was never used by an inspired writer. In the Epistle to the Corinthians, it is found in the English version but the word “unknown” is in italics, showing that it is not taken from the original. Speaking unknown tongues was never heard of in the apostolic days. That miracle first occurred in London some years ago. On the day of Pentecost no man pretended to speak unknown tongues; but just as if we in London suddenly began to speak German, French, Spanish, Russian, Turkish, and other foreign languages, so it was with them.”45
The nature of his writing can be understood from two perspectives: the miracle in London was not the ancient tongues as the established Church understood, or, that this was fraudulent with people pretending to speak in tongues. The latter understanding of the text appears to be more correct.
Mr. Arthur took the ancient Church position that the gift of tongues was the ability to speak in the spontaneous endowment of a foreign language for missionary purposes.46
William Gibson, another eyewitness writer on the Ulster revival, wrote that Ulster was one of the greatest movements since Pentecost “… a work has had its rise in the past year, not inferior in interest and importance to any, even the most striking manifestations of the Spirit of God, that have been witnessed since the pentecostal period itself.”47 And of containing, “the occasional suspension of the bodily powers, as indicated by the loss of speech, sight, and hearing; the subjects of them affected as in a trance –deaf, dumb, blind, and motionless–while they would frequently fall into a sleep, in which they continued for hours, and the commencement and termination of which the intimated beforehand to the bystanders,”48 did not contain the gift of tongues as one of his expressions. He was actively trying to distance himself and the Ulster revival from the Irvingites and their ecstasies.
The British historian, Thomas Arnold, tried to personally make sense of the tongues outbreak and concluded, “(In answer to a question about Irvingism at Port Glasgow.) . . . If the thing be real I should take it merely as a sign of the coming of the day of the Lord, – the only use, as far as I can make out, that ever was derived from the gift of tongues.”49
The Irvingites and the Gift of Tongues was temporarily at the forefront of the religious community for a brief period, but was quickly marginalized in the Western Christian religion. But as, Margaret Oliphant noted, it was the start of the modern tongues movement, setting the framework for a bigger manifestation in the years to come.