Tag Archives: Francis Xavier

A Catholic History of Tongues: 30 to 1748 AD

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.

Catholic perceptions of pentecostal tongues from inception until 1750; Origen in the second-century, he wrote very little though many have diverse opinions on his stance; Pachomius, knew only Coptic Greek but miraculously spoke in Latin; Gregory Nazianzus in the fourth-century, wrote an argument that pentectostal tongues could either be a miracle of speaking or hearing. He believed it to be a miracle of speech. Tyrannius Rufinus translates Nazianzus text into Latin and misunderstands the text and leaves both the miracle of speaking and hearing as equal options. This begins a thousand-year debate. The Venerable Bede in the eighth-century initially believed it to be a miracle of hearing but changed his mind. Michael Psellos in the tenth-century resolved the paradox but it was in Greek. The Latin world was still waiting. Thomas Aquinas solved it as a miracle of speech but his stance was never adopted. The church concluded that tongues can be both a miracle of speech or hearing. Medieval Hagiographers had many biographies of saints speaking in tongues-- the endowment of speaking a foreign language or those hearing in their native tongue. Andrew the Fool spoke in confidential tongues. Francis Xavier was partly canonized on speaking in tongues but later shown he never had this ability. Much to the embarrassment of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict the XIV wrote a powerful treatise on tongues and defined a process on what the gift of tongues is, is not, and a process for investigating. His efforts caused the expression to become remote or actively pursued.

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.

Origen, 184 — 254 AD

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.

See Hebrew and the First Language of Mankind for more information.

Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon

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

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo
Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 354 — 430 AD

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)Augustine. Enarratio in Psalmum. CXLVII:19 (147:19)

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.

See Augustine on the Tongues of Pentecost: Intro for more information.

Gregory of Nyssa and the one voice many sounds theory

Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa, 335 — 394 AD

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)Sermo CLXXV:3 (175:3) 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.

See An analysis of Gregory of Nyssa on Speaking in Tongues for more information.

Gregory Nazianzus on the miracle of speech vs. the miracle of hearing

Gregory Nazianzus
Gregory Nazianzus, 329 — 390 AD

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)Frienship in Late Antiquity: The Case of Gregory Nazianzen and Basil the Great 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.

See Gregory Nazianzus on the doctrine of tongues intro for more information

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.

Venerable Bede
The Venerable Bede, 673 — 735 AD

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.

Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274 AD

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

Francis Xavier
Francis Xavier, 1506 — 1552 AD

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.

Next article in this three-part series:

  • A Summary of the Gift of Tongues Project: the Protestant Experience is in development.
  • For further reading:

    References   [ + ]

    The Legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

    The connection between the sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary, Francis Xavier, and speaking in tongues.

    St. Francis Xavier depicted at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. A monument celebrating the Portuguese age of exploration.
    St. Francis Xavier depicted at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. A monument celebrating the Portuguese age of exploration.

    The story of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues is a complex one that straddles between the real and mythical person. Though a celebrated pioneer, great organizer, highly adaptive educator, and a prolific networker, his legend is even better. This is a study of Francis Xavier, how he became connected with and the controversy surrounding his speaking in tongues. In the end, the reader will understand how the christian doctrine of tongues was understood and practiced in this era.

    The controversies that surround Xavier speaking in tongues put him into the top five narratives of the christian doctrine of tongues throughout the centuries.

    Research was a lengthly process. This is a summary of the findings. For the actual source texts, extended quotes, and translations, see Technical Notes on Francis Xavier Speaking in Tongues

    Who was Francis Xavier?

    Francis Xavier lived from 1506 to 1552 and originally hailed from Sanguesa, in a country state called Navarre. The kingdom of Navarre is long gone, but the city of Sangüesa continues to exist in the northernmost reaches of Spain. This city borders on France and is a short distance from Portugal. Xavier studied in Paris, and after finishing his education, made his way to Venice where he passionately worked among the sick. King John the III of Portugal had solicited Ignatius of Loyola and his newly formed Society of Jesus to evangelize the West Indies, especially the regions controlled by Portugal. Ignatius had already selected a number of individuals which excluded Xavier, but due to sickness of one of the original members, he was called in as a replacement. Thus began the story of one of the greatest foreign missionaries of all time.

    Continue reading The Legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

    Technical Notes on Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

    The following are quotes from the principal sources on the real Francis Xavier and the legend of his speaking in tongues. This is a quotes only document — a comparative analysis of all this information is in the final stages and will be posted as a separate article.

    The debate and controversy that surrounded St. Francis Xavier’s alleged speaking in tongues was a source of internal friction within Catholicism, especially the among the Jesuits themselves, and a rallying point for Protestants. The real Francis Xavier did not speak in tongues, but the legend of Francis did.

    How this legend began and grew is an interesting and complex story.

    This leads into a journey about how Medieval Catholics viewed speaking in tongues; what it meant to them, how it was applied, and the politics that surrounded this practice.

    The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues ranks within the top five themes throughout the two-thousand-year history of the christian doctrine of tongues. There is no doubt that this legend is the most complex one out of any documents in the Gift of Tongues Project. There are numerous reasons why the mystery of Francis Xavier is difficult. The original documentation is multilingual; spanning Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Latin, and French. The subject is wrapped in Medieval Catholicism, which has its own unique history, customs, personalities and procedures that outsiders such as myself have a difficult time to grasp. Xavier’s gift of tongues is deeply embedded with international and national politics. The topic is shrouded in religious symbols and shifts into the Protestant realm where Rationalists especially took critical aim. It spans across continents and new worlds that most Europeans hardly knew at the time. The maps, names and locations mentioned in the texts are far from the modern English mind.

    This article is produced to meet a requirement of the Gift of Tongues Project which is the digital capturing of source texts. The following are actual quotes from testimonies, writers, and publications that highly influenced and perpetuated this myth. These are actual quotes with little or no commentary from myself relating to Xavier speaking in tongues. They are organized according to date; from the earliest publications shortly after Xavier’s death, all the way into the twentieth-century. The Italian, Spanish and Portuguese originals are not digitally captured because I have no knowledge of these languages or the ability to do data-entry in them. However, links to the original text along with an English translation is supplied where appropriate.

    This file is designed for the researcher, not for the casual reader. This is the longest article found in the Gift of Tongues Project because of the amount of source material. It may take a few moments to load the full contents into the browser, please be patient.


    • Pedro de Ribadeneira
    • Giovanni Pietro Maffei
    • Horatius Tursellinus
    • João de Lucena
    • The Book Monumenta Xaveriana:
      • Emanuel Fernandez
      • Thomas Vaz
      • Antonio Peirera
      • Pope Urban VIII
    • Daniello Bartoli
    • Dominique Bouhours
    • Pope Benedict XIV
    • John Douglas
    • Hugh Farmer
    • Charles Butler
    • Henry James Coleridge
    • Andrew Dickson White
    • A Jesuit response to Andrew Dickson White
    • Edith Anne Steward
    • James Brodrick
    • Georg Schurhammer
      • Volume II
      • Volume IV

    Continue reading Technical Notes on Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

    A Bollandist Rebuttal in the Francis Xavier Debate

    The following French text is one source of many being put together for a major article in development on St. Francis Xavier speaking in tongues.

    The debate surrounding Francis Xavier supposed speaking in tongues is one of the larger pieces to fit in with the narrative of the christian doctrine of tongues. For this reason, particular attention to detail is being made to properly document and explain this topic.

    The text taken is from Analecta Bollandiana – one of the foremost and longest running Catholic-based publications on the lives of the saints.

    The article is a refutation against Andrew Dickson White — a late nineteenth-century Protestant professor at Cornell University who wrote in his book, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom that St. Francis never had the gift of tongues, only later legends and his canonization attached this.

    The controversy greatly ventures into Protestant – Catholic polemics and apologetics. Overall, the argument over St. Francis is hardly about him, but symbolic of issues relating to the role of mysticism, miracles, the place of theology in critical analysis, and the function of science in the religious discussion. The gift of tongues is a by-product of these debates.

    As found in Analecta Bollandiana. Carolus de Smedt et al, ed. Vol. XVI. Bruxelles: Société des Bollandistes. 1897. Pg. 53ff.

    Les Miracles de S. François Xavier

    Dans un récent ouvrage de M. André Dickson White; ancien professeur d’histoire à Cornell University (Ithaca, États-Unis), un chapitre entier est consacré à la question des miracles de S. François Xavier.

    Voici comment l’auteur a été amené à traiter ce sujet: Il a entrepris de montrer de quelle façon les faits merveilleux qui émaillent les Vies des saints, ne sont pas autre chose que le produit de l’évolution des légendes. Pour la plupart des saints; le manque de documents, la distance considérable de temps qui nous sépare de l’époque à laquelle ils vécurent, ne permettent pas de tracer les étapes successives que la croyance populaire a parcourues avant d’arriver au complet épanouissement dont la légende écrite représente le dernier terme. Il faut suivre ce développement dans l’existence d’un saint assez rapproché de nous et pour laquelle tous les documents sont en notre possession. C’est le cas pour la vie et les miracles de S. François Xavier.

    Est-il besoin de dire que, sur la thèse générale défendue par M. Dickson White, nous sommes, du moins dans une certaine mesure, d’accord avec lui? Les documents hagiographiques, en effet, sont loin, tant s’en faut, d’étre tous d’égale valeur, et mieux que d’autres, les bollandistes savent avec quelle facilité et quelle richesse d’imagination certaines hagiographes, au moyen âge par exemple, ont forgé sans scrupule les miracles dont ils présentent le récit à leurs lecteurs. Toutefois, il y a lieu de distinguer soigneusement entre différentes catégories de Vies de saints. Certaine critique est trop portée à généraliser, et quand elle a découvert le procédé employé par quelque écrivain du moyen âge, elle prétend expliquer par le même procédé toutes les oeuvres hagiographiaques. C’est une erreur grave: Chaque cas requiert une étude particulière que la (Pg. 53) Légende de tel saint fabuleuse; on n’a rien fait pour les Actes de tel autre: En hagiographie surtout, il importe de se défier de l’application trop étroite du principe ab uno disce omnes.

    Mais en voilà assez sur la thèse générale soutenue par M. Dickson White, que du reste nous n’avons pas l’intention d’examiner plus au fond. C’est, au contraire, le cas particulier de S. François Xavier qui nous intéresse davantage, et qui nous parait mal choisi pour appuyer la théorie de l’auteur sur les miracles qu’on lit dans les Vies des saints.


    Voici comment procède l’argumentation de M. Dickson White; nous l’analyserons d’abord tout entière pour n’eu pas affaiblir la portée.

    Dans toute la correspondance de Xavier, si volumineuse pourtant, si détaillée, on ne relève pas la moindre trace d’un fait miraculeux. Bien au contraire, les biographes ont souvent travesti des faits rapportés par Xavier. Ainsi, un jour qu’il faisait voyage avec un ambassadeur, un serviteur de celui-ci fut sur le point de se noyer: Xavier raconte que l’ambassadeur se mit en prière et cette délivrance au compte de l’apôtre des Indes.

    Quand il arriva à Lisbonne, Xavier trouva Simon Rodriguez malade de la fièvre. Rodriguez fut si heureux de revoir Xavier que du coup il se trouva guéri. A cela rien d’étonnant; car la joie de revoir Luther eut un résultat égal sur la santé de Melancthon. Ailleurs, Xavier raconte qu’ayant baptisé une pauvre femme indienne très malade, elle recouvra la santé.

    Tels sont les faits, bien simples et nullement surnaturels, que Xavier rapporte lui-même et qui seuls ressemblent de loin à des prodiges. En effet, c’est sur eux qu’on a bàti tout l’échafaudage de la légende des miracles de Xavier.

    Les collaborateurs de l’apôtre ne parlent pas de ses miracles; ainsi la correspondence d’Emmanuel Acosta est absolument muette sur ce point. Bien plus, Xavier, qu’on nous représente comme ayant joui du don des langues, se plaint fréquemment des grandes difficultés qu’il éprove à s’assimiler les idiomes indigènes. En outre, si Xavier avait réellement accompli les prodiges que lui prétent si libéralement ses biographes, comment expliquer qu’en 1374, dix-neuf ans après la mort du grand thaumaturge, Joseph Acosta, provincial, pose, dans un de ses ouvrages, la question suivante : Cur miracula in conversione gentiu, non fiant nunc, ut olim, a Christi praedicatoribus? Quant au miracle de la préservation du corps de Xavier après sa mort, M. Dickson White (Pg. 54) rappelle d’autres faits du même genre, et qui eux excluent toute idée de prodige.

    Voici maintenant comment l’évolution a commencé. En 1554, deux ans après la mort de S. François Xavier, Melchior Nuñez cite trois miracles, et encore ne les rapporte-t-il que par oui dire: Jean Deyro aurait, dit-il, affirmé que l’apôtre des Indes avait le don de prophétie; mais Deyro ne mérite aucune créance, Xavier lui-même dut le réprimander pour sa mauvaise foi. On ajout qu’au cap Comorin certaines personnes affirment vaguement que Xavier ressuscita un mort; enfin Paul de Sainte-Foi a entendu dire qu’on Japon Xavier rendit la vue à un aveugle.

    Tel est le premier noyau de la légende; elle n’a plus qu’à se développer. Un an plus tard, en 1555, Quadros, provincial d’Éthiopie, connait déjà neuf miracles. L’année suivante, le roi Jean III de Portugal demande au vice-roi des Indes, Barreto, un rapport authentique sur les miracles de S. François Xavier. Le travail devait étre exécuté « avec rèle et promptitude ». On devine ce que l’obséquieuse flatterie du vice-roi, jaloux de plaire au monarque, réussit à obtenir des ignorants et crédules indigénes de toutes les petites villes de l’Inde portugaise.

    Puis en 1562, Almeida rapporte toute une série de guérisons obtenues par un livre qui avait appartenu à Xavier. (Pg. 57) On le voit, la legende continue son évolution. Toutefois, elle n’a point encore osé affronter les milieux éclairés. Car, dans le discours prononçe la même année 1562, devant les Pères du Concile de Trente, par Jules-Gabriel Eugubinus, il n’est point fait mention des miracles de Xavier, malgré l’occasion favorable que l’orateur avait de les produire, étant donné le sujet qu’il avait choisi de traiter. De même, le P. Maffei en 1588 dans ses Historiae Indicae est très modéré relativement le dessus dans la Vie de S. François Xavier du P. Turselin, publiée en 1594, et dans le discours prononçe, lors de la canonisation de Xavier en 1622, par le cardinel del Monte. Celui-ci mentionne une série de dix miracles, parmi lesquels celui de l’écrevisse rapportant à Xavier le crucifix qu’il a lassé tomber au fond de la mer.

    Après la canonisation de l’apôtre des Indes, la légende se donna libre carrière, et les divers biographes n’eurent qu’un souci, celui de dépasser leurs devanciers par le nombre et l’importance des prodiges. C’est surtout le cas de la Vie publiée sur l’ordre du P. Vitelleschi et de celle que composa Bouhours. Toutefois, ce dernier emporte la palme ; un seul détail suffira à le montrer. Alors que premiers biographes de Xavier parlent vaguement et timidement de la résurrection d’un mort, Bohours rapporte quatorze faits de ce genre. Autre exemple, (Pg. 55) Xavier lui-même et le P. Joseph Acosta décrivent avec insistance les pénibles efforts que dut faire l’apôtre pour s’approprier les idiomes de tant de peuples auxquels il alla porter la lumière de l’Évangile. Le P. Bouhors n’est point embarassé par ces aveux ; il déclare carrément que Xavier parlait toutes ces langues barbares, sans les avoir étudiées. Turselin reconnait ingénument que les prédications de Xavier en japonais, en leur langue, avec tant de naturel et d’aisance qu’on l’eut jamais pour un étranger.

    M. Dickson White conclut en ces termes : « Il est incontestable que les orateurs et les biographes en général sont enclins à l’erreur. C’est pour eux la règle de penser, de parler et d’écrire, sous l’empire des lois naturelles qui régissent la luxuriante effloraison du mythe et de la légende, dans la chaude atmosphère de l’amour et de la dévotion qui s’attachent aux grands chefs religieux, en des temps où l’homme ignorait les lois de la nature, où l’on faisait peu de cas de recherges scientifiques, et où celui qui croyait davantage obtenait le plus large crédit. »


    Avant de reprendre point par point l’objection formulée par M. Dickson White, une remarque préalable s’impose. En quoi consiste l’évolution prétendument constatée par lui dans l’histoire des miracles de S. François Xavier? Est-ce un reçit primitif se développant successivement sous la plume de nouveaux biographes, sans qu’aucun document ultérieur soit venu justifier les accroissements successifs subis par la première narration? Nullement, et l’évolution dont M. Dickson White nous a fait le tableau, n’a rien de commun avec celle d’autres légendes qui se transforment de leur propre fonds. L’évolution signalée par M. Dickson White, est celle qui se produit tout naturellement, lorsque des pièces nouvelles viennent continuellement enricher une biographie. Quand Xavier mourut à Sancian, le 2 décembre 1552, le bruit de sa mort fut lent à se répandre, et ce ne fut qu’en 1554, dat du retour de son corps à Goa, que l’histoire commença à s’emparer de l’apôtre des Indes. Ses Frères d’abord, ensuite les Portugais répandus dans tout l’Extrème Orient, se firent l’écho des faits merveilleux qui se racontaient partout. Puis il y eut l’enquète ordonnée par Jean III et le procès juridique instruit par l’archevéque de Goa, autant de documents nouveaux qui vinrent enrichir l’histoire de S. François Xavier. Il n’est donc pas surprenant que pendant un certain nombre d’années la liste des miracles attribués à l’apôtre des Indes ait pu s’augmenter, et que les diverses notices publiées sur ce sujet, à différentes époques, soient plus abondantes les unes (Pg. 56) que les autres en faits miraculeux. Il y eut cependant une limite, c’est celle posée en 1623 par la bulle de canonisation d’Urbain VIII, et assurément rien n’est moins comparable à la composition d’un récit légendaire qu’une pièce officielle de la chancellerie romaine. Au XVIIe siècle déjà, s’observaient avec la plus grande rigueur les règles posées par l’Église pour la canonisation des saints.

    Mais, dira-t-on, et M. Dickson White a insinué cette objection, peut-on ajouter foi aux témoins qui déposèrent dans l’enquête instituée sur l’ordre de Jean III et dans le procès que fit instruire l’archêveque de Goa? Rome a cru à ces témoins, et rien ne nous autorise à suspecter son jugement ; M. Dickson White n’a aucune bonne raison de se montrer plus exigeant que la congrégation des Rites, qui a pesé la valeur des témoins et apprécié l’exactitude de leurs dépostions. Il ne fut d’ailleurs pas si malaisé de choisir ces témoins et de contrôler leurs affirmations. M. Dickson White parle des « ignorants et crédules indigènes des petites villes de l’Inde portugaise ». Il est commode de rejeter en bloc ces témoins, sous le méprisant prétexte que nous venons de rapporter. Mais on a interrogé d’autres personnes que celles que M. Dickson White traite si dédaigneusement. Parmi ces témoins, nous trouvons les noms de Rodrigue Diaz Pereira, aulae regiae patritus, de Gaspar de Cerqueiros Abreu, commandant de l’expédition japonaise, d’Emmanuel Fernandez, notable de Cochin, de don Marcio, ambassedeur du roi de Bungo. Il est superflu d’allonger cette liste, et nous ne prolongerons pas davantage non plu ces considérations sur la valeur du procès de canonisation. Quand on aura fait valoir des objections positives contre les témoignages, nous verrons ce qu’il y a à y répondre ; pour le moment, nous resterons dans le débat précis soulevé par l’ancien professeur de Cornell University.

    Ce débat n’est pas aussi nouveau qu’on pourrait le penser. M. Dickson White n’a fait que reprendre pour son compte une thèse déjà ancienne. Même les arguments qu’on présente aujord’hui ne sont pas neufs, et il est assez piquant de signaler ce rejeunissement périodique de vieilles objections.
    En 1734, le Dr Douglas, devenu plus tard évêque de Salisbury, publiait son Criterion ; or Rules by which the true Miracles of the New Testament are distinguished from the spurious Miracles of Pagans and Papists. Dans cet ouvrage, il parle des miracles de S. François Xavier, et voici ce qu’il en dit : « Pendant les trente-cinq années qui suivirent » la mort de Xavier, il ne fut pas question de ses miracles ; j’en ai pour la mort de Xavier, il ne fut pas question de ses miracles ; j’en ai pour preuve l’assertion de Joseph Acosta, qui lui-mème fut missionaire aux Indes, et qui dans son liver De procuranda Indorum salute, imprimé en 1389, trente-sept ans après la morte de Xavier, avoue que les missionnaires des Indes n’ont accomplie aucun miracle. »

    On le voit, M. Dickson White n’a pas même le mérite de l’invention ; il n’a fait que répéter ce qu’après le Dr Douglas ont dit Le Mesurier, Hugh Farmer, Peter Roberts et R. Greer, pour ne parler que des écrivains anglais.

    Finissons-en tout de suite avec l’affirmation relative à Joseph Acosta, dont M. Dickson White avec le Dr Douglas, a fait grand état. Il y a beau temps que le Dr John Milner, vicaire apostolique du district de Londres en 1818, a remarqué, dans son livre The End of religious Controversy, que le P. Acosta, contrairement aux assertions de plusieurs protestants, parle « du bienheureux maitre François », comme on appelait S. François Xavier avant sa canonisation, et voici ce qu’il dit : « De si nombreux et de si grands miracles ont été rapportés à son sujet » par témoins oculaires, que peu d’autres, si l’on excepte les apôtres, ont accompli de plus grands prodiges ». Le Dr Douglas et tous ceux qui l’ont suivi jusqu’à M. Dickson White inclusivement, ont tronqué le témoignage d’Acosta. Nous nous contenterons de signaler pareil procédé ; il se qualifie de lui-même. Il a déjà, et à juste titre, été reproché à M. Dickson White par le R. P. Thomas Hughes S. I., qui réfuta l’article du professeur de Cornell University, quand il parut pour la première fois dans les numéros d’août et de septembre 1891 de la revùe américaine The Popular Science Monthly. L’ouvrage que publie aujourd’hui M. Dickson White n’est en effet qu’un réédition d’articles qui ont paru dans la revue que nous venons de citer. Pourtant l’auteur a eu connaissance des deux articles que le R. P. Thomas Hughes consacra à son étude sur les miracles de S. François Xavier. Cela ne l’empêche pas de reproduire, malgré le texte si formel qui lui a été opposé, l’assertion gratuite du silence d’Acosta relativement aux prodiges de l’apôtre des Indes. Cette récidive n’améliore pas le cas de M. Dickson White.


    Il est temps d’aborder en détail les arguments que fait valoir le professeur de Cornell University pour établir le caractère légendaire des miracles de S. François Xavier. Le premier de ces arguments est tiré des lettres du saint missionnaire. Nulle part, dit M. Dickson White, il n’y est fait allusion à des prodiges qu’il aurait opérés. Observation au moins naïve, et qui prouve que l’écrivain américain n’a guère compris le caractère de Xavier. Autant l’ancien professeur de Saint-Barbe avait autrefois recherché la gloire humaine, autant le disciple d’Ignace (Pg. 58) s’efforce d’ensevelir dans le plus profond oubli les merveilles que Dieu opère en lui par lui. Non, ce n’est pas à Xavier qu’il faut demander s’il a fait des miracles; et l’on sait que le jour où on lui posa nettement la question s’il avait ressuscité un mort, il esquiva la réponse.

    Mais, insiste M. Dickson White, les contemporains et les collaborateurs de Xavier n’avaient pas les mêmes raisons de se taire, et pourtant ils ne disent rien des miracles de l’apôtre. La correspondance à laquelle l’auteur fait allusion, est celle contenue dans les Epistolae Japanicae de multorum in variis Insulis Gentilium ad Christi fidem conversione, Lovanii 1570. C’est à ce recueil que M. Dickson White en appelle lui-même. Or si nous analysons cette correspondance, qu va de 1549 à 1564, nous voyons que sur les vingt-neuf lettres qui composent le recueil, cinq sont de François Xavier et par conséquent hors de cause; les autres sont postérieures à la mort de l’apôtre des Indes, et par suite ne rentrent pas dans les conditions où M. Dickson White a placé le débat. Du reste, quoi qu’on en ait dit, il y est assez rarement question de S. François Xavier. Les auteurs des lettres adressées aux supérieurs rendent le plus souvent compte de leurs propres travaux.

    N’oublions pas non plus que Xavier fut presque toujours seul dans ses courses apostoliques, ou du moins sans être accompagné d’un autre père de la Compagnie, surtout pendant les premières années de son séjour aux Indes. Les anciens missionaires ne furent donc pas témoins des miracles de Xavier. Mais ils durent en entendre faire le récit? Peut-être, mais ce n’est pas certain; car tant que vécut Xavier; on semble avoir fidèlement respecté la défense qu’il fit aux témoins des prodiges que Dieu opérait en sa faveur.

    Toutefois, les contemporains et les collaborateurs de Xavier sont moins muets au sujet de ses miracles qu’on veut le faire croire. Ainsi, Gaspar Barze dit, dans une lettre du 10 décembre 1548, en parlant de Xavier : « Tout à coup, le bruit courut que le Père Maitre François était mort; et chacun disait comment, à sa manière. Ses amis en furent tristes au delà de toute expression. « Quand il nous en coûterait, disaient-il, trente mille cruzados, nous le ferons canoniser » et ils racontèrent des miracles, de très grands miracles qu’il fit, vivant en ce pays : je ne vous les raconte pas, parce qu’il ne nous convient pas de parler de ces choses, si ce n’est à Dieu, pour lui en rendre grâces. (Pg. 59) Certes, nous sentirions bien, nous, le vide que ferait dans ces contrées la mort du Père François; mais nous ne laissons pas, pour cela, d’aller notre chemin ».

    Dans une lettre de François Perez aux pères de Coimbre, et rapportée la double prophétie que François fit à Malacca de la victoire remportée par la flotte portugaise et de la mort d’Arausio. Cette lettre ne porte pas de date, mais le contexte montre qu’elle fut écrite du vivant de Xavier. Le même François Perez répète les mêmes faits dans un autre missive également adressée à Coimbre.

    En 1543, Jean Vaz, licencié en théologie, qui fut pendant six mois le compagnon de S. François Xavier, raconta, à son retour de Rome, des choses merveilleuses à son sujet.

    Il y a encore une allusion évidente aux miracles de Xavier dans les lignes suivantes écrites de Travancor, en 1548, par Balthasar Nuñez : « Dans les pays où il passa, il demeure de lui un tel renom, que ce que l’on en devrait dire ne paraitrait pas croyable. Ces choses-là, je ne veux pas écrire ; elles sont tellement dignes de considération qu’on ne doit pas les confier au papier. Si grand est l’éclat de la vie de Maitre François, que ne son nom est célèbre dans toute l’Inde. . . Quel regret j’ai de ne pas vous exposer en détail les merveilles que l’on raconte de Maitre Françoise ; j’en ressens plus d’ennui que vous n’en ressentirez. Sachez, et n’en parlez pas, que Dieu opère par son moyen beaucoup de choses desquelles, comme j’ai dit, il n’est point licite de parler ».

    Parmi les contemporains que furent témoins de la vie et des prodiges de François Xavier, se trouve le fameux don Fernand Mendez Pinto. Parti de Lisbonne pour les Indes en 1337, il arriva au mois de janvier 1347 à Malacca. « Là, dit-il, nous treuuasmes le Reuerend Pere Maistre François Xauier, Recter vniuersel de la Compagnie de Iesus en ces contrées des Indes, qui depuis peu de iours estoit arriué de Molucques auec vne grande reputation de sainct homme, tiltre que tous les peuples luy donnoient pour les grands miracles qu’on luy voyoit faire ». Plus loin, Pinto rapporte au long le récit de la prédiction faite à Amboyne de la mort de Jean de Araujo, et de celle faite à Malacca de la victoire des Portugais. Après avoir rappelé cette double prophétie, Pinto ajoute : « l’obmets que par ce bien-heureux seruiteur de Dieu, » nostre Seigneur fist plusiers autres grandes merueilles, dont i’en ay (Pg. 60) veu quelques-unes et ay ouy dire les autres, desquelles ie ne fais point mention maintenant, pource que cy-apres i’ espere d’en rapporter quelques-vnes. » En effet, il raconte comment, durant la traversée du Japon à la Chine, où il accompagne Xavier, celui-ci, le 17 décembre 1531, apaisa une terrible tempête, et comment se vérifia prophétie de Xavier relative à don Alonso, gouverneur de Malacca.

    En voilà assez, croyons-nous, pour mettre à néant l’assertion de M. Dickson White sur le silence absolu des contemporains et des collaborateurs de Xavier. Cette assertion est absolument controuvée, et les extraits que nous venons de fournir prouvent surabondamment que, dès son vivant, l’apôtre des Indes jouissait auprès de ses frères et de ceux qui l’avaient vu à l’œuvre, d’une réputation bien établie de thaumaturge. Sans doute, nous ne trouvons pas dans les relations des missionaires de l’Inde et du Japon, la trace de tous les miracles que l’enquête juridique révéla plus tard. Faut-il en conclure qu’il y à eu évolution de légende? D’aucune façon ; ce que nous avons dit tout à l’heure explique suffisamment certaines omissons, et nous avons déjà fait remarquer combien les frères de Xavier furent prudents et réserve un témoignage bien curieux dans le passage suivant d’une lettre du P. Balthasar Diaz : « Quanta alla morte de nostro Padre Francesco, molti uomini si ritrovarono in questa citta (Goa), quali si erano ritrovati in diversi luoghi con esso, e lo hanno visto fare e dire cost fra gl’ infideli, quali evidentemente erano sopranaturali e non minori di quelle che leggiamo delli Sancti antichi. Person di molto credito venivano da me dimandando, perchè non faceuamo inquisizione, e pigliavamo testimoni de queste cose, accio fosse canonizzato : ma perchè questo debbe essere fatto per persona autentica, e per altri rispetti onesti, non ho voluto io essere l’autore di questo . . . .

    On a vu que, pour étayer sa théorie de la légende des miracles de S. François Xavier, M. Dickson White établit que de Maffei à Bouhours, l’évolution de ces prodiges suit un cours ascensionnel. « Maffei, dit-il, bien que rempli d’admiration pour son héros, passe légèrement sur les miracles, tandis que l’ouvrage de Turselin révèle un développment considérable dans le nombre des prodiges. »

    Que répondre à cela? Il est oiseux de vouloir établir une comparaison, au point de vue qui nous occupe, entre Maffei et Turselin, parce que les deux biographes poursuivaient l’un et l’autre un but très différent. « D’autres, écrit Maffei, ont raconté ses prédictions infaillibles et ses miracles en plus grand nombre que nous ne l’avons fait, parce que (Pg. 61) nous nous proposions un autre dessein ». Il semble que Maffei avait prévu l’abus que M. Dickson White allait faire de son travail.

    Quant à Turselin, il est intéressant de noter le changement d’attitude pris à son égard par M. Dickson White en 1891 et 1896. Lorsqu’en mai 1891, l’article sur les miracles de S. François Xavier parut pour la première fois dans The Popular Science Monthly, Turselin fut pris comme point de départ de l’évolution de la légende. M. Dickson White affirmait alors que le livre de Turselin était « maigre en fait de miracles ». Mais le R. P. Thomas Hughes releva vigoureusement cette assertion inexacte, et montra que Turselin, ce prétendu point de départ d’évolution, et qui, d’après le professeur de Cornell University, avait écrit un livre maigre en fait de miracles, en raconte cinquante et un opérés par Xavier de son vivant. Aussi M. Dickson White, dans la nouvelle édition de son travail; a-t-il déplacé Turselin sur l’échelle de l’évolution. Il était curieux de signaler ces variations, d’autant plus que dans une note de son livre, M. Dickson White écarte, avec une mauvaise humeur visible, les articles du P. Hughes; où il n’y a, d’après lui, que des affirmations sans preuves. Pas si peu que cela, nous parait-il, puisque l’affirmation relative à Turselin, affirmation du reste solidement établie par le P. Hughes, a produit tout son effet sur M. Dickson White. Il nous sera permis aussi de faire remarquer du professeur de Cornell University ; au contraire, ils prouvent, comme d’autres assertions que nos avons relevées, combien il s’aventure à la légère.

    Il nous reste à répondre aux objections soulevées par le publiciste américain sur deux faits miraculeux relatifs à S. François Xavier : la conservation de son corps et le don des langues. Pour le premier fait, M. Dickson White l’ecarte d’une façon très sommaire, en rappelant d’un cadaver, sans qu’il y ait lieu de crier au miracle. C’est très vrai. Assurement, toute conservation de corps est loin de prouver une intervention extraordinaire de la Providence, et dans bien des cas, les lois naturelles fournissent une explication satisfaisante. Toutefois, en d’autres circonstances, cette conservation et absolutement contraire aux règles de la nature et échappe à toute interprétation scientifique. M. Dickson White aurait dù démonstrer, s’il avait voulu faire œvre de science sérieuse, que dans le cas particulier de S. François Xavier tout s’explique naturellement. Au lieu de cela, le professeur de Cornell University s’est contenté d’un paralogisme. Nous n’insisterons pas davantage sur ce point. Ce n’est pas ici le lieu de reprendre l’étude (Pg. 62) de la question de la conservation du corps de Xavier tant de fois élucidée, et nous croyons superflu de démontrer à nouveau que tout autre cadavre inhumé dans les conditions où le fut le corps de l’apôtre des Indes, eùt été la proie certaine de la destruction.

    Le prodige de la vie de Xavier sur lequel M. Dickson White insiste le plus, est celui du don des langues, car là surtout il croit saisir sur le vif le travail de développement de la légende. Le nouveau critique refuse toute créance à ce don merveilleux; à ses yeux, c’est la crédulité des historiens complaisants qui en gratifié l’apôtre des Indes. Or M. Dickson White veut sure ce point s’en tenir exclusivement aux affirmations de Xavier lui-même. « Que nous apprend, dit-il, Xavier à cet égard? Au cours de toutes ses lettres, depuis la première jusqu’à la derniere, il ne cesse de décrire les difficultés qu’il éprouve à s’assimiler les différents idiomes des tribus si variées, au milieu desquelles il doit vivre. Il nous rapelle comment il essaya de surmonter ces difficultés, parfois en apprenant tout juste assez de la langue pour traduire quelques formules liturgiques, parfois en empruntant le secours des autres afin d’apprendre les éléments mêmes de la langue, d’autres fois en employant des interprètes. »

    Voilà tout l’argumentation de M. Dickson White! Que prouve-t-elle? Que Xavier n’eut pas le don des langues en certaines occasions? D’aucune façon, elle montre seulement que S. François Xavier mit en œuvre tous les moyens humains que pouvaient lui mériter un secours surnaturel. L’argument de M. Dickson White fut déjà produit, lors du procès de canonisation de S. François Xavier, per Jacques Picenino, auquel le Cardinal Gotti répondit fort à propos que les difficultés alléguées par Xavier ne contredisent nullement le fait qu’en certaines occurrences Dieu lui donna, malgré ses rudimentaires connaissances des langues exotiques, d’être compris de ceux auxquels il s’adressait dans un idiome qui n’était pas le leur. Du reste, Xavier ne jouit pas continuellement de ce privilège, que semble ne lui avoir été accordé qu’une ou deux fois, à Travancor et à Amanguci. Il pouvait donc, quand Dieu ne l’assistait point d’une façon surnaturelle, éprouver toutes les difficultés dont il fait la description. Aussi accorderons-nous volontiers à M. Dickson White que le P. Bouhours qu’il cite à propos du don des langues, a passablement exagéré l’usage de cette prérogative. On sait d’ailleurs que chez le P. Bouhours les libres allures du littérateur ont assez mal servi l’historien.

    Toutefois, en ce cas encore, M. Dickson White a mal posé la question ; ce qu’il s’agit de savoir, c’est si de preuves suffisantes attestent en (Pg. 63) Xavier le don des langues. Eh bien, le témoignages sont formels à cet égard, et pour dénier à Xavier la miraculeuse faculté de parler des idiomes étrangers ou de se faire comprendre par les peuples les plus divers en sa propre langue, il eût fallu démolir les témoignages produits au cours de procés canonique. Telle était la marche logique à suivre, tandis que les considérations émises par M. Dickson White n’entament d’aucune façon les témoignages positifs que affirment l’apôtre des Indes le don merveilleux des langues.

    Nous croyons avoir fait justice des objections soulevées par M. Dickson White contre les miracles de S. François Xavier. Ceux-ci, nous le voulons bien, sont de nature à déconcerter les esprits que hante le dédain systématique de surnaturel ; mais vouloir expliquer par l’évolution de la légende la vie merveilleuse de Xavier, telle que nous l’ont transmise des historiens dignes de foi, c’est une entreprise illusoire et que les faits démentent formellement. En tout cas, l’essai tenté par M. Dickson White n’est guère encourageant, et nous croyons qu’on s’accordera généralement à le trouver peu réussi.