Tag Archives: French

Vincent Ferrer and the Gift of Tongues


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

“Catalan is not, as some believe, a dialect of Spanish, but a language that developed independently out of the vulgar Latin spoken by the Romans who colonised the Tarragona area. It is spoken by 9 million people in Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Isles, Andorra and the town of Alghero in Sardinia.”1

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

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

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

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

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

English Translation from the Latin Text

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

The original Latin Source

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

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

St. Patiens Speaking in Tongues

The story of second-century St. Patiens going to the city of Metz in northeast France and speaking in tongues.

St. Patiens of Metz is a mysterious figure in the annals of ecclesiastical biographies. His existence is sure, but the details are sketchy. We do know he died around 157 AD,1 and was the fourth bishop appointed to the city of Metz – a northeastern city in France that is a geographic intersection between many other European cultures and languages.

Where St. Patiens came from, it is not known. However, he was not originally from the Metz region, nor did he speak whatever language was spoken there. I hesitate to write that these people spoke French because the land of the Gauls (ancient France) did not have a unified language and some regions had no relationship to the French language at all. According to the Acta Sanctorum, the people of Metz spoke a barbaric language. The term barbaric is reserved for languages and peoples that are remote, isolated or hostile. French may have been included in the list of barbaric languages during this period, but this is not certain.

The following English translation is drawn from only one source, Acta Sanctorum . This book may be drawing from a fabricated myth relating to his name because of a fight between two religious orders. The 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 asserted their ministry was based on St. Clement of Metz, arguably the first-ever bishop of Metz.2 Later mythology had Clement of Metz as a “vanquisher of a local dragon.”3

The rival L’abbaye Saint-Arnoud countered with their version of St. Patiens. They argued that he was a follower of the Apostle John and met him on a trip to Asia minor.4 They may have also supplied the myth that he supernaturally spoke in tongues to support their claim as the more credible church order. However, it is hard to validate any of these claims or to understand the actual dating of Clement of Metz or Patiens. There are many contradictions. There simply isn’t enough information to build a proper framework.

His biography demonstrates how the Medieval Catholic writers of Acta Sanctorum understood the Christian rite of speaking of tongues. Acta Sanctorum is an encyclopedic text of Christian saints organized on their feast day. It was first begun in the early 1600s with additions and corrections being made until 1940. It is not an old document in the literary sense, but has value in reflecting the beliefs of tongues at the time.

The definition of speaking in tongues is clearly defined in their story of St. Patiens. They believed this operation was the spontaneous speaking in a foreign language unknown beforehand. This is abundantly clear with no concept of an alternative definition. Nor do the authors delve deeply into the mechanics behind this miracle.

Enclosed is an English translation. Late Medieval Latin is new to me and there are definite variations from Classical Latin. I was unprepared for these challenges before starting the Medieval translation series. It is a work in progress.

My rough English translation from the Latin source text


7. Blessed Patiens is therefore emboldened by such a great miracle and with the ancestral recollection. He took up the pastoral office, he asks for the blessing of this very gift named by the many and relics of the Saints and by the Book of the Gospel. He takes an unknown road with those through sea bays of Illyria and the Adriatic. He avoids the wide-ranging difficulty of the journey with Christ as the guide and finally ended-up in the territory of the Gauls. O Miracle! The language of the uncivilized peoples, which he previously did not understand, he understood, and responded, and as necessity required. This was the sign of the miraculous relating to the first ones established in the Church, that whom the Apostles anointed and appointed for the purpose of preaching to the nations. Immediately they openly received the knowledge of languages, even as the Acts of the Apostles describes of Cornelius. And so with this certain proof, the blessed St. Patiens arrived at the city of Metz, who the ecclesiastical order along with the people of faith rejoice about the arrival. And then is encouraged from this state which from the revelation previously had been celebrated is registered as the successor of St. Felix who was the third after the blessed Clement ruled the city.


The Latin from Acta Sanctorum

AASS: Jan. 8 Pg. 469-70 verses 7 – 85


7. Confortatur itaque tanto B. Patiens miraculo, et admonitione paterna. Pastorale suscepit officium, multisque Sanctorum pignoribus ac ipsius Evangelii codice donatus benedictionem petit, accipit : ignotum iter cum suis per Illyrici et Adriatici sinus maria arripit : tandemque Christo duce difficultatem itineris multimodam evadit, Gallorum fines intravit. Mirare ! Linguam Barbarorum, quam pridem ignorabat, intelligebat, et respondebat, necessariaque requirebat. Fuit hoc insigne miraculum in Ecclesia primitivorum, ut quos Apostoli chrismate præsignabant, vel ad prædicandum gentibus ordinabant, illico manifeste scientiam linguarum accipiebant, sicut de Cornelio Actus Apostolorum narrant. Itaque certo indicio B. Patiens Metim civitatem devenit : quo deveniente Ecclesiasticus ordo cum fideli populo lætatur,et tam ex habitu quam ex revelatione pridem celebrata, de successore S. Felecis, qui tertius post B. Clementem rexerat Urbem, certificatur, consolatur.