Tag Archives: miracle

Early Pentecostal Tongues: Part 1


This four-part series covers how the traditional definition of tongues all but died and was replaced by the pentecostal practice of glossolalia — an umbrella term for the language of adoration, singing and writing in tongues, and/or a private act of devotion between a person and God.

This series was started to settle a mystery – why the doctrine of tongues had changed so dramatically after 1906. Up until the early 1900s the christian doctrine of tongues was a stable doctrine that either was a miraculous ability to speak in one or more foreign languages, or a miracle of one language being adapted in transmission and understood within each listener’s mind.

After 1906, a potpourri of definitions arose. There was the traditional doctrine of a miraculously endowed foreign language by some while others added newer ones, depending on a number of influences: the gift of tongues vs. the utterance of tongues, writing in tongues, singing in tongues, the language of adoration and worship, a private prayer language, and glossolalia. For an unknown reason, the miracle of hearing was entirely dropped from the pentecostal conversation.

This is an investigation into solving this mystery.

Table of contents for the entire series:

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: The Tongues Crisis

  • The Missionary Tongues Movement
  • The Missionary Tongues Dilemma
  • The Gibberish Movement

Part 3: Solutions to the Pentecostal Tongues Crisis

  • Ignore the Problem
  • Utterance vs. Gift of Tongues
  • Writing and Singing in Tongues
  • Tongues as an Expression of Praise and Adoration
    • V.P. Simmons
    • William Manley and the Household of God
    • A. B. Cox
    • Paul H. Walker
  • Tongues as a Heavenly or Private Prayer Language
  • Tongues as Glossolalia

Part 4: Pentecostals, Tongues and Higher Criticism

  • Pentecostal Reliance on Higher Criticism for defining Modern Tongues
    • Philip Schaff
    • Frederick Farrar
    • Conybeare and Howson
    • Encyclopedia Brittanica
    • James Stalker
    • Pulpit Commentary
  • T. B. Barratt’s Defence against Higher Criticism
  • Conclusion


The Gift of Tongues Project has traversed through a variety of challenges: from identifying, translating and digitizing important Greek, Latin and Syriac texts, to understanding ancient Greek philosophy and Jewish liturgy, wading through medieval Catholic mysticism and early Protestant writings, and charting through the German scholars to find answers. The study has centred on places such as Alexandria (Egypt), Constantinople, Rome, London, Kagoshima (Japan), Berlin, and Los Angeles.

However difficult these challenges have been, one of the greatest mysteries has been why the semantic range of christian tongues had been so greatly expanded since the early 1900s. It remains one of the most difficult keys to solving this puzzle.

The late Pentecostal professor, Gary B. McGee lightly touched on this topic believing the shift happened because of the failure of the missionary tongues movement. Unfortunately, he hardly delved into any detail on this. The early Pentecostal biographer, Stanley Frodsham, simply ignored the transition and jumped from the traditional to the new definitions without any explanation. Regardless of any pentecostal author, there is a serious lack in any of their literature detailing this shift.

There definitely was a crisis of tongues in early pentecostalism; largely because of the missionary tongues failure but also because of the public outcry that this movement was bonkers. They were accused of manufacturing gibberish. These two tensions forced early pentecostals to either review their tongues doctrine or admit they made mistakes. History clearly shows they chose to revise their definition.

How did they do this and where did they get license to do such?

There is one theory that has hardly been investigated and that is the correlation between early Pentecostalism and the original doctrine of glossolalia devised by German scholars in the early 1800s. Glossolalia became the standard interpretation in the primary and secondary religious dictionaries, encyclopedias and commentaries before the 1900s. In fact, it was hard to even find the traditional definition of speaking in tongues within any substantive publication by this time.

The Early Pentecostals on Tongues is a continuation of a previous series; History of Glossolalia which covered the origins and early development of the glossolalia doctrine. The emphasis of the original series was how the concept of glossolalia overtook the traditional definition and became the only option in most primary, secondary and tertiary source materials produced after 1879. As will be shown, their dominance in the publication realm helped shape the framework for pentecostal tongues as well.

By the early 1800s the traditional doctrine began to unravel and different streams of understanding began to appear. This began with the London-based Irvingite movement in the 1830s which brought a heightened academic interest and a critical re-analysis. This led to German scholars reclassifying speaking in tongues as glossolalia – that is speaking in tongues was an unintelligible discourse proceeding from an ecstatic state above the ordinary language of communication.(1)Augustus Neander. Planting and Training of the Christian Church by the Apostles. London: Henry G. Bohn. 1851. 3rd ed. Vol. 1 Pg. 11 In short, they defined speaking in tongues as a psychological condition rather than a miraculous state. The leading scholar of this subject was August Neander, whose thoughts made it into the English religious vocabulary largely through the later influence of Philip Schaff and Frederick Farrar.

This is a critical study on Pentecostalism between 1906 and 1930 and how it was deeply influenced by doctrine of glossolalia. The Pentecostal archives, along with the Missionary Alliance archives, and books produced by early pentecostal leaders were resourced to see the connections between early pentecostalism and higher criticism on the topic of tongues. Higher criticism was the name of the scholarly movement whose framework produced the original glossolalia doctrine. This study will show there was a deep connection.

It was an unintentional connection. Early Pentecostals were deficient in any intellectual framework and internal mechanisms to solve this doctrinal dilemma. They lacked the textual skills of Greek, Latin or Aramaic where the majority of tongues texts resided untranslated into English. Instead, they chose to look at the currently available histories and secondary books published in the English language for their solution. Here they found the works of the highly touted historian Philip Schaff, the Anglican church leader and writer, Frederick Farrar, the Anglican writers Conybeare and Howson and a short list of others. Pentecostals found that these writers conclusions matched their experiences. They did not realize that these authors were strong proponents of the higher criticism doctrine of glossolalia that started in the early 1800s – a doctrine that departed substantially from the christian traditional definition.

All of these scholarly writers lived near the time the pentecostal outbreak happened. They were held with high authority and esteem in the religious academic world. None of these authors had connections with Methodism or establishments that American Pentecostalism was railing against. Neither were these authors adhering to the doctrine of cessationism which the pentecostal accounts are always in contest with. These were all great writers who could be understood by someone with an intermediate reading level. All of these authors were appealing to an experience, not a doctrine.

The early pentecostals were looking for a solution that was within the bounds of Biblical interpretation, free from a preconceived bias, inclusive of the variety of tongues experiences that their pentecostal activity had discovered under the perceived and unquestionable direct power of the Holy Spirit.

The historian Schaff and other similar writers were able to fill this void. Their emphasis on a divine encounter that impacts the innermost soul and results in exalted preaching, ecstatic utterances, poetic words, adoration, and sometimes accidentally a foreign language fit nicely in with the early pentecostal experience.

Pentecostals didn’t realize that these authors formulated and promoted an alternative explanation that started in the 1830s. This doctrine did not follow the traditional christian trajectory of tongues. Ironically, the modern pentecostal definitions are the children of German higher criticism.

There are no early or even later Pentecostal writers that seriously pondered their experiences through the primary source literature of Greek, Latin, or Aramaic dictionaries or texts. They steadfastly held to tertiary literature especially English ones.

The baptism of the Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues is a doctrine unique to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement that started in the early 1900s. An editorial decision has been made not to trace this doctrine. The final ambition of The Gift of Tongues Project is to find out why the traditional definition all but died in 1906 and why it was replaced by glossolalia. This is the final piece for the Project to complete.

The major goal of the Gift of Tongues Project is to trace the perceptions of speaking in tongues throughout the centuries. The perceptions need not necessarily align with reality. The realities, whatever they may be, are up to the reader to decide. You don’t even have to agree with my commentary or analysis. As per the Gift of Tongues Project goals, the majority of the important source texts have been digitized and provided on this website. You can look at the sources themselves and draw your own conclusions.

Although this series will demonstrate today’s doctrine of tongues a new phenomenon in the annals of christian history, it should not be viewed as the litmus test for Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third Wavers credibility (collectively called Renewalists). There is much more to Renewalists than speaking in tongues. They have grown far beyond tongues and have forayed into far more important matters. The Renewalists are positive agents for social change in our world.

Next: Early Pentecostal Tongues Part 2: The Tongues Crisis.

References   [ + ]

St. Anthony of Padua’s Miraculous Speech

The account of St. Anthony of Padua speaking in tongues early in the thirteenth-century.

St. Anthony of Padua allegedly spoke before a mixed ethnic and linguistic gathering of Catholic authorities while the audience miraculously heard him in their own languages.

This event perhaps is a later addition to the legend of St. Anthony, but the narrative gives valuable insights into what the people during this era perceived the miracle of tongues to be.

Anthony of Padua (1195 to 1231 AD) “was a Portuguese Catholic priest and friar of the Franciscan Order. He was born and raised by a wealthy family in Lisbon and died in Padua, Italy. Noted by his contemporaries for his forceful preaching and expert knowledge of scripture, he was the second-most-quickly canonized saint after Peter of Verona. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church on 16 January 1946. He is also the patron saint of finding things or lost people.”(1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_of_Padua

Such an assertion about speaking in tongues forces the critical reader to look further into the original account itself. In this case, two texts were found written in the Latin describing this same event. In accordance to the goals of The Gift of Tongues Project, English translations are provided along with the Latin originals. Normally the English translations, analysis, and Latin source texts are broken into three distinct blog entries. However, this instance is very brief, so all three are blended together into one blog article.

The following statements about St. Anthony speaking in tongues should be added to the historical record concerning the Christian doctrine of tongues. The texts themselves carry the idea of the person speaking in one language and the miracle consisted of those hearing it in their native tongues. A critical researcher on St. Anthony’s life, Raphael M. Huber, called this narrative a “multinational sermon.”(2)Raphael M. Huber. St. Anthony of Padua. Doctor of the Church Universal. A Critical Study of the Historical Sources of the Life, Sanctity, Learning, and Miracles of the Saint of Padua and Lisbon. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company. 1948. Pg. 130 This explanation is a good way to describe this phenomenon.

The authors of these biographies believed the miracle was one of the audience hearing it in their own language while St. Anthony spoke either in Latin or Portuguese. This is consistent with Pope Benedict the XIV’s view that the miracle of tongues can either be one of speaking or of hearing.(3)See Benedict the XIV on Tongues: An analysis for more info

The experience was not recognized nor cited in Thomas Aquinas’ theological account of tongues which suggests that Aquinas either didn’t agree with this miracle, or didn’t know about it. The separation of time between this alleged incident and Thomas’ writing would only have been around 30 to 50 years. The miracle would have been fresh in the minds of the theologians during Aquinas’ time. The text concludes a miracle of hearing which Aquinas does not support.

One would also assume that anyone invited to speak before a high-level gathering of Church leaders would have the ability or requirement to speak and the audience to understand in Latin. Addressing the assembly in a language other than Latin in this period seems a remote possibility. Writers such as Dante Alighieri and Roger Bacon during this period give a higher credence to Latin as the language of faith, piety and instruction and frown upon the ability of other languages to communicate in such lofty speech. Perhaps Alighieri and Bacon represent the ideal context but the reality existed that foreign Church leaders did not possess such Latin fluency in either speaking or hearing.

The First account is from Acta Sanctorum

AASS June II: 13 Pg. 216 – 217. AASS – the acronym popularly refers to the work called Acta Sanctorum. This book contains short biographies of the lives of the Saints. Acta Sanctorum first began publication in the late sixteenth century and the last revised publication was completed in 1940. This book likes to give special attention to the miraculous. The Saints are listed in the Acta Sanctorum according to their feast day.

Chapter I.

On the miracle of the confusion and the conversion of the heretics.

The most glorious father, Saint Antonius of Padua, one of the chosen of the Society of Saint Francis, whom the same holy Father on this account called him Bishop because of his life and reputation of preaching. When he began to preach in the Roman Consistory, according to the mandate of the sovereign Pontiff with innumerable foreigners who attended at that place for the reason of the Indulgences and Council (there were in that place Greeks, Latin speakers, French people, Germans, Slavs, English and many other diverse languages), that he at once made a wonderful display in this way the language of the holy Spirit, because everyone who heard clearly understood with no lack of astonishment to all, and each one heard his own language in which he was born with. And nevertheless he brought up at that time sweet and lofty sounds, so that it was to render everyone who had been sneering into astonishment and wonder. On account of this the Pope called him the ‘Ark of the Covenant’.[ref]my translation of the Latin from AASS June II: 13 Pg. 216 – 217, Legenda Alia Seu Liber Miraculorum. Chronici Ordinis olim insertus et ex MSS erutus a R.P. Luca Waddingo

The second account is from Actus Beati Francisci et Sociorum ejus

At one time that wonderful vessel of the Holy Spirit, St. Anthony of Padua, one of the chosen followers and companions of St. Francis, whom St. Francis used to call his bishop, was preaching before the Pope and Cardinals in a consistory where there were men from different countries—Greeks and Latins, French and Germans, Slavs and English—and men of many other different languages and idioms. And being inflamed by the Holy Spirit and inspired with apostolic eloquence, he preached and explained the word of God so effectively, devoutly, subtly, clearly, and understandably that all who were assembled at the consistory, although they spoke different languages, clearly and distinctly heard and understood every one of his words as if he had spoken in each of their languages. Therefore, they were all astounded and filled with devotion, for it seemed to them that the former miracle of the Apostles at the time of Pentecost had been renewed, when by the power of the Holy Spirit they spoke in different languages.

And in amazement they said to one another: “Is he not a Spaniard? How then are we all hearing him in the language of the country where we were born—we Greeks and Latins, French and Germans, Slavs and English, Lombards and foreigners?” (4)The English translation as found in Christine F. Cooper-Rompato. The Gift of Tongues: Women’s Xenoglossia in the Later Middle Ages. USA: Pennsylvania State University. 2010. Pg. 28

The Latin original of AASS June II: 13 Pg. 216 – 217:

Gloriosissiumus Pater, S. Antonius de Padua, unus de electis Sociis S. Francisci : quem idem sanctus Pater, propter vitam et praedicationis famam, suum Episcopum a appellabat ; cum Romae in Concilio, de mandato summi Pontificis, peregrinis innumerabilus, qui illuc propter Indulgentias et Concilium convenerant, prædicaret (erant enim ibi Graeci, Latini, Francigenae, Theutonici, Sclavi, et Anglici, et aliarum linguarum diversarum) sic Spiritus sanctus linguam, ut quondam sanctorum Apostolorum, mirificavit ; quod omnes, qui audiebant, non sine omnium admiratione ipsum clare intelligebant : et unusquisque audiebat linguam suam, in qua natus erat. Et tunc tam ardua et melliflua eructavit, quod omnes reddiderit stupore et admiratione suspensos : propter quod Papa ipsum, Arcam testamenti vocavit.

The Latin original of Actus Beati Francisci et Sociorum ejus, including the header not included in the translation:

Qualiter sanctus Antonius prædicans ab hominibus diversarum linguarum fuit clare intellectus. Cap. 48

1. Vas admirable sancti Spiritus sanctus Antonius de Padua, unus de electis discipulis beati Francisci, quem sanctus Franciscus suum episcopum appellabat, quum prædicaret in consilio coram papa et cardinalibus, ubi erant Græci et Latini, Francigenæ; et Teutonici, Sclavi et Anglici et multi alii diversarum linguarum,

2. Spiritu sancto afflatus, lingua apostolica inflammatus, eructans mellifluum verbum, omnes illos tam diverarum linguarum in dicto consilio congregatos, luculentissime et clare ipsum audientes et distincte intelligentes, reddidit tanta admiratione et devotione suspensos,

3. ut videretur renovatum illud antiquum apostolorum mirabile [76 b 2] admirantium et dicentium : « Nonne iste Hispanus est? Et quomodo nos omnes audimus per eam linguam nostram in qua nati sumus, Græci et Latini, Francigenæ et Teutonici, Sclavi et Anglici, Lombardi et Barbari?

4. Papi etiam stupens ad tam profunda de scripturis divinis a sancto Antonio prolata, dixit: « Vere ist arca testamenti et divinarum Scripturarum armarium est. »

References   [ + ]

Rufinus’ Grand Omission

Rufinus’ Latin translation mistake on Nazianzus’ Greek text on Pentecost.

How a very small oversight caused major problems later on.

As discussed previously in Is Tyrannius Rufinus a Reliable Translator?, Tyrannius was a dynamic rather than a static translator. He was freely ready to translate according to the sense of the text and not the literalness of it. The general consensus was that he was a good dynamic translator with some detractors from this. In the case of Gregory’s On Pentecost, he made two errors.

Gregory had outlined two different explanations for the miracle at Pentecost: one was with it being the miracle of hearing, and the other, a miracle of speaking. The nature and structure of the Greek text clearly made it out to be that the miracle of speaking was the correct interpretation for that of Pentecost.

However, Rufinus’ translation obscures Nazianzus’ preference. This caused major problems.

The first one was with Greek particle ara, ἆρα. Tyrannius did not understand Nazianzus purpose of this particle in this context. It is an interrogative particle that often is translated into English as: if. It also expresses some doubt at the validity of the question. Nazianzus was introducing an enthymeme styled delivery here. He was positing two ideas with one being clearly obvious and needing little substantiation. He thought the answer was clear.

Rufinus chose instead to make both statements have equal weight, which was not Nazianzus’ intention. This subtle change caused much controversy in the Latin reading world. The Latin text conveyed it was up to the reader to determine what the answer was. This mistaken discussion raged on in the eighth century when the Venerable Bede delved into the issue, and later forced Thomas Aquinas to take a clear position on this.{{1}}[[1]]See Thomas Aquinas on the Miracle of Tongues for more info.[[1]]

A second problem flows from the first. In the Greek text, a brief sentence follows the two preferences which was given to show which one was his preference. Gregory wanted to make it even clearer, just in case the reader didn’t understand the enthymeme, that he preferred that it was a miracle of speaking, Καθὰ καὶ μᾶλλον τίθεμαι. Rufinus did not include this statement in his translation.

It forces one to ask the question, why was it missing? Either Rufinus was unaware that the passage existed or he ignored it. Both the Greek and Syriac texts have this text included. One must keep in mind that the Greek texts are from the ninth century onwards. There is no early Greek record to work with. The Syriac, which goes back to the eighth century, and maybe earlier has it, but the publisher of the manuscript has the text highlighted, noting that it is not clear in meaning.{{2}}[[2]]Sancti Gregorii Nazianzeni opera. Versio Syriaca, II. Orationes XIII et XLI (Corpus Christianorum. Series Graeca, 47. Corpus Nazianzenum, 15), 151. A. SCHMIDT ed.,  Turnhout – Leuven, 2002 Pg. 90[[2]]

The evidence so far suggest, though not conclusively, was that he ignored it.■

Commentary of Psellos’ Tongues of Pentecost

A commentary on Michael Psellos’ text concerning the miracle of Pentecost as outlined in the Book of Acts.

The eleventh-century Michael Psellos resolves a number of critical issues in the contemporary debate over the meaning and definition of the tongues of Pentecost.

The results are gleaned from the translation and analysis of his Greek text found in Michaelis Pselli Theologica. Vol. 1. Paul Gautier ed. BSB B.G. Teubner Verlagsgesellschaft. 1989. Pg. 293-295. In this portion of Pselli Theologica, he covers the Pentecost event and the controversies that have surrounded it.

He first of makes it abundantly clear that the miracle was the ability to speak in foreign languages that the speaker did not know beforehand. He also added new Greek keywords that point to this fact.

Secondly, he clarified the old tongues debate that had raged over seven centuries which started with Gregory Nazianzus. Nazianzus posited two theories, that it was either a miracle of hearing or speaking. He sided with Gregory’s preference that it was a miracle of speaking. Psellos reinforced this with a further explanation.

He was not aware, or at minimum does not cite, any other alternative movements or theories than this.

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 where there has been much contemporary scholarly attention given to the ancient Greek prophets going into ecstasy and producing ecstatic speech. A connection is made by many modern scholars to the christian miracle as simply being a synergism of the ancient Greek practice of ecstatic speech — an attempt to make the christian faith a universal one.

This has been a large source of controversy within scholarly circles, and has been noted in this blog before in A Critical Look at Tongues and Montanism where Christopher Forbes argued that there is no substantive evidence that the ancient Greek prophets ever spoke in ecstatic utterances — and his argument is quite strong because there is indeed little direct evidence. Rex D. Butler countered that ancient texts do infer ecstatic utterances. Michael Psellos declared that it was simply foreign languages that the Greek prophets practised. He does not make any reference to ecstatic utterances.

This may be the oldest direct text 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.

Psellos went on to describe that those who spoke at Pentecost did so with total comprehension. He went into detail 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.

The total control of ones 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. ■

For more information:

An analysis of Augustine on Tongues and the Donatists

Augustine’s argument against the Donatist’s gives one of the richest earlier accounts on the Christian doctrine of tongues.

If it were not for the Donatists, Augustine would not have left such a legacy about the tongues of Pentecost and how it was perceived during his time. Their conflict with Augustine offers a wealth of information on the subject — much more than the Montanist movement.

The Donatists were a northern African Christian group; broken off from the official Catholic Church over reasons initially relating to the persecutions of Christians by edict of the emperor Diocletian early in the fourth 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. The Donatists transformed into a separate Christian movement and statistically outnumbered the traditional Catholic representatives in the region. At the height it had over 400 bishops.(1)David Benedict, Henry Clinton Graves. History of the Donatists. NL:NP. 1875. Col. 9

For more information on the Donatists, go to Hoover’s thesis, The Contours of Donatism: Theological and Ideological Diversity in Fourth Century North Africa

Augustine was the Catholic Bishop of the ancient city of Hippo which was near the epicentre of the whole movement. He wrote against the Donatists trying to persuade them through logic and by state law to come back into the fold.

Since all the information on the Donatists on the gift of tongues can only be found in Augustine’s writings and there is yet to be found any materials written firsthand by the Donatists on this topic, it is difficult to assess the situation from a neutral perspective. It forces the researcher to postulate on a few outcomes regarding the Donatists and tongues. First of all, they may have asserted themselves as the true Church because they personally spoke in tongues and the Catholic Church did not. Secondly, Augustine’s polemic against their use of Christian tongues was a perceived weakness that he could exploit. In reality it may have not been central to the Donatist movement at all.

He may have been using the gift of tongues as a diversion from thornier issues between the two parties. This topic was a simple way to demonstrate the Catholic Church’s superiority over what was perceived as a populist heresy than to delve into the dark history of the Church under persecution and the betrayal of many key leaders.

Secondly, and more likely, the political argument that tongues was supposed to be a sign of unity, not dissension like the Donatists were accused of doing, was simply a good argument for Augustine to utilize.

Whatever the case, Augustine’s refutation against the Donatists leads to some very important writings on the subject.

Augustine was likely responding to a Donatist theological position in Sermo 267, Chapter 3: Chapter III. Why the Gift of Tongues is all but Withdrawn

Brothers, has the holy Spirit not been given now? Whoever thinks this is not deserving to receive. He is given and now. Why then is no one speaking in the tongues of all the nations just as he spoke who at the time was being filled with the holy Spirit? Why? Because this was a sign that has been satisfied.”(2)MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXVII (267) Col. 1230ff Translation is mine

Here Augustine illustrated that a theology was being advocated during his time that if one receives the holy Spirit, then one must speak in tongues.

Augustine approached this theological question repeatedly in a number of works. One argument pointed out the theological problems related to this concept:

“Can it now be to those receiving the laying of hands when they receive the holy Spirit, is there an expectation with this, that they must speak in languages? Or rather when we laid hands on those infants, does anyone of you pay attention to whether they were speaking in languages or when it was seen of them that they did not speak in languages, was it according to the perverseness of the heart with some of you that you would say, “These did not receive the holy Spirit, for if they had received, would they be speaking in languages even as was done in times past? Then, if it should not now be appointed as the evidence of the presence of the holy Spirit through these miracles, from what point does it take place, from which point does each one know that he himself has received the holy Spirit?”(3)MPL Vol. 35. Augustine. In Epistolas Joannis et Parthos VI:10 (6:10) Col. 2025ff. Translation is mine.

What does it mean “this was a sign that has been satisfied”? It shouldn’t be taken as absolutist. It refers to the individual act of speaking in tongues ceasing, not the corporate miracle.

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 the corporate miracle of tongues, miracles, healings, or other divine interventions. This was not his intention.

Augustine had categorized the gift of tongues in his day as a miraculous corporate act of the Church. It had transferred from the individual. The following demonstrates this development of thought.

This corporate definition can clearly be found in a number of Augustine’s works. The first example is found in Enarratio in Psalmum CXLVII:19 (147:19). He believed that the question of why individuals during his time who have received the holy Spirit were not speaking in tongues was not the right question to ask. If one was to look for individual instances after the Church had extended into the world it would not be found, because that phase is over:

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. To those which it is not yet speaking, it will be speaking in the future. For the Church will multiply until it shall seize all the languages [in the entire world]. Hold fast with us until that time had come near, and you shall arrive with us to that which had not yet drawn near. I intend to teach you to speak in all the languages. I am in the body of Christ, I am in the Church of Christ. If the body of Christ is now speaking in all the languages, [then] also I am indeed speaking in all languages; to me it is that of Greek, Syrian, Hebrew, it is of every nation, because in unity, I am of every nation.”(4)MPL Vol. 37 Augustine. Enarratio in Psalmum. CXLVII:19 (147:19) Col. 1929. Translation is mine.

He further added that the true Church had taken on the duty to fulfil the promise of tongues to speak to all the nations and bring all peoples into unity, which it continued to miraculously do; “for since this small Church was speaking in the tongues of the nations, how is it, except that this great Church is presently speaking to the east even as the west with the tongues of all nations? It is merely a fulfillment as to which was promised at that time.” The “fulfillment as to which was promised at that time,” should not be interpreted to mean cessationalism but rather that this was an office that was established at the foundation and confirmed functioning since then.

Sermo 268 also confirms Augustine’s belief that the Church took on this role: “Whoever has the holy Spirit is in the Church, which is speaking in all the languages. Whoever is outside this Church, does not have the holy Spirit. For that reason indeed the holy Spirit deemed to reveal itself in the languages of all the nations, so the one that perceives to have the holy Spirit itself, that person is sustained in the unity of the Church, which is speaking in all the languages.”(5)MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXVIII (268) Col. 1231. Translation is mine.

Augustine illustrated in Sermo 266:2 that the Church became an international entity because of the gift of tongues and this office confirms its validity: “the unity of the Catholic Church has been signified by gift of tongues.”

This is where 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. One can see a direct blow on the Donatists in Sermo 268 where the emphasis is on unity, which is a word play found in the Latin and lost in the English, inferring anyone creating disunity, such as the Donatists who were promoting their brand of speaking in tongues, was heretical.

“The holy Spirit commits to unity of the Church universal by the gift of tongues. On account of the holy Spirit having arrived, this present day is solemn to us, 50th from the resurrection of the Lord, but reckoning 7 x 7 results in 49. One is being inserted, that oneness is given in trust with us.”(6)MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXVIII (268) Col. 1231. Translation is mine

It was not only Augustine that had forwarded this position, Optatus of Milevus wrote the same around 370 AD, listing the countries the Catholic Church has spread to and then concluded to the Donatist leader Parmenian, “In none of the above named countries, said Optatus to the Donatis, Parmenian, are your people found, except in a corner of Africa. O, ungrateful and foolish presumption, said he, that you should attempt to persuade men that you alone have the true Catholic faith.”(7)David Benedict, Henry Clinton Graves. History of the Donatists. NL:NP. 1875. Col. 26

Augustine attempted in a number of ways to eradicate or control the Donatists, but without complete success. It is not entirely known when the Donatist movement died, but it is generally held to have happened in the seventh century under the Arab conquests.(8)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donatism

The Latin text, found in Migne Patrologia Latina, emphatically states that Augustine was arguing against the Donatists — even the chapter headings have their names labelled. But this is a later interpolation. The header text referring to the Donatists was a later editorial insertion included in the Migne edition. It does not exist in the official edition found at the Sant’ Agostino website. However, this is not a big problem. It was simply declaring the obvious. The movement was Augustine’s main local rival and he drew from this tension.

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