Tag Archives: tongues speaking

A New Kind of Tongues

How the Pentecostal definition of tongues changed in the early 1900s.

The late Assemblies of God teacher, writer, and professor Gary B. McGee wrote a very factual account on the development and evolution of the doctrine of tongues in the Pentecostal movement.

It is called, Shortcut to Language Preparation? Radical Evangelicals, Missions, and the Gift of Tongues.

It is a well researched article with substantiated sources. This is one of the most definitive works found covering the subject from the late nineteenth century onwards.

He cites the most important leaders in the modern tongues movement, and how the original emphasis was on the supernatural acquisition of foreign languages. This mystical acquirement was hoped to be a solution for the common perception that language learning was a long process and a barrier to a rapid missionary expansion throughout the world.

This forced a serious theological dilemma — miraculous language acquisition wasn’t working. Either the Pentecostal movement as a whole would have to admit they were wrong, or redefine the experience. The latter was chosen.

McGee admits that somewhere between 1906 and 1907 the doctrine of tongues had changed from what was perceived as spontaneous language acquisition into worship and intercession in the Spirit:

Not surprisingly, though claims of bestowed languages had the potential of being empirically verified, such claims severely tested the credulity of outside observers. Corroborating testimony that Pentecostals preached at will in their newfound languages and were actually understood by their hearers proved difficult to find. By late 1906 and 1907 radical evangelicals began reviewing the Scriptures to obtain a better understanding. Most came to recognize that speaking in tongues constituted worship and intercession in the Spirit (Rom. 8:26; I Cor. 14:2), which in turn furnished the believer with spiritual power. Since on either reading–glossolalia for functioning effectively in a foreign language or for spiritual worship–the notion of receiving languages reflected zeal and empowerment for evangelism, most Pentecostals seemed to have accepted the transition in meaning.

It is surprising to find here that an Assemblies of God teacher admitted to this, though it comes across very softly.

Unfortunately, he failed to go into any details on what figures were responsible for this change, and how it became an entrenched doctrine in such a short period.

The full document can be found here: Shortcut to Language Preparation? Radical Evangelicals, Missions, and the Gift of Tongues.

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:

Notes on the Doctrine of Tongues in De Trinitate

An analysis of the Church doctrine of tongues found in the fourth century Alexandrian work De Trinitate — traditionally attributed to Didymus of Alexandria.

The authorship of this work is not settled. Tradition ascribes the author to be Didymus of Alexandria. This writer, grammarian and teacher, stands at the forefront as one of Alexandria’s most prominent leaders. Although his name has lost prominence within the annals of history, his influence and contribution to the Christian world during his time was immeasurable.

However, there is a dispute on the authorship. Alisdair Heron argues in the book, The Making of Orthodoxy that it is not certain that Didymus is the author of this work.

For some two hundred years following its mid-eighteenth-century discovery by Mingarelli in a manuscript lacking title page and the opening chapters, the De Trinitate was regarded as the chief surviving work of Didymus the Blind (313–98), the last really distinguished leader of the catechetical school in Alexandria. Mingarelli based his ascription in part on the numerous and striking verbal parallels between this work and Didymus’ De Spiritu Sancto, which survives only in Jerome’s Latin translation. The last generation, however, has seen a remarkable shift in scholarly opinion on the matter: the discovery of the Toura papyri in 1941 and the ascription to Didymus of a series of extensive biblical commentaries contained in them has led in turn to comparisons of these works with the De Trinitate which seemed to support the conclusion that Didymus could not also have been the author of the latter. If correct, this conclusion not only requires a radical revision of the entire picture of Didymus and his theological teaching developed before the discovery of the Toura papyri; it also leaves the De Trinitate – a major work by any standards – floating in the void of anonymity. In recent years, study of Didymus has concentrated on the Toura commentaries; the De Trinitate has received relatively scant attention, though it is arguably more theologically substantial and significant than the commentaries, whether or not Didymus is the author.

Bryce Walker also addresses manuscript problems with another work attributed to Didymus’ De Spiritu Sancto, which may have an impact on understanding De Trinitate. He described on his blog that the oldest text of De Spiritu Sancto is in Latin.(1) http://www.bryce-walker.com/2012/11/24/fun-with-manuscript-traditions-didymus-the-blinds-de-spiritu-sancto/ There was no mention of De Trinitate having the same problem. I wasn’t aware of this background information while translating De Trinitate until completion, but found on a few occasions that the Greek was following Latin structure and wondered if this was a later Greek reproduction based on the Latin. However, some of the Greek word usage is old and reminiscent of this Alexandrian era. There is not enough convincing evidence to prove that this is a later Greek translation from the Latin. However it is tenable that there were emendations or editorial inserts done by Latin based copyists.

Or it could be a collective effort of the fourth century Christian community based in Alexandria? It was one of the most influential theological centers within Christendom. Its influence can be found in almost any subject during this period.

Perhaps it was a person or movement trying to copy the diction and prose of an earlier generation in their writing style.

In the case of the Gift of Tongues Project, dating a text is more important than authorship for discovering and analyzing the transmission of this doctrine over the centuries. It appears most of the work is fourth century, and has an Alexandrian style. It may or may not be Didymus as the original author, though tradition has ascribed it as such.

Regardless, De Trinitate is a well written theological work.

Consequently, when one comes across an Alexandrian based work such as De Trinitate, it requires careful attention.

This work is an important one to study for the Gift of Tongues Project to proceed in it’s goal of tracing the development and evolution of the doctrine of tongues in the Church from inception until now.

It is also hoped that this document will clarify the theology outlined by Gregory Nazianzus. If one reads the coverage of Gregory Nazianzus and later writers on this subject, the doctrine of tongues has three potential interpretations. One is that the speakers emitted sounds and the hearers miraculously understood it in their own language, or that the speakers miraculously spoke in every language, or it was a miracle of both hearing and speaking. The presently available Gregory texts leaves too much ambiguity as to which one was the most historically accepted.

The base copy worked from was the Greek text found in Migne Patrologia Graeca. The Latin parallel was closely watched for any differences.

If Didymus did write this, then this document is the only place where he made reference to the doctrine of tongues. His works in Migne Patrologia Graeca have been visually scanned for relevant coverage on this topic, and only three references have been located, and they are all found in De Trinitate. It is a large work that not only has the Trinity as the central theme but seeks to integrate all forms of Christian thought into this ideology. Thus the doctrine of tongues has slight references to this.

The relevant passages have been digitized, and translated. The English translation can be found at An English Translation of the Tongues Passages found in De Trinitate, and the original Greek text along with the Latin parallel translation, The Greek and Latin texts on the Doctrine of Tongues found in De Trinitate.

The first reference in De Trinitate concerning the doctrine of tongues can be found in the coverage about the division of languages in the Book of Genesis.(2) Didymi Alexandrini. De Trinitate Liber Primus. XVIII:31. MPG. Vol. 39 Col. 348 This one hardly provides any substantial detail. It follows the customary path of early Christian interpretation of linking the doctrine of tongues with the confusion of languages rather than connecting it to the voice or voices God spoke to Moses with at Mount Sinai.

The second reference in De Trinitate has more information.(3) Didymi Alexandrini. De Trinitate Liber Primus. XVIII:31. MPG. Vol. 39 Col. 348:

And they were speaking as well in different languages, “even as”, it says, “the Spirit was giving them to utter.” And the Galileans were understanding the instruction of Parthians, Medes, Persians; and the different sorts of foreign speech of mankind, including also Greek, and the Ausonian language. Many voices were indeed produced, and were showing of such things, we are destined to discover about the age to come, when having been liberated from the bonds of this present world, which corresponds to the voice of Paul, “Where there is not among them Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, but Christ is the all and in all.” And clearly he meant the same identical essence as according to the Trinity, “Christ is all and in all.” Where seeing that we seek. . .

There are a number of clues that can be picked-up from here. The text offered support for the miracle being those speaking in foreign languages, but the wording suggests that these people miraculously spokes sounds too, which parallels the second theory of the miracle being in the hearing.

The text defined those who were miraculously endowed Galileans. By leaving this so general, the author(s) recognize that more people just than the Apostles were gifted on that day, but who and how many, is left for the reader to decide.

It is clear here from the text that those who were endowed not only miraculously spoke but also understood foreign languages. It does not clarify if this was a temporary event, or a gift which these people possessed for the rest of their lives.

The text also added the Greek and the Ausonian to the list of languages being spoken at Pentecost. Ausonian was the language of Southern Italy. It is argued to be close to, if not Latin, while others state it is independent and older than that of Roman Latin. The written intent was to transform the Pentecost phenomenon from a semitic event, to a universal one.

There are new keywords to the tongues doctrine never used before:

  • συνίεσαν to understand as found in:

    And the Galileans were understanding the instruction of Parthians, Medes, Persians. . .

    This verb is found in Homeric and other classical Greek works. This would not be unusual to find with Alexandrian authors whose vocabulary is often similar. It also could mean that the Apostles were competently hearing or perceiving other languages.

  • ὁμιλίαν instruction. This is found in the same sentence shown above, but will show it once more to avoid confusion:

    And the Galileans were understanding the instruction of Parthians, Medes, Persians. . .

    This word can be found also in Acts 20:11 but is seldom used in the New Testament, nor in reference to the doctrine of tongues. It is the source by which we use the word Homily in many Church services today. It meant here that those who were endowed understood the instruction, that is, the philosophy and religion of the foreign nations, and could speak the Gospel within that context.

  • ἀλλοθρόων which root is speaking a strange tongue, strange, alien:(4) The lexicon definition found at Perseus.

    . . .and the different sorts of foreign speech of mankind

    This sentence portion is from the Greek καὶ ἀλλοθρόων ἄλλων ἀνθρώπων. The writer(s) is once again strengthening the argument through these word selections that the miraculous endowment is a universal one, not just a localized event that only the semitic nations could comprehend.

  • πολύφωνοί having many tones, having many voices, loquacious, talkative, manifold in expression:(5) The lexicon definition found at Perseus.

    Many voices were indeed produced

    The text noted that the speech was in manifold voices. This causes some confusion. Up until now, it is clear that the people miraculously spoke in foreign languages. It is assumed that one person spoke in Persian, while another Mede, and the list goes on. Here it is not clear. Was it each person speaking in manifold voices at one moment? Or was the person sequentially going through the languages of the nations while speaking? This is a mystery many of the Church fathers have so far left ambiguous and the text also does not clarify.

The third reference in De Trinitate to tongues speaking is weak.(6) Didymi Alexandri. De Trinitate Liber Secundus. MPG. Vol. 39. Col. 501 It strings together a number of references relating to the Holy Spirit and fire, including the tongues sequence in the Book of Acts. It simply is quoting Acts 2:4 among other Bible quotes without expressing any explanation to the meaning of the passage itself. It was translated, analyzed and posted in keeping with one of the goals of the Gift of Tongues Project — to be as comprehensive as possible. In the past, many researchers have selectively chosen passages to support their cause while omitting other pertinent information.

The writing style of De Trinitate contains rapid sequential thoughts. It is depending on the audience to know their Bible and topics at hand, and to fill in the obvious blanks. It skips very quickly from one thought to another. It also created difficulty translating because it was hard to understand one specific sharp transition — the text containing the negative example of Ananias to the positive example of those possessing the Holy Spirit. The transition was too fast and unclear.

De Trinitate on the doctrine of tongues does not reveal any new concepts additional to that of Gregory Nazianzus. It is clear that the text supported a miraculous form of comprehending and speaking many human languages. There are no references to the Montanists or Donatists. They were not a central or controversial part of the tongues doctrine during his time.

References   [ + ]

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.

References   [ + ]

Augustine on the Tongues of Pentecost: Intro


An analysis of Augustine’s writings on speaking in tongues.

Augustine wrote a considerable amount on the subject which first appears to be an open and shut case, but a closer look reveals a diversity of thought propelled by political influences.

The conflict with the rival Donatist movement gives one of the earliest and extensive articles of tongues speech in the church. His coverage dispels the notion that the institutional church after Pentecost had quashed or ignored the christian rite of tongues.

The theories on speaking in tongues during Augustine’s time.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 354-430 AD, was likely aware of the different theories on the subject. His contemporaries Gregory Nazianzus (329 to 390 AD) had posited that there are two options for the Pentecost outburst of tongues: it was either a miracle of hearing or of speaking, and more likely the latter. John Chrysostom (349 to 407 AD) held similar views to Augustine on the diminished role of divine tongues in the individual expression. An earlier North African leader named Pachomius (292 to 346 AD) was mythologized as having been divinely enabled to temporarily speak Latin. The first century BC Jewish Hellenistic philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, didn’t write about the gift of tongues, but he did cover the mechanics behind God speaking. He held that when God spoke it was in a sound that would implant in the hearers mind, bypassing the ears, being beyond human language.

Was it a miracle of speaking or hearing?

Sometimes he favored the miracle of speaking while others times of hearing. He does tend to allude to the idea of the miracle of one voice emanating and the hearers miraculously hearing in their own language.

  • “they began to speak in the languages of all the nations,”(1)Sermo. CLXXV:3
  • “they began to speak in all the languages, that in respect to those who were present, everybody was recognizing their own language,”(2)Sermo CCLII:2
  • “Each man speaking in every language”,(3)Sermo CCLXV:10
  • “Each man was speaking in every language, it was being announced beforehand because the Church was about to be in every language. One man was a sign of unity. Every language by one man, every nation in unity.”(4)CCLXVI:2

His coverage is found in a number of other Sermons(5) Sermo CCLXVII and CCLXVIII and in his work on the Psalms. In Enarratio in Psalmum he wrote this particular puzzling entry, “See that sounds went out in every language.”(6)Enarratio in Psalmum CXLVII:19 (147:19)

He picks and chooses given the situation. It appears that the mechanics behind how those divinely spoke in tongues was of no interest to him or was a priority. He had an apologetic motive against the large Dontatist movement, who asserted that they were the true Church. One of their confirming signs was that they spoke in tongues.(7)Augustine on Tongues and the Donatists

There is no question that the semantic range of this experience fell inside the use of foreign languages, nothing more. 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.

Augustine on the question, Should everybody speak in tongues?

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.”(8)Sermo CCLXVII (267), MPL Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXVII (267) Col. 1230ff. My translation In the writing called In Epistolas Joannis et Parthos, he jests with those who take this position, “when we laid hands on those infants, does anyone of you pay attention to whether they were speaking in languages. . .?”(9)MPL Vol. 35. Augustine. In Epistolas Joannis et Parthos VI:10 (6:10) Col. 2025ff and 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.”(10)Augustine. Enarratio in Psalmum. CXLVII:19 (147:19)

The gift of tongues changed from an individual to a corporate expression.

The last one brings on an important theological perspective by Augustine on the doctrine of tongues. The gift being expressed through individuals has died, and now has been transferred to and operated by the corporate Church. More of this doctrine can be found in the next article, Augustine on Tongues and the Donatists.

Augustine about the cessation of tongues and miracles

This patristic leader’s position on miracles has been highly debated for 1600 years. This is apparent in the tongues citations provided above. However, the most disputed piece is not on tongues but on miracles itself as found in his work, De vera religione where he wrote:

Another thing which must be considered is the dissension that has arisen among men concerning the worship of the one God. We have heard that our predecessors, at a stage in faith on the way from temporal things up to eternal things, followed visible miracles. They could do nothing else. And they did so in such a way that it should not be necessary for those who came after them. When the Catholic Church had been founded and diffused throughout the whole world, on the one hand miracles were not allowed to continue till our time, lest the mind should always seek visible things, and the human race should grow cold by becoming accustomed to things which when they were novelties kindled its faith. On the other hand we must not doubt that those are to be believed who proclaimed miracles, which only a few had actually seen, and yet were able to persuade whole peoples to follow them. At that time the problem was to get people to believe before anyone was fit to reason about divine and invisible things. No human authority is set over the reason of a purified soul, for it is able to arrive at clear truth But pride does not lead to the perception of truth. If there were no pride there would be no heretics, no schismatics, no circumcised, no worshippers of creatures or of images. If there had not been such classes of opponents before the people was made perfect as promised, truth would be sought much less eagerly.(11)De Vera Religione 25 (47) as found in Augustine: Earlier Writings. The Library of Christian Classics. Translated by John S. Burleigh. Philadelphia: the Westminster Press. 1953. Pg. 248

This was written around 390 AD. 37 years later Augustine revisited this statement and softened his stance by adding in his Retractiones:

For when hands are laid on the baptized, they do not receive the Holy Ghost now, in such a manner as to speak with the tongues of all the nations; nor are the sick now cured by the shadow of Christ’s preachers as they pass by them, and others such as these, which, it is manifest, did afterwards cease; But what I said, is not so to be understood as if no miracles are believed to be performed now in the name of Christ : for I myself, when I wrote that very book, (De Vera Religione,) knew that a blind man had received his sight in the city of Milan, at the bodies of the Milanese martyrs, and several others besides; nay, such numbers are performed in these our days, that I neither can know them all, nor though I knew them, could I enumerate them.(12)Retractiones. English translation found in The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany. Vol. 15. Edinburgh: Printed for Archibald Constable and Company. 1824. Pg. 688

What did Augustine intend? I have never seen in any Patristic literature where a church leader made a complete and concise reversal or retraction of a theological concept. This may be the closest that Augustine could achieve without having amassed some percieved shame or criticism of his legacy. A complete avowal would also have legitimized the majority Donatist movement whose emphasis on the gift of tongues symbolized their fidelity. Augustine spent decades in theological dispute with them on that very subject.

It is no surprise when he stated that miracles still occur, but some do not, he listed the individual speaking in tongues as the first example that is no longer utilized. This is in keeping with his various polemical assaults against the Donatists.

A specialist in Augustine, Prof. Jan den Boeft, considers the Retractiones text wanting. He thinks that Augustine is referring to the cessation of only a few miracles including speaking in tongues while most continued.(13)Jan Den Boeft. The Apostolic Age in Patristic Thought. A. Hilhorst ed. Leiden: Brill. 2004. Pg. 61 Prof. Boeft makes a proper connection between Chrysostom and Augustine on the de-emphasis on miracles whereby miracles were considered unimportant in the development of christian character and often antithetical. The penchant for miracles was considered a gateway to pride. Chrysostom had shifted the element of miracles away from the individual and moved the practice to the rituals and symbols of the corporate church and the cult of deceased saints.

See Chrysostom on the Doctrine of tongues for more information.

Augustine on the tongues of Corinth.

There was not found in any of his writings a theological analysis about the problem in Corinth. He does refer to I Corinthians 13:1 “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels…” over eight times. This appears to be a popular verse used by him in his argumentation against his Donatist rivals. He used this passage to emphasize brotherly love over ambition.

The neglect of Augustine on this subject.

It is surprising that his works have not entered into the primary source books as a central author explaining and defining the christian tongues doctrine. This problem is not unique just to Augustine. This is covered in more detail at the following article: Examining the Source Books on Glossolalia and Christian tongues.

It is also vexing how many of his works, which includes the tongues-passages, do not have popular English translations. He is one of the foremost writers who has withstood the test of time. One of only a handful of authors of any genre has managed to do that. If his works were more widely available in English, it would have changed the dynamics of the discussion over the last century.

His works are well written and thought-out with an easy-to-read style which most readers will come to appreciate.

For more info;

  • see the next article, Augustine on Tongues and the Donatists

  • Or the actual English translations of the important texts by Augustine relating to the Christian doctrine of tongues, Augustine on the Tongues of Pentecost in English. ■

  • References   [ + ]