Tag Archives: translation

Technical Notes on Chrysostom's Pentecost Text

Notes on the translation of John Chyrsostom’s, On the Holy Pentecost, Homily 1:4(b) to 5.

An overview of the techniques, challenges and solutions found in translating the text. On the Holy Pentecost is an important text that outlines Chrysostom’s theological viewpoint on the tongues of Pentecost. It adds more information to his already known thoughts found in his Homilies on Acts, and his Homilies on I Corinthians.

This is intended to be the last of the translations for the Gift of Tongues Project, not because the list of ecclesiastical writers has been exhausted on the subject, but is more than enough to build an accurate portrait of tongues from ecclesiastical literature. The remaining writers on the matter will be scanned and the source texts will be posted in pdf format on the website at a later date.

The approach to translating the Chrysostom text relating to the doctrine of tongues

The methodology behind translating this text was very different than the previous ones. It was desired to significantly reduce the amount of time to complete the task. First of all it intended to use the online Perseus Greek Dictionary almost exclusively without having to open the bulky pdf-based dictionaries. These pdfs of Greek dictionaries, especially Stephanus’ voluminous Greek Lexicon, is a tediously slow process to find and retrieve entries. Secondly, the blocks of translation done were significantly larger at any given sitting. In the past, only a few lines of text were translated per day, and the next line was not proceeded to until everything was understood. If a new grammatical item was introduced, much time would be spent on learning this aspect before proceeding. This was dramatically curtailed in the initial translation effort. Another factor to reduce time was to post the work immediately after the first pass was done, without letting it sit for a week, and then reviewing it.

The end result of this initial translation was a flop. After eight hours of revisions, the work is now at the same standard as the previous ones done on this site. The lesson learned is that short-cuts never work.

The original text used and the biggest translation challenge

The translation is based on the text found in Migne Patrologia Graeca alone which isn’t typically done on the majority of my translations which usually start with MPG and migrate to a better version. This one is an exception to this method.

There are no authorship issues here. The internal text seems to be consistent, and it does not appear to have different grammatical structures or vocabulary unsuited for the time.

It starts out as an easy translation with 4b, and then his Greek vocabulary and structure gets significantly more difficult in 5.

The hardest portion found is this:

Here is the Greek:

Ὅτι ἐκεῖνος μὲν ἀπῄει κατηγορήσων ἁμαρτημάτων, καὶ θρηνήσων συμφορὰς Ἰουδαϊκάς·
οὗτοι δὲ ἐξῄεσαν τὰ τῆς οἰκουμένης ἁμαρτήματα δαπανήσοντες·

And the Latin:

Quod ille quidem abiret insectaturus peccata, calamitatesque memoriae suggereret deploraturus; hi vero peccata orbis terrarum absumpturi exirent.

The use of the future participles κατηγορήσων, and θρηνήσων were an initial challenge to understand here. Whether I never knew how future participles operated in Greek, or that I have simply forgot this element, I don’t know. However, I tried to force the meaning of the Latin future participle on the Greek one in this instance. It made up for a unusual mechanical translation that was originally posted. It did not make sense.

With some help from Alex Poulos, who maintains a blog on church literature, The Poulos Blog, this translation was pointed on the right track.

The future participle found here in the Greek brought about reviewing the participle structure. The participle is a rich contributor to the ancient Greek language. Daniel B. Wallace, a Greek Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, has posted an excellent article covering participles, aptly called The participle. It is a comprehensive work that portrays the wide ranging use of the Greek participle. In the above instance, it is considered a telic participle, to which he instructs:

First, to clarify that a particular participle is telic (purpose), one can either translate it as though it were an infinitive, or simply add the phrase with the purpose of before the participle in translation.

Second, since purpose is accomplished as a result of the action of the main verb, perfect participles are excluded from this category (since they are typically antecedent in time). The future adverbial participle always belongs here; the present participle frequently does. The aorist participle also has a representative or two, but this is unusual.

Third, many present participles that fit this usage are lexically influenced. Verbs such as seek (ζητέω) or signify (σημαίνω), for example, involve the idea of purpose lexically.

Fourth, the telic participle almost always follows the controlling verb. Thus, the word order emulates what it depicts. Some participles, when following their controlling verbs, virtually demand to be taken as telic…

So how does this passage translate?:

“Because the former goes forth to speak out against sins, and to mourn the Jewish calamities. The latter were going forth to destroy the sins of the world.”

The difference between δωρεά and χάρισμα

The original translation did not distinguish between δωρεά and χάρισμα. Many commentaries and New Testament grammars believe these are synonyms for the word “gift”. However, I think Chrysostom, and most ecclesiastical writers distinguished these words with slightly different meanings. An editorial decision has been made for this translation, Δωρεά is translated as “gift,” and χάρισμα as “grace.”

Throughout the text being translated, it was found he used the subjunctive infrequently, and the articular infinitive was not dominant. There was no optative located. There was a hint of a Doric vocabulary but not overwhelming.

Some Chyrostom grammar nuances

The aorist was his tense of choice when referring to past action. Often it was used in a punctiliar fashion. Otherwise it is simply used as a past tense.

The utilization of the grammatical structure pointers, μὲν and δὲ are an always initial point of reference for understanding the flow of thought with a Greek writer. Chrysostom’s text deviates from the normal pattern. Μὲν seldom occurs, and δὲ can be repeated for a long string of text. It appears that γὰρ takes the place of μὲν.

The high use of γὰρ has never been seen before in any other texts. Typically the English equivalent “for” is used almost exclusively, but here, it is obvious it cannot be done that simply. Some investigation into the New Testament text usage of γὰρ revealed the following synonyms, actually, after, after all, although, because, indeed, since, then, though, well, what, why, yes,”1 The majority of these synonyms are seen sprinkled through this translation.

Lastly the word οἰκουμένη which had me nervous, as originally it was thought to be from the same root as the verb οἰκονομέω or the noun οἰκονομία which has special religious meanings, depending on the era and region. Fortunately, it was not, and according to Lidell and Scott, simply means something like this, ‘inhabited region, then the Greek world, opp. barbarian lands, the inhabited world (including non-Greek lands, as Ethiopia, India, Scythia), as opp. possibly uninhabited regions, loosely, the whole world, the Roman world’.2

Chrysostom also wrote on a few occasions in the first person, which is highly unusual for an ecclesiastical piece of literature. ■

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.■

Technical Notes on the Psellos Translation

Thoughts on the challenges of translating Psellos’ text on Pentecost, notes on stylizations, important words, and some etymologies.

The translation of Michael Psellos on the tongues of pentecost is a work in progress. The English translation posted is in beta and has been updated a number of times since. It may remain in beta for a long time for a number of reasons.

The first reason is Psellos’ love of Platonic literature. The whole framework of his writing is based on this logic. Patristics and ecclesiastical theology is a distinct second. It is quite surprising to find an eleventh century writer devoted to such a genre. The first attempt of translating this work was based on the assumption of a Patristic framework with some theology, and a sprinkling of philosophy. This left me scratching my head. It didn’t make sense. It became apparent that Psellos would liken himself to being Plato reborn. Once the words were traced back to Platonic theory, it all made clear sense.

The second reason is that Psellos assumed his readers understood and appreciated Platonic logic. This is not the case for the modern reader. Most readers will find this translation intellectual gobbley-gook because of this. The dependance of specific Greek words of logic such as ὕλη and εἶδος which arguably are translated as matter and form, doesn’t do justice in the English on their central importance. These are the key cornerstones in Psellos’ logic. In an effort to make this clear, they are highlighted in italics to alert the English reader to its importance, but this still seems very weak. Psellos used these words as a vehicle to describe the nature and purpose of the tongues phenomena. The matter was the indwelling presence of God, but in what form was it expressed? Was it an internal or external type of phenomena? In the English translation, the importance of these words are lost.

Another problem is his mystery style of writing. Psellos was known for purposely being unclear. The book “The Argument of Psellos’ Chronographia” clearly makes this case:

“We are now entitled to ask whether Psellos himself practiced the serpentine art of secret writing, and whether his own works, like those of Plato and Aristotle, contain, “hidden” or esoteric teachings. . . .We know that Psellos was a superb practitioner of the art of rhetoric. As I hope to demonstrate, this philosopher, who disguised himself as an orator who merely fancied himself a philosopher, was acutely aware of the potential of rhetoric for allusion, subtely, deception, misdirection, and veiled pronouncement.”

This can be seen in a number of ways. One of them being his metaphors. On two occasions his use of metaphors were either a misdirection, a veiled pronouncement, or simply on a tangent. An example of a tangent was when he correlated the miracle of tongues with that of giving birth.

…inasmuch the sound was sent into the Apostles not corresponding to language, but it was only necessary to tap the lip and open the mouth, even as I have certainly been often amazed at the midwives about which procures the newborns from the fetus in the wombs, or about her which is in the process of giving birth. For these women, whenever a child has been born or also when they remove the child which is sliding out of the mother with faintings. Thus at that moment they simply put the hands around the foreheads, next they are presaged to breathe a little air, then [the infant] bellows out with mighty [sounds].

The second one is a veiled pronouncement. Psellos inserts the following metaphor after he promoted the option that the miracle can occur in different ways depending on how one perceives it:

And as an example, while the sun has stood in the midday, locusts and the things that see in the night take in something faint of the light, but men and elephants more or less gaze corresponding to the physical tendency which belongs to each one.

The example does not flow properly in his text and once again leaves the reader wondering where his is going with all of this.

Another reason is that of language. Michael Psellos has incorporated Classical, Doric, Ionic and Attic Greek in his writing. The classical is mostly related to his love of Platonic works. There are a number of Doric words that have slipped in with his Attic, and a few Ionic. His political life put him in the epicenter of the Byzantine Greek world where linguistic, theological, and philosophical fields intersected. This makes it very difficult to translate because the presently available toolkits for this era hardly exist. Add to the fact that Psellos is incorporating various sub-dialects into his work makes the level of accuracy even more difficult to attain.

His writing style is very extensive. He used synonyms frequently, so his vocabulary range is very broad. This work cannot be translated simply using the Lidell Scott Jones dictionary found at Perseus, rather, this can be misleading at times. The expansive Stephanus dictionary, the dictionary of ancient Greek dictionaries, helps but is not aimed for this time period. A large number of other dictionaries were consulted but it was found that Lampe’s Patristic Lexicon and James Donnegan’s A New Greek and English Lexicon; Principally on the plan of the Greek and German Lexicon of Schneider were the two best sources. The internet was helpful at times too. A problem Greek word would by typed in Google Search with the name, Aristotle or Plato inputted beside it, and some good clues could be found. There were a few words that I could not be certain what they meant, so they were left untranslated.

This translation is done with great fear and trepidation because most of the dictionaries are based on words used about six hundred years earlier, and some words after his period. The words may have slight shifts in Psellos’ time, but I have few resources to draw upon that reflect that.

A good example is the word νυκτάλωπες which Perseus, and Lampe has nothing, and Donnegan, “a disease, consisting of loss of vision by night” (Pg. 879). A quick Google search of the Greek word will bring up Nyctalopia: “Night blindness, impaired vision in dim light and in the dark, due to impaired function of certain specialized vision cells (the rods) in the retina.” (medterms.com) However this definition does not fit in with the Psellos text. A look into Stephanus Greek Dictionary implies that it can be a certain type sight problem in low light conditions, but it can be the opposite as well (Stephanus Vol. 5 col. 1589). The French language has adopted this word and called it nyctalope which refers to an animal with night vision. The Psellos text appears to flow with the Stephanus night vision and the French animal night vision. It shows that one should not be so quick to accept the regular dictionary definitions when working with this text.

There are slight nuances in grammar that are different too, but there are no popular grammars that adequately cover this period.

Psellos liked to clearly structure his content using the particles μέν and δὲ. He went a step further and created a more complex particle construct including the masculine definite article, ὁ μέν “the former” and ὁ δὲ “the latter”.

ὥσπερ γὰρ μιᾶς ἀπηχηθείσης ἐν ὑπαίθρῳ φωνῆς ὁ μέν τις ἡμῶν ἤκουσεν, ὁ δὲ ἀδρανέστερον ἀντελάβετο κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς διαστάσεως καὶ τῆς εἰλικρινοῦς ἀκοῆς, τῶν δὲ μὴ ἀκουσάντων ὁ μὲν διὰ τὸ πολὺ διεστάναι οὐκ ἀντελάβετο, ὁ δὲ διὰ τὸ ἐμπεφράχθαι αὐτῷ τὸν τῆς ἀκοῆς πόρον, ἐμψυγέντος κατ᾽ἐκεῖνο τὸ μέρος τοῦ φλέγματος. . .

For it is like one voice that had been re-echoed in public, the former somehow heard by us, while the latter was not heard, and the former is something more distinct with those who heard and in latter was apprehended [at that moment] more fainter according to the proportion of the distance of the pure sound heard. In respect to those who did not hear, the former was not grasped because of what appears to have been too far apart, the latter was because the sound’s path had been actively blocked from him [regarding] the person possessed in reference to this matter of fire. . .

On the topic of particles, it became tiring and redundant to use on the one hand… and on the other hand throughout. This could become too repetitive for any English reader following the text so creativity with the translation was required. Synonyms to this phrase can be the first option… the second option, on the one hand… alternatively, in the first manner… in the second manner or one way… another way were options for consideration and sometimes utilized.

He tended to use the optative frequently. The subjunctive mood is almost or entirely absent. The use of the articular infinitive is also used sparingly. This goes against the evolutionary stream of the Greek language. The optative was considered dead by this period. Many books and authors, like the Companion to the Ancient Greek Language have emphatically stated this. I think that Psellos wrote in retro-Greek — that is to emulate the great Greek thinkers of the past. His love of the ancient Greek philosophers was embraced and reflected in his style of writing.

His alternating usage of γλῶσσα and γλῶττα throughout the text was initially perplexing. They both are the same word, just different branches of the Greek language. The first being what is found in the Bible and Ionic Greek in Origin. The second being Attic and the language which Psellos communicated in. Psellos used the Biblical spelling when relating to the historic mystical event along with its theology, while he used the Attic spelling when writing in a non-theological context.

Psellos used the keywords, φωνή, διαλέκτος and γλῶσσα within his text. Psellos does not depart from the traditional definitions. Φωνή is the speech/sound or emittance with little reference to the type or nature. Διαλέκτος is becoming more specific. Sophocles dictionary describes it as “language; dialect, a variety of a particular language” (Page 365). It relates to a language family and sometimes to a particular dialect. It is the characteristic that distinguishes men from animals. Γλῶσσα is very close to διαλέκτος in meaning and in most occasions could be used as a synonym. In other cases it is more specific, relating to a specific language or dialect.

Here are a few of the new words used by Psellos in describing the pentecostal tongues phenomena. The definitions given are from a number of dictionaries and is shown in shortened form here:

  • αἴσθησις ➞ perception of the senses
  • ἀνεπαίσθητος ➞ unperceived, imperceptible
  • ἀνεπιστήμων ➞ ignorant, unskilful
  • ἀσώματος ➞ incorporeal
  • ἀπηχέω ➞ re-echo, utter
  • αὐτόπτης ➞ detected by a fact, eyewitness
  • αὐτοπτικός ➞ concerned with a direct vision of divinity
  • διάνοια ➞ thought, intention, the faculty of reasoning
  • διαλέγομαι ➞ to speak
  • διίστημι ➞ to separate, be divided
  • ἐνθεαστάς ➞ divine enthusiasm
  • ἐνθεαστικός ➞ divinely or prophetically inspired
  • ἐνηχέω ➞ to be resonant, ringing in the ears
  • ἐπιπνοια ➞ inspiration
  • ἐπόπτης ➞ visible, watcher, highest level of esoteric knowledge
  • εὐγλωσσία ➞ glibness of tongue, fluency of speech
  • θεοληψία ➞ inspiration
  • μαίνομαι ➞ burn with enthusiasm or devotion
  • μεταβάλλω ➞ distribute, change, alter
  • ὁμιλία ➞ instruction, lecture
  • προσομιλέω ➞ discourse, lecture
  • προσφθέγγομαι ➞ to call, address
  • φαντάζω ➞ to form an idea or image in the mind
  • φανταστικός ➞ to see with the mind’s eye
  • φῶς ➞ light — a divine light, something Psellos was concerned about how it worked inside the person
  • ὠνόμαζω ➞ to name, speak or call by name

Φαντάζω and φανταστικός are words that are scantly described in any of my Greek dictionaries, but the same type of formula is found in the writings of the Latin scholar, Thomas Aquinas, who appeared about two centuries later. I had previously translated Aquinas on a similar theme and his insights are an influence in translating the Platonic themes presented by Psellos.

In the last paragraphs, Psellos delves into the role of plants, mysticism, healing and ancient Greek practices on these subjects. They are a sharp departure from the previous paragraphs in content, style, and word usage. It almost appears part of a different theme and later stitched in with the earlier text. If it is a piece of the original text, then one would could surmise that the ancient Greek prophetesses entrance into ecstasy, and subsequent speaking in foreign languages, was part of the ancient Greek ritual of healing.

Many thanks to Alex Poulos for discovering and doing some initial translation work on this writer. His translation and introduction can be found here, Michael Psellos 11th century Greek text and commentary regarding Gregory’s On Pentecost

Gregory Nazianzus on the Doctrine of Tongues Intro

This is the beginning of a multi-article series on the works of Gregory Nazianzus on the doctrine of tongues.

No discussion on the nature and purpose of ecclesiastical tongues should omit this church father. However, the majority of pentecostals and charismatics who take a very deep interest in this subject, do not even know who this church father was, let alone what he stood for. It should be mandatory reading for anyone studying this topic. His coverage forces the contemporary mindset, whether a Christian mystic, or liberal theologian to reconsider the historical evidence.

In Gregory Nazianzus’ work entitled, Orations, an entire chapter is devoted to the subject of Pentecost, which is typically labeled as Oration 41. There are especially two sections in this text outlining what the tongues miracle may have consisted of (Oration 41:15-16).

He wrote about two specific options — the miracle of the Apostles speaking in every language that they were not taught, or it was the apostles speaking in one sound, and the hearers miraculously hearing it in their own language. It could be a combination of both, but the text doesn’t guide the reader to this third alternative. It is difficult to know which one is the historic right one, or how popular the miracle of hearing doctrine existed, and who promoted it. This is the central part of the historic debate.

What this series is about

This study will delve into a number of texts to solve this problem and more. It will look at the history of this controversy. First by building a source Greek text by not only consulting the version and editors notes found in Migne Patrologia Graeca, but looking at older versions.

Secondly it will analyze and compare the ancient Greek text and commentary provided by as many ecclesiastical writers on the subject that can be found. Alex Poulos, in his own research on the subject, has found at least three later writers covering this text. This will provide much needed clues to the original text and how to understand it.

Thirdly, it will examine the Syriac texts of Gregory Nazianzus to find any further hints.

Last of all, it is to look at how the Latin Church Fathers and translators understood this text. The oldest text we have today is not in Greek, but in Latin by Rufinus, who wrote it in the fifth century — though what we possess today is likely revised and updated from the original. He also took some liberties to amplify the text where he saw fit. So it is not exactly a literal translation. This can be of benefit, as it may demonstrate how the doctrine had evolved. The study will also look at evidence from Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, who indirectly asserted how Nazianzus ought to be read. The eighth century Venerable Bede weighed in on this riddle of how to understand this text, and offers some powerful clues. Jacobus Billius made a critical effort in the sixteenth century to understand by providing a Greek-Latin parallel text. His work was the basis for the Greek and Latin copy found in Migne Patrologia Graeca.

Who was Gregory Nazianzus?

Wikipedia has a good synopsis:

Gregory of Nazianzus (329 – January 25, 389) (also known as Gregory the Theologian or Gregory Nazianzen) was a fourth century Archbishop of Constantinople. He is widely considered the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age. As a classically trained speaker and philosopher he infused Hellenism into the early church, establishing the paradigm of Byzantine theologians and church officials.1

The old English translation of Nazianzus

An English translation of Nazianzus’ work, On Pentecost was completed in 1894 by Charles Gordon Browne and James Edward Swallow. It is easily available on the web.2

A.J. Mason, editor of the 1899 publication, The Five Theological Orations of Gregory of Nazianzus, concluded that it wasn’t a very good translation, and would not recommend it:

The scholarship of the only English translation with which I am acquainted, in Wace and Schaff Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, is unfortunately far below the level of that of Cyril in the same volume, and the student will do well to avoid a work which is only misleading.3

In respect to Nazianzus’ Oration 41, the Browne-Swallow translation is reliable, but it is old.

This series will provide a fresh English translation of Gregory’s works as it relates to the tongues doctrine. This series follows the typical structure of Gift of Tongues Project. Both the Greek and Latin texts that the English was translated from are provided. Since there has been so much ignorance created by faulty or lack of translations in the tongues debate, these have been provided to ensure the historic record is clear.

Translating the Greek attributed to Gregory Nazianzus is difficult. He loved classical Greek and draws from a diverse Greek community.

A fresh translation of Gregory Nazianzus’ Homily 41: 15 -16

Alex Poulos has gladly provided his time and expertise to provide the English translation.

The Oration On Pentecost is traditionally held to have been spoken on May 16, 381 AD.4 What are the Orations? The Catholic Encyclopedia, found at New Advent’s website, gave a brief outline:

Both in his own time, and by the general verdict of posterity, Gregory was recognized as one of the very foremost orators who have ever adorned the Christian Church . . .Only comparatively few of the numerous orations delivered by Gregory have been preserved to us, consisting of discourses spoken by him on widely different occasions, but all marked by the same lofty qualities. Faults they have, of course: lengthy digressions, excessive ornament, strained antithesis, laboured metaphors, and occasional over-violence of invective. But their merits are far greater than their defects, and no one can read them without being struck by the noble phraseology, perfect command of the purest Greek, high imaginative powers, lucidity and incisiveness of thought, fiery zeal and transparent sincerity of intention, by which they are distinguished.5

Which Oration specifically is this homily?

There is also a conflict in which Oration number is which. The Migne Patrologia Graeca copy has the On Pentecost chapter at header 41. The Douay-Rheims Bible wrote in its commentary that this was header 44.67 So too does Billius’ Latin translation of Nicetas of Serrone’s coverage of the works of Nazianzus. 8 and Billius’ Greek-Latin edition of Gregory Nazianzus9 place it at chapter 44. A fourteenth century Greek text of Nicetas of Serrone’s placed On Pentecost at chapter 4.10 The Orations manuscripts contained in the British Library do not follow the same header format. There are some decorative enlarged letters that do imply a chaptering system, though it has not been identified into a logical sequence. It is clear that these texts do not follow what is found in MPG. It is not known whey there is a discrepancy between the numbering systems. However, since the MPG copy is the most ubiquitous, this chaptering and verse system will be followed.

Nazianzus’ doctrine of tongues can largely be found in his coverage on the event of Pentecost covered in Acts chapter two, and a few snippets found in other works. He does not quote or describe the problem of tongues in Corinth. Neither does he address or acknowledge the contributions of the Montanists, or any other group on the issue.

For further information:

Notes about Bede's works on the Book of Acts

Textual problems in translating Bede’s initial Commentary on Acts, and his later Reflection on the Book of Acts.

The goal of translating a small portion of both books into English is to discover Bede’s position on the doctrine of tongues.

The Commentary on Acts was written in 709 or 710, the second one is not known, but a number of years later.

It is found from comparing a section of Acts chapter 2 in both works that they seldom overlap in thought. Both can stand on their own without the necessity of the other. The initial commentary is directed to a lay audience and dealing with broad themes. The second one is very detailed, and gets into points of Latin grammar — because of this, translating into English became very difficult. The English language does not have the same grammatical components, and it forced me to switch into a mode of dynamic translation.

The Reflection on the Book of Acts does not the contain the same literary style that Bede used in the initial commentary on Acts, or other Latin works I am familiar with such as, De Temporibus Liber which is known in English as the The Book of Times and De Temporum Ratione, On the Reckoning of Time — but then these two books are considered heavily redacted and should not be used as a guide to Bede’s original works.

Although the thought in Reflection appears to be of Bede origin, the text may represent some editorial upkeep.

On the other hand, this may be incorrect. The progression between his two books; The Book of Times, and On the Reckoning of Time may indeed reveal that this is an unaltered Bede writing. The Reckoning of Time is a progression from his earlier work, The Book of Times. Bede was more technical, and concise in the structure of The Reckoning. His Reflection work may just be the same thing.

I would prefer that others would have already completed the textual criticism, and that it would be easily available for the public to find, requiring me to only build on such a thesis in order to complete my task. However, it demonstrates how Patristic writings have been understudied, that it forces me to do both.

In the case here on the doctrine of tongues, it can be supposed that Bede is indeed the author, but some of the literary features are later. Moreover, the alterations do not appear to change the intent of the text.

Cyril of Alexandria on Tongues: Acts

A medieval commentary of the Book of Acts from a fragment attributed to the fifth century Church Father, Cyril of Alexandria.

The following is an English translation of a text relating to tongues and Pentecost. It comes from a supplement to Cyril’s works as found in Migne Patrologia Graeca.

It is highly doubtful that Cyril of Alexandria is the author of this work but it does represent to the medieval mindset on the tongues of Pentecost. For more information on the background, textual analysis and authorship of this text, go to The Cyril of Alexandria Text on Pentecost.

S. Cyrilli Alexandrini Archiep. Supplementum. Fragmenta in Acta Apostolorum

Translation based on Migne Patrologia Graeca. Vol. 74. Col. 757ff. (Ex Catena Crameri, Oxonii 1838)

English Translation of the Greek Text

Cyril. Some, on the one hand, were speaking in languages, and furthermore these ones did not know them beforehand. Meanwhile those proficient in the art of interpreting were taking note, indeed the ears were not now in the manner and custom of such things as this happening. On a different note, the divine Paul confidently asserts with those that were then given the gift to speak in languages, was not an emphasis in a gifting part but as in the form of a sign for believers. And indeed so he provided a persuasive word, having as follows: “That in strange tongues and foreign lips I will speak to this people and they will not believe such a thing.”1 The Spirit dispensed the distribution of the gifts in a variety of ways. So that for instance, they say, this body is certainly joined together by the parts pachu2 and from land, thus also is Christ, truly His body, that is to say, the Church, mindfully apprehended to unity through the many multitude of the faithful, possessing the most perfect composition.

and a little after3 Therefore when the priests under the sun4 were thinking to clearly speak to every language and nation the Gospel and salvation message, a sign was the giving of tongues to them. Men being Galileans, and raised up according to Jewish custom, Hebrews and certainly those from Hebrew lineage, Medes and Parthians too, and to be sure, Elamites and those from the the middle dwellers of the rivers,5 Cappadocia and as well Egypt that they were speaking in their languages. The use was effected in them by the work and grace of the Spirit. For it was written as such, “There appeared to them tongues being distributed as of fire,” etc. Except [how] the manner of stewardship was being done. Not all were approving of the action. When they were at once speaking in different languages, these ones making the grace by the agency of the Spirit as it were something of a show and those who receive the sign [as] an extravagant opportunity. Those unworthy were bound to be lecturing from the holy prophets and make a case about the Gospel doctrines, as6 from things in heaven and in fact from those many who are preaching.7 These people extol as well upon the ability to speak in tongues only, and in fact of this one and only were they supposing it is needful to lay claim to. And that which has been done was in rash actions to the more important things. ■

The English translation of the Greek here appears sloppy, and abrupt. This is not the fault of the translation, but because of the text. This Greek text appears to be a cut-and-paste work of a copyist, who took quotations out of a number of works and pasted them together into a logical sequence. As one reads the many other translations listed on this site attributed to Cyril of Alexandria, many of the sentences are found elsewhere.

A later Latin translator took this Greek copy about Pentecost and put much effort into making it flow better. Below is my English translation of this Latin work:

English Translation of the Latin Text

Some were speaking in languages unknown beforehand. Others were given the work to interpreting these things in the presence of men who greatness of things such as this were by no means quite attentive. Paul indeed asserts to this not having been imparted as a sign of grace but a symbol to those who were of faith, which he says these words in the end, “In other tongues and lips I am going to speak to this people, and neither will they hear such a thing.” Therefore the holy Spirit makes a dispensation of grace. Even as, it says, the body is based on by pieces of dense air and earth, that is also Christ, more correctly His body, that is the Church, continuing in the many holy saints, being joined together in spiritual unity.

And a little later. Therefore when the earthly priests wish to announce the Salvation-Gospel in every language and to all the peoples, they received the gift of languages. Men originating from Galilee, native in Idumea, Hebrews by parents of Hebrews, with Medes and Parthians, Elamites and to those who dwelled in Mesopotamia, Cappadocians and further off to the Egyptians, they were speaking in their own language. In fact the grace of the holy Spirit was working in them. For it has been written; “And there appeared among them a distribution of tongues, even as fire,” etc. Certainly at the beginning not everyone was making sense of these things. In fact afterwards they began to speak in other languages, these ones changing the divine gift of the Spirit into haughtiness and showing off, by now unworthily producing to teach about the sacred prophets and also to instruct about the evangelical doctrines, obviously which had long before and divinely been proclaimed. Thus these ones having too much pride about the gift of tongues are repeating everything to that which already happened, they were immediately pursuing no other matter.

A full synopsis of Cyril of Alexandria on tongues including commentaries, translations, and notes can be found at the Gift of Tongues Project menu. Scroll down to the Cyril of Alexandrian sub-category.

Thomas Aquinas on the Doctrine of Tongues: Intro


Introduction to the translation and analysis of Thomas Aquinas’ writings relating to the Christian doctrine of tongues.

Aquinas wrote considerably on this subject. His synopsis answers some very important questions on the ecclesiastical history of tongues from the fourth century onwards and how the definition finally began to shift during his own period.

1. Background

Thomas Aquinas lived from AD 1225 to 1274. He “was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian,”1 His methodology, and analytic approach from a Greek philosophical framework has highly influenced later scholars in almost every field.

When reading Aquinas’ works, one comes up with a multiple of conclusions about Aquinas himself. He can be perceived as a brilliant free-thinker well versed in the Bible, deeply entrenched in personal piety, willing to use literature outside of the Bible, especially classical Greek writings, and very systematic. However, he sometimes comes across so systematic that it appears very dry and terse.

This doctor of the Church was a very good agent in communicating and documenting the Catholic oral traditions of his time in a concise and very structured fashion. He appears to be building a Christian equivalent of the Jewish Halaka which is the way historical and evolving traditions of Jewish law have been codified. The Halaka is encapsulated in such thinkers such as Rashi and Maimonides. Aquinas seems to be following a similar pattern. The Wikipedia article on Maimonides claims Maimonides had a fundamental influence on Aquinas and that Aquinas explicity referred to him in a number of his works.2

The Aquinas Centre for Theological Renewal at the Ava Maria University, classifies him differently and concludes:

“Saint Thomas Aquinas is a paradox. He was a mystic and a rigorously scientific theologian. His attachment to Judaeo-Christianity was strong enough for him to appreciate and appropriate pagan truths. An Aristotelian, he never ceased utilizing Platonic insights. In him a deep reverence for the Church Fathers was coupled with an astonishing zest for novelty.

All of these cross-currents were to show up in his biblical exegesis. He was neither an Alexandrian nor an Antiochene, perhaps because he was both. No one has successfully categorized his approach to the Bible.

Advocates of allegory claim him as their own and defenders of strictly literal interpretation praise him for asserting the sufficiency of the letter. A noted Oxford historian admires the revolutionary quality of his exegetical principles and a prominent Jesuit theologian finds them simply traditional. Is St. Thomas’ genius really so elusive? Or was he being eclectic at the expense of consistency?3

Even with these many conflicting sides of Aquinas present, he was innovative in his time for the comprehensive and systematic nature of his approach. However, innovative in the sense of proposing new doctrine would not be a proper description. He was a traditionalist and not a maverick.

His Lectures are an intense work of faith on the one hand, but on the other, it often appears as a limited hermenuetic of the Bible with little or no reference to critical analysis.

2. Translation and Methodology

The methodology contains a comprehensive overview that focuses on the multifaceted nature of this issue. It goes far beyond tongues as a heavenly, ecstatic or human language. One of the problems of the tongues controversy are generalizations with few documented examples. This is why so much time and effort was made on translating the majority of his works relating to the gift of tongues.

This study intends to find seven aspects to the nature and evolution of the definition.

  • First of all it is to determine how Aquinas defined the mystery of tongues.

  • Secondly, did he separate the tongues of Corinthians from that of Pentecost? Were they the same or entirely different entities?

  • Third, to see if he attempted to rectify the Nazianzus paradox of it either being miraculous speech, or a miracle in hearing.

  • Fourth, what arguments, disputes or disagreements on the subject existed during his time.

  • Fifth, to analyze if his writings demonstrated the doctrine of tongues shifting into the prophecy definition. This becomes more important in the later definition of tongues between the Reformation and early 1800s.

  • Sixth, to find his definition on the office of tongues in the Church liturgy. This is important for tracing the office of the public reader (which initially was connected with the gift of tongues) and how it evolved over the centuries.

  • Seventh, to understand the concept of unknown tongues as was used in his texts. What did he mean by it, and how did it possibly influence later thinkers and translators.

This series, along with all the other ecclesiastical writers on the subject, is intended to provide the texts in the original language, along with an English translation and analysis. This is to counter the over-generalizations and lack of scholarship that has so badly scarred and misdirected issues surrounding the Church doctrine of tongues.

The translations are based on the printed version found in S. Thomae Opera. Roberto Busa, S.I. ed. Fromman-Holzboog. 1980. There is an almost identical web version available at corpusthomisticum.org.

The I Corinthians document is in a form of captured lectures supposedly by Aquinas, known in Latin as Reportationes. The Lectures on I Corinthians is composed of three different texts. Chapters 1 to 7:10 are considered very close to Aquinas style but no details are further given. Chapters 11 to 13:11 are recorded “by St. Thomas’ intimate companion and friend, Reginald of Piperno.”4 The actual mention in Busa’s publication is called RIL; short for Leonine text. Next is the Vulgata Copiis which overlaps going from chapters 11 to 16. The Gift of Tongues Project is concerned more about the dating of a text than the actual authorship because the intention is to trace the evolution of a thought from inception to its final course. Aquinas is viewed not so much as the individual man, but a point of thought in the stream of time, and how later followers interpreted and passed the Aquinas perceived version of the doctrine over to the next generation.

Judging by the copious use of Scripture being cited in the Stephanus format, ie: Eph. 2:2, which didn’t become part of the Bible until the 16th century, the manuscript is not a very old one and must be dated the 16th century or later. This does affect the conclusion as the Lectures do conflict with that contained in Summa Theologica. This discrepancy is addressed in the conclusion of this series.

The tongues subject matter was first found via Busa’s thorough index. From the index, I was able to find the most valuable resources on tongues.

3. English Translation Editions Available

There are numerous English translations available on Aquinas’ works on Summa Theologica but only one is popularly found on I Corinthians — Fabian Larcher’s unpublished translation on I Corinthians. It has been posted at Ave Maria’s website in a non-critical edition, with hopes that the centre will improve it to a final form.

Larcher’s introduction to the English world with the works of Aquinas is massive. However, for the purpose of this tongues project, it is always necessary to check the source works, because many translations are old and lack contemporary English, some are abridged or condensed, and others did not pay much attention to the tongues passages for language equivalents, Larcher’s work could not be considered de-facto. Also, being forced to translate an original work always gives the researcher additional clues often overlooked. Larcher’s work is good, probably better than the following one provided by myself. However, this work does consult Larcher frequently, improving on his translation in some areas, while going on a separate route on others. For example, Larcher provides the translation for imaginarias visiones as imaginary visions which is a literal translation but directs the modern English readers mind into a wrong definition. The proper translation and the reasons behind it can be found by reading the following article: Thomas Aquinas on the the Prophet and Imaginary Visions.

4. Structure of his works

Aquinas liked to structure all his thoughts by breaking them into two, and at the most four reasons, to explain any passage in detail. He utilized this structure quite frequently.

His lectures, or in Latin, Reportationes, is also like one long stream of endless words. The sections are very long and do not include any sub-titles or verses. This may be only a problem related to the way the printed edition was typeset and formatted, but it initially appears large and overwhelming.

Aquinas rushes the reader with every sentence and every word. He changes thought very quickly with no segue to the next concept. One paragraph can easily contain 10 or 20 deep, intellectual or complex one-liner ideas that challenge ones Biblical and philosophical familiarity. Consequently, none of his works can be read in one sitting.

Evangelical readers will find Aquinas style and structure very similar to their traditional protestant Bible commentaries.

5. Important key-words in Aquinas’ writings

Aquinas had a strong preoccupation with defining the Christian faith through a classical Greek framework. Therefore, there are certain key-words that must be understood especially in his lectures on I Corinthians. Three of them especially stand-out, intelligo, scio and cognitio. The word intelligo is meant to mean simple understanding of facts, scio is to know something through practice, experience or ability, cognitio is a far more intimate knowledge of a person or thing. It is the Greek equivalent of gnosis which in the Christian tradition is a type of knowledge that changes ones perceptions and decision making processes, resulting in transformation, personal growth and changed behaviour. It is the prime impulse that motivates ones Christian life and witness. This whole subject was dealt with in a previous work, Origen on the Gift of Tongues. Aquinas’ use of Cognitio is interesting because it is used more frequently as noun rather than its verbal form, cognosco. It is a state rather than an action that must be pursued.

It is very difficult to translate these nuances to the modern English reader. I don’t think neither myself nor Larcher are entirely successful in rendering this properly to the English reader. It needs more work.

Interpreto, this noun is typically translated as interpreted; which is communicating one language to another. However, Aquinas adds this literal definition with a spiritual sense. He thinks interpretation of divine things, including that of any ecclesiastical tongues, to be the function of the prophet. Interpreto in this mode does not simply mean to interpret language, but requires mental comprehension of a divine infusion. Therefore in the spiritual sense, understanding is sometimes necessary to use as English equivalent rather than interpret.

Then there are the words: imaginarius,imaginarius visiones, imaginatio, and imaginativus. These are covered in two separate articles; Thomas Aquinas on the Prophet and Imaginary Visions and Aquinas on Imagination Part 2.

Another important word that appears typically in this portion of Aquinas’ text is lingua. It is translated in the following copy interchangeably as language or tongue.The English translation of this word is controversial and has been covered in a previous article, The Difference Between Language and Tongues. Past research has clearly defined these words as synonyms meaning foreign language and has been applied this way.

Another word that is frequently used in Aquinas’ works is the adverb scilicet: “namely, certainly, in fact, of course, clearly etc.” It is very repetitive in Aquinas’ works and so I have tried to use different English equivalents in repeated sequences to avoid reader fatigue.

6. His use of Scripture

Thomas Aquinas assumed a high level of Biblical literacy on behalf of the reader. It requires a thorough, if not, a complete mnemonic knowledge of all Scripture. In the original Latin, he briefly cites a passage, sometimes only two or three words, assuming that the Christian reader can fill in the blanks where necessary. There are three ways to identify he is citing a verse: first of all, at least in the Busa edition and Corpus Thomisticum, they have included the Bible reference before a verse, ie: Num. 10:5. This is the most obvious identifier. Secondly, if this is not the case, the verse can be found in the printed edition by a special typographical mark that looks like a footnote resembling the letter o. Last of all, it is frequently preceded by the adverb ibi.

This scant reference to Bible verses and such a high assumption of Bible knowledge can easily lose the modern English reader trying to understand his works. Fabian Larcher overcomes these predicaments by including full verses instead of two or three words. He also cites the complete Bible passage at the beginning of each section. This is not part of Aquinas work in the Latin, but makes it much easier to follow for the English reader. He also put the Bible verses after the Biblical citation which is correct for the typical English reader, but the verse citations are actually placed before in the Latin. My translation sometimes puts the verse before and other times after the Bible quotation, depending on what makes best sense to the English reader in that specific construct.

To be accurate to the original printed Reportationes publication, I have not expanded the Bible passages nor put the complete Bible passage at the beginning of the section. The verse numbering system that Larcher has invented for his English translation is a good idea but due to time constraints, it is not included it in my own translation.

7. The Latin Original

There is a complete typeset Latin copy of Reportationes (His lectures) included with this project’s translation which is also available at a link shown below. The Latin data entry and proof-texting was done by me personally and there may be a slight chance of errors. This is here for convenience. If one is on a critical point, it is best to go to the web version available at corpusthomisticum.org.

A comparison of the modern Vulgate compared to the Aquinas manuscripts demonstrates very few critical differences. This is unlike most historical Latin Ecclesiastical texts which typically have a serious amount of variances from the Vulgate. This stimulates an important question that must be asked. Are these Bible citations in Aqulnas’ text a corrected or amended version from the 16th century as well? I do not have an answer for this.

Summa Theologia is not included in the Latin copy because it is already popularly available. An external link is given below.

8. A list of Aquinas texts relating to tongues.

Here is a complete list of translations and commentary being pursued on this project.

A Translation of I Corinthians 13 from the Ambrosiaster Text

A translation of the Ambrosiaster text on I Corinthians 13.

Translated from the Latin text found in MPL. Vol. 17. Ad. Opera S. Ambrosii Appendix. Comment. In Epist. Ad I Cor. Col. 257ff

For introductory notes on this translation along with commentary go to: Notes on Translating Ambrosiaster’s Corinthians 12-14.

Comment. In. Epist. I ad Corinthios 13

(Vers. 1) “If I should speak in the language of men and angels [Col. 265] but I do not have charity, I am one just like a sounding brass1 or a ringing cymbal.” Certainly a great grace appears to speak in diverse languages. But it is something even more if it is possible to know any language of angels, it is having been stirred of angels, if he can spiritually have become acquainted with. Truly this is not to be reckoned according to merit, but according to the glory of God, he shows by those who been made obedient, to be saying as follows as a sounding brass or ringing cymbal.

Because as the brass resounds by another strike and the cymbal rings, therefore it is also this he who is speaking in languages, has the effect and movement of the holy Spirit, as also the Saviour says in a different place, “for it is not you [plural] that are speaking but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matt. 10:20). For a she-ass also had spoken in a human language to Balaam son of Beor (Num. 22:28) when he was adjudging the majesty of God and young children broke out in praise of God to the confusion of the Jews (Matt. 21:16). For the Saviour not only that but also shows the stones can cry out to the condemnation of the faithless ones and to the glory of God (Luke 19:40). And between the origins itself to the committal of faith, those who were being baptized, were speaking in languages (Acts 10:46).

Because as the brass resounds by another strike and the cymbal rings, therefore it is also this he who is speaking in languages, has the effect and movement of the holy Spirit, as also the Saviour says in a different place, “for it is not you [plural] that are speaking but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (Matt. 10:20). For a she-ass also had spoken in a human language to Balaam son of Beor (Num. 22:28) when he was adjudging the majesty of God and young children broke out in praise of God to the confusion of the Jews (Matt. 21:16).2 For the Saviour [does] not only that but also shows the stones can cry out to the condemnation of the faithless ones and to the glory of God (Luke 19:40). And between the origins itself to the committal of faith, those who were being baptized, were speaking in languages (Acts 10:46).

(Vers. 2) “And if I shall have prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge but I do not have charity, it is profiting nothing with me.” Truly it profits nothing, for it is being prophesied to the glory of God, even as David says [about] prophecy “Not to us, Lord, not to us, but give glory in your name” (Psalm 113:1).3 For instance Balaam also prophesied (Num. 24:17), although he was not a prophet but a soothsayer.4 And Caiphas prophesied (John 11:51), not by merit but through the position of the priest’s rank. And Saul prophesied (I Samuel 19:23), while already for the reason of disobedience he was filled-up by an evil spirit but by God’s reason, he was not able to seize David which he was desiring to kill.

“And if I will have known all the mysteries.” In fact Judas profited nothing having been with the apostles and became acquainted with mysteries when the enemy of charity handed over the Saviour. And Ezekiel the prophet demonstrates the devil to know the celestial mysteries, because by the voice which had been scorned in paradise to be that of God, and bears witness to have had the most costly stones (Ezekiel 28:13), which stones the same5 Apostle signified the mysteries of the divine doctrine (I Cor. 3:12-15). And it profits to me nothing because forgetful of charity, he jumped into pride.6

“And if I would have all knowledge.” Knowledge benefits nothing to me if it is not charitable. In fact it benefitted nothing to the Scribes and Pharisees with the Saviour saying, “You have the key of knowledge, and neither do you enter nor do you permit others to enter.”7 (Luke 11:52) For charity through ill-will8 these ones who are corrupt have spun his knowledge to nothing. For both Tertullian and Novatian were not in small knowledge but because they ruined the alliances by means of a rivalry of charity, with regards to the schism9, the heresies gave birth to its own destruction.

“And if I would have all faith, so as that I could transport mountains.” Powers to be acquired, or rather the power and glory of God is to cast out demons through faith, neither does this accomplish by [means of] merit, neither to anyone who would have been a diligent imitator of a good moral life, as I mentioned above.

(Vers. 3) “And if I would have expended my every resource.” It was explained that if every resource be expended, it profits nothing with charity having been ignored, because charity is the head of the religion, and [the one] who does not have a head, does not have life. “And if I would surrender my body that I am ablaze, it profits me nothing.” Nothing profits without charity because charity is the religious foundation. Whatever then happens without charity, it is doomed.

(Vers. 4-8) “Charity is generous, it is kind.10 It is not being envious, nor is it being haughty, nor wrongly compels, it is not ambitious, it does not search for those things which they are for itself, it is not being provoked, nor thinks evil, it does not rejoice in unfairness, but revels in the truth. It endures, believes, hopes and puts up with all things. Charity at no time ceases.” He taught so great the praise of charity that he was not to appear to place this with the unmerited and to labour the same in vain, which they ascribe the work to different ones, in these ones, they are not compliant. The Apostle John affirms from this, “God is charity” (I John 4:8), that the one who does not have charity, should understand that he does not himself have God. From also the Apostle Paul likewise says, “But God who is rich in mercy who had compassion on us according to His exceeding charity” (Eph. 2:4).11 Whoever then does not have charity, is ungrateful of the mercy of God because he does not value concerning anyone who has been saved. In the same way that they were to distinguish because they were supposed to put victuals in front of the brothers of charity. For this is also what produces in the present, remains in eternity with God.

(Vers. 9-10) “Whether prophecies would become purged or tongues would cease, or knowledge would be purged.12 For we know in part and we prophecy in part but when it will come what which is perfect, the former will be purged which are from the part.” He said all the gifts of the graces are to be purged because they are not able to understand so much, the truth possesses so much. Neither are we able either to grasp or explain the fullness of truth. In fact who can do it that can grasp all the human languages, is that of God? For that reason our imperfection will be destroyed, Not that he would purge what is truth but as long as it is in imperfection it is about to be destroyed. That it is the destruction of imperfection when that, that is imperfection is to be completed in truth.

[Col. 267] (Vers. 11) “While being a child, I was speaking as a child, I was with the sense of a child, I was speaking as a child but when I had become a man, I destroyed13 those things which were of a child.” He says this because the holy things of this world which are perishing, it is more than necessary they should come which they reckon now, as John the Apostle said concerning the Saviour: “Then at that time we will see that one, even as He is,” (I John 3:2). In this life we are now small in comparison to the future life because as this life is imperfect so is also knowledge.

(Vers. 12) “We see now through a glass in an obscure manner then truly face to face.” It has now been revealed to see the images by faith, then the events themselves. “I presently know in part, then at that time I shall truly understand even as I am known.”14 That is, I will see what has been promised even as I am being seen. This is to be present near the Lord where Christ is.

(Vers. 13) “For there now remains faith, hope, charity, these three but the greatest of these is charity.” Charity is the greatest worthy acts because although faith is be made known, and hope is for the future life, charity is preferable even as I mentioned above. From which as John the Apostle, “We know from this, it says, his charity because he himself laid down his own life for us,” (I John 3:16). Therefore justifiably greater is charity by which the human race has been restored.■

Next: I Corinthians 14 from the Ambrosiaster Text

Previous: I Corinthians 12 from the Ambrosiaster Text

The original Latin copy used for this translation can be found here: The Ambrosiaster Latin text on I Corinthians 12-14

Never Cite out of Context

Context is important in translating the ancient Church writers. Translating just a small portion without knowing the big picture can be dangerous.

A Bible professor once warned all us fledgling students to never cite Biblical passages out of context.

Here I am almost 30 years later and that voice still resounds, and yet the urge to do that still exists. The English translation development of I Corinthians 12-14 of the Ambrosiaster Manuscript is testimony to that.

In an earlier Post (which I have deleted)I was given the translation:

“But in the Church,” it is said, “I wish to speak five words according to the law that I may also build up others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” He [Paul] says it to be more useful speaking in small words in the making of a speech in order that everyone should understand than to have a lengthy speech in obscurity. These were from the Hebrews who at length in the Syrian language and for the most part in Hebrew who were indulging in homilies or presentations for approval. For they were boasting calling themselves Jews according to the right of Abraham, that the same apostle held this to no account teaching, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This translation was based on a Latin manuscript from Migne Patrologia Latina. However, at the time, I did not deeply delve nor translate any other passage from this text. This just seemed from cursory glance the only passage relevant to the gift of tongues.

As I was in the process of translating three chapters of Ambrosiaster on I Corinthians, it became clear the above translation was not correct. It should read:

(Vers. 19) “But in the Church,” it is said, “I wish to speak five words according to the law that I may also build up others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” He [Paul] says it to be more useful speaking in small words in the making of a speech in order that everyone should understand than to have a lengthy speech in obscurity. [Col. 270] These were from the Hebrew who at length in the Syrian language and for the most part by Hebrew women who were indulging in homilies or presentations for approval. For they were boasting calling themselves Jews according to the right of Abraham, that the same apostle held this to no account teaching, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Indeed these ones who are mimicking, they prefer to speak in their unknown language to the people in the Church which belongs to them.

The bolded section in English is from the Latin: “Hi ex Hebraeis erant, qui aliquando Syra lingua, plerumque Hebraea, in tractatibus aut oblationibus utebantur ad commendationem.”

The key here is in understanding the foreign loanword Hebraea. It is difficult to translate this loanword because Latin authors do not consistently write this Hebrew word the same. Googling the word did not bring any closure, The Perseus dictionary had no results and Whitaker’s Words provided two definitions: the first one was “Hebrew, Jewish” and the second one was reserved for medieval usage, “Hebrew/Jewish woman.”

At first, I thought the Ambrosiaster manuscript was written by St. Ambrose and was traced back to the 4th century, so the choice of the word Hebrew with no reference to gender seemed the logical and most non-controversial translation to make.

As I went on translating the chapters, this assumption got tossed out the window. First of all, Ambrose never wrote it. It doesn’t even come close to his style or interests. Ambrosiaster is a name given to the mysterious writer(s) much later.

Secondly, the manuscript has all sorts of redactions. Most of them can be traced to around the 11th or 12th century. The Latin text seems to predominantly align better stylistically with this period, though there are pieces that are earlier.

One cannot easily see these things when only translating a small passage.

Also later on in his commentary there is a slight nuance with the tongues problem to women wanting to speak out in Church when they are not supposed to. The wording appears the same, though this is a connection more by observation than by fact.

The bottom line on the whole thing is that one should read all literature within context. By neglecting to do so can lead to some erroneous conclusions.

The Difference Between Language and Tongues

Finding an acceptable solution for the greek keyword glôssa γλῶσσα and why christian doctrine of tongues is the best catch-phrase for the subject.

Glôssa is pivotal for the doctrine of tongues. This word is found in Paul’s address to the Corinthians, Luke’s description of the first Pentecost and subsequent similar narratives in his Book of Acts. This noun is further used by later Greek ecclesiasts and authors on the subject.

The challenge is how a contemporary researcher is to translate this word without a modern bias.

The translation of glôssa has to properly reflect English literary tradition, linguistic changes over the last 200 years, historical and political influences and adherence to the intended meaning penned by the original authors.

When the Greek keyword appears, or if it is found in a Latin text, which is lingua, my mind always wants to automatically translate it as tongue.

The word tongues, which is seldom used in our modern language to specifically mean a modern, regular or contemporary language, is usually understood to be something out-of-this-world, unusual or even weird. Sometimes it is used a synonym to language, but rarely in contemporary literature is it used as the predominant descriptor.

As I have worked over both Greek and Latin Patristic texts, from the likes of Greek writers such as Irenaeous, Origen, Gregory Nazianzus, Cyril of Alexandria, Epiphanius, John of Damascus etc., to the Latin writers of Augustine, the Venerable Bede, Thomas Aquinas, the Ambrosiaster authors, and many more, they do not contain references to the gift being a strange, mystical or heavenly language that needs a new definition. It simply means a human language to them. To advance such a thought that it was different from a human language, they would have had to add an adjective to both the Greek or Latin words for language to make it distinct. They never did that. An adjective was added later on in the English Bible, but this had different political motivations altogether — it was a direct shot against the authority of the Catholic Church and its control over the masses by its exclusive use of Latin in church affairs.

Secondly, one must keep in mind that the noun language was the dominant English word used to translate glôssa/γλῶσσα before the introduction of the Geneva Bible in 1534.

More detailed information on this change can be found in a previous post The Unknown Tongues in the English Bible.

It would not be fair to translate the church fathers on the subject using ‘tongues’ instead of languages. It significantly changes the nuance of the text when it is done.

One could argue that I am forcing my own interpretation on the text. However, it is believed that language is more accurate to what the writers meant. So, sticking to the facts, language is the word of choice on the majority of occasions. My own sentiments would like to adhere to the traditional English text and prefers tongues but that simply isn’t the right thing to do. Every once in a while tongues is inserted within the many articles generated for the Gift of Tongues Project for stylistic purposes when the noun language appears too often in a text.

Another similar problem is using the catch-phrase gift of tongues. In religious circles gift of tongues is typically used to describe the currently practiced phenomena in pentecostal and charismatic churches. There is a problem with this because it is too exclusive and hardly open to any scrutiny. The Corinthian tongues church problem and the tongues of fire at Pentecost may not be related. There are a variety of different expressions about speaking in tongues over the centuries that it is dangerous to lump them all into one simplistic category.

Many scholars use glossolalia as the conventional phrase. For the most part, I try to avoid gift of tongues and glossolalia because they already subscribe to a narrow modern definition. One will see the christian doctrine of tongues more commonly in my works because it is more comprehensive and inclusive of different epochs and traditions. It also allows one to trace the evolution of this doctrine over the centuries without having to subscribe to a particular set of doctrines or force an outcome.

A significant problem with avoiding gift of tongues and glossolalia and using the newly coined, the christian doctrine of tongues, is with the Google search engine. By minimizing the phrases gift of tongues and glossolalia Google Search ranks all my articles lower because the general readership definitively links this subject with gift of tongues and glossolalia.

Gift of tongues has a proper place when referencing the problem tongues of Corinth, but it does not extend beyond that. However, current religious tradition extends it beyond this realm. The gift of tongues and the Gift of Tongues Project are often used here as transitory phrases. It is a beginning point to bring the reader into a much deeper awareness of the christian doctrine of tongues that has developed over 2000 years of church history. ■

For more information:

  • The following is a pentecostal review of the word tongues in the English Bible: Tongues or Languages? Contextual Consistency in the Translation of Acts 2* by Jenny Everts. Journal of Pentecostal Theology. 4. April 1994. Pg. 71–80