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A Catholic History of Tongues: 30 to 1748 AD

A catholic history of speaking in tongues from the first Pentecost until the rule of Pope Benedict the XIV, 1748 A.D.

This summary is the first portion of a three-part series on the christian doctrine of tongues from inception until the 1920s. For a general overview about the christian doctrine of tongues and the framework that governs the following research, see Summary of the Gift of Tongues: Introduction.

The following are the results of a detailed study of early church, medieval and later medieval catholic writers through seventeen-centuries of church life. The results are drawn from the Gift of Tongues Project which had a fourfold purpose to:

  • uncover new or forgotten ancient literature on the subject
  • provide the original source texts in digital format
  • translate the texts into English and add some commentary
  • to trace the perception of tongues in the church from inception until modern times.

Table of Contents

  • A pictorial essay on the catholic history of speaking in tongues.
  • A short observation on pentecostal tongues
  • The doctrine of tongues from the first to third-century
  • The golden age of the christian doctrine of tongues: the fourth-century
    • The connection between Babel and Pentecost
    • Hebrew as the first language of mankind and of Pentecost
    • Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon
    • Augustine on tongues transforming into a corporate identity
    • Gregory of Nyssa and the one voice many sounds theory
    • Gregory Nazianzus on the miracle of speech vs. the miracle of hearing
  • The expansion of the christian doctrine of tongues from the tenth to sixteenth-centuries
    • Later Medieval accounts of speaking in tongues
    • The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

A pictorial essay on the catholic history of speaking in tongues

The graphic below is to assist the reader in quickly understanding the passing tradition of speaking in tongues throughout the centuries in the Catholic Church. The rest of the document will describe these findings. Click on the links throughout this document for more details, or go directly to the Gift of Tongues Project for actual source texts.

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

A short observation on pentecostal tongues

The large corpus of material studied and compared demonstrate that the christian doctrine of tongues was related to human languages for almost 1800 years. The mechanics of how this happened differed. There were perceptions of it being a miracle of speech, hearing or both. There were no references to angelic speech, prayer language, glossolalia, or ecstatic utterances until the nineteenth-century. The glossolalia aspect is covered in Part 2 of this series.

The Pentecost event as described by the writer Luke in the first part of the Book of Acts has far more coverage than Paul’s address to speaking in tongues throughout ecclesiastical literature. The ancient christian authors were split on the theological symbolism of Pentecost. Pentecost was either understood as a symbol of the Gospel becoming a universal message beyond the bounds of the Jewish community or a theological symbol for the Jewish nation to repent.

The focus of this summary is the nature and mechanics behind speaking in tongues. The exploration of tongues as a theological symbol can be found throughout the source texts documented in the Gift of Tongues Project.

The doctrine of tongues from the first to third-century

The first Pentecost happened somewhere between 29 and 33 A.D., depending on which tradition one chooses to date the crucifixion. The event was listed close to the start of an account written by the physician turned writer, Luke. A work which is universally addressed today as the Book of Acts. The Pentecost narrative is very brief. As already mentioned in the Introduction, the English version of this text describing the Pentecost miracle contains approximately 206 words. Perhaps 800 if one includes Peter’s sermon. 206 words that have echoed throughout history and has inspired hundreds of millions to ponder and often replicate in their own lives.

The readership of this summary is assumed to have thorough knowledge of this passage and have come here for more information. The following is the histories of tongues after the first Pentecost.

The earlier church writers who lived between the first and third centuries, did mention the christian doctrine of tongues such as Irenaeous, who stated it was speaking in a foreign language. There was also Tertullian who recognized the continued rite in his church but fails to explain anything more than this. Neither of these writers contain sufficient coverage in their text to make a strong case for anything other than its existence.

Origen
Origen, 184 — 254 AD

The debate inevitably leads to Origen – one of the most controversial figures on speaking in tongues. Modern theologians, commentators, and writers all over the broad spectrum of christian studies believe Origen supports their perspective. This has created an Origen full of contradictions. Origen was a third-century theologian that can be viewed as either one of the greatest early christian writers ever because of combining an active and humble faith with a deep intellectual inquiry into matters of faith. On the other hand, he was mistakenly labeled a heretic after his death for his limited view of the Trinity. He lived at a time the Trinity doctrine was in its infancy and wasn’t fully developed. His views didn’t correlate with the later formulation and he was posthumously condemned for this. After careful investigation about his coverage on speaking in tongues, Origen hardly commented on it. If one is to draw a conclusion with the limited coverage by him is this: he didn’t think there was anyone pious enough during his time for this task, and if they were, it would be for cross-cultural preaching.

The golden age of the christian doctrine of tongues: the fourth-century

Due to the devastating effects of the persecutions by the Roman emperor Diocletian in the third-century, there is hardly any christian literature to choose from the first to third-centuries. This dramatically changes in the fourth-century when Christianity becomes a recognized religion, and later the foremost one within the Roman Empire. This is where things get really interesting.

The fourth-century began to unfold greater details on speaking in tongues. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote that Peter and Andrew spoke miraculously in Persian or Median at Pentecost and the other Apostles were imbued with the knowledge of all languages. The founder of the Egyptian Cenobite movement, Pachomius, a native Coptic speaker, was miraculously granted the ability to speak in Latin.

The doctrine of tongues divided into five streams in the fourth-century. The first interpretation was the speaking in Hebrew and the audience heard in their own language. The second was Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon. The third was the one voice many sounds theory formulated by Gregory of Nyssa. Fourth, the transition of a personal to a corporate practice represented by Augustine, and last of all the tongues paradox proposed by Gregory Nazianzus. Some may reckon that two more belong here – the cessation of miracles and the Montanists. Both Cessationism and Montanism are perceptions developed during the eighteenth-century. These theories will unfold further down in the summary chronology.

Before winding down the path of these five options, it is necessary to take a quick look at the confusion of tongues found in the Book of Genesis. This story has an important relationship with the discussions to follow.

The connection between Babel and Pentecost

One would assume that the reversal of Babel would be one of the early streams of thinking about Pentecost. This proposition is surprisingly not the case. The idea that the ancient christian writers would connect the confusion of languages symbolized by the city Babel in the book of Genesis with Pentecost because both are narratives revolving around languages seems logical. The book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, has a brief narrative that described how mankind originally had one language. This oneness changed with their determination to build a tower to reach into the heavens which was stopped by the introduction of a plurality of languages. Although the text is minimal and lacking details, the text suggests some form of arrogance and self-determination apart from God. The tower also represented mankind’s ability to collectively do great evil. In response, God chose to divide the one language into many languages and scatter mankind throughout the earth in order to curb this amassing of power. The overall traditional record does not associate Pentecost as a reversal of Babel.

The connection between God giving the commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai would appear to be the better correlation. The old covenant, that is the law of the ancient Israelites, was spoken by God and heard by Moses, then later given in a written form. The Talmud states that God spoke this to Moses in 72 languages – a number understood to symbolically mean in all the languages of the world. The new covenant, the law of grace, was given by the apostles in fiery tongues on the Mount of Olives at Pentecost – these apostles and 120 more miraculously spoke in a whole host of languages. The Jewish community today annually celebrates the giving of the law of Moses and call this day Shevuot which calculates the same days after Passover as Pentecost does. However, this holiday is not an ancient one and does not trace back to the first-century when the first Pentecost occurred. Luke does not mention a direct connection to Shevuot and neither do any of the ancient christian writers.

The Babel allusion prevailed discreetly in later dialogues, especially two concepts. The first one related to which language was the first language of mankind, and how that fit into the Pentecost narrative. The second relating to the one voice spoken many languages heard theory.

Hebrew as the first language of mankind and of Pentecost

There is a substantial corpus about Hebrew being the first language of mankind within ancient christian literature and a tiny allusion to Pentecost being the speaking of Hebrew sounds while the audience heard in their own language. This position about Pentecost does not clearly flow throughout the seas of christian thought, only in the shadows.

The idea of Hebrew as the first language of mankind starts with the early Christians such as first-century Clement, Bishop of Rome, fourth-century Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, for at least part of his life (He changed his position later). The concept of Hebrew being the original language of mankind was repudiated by fourth-century Gregory of Nyssa and then endorsed again by the eighth-century historian and theologian, the Venerable Bede. In the tenth-century Oecumenius, Bishop of Trikka believed that Hebrew was a divine language, because when the Lord spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus, it was in Hebrew.

The eleventh-century philosopher-theologian, Michael Psellos, referred to an ideology that placed Hebrew as the first common language. He alluded that Pentecost could have been the speakers vocalizing in Hebrew while the audience heard it in their own language. This was a reflection of a possibility in his mind, not a position he endorsed. Thomas Aquinas too mentioned this explanation, but quickly moved onto better, more rational theories.

The speaking of Hebrew sounds and the audience hearing in their own language was a small theory that never gained widespread attention. It was played about, but never became a standard doctrine with a vibrant local or international appeal.

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

Pentecost as a temporary phenomenon

A writing loosely attributed to the fifth-century Pope of Alexandria, Egypt, Cyril of Alexandria, described Pentecost as the “changing of tongues.” Pentecost was the use of foreign languages at Pentecost as a sign for the Jews. This event was a miraculous endowment and those that received this blessing in @31 AD continued to have this power throughout their lives, but it did not persist after their generation.

Cyril represented the city of Alexandria at the height of its influence and power throughout Christendom. His biography concludes that he was deposed because of quarrelsomeness and violence. There are unsubstantiated claims that he was responsible for the death of the revered mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and scholar Hypatia. Although his history comes to a sad demise, his earlier stature and his near-universal influence requires careful attention on the subject of Pentecost. His ideas of Pentecost may have been an older tradition passed down and reinforced by him. The theory of a temporary miracle restricted to the first generation of christian leadership is hard to tell because there is little information about this theory before or after his time.

However, the theory arose again in the thirteenth-century with no references inbetween. The celebrated scholastic writer and mystic, Thomas Aquinas, weighed in on the temporary question. Whenever a theological subject has been addressed by Aquinas, it is worth the time to stop and consider. There is no person in christian history that had assembled such a broad array of the various christian traditions, writers, texts, and Scripture into a systematic form of thought. Not only was Aquinas systematic, but also a mystic. The combination of these qualities gives him a high score in covering the doctrine of tongues.

He held a similar position on Pentecost to that of Cyril of Alexandria, though he does not mention him by name. He believed the apostles were equipped with the gift of tongues to bring all people back into unity. It was only a temporary activity that later generations would not need. Later leaders would have access to interpreters which the first generation did not.

Aquinas’ argument is a good and logical one, but the christian history of tongues does not align with this conclusion. After Aquinas’ time, there are numerous perceived cases of the miraculous endowments that contradict such a sentiment. Neither can Cyril’s thought be traced down through the centuries to numerous writers and be claimed as a universal or near-universal teaching.

The temporary idea of Pentecost was restricted to this miracle alone. There is no implied idea that this temporality extended to miracles of healing, exorcisms, or other divine interventions.

Augustine on tongues transforming into a corporate identity

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

The christian rite of speaking in tongues transferring from a personal to a corporate expression was espoused by Augustine Bishop of Hippo. This was created over his lengthy and difficult battle with the dominant tongues-speaking Donatist movement.

The Donatists were a northern African christian group; broken off from the official Catholic Church over reasons relating to the persecutions against Christians by edict of emperor Diocletian in the third-century. After the persecutions abated, a controversy erupted in the region over how to handle church leaders who assisted with the secular authorities in the persecutions. This became a source of contention and it conflagrated into questions of church leadership, faith, piety, discipline, and politics. One of the outcomes was a separate church movement called the Donatists. At the height of their popularity, the Donatists statistically outnumbered the traditional Catholic representatives in the North Africa region. At the height, it had over 400 bishops.

The Catholic Church was in a contest against the Donatist claims of being the true church. One of the assertions the Donatist’s provided for their superior claim was their ability to speak in tongues. This forced Augustine to take the Donatists and their tongues doctrine seriously and build a vigorous offense against them.

Augustine’s polemic against the Donatists has generated more data on the christian doctrine of tongues than any other ancient writer and gives a good lock into perceptions of this rite in the fourth-century.

Augustine attacked the Donatist claim of being the true church in a number of ways.

  • One was through mocking, asking when they laid hands on infants whether they spoke in languages or not.

  • Or he simply stated that the gift had passed. The cessation statement was one of many volleys that he made.

    This cessation needs further clarification. Augustine meant that the individual endowment of miraculously speaking in foreign languages had ceased from functioning. The corporate expression still remained. It cannot be applied to mean the cessation of miracles, healings, or other divine interventions. Augustine was exclusively referring to the individual speaking in tongues. Nothing more.

  • In other words, the individual expression of speaking in tongues changed into a corporate one – the church took over the function of speaking in every language to all the nations.

He described Pentecost as each man speaking in every language.

This transformation from individual to corporate identity was referenced by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth-century in his work, Summa Theologica, but built little strength around this theme. He left it as is in one sentence.

There is no question that the semantic range of this experience fell inside the use of foreign languages. He used the term linguis omnium gentium “in the languages of all the nations” on at least 23 occasions, and linguis omnium, speaking “in all languages”. Neither does Augustine quote or refer to the Montanist movement in his works.

The Bishop repeatedly answers the question “If I have received the holy Spirit, why am I not speaking in tongues?” Each time he has a slightly different read. What did he say? “this was a sign that has been satisfied” — the individual expression has been satisfied. He then offers a more theological slant in his Enarratio In Psalmum, “Why then does the holy Spirit not appear now in all languages? On the contrary, He does appear in all the languages. For at that time the Church was not yet spread out through the circle of lands, that the organs of Christ were speaking in all the nations. Then it was filled-up into one, with respect to which it was being proclaimed in every one of them. Now the entire body of Christ is speaking in all the languages.”(1)Augustine. Enarratio in Psalmum. CXLVII:19 (147:19)

One has to be very cautious with Augustine on this topic. He was pitting the Catholic Church as the true one because of its universality and inferring that the Donatists were not so ordained because of their regionalism. His answers were polemic than theological in nature.

Augustine’s polemical diatribes against the tongues-speaking Donatists never became a universal doctrine. The individual to the corporate idea has indirect allusions in John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria’s works, but nothing concrete. The concept faded out within a generation and references to him on the subject by later writers is not very frequent.

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

Gregory of Nyssa and the one voice many sounds theory

Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa, 335 — 394 AD

Gregory of Nyssa represents the beginning of the evolution of the christian doctrine of tongues that has echoes even today.

Gregory of Nyssa was a fourth-century Bishop of Nyssa – a small town in the historic region of Cappadocia. In today’s geographical terms, central Turkey. The closest major city of influence to Nyssa was Constantinople – which at the time was one of the most influential centers of the world.

This church father, along with Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great were named together as the Cappadocians. Their influence set the groundwork for christian thought in the Eastern Roman Empire. Gregory of Nyssa was an articulate and a deep thinker. He not only drew from christian sources but built his writings around a Greek philosophical framework.

Gregory sees parallels between Babel and Pentecost on the nature of language but produces different outcomes. In the Pentecost story, he explained it as one sound dividing into languages during transmission that the recipients understood.

Gregory of Nyssa’s homily on Pentecost is a happy one which began with his reference to Psalm 94:1, Come, let us exalt the Lord and continues throughout with this joyful spirit. In reference to speaking in tongues, he wrote of the divine indwelling in the singular and the output of a single sound multiplying into languages during transmission. This emphasis on the singularity may be traced to the influence of Plotinus — one of the most revered and influential philosophers of the third-century. Plotinus was not a Christian, but a Greek/Roman/Egyptian philosopher who greatly expanded upon the works of Aristotle and Plato. He emphasized that the one supreme being had no “no division, multiplicity or distinction.” Nyssa strictly adhered to a singularity of expression by God when relating to language. The multiplying of languages happened after the sound was emitted and therefore conforms to this philosophical model. However, Nyssa never mentions Plotinus by name or credits his movement in the writings examined so far, so it is hard to make a direct connection. There is an influence here.

What was the sound that the people imbued with the Holy Spirit were speaking before it multiplied during transmission? Nyssa is not clear. It is not a heavenly or divine language because he believed mankind would be too limited in any capacity to produce such a mode of divine communication. Neither would he understand it to be Hebrew. Maybe it was the first language mankind spoke before Babel, but this is doubtful. Perhaps the people were speaking their own language and the miracle occurred in transmission. I think speaking in their own language is the likeliest possibility. Regardless, Gregory of Nyssa was not clear in this part of his doctrine.

This theory did not solely rest with Gregory of Nyssa. He may be the first to clearly document this position, but the idea was older. There are remnants of this thought in Origen’s writing (Against Celsus 8:37) – though it is only one unclear but sort of relevant sentence and hard to build a case over

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, pokes at this too, but is unclear. He mentions on many occasions “one man was speaking in every language” or similar.(2)Sermo CLXXV:3 (175:3) What does this mean? How can one man speak simultaneously in all the languages at the same time? Even if a person sequentially went through 72 languages speaking one short sentence, it would take over ten minutes and wouldn’t be considered a miracle – only a simple mnemonic recitation. Augustine didn’t make any attempt to clarify this statement. He was playing with the one voice many sounds theory in a polemical sense and altered the nuance. The idea shifted to the connection between oneness and unity, which in Latin, are similar in spelling. He wanted to emphasize that those who spoke in tongues do it for the sake of unity. He was arguing anyone who promoted speaking in tongues as a device to divide the church is a fleshly and evil endeavor.

The concept takes us to the fifth-century where Basil of Seleucia, a bishop of Seleucia in a region historically named Isauria – today a south central Turkish coastal town known as Silifke. Basil of Seleucia followed the literary trail of John Chrysostom and copied many of his traits, but in the case of Pentecost, he adds the one voice many sounds description.

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

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

Gregory Nazianzus
Gregory Nazianzus, 329 — 390 AD

Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus were acquaintances in real life, perhaps more so because of Gregory of Nyssa’s older brother, Basil the Great. Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great had a personal and professional relationship that greatly impacted the church in their dealings with Arianism and the development of the Trinity doctrine. Unfortunately, a fallout happened between Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great that never was repaired.(3)Frienship in Late Antiquity: The Case of Gregory Nazianzen and Basil the Great This has little bearing with the topic at hand, but builds a small portrait surrounding the key figures of the fourth-century who discuss the doctrine of tongues.

Gregory Nazianzus recognized the theory of a one sound emanating and multiplying during transmission into real languages. He seriously looked at this solution and compared against the miracle of speaking in foreign languages. He found the one sound theory lacking and believed the miracle of speech was the proper interpretation. Perhaps this is a personal objection to Nyssa or a professional one based on research. There are no writings between Nyssa or Nazianzus that allude to a contested difference between them on the subject. Nyssa’s contribution to the christian doctrine of tongues has long been forgotten in the annals of history, but Nazianzus has survived. On the other hand, the theory itself posited by Nyssa never did vanish. These two positions by Nyssa and Nazianzus set the stage for an ongoing debate for almost two millennia.

Who is Gregory Nazianzus? Most people have not heard of him before but his contributions to the christian faith are many. This fourth-century Bishop of Constantinople’s mastery of the Greek language and culture is exquisite and hard to translate into English. Much of the wonder and power of his writing is so deeply connected with these two elements it feels like an injustice to translate. His works come across as dry and esoteric in an English translation whereas in the Greek he is a well-spring of deep thought. Many church leaders during his period preached and then published the homily. Nazianzus likely wrote first and preached later. His works do not come across as great sermons, but great works of writing. All these factors have contributed to him being relatively obscure in the annals of christian history – even though in the fourth-century he was on the same level of prestige as Augustine or John Chrysostom.

The description of Pentecost as either a miracle of speaking or hearing became the focal point of Gregory Nazianzus in the fourth-century when he wrote in one of his Orations that these both were potential possibilities, though he clearly believed Pentecost as a miracle of speech. Unfortunately, a Latin translator, Tyrannius Rufinus, misunderstood some finer points of Greek grammar when translating and removed Gregory’s preference of it being a miracle of speech and left both as equal possibilities. The majority of Western church leaders were unfamiliar with Greek and relied on Tyrannius’ Latin text. Tyrannius’ mistake created a thousand-year debate of the miracle being one of either speaking or hearing.

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

The speech versus hearing argument was brought up again the seventh-century by the Venerable Bede, who wrote two commentaries on Acts. The Venerable Bede lived in the kingdom of the Northumbrians (Northern England. South-East Scotland). He was brilliant in so many areas. Astronomy, mathematics, poetry, music and a literature were some of his many passions. His writing is very engaging and fluid – a good read. His Ecclesiastical History of the English People makes him the earliest authority of English history.

Venerable Bede
The Venerable Bede, 673 — 735 AD

His first commentary delved deeply in the debate, and studying only the Latin texts, concluded it was a miracle of hearing. In his second commentary, he was not so convincing. He changed his mind, alluding Pentecost was a miracle of speech and conjectures it could have been both a miracle of speaking and hearing. The outcome didn’t really matter to him. Perhaps he took this conclusion to avoid saying he was initially wrong.

Another noteworthy discussion about the Nazianzus paradox was presented by Michael Psellos in the eleventh-century. His own biography is not one of the religious cloth, but civic politics. His highest position was that of Secretary of State in the highly influential Byzantine City of Constantinople. He was a Christian who had a love-hate relationship with the church. One of the lower moments in that relationship was his choosing Plato over Aristotle. The Church tolerated the non-christian writings of Aristotle, but frowned on Plato. Psellos studied theology but loved philosophy, and this was a continued source of contention.

It is surprising that his complex weave of Greek philosophy and christian faith in a very conservative christian environment did not get him into more serious trouble than he encountered. He was way ahead of his time. His approach to faith, Scripture, and intellect took western society five hundred or so more years to catch-up.

Michael Psellos was caught between two very distinct periods. He lived in the eleventh-century and still was connected to the ancient traditions of the church, but also at the beginning shift of intellectual and scholarly thought that modern readers come to rely on. He bridged both worlds. This is why his work is so important.

He thought highly of his opinions and liked to show-off his intellectual genius. After reading his text, it is not clear whether he was trying to solve the riddle of Nazianzus’ miracle of hearing or speech, or it was an opportunity to show his intellectual mastery. Regardless of his motives, he leaves us with a rich wealth of historic literature on speaking in tongues.

What did Psellos write that was so important? Two things. He first clears up the Nazianzus paradox stating that it was a miracle of speaking. Secondly, he particularly clarifies the similarities and differences between the ancient Greek prophetesses going into a frenzy and spontaneously speaking in foreign languages they did not know beforehand, and with the disciples of Christ who also spontaneously spoke in foreign languages.

Psellos had a detailed knowledge of the pagan Greek prophets and explains that the ancient female prophets of Phoebe would go in a form of frenzy and speak in foreign languages. This is a very early and important contribution to the modern tongues debate because there is a serious scholarly connection given to the ancient Greek prophets going into ecstasy and producing ecstatic speech with that of Pentecost. The christian miracle is named a synergism of the ancient Greek practice of ecstatic speech in order to make the christian faith a universal one.

Psellos may be the oldest commentator on the subject and must be given significant weight. His knowledge of ancient Greek philosophy and religion is unparalleled even by modern standards. It is also seven hundred years older than most works that address the relationship between the christian event and the pagan Greek rite.

He described the Pentecostal speakers spoke with total comprehension and detailed how it exactly worked. The thought process remained untouched but when attempting to speak, their lips were divinely inspired. The speaker could change the language at any given moment, depending on what language group the surrounding audience belonged to. He thought this action a miracle of speech, and sided with Nazianzus.

The total control of one’s mind while under divine influence was what differentiated the christian event from the pagan one. The Greek prophetesses, as he went on to describe, did not have any control over what they were saying. There was a complete cognitive disassociation between their mind and their speech while the Apostles had complete mastery over theirs.

Last of all Psellos introduces a concept of tongues-speaking practised in the Hellenic world that has to do with the use of plants to arrive in a state of divine ecstasy. He also quickly described pharmacology too in this context, but it seems the text infers it was used in the art of healing. His writing is somewhat unclear at this point, but there was a relationship between the two. Perhaps tongues speaking practised by the ancient Greeks was part of the ancient rite of healing. It is hard to be definitive with this because his writing style here is so obscure. He warns to stay away from the use of exotic things that assist in going into a state of divine ecstasy.

Thomas Aquinas tried to conclude the tongues as speech or hearing debate. Aquinas proceeded to use his argument and objection method for examining the Nazianzus paradox. In the end, he clearly stated it was a miracle of speech. His coverage was well done. However, this attempt was not successful in quelling the controversy.

Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274 AD

Another aspect that Aquinas introduced was the relationship between the office of tongues and prophecy. The topic has lurked as early as the fourth-century but never in the forefront. Aquinas put the topic as a priority. Given that he was a mystic and lived in the world that heavily emphasized the supernatural, this comes as no surprise. He believed that the gift of tongues was simply a systematic procedure of speaking and translating one language into another. The process required no critical thinking, spiritual illumination, or comprehension of the overall narrative. He believed the agency of prophecy possessed the means for translating and interpreting but added another important asset – critical thinking. One must be cognisant of the fact that his idea of critical thinking is slightly different from ours. He includes spiritual illumination along with intellectual acuity as a formula for critical thinking. The prophetic person had the ability to understand the meaning behind the speech and how it applied to one’s daily life. Therefore, he felt prophecy was a much better and superior office than simply speaking and translating.

The expansion of the christian doctrine of tongues from the tenth to eighteenth-centuries

The tenth to sixteenth-centuries could be held as the golden age of tongues speaking in the Catholic Church, and arguably the biggest era for the christian doctrine of tongues. The next two-hundred years that reached into the eighteenth-century was the civil war that raged between protestants and catholics that put miracles, including speaking in tongues, in the epicenter. These eight-centuries were the era of super -supernaturalism in almost every area of human life. Speaking in tongues was common and attached to a variety of celebrity saints – from Andrew the Fool in the tenth to Francis Xavier in the sixteenth. This period had established the doctrine of tongues as either a miracle of hearing, speaking or a combination of both.

Later Medieval accounts of speaking in tongues

For example, the later legend of thirteenth-century had Anthony of Padua, a popular speaker in his time, spoke in the language of the Spirit to a mixed ethnic and linguistic gathering of catholic authorities who heard him in their own language. What was the language of the Spirit? This was never clarified in the text or by any other author and remains a mystery.

Vincent Ferrer in the fourteenth-century was a well-known evangelist, perhaps in the top 50 in the history of the church. He visited many ethnic and linguistic communities while only knowing his native Valencian language. His orations were so great and powerful that it was alleged people miraculously heard him speak in their own language.

There were also revisions by later writers to earlier lives of saints such as Matthew the Apostle, Patiens of Metz in the third, and the sixth-century Welsh saints, David, Padarn and Teilo. They were claimed to have spoken miraculously in foreign languages.

Speaking in tongues was also wielded as a political tool. The French religious orders, l’abbaye Saint-Clément and l’abbaye Saint-Arnould, had a strong competition between each other during the tenth and fourteenth centuries. L’abbaye Saint-Clément proposed their order to be the foremost because their lineage traced back to a highly esteemed and ancient founder. L’abbaye Saint-Arnould countered with St. Patiens who had the miraculous ability to speak in tongues.

The account of Andrew the Fool has an interesting twist in the annals of speaking in tongues. Andrew the Fool, often cited as Andrew of Constantinople, or Andrew Salus, was a tenth-century christian follower known for his odd lifestyle that would be classified under some form of a mental illness by today’s standards. However, many biographers believe it was a ruse purposely done by Andrew. There is a rich tradition of holy fools in Eastern Orthodox literature who feigned insanity as a form of a prophetic and teaching device. The story of Andrew the Fool’s miraculous endowment of tongues was used to facilitate a private conversation between Andrew and a slave while attending a party. This allowed them to talk freely without the patron of the party becoming privy to the conversation and becoming angry about the matter being discussed.

The legend of Francis Xavier speaking in tongues

Francis Xavier
Francis Xavier, 1506 — 1552 AD

The sainthood of Francis Xavier in the sixteenth-century, and the incredulous notion that he miraculously spoke in foreign languages brought the gift of tongues to the forefront of theological controversy. Protestants used his example of how Catholics had become corrupt, to the point of making fictitious accounts that contradict the evidence. A closer look demonstrated that the sainthood investigation process was flawed on the accounts of him speaking in tongues. On the contrary, a proper examination showed Francis struggled with language acquisition. His sainthood with partial grounds based on speaking in tongues was a later embarrassment to the Society of Jesus to whom Francis belonged to. The Society of Jesus is an educational, missionary and charitable organization within the Catholic church that was ambitiously counter-reformation in its early beginnings. The Society of Jesus still exists today and is the largest single order in the Catholic Church.

The mistaken tongues miracle in Francis’ life also was a headache for the Catholic Church leadership itself. This led to Pope Benedict XIV to write a treatise on the gift of tongues around 1748 and describe what it is, isn’t and what criteria should be used to investigate such a claim. He concluded that the gift of tongues can be speaking in foreign languages or a miracle of hearing.

This treatise was a well-written and researched document. No other church leader or religious organization, even the Renewalist movement, have superseded his work in validating a claim for speaking in tongues. After his publication, the investigation of claims for tongues-speaking in the Catholic Church had significantly declined.

Next article in this three-part series:

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

    References   [ + ]

    The Venerable Bede on the Doctrine of Tongues: Conclusion

    Thoughts on the works of the Venerable Bede regarding the doctrine of tongues.

    The two works written by the Venerable Bede, The Initial Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles and the text written later on his life, A Book of Reflection on the Acts of the Apostles demonstrate a number of conclusions regarding the doctrine of tongues.

    Bede’s writings are a primary source material on the christian doctrine of tongues but for whatever reason has been left of the popular narrative. This absence once again identifies the problem of modern day scholars, ministers, and Bible students not knowing their ecclesiastical writings. If modern readers were acquainted with the amount of works covering the doctrine of tongues by the many Church Fathers, including the Venerable Bede, it would dramatically change the contemporary interpretation.

    Bede’s initial commentary on the Book of Acts is dependent on his understanding of Gregory Nazianzus’ teaching on the subject. Although Gregory was clear in his Greek text that it was a miracle of speech, the earliest Latin text does not give such clarity. This forced Bede to originally think it was a miracle of hearing.

    “…that while the hearers were of the diverse nations, each one according to their language coming from this one speech itself, which had been uttered by the Apostle, that it entered upon the hearer and seized the intellect. Except perhaps according to this, it seemed those who are hearing to be a greater miracle than those who speaking.”(1)My translation. from MPL. Vol. 92 Bedæ Venerabilis: Super Acta Apostolorum Expositio. Col. 945-948. See https://charlesasullivan.com/3409/bedes-initial-commentary-on-acts-21-19/ for more info

    The miracle of hearing was established from Rufinus’ Latin translation of the Nazianzus’ text. Nazianzus posited two theories on the miracle of Pentecost. One was the miracle of spontaneously speaking in foreign languages unknown by the speaker beforehand, and the other was one sound emitted and the audience hearing the sound in their own language. Rufinus’ text took some liberties and failed to communicate that Gregory preferred the miracle of speaking as the acceptable interpretation. He misunderstood the Greek and made two critical errors. Rufinus instead gave equal value to both positions and let the reader decide which one was right, which over time leaned towards the miracle of hearing. Bede, upon reading of the Latin text, originally decided it was a miracle of hearing.

    Bede did not have strong skills in Greek and he, along with the majority of the Latin Church ecclesiasts, depended on Rufinus’ translation as a key text.

    See the article: Nazianzus’ Tongues of Pentecost Paradox: Gregory’s two interpretations of Pentecost and the traditions that followed after this.

    He changed his interpretation of Nazianzus in his later work, A Book of Reflection on the Acts of the Apostles and switched it to a miracle of speaking.

    “I know to hold myself back from this matter because I have said this thought can be understood in two ways; or rather that I was obligated to find-out how it ought to be understood. I am going to respond briefly to this matter that everything whatsoever of the same sentiment I have written in my previous book. I did not mention this by reason of personal experience, but from the words of the holy and faultless teacher in every respect, that is, I take up Gregory Nazianzus. It is certainly agreed that the apostles filled with the holy Spirit were speaking in all languages, neither is it permitted to be questioned by anyone about this. But in the manner how they were speaking it is to be asked without reservation. It could be the speech of the Apostles had so much power, that they became familiar with the diverse languages by all those, the hearer then is equally able to understand. Or can it be whichever one was being spoken, one was necessary in regards to being appropriate of so great a multitude, with the others left silent, at the moment producing a word of instruction, the person who was speaking at first to the Hebrews, that it produced the speech in Hebrew, while the others do not know what was being said. Then to the Greeks, while those who are ignorant in the Greek language and with the others left waiting. Next to the Parthians, after this the Medes, and so Elamite, and whichever ones are being listed through an order by the nations, its own particular language was to have been spoken, each one at a time awaiting, and being silent, until its order arrives, something was being spoken, they were understood, and so they were to render the approval of the faithful by the words of these teaching, Moreover Luke reports Peter speaking to the crowds and he did not report that he [Peter] spoke repeating the same things the second or third [time], but that these [crowds] in whom have received the plan of salvation are hardly consecrated in the mysteries of the Christian faith.

    On the other hand I do not think this to be an error. If either of the two can be trusted to have taken place, and that the apostles in the holy Spirit clearly understood the languages of the nations and had the ability to speak, and the words too were in whatever language expressed by a great miracle, to all who were hearing, that they equally had the ability to learn.”(2)Translated by me. MPL. Vol. 92. Bedæ Venerabilis: Liber Retractationis In Actus Apostolorum. Col. 998-1000

    See the article: Bede’s Book of Reflection on the Acts of the Apostles for the actual complete translation.

    Bede now corrected his understanding of Nazianzus. The miracle of Pentecost consisted in the miracle of speaking in foreign languages. He then goes on to explaining the mechanics as to how it occurred. Bede draws the conclusion that the miracle can be understood as a miracle of hearing or speaking. The style which Bede approached the subject demonstrated that he had no personal attachment to either side. It was an intellectual journey whose results didn’t matter.

    There is no reference by Bede of any historic or contemporary group practicing an alternative experience in his works. He did not see the influences of Montanism, or Donatism as important sources of theological controversy within his time. ■

    References   [ + ]

    Bede’s Book of Reflection on the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-18

    The Venerable Bede on the doctrine of tongues. An English translation of his Book of Reflection on the Acts of the Apostles chapters 2:1-18.

    Translated by Charles A. Sullivan from MPL. Vol. 92. Bedæ Venerabilis: Liber Retractationis In Actus Apostolorum. Col. 998-1000


    A Book of Reflection on the Acts of the Apostles

    Chapter 2

    “And when the days of Pentecost were completed, they were all together in the same place,” Some of the other Codices(1)Bede had an extensive Library of Old Latin and the Septuagint texts to choose from and was well aware of textual errors see Calvin B. Kendall’s coverage on this topic. wrongly have Pentecost in the accusative case. For Pentecost in the nominative case is called the fiftieth — in the genitive, is called of the fiftieth, in the accusative [it is simply] the fiftieth day(2)Bede is making an important distinction in the Latin use of cases, which do not exist in English. He is arguing that Pentecost, a word directly derived from the Greek, and the Latin equivalent, Quinquagesima, which both mean fifty, are synonyms. It can be called by either name. In the old Latin Pentecost was called Quinquagesima. It was the official name of the holy day, not just a number or adjective. If it is used in the accusative, it is just a number or adjective. Moreover not one account permits this to be spoken this way, so that when we say Pentecost in the accusative case, when really it ought to be said, “when the day of Pentecost was completed.” certainly it is said without doubt to be with the singular number in the Greek.

    “And when the days of Pentecost were completed.” Of course in the very same day of prayer it should be mentioned as well, “These ones celebrate the most sacred Pentecost day,”(3)diem sacratissimum Pentecosten celebrantes — this quotation by Bede is a sacred part of the Catholic tradition of celebrating Pentecost. An alternative English translation could be “celebrating the most sacred Pentecost day. that is, the fiftieth. The solemnity of this day is being reckoned by the tradition of such a word, by which some who do not know the Greek language, even now ought to call Pentecost in the nominative case.

    “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming: and it filled the whole house where they were sitting,” etc.(4)Douay-Rheims And the actual distinction is most apparent in the giving of the law and in grace with the Old and New testaments. Where it says the group(5)plebs was resting far away, fear, not love was present. They continually dreaded thus far, as they were saying to Moses, “Speak to us, and let not the Lord speak to us, lest we die.” [Exodus 20:19] Then God descended, as it was written, on Sinai as fire, but the frightened group stands still far away, the law by a finger in the stone, nor was it written by the spirit itself in the heart. However, when the holy Spirit came here, the faithful were joined together as one — not even scared on the mountain but entered into the house. Indeed, a sound suddenly came from heaven, so that [the group] was affected also as if a violent wind made a noise, but was not terrified. You have heard the sound. Consider the fire, because each was also on the mountain. And the fire and sound, and yet also smoke, this fire, as if the fire of divided languages. Can it be that it continues to frighten those far away? Let it be far from the hearts of the faithful. For it rested on each one of them and they began to speak in languages, even as the Spirit gave them utterance. Hear the language being spoken, and understand the Spirit writing not in stone, but in the heart.

    “And there appeared to them parted tongues, as it were of fire: and it sat upon every one of them.”(6)Douay-Rheims It is of this fire, [which is in the genitive case], not this fire [which is in the nominative case]. For in the Greek it has πυρὸς(7)Greek for the word “fire” in the genitive case not πῦρ.(8)Greek for the word “fire” in the nominative case So that this kind of distinction was easy to figure out. As if it was to be said with an added word “And there appeared parted tongues, as it were of a glowing fire,”(9)Apparuerunt dispartitæ linguæ tanquam ignis ardentis or as it were of a brilliant fire, so that it may be understood regarding the definition of fire to be distributed languages.

    “And they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak. Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.”(10)Douay-Rheims It does not have in the Greek in this place, divers tongues but other tongues. For Isaiah expressed that “In other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people: and neither so will they hear me, saith the Lord.”(11)Douay-Rheims. Bede is lifting this quote directly from I Corinthians 14:21, not from Isaiah 28:11 So that the blessed Luke no doubt was inferring this prophecy which was to be fulfilled by gift of the Spirit, likewise the same word was what he saw in the prophecy, he took care to set down in this sacred history.

    “Because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue. And they were all amazed, and wondered, saying: Behold, are not all these that speak Galilean? etc.”(12)Douay-Rheims. I know to hold myself back from this matter because I have said this thought can be understood in two ways; or rather that I was obligated to find-out how it ought to be understood. I am going to respond briefly to this matter that everything whatsoever of the same sentiment I have written in my previous book. I did not mention this by reason of personal experience, but from the words of the holy and faultless teacher in every respect, that is, I take up Gregory Nazianzus. It is certainly agreed that the apostles filled with the holy Spirit were speaking in all languages,(13)linguis omnibus loquebantur — it is purposely left vague by Bede on purpose. neither is it permitted to be questioned by anyone(14)ulli: from ullus — any, anyone. strange that this is the only occurrence used by Bede in any document I have translated. A later interpolation? about this. But in the manner how they were speaking it is to be asked without reservation. It could be the speech of the Apostles had so much power, that they became familiar with the diverse languages by all those, the hearer then is equally able to understand. Or can it be whichever one was being spoken, one was necessary in regards to being appropriate of so great a multitude, with the others left silent, at the moment producing a word of instruction,(15)interim sermonem proferre doctrinæ the person who was speaking at first to the Hebrews, that it produced the speech in Hebrew, while the others do not know what was being said. Then to the Greeks, while those who are ignorant in the Greek language and with the others left waiting. Next to the Parthians, after this the Medes, and so Elamite, and whichever ones are being listed through an order by the nations, its own particular language was to have been spoken, each one at a time awaiting, and being silent, until its order arrives, something was being spoken, they were understood, and so they were to render the approval of the faithful by the words of these teaching,(16)et sic verbis docentium fidei assensum præberent Moreover Luke reports Peter speaking to the crowds and he did not report that he [Peter] spoke repeating the same things the second or third [time], but that these [crowds] in whom have received the plan of salvation are hardly consecrated in the mysteries of the Christian faith.(17)sed tantum eas accepto salutis consilio Christianæ fidei consecratas esse mysteriis — a nice way of saying the crowd didn’t know very much about what was happening. They were spectators, not theologians, and they only thing they could have explained was that they saw and experienced this event.

    On the other hand I do not think this to be an error. If either of the two can be trusted to have taken place, and that the apostles in the holy Spirit clearly understood the languages of the nations and had the ability to speak, and the words too were in whatever language expressed by a great miracle, to all who were hearing, that they equally had the ability to learn.(18)qui audiebant æque potuissent cognosci — this is the first time cognosco is used by Bede in relation to the tongues doctrine. Why such a sudden change? The last few sentences have changed in structure from the rest of the chapter, and is not typical of Bede in a number of other translations I have done. I wonder if this is a later emendation.

    “And those who inhabit Mesopotamia, Cappodocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia.”(19)Bede is quoting from a different text than the one used for the initial commentary on Acts. The initial has “Et qui habitabant Mesopotamiam, et Judæam, et Cappadociam” and Reflections has “Et qui habitant Mesopotamiam, et Cappodociam, Pontum et Asiam, Phrygiam et Pamphyliam.” These provinces which are named [in the text] after Judea, are uttered in the Greek language, but if nothing diverse were sounding out in the native usage, so by no means were they to record the fine distinction of languages. From whence the Spirit was to actively be seen in the wonderful grace among the apostles, which not only taught them the diversity of all the languages, and certainly also the distinction of qualities in every language equal the total of provinces which they make use of in this way, he did to be knowledgeable in their utterances.(20)in eorum fecit loquelis agnosci. Lidell and Scott make a distinction between the use of agnosco and cognosco. “As if to know a person or thing well, as having known it before, to recognize: agnoscere always denotes a subjective knowledge or recognition; while cognoscere designates an objective perception; another distinction v. in II.)”

    “And strangers of Rome.” The more proper way was contained in the Greek, “Roman foreigners,” that is Jews who were leading the foreign life of Rome, just like others elsewhere, of which had been written above. For this reason the strangers were in this place, who in the Greek were called proselytes, that is, those who from the gentiles to Judaism, leaving the religion of the gentiles(21)relicto gentilitatis ritu — the same construct as found in Judith 14:6 had come together. It is made clear from the following verse when it says, “Jews also, and proselytes.”.(22)Douay-Rheims.(23)Bede makes the same assertion in his initial commentary on Acts that the Jews mentioned in Acts 2:10 were converts from other nations. Why he emphasized this interpretation is not clear to me.


    Need information on Bede and the subject matter? The following link may help: The Venerable Bede on the Doctrine of Tongues.

    References   [ + ]

    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.

    Bede’s Initial Commentary on Acts 2:1-18

    The Venerable Bede on the doctrine of tongues. An English translation of his initial commentary on the Acts of the Apostles chapters 2:1-18.

    Translated by Charles A. Sullivan from MPL. Vol. 92 Bedæ Venerabilis: Super Acta Apostolorum Expositio. Col. 945-948


    Bede’s Initial Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

    Chapter 2

    “And when the days of Pentecost were completed, they were all together in the same place,” that they are being narrated to have been up high. For whoever longs to be filled by the holy Spirit, it is necessary that they should climb above the residence of flesh to the contemplative mind. Just like also the forty days, by which the Lord after His resurrection had dwelled with the disciples, they note the Church rising together of those who live abroad, so on the fiftieth day that the holy Spirit is being received, a completion of blessed peace, that the work of the temporary Church will be repaid in an eternal 10,(1)Latin:denario. Lidell and Scott, Perseus Version, wrote it meant a coin, whether silver or gold, with a specific value, or simple 10, but later could generally mean money. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph?l=denario&la=la#lexicon He will suitably pronounce. For the calculated number 40 adds 10 more itself from its equal parts, and it makes 50. Half of 40 is 20, the 4th by that of five,(2)Latin:”em” I don’t know what this word actually means in this context, perhaps it is a manuscript error, but can’t think it could be anything other than 5 5th x 8, 8th x 5, 10th x 4, 20th x 2, 40th x 1. For 20,10, 8, 5, 4, 2, and 1 make 50.(3) He is adding up these consecutive numbers to equal 50. Bede was well versed in math, though his audience did not have such an ability, so he used very basic math. Was Bede dabbling in numerology here, or was it showmanship? It could be a little of both. For it is easy to figure-out the form of this calculation, seeing the present strife is the joy of the 50th(4)jubilæi: the year of Jubilee according to the Jews. Bede is being symbolic here using 50 to mean liberation, which can only happen through trial and struggle. to us,(5)awkward Latin: quoniam praesens conflictus gaudium nobis jubilæi. It is missing the verb, which I assume is suppose to have est as if secretly generating the imperishable, from which the Apostle teaches: “For that which is at the present moment and the trivialness of our trouble, works greatness in us, the eternal weight of glory above measure” [I Corinthians 4:17](6)My translation. The Douay-Rheims is not always best in communicating the Latin translation in contemporary English, and I am trying to translate as Bede understood the text to mean.

    But the reality is our supreme happiness of the body and soul, we are the ones who pride ourselves in immortality that is being nourished in the eternal vision by the substance and blessing of the Trinity.(7)nos immortalitate gloriantes summæ et beatæ Trinitatis æterna visione satiari. for we exist in four well known distinguished parts of the body. In the inner man, from every heart, soul and mind together, we desire to love God. And this is the perfect 10 of life, that we are to be joyful in the present vision of divine glory. The truth is about to be observed adjoining history that is in the writings of the early authorities, the day of Pentecost, that is, the 50th, which the Law was given, was reckoned after the slaughter of the lamb. This is also not from the passion of the Lord, but as the blessed Augustine explained, 50 days from His resurrection, which the holy Spirit had been sent, it is being reckoned, that, with the evidence taking place of the long standing proof.(8)”qui, redeunte signi veteris exemplo” I am not sure exactly what he means here and my translation remains rough. He [the Spirit] Himself most evidently consecrated the day of the Lord with His arrival. In that critical moment of time, the Passover day of the Lord demonstrated that it must be celebrated. For as it is here, and as well as God appeared in a vision of fire, as it says in Exodus, “And all Mount Sinai was on a smoke: because the Lord was come down upon it in fire.”(9)Douay-Rheims. Exodus 19:18

    “And suddenly a sound was made from heaven as if of a mighty wind coming” etc. The Lord indeed appeared by means of fire as the blessed Pope Gregory explains, but made through inner(10)per semetipsum locutionem interius fecit. It is important to both Bede and Gregory the use of interius. This is important. speech itself. And neither the God of fire, nor the sound made a noise but by that which was externally produced, this was expressed in respect to what was conducted on the inside. That it rendered within the disciples as ones who had come on fire, with zeal and skill in the word, the outside showed the fiery tongues. Therefore, the elements had been brought up in accordance with an outward sign, that the persons(11)corpora were experiencing the fire and the sound by the true invisible fire and the hearts were being taught by the voice without sound.

    “And there appeared to them parted tongues, as it were of fire:”(12)Douay-Rheims That is to say the holy Spirit appeared in fire and languages, because everyone whom he filled are on fire together and these ones are producing phrases. Certainly these ones are on fire from it, and are speaking from it. At the same time it also demonstrates that the holy Church has opened wide the boundaries throughout the world. [The Church] is going to speak in the voice of all the nations.

    “And it(13)The Latin clearly means “it” and not “they” as some English translations have sat upon each one of them.” What does it mean that it sat? It is the proof of royal power. Or also that his past labour(14)Vel certe quia requies ejus indicatur in sanctis.– Bede is connecting to a previous paragraph where current suffering brings on holiness. is to be publicly displayed in holiness.

    “And they began to speak in various languages.” How the arrogance of Babylon scattered the unity of languages, [and] the humbleness of the Church gathers it back. Moreover, the variety of languages spiritually signifies the gifts of different graces. The holy Spirit is certainly not being inconsistently understood, for that reason the gift of tongues had been given to men before anything else, by which in the form of human wisdom on the outside and becoming learned, and being taught, that it was to demonstrate how easy it can be to make wise men by means of the wisdom of God which is inside them.

    “Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.”(15)Douay-Rheims I think it is appropriate to seriously ask, who were at this place, and from where were the captive Jews? Seeing that those who had been in Egypt or Babylonia had already been freed. While the Jews had not yet come to the Romans in captivity, and clearly the revenge itself was to be imminent about the crime that was committed against the Saviour.(16) licet jam et ipsa immineret ultrix commissi de Salvatore piaculi – I have my doubts that this is actually the original part of Bede’s work. it appears to be a later insertion. Therefore it remains to be done, so that captivity is to be understood to have been done under Antiochus(17)Antiochus Epiphanes that he certainly destroyed not much time before.(18) Almost 200 years before.

    “Because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue.”(19)Douay-Rheims. One should ask in this place why each one was hearing in their own language those speaking the great things of God?

    Either [one of the two]: those that they were speaking such in the various words of every language generated what they spoke, that is, each of them here now, yet now again a different language being spoken, so that it was to proceed through every language.

    Or rather(20)utrum… an — “Or rather” is from the Latin “an” which Whitaker’s Works says: “can it be that (introduces question expecting negative answer/further question)” which should then be interpreted as a hypothetical position that Bede did not agree. However, Lidell and Scott at Perseus “Sometimes the opinion of the speaker or the probability inclines to the second interrogative clause (cf. infra, II. E.). and this is made emphatic, as a corrective of the former, or rather, or on the contrary.” I think the context along with Lidell and Scott is the correct implementation here. was it more astonishing to this than their speech that whatever language was being spoken, these ones proclaimed in the hearing of each and every person, they were understanding according to their own language. That with the word of grace by whichever apostle in the Church teaches (In fact it was necessary to speak one [language] and one speech with leaving the rest silent in order to reach everyone who heard).(21)This parenthesis exists in the original Latin copy of MPL. I interpret this parenthetical text to be a later emendation by a copyist/editor The speech itself was to possess this in its own power, that while the hearers were of the diverse nations, each one according to their language coming from this one speech itself, which had been uttered by the Apostle, that it entered upon the hearer and seized the intellect. Except perhaps according to this, it seemed those who are hearing to be a greater miracle than those who speaking.

    “And those who inhabited Mesopotamia, and Judaea and Cappodocia.” In this place it signifies Judaea not entirely gentile but part of those, this is the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, for one may see clearly the distinction Samaria, Galiliee, Decapolis, and of others in the same province concerning the regions. Although that everyone were speaking in the one language of Hebrew, nevertheless, the native style of each speaking had a distinctiveness. From where also Peter in the passion of the Lord with respect to a Galilean is being identified by that which is his speech.

    “Jews also, and proselytes.”(22)Douay-Rheims. Proselytes, that is, they called them strangers, who, these ones derive origin from the gentiles, they were wishing rather to choose circumcision and Judaism, like Achior in the Book of Judith is described to have done. Then not only, do they say, are they Jews by birth that had visited from different regions, certainly too it is about those having been born with a foreskin, they adhere to the custom.(23)The uncircumcised. What exactly Bede means about the uncircumcised is not clear. It could mean the Jew who was born uncircumcised and continue to promote what Bede thinks is an unnecessary practice, which he frowns upon, or that those gentiles who have converted, ie: the uncircumcised, adhere to the custom too.

    “But others mocking, said: These men are full of new wine.” Mocking although they were giving true witness to something belonging to the ancient mysteries. That not in old wine, while in the Church wedding, but they had been filled with the freshness of the spirit’s grace. Indeed, now it had come the new wine in new skins, while the Apostles not in the oldness of letter, but were to resound in the newness of the Spirit of God’s great work (Rom. 7).(24) Romans 7:6 “so that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” Douay-Rheims

    “For these are not drunk, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.”(25)Douay-Rheims The holy Spirit is about to proclaim glory in the indivisible way of the Trinity, He conveniently descended in the third hour. And because what was written above, “They were persevering in prayer,”(26) amplified from Acts 1:14 they correctly feel the holy Spirit in the hour of prayer that it was to be pointed out by the readers(27) legentibus: organized community prayer in Bede’s time was associated with a reader(s). Lector is a better known synonym. that the grace of the holy Spirit is not easily to be felt. Neither can the mind, which is based on worldly senses, rise up in the thought of heavenly things. For three times to which Daniel in the day did he bow his knees, and it was chosen(28) legitur to worship at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, it is understood by the Church. Whereby also the Lord is the one who sends the holy Spirit in the third hour, sixth — rises to the cross, and the ninth — lays his own soul down. It has been deemed most worthy to recount and sanctify these same hours for the rest of us.

    “I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh:”(29) Douay-Rheims The word of offering shows the abundance of excess, because the holy Spirit exists through the agency of grace which brings about pardon, not as formerly the power with the prophets and priests only, but in everyone everywhere in either sex within relations and persons. For that is to be in all flesh, it was explained in accordance with the prophet.(30) Joel 2:28

    “And they will prophecy,” (it says) “your sons and daughters,” etc. . . . “and I will show wonders in heaven above, and a sign on earth below.”(31) portions of Acts 2:17 and 19, my translation. Wonders in heaven, a new star appeared with the Lord being born, while going up to the cross, the sun was darkened, and heaven itself was covered in darkness. A sign on the earth, because the earth trembled by Lord sending the Spirit, it uncovered tombs, moved stones, and brought up the many revived bodies of the saints who had gone to sleep.■


    Need information on Bede and the subject matter? The following link may help: The Venerable Bede on the Doctrine of Tongues.

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