Gifts of Tongues

St. Luke relates that on the feast of Pentecost following the Ascension of Christ into heaven one hundred and twenty disciples of Galilean origin were heard speaking "with divers tongues.....

St. Luke relates(Acts 2:1-15)that on the feast of Pentecost following the Ascension of Christ into heaven one hundred and twenty disciples of Galilean origin were heard speaking "with divers tongues, according as the Holy Spirit gave them to speak." Devout Jews then dwelling at Jerusalem, the scene of the incident, were quickly drawn together to the number of approximately three thousand. The multitude embraced two religious classes, Jews and proselytes, from fifteen distinct lands so distributed geographically as to represent "every nation under heaven". All were "confounded in mind" because every man heard the disciples speaking the "wonderful things of God" in his own tongue, namely, that in which he was born. To many the disciples appeared to be in a state of inebriation, wherefore St. Peter under took to justify the anomaly by explaining it in the light of prophecy as a sign of the last times.

The glossolaly thus described was historic, articulate, and intelligible. Jerusalem was then as now a polyglottal region and could easily have produced one hundred and twenty persons who, in the presence of a cosmopolitan assemblage, might express themselves in fifteen different tongues. Since the variety of tongues is attributed to the group and not to individuals, particular disciples may not have used more than their native Aramaic, though it is difficult to picture any of them historically and socially without at least a smattering of other tongues. The linguistic conditions of the country were far more diverse than those of Switzerland today. The number of languages spoken equalled the number of those in which the listeners "were born". But for these Greek and Aramaic would suffice with a possible admixture of Latin. The distinction of "tongues" was largely one of dialects and the cause of astonishment was that so many of them should be heard simultaneously and from Galileans whose linguistic capacities were presumably under rated. It was the Holy Spirit who impelled the disciples "to speak", without perhaps being obliged to infuse a knowledge of tongues unknown. The physical and psychic condition of the auditors was one of ecstasy and rapture in which "the wonderful things of God" would naturally find utterance in acclamations, prayers or hymns, conned, if not already known, during the preceding week, when they were "always in the temple", side by side with the strangers from afar, "praising and blessing God" (Luke 24:52-53).

Subsequent manifestations occurred at Caesarea, Palaestina, Ephesus, and Corinth, all polyglottal regions. St. Peter identifies that of Caesarea with what befell the disciples "in the beginning" (Acts 11:15). There, as at Ephesus and Jerusalem, the strange incident marked the baptism of several converts, who operated in groups. Corinth, standing apart in this and other respects, is reserved for special study.

In post-Biblical times St. Irenaeus tells us that "many" of his contemporaries were heard "speaking through the Spirit in all kinds (pantodapais) of tongues". St. Francis Xavier is said to have preached in tongues unknown to him and St. Vincent Ferrer while using his native tongue was understood in others. From this last phenomenon Biblical glossolaly differs in being what St. Gregory Nazianzen points out as a marvel of speaking and not of hearing. Exegetes observe too that it was never used for preaching, although Sts. Augustine and Thomas seem to have over looked this detail.

"......Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them."(Acts.2:1-3)

"......I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh......"(Joel.3:1-4)

St. Paul's Concept (ICorinthians 12-14). For the Biblical data thus far examined we are indebted to the bosom friend and companion of St. Paul - St. Luke. That being true, the views of St. Paul on supernatural glossolaly must have coincided with those of St. Luke.

Now St. Paul had seen the gift conferred at Ephesus and St. Luke does not distinguish Ephesian glossolaly from that of Jerusalem. They must therefore have been alike and St. Paul seems to have had both in mind when he commanded the Corinthians (14:37) to employ none but articulate and "plain speech" in their use of the gift(9), and to refrain from such use in church unless even the unlearned could grasp what was said (16). No tongue could be genuine "without voice" and to use such a tongue would be theact of a barbarian (10,11). For him the impulse to praise God in one or more strange tongues should proceed from the Holy Spirit. It was even then an inferior gift which he ranked next to last in a list of eight charismata. It was a mere "sign" and as such was intended not for believers but for unbelievers(22).

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