Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Part Two: Tongues in the post Apostolic Church

I apologize to those of you reading for my last post. I realized that I had ended it without addressing a major point of speaking in tongues in the first 4 centuries of the Church. I doubt anyone lost sleep over it (if they in fact noticed to begin with), but I will remedy it now.

Section 2: Accounts of tongues ceasing by the 4th century

One major historical proof for cessationists is found in the writings of two major Christian authors, St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom. Each of these authors (both writing in the late 4th century) wrote in their work that speaking in tongues no longer occurs. So what are we to do with these writings? Let me begin to address this issue by making it very clear how important these two figures are. Most people are familiar with St. Augustine. He is a Doctor of the Church, the patron of the Augustinian religious order, and the one of the most influential Christian writers in history (perhaps second only to the Biblical authors themselves). Simply put, he is a founder of Western Christianity (and Western Civilization in general). St. John Chysostom was the arch-bishop of Constantinople and a contemporary of Augustine. He is a saint in both the Catholic and Orthodox churches and is a Doctor of the Church. He is one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. Neither of these men can simply be ignored nor can their writings be easily tossed aside as just the opinions of long dead men. It is important that we look at what these men had to say and seriously consider their relevance to the church today.

Looking first at Chrysostom, we find one of these pesky passages in his Homily on 1 Corinthians 12. He writes,

This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity hath produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?[i]

These are the first sentences of his discussion of 1 Corinthians 12. He goes on,

For since on their coming over from idols, without any clear knowledge or training in the ancient Scriptures, they at once on their baptism received the Spirit, yet the Spirit they saw not, for It is invisible; therefore God’s grace bestowed some sensible proof of that energy. And one straightway spake in the Persian, another in the Roman, another in the Indian, another in some other such tongue: and this made manifest to them that were without that it is the Spirit in the very person speaking.

This section does not necessarily have to do with this particular subject, but I thought it was interesting that Chrysostom interprets speaking in tongues to be speaking existing languages. It is also significant that he teaches that the Holy Spirit was received “at once” upon being baptized. Chrysostom points this out to show that the focus of these gifts was not meant to be on the person being given the gift, but rather on the Holy Spirit. These miracles were not meant to be a test of an individual’s holiness or “proof’ that a person is really a Christian. These gifts were meant to be a manifestation of the Holy Spirit to all around them. The gifts are meant to bring the Holy Spirit to those who do not believe. The individual using the gift is the least important part of the equation. He expands on this point by saying,

But he calls miracles a “manifestation of the Spirit,” with evident reason. For to me who am a believer, he that hath the Spirit is manifest from his having been baptized: but to the unbeliever this will in no wise be manifest, except from the miracles: so that hence also again there is no small consolation. For though there be a difference of gifts, yet the evidence is one: since whether thou hast much or little, thou art equally manifest. So that if thou desirest to show this, that thou hast the Spirit, thou hast a sufficient demonstration.[ii]

But in continuing this point he has also shown something else. Chrysostom has clearly stated that the Holy Spirit empowers us to perform miracles so that we may have “a sufficient demonstration” of God’s power. It seems to me that these don’t seem like the teachings of a cessationist. But what about his earlier passages? All we can really say about them is that he reports that miracles no longer occur. He does not say why this is, how long they will cease to manifest, and he certainly does not say that they never will again. Chrysostom is making an observation in this Homily, he is not trying to develop a theology about gifts ceasing, he is just saying that, to his knowledge, they have. Reading over his entire Homily and seeing how he treats these gifts and instructs his church regarding them, it seems impossible to say that Chrysostom was a cessationist. He may very well be saying that they were not needed at that time, or that God has chosen to manifest himself in some other way. This is more evident in the writings of Augustine.

St. Augustine writes on speaking in tongues in his 6th homily on the Epistle of John,

In the earliest times, "the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed: and they spoke with tongues," which they had not learned, "as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts 2:4 These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to show that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away. In the laying on of hands now, that persons may receive the Holy Ghost, do we look that they should speak with tongues? Or when we laid the hand on these infants, did each one of you look to see whether they would speak with tongues, and, when he saw that they did not speak with tongues, was any of you so wrong-minded as to say, These have not received the Holy Ghost; for, had they received, they would speak with tongues as was the case in those times? If then the witness of the presence of the Holy Ghost be not now given through these miracles, by what is it given, by what does one get to know that he has received the Holy Ghost? Let him question his own heart. If he love his brother the Spirit of God dwells in him. Let him see, let him prove himself before the eyes of God, let him see whether there be in him the love of peace and unity, the love of the Church that is spread over the whole earth.[iii]

Augustine is here dealing with an all too familiar issue, whether or not tongues should be seen as proof that an individual is filled with the Holy Spirit. His answer is “absolutely not.” Rather he points to love as a sign that someone has received the Holy Spirit but, even then, he states that it is not up to the church to judge such things. The believer should “question his own heart.” I feel that Augustine’s handling of this topic is especially Biblical and can’t help but think that this passages similarities to the structure of 1 Corinthians 12-13 is intentional. He begins with a question about the place of tongues in the church and draws the attention of the reader to the greater gift of love. Most importantly, what I observe from this passage (just as with Chrysostom) I see no doctrinal statement that tongues has stopped for good. I see an observation from the author that, in his experience, tongues have ceased. But notice that neither of the authors in question have used any scripture to explain the ceasing of tongues or to defend a belief that they have ceased for good. The writings of early Christian leaders of this caliber are so jam-packed with scripture that it would be almost uncontainable for them to put forth such a doctrine without adequate Biblical support. If that weren’t enough to dissuade a cessationist interpretation of these writing, a good look at their other writings should be.

In book XXII of Augustine’s City of God, chapter 8 is titled “Miracles, performed to make the world believe, have not ceased now that the world does believe.” This seems to be a pretty strange title for a supposed cessationist. In this chapter Augustine reports dozens of miracles that he himself has witnessed as well as some that he has heard about. After he has given several accounts of miracles that have occurred in his time, he apologized for not being able to write more,

What am I to do? I am so pressed by the promise of finishing this work, that I cannot record all the miracles I know; and doubtless several of our adherents, when they read what I have narrated, will regret that I have omitted so many which they, as well as I, certainly know. Even now I beg these persons to excuse me, and to consider how long it would take me to relate all those miracles, which the necessity of finishing the work I have undertaken forces me to omit. For were I to be silent of all others, and to record exclusively the miracles of healing which were wrought in the district of Calama and of Hippo by means of this martyr—I mean the most glorious Stephen—they would fill many volumes.[iv]

Augustine says here that, not only are there many more healings that he cannot fit into this work, but that there are many other miracles besides healing! He continues,

Even now, therefore, many miracles are wrought, the same God who wrought those we read of still performing them, by whom He will and as He will; but they are not as well known, nor are they beaten into the memory, like gravel, by frequent reading, so that they cannot fall out of mind. For even where, as is now done among ourselves, care is taken that the pamphlets of those who receive benefit be read publicly, yet those who are present hear the narrative but once, and many are absent; and so it comes to pass that even those who are present forget in a few days what they heard, and scarcely one of them can be found who will tell what he heard to one who he knows was not present.[v]

God performs miracles “by whom he wills and as he wills.” This passage seems to be a much more appropriate basis for Augustine’s views of miracles than his earlier homily. In his homily on the Epistle of John, he states that he is not aware of any current occurrences of speaking in tongues, but in City of God he states that many miracles in his day do not spread very far and are forgotten. It would seem from his statement that God performs miracles “as he wills” that Augustine is not willing to discount the possibility of any particular miracle.

In conclusion, I would like to make it clear that I am not denying that certain gifts may cease for a time. God has a specific purpose for the gifts that he has bestowed upon his church. We should not try to force his hand by emphasizing any particular gift or the manifestation of all of them at any time or place. Neither should deny the possibility that God may chose to bring back a gift that has remained dormant for a time or in a particular place.

[i] John Chrysostom, Homily XXIX, s 1.

[ii] Ibid. s 5.

[iii] St. Augustine, Homily 6 on the First Epistle of John, X.

[iv] St. Augustine, City of God , XXII ch.8.

[v] ibid.

Dan, 12:32 PM


Hi Dan! :) Great site! I think you and I will probably have to agree to disagree, simply because we're dealing with a difference in doctrine. In my experience doctrinal debates are rarely resolved into one shared view. I do have one note to make. When you talk about 1 Corinthians 12 indicating that not all will speak in tongues, that is referring to the continued speaking in tongues, and not the initial infilling. In that case, the scripture is referring to those who prophesy in tongues, as a gift of the Spirit. The corresponding gift that others in the church will have is the gift of interpretation, so that the rest of the church may understand the prophesy. These are gifts that are not given to everyone in the church, only the few that God selects for this purpose.
May God bless you continually!
Anonymous Marta Odum, at 11:08 AM  
Marta, thanks for your comments. I would agree that many doctrinal debates do not end in agreement, but it has been my experience that, with honest participants, there can be at least refinement of doctrine. What i mean to say is that there is still a great deal of good that can come discussions short of complete agreement. One of the main reasons I started these posts was not so much to change anyone's views but rather to present my own and receive criticism, correction, and /or augmentation so that I can understand this topic to a fuller extent.
In regards to your interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12 I see several problems. First, you are making the presumption that tongues is primarily a private prayer language for all believers despite the fact that there is no scriptural evidence of this being the case. If all Christians were meant to speak in tongues (especially if it is necessary for salvation as you suggestion your blog) but not necessarily prophecy in tongues, then why is it that no New Testament writers refer to all believers needing to do so? And why is it that there is no historical record of such a doctrine existing before modern Pentecostalism?
Second, if Paul were correcting the misuse of tongues in Corinth and, assuming that your theory that all believers spoke in tongues is correct, why would he make such a rhetorical blunder in verses 10 and 30 by implying that not all people speak in tongues? If all people did speak in tongues it seems to me that Paul would have clarified his statements here and distinguished "tongues as prophecy" for "tongues as initial evidence" lest he bring more confusion to an already confused church.

Again, thank you for your comments and I hope that our differing views will not dissuade you from continuing our conversation. I promise you I am very civil in my disagreements :)
Anonymous dan, at 1:04 PM  

This is a God sent to me, I will be back to read more. I am a former Pentecostal now Lutheran and I have been trying to find a treatment of tongues from a historical perspective.

Your blog is much appreciated though I noticed that you have not been blogging for a while.

Blogger L P Cruz, at 5:57 PM  

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