Thursday, April 12, 2007

Part Three: Speaking in Tongues in the Middle Ages

I would like to claim my long silence on this blog as a metaphor for the historical silence of speaking in tongues during the middle ages. But truth be told, I did not think that far ahead. I just got busy these past few weeks and did not have time to update. But now I’m back and beg your pardon if I left any of you hanging.

Section 1: Speaking in Tongues in the Early Middle Ages

As you may have guess from my statement above, there is not any mention of speaking in tongues during the early Middle Ages (at least that my research could find). There could be several explanations for this relative silencing of tongues:

1) The Middle Ages were not known as a flourishing time of written works (or much else), in fact the opposite was true. The decline in recorded accounts of speaking in tongues may be, at least partially, attributed to an overall decline in scholarship during this time (it wasn’t called the dark ages for nothing).

2) The expansion of the Holy Roman Empire into dozens of new cultures each with their own language required a common language to be stressed among the educated and those in authority in order to keep order. In monasteries during this time, the study and use of Latin in place of local languages assured the church that there would be less confusing both in its day to day operations as well as in the writings and translations of the clergy. So it is plausible that, either by the church or by the Holy Spirit (or both), tongues were suppressed. This would have been especially important given the amount of heresy that cropped up throughout the church during this time.

3) The expansion of Christianity throughout most of the western world made tongues less necessary. It is important to note that, although tongues is not referred to during this time, there is a plethora of accounts of other miraculous gifts such as healings and prophetic visions occurring during the Middle Ages.

These are just a few possible explanations for the lack of historical evidence for speaking in tongues during the early Middle Ages. Let me be clear in saying that these are theories at best. I cannot be sure that any of these accounts are definitely true. What I can be sure about is that there was no cessationist theology that developed during the Early Middle Ages and many miracles other than tongues did occur. So I would say that there should be no difficulty for Christians to believe that tongues continued beyond the first 4 centuries of the church regardless of this apparent “gap.”

Section 2: Speaking in Tongues in the Late Middle Ages

Many cases of speaking in tongues occurring in the Late Middle Ages took place among the various monastic orders of the time. Here is a list of accounts of speaking in tongues during this period:

St. Dominic (1170-1221)

While travelling from Toulouse to Paris in company with Brother Bertrand de Garrigue, who was the first Provincial of Provence, our holy father spent the night in watching and prayer in the church of our Lady at Roc-Amadour. Next day they came up with a band of pilgrims from Germany, who, hearing them reciting the Psalms and Litanies, joined company with them, and on coming to the next town hospitably entertained them during three days. One morning St Dominic addressed Brother Bertrand after this fashion: 'Good brother, I am much troubled in conscience seeing that we are reaping the material good things of these pilgrims without sowing spiritual ones in return, so, if it please you, let us kneel down and ask God to enable us to understand their tongue, that we may preach Jesus Christ to them.' This they did, and to the bewilderment of the pilgrims they began to speak fluently in German, and as they trudged along together during the next four days, they continued conversing about our Lord Jesus Christ until they came to Orleans.[i]

St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) was a Franciscan monk who was known to be one of the greatest orators of his time. Not only has St. Anthony been acclaimed as a great speaker, he has had numerous miracles associated with him including speaking in numerous tongues while preaching. The accounts of his miracles are truly astonishing and I recommend that anyone reading this take a break and read about the incredible things that St. Anthony has done.

Other ascetics that spoke in tongues include Angelus Clarenus and St. Clare of Montefalco.

I would like to point out that I have come across numerous other claims of saints and ascetics speaking in tongues but did not list them here because I did not find solid enough resources to back them up. Maybe some day when I have a library card at a good sized catholic institution (or if I break into the Vatican) I might be able to validate these other claims. For the time being however, I will stick with what I have here.

My next post will bring us up through the reformation and one step closer to the real meat and potatoes of this subject, modern day Pentecostalism.

[i] Tr. Placid Conway, O.P., Lives of the Brethren of the Order of Preachers 1206-1259, II, x (London: Blackfriars Publications., 1955).

Dan, 12:10 PM | link | 5 comments |