08 October 2011

On Glossolalia

I have several friends who have or have had involvement in the Catholic Charismatic movement. I don't care for it myself, but there is one particular feature that I don't have much patience for: the phenomenon referred to as "speaking in tongues."

Many Charismatics, both Catholic and Protestant, use the term "speaking in tongues" to refer to various noises people make that do not correspond to any human language. They may sound like yodeling, muttering, or like ordinary speech in nonsense syllables. Hardly anyone--either the speakers or others--will claim to be able to interpret these "tongues."

These tongues are presumed to correspond to the phenomenon described in 1 Corinthians 14. But is this really what St. Paul was talking about?

Let's look at what some Church Fathers have to say on the issue. St. John Chrysostom clearly equatesthe gift in 1 Corinthians 14:6 the gift to the Apostles at Pentecost; that is, the gift of speaking in human languages never before studied or spoken by the gifted person. Pope St. Leo the Great also equates the gifts described in 1 Cor. 14 with Pentecost. St. Gregory Nazianzen includes Isaiah 28:11 ("With other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people") in the same category.

Angelic tongues are sometimes mentioned, but when these are spoken, they are still expected to result in rational messages that can be interpreted.

Unintelligible messages (that is, unintelligible in content) are mentioned, and there is some discussion of utterances that cannot be interpreted. These types of utterances are to be kept private, because they are of no value to the community. Standing up in front of a crowd and talking gibberish is not encouraged.

So, if you think you are speaking in an angelic tongue, hook up with someone who has the gift of interpretation. Don't head up to the front of the church, or grab a microphone. If the interpreter can't interpret what you're saying, one of you doesn't have an authentic gift.

If, on the other hand, you suddenly start speaking Mandarin Chinese, or Xhosa, or German, without ever having studied or spoken it before, please seriously consider the possibility that the Holy Spirit is working in you, and may be equipping you for missionary work.

No comments: