Glossolalia

“And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming: and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues, as it were of fire: and it sat upon every one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost: 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. And when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded in mind, because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue” (Acts 2:1-7).

The gift of tongues is a charism, a gift (Greek, χαρις, grace). The gift of tongues (glossolalia) at Pentecost reversed the discord of tongues after the Tower of Babel. A charism cannot be learned, developed, demanded of God, or given for personal use. All of the gifts of the Spirit are always given for the good of the Church, the whole Church. They are never given to a whole group.

“If any speak with a tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and in course: and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him hold his peace in the church and speak to himself and to God” (1 Corinthians 14:27-28).

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2 Responses to “Glossolalia”

  1. Joe Heschmeyer Says:

    Beautiful, simple post. My girlfriend was raised Pentecostal, and has gotten me interested in reading more about that particular charismatic gift. I agree with what I think you’re nodding to: that while the gift of tongues IS a valid gift of the Holy Spirit, it’s not intended to be the focal point of worship, but rather an aid in worship (public, or particularly, privatE). Let me know if I’m misreading what you’re driving at.

  2. C. Whitty Says:

    My main interest in the “gift of tongues” is that is seems more to be a Protestant phenomenon than a truly Catholic one. Check this out from Catholic Encyclopedia about the Corinthians and “tongues”:

    “There is enough in St. Paul to show us that the Corinthian peculiarities were ignoble accretions and abuses. They made of “tongues” a source of schism in the Church and of scandal without (14:23). The charism had deteriorated into a mixture of meaningless inarticulate gabble (9, 10) with an element of uncertain sounds (7, 8), which sometimes might be construed as little short of blasphemous (12:3). The Divine praises were recognized now and then, but the general effect was one of confusion and disedification for the very unbelievers for whom the normal gift was intended (14:22, 23, 26). The Corinthians, misled not by insincerity but by simplicity and ignorance (20), were actuated by an undisciplined religious spirit ( pneuma ), or rather by frenzied emotions and not by the understanding ( nous ) of the Spirit of God (15). What today purports to be the “gift of tongues” at certain Protestant revivals is a fair reproduction of Corinthian glossolaly, and shows the need there was in the primitive Church of the Apostle’s counsel to do all things “decently, and according to order” (40).”

    I’ve been to Pentecostal services where people speak in tongues. I’ve been to Catholic Charismatic events where people speak in tongues. But I’ve never heard any of them speaking real languages. All I’ve ever heard is incoherent babbling, a repetition of the same syllables and sounds without syntax or rules. And who is there to interpret the message?

    So, I suppose the point of my post is to bring this practice into question. It seems to me like the “Gift of Tongues” was never given again after the end of the Apostolic Age. I think there is a gross misunderstanding of what the Church teaches. We already know the gifts of the Holy Spirit, there are seven of them, and tongues isn’t one of them.

    To me it seems like an in-creeping of Protestantism, or maybe even something evil. People today have a need to feel emotionally attached to God, and to feel like He is being active in their lives in a way that is immediately knowable and can be directly experienced. I can understand why people would fall into the trap of the “charismatic”. But the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of sobriety and unity, not babbling, not nonsense.

    Here is something I just read today from Pope Benedict’s “Called to Communion” that I feel sums up the main point: “The origin of the Church is not the decision of men; she is not the product of human willing but a creature of the Spirit of God. This Spirit overcomes the Babylonian world spirit, Man’s will to power, symbolized in Babel, aims at the goal of uniformity, because its interest is domination and subjection; it is precisely in this way that it brings forth hatred and division. God’s Spirit, on the other hand, is love; for this reason he brings about recognition and creatures unity in the acceptance of the otherness of the other: the many languages are mutually comprehensible.”

    People look for empowerment, and it is good to ask God for that, as opposed to anyone else. But power is God’s alone. We can’t control God, and we can’t demand “gifts” from Him–because a gift is freely given. I’m under the impression that these people involved with charismatic movements go in expecting some Spirit-experience from the get-go. That is not the attitude we should be having toward God.

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