Patristic witnesses to speaking in tongues

I’ve had an email from Charles Sullivan, another patristic enthusiast, who has dedicated the last 20 years to going through Migne and locating every possible reference in the fathers to speaking in tongues.  He’s been translating them, and intends to publish A history of the gift of tongues, once he’s worked over all the texts. It was an email from him concerning Origen on 1 Corinthians that led me to look into this obscure text last week. 

I asked him how he went about his search.  The answer was interesting enough that I thought I would reproduce it:

This whole project began in the 1980s before the internet took off and before I had kids and needed to concentrate solely on making money for 20 years. During this time, I recreationally began to visually scan every page of MPG until volume 135, looking especially in the Latin text for key words. When I found some semblance of key words, I photocopied the pages to translate later. With Latin authors I haven’t been so detailed but I have used MPL and whatever other sources I can find. The resources in Latin are much easier to find and access than the Greek Fathers, so this part has not been much of a problem. Secondly, I went through them all, prioritizing and eliminating pages for translation. Third, because the internet was so young and flaky at the time, I built my own dictionary, grammar and bibliographical database in Filemaker to resource all my finds and keep up with everything.  I still use this. After these steps, I translate the pertinent passages.

My approach to translating is published on Scribd,

… I felt initially overwhelmed at the task of translating the Greek Church Fathers and understanding how MPG works. I don’t feel that way anymore, but it was painful. This was overcome in large part due to the help of Perseus, Google and many websites willing to publish manuscripts, texts and resources on the web. If these were not available, people like myself could not accomplish anything within this realm.

I am looking forward to the day when the open-source internet phenomenon, which has opened up the Jewish community and their ancient texts, will meander down into the vestibules of the Christian community.

The excellent translation tips I have remarked on before.  I also asked him who he was aiming his book at.  His reply was probably too modest:

It is for an academic audience who has a little, but not a great knowledge of Church Fathers and possess a good knowledge of the controversial Biblical texts. 

A 2,500 word or so summary will be available for free on the internet. The final book will be available for purchase on the ScribD website. I am not sure what to do with the print rights yet. Still too busy translating though I can feel that I am getting very close. Chrysostom and John of Damascus are the only big translations left for me to do. 

I think that there can be little doubt that Dr. Sullivan is a hero; someone who is doing something truly original, at a very serious level.  I particularly admire anyone who takes the PG, volume by volume, and works through it.

I hope that he will allow me to see a draft when it is ready.  It seems to me that we’re actually looking at a source book, or something like that, which deserves formal academic publication.  Comments on this, and also on any parallel work that’s been done, would be most welcome.


6 thoughts on “Patristic witnesses to speaking in tongues

  1. This is exciting stuff! Perhaps Dr. Sullivan should look into publishing with a series like the Journal of Pentecostal Theology Supplement Series. I’m sure this would be a welcome addition to the field.

  2. Cool project. I wrote a paper on this subject and language miracles more generally in grad school. One of my favorites:

    21. Paralipomena 11.27, from Pachomian Koinonia, vol.2, p.51-2.

    It happened also that the Blessed Man was visiting the brothers in their cells and correcting the thoughts of each one. He came to a certain Roman [brother], coming from a great family, who also knew the Greek language well. The Great Man, coming to him to admonish him for his profit and to know the movements of his heart, spoke to him in the Egyptian. The brother did not understand what he told him; nor did the Great Man know what the Roman [brother] said, because he did not know Greek. So the Great Man was compelled to call a brother who could interpret what they both said. But when the interpreter came, the Roman [brother] did not want to tell the Great Man the faults of his heart through another person. He said, ‘I want only you after God, and nobody else, to know the evils of my heart’. Hearing this, the Great Man ordered the interpreter to withdraw and he made a sign with his hand to the Roman [brother] to wait until he came back to him.
    The Blessed Man left him and went to pray by himself. Stretching out his hands to heaven, he prayed to God, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if I cannot profit the men whom you send to me from the ends of the earth because I do not know the languages of men, what need is there for them to come? If you want to save them here through me, grant, O Master, that I may know their languages for the correction of their souls.’
    He prayed for three hours, entreating God earnestly for this. Suddenly something like a letter written on a piece of papyrus was sent from heaven into his right hand. Reading it, he learned the speech of all languages. Having sent up praise to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, he came back to that brother with great joy, and began to converse with him faultlessly in Greek and Latin. When that brother heard it, he said that the Great Man surpassed all the scholars in that language. After correcting the brother as was required, and determining the penance corresponding to his faults, he commended him to the Lord [Acts 20:32] and left him. (Veilleux tr.)

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