In the past four installments of this series of musings, we have examined the Charismatic Movement quite in-depth. We have considered their historical roots in liberal Protestantism, their inconsistencies on baptism in the Holy Spirit, their lax views on the liturgy, their overemphasis on an emotional spirituality which flat out contradicts the Spiritual Masters of the Church, and the problems presented by the movement within the Church from an ecclesial standpoint. Yet many have asked, when are you going to cover speaking in tongues? There is a reason why I have delayed so long covering this aspect, important as it is. All too often, people get far too caught up on the issue of tongues, and overlook other real, clear, and present dangers that the movement has. It is these dangers that make me believe that any good which comes out of the Charismatic movement (and there has to be some good that has come out of it, even if it is to wake Catholics to the absurdity of the movement), nonetheless, faithful Catholics should not give a glowing endorsment to such a movement, and it must be strictly subjected to testing of the Spirit. With that said, let us get into the issue of speaking in tongues.
Before we go any further, I would like to point out that contrary to the statement of Charismatics, they are NOT doing what the Apostles did at Pentecost. On that blessed day of Pentecost, yes, the Holy Ghost did descend upon the Apostles as tongues of fire. Renewed by the Spirit and strengthened, the Apostles boldly proclaimed the Gospel. The Acts of the Apostles recounts it as such:
First and foremost, this gift had a specific purpose at Pentecost. The Gift of tongues was used so people from all throughout the Roman Empire could understand the Gospel. St. Thomas Aquinas viewed it as the Apostles speaking in their own language, yet through the work of the Advocate, each man understood the Apostles in their own language. We must remember, the Apostles were not linguistic scholars. They had knowledge of Hebrew, and some would probably have knowledge of Greek, perhaps even some Latin. But these were not the only languages spoken, as languages from 15 nations were present at this day of Pentecost. While one may reject this view and state the Apostles spoke in a Heavenly utterance much like Charismatics claim to do today, the result is the same: whatever the Apostles were speaking, each person heard them in their own language.
Is this really what is happening at Charismatic sessions? Is their speaking in an unintelligible language understood by others who do not have the Gospel? The answer must come in the negative. Yet there are other forms of tongues in Sacred Scripture. In First Corinthians 14:16-17, tongies is used to give thanks to God, and elsewhere is described as speaking to God in mysteries that nobody understands. So this would be the usage of tongues that we are concerned with. But even then, we must be careful.
For the usage of tongues in First Corinthians 14 is not necessarily one St. Paul was quite proud of, compared to say St. Peter's acceptance of the speaking in tongues Cornelius had, when Peter said they were the same as his. (Giving credence to the idea when tongues is spoken of in Acts, it refers to speaking in one language but others hearing it in theirs.) Far from a glowing endorsement, St. Paul offers quite harsh rebukes to the Church of Corinth.
First, St. Paul subordinates the gift of tongues to that of prophesy. The reason he does so is because tongues is set to edify the individual, yet prophesy the entire Church. As Christianity is a religion of service, obviously that which serves others is better than that which serves the self. While serving self has some necessity, we must first serve our brethren. By serving them, we ultimately serve ourselves. Indeed, that is the entire lesson we are to learn from Christ becoming like a bondservant, then given the name Higher than all names. That is why the Pope is "servant of the servants of God." True edification of the individual comes through his service to others.
As a matter of fact, when St. Paul talks about speaking in tongues in the presence of others in First Corinthians 14, he views it as speaking to the air, and giving a confusing sound. Furthermore, the gift of tongues in itself, is useless for the believer who uses it for personal edification. This must be combined with the ability to understand that tongue. For if we are to be edified, we must understand what we are doing.
One is edified when praying the Rosary because they contemplate and understand the mysteries of the life of Christ and His Blessed Mother. This leads to St. Paul's conclusion that in a Church context, he would much rather speak in ways which others understand, so that they may be edified by his wisdom. It is interesting that those who are so quick to emphasize the speaking in tongues in an individual format do not pay attention to these manners St. Paul refers to as children in sense. Yet while some might not experience this problem, it has to be admitted that this strain of thought is rampant throughout many Charismatic circles.
Furthermore, St. Paul expresses, that when the gift of tongues is manifested, it is manifested in due order. In verse 26 he states that everyone has their own particular gift, whether it be a psalm, a doctrine, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation of that tongue, and all these things are to be done towards the edification of those coming together. If you are speaking in tongues, and it is not edifying those around you, then it is not the gift spoken of by St. Paul. Furthermore, there should be no more than 2 or 3 speaking so at the same time, and only then if one can interpret. There is no idea in St. Paul's mind that the entire congregation break out into speaking in tongues. Given the fact that right before he gives this admonishment he speaks of the diversity of blessings of the Spirit, this cannot be a prudential statement. The speaking of tongues, even if it is to occur, is to be limited in Church. If there is no interpreter, the person is to keep silent and pray to God. Does this occur at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, where speaking in tongues is in many instances built right into the rubrics of the Novus Ordo 'mass' after the 'Great Amen'? As the entire congregation speaks in tongues we are told, who is doing the interpretation? The answer is of course nobody.
Speaking of the rubrics, the Immemorial Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is truly speaking in tongues of the Holy Ghost for it is in the language of the angels - Latin. Why is it that only in the last 40 years has anyone expressed the lament that prior to the 'enlightenment of Vatican II' very few understood Latin? It was never the intended purpose that the faithful knew Latin, but understood it as a sacred language that united the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Why is it that all these Charismatics who claim to speak in tongues haven't got a clue of the importance of the Mother tongue?
To conclude, and we shall conclude this section as well, St. Paul states that if anyone claims to have the Spirit or is a prophet, then that person should understand his commands as the Commandments of God. Those who disobey His command, are obviously not doing as the Spirit intended. If the gift indeed exists, they are flagrantly abusing that gift, as was being done in the Church of Corinth. While not forbidding tongues, he certainly does not give them emphasis. So we can safely conclude that even when the gift of tongues occurs, it must be under strict guidelines, guidelines I can say with confidence are not strictly followed, out of a guise of "not hindering the work of the Spirit" (as several Charismatics at Steubenville explained to me.)
Then the question arises, even when the gift of tongues occurs, is it something to be celebrated? Is it a sign of renewal, as the Charismatic claims? We shall touch upon this in the next musing. Until then, may God be with each and every one of you.
vol 16, no. 20
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi