The Gift of Tongues
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"And God has appointed in the church ... diversities of tongues." I Corinthians 12, 28.

The word "tongues" is used for different gifts which must be differentiated to avoid confusion.

1- The miraculous gift of speaking in a language that has not been learned by natural means. This gift is manifested in Pentecost,

they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit prompted them. -Acts 2, 4

This refers to a miraculous gift. Saint Augustine taught that in the beginning of the Church this gift was necessary to communicate the Gospel quickly to all the nations, thereby allowing the Apostles to receive it while at the same time giving witness to the divine origin of the doctrine. However, when the Church spoke the various languages (by natural means) the gift became less necessary. In his treatise 32 about the Gospel of Saint John, Saint Augustine, Father of the Church, IV century, wrote:

Today, when the Holy Spirit has been received, no one talks in the tongues of all the nations since the Church already speaks the tongues of all the nations and if one is not in her, one does not receive the Holy Spirit.

Saint Thomas, in his Summa Thelogia, confirms that this miraculous gift of tongues is not as common as it was previously. The gift, however, has not disappeared. Among the saints that practiced it are: Saint Pacomio (IV century), Saint Norbert (XII century), Saint Anthony of Padua (XIII century), Saint Vincent Ferrer (XIV century), Saint Bernard of Sienna (XV century), and Saint Francis Xavier, the great missionary of the Orient (XVI century). In each case, the gift facilitated the communication of the message of the Lord. There are numerous testimonies of this gift. For example, priests who, in a moment of need, have confessed or preached in a language that they do not know.

2-Prophecy in tongues. This is the gift of pronouncing prophecies in an unintelligible language or unknown language to those who are present. These words can be interpreted by someone who has the gift of interpretation (either due to knowing the language by natural means or by a special gift). Hence the message edifies the church. If it is not interpreted, then this gift of tongues is directed to God alone and not to the community.

To one the Spirit gives wisdom;…to another, miraculous powers; to another, prophecy; to another, discernment of spirits, to another, the gift of tongues; to another, the gift of interpretation of tongues. (I Corinthians 12, 8; 10)

According to Saint Paul, these gifts (tongues and interpretation of tongues) are part of the gift of prophecy but, he warns, they should be subject to the order of the Church. Several people, for example, should not speak in this type of tongues at the same time.

3.-Prayer in tongues or song of praise. This gift is different from those mentioned above. By this means, there is an expression, in unintelligible sounds, of the devotion that cannot be expressed in words. This has been proven in Gregorian chant when the syllables are extended in a beautiful harmony of praise.

In contrast to the previously mentioned gifts, this type of tongues can be expressed by various or many people, in a similar manner as song is expressed in a community. While some praise in tongues, others may praise with words of the vernacular or sing. It is a very simple gift by which the Holy Spirit assists us in prayer, especially in praise. This gift manifests itself frequently in charismatic prayer groups.

The Spirit too helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech. He who searches hearts knows what the Spirit means, for the Spirit intercedes for the saints as God himself wills. (Rm 8, 26-27)

This gift of tongues is a form of prayer under the influence of the Holy Spirit and under the control of the will of the person. God does not violate the person’s will; therefore the person utilizes his normal faculties. This is why the person should pray in tongues using his discernment with respect to when and how to do it appropriately. For example, the person can choose to pray in tongues out loud or in silence depending on whether it is or is not a distraction to others. This does not refer to a miracle properly speaking, but rather to a gift that adjusts itself to the normal and natural capacities of the person. In prayer in tongues the intellect is not utilized to form the language. The intellect is absorbed in adoration.

Saint Augustine, Father of the Church of the IV century, speaks about this gift as "jubilation":

Sing to God in jubilation

Praise the Lord with the lyre, make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song. Rid yourself of what is old and worn out, for you know a new song. A new man, a new covenant; a new song. This new song does not belong to the old man. Only the new man learns it: the man restored from his fallen condition through the grace of God, and now sharing in the new covenant, that is, the kingdom of heaven. To it all our love now aspires and sings a new song. Let us sing a new song not with our lips but with our lives.

  Sing to him a new song, sing to him with joyful melody. Every one of us tries to discover how to sing to God. You must sing to him, but you must sing well. He does not want your voice to come harshly to his ears, so sing well, brothers!

  If you were asked, "Sing to please this musician," you would not like to do so without having taken some instruction in music, because you would not like to offend an expert in the art. An untrained listener does not notice the faults a musician would point out to you. Who, then, will offer to sing well for God, the great artist whose discrimination is faultless, whose attention is on the minutest detail, whose ear nothing escapes? When will you be able to offer him a perfect performance that you will in no way displease such a supremely discerning listener?

  See how he himself provides you with a way of singing. Do not search for words, as if you could find a lyric which would give God pleasure. Sing to him "with songs of joy." This is singing well to God, just singing with songs of joy.

  But how is this done? You must first understand that words cannot express the things that are sung by the heart. Take the case of people singing while harvesting in the fields or in the vineyards or when any other strenuous work is in progress. Although they begin by giving expression to their happiness in sung words, yet shortly there is a change. As if so happy that words can no longer express what they feel, they discard the restricting syllables. They burst out into a simple sound of joy, of jubilation. Such a cry of joy is a sound signifying that the heart is bringing to birth what it cannot utter in words.

  Now, who is more worthy of such a cry of jubilation than God himself, whom all words fail to describe? If words will not serve, and yet you must not remain silent, what else can you do but cry out for joy? Your heart must rejoice beyond words, soaring into an immensity of gladness, unrestrained by syllabic bonds. Sing to him with jubilation. (Commentary of Psalm 32, sermon 1, 7-8: CCL 38, 253-354)

Like any gift, the gift of tongues can be abused.

Dont reject any gift from God on the pretext that some abuse them.  

What to do with God's gifts? 
1- Receive them with gratitude. This honors God.
2- Use them according to His plan. They are to help us grow in holiness and to build the Church.

The importance of any gift should not be exaggerated nor minimized. Each has its place in God’s plan and should be used only in his service. No gift is proof of sanctity.

If I speak with human tongues and angelic as well, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal. I Corinthians 13, 1.

Saint Paul also wrote:

Thank God, I speak in tongues more than any of you – I Corinthians 14, 18

Having declared gratitude for the gift of tongues that he possessed, Saint Paul writes in the next verse: "but in the church I would rather say five intelligible words to instruct others than 10,000 in a tongue". – I Corinthians 14, 1

Every gift has its place in God's order  (Cf 1 Cor 14, 39-40)

The gift of tongues is also of great help in private prayer.

The gift of tongues is not a "sign" for the believers.

Saint Paul:

The gift of tongues is a sign, not for those who believe but for those who do not believe, while prophecy is not for those who are without faith, but those who have faith. I Corinthians 14, 22

Saint Paul is not suggesting that the gift should not be used among believers. Only that it not be held as a sign among them. Some falsely teach that the gift of tongues is a sign of election or sanctity or assume that if there is no prayer in tongues there is no action of the Holy Spirit. These errors should be condemned. Saint Paul exhorts us to maturity, to utilize all the gifts with gratitude but not to become fascinated with the more visible gifts, but rather to recognize the place of each one. The gift of tongues is inferior to the other gifts and virtues.

The gift of tongues, being for the good of the Church, helps us to be receptive to the other gifts. But this only occurs if the heart is ordered well according to the holy doctrine.

Testimony: The gift of tongues has been of great assistance in opening my heart in prayer. Having been explained correctly in the context of a community that accepts the gift, the gift of tongues is received by many and the community increases its praise. In our experience, the gift of tongues, once having been received, continues as a gift. But many times the gift is abandoned as if it were a gift for beginners. If the gift is scorned, it can be lost. We have a tendency to be in control and convert prayer groups into discussion groups or groups of sharing, which are good things in themselves, but they should not take the place of praising.


Love Crucified