Thursday, June 9, 2011

Could Jesus speak in tongues?

When St. Thomas Aquinas defends the truth of the charism of speaking in tongues he considers the following objection: “Further, all graces flow from Christ to His body, which is the Church, according to John 1:16, Of His fullness we all have received. Now we do not read that Christ spoke more than one language, nor does each one of the faithful now speak save in one tongue. Therefore it would seem that Christ’s disciples did not receive the grace to the extent of speaking in all languages.”

In response to this, the Angel of the schools states: “Christ in His own person purposed preaching to only one nation, namely the Jews. Consequently, although without any doubt He possessed most perfectly the knowledge of all languages, there was no need for Him to speak in every tongue. And therefore, as Augustine says (Tract. xxxii in Joan.), ‘whereas even now the Holy Ghost is received, yet no one speaks in the tongues of all nations, because the Church herself already speaks the languages of all nations: since whoever is not in the Church, receives not the Holy Ghost.’” (ST III, q.176, a.1, ad 3)

When we consider the charism of speaking in tongues, we recognize that (like all graces) it must flow through the instrumental power of the humanity of Christ. Therefore, it is clear that, if the apostles spoke in tongues, the Lord Jesus must have spoke in tongues in a manner at least as excellent (or even more excellent). Thus, we may ask: Could Jesus speak in tongues?
What is the charism of speaking in tongues?
By “speaking in tongues”, we mean that charism of the Holy Spirit by which a man is moved to speak in real languages of which he had no previous knowledge. This is the way the phenomenon is intended in the Scriptures, and it has thus been exercised in the life of the Church by saints as recent as St. Francis Xavier.
By “speaking in tongues”, I do not mean the random mumblings popular among charismatics. Speaking in tongues, in the Biblical sense, does not refer the meaningless association of random syllables. Rather, “tongues” is simply another word for “languages”. Speaking in tongues means speaking in true languages – though, of course, the language spoken is not known to the individual who speaks (for it is inspired by the Holy Spirit).
[I do not intend to criticize or reject the modern charismatic style of prayer – rather, I simply point out that this is not “speaking in tongues” as St. Paul meant it.]
Could the Lord speak in tongues?
If we recognize that “speaking in tongues” means speaking in many languages, it is quite obvious that our Lord could speak in tongues. St. Thomas put it well: “Without any doubt He possessed most perfectly the knowledge of all languages.” The Savior could most certainly speak every language or tongue which has ever or will ever be. Indeed, if the Lord Jesus is God, then it is clear that (at least in his divine intellect) he knows all things absolutely.
Moreover, when we consider that intimate union between the humanity and divinity in Christ – and between his two wills and two intellects – it is also clear that the Savior enjoyed the beatific vision. Indeed, if we receive the grace of the beatific vision through the mediation of the humanity of Christ, then it is necessary that the Lord should have enjoyed the beatific vision throughout his whole life: “Hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision.” (Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis 75)
By virtue of the beatific vision, Christ saw (with his human intellect) all things in the Word. Thus, the Savior new all things which had been, were, or will be. In this sense, we may say that even his human knowledge was “unlimited” (Pope Pius X, Lamentabili) and that he knew “everything, past, present and future” (Pope Benedict XV, Decree of the Holy Office of 1918).
We may well assert, as a theological certainty, that the Savior knew every language by both beatific and infused knowledge. In his humanity, the Lord most certainly knew and could speak every language. Moreover (though we will not go into the argument here), it is quite likely that, even in his acquired human knowledge which is gained through sense experience, the Lord Jesus had learned and discerned every language which existed. Therefore, we may well state that Christ could speak in tongues.
Why the Savior was not moved by the charism of tongues
However, though we can certainly state the Christ could speak in tongues (meaning that he could speak in every language), we do not say that he was moved by the charism of tongues. Indeed, the very nature of the charism is that a man is moved to speak in a language which he does not know. Therefore, if Christ Jesus knew every language, he simply could not be moved by the charism.
Still, this is no defect in the Savior. Rather, our Lord’s human knowledge of every language may be considered a cause of the charism of tongues which operated in the apostles and in some of the saints. While Jesus was not moved (and could not be moved) by the charism of tongues, he possessed that which is greater than any charism: He enjoyed tongues as a virtue, an ability in his soul which he could exercise at will and which was a perfection in his intellect. It is this stable disposition in the soul of Christ which is the foundation for the charism of tongues in the life of the Church.


Andrew said...

I often wondered about St. Francis Xavier, and others. Must they have lived among the people and struggled to learn their vernacular over a long period of time, gaining their trust, and preaching the gospel by their actions - by their very lives?.... Or did they actually receive knowledge of these tongues through the workings of the Holy Spirit - just as the apostles at Pentecost! Do we know of this from thw writings of the lives of the saints? It would seem every missionary saint would have experienced this problem of communication - Saint Boniface among the Germanic tribes, Saints Cyril and Methodius, etc.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

From several very solid and reliable sources (including Dom Gueranger), I have read that St. Francis Xavier was gifted with something of the charism of tongues ... with several of the Indian languages, he was given an immediate infused knowledge so as to be able to proclaim the Gospel fluently without ever having struggled to learn the language.

I do not know about other missionary saints (like Boniface or Cyril and Methodius) ... but I presume that they did not receive the gift of tongues but instead had to learn the languages in the normal human way ...

Barb Schoeneberger said...

St. Francis Xavier unfortunately didn't have the gift of tongues in Japan. I remember in his biography how disconcerted he was to discover that the Japanese word he was using to describe God was not understood by them in the way he used it, but rather had a Buddhist meaning. As soon as he discovered the problem he forbid the use of that word. It was actually a difficulty that arose because one of his Japanese catechists had not understood properly in the first place. So it seems that sometimes God gives great saints the gift of tongues and at other times, they have to learn the same way we do. This was an interesting post and I enjoy your site.

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