The Catholic Encyclopedia, in describing her "Lingua Ignota," a manuscript relaying her
experiences, states: "The manuscript in eleven folios, which gives a
list of nine hundred words of an unknown language, mostly nouns and only a
few adjectives, a Latin, and in a few cases a German, explanation,
together with an unknown alphabet of twenty-three letters, printed in
Pitra." 6 If this was a continuation of the Pentecostal
experience, then a drastic transformation must have taken place over the
centuries of silence, for her sounds were strange and weird, without any
comparison to either a known language or a language structure. It has
received careful scrutiny from various linguists, but no one has been able
to make it "fit." In fact, no one has been able to make it match
certain norms to which all languages—if they are to be mediums of
Much of modern glossolalia had its
beginnings in the post-Reformation era. Martin Luther did not practice the
gift personally in any form, but the many cults and sects which spawned
from his reformatory movement soon felt the need for "exclusive"
experiences and unique methods which would guarantee them their continuing
contact with God on a highly personal level. The uncertainty which
prevailed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was undoubtedly a
major reason for this search for exclusivity and spiritual superiority.
Together with the more formal doctrines,
speaking in strange, untranslatable tongues crept in and became an
accepted rite in many worship services of the new sects. Again, the start
was rather slow, but once the strange utterances had been judged to be of
divine origin, they occurred in the weirdest places.
William Howitt in History of the
Supernatural wrote of a happening in Amsterdam in 1566, as follows:
"They climbed up the walls and over roofs like cats, made the most
horrible grimaces, and spoke in foreign languages…. Sometimes they
became cataleptic, were stiff as trunks of trees and might be carried
about in the same manner." A scant 150 years later, the practice
presented itself again, this time combined with prophesying. G. B. Cutten
mentions this incident in his The Psychological Phenomena of
Christianity. Citing an unusual phenomenon that had suddenly affected
the mental ability of a large group of children belonging to the French
Huguenots, he writes: "They would first swoon and become insensible
to all sense impressions. Then, although they did not know French,
children of three years of age and older would preach sermons
three-quarters of an hour long, in correct French....They could not be
stopped when once started, and they continued in this abnormal state until
they finished." Page 56.
Researcher Kelsey adds to this: "The
first occurrence of (their) tongues grew out of the prophetic utterance of
a ten-year-old, Isabeau Vincent, who had fled from the mistreatment of her
father and had seen the king’s soldiers bayonet women and children
worshiping together in their own church. In an ecstatic experience, she
called for repentance."—Morton T. Kelsey, Tongue Speaking
(Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1964), pages 52, 53.
The Jansenists, named after their founder
Cornelius Jansen, were a seventeenth century Catholic Reform movement
known also for their ecstatic behavior. They also exhibited ecstatic
glossolalia, usually while meditating at the tomb of the Archdeacon of
Paris, a staunch defender of Jansenism. Convulsive movements, speaking in
tongues, and other physical signs which resulted from their meditative
actions convinced them that the Spirit of God was with them. Significant
is that they believed—as do modem glossolalists—that an outside power
controlled their speech organs and compelled them to utter words and
convulsive signs over which they had no control.
The case of "Mother" Ann Lee
(1736-1784), founder of the Shakers, focused the attention of the
religious world of the eighteenth century on a renewed emphasis of the
tongues. Even prior to her coming to the United States, Mother Lee had
already experienced her share of trouble in England because of her
high-spirited, erratic behavior. Accused of blasphemy, she was summoned to
explain her actions before a group of clergymen-linguists of the Church of
England. While appearing before them, she received her "gift" of
the spirit and proceeded to speak to the assembled clergymen in no less
than 72 different languages. At least, that is what they claimed. A number
of them went even further to state that she spoke many of these languages
fluently. The big question here, of course, is Where did the Church of
England manage to find four ministers expertly qualified to judge the
grammatical accuracy of 72 distinct languages? George W. Dollar, in
referring to the Shakers’ other expressions of spiritual ecstasy,
writes, "The gift of tongues was also accompanied by times of
unspeakable joy and dancing during which many of the hymns of the movement
were composed, although made up of unintelligible and unheard-of
words."—"Church History of the Tongues Movement,"
Bibliotheca Sacra, October-December, 1963, p. 320.
Begging for attention are two other
examples of untranslatable utterings—those of the Irvingites and the
Mormons. The former, operating in Britain as followers of the Scotch
Presbyterian Edward Irving, evidenced a strong apocalyptic interest and
became convinced that before the soon second coming of Christ the gift of
tongues would return to His church. Strange sounds began to emanate from
the mouths of the worshipers. Interpretations and evaluations that
followed classified it as both languages and gibberish. In the opinion of
R. A. Knox, its linguistic value was indeed questionable. He writes in Enthusiam
(London: 1950), page 553, that "specimens of Irvingite glossolaly
which have been preserved to us are beyond the reach of any lexicon. Such
utterances of ‘Hippo gerosto niparos boorastin farini O faster sungor
boorinos epoongos menati’… hardly bear out the claim that ‘the
languages are distinct,
well-inflected, well-compacted languages.’
The philology of another world does not abide our question, but if we are
to judge these results by merely human standards, we must admit that a
child prattles no less convincingly."
As for the Mormons, founded by Joseph
Smith (1805-1844), the principle of speaking in tongues was first
introduced by him into his church in 1833 and reaffirmed in a declaration
of Mormon doctrines eleven years later. It must be said, however, that the
early Mormons never claimed that what was spoken was indeed a language.
They did declare though that God would shape the various sounds into a
language and make it meaningful.
Referring to one of those meetings, it
has been reported that "it would be advertised that at a certain
meeting someone would speak with tongues. When the meeting was well under
way, Father Smith would call upon some illiterate brother to rise and
speak in tongues in the name of Jesus Christ.
"The order was given, ‘Arise upon
your feet, speak or make some sound, continue to make sounds of some kind
and the Lord will make a tongue or language of it."—C. B. Cutten, Speaking
in Tongues, page 68.
The truth is that glossolalia did not
start with Pentecost—nor did it end there! The true gift of
languages apparently disappeared when God
failed to see a further necessity for its use, but the pre-Christian
Satanic tongues persisted. History speaks eloquently and plainly when it
comes to supplying examples of pagan glossolalia in pre-Christian times.
The introduction of a true gift of languages in Acts only furnished the
counterfeit with a new impetus. This now made it possible for its
practitioners to confuse the issue by comparing their gift to the
God-given ability, thus shedding wherever possible its heathen heritage
and enshrouding its post-Christian continuation of the phenomenon with a
cloak of Christian respectability.
1. The Ante-Nicene Fathers,
Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B.
Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950), Vol. 1, p. 531. (return
2. Ibid., p. 243.
(return to text)
3. Ibid., Vol. 3, pp. 446, 447.
(return to text)
4. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,
Philip Schaff, ed. (New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1898),
Vol. 12, p. 168. (return to text)
5. Ibid., Vol. 7, pp. 497, 498.
(return to text)
6. The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1910
ed., article "Hildegard," Vol. 7, p. 352. (return