The Gospel Herald -- Promoting the fundamentals of the 1888 message.


CHAPTER 3-section 10

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 communication—must conform.

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 to text)

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 to text)


Home  |  Glossolalia Index (book 1) (book 2)  |  Articles Index  
Gospel Herald Discussion Web  |  Genesis Studies  |  Sabbath Studies
Contact Us