Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Speaking in Tongues and Getting a Grip

Recently, my kids learned that a member of the extended family can speak in tongues. The first thing one of them said was something like 'he seems so normal!'

I know what she means. The folks I've known over the decades who are 'filled with the Holy Spirit' - and won't let you forget it - tend to be, ah, interesting. Colorful. Quite a few of them remind me of my 'good old days,' back when grooviness was groovy.

Catholic Charismatics: Yes, We've Got Those

Decades back, my wife ran into a group of Catholics who were into gifts of the Holy Spirit. They were, she tells me, convinced that everybody should want the gift of speaking in tongues. And get it.

That's not, I hope, typical of Catholics who are charismatics. But the 'everybody be like I want' attitude is an all-too-familiar pattern.

"Speaking in Tongues" isn't Always Bad - Or Good

Speaking in tongues isn't about muttering gibberish and being considered very spiritual as a result. Tongues really is a charism - but so is administration. I'll get back to that, too.

I think it's a good idea to know what words and phrases mean: like "speaking in tongues." I think this is a pretty good definition:
"speaking in tongues
"Utterances approximating words and speech that are nonetheless generally unintelligible, usually produced during states of trance or delirium. The religious interpretation of the phenomenon is that the speaker is possessed by a supernatural spirit, is in conversation with divine beings, or is the channel of a divine proclamation...."
(Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, via
Trance? Delirium? And the Catholic Church is okay with this?!

About whether or not the Catholic Church approves of "speaking in tongues," I think the answer is:
  • Yes
  • No
  • It depends
Here's something I found on the Holy See's website:
"...To suppress doubts about the group or the leader (or leaders), mind-numbing techniques are used. These could include meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions or a debilitating work routine...."
(Spotting the Activities of Cults, in "Culture e Fede - Cultures et Foi - Cultures and Faith - Culturas y Fe - 4/2002 - Notitiae" (English),
In context, that's part of advice for how to spot - and avoid cults.

That sort of "speaking in tongues" is not, in my considered opinion, a good idea.

Which doesn't mean that "speaking in tongues" is always Satanic. It's sort of like playing Bingo, except not very. And that's another topic. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2413)

God's Assignments: Like Teaching, Administration, and Tongues

"Varieties of tongues" shows up in a list of assignments God gives people:
"Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; 6 second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then, gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues."
(1 Corinthians 12:28)
It's the last item, but "tongues" did make the list.

Tongues, Corinthians, and Getting a Grip

Back to those folks who thought everybody should want to speak in tongues. 1 Corinthians 12 has quite a bit to say about that sort of thing, including these bits:
"To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues."
(1 Corinthians 12:7-10)

"Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,' it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,' it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?"
(1 Corinthians 12:14-17)

As far as I'm concerned, that's solid common sense. We're supposed to be the body of Christ. (Catechism, 787-789, for starters) Hands are an important part of the body: so are eyes and ears. But they're parts.

A couple chapters later, we get this:
"Similarly, if you, because of speaking in tongues, do not utter intelligible speech, how will anyone know what is being said? For you will be talking to the air."
(1 Corinthians 14:9)

"8 So if the whole church meets in one place and everyone speaks in tongues, and then uninstructed people or unbelievers should come in, will they not say that you are out of your minds?"
(1 Corinthians 14:23)

Catholic Charismatics: They're Not Necessarily Nuts

There really is something called the Catholic Charismatic Renewal: and it's not a bunch of crazy people babbling at each other. I pulled together resources I found on the Holy See's website, including a link to the ICCRS, or International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services.

Catholic Charismatic Renewal:
Bottom line? The Catholic Church doesn't expect us all to speak in tongues. Or be administrators, or teachers. That'd be like a company being all CEOs, or all janitors. Nothing wrong with either job - but each is just one function.

We're supposed to be different from each other. And I've gone over that before. (August 26, 2010)

Related posts:
Another blogger's run-in with 'spirit-filled' folks:

A tip of the hat to Christomicro, on Twitter, for reminding me of how loony 'spirit-filled' folks can sound. And act.


Brigid said...

Didn't you already post this? Or something nearly identical to it?

Brian Gill said...


I use the "getting a grip" phrase quite a bit.

I've posted about cultural goofiness fairly often, too. "Oh, Rapture! Here Come the End Times - Again" (May 20, 2011) and "Earth Day, Captain Planet, and Getting a Grip" (April 11, 2011), for example.

The Holy Spirit, though, hasn't been a particularly common topic in this blog - and the "speaking in tongues" issue is, to the best of my memory and a Google search, a new topic.

This post has been on the back burner for quite a while - and you may remember seeing notes I'd made, or hearing me talk about it.

Thanks for the opportunity to link to a couple of old posts. ;)

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.