1 Corinthians xiv.
Notes & Commentary:
St. Paul gives them further instructions how to make a right use of these
gifts, of prophesying, of interpreting, and especially of speaking tongues. He is far from condemning
the gift of speaking tongues, in proper circumstances, but only the indiscreet use, or the abuse of it. This is evident by
the 5th verse, I would have you all to speak with tongues, but rather to prophesy. He blames those assemblies and meetings,
(ver. 23.) when all present speak tongues together, by which means, the infidels that came thither, and ought to be instructed,
understood nothing. He permits at their meetings two or three (ver. 27.) to speak tongues, provided some
other interpret them. He also orders, that only two or three prophets speak at a meeting, and by turns,
to avoid confusion, that those present may be edified, exhorted, and instructed. (Witham)
Ver. 1. But
rather that you may prophesy. That is, declare or expound the mysteries of faith. (Challoner) --- To prophesy, in its
proper signification, is to foretell things to come: it sometimes is to expound the obscure places in other prophets; and
sometimes it is to preach the word of God. Here it is chiefly taken in this last sense. (Witham)
Ver. 2. He
that speaketh in a tongue, which others at least understand not: nay, which sometimes, perhaps, by the 14th and 15th verse,
he himself that spoke tongues, did not understand, can only be said to speak to God. In spirit he speaketh mysteries,
edifies himself, because in his spirit he is piously and devoutly affected; but he must endeavour that the Church, or people
present, may be also edified. Let him then pray for the other gift of interpreting, what he speaks, or let another
interpret. (Witham) --- Not to men. Viz., so as to be heard, that is, so as to be understood by them. (Witham)
Ver. 6. If I
come to you, speaking with tongues in this manner, what shall I profit you, unless in revelation, &c.
that is, unless I reveal, and expound to you the meaning, by some other gift, as in knowledge, in prophecy, in doctrine?
To speak tongues only without interpreting, is no ways instructive. He that speaks to me, what I understand not, is no better
than a barbarian to me, (so the Greeks called those that spoke not their language.) He amplifies this inconvenience
of not being understood, by the example of instruments, pipes, harps, trumpets, which would not move persons to different
affections, nor excite them to different actions, unless the sound, and manner they were played upon, were different; seek,
then, and endeavour to make use of the gifts of the Spirit, to the edification of the Church, or of the hearers. (Witham)
Ver. 12. Of
spirits. Of spiritual gifts. (Challoner)
Ver. 13. Pray
that he may interpret. In order that he may be rendered more useful to the Church, as the martyrs, who prayed for those
particular gifts they saw would be most useful for themselves, or their neighbours. (Calmet)
Ver. 14. If
I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is without fruit: it may signify without fruit, or profit
to others, though some understand, as if by this gift of tongues, they sometimes spoke what they themselves did not understand.
Ver. 16. How
shall he that holdeth the place of the unlearned (literally, an idiot) say Amen to thy blessing? When persons speak,
or pray, and the ignorant have had no instruction concerning such prayers, they cannot know when to say Amen: and when infidels
come into such meetings, where they hear many persons at once speaking many tongues, which are understood by no body, will
they not be apt to say, you are mad? The like in a manner happened on the day of Pentecost, when the disciples having
received this gift, and speaking with tongues, the people hearing them, cried out, they were drunk. (Acts ii. 13.)
Yet St. Chrysostom takes notice, that the fault and madness was in the hearers, not in those who spoke tongues. (hom. xxxvi.)
(Witham) --- Amen. The unlearned not knowing that you are then blessing, will not be qualified to join with you by
saying Amen to your blessing. The use or abuse of strange tongues, of which the apostle here speaks, does not regard the public
liturgy of the Church, (in which strange tongues were never used) but certain conferences of the faithful, (ver. 26. &c.)
in which, meeting together, they discovered to one another their various miraculous gifts of the Spirit, common in those primitive
times; amongst which the apostle prefers that of prophesying before that of speaking strange tongues, because it was more
to the public edification. Where also note, that the Latin, used in our liturgy, is so far from being a strange or unknown
tongue, that it is perhaps the best known tongue in the world. (Challoner)
Ver. 19. But
in the Church. The apostle here condemns the vanity of the Corinthians, who made a parade of their gift of tongues. (Calmet)
Tongues are for a sign, not to believers, but to unbelievers, according to what the law (under which he comprehends
the prophet Isaias, xxviii. 11.) said: In other tongues, and other lips, I will speak to this people: and neither so will
they hear me. St. Paul here gives the sense, rather than the words of the prophet, and expounds them of what happened
particularly on the day of Pentecost, when the miraculous gift of tongues was designed to strike the unbelieving people with
admiration, and to bring them afterwards to the true faith: but when he adds, that tongues are not for the believers, and
that prophecies are not for the unbelievers, he cannot mean that tongues, used with discretion, may not also be profitable
to believers, or that prophecies and instructions may not also be profitable to unbelievers, as well as to the believers;
for this would be to contradict what he teaches in this chapter, and particularly (ver. 24.) where he says, that by prophecy
the infidel is convinced, &c. St. Paul, whose design in all this chapter is to regulate the meetings, that they
may be conducted with greater edification, and for the instruction, both of the Christians and unbelievers, thanks God, that
he has the gift of tongues more than they, but says, that in the Church, or at such Church-meetings, he had rather,
for the common edification of others, speak five words, &c. than ten thousand words, &c. and so he concludes,
(ver. 39.) be zealous to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. (Witham)
Ver. 26. When
you come together, &c. St. Paul here settles the rules, which they are to observe in their meetings: one hath a
psalm, the Spirit inspiring him with some psalm, or spiritual canticle, whereby to praise God: another hath the gift of
doctrine, to instruct all there present: another the gift of tongues, which he will not have him to make use
of, unless when there is one to interpret, that all things may be done in the most profitable manner unto
edification. Two or three at a meeting may speak with tongues, if another interpret. (Witham)
Two or three, who have the gift of prophecy, may speak by turns in one of these assemblies, and the rest of
the prophet shall judge, whether he be truly inspired, and speak good doctrine. --- If any thing be revealed to
another sitting by, let the former, who was standing and speaking, hold his peace, which they can do; for the
spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, that is, they are not like men possessed with evil spirits, who have
not power to desist, or to be silent; but these who are moved by an impulse of the holy Spirit, have it in their power either
to speak or to be silent, as they judge convenient; for the true God is not the God of dissension and confusion, but the God
of peace and order. (Witham)
Ver. 34. Let
women be silent, and not speak at all in public Church-meetings: and if they would ask any thing, let them ask it at home.
Did the word of God first come out from you? This he says, to check these new preachers, by putting them in
mind, that they are not the first, nor the only Christians, and so must conform themselves to the discipline practised in
other Churches, especially since, as their apostle, he hath delivered them the commandments of the Lord. And if
any man know not, will not acknowledge, and follow these rules, he shall not be known; God will not know, nor approve
his ways. The pretended reformers, from the expressions with which the apostle blames the abuse some new converts made of
the gift of tongues, think they have found a plausible argument to reprehend Catholics, for using the same Latin tongue in
the Mass, and in the public liturgy. They consider not, whether they have the same reasons to find fault with the present
discipline of the Church, as St. Paul then had to blame the Corinthians: whether the circumstances be the same or different:
they think it enough that Latin, which is used in the Mass, is a language not understood by a great many ignorant people,
and therefore they can say with St. Paul, that an idiot, or an unlearned man, knows not when to say Amen to
what he hears. Two things offer themselves here to the consideration of every man, who is disposed to judge impartially. 1.
Whether the same reasons and motives now subsist for blaming the Catholics. 2ndly, whether the conveniences and inconveniences,
duly examined, it be found more commendable to perform the public liturgy, in those, which are the most general languages,
as in Latin or Greek, or to have all liturgies turned into as many tongues, as the ignorant people understand and speak in
different places. As to the first, St. Paul does not absolutely forbid the use of this gift of tongues, that were not understood,
even by any one (as hath been already observed). All that he blames is, that many, who valued themselves on this gift, spoke
at the same time altogether strange tongues, which none understood, but those who had another gift of the Spirit, called the
interpretation of speeches, on which account in these meetings there was nothing but confusion, without any profit,
edification, or instruction, at a time, and in such circumstances, when instructions were absolutely necessary, both for the
new converted Christians, and also for the infidels, who flocked thither as much as the Christians. The case is now quite
different, when none but Catholics meet, (especially at the Mass) who have been instructed from their infancy, what they are
to believe, as to the mysteries of faith, and what they ought to practise, as to the commandments, the sacraments, prayer,
and other points, which they have in their catechisms, or which have been delivered to them by catechetical discourses and
instructions. And if they have been happily converted, or are upon their conversion, they are always carefully instructed
in the tongue which they understand, as to what they ought to believe, and in the duties of a Christian life. Besides this,
all present are frequently instructed by sermons and exhortations, not only on Sundays and holidays, but daily in Advent and
Lent, as it is the custom in Catholic countries. I know some of our adversaries have been persuaded, that we preach in Latin
to the people; to be convinced of the contrary, let them come and hear us; it is the worst I wish them. As to the sacrifice
of the Mass, which none but they who are priests, can offer for the people, of which also a great part, according to the institution
of the Church, as the Council of Trent observes, (session 22. cap. 5.) is said with a low voice: it is not performed
in Latin in the Western Church, or in Greek in the East, that the meaning of the words may be concealed, since the same Council
has laid an express injunction upon all pastors, and upon all that have care of souls, that they frequently,
and especially on Sundays, and holidays, expound to the people, what is contained in the Mass, to wit,
the parts, and the ceremonies. See 22nd session, cap. 8.) And this command is again repeated, (session 24. cap. 7.) that they
instruct the people in their mother tongue concerning the divine mysteries and sacraments. All that can read,
may find the Mass translated into their own language, and the most ignorant are taught and instructed, that by the different
parts are represented the death and sufferings of our Saviour, Christ: they are taught how to offer up at the same time their
intention, their heart, and their prayers: to confess themselves sinners before God, as the priest does, how they ought to
endeavour to praise, and adore Christ with the blessed spirits in heaven; how they ought to beg graces of God, by saying the
Lord's prayer; how they ought, at the same time, at least in spirit and desire, to receive the holy sacrament of the eucharist,
with a sincere repentance, with humility and devotion. Cannot all things, then, be done to edification, as St. Paul requires,
though the words of the Mass, and public liturgy, be in a language which the ignorant do not understand, but which, of all
others, is the most general! Now the second thing to be examined is, whether, all things duly considered, it be better to
retain the public Church-offices in Latin, and in those ancient dead languages, as they are called, or to turn the liturgy
into as many tongues, as are spoken in different places and countries! Our adversaries, by this new alteration which they
have made, have gone against the judgment of all Christian Churches, both in the West and East, and in all parts of the world.
For as Mons. Simon takes notice, in his Critics, all other Churches (the Protestant only excepted) have judged it expedient,
to stick to the words and languages of their ancient liturgies, the Grecians to the ancient Greek, which now the ignorant
among them do not understand; the like is to be said of the ancient Syriac, Arabic, Coptic, &c. And it is also observed,
that the Israelites continued the reading of the law and the prophets, in the ancient Hebrew, which the common people of the
Jews did not understand after their return from the Babylonian captivity. It is well known that Latin in this part of the
world, is more generally spread and known, than any other language whatsoever. It is taught every where in all public schools.
It is learnt, not only by the ministers of the Church, but by almost all gentlemen, and by persons of all conditions, the
poorer sort only excepted. There is this great convenience, that the same priest can perform all the public Church-offices,
in all places and kingdoms where he travels. All the faithful, whithersoever they have occasion to go, meet with the same
Mass, and liturgy in the same words abroad, which they were accustomed to hear at home. The same uniformity is every where
preserved without change or confusion. But according to the method introduced by the Protestants, the liturgy must be changed
into as many different tongues, as there are countries and places, and in almost every century, as we see by experience, languages
are liable and subject to considerable changes and alterations. From hence arises a danger of changes, as to the doctrine
and belief of the faithful: errors and heresies are the consequences, that follow such frequent changes, especially, when
by another false principle of the said reformers, every private man and woman has a right to expound the hard and obscure
places of the holy Scriptures, which make up the chief and greatest part of all public liturgies in all Christian Churches.
I might ask of the Protestants, whether the ignorant people at least, and idiots, as St. Paul calls them, understand
the meaning of the Psalms, when they are sung in Hopkins's rhymes; though they may perhaps know when to say Amen, with
the rest. Nor yet does every ignorant man know what the word itself, Amen, signifies, and therefore knows not what
he answers. I cannot but here take notice of an unfair way of proceeding, even in the best Protestant translation, by sometimes
adding in this chapter the word unknown, and sometimes omitting it. All Catholics are willing to allow, that by the
gift of speaking tongues, St. Paul means tongues unknown, though the word unknown is not found so much
as once, neither in the Latin, nor even so much as in any one Greek manuscript. The Protestant translators, for tongues,
have put unknown tongues, in all the verses, where St. Paul blames the abuse of this gift; to wit, ver. 2. 4. 13. 14.
19. 27. but they make no such addition, where St. Paul either commends, or permits the speaking in tongues not understood,
as ver. 5. where he says, I would have you to speak tongues; and ver. 29.[39.?],
where he says, forbid not to speak tongues. It is evident, that there is the very same reason for the addition, or
the omission equally in all these verses. Is this to translate faithfully? I would by no means judge rashly, even of any adversary;
but it looks as if both the addition and omission was with a design of making this popular objection seem to be of greater
force against this point of discipline, and practice of the Catholics, and indeed of all Christian Churches. (Witham)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The gift of prophesying is to be preferred before that
of speaking strange tongues.
1 Follow after charity, be zealous for spiritual gifts: but rather that
you may prophesy.
2 For he that speaketh in a tongue, speaketh not to men, but to God:
for no man heareth. But by the Spirit he speaketh mysteries.
3 But he that prophesieth, speaketh to men unto edification, and exhortation
4 He that speaketh in a tongue, edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth,
edifieth the church.
5 And I would have you all to speak with tongues, but rather to prophesy.
For greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues: unless, perhaps, he interpret, that the church may
6 But now, brethren, if I come to you, speaking with tongues, what shall
I profit you, unless I speak to you either in revelation, or in knowledge, or in prophecy, or in doctrine?
7 Even things without life that give sound, whether pipe or harp, except
they give a distinction of sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?
8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself
9 So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue plain speech, how shall
it be known what is spoken? For you shall be speaking into the air.
10 There are, for example, so many kinds of tongues in this world: and
none is without a voice.
11 If then I know not the power of the voice, I shall be to him, to whom
I speak, a barbarian, and he that speaketh, a barbarian to me.
12 So you also, forasmuch as you are zealous of spirits, seek to abound
unto the edifying of the church.
13 And therefore he that speaketh in a tongue, pray that he may interpret.
14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding
is without fruit.
15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, I will pray also with
the understanding: I will sing with the spirit, I will sing also with the understanding:
16 Else if thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that holdeth
the place of the unlearned say Amen to thy blessing? because he knoweth not what thou sayest.
17 For thou indeed givest thanks well, but the other is not edified.
18 I thank my God, that I speak with all your tongues.
19 But in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding,
that I may instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.
20 Brethren, do not become children in sense, but in malice be children,
and in sense be perfect.
21 In the law it is written: *That in other tongues, and other lips,
I will speak to this people: and neither so will they hear me, saith the Lord.
22 Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to believers, but to unbelievers:
but prophecies, not to unbelievers, but to believers.
23 If, therefore, the whole church come together into one place, and
all speak with tongues, and there come in unlearned persons, or unbelievers, will they not say that you are mad?
24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or
one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all.
25 The secrets of his heart are made manifest, and so, falling down on
his face, he will adore God, affirming that God is among you indeed.
26 How is it then, brethren? When you come together, every one of you
hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a revelation, hath a tongue, hath an interpretation: let all things be done unto edification.
27 If any speak with a tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three,
and in course, and let one interpret.
28 But if there be no interpreter, let him hold his peace in the church,
and speak to himself and to God.
29 And let the prophets speak, two or three: and let the rest judge.
30 But if any thing be revealed to another sitting, let the first hold
31 For you may all prophesy one by one: that all may learn, and all may
32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
33 For he is not the God of dissension, but of peace: as also I teach
in all the churches of the saints.
34 Let women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted to
them to speak, but to be subject, *as also the law saith.
35 But if they would learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at
home. For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church.
36 Or did the word of God come out from you? Or came it only unto you?
37 If any man seem to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him know the things
that I write to you, that they are the commandments of the Lord.
38 But if any man know not, he shall not be known.
39 Wherefore, brethren, be zealous to prophesy: and forbid not to speak
40 But let all things be done decently, and according to order.
21: Isaias xxviii. 11.
34: Genesis iii. 16.