Talk of the Spirit

In recent discussion we have discovered that many of us have had the experience of hearing voices inside our heads, or of seeing bright colours and sometimes hallucinations through closed eyes. As far as I know, none of our contributors are given to being over-fanciful, or suffer from schizophrenia. It may well come as a relief to some that such experiences are so common.

But it brings into my mind speaking in tongues which is described in the New Testament and, for many people, continues to be part of a normal Christian life. I distinguish between xenoglossia, which is the gift of being able to speak in the listener’s own language, and glossolalia, which is speaking in an unknown language – which may be susceptible of interpretation.

Xenoglossia appears to have occurred at the first Pentecost when the apostles addressed the crowds. Although the listeners spoke diverse languages “each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” The Acts clearly indicates that it was a gift of the Holy Spirit.  And some 3000 entered the Church that day. And in St Mark (16) we read that, “these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” However, my confidence in the reliability of Scripture does not persuade me to experiment with either snakes or poisons.

Most of the New Testament remarks on glossolalia are those of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul distinguishes speaking in tongues from prophecy (I assume that by prophecy means declaring salvation through Christ).

While he encourages those who have the gift of tongues, he is clear that it is inferior to prophecy. I get the impression that the former is damned with faint praise. In itself, the gift of tongues builds up the speaker, while prophesy builds up the Church. As such the gift of tongues is of no value unless the tongues are interpreted. Otherwise, they are meaningless and unproductive. Nevertheless, he remains clear that the tongues are speaking in mysteries of the Spirit.

Whenever I have written of glossolalia in a Catholic context, I have quickly been made aware that a number of vocal Catholics have either witnessed or participated in it. They seem mainly to have been pentecostal or charismatic, and they have often been through some relatively dramatic conversion or renewal process. Their conversation is overtly Christian, and they are enthusiastic to tell others of their experience.

I have no experience of the Alpha course (plenty on the Internet) but I understand that participants experience glossolalia – particularly on the weekend together during the standard course, when they are studying the work of the Holy Spirit. And why not? It’s there, loud and clear, in the New Testament.

My own opinion is worth little here. But I think that this seeking after dramatic experience of the gifts of the Spirit is dangerous, prone to quackery and capable of bringing Christianity into disrepute. It is the province of those who seek “signs” to bolster their faith. If people attempt to dissuade me on the grounds of Paul’s words, I merely remind them that he thought prophesy to be superior, and that – as far as I can – is what I stick to. On glossolalia I remain sceptical.

I would be interested to hear what others think. In addition, it would be useful to learn some more about the Alpha course. I do not wish to be unfair to it. Has anyone done a course or has friends who have told them about their experience?

About Quentin

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57 Responses to Talk of the Spirit

  1. milliganp says:

    ! Cor 13:8 says “..the gift of languages, it will not continue forever.” and 1 Cor 14:28 instructs that if no interpreter is present “they must keep quiet in church and speak only to themselves and to God.”
    I have personally seen little evidence that these alleged charismata benefit the church and, in a rational world, tongues without interpretation leaves little to differentiate a charismatic meeting from a visit to Bedlam.

  2. Quodvultdeus says:

    You are right: “Paul thought prophesy to be superior”. But tell me who prophesies these days? To be a prophet you need to learn how to enter into the presence of the living God. Glossolalia, or the gift of tongues, is a nursery, a prep-school. There you learn also that: it is God who matters not you; the Divine life is ineffably greater than you expect and, as a consequence, that heavenly things are much more important than anything on this earth, e.g. money. In other words, your world which is normally up-side-down on its heads, needs to be put on its feet. You can’t have your head all in earthly things. You need to place your feet firmly on earth, be in touch with earthly reality of course, but your head should in heaven.

    That kind of life does not need to end up in quackery because the Catholic Church – understood in the way the Fathers of the Church used to understand it – provides fitting institutional frames for it. If you follow the mainstream Second Vatican Council reform you will know what kind of Church I think of.

    Generally the gift of glossolalia is important for the Church now, because it prepares prophets. If there is no room for glossolalia in parishes, there will be even less room for the prophets. Though there is usually much room for the bookkeepers. It means that we will have not only few vocations to priesthood, but also hardly any prophet. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee” (Luke 13:34).

    • milliganp says:

      Can I agree strongly with your latter point.On a day to day basis the church has become an administrator of church activities not a proclaimer of the Gospel; most of our parishes and Diocese are running in maintenance mode. It has taken me several years to get our finance committee to actually budget charitable activities as a line item, rather than “seeing what’s left over” at the end of the year; 5 years ago we put in £500 a year for Evangelization, but it was dropped after 3 years because no actual expenditure occurred.

      • Quodvultdeus says:

        I am sorry I have only now noticed your comment. Don’t you have in your diocese any charisms, groups, ministries that actually do evangelise? Why don’t you support them? Or maybe you can invite them to your diocese. I have recently met Good Counsel Network – they do great job with expecting mothers. What about the Neocatechumenal Way? They organise pilgrimages and other events for the youth and are in need of financial support.

  3. Iona says:

    What puzzles me is that xenoglossia appears to have been a one-off phenomenon. It was so obviously valuable, being a language understood by everybody, whereas glossolalia is understood by nobody.

  4. claret says:

    It would be interesting to know if glossolalia is evident separate from Christianity. I have a vague memory that it can be produced, on demand, by other groups of people . Assumingly this would include athiests.

  5. mike Horsnall says:

    “…I have personally seen little evidence that these alleged charismata benefit the church and, in a rational world, tongues without interpretation leaves little to differentiate a charismatic meeting from a visit to Bedlam…”

    Having visited both I assure you there is a diffeence MilliganP not the least that they let the charismatics home at night.. I’ve spoken (well, silently prayed mostly) in tongues for twenty five years or so, as far as I can be the judge I am still sane-though perhaps a diaconate training marks a definite sway away from the ‘norm’.
    Its an interesting subject. Claret you are right -we are capable of utterances we do not understand-all of us. Tongues is, in a strange way, a language in its own right, or at least it becomes so over time and usage..more later.

    • Quentin says:

      Mike, your experience interests me. One of the dangers of ‘tongues’ is that people feeling under pressure in, say, a charismatic group, might be deluded into giving forth. Suggestibility can be very powerful. This is clearly not so in your case. But I would be interested to know more. Do you understand what you are saying? If so, why would you need to use a ‘tongue’. If not, what additional value does it give you? Or do you just do it, and seek not to reason why?

  6. JohnL says:

    I am with MilliganP and Iona so far. I’ve only once heard someone (allegedly) speaking in tongues. It was meaningless to me and seemed only to be an exhibition on the part of the speaker. If it is genuine Spirit then interpretation is necessary. I am left with the question “What is the point?”.
    Quodvultdeus may feel he has already answered the question, but I remain dubious. More information would be helpful.

  7. MikeHorsnall says:


    “….To be a prophet you need to learn how to enter into the presence of the living God.Glossolalia, or the gift of tongues, is a nursery, a prep-school. There you learn also that: it is God who matters not you; the Divine life is ineffably greater than you expect and, as a consequence, that heavenly things are much more important than anything on this earth, e.g. money. In other words, your world which is normally up-side-down on its heads, needs to be put on its feet. You can’t have your head all in earthly things. You need to place your feet firmly on earth, be in touch with earthly reality of course, but your head should in heaven…”

    I think this by quovultdeus goes some way towards it and particularly his later words on the ability of the Catholic church to institutionalise its experience.
    For most people beginning to speak in tongues is an astonishing and clearly supernatural experience. I was once strongly ‘into’ Pauline practice as a christian and spent several years as an evangelist on those principles. I remember very clearly on time huddled in a secret meeting with young christians in China and telling them that they were about to be filled with the Holy Spirit and would begin praying in tongues there were several of them and only one of me. They had no experience of the phenomena yet when I prayed over them all bar one burst out singing and praying in tongues with great exuberance and evident joy…no one was more surprised than me!

    Glossolalia is a gift of immense value to the church for its ability to take us out of the dully rational and into a different sphere. I used to pray out loud and sing in tongues simply for the sheer untrammelled joy and exuberance of it and the almost painful beauty that is present when say a thousand or so get together and pray/worship in tongues for say 5-10 minutes at a stretch-there is a genuinely holy and mystical sense of the Spirit of God at these times…..(those of you who are reading this and find a surge of cynicism or anger coming to the fore at this point might do well to pause and ask yourselves why you are feeling thus…be honest!)
    But as has been stated above, glossolalia is essentially nursery school and it tends to pass to another level. When I am oppressed ,weary or just simply fed up of the sound of my own voice or thoughts I pray in tongues quietly or silently. When I pray for others sometimes I pray in tongues-especially when the persons situation is dire and words fail me. There is no need to fear tongues-the Catholic church has its charismatic wing-go along to it and see for yourself…New Dawn conference at Walsingham in a couple of weeks time-I’m going!

    As to suggestibility-almost all catholic devotions – Rosary,Taize, Divine chaplet etc utilise suggestibility and repetition in some form – this is not a bad thing in its own right. I don’t think there is much to fear here, glossolalia either happens or it doesn’t and no one in their right mind would go round making it up for more than 30 seconds at a go! The only issue with glossolalia in the house church movement was its tendency to produce church splits and a proliferation of unproven would be prophetic voices- none of whom would get far faced with the rigour of the mass.

    • Mike Horsnall says:


      Sorry Quentin I didnt answer the key part of your question. No I don’t understand what I am saying when I pray in tongues-its not like praying in French! On the other hand glossolia is not babbling either and has its own emotional register corresponding to the sorrow or happiness of the praying soul-beseeching, blesssing, interceding celebrating and sorrowing are all on that register

      • Quentin says:

        Mike, I am most impressed by your answers to my query. This is the first time I have heard a personal account which carried conviction. I am sure others will think so too.

        I must turn this over in my mind.

    • milliganp says:

      Thanks for the depth and detail of your response. My experience of charismatics has obviously been a bit shallow. I haven’t read the whole blog yet so forgive me if I’m repeating another’s comment. Are you concious of having a vocabulary or or would you regard trying to understand as alien to the experience?

      • Mike Horsnall says:

        Its a bit like saying trying to understand sobbing your heart out or yearning for heaven is ‘alien to the experience’ We sob and yearn with our whole heart, all of us is involved in the act which is not primarily an intellectual act but an act of the whole person. Thus I wouldnt try to remember a shopping list in tongues since thats not what the gift is for. Nor would one’ translate ‘ a particular aim into tongues in the hope of greater efficacy. But when I go to see my friend and fellow Deacon who is paralysed from the waist down after coming off his motor bike on the way to church-then when I pray with him I may pray in tongues simply because it may be the only appropriate/available response as far as I am concerned at that time . As I have said elsewhere- the experience of tongues is also of emotional intelligence to some degree or another and it has a register of besseeching, blessing,sorrowing ,rejoicing etc. Just because glossolia is not a formally structured language doesnt mean it lacks personal significance.

  8. Nektarios says:

    Fellow bloggers,
    It is interesting to read your views on speaking in tongues and so on.
    I am not going to give you all my experience of it, but will give you an occurance that happened many years ago.
    I was invited by a minister to his church one evening, I was not a member of his denomination, but had been training some of them and others in evangelism.
    He told me they were going to be speaking in tongues that night.
    Out of curiosity more than anything, I said I would come along.
    What was going to happen next was sad in some respects, for I had been invited along to their elders meeting. There was about ten of us there.
    The minister said, we are now going to pray and feel free to speak in tongues.
    For quarter an hour there was silence, then one elder, then an other blurted out something,
    but it was meaningless to me. Then it was silence.
    I looked up to see what was happening, and all the elders were in different postures of facial distortion trying to speak in tongues. The Minister, sat in prayer, looking sad.
    That was the end of the meeting and the elders left leaving the minister and I alone.

    I said, I can see, you wanted to speak in tongues, why didn’t you? His reply shocked me.
    I could not speak in tongues because you were there.
    I still felt strongly the dear man still wanted to speak in tongues.
    So I asked him, `would you like to speak in tongues, now? He replied, in the affirmative.
    Let us kneel before the Lord and seek His face. So side by side we knelt down together and I asked the Lord to help him pray in the Spirit and in tongues if the Lord wills.

    Immediately the Minister started to pray in tongues and I as getting the interpretation.
    Tears were welling up in me, but this occurance was the Lord’s doing and reluctant though I was to give him the intrepretation – it just flowed out of me.
    My relunctance was the interpretation I received and here it is: Within two months you will lose all your young people in this Church. Later, members of the congregation will begin to disperse.
    And you will leave this particular church very soon.
    The Lord would have you know this is His doing, and not to be sad or discouraged, for the Lord will take you from here to another place and you will have a fruitful ministry.

    Everything transpired exactly as was interpteted, to the letter.
    Now, please, do not think I am blowing my own trumpet, nothing could be further from the truth.
    I have relayed this to you, simple to let you know, speaking in tongues does happen for real, despite all the nonsense passing for speaking in tongues, especially in the charismatic movements in different churches.

    This occurance that happened many years ago, happened just as I have relayed it to you.
    What is more, the Lord had made sure all the elders of the congregation were out of earshot at the time for whatever reasons the Lord ochestrated it to be so.
    The minister having received this interpretation, and have it happen before his eyes, was greatly comforted that that occurance had taken place. Ane he did indeed go on to have a fruitful ministry.

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      Nektarios – please take this as a genuine inquiry: in your session with the tongue-speaking minister, how did you know that your message about the impending dissolution of his congregation was an interpretation of his utterance rather than an independent revelation to yourself – by recognising actual words or some other means?

      • Nektarios says:

        Peter D. Wilson

        You will never find an answer to your question by such an approach. The way of the Spirit of God is to be the Comforter to Christ’s people – all believers. In doing so, He takes of the things that belong to Christ and shows them unto us.

        Please note, as I did in my postng, there were several things going on at once.
        I was invited to a elders meeting of a church denomination I did not belong to. This would be odd in itself, don’t you think? They tried to speak in tongues and could not, the all left
        to go home except the minister and I. Then, he it was that said, he could not talk in tongues because I was there. The Lord had made the Minister aware and was afraid to talking in tongues then with the elders around but he did not know beforehand what he was going to say.
        I was aware he still wanted to talk in tongues. The Minister did not know the gifts of the Spirit he had given to me to serve Him, nevertheless, he sensed something.
        I encouraged him, I was aware that it was serious.
        Together, we knelt as one before the Lord seeking His face, That is important, together we humbly knelt down befoe the Lord, not to speak in tongues but to enquire of Him..
        The Holy Spirit, gave him the words in tongues, an gave me the interpretation. And let’s be clear, Peter, there can be no contradiction to the way the Holy spirit operates, to the revealed Truth about Him and His work as Comforter to the Lord’s people.
        Then, there is what followed, exactly as he had spoken in the Spirit in tongues, and I intepreted. It came to pass in otherwords..

        Peter, the Lord will never reveal anything to anyone whose approach is merely curiosity, in fact it is dangerous.
        Our intellectual capacities are indeed great, but limited, perochial, petty, selfish, proud
        but to truly learn the ways of God, life in the Spirit, one first realizes one knows nothing as they ought, cannot do anything for God at all, and so, like that Minister and I
        we had to kneel humbly and in a beeching frame of mind, waited before the Lord to receive from Him. – so must you my dear Peter and so must I continue do so.

  9. Quodvultdeus says:

    ‘I am left with the question “What is the point?”’

    I would first say there are many things in our experience of faith, if not all, that are not our invention. So we should extend the question: ‘what is the point for the Spirit of God manifesting Himself in this way?’.

    For me it’s important, that we do not produce the content of the Revelation. The opposite, the Divine life has been made known to us by the Incarnation of Christ. The faith is a gift from God. Our role is to humbly grow in wisdom and understanding of this gift. Humility and fear of God are a must here: “The first principle of wisdom is the fear of Yahweh” (Proverbs 9:10).

    The Incarnation not only gives us knowledge but also participation in the Divine nature and life. The tongues and other manifestations of the Spirit of the risen Christ in the Church are of help in this. They are to confirm, on one hand, that our experience of faith transcends the natural order.Helps us realise that it is more than just a philosophy of God, any kind of theism. And on the other hand, it gives us an experience of that Divine life. In fact in the Bible, “to know” and “to experience” are almost synonyms.

    It should be emphasised that the charismatic experience is different to a mystical one. The latter being a fruit of the way of growing in personal holiness through purification of faith – all those dark nights of faith so beautifully described by St. John of the Cross. Regarding charismatic manifestations, you may have an experience of speaking in tongues and you may feel unusual joy and love, you may be consoled, inspired by Him, but it doesn’t mean that your personality is particularly holy and virtuous, and that you are really, personally united to the Holy Trinity.

    I would like to briefly share one event from my personal experience, that I believe was Divine instruction on how to evaluate the tongues within Christian life. It was during 1st national Catholic charismatic convention in 1983 in the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Poland. There was a whole night of prayer full of moments described by Mike Horsnall: “a thousand or so get together and pray/worship in tongues for say 5-10 minutes at a stretch – there is a genuinely holy and mystical sense of the Spirit of God at these times….”. As I was literally a newcomer, I went there out of curiosity, I was not capable of joining others in that kind of prayer. Though I could sense the fantastic presence of God. There was a break in the middle of the night, I sat at the back of the basilica and took out some sandwiches from my bag and started eating. That very moment I saw in the front of the church, where an old baroque altar was, big image of crucified Christ. The experience was so natural and inside me – or I was inside it – that I didn’t realise that it was something, say, different. And I heard a voice, but I can’t say I heard any physical voice: “This praise and singing in tongues is good, but the salvation is in the Cross”. Only then I realised that I had a kind of experience normally people eating sandwiches do not have. The message gave me a fair guidance for my later authentic growing in Christian life which I had previously asked God for. I was 17 then.

    • JohnL says:

      Thank you QVD, and others for your commentaries which I find helpful.
      My own prayer life can be difficult, and if these experiences of the Holy Spirit are genuine I can see that they bring great joy and may help others.
      I have never myself experienced such manifestations, and I would hesitate to ask for them on the grounds that “Thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the test”. Perhaps the point is that you don’t ask – they just happen.
      I still wonder whether a happy crowd in a charismatic meeting really does have an experience of the Spirit which is denied to the rest of us, and if so, why?
      I suppose Paul describes different gifts given to different people.

      • Quodvultdeus says:

        After my confirmation I had my first crisis regarding church going. I started reading the Bible about Abraham and Moses and others, who spoke to God and God spoke to them. I believed it was true. My problem was that I could not see the same kind of relationship with God or even expectation of such relationship around me during the Sunday mass. I believed that God was the same, and that the people were more or less the same, i.e. I did not think of Abraham as if he had been created a different kind of person than us. So – I was 14 – I asked: why is it that no one expects possibility of speaking with God? So I started calling to him to speak out to me, though I really did not know how it could have happened. His answer was in some way disappointing, but eventually overwhelming. It was disappointing because I expected to little, there was in me a bit of that attitude of tempting God, which you write about. But soon after I felt as if left with nothing, He had intervened in my life in the way I cannot describe with other words than “overwhelming”. Until this day, He has given me much, much beyond what I could have ever imagined. The message about the cross was only one, or perhaps even the very first in a row of events which have shaped my whole life.

  10. Mike Horsnall says:

    “…It should be emphasised that the charismatic experience is different to a mystical one. The latter being a fruit of the way of growing in personal holiness through purification of faith – all those dark nights of faith so beautifully described by St. John of the Cross. Regarding charismatic manifestations, you may have an experience of speaking in tongues and you may feel unusual joy and love, you may be consoled, inspired by Him, but it doesn’t mean that your personality is particularly holy and virtuous, and that you are really, personally united to the Holy Trinity…”

    Thanks for making this very important point. This is often the key issue and the bitter experience of many- we tend to think that, just because we revel in gifts, we are somehow elevated -yet this is simply not true and leads inevitably to rude awakenings.

  11. Quentin says:

    I find the current exchange on charismatic experience deeply interesting. I am turning over in my mind the eventual possibility of using it as a background to a CH column.

    Meanwhile, can I ask you, and others, my second question: personal experience of the Alpha course, or indirect experience through friends’ descriptions.

  12. Mike Horsnall says:

    I ran Alpha courses for several years, what do you want to know about them?

    • Quentin says:

      Mike, there is a fair amount of descriptive material on the internet, starting perhaps with Wiki and looking at other possible sites. So I have reviewed that. I have noted that there is a Catholic extension to deal with subjects like Our Lady. Over a period I have heard some approving comments – but with very little detail. I have heard rather more criticism – capitalising on emotions, too cultish, brainwashing, too “in your face”, too literal an approach to Scripture, the effect doesn’t last etc, cultic practices, undignified behaviour. You probably know the sort of thing I mean. I cannot take a view of any of this until I can get a balanced critical evaluation from someone who is conversant through direct experience. Everyone seems to have their own bone to chew. Can you help me – and perhaps others?

      • milliganp says:

        Perhaps I could make a “non-Alpha” comment. In my own church a previous parish priest described our RCIA process as a place where we create about-to-be-lapsed Catholics; perhaps because depth of faith has little to do with catechetical detail and much more to do with change of heart. Although intellectual assent is an important part of faith, it does seem that in true faith the heart always leads the head, Anselm’s faith seeking understanding. Another phrase I have heard is that faith is caught, not taught. There is a strong revisionist movement in the English Catholic church at present to dismiss experiential catechesis but it seems to me that faith without some personal experience of God ends up being little different to collecting stamps or train spotting (please God, don’t let Mike Horsnall be a philatelist!)

      • Quodvultdeus says:

        Are you interested in the Catholic experience of the Alpha Course overseas? I know one charismatic community in the Dominican church in Wrocław, Poland, which bases its formation on the Alpha Course programme. I don’t know much detail, but they seem to be thriving. At least judging by the number of marriages within the community – there were six weddings last year. I can give you a contact to the Dominican, Fr. Andrzej Bujnowski who leads the community.

      • Quentin says:

        Thank you QVD. May I come back to you on this? I have yet to find out enough about UK alpha. Mike has suggested that I really need to do the course. No doubt — but the problem of a journalist is that he often has to rely on the sound opinions of others. This is where the blog helps — it enables me to hitch a ride on the experience of others.

  13. Mike Horsnall says:

    Probably the best advice is to go on one!
    I’ve had to trawl a bit off the net as I seem to have packed away my alpha resources in the loft and its a long time since I was on the evangelism team of a large evangelical Anglican church in Kent which is where I ran courses.
    Firstly its worth remembering that Alpha courses were not written for catholics. This means that there will be criticism from the perspectives you offer above. However its also worth bearing in mind just how strange,kooky, wierd and generally daunting mainstream catholicism is to an outsider and how outlandish the practices of the Roman Catholic church seem to strangers who may be enquiring about faith issues.In my experience when lay enquirers ask simple non religious /non technical questions of catholics- about the christian faith they are in the main directed to catechist type classess which seek to teach yet not explain.
    For myself I can’t really see why anyone should get desperately het up about a few evenings chatting with friends of friends over supper about the claims of christianity. Nor can I see why people should want to criticize unduly the asking of God to come by his Holy spirit and make himself present in a discernable manner-That is after all the main thrust of the New and Old testaments!
    I ran perhaps a dozen or so courses. They were relatively low key affairs where I or others would give a short presentation on one topic or another of the course and then folk would split into small groups and chat over pretty much whatever they wanted to-in each small group there would be one or two ‘experienced’ christians. There would be three talks on the Holy spirit -which would be placed in a day or a weekend-which could perhaps be best viewed as a mini taught ‘retreat’ having also a persuasive aim of bringing the individual closer to a place where they might say a yea or a nay to stepping over the threshold of onlooker into the arena of participant. As far as I remember there was no coercion involved though people were encouraged to consider their position! I would reckon the ‘success’ rate of the courses to be around 50% with that number of enquirers beginning to commit themselves to knowing the trinitarian God…Of course that figure would be affected over time as individuals have to count the cost of their initial move.

    I can see no real reason why the catholic church should not welcome the alpha course after modifying it slightly…as the monk said on the catholic alpha video:
    “Its an Alpha course , not an Alpha and Omega course..”

    In other words most people wanting to become catholics could do with a catholic Alpha and then an extended period of catechesis in their new found faith…quite normal really. To conclude then-as far as I can see-to get people around a table talking about God,Jesus,the Holy spirit, sin and repentance shouldnt really be seen as a threat-rather it should be cheered to the rooftops. Sure it may be the case that, for Catholics, there are theological issues to be discussed but that does’nt mean the tool cannot be applied well-I saw several adults come into the life of Christ through alpha-thats not bad really is it?

  14. Mike Horsnall says:

    MilliganP: “….There is a strong revisionist movement in the English Catholic church at present to dismiss experiential catechesis but it seems to me that faith without some personal experience of God ends up being little different to collecting stamps or train spotting….”

    Ha Ha !! I always hated stamp collecting but did once sell tickets for British Rail…..!!!
    I completely agree with your thoughts re experience. Its almost impossible to look into the heart of another and very difficult to discern their spirit-but it is hard to understand what faith without encounter must look/feel like-I can’t help but think it would be a kind of servitude.

    • Quentin says:

      Faith without encounter would be servitude? It seems to me that ‘encounter’ covers a wide range. We read of Mother Teresa’s dark night of the soul. Her faith was strong enough to survive this. Mine certainly wouldn’t be (as I remind God from time to time) just in case he should get any ideas. On the other hand, I feel clearly when I pray that I am actually talking to a Person. I am not being flippant when I suggest that it may be a matter of temperament — bearing in mind that God approaches us according to our needs and capacities. I am, perhaps by nature, wary of emotional approaches, because I see emotion as essentially transient. Glossolalia is not for me (although I accept your personal account of the as genuine).

      I note that in the Gospels ‘supernatural’ events like the Transfiguration are rare, and only occur for good reason. Jesus’ own prayer to the Father is almost invariably internal communication — as we see in the agony in the garden. of course all prayer is through the Spirit, as we address Abba Father, through faith.

      I can only give one account. It was after I had done some work for Our Lady. I asked her if my work had done her honour. And there she was in front of me. I saw nothing, it only lasted for a few seconds. But I was absolutely clear (and remain so) that she was physically present. It never happened again — and I neither ask nor wish for it to be repeated. Nor do I expect anyone to believe that it was not a product of my imagination. I am content to know what I know.

      The surprising aspect of this exchange is that so many of us in this small group have had some kind of direct experience.

  15. mike Horsnall says:


    Great, I was hoping someone would pick up on this.

    Glossolia really isnt such a big deal yea or nay and if it isnt for you then it isn’t -I have times when I forget about it for months on end sometimes longer.
    But the issue of encounter is crucial. You have the sense of ‘speaking to a person’ This is encounter Quentin. We all have time when we feel heaven to be empty and our prayers rebound as if from a tin roof….but I would wager that all who follow do in fact follow a’ person’ that is the person of the Living God. Yes there is the dark night -whatever you understand by that, I’ve spent plenty of time struggling along as an honary atheist myself-but still we know in our depths that we follow the living one, feel it or no.
    As to temperament I have come to the conclusion that most people, men especially, seem determined to play down their genuine experience of encounter lest it come under the heading’emotional’ !!To encounter God does not mean to fully engage the emotional life at all- but it does mean to know and- from the witness of your own words you are a knower!!

  16. Peter D. Wilson says:

    Thanks to Nektarios for his response to my query and attempt to be helpful.

    Mike Horsnall is percipient in supposing “faith without encounter” to be “a kind of servitude” and so I have felt it all my life; it’s the way I’m made. That’s why I trust the mind rather than the heart.

  17. mike Horsnall says:

    Tell us, Peter, how do you define / understand the phrase?

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      Presumably the phrase you mean is “a kind of servitude.” I regard practising the faith as a duty, generally inconvenient and often resented (rather like National Service, for which I have since been immensely grateful) but undertaken nevertheless if only in recognition of the many blessings I have received.

      • Quodvultdeus says:

        I guess servitude may be understood as a sort of “bondage”. I find very inspiring what Augustine of Hippo wrote on this regarding the signs and sacraments in his “De doctrina christiana” (“On Christian Doctrine”) book III ch. 9. A person who approaches the liturgical signs without knowing what they signify is in bondage. In his understanding, the sacraments are visible signs pointing out to and making present the Invisible. It is not exactly about glossolalia, but if it may be confusing when someone doesn’t understand what a person using this charismatic gift means, it is even more confusing if he/she doesn’t understand the signs-sacraments.

        Benedict XVI wrote about it in “Sacramentum Caritatis” 64, referring to the need for the mystagogical catechesis: “A mystagogical catechesis must also be concerned with presenting the meaning of the signs contained in the rites. This is particularly important in a highly technological age like our own, which risks losing the ability to appreciate signs and symbols. More than simply conveying information, a mystagogical catechesis should be capable of making the faithful more sensitive to the language of signs and gestures which, together with the word, make up the rite.”

        Finally Augustine on bondage: “13. Now he is in bondage to a sign who uses, or pays homage to, any significant object without knowing what it signifies: he, on the other hand, who either uses or honours a useful sign divinely appointed, whose force and significance he understands, does not honour the sign which is seen and temporal, but that to which all such signs refer. Now such a man is spiritual and free even at the time of his bondage, when it is not yet expedient to reveal to carnal minds those signs by subjection to which their carnality is to be overcome. To this class of spiritual persons belonged the patriarchs and the prophets, and all those among the people of Israel through whose instrumentality the Holy Spirit ministered unto us the aids and consolations of the Scriptures. But at the present time, after that the proof of our liberty has shone forth so clearly in the resurrection of our Lord, we are not oppressed with the heavy burden of attending even to those signs which we now understand, but our Lord Himself, and apostolic practice, have handed down to us a few rites in place of many, and these at once very easy to perform, most majestic in their significance, and most sacred in the observance; such, for example, as the sacrament of baptism, and the celebration of the body and blood of the Lord.” (On Christian Doctrine III,9 (On the internet: )

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        Quodvultdeus – I’m sorry, but I don’t see what point you’re trying to make.

      • Quodvultdeus says:

        Peter D. Wilson:
        ” I don’t see what point you’re trying to make.”

        I beg your pardon, it was not meant to be “ad personam”. I just wanted to say that if we do not understand the role and place of glossolalia in the church life, we still have much to do in order to be able to understand the language, signs and symbols of the liturgy, sacraments etc. It was sort of a call for the mystagogy – an initiation into faith practised in the first 7 centuries in the form of the catechumenate.

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        Qvd – Thanks for the clarification

  18. Mike Horsnall says:

    Would you say that the ‘blessings you have received’ are directly related to the ‘practising the faith as a duty..’? In other words, are the blessings you speak of the blessings of life e.g sturdy health good choice of career/partner etc or are they to do with perception of God, inner peace, wisdom etc?

    • Peter D. Wilson says:

      Mike – that’s a good question, and the answer is rather complicated. Most of the blessings I have in mind are not a direct result of faith, but not entirely unconnected. For instance, I determined on reaching adulthood that if I were to marry, it would have to be to a Catholic as no one else could be expected to put up with the requirements (although much more recently a family nearby has proved me wrong in that supposition). I also resolved to avoid attachments in my student days. That may have been a mistake, since in this area culturally-compatible unattached Catholic women were as rare as hens’ teeth and I remain a bachelor. However, with no need to worry about the expenses of raising a family, I was content with the relatively modest salary of a technical specialist. I was thus in a good position to take on various issues that arose more or less unexpectedly in the 1990s, and the reputation I achieved partly compensates for the tolerable frustrations of single life: I should probably have been very difficult to live with, anyway.

      I can’t claim any perception of God (prayer is like talking to someone I’m not sure is in the next room) but I suppose I have a good measure of inner peace. Wisdom? Who am I to say?

  19. mike Horsnall says:

    ‘Prayer is like talking to someone I’m not sure is in the next room…’

    Ha ha thats good! … I’m fairly certain the next room is occupied but much of the time it appears to be locked!! Thanks for that. I am quite interested in the way different people intuit God in their lives. My Spiritual director reckons that one can be pretty much utterly unconscious of the divine yet have a much blessed and very devout life. This is in part due to the fact that, though some of us are highly individualised and articulate in spiritual life-many are not and their ‘spiritual individuality is not important to them. Such persons have nonetheless a rich inner life but it is experienced as part of the ‘body’ which is the church rather than as individual experience….this is pertinent to the topic since I should imagine many such persons would be highly sceptical of glossolia etc.

  20. John Candido says:

    I have never practiced speaking in tongues, and it is difficult for me to make any sense of it. To each, their own, I say. I wonder if speaking in tongues have a relationship to the Jewish practice at the Wailing Wall. I don’t think that Jews who pray in this manner are speaking in tongues but are reading scripture/praying aloud and rhythmically swaying forwards and backwards the whole time. Does this experience at the Wailing Wall have any parallel to speaking in tongues? What about the experience of saying the rosary; either in groups or alone?

    What about the experience of meditation? Does it have some experiential parallel to speaking in tongues? As I have not experienced speaking in tongues, it is difficult for me to analyse both for similarities or differences. However, as an outsider looking in, I think that there could be some experiential similarities as well as differences. Others who have experienced various emotional states such as joy, peace, clarity, solidarity with others, confidence, etc. can probably find a similarity in meditation, although you would have to allow for individual differences and the moment individuals find themselves.

  21. Mike Horsnall says:

    John Candido,
    Very unlikely that there is an experiential parallel since glossolia as not do do with mantra,meditation or chant-it is gift. I say this because I’m fairly used to mantra,meditation and chant-christian or otherwise.

  22. Mike Horsnall says:

    Dear All,
    Here is a good link for alpha from a catholic perspective-you may have to paste it into your browser:

  23. Rahner says:

    If people find glossolia etc. helpful for the practice of their faith, fine. But it cannot be regarded as anything other than a derivative /peripheral expression of the faith and one which probably attracts a fair number of loons.

  24. mike Horsnall says:

    Re: Quovultdeus July 26. 7.14 am

    Thats a lovely paragraph or two from Augustine. If I understand it correctly the point is that , as you had impressed on you by your vision of the cross, salvation belongs to the Lord and because of that great atoning sacrifice there is less need of anything else-the cross is sufficient. There is one curious sentence:
    “..Now such a man is spiritual and free even at the time of his bondage, when it is not yet expedient to reveal to carnal minds those signs by subjection to which their carnality is to be overcome…”

    This I take to mean that such a person , though they be externally bound by the current mores of liturgy is still free because they understand the deeper significance of what they do. So for myself as I grapple with the rites appropriate to deacons-it becomes very important not to see the outer form as an end in itself….?

    I think I would agree with this on several fronts. Firstly that given the choice between speaking in tongues and having a deeper revelation of the mystery of eucharist, I would happily let go of glossolia. Also that, for me, liturgy only comes to life if I can comprehend the underlying significance and own it in my own heart. Thanks for that.

    • John Nolan says:

      Mike, having just returned from a brief holiday in France and Germany I have had perforce to speak in two toungues which fortunately I am familiar with. In Trier, a restaurant has an ancient Roman menu in Latin (I can recommend the ‘agnus tarpeianus’)although when I asked the waitress ‘loquerisne latine?’ I got a blank look.

      If I ever fall over and talk gibberish (like Evelyn Waugh, I prefer the hard ‘g’), please contact the diocesan exorcist and insist on the use of the Ritual of 1614, a copy of which I have on my bookshelf.

      • mike Horsnall says:

        Hi John, hope you enjoyed your holiday-do you have a phone number for the exorcist?

    • Quodvultdeus says:

      The sentence that drew your attention (“..Now such a man is spiritual and free…”) relates originally to the Old Testament rites and sacraments and to those who did participate in them. Those signs had good effect in their lives, even though they did not know they were were pointing to Christ . The Fathers of the Church called the laws rites and various historical events in the life Israel the sacraments because they pointed out to (future) Christ, though they were (are) only a foreshadowing of the sacraments of the Church. They were signs calling to faith in the coming of the Messiah. Those who did not their meaning – did those rites in obedience and were “in bondage”. Those who knew their meaning were free men and sons of God. For instance, Abraham saw Christ’s day in Isaac’s birth and rejoiced (Jn 8:56; Gn 17:17; cf. Hebr 11:13)

      Also due to Abraham’s faith in the Messiah the circumcision as a sign of the covenant was (is) accompanied by the grace that removed the original sin. Thomas Aquinas, following Augustine, writes about it in his Summa Theologica:

      “We must say, therefore, that grace was bestowed in circumcision as to all the effects of grace, but not as in Baptism. Because in Baptism grace is bestowed by the very power of Baptism itself, which power Baptism has as the instrument of Christ’s Passion already consummated. Whereas circumcision bestowed grace, inasmuch as it was a sign of faith in Christ’s future Passion: so that the man who was circumcised, professed to embrace that faith; whether, being an adult, he made profession for himself, or, being a child, someone else made profession for him. Hence, too, the Apostle says (Rom. 4:11), that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the justice of the faith”: because, to wit, justice was of faith signified: not of circumcision signifying”. (STh III q70 a4 )

      NB. The Protestants tend to understand also the sacraments of the Church in the way Augustine and Thomas understood the signs (sacraments) of the Old Covenant. For some Protestants even baptism is a sort of prayer calling to faith and not a “salvation event”. For Thomas and for the sound Apostolic Tradition baptism has the saving power “as the instrument of Christ’s Passion already consummated”. In other words, to say that only in the Cross is salvation needs not and should not be understood in a Protestant way. The power of the Cross is active in the rite of Baptism and other Christian sacraments. Very inspiring on this point are the books written by ex-lutheran pastor L. Bouyer, “The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism”, ( London – Glasgow: Collins,1956) esp. ch. 10 and “The Word, Church and Sacraments in Protestantism and Catholicism”, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004).

      • Quodvultdeus says:

        I happen to have the scan of the Bouyer’s 7th chapter of “The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism” which speaks even more clearly on our subject than ch. 10. Protestants hold a disbelief in God’s ability to communicate Himself. They claim man’s inability to embrace that communication. That may be also the source of widespread distrust towards the glossolalia and other charismatic gifts, which is contrary to the Bible, esp. St. Paul’s teaching. The extensive excerpts from the chapter are now available in pdf format there:

        Click to access Bouyer-SpiritFormsProtestantism-ch10.pdf

        (I hope the copyright owners will not sue me)

        I will paste here a small appetiser. Bouyer writes:

        “What, then, is the source of the element in Protestant theology of a God forbidden to communicate himself to his creature, of man unable, even by the divine omnipotence, to be torn from his own solitude, from the autonomy of his so arrogant humility, of a world and a God inexorably condemned to the most utter ‘ extrinsicism’ ? To the historian, the reply is obvious. The Reformers no more invented this strange and despairing universe than they found it in Scripture. It is simply the universe of the philosophy they had been brought up in, scholasticism in its decadence. If the Reformers unintentionally became heretics, the fault does not consist in the radical nature of their reform, but in its hesitation, its timidity, its imperfect vision. The structure they raised on their own principles is inacceptable only because they used uncritically material drawn from that decaying Catholicism they desired to elude, but whose prisoners they remained to a degree they never suspected”.

  25. mike Horsnall says:

    PS Rahner,
    Thanks for reminding me to take my fedora and my skipping rope when I go to New Dawn at Walsingham next week,perhaps I might also wear my purple slippers! ..I have by the way just worked my way through Rahners ‘Ignatius Loyola’…marvellous book- and now I retrospectively understand most of your posts!

  26. Iona says:

    Quodvultdeus (27th July, 8.34 a.m.):

    due to Abraham’s faith in the Messiah the circumcision as a sign of the covenant was (is) accompanied by the grace that removed the original sin.

    What about the girls? Were they inevitably left steeped in original sin?

    • Quodvultdeus says:

      @ Iona:”What about the girls? Were they inevitably left steeped in original sin?”

      No, definitely not! There are two points:
      1.In case of circumcision, unlike later in Christian baptism, it was faith alone in the future Messiah (i.e. Jesus Christ) which justified Abraham and, indeed, Sarah as his wife with him and not the rite itself. The rite was only a sign of faith and it was limited only to men who were heads of their families. Their whole family, wife as a spouse, children as children, were in the covenant of faith with God. The liberating power was grace of God and not the physical sign.

      2. The promise made by God to Abraham was not for him individually but for his whole family. The difficulty expressed in your question reveals juridical and individualistic spirituality, which is very much a product of Renaissance and Ockham’s nominalism (see L. Bouyer, Spirit and Forms. ch. 7). God looked at Abraham and his family, esp. his descendants, as a chosen community, “set apart from among the nations”, not merely as individual persons. Individualistic humanism, by the way, makes the whole concept of original sin hard to understand, and opens the way to Pelagian negation of the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve for the mankind.

      NB. on the possibility to be saved without Christian baptism, there is very balanced and competent document written by Papal Theological Commission in 2007: THE HOPE OF SALVATION FOR INFANTS WHO DIE WITHOUT BEING BAPTISED

  27. Mike Horsnall says:

    Probably too late by now but just to say I was just at Walsingham for the charismatic catholic week long celebration /conference. It was really lovely and so good to see how the charisms work in a catholic setting-allowed,encouraged and carefully controlled-excellent.

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