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Proclaiming the Gospel with Miraculous Gifts in the Postbiblical Early Church


Other Examples of Spirit-Empowered Ministry in the Post-Biblical Early Church

The four examples given in this paper provide but a tip-of-the-iceberg view of evangelism in the post-biblical Early Church which was accompanied by and made credible by the miraculous. For those who are sufficiently curious, the charismatic ministries of the following individuals in the post-biblical Early Church could be explored:

  1. Tertullian (late second-early third century A.D.), who attempted to prove the validity of his teachings against heretics like Marcion, by pointing to the validation of gifts of the Spirit and ecstasy on his side, and not on the other.31
  2. Martin of Tours (ca. 316 A.D.), whom Sulpicius Severus acclaimed as the virtual equal in gifted ministry, not only of the prophets and apostles, but of Christ himself.32
  3. Paulinus of Nola (late fourth-early fifth century A.D.), known to us from Gregory the Great’s Dialogues book three.33
  4. Antony of the Desert (late third-early fourth century A.D.), whose biography is provided by Athanasius.34
  5. Pseudo-Macarius of Egypt (fourth century A.D.), who, according to several ancient historians, exercised gifts of healing, of exorcism, and of forecasting the future.35
  6. Other Fathers of the desert, whose biographies are found in the Historia monachorum in Aegypto.36

All true evangelism, whether or not it is accompanied by miraculous events, is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

It should be remembered that some of the writings given above are hagiographic in nature, and must be treated critically. This does not suggest, however, that all of the stories told about these saints are spurious or without historical basis. Certainly, these stories were believed by the ancient and medieval Church, and in many cases the miracles, signs and wonders described herein were understood to be the cause of unbelievers’ conversion.



We have seen that there is considerable evidence that many of the Church Fathers recognized the continuance of apostolic gifts and, in certain cases, even practiced apostolic gifts themselves. In addition, there is sufficient testimony of the connection made in the post-apostolic Church between the exercise of spiritual gifts and successful evangelistic ministry. Finally, it seems reasonable to conclude that all true evangelism, whether or not it is accompanied by miraculous events, is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Rev. 19:10b). And, given the historical evidence from virtually all centuries of the Christian era of gifted preaching being accompanied by extraordinary validations, it appears that power evangelism has flourished throughout the Church’s history.





1See K. S. Latourette, A History of Christianity, vol. 2 (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), pp. 725f.; but compare Luther’s hymn “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (A Mighty Fortress is Our God) composed in 1527 or 1528 (ibid., p. 722) which affirms that “the Spirit and the gifts are ours” (verse 4).

2John Armstrong in M. S. Horton, ed., Power Religion. The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church? (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 71.

3See Kilian McDonnell and George T. Montague, Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991); Stanley M. Burgess, The Spirit and the Church: Antiquity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1984), and The Holy Spirit: Eastern Christian Traditions (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1989); see also Max Turner, “Spiritual Gifts Then and Now,” Vox Evangelica 15 (1985): 41-43; Donald Bridge, Signs and Wonders Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), pp. 166-177; and Ronald A. Kydd, Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1984).

4Origen, Against Celsus 2.48, ANF 4:449-50, seems to suggest that visible miracles were appropriate only for the nascent church. But he does have a good deal to say about the gift of prophecy. He even goes so far as to suggest that a person has to open the mouth in order to receive the charism of prophecy. (On Exodus 4:4, Sources Chrétiennes (Paris: Cerf, 1942ff), 321:130. Scholars debate whether Augustine of Hippo and Gregory the Great, while young men, also were cessationists (see William D. McCready, Signs of Sanctity: Miracles in the Thought of Gregory the Great (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1989). It is clear that both Augustine and Gregory, in their later careers gave evidence of a variety of contemporary miracles, and linked these with the proclamation of the gospel.

5Gregory Thaumaturgus, Oration and Panegyric addressed to Origen, 15; ANF 6:36.

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Category: Church History, Summer 2008

About the Author: Stanley M. Burgess received a BA and MA from the University of Michigan and a PhD from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He has taught history for 57 years and was Distinguished Professor of Christian History, Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia (2004–2011). He has written numerous scholarly articles on church history and the history of Christianity as well as several books, including The Spirit and the Church: Antiquity (Hendrickson), The Holy Spirit: Eastern Christian Traditions (Hendrickson), and The Holy Spirit: Medieval Roman Catholic and Reformation Traditions (Hendrickson), a documentary history of the Christian Peoples of the Spirit: A Documentary History of Pentecostal Spirituality from the Early Church to the Present (New York University Press, 2011), and was co-editor of the Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Social Justice (Oxford, 2012).

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