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Tongues and Other Miraculous Gifts in the Second Through Nineteenth Centuries, Part 2: 3rd to the 5th Centuries



Another author who provides testimony to the existence of the miraculous gifts in the third century is Cyprian, in whose church in Carthage there were several young boys who had prophetic gifts. In his ninth Epistle, Cyprian refers to them as follows:

For this reason the divine rebuke does not cease to chastise us night nor day. For besides the visions of the night, by day also, the innocent age of boys is among us filled with the Holy Spirit, seeing in an ecstasy with their eyes, and hearing and speaking those things whereby the Lord condescends to warn and instruct us.28

These words were written by Cyprian soon after he became bishop of Carthage in A.D. 248. They are addressed to the Christians at Carthage at a period during which he was absent from the city. In his seventieth Epistle, he wrote, “Many things are revealed to individuals for the better,”29 and in his fifth Treatise he wrote, about a case of the casting out of demons, as follows:

Oh, would you but hear and see them when they are adjured by us, and tortured with spiritual scourges, and are ejected from the possessed bodies with tortures of words, when howling and groaning at the voice of man and the power of God, feeling the stripes and blows, they confess the judgment to come!30



Novatian of Rome, a contemporary of Cyprian, is noteworthy in the history of the Church as the first Western theologian to write a full-length treatise on the Trinity. In his celebrated Treatise Concerning the Trinity there is a great deal of material on the person of the Holy Spirit, and this includes a discussion about various gifts of the Spirit. After a discussion of John 15 and 16 he writes of the Paraclete as follows:

For this is He who strengthened their hearts and minds who marked out the Gospel sacrament, who was in them the enlightener of divine things; and they being strengthened, feared, for the sake of the Lord’s name, neither dungeons nor chains, nay, even trod under foot the very powers of the world and its tortures since they were henceforth armed and strengthened by the same Spirit, having in themselves the gifts which this same Spirit distributes, and appropriates to the Church, the spouse of Christ, as her ornaments. This is he who places prophets in the Church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healing, does wonderful works, offers discrimination of spirits, affords powers of government, suggests counsels and orders and arranges whatever other gifts there are of charismata; and thus make the Lord’s Church everywhere, and in all, perfected and completed.31

This passage continues with a long description of the person of the Holy Spirit. At one point we are told that the Holy Spirit is the one “who solicits the divine hearing for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.”32 This allusion to Romans 8:26 is probably a reference to the gift of tongues, one of the charismata that Novatian specifically mentioned in the passage quoted above as operative in the present tense.


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Category: Church History, Winter 1999

About the Author: Richard M. Riss (as of Fall 1998) is Assistant Professor of Church History at Zarephath Bible Institute in Zarephath, New Jersey. He holds a Master of Christian Studies degree from Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia (1979) and a Master of Arts in Church History from Trinity Divinity School (1988). He is currently finishing a Ph.D. degree in Church History at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Richard M. Riss has authored several books including The Evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1977), The Latter Rain Movement of 1948 and the Mid-Twentieth Century Evangelical Awakening (1987), A Survey of 20th-Century Revival Movements in North America and with Kathryn J. Riss, Images of Revival (1997).

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