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


Hilary of Poitiers

In A.D. 356, just slightly more than one hundred years after Novatian wrote his treatise on the Trinity, Hilary of Poitiers wrote De Trinitate in answer to the Arian heresy that had become widespread in his day. Hilary also devotes a section of his work on the Trinity to the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and he also speaks of the operation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit in the present tense. In Book Two of his work, sections 34 and 35, he quotes 1 Corinthians 12:4 – 11, which lists these gifts of the Spirit, and says, “let us, therefore, make use of such generous gifts.”33 Speaking of the Holy Spirit Himself as a gift, Hilary continues as follows:

The one gift, which is in Christ, is available to everyone in its entirety, and what is present in every place is given in so far as we desire to merit it. This is with us even to the consummation of the world; this is the consolation of our expectation; this, through the efficacy of the gifts, is the pledge of our future hope; this is the light of the mind, the splendor of the soul. For this reason we must pray for this Holy Spirit; we must strive to merit Him and to retain possession of Him by our belief in and observance of the commandments.34

In this passage, Hilary argues that the Holy Spirit is with us until the consummation of the age, and the very efficacy of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit is the pledge of our future hope of immortality.

The following passage from a later section of Hilary’s work emphasizes both the immediacy of the operation of the gifts in his day and their miraculous nature:

The gift of the Spirit is not hidden where there is the word of wisdom and the words of life are heard, or where there is the perception of the divine knowledge in order that we may not be like animals, unaware of the Author of our life through our ignorance of God; or through faith in God in order that we may not be outside the Gospel of God by not believing the Gospel of God; or through the gift of healing in order that by the cure of infirmities we may render testimony to the grace of Him who has granted these gifts; or through the performance of miracles in order that the power of God may be recognized in what we are doing; or through prophecy in order that through our knowledge of the doctrine it may be known that we have been taught by God; or through the distinguishing of spirits in order that we may perceive whether anyone speaks through a holy or an evil spirit; or through the various kinds of languages in order that the sermons in these languages may be offered as a sign of the Holy Spirit who has been given; or in the interpretation of the languages in order that the faith of the hearers might not be endangered through ignorance, since the interpreter of a language makes it intelligible for those who are not familiar with the language. Hence, in all the diversities of these gifts, which have been granted for the profit of everyone, there is a manifestation of the Spirit. That is to say, through the miracles that have been granted for the profit of everyone the gift of the Holy Spirit does not remain hidden.35


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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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