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


Basil the Great

Basil the Great, one of the three great Cappadocian Fathers, is another fourth century writer who confirms the ongoing existence of supernatural gifts. In his work, On The Spirit, he writes of the Holy Spirit that “the grace flowing carries out His own operations, is well described as existing in those that are able to receive Him.”36

In a later section of the same work, Basil describes a great man of faith, Gregory, probably Gregory Thaumaturgus, who had been a pupil of Origen during the first half of the third century. Basil writes as follows:

He too by Christ’s mighty name commanded even rivers to change their course, and caused a lake, which afforded a ground of quarrel to some covetous brethren, to dry up. Moreover his predictions of things to come were such as in no wise to fall short of those of the great prophets. To recount all his wonderful works in detail would be too long a task. By the superabundance of gifts, wrought in him by the Spirit in all power and in signs and in marvels, he was styled a second Moses by the very enemies of the Church.37



Ambrose, bishop of Milan, was a great influence upon Augustine of Hippo in the late fourth century. In his work on the Holy Spirit, Ambrose makes passing references to the miraculous gifts of the Spirit in such a way as to suggest that he took them for granted as a normal part of the everyday life of the Church. At one point he writes:

Behold, God established apostles, established prophets and teachers, gave the grace of healings, which you have above, was given through the Holy Spirit, gave divers kinds of tongues. But yet not all are apostles, not all prophets, not all teachers. Not all, he says, have the grace of healings, and not all speak with tongues. For not all divine gifts can be in each man individually; each one receives according to his capacity that which he either desires or deserves. But the power of the Trinity which is bountiful with all graces is not like this weakness.

Finally, God established apostles. Those whom God established in the Church, Christ chose and ordained as apostles, and he ordered them into the world saying: “Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be condemned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover.” Behold, the Father established the teachers; Christ also established them in the churches; and just as the Father gives the grace of healings, so the Son also gives it; just as the Father gives the gift of tongues, so the Son has bestowed it.

Similarly, with regard to the Holy Spirit above we have accepted that He bestows the same kinds of graces “For,” he says, “to another is given the grace of healings through the Spirit, to another divers kinds of tongues, to another prophecy.” So the Spirit gives the same things as the Father gives, as the Son also gives.38

In this passage, Ambrose writes in the present tense with respect to the bestowal of spiritual gifts, and there is no reason to assume anything but that he believed that the Biblical passages he was quoting were applicable to the era in which he was writing.


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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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