Friday, January 25, 2013

Jubilation and Tongues

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What is jubilation and why is this early church practice significant for modern-day Pentecostal and charismatic believers? Let us first read what the wise men and women of the past have to say about this ancient practice:
"I am about to say what ye know. One who jubilates, uttereth not words, but it is a certain sound of joy without words: for it is the expression of a mind poured forth in joy, expressing, as far as it is able, the affection, but not compassing the feeling. A man rejoicing in his own exultation, after certain words which cannot be uttered or understood, bursteth forth into sounds of exultation without words, so that it seemeth that he indeed doth rejoice with his voice itself, but as if filled with excessive joy cannot express in words the subject of that joy."
St. Augustine's commentary on Psalms
"To manifest his joy, the man does not use words that can be pronounced or understood, but burts forth into sounds of exaltation without words... What is jubilation? Joy that cannot be pronounced or understood, but bursts forth into sounds of exaltation without words."
St. Augustine, "On the Psalms", Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), p. 488
"Do not look for words, as if you could put into words things that please God. Sing in jubilation: singing well to God means, in fact, just this: singing in jubilation."
St. Chrysostom 347-407 A.D.; Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians
"By the term jubilus we understand that which neither in words, nor syllables, nor letters, nor speech, is it possible to express or comprehend, namely, how much man ought to praise God."
Benedectine theologian Rupert of Deutz (1075-1130 A.D.)
"Amongst these favours, at once painful and pleasant, Our Lord sometimes causes in the soul a certain jubilation and a strange and mysterious kind of prayer. If He bestows this grace on you, praise Him fervently for it; I describe it so that you may know that it is something real. I believe that the faculties of the soul are closely united to God but that He leaves them at liberty to rejoice in their happiness together with the senses, although they do not know what they are enjoying nor how they do so. This may sound nonsense but it really happens. May His Majesty often grant us this kind of prayer which is most safe and beneficial; we cannot acquire it for ourselves as it is quite supernatural. Sometimes it lasts for a whole day and the soul is like one inebriated, although not deprived of the senses; Compare with this what has been said in the fourth chapter of this Mansion, nor like a person afflicted with melancholia, Melancholia here as elsewhere means hysteria. in which, though the reason is not entirely lost, the imagination continually dwells on some subject which possesses it and from which it cannot be freed. These are coarse comparisons to make in connection with such a precious gift, yet nothing else occurs to my mind. In this state of prayer a person is rendered by this jubilee so forgetful of self and everything else that she can neither think nor speak of anything but praising God, to which her joy prompts her. Let us all of us join her, my daughters, for why should we wish to be wiser than she? What can make us happier? And may all creatures unite their praises with ours for ever and ever. Amen, amen, amen!"
St. Teresa of Avila, "Interior Castle", Chapter 6, Sections 11 and 15
It seems that this practice of "jubilation" is very similar to the charismatic practice of praying and worshiping in tongues. We do know that tongues could edify the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:5) but it can also be used for private devotion. St. Paul said, "For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 14:2). He went on to say that "[a]nyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves" (1 Corinthians 14:4) and that this type of tongues benefits the spirit for the "spirit prays" (1 Corinthians 14:14). Though St. Augustine did not believe the gift of tongues (which he defined as the supernatural ability to speak another language for the means of spreading the Gospel) existed after the passing of the apostles, his belief in jubilation is very much like the practice of modern-day charismatics and seems to fit the mold of St. Paul's description of the devotional use of tongues in prayer. In fact, many early church fathers believed in jubilation and took part in this practice. Jubilation was "in the liturgy... from the 4th century well into the 9th century" (Terry Donahue, The Gift of Jubilation) and was used in personal prayer by many in the Church, especially among the mystics, who described their experiences as full of overwhelming peace and joy.
Richard Hogue, in his book, "Tongues: A Theological History of Christian Glossalalia", expands on the historical nature of jubilation by going to say the following:
"Almost all the major fathers--Augustine, Jerome, John Cassian, Ambrose, Pter Chrysologus, John Chrysostom, Gregory the Great, Isidore of Seville, and Cassiodorus--wrote of jubilation. Obviously, most of the fathers of the late Roman Empire and Dark Ages believed jubilation was the continuation of a biblical and apostolic tradition. To the fathers, the relationship Christians ejoyed with God was at its best a mystery. For them, praying and singing with God was a way of entering into that mystery, a way of experiencing God that was too great for ordinary words. It was a mean of entering into mystery, of being led into the mystery with body and soil. And it worked. It seems to have been the use of jubilation that kept Augustine open to the supernatural. Later in his life, Augustine, writing his famous work, The City of God, acknowledge his great joy at the miraculous move of the Holy Spirit in his church at Hippo: 'Even now, miracles are wrought in the name of Christ, whether by sacraments or by prayer or the relics of his saints.'" 
So is "jubilation" the tongues that St. Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 14? I think we have a lot of evidence that there is. Not convinced? I recommend reading the blog post called "Jubilation & the Gift of Tongues", which was written by a charismatic Lutheran. He ties liturgical history together, even going back into the liturgical practices of the Jews, to reveal that jubilation and the tongues of angels are likely linked.
If this topic interests you, I very much encourage you to read the following:
  • "The Tongues of Angels: The Concept of Angelic Languages in Classical Jewish and Christian Texts" by John C. Poirier
  • The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament) by Gordon Fee
  • "Tongues: A Theological History of Christian Glossolalia" by Richard Hogue
More articles on jubilation and tongues:

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