5 June 2022


A pious Jew from Cyrenaica, on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, was passing up the Street of the Chain about nine o'clock in the morning, when he observed several little groups of men shouting aloud as if under the influence of some uncontrollable emotion, to the astonishment or amusement of the bystanders. As he approached the first group, he found that these men, peasants from the country, were talking neither the Aramaic he knew, nor the Greek he used on his travels, nor the Latin which was his familiar tongue. The second group were still more of a surprise; one of them, quite distinctly, was talking in the Berber patois he learned as a child from his nurse! 

That is, unimaginatively put, the story of Pentecost.

"How is it that we hear them speak in our own tongues?"--the miracle was discussed, naturally enough, in terms of its miracle value. But the question which suggests itself as we look back on the story is a Why? It is hard to believe that there were any pilgrims in Jerusalem at the time who knew nothing but the language (say) of Cappadocia; hard to believe, therefore, that the glossolaly had any merely practical purpose. Rather, it was a Divine gesture. And it is easy to see that the beginning of a Universal Church was a suitable moment for repealing the curse of Babel, for making men forget their differences of nationality. But the curious thing is that the miracle, if anything, emphasised nationality. Peter got up and addressed the onlookers, presumably in Greek of the koine, and they all seem to have understood. Indeed, the known world of that period was nearer to having a common culture and a common speech than it has ever been before or since. What the miracle did was, apparently, to drag to light these half-forgotten local dialects which Greek, at the time, had almost superseded; to make men Cappadocia-conscious, when for years they had been thinking of themselves as cosmopolites. That, surely, needs explaining, if we can be hardy enough to demand explanations when Heaven is at pains to lavish its portents.

Is it fanciful to suggest that a Church launched under such auspices must have been conscious of a mission to be at once international and national? To override distinctions, without obliterating them? This is, after all, the characteristic genius of Christendom. Mahommedanism appears in history as a culture that subdues, Christianity as a culture that absorbs. Neither Jew nor Greek, neither barbarian nor Scythian--and yet the Church has stood by the cradle of all the European nations and sponsored them; sponsors thenm still. A hazardous, but a Divine commission. 


Unknown said...

Beautiful reflection, for which many thanks; your genre is akin to Farrer's Crown of the Year.

Banshee said...

Babel was a punishment, but it was also a brake on doing stupid, sinful things. A global mob is the worst kind of mob.

And every language is beautiful and elegant in its own way.

Saw something this week, about how Sumer and such had the legend of languages being split, and therefore kept trying to persuade people to go back to talking Sumerian. It was a diplomatic letter language for a long time.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. The great Guernager, on Whit Monday, observed that Pentecost :

...the first preaching of the Christian Law was was an honor due to the children of Abraham, Issac and Jacob; hence, our first Pentecost is a Jewish one, and the first to celebrate it are Jews.

It is upon the people of Israel that the Holy Spirit first pours forth His divine gifts.

It has become quite popular for men to claim there is no such things as Judeo-Christian ethics/values but - with this truth borne in mind - that is simply not true.

Gueranger notes It was just that the holy Spirit and the apostles should first turn to the Israelites. They were the people to whom were committed the words of God; and the Messias was born of their race. Jesus had said that He was not sent but to the sheep that were lost of the house of Israel.

E sapelion said...

Perhaps, Father, I could ask you to consider that passage, its point about the koine, and your own sniping at Pope Francis for an observation set in present times where we have, alas, lost the Latin which until recently united the educated classes of Europe.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Mick Jagger, the description "Judeo-Christian" is used to refer to an alleged common moral ground shared by Christians and post-temple, Talmudic, Judaism. It is quite erroneous. The father of Jewish historiography, Heinrich Graetz, noted that the Talmud was responsible for the moral decay of Polish Jewry.


Moritz Gruber said...

Banshee, interesting observation. To an interesting observation by Msgr. Knox.

- Further proof for what Msgr. Knox wrote is, I guess, the language our Lady used when she appeared to St. Bernadette.

And this, coming to think of it, may I say it, makes look rather surprisingly fitting the generous display of national banners and, when an emotional change to the Rosaries etc. is needed, the sometimes almost (playfully) nationalistic use of national anthems, marches and the like ("we're in France, *of course* we'll be singing the Westerwald March; the French themselves would be sorry if we didn't") which you can see at the Chartres pilgrimage.

jaykay said...

Moritz: our Irish Chapter was (as usual, and thankfully, because they are a great group) just in front of the Bavarians during this year's Pilgrimage, but I don't recall them singing much in the way of march tunes. And by the Lord, they do sing! And well. With guitars! Although I think I do recall "Erika" being begun, but not finished. Hmmm...but then, it was a difficult Pilgrimage, varying between a thunderstorm with torrential rain, and oppressive heat, so one's attention wasn't always at the max. to put it mildly. The poor SSPX, who walk in the opposite direction, had to cancel after the Saturday.