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miracle did was, apparently, to drag to light these half-forgotten local dialects which Greek, at the time, had almost superseded; to make men Cappadocia-conscious, when for years they had been thinking of themselves as cosmopolites.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.