Did St Patrick pray in Tongues?

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In The Confession 24, 25, Patrick records hearing a strange language being prayed by the Holy Spirit in a dream.

And another night – God knows, I do not, whether within me or beside me – most elegant words which I heard and could not understand, except at the end of the speech it was represented thus: ‘He who gave his life for you, he it is who speaks within you.’ And thus I awoke, joyful.

Such an interesting passage, revealing a profound prayer life. It would appear to echo the end of the passage in 2 Corinthians 12:2 where Paul writes:   I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.

In the midst of this mystical experience, he hears but cannot understand some most elegant words. The Latin phrase is “uerbis peritissime” which could also be translated “authoritative/ skilful words.”

At the end of this encounter, God reveals Himself as the speaker. And thus I awoke, joyful.

The last word is the rather splendid Latin term “Gaudibundus” which could be understood as “exploding with joy!” The fact that there is no verb in the first sentence may relate to textual corruption (according to Nagy) or, more likely,  to the words being dictated, rather than written, creating a rhetorical pause for effect.

So God speaks directly to Patrick through “most elegant words.” In fact, He speaks so directly to Patrick that the speech seems to emanate from within. The consequence of the experience, we note, is not verbal comprehension but joy.

Just joy.

In the next section (25), he writes,

And on a second occasion I saw Him praying within me, and I was as it were, inside my own body , and I heard Him above me—that is, above my inner self. He was praying powerfully with sighs. And in the course of this I was astonished and wondering, and I pondered who it could be who was praying within me. But at the end of the prayer it was revealed to me that it was the Spirit. And so I awoke and remembered the Apostle’s words: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we know not how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for utterance.” And again: “The Lord our advocate intercedes for us.”

Patrick appears to be saying that it is Christ who is praying within him. There is the same sense of spatial/ spiritual dislocation as before (“within… inside…  above”), but in this instance the experience is identified explicitly with a Scripture reference which is quoted in full (Romans 8:26,27).

The parallels between 24 and 25 suggest that the same kind of experience seems to be in view: the Spirit was praying powerfully with sighs within, and consequently, the pray-er is astonished and wondering. 

One cannot draw the  forthright conclusion that St Patrick is describing” speaking in tongues”, per se, in these two sections, though he is certainly describing a mystical prayer experience that can be called “charismatic ” and “prophetic.” This second designation relates to the importance given in the Confession, to words, speech and to the sense that it is God who is speaking His own message through the weakness of the human worshipper. This recalls the possibility of the translation “authoritative” for the Latin term “peritissime.”

The study continues. Thoughts so far?

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