St. Irenaeus on the Spiritual Need of Speaking in Tongues

St. The below comes from Irenaeus’ work, Against Heresies, 5.6.1. Cessationism generally states that certain gifts enjoyed by the Church during the Apostolic days ceased shortly after their deaths. Irenaeus, a pupil of Polycarp, was born between 115 and 125, dying about 202. This book is placed around the year 180 and was written to defeat the first great doctrinal threat to the Church, Gnosticism. It is highly doubtful that Irenaeus wrote this in defense of glossolalia, but it serves that peculiar purpose well in that the ancient Apologist establishes that the Spiritual man is the perfect man, and in order to be perfected, one must “partake of the Spirit.” Irenaeus reports, “The man is rendered spiritual and perfect because of the outpouring of the Spirit.”

We must be reminded that in Acts, as the Spirit fell upon the Jews, the Gentiles, and the disciples of John the Baptist, it was accompanied with speaking in tongues, or prophesying.

1. Now God shall be glorified in His handiwork, fitting it so as to be conformable to, and modeled after, His own Son. For by the hands of the Father, that is, by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not a part of man, was made in the likeness of God. Now the soul and the spirit are certainly a part of the man, but certainly not the man; for the perfect man consists in the commingling and the union of the soul receiving the spirit of the Father, and the admixture of that fleshly nature which was molded after the image of God. For this reason does the apostle declare, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect,” terming those persons “perfect” who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as he used Himself also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms “spiritual,” they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit, and not because their flesh has been stripped off and taken away, and because they have become purely spiritual. For if anyone take away the substance of flesh, that is, of the handiwork , and understand that which is purely spiritual, such then would not be a spiritual man but would be the spirit of a man, or the Spirit of God. But when the spirit here blended with the soul is united to handiwork, the man is rendered spiritual and perfect because of the outpouring of the Spirit, and this is he who was made in the image and likeness of God. But if the Spirit be wanting to the soul, he who is such is indeed of an animal nature, and being left carnal, shall be an imperfect being, possessing indeed the image in his formation (in plasmate), but not receiving the similitude through the Spirit; and thus is this being imperfect. Thus also, if any one take away the image and set aside the handiwork, he cannot then understand this as being a man, but as either some part of a man, as I have already said, or as something else than a man. For that flesh which has been molded is not a perfect man in itself, but the body of a man, and part of a man. Neither is the soul itself, considered apart by itself, the man; but it is the soul of a man, and part of a man. Neither is the spirit a man, for it is called the spirit, and not a man; but the commingling and union of all these constitutes the perfect man. And for this cause does the apostle, explaining himself, make it clear that the saved man is a complete man as well as a spiritual man; saying thus in the first Epistle to the Thessalonians, “Now the God of peace sanctify you perfect (perfectos); and may your spirit, and soul, and body be preserved whole without complaint to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now what was his object in praying that these three — that is, soul, body, and spirit — might be preserved to the coming of the Lord, unless he was aware of the reintegration and union of the three, and one and the same salvation? For this cause also he declares that those are “the perfect” who present unto the Lord the three without offence. Those, then, are the perfect who have had the Spirit of God remaining in them, and have preserved their souls and bodies blameless, holding fast the faith of God, that is, that faith which is towards God, and maintaining righteous dealings with respect to their neighbours.


Note the application of the Son and Spirit as hands of God; See, The Two Hands of God.

The soul and the spirit of man – his psyche and his life force – are not distinct or separate entities within the man. The same is with the Logos and the Sophia of God.

Irenaeus begins a moment of what is commonly known as ‘speaking in tongues.’

Old Latin has ‘have heard’, but this is not a result of cessationism.

These had to be different than the Montanists of Tertullian’s liking, but still within the frame of the Apostles. Irenaeus died sometime around 202, which removes the idea of cessationism of certain gifts at the death of the Apostles

Irenaeus seems to take a position that speaking in tongues is a sign of spiritual maturity, of spiritual perfection, in that it is by speaking in tongues that a man has been wholly recreated in the image of God. He goes to say that if the man lacks the Spirit (of God) than the body is still in the image, and the man is of an animal nature. The man, albeit a Christian, is still imperfect without the Spirit, and the man with is Spiritual is the man who partake of the Spirit as manifested by speaking in tongues.

Perhaps Irenaeus would agree with, “Neither is the Logos itself, apart by itself, considered God; but it is the Logos of man, and a part of man. Neither is the Pneuma itself, considered apart by itself, God; but it is the Pneuma of God and a part of God.” So then, we still maintain an economic form of God.

Would then Irenaeus agree with the general statement that speaking in tongues is the sign of salvation?

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20 Replies to “St. Irenaeus on the Spiritual Need of Speaking in Tongues”

  1. I am on the same page as you , Polycarp.
    have you ever experienced being around those who engage in exolalia? I find it total unnerving. Scriptural proofs are powerful, but to be exposed to this is soul wrenching!

  2. I know I’m posting extremely late in the conversation, but I believe Willohroots actually meant echolalia (to repeat words spoken by another person uncontrollably).

    Willohroots, I’m not trying to speak for you, but I’m only trying to summarize what I believe to be your point. Basically, you believe in tongues working with in the modern day church, but you are questioning the practice of echolalia which is unscriputual.

  3. It sounds like he believed that tongues was the initial evidence. What are the scriptures about thisto prove for or against Marijo

    1. Marijo, I don’t think that Irenaeus believed in initial evidence, but that tongues was a gift of spiritual maturity. Wesley believed that we are to go onward, after the ‘salvational moment’ to perfection. This is not the same as initial evidence.

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