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I'm aware of the existence of many Pentecostal and Charistmatic groups that believe in the gift of tongues and claim to be able to exercise it. In fact, one can very easily find lots of videos of people who claim to be able to speak in tongues on platforms such as YouTube and others. Of course, that's not my question. What I'm asking is if there are any examples in history of tongue speaking a la Acts 2, namely, someone suddenly speaks in a foreign language that they do not understand and a native listener who does speak the language understands what they say (with both speaker and listener in shock because of what just happened). Are there any documented cases of tongue speaking a la Acts 2 in recent history (19th century on)? By documented case, I mean for example a missionary reporting this experience and then making it public via a missionary magazine or anything of that sort.

Below Acts 2:1-13 (ESV) for reference:

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. 7 And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? 9 Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

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  • What do you by recent history! There are cases historically known, but I am unaware of any in modern times, however that does not mean there are not some documented cases. – Ken Graham Jan 16 at 7:20
  • @KenGraham - yes, I meant modern times, but given the absence of answers, I should probably remove that constraint. Update: question edited – Spirit Realm Investigator Jan 16 at 14:07
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    It does still happen. I personally know multiple missionaries who have had their tongues temporarily loosed to enable them to share concepts that were well beyond their current language proficiency. Such experiences are not typically published in magazines, though, but are generally held sacred as Jesus requested of the recipients of many of his miracles. – Mason Wheeler Jan 16 at 16:24
  • I made the question limited to the 19th century on, in order to avoid a duplicate of this question: Aside from St. Vincent Ferrer, are there any other saints said to have had the “gift of tongues”? – Ken Graham Jan 16 at 16:32
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    @KenGraham - I didn't know about that question. I edited the title as well to reflect the change in the body – Spirit Realm Investigator Jan 16 at 16:39
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Are there any documented cases of “Acts 2 type” tongue speaking (i.e. understood by a foreigner) in history (apart from Acts 2, of course)?

I have not heard of this being done in modern times, say from the 19th century on, but that does not mean that it has not been done. I am simply not aware of any modern cases of it.

This seems to be a gift from God that is truly rare.

First of all, it is interesting to note that the Church Fathers only associated this real languages.

Dr. Nathan Busenitz wrote a very detailed paper comparing what the Church Fathers believed and wrote regarding glossolalia with contemporary Pentecostal beliefs. His conclusion was that there was no evidence that any Church Fathers ever held that glossolalia involved anything other than real human language.

One of the key "proof texts" that has been cited for use of unintelligible languages while speaking in tongues is 1 Corinthians 14:14-15:

For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful.What am I to do? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also; I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.

Church Father John Chrysostom (4th cent.) clearly understood that even here, Paul was speaking of real language:

Ask accordingly not to have the gift of tongues only, but also of interpretation, that thou mayest become useful unto all, and not shut up thy gift in thyself alone. “For if I pray in a tongue,” saith he, “my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful.” Seest thou how by degrees bringing his argument to a point, he signifies that not to others only is such an one useless, but also to himself; if at least “his understanding is unfruitful?” For if a man should speak only in the Persian, or any other foreign tongue, and not understand what he saith, then of course to himself also will he be thenceforth a barbarian, not to another only, from not knowing the meaning of the sound. For there were of old many who had also a gift of prayer, together with a tongue; and they prayed, and the tongue spake, praying either in the Persian or Latin language, but their understanding knew not what was spoken. Wherefore also he said, “I’ll pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth,” i.e., the gift which is given me and which moves my tongue, “but my understanding is unfruitful.”

What then may that be which is best in itself, and doth good? And how ought one to act, or what request of God? To pray, “both with the spirit,” i.e., the gift, and “with the understanding.” Wherefore also he said, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” He signifieth the same thing here also, that both the tongue may speak, and the understanding may not be ignorant of the things spoken (Homilies on First Corinthians, XXXV) - Do any church fathers directly connect “speaking in tongues” with anything other than existing human languages?

Has anyone been known to speak in an unknown language in missionary activities? Yes

Of coarse there are.

Here are a few that may fit the bill:

St. Vincent Ferrer

St. Vincent Ferrer was a Dominican missionary in the 14th century (1350 to 1419 AD). Legend has it that his native tongue was Valencian, a dialect of Catalan spoken in Spain. He didn’t know any other language. This did not stop his audience from miraculously hearing him in their language.

This is a historic variant of the miracle of speaking in tongues.

As an itinerant missionary whose travels brought him throughout western Europe, the lack of language preparation would have been a severe hindrance. To make matters worse, he knew only Valencian, which was a localized language. Very few within Europe had the ability to understand his native tongue. According to the account found in Acta Sanctorum this was overcome by the miracle of those hearing. He spoke in Valencian and the people understood his words perfectly in their own language.

Valencian was part of the Catalan group of languages distinct from Spanish, French, or German.

“Catalan is not, as some believe, a dialect of Spanish, but a language that developed independently out of the vulgar Latin spoken by the Romans who colonised the Tarragona area. It is spoken by 9 million people in Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Isles, Andorra and the town of Alghero in Sardinia. - Vincent Ferrer and the Gift of Tongues

St. Anthony of Padua

St. Anthony and the Gift of Tongues

The book “The Little Flowers of St Francis” was written by Brother Ugolino about 100 years after the life of St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua, the details of which are based on original documents of the Franciscan Order. In Chapter 39 of this book we read:

"St Anthony of Padua, one of the chosen disciples and companions of St Francis, whom the latter called his Vicar, was preaching one day before the Pope and the Cardinals in Consistory, there were therefore present at that moment men of different countries- Greeks and Latins, French and Germans, Slavs and English and men of many other different languages and dialects.

"And being inflamed by the Holy Spirit and inspired with apostolic eloquence, he preached and explained the word of God so effectively, devoutly, subtly, clearly and understandably that all who were assembled at that Consistory, although they spoke different languages, clearly and distinctly heard and understood everyone of his words as if he had spoken in each of their languages. Therefore they were all astounded and filled with devotion, for it seemed to them that the former miracle of the Apostles at the time of Pentecost had been renewed, when by the power of the Holy Spirit they spoke in different languages.

"And in amazement, just like in the Acts of the Apostles they said to one another: "Is he not a Spaniard?' How then are we all hearing him in the language of the country where we were born-we Greeks and Latins, French and Germans, Slavs and English, Lombards and foreigners?"

It was not only at this consistory that St. Anthony's gift of tongues was utilized. It is written that while preaching in Italy he spoke in perfect Italian, and while in France he preached in French, although he had never studied these languages. Also remarkable is the fact that "the simple-minded and the most ignorant listeners were capable of fully comprehending all he said; and his voice, though gentle and sweet, was distinctly heard at a very extraordinary distance from the speaker."

St. Paul of the Cross (1694-1775)

The gift of Tongues in the preaching of St Paul of the Cross

The grace of being heard at great distances was also documented on at least three occasions in the life of St. Paul of the Cross (1694-1775), the holy founder of the Passionist Order. Because of his extraordinary reputation for holiness, people would come from great distances to hear the man of God preach his missions, and to witness the remarkable miracles and cures that often accompanied his preaching. Therfore the crowds that gathered during his missions were often immense. On at least three documented occasions, his voice could be heard by all those present, even amdst the usual noises of such a great crowd, extending even those who were literally several miles away. This extraordinary grace took place in the three locations of La Tolfa, at Civitacastellana, and on the Isle of Elba, where he was heard a full five miles away.

Also, as stated above with the Apostles and also St Anthony, it was also documented on several occasions that his Italian language was understood by members of different foreign nationalities and languages who had come to listen to him.

St. Dominic (1170-1221)

The gift of speaking in Tongues in the life of St Dominic

And then there is also another holy Founder, St. Dominic (1170-1221), the founder of the Dominican Order and the great promoter of the Holy Rosary, who was given the gift of tongues when he was one day on a journey to Paris with his companion, Bertrand of Garrega, and a number of other friends and disciples.

While on the road they visited the sanctuary of Rocamadour, where they spent the night praying before a miraculous image of Our Lady. The next day, as they journeyed along, they sang litanies and recited psalms and the divine office, which attracted the attention of two German pilgrims, who began to follow them. When they came to the next village the two German pilgrims, being greatly attracted by the devotion of the little band, made motions to them indicating that they should sit down and dine with them. It was somewhat of an awkward situation since the Germans could not understand the Dominicans, nor could the Dominicans understand the Germans. This continued for four days, with the Germans sharing their food with the Dominicans.

On the fifth day St. Dominic addressed Bertrand in this manner: "Brother Bertrand, it grieves me to reap the temporal things of these pilgrims without sowing for them spiritual things: let us kneel down and ask God to grant us the understanding of their language, that we may speak to them of Christ." Accordingly, they knelt down and prayed. When they rose up, they were able to converse with the Germans in their own language and did so without difficulty for the rest of the journey.

As they drew near Paris, the Germans, now filled with spiritual consolations, departed from them. The earthly food which the Germans had provided had been exchanged by Dominic for spiritual food which nourished their spirits and was beneficial to their eternal salvation. St. Dominic, for his part, charged Bertrand to keep silent about the matter and to keep it secret until his death, "lest the people should take us for Saints who are but sinners.'"

St. Pachomius the Great

Among many miracles wrought by him, the author of his life assures us, that though he had never learned the Greek or Latin tongues, he sometimes miraculously spoke them; he cured the sick and persons possessed by devils with blessed oil. - St. Pachomius, Abbot (292-348)

The closest account in modern times that I can find is the opposite of what you seem to be asking. Therese Neumann of Germany did not speak in foreign languages, but she did have the gift of understanding them.

The German Stigmatic Therese Neumann of Germany (1898-1962) was gifted with gift of understanding foreign and ancient languages.

The extraordinary gift of understanding* foreign languages, especially ancient Biblical languages has been given to numerous Saints, especially the Mystics. Most notably in recent times this gift was given to a remarkable 20th century mystic and stigmatic named Therese Neumann of Germany (1898-1962).

During the ecstasies of the Passion in which Therese not only saw, but physically participated in in a mystical way, she heard the four languages which were in common use during the time of Christ: Latin, Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic; the Aramaic was spoken in a dialect mixed with Greek words. Therese recognized and repeated them after she returned to normal life. The fact that this humble country girl could master such languages is a miracle in itself. Therese had a seventh grade education and did not speak or understand any other language but German; to her personal friends she spoke in the dialect of the Oberpfalz, the particular region of Bavaria in which Konnersreuth is located.

Many eminent scholars of Oriental languages and of the Old Testament visited Therese in order to check the authenticity of Therese's knowledge of languages. Nevertheless, it was indeed difficult to find scholars who were qualified to interview Therese. It is not an exaggeration to say that in many instances she knew more about these ancient languages and many other details than the scholars did! Some of the noted men who helped extensively in the verifi¬cation and clarification of the 2,OOO-year-old practices were: Rev. Prof. Dr. Wutz (a priest), professor of Oriental languages and the Old Testament at Catholic College, Eichstatt, Bavaria; Prof. Bauer, of Halle, a non-Catholic expert in Oriental lan¬guages; and Prof. Wessely, of Vienna, a non-Christian, who was also a scholar of these languages. All of the results of their investigations were made public. - Gift of understanding foreign and ancient languages

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