In short no one ever believed they had stopped until the reformation happened. Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, etc, etc, all affirmed that the gifts were still very much active.
The Early Church is full of examples.
The Holy Spirit and the early Church: The experience of the Spirit
Healing, prophecy, glossolalia
Firstly, we look at the charisma of healing. This gift occurs in manifold forms within the New Testament. Not only in the Gospels, but also in Acts and the Epistles, healing is a sign of the power of God’s kingdom. The Apostle Paul mentions it thrice in 1 Corinthians 12 (v. 9, 28 and 30) and, in all instances, uses a double plural form: charismata iamatōn, ‘gifts for (or of) healings’. The plural of charismata seems to indicate that there were various kinds of healing. In a similar fashion, the New Testament distinguishes more than one type of curative prayer. There are prayers accompanied by the laying on of hands, prayers for an absent sick and prayers accompanied by the anointing with oil (Ja 5:14ff.). The plural form ‘healings’ probably indicates that many different diseases are meant, somatic as well as psychological, in all their different forms.
Secondly, there is the charisma of prophecy. The New Testament mentions prophets such as Agabus, an itinerant prophet from Jerusalem (Ac 11:28; 21:10ff.) and the daughters of Philip (Ac 21:9), but Judas and Silas (Ac 15:32) are also called prophets, as well as John (Rv 1:3; cf. 1:9ff.; 22:7, 9f.). Prophecy occurs in almost all books of the New Testament as a sign of the eschatological presence of the Spirit. What does prophecy generally include? The New Testament writings refer to activities such as ‘speaking for the edification, exhortation and comfort’ of believers (1 Cor 14:3), sharing particular revelation (Ac 13:1f.; 1 Cor 14:26; 15:51; Rv 2–3; 22:6–19) and, closely linked to the former, foretelling future events (Ac 11:28; 21:10ff. and John’s Revelation). Yet, it is necessary to emphasise that, in this brief inventory of activities and selected texts, a very limited number of features related to the wide-ranging phenomenon of early Christian prophecy are indicated. Thematic studies reveal numerous additional aspects of the specific charisma (Ellis 1978:129–144; Reiling 1973:5–19; Reiling 1977 2; cf. e.g. Aune 1983, 2003). In the present context, I merely want to draw attention to the (at times, forgotten) fact that early Christian prophecy was, amongst other things, also essential to the passing down of Jesus’ words and stories about his deeds. Prophecy was, therefore, in no small way, also responsible for the genesis of the Gospels (e.g. Aune 1983:233–245, 2003:1703; Ellis 1977:51; Vielhauer 1961:634).
Thirdly, there is the charisma of glossolalia. In the classical movement, but frequently also in the new Pentecostal and other ‘charismatic’ movements, this charisma received the most attention. Oftentimes it is considered to be the most important and, in any case, the most eye-catching and typical gift. However, every careful reader of the Pauline texts will discover that glossolalia is but one of the many gifts mentioned in his lists of charismata. Moreover, the apostle stresses that, whilst one believer receives this gift, another believer will receive that gift (1 Cor 12:19). Nowhere is it said that ‘speaking in tongues’ is a charisma that all Christians should have.
Yet, that it is considered to be an important charismatic gift, is nonetheless evident. What is meant by this charisma? Paul indicates that it has to do with the speaking of, praying in and singing in a language unknown to the speaker. Glossolalia consists of ecstatic utterances; it is language of the unconscious, spoken by a person whilst being enraptured by the Spirit. Unlike prophecy (which is directed at humans), glossolalia is directed at God. This language of the unconscious becomes capable of consciousness through interpretation (hermèneia). Most modern exegetes agree that the phenomenon discussed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12–14 differs from the experience of Jesus’ disciples at Pentecost (Ac 2). In 1 Corinthians, we encounter a language that is also spoken in heaven and that expresses a familiar relation with God (1 Cor 13:1). This language is accessible to others who are touched by the Spirit. The explanation or interpretation of tongues (hermèneia glōssōn, 1 Cor 12:10; cf. 14:26) may be described as the ‘intelligible articulation of tongues-speech’ (Thiselton 2000:970). This ‘articulation’ is necessary and ensures that the tongues-speech is beneficial to other members of the congregation. Perhaps Augustine has the same phenomenon of ‘tongues’ in mind when, in his explanation of Psalm 33:3 (‘shout for joy’), he speaks of jubilatio as a wordless speech: ‘Sing in jubilation ... What is to sing in jubilation? It is to be unable to express in words what is sung by the heart’ (CCL 38, 254 3; cf. Thiselton 2004:209).
A particular privilege of the early Church?
The foregoing paragraphs offered a very concise summary of charismata as they occur within the New Testament, focusing on the gifts of healing, prophecy and glossolalia. The significant question now becomes: Should these and other special charismata be regarded as a ‘peculiar privilege of the apostolic and primitive church’ (peculiare privilegium ecclesiae apostolicae et primitivae)? In past centuries, the gift of special charismata was often considered to be appropriate only for the very first time of diffusion of the gospel. Even so, several church fathers did not accept this view (Ritter 1972:197–200). Ages later, during the Protestant Reformation, such a view was also not the common opinion. Werner Krusche (1957:331) mentions that Calvin, in spite of an acute prudence towards all sorts of religious ‘fanatics’, did not understand specific gifts of the Spirit to be only historically interesting (cf. Van der Linde 1943:74–75).4 Besides, in recent decades, Pentecostal movements posed novel questions to the ‘official’ churches, as had been done in the past (see e.g. the classical work by Ronald Knox 1950). In particular, the universal emergence of charismatic movements brought with it a new consciousness of the biblical charismata and their significance to the contemporary Church.
In the following paragraphs, the manner in which the gifts of prophecy, healing and glossolalia occurred within the early Christian Church will be discussed. In order to prevent a misleading perspective, it is imperative to note, firstly, that the Montanist movement caused an immense uproar in the 2nd century, finally necessitating a strong defensive reaction. The very first Church synods were held in Asia Minor in reaction to this movement (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 5, 16, 4, ed. Lake, I, 472). After initially struggling with the subject, these councils ended up severely condemning ‘the new prophecy’. But perhaps they threw out the baby with the bathwater? The famous Church history writer, Walter Nigg (1905–1988), once argued that the Church, in dealing with the Montanists, barricaded itself against prophecy and in the process condemned its own past (1949:99).
The Didache, Justin and Irenaeus on the charismata
The Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, a church manual that likely originated in Syria/Palestine in c.100, still deals with the gift of prophecy as if it were a standard affair within the Church. The phenomenon is described by the document as something that embodies the itinerant, charismatic prophet. Chapters 11–13 provide certain criteria by which true and false prophets should be distinguished:
You must not test or judge any prophet who speaks in the Spirit. For every sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven. Not everyone speaking in the Spirit is a prophet, but only when he follows the lifestyle of the Lord. From their lifestyle, therefore, will the false prophet and the (true) prophet be recognized. (Didache 11, 7–8; SC 248, 184–186; cf. Holmes 2007:362–363).
It is also said that prophets are allowed to give thanks however they wish at Eucharist (Didache 10, 7; Holmes 2007:360–361).
Around c.155–160, Justin Martyr, born in Flavia Neapolis (ancient Shechem, modern Nablus), said in his Dialogue with Trypho that the prophetical gifts formerly belonging to the Jews are now at work in the Church (Dialogus cum Tryphone 82, 1; Goodspeed 1914:194; Marcovich 1997:212). In this text, he also mentions other charismata: ‘... for one receives the Spirit of understanding, another of counsel, another of strength, another of healing, another of foreknowledge, another of teaching, and another of the fear of God ...’ (Dialogus 39, 2; Goodspeed 1914:136; Marcovich 1997:135). In the same writing (Dialogus 87, 2), and in repeated reference to Isaiah 11:2–3, he yet again mentions the seven gifts of the Spirit, a theme that became fundamental to the later Christian tradition. In his (second) Apology, Justin deals in no short way with the contemporary healings of demon-possessed persons in Rome, describing such healings as gifts of the Holy Spirit (Apologia II, 5–6; Krüger 1968:65; cf. Marcovich 1994:38–40).
In about 185, Irenaeus of Lyon provides additional testimony, vital to our present purpose. This first great church father may be characterised as a theologian of the Holy Spirit. He supplies us with a great deal of information about glossolalia, prophecy and healing, as is evident from the following two citations. It is clear that this bishop of Lyon (in ancient Gaul) thinks of the charismata as living realities in the church of his time:
Therefore, the apostle also says: ‘We speak wisdom among the perfect’ (I Cor. 2:6). With ‘the perfect’ he means those who have received the Spirit and who speak in all tongues (omnibus linguis) through the Spirit, as he himself also used to speak. In like manner, we also hear that many brethren in the church, who have prophetic charismata, speak in all kinds of tongues (universis linguis/pantodapais ... glōssais) through the Spirit and reveal the hidden things of people, for their benefit6, and explain the mysteries of God ... (Adv. Haer. 5, 6, 1; SC 153, 73f.)
For some (of Christ’s true disciples) do certainly and truly drive out demons, so that those who are thus cleansed from the evil spirits often believe and join the church. Others have foreknowledge of future things, they see visions and utter prophetic words. Again others heal the sick by laying their hands upon them and let them rise up healthy. Moreover, as we have said, the dead even have been raised up and lived with us for many years. What shall I say further? It is impossible to name the number of all charismata, which the church, dispersed throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the gentiles, without misleading anyone or accepting money ... (Adv. Haer. 2, 32, 4, SC 294, 340–342)
These two quotations already give a good impression of Irenaeus’s acquaintance with specific charismata. What he mentions is no trifling matter, although his polemic against the so-called Gnostics suggests the presence of at least some exaggeration in his statements. Nonetheless, in view of the earliest Church’s testimonies (cf. e.g. Mk 16 and Heb 2:4), there is no real reason to view all of Irenaeus’s statements as pure exaggeration. It is important to note that (more than once) he also addresses those from his own church who fail to accept these charistmata. For example, at the end of his Demonstratio, he writes:
Others do not accept the gifts of the Holy Spirit and cast the prophetic charisma far from their sight, through which man, when he is sprinkled with it, bears the life of God as fruit. These are the people of whom Isaiah said: ‘Because (these), he says, will be like a terebinth tree that has lost all its leaves and like a garden without water’ (cf. Isa. 1:30). And people like that have no use for God, because they bear no fruit. (Demonstratio 99; cf. SC 62, 169 and SC 406, 218–220)
According to Irenaeus, it is essential that prophecy and other gifts of the Spirit are embedded in the life of the Church. The decisive criterion for the authenticity of the charismata is that they are inspired by love, meaning that they serve to benefit the whole congregation (Adv. Haer. 4, 33, 7; SC 100, 816). Thus, the true Church is recognised by its charismata.
Tertullian, Augustine and others
Similarly, Tertullian declared shortly after the year 200 that one can know the true Church by its charismata (Adv. Marcionem 5, 18, 22; CCL 1, 688; cf. Bender 1961:162–163). He mentions, amongst other things, prophecy, visionary experiences, spontaneous prayer, glossolalia and healings as gifts of the Spirit. However, Tertullian, who was so influential in the Church of North Africa, became a Montanist and might even have formed his own group within the movement.8 This may alert us to regard his utterances about specific charismata with a fair bit of care and scepticism.
Be that as it may, specific charismata are also mentioned in Tertullian’s pre-Montanist writings, where he expressly names activities that were common practice in the Christian congregation(s) of Carthage. A quotation from his writing On baptism may illustrate this point. Tertullian addresses those who are preparing for baptism as such:
Therefore, you, the blessed ones, whom the grace of God awaits, when you arise from that most holy bath of rebirth and, for the first time, stretch out your hands with your brothers9 to your mother (= the church), ask from the Father, ask from the Lord, as a special gift of His grace, the distributions of the charismata. (De baptismo 20, 5; CCL 1, 295; SC 35, 96) 10
Evidently, Tertullian saw baptism, the receiving of the Spirit and the charismata as being closely linked.
Owing to a lack of space, a more comprehensive overview of the many data regarding the special charismata in the Western and Eastern churches of the first centuries cannot be given here. Significant material may be found, amongst other texts, in the Shepherd of Hermas (Rome, c.140–c.155), the writings of Cyprian (Carthage, d.258), Hippolytus (Rome, c.170–c.236)11, Clement of Alexandria (c.150–c.215), Origen (c.185–c.254), Ephraem Syrus (c.306–373) and Augustine (354–430). Concerning the latter, it is noteworthy to observe that, in his earlier writings, he accepted the common idea of his time that the particular charismata were only applicable to the origins of the Church, when the Gospel still had to be diffused. Since the Gospel had, by Augustine’s time, already been spread throughout the Roman Empire and even beyond, the special charismata were no longer deemed necessary. At the end of his life, however, in the final paragraphs of his great work On the City of God (De civitate Dei 22, 8; CCL 48, 815–827; cf. Stolz 1926 and, most recently, Schindler 2009, esp. 124–129), he claimed that particular gifts of the Spirit (such as the gift of healing) were present during his own time and within his own geographical region, the North African world.
The person of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (c. 210–270) was so fill with the Divine that many call him by his nickname Thaumaturgus or “Wonder-Worker” or “Miracle Worker”.
Gregory Thaumaturgus or Gregory the Miracle-Worker (c. 213 – 270), also known as Gregory of Neocaesarea, was a Christian bishop of the 3rd century. He is recognized as a canonized saint in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Gregory’s supernatural ministry garnered him the nickname “Wonder-Worker” (Greek, Thaumaturgus). Gregory began his ministry with only 17 Christians in Pontus. However, by the end of his ministry, all but 17 people in Pontus had become Christian. His more famous miracles include stopping the raging Lycus River with his staff, drying up a lake to resolve a dispute, and smashing the gods in a pagan temple. One aspect of Gregory’s missionary strategy for attracting pagan Greeks was instituting martyr-feasts as public celebrations—a common practice in early Christianity.
Although Gregory was trained in Alexandrian-style speculative theology, his writings emphasize the pastoral and moral aspects of the faith. The goal of the Christian life, in Gregory’s words, was “to come to God and remain in him, having been made like him by a clean mind.” Philosophy and contemplation, as Gregory learned from Origen, were important means of accomplishing true piety. Gregory, being an early ascetic, spoke about overcoming the impulse of the flesh and renouncing wealth as pathways to true piety and union with God.
Gregory had ascetic and monastic impulses. He emphasized communal relationships and always ministered with associates. Even before Basil the Great famously spread coenobitic monasticism throughout Cappadocia, Gregory had established several monastic-like communities in northern Cappadocia.
As bishop, Gregory led the church during difficult seasons. Like other bishops of his day, Gregory evaded Roman authorities during the Decian persecutions (250–51). Then, in 257, the residents of Pontus endured Gothic raiding. In the aftermath, Gregory wrote a letter of church rules (“canons”) addressing issues of property rights. He indicates that the entire community is responsible for individual rights.
In AD 264 and 268, Gregory participated in the two synods of Antioch, led by his fellow Cappadocian, Firmilian (Eusebius, CH 7.14, 28). Gregory died after 270 and requested that the location of his grave remain a secret, so as to avoid posthumous veneration.
Gregory’s greatest legacy was his influence upon Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa, two of the “Cappadocian Fathers.” In terms of the institutional church of Cappadocia, Gregory bequeathed an established community to successive bishops. St. Macrina the Elder, the grandmother of Basil and Gregory, studied under Gregory of Thaumaturgus. She transmitted Gregory’s teachings to her children and grandchildren, including Basil and Gregory.
On the feast day of St. Gregory in 380, Gregory of Nyssa delivered the hagiographic homily The Life of Gregory the Wonderworker to the church in Pontus. To extol Gregory’s nobility and virtue, Gregory of Nyssa compiled The Life from popular stories about Gregory circulating in Pontus and retold by Macrina. Gregory of Nyssa’s oration Life, translated into several ancient languages, is the reason why Gregory’s fame spread and he became a famous saint in Church history. - Gregory Thaumaturgus (“Wonder-Worker”)