I translated this passage for the first time several months ago (see here). My thinking on the passage has developed quite a bit since that first translation. In section 15, I’ve realized that Gregory was working from a different verse (Acts 2:11 instead of Acts 2:6). This doesn’t affect the translation much, though it does help us understand his own perplexity. In section 16, re-punctuating the text and reading the ancient commentators helped me immensely. I think the new translation is much better and much clearer than the previous one, though the reader may compare and see. I leave the old translation up to make such a comparison easy. I intend to argue all the technical details in another series of posts. If you have any suggestions, do leave a comment or send me an e-mail!
English Translation of Oration 41.15-16
15. They were speaking in foreign languages, not their own, and this was a great miracle, that the message was being spoken by those who were not instructed. This was a sign to the unbelievers, not to the believers, as it is written, “‘in different languages and in strange lips I will speak to this people, and thus they will not hear me,’ says the Lord.” But these were hearing. Look here for a bit, and puzzle over how to divide the speech: the reading has an ambiguity, which arises from punctuation. Were they each hearing in their own language, such that we might say that one language flowed forth, but that many were heard? To speak more clearly, as the word traveled through the air, did one language became many? Or, should we place a period after “they were hearing,” and join “as they spoke in their own languages” to what follows, so that it becomes “as they were speaking in languages, the ones of the audience,” or more simply “foreign.” I prefer this arrangement. In the former case, the miracle would belong primarily to the audience, not to the speakers, but in the latter case the miracle would chiefly belong to the speakers. Even as they were being accused of drunkenness, clearly they were working miracles through their voices by the Spirit.
16. Now, the old division of tongues is certainly worthy of honor. When those evil and atheistic schemers were building the tower (as some dare to do even now), their plot was undone by the scattering of their language, and it ruined their attempt. Yet this present, miraculous division of tongues is even more worthy of praise, because it flows from one Spirit out to many people, but brings them once more into one harmony, and because it is the type of gift that requires another gift to interpret this better division. Since all divisions of tongues have something praiseworthy, one may even call good that division about which David says, “Drown, O Lord, and scatter their tongues.” Why? Because “they have loved all the words of destruction, with a deceitful tongue.” He all but names them openly as he declares his charge against those who mangle the godhead. But that is enough on these matters.