Why did “tongues of fire” appear on the first Pentecost? How does it relate to Heaven and the Temple? (And why do Catholic bishops wear those pointy hats? Let’s find out:
Our Catholic feast of Pentecost derives from the Jewish feast of Pentecost or Shavuot (Feast of Weeks). Pentecost (πεντηκοστή) is Greek for the “50th [day]” since Passover/Easter (7 weeks x 7 days = 49 days).
For the Israelites, Pentecost was important because:
- It is the day on which the rainbow appeared to Noah.
- It is the day on which Moses received the 613 Laws from God.
- It is the day on which King David was born and died.
- It is also the “Feast of Firstfruits,” the first harvest of the spring wheat crops.
(Barley was harvested at Passover; Wheat was harvested at Pentecost.)
The Holy Spirit at the First Christian Pentecost
Saint Luke describes the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting 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.
The Holy Spirit manifests as “tongues of fire” so as to give the Apostles the power to speak in other tongues/languages. In the Roman West, the Catholic mitre signifies the “tongue of fire” resting on the head of an Apostle. Bishops are successors of the the Pentecost Apostles and thus they wear a “tongue” on their head. You get the idea. I used our holy Bishop Fulton Sheen as a mockup:
These tongues of fire allowed the 12 Apostles to proclaim the New Law to the Church. Saint Thomas Aquinas states that the “New Law” is the Person of the Holy Spirit: “What else are the Divine laws written by God Himself on our hearts, but the very presence of His Holy Spirit?” (STh I-II, q. 106, a. 1).
Why “Tongues” of Fire? A Hint in 1 Enoch:
Why are there tongues of fire? Why not lips of fire or words of fire? Why not a fiery dove to conform to the baptism of Christ at the Jordan?
The tongues likely evoke the Hebrew concept of “tongues” praising God. As such, there is a Jewish mystical tradition that God’s heavenly temple above is surrounded by praising “tongues of fire.” Enoch is entering the Temple of Heaven and seeing God there amidst the tongues of fire:
“Behold, in the vision clouds invited me and a mist summoned me, and the course of the stars and the lightnings sped and hastened me, and the winds in 9 the vision caused me to fly and lifted me upward, and bore me into heaven. And I went in till I drew nigh to a wall which is built of crystals and surrounded by tongues of fire: and it began to affright 10 me. And I went into the tongues of fire and drew nigh to a large house which was built of crystals: and the walls of the house were like a tesselated floor (made) of crystals, and its groundwork was 11 of crystal. Its ceiling was like the path of the stars and the lightnings, and between them were 12 fiery cherubim, and their heaven was (clear as) water. A flaming fire surrounded the walls, and its 13 portals blazed with fire. And I entered into that house, and it was hot as fire and cold as ice: there 14 were no delights of life therein: fear covered me, and trembling got hold upon me. And as I quaked 15 and trembled, I fell upon my face. And I beheld a vision, And lo! there was a second house, greater 16 than the former, and the entire portal stood open before me, and it was built of flames of fire. And in every respect it so excelled in splendour and magnificence and extent that I cannot describe to 17 you its splendour and its extent. And its floor was of fire, and above it were lightnings and the path 18 of the stars, and its ceiling also was flaming fire. And I looked and saw therein a lofty throne: its appearance was as crystal, and the wheels thereof as the shining sun, and there was the vision of 19 cherubim. And from underneath the throne came streams of flaming fire so that I could not look 20 thereon. And the Great Glory sat thereon, and His raiment shone more brightly than the sun and 21 was whiter than any snow. (1 Enoch 14:8-22)
The tongues of fire surround the Temple of Heaven. In Pentecost we see the the New Temple which is the Body of Christ and the Catholic Church. The Apostles are now anointed with tongues of fire to be the foundation and walls of this heavenly Temple on earth.
As I explain in The Crucified Rabbi, the temple is the incarnate Body of Christ. As I repeat over and over: “Catholicism is Third Temple Judaism. Why? Because Jesus replaced the Second Temple with His own Eucharistic Body.” Catholicism is Third Temple Judaism. Why? Because Jesus replaced the Second Temple with His own Eucharistic Body. So Catholics pray toward this new Temple. - Dr Taylor Marshall Click To Tweet
I’ve spent the last week reading 1 Enoch and comparing it to Luke-Acts and finding lots of amazing connections. So stay tuned for me. Till then check out my recent post on 1 Enoch and Jude/2 Peter.
It’s especially interesting that the solar calendar described by Enoch in 1 Enoch always places Pentecost Sunday (and Passover) on a Sunday (New Testament) and not a Saturday (Old Testament). This further informs what we know about Pentecost Sunday as always a Sunday in the New Covenant. More on that later.
I also have a podcast on the tongue of fire and how it relates to the old Latin liturgy which you can listen to here: Podcast: 1 Enoch, Tongues of Fire and Pre-Vatican II Liturgy. I’ve created a new category on this blog called “Enoch Studies” so you can follow more research on this topic. I think I’ll do a book on it shortly.
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