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The Babel Syndrome

by Fr Stephan Freeman

by Fr Stephan Freeman

In the liturgical life of the Church, the event of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and they began to speak in various languages, is linked to the story of the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament. There, too, people began to speak in different languages but with an entirely different outcome. Pentecost brought the unity of the gospel, Babel brought the scattering of peoples through the diversity of languages. There are lessons within the Babel story, however, that are worth noting.

I leave it to others to worry about the historical nature of the Tower of Babel. Linguistic evidence points to widespread language differentiation for most of human history. But the lesson of Babel should not be lost in historical analysis, for some of it is quite contemporary.

In Genesis, the building of the Tower provokes a crisis for all of humanity.

And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.” (Gen 11:4-6 NKJ)

God’s action in “confusing the languages” is similar to His action in Genesis 6:

And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” (Gen 6:3 NKJ)

God has not destroyed humanity – but He has mercifully placed limits on us. Those limits are not punishments, but restraints. He saves us from ourselves...

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