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Miracles

( Originally Published 1883 )



" Miraculum proprie dicitur cum aliquid fit proeter ordinem natura , prceter ordinem totius naturae, creatce."—St. Tho., p. 1, q. 110, a. 4.

MIRACT.F.S.

The articles which have appeared in the October and November numbers of the " Nineteenth Century," on the subject of miracles, have suggested to the writer that out of the innumerable miracles in the Catholic Church, which are considered as well authenticated, a few might be selected, the accounts of which would also show the kind of evidence by which they are supported.

The Scriptures and the Church have always insisted upon miracles, as one of the proofs of the Almighty's power, and as tests of their own credibility.

A miracle assumes that all the operations of nature are completely, immediately, and continually under the power of God. Thus, take the miracle of the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea. It is quite clear that, not in a general way but directly, every minute particle of water which composed that vast mass was separately and immediately under the control of the Almighty's will. It is the same with every miracle ; it is an influence exercised by the power of the Creator over the atoms, which are thus obedient to the Divine command : and this is not less true if we admit, as we are pressed to do, and as in many cases there is no objection to our admitting, that even miracles are produced by the exercise, through His hand, of the existing powers of nature—as in the above miracle : the wind which drove up the waters of the Red Sea was an existing force of nature. We, therefore, conclude that the same influence pervades all nature, not only when miracles are being wrought, but for ever, and at all times, controlling these atoms. It would seem, indeed, that with God there is no such thing as a miracle—every change which He effects is but the exercise of that control over the powers of nature to produce such a result as He decrees— whilst with man all these operations are miraculous ; and were we not accustomed to the marvels of nature we should call them all quite as miraculous as the wonders which we read of in Scripture. If man had never seen a flower, the transmutation out of the elements from the seed and earth into its marvellous beauty would strike him as miraculous ; and the transmutation out of the elements, of every blade of grass which springs from the earth, would have the same effect upon his mind.

It is true that there is nothing which the modern philosopher is so determined to reject, as not miracles only, but all proofs of their existence, and this, not so much from the fear of being obliged to admit any doctrine of the Christian Faith, as from the innate conviction, that with the proof of one miracle, would be manifested the foundation on which the whole fabric of second causes rests, and he would stand face to face with the great Creator. Yet is it not worth his while, for so joyful a result, to examine, with no determination to reject them, such proofs as can be offered, and apply the most searching investigation to the testimony which can be adduced in their favour ? Would it not be more than a satisfaction, yea, an enduring joy, to know that this beneficent Creator is ever at hand, not only to penetrate all the operations of nature, but also to know and to recognise the minutest actions of his creatures—the generosity of their self-sacrifice, the purity of their love, the tenderness of their kindness, their pursuit of good, and their resistance of evil ; to feel that He who has implanted in our hearts these noble sentiments (copies of his divine perfections) sees also our patient endurance, and,

Knows how sublime a thing it is To suffer and be strong."

Would it not be some consolation to know that within the Ioving embrace of his fatherly arms we shall breathe out our spirits, at that last hour, which even the scientific man must look forward to with some anxiety, rather than have our hopes sustained with the not very sublime expectation of the philosopher, of,

" Being absorbed into universal things ? "

It is the hope that the perusal of the following miracles may induce a more noble and heavenly aspiration than this, that has induced the writer to collect and publish them.

Before, however, adducing any miracles which have been performed since Apostolic times, it may not be out of place to quote the evidence of Gibbon, a most unwilling witness. He says :

From the first of the fathers to the last of the popes, a succession of bishops, of saints, of martyrs, and of miracles is continued without interruption, and the progress of superstition was so gradual, and almost imperceptible, that we know not in what particular link we should break the chain of tradition. Every age bears testimony to the wonderful events by which it was distinguished, and its testimony appears no less weighty and respectable than that of the preceding generation, till we are insensibly led on to accuse our own inconsistency, if, in the eighth or twelfth century, we deny to the Venerable Bede, or to the holy Bernard, the same degree of confidence which in the second century we had so liberally granted to Justin or Irenaeus. If the truth of any of those miracles is appreciated by their apparent use, and propriety, every age had unbelievers to convince, heretics to confute, and idolatrous nations to convert."—Decline and Fall, Vol. 2, c. 15, p. 308.

And if in the note he says :

" In the long series of ecclesiastical history there does not exist a single instance of a saint, asserting that he himself possessed the gift of miracles" he could not have said anything which would more completely stamp their authenticity ; for the claiming of the power to work miracles would argue such a want of humility, in him who worked them, as would at once cause the Christian reader to doubt their authenticity. To this of Gibbon may be added the remarks of the author of " Faith and Unfaith " in the Nineteenth Century, November, 1882 :

The question, in each case, would be one of evidence, whether the relic were indeed what is asserted; and assuredly, for some miraculous fragments, the evidence that they are, what they profess to be, is overwhelming : while there is less room for doubt than in the case of many an authentic historical record, at which to cavil, would be the very wantonness of scepticism. If then, there be likelihood that any relic associated with Jesus be indeed what is claimed, then, from it, might still flow, the same virtue that healed the sick woman when she touched His garment's hem, for surely it would be the extremest materialism to maintain that a kerchief, or a robe, had efficacy only, while warm from the living bodies of those who wore them. Though it is not easy to frame any satisfactory definition of miracle, that, is fairly complete, which is usually accepted :—' An interruption or reversion of the ordinary laws of nature, whether this takes place by the suspension of those laws or by the interposition of a law that is higher, and overrides the lower.' We may go further, and assert, without danger of serious contra-diction, that whoever has ceased to believe in miracles has lost all true faith in a personal God. And, if God be living, and personal, and the Church a living body, sanctioned and framed by Him—premises taken for granted by the enormous majority of professing Christians—it is absurd to suppose that the organs, so to speak, of miracle became atrophied at some date, not precisely fixed, and that the Being, who once acted through organs and agents, has now ceased to act at all in any true manner."

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