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Preliminary Discourse

( Originally Published 1919 )

Modern Miracles—Miracles of the Bible—Man Surrounded by Mysteries—Science and the Grain of SandAttraction—Luminous Ether—Effects of Adam's Fall—Tendency to Forget God—Sphere of the Angels—The "Great Apostasy"—Angelic Beings—Statement of Professor Groves—Professor Tyndall and Sound—MiraclesSaint Paul and Agrippa—Defect of Our Spiritual Vision —The Incarnation.

Before entering upon any disquisition of explanation of miracles or phenomena of the occult sciences, it is well to bear in mind that the wonders and miracles recorded in the lives of the saints and in the annals of ecclesiastical history are not in the same class with, nor so faith-compelling as are the miracles of the New Testament, which serve to confirm our faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ and in the holiness and perpetuity of the religion He established.

Apart from the fact that these testamentary signs and miracles are recorded in books written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and confirmed by the voice of the Church, it must be remembered that they are included in the deposit of faith and may only be denied under penalty of incurring the guilt of heresy and committing an act of manifest impiety. All other miracles, no matter how well authenticated, rest upon what is termed legal evidence, and the Church leaves us free to accept or reject them. This is not saying that, if a miracle is substantiated and approved by rightly constituted ecclesiastical authority and we refuse to credit it, we are not incurring a note of rashness and mental arrogance. But let us bear in mind this truth. We must believe with the Apostles and the Fathers that the Holy Spirit We are surrounded by mysteries—by miracles, by prodigies, by the incomprehensible. In the purely material world the smallest grain of sand defies the powers of the human mind.

For six thousand years science has examined it, has turned it to the light, placed it under the microscope, divided and subdivided it; she has tormented it with experiments, wearied it with interminable questions to extract from it some answer touching its intimate composition ; she has asked it with a curiosity that is never satisfied : "Whence came you? After I have divided you, can I divide you again? And will there be still something yet to divide when time shall be no more?" So on the rim of the infinite, science hesitates, stumbles, is bewildered, is seized with vertigo, and at last exclaims : "I am as one groping in the dark." So with attraction, that mysterious and wonderful power of a primal, elemental law or force that no man has ever seen, touched or heard, and which in its silent and mysterious influence surpasses all other known powers. And what do we know of that substance of infinite tenuity, yet of immense elasticity, which permeates all space and every other substance, which cannot be seen or felt or weighed, and whose composition is unknown? So far as we know, it offers no resistance to the motion of planetary bodies, yet its existence is made manifest by its property of transmitting chemical rays, light, radiant heat, electricity, and probably some more recondite forms of energy, at fabulous velocity from the remotest parts of the universe, and by means of vibrations, the nature of which, with their astounding frequency and pitch, has been de- termined by mathematicians. The unscientific mind may be disposed to regard its existence as a myth or at most as an abstract conception of the human mind, and yet that great scientist, Lord Kelvin, has declared that not only does it exist, but it is "the only substance we are confident of in dynamics and that the one thing we are sure of, is the reality and substantiality of this luminous ether."

How do these myriad bodies of the universe, these silent, insensible bodies, unconsciously sustain that reciprocity of action and reaction which holds them in marvelous equilibrium, and in accord with one another CI.

The visible creation is a veil behind which the invisible Creator "worketh hitherto"; a veil which conceals Him from the unbelieving, the impure, the self-sufficient and the proud, and through which the pure of heart alone may see, and even they only as St. Paul saw, "in a glass darkly," though with a promise of a revelation "face to face" when "the day breaks and the shadows fly away."

The Church explains this darkness of the intellect and weakness of perception when she tells us that the sin of Adam, our first parent, visited upon the human race "the wound of ignorance by which the intellect has been weakened, so that it has a difficulty in discerning truth, easily falls into error, and inclines more to things curious and temporal than to things eternal." The mind of man today, as in the time of the Apostles, is "tossed about by every wind of doctrine," so that we are witnesses to the unseemly exhibition of Darwin, Maudsley, Tyndall, and Huxley denying the existence of another world, and Sir Oliver Lodge, Conan Doyle, and Emile Boirac communing with spirits and proclaiming aloud the immortality of the soul and the right of man to evoke the dead.

If God has willed, and now wills, to bestow His gifts and mercies in a certain way and on certain persons, have we the right to reject His manifestations and insist, with Naaman the leper, "that He shall come out and put His hand on the place," and reveal to us how it is done?

There is in fallen human nature a tendency, more or less strong, but present in every individual of our race, to forget God. Man is prone to be the slave of the material and the sensual. He finds it hard to realize his dependence, from hour to hour, on the sustaining power and loving care of an unseen Father.

Underneath him are the Everlasting Arms, but as they are not of flesh and blood, it demands the possession of supernatural faith to perceive them. Faith is not knowledge, it is not a production of the laboratory, but a supernatural gift which enables us to believe in and, in a sense, to see what is not visible. It is a faculty of the soul which demands constant exercise, else it will grow weak and, in time, incapable of seeing even "as in a glass darkly," through a veil of unsubstantial phenomena, into the spiritual kingdom of "Angels, Powers, Principalities, and Thrones."

In order, then, to quicken our faith, and to help us to understand that God hath dominion over the living and the dead, to feel our dependence on Him for our daily bread, our health and life, He visits us, as in the days of David, with sorrow and affliction, famines, wars, and plagues. Again He makes his presence known through His Angels, or "by the spirits of the just made perfect," or in benignity and tenderness as in apparitions like those of Paray-le- Monial and Lourdes.

Man in relation to animals, to the spheres of beings which are placed below him, occupies a distinct and, to them, a supernatural position, and to these creatures his actions are miraculous, in so far as they cannot understand them.

Now, have we any authority for believing that there is a sphere, state, or place different from ours, occupied by beings of a subtler essence and a higher intelligence than belong to members of the human race? That is to say, that as we on this earth recognize the existence of the three kingdoms—animal, vegetable, and mineral—with their divisions and subdivisions, may there not be, and are there not, in the unseen world beings of an order superior to ours, endowed with or possessed of attributes, powers and faculties altogether unlike and superior to the endowments of our nature? If this be so, the powers of such beings would be as superior, from our point of vision, and their actions as miraculous, as are our actions from the stand- point of animals or of lower intelligences.

According to revelation, we are surrounded by beings of a supernatural or preternatural order. We are told of the "Prince of the power of the air," of "principalities and powers in high places," that is, in the air above us. We are warned that "our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world," that is to say, against Satan and his rebel spirits, who are in conspiracy to ruin the human race and to frustrate the purposes of God towards mankind.

No mind which accepts the inspiration of the Bible may deny the existence and malign influence on human beings of these rebel angels.

That wonderful Apostle, St. John the divine, informs us by authority of the Holy Ghost that in the "great apostasy," of the angels two-thirds of the heavenly host remained loyal to their Creator and kept their principality. Many of these angelic beings are mentioned in Holy Writ as messengers of God, obeying His divine will, and are represented as the friends of all human beings who do God's will here on earth as they do in Heaven.

To these pure spirits are ascribed many of the wonders and operations of nature :—the therapeutic or curative effects of certain waters, as in the pool of Bethsaida and the waters of the Jordan when Naaman washed himself in them; the eruption of volcanic fires, as in the devastation of Sodom and the cities of the Plains; the control of thunder and lightning, as on Mount Sinai; the ruling of the winds, as mentioned in the Apocalypse; the producing of earthquakes, as at the Crucifixion and Resurrection the origin, direction, and cessation of pestilential diseases, as in the punishment of David; as messengers of God's mercy, as in the Passover.

That these angelic beings can make themselves visible to man we know from the experience of the young Tobias, and need only now refer to Abraham and his spiritual guests, to the angels of the Annunciation, to the liberation of St. Peter from prison and to other innumerable examples recorded in Holy Writ. The control of the elements, and superhuman powers, are attributed in the Old and New Testaments to the ministry of angels. Just as man, within a limited sphere, can control the elements, and draw the electric fluid from the clouds, or make it the peaceful and instantaneous medium of conversation with his fellowmen in any part of the earth, so the Angels are represented to us as holding in their hands the secrets of the powers of nature, ready to combine and direct them according to the will of Him whose ministers they are :—now "passing over" the houses of the captive Hebrews and "smiting all the first born of Egypt;" now causing a malarial wind to destroy the hosts of Sennacherib; now "restraining" the plague as it threatened Jerusalem, or unlocking the gyves on the wrists of St. Peter and opening the door of his prison.

Nor does Science oppose itself to the possibility of these occurrences. Science—physical science—does not and cannot prove the existence of angelic beings, for these are outside of and beyond its domain, but it admits the possibility of their existence and the actuality of their presence. It concedes that the air around us may be musical with the melody of unearthly voices or the whisperings of evil spirits. Thus the late Dr. Funk tells us : "It is a terribly dangerous mistake to think there are no evil spirits. There are great hosts of them. They come at times without formal invitation of the medium or of the circle and control to the hurt of the members of the circle." And that eminent scientist, Professor Groves, says in his "Correlation of Physical Forces" : "Myriads of organized beings may exist imperceptible to our vision, even if we were in the midst of them." So with regard to sound. Notes above and below a certain ascertainable pitch are inaudible to the human ear. Professor Tyndall in his interesting book on the "Glaciers of the Alps" writes : "Once as I crossed a Swiss mountain in company with a friend, I heard distinctly and for a long time the shrill chirping of innumerable insects, which thronged the adjacent grass. My friend heard nothing of this: it lay quite beyond his range of hearing." This statement may help us to understand how it is possible for a person like Bernadette of Lourdes to be surrounded by sights and sounds unseen and unheard by others.

The eyes of the Prophet's servant had to be supernaturally opened before he could see the angels guarding his master, and the vision which was vouchsafed to St. Stephen before his martyrdom was unseen by those around him.

In like manner the angelic hymn which broke the silence of the midnight air of our Saviour's nativity was heard only by the shepherds watching their flocks. So the voice which spoke from the clouds at the Baptism of our Lord was heard only by Him and John the Baptist.

Though the travelling companions of St. Paul, when on his way to Damascus, heard the sound of the voice which converted him, yet they could distinguish no articulate words.

Assuming, then, as a hypothesis which science admits to be possible, and which the Church exalts into an article of faith, that there exist hosts of angelic creatures, good and evil, there is no violence done to the human mind when it is asked to believe that such beings are able to accomplish things and perform acts which But what is a miracle ? A miracle is an effect without a visible or, in the human order, a known, cause. When we know and understand the cause, we no longer regard the effect as a miracle. When we call a miracle a suspension of the law or laws of nature, the _expression must be understood, not in its absolute sense, but only as it relates to ourselves. The fire of Nebuchadnezzar's furnace departed not from the common law of burning because it did not consume the three young men, for it destroyed those feeding the fires: the youths were simply placed within the sphere of another law—a law unknown to the spectators and which shielded them against the natural law of combustion.

We also give the name of miracle to a result produced without the intervention of a secondary cause. For example, the conversion of water into wine by our Blessed Lord at Cana we call a miracle, but we do not apply the word to wine produced from the grape. In point of fact, however, the one is as much a miracle as the other. He who, at the marriage feast of Cana, converted water into wine, performs as great a miracle yearly before our very eyes, though by a more gradual process. It is only our familiarity with it which prevents us from recognizing its miraculous character.

The miracles of grace are reflected in the miracles of nature. God is the author of both, and as He is daily performing miracles within the sphere of man's rebellious will, so He is also working them in the passive realm of natural powers, either directly, or through the ministership of His angels. Day after day He changes water into wine, wine into blood, blood into milk. Surely, then, it is perilous presumption of us, with our meager and fragmentary knowledge of the laws of nature, and standing as we are in the presence of a thousand miracles, to prescribe limits to the omnipotence of our Creator, or to say He cannot cure a helpless paralytic or "command the clouds that they rain no rain" without violating a law of nature. "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, 0 King, that God should raise the dead?" asked St. Paul of Agrippa.

And the Church asks of the Agrippas of our time : "Why should it be thought a thing incredible that an angel should appear and speak to a soul shrined in an earthly tabernacle, or that God should impart to the waters of—Lourdes, for instance,—medicinal properties, as He did to the pool of Bethsaida " While we here on earth are tabernacled in our bodies, we are altogether in a different sphere and state from angelic or demoniacal beings. When, in God's good time, we are liberated from the prison of the body, we shall no longer see "as in a glass darkly." And let me here observe that whatever difficulties prodigies or miracles may present to speculative reason, they offer none to the practical faith of a Christian. He knows in whom he believes his own experience and the history of the human race enable him to scatter to the winds the theories and suppositions of those much overrated scientists who are forever contradicting themselves.

In the Incarnation of the Son of God the Christian has a clearer revelation than Science can give him of the ways of our Heavenly Father with human souls. With a touch or with a word He commands the forces and laws of nature, and they obey. The blind man by the wayside, the paralytic on his bed, the woman of an accursed race, whose daughter was "grievously vexed with a devil," the disciples in jeopardy on a stormy sea, the widow weeping by the bier of her only son, the risen Lazarus, will for all time proclaim the omnipotent power of God and His love for and oversight of His children, "yesterday, today, and forever."

"Are there not in every community individuals who possess a mysterious power, concerning whose origin, mode of action and limits, we and they are alike in the dark ? I refer to such organic forces as are summed up under the words clairvoyance, second sight, telepathy and the like. Rational medicine recognizes their existence and while she attributes them to morbid and exceptional influences, confesses her want of more exact knowledge, and refrains from barren theorizing." "Myths of the New World." BRINTON.



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