The Gift of Miracles
A miracle of the third-class is an effect that does not surpass the powers of nature, but is only miraculous in the manner in which it happens; as, for instance, when a person is all on a sudden cured of a fever or dangerous disease, or when an extraordinary occurrence takes place in the weather, as happened through the prayer of Elias.
But here an infidel may object that God cannot act contrary to the general order of nature? We answer, that one cause can have several effects, and these effects can produce secondary causes, subordinate one to the other. We see a proof of this principle in the subordination of a civil government, from the sovereign to the humblest subject of the nation. The lowest in power depends on the chief by intermediate causes.
God is the primary cause, and all secondary causes and their effects depend on that infallible, eternal cause. The order subsisting in this universal cause is immutable and irrevocable. But He can change the order existing in secondary causes; for, as he could establish it in another form, so he can alter it, either by doing things which secondary causes could not possibly produce, or by suspending the exercise of the powers He had given them.
When first He established the natural order of things, He foresaw and reserved the power of doing what he had to accomplish in succession of time. God acts sometimes against the usual order of Nature, says St. Augustine, but never contrary to the supreme and absolute law of divine justice. The order of justice implies an essential connection with the primary cause, which is the rule and foundation of all justice; and so God never interferes with that inviolable order; but, as we have just said, he can change the order existing in secondary causes, or suspend the exercise of the powers which He gave them. Hence, we see the cause and possibility of miracles. “If then,” says the Vatican Council, “anyone shall say that miracles are impossible, and that, therefore, all the accounts regarding them, even those contained in Holy Scripture, are to be dismissed as fabulous or mystical, or that miracles can never be known with certainty, and that the divine origin of Christianity cannot be proved by them, let him be accursed.” (iii. Can. 3 and 4.)
As it is not in the power of any creature, man, angel, or demon, to change the established order of nature without God’s will and power from Him, it is evident that, when a miracle takes place, God acts and manifests His power.
Now, God has reserved to Himself this power of performing miracles for the purpose of leading man to the supernatural knowledge of himself by the supernatural effects of miracles, Man, it is true, can acquire the knowledge of God by the effects of divine power, as manifested in the works of creation. They speak to our reason and convince us of the truth that they come from God as their original cause. But this knowledge of God, acquired from the contemplation of the works of creation, is rather deficient. God wished us to know Him as perfectly as possible. So he revealed Himself to men.
Now God is true. He can neither deceive nor be deceived, and therefore He can reveal nothing but the truth. But He did not speak to every man. He spoke to men through the patriarchs and prophets, and at last, as St. Paul says, through His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who continues to speak to men through His Church. Now, in order to induce men to believe those who taught them His will, he wrought, through them, miracles in confirmation of the truth of their teaching. “In order that the obedience of our faith,” says the Vatican Council (c. iii.) “might be in harmony with reason, God willed that to the interior help of the Holy Ghost there should be joined exterior proofs of His revelation, to wit, divine facts, and especially miracles and prophecies, which, as they manifestly display the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are most certain proofs of His divine revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all men. Wherefore Moses and the prophets . . . showed forth many and most evident miracles and prophecies.”
As a letter, bearing the seal of a king, evidently comes from the king, so a true miracle, performed in confirmation and support of the truth of a doctrine, is a clear proof that such a doctrine comes from God and is infallibly true. Miracles are, as it were, credentials, signed by the hand of God Himself; they are the strongest and most striking proofs which God can furnish in order to make people believe those whom He sends to teach them in His name. “If, then,” says the Vatican Council, “anyone shall say that divine revelation cannot be made credible by outward signs, and that, therefore, men ought to be moved to faith solely by the internal experience of each, or by private inspiration, let him be accursed.” (Vat. Counc., iii. can. 8 and 4.)
God cannot permit the performance of a miracle in Confirmation and support of error, deception or lying. He may, it is true, grant the gift of miracles and prophecy to impious men. “Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name cast out devils, and done many wonderful works in Thy name? And then will I profess unto them: I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” (Matt., vii., 22, 23.) From these words of our Lord it is clear that God can make use of the wicked to perform miracles and to foretell future events, as he did by Judas, (Luke, x., 17,) and by Caiphas, (John, xi, 49.) and by Balaam, (Numb., xxiv., 3,) for “the performance of a miracle,” says St. Jerome, “is not owing to the merit of the performer of the miracle, but to the invocation of Christ, which performs it for the benefit of others.” Hence, St. Gregory remarks, (Lib. 20, Moral 8.) ”that the evidence of holiness of life is not to be drawn from the performance of miracles, but from true love of God and our neighbor.” There is a great difference between divine gifts, gratuitously granted for the benefit of others, such as the gifts of miracles, prophecy, etc., and those which make us holy and pleasing in the sight of God.
God may grant permanently the gift of miracles; and a person who has received this gift may abuse it to acquire vain glory, or temporal gain. In this case God, it is true, cooperates to the miracle, but not to the bad end which the performance of it has in view. This bad end He only permits. A bad priest may say Mass, and use the sacred host for perverse purposes; he may give it to sorceresses to obtain money, to wicked people to ridicule it, etc. It is evident that God did not give the power of consecration for such a wicked purpose, but may permit the abuse of this power.
I say an impious man who has the gift of miracles, may abuse this gift for a perverse purpose, but God cannot permit him to use it in confirmation of a false doctrine, when such an abuse is hidden from men so that it could not be discovered by them. For, if God permitted the abuse of such power in confirmation of false doctrine, He himself would confirm men in error, and He would have no other means left to correct the error, not even by a miracle, because people could say: If the first miracle was wrought in confirmation of error, why should not the second in the same way. Thus God would deprive Himself of all possibility to attest to the truth. Hence, it is that God can never permit the performance of a real miracle in confirmation of false doctrine. No instance can be mentioned to prove the contrary.
There were false prophets and teachers both before and after the coming of the Redeemer. They pretended to be sent by God; and to prove their pretended divine mission, they tried to perform miracles, but never succeeded. In some instances they succeeded, by the help of the devil, whose ministers they were, in performing certain wonderful things, or false miracles.
When Moses performed great miracles before Pharao in Egypt, the magicians of the king tried to imitate the miracles of the great servant of God. They cast their rods before the king, and by devilish enchantments, their rods seemed to be changed into serpents, as that of Moses was; they produced, as Moses did, frogs, etc. But their prodigies greatly differ in character from the miracles of Moses. God, indeed, never permits satan to perform wonderful things for the seduction of the just and the faithful; and whenever satan is permitted to perform any kind of prodigies, he is obliged to confess his wicked artifice and malice. Hence, when Moses continued to perform miracles, the magicians were constrained to acknowledge that they were unable to do what Moses did. Satan was obliged to declare through his agents: “This is the finger of God.”
One day the prophet Elias came to all the people of Israel and said: “How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him. And the people did not answer him a word. And Elias said again to the people: I only remain a prophet of the Lord: but the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty men. Let two bullocks be given us, and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces and lay it upon wood, but put no fire under; and I will dress the other bullock and lay it on wood, and put no fire under. Call ye on the names of your gods, and I will call on the name of my Lord: and the god that shall answer by fire, let him be God. And all the people answering said: A very good proposal. Then Elias said to the prophets of Baal: Choose you one bullock, and dress it first, because you are many: and call on the names of your gods, but put no fire under. And they took the bullock which he gave them, and dressed it : and they called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And when it was now noon, Elias jested at them, saying: Cry with a louder voice, for he is a god, and perhaps he is talking, or is in an inn, or on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be waked. So they cried with a loud voice . . . but there was no voice heard, nor did anyone answer, nor regard them as they prayed.
Elias said to all the people: Come ye unto me. And the people coming near unto him, he repaired the altar of the Lord, that was broken down. And he built with twelve stones an altar to the name of the Lord, and he made a trench for water of the breadth of two furrows round about the altar. And he laid the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid it upon the wood, and he said: Fill four buckets with water, and pour it upon the burnt-offering, and upon the wood. And he said, do the same the second and the third time. And the water ran round about the altar, and the trench was tilled with water. And when it was now time to offer the holocaust, Elias the prophet came near, and said: O Lord, God of Abraham, and Isaac and Israel, show this day that thou art the God of Israel, and I thy servant, and that according to thy commandments I have done all these things. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that thy people may learn that thou art the Lord God. Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the holocaust, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw this they fell on their faces, and they said : The Lord he is God, the Lord he is God.” (III. Kings, xviii.)
It was thus that God, on this occasion, confounded the false prophets before the people and proved to them that Elias was his prophet whom they should believe. As the false prophets of the Old Law were confounded by the true prophets of the Lord, so, also, were the false prophets of the New Law confounded, on many occasions, by the true ministers of Jesus Christ.
Simon, the magician, broached many errors. The principal ones were that the world was created by angels; that when the soul leaves the body it enters into another body; that man had no free will, and consequently, that good works were not necessary for salvation. To induce the people to believe him, he performed lying wonders in their presence. By means of magic spells he one day caused the devil to raise him in the air; but God confounded the devil, and his agent by Saints Peter and Paul, who were present, and invoked the name of Jesus Christ. In that very moment, the devil lost his magic power over Simon, who fell down and broke both his legs. His friends carried him away, but, in his great sufferings and despair, he cast himself out of a high window and perished. Thus died the first heretic that disturbed the Catholic Church, and denied certain truths of her holy teaching.
We read in the life of St. Dominic, that the heretics of his time and the Catholics put together in writing the strongest arguments in defence of their religion; those of the Catholics were the work of St. Dominic. It was proposed that both writings should be committed to the flames, in order that God might declare by his own interposition which religion was the only true one. Accordingly, a great fire was made, and the two writings were cast into it; that of the heretics was immediately consumed to ashes, whilst the other remained unhurt after it had been cast into the fire three times and taken out again.
This public miracle happened at Fanjaux; the fruit of it was the conversion of great numbers of heretics of both sexes. The same kind of miracle happened at Montreal. St. Dominic drew up in writing a short exposition of the Catholic faith, with proof of each article from the New Testament. This writing he gave to the heretics to examine. Their ministers and chiefs, after much altercation about it, agreed to throw it into the fire, saying that if it burned they would regard the doctrine which it contained as false. Being cast thrice into the flames, it was not damaged by them.
At the time of Martin Luther, a certain man, named William, was drowned. Luther was requested to raise him again to life as a proof of the truth of his doctrine. He commanded him repeatedly to rise from the dead. It was all in vain. (Bredenbach, L. vii., c. 1.) Calvin wished to prove the truth of his doctrine by a miracle. So he begged a man to feign death and have himself carried as a corpse to the church, and then rise at his bidding, so that the people might believe he had been raised again to life by the prayer of Calvin, as a proof of the truth of his doctrine. That man complied with Calvin’s request. He was carried to the church, apparently dead. Calvin approached the coffin and said in a loud voice: I command you to rise in the name of Christ, whose Gospel I preach. But alas! the man never arose again. He was dead. God had punished him, and by the sudden death of this deceiver God manifested his detestation of Calvin’s heresies, and the truth of the Catholic religion. (Franc-Torrianus, L. i. De Dogmatibus.)
Thus Almighty God has never permitted, and will never permit, a real miracle in confirmation of an heretical doctrine; should he bestow the gift of miracles even on an impious man yet he will never permit him to use this gift in confirmation of a false doctrine. Were God to perform a real miracle in support of an heretical doctrine He would thereby lead the people into error, and become guilty of the sin of wilful lying and deception. But it would be impious to think that God could do such a thing. He is Eternal Truth itself, and he has reserved to Himself the power of performing miracles, in order that he might use it whenever necessary and profitable to prove that the truths revealed by Him really come from Him.
Hence, our dear Saviour made use of this power to prove to the world that God was in Him, not by the grace of adoption, but by that of hypostatic union. He referred the Jews to His miracles as incontestable proofs for his Divinity and divine doctrine. ” If you do not believe me” said he to the Jews, “believe my works, that you may know and believe thereby that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (John, x., 38). His miracles did, indeed, sufficiently prove His Divinity. “The works which I do, give testimony of me, that He (the Father) hath sent me.” (John, v., 36.)
Christ performed His miracles, not like the prophets and all others. These performed miracles by the interposition or assistance of another. But Christ performed His miracles by His own power. “And all the multitude sought to touch Him, for divine power proceeded from Him, and healed all.” (Luke, vi., 19.) “Jesus touched the leper and said to him: I will, be thou made clean, and instantly his leprosy was cleansed.” (Matt., via., 3.) “He cast out the evil spirits by His word, and all that were sick he healed.” (Matt., viii., 16.) He said that He was God, and that His power was the same as that of the Father. “Whatsoever things the Father doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner. As the Father raiseth up the dead and giveth life, so the Son also giveth life to whom He wills.” (John, v., 19, 21.)
This particular circumstance that Christ performed His miracles by His own power, without the assistance or interposition of another, distinguishes Him from the patriarchs, prophets, and all others.
Now, Jesus Christ performed miracles on spiritual substances, on celestial bodies, on men, and on irrational and inanimate beings. All his miracles were a most evident proof of the truth of His infallible doctrine.
The time came when the power of satan was to be overcome by the doctrine of our divine Saviour. So it was necessary for our Lord to make a beginning of the total ruin of the wicked empire of satan. He made this beginning of the destruction of satan’s power over man by delivering from evil spirits those who were possessed by them. “Now is the judgment of the world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” (John, xii., 31)
Jesus Christ performed miracles on celestial bodies. “And it was almost the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth, for the sun was eclipsed until the ninth hour.” (Luke, xxiii., 44.) It is evident that that eclipse took place in an extraordinary manner, in order to cover the earth in mourning for the death of Jesus Christ.
Many things can influence terrestrial bodies, but celestial bodies cannot be influenced in the same way, for God created them, as it were, in a state of immutability. Hence, a phenomenon which takes place in immovable bodies, such as the sun, is more prodigious, and presents to all who witness it, incontestable evidence of the Saviour’s Divinity.
As to the manner in which that eclipse appeared at the death of our Saviour, some of the theologians say that the regular course of the planets which measure time, was not interrupted and that the sun continued to send its rays; but that the Divine Omnipotence prevented them from coming to the earth; others assert that it was an ordinary eclipse, i.e. that the moon, placed between the earth and the sun, intercepted his rays. This is the opinion of St. Dionysius, who was an eye-witness of the eclipse, and St. Thomas Aquinas thinks it to be the most probable.
But how is it that profane writers said nothing on the subject? All calculations of human science being unable to foretell supernatural events, the most learned astronomers did not expect to see an eclipse at that period, and when it occurred, it was useless to calculate its appearance. So they could not explain that phenomenon, and thought it was only some alteration in the atmosphere, and therefore, only a thing of no importance. Origen, however, tells us that a certain historian, Phlegon, mentions it in his chronicles. It was seen by St. Dionysius and his companions, who were at that time in Egypt, a country where the sky is generally clear; and this saint wrote to St. Polycarp: “We saw the moon suddenly placed between the sun and the earth.” In another place of his works he says that the eclipse was a miraculous phenomenon which took place in consequence of the position of the sun and the moon at that period. This passage explains the words just mentioned: “We saw the moon suddenly placed between the sun and the earth.”
Jesus Christ performed miracles also on men. Our Saviour came into this world for the salvation of the human race. “God sent not his Son into the world to judge it, but that the world may be saved by Him.” (John, iii., 17.)
It was, therefore, necessary for Jesus Christ to show to men, by miracles, that He was their Saviour. So He miraculously delivered many from their corporal and spiritual infirmities. Most undoubtedly, His divine mission appears with as much splendor and evidence when He restores sight to the man born blind; life to a son to console his afflicted mother; health to the leper etc, as it appears when He casts out evil spirits, or works prodigies in the heavens. By healing bodies of their incurable diseases, and by bringing man from the darkness of death to a spiritual life, He clearly proved that He was also able to sanctify souls and to bring them from the darkness of sin and death to the light of grace and glory.
Christ also performed miracles on inanimate things. The water changed into wine at the marriage of Cana; the multiplication of five loaves of bread and two fishes to feed a multitude of people; the miraculous draught of fishes, the storm appeased, the fig-tree rendered barren, the graves opened and the dead coming to life; the trembling of the earth, the veil of the temple torn, the rocks split asunder etc., evidently prove that all things in the universe belong to Him, and are therefore, submissive to His Omnipotence, and are at the same time sublime and everlasting lessons and evident proofs for all generations to the consummation of the world, that He is their God and Saviour, and Judge, and that His doctrine is infallibly true, and leads to everlasting life all those who live up to it.
As our dear Saviour established His divine mission, by working miracles, so He also wished His Apostles to establish their divine mission by miracles. “Going,” said He to them, “preach, saying: The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils.” (Matt., x., 7, 8.) Christ knew that the heathen nations, blinded as they were, with superstition and idolatry, sunk in sensuality, governed by their brutal passions, and having no distinct ideas regarding supernatural things, could not, without any other force or power than the preaching of poor fishermen, be induced to forsake their false gods and worship an invisible God, nor renounce their carnal passions, in the hope of a spiritual reward in another world. Therefore, when He imparted to His apostles the great commission to convert the world to His religion, he granted them, at the same time, the power of miracles, thus to show that they were really God’s ministers, and that He spoke and wrought through them.
Hence, we find that the apostles continued to work miracles after the ascension of their Divine Master. The first preaching of the Gospel in Jerusalem, after the day of Pentecost, was accompanied, and rendered effectual, by the miraculous healing of the lame man, at the gate of the temple, by St. Peter and St. John. St. Peter also cured Eneas of the palsy, and raised Tabitha to life. His very shadow cured the sick (Acts, v., 15); and even the handkerchiefs of St. Paul were the instruments employed by God for signal manifestations of divine power. In a word, the Gospel was introduced and everywhere established by miracles, as St. Mark tells us at the end of his Gospel: “And the Apostles, going forth, preached everywhere: the Lord working withal, and confirming their doctrine with miracles that followed.”
If we open the books of the Old Testament, we find, in almost every page, accounts of miracles worked by God in behalf of His people. In every great emergency, and whenever it was expedient to warn, to protect, to teach, or to chastise them we find the hand of God stretched out for the performance of miracles; and since the establishment of the Catholic Church, there is no period, in which our dear Saviour has not attested by miracles to the sanctity of his servants. We have but to open the Lives of the Saints, and we find that, through them, he performed miracles even during their life-time. St. Paphnucius, St. Remigius, St. Otto, Bishop, St. Robert, St. Dominic, and many other saints expelled the evil spirits from those persons who were possessed by them. St. Bernardine, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Francis Xavier, and many other saints were endowed with the gift of languages. When they preached to an audience composed of people from different countries, every one believed he heard his own tongue spoken.
They spoke in their own mother tongue and were understood by people of different languages. St. Hilary, St. Magnus, St. Patrick, etc., banished snakes and other reptiles. St. Gregory, Thaumaturgus (worker of miracles.) St. Annanias, Bishop, moved mountains. St. Martin, St. Patrick, St. Benedict, St. Dominic, St. Anthony, St. Francis of Paula raised the dead to life. St. Francis Xavier raised twenty-four, and St. John Capistran, thirty dead persons to life. St. Stanislas, the martyr, restored a man to life who had died three years before, and presented him before the court to testify that he had bought from him a certain piece of ground for his church, and that he had paid him in full.
“My dear Lord,” said St. Colletta, after the death of her prior, “give me back my prior, for I need his aid still in erecting some more convents;” and our Lord was pleased to restore this saint–her prior–alive; and he rendered her valuable services during the fifteen years he lived afterwards.
St. Alphonsus stemmed a lava-torrent of Mount Vesuvius, and turned its destructive course from the city of Naples, by the sign of the cross. St. Raymond Pennafort, standing on his mantle, traversed the sea for a distance of one hundred and sixty miles.