Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/390

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.




la Mont.", let. iii), is bcsido the question, for it. would make the miracle an appeal to ignorance. I may not know all the laws of the penal code, but I can know with certainty that in a particular instance a person violates one definite law. (b) From our positive knowledge of the limits of natural forces. Thus, e. g., we may not know the strength of a man, but we do know that he cannot by himself move a mountain. In enlai^ing our knowledge of natural forces, the progress of science has curtailed their sphere and defined their limits, as in the law of aoiogenesis. Hence, as soon as we have rea-son to suspect that any event, however uncommon or rare it appear, may arise from natural causes or l)e con- formable to the usual course of nature, we immedi- ately lose the conviction of its being a miracle. A miracle is a manifestation of (lod's power; so long as this is not clear, we should reject it as such.

(2) Miracles are signs of God's Providence over men; hence they are of high moral character, simple and obvious in the forces at work, in the circumstances of their working, and in their aim and purpose. Now philosophy indicates the possibility, and Revelation teaches the fact, that spiritual beings, both good and bad, exist, and possess greater power than man Apart from the speculative question as to the native power of these beings, we are certain (a) that God alone can perform those effects which are called substantial miracles, e. g., raising the dead to life; (b) that miracles performed by the angels, as recorded in the Bible, are always ascribed to God, and Holy Scripture gives Divine authority to no miracles less than Di\'ine; (c) that Holy Scripture shows the power of evil spirits as strictly conditioned, e. g., testimony of the Egyptian magicians (E.\od., viii, 19), the story of Job, evil spirits acknowledging the power of Christ (Matt., viii, 31), the express testimony of Christ himself (Matt., xxiv, 24) and of the Apocalypse (Apoc, ix, 14). Granting that these spirits may per- form prodigies — i. e., works of skill and ingenuity which, relatively to our powers, may seem to be mirac- ulous — yet these works lack the meaning and purpose which would stamp them as the language of God to men.

II. Errors. — Deists reject miracles, for they deny the Providence of God. Agnostics, also, and Posi- tivists reject them: Comte regarded miracles as the fruit of the theological imagination. Modem Pan- theism has no place for miracles. Thus Spinoza held creation to be the aspect of the one substance, i. e., God, and, as he taught that miracles were a violation of nature, they would therefore be a violation of (iod. The answer is, first that Spinoza's conception of C!od and nature is false and, secondly, that in fact miracles are not a violation of nature. To Hegel creation is the evolutive manifestation of the one Absolute Idea, i. e., God, and to the neo-Hegelians (e. g., Thos. Green) consciousness is identified with God ; therefore to both a miracle has no meaning. Erroneous definitions of the supernatural lead to erroneous definitions of the miracle. Thus (a) Bushnell defines the natural to be what is necessarj', the supernatural to be what is free; therefore the material world is what we call nature, the world of man's life is supernatural. So also Dr. Strong (•' Baptist Rev.", vol. 1, 1879), Rev. C. A. Row ("Supemat. in the New Test.", London, IS?.')). In this sense every free volition of man is a supernatural act and a miracle, (b) The natural supematuralism proposed by Carlylc, Theodore Parker, Prof. Pflei- derer, and, more recently. Prof. Everett ("The Psychologic Elem. of Relig. Faith", London and New York, 1902), Prof. Bowne ("Immanence of God", Boston and New York, 190.5), Ha.stings ("Diction, of Christ and the Gospels ", s. v. " Miracles "). "Thus the natural and the supernatural are in reality one: the natural is its aspect to man, the supernatural is its aspect to God. (e) The "Immediate theory", that God acts immediately without second causes, or that

second causes, or laws of nature, must be defined as the regular methods of God's acting. This teaching is combined with the doctrine of evolution.

(d) The "relative" theory of miracles is by far the most popular with non-Catholic writers. This view was originally proposed to hold Christian miracles and at the same time hold belief in the uniformity of nature. Its main forms are: (1) the mechanical view of Babbage (BridgewaterTreatises), lateradvanced by the Duke of Argyll (Reign of Law). Thus nature is presented as a va^t mechanism wound up in the be- ginning and containing in itself the capacity to deviate at stated times from its ordinary course. The theory is ingenious, but it makes the miracle a natural event. It admits the assumption of opponents of miracles, viz., that physical effects must have physical causes, but this assumption is contradicted by common facts of experience, e. g., will acts on matter. (2) The " unknown " law of Spinoza, who taught that tlie term miracle should be understood with reference to the opinions of men, and that it means simply an event which we are unable to explain by other events famil- iar to our experience. Locke, Kant, Eichhorn, Paulus, Renan hold the same view. Thus Prof. Cooper writes " The miracle of one age becomes the ordinary working of nature in the next" ("Ref. Ch. R.", July, 1900). Hence a miracle never happened in fact, and is only a name to cover our ignorance. Thus Matthew Ar- nold could claim that all Biblical miracles will dis- appear with the progress of science (Lit. and Bible) and M. Mijller that " the miraculous is reduced to mere seeming" (n. Rel., pref., p. 10). The advocates of this theory assume that miracles are an appeal to ignorance. (3) The "higher-law" theory of Argyll of "Unseen Universe", Trench, Lange (on Matt., p. 153), Gore (Bampton Lect., p. 36) proposed to re- fute Spinoza's claim that miracles are unnatural and productive of disorder. Thus with them the miracle is quite natural because it takes place in accordance with laws of a higher nature. Others — e. g., Schleier- macher and RitschI — mean by Iiujher law, subjective religious feeling. Thus, to them a miracle is not different from any other natural event' it becomes a miracle by relation to the religious feeling. A writer in "The Biblical World" (Oct., 1908) holds that the miracle consists in the religious significance of the natural event in its relation to the religious apprecia- tion as a sign of Divine favour. Others explain higher law as a moral law, or law of the spirit. Thus the miracles of Christ are understood as illustrations of a higher, grander, more comprehensive law than men had yet known, the incoming of a new life, of higher forces acting according to higher laws as manifesta- tions of the spirit in the higher stages of its develop- ment. The criticism of this theory is that miracles would cease to be miracles: they would not be ex- traordinary, for they would take place under the same conditions. To bring miracles under a law not yet understood is to deny their existence. Thus, when Trench defines a miracle as "an extraordinary event which beholders can reduce to no law with which they are acquainted", the definition includes hypnotism and clairvoyance. If by higher law we mean the high law of God's holiness, then a miracle can be re- ferred to this law, but the higher law in this case is God Himself and the use of the term is apt to create confusion.

III. Anteckdent Improbability. — The great problem of modem theology is the place and value of miracles. In the opinion of certain writers, their antecedent improbability, based on the universal reign of law, is so great that they are not worthy of serious consideration. Thus his conviction of the uniformity of nature led Hume to deny testimony for miracles in general, as it led Baur, Strauss, and Renan to explain the miracles of Christ on natural grounds. The fundamental principle is that whatever happens is