Chapter 3. On the Internal Character of the Ecclesiastical Miracles

{115} 18. THE miracles wrought in times subsequent to the Apostles are of a very different character, viewed as a whole, from those of Scripture viewed as a whole; so much so, that some writers have not scrupled to say that, if they really took place, they must be considered as forming another dispensation [Note 1]; and at least they are in some sense supplementary to the Apostolic. This will be evident both on a survey of some of them, and by referring to the language used by the Fathers of the Church concerning them.


19. The Scripture miracles are for the most part evidence of a Divine Revelation, and that for the sake of those who have not yet been instructed in it, and in order to the instruction of multitudes: but the {116} miracles which follow have sometimes no discoverable or direct object, or but a slight object; they happen for the sake of individuals, and of those who are already Christians, or for purposes already effected, as far as we can judge, by the miracles of Scripture. The Scripture miracles are wrought by persons consciously exercising under Divine guidance a power committed to them for definite ends, professing to be immediate messengers from heaven, and to be evidencing their mission by their miracles: whereas Ecclesiastical miracles are not so much wrought as displayed, being effected by Divine Power without any visible media of operation at all, or by inanimate or material media, as relics and shrines, or by instruments who did not know at the time what they were effecting, or, if they were hoping and praying for such supernatural blessing, at least did not know when they were to be used as instruments, when not. The miracles of Scripture are, as a whole, grave, simple, and majestic: those of Ecclesiastical History often partake of what may not unfitly be called a romantic character, and of that wildness and inequality which enters into the notion of romance. The miracles of Scripture are undeniably beyond nature: those of Ecclesiastical History are often scarcely more than extraordinary accidents or coincidences, or events which seem to betray exaggerations or errors in the statement. The miracles of Scripture are definite and {117} whole transactions, drawn out and carried through from first to last, with beginning and ending, clear, complete, and compact in the narrative, separated from extraneous matter, and consigned to authentic statements: whereas the Ecclesiastical, for the most part, are not contained in any authoritative form or original document; at best they need to be extracted from merely historical works, and often are only floating rumours, popular traditions, vague, various, inconsistent in detail, tales which only happen to have survived, or which in the course of years obtained a permanent place in local usages or in particular rites or on certain spots, recorded at a distance from the time and country when and where they profess to have occurred, and brought into shape only by the juxta-position and comparison of distinct informations. Moreover, in Ecclesiastical History true and false miracles are mixed: whereas in Scripture inspiration has selected the true to the exclusion of all others.


20. The peculiarity of these miracles, as far as their nature and character are concerned, which is the subject immediately before us at present, will be best understood by an enumeration of some of them, taken almost at random, in the order in which they occur in the authors who report them.

The Life of St. Gregory of NeocŠsarea in Pontus {118} (A.D. 250), is written by his namesake of Nyssa, who lived about 120 years after him, and who, being a native and inhabitant of the same country, wrote from the traditions extant in it. He is called Thaumaturgus, from the miraculous gift ascribed to him, and it is not unimportant to observe that he was the original Apostle of the heathen among whom he was placed. He found at first but seventeen Christians in his diocese, and he was the instrument of converting the whole population both of town and country. St. Basil (A.D. 370), whose see was in the neighbourhood, states this circumstance, and adds, "Great is the admiration which still attends on him among the people of that country, and his memory resides in the Churches new and ever fresh, impaired by no length of time. And therefore no usage, no word, no mystic rite of any sort, have they added to the Church beyond those which he left. Hence many of their observances seem imperfect, on account of the ancient manner in which they are conducted. For his successors in the government of the Churches did not endure the introduction of anything which has been brought into use since his date." [Note 2]

21. St. Gregory of Nyssa tells us that, when he was first coming into his heathen and idolatrous diocese, being overtaken by night and rain, he was obliged, with his companions, to seek refuge in a {119} temple which was famous for its oracles. On entering he invoked the name of Christ, and made the sign of the cross, and continued till morning in prayer and psalmody, as was his custom. He then went forward, but was pursued by the Priest of the temple, who threatened to bring him before the magistrates, as having driven the evil spirit from the building, who was unable to return. Gregory tore off a small portion of the book he had with him, and wrote on it the words, "Satan, enter." The Priest, on returning, finding that the permission took effect as well as the former prohibition, came to him a second time, and asked to be instructed about that God who had such power over the demons. Gregory unfolded to him the mystery of the Incarnation; and the pagan, stumbling at it, asked to see a miracle. Nyssen, who has spoken all along as relating the popular account, now says that he has to relate what is "of all the most incredible." A stone of great size lay before them; the Priest asked that it might be made to move by Gregory's faith, and Gregory wrought the miracle. This was followed by the Priest's conversion, but not as an isolated event; for, on his entry into the city, all the inhabitants went out to meet him, and enough were converted on the first day by his preaching to form a church. In no long time he was in a condition to call upon his flock to build a place of worship, the first public Christian edifice on {120} record; which remained to Nyssen's time, in spite of the serious earthquakes which had visited the city.

22. St. Gregory's fame extended into the neighbouring districts, and secular causes were brought for his determination. Among those who came to him were two brothers, who had come into their father's large property, and litigated about the possession of a lake which formed part of it. When his efforts to accommodate their difference failed, and the disputants, being strong in adherents and dependants, were even proceeding to decide the matter by force of arms, Gregory the day before the engagement betook himself to the lake, and passed the night there in prayer. The lake was dried up, and in Nyssen's time its bed was covered with woods, pasture and corn land, and dwellings. Another miracle is attributed to him of a similar character. A large and violent stream, which was fed by the mountains of Armenia, from time to time broke through the mounds which were erected along its course in the flat country, and flooded the whole plain. The inhabitants, who were heathen, having heard the fame of Gregory's miracles, made application to him for relief. He journeyed on foot to the place, and stationed himself at the very opening which the stream had made in the mound. Then invoking Christ, he took his staff, and fixed it in the mud; and then returned home. The staff budded, grew, and became a tree, and the stream never passed {121} it henceforth: since it was planted by Gregory at the very time when the mound had burst, and was appealed to by the inhabitants [Note 3], who were converted in consequence, and was still living in Nyssen's time, it became a sort of monument of the miracle. On one of his journeys two Jews attempted to deceive him; the one lay down as if dead, and the other pretended to lament him, and asked alms of Gregory for a shroud. Gregory threw his garment upon him, and walked on. His companion called on him to rise, but found him really dead. One day when he was preaching, a boy cried out that some one else was standing by Gregory, and speaking instead of him; at the end of the discourse Gregory observed to the bystanders that the boy was possessed, and taking off the covering which was on his own shoulders, breathed on it, and cast it on the youth, who forthwith showed all the usual symptoms of demoniacs. He then put his hand on him, and his agitation ceased, and his delusion with it.

23. Now, concerning these and similar accounts, it is obvious to remark, on the one hand, that the alleged miracles were wrought in order to the conversion of idolaters; on the other hand, when we read of stones changing their places, rivers restrained, and {122} lakes dried up, and, at the same time, of buildings remaining in spite of earthquakes, we are reminded, as in the case of the Scripture miracle upon the cities of the plain, that a volcanic country is in question, in which such phenomena are to a great extent coincident with the course of nature. It may be added, that the biographer not only is frequent in the phrases "it is said," "it is still reported," but he assigns as a reason for not relating more of St. Gregory's miracles, that he may be taxing the belief of his readers more than is fitting, and he throughout writes in a tone of apology as well as of panegyric.

24. Next, let us turn to St. Athanasius's biographical notice of St. Antony, who began the solitary life A.D. 270. Athanasius knew him personally, and writes whatever he was able to learn from himself; for "I followed him," he says, "no small time, and poured water upon his hands;" and he adds, that "everywhere he has had an anxious regard to truth." The following are some of the supernatural or extraordinary portions of his narrative. He relates that the enemy of souls appeared to Antony, first like a woman, then like a black child, when he confessed himself to be the spirit of lewdness, and to have been vanquished by the young hermit. Afterwards, when he was passing the night in the tombs, he was attacked by evil spirits, and so severely stricken that he lay speechless till a friend found him next {123} day [Note 4]. When he was on his first journey into the desert, a large plate of silver lay in his way; he soliloquized thus, "Whence this in the desert? This is no beaten path, no track of travellers; it is too large to be dropped without being missed; or if dropped, it would have been sought after and found, for there is no one else to take it. This is a snare of the devil; thou shalt not, O devil, hinder thus my earnest purpose; unto perdition be it with thee!" As he spoke, the plate vanished. He exhorted his friends not to fear the evil spirits: "They conjure up phantoms to terrify cowards; but sign yourselves with the cross, and go forth in confidence." "Once there appeared to me," he says, on another occasion, "a spirit very tall, with a great show, and presumed to say, 'I am the Power of God,' and 'I am Providence; what favour shall I do thee?' But I the rather spit upon him, naming the Christ, and essayed to strike him, and I think I did; and straightway this great personage vanished with all his spirits at Christ's name. Once he came, the crafty one, when I was fasting, and as a Monk, with the appearance of loaves, and bade me eat: 'Eat, and {124} have over thy many pains; thou too art a man, and art like to be sick;' I, perceiving his craft, rose up to pray. He could not bear it, but vanished through the door, like smoke. Listen to another thing, and that securely and fearlessly; and trust me, for I lie not. One time some one knocked at my door in the monastery; I went out, and saw a person tall and high. 'Who art thou?' says I; he answers, 'I am Satan.' Then I asked, 'Why art thou here?' He says, 'Why do the Monks, and all other Christians, so unjustly blame me? Why do they curse me hourly?' 'Why troublest thou them?' I rejoin. He, 'I trouble them not; they harass themselves; I have become weak. I have no place left, no weapon, no city. Christians are now everywhere; at last even the desert is filled with Monks. Let them attend to themselves, and not curse me, when they should not.' Then I said to him, admiring the grace of the Lord, 'A true word against thy will, who art ever a liar, and never speakest truth; for Christ hath come and made thee weak, and overthrown thee and stripped thee.' At the Saviour's name he vanished; it burned him, and he could not bear it."

25. Once, when travelling to some brethren across the desert, water failed them; they sat down in despair, and let the camel wander. Antony knelt down and spread out his hands in prayer, when a spring of water burst from the place where he was praying. A {125} person came to him, who was afflicted with madness or epilepsy, and begged his prayers; he prayed for him, and then said, "Go, and be healed." The man refusing to go, Antony said, "If thou remainest here, thou canst not be healed; but go to Egypt, and thy cure shall be wrought in thee." He believed, went, and was cured as soon as he got sight of Egypt. At another time he was made aware that two brothers were overtaken in the desert by want of water; that one was dead, and the other dying; he sent two Monks, who buried the one and restored the other. Once, on entering a vessel, he complained of a most loathsome stench; the boatmen said that there was fish in it, but without satisfying Antony, when suddenly a cry was heard from a youth on board, who was possessed by a spirit. Antony used the name of our Lord, and the sick person was restored. St. Athanasius relates a similar instance of Antony's power, which took place in his presence. When the old man left Alexandria, whither he had gone to assist the Church against the Arians, Athanasius accompanied him as far as the gate. A woman cried after him, "Stop, thou man of God; my daughter is miserably troubled by a spirit." Athanasius besought him too, and he turned round. The girl, in a fit, lay on the ground; but on Antony praying, and naming the name of Christ, she rose restored. It should be observed, that Alexandria was at this time still in a {126} great measure a heathen city. Athanasius says that, while Antony was there, as many became Christians in a few days as were commonly converted in the course of the year. This fact is important, not only as showing us the purpose which his miracles answered, but as informing us by implication that pretensions such as Antony's were not of every day's occurrence then, but arrested attention and curiosity at the time.

26. We have a similar proof of the comparative rareness of such miraculous power in St. Jerome's Life of Hilarion. When the latter visited Sicily, one of his disciples, who was seeking him, heard in Greece from a Jew that "a Prophet of the Christians had appeared in Sicily, and was doing so many miracles and signs, that men thought him one of the old Saints." Hilarion was the first solitary in Palestine, and a disciple of St. Antony. St. Jerome enumerates various miracles which were wrought by him, such as his giving sight to a woman who had been ten years blind, restoring a paralytic, procuring rain by his prayers, healing the bites of serpents with consecrated oil, curing a dropsy, curbing the violence of the sea upon a shore, exorcising the possessed, and among these a camel which had killed many persons in its fury. When he was solemnly buried, ten months after his death, his Monk's dress was quite whole upon him, and his body was entire as if he had been alive, and sent forth a most exquisite fragrance. {127}

27. Sulpicius gives us an account of his master St. Martin's miracles, which encountered much incredulity when he first published it. "I am shocked to say what I lately heard," says his friend to him in his Dialogues; "but an unhappy man has asserted that you tell many lies in your book." As St. Martin was the Apostle of Gaul, the purpose effected by his miracles is equally clear and sufficient, as in the instance of Thaumaturgus; and they are even more extraordinary and startling than his. Sulpicius in his Dialogues solemnly appeals to our Lord that he has stated nothing but what he saw himself, or knew, if not on St. Martin's own word, at least on sure testimony. He also appeals to living witnesses. The following are instances taken from the first of his two works.

28. Before Martin was a Bishop, while he was near St. Hilary at Poictiers, a certain Catechumen, who lived in his monastery, died of a fever, in Martin's absence, without baptism. On his return, the Saint went by himself into the cell where the body lay, threw himself upon it, prayed, and then raising himself with his eyes fixed on it, patiently waited his restoration, which took place before the end of two hours. The man, thus miraculously brought to life, lived many years, and was known to Sulpicius, though not till after the miracle. At the same period of his life he also restored a servant in a family, who had {128} hung himself, and in the same way. Near Tours, which was his See, a certain spot was commonly considered to be the tomb of Martyrs, and former Bishops had placed an altar there. No name or time was known, and Martin found reason to suspect that the tradition was unfounded. For a while he remained undecided, as being afraid of encouraging either superstition or irreverence; at length he went to the tomb, and prayed to Christ to be told who was buried there, and what his character. On this a dismal shade appeared, who, on being commanded to speak, confessed that he was a robber who had been executed for his crimes, and was in punishment. Martin's attendants heard the voice, but saw nothing. Once, when he was on a journey, he saw at a distance a heathen funeral procession, and mistook it for some idolatrous ceremonial, the country people of Gaul being in the practice of carrying their gods about their fields. He made the sign of the cross, and bade them stop and set down the body; this they were constrained to do. When he discovered their real business, he suffered them to proceed. At another time, on his giving orders for cutting down a pine to which idolatrous honour was paid, a heathen said, "If thou hast confidence in thy God, let us hew the tree, and do thou receive it as it falls; if thy Lord is with thee, thou wilt escape harm." Martin accepted the condition, and when the tree was falling upon him, {129} made the sign of the cross; the tree reeled round and fell on the other side. This miracle converted the vast multitude who were spectators of it [Note 5]. About the same time, when he had set on fire a heathen temple, the flames spread to a house which joined it. Martin mounted on to the roof of the building that was in peril, and by his presence warned off the fire, and obliged it to confine itself to the work intended for it. At Paris a leper was stationed at the gate of the city; Martin went up and kissed and blessed him, and his leprosy disappeared.

29. St. Augustine, again, enumerates at the end of his De civitate Dei, certain miracles which he himself had witnessed, or had on good authority, such as these. An actor of the town of Curulis was cured of the paralysis in the act of baptism; this Augustine knew, on what he considered the best authority. A person known to Augustine, who had received earth from the Holy Sepulchre, asked him and another Bishop to place it in some oratory for the profit of worshippers. They did so, and a country youth, who was paralytic, hearing of it, asked to be carried to the spot. After praying there, he found himself recovered, and walked home. By the relics of St. Stephen one man was {130} cured of a fistula, another of the stone, another of the gout; a child who had been crushed to death by a wheel was restored to life; also a nun, by means of a garment which had been taken to his shrine and thrown over her corpse; and another female by the same means; and another by the oil used at the shrine; and a dead infant who was brought to it. In less than two years even the formal statements given in of miracles wrought at St. Stephen's shrine at Hippo were almost seventy.


30. These miracles are recorded by writers of the fourth century, though they belong, in one case wholly, in another partially, to the history of the third. When we turn to earlier writers, we find similar assertions of the presence of a miraculous agency in the Church, and its manifestations have the same general character. Exorcisms, cures, visions, are the chief miracles of the fourth century; and they are equally so of the second and third, so that the former have a natural claim to be considered the continuation of the latter. But there are these very important differences between the two,—that the accounts in the fourth century are much more in detail than those of the second and third, which are commonly vague and general; and next, that in the second and third those kinds of miraculous operations which are the most {131} decisive proofs of a supernatural presence are but sparingly or scarcely mentioned.

31. Middleton's enumeration of these primitive miracles, which on the whole may be considered to be correct, is as follows: "The power of raising the dead, of healing the sick, of casting out devils, of prophesying, of seeing visions, of discovering the secrets of men, of expounding the Scriptures, of speaking with tongues." [Note 6] Of these the only two which are in their nature distinctly miraculous are the first and last; and for both of these we depend mainly on the testimony of St. IrenŠus, who lived immediately after the Apostolical Fathers, that is, close upon the period when even modern writers are disposed to allow that miracles were wrought in the Church. Douglas observes, "If we except the testimonies of Papias and IrenŠus, who speak of raising the dead, … I can find no instances of miracles mentioned by the Fathers before the fourth century, as what were performed by Christians in their times, but the cures of diseases, particularly the cures of demoniacs, by exorcising them; which last indeed seems to be their favourite standing miracle, and the only one which I find (after having turned over their writings carefully, and with a view to this point,) they challenged their adversaries to come and see them perform." [Note 7]

32. It must be observed, however, that though {132} certain occurrences are in their character more miraculous than others, yet that a miracle of degree may, in the particular case, be quite as clearly beyond the ordinary course of nature. Imagination can cure the sick in certain cases, in certain cases it cannot; and we shall have a very imperfect view of the alleged miracles of the second and third centuries, if, instead of patiently contemplating the instances recorded, in their circumstances and details, we content ourselves with their abstract character, and suffer a definition to stand in place of examination. Thus if we take St. Cyprian's description of the demoniacs, in which he is far from solitary [Note 8], we shall find that while it is quite open to accuse him and others of misstatement, we cannot accept his description as it stands, without acknowledging that the conflict between the powers of heaven and the evil spirit was then visibly proceeding as in the time of Christ and His Apostles. "O would you listen to them," he says to the heathen Demetrian, "and see them, when they are adjured and tormented by us with spiritual lashes, hurled with words of torture out of bodies they have possessed, when shrieking and groaning at a human voice, and beneath a power divine laid under lash and stripe, they {133} confess the judgment to come. You will find that we are entreated of them whom you entreat, feared by them whom you fear, and whom you adore. Surely thus, at least, will you be brought to confusion in these your errors, when you behold and hear your gods at once, upon our questioning, betraying what they are, and unable, even in your presence, to conceal their tricks and deceptions." [Note 9] Again, "You may see them by our voice, and through the operation of the unseen Majesty, lashed with stripes, and scorched with fire; stretched out under the increase of their multiplying penalty, shrieking, groaning, entreating, confessing from whence they came, and when they depart, even in the hearing of their own worshippers; and either leaping out suddenly, or gradually vanishing, as faith in the sufferer aids, or grace in the curer conspires." [Note 10] Passages equally strong might be cited from writers of the same period.

33. And there are other occurrences of a distinctly miraculous character in the earlier centuries, which come under none of Middleton's or Douglas's classes, but which ought not to be overlooked. For instance, a fragrance issued from St. Polycarp when burning at the stake, and on his being pierced with a sword a dove flew out. Narcissus, Bishop of Jerusalem, about the end of the second century, when oil failed for the {134} lamps on the vigil of Easter, sent persons to draw water instead; which, on his praying over it, was changed into oil. Eusebius, who relates this miracle, says that small quantities of the oil were preserved even to his time. St. Cyprian speaks of a person who had lapsed in persecution, attempting to communicate; when on opening the arca, or receptacle in which the consecrated Bread was reserved, fire burst out from it and prevented her. Another, on attending at church with the same purpose, found that he had received from the priest nothing but a cinder.

34. Lastly, in this review of the miracles belonging to the early Church, it will be right to include certain isolated ones which have an historical character, and are accordingly more celebrated than the rest. Such is the miracle of the thundering Legion, that is, of the rain accorded to the prayers of Christian soldiers in the army of Marcus Antoninus, when they were perishing by thirst; the appearance of a Cross in the sky to Constantine's army, with the inscription, "In hoc signo vinces;" the sudden death of Arius, close upon his proposed re-admission into the Church, at the prayers of Alexander of Constantinople; the discovery of the Cross, the multiplication of its wood, and the miracles wrought by it; the fire bursting forth from the foundations of the Jewish temple, which hindered its rebuilding; the restoration of the blind man on the discovery of the relics of St. Gervasius and St. {135} Protasius; and the power of speech granted to the African confessors who had lost their tongues in the Vandal persecution [Note 11]. These and other such shall be considered separately, before I conclude.

35. Imperfect as is this survey of the miracles ascribed to the ages later than the Apostolic, it is quite sufficient for the purpose for which it has been made; viz., to show that those miracles are on the whole very different in their character and attendant circumstances from the Gospel miracles, which certainly are very far from preparing us for them, or rather at first sight indispose us for their reception [Note 12].


36. And in the next place this important circumstance must be considered, which is as clear as it is decisive, that the Fathers speak of miracles as having in one sense ceased with the Apostolic period;—that is to say, whereas they sometimes speak of miracles as {136} existing in their own times, still they say also that Apostolic miracles, or miracles like the Apostles', whether in their object, cogency, impressiveness, or character, were no longer of occurrence in the Church; an interpretation which they themselves in some passages give to their own testimony. "Argue not," says St. Chrysostom, "because miracles do not happen now, that they did not happen then ... In those times they were profitable, and now they are not." He proceeds to say that, in spite of this difference, the mode of conviction was substantially the same. "We persuade not by philosophical reasonings, but from Divine Scripture, and we recommend what we say by the miracles then done. And then, too, they persuaded not by miracles only, but by discussion." And presently he adds, "The more evident and constraining are the things which happen, the less room there is for faith." [Note 13] And again in another passage, "Why are there not those now who raise the dead and perform cures? I will not say why not; rather, why are there not those now who despise the present life? why serve we God for hire? When, however, nature was weak, when faith had to be planted, then there were many such; but now He wills not that we should hang on these miracles, but be ready for death." [Note 14]

37. In like manner St. Augustine introduces his {137} catalogue of contemporary miracles, which has been partly given above, by stating and allowing the objection that miracles were not then as they had been. "Why, say they, do not these miracles take place now, which, as you preach to us, took place once? I might answer that they were necessary before the world believed, that it might believe." [Note 15] He then goes on to say that miracles were wrought in his time, only they were not so public and well-attested as the miracles of the Gospel.

38. St. Ambrose, on the discovery of the bodies of the two Martyrs, uses the language of surprise; which is quite in accordance with the feelings which the miracles of Antony and Hilarion seem to have roused in Alexandria and in Sicily. "You know, you yourselves saw, that many were cleansed from evil spirits; very many, on touching with their hands the garment of the Saints, were delivered from the infirmities which oppressed them. The miracles of the old time are come again, when by the advent of the Lord Jesus a fuller grace was shed upon the earth." Under a similar feeling [Note 16] he speaks of the two corpses, which happened to be of large size, as "mirŠ magnitudinis, ut prisca Štas ferebat." [Note 17] {138}

39. And Isidore of Pelusium, after observing that in the Apostles holiness of life and power of miracles went together, adds, "Now, too, if the life of teachers rivalled the Apostolic bearing, perhaps miracles would take place; though if they did not, such life would suffice for the enlightening of those who beheld it." [Note 18]

40. The doctrine, thus witnessed by the great writers of the end of the fourth century, is supported by as clear a testimony two centuries before and two centuries after. Pope Gregory, at the end of the sixth, in commenting on the text, "And these signs shall follow those that believe," says, "Is it so, my brethren, that, because ye do not these signs, ye do not believe? On the contrary, they were necessary in the beginning of the Church: for, that faith might grow, it required miracles to cherish it withal; just as when we plant shrubs, we water them till they seem to thrive in the ground, and as soon as they are well rooted we cease our irrigation. This is what Paul teaches, 'Tongues are a sign, not for those who believe, but for those who believe not;' and there is something yet to be said of these signs and powers of a more recondite nature. For Holy Church doth spiritually every day, what she then did through the Apostles, corporally. For when the Priests by the grace of exorcism lay hands on believers, and forbid evil spirits to {139} inhabit their minds, what do they but cast out devils? And any believers soever who henceforth abandon the secular words of the old life, and utter holy mysteries, and rehearse, as best they can, the praise and power of their Maker, what do they but speak with new tongues? Moreover, while by their good exhortations they remove evil from the hearts of others, they are taking up serpents, etc.; ... which miracles are the greater, because they are the more spiritual: the greater, because they are the means of raising, not bodies, but souls; these signs, then, dearest brethren, by God's aid, ye do if ye will." [Note 19] And St. Clement of Alexandria, at the end of the second century: "If it was imputed to Abraham for righteousness on his believing, and we are the seed of Abraham, we too must believe by hearing. For Israelites we are, who are obedient, not through signs [Note 20], but through hearing." [Note 21] {140}


41. What the distinctions are between the Apostolic and the later miracles, which allow of the Fathers saying in a true sense that miracles ceased with the first age, has in many ways appeared from what has already come before us. For instance, it has appeared that the Ecclesiastical Miracles were but locally known, or were done in private; or were so like occurrences which are not miraculous as to give rise to {141}doubt and perplexity, at the time or afterwards, as to their real character; or they were so unlike the Scripture Miracles, so strange and startling in their nature and circumstances, as to need support and sanction rather themselves than to supply it to Christianity; or they were difficult from their drift, or their instruments or agents, or the doctrine connected with them. In a word, they are not primarily and directly evidence of Revelation, though they may become so accidentally, {142} or to certain persons, or in the way of confirmation. That they are not the direct evidence of revealed truth, is fully granted by St. Augustine in the following striking passage from one of his works against the Donatists:—

42. "Let him prove that we must hold to the Church in Africa only, to the loss of the nations, or again that we must restore and complete it in all nations from Africa; and prove it, not by saying 'It is true, because I say it,' or 'because my associate says it,' or {143} 'my associates,' or 'these our Bishops,' 'Clerks,' or 'people;' or 'it is true because Donatus, or Pontius, or any one else, did these or those marvellous acts,' or 'because men pray at the shrines of our dead brethren, and are heard,' or 'because this or that happens there,' or 'because this brother of ours,' or 'that our sister,' 'saw such and such a vision when he was awake,' or 'dreamed such and such a vision when he was asleep.' Put away what are either the fictions of men who lie, or the wonders of spirits who deceive. For either what is reported is not true, or, if among heretics wonders happen, we have still greater cause for caution, inasmuch as our Lord, after declaring that certain deceivers were to be, who should work some miracles, and deceive thereby, were it possible, even the elect, added an earnest charge, in the words, 'Behold, I have told you before.' Whence also the Apostle warns us that 'the Spirit speaketh expressly, in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.' Moreover, if any one is heard who prays at the shrines of heretics, what he receives, whether good or bad, is consequent not upon the merit of the place, but upon the merit of his own earnest desire. For 'the Spirit of the Lord,' as it is written, 'hath filled the whole world,' and 'the ear of His zeal heareth all things.' And many are heard by God in anger; of whom saith the Apostle, 'God gave them up to the desires of their {144} own hearts.' And to many God in favour gives not what they wish, that He may give what is profitable ... Read we not that some were heard by the Lord God Himself in the high places of Judah, which high places notwithstanding were so displeasing to Him, that the kings who overthrew them not were blamed, and those who overthrew them were praised? Thus it appears that the state of heart of the suppliant is of more avail than the place of supplicating.

43. "Concerning deceitful visions, they should read what Scripture says, that 'Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light,' and that 'dreams have deceived many.' And they should listen, too, to what the Pagans relate, as regards their temples and gods, of wonders either in deed or vision; and yet 'the gods of the heathen are but devils, but it is the Lord that made the heavens.' Therefore many are heard and in many ways, not only Catholic Christians, but Pagans and Jews and heretics, involved in various errors and superstitions; but they are heard either by seducing spirits, (who do nothing, however, but by God's permission, judging in a sublime and ineffable way what is to be bestowed upon each;) or by God Himself, whether for the punishment of their wickedness, or for the solace of their misery, or as a warning to them to seek eternal salvation. But salvation itself and life eternal no one attains, unless he hath Christ the Head. Nor can any one have Christ the Head, who is not in {145} His body, which is the Church; which, as the Head Himself, we are bound to discern in holy canonical Scripture, not to seek in the various rumours of men, and opinions, and acts, and sayings, and sights.

44. "Let no one therefore object such facts who is prepared to answer me; for I too am far from claiming credit for my position, that the communion of Donatus is not the Church of Christ, on the ground that certain bishops in it are convicted, in records ecclesiastical, and municipal, and judicial, of burning the sacred books, ... or that the Circumcelliones have committed so much evil, or that some of them cast themselves down precipices, or throw themselves into the fire,  ... or that at their sepulchres herds of strollers, men and women, in a state of drunkenness and abandonment, bury themselves in wine day and night, or pollute themselves with deeds of profligacy. Let all this be considered merely as their chaff, without prejudice to the Church, if they themselves are really holding to the Church. But whether this be so, let them prove only from canonical Scripture; just as we do not claim to be recognized as in the Church of Christ, because the body to which we hold has been graced by Optatus of Milevis or Ambrose of Milan, or other innumerable Bishops of our communion, or because it is set forth in the Councils of our colleagues, or because through the whole world in holy places, which are frequented by our communion, so {146} great marvels take place, whether answers to prayer, or cures; so that the bodies of Martyrs, which had lain concealed so many years, (as they may hear from many if they do but ask,) were revealed to Ambrose, and in presence of those bodies a man long blind and perfectly well known to the citizens of Milan recovered his eyes and sight; or because one man has seen a vision, or because another has been taken up in spirit, and heard either that he should not join, or that he should leave, the party of Donatus. All such things which happen in the Catholic Church, are to be approved because they are in the Catholic Church; not she manifested to be Catholic, because these things happen in her." [Note 22]


45. So far St. Augustine; it being granted, however, that the object of Ecclesiastical Miracles is not, strictly speaking, that of evidencing Christianity, still they may have other uses, known or unknown, besides that of being the argumentative basis of revealed truth; and therefore it does not at once destroy the credibility of such miraculous narratives, vouched to us on good authority, that they have no assignable object, or an object different from those which are specified in Scripture, as was observed in the foregoing Chapter. {147}

46. Here we are immediately considering the internal character of the miracles later than the Apostolic period: and what real prejudice ought to attach to them from the dissimilarity or even contrariety of many of them to the Scripture Miracles will be best ascertained by betaking ourselves to the argument from Analogy, and attempting to measure these occurrences by such rules and suggestions as the works of God, brought before us whether in the visible creation or in Scripture, may be found to supply. And first of the natural world as it meets our senses:—

47. "All the works of the Lord are exceeding good," says the son of Sirach; "a man need not to say, What is this? Wherefore is that? for He hath made all things for their uses." Yet an exuberance and variety, a seeming profusion and disorder, a neglect of severe exactness in the prosecution of its objects, and of delicate adjustment in the details of its system, are characteristics of the world both physical and moral, and characteristics of Scripture also; but still the Wise Man assures us, that the purposes of the Creator are not forgotten by Him, or missed because they are hidden, or the work faulty because it is subordinate or incomplete. All things are not equally good in themselves, because they are diverse, yet everything is good in its place. "All the works of the Lord are good, and He will give every needful thing in {148} due season. So that a man cannot say, This is worse than that; for in time they shall all be well approved." [Note 23] To persons who have not commonly the opportunity of witnessing for themselves this great variety of the Divine works, there is something very strange and startling,—it may even be said, unsettling—in the first view of nature as it is. To take, for instance, the case of animal nature, let us consider the effect produced upon the mind on seeing for the first time the many tribes of the animal world, as we find them brought together for the purposes of science or exhibition in our own country. We are accustomed, indeed, to see wild beasts more or less from our youth, or at least to read of them; but even with this partial preparation, many persons will be moved in a very singular way on going for the first time, or after some interval, to a menagerie. They have been accustomed insensibly to identify the wonder-working Hand of God with the specimens of its exercise which they see about them; the forms of tame and domestic animals, which are necessary for us, and which surround us, are familiar to them, and they learn to take these as a sort of rule on which to frame their ideas of the animated works of the Creator generally. When an eye thus habituated to certain forms, colours, motions, and habits in the inferior animals, is suddenly brought into the full assemblage of those mysterious beings, {149} with which it has pleased Almighty Wisdom to people the earth, a sort of dizziness comes over it, from the impossibility of our reducing all at once the multitude of new ideas poured in upon us to the centre of view habitual to us; the mind loses its balance, and it is not too much to say, that in some cases it even falls into a sort of scepticism. Nature seems to be too powerful and various, or at least too strange, to be the work of God, according to that Image which our imbecility has set up within us for the Infinite and Eternal, and as we have framed to ourselves our contracted notions of His attributes and acts; and if we do not submit ourselves in awe to His great mysteriousness, and chasten our hearts and keep silence, we shall be in danger of losing our belief in His presence and providence altogether.

48. We have hitherto known enough of Him for our personal guidance, but we have not understood that only thus much has been the extent of our knowledge of Him. Religion we know to be a grave and solemn subject, and some few vague ideas of greatness, sublimity, and majesty, have constituted for us our whole image of Him whom the Seraphim adore. And then we are suddenly brought into the vast family of His works, hardly one of which is a specimen of those particular and human ideas with which we have identified the Ineffable. First, the endless number of wild animals, their independence of man, {150} and uselessness to him; then their exhaustless variety; then their strangeness in shape, colour, size, motions, and countenance; not to enlarge on the still more mysterious phenomena of their natural propensities and passions; all these things throng upon us, and are in danger of overpowering us, tempting us to view the Physical Cause of all as disconnected from the Moral, and that, from the impression borne in upon us, that nothing we see in this vast assemblage is religious in our sense of the word "religious." We see full evidence there of an Author,—of power, wisdom, goodness; but not of a Principle or Agent correlative to our religious ideas. But without pushing this remark to an extreme point, or dwelling on it further than our present purpose requires, let two qualities of the works of nature be observed before leaving the subject, which (whatever explanation is to be given of them, and certainly some explanation is not beyond even our limited powers) are at first sight very perplexing. One is that principle of deformity, whether hideousness or mere homeliness, which exists in the animal world; and the other (if the word may be used with due soberness) is the ludicrous;—that is, judging of things, as we are here judging of them, by their impression upon our minds.

49. It is obvious to apply what has been said to the case of the miracles of the Church, as compared with those in Scripture. Scripture is to us a garden {151} of Eden, and its creations are beautiful as well as "very good;" but when we pass from the Apostolic to the following ages, it is as if we left the choicest valleys of the earth, the quietest and most harmonious scenery, and the most cultivated soil, for the luxuriant wildernesses of Africa or Asia, the natural home or kingdom of brute nature, uninfluenced by man. Or rather, it is a great injustice to the times of the Church, to represent the contrast as so vast a one; and Adam might much more justly have been startled at the various forms of life which were brought before him to be named, than we may rationally presume to decide that certain alleged miracles in the Church are not really such, on the ground that they are unlike those to which our eyes have been accustomed in Scripture. There is far greater difference between the appearance of a horse or an eagle and a monkey, or a lion and a mouse, as they meet our eye, than between even the most august of the Divine manifestations in Scripture and the meanest and most fanciful of those legends which we are accustomed without further examination to cast aside. Such contrary properties, or rather such impressions of them on our minds, may be the necessary consequence of Divine Agency moving on a system, and not by isolated acts; or the necessary consequence of its deigning to work with or through the eccentricities, the weaknesses, nay, the wilfulness, of the human mind. As, then, birds are different from {152} beasts, as tropical plants differ from the productions of the north, as one scene is severely beautiful, and another rich or romantic, as the excellence of colours is incommensurate with excellence of form, as pleasures of sight have nothing in common with pleasures of scent, except that they are pleasures; so also in the case of those works and productions which are above or beside the ordinary course of nature, in spite of their variety, "to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven," and "He hath made every thing beautiful in His time." And, as one description of miracles may be necessary for evidence, viz., such as are at once majestic and undeniable, so for those other and manifold objects which the economy of the Gospel kingdom may involve, a more hidden and intricate path, a more complex exhibition, a more exuberant method, a more versatile rule, may be essential; and it may be as shallow a philosophy to reject them merely because they are not such as we should have expected from God's hand, or as we find in Scripture, as to judge of universal nature by the standard of our own home, or again, with the ancient heretics, to refuse to admit that the Creator of the physical world is also the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

50. Nay, it may even be urged that the variety of nature is antecedently a reason for expecting variety in a supernatural agency, if such be introduced; or, {153} again, (as has been already observed,) if such agency is conducted on a system, it must even necessarily involve diversity and inequality in its separate parts; and, granting it was intended to continue after the Apostolic age, the want of uniformity between the miracles first wrought and those which followed, as far as it is found, might have been almost foretold without the gift of prophecy in that age, or at least may be fully vindicated in this,—nay, even the inferiority of the Ecclesiastical Miracles to the Apostolic; for, if Divine Wisdom had determined, as is not difficult to believe, that the wonderful works which illuminate the history of the first days of the Church should be the best and highest, what was left to subsequent times, by the very terms of the proposition, but miracles which are but second best, which must necessarily have belonged to some other and independent system if they too were the best, and which admit of belonging to the same system for the very reason that they are not the best?


51. So much, then, on the general correspondence between the works of nature, on the one hand, and the Miracles of sacred history, whether Biblical or Ecclesiastical, viewed as one whole, on the other. And while the physical system bears such an analogy to the supernatural system, viewed in its Biblical and {154} Ecclesiastical portions together, as forms a strong argument in defence of the supernatural, it is, on the other hand, so far unlike the Biblical portion of that supernatural, when that portion is taken by itself, as to protect the portion not Biblical from objections drawn from any differences observable between it and the portion which is Biblical. If it be true that the Ecclesiastical Miracles are in some sense an innovation upon the idea of the Divine Economy, as impressed upon us by the Miracles of Scripture, it is at least equally true that the Scripture Miracles also innovate upon the impressions which are made upon us by the order and the laws of the natural world; and as we reconcile our imagination, nevertheless, to such deviation from the course of nature in the Economy of Revelation, so surely we may bear without impatience or perplexity that the subsequent history of Revelation should in turn diverge from the path in which it originally commenced [Note 24]. {155}

52. Hume argues against miracles generally, "Though the Being to whom the miracle is ascribed be, in this case, Almighty, it does not, upon that account, become a whit more probable; since it is impossible for us to know the attributes or actions of such a Being, otherwise than from the experience which we have of His productions in the usual course {156} of nature." [Note 25] And elsewhere he says, "The Deity is known to us only by His productions ... As the universe shows wisdom and goodness, we infer wisdom and goodness. As it shows a particular degree of these perfections, we infer a particular degree of them, precisely adapted to the effect which we examine. But further attributes, or further degrees of the same attributes, we can never be authorized to infer or suppose, by any rules of just reasoning." [Note 26] And in a note he adds, "In general, it may, I think, be established as a maxim, that where any cause is known only by its particular effects, it must be impossible to infer any new effects from that cause ... To say that the new effects proceed only from a continuation of the same energy, which is already known from the first effects, will not remove the difficulty. For even granting this to be the case, (which can seldom be supposed,) the very continuation and exertion of a like energy, (for it is impossible it can be absolutely the same,) I say, this exertion of a like energy, in a different period of space and time, is a very arbitrary supposition, and what there cannot possibly be any traces of in the {157} effects, from which all our knowledge of the cause is originally derived. Let the inferred cause be exactly proportioned, as it should be, to the known effect; and it is impossible that it can possess any qualities, from which new or different effects can be inferred."

53. This is not the place to analyze a paradox which is sufficiently refuted by the common sense of a religious mind; but the point which concerns us to consider is, whether persons who, not merely question, but prejudge the Ecclesiastical Miracles on the ground of their want of resemblance, whatever that be, to those contained in Scripture,—as if the Almighty could not do in the Christian Church anything but what He had already done at the time of its foundation, or under the Mosaic Covenant,—whether such reasoners are not siding with the sceptic who in the above passages denies that the First Cause can act supernaturally at all, because in nature He can but act naturally, and whether it is not a happy inconsistency by which they continue to believe the Scripture record, while they reject the records of the Church.

54. Indeed, it would not be difficult to show that the miracles of Scripture are a far greater innovation upon the economy of nature than the miracles of the Church upon the economy of Scripture. There is nothing, for instance, in nature at all to parallel and mitigate the wonderful history of the assemblage of {158} all animals in the Ark, or the multiplication of an artificially prepared substance, such as bread. Walking on the sea, or the resurrection of the dead, is a plain reversal of its laws. On the other hand, the narrative of the combats of St. Antony with evil spirits is a development rather than a contradiction of Revelation; viz., as illustrating such texts as speak of Satan being cast out by prayer and fasting. To be shocked then at the miracles of Ecclesiastical History, or to ridicule them for their strangeness, is no part of a scriptural philosophy.

55. Nor can the argument from Ó priori ideas of propriety be made available against Ecclesiastical Miracles with more safety than the argument from experience. This method of refutation, as well as the other, (to use the common phrase,) proves too much. Those who have condemned the miracles of the Church by such a rule, have before now included in their condemnation the very notion of a miracle altogether, as the creation of barbarous and unphilosophical minds, who knew nothing of the beautiful order of nature, and as unworthy to be introduced into our contemplation of the providences of Divine Wisdom. A miracle has been considered to argue a defect in the system of moral governance, as if it were a correction or improvement of what is in itself imperfect or faulty, like a patch of new cloth upon an old garment. The Platonists of old were influenced by something like this {159} feeling, as if none but low and sordid persons would either attempt or credit miracles truly such, and none but quacks and impostors would profess them. The only true miracles, in the conception of such a school, are miracles of knowledge;—words or deeds which are the result of a greater insight into, or foresight of, the course of nature, and are proofs of a liberal education and a cultivated and reflective mind [Note 27]. It is easy to see how a habit of this sort may grow upon scientific men, especially at this day, unless they are on their guard against it. There is so much beauty, majesty, and harmony in the order of nature, so much to fill, satisfy, and tranquillize the mind, that by those who are accustomed to the contemplation, the notion of an infringement of it will at length be viewed as a sort of profanation, and as even shocking, as the mere dream of ignorance, the wild and atrocious absurdity {160} of superstition and enthusiasm, (if it is right to use such language even in order to describe the thoughts of others,) and as if analogous, to take another and less serious subject, to some gross solecism, or indecorum, or wanton violation of social usages or feelings. We should be very sure, if we resolve on rejecting the Ecclesiastical Miracles, that our reasons are better than that false zeal for our Master's honour, which such philosophers express for the honour of the Creator, and which reminds us of the exclamation, "Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee!" as uttered by one who heard for the first time that doctrine which to the world is foolishness.


56. The question has hitherto been argued on the admission, that a distinct line can be drawn in point of character and circumstances between the Miracles of Scripture and those of Church History; but this is by no means the case. It is true, indeed, that the Miracles of Scripture, viewed as a whole, recommend themselves to our reason, and claim our veneration, beyond all others, by a peculiar dignity and beauty; but still it is only as a whole that they make this impression upon us. Some of them, on the contrary, fall short of the attributes which attach to them in general, nay, are inferior in these respects to certain ecclesiastical miracles, and are received only on the {161} credit of the system, of which they form part. Again, specimens are not wanting in the history of the Church, of miracles as awful in their character and as momentous in their effects, as those which are recorded in Scripture. The fire interrupting the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, and the death of Arius, are instances, in Ecclesiastical History, of such solemn events. On the other hand, difficult facts in the Scripture history are such as these:—the serpent in Eden, the Ark, Jacob's vision for the multiplication of his sheep, the speaking of Balaam's ass, the axe swimming at Elisha's word, the miracle on the swine, and various instances of prayers or prophecies, in which, as in that of Noah's blessing and curse, words which seem the result of private feeling are expressly or virtually ascribed to a Divine suggestion.

57. And thus, it would seem, there exists in matter of fact that very connection and intermixture between ecclesiastical and Scripture miracles, which, according to the analogy suggested in a former page, the richness and variety of physical nature rendered probable. Scripture history, far from being broadly separated from ecclesiastical, does in part countenance what is strange in the miraculous narratives of the latter, by affording patterns and precedents for them itself. It begins a series which has, indeed, its higher specimens and its lower, but which still proceeds in the way of a series, with a progress and continuation, without any {162} sudden breaks and changes, or even any exact law of variation according to the succession of periods. As in the natural world the animal and vegetable kingdoms imperceptibly melt into each other, so are there mutual affinities and correspondences between the two families of miracles as found in inspired and uninspired history, which show that, whatever may be their separate peculiarities, yet as far as concerns their internal characteristics, they admit of being parts of one system.

58. For instance, there is not a more startling, yet a more ordinary gift in the history of the first ages of the Church than the power of exorcism; while at the same time it is open to much suspicion, both from the comparative facility of imposture and the intrinsic strangeness of the doctrine it inculcates. Yet, here Scripture has anticipated the Church in all respects, even going the length of testifying to the diabolical possession of brutes, which appears so extravagant when introduced, as instanced above, into the life of Hilarion by St. Jerome. Again, that relics should be the instruments of exorcism is an aggravation of a doctrine already difficult; yet we read in Scripture, "And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul, so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them." [Acts xix. 11, 12.] {163}

Similar precedents for a supernatural presence in things inanimate are found in the miracles wrought by the touch of our Saviour's garments, not to insist on what is told us about St. Peter's shadow. Again, we have to take into account the resurrection of the corpse which touched Elisha's bones, a work of Divine Power, which, whether considered in its appalling greatness, the absence of apparent object, and the means through which it was accomplished, we should think incredible, with the now prevailing notions of miraculous agency, were we not familiar with it. Elijah's mantle is another instance of a relic endued with miraculous power. Again, the multiplication of the wood of the Cross (the fact of which is not here determined, but must depend on the testimony and other evidence producible) is but parallel to Elisha's multiplication of the oil, and of the bread and barley, and to our Lord's multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Again, the account of the consecrated host becoming a cinder in unworthy hands is not so strange as the very first miracle wrought by Moses, the first evidential miracle recorded in Scripture, when his rod became a serpent, and then a rod again; nor stranger than our Lord's first miracle, when water was turned into wine. When the tree was falling upon St. Martin, he is said to have caused it to whirl round and fall elsewhere by the sign of the Cross; is this more startling than {164} Elisha's causing the iron axe-head to swim by throwing a stick into the water?

59. It is objected by Middleton, that after the decree of the Council of Laodicea, restricting exorcism to such as were licensed by the Bishop, the practice died away [Note 28]; this, indeed, implies a very remarkable committal or almost abandonment of a Divine gift, supposing it such, to the discretion of its human instruments; but how does it imply more than we read of in the Apostolic history of the Corinthian Christians, who had so absolute a possession of their supernatural powers that they could use them disorderly, or pervert them to personal ends? The miracles in Ecclesiastical History are often wrought without human instruments, or by instruments but partially apprehensive that they are such; but did not the rushing mighty wind, at Pentecost, come down "suddenly" and unexpectedly? and were not the Apostles forthwith carried away by it, not in any true sense using the gift, but compelled to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance? It is objected that ecclesiastical miracles are not so distinct and unequivocal as to have a claim to be accounted true, but admit of being plausibly attributed to fraud, collusion, or misstatement in narrators; yet, in like manner, St. Matthew tells us that the Jews persisted in maintaining that the disciples had stolen away {165} our Lord's Body, and He did not show Himself, when risen, to the Jews; and various other objections, to which it is painful to do more than allude, have been made to other parts of the sacred narrative. It is objected that St. Gregory's, St. Martin's, or St. Hilarion's miracles were not believed when first formally published to the world by Nyssen, Sulpicius, and St. Jerome; but it must be recollected that Gibbon observes scoffingly, that "the contemporaries of Moses and Joshua beheld with careless indifference the most amazing miracles," that even an Apostle, who had attended our Lord through His ministry, did not believe his brethren's report of His resurrection, and that St. Paul's supernatural power of punishing offenders was doubted at Corinth by the very parties who had seen his miracles and had been his converts. That alleged miracles, then, should admit of doubt, or be what is called "suspicious," is not at all inconsistent with their title to be considered the immediate operation of Divine Power.

60. It is observable also, that this intercommunion of miracles, if the expression may be used, which exists between the respective supernatural agencies contained in Scripture and in Church history, is seen also in the separate portions of Scripture history. The miracles of Scripture may be distributed into the Mosaic, the Prophetical, and the Evangelical; of which {166} the first are mainly of a judicial and retributive character, and wrought on a large field; the last are miracles of mercy; and the intermediate are more or less of a romantic or poetical cast. Yet, among the Mosaic we find the changing of the rod into a serpent, and the sweetening of the water by a branch, which belong rather to the second period; and among the Christian are the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, which resemble the awful acts of the first; while Philip's transportation by the Spirit, and the ship's sudden arrival at the shore, might be ranked among those of the second.


61. And moreover this circumstance is worth considering, that a sort of analogy exists between the Ecclesiastical and Evangelical histories, and the Prophetical and Mosaic. The Prophetical and Ecclesiastical are, each in its place, a sort of supplement to the supernatural manifestations with which the respective Dispensations open, and present to us a similar internal character. And, whereas there was an interval between the age of Moses and the revival of miraculous power in the Prophets, though extraordinary providences were never wholly suspended, so the Ecclesiastical gift is restricted in its operation in the first centuries compared with the exuberant exercise recorded of it in the fourth and fifth; and as the {167} Prophetical miracles in a great measure belong to the schools of Elijah and Elisha, so the Ecclesiastical have a special connection with the ascetics and solitaries, and the orders of families of which they were patriarchs, with St. Antony, St. Martin, and St. Benedict, and other great confessors or reformers, who are the antitypes of the Prophets. Moreover, much might be said concerning the romantic character of the Prophetical miracles. Those of Elisha in particular are related, not as if parts of the history, but rather as his "Acta;" as illustrations indeed of that double portion of power gained for him by Elijah's prayer, and perhaps with some typical reference to the times of the Gospel, but still with a profusion and variety very like the luxuriance which offends us in the miraculous narratives of ecclesiastical authors. Elisha begins by parting Jordan with Elijah's mantle; then he curses the children, and bears destroy forty-two of them; then he supplies the kings of Judah, Israel, and Edom with water in the wilderness, and gives them victory over Moab; then he multiplies the oil; then he raises the Shunammite's son; then he renders the poisonous pottage harmless by casting meal into it; then he multiplies the bread and barley; then he directs Naaman to a cure of his leprosy; then he reads Gehazi's heart, follows him throughout his act of covetousness, and inflicts on him Naaman's leprosy; then he makes the iron swim; then he reveals to the {168} king of Israel the counsels of Syria, and casts an illusion before the eyes of his army; then he prophesies plenty in the siege; then he foretells Hazael's future course. These wonderful acts are strung together as the direct and formal subjects of the chapters in which they occur: they have no continuity; they carry on no action or course of Providence. At length Elisha falls sick, and, on the king's visiting him, promises him a series of victories over the Syrians; then he dies and is buried, and by accident a corpse is thrown into his grave; and "when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet." [2 Kings xiii. 21.] Surely it is not too much to say, that after this inspired precedent there is little in ecclesiastical legends of a nature to offend as regards their matter; their credibility turning first on whether they are to be expected at all, and next whether they are avouched on sufficient evidence.

62. Or take again the history of Samson; what a mysterious wildness and eccentricity is impressed upon it, upon the miracles which occur in it, and upon its highly favoured though wayward subject! "At this juncture," says a recent writer, speaking of the low estate of the chosen people when Samson was born, "the most extraordinary of the Jewish heroes appeared; a man of prodigious physical power, which {169} he displayed, not in any vigorous and consistent plan of defence against the enemy, but in the wildest feats of personal daring. It was his amusement to plunge headlong into peril, from which he extricated himself by his individual strength. Samson never appears at the head of an army, his campaigns are conducted in his own single person. As in those of the Grecian Hercules and the Arabian Antar, a kind of comic vein runs through the early adventures of the stout-hearted warrior, in which love of women, of riddles, and of slaying Philistines out of mere wantonness, vie for the mastery. Yet his life began with marvel, and ended in the deepest tragedy." [Note 29] The tone of this extract cannot be defended; yet what else has the writer done towards the inspired narrative, but invest it in those showy human colours which legendary writers from infirmity, and enemies from malice, have thrown over the miracles of the Church? There is certainly an aspect of romance in which Samson may be viewed, though he was withal the instrument of a Divine Presence; and so again there may have been a divinity in the acts and fortunes, and a spiritual perfection in the lives, of the ancient Catholic hermits and missionaries, in spite of whatever is wild, uncouth, and extravagant in their personal demeanour and conduct, or rather in the record of them. Once more; the books of Daniel and Esther are very different in composition {170} and style from the earlier portions of the sacred volume, and present a view of the miraculous dealings of the Almighty with His Church, very much resembling what we disparage in ecclesiastical legends, or again in the historical portions of the so-called Apocrypha, as if poetical or dramatic.

63. The two Economies then, the Prophetical and the Ecclesiastical, thus resembling each other in their character as well as their position in their two Covenants respectively, should any one urge, as was stated in a former place [Note 30], that the Ecclesiastical Miracles virtually form a new dispensation, we need not deny it in the sense in which the Prophetical Miracles are distinct from the Mosaic; that is, not as if the Law was in any respect or in any part repealed by the Prophetical Schools, but that they, as well as other works of God, had a character of their own, and, as in other things, so in their miracles, were a new exhibition of that Supernatural Presence which over-shadowed Israel from first to last. And it may be added, that, as a gradual revelation of Gospel truth accompanied the miracles of the Prophets, so to those who admit the Catholic doctrines as enunciated in the Creed, and commented on by the Fathers, the subsequent expansion and variation of supernatural agency in the Church, instead of suggesting difficulties, will seem to be in correspondence, as they are {171} contemporaneous, with the developments and additions in dogmatic statements which have occurred between the Apostolic and the present age, and which are but a result and an evidence of spiritual life.


64. Nor, lastly, is it any real argument against admitting the Ecclesiastical Miracles on the whole, or against admitting certain of them, that certain others are rejected on all hands as fictitious or pretended. It happens as a matter of course, on many accounts, that where miracles are really wrought, miracles will also be attempted, or simulated, or imitated, or fabled; and such counterfeits become, not a disproof, but a proof of the existence of their prototypes, just as hypocrisy and extravagant profession are an argument for, and not against, the reality of virtue [Note 31]. It is doubtless the tendency of religious minds to imagine mysteries and wonders where there are none; and much more, where causes of awe really exist, will they unintentionally misstate, exaggerate, and embellish, when they set themselves to relate what they have witnessed or have heard [Note 32]. A fact is not disproved because the testimony is confused or insufficient; it is only unproved. And further, the imagination, as is well known, is a fruitful cause of apparent {172} miracles [Note 33]; and hence, wherever there are works wrought which absolutely surpass the powers of nature, there are likely to be others which surpass its ordinary action. It would be no cause for surprise if, as the destruction of Sodom is said to have arisen from volcanic influence, so in the multitude of cures which the Apostles effected some were solely attributable to natural, but unusual, effects of faith. And if Providence sometimes makes use of natural principles even when miracles seem intended as evidence of His immediate presence, much more is He likely to intermingle the ordinary and the extraordinary, when His object is not to prove a revelation, to accredit a messenger, or to certify a doctrine, but to confirm or encourage the faithful, or to rouse the attention of unbelievers. And it will be impossible to draw the line between the two; and the possibility of explaining some of them on natural principles will unjustly prejudice the mind against accounts of those which cannot be so explained.

65. Moreover, as Scripture expressly shows us, wherever there is miraculous power, there will be curious and interested bystanders who would fain "purchase the gift of God" for their own aggrandisement, and "cast out devils in the Name of Jesus," and who counterfeit what they have not really to exhibit, and gain credit and followers among the ignorant and {173} perverse. The impostures, then, of various kinds which from the first hour abounded in the Church [Note 34] prove as little against the truth of her miracles as against the canonicity of her Scriptures. Yet here too pretensions on the part of worthless men will be sure to scandalize inquirers, and the more so if, as is not unlikely, such pretenders manage to ally themselves with the Saints, and have an historical position in the fight which is made for the integrity or purity of the faith; yet, St. Paul was not less an Apostle, nor have Confessors and Doctors been less his successors, because "as they have gone to prayer" a spirit of Python has borne witness to them as "the servants of the most high God," and the teachers of "the way of salvation."

66. Nor is it any fair argument against Ecclesiastical miracles, that for the most part they have a legendary air, while the miracles contained in Scripture are on the contrary so soberly, so gravely, so exactly stated; unless indeed it is an absurdity to contemplate a gift of miracles without an attendant gift of inspiration to record them. Were it not that the Evangelists were divinely guided, doubtless we should have in Scripture that confused mass of truth and fiction together, which the Apocryphal Gospels exhibit, and to which St. Luke seems to allude. I repeat, the character of facts is not changed because they are incorrectly {174} reported; distance of time and place only does injury to the record of them. The Scripture miracles were in themselves what they are to us now, at the very time that the world was associating them with the prodigies of Jewish strollers, heathen magicians and astrologers, and idolatrous rites; they would have been thus associated to this day, had not inspiration interposed; yet, in spite of this, they would have been deserving our serious attention as now, so far as we were able to separate the truth from the falsehood. And such is the state in which Ecclesiastical miracles actually do come to us, because inspiration was not continued; they are dimly seen in twilight and amid shadows;—let us not, then, quarrel with them on account of a characteristic which is but the necessary consequence of external circumstances.

Top | Contents | Works | Home


1. Vide Middleton's Inquiry, p. 24. et alib. Campbell on Miracles, p. 121.
Return to text

2. De Spir. S. 74.
Return to text

3. [Mechri tou nun tois hepichoriois theama ginetai to phuton kai diegema … onoma de mechri tou nun hesti to dendroi he bacteria, mnemosunon tes Gregoriou charitos kai dunameos, tois enchoriois hen panti to chrono sozomenon]. T. ii. pp. 991, 992.
Return to text

4. Eusebius relates of one Natalis, a Confessor of the end of the second century, that he fell into the heresy of Theodotus, a sort of Unitarianism, and was warned by our Lord in visions. On neglecting these, he was severely scourged by angels all through the night. Hist. v. 28. Vide Hieron. adv. Rufin. p. 414.
Return to text

5. Sulpicius adds, "Et vere ante Martinum pauci admodum, imo pŠne nulli, in illis regionibus Christi nomen receperant; quod ade˛ virtutibus illius exemploque convaluit, ut jam ibi nullus locus sit, qui non aut ecclesiis frequentissimis aut monasteriis sit repletus." V. Mart. 10.
Return to text

6. Page 72.
Return to text

7. Page 232.
Return to text

8. For ancient testimonies to the power of exorcism, vid. Middleton, pp. 80-90. Douglas's Criterion, p. 232, Note 1. Farmer, On Miracles, pp. 241, 242. Whitby's Preface to Epp. ž 10.
Return to text

9. Treat. viii. 8. Oxford tr.
Return to text

10. Treat. ii. 4. Oxford tr.
Return to text

11. For other ancient testimonies to the ecclesiastical miracles, vid. Dodwell. Dissert. in IrenŠum. ii. 41-60. Middleton's Inquiry, pp. 2-19. Brook's Defens. Miracl. Eccl. pp. 16-22. Mr. Isaac Taylor's Anc. Christ. part 7.
Return to text

12. On the difference between the miracles of Scripture and of Ecclesiastical History, vid. Douglas's Crit. pp. 221-237. Paley's Evidences, Part i. Prop. 2. Middl. pp. 21-26, 91-96, etc. Bishop Blomfield's Sermons, note on p. 82. Dodwell attempts to draw a line between the Ante-Nicene and the later miracles, in favour of the former (Dissert. in Iren. ii. 62-66), as regards testimony, nature, instrument, and object.
Return to text

13. Hom. in 1 Cor. vi. 2 and 3.
Return to text

14. Hom. 8, in Col. ž 5.
Return to text

15. De Civ. Dei, xxii. 8, ž 1.
Return to text

16. Ep. i. 22, ž 9. The same feeling of reverence for times past must be taken partly to account for the expressions [ichne] and [hypoleleiptai] in Origen, Eusebius, etc., below note a [Note 21].
Return to text

17. Ibid. ž 2.
Return to text

18. Ep. iv. 80.
Return to text

19. In Evang. ii. 29.
Return to text

20. Strom. ii. 6, p. 444. So Mr. Osburn, (Errors Apost. Fathers, p. 12,) and I think rightly. The Bishop of Lincoln, however, observes, "I find only one passage in the writings of Clement which has any bearing on the question of the existence of miraculous powers in the Church;" and proceeds to refer to the Extracts from the writings of Theodotus. Kaye's Clement, p. 468. The Bishop argues, in his work upon Tertullian, that miracles had then ceased, from a passage in the De PudicitiÔ, in which, after saying that the Apostles had spiritual powers peculiar to themselves, Tertullian adds, "Nam et mortuos suscitaverunt, quod Deus solus; et debiles redintegraverunt, quod nemo nisi Christus; immo et plagas inflixerunt, quod voluit Christus." c. 21.
Return to text

21. The following passages will be found to testify to the same general fact, that the special miraculous powers possessed by the Apostles did not continue in the Church after them. Eusebius says that, according to St. IrenŠus, instances of miraculous powers, [en ekklesiais tisin hypoleleipto], Hist. v. 7. [ichne], of the miracles still remain, says Origen contra Cels. i. 2, fin. [ichne, kai tina ge meizona]. Ibid. ii. 8. [ichne par holigois]. Ibid. vii. 8, fin. In two of these passages the gift is connected with holiness of life, a doctrine which Dodwell denies to have existed till the middle ages, Dissert. in Iren. ii. 64, though he is aware of these passages. [oude ichnos upoleleiptai], Chrysost. de Sacerd. iv. 3, fin. [oi de nun pantes omou] cannot do as much as St. Paul's handkerchiefs. Ibid. iv. 6. He implies that the dead were not raised in his day. "If God saw that the raising of the dead would profit the living, He would not have omitted it." De Lazar. iv. 3. "Where is the Holy Spirit now? a man may ask; for then it was appropriate to speak of Him, when miracles took place, and the dead were raised, and all lepers were cleansed; but now," etc. De Sanct. Pent. i. 3. He adds that now we have the sanctifying gifts instead. So, again, "The Apostles indeed enjoyed the grace of God in abundance; but if we were bid raise the dead, or open the eyes of the blind, or cleanse lepers, or straighten the lame, or cast out devils, and heal the like disorders," etc. Ad Demetr. i. 8. "When the knowledge of Him as yet was not spread abroad, then miracles used to take place; but now there is no need of that teaching, the facts themselves proclaiming and manifesting the Lord." In Psalm cxlii. 5. Vid. also Inscript. Act. ii. 3. Speaking of the miracles in the wilderness, he says, "In our case also, when we came out of error, many wonders were displayed; but after that they stopped, when religion was planted everywhere. And if subsequently they happened [to the Jews], they were few and scattered, as when the sun stood, etc., and this too has appeared in our case;" and then he goes on to mention the "fiery eruption at the temple," etc., in Matth. Hom. iv. i. And ibid. Hom. xxxii. 7, after mentioning the Apostolic miracles of cleansing lepers, exorcising spirits, and raising the dead, he says, "This is the greatest proof of your nobleness and love, to believe God without pledges; for this is one reason, among others, why God ceased miracles ... Seek not miracles, then, but health of soul." And then he contrasts with visible miracles the "greater" ones of beneficence, self-command, etc., to the end of the Homily. And in Joan. "Now, too, there are those who seek and say, Why are there not miracles now? If thou art faithful as behoveth, and love Christ as thou shouldest, miracles thou needest not." Hom. xxiv. 1. Elsewhere, after speaking of the gift of the Spirit dwelling in us, he adds, "Not that we may raise the dead, nor cleanse lepers, but that we show forth the greatest miracle of all, charity," in Rom. Hom. viii. 7. After quoting the text, "We are changed into the same image from glory to glory," he adds, "This was shown more manifestly when the gifts of miracles were in operation; but even now it is not difficult to discern it when a man has believing eyes," etc., in 2 Cor. Hom. vii. 5. In like manner, St. Augustine, after mentioning the Apostolic miracles, "Sanati languidi, mundati leprosi, incessus claudis, cŠcis visus, surclis auditus est redditus," and the changing of water into wine, the multiplication of the loaves, etc., continues, "Cur, inquis, ista mod˛ non fiunt? quia non moverent, nisi mira essent: at si solita essent, mira non essent." De Util. cred. 16. He adds, in his Retractations, "Hoc dixi, quia non tanta, nec omnia modo, non quia nulla fiunt etiam modo." Again, "Cum Ecclesia Catholica per totum orbem diffusa atque fundata sit, nec miracula illa in nostra tempora durare permissa sunt, ne animus semper visibilia quŠreret," etc. De Ver. Rel. 25. He adds, in his Retractations, "Non sic accipiendum est quod dixi, ut nunc in Christi nomine fieri miracula nulla credantur. Nam ego ipse, quando istum ipsum librum scripsi, ad Mediolanensium corpora Martyrum in eÔdem civitate cŠcum illuminatum fuisse jam noveram," etc. Vid. also Pope Greg. Mor. xxvii. 18.
Return to text

22. De Unit. Eccl. 49, 50.
Return to text

23. Ecclus. xxxix. 16-35.
Return to text

24. This is Middleton's ground in the following passage, with which should be compared the passages from Hume in the text: "The present question concerning the reality of the miraculous powers of the primitive Church depends on the joint credibility of the facts, pretended to have been produced by those powers, and of the witnesses who attest them. If either part be infirm, their credit must sink in proportion; and if the facts especially be incredible, must of course fall to the ground, because no force of testimony can alter the nature of things. The credibility of facts lies open to the trial of our reason and senses, but the credibility of witnesses depends on a variety of principles wholly concealed from us; and though in many cases it may reasonably be presumed, yet in none can it certainly be known. For it is common with men, out of crafty and selfish views, to dissemble and deceive; or out of weakness and credulity to embrace and defend with zeal what the craft of others had imposed upon them; but plain facts cannot delude us—cannot speak any other language, or give any other information but what flows from nature and truth. The testimony, therefore, of facts, as it is offered to our senses in this wonderful fabric and constitution of worldly things, may properly be called the testimony of God Himself, as it carries with it the surest instruction in all cases, and to all nations, which in the ordinary course of His providence He has thought fit to appoint for the guidance of human life." Pp. ix. x.

Again, "Our first care should be to inform ourselves of the proper nature and condition of those miraculous powers, ... as they are represented to us in the history of the Gospel; for till we have learned from those sacred records what they really were, for what purposes granted, and in what manner exerted by the Apostles and first possessors of them, we cannot form a proper judgment on those evidences which are brought either to confirm or confute their continuance in the Church, and must dispute consequently at random, as chance or prejudice may prompt us, about things unknown to us." P. xi.

Again, "The whole which the wit of man can possibly discover either of the ways or will of the Creator, must be acquired … not by imagining vainly within ourselves what may be proper or improper for Him to do, but by looking abroad and contemplating what He has actually done; and attending seriously to that revelation which He made of Himself from the beginning, and placed continually before our eyes, in the wonderful works and beautiful fabric of this visible world." P. xxii.
Return to text

25. Essay on Miracles, Part ii. circ. fin.
Return to text

26. Essay on Providence.
Return to text

27. Hence the charge against the Christians of magic, or [goeteia]. Tertull. Apol. 23. Origen in Cels. i. 38, ii. 9. Arnob. contr. Gent. i. Euseb. Dem. Ev. iii. 5 and 6, pp. 112, 130. August. Serm. xliii. 4, contr. Faust. xii. 45, Ep. cxxxviii. fin. Julian calls St. Paul the greatest of rogues and conjurors, [ton pantas pantachou tous popote goetas kai apateonas hyperballomenon Paulon]. Ap. Cyr. iii. p. 100. Apollonius professed a knowledge of nature as the secret of his miracles. Vid. Philostr. Vit. Ap. v. 12. Also QuŠst. ad Orthod. 24, where Apollonius is said to have done his miracles [kata ten epistemen ton physikon dunameon], not [kata ten theian authentian]. Philostratus illustrates this when he seems to doubt whether the young woman was really dead, whom Apollonius raised, iv. 45. [Vid. Kortholt. de Vit. et Mor. Christ. c. 3, 4.]
Return to text

28. Inquiry, pp. 95, 96.
Return to text

29. Milman's History of the Jews, vol. i. p. 204.
Return to text

30. Supra, p. 115.
Return to text

31. Douglas' Crit. p. 19.
Return to text

32. Camp. Miracl. p. 122. Jenkins' Christ. Rel. vol. ii. p. 455.
Return to text

33. Le Moyne Miracl. pp. 486, 502. Douglas' Crit. p. 93, etc.
Return to text

34. Vid. Acts viii. 9; xvi. 17; xix. 13. Vid. Lucian. Peregr. etc. ap. Middlet. Inqu. p. 23.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home

Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright ę 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.