Section 8. Recovery of the Blind Man by the Relics of St. Gervasius and St. Protasius at Milan

{348} 204. THE broad facts connected with this memorable interposition of Divine Power are these: St. Ambrose, with a large portion of the population of Milan, was resisting the Empress Justina in her attempt to seize on one of the churches of the city for Arian worship. In the course of the contest he had occasion to seek for the relics of Martyrs, to be used in the dedication of a new church, and he found two skeletons, with a quantity of fresh blood, the miraculous token of martyrdom. Miracles followed, both cures and exorcisms; and at length, as he was moving the relics to a neighbouring church, a blind man touched the cloth which covered them, and regained his sight. The Empress in consequence relinquished the contest; and the subject of the miracle dedicated himself to religious service in the Church of the Martyrs, where he seems to have remained till his death. These facts are attested by St. Ambrose himself, several times by St. Augustine, and by Paulinus, {349} secretary to St. Ambrose, in his Life of the Saint addressed to St. Augustine.

205. This miracle, it is to be presumed, will satisfy the tests which Douglas provides for verifying events of that nature. That author lays down, as we have already seen, that miracles are to be suspected, when the accounts of them were first published long after the time or far from the place of their alleged occurrence; or, if not, yet at least were not then and there subjected to examination. Now in the instance before us we have the direct testimony of three contemporaries, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and Paulinus; two of whom at the least were present at the very time and place, while one of those two wrote his account immediately upon or during the events, as they proceeded. These three witnesses agree together in all substantial matters; and the third, who writes twenty-six years after the miracle, when St. Ambrose was dead, unlike many reporters of miracles, adds nothing to the narrative, as St. Ambrose and St. Augustine left it. Douglas observes in explanation of the third of his conditions, that we may suspect miracles of having "been admitted without examination, first, if they coincided with the favourite opinions and superstitious prejudices of those to whom they were reported, and who on that account might be eager to receive them without evidence; secondly, if they were set on foot, or at least were encouraged {350} and supported, by those who alone had the power of detecting the fraud, and who could prevent any examination which might tend to undeceive the world." [Note 1] Now here all the power was on the side of those against whom the miracle was wrought; and, though the popular feeling was with St. Ambrose, yet the whole city had had an Arian clergy for nearly twenty years, and could not but be in a measure under Arian influence. But however this might be, at least Ambrose had to cope with Arian princes armed with despotic power, an Arian court, an Arian communion lately dominant and still organised, with a bishop at its head. His enemies had already made attempts to assassinate him; and again, to seize his person, and to carry him off from the city. They had hitherto been the assailants, and he had remained passive. Now, however, he had at last ventured on what in its effects was an aggressive act. As I have said, he has to dedicate a Church, and he searches for relics of Martyrs. He is said to find them; miracles follow; the sick and possessed are cured; at length in the public street, in broad day, while the relics are passing, a blind man, well known in the place by name, by trade, by person, and by his calamity, professes to recover his sight by means of them.

206. Here surely is a plain challenge made to the enemies of the Church, almost as direct as Elijah's to {351} the idolatrous court and false prophets of Israel. St. Ambrose supplies them with materials, nor do they want the good-will to detect a fraud, if fraud there be. Yet they are utterly unable to cope with him. They denied the miracle indeed, and they could not do otherwise, if they were to remain Arians; as Protestant writers deny it now, that they may not be forced to be Catholics. They denied the miracle, and St. Ambrose, in a sermon preached at the time, plainly tells us that they did; but they did not hazard any counter statement or distinct explanation of the facts of the case. They did not so much as the Jews, who, on the Resurrection, at least said that our Lord's Body was stolen away by night. They did nothing but deny,—except indeed we let their actions speak for them. One thing then they did; they gave over the contest. The Miracle was successful.

207. This miracle answers to Leslie's criteria also. It was sensible; it was public; and the subject of it became a monument of it, and that with a profession that he was so. He remained on the spot, and dedicated himself to God's service in the Church of the Martyrs who had been the means of his cure; thus by his mode of life proclaiming the mercy which had been displayed in his behalf, and by his presence challenging examination.

208. An attempt has lately been made to resolve this miracle into a mere trick of priestcraft; but {352} doubtless the Arians would have been beforehand with the present objector, could a case have been made out with any plausibility. This anticipation is confirmed by an inspection of the inferences or conjectures of which he makes the historical facts the subject. The blood, he says, was furnished by the blind Severus, who had been a butcher, and might still have relations in the trade. And since St. Ambrose translated the relics at once, instead of waiting for the next Sunday, this is supposed to argue that he was afraid, had the ceremony been postponed, of the fraud being detected by the natural consequence of the delay.

209. But all facts admit of two interpretations; there is not the transaction or occurrence, consisting of many parts, but some of them may be fixed upon as means of forcing upon it a meaning contrary to the true one, as is shewn by the ingenuity exercised in defence of clients in the courts of law. What has been attempted by the writer to whom I allude, as regards St. Ambrose, has been done better, though more wickedly, by the infidel author of the New Trial of the Witnesses as regards the History of the Resurrection. In such cases inquirers will decide according to their prepossessions [Note 2]; if they are prepared to {353} believe that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church would introduce the blood of the shambles into a grave, and pretend that it was the blood of God's saints, and hire men first to feign themselves demoniacs and then to profess themselves dispossessed on approaching the counterfeit relics, they will be convinced in the particular case by very slight evidence, and will catch at any circumstances which may be taken as indications of what they think antecedently probable; but if they think such proceedings to be too blasphemous, too frightful, too provocative even of an immediate judgment, for any but the most callous hearts and the most reckless consciences to conceive and carry out, they would not believe even plausible evidence in their behalf. If it appears to them not unlikely that miracles continue in the Church, they will find that it is easier to admit than to reject what comes to them on such weighty testimony; but if they think miracles as improbable after a revelation is given, as they appeared to Hume before it, then they will judge with him that "a religionist may know his narration to be false, and yet persevere in it, with {354} the best intentions in the world, for the sake of promoting so holy a cause; or even where this delusion has no place, vanity, excited by so strong a temptation, operates on him more powerfully than on the rest of mankind in any other circumstances, and self-interest with equal force." [Note 3]

210. There are circumstances, however, in this miracle, which may be felt as difficulties by those who neither deny the continuance of a Divine Presence in the Church, nor accuse her Pastors and Teachers of impious imposture. Yet it is difficult to treat of them, without entering upon doctrinal questions which are not in place in the present Essay. One or two of them, which extend to the case of other alleged miracles of the early Church, besides the one immediately before us, shall here be briefly considered, and that in the light which the analogy or the pattern of Scripture throws upon them, which is the main view I have taken of objections all along.

211. Now, first it may be urged that the discovery of the blood of the Martyrs is not after the precedent of anything we meet with in Scripture, which says very little of relics, and nothing of relics of such a character as this, involving as it does a miracle. What is the true doctrine about relics, how they are to be regarded, what is their use and their abuse, is no question before us. If it could be shown that the {355} doctrine involved in the discovery of the Martyrs, is on Scriptural grounds such as plainly to prove either that it did not take place, or that it cannot be referred to Divine Agency, this of course would supersede all other considerations. Meanwhile I will but observe, as far as the silence of Scripture is concerned, that Scripture could not afford a pattern of the alleged miracle, from the nature of the case. The resurrection of the body is only a Christian dogma; and martyrdom, that is, dying for a creed, is a peculiarity of the Gospel, and was instanced among the Jews, only in proportion as the Gospel was anticipated. The blood was the relic of those whose bodies had been the temple of the Spirit, and who were believed to be in the presence of Christ. Miracles were not to be expected by such instruments, till Christ came; nor afterwards, till a sufficient time had elapsed for Saints to be matured and offered up, and for pious offices and assiduous attentions to be paid by others towards the tabernacles which they left behind them. Precedents then to our purpose, whether in Old or in New Testament, are as little to be expected, as precedents to guide us in determining the relations of the Church to the State, or the question of infant baptism, or the duty of having buildings for worship. Time alone could determine what the Divine purpose was concerning the earthly shrines in which a Divine Presence had dwelt: whether, as in the case of Moses and Elijah, they were {356} to be withdrawn from the Church, or, as in the case of Elisha, to fulfil some purpose, even though the soul had departed; and if the latter, whether their bones were to be employed,—or whether their bodies would be preserved incorrupt, as St. Jerome reports of Hilarion,—or whether the Levitical sacrifices, which as types were once for all fulfilled when our Lord's blood was shed, were nevertheless to furnish part of the analogy existing between the Christian and the Mosaic Dispensations. Nor is there anything that ought to shock us in the idea that blood, which had become coagulate, should miraculously be made to flow. A very remarkable prototype of such an event seems to be granted to us in Scripture, in our Lord's own history. The last act of His humiliation was, after His death, to be pierced in His side, when blood and water issued from it. A stream of blood from a corpse can hardly be considered to be other than supernatural. And it so happens that St. Ambrose is the writer to remark upon this solemn occurrence in his comment on St. Luke, assigning at the same time its typical meaning. "Blood," he says, "undoubtedly congeals after death in our bodies; but in that Body, though incorrupt, yet dead, the life of all welled forth. There issued water and blood; water to wash, blood to redeem. Let us drink then what is our price, that by drinking we may be redeemed." [Note 4] {357}

212. Another objection which has been made to the miracles ascribed by St. Ambrose to the relics which he discovered, is the encouragement which they are supposed to give to a kind of creature-worship, unknown to Scripture. This is strongly urged by the objector whom I just now had occasion to notice. He observes that miracles can be of no avail against the great principles of religious truth, such as the Being and Attributes of Almighty God; that no miracles can sanction and justify idolatry; if then the Nicene Miracles (so he calls them), "when regarded in the calmest and most comprehensive manner," "have constantly operated to debauch the religious sentiments of mankind, if they have confirmed idolatrous practices, if they have enhanced that infatuation which has hurried men into the degrading worship of subordinate divinities, we then boldly say that, whether natural or preternatural, such miracles are {358} not from God, but from 'the enemy.' [Note 5] "Do you choose," he continues, "to affirm the supernatural reality of the Nicene Miracles? you then mark the Nicene Church as the slave and agent of the Father of Lies;" and then he proceeds to quote the charge of Moses to his people: "If there arise among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spoke unto thee, saying, 'Let us go after other gods which thou hast not known, and let us serve them,' thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." {359}

213. But the objection, which of course demands a careful consideration, admits of being met, perhaps of being overcome, by reference to an analogy contained in the Old Testament, to which the appeal is made. It is well known that the Divine revelations concerning Angels received a great development in the course of the Jewish Dispensation. When the people had lately come out of Egypt, with all the forms of idolatry familiar to their imaginations, and impressed upon their hearts, it did not seem safe, if we may dare to trace the Divine dealings in this matter, to do much more than to set before them the great doctrine of the Unity and Sovereignty of God. To have disclosed to them truths concerning angelic natures, except in the strictest subserviency to this fundamental Verity, might have been the occasion of their withdrawing their heart from Him who claimed it whole and undivided [Note 6]. Hence, though St. Stephen tells us that they "received the Law by the disposition of Angels," and St. Paul that "it was ordained by Angels," in the Old Testament we do but read of "the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud," and its "waxing louder and louder," and "Moses speaking, and God answering him by a voice," and of "the Lord talking with them face to face in the mount." In like manner, when Angels appeared, it was for the most part in the shape of men; {360} or if their heavenly nature was disclosed, still they are called "wind" or "flame," or represented as a glory of the Lord, and so intimately and mysteriously connected with His Presence that it was impossible that God should be forgotten, and a creature worshipped. Thus it is said of the Angel who went before the Israelites, "Obey his voice, for My Name is in him;" and it was the belief of the early Church that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity did really condescend to manifest Himself in such angelic natures. Again, the title of "the Lord of hosts" does not occur till the times of Samuel, who uses it when he sends Saul against the Amalekites, whereas it is the ordinary designation of Almighty God in the Prophets who lived after the captivity [Note 7]. And so again, in the Book of Daniel, Angels are made the ordinary instruments of Divine illumination to the Prophet, and are represented as the guardians of the kingdoms of the world, and that without any mention of the Divine Presence at all, which, on the contrary, had been awfully signified in the vision of Isaiah, when the Seraph touched his lips.

214. Still more striking is the difference of language in different parts of the inspired volume as to the doctrine of an Evil Spirit, whom even to name might have been to create a rival to the All-Holy Creator in carnal minds which had just left the house of {361} spiritual as well as temporal bondage. The contrast between the earlier and later books of the Old Testament in this point has often been observed. Satan is described in the Book of Job and in Micaiah's vision as appearing before God, and acting under his direction. Again, while in the Second Book of Samuel we are merely told that "the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, Go number Israel and Judah;" in the First Book of Chronicles we read that "Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel."

215. Yet, in spite of this merciful provision on the part of Almighty God, it would appear that the revelation of Angels, when made, did lead many of the Jews into an idolatrous dependence upon them. It is the very remark of Theodoret upon St. Paul's mention of Angel-worship in his Epistle to the Colossians, that "the advocates of the Law induced men to worship Angels, because the Law was given by them, and for humility-sake, and because the God of all is invisible and inaccessible and incomprehensible, so that it was fitting to procure the Divine favour through the Angels." [Note 8] The Essenes, too, are said to {362} have paid to the Angels an excessive honour, and several of the early heresies, which did the same, sprang from the Jews. What place afterwards the invocation of Angels for magical purposes held in the practical Cabbala, as Brucker calls it, is well known.

216. Such is the history of the revelation of the doctrine of Angels among the Jews; and it is scarcely necessary to draw out at length its correspondence with the history of the introduction and abuse of several of the tenets and usages which characterize the Christian Church. In its origin, the Jewish as well as the Pagan institutions with which the Apostles were surrounded, suggested to them a cautious economy in the mode in which they set Divine truth before their disciples, lest a resemblance of external rites and offices, or of phraseology, between Christianity and the prevailing religions, should be the means of introducing into their minds views less holy and divine than those which they were inspired to reveal. It is on this supposition that some English divines even account for the omission in the New Testament of the words "priest," "sacrifice," and the like, in their plain Christian sense; as if the Jewish associations which attached to them would not cease till the Jewish worship had come to an end. The remark may obviously be extended to the miracle under review, so far as no parallel is found for it in {363} the New Testament. As the doctrine of priesthood might be almost necessarily Judaic in the minds of the Jewish converts, so that of piety towards Saints and Martyrs was in the minds of Pagans necessarily idolatrous; and it may be for this, as well as other reasons, that so little explicit mention is made in the New Testament of the honours due to Saints, as also of the Christian Priesthood, after the pattern of that silence, which has been above noticed, about the offices of good Angels and about the Author of Evil in the earlier books of the Old; and it may be as rash to say that a miracle was not from God because it was wrought by a Martyr's relics, or because such relics have, in other instances been idolatrously regarded, as to say that the Prophet Daniel was not divinely inspired, because we hear nothing of Michael or Gabriel in the Books of Moses, or because the names of those Angels were afterwards superstitiously used in the charms of the Cabbalists. The holy Daniel's profound obeisance and prostrations before the Angel are a greater innovation, if it must so be called, on the simplicity of the Mosaic ritual, than the treasuring the blood of the Martyrs upon the ecclesiastical observances of the Apostles; and as no one would say that Daniel's conduct incurred the condemnation pronounced by Moses on those who introduced the worship of other gods, so much less was the reverence paid by St. Ambrose and other Saints to the relics of {364} the Martyrs inconsistent with precepts which in their direct force belong to an earlier Dispensation.

217. There is a third difficulty, which may be raised upon the passage of history before us, not arising, however, out of the miracle, but out of the circumstances under which it took place. It may be represented as giving a sanction to a subject's playing the part of a demagogue, and heading a mob (as we may speak) against his lawful sovereign. The crowds which attended Ambrose, whether in the church which the Empress had seized, or on occasion of the translation of the relics, would have been dispersed at this day among ourselves by the officers of the peace; and with our present notions of law and of municipal and national order, not to say of the subserviency of the Church to the State, and our interpretations of the Scripture precepts concerning civil obedience, there is something strange and painful to us in the sight of a Christian Bishop placed in opposition to the powers that be. But it must be recollected, according to a former remark, that everything that happens has two aspects; and the outside or political aspect is often the reverse of its inward or true meaning. We are used to put together the particulars which meet our eye, to parallel them with other transactions which bear a similar appearance, to suggest for them such motives of action as our own principles or disposition suggests, and thus to form what seems to us a philosophical {365} view of the whole case. And if our own habitual feelings and opinions, and the parallels to which we betake ourselves, are not of a very exalted nature, as may easily happen, while the subject contemplated, be it a person, or an act, or a work, is of such a nature, then we produce a theory as shallow, and as far from the truth, as a naturalist, who, judging of men by their anatomical peculiarities, should rank them among the brute creation. Every day brings evidence in great things or little, how incapable the run of men are of doing justice to minds of even ordinary refinement and sincerity, and how, rather than ascribe to them the honesty and purity of purpose which is the most natural and straightforward account of their actions, they will even go out of their way, and distort facts, thereby to be at liberty to impute petty motives; and much more will they catch at any circumstances which admit of being plausibly perverted into an evidence of such motives. Indeed, of such continual occurrence are instances of this sort, that in tales of fiction nothing is more commonly taken as a plot of the story than the troubles in which an innocent person is involved by an ingenious but perverse selection and collocation of his actions or of circumstances connected with him, to the detriment of his character.

218. As to the case immediately before us, it is enough to observe that an imputation of disloyalty, if {366} preferred against St. Ambrose, is only what the notorious Paine, I believe, throws out against the Jewish Prophets; and it is obvious what plausible materials are afforded by the history of Elijah and Elisha, in the hands of irreligious persons, for such a charge. Nor is it to be doubted that a secular historian, who heard the Prophet Jeremiah's public declaration on Nebuchadnezzar's invasion, "He that abideth in this city shall die, but he that goeth out, and falleth to the Chaldeans, shall live," would have decided that he was in the pay of the King of Babylon, and justified the Jews in their treatment of him. It must be recollected, too, that one charge against our Lord was that He "stirred up the people." We indeed have learned from the Gospel that He withdrew Himself from the multitude "when He perceived that they would come and take Him by force to make Him a king;" but a secular historian either would not know the fact, or might not believe the sincerity of His withdrawal, if He did. A more exact instance in point is afforded us in the history of St. John Baptist. No man surely has less of a political character upon him than this holy ascetic, as described in the Gospel; but it seems, according to Josephus, that Herod was of another mind, and the view he took of him as a popular leader is so curious that I will quote the words of a recent writer on the subject. "Herod," says Mr. Milman, "having formed an incestuous connection {367} with the wife of his brother Herod Philip, his Arabian queen indignantly fled to her father, who took up arms to revenge her wrongs against her guilty husband. How far Herod could depend in this contest on the loyalty of his subjects was extremely doubtful. It is possible he might entertain hopes that the repudiation of a foreign alliance, ever hateful to the Jews, and the union with a branch of the Asmonean line (for Herodias was the daughter of Herod the Great by Mariamne), might counterbalance in the popular estimation the injustice and criminality of his marriage with his brother's wife. The influence of John, according to Josephus, was almost unlimited. The subjects, and even the soldiery, of the tetrarch crowded with devout submission around the Prophet. On his decision might depend the wavering loyalty of the whole province. But John denounced with open indignation the royal incest, and declared the marriage with a brother's wife to be a flagrant violation of the law. Herod, before long, ordered him to be seized and imprisoned in the strong fortress of Machærus, on the remote border of his trans-Jordanic territory." [Note 9]

219. Such was the light thrown upon the Holy Baptist by the secular events in which he was encompassed, in the opinion of one who nevertheless, as we know, "feared him, knowing he was a just man." And {368} as St. John seemed to be a demagogue and a mere organ of the popular voice, yet spoke from heaven, so in like manner it need not take from the sanctity of St. Ambrose, or the truth of his cause, that the people sided with him, even tumultuously, and the Imperial Court accused him of insubordination.

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1. Pages 28, 52.
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2. This has been dwelt on at length, supr. n. 71 to n. 80. Gibbon gives us a curious illustration of it in his remark on the miracle of the Confessors, which is presently to be related. He says: "This supernatural gift of the African Confessors, who spoke without tongues, will command the assent of those, and of those only, who already believe that their language was pure and orthodox. But the stubborn mind of the infidel is guarded by secret incurable suspicion; and the Arian or Socinian, who has seriously rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, will not be shaken by the most plausible evidence of an Athanasian miracle." Ch. xxxvii.
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3. Essay on Miracles.
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4. In Luc. lib. x. § 135. Eutheymius Zigab. says of the same in loc. Joan. Theophylact. in loc. says that in order to place the miracle beyond doubt the water issued also. That the flowing of the blood was miraculous would appear from the description St. John gives of it, "forthwith came there out;" which implies a stream, and not a few drops. Calov. in Joan. xix. 35. Nor is there any reason to suppose that the water came forth by drops; yet the words just quoted are common to the blood and to the water. Again, the water was miraculous (for "medical men tell us that the fluid of the pericardium is yellow in colour, bitter in taste, and therefore different from what we mean by water," S. Basnag. Ann. 33. § 126; and the wound was most probably on the right side, as St. Augustine and the most ancient pictures and coins represent it, and the Arabic or Ethiopic version, vid. Greta. de Cruc. t. 1. i. 35. Lamp. in loc. Joan.), and therefore there is no reason for a strained interpretation only to escape believing that the blood was miraculous. Further, St. John's solemn asseverations, "He who saw it bare record," etc., which seems to intimate something miraculous, applies to the blood as well as the water. And moreover, in 1 John v. 6, the blood is insisted on even more than the water; "not by water only," etc. Another parallel to this miracle is to be found in the reported instances of blood flowing from a corpse at the approach of the murderer; vid. an instance introduced into a Scotch court as late as 1688, in the notes to the Waverley Novels, vol. xliii. p. 127. It is scarcely necessary to say that, whatever truth there may be in any such stories, or in certain others of which the blood of Martyrs is the subject, they are so encompassed by fictions and superstitions, that it seems hopeless at this day to trace the Divine Agency, as and when It really wrought, though we may believe in Its presence generally.
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5. Anc. Christ. Part vii. p. 361.
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6. [Eusebius says this, contrasting Genesis with Daniel, Eccl. Theol. ii. p. 20, and vid. Suicer de Symb. Nic. pp. 89-91.]
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7. Vid. e.g. Hagg. ii. 4-9; Zech. viii.
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8. In Col. ii. 18. Vid. also the passage from the Prædic. Petr. in Clem. Strom. vi. 5. and Origen, in Joann. tom. xiii. 17; also contr. Cels. v. 6, etc., Hieron. ad. Algas. Ep. 121. § 10: vid. references to Rabbinical and other writings, Calmet. Dissert. 2. in Luc.
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9. Hist. Christ. Vol. i. p. 176.
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