Even when an invalid firmly believes in the miracles of Lourdes, and hopes to be cured there, we cannot say that he has reached that pitch of persuasion which would suffice for Suggestion-cure. We completely disagree with the Suggestionists who maintain that religious conviction is the most powerful form of Suggestion, and that, consequently, the extraordinary cures at Lourdes, though they baffle medical Suggestion, can be attributed to the religious Suggestion of Catholics.
Certainly, every Catholic is fully convinced that God can cure any malady, but no properly-instructed Catholic is persuaded that God will infallibly cure his particular malady. He knows that health, like every other gift of the Almighty, depends entirely upon God's good pleasure. On some, God bestows that gift; to others for His own good reasons, He denies it. To be fully persuaded that God will infallibly restore one's health is sheer presumption. No Catholic, worthy of the name, will be guilty of such presumption, but will place himself entirely in the hands of Divine Providence, and ask for health if that gift be the Will of God and conducive to his own eternal welfare. Those are the sentiments impressed on the Catholic pilgrim who goes to Lourdes; and those sentiments, we repeat, do not make for Suggestion. Moreover, the Catholic invalid knows that hundreds of thousands have gone to Lourdes and have come away uncured. Since those thoughts and sentiments possess the mind of the Catholic at Lourdes, we deny that he is a fit subject for Suggestion: because the essence of Suggestion is the fixed persuasion that cure is inevitable.
MIRACLE-CURES--A SUMMARYTo sum up our conclusions regarding miraculous cures: We hold it as proved that there are many cures which cannot possibly be attributed to any natural cause (instantaneous cures of organic disease); other cures (of functional disorders), which might possibly admit of a natural explanation, can frequently be shown from an examination of their circumstances to be due to neither the physical nor psychic forces of nature but to the power of God.
Did space permit we might apply to miracle cures the argument already used to prove the supernaturalness or Christ's other miracles. If any natural power enabled Christ to cure all sorts of maladies by a mere touch or command, and even when the patient was far removed from Him, (Our Lord cured the Centurion's servant from a distance (Mt., chap, 8, v. 5 seq.); also the daughter of the Syro-phoenician woman, , (Mark, chap. 7, v. 26 seq.), and the Ruler's son (John. chap. 4, v.. 46 seq.)) why cannot our greatest psychic experts do likewise? No expert has ever obtained cures thus. We are forced, therefore, to confess that the power by which Christ cured the sick was not natural but supernatural.
If psychic or any natural force works miracle cures at Lourdes and other Catholic shrines why cannot those cures be repeated elsewhere? No clinic, whatever be its scientific advantages over Lourdes, can boast of cures so instantaneous, so varied and so unchallengeable. The natural circumstances found at Lourdes can be reproduced at any great clinic, but like results have never been obtained. Hence, we inlay conclude that the cures at Lourdes are not wrought by any natural power but by the supernatural Power of God.
RECOGNITION OF MIRACLES—CONCLUSION
The foregoing critical examination of various classes of miracles proves beyond doubt that we can recognise certain occurrences as miracles. Nature, however wonderful and hidden be her powers, cannot account for those occurrences. This claim is based not on our ignorance of nature and her forces, as our opponents allege, but on our knowledge of nature and of nature’s limitations. As it progresses scientific investigation shows with ever increasing clearness the supernaturalness of miracles and vindicates ever more strongly the conviction of commonsense that certain things surpass the power of nature and must be attributed to the Omnipotence of God.
The only reason for denying this obvious truth is, we repeat, the fixed but unfounded conviction that miracles do not happen because they cannot happen. We have proved that that confliction is opposed to the dictates of common sense and to the teaching of sound philosophy.
A DIFFICULTYIt must not be inferred from what has been said that it is always possible to recognise a miracle with certainty. There are occurrences which are certainly natural, others no less certainly miraculous, but outside those two fixed categories there is a number of doubtful occurrences which it is difficult to classify. A like difficulty is met with in other branches of investigation; in biology, for example. Biology proves the existence of an animal and a vegetable kingdom; but there are some living creatures, such as bacteria, which baffle the biologists' attempt to find them a definite place in their category. Similarly, there are extraordinary occurrences which cannot be traced to known natural causes, and yet cannot be shown to be supernatural. When this difficulty arises we turn from our examination of the physical aspect of the occurrence to a consideration of its moral circumstances in order to discover its origin.
A MORAL CRITERION
In determining the supernaturalness of miracles we have until now insisted on their physical aspect. But besides being a physical fact, a miracle has also a moral significance This is clear from what has been said on the purpose of miracles. (Miracles : Their Possibility and Purpose, p. TE.) Since a miracle is a special work of God, it must be in every way worthy of its author. Hence, if a strange event is evil, or if it occurs in circumstances of which God could not approve, it cannot be attributed to God and regarded as a miracle. We have, therefore, besides a physical criterion (the peculiarity of the occurrence), a moral criterion by which to judge whether an unusual occurrence be a miracle or not.
Those two criteria form one adequate criterion by which we judge miracles, and should never the divorced in their application. No occurrence, however surprising it may be, can be attributed to God if in any way it is opposed to God's Wisdom, Truth or Holiness.
We are now in a position to pass judgment on the many marvels we read of in the history of Paganism, Buddhism, Fakirism, Magic, Spiritism, Christian Science and other false religions. Undoubtedly, most of those marvels are fictions or myths which cannot be given a place in serious history, but there remains, nevertheless, a residue of extraordinary occurrences the truth of which cannot be denied. When we examine the moral circumstances of those strange occurrences we find that it would be sheer blasphemy to attribute them to the all-holy and all-wise Creator of the universe. Many of those marvels are futile and ludicrous in the extreme; some are obscene or otherwise Unmoral.
Moreover, it is clear that God works miracles only for a holy and noble purpose. That God should work a miracle to pander to the idle curiosity of the crowd is inconceivable. Many pseudo-miracles have no higher purpose. It would be still more absurd that God should work miracles to propagate gross errors concerning His divine Nature, the sacred Person of His Son, Jesus Christ, the human soul and the Christian moral code. To attribute to God the pseudo-miracles we read of it in the history of false religions would be to make Him the instrument of falsehood and vice, and to put him in flat contradiction with His own divine Revelation. (At first sight this argument may seem to involve a vicious circle : We prove the truth of divine Revelation by means of miracles; and now we use Revelation to prove miracles. We answer that we do not use Revelation to prove the existence of miracles, but to disprove the claim that certain
occurrences are miracles. If a strange, inexplicable occurrence is in any way opposed to divine Revelation it cannot be a miracle; because the divine truth of Revelation is proved by miracles which are, beyond shadow of doubt, God's handiwork.
Hence, the facts by which we prove divine Revelation are quite distinct from the facts which Revelation proves to be pseudo-miracles.
Moreover, many pseudo-miracles are opposed not only to revealed truth but also to the natural truths of reason. Independently of Revelation we know that Brahminism and Christian Science teach gross error concerning the nature of God. Consequently, the marvels claimed by those false religions cannot be the Work of God. Established truths, whether supernatural or natural, can therefore be used as a criterion by which to judge the source of certain doubtful phenomena.)
An examination of those pseudo-miracles in their moral setting will convince us that they are opposed to divine Truth, Wisdom or Holiness; and cannot, consequently, be attributed to God. We do not say that all those strange happenings have a diabolical origin; many, doubtlessly, are impostures or natural phenomena as yet explained. Some pseudo-miracles, however, seem so utterly to transcend the forces of visible creation that it is justifiable to trace them to the high intelligence and preternatural power of the devil. Several well-authenticated facts of Black Magic and Spiritism almost force us to conclude that the devil had some part in their performance.
CATHOLICS AND MIRACLES
It is fitting to conclude with a brief review of the Catholic attitude towards miracles. Firstly, our Catholic Faith teaches us that miracles are possible and that some facts can be recognised as miracles. (Cf. Vatican Council, session 3, chap. 3 and canon 4; Denzinger's Enchiridion Eymbolorum, Nos. 1790 and 1813.) It is no hardship to hold both those propositions; commonsense itself assures us of their truth. We accept those propositions, however, not merely on the guarantee of commonsense but on the unimpeachable authority of God, Whose teaching is proposed to us by the infallible voice of His Church. We hold, then, by divine Faith (1) that miracles are possible, (2) that some miracles can with certainty be known as such.
Secondly, Catholics believe that Sacred Scripture is the written Word of God, and that, consequently, the miracles recorded there are infallibly true. Of those the outstanding miracles of Christ's life are embodied in the Creed, in which we profess our belief in Christ's Virgin-Birth, His glorious Resurrection and Ascent to Heaven.
MIRACLES OUTSIDE THE BIBLEBesides scriptural miracles there are many miracles recorded in Church History, in the lives of the saints and in the annals of miraculous shrines. Does the Church oblige Catholics to believe those miracles? No; the Church does not propose any of those miracles for our belief.
In the process of Canonisation the Church approves a saint's miracles, but even then she does not regard her approval as infallible or oblige us to accept it by Faith. No Catholic, of course, would be so indocile or irreverent as to question a miracle accepted by the Church. The Catholic knows, moreover, that it would be very foolish in this difficult matter of miracles to pit his weak and faulty judgment against the wisdom and experience of the Church.
It is the duty of the Sacred Congregation of Rites to examine the miracles of those proposed for Canonisation. This Congregation is composed of learned and experienced theologians who, with the aid of experts, submit all miracles to a most thorough and scientific examination until every doubt about their truth and supernaturalness has been removed.
An anecdote related by Daubenton in his Life of St. John-Francis Regis illustrates the extraordinary caution of the Church in approving miracles. Once a distinguished Anglican lawyer was being shown over the offices of the Sacred Congregation of Rites by a Cardinal friend. The Cardinal asked the lawyer to examine some documents containing the proofs of certain miracles submitted to the Congregation. The lawyer did so and expressed his admiration for the thoroughness and incontestability of the proofs offered. "There is no gainsaying those proofs," he confessed, "and if Protestants were aware that the Church exercised even half that care in approving miracles, they would have no difficulty in accepting her verdict." "Well," replied the Cardinal, 'I must inform you that those miracles which you regard as incontestable have been rejected by our Congregation as insufficiently proven.
The Church is silent regarding the many other miracles recorded in history and in the annals of miraculous shrines. We are free, then, so far as the Church's teaching is concerned, to accept or reject them. Though our freedom of thought in these matters is not restricted by Catholic teaching —a fact rarely grasped by non-Catholics--yet common sense may not leave us free but oblige us to accept certain occurrences as true and supernatural. We have vindicated the judgment of commonsense against many attacks, and reached the conclusion that miracles happen. A more detailed historical and philosophical defence of some notable miracles is reserved for another treatise.
Those who grant that miracles are possible and yet reject Christian or Catholic miracles as bogus without having judged them on their historical and philosophical merits do not act reasonably—however they may pride themselves on their superior intelligence—but according to that blind prejudice which is the hall-mark of the bigot. (The source of this unyielding prejudice against miracles is traced in Miracles : Their Possibility and Purpose, p, 20. Such prejudice is not always due to deliberate blindness but frequently to lack of thought or to that limited outlook which regards everything strange and unfamiliar as incredible—two characteristics of "Modern Thought." It is not so easy to acquit our more intelligent opponents of wilful blindness. High intelligence and pride often go hand in hand ; and no one is so blind as the proud man. But here we touch upon the awful mystery of human perverseness which it is given to no man to fathom. The Pharisees refused to see God's handiwork in Christ's most astounding miracles, and even sought to kill Lazarus, the living proof of Christ's divinity—they "loved the darkness rather than the light"—; and in more recent times Emile Zola, having witnessed one of the most unchallengeable miracles ever wrought at Lourdes, passed it over with a joke and returned home to write a most distorted account of the occurrence. Truly, some men will not believe even though the dead rise to convince them.)
To us it seems incredible that anyone who admits the possibility of miracles—or, in other words, the existence of God—should examine impartially the great Christian and Catholic miracles of the past or the actual miracles of today and not be convinced of their truth and supernaturalness.
Censor Theol. Deput.