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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/397

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MIRACLE


347


MIRACLE


finally set the great seal upon His mission by rising from death, as He had explicitly foretold. Thus Renan admits that "even the marvellous in the Gos- pels is but sober good sense compared with that which we meet in the Jewish apocryphal writings or the Hindu or European mythologies" (Stud, in Hist, of Relig., pp. 177, 203).

(e) Hence the miracles of Christ have a doctrinal import. They have a vital connexion with His teach- ing and mission, illustrate the nature and purpose of His kingdom, and show a connexion with some of the greatest doctrines and principles of His Church. Its catholicity is shown in the miracles of the centurion's servant (Slatt., viii) antl the Syro-phenician woman (Mark, vii). The Sabbatical miracles reveal its pur- pose, i. e., the salvation of men, and show that Christ's kingdom marks the passing of the Old Dispensation. His miracles teach the power of faith and the answer given to prayer. The central truth of His teaching was life. He came to give life to men, and this teach- ing is emphasized by raising the dead to life, especially in the case of Lazarus and His own Resurrection. The sacramental teaching of the miracles is manifested in the miracle of Cana (John, ii), in the cure of the para- lytic, to show he had the power to forgive sins [and he used this power (Matt., be) and gave it to the Apostles (John, xx, 23) ), in the multiplication of the loaves (John, vi) and in raising the dead. Finally, the prophetic element of the fortunes of the individual and of the Church is shown in the miracles of stilling the tempest, of Christ on the waters, of the draught of fishes, of the didrachma and the barren fig-tree. Jesus makes the miracle of Lazarus the type of the General Resurrection, just as the Apostles take the Resurrection of Christ to signify the rising of the soul from the death of sin to the life of grace, and to be a pledge and prophecy of the victory over sin and death and of the final resurrection (I Thess., iv).

(2) The miracles of Christ have an evidential value. This aspect naturally follows from the above consid- erations. In the first miracle at Cana He " manifested His glory", therefore the disciples "believed in Him" (John, ii, 11). Jesus constantly appealed to His " works " as evidences of His mission and His divinity. He declares that His miracles have greater evidential value than the testimony of John the Baptist (John, v, 36) ; their logical and theological force as evidences is expressed by Nicodemus (John, iii, 2). And to the miracles Jesus adds the evidence of prophecy (John, V, 31). Now their value as evidences for the people then living is found not only in the display of omnip- otence in His redeeming mission but also in the multitude of His works. Thus the unrecorded miracles had an evidential bearing on His mission. So we can see an evidential reason for the selection of the miracles as narrated in the Gospels.

(a) This selection was guided by a purpose to make clear the main events in Christ's life leading up to the Crucifixion and to show that certain definite miracles (e. g., the cure of the lejjers, the casting out of demons in a manner marvellously superior to the exorcisms of the Jews, the Sabbatical miracles, the raising of Laz- arus) caused the rulers of the Synagogue to conspire and put Him to death, (b) A second reason for the selection was the expressed purpose to prove that Jesus was the Son of God (John, xx, 31). Thus, for us, who depend on the Gospel narratives, the evi- dential value of Christ's miracles comes from a com- paratively small number related in detail, though of a most stupendous and clearly supernatural kind, some of which were performed almost in private and fol- lowed by the si rirtc-jt injunctions not to publish them. In considerini; l licm a- evidences in relation to us now living, we may add lc> them the con.stant reference to the multitude of miracles unrecorded in detail, their intimate connexion with our Lord's teaching and life, their relation to the prophecies of the Old Testa-


ment, their own prophetic character as fulfilled in the development of His kingdom on earth.

VIII. Special Providences. — Prayer is a great fact, which finds expression in a persistent manner, and enters intimately into the life of humanity. So universal is the act of prayer that it seems an instinct and part of our being. It is the fundamental fact of religion, and religion is a universal phenomenon of the human race. Christian philosophy teaches that in his spiritual nature man is made to the image and likeness of God, therefore his soul instinctively turns to his Maker in aspirations of worship, of hope, and of intercession. The real value of prayer has been a vital subject for discussion in modern times. vSome, like O. B. Frothringham (Recollections and Impres- sions, p. 296), Drobisch and Herbart (Pfleiderer, "Phil, of Religion", II, p. 296), hold that its value lies only in its being a factor in the culture of the moral life, by giving tone and strength to character. Thus Professor Tyndall, in his famous Belfast address, pro- posed this view, maintaining that modem science has proved the physical value of prayer to be unbelievable (Fragments of Science). He based his contention on the uniformity of nature. But this basis is now no longer held as an obstacle to prayer for physical bene- fits. Others, like Baden-Powell (Order of Nature), admit that God answers prayer for spiritual favours, but denies its value for physical elTects. But his basis is the same as that of 'Tyndall, and besides an answer for spiritual benefits is in fact an interference on the part, of God in nature. Now Christian philos- ophy teaches that God, in answer to prayer, confers not only spiritual favours but at times interferes with the ordinary course of physical phenomena, so that, as a result, particular events happen otherwise than they should. This interference takes place in miracles and special providences.

When we kneel to pray we do not always beg God to work miracles or that our lives shall be constant prodigies of His power. The sense of our littleness gives an humble and reverential spirit to our prayer. We trust that God, through His Infinite knowledge and power, will in some way best known to Him bring about what we ask. Hence, by special providences we mean events which happen in the course of nature and of life through the instrumentality of natural laws. We cannot discern either in the event it.self or in the manner of its happening any deviation from the known course of things. What we do know, how- ever, is that events shape themselves in response to our prayer. The laws of nature are invariable, yet one important factor must not be forgotten: that the laws of nature may produce an effect, the same con- ditions must be present. If the conditions vary, then the effects also vary. By altering the conditions, other tendencies of nature are made predominant, and the forces which otherwise would work out their effects yield to stronger forces. In this way our will interferes with the workings of natural forces and with human tendencies, as is shown in our intercourse with men and in the science of government. Now, if such power rests with men, can God do less? Can we not believe that, at our prayer, God may cause the condi- tions of natural phenomena so to combine that, through His special agency, we may obtain our heart's desire, and yet so that, to the ordinary observer, the event happens in its ordinary place and time. To the devout soul, however, all is different. He recognizes God's favour and is devoutly thankful for the fatherly care. He knows that God has brought the event about in some way. Wlien, therefore, we pray for rain, or to avert a calamity, or to prevent the ravages of plague, we beg not so much for miracles or signs of omnipotence: we a.sk that He who holds the hf-avens in His hands and who searches the abyss will listen to our petitions and, in His own good way, bring about the answer we need,. —