ND   Christ in the Church / by Robert Hugh Benson

PART II

LIFE AND MINISTRY

V

MIRACLES

We pass on to a further characteristic of 'Catholic life -- the element of the miraculous. And first and foremost it is necessary to point out, that, with the exception of one or two recent sects which do not even attempt to claim historical continuity with the Life of our Lord, there is not one form of Christianity at the present day that even desires to compete with Catholic Christendom in this matter. It is in fact the reproach against the Church in the mouths of most persons who delight in calling themselves "plain men" and "commonsense thinkers" that she has committed herself irreparably to a belief in the constitution of the world and to possible interferences with that constitution, which renders her altogether discredited in the light of the twentieth century. Let us sum up their criticisms on the matter.

1. Until recently it was said simply that the incidents did not happen. Men simply were not restored to health by the prayer of a saint; eyes were not opened; paralysis was not cured; diseases were not vanquished, at so-called holy wells and shrines; levitation was not a fact; communications were not made at great distances except by physical means. And it was obvious, therefore, that those persons who said they did happen were either unscrupulous and dishonest knaves, or fools so blinded by superstition and nervous excitement as to be wholly unworthy of credence.

2. Within the last thirty or forty years, however, a complete volte-face has been performed. No average scientist forty years ago believed that those things happened; no average scientist to-day dreams of doubting them. What is wrong with the Church now, though, is her explanation of the incidents. Of course the things happen, or at any rate most of them; they happen in every hypnotic hospital; they are accomplished by people without the least shadow of faith in Divine power. The whole affair, in fact, is a matter of psychology; there is nothing whatever supernatural about it. So-called miracles, therefore, are of no value whatever in establishing the truth of Religion. It is true that the Church did happen to be in the right, after all, as regards the negligible detail of Facts; she did, as a matter of fact, succeed in observing and recording quite tolerably and accurately that which altogether escaped the notice of scientists; she did, after all, manage somehow or other to secure and use the secrets of psychology and suggestion several centuries before the words existed or the sciences were dreamed of; but that does not at all derogate from her dishonesty now in attempting to exploit what are known to be perfectly natural phenomena for her own ends.

The contemplation of these facts is highly instructive and interesting. We were wrong fifty years ago in our relations of events; and now that we are proved to be right in that matter, we are wrong in our explanation of them. In any case we are wrong, if not dishonest. It is interesting to reflect that even more recently the Catholic belief that two personalities could, in extreme cases, inhabit one body, has been very considerably recognized by scientists; only it is called "Alternating Personality" in order to do away with the possibility of believing anything so grossly superstitious as the existence of discarnate personalities, commonly called Demons.

Before looking into the matter further, let us turn to the records of the Gospel. Two or three important considerations emerge.

1. Jesus Christ claimed that the truth of His Divine Mission was corroborated and sustained by supernatural happenings, by His control over nature. "Believe Me," he says, " for the very works' sake."

2. He promised to His disciples that the same sanctions should accompany their Mission as had accompanied His. "Greater works than these shall ye do, because I go to the Father."

3. These apparently supernatural events were commented upon and rejected in terms and for reasons almost precisely parallel to those with which Catholic miracles are met.

Either they did not happen, or they were done through some power other than that which their Worker declared to be behind them. The man born blind who professed to have been cured by Jesus Christ could not possibly have been born blind; otherwise he could not have been cured. And, finally, he must be a very wicked person, and therefore untrustworthy. Or, when every other explanation failed, those possessed by devils and released by this same upstart Prophet, were declared to be released by the sinister powers of darkness, and not by the Power of God. It is true that this explanation of Catholic miracles has not up to the present been advanced by scientific critics, but surely this is only because their recent advance in study has not yet brought them to the point of believing in the Devil: the explanation has been frequently urged by less well-educated critics of a more simple faith.

4. Since these miracles, then, were alleged to be unsatisfactory as evidence of Christ's Divine Mission, it was asked of Him that He should perform some unmistakable sign from heaven, something that could not be gainsaid; and to this He answered with very clear indignation that no sign should be given except the sign of the Prophet Jonas -- in a word, the Resurrection; and even this, He said, would prove insufficient. "Neither will they be persuaded if one should rise from the dead." This prediction was exactly fulfilled when the empty tomb confronted the incredulous. "The disciples came by night," they said, "and stole Him away."

Let us sum up these considerations in a more compact form.

A certain set of phenomena -- unusual, at any rate -- has accompanied both the inauguration of Christianity and its continuous life ever since in Catholicism. Practically no other forms of Christianity have been distinguished by this mark; in fact, the very claim is not made. Prima facie, therefore, Catholicism in this matter, as in the others of which we have spoken, has an exceptional right to be considered as a true continuation of the religion of the Gospels, since the Founder of Christianity expressly predicted that His true disciples should be so distinguished. So far, therefore, as regards the dispute between Catholicism and Protestantism, it is somewhat pathetic to hear those non-Catholic Christians, who acknowledge freely the miraculous element in the Gospels, striving to explain the absence of that element in Protestantism, in spite of the fact of Christ's own words on the matter. We are told, for example, that miracles were necessary for the establishment of Christianity, but not for its continuation, in spite of the fact that in every heathen country of the world exactly the same need for miracles is found now as was found at the beginning. And, as regards the Catholic claim that miracles are continued amongst the true followers of Jesus Christ, Protestants are forced, in the discounting of this claim, to side with the opponents of all miracles, and to use the same kinds of arguments against them as the avowed enemies of our Lord used against His own.

With regard, however, to the dispute between Catholicism and the rest of the world -- between those, that is, who accept both Christ's miracles and those of the Church and those who deny both or explain them away by natural means, the controversy is far more serious. It is alleged by this latter class, either that the incidents did not happen -- though this is a position that is being very swiftly abandoned by all educated persons who have the very slightest acquaintance with medicine or psychology; -- or else that they did happen -- at least many of them; but that they are of no value as evidential marks of religion, since they can be reproduced by natural means, and are performed under the patronage of other religions besides the Catholic.

Now before passing on to the intentions of Christ in performing these, at least, abnormal feats, it is necessary to make one or two remarks on this latter explanation of the miraculous in general.

1. As has been pointed out, after all it was the Church which was right, and "scientific" opinion wrong as to the objective facts. Those who were dismissed, until recently, either as dishonest or as hysterical visionaries, have been proved to have been more accurate in their observation, and wider in their experience, than their scientific critics. This is a suggestive thought.

2. Again, as has been pointed out, it is remarkable that, if the naturalistic explanation is true -- (and of course no Catholic would dream of denying that there is a modicum of truth in it) -- somehow or another for two thousand years Catholic sanctity has been using and applying forces simply unknown and undreamed of by the scientific world. Even at the present day there are certain non-Christian doctors who acknowledge that what is called "Religious Suggestion" is probably the most powerful of all forms of Suggestion. What then is this strange element distinguishing Religious Suggestion from other forms of suggestion? And what has been the secret by which Catholics have somehow stumbled upon forces of which the rest of the world has, for the most part, known little or nothing?

That there is some truth in the explanation by Suggestion has been always acknowledged, of course, under other terms, by Catholics, and indeed is indicated by Christ Himself. Again and again in His own miracles He has insisted that it is Faith which has made them possible. Even His own power was restrained by a strong environment of incredulousness. "He could do no mighty work there," we read, "because of their unbelief." But this element of Faith does not exclude the other element of the Power on which Faith fastened. In one "mighty work" -- the healing of the woman who touched His garment -- the two are expressly spoken of: "Virtue is gone out of Me," He cried at one moment, and, at the next, "Thy faith hath saved thee." The two therefore are in the relations (as has been said) of a bow to a violin. Neither, in itself, is ordinarily productive of music; each requires its complement. And if it is one-sided, on the one hand, to attribute all to the violin -- all to the sovereign power of God, it is as equally one-sided, on the other -- as is the habit of modern psychological amateurs -- to attribute all to the bow -- all to the apprehensive grasp of Suggestion.

3. A third point is, that all the psychological explanations in the world cannot possibly cover all the alleged incidents, unless a very simple and childlike act of faith is made by the psychologists in question. For instance: There are certain incidents at Lourdes and elsewhere, undoubtedly acknowledged to have taken place (for example, the instantaneous cure of the leg of Pierre de Rudder, broken for eight years) -- which simply cannot be reproduced by all the psychological explanations in the world. Again and again remarkable cures take place -- for instance, the recent cure of Marie Borel -- which might conceivably be brought about by strong Suggestion, but never within the amazingly short space of time in which the cures are actually accomplished. (I am speaking now of cures which simply are not disputed at all by anyone whatever.) How then do psychologists meet these phenomena? They meet them, as I have heard with my own ears, by what Catholics would call an "act of faith," so sublime and so simple that no Breton peasant could surpass it for childlike trust. "I believe," say these scientific psychologists, "in Nature. All that is done is done by Nature. But Nature has her secrets; and these are some of them. When I know more I shall understand how it is done. At present I can only believe and trust." Truly this is magnificent; but it is not Science. It is Faith.

4. Fourthly, there is one general remark on the miraculous as a whole that should be made before considering Christian miracles in particular.

It is advanced against the whole claim that Science has revealed to us the reign of Law; that more and more we are tending to find that all phenomena are produced by law; and that therefore these supposed infringements and interruptions of Law are becoming unthinkable to all scientific minds.

But who in the world ever claimed that miracles involve the breaking or infringement of Laws? It is one of the clauses of the Law of Gravitation that all solid bodies tend to fall towards the center of the earth. But I do not infringe the Law of Gravitation by lifting a book from a table -- I bring another law into force which supersedes, for the time being, or overrides the Law of Gravitation. Now Catholics do not claim that the Lawgiver is forced to break or infringe His own laws when He performs a miracle, but simply that He brings some supernatural force or Law to bear, that for the time being overrides natural law. Catholics claim, in other words, that the Creator is greater than the Creature -- that He has certain realms of energy at His disposal of which we know little or nothing, and that He draws upon this energy to do certain actions in a manner which we cannot, according to our present knowledge, explain. There is nothing whatever unscientific about this, whatever may be its truth or its falsehood. But the non-Christian quasi-scientific method of arguing is just one more instance of the almost incredible provincialism and parochialism of our own days. Scientific persons are not compelled to believe in Christianity unless they consent to do so; but at least they might have learnt (and really scientific persons do learn) the elements of natural humility. The attitude of these quasi-scientists seems to me to resemble the old woman in England who believed without a tremor when her son told her that he had found timbers from the ark upon the top of Mount Ararat; but who indignantly refused to believe him when he said he had seen fish flying in the air. "Fish do not fly in the air," she said, "they swim in the water. Therefore you cannot possibly have seen flying fish."

Let us now turn, however, to miracles as a whole, whether those recorded in the Gospels or in history, and see whether there is not some principle in their intentions which may tend to clear up this agelong confusion as to their evidential value. Let us begin again with a parable. I have a great personal friend, let us say, whom I know intimately in all kinds of ways. Among other things I have the run of his papers and am acquainted with his banking account; and I happen to know that he is of an extremely generous disposition and does good by stealth.

One day I am told in the street that he has given a donation of 1000 to a charitable fund: I am told this on tolerable, but not absolutely unimpeachable authority; but it is so entirely in accordance with what I know of my friend's general character, that I have not the smallest difficulty in believing it. A third person, however, who knows my friend only slightly, upon hearing the same rumor from the same source, at once expresses his disbelief in it. It is not in the least like him, he says; his name never appears in lists of charitable donations. The story is obviously untrue. A few days later, however, he is certified that it is a fact; and he then declares that the money must have been given for an unworthy motive. There must be some explanation behind; perhaps it is blackmail; perhaps it is for the sake of advertisement; perhaps the man is mad.

Now this seems to me a very tolerable parallel to the case of miracles.

It is said that they only convince those who are convinced on other grounds of the truth of Religion. I think that that is, generally speaking, quite true. There is not one instance of an avowed enemy of our Lord being convinced of His Divinity by any miracle; and there is probably not one well authenticated instance of a similar event in the case of any Catholic miracle. For it seems to be undoubtedly a fact that God never has yet consented to perform such an overwhelmingly obvious marvel that free-will no longer has free play. Our Lord refused to do so at least twice in His earthly life. He never absolutely coerces free-will; He never crushes (in a word) the supreme endowment of man. Miracles seem to be of such a nature that it is just possible for one morally indisposed to believe -- one who is completely out of sympathy with God -- to frame an explanation that will dispose of their evidential value. Miracles, both in the Gospels and in the Church, are of such a character that they elicit culminating acts of faith in the hesitating, and confirm and strengthen faith that is beginning to falter. Further, they supply additional evidence to the claim that their worker is Lord over nature; but they do not utterly coerce and crush out of existence the free-will of a man whose whole moral disposition is against faith -- one who, on other grounds, is out of sympathy with God. Each side has a certain right to claim to be logical; just as I myself and the third party of my parable have a right to claim logic in our interpretation of the story about our friend. I, knowing my friend, find that the reported donation is completely in line with what I know of him on other grounds, even though it is abnormal that he should publish his name in this instance; the story gives me just one more emphatic proof that he is a generous and open-hearted man. It is not merely sentiment; it is a real and logical proof. The third person, however, has, on other grounds again, formed quite another opinion of my friend; and he begins, therefore, by disbelieving the story. When, however, the story is shown to be true, he very reasonably sets about finding some explanation that will cover it.

So then with miracles. Catholics, on a thousand moral grounds, believe in the Catholic Church. They are convinced that she is what she claims to be. The disciples of Christ, on originally quite other grounds than His miracles, came to the conclusion that He was more than Man. When, therefore, Catholics hear of miracles -- when the disciples saw the blind healed and the lepers cleansed -- both alike, quite reasonably and logically take the miracles to be confirmatory proofs of what they already know. And those who look on, not yet disciples, but in moral sympathy with the Wonder Worker, are encouraged and helped towards Faith by the same incidents.

Those, on the other hand, who were convinced that our Lord was an impostor -- those who are convinced to-day that the Catholic Church is a sham and a fraud -- those begin by denying the facts. This man could not have been born blind; the other could not have been possessed by a devil; or if he was possessed, he is still possessed. When, however, the fact of the cure is established, they look about for explanations other than the Christian. It was done by the power of Beelzebub; it was done by mere religious suggestion. It proves nothing at all.

For, after all, it is very difficult to frame any miracle that cannot be explained away. If a certam type of modern psychologist saw a man raised from the dead, he would say either that the man was not dead, or that he was not raised. Either it was a fraud, or an illusion. If he saw the Heavens opened and Christ sitting on the Right Hand of the Majesty on high, the papers would be full of headlines next morning, describing the remarkable configuration of clouds, caused, no doubt, by the tail of a comet. We see the same type of determination not to believe among certain schools of Biblical criticism. When the four Evangelists appear to differ minutely in their narrations of the same event, it is a proof that they are untrustworthy and inaccurate; when they precisely agree, it is proof that they have copied from one another, and therefore are untrustworthy again! Heads I win; tails you lose!

Nothing therefore will convince the unconvincible. "They have Moses and the Prophets," says our Lord. "They have the Law they are always talking about, pointing them straight to a Lawgiver; they have Prophets -- men whose eyes are opened, whose words are flame and fire, whose glance is inspiration; they have the moral witness; they have the vision waiting for the pure in heart; they have Moses and the Prophets, the Rule and the Exception -- Nature and Supernature -- kindling in every sunset, vibrating in the instincts of every heart -- If they believe not Moses and the Prophets -- neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."

SUMMARY OF PREVIOUS CHAPTERS.

Before passing on to the next section it will be as well to sum up very shortly the points of identity, already discussed, between Christ and His Church.

1. We began by considering the type of mind from which most sincere Catholics to-day are drawn. They are the Shepherds and the Kings; they are as Peter and Paul. They are the very simple, and the very deep. And this is exactly what we should expect to find among the followers of Divine Truth. Other forms of religion are drawn almost entirely from one class or another. There is no denomination, except the Catholic, that really unites such men as Pasteur, and Huysmans, and Lord Brampton, and Father Cortie, and Professor Windle, on one side, and Biddy Maloney, and Jack Smith, and the negro, and the Neapolitan on the other. For notice that it is actually one Religion that unites them; they believe actually the same things. There are no exoteric and esoteric departments in the Catholic Church. It is natural for human societies to appeal to one class or another; it is natural for a Divine Society to appeal to all classes, except to the bourgeois mind which thinks it has reached the confines of knowledge just because it has not; and to the specialist mind which thinks that its own science is exhaustive of truth. Therefore to-day as in Bethlehem, the bourgeois sits at home and discusses the Census, while Shepherds and Kings adore in the Stable. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be.

2. Next we discussed the mark of Hiddenness. As thirty out of thirty-three years of our Lord's Life were passed in seclusion; so it is characteristic of the Catholic Church alone to regard the life of seclusion and devotion to be even more august than the life of activity. Human societies naturally regard human activities as the supreme duty; but the Divine Society that endures seeing Him who is invisible, regards all merely human activity as comparatively provincial and parochial when contrasted with those enormous and Eternal Interests, that immense silence of Heaven in which sooner or later all noises must sink to rest. It is, then, one of the unique characteristics of Divine Truth on earth, that Heavenly things should, to her eyes, loom larger than earthly.

3. Next we noticed the various problems continually besetting the Church's life on earth; and saw how they arose from her double nature of heaven and earth. If she were either wholly supernatural or wholly natural, they would be no temptations at all, for they are all aimed, so to speak, at her waterline; each of them is an attempt to confuse her between the claims of God on one side and of man on the other; each of them gains its acuteness from her position on both sides. How far may she use earthly means for heavenly ends? How far may she rely upon Divine interposition? How far may she go in tolerating a lesser good for the sake of an ultimate greater good? And we saw, moreover, that these three kinds of difficulty, arising as they do from the two natures claimed by her who is one, correspond exactly to the three temptations recorded of Christ in the outset of His ministry -- Christ who, it is also claimed, was one Person with two natures. And, as a mark of the Divinity of both Christ and His Church, we noticed how such temptations can only really be acute and continuous where the Personality tempted is Divine as well as human.

4. Next we considered, in the public ministry of Christ and the Church, first the manner of teaching and then the substance of it. And we saw that the marks of authoritativeness and a kind of imperiousness were characteristic of both. "He spoke as one having authority; and not as the Scribes," since there is no room for schools of thought among the disciples of a Divine Teacher, amongst those who have received an objective revelation. Human societies, whose ambition is to seek and to ask and to knock, naturally must allow a great deal of latitude as to the direction in which to seek, the best form of words for asking, and as to which doors had best be knocked upon. But a Divine Society which has found, and received; a Society which has already passed through the Door by which men come to the Father; a Society which holds the keys of that door -- in her there is but one Way, one Faith and One Life. She too, then, speaks with authority; she, too, develops, and in certain departments even modifies that which was said "by them of old time." She alone proclaims, as through a trumpet, "I say unto you"; and she alone therefore is really obeyed by her children. We noticed also, in passing, that the same doctrines of Christ which aroused the sharpest opposition in His day rouse the sharpest opposition in our own -- the sacramental system; Absolution; the Real Presence; and the claim to Divinity. To each announcement the same bourgeois question comes back, "Who can? -- How can -- this thing be?" -- a characteristic form of objection from those who think they know everything. "The thing does not fit in with my experience. Therefore it cannot be true."

5. Next we considered the question of Miracles; and we saw that their appeal lay primarily to those who were already morally disposed to believe; that practically no miracle can convince those who are determined not to believe; and that Christians are absolutely justified, considering the evidence already at their disposal, in regarding the miracles both of their Divine Master, and of their Divine Mother, as further evidences and proofs of the supernatural power at work behind them.

These then have been our subjects so far. In each case I have attempted to show that the characteristics of Christ as recorded in the Gospels are the characteristics of the Catholic Church and the Catholic Church only, in the fullest sense; that the effect of these characteristics upon the world is the same now as then; and that these characteristics cannot be reasonably explained except as belonging to an Unique and a Divine Personality.

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