Imágenes de páginas

Until the design appear, we cannot use it as an element of probability; but must determine the question by the ordinary rules which regulate the proof of facts. There is a maxim of jurisprudence which forbids us to construe privileges into precedents, and there is surely a similar maxim in logic against converting exceptions into rules; and, in the meanwhile, until it can be shown that the ecclesiastical miracles not only may be, but are, the results of some law of miracles, it is evident that they are, as we have said, obnoxious to the pressure of a double improbability-first, that arising from their departure from the analogy of nature—and, secondly, that arising from their departure from the analogy of miracle.

Mr. Newman, indeed, like Bellarmine, (of whom he often reminds us, though seldom in this respect) puts the argument against himself so strongly as to make his reply to it appear, even in his own pages, in a very disadvantageous light :

“ It may be urged," says he, “that, while the scripture miracles can do little towards a recommendation of subsequent miracles, as miracles.... they actually tend to discredit them, as being subsequent ; for, from the nature of the case, irregularities can be but rarely allowed in any system. It is, at first sight, not to be expected that the author of nature should interrupt his own harmonious order at all, though powerful to do so; and, therefore, the fact of his having already done so, makes it only less probable that he will do so again. Moreover, could a recurrence of miraculous agency be anticipated, it would be a recurrence of a like agency, not any manifestation of power whatever, however different from it; whereas the miracles of the ages subsequent to the Apostles are on the whole so very unlike those of which we read in Scripture, in their object, circumstances, nature, and evidence, as even to be disproved by the very contrast."-(p. xvi.)

How does Mr. Newman answer this fair and cogent reasoning ? “ The ordinary providence of God,” says he, “is conducted upon a system ; and as even creation is now contemplated by philosophers as possibly subject to fixed laws, so it is more probable than not, that there is also a law of supernatural manifestations. And thus the occurrence of miracles is rather a presumption for than against their recurrence; such events being not isolated acts, but the symptoms of the presence of an agency."-(p. xxii.)

We certainly have no mind to call in question Mr. Newman's position, that it is more probable than not that the variations from the course of nature, which we call miracles, are themselves subjeet to some law, since, as the reader has perceived, our objection to the ecclesiastical miracles has been formed upon that principle; but we cannot readily understand how he makes this reasonable position of any service for the purposes of his argument. He cannot, we presume he cannot, mean, that miracles have ceased to be miracles, i. e., strange and wonderful occurrences, by having once taken place, or that there are just as many chances for a deviation from the course of nature as there are against it. If this be not held, then it must be admitted that the laws which regulate miracles are laws which, in some way or other, render them essentially strange events, and insure the ordinary stability of the course of nature. Whatever other elements, therefore, enter into the law by which the occurrence of miracles is determined, a necessary infrequency is one of them; and, until we can see some of the positive elements of the law in operation, (i. e. some of those elements which do not check, but require miracles, as the final cause for instance), this negative element, which we always can see, must act strongly against the probability of their repetition. It is the same case with respect to all essentially rare deviations from a particular course of things, while that course of things is the usual one. For instance, a man's having once thrown doublets four times running at a game of backgammon, lessens instead of increasing his chances of having the same throws again; and a man's once escaping with his life, from very perilous circumstances, is no reason for expecting that he will have the same good fortune at another time. On the contrary, the oftener a man goes into great peril and comes out of it safely, the more the chances increase, that he will not escape upon a recurrence of the same circumstances. But, not only does this negative element of the law of miracles act strongly against the probability of the facts in question; but they are also, as we said, pressed by another presumption arising from the absence of those characters which seem to indicate the positive elements of the law of true miracles. For, as there arises à presumption against strange facts, when compared with the course of nature, from their unlikeness to it; so there arises a presumption against strange miracles from their unlikeness to a known miraculous course of things. Now the general dissimilarity between the ecclesiastical miracles, as a whole, and the scripture miracles, as a whole, is very eloquently stated, and distinctly admitted by Mr. Newman himself, in the beginning of his third section:

"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 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. We find the gift often committed, in the words of Middleton, not to the successors of the Apostles, to the Bishops, the Martyrs, or the principal champions of the Christian cause, but to boys, to women, and, above all, to private and obscure laymen, not only of an inferior, but sometimes also of a bad character.' The miracles of Scripture are, as a whole, grave, simple, and majestic ; those of ecclesiastical history often partake of what may be called a romantic character, and of that wildness and inequality which enters into the notion of romance. The miracles of Scripture are undeniably of a supernatural character; 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 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 in certain spots, recorded at a distance from the time and country when and where they profess to have occurred, and brought into shape by the juxta-position of distinct informants. Moreover, in ecclesiastical history, true and false miracles are mixed; whereas in Scripture, inspiration has selected the true to the exclusion of all others.”—(pp. xxiv. xxv.)

The Theophanies and Angelophanies of the Patriarchal Church, before the mission of Moses, seem hardly capable of being ranked as miracles. Sensible intercourse between the spiritual and the lower world appears to have formed part of the original course of nature, as established at the creation; and although restricted upon the fall of man, yet never wholly broken off. During the ante-Mosaic period, there are scarcely any recorded interferences with the established sequency of physical causes, except the great universal judgment of the flood, and the confusion of Babel. The dispensation of miracles, properly so called, begins with the legation of Moses and the establishment of the theocracy; answering, in general, the necessary purposes of affording credentials to the messengers of God to the Jews, or to the Jews themselves as His incorporated witnesses to the Gentile world; and following, in this latter case, upon the distinctly recorded purpose and promise of God, declared by His commissioned legate. It is observable also that none of these miracles were left to be transmitted to after-ages, by less satisfactory evidence than the inspired and publicly-recognized documents of the Jewish Church ; and that, in proportion as the people, passing from their former rudeness and confusion, became capable of profiting by rational and historical, rather than by sensible instruction, the former modes were preferred to the latter ; so that, upon the completion of the old canon and the establishment of a sufficient machinery for bringing its lessons within the reach of all, miraculous interpositions wholly ceased; Malachi sealing, as it were, the extraordinary dispensation by a solemn admonition to "remember the law of Moses, which God commanded him in Horeb, with the statutes and judgments," and promising no farther inspired guidance until the coming of the mystical Elias. When the publication of the Gospel renders new credentials necessary, miracles reappear, as the signs of Jesus' Messiahship, and the Church requiring new prophets, they are appointed and endued with the proper evidences of the prophetic character. The presence of the Holy Spirit is attested to the Church and to the world, by extraordinary operations, distinctly Loretold and promised, as in the former case. As in the former case also, inspired chroniclers are provided to record the promise and its fulfilment; a written canon is compiled, rendering the lessons and evidences, sensibly afforded in one age, of permanent sufficiency for all others, and a machinery constructed for the diffusion and conservation of the documents which it contains. Such, apparently, are the general marks which indicate the law of miracles, as far as it can be collected from the great body of wellattested phenomena. If, in so great a number, there are some which, from insufficient light, appear at present, anomalous ; it is not from these instantiæ solitariæ and deviantes that the law is to be collected, but from the conformable characters of numerous clear and repeated experiments. What can possibly be more repugnant to analogy than to suppose a system, in which the exception becomes the general rule, and the general rule the exception ? Yet such is the conclusion we must arrive at, if we admit the ecclesiastical miracles.

On the contrary, it is evident that if fraud or fanaticism, or a combination of both, were to set about forging for themselves a continuation of the Scripture miracles, these strange and imperfectly understood instances are precisely those which they would naturally seize upon as precedents; both as being more easily counterfeited, and from their romantic wildness) most fitted to strike and inflame the imagination. This is an additional and independent ground for suspecting the legendary prodigies.

But it is said (apparently for want of anything else to say) that, at any rate, the Church miracles do not differ more from the Scripture miracles than do the Scripture miracles themselves from the course of nature. Admit this, and what then? Is it not plain that, as the variance in the one case creates a presumption against them, which can only be overcome by the strongest evidence, the variance in the other must act in the same way? But the absurdity of the allegation lies in this : that the very nature and end of miracles requires that they should be wholly different from the FEB. 1843.


course of nature. This is involved in the very notion of them. Whereas there is nothing of the kind which requires that new miracles should differ from all former ones.

Mr. Newman (as might be expected) has shewn a sort of similar dexterity in collecting and representing, in the most startling form, the circumstances which are usually felt as more or less difficult in the Scripture narratives of miracles. This is not the first time that he has exhibited his zeal in “ doing the proper work” of the infidel; and one cannot but remark in this reckless determination to risk the very authority of God's revelation for the sake of obtruding upon men's faith what is superfluous and unnecessary to be believed—in this bold determination to maintain his system at all hazards, and this utter carelessness of scandal to the weak in a confessedly sceptical generation—another evidence of congeniality with the temper of the Romish controversials. In this spirit, some miracles of Elisha—the exploits of Samson, and the memorable case of the handkerchiefs and aprons brought from Paul's body, are appealed to as parallel to certain legends which were current in the Post-Nicene church. The miracles of Elisha were the credentials of his prophetic character, the proper evidence to himself and others of his commission, as Jehovah's nuncio, to reform a disordered commonwealth. This was their grand general design ; and (while they answered this design) it was of little matter upon what slight immediate occasions they were wrought. One would expect beforehand that where a miracle was necessary for such purposes, it would be wrought upon the first occasion that presented itself. In the legends, on the contrary, the trivial immediate purpose is the only end apparent. Whatever is strange in the exploits of Samson seems to result from this, that the peculiar gift bestowed upon him—preternatural bodily strength was not occasional and transitory (like the power of working miracles) but habitual; and, therefore, equally liable to abuse with natural endowments. The restoration of the corpse to life upon touching Elisha's bones, is a solitary instance; yet we can plainly see the fitness of, by such an awful testimony, reviving the memory of that great prophet's instruction and example, at a time and juncture when it was of great importance that they should not be forgotten. Besides, there is a sublimity that must strike every one in a miracle which attests the sanctity of death, in a dispensation where many things conspired to make it dreadful, and which shewed that, though the chariots and horses of fire which bore his master from the earth were not vouchsafed to the disciple, the God of the living was as truly the God of the buried Elisha as he was of the translated Elijah. The cures wrought by the handkerchiefs brought

« AnteriorContinuar »