JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

The Credentials of Revelation.

11. While we should not he so irrational as to refuse credence to a revelation when we know that it comes from God, we should, on the other hand, not be so imprudent as to accept every thing that pretends to he a revelation, without thorough scrutiny of its claims to our acceptance. This caution applies both to private revelations, such namely as are intended for the recipient, -- or at most for a limnited number of persons, -- and to public revelations, which are given to one person but are designed to command the submissive acceptance of all. With the latter alone we are here concerned. This submission cannot reasonably be demanded of us, unless the Divine messenger produce reliable proof that he has a warrant for his claim to our submission. Belief without proof may easily be a sin of imprudence. Now it is hard to conceive a mode in which such a messenger could be accredited except by miracles and prophecies; these are called the credentials of revelation, and the Christian religion is ready to produce them.

12. A miracle may be defined as "a marvellous event, out of the ordinary course of nature, and produced by Almighty God." A marvellous event is one that makes men wonder. But nature is full of wonders, and yet we do not call them miracles; a miracle is out of the ordinary course of nature. It must besides come from God, either directly, or -- which would be the same as far as our purpose is concerned -- through His messengers, the good Angels. If the wonderful effect may, for all we know, have been produced by a man or by an evil spirit, or by some law of material nature, then we have no right to call the fact a miracle. We may distinguish two kinds of true miracles. If God interferes with the laws of material nature, we have a physical miracle, as when He restores the dead to life; if with the laws of moral nature, it is a moral miracle, as when a whole people. at the words of a preacher, suddenly abandons inveterate habits of vice and enters on a life of heroic virtue. A moral miracle, therefore, is an event depending upon the free-will of man, but which is inconsistent with the principles that ordinarily regulate human conduct, and which can only come from God.

13. If true miracles are known for certain to have been wrought at the word of a man who claims to have a mission from God, he must then be received as an accredited messenger of the Most High, and his message as a true revelation. That real miracles are thus credentials from God is evident, since God alone can perform them. They are like His signature or His seal; and He certainly cannot put His seal upon the claims of an impostor.

Since however miracles, if they really happen, are convincing proofs of God's approbation of a doctrine. rationalists have brought all manner of objections against their occurrence and their very possibility; and they have striven hard to prove that, even if a miracle were worked, we could never know it to be genuine, really proceeding from God. It will suffice to answer them thus: 1. The testimony of science cannot be invoked against the possibilitv of miracles, since even the leading Agnostic scientist Huxley writes "No one is entitled to say a priori that any given so-called miraculous event is impossible" (Science and the Bishops, XIX Cent., Nov. 1887). 2. The occasional working of miracles does not interfere with scientific knowledge; thus the fact that Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, does not affect the science of medicine, nor throw doubt upon the truths of any other science. 3. The famous argument of Hume against the cognoscibility of miracles, when it is logically examined, is seen to be a wretched fallacy. He claims that we have physical certainty that the dead do not rise, and only moral certainty that Lazarus rose from the dead; but physical, he says, is stronger than moral certainty. Now we have no physical, nor any other certainty that the dead can never rise, but only that the dead do not rise by the powers or laws of nature; and we have metaphysical certainty that God is powerful enough to raise them to life, if he chooses to do so. The witnesses on the occasion had physical certainty that Lazarus did rise from the dead, and we have moral certainty that their testimony is reliable, for they testified what was against their own wish in the matter.

14. Yet the extraordinary importance of the claim to be a messenger from God, makes it necessary, when this claim is presented, that the credentials, and whatever regards the person and the circumstances of the claimant, and his very message itself, be most carefully examined. The tests, or criteria, to be applied are chiefly these 1. Does the message contain anything contradictory to truths which are already known by reason or by a former well-ascertaimied revelation? If so, the new message cannot be true, for one truth cannot contradict another. Such are the pretended revelations of Spiritists; for they deny the existence of eternal punishment, the Divinity of Christ, etc. 2. Is the pretended messenger known to be actuated in his claim by unworthy motives, such as vainglory, greed of money, etc.? If so, we have reason to suspect his mission 3. Is there any circumstance connected with the pretended miracles which is dishonorable to God or injurious to morality? If so, the works cannot be Divine. For instance, if they are intended for the mere gratification of curiosity; as in the exhibitions of public showmen, who produce astonishing effects by what they call mesmerism, hypnotism, clairvoyance, second-sight, mind-reading, etc. All this is generally rank imposture, sometimes worse; while Spiritism, Christian-science cures, Theosophy, and other such sensational exhibitions, are directly anti-Christian in the doctrines which they inculcate. Besides, no virtuous man can have recourse to any practices in which there are good reasons to think that evil spirits are concerned; yet they may easily be concerned in the performances of false pretenders in matters of religion.

15. Prophecy is another of the credentials by which a messenger of God may be accredited to man. It consists in foretelling with certainty, not as a mere guess or calculation, events which cannot be known at the time by any one but God; as, when the Prophet Micheas more than seven centuries before the birth of Christ, foretold that the Messias would be born in Bethlehem (Mich. V. 2).

16. If it be objected that it is not always easy to discern true from pretended miracles and prophecies, we grant the assertion; and we conclude from it that no one should be hasty to pronounce an event miraculous, or a prediction a true prophecy. But it is not by doubtful miracles and prophecies that Divine revelation is proved to the careful student of the Catholic religion. We appeal only to such facts as are above all reasonable suspicion. Such, for instance, were the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and especially the Resurrection of Christ, and His prediction of it in His lifetime; such too was the sudden cure of the lame man by Saints Peter and John, which is related with copious details in the Acts of the Apostles (III). From the Old Testament we may select, as a good example of a true miracle and prophecy combined, the event narrated in the eighteenth chapter of the third Book of Kings; namely, when Elias brought down fire from Heaven to consume his sacrifice and confound the priests of Baal. (See further nn. 27-31.)

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