John Henry Newman.

Apologia pro vita sua: being a history of his religious opinions online

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The writer, who gave occasion for the foregoing Narra-
tive, was very severe with me for what I had said about
Miracles in the Preface to the Life of St. Walburga. I
observe therefore as follows : —

Catholics believe that miracles happen in any age of
the Church, though not for the same purposes, in the same
number, or with the same evidence, as in Apostolic times.
The Apostles wrought them in evidence of their divine
mission ; and with this object they have been sometimes
wrought by Evangelists of countries since, as even Pro-
testants allow. Hence we hear of them in the history of
St. Gregory in Pontus, and St. Martin in Gaul ; and in
their case, as in that of the Apostles, they were both
numerous and clear. As they are granted to Evangelists,
so are they granted, though in less measure and evidence,
to other holy men ; and as holy men are not found equally
at all times and in all places, therefore miracles are in
some places and times more than in others. And since,
generally, they are granted to faith and prayer, therefore
in a country in which faith and prayer abound, they will
be more likely to occur, than where and when faith and
prayer are not ; so that their joccurrence is irregular. And
further, as faith and prayer obtain miracles, so still more
commonly do they gain from above the ordinary interven-
tions of Providence ; and, as it is often very difficult to
distinguish between a providence and a miracle, and there
will be more providences than miracles, hence it will
happen that many occurrences will be called miraculous.

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which, strictly speaking, are not such, that is, not more
than providential mercies, or what are sometimes called
**grazie^* or "favours/*

Persons, who believe aU this, in accordance with Catho-
lic teaching, as I did and do, they, on the report of a
miracle, will of necessity, the necessity of good logic, be
led to say, first, " It may be," and secondly, " But I must
have good evidence in order to believe it."

1. It may be, because miracles take place in all ages ;
it must be clearly j^rot?^^]?, because perhaps after all it may be
only a providential mercy, or an exaggeration, or a mistake,
or an imposture. Well, this is precisely what I had said,
which the writer, who has given occasion to this Volume,
considered so irrational. I had said, as he quotes me, " In
this day, and under our present circumstances, we can only
reply, that there is no reason why they should not be."
Surely this is good logic, provided that miracles do occur
in all ages ; and so again I am logical in saying, " There is
nothing, primd facie, in the miraculous accounts in ques-
tion, to repel a properly taught or religiously disposed
mind." What is the matter with this statement P My
assailant does not pretend to say what the matter is, and
he cannot ; but he expresses a rude, unmeaning astonish-
ment. Accordingly, in the passage which he quotes, I
observe, " Miracles are the kind of facts proper to eccle-
siastical history, just, as instances of sagacity or daring,
personal prowess, or crime, are the facts proper to secular
history." What is the harm of this ?

2. But, though a miracle be conceivable, it has to be
'proved. What has to be proved? (1.) That the event
occurred as stated, and is not a false report or an ex-
aggeration. (2.) That it is clearly miraculous, and not a
mere providence or. answer to prayer within the order of
nature. What is the fault of saying this ? The inquiry
is parallel to that which is made about some extraordinary

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300 NOTE B.


fact in secular history. Supposing I hear that King
Charles II. died a Catholic, I am led to say : It may be,
but what is jour proof ?

In my Essay on Miracles of the year 1826, 1 proposed
three questions about a professed miraculous occurrence :
]. is it antecedently probable ? 2. is it in its nature cer-
tainly miraculous P 3. has it sufficient evidence ? To these
three heads I had regard in my Essay of 1842 ; and under
them I still wish to conduct the inquiry into the miracles
of Ecclesiastical History.

So much for general principles ; as to St. Walburga,
though I have no intention at all of denying that nu-
merous miracles have been wrought by her intercession,
still, neither the Author of her Life, nor I, the Editor,
felt that we had grounds for binding ourselves to the
belief of certain alleged miracles in particular. I made,
however, one exception; it was the medicinal oil which
flows from her relics. Now as to the vermmilitude^ the
miraculomness, and the fact, of this medicinal oil.

1. The vermmilitude. It is plain there is nothing ex-
travagant in this report of her relics having a supernatural
virtue; and for this reason, because there are such in-
stances in Scripture, and Scripture cannot be extravagant.
For instance, a man was restored to life by touching the
relics of the Prophet Eliseus. The sacred text runs thus :
— " And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands
of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the
year. And it came to pass, as they were burying a man,
that, behold, they spied a band of men ; and they cast the
man into the sepulchre of Elisha. And, when the man
was let down, and touched the bones ofEHsha^ he revived, and
stood upon his feet." Again, in the case of an inanimate
substance, which had touched a living Saint: "And God
wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul; so that

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from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or
aprons, and the diseases departed from them" And again
in the case of a pool : " An Angel went doton at a certain
season into the pool, and troubled the water; whosoever
then first, after the troubling of the water, stepped in,
was made whole of whatsoever disease he had." 2 Kings
[4 Kings] xiii. 20, 21. Acts xix. 11, 12. John v. 4.
Therefore there is nothing extravagant in the character of
the miracle.

2. Next, the matter of fact :— is there an oil flowing
from St. Walburga's tomb, which is medicinal ? To this
question I confined myself in my Preface. Of the ac-
counts of medieval miracles, I said that there was no extras
vagance in their general character, but I could not affirm
that there was always evidence for them. I could not
simply accept them as facts, but I could not reject them in
their nature; — they might be true, for they were not im-
possible; but they were not proved to be true, because
there was not trustworthy testimony. However, as to St.
Walburga, I repeat, I made one exception, the fact of the
medicinal oil, since for that miracle there was distinct and
successive testimony. And then I went on to give a chain
of witnesses. It was my duty to state what those wit-
nesses said in their very words ; so I gave the testimonies
in full, tracing them from the Saint's death. I said, "She
is one of the principal Saints of her age and country.''
Then I quoted Basnage, a Protestant, who says, "Six
writers are extant, who have employed themselves in
relating the deeds or miracles of Walburga." Then I
said that her " renown was not the mere natural growth of
ages, but begins with the very century of the Saint's
death." Then I observed that only two miracles seem to
have been " distinctly reported of her as occurring in her
lifetime ; and they were handed down apparently by tra-
dition." Also, that such miracles are said to have com-

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302 KOTB B.

menced about a.d. 777. Then I spoke of the medicinal oil
as having testimony to it in 893, in 1306, after 1450, in
1615, and in 1620. Also, I said that Mabillon seems not
to have believed some of her miracles ; and that the earliest
witness had got into trouble with his Bishop. And so I
left the matter, as a question to be decided by evidence,
not deciding any thing myself.

What was the harm of all this ? but my Critic mud-
dled it together in a most extraordinary manner, and
I am far from sure that he knew himself the definite cate-
gorical charge which he intended it to convey against me.
One of his remarks is, " What has become of the holy oH
for the last 240 years, Dr. Newman does not say," p. 25.
Of course I did not, because I did not know ; I gave the
evidence as I foimd it ; he assumes that I had a point to
prove, and then asks why I did not make the evidence
larger than it was.

I can tell him more about it now : the oil still flows ; I
have had some of it in my possession ; it is medicinal still.
This leads to the third head.

3. Its miraculomneaa. On this point, since I have been
in the Catholic Church, I have found there is a difference
of opinion. Some persons consider that the oil is the
natural produce of the rock, and has ever flowed from it ;
others, that by a divine gift it flows from the relics ; and
others, allowing that it now comes naturally from the
rock, are disposed to hold that it was in its origin mira-
culous, as was the virtue of the pool of Bethsaida.

This point must be settled of course before the virtue of
the oil can be ascribed to the sanctity of St. Walburga ; for
myself, I neither have, nor ever have had, the means of
going into the question ; but I will take the opportunity
of its having come before me, to make one or two remarks,
supplemental of what I have said on other occasions.

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1. I frankly confess that the present advance of science
tends to make it probable that various facts take place,
and have taken place, in the order of nature, which
hitherto have been considered by Catholics as simply super-

2. Though I readily make this admission, it must not
be supposed in consequence that I am disposed to grant at
once, that every event was natural in point of fact, which
might have taken place by the laws of nature ; for it is
obvious, no Catholic can bind the Almighty to act only in
one and the same way, or to the observance always of His
own laws. An event which is possible in the way of na-
ture, is certainly possible too to Divine Power without
the sequence of natural cause and effect at all. A con-
flagration, to take a parallel, may be the work of an
incendiary, or the result of a flash of lightning; nor
would a jury think it safe to find a man guilty of arson, if
a dangerous thunderstorm was raging at the very time
when the fire broke out. In like manner, upon the hypo-
thesis that a miraculous dispensation is in operation, a
recovery from diseases to which medical science is equal,
may nevertheless in matter of fact have taken place, not
by natural means, but by a supernatural interpositiop.
That the Lawgiver always acts through His own laws, is
an assumption, of which I never saw proof. In a given
case, then, the possibility of assigning a human cause
for an event does not ipso facto prove that it is not

3. So far, however, is plain, that, till some experimenttim
cruets can be found, such as to be decisive against the
natural cause or the supernatural, an occurrence of this
kind will as little convince an imbeliever that there has
been a divine interference in the case, as it will drive the
Catholic to admit that there has been no interference at

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304 KOTB B.

4. StQI tliere is tliis gain accruing to the Catholic cause
from the larger views we now possess of the operation of
natural causes, viz. that our opponents will not in future
be so ready as hitherto, to impute fraud and falsehood to
our priests and their witnesses, on the ground of their pre-
tending or reporting things that are incredible. Our
opponents have again and again accused us of false wit-
ness, on account of statements which they now allow are
either true, or may have been true. They account indeed
for the strange facts very diflFerently from us; but still
they allow that facts they were. It is a great thing to
have our characters cleared ; and we may reasonably hope
that, the next time our word is vouched for occurrences
which appear to be miraculous, our facts will be investi-
gated, not our testimony impugned.

6. Even granting that certain occurrences, which we
have hitherto accounted miraculous, have not absolutely a
claim to be so considered, nevertheless they constitute an
argument still in behalf of Revelation and the Church.
Providences, or what are called grazie, though they do not
rise to the order of miracles, yet, if they occur again and
again in connexion with the same persons, institutions, or
doctrines, may supply a cimiulative evidence of the fact
of a supernatural presence in the quarter in which they
are found. I have already alluded to this point in my
Essay on Ecclesiastical Miracles, and I have a particular
reason, as will presently be seen, for referring here to
what I said in the course of it.

In that Essay, after bringing its main argument to an
end, I append to it a review of "the evidence for particular
alleged miracles." " It does not strictly fall within the
scope of the Essay,'' I observe, "to pronounce upon the
truth or falsehood of this or that miraculous narrative, as
it occurs in ecclesiastical history ; but only to furnish such


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general considerations, as may be useful in forming a
decision in particular cases/* p. cv. However, I thought
it right to go farther and " to set down the evidence for
and. against certain miracles as we meet with them," ibid.
In discussing these miracles separately, I make the fol-
lowing remarks, to which I have just been referring.

After discussing the alleged miracle of the Thundering
Legion, I observe: — "Nor does it concern us much to
answer the objection, that there is nothing strictly mira-
culous in such an occurrence, because sudden thunder-
clouds after drought are not unfrequent; for, I would
answer. Grant me such miracles ordinarily in the early
Church, and I will ask no other ; grant that, upon prayer,
benefits are vouchsafed, deliverances are effected, unhoped-
for results obtained, sicknesses cured, tempests laid, pesti-
lences put to flight, famines remedied, judgments inflicted,
and there will be no need of analyzing the causes, whether
supernatural or natural, to which they are to be referred.
They may, or they may not, in this or that case, follow or
surpass the laws of nature, and they may do so plainly or
doubtfully, but the common sense of mankind will call
them miraculous; for by a miracle is popularly meant,
whatever be its formal definition, an event which im-
presses upon the mind the immediate presence of the
Moral Governor of the world. He may sometimes act
through nature, sometimes beyond or against it; but
those who admit the fact of such interferences, will have
little diflBculty in admitting also their strictly miraculous
character, if the circumstances of the case require it, and
those who deny miracles to the early Church will be
equally strenuous against allowing her the grace of such
intimate influence (if we may so speak) upon the course of
divine Providence, as is here in question, even though it
be not miraculous.*' — p. cxxi.

And again, speaking of the death of Arius : " But after

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306 NOTE B.

all/ was it a miracle P for, if not, we are labouring at a
proof of which nothing cohkjs- The more immediate
answer to this question has already been suggested several
times. When a Bishop with his flock prays night and
day against a heretic, and at length begs of God to take
him away, and when he is suddenly taken away, almost at
the moment of his triumph, and that by a death awfully
significant, from its likeness to one recorded in Scripture,
is it not trifling to ask whether such an occurrence comes
up to the definition of a miracle ? The question is not
whether it is formally a miracle, but whether it is an
event, the like of which persons, who deny that miracles
continue, will consent that the Church should be consi-
dered still able to perform. If they are willing to allow
to the Church such extraordinary protection, it is for them
to draw the line to the satisfaction of people in general,
between these and strictly miraculous events ; if, on the
other hand, they deny their occurrence in the times of the
Church, then there is sufficient reason for our appealing
here to the history of Arius in proof of the affirmative."
— p. clxxii.

These remarks, thus made upon the Thundering Legion
and the death of Arius, must be applied, in consequence of
investigations made since the date of my Essay, to the ap-
parent miracle wrought in favour of the African confessors
in the Yandal persecution. Their tongues were cut out
by the Arian tyrant, and yet they spoke as before. In
my Essay I insisted on this fact as being strictly miracu-
lous. Among other remarks (referring to the instances
adduced by Middleton and others in disparagement of the
miracle, viz. of a "a girl born without a tongue, who yet
talked as distinctly and easily, as if she had enjoyed the
full benefit of that organ," and of a boy who lost his
tongue at the age of eight or nine, yet retained his speech,
whether perfectly or not,) I said, "Does Middleton mean

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to say, that, if certain of men lost their tongues at (he
command of a tyrant for the sake of their religion, and then
spoke as plainly as before, nay if only one person was so
mutilated and so gifted, it would not be a miracle ?" —
p. OCX. And I enlarged upon the minute details of the
fact as reported to us by eye-witnesses and contemporaries.
" Out of the seven writers adduced, six are contemporaries;
three, if not four, are eye-witnesses of the miracle. One
reports from an eye-witness, and one testifies to a fervent
record at the burial-place of the subjects of it. All seven
were living, or had been staying, at one or other of the
two places which are mentioned as their abode. One is a
Pope, a second a Catholic Bishop, a third a Bishop of a
schismatical party, a fourth an emperor, a fifth a soldier,
a politician, and a suspected infidel, a sixth a statesman
and courtier, a seventh a rhetorician and philosopher,
f He cut out the tongues by the roots,' says Yictor, Bishop
of Vito; *I perceived the tongues entirely gone by the
roots,' says JEneas ; ' as low down as the throat,' says
Procopius ; ' at the roots,' say Justinian and St. Gregory ;
*he spoke like an educated man, without impediment,'
says Yictor of Vito ; ' with articulateness,' says JEneas ;
'better than before;' 'they talked without any impedi-
ment,' says Procopius ; ' speaking with perfect voice,'
says Marcellinus ; ' they spoke perfectly, even to the end,'
says the second Yictor ; '* the words were formed, full, and
perfect,' says St. Gregory." — p. ccviii.

However, a few years ago an Article appeared in " Notes
and Queries " (No. for May 22, 1858), in which various
evidence was adduced to show that the tongue is not ne-
cessary for articulate speech.

1. Col. Churchill, in his "Lebanon," speaking of the
cruelties of Djezzar Pacha, in extracting to the root the
tongues of some Emirs, adds, *'It is a curious fact, how-

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308 NOTE B,

ever, that the tongaes grow again sufficiently for the
purposes of speech."

2. Sir John Malcolm, in his "Sketches of Persia,"
speaks of Zab, Khan of Khisht, who was condemned to lose
his tongue. " This mandate," he says, " was imperfectly
executed, and the loss of half this member deprived him
of speech. Being afterwards persuaded that its being cut
close to the root would enable him to speak so as to be
understood, he submitted to the operation ; and the effect
has been, that his voice, though indistinct and thick, is yet
intelligible to persons accustomed to converse with him.
... I am not an anatomist, and I cannot therefore give a
reason, why a man, who could not articulate with half a
tongue, should speak when he had none at all ; but the
facts are as stated."

3. And Sir John McNeill says, "In answer to your
inquiries about the powers of speech retained by persons
who have had their tongues cut out, I can state from per-
sonal observation, that several persons whom I knew in
Persia, who had been subjected to that punishment, spoke
so intelligibly as to be able to transact important business.
. . . The conviction in Persia is universal, that the power
of speech is destroyed by merely cutting off the tip of the
tongue ; and is to a useful extent restored by cutting off
another portion as far back as a perpendicular section can
be made of the portion that is free from attachment at the
lower surface, t • . I never had to meet with a person
who had suffered this punishment, who could not speak so
as to be quite intelligible to his familiar associates."

I should not be honest, if I professed to be simply con-
verted, by these testimonies, to the belief that there was
nothing miraculous in the. case of the African confessors.
rt is quite as fair to be sceptical on one side of the question

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as on the other ; and if Gibbon is considered worthy of praise
for bis stubborn incredulity in receiving the evidence
for this miracle, I do not see why I am to be blamed, if I
wish to be quite sure of the full appositeness of the recent
evidence which is brought to its disadvantage. Questions
of fact cannot be disproved by analogies or presumptions ;
the inquiry must be made into the particular case in all
its parts, as it comes before us. Meanwhile, I fully allow
that the points of evidence brought in disparagement of
the miracle are prima facie of such cogency, that, till they
are proved to be irrelevant, Catholics are prevented from
appealing to it for controversial purposes.

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310 KOTB a

NOTE 0. ON PAGE 153.


The professed basis of the charge of lying and equivoca-
tion made against me, and, in my person, against the
Catholic clergy, was, as I have already noticed in the
Preface, a certain Sermon of mine on "Wisdom and Inno-
cence," being the 20th in a series of "Sermons on Subjects
of the Day," written, preached, and published while I was
an Anglican. Of this Sermon my accuser spoke thus in
his Pamphlet : —

" It is occupied entirely with the attitude of * the world * to * Christians '
and ' the Church/ By the world appears to be signified, especially, the Pro-
testant public of these realms ; what Dr. Newman means by Christians, and
the Church, he has not left in doubt ; for in the preceding Sermon he says :
* But if the truth must be spoken, what are the humble monk and the holj
nun, and other regulars, as they are called, but Christians after the very pattern
given us in Scripture, &c.' .... This is his definition of Christians. And
in the Sermon itself, he sufficiently defines what he means by *the Church,' in
two notes of her character, which he shall^give in his own words : ' What, for
instance, though we grant that sacramental confession and the celibacy of the
clergy do tend to consolidate the body politic in the relation of rulers and
subjects, or, in other words, to aggrandize the priesthood ? for how can the
Church be one body without such relation ?' " — Pp. 8, 9.

He then proceeded to analyze and comment on it at
great length, and to criticize severely the method and tone
of my Sermons generally. Among other things, he
said : —

" What, then, did the Sermon mean 7 Why was it preached ? To insinu-
ate that a Church which had sacramental confession and a celibate clergy was
the only true Church ? Or to insinuate that the admiring young gentlemen
who listened to him stood to their fellow-countrymen in the relation of the
early Christians to the heathen Romans ? Or that Queen Victoria's Govern-
ment was to the Church of England what Nero's or Dioclesian's was to the

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Chorcb of Rome ? It may bave been so. I know tbat men used to suspect
Dr. Newman, — I bave been inclined to do so myself,— of writing a wbole
Sermon, not for tbe sake of tbe text or of tbe matter, but for the sake of one
single passing bint — one pbrase, one epitbet, one little barbed arrow, wbicb,
as he swept magnificently past on the stream of his calm eloquence, seemingly
unconscious of all presences, save those unseen, he delivered unheeded, as
with his finger-tip, to the very heart of an initiated hearer, never to be with-

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanApologia pro vita sua: being a history of his religious opinions → online text (page 26 of 33)