John Henry Newman.

Two essays on Biblical and on ecclesiastical miracles online

. (page 1 of 25)
Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanTwo essays on Biblical and on ecclesiastical miracles → online text (page 1 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



















Received -.r^^^cfc^ iSSIl

Accessions No,_^A?r^j^^^ ^' Shelf No,. _.


■^^^ - Hn^









ST. John's square.










Oil *a f .-fc..: AW He' A A




Z 7. /^^^










BOTH these Essays were written when the author
was Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford.

The former of them, on the Miracles of Scrip-
ture, was written in 1825-26 for the "Encyclopaedia
Metropolitana," being the sequel to a Life of Apollo-
nius Tyanaeus.

The latter, on the Miracles of the first age of
Christianity, was written in 1842-43, as a Preface to
a Translation of a portion of Fleury's Ecclesiastical

In the first of the two, the Miracles of Scripture are
regarded as mainly addressed to religious inquirers,
of an evidential nature, the instruments of conversion,
and the subjects of an inspired record. In the
second, the Ecclesiastical Miracles are regarded as
addressed to Christians, the rewards of faith, and the
matter of devotion, varying in their character from
simple providences to distinct innovations upon phy-
sical order, and coming to us by tradition or in
legend, trustworthy or not, as it may happen in the
particular case.

viii Advertisement

These distinct views of miraculous agency, thus
contrasted, involve no inconsistency with each other;
but it must be owned that, in the Essay upon the
Scripture Miracles, the Author goes beyond both the
needs and the claims of his argument, when, in order
to show their special dignity and beauty, he depre-
ciates the purpose and value of the Miracles of
Church History. To meet this undue disparagement,
in his first Essay,* of facts which have their definite
place in the Divine Dispensation, he points out, in
his second, the essential resemblance which exists
between many of the Miracles of Scripture and those
of later times; and it is with the same drift that,
in this Edition, a few remarks at the foot of the page
have been added in brackets.

With the exception of these bracketed additions
in both Essays, and of a Memorandum at the end of
the volume, the alterations made, whether \vi text or
notes, are simply of a literary character. As to the
latter, no verification has been made of the references
which they contain, much pains having been bestowed
on them, as it is believed, in the original Edition.




Introduction . . . , .3

On the Idea and Scope of a Miracle . . 4

On the Antecedent Credibility of a Miracle . 13

On the Criterion of a Miracle . . . .49

On the Evidence for the Christian Miracles . 70







Introduction • . • • • 97

On the Antecedent Probability of the Eccle-
siastical Miracles . . • . loi

On the Internal Character of the Ecclesias-
tical Miracles . . . • • ^^S

On the State of the Argument in behalf of
THE Ecclesiastical Miracles • • . 175

On the Evidence for particular alleged Mira-
cles ...... 228

Section I — The Thundering Legion ..... 241

Section II. — Change of Water into Oil by St. Narcissus 255

Section III. — Change of the Course of the Lycus by St.
Gregory 261

Section IV. — Appearance of the Cross to Constantine . 271

Contents. xi


Section V. — Discovery of the Holy Cross by St. Helena 287

Section VI. — The Sudden Death of Arius .... 327

Section VII. — Fiery Eruption on Julian's attempt to
Rebuild the Temple 334

Section VIII. — Recovery of the Blind Man by the Relics
OF THE Martyrs 348

Section IX. — Speech without Tongues in the instance of
THE African Confessors ..#..•, 369







T PROPOSE to attempt an extended comparison
-^ between the Miracles of Scripture and those
elsewhere related, as regards their nature, credibility,
and evidence. I shall divide my observations under
the following heads : —

§ I. On the Idea and Scope of a Miracle.

§ 2. On the antecedent Credibility of a Miracle,
considered as a Divine Interposition.

§ 3. On the Criterion of a Miracle, considered as a
Divine Interposition.

§ 4. On the direct Evidence for the Christian


/ \

Section I.


A MIRACLE may be considered as an event in-
consistent with the constitution of nature, that
is, with the established course of things in which it is
found. Or, again, an event in a given system which
cannot be referred to any law, or accounted for by
the operation of any principle, in that system. It
does not necessarily imply a violation of nature, as
some have supposed, — merely the interposition of an
external cause, which, we shall hereafter show, can be
no other than the agency of the Deity. And the
effect produced is that of unusual or increased action
in the parts of the system.

It is then a relative term, not only as it presupposes
an assemblage of laws from which it is a deviation,
but also as it has reference to some one particular
system; for the same event which is anomalous in one,
may be quite regular when observed in connexion
with another. The Miracles of Scripture, for in5tance,
are irregularities in the economy of nature, but with

Idea a7id Scope of a Mhacle, 5

ii moral end ; forming one instance out of many, of
the providence of God, that is, an instance of occur-
rences in the natural world with a final cause. Thus,
while they are exceptions to the laws of one system,
they may coincide with those of another. They pro-
fess to be the evidence of a Revelation, the criterion
of a divine message. To consider them as mere
exceptions to physical order, is to take a very incom-
plete view of them. It is to degrade them from the
station which they hold in the plans and provisions of
the Divine Mind, and to strip them of their real use
and dignity ; for as naked and isolated facts they do
but deform an harmonious system.

From this account of a Miracle, it is evident that it
may often be difficult exactly to draw the line between
uncommon and strictly miraculous events. Thus the
production of ice might have seemed at first sight
miraculous to the Siamese ; for it was a phenomenon
referable to none of those laws of nature which are m
ordinary action in tropical climates. Such, again,
might magnetic attraction appear, in ages familiar
only with the attraction of gravity.^ On the other
hand, the extraordinary works of Moses or St. Paul
appear miraculous, even when referred to those simple
and elementary principles of nature which the widest
experience has confirmed. As far as this affects the
discrimination of supernatural facts, it will be con-
» Campbell, On Miracles, Part i. Sec. 2. -

6 Idea and Scope of a Miracle.

sidered in its proper place ; meanwhile let it suffice to
state, that those events only are connected with our
present subject which have no assignable second cause
or antecedent, and which, on that account, are from
the nature of the case referred to the immediate
agency of the Deity.

TA Revelation, that is, a direct message from God to
iHan, itself bears in some degree a miraculous cha-
(racter; inasmuch as it supposes the Deity actually to
present Himself before His creatures, and to interpose
in the affairs of life in a way above the reach of those
settled arrangements of nature, to the existence of
which universal experience bears witness. And as a
Revelation itself, so again the evidences of a Revela-
tion may all more or less be considered miraculous.
Prophecy is an evidence only so far as foreseeing
future events is above the known powers of the human
mind, or miraculous. In like manner, if the rapid
extension of Christianity be urged in favour of its
divine origin, it is because such extension, under such
circumstances, is supposed to be inconsistent with the
known principles and capacity of human nature. And
the pure morality of the Gospel, as taught by illiterate
fishermen of Galilee, is an evidence, in proportion as
the phenomenon disagrees with the conclusions of
general experience, which leads us to beheve that a
high state of mental cultivation is ordinarily requisite
lor the production of such moral teachers. It might

Idea and Scope of a Miracle. 7

even be said that, strictly speaking, no evidence of a
Revelation is conceivable which does not partake of
the character of a Miracle ; since nothing but a dis-
play of power over the existing system of things can
attest the immediate presence of Him by whom it was
originally established ; or, again, because no event
which results entirely from the ordinary operation
of nature can be the criterion of one that is extra-

In the present argument I confine myself to the
consideration of Miracles commonly so called ; such
events, that is, for the most part, as are inconsistent
with the constitution of the physical world.

Miracles, thus denned, hold a very prominent place
^n the evidence of the Jewish and Christian Revelations.
They are the most striking and conclusive evidence ;
because, the laws of matter being better understood
than those to which mind is conformed, the trans-
gression of them is more easily recognised. They are
the most simple and obvious ; because, whereas the
freedom of the human will resists the imposition of
undeviating laws, the material creation, on the con-
trary, being strictly subjected to the regulation of its

^ Hence it is that in the Scripture accounts of Revelations
to the Prophets, etc., a sensible Miracle is so often asked and
given ; as if the vision itself, which was the medium of the
Revelation, was not a sufficient evidence of it, as being perhaps
resolvable into the ordinary powers of an excited imagination \
e.g., Judg. vi. 36—40, etc.

8 Idea and Scope of a Miracle,

Maker, looks to Him alone for a change in its constitu-
tion. Yet Miracles are but a branch of the evidences,
and other branches have their respective advantages.
Prophecy, as has been often observed, is a growing
evidence, and appeals more forcibly than Miracles to
those who are acquainted with the Miracles only
through testimony. A philosophical mind will per-
haps be most strongly affected by the fact of the very
existence of the Jewish polity, or of the revolution
effected by Christianity. While the beautiful moral
teaching and evident honesty of the New Testament
writers is the most persuasive argument to the un-
learned but single-hearted inquirer. Nor must it be
forgotten that the evidences of Revelation are cumu-
lative, that they gain strength from each other ; and
that, in consequence, the argument from Miracles is
immensely stronger when viewed in conjunction with
the rest, than when considered separately, as in an
inquiry of the present nature.

As the relative force of the separate evidences is
different under different circumstances, so again has
one class of Miracles more or less weight than another,
according to the accidental change of times, places,
and persons addressed. As our knowledge of the
system of nature, and of the circumstances of the
particular case varies, so of course varies our con-
viction. Walking on the sea, for instance, or giving
sight to one born blind, would to us perhaps be a

Idea and Scope of a Miracle. 9

Miracle even more astonishing than it was to the Jews ;
the laws of nature being at the present day better
understood than formerly, and the fables concerning
magical power being no longer credited. On the other
hand, stilling the wind and waves with a word may by all
but eye-witnesses be set down to accident or exaggera-
tion without the possibility of a full confutation ; yet
to eye-witnesses it would carry with it an overpower-
ing evidence of supernatural agency by the voice and
manner that accompanied the command, the violence
of the wind at the moment, the instantaneous effect
produced, and other circumstances, the force of which
a narrative cannot fully convey. The same remark
applies to the Miracle of changing water into wine, to
the cure of demoniacal possessions, and of diesases
generally. From a variety of causes, then, it happens
that Miracles which produced a rational conviction at
the time when they took place, have ever since proved
rather an objection to Revelation than an evidence for
it, and have depended on the rest for support ; while
others, which once were of a dubious and perplexing
character, have in succeeding ages come forward in
its defence. It is by a process similar to this that the
anomalous nature of the Mosaic polity, which might
once be an obstacle to its reception, is now justly
alleged in proof of the very Miracles by which it was
then supported.^ It is important to keep this remark
^ See Sumner's " Records of Creation," Vol. i.

lo Idea and Scope of a Miracle.

in view, as it is no uncommon practice with those who
are ill-affected to the cause of Revealed Religion to
dwell upon such Miracles as at the present day rather
require than contribute evidence, as if they formed a
part of the present proof on which it rests its preten-

In the foregoing remarks, the being of an intelli-
gent Maker has been throughout assumed ; and,
indeed, if the peculiar object of a Miracle „, be JLo
eviden£g_5.-j3iessage from God, it is plain that it
implies the admission of the fundamental truth, and
demands assent to another beyond it. His particular
interference it directly proves, while it only reminds
of His existence. It professes to be the signature of
God to a message delivered by human instruments ;
and therefore supposes that signature in some degree
already known, from His ordinary works. It appeals
to that moral sense and that experience of human
affairs which already bear witness to His ordinary
presence. Considered by itself, it is at most but the
token of a superhuman being. Hence, though an
additional instance, it is not a distinct species of

^ See Hume, On Miracles : " Let us examine those Miracles
related in Scripture, and, not to lose ourselves in too wide a
fields let us conjine ourselves to such as we find in the Penta-
teuch^ etc. It gives an account of the state of the world and
of human nature entirely different from the present ; of our fall
from that state ; of the age of man extended to near a thou-
sand years," etc. See Berkeley's " Pvlinute Piiilosopher,"
Dial. vi. Sec. 30,

Idea and Scope of a Miracle. 1 1

evidence for a Creator from that contained in the
general marks of order and design in the universe.
A proof drawn from an interruption in the course of
nature is in the same hne of argument as one deduced
from the existence of that course, and in point of
cogency is inferior to it. Were a being who had ex-
perience only of a chaotic world suddenly introduced
into this orderly system of things, he would have an
infinitely more powerful argument for the existence
of a designing Mind, than a mere interruption of that
system can afford. A Miracle is no argument to one
who is deliberately, and on principle, an atheist.

Yet, though not abstractedly the more convincing,
it is often so in effect, as being of a more striking and
imposing character. The mind, habituated to the
regularity of nature, is blunted to the overwhelming
evidence it conveys ; whereas by a Miracle it may be
roused to reflection, till mere conviction of a super-
human being becomes the first step towards the
acknowledgment of a Supreme Power. While, more-
over, it surveys nature as a whole, it is not capacious
enough to embrace its bearings, and to comprehend
what it implies. In miraculous displays of power the
field of view is narrowed ; a detached portion of the
divine operations is taken as an instance, and the final
cause is distinctly pointed out. A Miracle, besides,
is more striking, inasmuch as it displays the Deity in
action ; evidence of which is not supplied in the

12 Idea a7id Scope of a Miracle.

system of nature. It may then accidentally bring
conviction of an intelligent Creator; for it voluntarily
proffers a testimony which we have ourselves to extort
from the ordinary course of things, and forces upon
the attention a truth which otherwise is not discovered,
except upon examination.

And as it affords a more striking evidence of a
Creator than that conveyed in the order and estab-
lished laws of the Universe, still more so does it of a
Moral Governor. For, while nature attests the being
of God more distinctly than it does His moral govern-
ment, a miraculous event, on the contrary, bears more
directly on the fact of His moral government, of which
it is an immediate instance, while it only implies His
existence. Hence, besides banishing ideas of Fate
and Necessity, Miracles have a tendency to rouse
conscience, to awaken to a sense of responsibility, to
remind of duty, and to direct the attention to those
marks of divine government already contained in the
ordinary course of events.^

Hitherto, however, I have spoken of solitary Mira-
cles ; a system of miraculous interpositiors, conducted
with reference to a final cause, supplies a still more
beautiful and convincing argument for the moral
government of God.

• Farmer, On Miracles, Chap. i. Sec 2.

Section II.


T N proof of miraculous occurrences, we must have
-■■ recourse to the same kind of evidence as that by
which we determine the truth of historical accounts
in general. For though Miracles, in consequence of
their extraordinary nature, challenge a fuller and more
accurate investigation, still they do not admit an in-
vestigation conducted on different principles, — Testi-
mony being the main assignable medium of proof for
past events of any kind. And this being indisputable,
it is almost equally so that the Christian Miracles are
attested by evidence even stronger than can be pro-
duced for any of those historical facts which we most
firmly believe. This has been felt by unbelievers ;
who have been, in consequence, led to deny the
admissibihty of even the strongest testimony, if
offered in behalf of miraculous events, and thus to
get rid of the only means by which they can be proved
to have taken place. It has accordingly been asserted,

14 Antecedent Credibility of a 3firack.

that all events inconsistent with the course of nature
bear in their very front such strong and decisive
marks of falsehood and absurdity, that it is needless
to examine the evidence adduced for them/ " Where
men are heated by zeal and enthusiasm," says Hume,
with a distant but evident allusion to the Christian
Miracles, " there is no degree of human testimony so
strong as may not be procured for the greatest absur-
dity; and those who will be so silly as to examine the
affair by that medium, and seek particular flaws in
the testimony, are almost sure to be confounded."^
Of these antecedent objections, which are supposed
to decide the question, the most popular is founded
on the frequent occurrence of wonderful tales in every
age and country — generally, too, connected with Reli-
gion ; and since the more we are in a situation to
examine these accounts, the more fabulous they are
proved to be, there would certainly be hence a fair
presumption, against the Scripture narrative, did it
resemble them in its circumstances and proposed
object. A more refined argument is that advanced
by Hume, in the first part of his Essay on Miracles ^
in which it is maintained against the credibility of
a Miracle, that it is more probable that the tes-

^ I.e., it is pretended to tiy past events on the principles
used in conjecturing future ; viz., on antecedent probability
and examples. (Whately's Treatise on Rhetoric.) See Le-
land's " Supplement to View of Deistical Writers," Let. 3.

^ Essays, Vol. ii. Note I.

Antecedent Credibility of a Miracle, 15

timony should be false than that the Miracle should
be true.

This latter objection has been so ably met by va-
rious writers, that, though prior in the order of the
argument to the former, it need not be considered
here. It derives its force from the assumption, that a
Miracle is strictly a causeless phenomemon, a self-
originating violation of nature ; and is solved by refer-
ring the event to divine agency, a principle which (it
cannot be denied) has originated works indicative of
power at least as great as any Miracle requires. An
adequate cause being thus found for the production
of a Miracle, the objection vanishes, as far as the
mere question of powcx' is concerned ; and it remains
to be considered whether the anomalous fact be of
such a character as to admit of being referred to the
Supreme Being. For if it cannot with propriety be
referred to Him, it remains as improbable as if no such
agent were known to exist. At this point, then, I
propose taking up the argument ; and by examining
what Miracles are in their nature and circumstances
referable to Divine agency, I shall be providing a
reply to the former of the objections just noticed, in
which the alleged similarity of all miraculous narra-
tives one to another, is made a reason for a common
rejection of all.

In examining what Miracles may properly be ascribed
to the Deity, Hume supplies us with an observation so

1 6 Antecedent Credibility of a Miracle,

just, when taken in its full extent, that I shall make it
the groundwork of the inquiry on which I am entering.
As the Deity, he says, discovers Himself to us by His
works, we have no rational grounds for ascribing to
Him attributes or actions dissimilar from those which
His works convey. It follows, then, that in discrimi-
nating between those Miracles which can and those
which cannot be ascribed to God, we must be guided
by the information with which experience furnishes
us concerning His wisdom, goodness, and other attri-
butes. Since a Miracle is 'an act out of the known
track of Divine agency, as regards the physical sys-
tem, it is almost indispensable to show its consistency
with the Divine agency, at least, in some other point
of view ; if, that is, it is recognised as the work of the
same power. Now, I contend that this reasonable
demand is satisfied in the Jewish and Christian Scrip-
tures, in which we find a narrative of Miracles alto-
gether answering in their character and circumstances
to those general ideas which the ordinary course of
Divine Providence enables us to form concerning the
attributes and actions of God.

While writers expatiate so largely on the laws of
nature, they altogether forget the existence of a moral
system : a system which, though but partially under-
stood, and but general in its appointments as acting
upon free agents, is as intelligible in its laws and pro-
visions as the material world. Connected with this

Antecede7tt Credibility of a Miracle, 17

moral government, we find certain instincts of mind ;
such as conscience, a sense of responsibility, and an
approbation of virtue ; an innate desire of knowledge,
and an almost universal feeling of the necessity of
religious observances ; while, in fact. Virtue is, on the
w^hole, rewarded, and Vice punished. And though
we meet with many and striking anomalies, yet it is
evident they are but anomalies, and possibly but
in appearance so, and with reference to our partial
i nformation.

These two systems, the Physical and the Moral,
sometimes act in union, and sometimes in opposi-
tion to each other; and as the order of nature certainly
does in many cases interfere with the operation of
moral laws (as, for instance, when good men die pre-
maturely, or the gifts of nature are lavished on the

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanTwo essays on Biblical and on ecclesiastical miracles → online text (page 1 of 25)