THINGS CATHOLICS ARE ASKED ABOUT
There is a bitter controversy going on at present among non-Catholic Christians. It centers about the Virgin Birth of Christ and His resurrection. But these two points of controversy are only test cases of a matter that is rocking Protestantism to its foundations. Underlying this controversy, which has thrown the evangelical churches into two irreconcilable camps, is the subject of miracles. Modernists deny the possibility of miracles; Fundamentals uphold the miraculous.
Recently Bishop Brown of the Episcopal Church gave as his reason for denying the Virgin Birth that it was contrary to biology and hence impossible. He was charged with heresy, brought to trial and found guilty. The Modernists of his church upheld him, declaring that the dogma of the Virgin Birth was based on miracle, and that miracle was an impossibility.
Last year the controversy between Fundamentalists and Modernists grew so bitter that conservative men on both sides feared that it would disrupt the Church. Wise counsel prevailing, oil was poured on the troubled waters and for a time the storm subsided. But it is for a time only. The difference between the two parties is so essential that it is impossible for them to continue long in the same Church. One side affirms what the other side flatly denies and the matter in question is vital to both sides. Let it be said at the outset that Christianity is a supernatural religion. Supernatural signs were as necessary for the establishment of Christ’s religion as air is for a human being. Christ made supernatural claims. It was necessary for Him to present supernatural credentials.
Christ Himself is the greatest miracle. Christ without miracles would be a greater miracle than any recorded in the Gospel. Instead of being surprised at miracles concerning Christ and Christianity, we should be surprised if there had been none. St. Augustine declared that the establishment of Christianity without miracles would be a greater miracle than the resurrection.
Christ came with a message to mankind which He declared to be from Almighty God. This message was of such a character that it imposed, in many respects, on those who accepted it a reversal of preceding ideas, a change in the outlook of life, a new and difficult code of morals, and the acceptance of a body of doctrine much of which was beyond the intelligence of man to understand, and which was to be received without any intrinsic proof. Christ came at one of the most intellectual periods in the history of mankind. He addressed Himself to the most conservative, critical, and hostile people that this world has known. He proclaimed that He was Jehovah, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Judge of the living and the dead.
Instead of marveling that miracles were in order we should marvel if they were not. Christ came as a supernatural Being, presenting supernatural truths, enjoining a life in accordance with His teaching. It was simply impossible for such a one to get a hearing unless He presented supernatural confirmation of Himself and His mission.
Even with His miracles the Jews, for the most part, rejected Him. But they never denied His miracles. In their desperation they said that He effected His wondrous deeds through Satan. If He had not done miracles the Jews would not have been so hard-pressed in their opposition to Him.
They never denied His supernatural works. They could not. It would have been their easiest and best way to discredit Him. Instead, they planned deliberate murder, namely, to do away with Lazarus, the living evidence of Christ’s power over the dead. Lazarus was dead and buried. Four days he had lain in the tomb. His body, it would seem, had begun to corrupt, for Martha said to Jesus “he stinketh.” At the voice of Jesus this corpse leapt to life. This was in the presence of a large assembly of distinguished people, friends of Lazarus, who had come from Jerusalem to Bethany to offer their condolences to his sisters, Martha and Mary. After this, the Jews believed in Christ. Great multitudes acclaimed Him the Messias. They followed Him in thousands to Jerusalem. The Scribes and Pharisees and leaders of the people, beholding this, were in consternation. They were convinced of the power of Jesus, but were not converted. A man may be convinced, yet hold out against conversion because he does not want to be converted. These leaders were perverted. They did not want to see hence they remained blind. Worse than blind. In their rage at seeing the triumph of Jesus, and knowing that His triumph was their downfall, they deliberately plotted to kill Lazarus. Mark it well — they did not deny His resurrection. But being evil men and committed to an evil course, they would not be turned aside. Before Christ performed this miracle He said aloud, before the circle of bystanders, that He was to do it in proof of His divine mission: “That they may know that Thou hast sent Me.” The leaders knew this. Some of them were there. But because they were not looking for truth their passions blinded them, as happens with many today. Their reaction to Christ’s display of divine power was to meet in council and decide on the death of Lazarus and to plot the death of Christ also. Christ knew perfectly well that unless He presented divine credentials He could not be accepted. Hence He said to the Jews, time and again, “If you do not believe Me, believe the works which I do; they give testimony of Me.” Miracles were one of the seals of divinity on Christ’s mission.
At this late day, after Christ’s religion has triumphed over the paganism of the Roman empire, and after two thousand years of Christian civilization, to call in question miracles, is to propose a greater miracle than any recorded in the Bible. The establishment of Christianity without supernatural credentials would be as impossible as Niagara without water. Christianity meant the reversal of man’s attitude toward life and the hereafter. It offered man no earthly inducement, but rather the contrary. The early Christians were imprisoned, scourged, exiled, and put to death by frightful tortures. And all this for confessing that Christ was God and practicing His religion. Their main ground for belief was His word combined with His character and divine deeds. They firmly believed that He was God, and that consequently His promises were true, mainly because of the supernatural proofs He offered, among which were miracles.
Christ came as the Son of God. He revealed truths above the capacity of man to comprehend. He legislated for all mankind. He simply had to show divine power in order to have His mission credited. But opponents of the miraculous contend that a miracle is contrary to the laws of nature, and hence an impossibility.
But who made nature and who gave nature her laws? All material nature is under law. It always acts in the same way under the same circumstances. Nothing material can bind itself. Who obliges nature to abide by these laws? A law supposes a lawgiver. Nature, therefore, has a Lawgiver. God, in creating the world, did not abandon control of it. He is still Ruler of the world. We are accustomed to look upon God as we do upon ourselves. With God there is no past or future but all is present. A traveler going along a highway can see just so far before and behind. The part behind is past; the part before is future. But an aviator in an aeroplane with the aid of a powerful field glass can see the highway, perhaps from beginning to end. It is all present to him.
In some such way God sees from eternity to eternity. Foreseeing everything, He so arranged all things from the beginning that in the course of time they would take place according to His plans. Consequently a miracle is not a violation of nature’s law. It may be an effect produced without the application of natural forces at all, or the application of natural law in a way possible alone to the Author and Ruler of nature. An example will make this latter clear. An inventor can so arrange the mechanism of his machine that to the astonishment of onlookers it does the unexpected at specified times. To the bystanders this seems to be accidental, or a hitch in the mechanism. To the inventor it is only an application of forces under his control.
If a civil engineer should go to South Africa where there was a mountain to be removed to make way for a railroad, the inhabitants would say that the thing was impossible. They might allege that if a hundred thousand men were engaged on the work it would take a hundred years to do it, or more, since the mountain was solid rock. The engineer would reply that he could level it in a year with a few hundred men. To them that would be a miracle. But to him who knew the power of dynamite and engines of excavation the thing would be only the application of nature’s laws in a way unknown to the savage mind.
No comparison is altogether correct when God is in question. But in some such way God may act when there is a miracle. There is no violation of nature’s law, but the application of forces by the Author and Ruler of nature in a way possible to God only. Nature’s law is the expression of God’s will in creation. God does not violate nature’s laws by a miracle. He simply gives a sign that the Creator of the world is at work. Hence a miracle is, as it were, God’s language. That is why Christ appealed to His miracles in proof that God was His Father, and that His mission was from heaven. By performing a miracle Christ was demonstrating that God was approving Him and corroborating Him. The Apostle Peter in the very first sermon after Christ’s resurrection appealed to Christ’s miracles as proof that Christ was what He claimed to be. “Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you, by miracles, and wonders and signs, which God did by Him, in the midst of you, as you also know.”
You see he is speaking to those who were among them that witnessed Christ’s miracles. In consequence of this first sermon thousands became followers of Jesus in the very city where He was crucified.
How explain the worship of the Crucified and the adoption of His lofty and severe code of morals unless He gave supernatural signs in proof of His mission? Christianity is based on miracles and other supernatural signs. Without these its establishment is the greatest of all miracles. Modernists who deny miracles should be consistent, and abandon Christianity altogether. To uphold and preach a supernatural religion and at the same time deny the supernatural is neither logical nor scientific. If Christianity is not supernatural it is nothing; rather, it is a fraud. Its message is supernatural, its motives are supernatural, its incentives are supernatural. It bids men to live mainly for eternal life. It counts as naught this world unless it be a means to the world beyond. It tells us that although we must live in this world we must not live for it. “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” If Christianity is not authoritative it is no more than a system of ethics or the teachings of a sage. Without authority to bind conscience, religion is merely directive and optional. Christ’s religion was a command. He talked as God, acted as God, legislated as God. Unless He wrought supernatural wonders He never could have reached, authoritatively, the consciences of the millions who worshipped Him and died for Him. Unless we are convinced that the religion of Christ binds us the same as if God Almighty in person spoke to us, we are not Christians. Let us be done with this trifling with Christ and His religion. If He be not God He was an impostor and Christianity a sham. But an impostor and a sham do not last for two thousand years and give to mankind the most wonderful benefits ever conferred on the world, Christian civilization and Christian ideals.
If miracle is impossible, so is Christ, so is Christianity. But Christ is a fact, and Christianity is a fact. Miracle, too, is a fact. Do away with miracle and you must tear out every page of the Gospel. Do away with miracle and you make of Christ nothing but a sage, whose counsels may be accepted or rejected at will.
If Christ was not God His words are the most insane pronouncements that ever came from a disordered brain. And He was not God if miracles are impossible. Miracles were one of the proofs that He Himself gave that He was God. Reject miracles and you not only discredit Christ as God but as man also. For if miracles are impossible Christ was either an impostor or insane.
What sane person unless He was really God could make the statements that Christ was continually making? He said: “I am the Light of the world.” “I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in Me, although he be dead, shall live.” “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man cometh to the Father but by Me.” “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth.” “Going, therefore, teach ye all nations, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” “He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.” “As the Father raiseth up the dead and giveth life, so the Son also giveth life to whom He will, that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father.”
Christ asserts that He has all the power of God Almighty and claims the honor due to God alone. What blasphemy or insanity unless He was indeed God! But if miracles are impossible He was not God. Christ Himself realized the extraordinary nature of the claims He was making, and the need of their divine confirmation. When they accused Him of blasphemy because He said He was God He replied: “Do you say to Me, Thou blasphemest, because I said I am the Son of God? If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not. But if I do, though you will not believe Me, believe the works; that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me and I in the Father.”
Nothing could be plainer than that. Christ distinctly appeals to His miracles, and declares that they attest His divine claims. This means that if miracles are impossible Christ was a blasphemer. They, therefore, who are logical and consistent must admit miracles or classify Christ as a blasphemer. Christ Himself invited that issue. He openly based His claims on miracles and challenged His opponents on that ground. They who deny miracles proclaim Christ an impostor and Christianity a fraud. But God said of Christ, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him.” And Christ said of His Church, “He who hears you hears Me.”
Miracles are a fact because Christ is a fact. Miracles are a fact because Christianity is a fact. Modernists are trying to do the impossible to retain Christianity and deny miracles. Modernism is the last stage of Protestantism. The great Protest which began in the sixteenth century has ended by protesting the supernatural itself. It is now, therefore, back to paganism or Catholicity.
Note by GADEL: Fr. Martin Jerome Scott (1865-1964) was a Jesuit Priest and scholar of the pre-Vatican II Church. He has authored many books including Introduction to Catholicism, God and Myself, The Hand of God, You and yours; practical talks on home life, Have you a God? what is He like?, Marriage problems, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John Were they fooled? – Did they lie? and No Pope can be wrong in teaching doctrine among others that shows how consistent the pre-Vatican II Church is with that of Vatican II.