IV SYNOPSIS. -- A clearer conception of miracle approached. -- Works of Jesus once reputed miraculous not so reputed now, since not now transcending, as once, the existing range of knowledge and power. -- This transfer of the miraculous to the natural likely to continue. -- No hard and fast line between the miraculous and the non-miraculous. -- Miracle a provisional word, its application narrowing in the enlarging mastery of the secrets of nature and life. At this point it seems possible to approach a clearer understanding of the proper meaning to attach to the generally ill-defined and hazy term miracle
. Matthew Arnold's fantastic illustration of the idea of miracle by supposing a pen changed to a pen-wiper may fit some miracles, especially those of the Catholic hagiology, but, if applied to those of Jesus, would be a caricature. In the New Testament a reputed miracle is not any sort of wonderful work upon any sort of occasion, but an act of benevolent will exerted for an immediate benefit, and transcending the then existing range of human intelligence to explain and power to achieve. The historic reality of at least some such acts performed by Jesus is acknowledged by critics as free from the faintest trace of orthodox bias as Keim: |The picture of Jesus, the worker of miracles, belongs to the first believers in Christ, and is no invention.|
It has already been noted that a considerable number of the then reputed miracles of Jesus, particularly his works of healing, do not now, as then, transcend the existing range of knowledge and power, and accordingly are no longer reputed miraculous. And one cannot reasonably believe that a limit to the understanding and control of forces in Nature and mind that now are more or less occult has been already reached. It is, therefore, not incredible that some of the mighty works of Jesus, which still transcend the existing limits of knowledge and power, and so are still reputed miraculous, and are suspected by many as unhistorical, may in some yet remote and riper stage of humanity be transferred, as some have already been, to the class of the non-miraculous and natural.
Dr. Robbins, Dean of the General Theological Seminary, New York, after remarking that |the word miracle has done more to introduce confusion into Christian Evidences than any other,| goes on to say: |To animals certain events to them inexplicable are signs of the presence of human intelligence and power. To men these miracles of Christ are signs of divine intelligence and power. But how is miracle to be differentiated from other providential dealings of God? Not by removing him further from common events. Abstruse speculations concerning the relation of miracles to other physical phenomena may be safely left to the adjustment of an age which shall have advanced to a more perfect synthesis of knowledge than the present can boast.|
The truth to which such considerations conduct is, that no hard and fast line can be drawn between the miraculous and the non-miraculous. To the untutored mind, like that of the savage who thought it miraculous that a chip with a message written on it had talked to the recipient, the simplest thing that he cannot explain is miraculous: |omne ignotum pro mirifico,| said Tacitus. As the range of knowledge and power widens, the range of the miraculous narrows correspondingly. Some twenty years since, the International Sunday-school Lessons employed as a proof of the divinity of Christ the reputedly miraculous knowledge which he evinced in his first interview with Nathanael of a solitary hour in Nathanael's experience. Since then it has been demonstrated by psychical research that the natural order of the world includes telepathy, and the range of the miraculous has been correspondingly reduced without detriment to the argument for the divinity of Christ, now rested on less precarious ground.
Under such conditions as we have reviewed a miracle cannot always be one and the same thing. Miracle must therefore be defined as being what our whole course of thought has suggested that it is: in general, an elastic word; in particular, a provisional word, -- a word whose application narrows with the enlarging range of human knowledge and power which for the time it transcends; a word whose history, in its record of ranges already transcended, prompts expectation that ranges still beyond may be transcended in the illimitable progress of mankind. Professor Le Conte says that miracle is |an occurrence or a phenomenon according to a law higher than any yet known.| Thus it is a case of human ignorance, not of divine interference.
On the other hand, we must believe that the goal of progress is a flying goal; that human attainment can never reach finality unless men cease to be. And so all widening of human knowledge and power must ever disclose further limitations to be transcended. There will always be a Beyond, in which dwells the secret of laws still undiscovered, that underlie mysteries unrevealed and marvels unexplained. This will have to be admitted, especially, by those to whom the marvellous is synonymous with the incredible. We have not been able to eviscerate even these prosaic and matter-of-fact modern times of marvels whose secret lies in the yet uncatalogued or indefinable powers of the mysterious agent that we name life: witness many well verified facts recorded by the Society for Psychical Research. How, then, is it consistent to affirm that no such marvels in ancient records are historical realities? Nay, may it not be true that the ancient days of seers and prophets, the days of Jesus, days of the sublime strivings of great and lonely souls for closer converse with the Infinite Spirit behind his mask of Nature, offered better conditions for marvellous experiences and deeds than these days of scientific laboratories and factories, and world-markets and world-politics?
|Early and mediaeval theologians agree in conceiving the miraculous as being above, not contrary to, nature. The question entered on a new phase when Hume defined a miracle as a violation of nature, and asserted the impossibility of substantiating its actual occurrence. The modern discussion has proceeded largely in view of Hume's destructive criticism. Assuming the possibility of a miracle, the questions of fact and of definition remain.| -- Dictionary of Psychology.
|When we find the definition for which we are searching, the miraculous will no longer be a problem.| -- PROFESSOR W. SANDAY, at the Anglican Church Congress, 1902.
For exceptions see Matthew xxi.19; Acts xiii.10, 11.
A Christian Apologetic, p.97.
In the opinion of such psychologists as Professor William James, of Harvard, the late Professor Henry Sidgwick, of Cambridge, England, and others of like eminence.
A hint of this was given by Augustine: |Portentum non fit contra naturam, sed contra quam est nota natura.| -- De Civitate Dei.
Consult the late F. W. H. Myers's remarkable volumes on Human Personality and Survival after Death (Longmans, Green & Co.).