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Here is a revised, under-construction version of an old post "On Miracles Outside the Catholic Church."
No Salvation Outside the Catholic Church
No one who dies outside of the Catholic Church can be saved [Denzinger 247, 423, 430, 468-469, 570b, 714]. As for those who have been invincibly ignorant of the Catholic Church, they cannot be saved if they die as such, but "God may enlighten, at the hour of death, one who is not yet a Catholic, so that he may see the truth of the Catholic faith, be truly sorry for his sins, and sincerely desire to die a good Catholic" [Fr. Michael Müller, Familiar Explanation of Christian Doctrine III (New York, Catholic Publication Society, 1875), 108].
No True Miracles Justify Separation from the Catholic Church
We must reject "any miracle sought or 'obtained' to confirm heresy tor to buttress an heterodox creed," or any so-called miracle "which, whether or not directly sought or obtained to confirm error, would by its context suggest or confirm such an interpretation" [Fr. Louis Monden, S.J., Signs and Wonders: A Study of the Miraculous Element in Religion (New York: Desclee Company, Inc., 1966), 136]. He continues, "God cannot give his sanction to error nor can he accord unconditional approval to partial truth. Once again, it is in the context of prayer that the Protestant or Orthodox miracle will take place rather than in the context of testimony or even of sanctity. And the occurrence of any major miracle which would, of its nature, suggest an apologetic use, remains, in the theological view, unlikely" (139). "God could not seal with miraculous approval a teaching that is false. With the certainty of faith, we may affirm that a miracle invoked to confirm error in the profession of doctrine, the announcement of a message, or the communication of a private revelation which contradicts the divine revelation which the infallible teaching presents us, is merely an illusion and imposture. On this question Pascal justly remarked, 'Miracles are the test of doctrine, and doctrine the test of miracles' [Pensées 803]" (76).
Likewise St. Thomas Aquinas says (Summa Theologica II-II, q. 178, art. 2, ad 3):
Miracles are always true witnesses to the purpose for which they are wrought. Hence wicked men who teach a false doctrine never work true miracles in confirmation of their teaching, although sometimes they may do so in praise of Christ's name which they invoke, and by the power of the sacraments which they administer. If they teach a true doctrine, sometimes they work true miracles as confirming their teaching, but not as an attestation of holiness. Hence Augustine says (QQ. lxxxiii, qu. 79): "Magicians work miracles in one way, good Christians in another, wicked Christians in another. Magicians by private compact with the demons, good Christians by their manifest righteousness, evil Christians by the outward signs of righteousness."And the New Catholic Encyclopedia says, "God would not work a miracle under such circumstances that it could reasonably be interpreted as divine confirmation of another religion as a whole or of a doctrine contrary to the teachings of Christ and his Church" (T. G. Pater, "Miracles (Theology of)," New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 9, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Gale, 2003), 669-670).
"The Roman Catholic Church, while not claiming an absolute monopoly, which could not be proved because of the very nature of history, does have a practical monopoly on what we have called 'major miracle,'" says Fr. Monden (321), and "they occur with a regularity that excludes all possibility of error and fortuitous concidence," that is "in an unpredictable and yet regular manner, which is in striking contrast with non-Christian religions and other Christian denominations, where its absence is glaring" (250).
What is a "major miracle" or "major prodigy"? Fr. Monden explains (179-180):
Only those facts will be accepted as having an apologetic application whose extraordinary character suggests beyond a doubt a religious signification because identical or similar facts never appear in the purely secular domain. The characteristics of "major prodigy" as described by E. Dhanis, from whom we borrow the very expression,6 are the following. "The ordinary course of natural events from which these facts deviate has been observed many times and under a great variety of conditions; no man can recall a deviation of the same type and of comparable magnitude ever having occurred in secular circumstances; the prodigy must take place in a normal setting, that is, one excluding the suspicion that unusual conditions or means might be the cause." In the following we shall use the word "major prodigy" or "major miracle" in the precise sense of events meeting the conditions listed in this paragraph.These are NOT major miracles: "All of the secondary, physical or clinical manifestations of mystical experience: visions, inner voices, levitation, trance, and ecstasy; more particularly still, apparitions and stigmata; finally, all manifestation related to parapsychological powers, such as premonitory dreams, mind-reading, prophesying, and the like" (177).
What facts, then, are to be included in this category [of major miracles with intrinsic apologetic significance]? In what appears an order of increasing importance, e included certain cosmic manifestations; multiplications of matter, such as food or fuel; and finally, raising of the dead and the instantaneous or extremely rapid healing of properly diagnosed organic diseases.
If a raging storm were calmed on the instant, or an empty barn, securely bolted from the outside, were suddenly filled with grain, everyone would readily agree that never in the memory of mankind have such events occurred in a purely secular context. The difficulty arising here is this: these and similar manifestations must be accepted on testimony; outside of a perhaps abundant number of reliable witnesses, no tangible proof of the miraculous event can be offered as a rule. The one who clings to his doubt will always find it possible to challenge even the most dependable witness and thus avoid to assenting to the reality of the miracle.
The conditions accompanying an instantaneous healing are altogether different. Characteristically, a disease is subject to every kind of scientific testing, objective diagnosis and measuring. Social progress makes the task even easier by establishing, in ever greater numbers, mutual aid societies, clinics, and laboratories. The fact of a sudden miraculous cure does not have to be accepted on human testimony alone, or upon the personal diagnosis of one physician; a host of material, tangible and measurable proofs are normally available, showing the condition of the body both before and after the cure.
For practical purposes, therefore, miraculous cure is the best kind of apologetic proof.
6 E. Dhanis, "Un chaînon de la preuve du miracle," Problemi scelti di Teologia contemporanea (Rome, 1954), pp. 63-86. The passage quoted is on p. 66. It should be made clear that we are speaking of "major miracles" in a sense altogether different from that given by Benedict XIV to the words "prodigium maius."
Fr. Monden goes on (181):
First, the practitioner recognizes organic lesions, when the anatomical or histological integrity of an organ is affected by an internal or external cause (hernia, cancer, toxication, parasites, and the like), or the organ shows a congenital malformation or is in a state of degeneration or gradual disintegration.What are some Catholic examples of this? Plenty of examples of well-authenticated scientifically inexplicable complete, immediate, and permanent healings of properly diagnosed organic lesions are to be found at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, which has "ordinary water" with no "remedial properties" that has not allowed the spread of contagious diseases despite not being frequently changed (238-239):
Doctor Béhague concludes his series of studies [on the Lourdes miracles], published in the Cahiers Laënnec and quoted several times by us in the present work, with the following ad hominem appeal:Fr. Monden continues (239-240),
You doctors, and you specialists in particular; you former and present students who work in the services which deal with the sick in their thousands, have you seen:As every physician will agree, nothing of the sort has ever occurred in his practice, he knows that never in the memory of man have such rapid cures been reported in the annals of medicine.
(a) A case of two detached retinas originating in a shock suddenly cured seven and a half years after-wards, the sight returning 'like a shot from a gun'? (Vion-Dury).
(b) White atrophy of the papillas of both eyes cured in such a way that the sight returned instantly and permanently while the papillary whiteness only disappeared as time went on? (Mme Biré).
(c) A case of evolutive pulmonary tuberculosis calcify in a few days or a case of peritoneal tuberculosis rapidly disappearing? (Louis Jamain, Gabrielle Durand).
(d) A case of tubercular meningitis (with Koch bacilli in the cerebrospinal fluid which contained 150 lymphocytes per mm3) make a single leap from the final coma and possess, within a month after the previous lumbar puncture, a normal cerebrospinal fluid free from bacilli? (Mlle Margerie).
(e) An open fracture of the leg with chronic osteomyelitis and pseudarthrosis heal instantly and spontaneously so as to permit immediate walking? (De Rudder).
(f) A cancer of the pylorus and the liver heal suddenly and the functioning of the gastroenterostomy (visible by X-rays) instantly disappear (Mlle Delot).
If you have seen any of these things please let us know. We ourselves have never seen them except in the cases mentioned...59
59 Flood, op. cit., p. 242
We have given a lengthy account of the Lourdes facts, and found them, as did many others before us, the Catholic idea of the miraculous in its clearest form, precisely because at this shrine the miraculous is an object of well organized, systematic checking. Yet it would be impossible to conclude that Lourdes has a monopoly on miracles, even on miracles within the Catholic Church.Orthodox Miracles?
There exist other privileged places where miraculous cures did and do occur under the same conditions of serious checking and vertification [... the Fátima ... "Banneux and Beauraing shrines," etc.].
We sometimes hear of "miracles" being worked by Orthodox Christians, especially those who were explicitly anti-Catholic (Job of Pochayiv, Seraphim of Sarov, John of Kronstadt, Alexis Toth, Nectarios of Aegina etc.), as if this confirmed that their anti-Catholic teaching was true and their lives were holy. Fr. Monden (305-306):
The problem appears under an altogether different light when we consider Russian Orthodoxy where canonization is practiced as in the Roman Catholic Church. Like Catholicism, but even more exclusively, the Russian Church insists on miracles as criteria of the holiness of her great children, This outward similarity, however, should not prevent us from examining at a closer range the nature of Orthodox miracles.Perhaps during the life of the Orthodox Christians one can:
We should bear in mind from the outset that Slavs in general, and Russians in particular, are inclined to speak of miracles far more freely than Occidentals. They see the miraculous element everywhere and accept it in full confidence; they would not think of making their assent depend upon an official approbation by the Church or a critical examination of the facts.111 Consequently, the title of "miracle-worker"given by the people to a deceased holy person is even more fragile a proof of the rality of the miraculous events than in the Western Church.
Moreover, pre-canonization inquests in the Orthodox Church are different from their Roman counterparts. Examination of the bodily remains is of primary importance; perfect preservation is a favorable and often conclusive factor warranting canonization.112 The statement itself that the remains are "preserved intact" is taken in a convential and broad sense, as indications and details below will show.113 This would give us the right to assume that the norms applied in these inquests concerning miraculous events are not the same as the strict rules applied by the Catholic Church, and thus no purported miraculous facts may be accepted as such without prudent critical investigation in every case.
111 See A. Staerk's introduction to the French edition of Jean de Kronstadt: Ma vie en Jésus-Christ (Paris, 1902), pp. 244-245. Some typical features of popular credulousness are quoted in A. Martel: "Miracles et légendes de l'Ukraine contemporaine," Irenikon, 6 (1929), 517-526.
112 See. J. Bois, "Canonisation dans l'Église Russe," Dictionnaire de théol. cath., II, c. 1663 [page 830 of the PDF]; P. Peeters, "La canonisation des saints dans l'Église Russe," Analecta Bollandiana, 33 (1914), 380-420; E. Behr-Sigel, Prière et sainteté dans l'Eglise Russe (Paris, 1950), II: "La canonisation dans l'Eglise Orthodox," pp. 24-35; Y. Congar: "A propos des saints canonisés dans les Eglises orthodoxes," Revue des sciences religieuses, 22 (1948), 240-259.
113 See J. Bois, art. cit., c. 1669.
readily recognize ... proofs of a supernatural intervention of God ... but none of them qualifies as a major miracle, that is, one with an intrinsic apologetic value and of the kind we have so far found absent everywhere except in the Catholic Church.For example (307),
the cases of Michael Manturov and Judge Nikolai Motovilov [in the life of Seraphim of Sarov]. Both are cases of functional paralysis which, judging by the way the illness and the manner of the cure are described, could have been cured, medically speaking, through spontaneous psychotherapy with religious motivation. At the Lourdes Bureau cases like these would not even be considered.Likewise, all the cures at the tomb of Gregory Palamas reported by Patriarch Philotheus I of Constantinople would have been rejected as insufficient by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints [Fr. Martin Jugie, A.A., Le Schisme Byzantin: Aperçu historique et doctrinal (Paris: P. Lethielleux, 1941) 450-451]. Patriarch Seraphim I of Constantinople did not mention any miracles by Mark of Ephesus when he "canonized" the latter in 1734 (451).
And in the case of John of Kronstadt,
none of these accounts ... show any fact that could be considered more than an outstanding case of God's responding to prayer, or is such as could be called a major miracle116. ... we are very far here from any major prodigies.117And are you sure, in a given case, that the "miracle" is not the product of demons (155-156), imagination, "pathological hallucination undergone in good faith" (77), the cure of merely psychogenic and psychosomatic disorders (181-182), "trickery and illusion" (278), "psychoreligious disorders and pseudomystical fanaticism" (319), "common quackery" (272), exaggeration (258), legendary accretion (269), "charlatanism and vaudeville" (285), "some involuntary error" (77), embellishment (259), "hypnotic suggestion" (258), "popular fantasy" (271), "a temporary and subjective feeling of improvement" (304), "purposeful malice, insanity, vengeance, mystification, or misplaced practical joking ... the need for the sensational ... credulousness, hysterical affabulation or other mental disturbances ... certain types of intoxication, not only through alcohol but also carbon monoxide or mercury" (291), or "conscious fraud and simulation" (319)?
116 Ibid., pp. 247-248.
117 A. Staerk: op. cit., p. 245: "If we are to believe a certain type of popular literature which sounds too much like propaganda and with which, we are sure, Father John has nothing to do, some of these cures show features of instantaneousness that seem truly miraculous; only these events took place ten to twenty years ago and thus exclude all possibility of checking." On John of Kronsadt, see an anonymous article in L'ami du clergé 23 (1900), 117-122; A. Retel in Echos d'Orient, (1906), pp. 44ff.; M. Jugie in Echos d'Orient (1913), pp. 57-60; G. P. Fedotov, A Treasury of Russian Spirituality (New York, 1948), pp. 346-416.
In the case of cures, "is the illness real or imaginary? Does the cure take place with or without medical aid? As for ... dreams ... are they spontaneous ... or are they provoked by artificial means?" (256-257)
As stated above, the Orthodox assign large importance to the preservation of relics. Are these cases of supernatural incorruptibility of relics? Is the flesh of normal pigmentation? Is it withered? Is the body still flexible? What were the circumstances of entombment (embalming, burial in a dry vs. wet space, etc.)?
Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), who wrote against the Filioque
(image by Kh. Miray Saikali via http://bit.ly/2zyNhKu)
Job of Pochayiv (1551-1651), who wrote against unleavened bread and participated in other
anti-Catholic activities (photographer unknown)
John of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896-1966), who wrote against the Immaculate Conception
(image via http://bit.ly/2BVhmtG)
(image via http://bit.ly/2BVhmtG)
Fr. Ilie Lacatusu (1909-1983), a Romanian Orthodox priest (image via http://bit.ly/2C7ktOG)
John the Russian (1690-1730) (image via http://bit.ly/2kZhKNp)
John Jacob the Chozebite (1913-1960)
More could be said of miracles claimed by Protestants, Yogis, Mohammedans, etc. I invite the reader who wishes to know more to consult Fr. Monden's book, and to pray for the repose of his soul.
Our Lady of Fátima, pray for us!
Top Image credit: http://bit.ly/2kBmatL