THE CHRISTIAN FAITH: AN INTRODUCTION TO DOGMATIC THEOLOGY - By CLAUDE BEAUFORT MOSS, D.D.LONDON - S.P.C.K 1965 Holy Trinity Church  Marylbone Road London NW 1 - Printed in Great Britain by Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd  Bungay Suffolk - First published in 1943 - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2004.




HOME | contents | necessity of miracles | what a miracle is | God is the first cause | necessity of evidence | classes of miracles

I. The Incarnation was a Miracle, therefore Miracle is Necessary to Christianity

The Incarnation of the Son of God was a miracle -
that is, it was not part of the regular course of nature. 
Its cause did not lie within the ordinary sequence of events. 
It was accompanied by events, such as His resurrection,
which do not happen in the ordinary course of history.

Therefore the Christian religion,
the centre of which is the Incarnate Son of God,
contains the miraculous element. 
Christianity without miracle is not Christianity. 
No one who thinks, "miracles do not happen" can be a Christian.

1. Uniformity of Nature

We have all been taught to believe in the uniformity of nature. 
If nature were not uniform, if we could never be sure that the sun would not rise in the west or that a hen's egg would not produce a crocodile, natural science and indeed human life would be impossible. 
But the uniformity of nature cannot be proved. 
It is a dogma or axiom of natural science,
but only the theologian and the philosopher can give a reason for it.

2. Due to God's Will

The best philosophers have taught what the prophets of Israel also proclaimed that God is orderly. 
Nature is uniform because God wills it to be so. 
God is not capricious,
He does nothing without reason,
and He does not change:

with Him is no variation,
neither shadow cast by turning

(James 1:17). 

But He is not bound to act always in the same way if He has good reason to act otherwise. 
We believe that the Incarnation, at any rate, is such a reason.

3. The a priori Objection to Miracles

There are people who say that "they feel it to be more congruous with the wisdom and majesty of God that the regularities, such as men of science observe in nature and call laws of nature, should serve His purpose without any need for exceptions on the physical plane" (Doctrine in the Church of England, p.51). 
This is only another form of the argument
that led our medieval forefathers into so many errors,

It must be so,
therefore it is so.

If the evidence shows as we believe it does that God does at times work by "exceptions", it is not scientific, still less pious, to prefer "what I feel" to the evidence. 
And to set up, as an object of worship, a conception or mental image of God differing from what God has revealed about Himself is a form of idolatry. 
It may be said that if all that God has made is good, the ordinary course of nature cannot be improved and requires no miracles. 
But, unhappily, though God made all things good, all things did not remain good.
Man is fallen. 
It may be that no miracles would have been needed if man had never fallen,
but that miracles are needed if he is to be saved from the result of his own folly and restored to the condition for which God meant him.

II. Definition of "Miracle"

The two best-known definitions of miracles are
that of St. Thomas Aquinas who believed in miracles,
and that of John Stuart Mill who did not.

1. St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas's definition of a miracle is this:

Miraculum est praeter ordinem totius naturae creatae:
Deus igitur cum solus sit non creatura,
solus etiam virtute propri?miracula facere potest. 

A miracle is something beyond the order of created nature. 
Therefore since God alone is not a created being,
He also is the only One who can work miracles by His own power.

The word "nature" can be used in three different senses:

  1. It may mean "all that exists". 
    Spinoza, the Jewish philosopher who was a pantheist, uses it in this sense. 
    Nothing can be "beyond nature" if this is what we mean by nature.
  2. It may mean "all created things". 
    St. Thomas Aquinas uses it in this sense, for he is careful to say "created nature".
  3. It may mean "all material things", as when we say "natural science". 
    This is the usual modern sense.

St. Thomas says "praeter" (beyond), not "contra" (against). 
The order of creation is due to the will of God. 
A miracle is not contrary to the will of God,
but it is a special extraordinary exercise of the will of God.

Nothing can be outside nature if by nature we mean "all that exists".

God is outside nature if by nature we mean "all created things".

The will of God or even, within limits, the will of man
may interfere with the ordinary course of nature
if by "nature" we mean "all material things".

2. John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill's definition of a miracle is:

A phenomenon
not preceded by any antecedent phenomenal conditions
sufficient again to reproduce it.

This definition implies that there is nothing but the material world in existence. 
It takes no account of the human will, still less of the will of God. 
A chemical experiment can always be reproduced,
given the conditions in which it was produced once. 
But historical events in which the human will takes part are never reproduced. 
"History does not repeat itself." 
An event like the French Revolution will not occur again in exactly the same way.

III. God's Will is the Cause, Direct or Indirect, of Everything

But if, as we believe, all causes are personal,
if whatever is not caused by human (or angelic) wills is caused by the will of God,
there is no difficulty in believing that miracles are possible. 
Man cannot perform miracles because he is himself part of the material world. 
But God is outside the material world,
and its "laws" which are only observed regularities
were made by Him and can be changed by Him.

A man of orderly habits has his daily program. 
He gets up at a fixed hour, has his meals at fixed hours, and so on. 
But if he wants, for instance, to catch an early train, he may decide to make an exception, and to get up an hour earlier than usual. 
He is not bound to observe his own rules,
but he will not break them without a reason and a sufficient reason.

The course of nature is God's daily program. 
He is not bound by it, but He does not change it without a sufficient reason. 
We believe that the Incarnation was an event so important as to justify exceptions to the course of nature.

1. The Real Difficulty is the Assumption of a "Closed Universe"

The real difficulty of believing in the possibility of miracles is want of belief in the living God. 
In the ordinary affairs of life men take for granted that the universe is "closed"
and that nothing out of the course of nature happens. 
They do not realize that this is due to the will and to the orderly character of God. 
As it is difficult to profess adherence to Christian morals on Sunday if one works by a non-Christian moral standard on weekdays, so it is difficult to think of God as living, active, capable of changing the course of nature if one assumes for practical purposes that the course of nature cannot be changed. 
It is notoriously harder for the townsman in an office to believe in God
than for the sailor or the desert nomad who is in constant contact with the forces of nature.

2. Christianity is the Ally of Every Kind of Freedom

Therefore the Christian religion is the natural ally of all forms of freedom
and the foe of determinism and dictatorship. 
God has given us free will that He may reign over free men. 
He wishes us to use that free will so as to live according to reason and order,
not caprice.

3. God is Free to Change His Own Rules for a Sufficient Reason

So, if we believe in the living God who is the Preserver as well as the Creator of the material universe, we ought to be able to believe that He can change the order of nature for a sufficient reason.

4. The Incarnation is a Sufficient Reason

The Incarnation is such a reason, and the Incarnation is unique. 
It never happened before. 
It will never happen again. 
If then we are asked why there were miracles in the first century but not in the twentieth,
we reply that the Incarnation took place in that period and not in this. 
All the miracles which we are bound to believe genuine took place in direct connection with the Incarnation. 
We do not say that no miracles took place in Old Testament times or in later times,
but we are free to keep an open mind about all such miracles.

IV. Evidence for a Miracle Necessary

Miracles are always possible,
but in ordinary times they are most improbable. 
We do not expect the lives of even holy men to be full of miracles,
as our medieval forefathers did. 
We think that the uniformity of nature is very seldom changed. 
If we are to believe that a particular miracle has taken place,
we must have sufficient evidence for it.

1. External Evidence

There must be external evidence as for any other event in history. 
The more wonderful and unusual an event is, the better evidence is needed. 
Thus we require more evidence that a commoner was raised to the throne than we do for the succession of the king's eldest son, and much more if we are to believe that someone rose from the dead.

2. Internal Evidence

And we also require internal evidence. 
There must be a sufficient reason for a miracle. 
We could not believe that an ordinary man, or even Plato or Shakespeare,
was born of a virgin. 
We believe it unhesitatingly of Jesus Christ.
In the case of the great Christian miracles
we have ample evidence both external and internal.

V. Different Classes of Miracles

We must not assume that a miracle has taken place if the facts can be explained without one. 
There are two important differences between the miracles recorded in the New Testament and those recorded in the Old Testament. 
The New Testament miracles were set down by contemporaries
whose names are in most cases known,
whereas the Old Testament miracles were in most cases, if not all, set down by unknown writers living many generations after the events described. 
Further, some of the New Testament miracles are necessary to the Christian Faith which cannot be understood without them. 
This is not true of the Old Testament miracles,
except the story of the escape of Israel from Egypt,
the events at Sinai,
and the crossing of the Jordan. 
These must be true on the whole, for the later history of Israel requires them.
[W. J. Phythian-Adams, The Call of Israel.] 
But it is not certain that the events described were miraculous (though no doubt they were believed to be so, and it may be held that the separation of the Chosen People provides sufficient reason for miracles).

There appears to be sufficient evidence that miracles,
in particular the visible ministry of angels,
have occurred in later times. 
But belief in them is not necessary to the Christian religion.