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ON THE INTERNAL CHARACTER OF THE ECCLESIASTICAL
The miracles wrought in times subsequent to the Apostles are of a very different character, viewed as a whole, from those of Scripture viewed as a whole; so much so, that some writers have not scrupled to say that, if they really took place, they must be considered as forming another dispensationf; and at least they are in some sense supplementary to the Apostolic. This will be evident both on a survey of some of them, and by referring to the language used by the Fathers of the Church concerning them.
The Scripture miracles are for the most part evidence of a Divine revelation, and that for the sake of those who have not yet been instructed in it, and in order to the instruction of multitudes : but the miracles which follow have sometimes no discoverable or direct object, or but a slight object; they happen for the sake of individuals, and of those who are already Christians, or for purposes already effected, as far as we can judge, by the miracles of Scripture. The Scripture miracles are wrought by persons consciously exercising under Divine guidance a power committed to them for definite ends, professing to be immediate messengers from heaven, and to be evidencing their mission by their miracles : whereas Ecclesiastical miracles are not so much wrought as displayed, being effected by Divine power without any visible media of operation at all, or by inanimate or material media, as relics and shrines, or by instruments who did not know at the time what they were effecting, or if they were hoping and praying for such supernatural blessing, at least did not know when they were to be used as instruments, when not. We find the gift
| Vid. Middleton's Inquiry, p. 24. et al. Campbell on Miracles, p. 121.
often committed, in the words of Middleton, “not to the suc“ cessors of the Apostles, to the Bishops, the Martyrs, or the “ principal champions of the Christian cause, but to boys, to “ women, and above all, to private and obscure laymen, not “ only of an inferior but sometimes also of a bad characters.” The miracles of Scripture are, as a whole, grave, simple, and majestic: those of Ecclesiastical history often partake of what may not unfitly be called a romantic character, and of that wildness and inequality which enters into the notion of romance. The miracles of Scripture are undeniably of a supernatural character : those of Ecclesiastical history are often scarcely more than extraordinary accidents or coincidences, or events which seem to betray exaggerations or errors in the statement. The miracles of Scripture are definite and whole transactions, drawn out and carried through from first to last, with beginning and ending, clear, complete, and compact in the narrative, separated from extraneous matter, and consigned to authentic statements : whereas the Ecclesiastical for the most part are not contained in any authoritative form or original document; at best they need to be extracted from merely historical works, and often are only floating rumours, popular traditions, vague, various, inconsistent in detail, tales which only happen to have survived, or which in the course of years obtained a permanent place in local usages or in particular rites or in certain spots, recorded at a distance from the time and country when and where they profess to have occurred, and brought into shape only by the juxta-position of distinct informants. Moreover, in Ecclesiastical history true and false miracles are mixed: whereas in Scripture inspiration has selected the true to the exclusion of all others.
The peculiarity of these miracles, as far as their nature and character are concerned, which is the subject immediately before us at present, will be best understood by an enumeration
Page 25. Edit. 1749.
of some of them, taken almost at random, in the order in which they occur in the authors which contain them.
The Life of St. Gregory of Neocæsarea, in Pontus, (A.D. 250), is written by his namesake of Nyssa, who lived about 120 years after him, and who, being a native and inhabitant of the same country, wrote from the traditions extant in it. He is called Thaumaturgus, from the miraculous gift ascribed to him, and it is not unimportant to observe that he was the original Apostle of the heathen among whom he was placed. He found but seventeen Christians in his diocese, and he was the instrument of converting the whole population both of town and country. St. Basil, whose see was in the neighbourhood, states this circumstance, and adds, “ Great is the “ admiration which still attends on him among the people of “ that country, and his memory resides in the Churches new “ and ever fresh, impaired by no length of time. And there“ fore no usage, no word, no mystic rite of any sort have “ they added to the Church beyond those which he left. “ Hence many of their observances seem imperfect, on ac“count of the ancient manner in which they are conducted. “ For his successors in the government of the Churches, did “ not endure the introduction of any thing which has been “ brought into use since his date h.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa tells us that, when he was first coming into his heathen and idolatrous diocese, being overtaken by night and rain, he was obliged with his companions to seek refuge in a temple which was famous for its oracles. On entering he invoked the Name of Christ and made the sign of the Cross, and continued till morning in prayer and psalmody, as was his custom. He then went forward, but was pursued by the Priest of the temple, who threatened to bring him before the magistrates, as having driven the evil spirit from the building, who was unable to return. Gregory
h De Spir. S. 74.
tore off a small portion of the book he had with him, and wrote on it the words, “Satan enter.” The Priest, on returning, finding that the permission took effect as well as the former prohibition, came to him a second time, and asked to be instructed about that God who had such power over the demons. Gregory unfolded to him the mystery of the Incarnation, and the pagan, stumbling at it, asked to see a miracle. Nyssen, who has spoken all along as relating the popular account, now says, that he has to relate what is “ of all the most incredible.” A great stone lay before them; the Priest asked that it might be made to move by Gregory's faith, and Gregory wrought the miracle. This was followed by the Priest's conversion, but not as an isolated event, for on his entry into the city, all the inhabitants went out to meet him, and enough were converted by his preaching the first day to form a Church. In no long time he was in a condition to call upon his flock to build a place of worship, the first public Christian edifice on record; which remained to Nyssen's time in spite of the serious earthquakes which had visited the city. St. Gregory's fame extended into the neighbouring districts, and secular causes were brought for his determination. Among those who came to him were two brothers, who had come into their father's large property, and litigated about the possession of a lake which formed part of it. When his efforts to accommodate their difference failed, and the disputants being strong in adherents and dependents, were even proceeding to decide the matter by force of arms, Gregory the day before the engagement betook himself to the lake, and passed the night there in prayer. The lake was dried up, and in Nyssen's time its bed was covered with woods, pasture and corn land, and dwellings. Another miracle is attributed to him of a similar character. A large and violent stream, which was fed by the mountains of Armenia, from time to time broke through the mounds which were erected along its course in the flat country and flooded the whole plain. The inhabitants, who were heathen, having heard the fame of Gregory's miracles, made application to him for relief. He journeyed on foot to the place, and stationed himself at the very opening which the stream had made in the mound. Then invoking Christ, he took his staff and fixed it in the mud; and then returned home. The staff budded, grew, and became a tree, and the stream never passed it henceforth; as it was set up at the time, and was appealed to by the inhabitants i. who were converted in consequence, and was still living in Nyssen's time, it became a sort of monument of the miracle. On one of his journeys two Jews attempted to deceive him; the one lay down as if dead, and the other pretended to lament him, and asked alms of Gregory for a shroud. Gregory threw his garment upon him, and walked on. His companion called on him to rise, but found him really dead. One day when he was preaching, a boy cried out that some one else was standing by Gregory, and speaking instead of him; at the end of the discourse Gregory observed to the bystanders that he was possessed, and taking off the covering which was on his own shoulders, breathed on it, and cast it on the youth, who forthwith shewed all the usual symptoms of demoniacs. He then put his hand on him, and his agitation ceased, and his delusion with it.
Now, concerning these and similar accounts, it is obvious to remark, on the one hand, that the alleged miracles were wrought in order to the conversion of idolaters; on the other hand, when we read of stones changing their place, rivers restrained, and lakes dried up, and, at the same time, of buildings remaining in spite of earthquakes, we are reminded, as in the case of the Scripture miracle upon the cities of the plain, that a volcanic country is in question, in which such
1 Μεχρι του νυν τους επιχωρίοις θέαμα γίνεται το φυτών και διήγημα.... όνομα 8è uexpl toū rūv doti tý devopan ń Bak
τηρία, μνημόσυνον της Γρηγορίου χάρυτος και δυνάμεως, τοις εγχωρίοις εν πάντα T xpóvq owśóuevov. t. 2. pp. 991, 992.