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An essay by Thomas De Quincey

On Miracles

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Title:     On Miracles
Author: Thomas De Quincey [More Titles by De Quincey]

What else is the laying of such a stress on miracles but the case of 'a wicked and adulterous generation asking a sign'?

But what are these miracles for? To prove a legislation from God. But, first, this could not be proved, even if miracle-working were the test of Divine mission, by doing miracles until we knew whether the power were genuine; _i.e._, not, like the magicians of Pharaoh or the witch of Endor, from below. Secondly, you are a poor, pitiful creature, that think the power to do miracles, or power of any kind that can exhibit itself in an act, the note of a god-like commission. Better is one ray of truth (not seen previously by man), of _moral_ truth, _e.g._, forgiveness of enemies, than all the powers which could create the world.

'Oh yes!' says the objector; 'but Christ was holy as a man.' This we know first; then we judge by His power that He must have been from God. But if it were doubtful whether His power were from God, then, until this doubt is _otherwise_, is independently removed, you cannot decide if He _was_ holy by a test of holiness absolutely irrelevant. With other holiness--apparent holiness--a simulation might be combined. You can never tell that a man is holy; and for the plain reason that God only can read the heart.

'Let Him come down from the cross, and we,' etc. Yes; they fancied so. But see what would really have followed. They would have been stunned and confounded for the moment, but not at all converted in heart. Their hatred to Christ was not built on their unbelief, but their unbelief in Christ was built on their hatred; and this hatred would not have been mitigated by another (however astounding) miracle. This I wrote (Monday morning, June 7, 2022) in reference to my saying on the general question of miracles: Why these _dubious_ miracles?--such as curing blindness that may have been cured by a _process_?--since the _unity_ given to the act of healing is probably (more probably than otherwise) but the figurative unity of the tendency to _mythus_; or else it is that unity misapprehended and mistranslated by the reporters. Such, again, as the miracles of the loaves--so liable to be utterly gossip, so incapable of being watched or examined amongst a crowd of 7,000 people. Besides, were these people mad? The very fact which is said to have drawn Christ's pity, viz., their situation in the desert, surely could not have escaped their own attention on going thither. Think of 7,000 people rushing to a sort of destruction; for if less than that the mere inconvenience was not worthy of Divine attention. Now, said I, why not give us (if miracles _are_ required) one that nobody could doubt--removing a mountain, _e.g._? Yes; but here the other party begin to _see_ the evil of miracles. Oh, this would have _coerced_ people into believing! Rest you safe as to that. It would have been no believing in any proper sense: it would, at the utmost--and supposing no vital demur to popular miracle--have led people into that belief which Christ Himself describes (and regrets) as calling Him Lord! Lord! The pretended belief would have left them just where they were as to any real belief in Christ. Previously, however, or over and above all this, there would be the demur (let the miracle have been what it might) of, By what power, by whose agency or help? For if Christ does a miracle, probably He may do it by alliance with some _Z_ standing behind, out of sight. Or if by His own skill, how or whence derived, or of what nature? This obstinately recurrent question remains.

There is not the meanest court in Christendom or Islam that would not say, if called on to adjudicate the rights of an estate on such evidence as the mere facts of the Gospel: 'O good God, how can we do this? Which of us knows who this Matthew was--whether he ever lived, or, if so, whether he ever wrote a line of all this? or, if he did, how situated as to motives, as to means of information, as to judgment and discrimination? Who knows anything of the contrivances or the various personal interests in which the whole narrative originated, or when? All is dark and dusty.' Nothing in such a case _can_ be proved but what shines by its own light. Nay, God Himself could not attest a miracle, but (listen to this!)--but by the internal revelation or visiting of the Spirit--to evade which, to dispense with which, a miracle is ever resorted to.

Besides the objection to miracles that they are not capable of attestation, Hume's objection is not that they are false, but that they are incommunicable. Two different duties arise for the man who witnesses a miracle and for him who receives traditionally. The duty of the first is to confide in his own experience, which may, besides, have been repeated; of the second, to confide in his understanding, which says: 'Less marvel that the reporter should have erred than that nature should have been violated.'

How dearly do these people betray their own hypocrisy about the divinity of Christianity, and at the same time the meanness of their own natures, who think the Messiah, or God's Messenger, must first prove His own commission by an act of power; whereas (1) a new revelation of moral forces could not be invented by all generations, and (2) an act of power much more probably argues an alliance with the devil. I should gloomily suspect a man who came forward as a magician.

Suppose the Gospels written thirty years after the events, and by ignorant, superstitious men who have adopted the fables that old women had surrounded Christ with--how does this supposition vitiate the report of Christ's parables? But, on the other hand, they could no more have invented the parables than a man alleging a diamond-mine could invent a diamond as attestation. The parables prove themselves.


[The end]
Thomas De Quincey's essay: On Miracles

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