Monday, September 13, 2010

Purpose of Miracles

Several writers have expressed scepticism about a miraculous cure from back pain following routine surgery. The patient himself, who happens to be a deacon of the Catholic Church, has attributed his cure to a picture of Cardinal Newman [BBC News 13 September 2010].

@mjrobbins asked Is God scraping the barrel for miracles? (Guardian 13 Sept 2010) and suggested that Vatican's latest miracle is evidence of a worrying decline in God's powers.

But clearly the purpose of this particular miracle was to allow Vatican to beatify a Cardinal whose own view of such professed miracles is expressed in the following passage from his first essay on Miracles:

"Much more inconclusive are those which are actually attended by a physical cause known or suspected to be adequate to their production. Some of those who were cured at the tomb of the Abbé Paris were at the time making use of the usual remedies; the person whose inflamed eye was relieved was, during his attendance at the sepulchre, under the care of an eminent oculist; another was cured of a lameness in the knee by the mere effort to kneel at the tomb. Arnobius challenges the Heathens to produce one of the pretended miracles of their gods performed without the application of some prescription." [Essays on Miracles]

Similar controversy surrounds the miracle attributed to Mother Teresa for the purposes of her beatification.

In 2002, the Vatican recognized as a miracle the healing of a tumor in the abdomen of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, after the application of a locket containing Mother Teresa's picture. Besra said that a beam of light emanated from the picture, curing the cancerous tumor. Critics — including some of Besra's medical staff and, initially, Besra's husband — insisted that conventional medical treatment had eradicated the tumor [Wikipedia: Mother Teresa].

In March 2010, the miracle cure attributed to the late Pope John Paul II, for the purposes of his beatification, ran into some difficulties.
The inexplicable cure of a young French nun from Parkinson's disease ... seemed difficult for the Vatican to certify as a miracle. According to the Vatican's own rules, the medically inexplicable cure must be instantaneous, complete, and lasting. Some are arguing that the world will have to wait her entire lifetime to determine whether it was lasting, in case the symptoms return. In addition, doubts have been cast about whether she had Parkinson's to begin with [Miracle under scrutiny in John Paul beatification Independent, 29 March 2010].
Within a year, Pope Benedict XVI formally approved this miracle [BBC News 14 January 2011]. Obviously he had no choice. "Nuns can be very useful." [Jesus and Mo, 16 April 2007]

During 2013, a second miracle emerged to enable Pope John Paul II to be canonized. This took the form of a mere memory of the late pope, which was able to emerge from somewhere (a diary perhaps) and cure somebody. (This sounds suspiciously like a horcrux. Clearly the Jesuits have been twisting the Harry Potter books for their own purposes.)

The Holy See has yet to reveal what the miracle was or where and when it took place but Vatican sources said it would “amaze the world”.

Nick Squires, Vatican to announce John Paul II 'miracle' (Telegraph, 19 Jun 2013). See also Barbie Latza Nadeau, After Second Approved Miracle, Pope John Paul II Likely to Become a Saint (Daily Beast July 2013). Pope John Paul II and the trouble with miracles (LA Times, July 2013).

Lacking the sophisticated theological thinking with which the Vatican is blessed, or the devious logic often associated with the Jesuits, popular journalism tends to describe all cases of unexplained recovery as miraculous. For example, an elderly widower appears to have regained his sight after kissing a photograph of his late wife.

It's a miracle! Daily Mail 17 Feb 2011. Obituary notice November 2009.

If a dramatic and unexpected cure can be regarded as a miracle, what about a dramatic and unexpected death?

For example, an 80-year-old Spanish cardinal Agustin Garcia Gasco Vicente, in Rome for the beatification of late pope John Paul II in May 2011, died of a heart attack shortly before the start of the ceremony. [News24 1 May 2011].

For another example, an Italian man was killed when a giant crucifix toppled on top of him. The crucifix had been erected to celebrate the canonization of the late Pope John Paul II in April 2014. In a bizarre twist, the dead man is said to have been living in his home town of Lovere on a street named after Pope John XXIII, who was to be canonized on the same day. (BBC News 24 April 2014, Christian Today 25 April 2014, Huffington Post 25 April 2014). 

Don't these deaths cancel out the miracles?

See also Garry Wills, Stealing Newman, (NYR Blog September 2010), Does the Pope Matter? (NYR Blog March 2013), Popes Making Popes Saints (NYR Blog July 2013).

Papal Canonizations a Lesson in Subtle Art of Catholic Politics (Newsmax 25 April 2014)

Updated 19 October 2015

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