Miracles Throughout History

Many people argue against the miracles of the Bible by asking why there have been no miracles since the time the Bible was written. However, there is an abundance of evidence that miracles have been happening throughout the history of the Church. For example, Irenaeus wrote in Against Heresies 5:6:1 (A.D. 185):

In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God.

Many of the other early church fathers referred to the operation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, and recorded other miraculous phenomena which took place in their day, including demonic activity. Even Augustine of Hippo (a.D. 354- 430), who had originally adopted the view that miracles had ceased with the apostolic age, changed his opinion during the last two or three years of his life. This change of viewpoint was precipitated by a revival in North Africa, where Augustine lived. Suddenly, miracles seemed to proliferate. Augustine quickly decided to publicize the miraculous healings in North Africa, and as bishop in Hippo, he examined and recorded each report that came to his attention. He gave verified reports of healings a maximum of publicity, and he insisted upon receiving a written report from every person who claimed to be healed. This report, or libellus, would then be read publicly in church, in the presence of the writer, and would later be stored in Augustine's library. He attempted to persuade his colleagues to use the same system, but without great success. In the case of the healing of a noble lady in Carthage, Augustine was disappointed that she failed to use her rank and influence to publicize a miracle of healing that she had experienced. A renowned twentieth-century specialist in Augustine, Peter Brown, stated that Augustine attempted to bring together various incidents of miracles "until they formed a single corpus, as compact and compelling as the miracles that had assisted the growth of the Early Church."1 Some of the material that Augustine collected appears in the last book (Book 22) of his work, City of God, the eighth chapter of which contains a very lengthy description of miracles which he had either witnessed himself, or about which he had heard from those whom he considered to be reliable witnesses.2

The account in City of God is too lengthy for detailed treatment here, but included in it are reports of healings of blindness, multiple rectal fistula, cancer of the breast, gout, paralysis, hernia of the scrotum, and other diseases. Augustine recounts other miracles in which farm animals were cured, demons were cast out of certain individuals, and the dead were raised. In one case, a poor man who lost his cloak prayed, and later found a huge fish squirming upon the beach. He sold it to a restaurant, where a gold ring was found in the gullet of the fish and given to him. In another case, a cart drawn by oxen ran over a child. After his mother prayed, the child not only returned to consciousness, but he showed no sign of the crushing he had suffered.

One of the greatest early works of church history is the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in A.D. 731. This is a valuable source, known for its separation of historical fact from hearsay and tradition.3 Bede was a very careful scholar, and did his utmost to find reliable source material for his work, often sending emissaries to various places like Rome to gather important source materials. Throughout Bede's work there are accounts of miracles. In fact, the entire work is so saturated with accounts of miracles that if one were to discount them, one would have to discount the entire work, which would be impossible, since the events it describes are woven so unmistakably into the tapestry of history. A summary of the contents of Bede's Ecclesiastical History would be far beyond the scope of this book, but a single sample from it would be helpful for the purposes of illustration. At one point, Bede quoted extensively from a letter, dated A.D. 601, sent to Augustine of Canterbury by Gregory the Great, bishop of Rome. The content is as follows:

I know, most loving brother, that Almighty God, by means of your affection, shows great miracles in the nation which he has chosen. Wherefore it is necessary that you rejoice with fear, and tremble whilst you rejoice, on account of the same heavenly gift; viz., that you may rejoice because the souls of the English are by outward miracles drawn to inward grace; but that you fear, lest, amidst the wonders that are wrought, the weak mind may be puffed up in its own presumption, and as it is externally raised to honour, it may thence inwardly fall by vain-glory. For we must call to mind, that when the disciples returned with joy after preaching, and said to their heavenly Master, "Lord, in thy name, even the devils are subject to us;" they were presently told, "Do not rejoice on this account, but rather rejoice for that your names are written in heaven." For they place their thoughts on private and temporal joys, when they rejoice in miracles; but they are recalled from the private to the public, and from the temporal to the eternal joy, when it is said to them, "Rejoice for this, because you names are written in heaven." For all the elect do not work miracles, and yet the names of all are written in heaven. For those who are disciples of the truth ought not to rejoice, save for that good thing which all men enjoy as well as they, and of which their enjoyment shall be without end.

It remains, therefore, most dear brother, that amidst those things, which, through the working of our Lord, you outwardly perform, you always inwardly strictly judge yourself, and clearly understand both what you are yourself, and how much grace is in that same nation, for the conversion of which you have also received the gift of working miracles. And if you remember that you have at any time offended our Creator, either by word or deed, that you always call it to mind, to the end that the remembrance of your guilt may crush the vanity which rises in your heart. And whatsoever you shall receive, or have received, in relation to working miracles, that you consider the same, not as conferred on you, but on those for whose salvation it has been given you.4

This letter is one of the most precious records in all of the history of Christian literature. In it, Gregory does not marvel at miracles or revel in them. He accepts them as a fact of life and goes on to warn Augustine of Canterbury of a very real danger. The letter expresses genuine concern for the well- being of a Christian brother. Its marks of authenticity are unmistakable. The letter is manifestly not an attempt to convince others that miracles have been taking place, for this is not the slightest concern of the author. The facts of history are all in accord with the content of the letter. Nobody can deny that Gregory the Great was bishop of Rome from A.D. 590 until A.D. 604, that Augustine of Canterbury was sent by Gregory to England as a missionary, and that Bede would have had access to such a letter is his assiduous efforts in writing a careful history of Christianity in Britain. Gregory was known to be preoccupied constantly with the problem of pride in himself and in others, but particularly within himself. To deny the authenticity of the letter, one would have to tear it out of the very fabric of history, and one would be left with countless loose ends which could never be fitted back together.

Miraculous phenomena were also associated with Bernard of Clairvaux (A.D. 1090-1153), Hildegard of Bingen (A.D. 1098-1179), Dominic (A.D. 1170-1221), Francis of Assisi (A.D. 1182-1226), Anthony of Padua (A.D. 1195-1231), Clare of Montefalco (d. 1308), Bridget of Sweden (A.D. 1303-1373), Vincent Ferrer (A.D. 1350- 1419), Martin Luther (A.D. 1483-1546), the "French Prophets" (A.D. 1685-1710), and many others. Miracles were observed during the Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, and the revival of 1857-59, and have usually taken place during periods of revival throughout church history.

1 Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), p. 415.

2 Augustine, City of God, book 22, chapter 8, in Roy J. Deferrari, ed., The Fathers of the Church (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954), vol. 24, pp. 431-450.

3 F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, second edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), p. 150.

4 The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of England, Chapter 31, trans. J. A. Giles (London: George Bell & Sons, 1900), p. 57.

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