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Gift of Miracles

Extraordinary graces of the Holy Ghost

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Miracles, GIFT OF. The gift of miracles is one of those mentioned by St. Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (xii, 9, 10), among the extraordinary graces of the Holy Ghost. These have to be distinguished from the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost enumerated by the Prophet Isaias (xi, 2 sq.) and from the fruits of the Spirit given by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians (v, 22). The seven gifts and the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost are always infused with sanctifying grace into the souls of the just. They belong to ordinary sanctity and are within the reach of every Christian. The gifts mentioned in the Epistle to the Corinthians are not necessarily connected with sanctity of life. They are special and extraordinary powers vouchsafed by God only to a few, and primarily for the spiritual good of others rather than of the recipient. In Greek they are called charismata, which name has been adopted by Latin authors; they are also designated in theological technical language as gratin; gratis dates (graces gratuitously given) to distinguish them from gratics gratum facientes, which means sanctifying grace or any actual grace granted for the salvation of the recipient.

The gift of miracles, as one of these charismata, was expressly promised by Christ to His disciples (John, xiv, 12; Mark, xvi, 17, 18), and St. Paul mentions it as abiding in the Church: "To another [is given] the grace of healing. To another, the working of miracles"—(I Cor., xii, 9, 10). Christ imparts this gift to chosen servants as He did to the Apostles and disciples, that His doctrine may become credible and that Christians may be confirmed in their faith, and this the Vatican Council has declared in chapter iii, "De Fide". This gift is not given to any created being as a permanent habit or quality of the soul. The power of effecting supernatural works such as miracles is the Divine Omnipotence, which cannot be communicated to either men or angels. The greatest thaumaturgus that ever appeared in this world could not work miracles at will, neither had he any permanent gift of the kind abiding in his soul. The Apostles once asked concerning a cure of demoniacal possession: "Why could we not cast him out ?" Christ replied, "this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting" (Matt., xvii, 18 sqq.). Eliseus could not raise to life the son of the Sunamitess with his staff.

The grace of miracles is therefore only a transient gift by which God moves a person to do something which issues in a wonderful work. Sometimes God makes use instrumentally of contact with the relics of the saints, or visits to sacred shrines for this purpose. The miraculous work is always the effect of Omnipotence; nevertheless, men and angels may be said to work miracles in a threefold way (I) by their prayers invoking a miraculous effect; (2) by disposing or accommodating the materials, as it is said of the angels that they will in the resurrection collect the dust of the dead bodies that these may be reanimated by the Divine power; (3) by performing some other act in cooperation with the Divine agency, as in the case of the application of relics, or of visits to holy places which God has marked out for special and extraordinary favors of this kind. To Christ even as man, or to His humanity, was granted a perpetual and constant power of miracles. He was able of His free will to work them as often as He judged it expedient. For this He had the ever-ready concurrence of His Divinity, although there was in His Humanity no permanent quality which could be the physical cause of miracles.

Benedict XIV tells us sufficient with regard to miracles in their relation to sanctity of life when explaining their estimate in the cause of the beatification and canonization of the saints. He says: "It is the common opinion of theologians that the grace of miracles is a grace gratis data, and therefore that it is given, not only to the just but also to sinners (though only rarely). Christ says that He knows not those who have done evil, though they may have prophesied in His name, cast out devils in His name, and done many wonderful works. And the Apostle said that without charity he was nothing, though he might have faith to remove mountains. On this passage of the Apostle, Estius remarks: For as it offers no contradiction to the Apostle that a man should have the gift of tongues or prophecy, or knowledge of mysteries, and excel in knowledge, which are first spoken of; or be liberal to the poor, or give his body to be burned for the name of Christ, which are afterwards spoken of and yet not have charity; so also there' is no contradiction in a man having faith to remove mountains, and being without charity (Treatise on Heroic Virtue, III, 130).

These graces manifest themselves in two ways: one way as dwelling in the Church, teaching and sanctifying her, as, for example, when even a sinner in whom the Holy Ghost does not abide works miracles to show that the faith of the Church which he preaches is true. Hence the Apostle writes: "God also bearing them witness by signs, and wonders, and diverse miracles, and distributions of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will" (Heb., ii, 4). In another way, the manifestation is made by the graces of the Holy Ghost as belonging to him who performs the works. Hence in Acts it is said that St. Stephen, "full of grace and fortitude, did great wonders and signs among the people" (Acts, vi, 8). Here we have a distinction clearly drawn out as to the manner in which gratice gratis datae may be to the advantage of the person receiving them as well as to the utility of others, and how it is that by these graces persons without sanctifying grace may perform signs and wonders for the good of others. But these are rare and exceptional cases, and real miracles can never be performed by a sinner in proof of his own personal sanctity or in proof of error, because that would be a deception and derogatory to the sanctity of God Who alone can perform miracles.

A. DEVINE


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