1. The external motives which move us to believe are chiefly miracles and prophecy.
It is through these that we attain to a certain knowledge that this or that truth of faith is really from God.
The veracity of God is of course the ultimate motive of faith, for we make an act of faith in the truths revealed by God, because we know that God is true and cannot deceive or be deceived. But no reasonable man can make an act of faith in any truth, until he is quite sure that it is one of the truths revealed by God. For this reason the external evidences through which God establishes the fact that He has really spoken are for men a most important and necessary motive of faith. It was in great measure because the apostles had seen the countless miracles worked by Christ, and had seen the prophecies of the Jewish prophets fulfilled in Him, that they believed Him without doubting when He said, “This is My body, this is My blood.” The miracle of the gift of tongues at Pentecost moved three thousand men to believe in Christianity; that of the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple moved two thousand more; the wonders wrought by the apostles induced the heathen to accept the Christian faith. How many were led to believe or confirmed in the faith by the fulfillment, in the year A.D. 70, of Our Lord’s prophecy respecting the destruction of Jerusalem, and again by the failure of the attempts to rebuild the Temple in A.D. 361! Besides miracles and prophecy there are also other motives of faith, such as the constancy of the martyrs, the wonderful spread of Christianity, and its still more wonderful permanency in the face of all the persecution and opposition that the Church has had to endure, the four attributes of the Church, etc.
The greater number of miracles were performed in the early days of the Church, because they were the means God employed for the spread of Christianity.
God is like a gardener who waters his plants while they are still tender and small.
2. Miracles are such extraordinary works as cannot be performed by the mere powers of nature, but are brought about by the intervention of a higher power.
An extraordinary work is one that fills us with astonishment, because we have never seen or heard of anything like it and are unable to find any natural explanation of it: e.g., the telegraph and the phonograph were extraordinary wonders at the time of their first invention. But their unwonted character is not sufficient to constitute these things as miracles; a miracle must also surpass all the forces of nature. Thus the raising of the dead to life is not only an extraordinary fact, but it is one that no amount of skill or knowledge will enable a man to perform. Miracles are thus exceptions to the ordinary course of nature; they appear to transgress the laws of nature, but they do not really do so. The laws of nature still hold good, but they are suspended in their action by an intervening power.
There are true and false miracles.
The former are worked by the power of almighty God, the latter appear to surpass the powers of nature, but are really the effect of the employment of the powers of nature by evil spirits, who by reason of their greater knowledge and power are able to produce results that deceive and mislead us. Miracles are divided into miracles of the first class and miracles of the second class. The former are those which altogether surpass all the powers of nature, as the raising of the dead to life. Miracles of the second class are extraordinary actions which might have been performed by the powers of nature, but not in the same way or in the same space of time, as the healing of a sick man by a word, or the sudden acquisition of the knowledge of a foreign language.
3. Miracles are wrought by almighty God only for His own glory, and especially for the confirmation of true doctrine.
Sometimes it is to show that a man is a true messenger sent by God; sometimes to bear witness to the holiness of one who is dead, or to his virtue or justice. God never works a miracle in confirmation of false doctrine.
All important documents must bear the stamp or signature of the person sending them out, as a mark of their being genuine. God also has His stamp, by which He certifies that some doctrine is from Him, or that some messenger is sent by Him. This stamp consists in miracles. It is one that cannot be counterfeited. Our Lord Himself appeals to His miracles as a proof of His divine mission (Matt. xi. 4, 5; John x. 37). Elias did the same (3 Kings xviii.). Miracles still continue to be worked in the Catholic Church in proof of the truth of her teaching. God also works miracles in proof of the holiness of the dead, often at their graves, as at that of Eliseus (4 Kings xiii. 21), or for those who invoke them. Two miracles must be attested as having been worked by the intercession of a servant of God, before he is beatified, and others before he is canonized. Under the Jewish covenant the saints worked miracles chiefly during their life; under the Christian covenant they work the greater number after their death. God also works miracles to manifest His goodness and His justice, as when the water flowed in the desert to supply the thirsting Israelites, and when Ananias and Saphira were struck dead. God never works miracles in proof of false doctrine, though He sometimes permits wicked men to be deceived by the false miracles worked by the devil. Thus the devil sometimes heals the sick rapidly or suddenly through his superior knowledge of the powers of nature.
4. In working miracles God usually makes use of the intervention of man, sometimes even of wicked men.
Those whom God has created can only work miracles when God gives them the power. The saints always worked miracles in the name of God, or of Our Lord. Our Lord alone could work miracles in His own name. Bad men are sometimes employed by God as the instruments of the miracles by which He establishes the truth (Matt. vii. 22, 23). We must not be too ready to have recourse to the hypothesis of a miracle, if the fact supposed to be miraculous can be accounted for in any other way.
5. Prophesies are clear and definite predictions of future events that can be known to God alone.
Prophecy also includes a prediction of future events, which de pend on the free will of man, for such events can only be foreseen by God Himself. The most thorough knowledge of material causes avails nothing. They are often just the opposite of what our previous knowledge would have led us to expect, e.g., the denial of Our Lord by St. Peter (Cf. Mark xiv. 31), which Our Lord predicted. Prophecies may be called miracles of the omniscience of God, as distinguished from the miracles of His omnipotence, for prophecy requires an acquaintance with the heart of man such as God alone possesses (Is. xli. 23). The oracles of the heathen correspond to the false miracles of which we have already spoken. They were mostly obscure and sometimes ambiguous, as when the oracle at Delphi told Crossus that if he crossed the river Halys with his army he would destroy a mighty kingdom, but did not say whether that kingdom was to be his own or that of his enemies. Many predictions were given by the oracles and the heathen soothsayers which were not true prophecies, but were guesses made from a knowledge of the laws of nature and from the laws that regulate the general course of human development. The evil spirits, through their superior knowledge, were often able to foretell events that men could not foresee, such as the approach of a storm or pestilence, or the death of some individual.
6. God for the most part entrusts the prophesying of future events to His messengers, for the confirmation of the true faith or for the benefit of men.
Thus God entrusted the prophets of the Jewish covenant with the prophecy of a Redeemer to come, in order to confirm the belief in Him, to convince those to whom He came that He was the true Messias and those who have lived since His coming of the truth of the Christian religion. He sent Noe to prophesy the Flood, in order to lead men to do penance. Sometimes He revealed the future to wicked men, as when to Baltassar He foretold his coming destruction by the handwriting on the wall. Sometimes He employed wicked men as the instruments through which He foretold the future, as e.g., Balaam (Numb. xxiv. 1 seq.), and Caiphas, as being the high priest of the year (John xi. 49). But in general He only employed as instruments of prophecy His own faithful servants, revealing the future event either through a vision, or by an angel, or through some interior illumination. Thus the archangel Gabriel was sent to instruct Daniel during the Babylonian captivity respecting the time of the coming of the Messias. The prophecies of the Apocalypse were mostly put before St. John in the form of a vision. Such communications were given to the prophets only from time to time. None of them had a permanent knowledge of future events. Thus Samuel did not know who was to be the future king of Israel till David was actually presented to him (1 Kings xvi. 6-12).
The gift of prophecy is therefore, generally speaking, a proof that he who possesses it is a messenger from God.
The fulfillment of the prophecy is, of course, necessary before we recognize it as a proof that he who utters it is a messenger from God. It must not contradict any revealed doctrine, or be inconsistent with the holiness of God. It must be edifying and profitable to men (1 Cor. xiv. 3). It must be uttered with prudence and calmness, for it is a mark of false prophets to show no control of self.
This article, VI. THE MOTIVES OF FAITH is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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