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Spiritual Magazine .
THE ANTI-SUPERNATURALISM OF THE
By the Reverend WILLIAM MOUNTFORD.
It is proposed to consider the subject of miracles as connected with Christianity. And, perhaps, than this, there is no religious topic which has been more variously and strangely treated, during the last century. And this is saying a great deal. For how has it fared with Christianity, and even at the hands of those, sometimes, by whom it has been accounted as the Tree of Life? Often and often, among other anomalous doings, it has been treated as though a gardener should take up a tree and turn it about to humour every change of wind upon it; and as though to prove it to be a living thing, he should say bare its roots for every questioner, and even paint them, to make them more seemly.
Miracles are the possibilities of a miracle-bearing tree; but commonly they are regarded as though they were some arbitrary manufacture. In the New Testament they are simply called
signs and wonders ;" but in this age, among both believers and unbelievers, it is agreed that they are suspensions of the laws of nature, or else are nothing: Miracles presr existence of a spiritual world containing spiritua' nd spiritual forces, with laws peculiar to it, and with capable of intertwining and inosculating with som man's nature and of the material world. And ye the advocates of their reality, miracles are arg simply as material occurrences, and quite apart froi of their nature, and, indeed, as though there wer philosophy known. And this is because of the which is so strong in us all. It is no matter wh
prese se the
whether philosopher, theologian, or anything else, almost inevitably, in some way or other, the spirit of the age will have its say through him, and pervert, if not quench his meaning.
No doubt, things have often been credited as miraculous which were no miracles at all. But the precise opposite of credulity is not always wisdom. And if it be said that it is only at Naples that the blood of St. Januarius will liquefy, it may be answered that there has also been such a place as that in which neither would “they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” And to-day there are eminent places, where men hold that neither their own eyes, nor the eyes of all other persons are to be trusted for a miracle, -or, as they would say, for anything different from the laws of nature. But with all their scepticism, these sceptics do not remember that a law of nature may be one thing, and their notion of that law be something else, or something a little different. But indeed, when incredulity becomes so intense as that, it is self-confounded, self-confuted, even though it should be in regard to such a miracle as that which happened when the axe-head fell into the water, and Elisha “cut down a stick and cast it in thither, and the iron did swim.” For, if a man cannot trust his eyes and
ears, he rely on his doubts? And how does he know but doubting his senses may be an unworthy, untrustworthy act, and even may perhaps be a mere nervous boggling? And how should even a materialist trust the wisdom which has been filtered for him, as he thinks, from outside through his eyes and ears, if he cannot trust his eyes and ears themselves ? But, in the spirit of his times or neighbourhood, a man will think and hold what, under other influences, would have been for him only a speculative, tentative position. And because of its being in us and of us, it is the last thing to be suspected as vitiating sound judgment.
It is in this spirit of the age to judge of everything by uniformity, whether as regards the world or mankind. And so from what he understands to be the uniformity of the laws of nature, a man of the time thinks himself competent to check the report of the past, and to decide that there never could have been water changed into wine, nor a demon exorcised, because at this present time water is never seen changing into wine, nor a demon known to be dispossessed of his corporeal lodgings. And because of what he fancies must be the uniformity of human nature, this man of the time thinks, too, that from himself he knows of everybody else, as to what they can have seen or cannot have seen; can have heard or cannot have heard; can have felt or cannot have felt; and in the same way, as differing from himself, he is certain that in the past they must all have been loose
thinkers; and not the Jews only, but the Greeks and Romans too, and even Socrates and Plato, because of their having reasoned about things which he himself has never met with, and which, if he did meet, he would never believe his own eyes about.
It is by availing himself of this temper of the times, that Ernest Renan largely gets his strength as a controversialist. For what he has to say on the subject of miracles would have been but feeble talk anywhere, one or two hundred years ago, and would sound but inanely even to-day in such regions as are clear away from the influence of Paris and London. miracle is not to be regarded, because it never could have happened ; and because even if, perchance, it had happened, there never could have been any people who could have been believed about it." This, in form, is the argument of Renan. But, of course, it is good only for people of that way of thinking, only for persons sensitive to the spirit of the age, and who are ready to add, without another word, “ And so I think, because so I am sure.'
The following quotation is from the introductory chapter to “ The Apostles,” by Ernest Renan : “ The first twelve chapters of the Acts are a tissue of miracles. It is an absolute rule in criticism to deny a place in history to narratives of miraculous circumstances ; nor is this owing to a metaphysical system, for it is simply the dictation of observation. Such facts have never been really proved. All the pretended miracles near enough to be examined are referrible to illusion or imposture. If a single miracle had ever been proved, we could not reject in a mass all those of ancient history; for, admitting that very many of these last were false, we might still believe that some of them were true. But it is not so. Discussion and examination are fatal to miracles. Are we not, then, authorized in believing that those miracles which date many centuries back, and regarding which there are no means of forming a contradictory debate, are also without reality? In other words, miracles only exist when people believe in them. the supernatural is but another word for faith. Catholicism, in maintaining that it possesses miraculous powers, subjects itself to the influence of this law. The miracles of which it boasts never occur where they would be most effective. Why should not such a convincing proof be brought more prominently forward ? A miracle at Paris, for instance, before experienced savar would put an end to all doubt. But, alas ! such a thing ne happens.' But now, oracular though this might be judged the manner in which it has been bowed to, what is there in i more than the mere sceptical spirit of the age? What do
do more than simply tickle the humour of the time? Psychologically, it is a curious passage, because the sweep of its intention is so wide, while the wording of it is like the unconscious, innocent expression of a child. It is as though a boy, as the easier way of settling with a problem in mathematics, should say, “ There is nothing in it. There never was anything learned from that direction. O my master! all the best boys have looked at it, and say that there is nothing in it—nothing at all.
And so, now, how can there be ? And please, even if it be true, it cannot really be, without we let it be." But here it may be asked, whether it is likely that Ernest Renan, as a boy, ever talked in that manner; and to this it may be answered that it is very unlikely, considering that he was born in Brittany. And it is just as unlikely, too, that he could ever have written the preceding quotation from one of his works, but for his education, direct and indirect. For he was born in Brittany-a country of simple, fervent, unquestioning faith as to the Church. Thence he was carried to Paris, and placed in a primary theological school, whence he was passed on to a similar school elsewhere. Having finished with the latter school, he became a resident in the Seminary of St. Sulpice; which indeed, inside, is wholly ordered by members of the Society of Jesus, but on the outside is pressed upon by the light, sceptical, and anti-Christian air of Paris. Ernest Renan bad been brought up like a child of the Middle Ages, and then found himself, as a young man, where with a few steps out of doors, he was in the atmosphere of Paris and under the influence of the Sorbonne. with all this, was it not natural that Renan should have become a Rationalistic author instead of a Catholic Priest? And because of his being a simple, earnest, intellectual man, was it not all the more natural still, that by contrast with the air of St. Sulpice, he should mistake for the spirit of truth itself what was but the spirit of the age manifesting itself through a highlyeducated class, in a city singularly self-centred and self sufficient ?
But, says the critic here criticised, “ A miracle at Paris, before experienced savans !” Elsewhere, too, he explains more exactly what would suit him as to a miracle; that it should be wrought under conditions as to time and place, in a ball, and before a commission of physiologists, chemists, physicians, and critics; and that when it had been done once, it should, on request, be repeated. And no doubt, to the writer, this appeared to be a very fair way of dealing with miraculous pretensions ; and no doubt, too, of his most emphatic opponents, there are many to whom, in their secret thought, it would be a puzzle, if such a proposition had been made to Jesus at Jeru
salem, why it should not have been accepted at once for the market-place or the court of the temple. For Renan is simply strong in that way of looking at things which is characteristic of this present age, and which commonly is called sceptical, but which, also, sometimes is called practical and even business-like. Not jocosely, but in all seriousness, every now and then are put forth and read invitations to the miraculous, such as that which Ernest Renan makes. One man writes in abstract, scientific terms, and another in plain English ; but both one and the other mean the same thing. 6 Let miracles come to me in my study, and shew themselves inside of my crucible, while my friends are all standing round, and at the moment exactly when it shall be said that we are all ready, and then I will believe; though of course, even then, I should not be absolutely forced to give in, but still I should, I think. And now what do you say to that?” And there really is nothing to say to it. Martin Luther indeed said once, what probably he would have remarked again, if he had heard this scientific, common-sense proposal, that for certain, sometimes, over some of his creatures God Almighty must laugh.
But now, as to miracles, it is not pretended that they are absolutely at the ordering of any man, as to time and place. But indeed is it so that science treats a subject even less foreign to its own domain than miracles ?
Are earthquakes as facts, accounted incredible, as not occurring at a time and a place known beforehand, and submissive to the directions of men with clocks and spirit levels, and with magnetic and other machines all ready for use? And indeed a miracle coming to order, would scarcely be a miracle. For, coming to order patiently, punctually, and as a scientific certainty, it would by that very fact have parted probably with something essential to its nature as commonly understood.
But really a Kamtschatkan, unmitigated and simple, arguing with Ernest Renan on Sanscrit, could not shew himself more insensible as to the laws of philology than Renan shews himself on the subject of miracles ; for he is utterly unconscious, apparently, of there being any philosophy connected with them, and of there being laws as to miracles, known more or less hv some men in all ages, and as certain as gravitation.
But it may be asked how this can be, Renan being sensible writer. And so a man may write well on geon yet shew himself to be very stolid as to poetry, and as to those thoughts akin to the spiritual universe, suggested by the strange properties of numbers, or w in upon the mind like corollaries on the demonstration problems. Thus, even by his constitution, Renan