Allan Kardec

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Nature of Miracles

Miracles according to Theology - Spiritism does not perform miracles - Does God perform miracles? - The supernatural and the religions.

Miracles according to Theology

1. In its etymological acceptation, the word “miracle,” from mirari (Latin), admirer (French), signifies “to wonder,” an extraordinary or surprising thing. The French Academy defines this word, “an act of divine power contrary to the known laws of nature.”

In its acceptance, this word has lost, like so many others, its primitive significance. In general it was, and still is, limited to a particular order of facts. The general idea of masses is that a miracle is supernatural. In the liturgical sense it is a derogation of the laws of nature by which God manifests his power. Such is, indeed, its common acceptation, which is considered its proper sense. It is only by comparison and metaphor that it is applied to ordinary circumstances of life.

One of the characteristics of a miracle, properly speaking, is that of inexplicability, which implies its accomplishment by supernatural laws; and such is the idea that is attached to it, that, if it is possible to explain a miraculous fact, it is no more a miracle, people say, no matter how surprising it may be. For the church, that which gives merit to miracles is precisely its supernatural origin and the impossibility to explain them. It adheres so strictly to this point that it regards all associations of miracles with phenomena of nature as heresy, and attempt against faith. It has gone to the extreme point of excommunicating, and even burning those who did not believe in certain miracles.

Another characteristic of a miracle is its unique or exceptional nature. From the moment when phenomenon is reproduced, be it spontaneously or by an act of will, it is implied that it is subject to a law; and thenceforth, be this law known or unknown, the event cannot be miraculous.

2. Science produces miracles every day before the eyes of the ignorant. If a really dead man be recalled to life by divine intervention, this would be a veritable miracle, because it is a fact contrary to the laws of nature; but if the man had only the appearance of death, if he has still in him the remains of latent vitality, and science or magnetic action succeeds in reanimating him, to enlightened people a natural phenomenon is presented, but to the eyes of the ignorant the fact will appear miraculous. When, in certain countries, a physicist flies an electric kite, and makes lightning strike a tree, this new Prometheus will certainly be credited with diabolical power; but Joshua arresting the movement of the sun, or rather of the Earth, by admitting this fact, we must admit a veritable miracle, for there exists no magnetizer endowed with such power to accomplish so prodigious a feat.

Centuries of ignorance have been fruitful in miracles, because all that was not understood passed for miracle. Measurably as science has discovered new laws, the circle of the marvelous has been narrowed; but, as it has not explored the whole of nature’s field, there remains still quite a large place for the miraculous.

3. The marvelous, expelled from the material domain by science, has been entrenched in that of Spiritism, which has been its last refuge. Spiritism, by demonstrating that the spiritual element is one of the living forces of nature, a force continually acting concurrently with material forces, takes in the phenomena which arise in the circle of natural effects, because that like all others, they are subject to law. If the marvelous is to be expelled from the realm of spirit, it has then no more existence; then alone can we say that the age of miracles has passed (Chap. 1, n° 18).

Spiritism does not perform miracles

4. Spiritism comes, then, in its turn to do that which each science has done at its advent, to reveal new laws, and explain, consequently, the phenomena which are the result of these laws.

These phenomena, it is true, are connected with the existence of spirits, and with their intervention in the material world which has been called supernatural. But to make it really so it would be necessary to prove that spirits and their manifestations are contrary to the laws of nature, that not one of these laws produces their manifestation.

The spirit is none other than the human life or soul which survives the body. It is the real indestructible being which cannot die, while the body is only a destructible accessory. Its existence is, therefore, as natural after as during the incarnation. It is submitted to the laws governing the spiritual principle, as the body submits to those which rule the material universe; but as these two principles have a necessary affinity, as they incessantly react upon one another, as from their simultaneous action result the harmony and movement of the whole, it follows that the spiritual and material elements are parts of the same whole, one as natural as the other, and that the first is not an exception, an anomaly in the order of things.

5. During the incarnation the spirit acts upon matter through the intermediation of its fluidic body, or perispirit; it is the same when discarnated. It accomplishes as spirit, and by the measure of its capacities, that which it did when on Earth; only, as it has no longer for an instrument its mortal body, it serves itself, when necessary, with the material organs of an incarnate being who is what we call a medium. It does as he does, who, unable to write himself, employs a secretary, or who, not understanding a language, is served by an interpreter. A secretary and an interpreter are mediums for an incarnated being, as a medium is the secretary or the interpreter of a spirit.

6. The element in which spirits act, and the means of execution being different from those employed during the incarnation, the effects are different. These effects only appear supernatural because they are produced through agents, who are not those by means of which men serve themselves; but from the instant when it is known that these agents are natural, and that the manifestations occur in obedience to laws, there is nothing supernatural or marvelous about them. Before the properties of electricity were known, the electricity phenomenon was regarded as miraculous by certain people. As soon as the cause was known, the miracle vanished. It is the same with spiritual phenomena, which arise no more from the setting aside of nature’s laws than do the electrical, acoustic, luminous, and other phenomena which have given rise to a crowd of superstitions.

7. However, will it not be said, you admit that a spirit can raise a table and maintain it in space without support? Isn’t that a derogation of the law of gravity? Yes, to the known law; but are all laws known? Before men had experimented with the ascending force of certain gas, who had imagined that a heavy machine, carrying several men, could soar by force of attraction? To the vulgar eye the ascent of a balloon must have appeared miraculous or diabolical. He, who had proposed a hundred years ago to transmit a dispatch five hundred leagues, and receive an answer within a few minutes, would have passed for a fool. If he had performed the feat, it would have been commonly believed that he had the Devil under his control; for then no one but the Devil was thought capable of traveling so quickly. However, now the occurrence is not only regarded as possible, but is accepted as altogether natural. Why, then, should an unknown fluid not possess the property, under given circumstances, of counterbalancing the effect of weight, as hydrogen counterbalances the weight of the balloon? An occurrence indeed, similar to that, is which takes place in the case under our notice. (See “The Mediums Book,” chap. 4).

8. The spiritual phenomena, being natural, have been produced in all ages; but because their study could not be effected by material means, with which physical science arms itself, they have remained longest in the supernatural domain whence Spiritism rescues them.

The supernatural hypothesis based upon inexplicable appearances leaves the imagination wholly free, which, wandering into the unknown gives birth to superstitious beliefs. A rational explanation founded upon natural law, leading man to a foundation in reality, gives a place of rest to imaginative flights, and destroys superstition. Far from extending the supernatural domain, Spiritism reduces it to the narrowest limits, and robs it of its last refuge. If it makes possible belief in certain facts, it prevents belief in much else, because it demonstrates in the circle of spiritual being as science in a circle of materiality, that which is possible, and that which is not. Always, however, as it makes no pretension to say the final word upon all subjects, even upon those which belong to its own realm, it does not take the position of an absolute regulator of the possible, and reserves always some knowledge for future disclosures.

9. The spiritual phenomena consist in different modes of manifestation of soul or spirit during the incarnation, or in their discarnate state. It is by its manifestations that the soul reveals its existence, its survival, and its individuality; and it is judged by its effects. The cause being natural, the effect is equally so. These effects made the special object of research in the study of Spiritism, in order to arrive at knowledge as completely as possible of the nature and of the attributes of the soul, as well as of the laws which govern the spiritual principle.

10. For those who deny the independent existence of the spirit, and consequently that of the independent individuality of the surviving soul, all nature is simple tangible matter. All phenomena attaching to Spiritism are to them supernatural, and consequently chimerical. Failing to admit the cause, they cannot admit the effect; and, when the effects are patent, they are attributed by them to imagination, illusion, hallucination; they refuse to give credence to them. Their own preconceived opinions render them incapable of judging Spiritism fairly, because they deny all things which are immaterial.

11. Since Spiritism admits effects which are the consequence of the existence of the soul, it does not follow that it accepts all the qualified effects of the marvelous, or that it justifies and accredits them. To let it be the champion of all dreamers, of every utopian idea, of all systematic eccentricities, of all miraculous legends, one must have a very slight knowledge of it and its purposes. Its adversaries imagine that they can oppose it with arguments admitting no reply, when, after making learned researches, with the convulsionaries of St. Médard, the Camisards of Cevennes, or the recluses of Loudon, they have discovered patent cases of imposition that no one contests. But are these histories the gospel of Spiritism? Have its partisans denied that charlatanism has employed certain truths for its own profit that the imagination may have created, that fanaticism may have exaggerated much? Extravagances are not committed solely in its name. Is not true science abused by ignorance and true religion by excess of fanaticism? Many critics regard Spiritism as a fairy tale and popular legend, which are fictions worth no more than historical and tragic romances.

12. The spiritual phenomena are most often spontaneous, and are produced without any preparation through persons who bestow the least thought upon them; at other times they are provoked by agents known as mediums. In the first case the medium is unconscious of his mediumistic powers; in the second he acts by a knowledge of cause; hence the distinction between conscious and unconscious mediums. The latter are the more numerous, and are frequently found among obstinate and skeptical persons, who are made good witnesses in defense of Spiritism without their own knowledge or desire. The spontaneous phenomena constitute an important capital for Spiritism; for one cannot suspect the good faith of the parties through whom they are obtained, like somnambulism, which with some individuals is purely natural and involuntary, and with others induced by magnetic action. *

But let these phenomena be, or not be, the result of mental volition, the first cause is exactly the same in either instance, and detracts nothing from natural laws. Mediums, then, produce nothing absolutely supernatural; consequently they perform no miracle. The instantaneous cures often effected are no more miraculous than other effects; for they are due to the action of a fluidic agent performing the office of therapeutic agent, whose properties are no less natural because unknown until today. The title thaumaturgist, given to certain mediums by ignorant critics of the principles of Spiritism, is then altogether improper. The qualification of miraculous given to these kinds of phenomena can only give an erroneous idea of their true character.

* “The Mediums’ Book,” chap. 5 – “Revue Spirite:” examples: December, 1865, p. 370; August, 1865, p. 231.

13. The intervention of occult intelligences in spirit phenomena renders the later no more miraculous than other phenomena which are due to invisible agents, because that the occult beings populating space are one of the powers of nature — a power whose action upon the material world is incessant as well as upon the moral.

Spiritism, in enlightening us with regard to this power, gives us the key, to a crowd of mysterious things unexplained by any other means, and which in former times must have passed for amazing prodigies of knowledge. It reveals, as does magnetism, a law hitherto unknown, or at least poorly understood; or it is more correct to say that the effects were known; for they have been produced through all time before the law was discovered, and it is only the ignorance of this law which engendered superstition. This law being now known, the marvelous disappears, and the phenomena enter into the order of natural events. Thus, by moving a table or writing prescriptions under spirit guidance, spiritists perform no miracles any more than does the physician who restores a man almost dead to life, or than the scientist does by bringing lightning from the clouds. He who would pretend, with the aid of this science, to perform miracles would be either an ignorant or an impostor.

14. Since Spiritism repudiates all pretension to the miraculous, outside of it are there miracles only in the usual acceptance of the word?

Let us first declare, that of so-called miracles having taken place before the advent of Spiritism, and which still take place in our day, the greater part, if not all, find their explanation in the new knowledge of laws just revealed. These facts enter, then, although under a new name, into the order of spirit phenomena, and as such are not supernatural. It is well understood that it acts only with authentic facts, and not with those which, under the name of miracles, are the product of an unworthy jugglery in view of taking advantage of credulity, any more than it acts with certain legendary facts which can have had in the beginning a depth of truth, but which superstition has enlarged to absurdity. Upon these facts Spiritism comes to throw light by affording means to separate truth from error.

Does God perform miracles?

15. As to miracles, properly speaking, nothing being impossible with God, he can perform them without doubt. Has he done it? Does he ever act contrary to the laws which he has established? It does not belong to man to prejudge the acts of divinity, and to subordinate them to the feebleness of his understanding. However, we have for criterion of our judgment, in regard to divine things, the attributes even of God. To sovereign power he joins sovereign wisdom, whence it is necessary to conclude that he does nothing uselessly.

Why then should he perform miracles? In order to attest his power, it is said. But the power of God, is it not manifested in a much more striking manner by the magnificent whole of the works of creation, by the foreseeing wisdom which presides in the smallest as well as the largest of his works, and by the harmony of the laws which rule the universe, than by a few little and puerile modification which all tricksters know how to imitate? What would we think of a learned mechanic who, in order to prove his skill, should disarrange the clock which he had constructed, a masterpiece of scientific skill, in order to prove that he can deface that which he has made? On the contrary, is his knowledge not displayed by the regularity and precision of its movements?

The question of miracles, then, is not, properly speaking, in the province of Spiritism; but, sustaining itself by the reasoning that God makes nothing uselessly, this idea can be educed: that, miracles not being necessary to the glorification of God, nothing in the universe is diverted from the general laws. God does not perform miracles; since his laws are perfect, he has no need to derogate them. If there are some facts which we do not understand, it is because we have not the necessary knowledge to comprehend them.

16. The admission that God may be able, for reasons which we cannot appreciate, derogate the laws which he has established, would make these laws no more immutable; but at least it is rational to think that God alone possesses this power. One could not admit, without denying totally that he is omnipotent, that it is allowed to the spirit of evil to eclipse the work of God by performing mighty works which may deceive even the very elect. This would imply the possession of a power equal to his own. That is a doctrine, however, which is or has been taught. If Satan has the power to interrupt the course of natural laws, whose work is the divine one? If Satan does it without the divine permission, he is more powerful than God. Moreover, God is not omnipotent if he delegates to him this power, as they pretend he does, in order to induce men more easily to commit wrong; and this theory denies sovereign goodness. In both cases it is a denial of one of the attributes of the Creator, without which he could not be God.

As to the Church, how does it distinguish the good miracles which come from God from evil ones which emanate from Satan? How can one draw the line between them? Let a miracle be official or not, it is not at least a derogation of the laws which emanate from God alone. If an individual is cured, as is said, miraculously, let it be by God or Satan, he is no less cured. It is necessary to have a very poor idea of human intelligence in order to expect that such doctrines can be accepted in our day.

The possibility of certain reputed miraculous facts being recognized, it is just to conclude, that, notwithstanding they are from the source which is attributed to them, they are natural effects which spirits or incarnated beings can employ, like all things, as their own intelligence or scientific knowledge allows them, for good or evil, according to their goodness or perversity. A perverted being can then do things which pass for prodigies to the eyes of the ignorant, by putting to profit his knowledge; but, when effects are good, it would be illogical to attribute to them a diabolical origin.

17. But it has been thought that religion leans upon facts which never have and never can be explained. Perhaps they never have been; but that they never can be, is another question. Does anyone know what knowledge and discoveries may be ours in the future, without alluding to the miracle of creation, the grandest of all beyond dispute, and which is now acknowledged to be within the domain of universal law? Can we not see already, under the empire of Spiritism, magnetism, somnambulism, the ecstasies, visions, apparitions, clairvoyance, instantaneous cures, trances, oral and other communications with beings of the invisible world, phenomena known from time immemorial, considered formerly as miraculous, now being demonstrated as belonging to the natural order of things in harmony with the universal laws of being? Sacred books are full of accounts of these things, which are qualified as supernatural; but, as analogous facts are found in all religious works of antiquity, some of which are more marvelous than any biblical accounts, if the truth of a religion depended upon the number and nature of these facts, Christianity could at once be swept away by Paganism.

The supernatural and the religions

18. To pretend that the supernatural is the necessary foundation of all religion, that it is the key to the whole arch of the Christian edifice, is to sustain a dangerous thesis. If one makes the truth of Christianity rest solely upon the base of miracle, he gives it but a fragile support, from which stones are detached every day. This belief, of which some eminent theologians are defenders, conducts rightly to the conclusion that, in a given time, no religion will be possible, not even the Christian religion, if that which is regarded as supernatural be demonstrated as natural; for so many arguments will be heaped against it that no one will be able to maintain the miraculous character of any fact after its naturalness has been proved. Now, the proof that a fact is no exception to natural laws is, that it can be explained by these laws, and that, being able to be reproduced by the intermediation of any individual whatever, it ceases to be the exclusive property of saints. It is not the supernatural which is essential to religion, but the spiritual principle which has been so mischievously confounded with the marvelous, and without which religion is impossible.

Spiritism considers the Christian religion at a more elevated point; it gives to it a more solid base than miracles, that is, the immutable laws of God, which rule the spiritual equally with the material principle. This base bids defiance to time and science alike; for time and science will at length sanction it.

God is no less worthy of our admiration, gratitude, or respect, because he does not derogate his laws, grand beyond all else in their immutability. He needs not the supernatural as an element in his worship. Nature is sufficiently imposing of itself, without any additions, to prove the existence of the Supreme Power. Religion will find each time less incredulous ones, the more reason sanctions it. Christianity can lose nothing by this sanction: it, on the contrary, gains by it. If anything has destroyed it, in the opinion of certain people, it is the abuse of the marvelous or supernatural.

19. If we take the word “miracle” in its correct etymological sense, — in the sense simply of a wonder, — we behold incessant miracles before our very eyes. We breathe them in the air; they crowd upon our steps: for all nature is a wonder.

Can one give to the people, to the ignorant, to the weak-minded, an idea of God’s power, without showing them infinite wisdom presiding in all things? — In the admirable organisms of all that live, in the fructification of plants, in the appropriation of every part of every being to its needs, according to the place of its abode. It is necessary to make them behold the divine action in producing a blade of grass, in the expanding flower. We must show them his goodness in the sun which vivifies all things, his goodness in his solicitude for all creatures however small or feeble they may be, his foresight, in the reason of existence of everything, none of them useless, his wisdom in the good which proceeds from momentary and apparent evil. Make them comprehend that evil is really man’s own work, and that God has made everything good. Seek then, not to frighten them with pictures of endless flame, causing them to doubt the goodness of God; encourage them with the certainty of their ability to repair all the wrong they have done; show them the discoveries of science as revelations of divine law, and not as the work of Satan; finally, teach them to read the book of nature, incessantly open before them as an inexhaustible volume, wherein the wisdom and goodness of the Creator are inscribed on every page. Then they will comprehend that a Being so great, occupying himself with all, watching over all, foreseeing all, must be sovereignty powerful. The laborer will behold him while he ploughs a furrow, and the unfortunate will bless him in affliction, for he will know that unhappiness is his own fault. Then will man be truly religious, rationally so, which is far better than to encourage faith in stories of images which sweat blood, in statues which wink their eyes and shed tears.

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