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).