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.