Historical Sketch of Canonization


The Process Regarding Miracles

THE miracles proposed for beatification, and wrought after the death of the servant of God through his intercession, may be proved in three ways, by the Informative Process if the evidence in this inquiry is recognized as having the same weight as in the Apostolic Process (in linea aequalis probationis compulsatus), or by the Apostolic Process on the individual virtues and miracles, or lastly, by a special Apostolic Process on the individual miracles. This last Process is the one of which there is question here. But, before entering upon a description of its work and mode of procedure, it may be useful to say a word of explanation on the object of the inquiry namely, miracles.

Religious and philosophic writers differ widely in their definitions of miracle. The Latin word miraculum meant in the beginning something very extraordinary though not necessarily beyond the powers of nature, thus, the "Seven wonders of the world" were known as the "Septem Miracula."

But, nowadays, the word miracle has a precise and definite meaning and signifies something so wonderful that it cannot be accounted for by natural causes. St. Thomas defines a miracle as an effect which is beyond the "order of the whole of created nature." And he explains later that, if a man throws up a stone in the air, such a motion is not miraculous, for though it exceeds the powers in the nature of the stone, it is produced by the natural power of man, and does not therefore exceed the power of the whole of created nature. It is commonly held that the demons cannot of their own powers change the laws of nature, and that they can do nothing in this respect unless they are used as the special instruments of God. St. Gregory in one of his letters says that miracles have been worked by the lost; and it is quite certain that miracles have been wrought by sinners. The words of Our Lord and the Apostle leave no doubt on this point. Our Lord declares that He knows not those who have done evil, though they may have prophesied in His name, cast out devils and done many wonderful works. St. Paul says in a wellknown passage: _ "If I have faith to remove mountains and have not charity I am nothing" (Ep. to Corinthians, Cap. XIII.). But in all cases where created beings of any kind are spoken of as working miracles, it is God alone that performs the wonder, and the creature is merely His instrument. It follows that a miracle can never be worked for a bad purpose, such as to teach false doctrine or to propagate an unsound system of morals. And the act of a creature done by his natural powers is never miraculous. "Whatever," says St. Thomas, "an angel or any other creature does by his own power is according to the order of created nature." The word miracle then, as now understood, means a work in which there is a derogation or departure by Divine Power from the ordinary course of nature.

Moreover, there are three degrees of miracles. They may, in the language of philosophy, be against, beyond, or above nature (contra, praeter, vel supra naturam), for a miraculous event can exceed the powers of nature as to its substance, as to the subject in which it occurs, or finally, as to the manner and order of its occurrence (modus et ordo faciendi). A miracle exceeds the powers of nature as to its substance when the very substance of the thing is beyond its power, as the sun going back in the heavens, or the glorification of a human body. This is the highest grade of miracle.

A miracle exceeds the powers of nature as to the subject or recipient, as in the case of the resurrection of Lazarus, for the powers of nature can give life, but not to the dead. This is the second grade.

Thirdly, and this is the last grade of miracle, it may exceed the powers of nature as to the manner and order in which the effect is produced; for example, the cure of Peter's wife's mother by Christ when she was sick of a fever. The powers of nature can give restoration to health, so that here there is no miracle as to substance; they can even restore health in the same subject or recipient, so that in the example given there is no miracle as to the subject; yet there is a real miracle as to the manner and order, for the instantaneous cure, by Christ is altogether different from the gradual effect of care and medical treatment. The one is miraculous, the other merely natural.

Besides genuine miracles there is a whole class of phenomena exhibited by spiritualists and others at the present day which demands some notice. Readers of current literature are often startled to see the hold which some new form of creed gains upon the public, to find, for example, that spiritism, theosophy, or some kindred teaching, wins a number of adherents, even amongst the enlightened classes. Various factors enter into the explanation. When faith decays amongst a people they fly to superstition. And often the spread of such doctrines is due, in great measure, to the oratorical gifts and literary ability of their exponents. But to catch public attention, and enlist a number of followers, the persons who propound these teachings rely, in many instances, on the performance of extraordinary acts which seem to exceed human powers. Tableturning, clairvoyance, communion with the spirit world, these are some of the wonders to which they lay claim. It can be safely stated, however, that, in every instance which has hitherto attracted widespread attention, all these marvels have been clearly shown to be due either to hallucination, or, in most cases, to the unblushing fraud of those who exhibit them. The newspapers of the day supply many examples where the most shameless deceptions of this kind were openly exposed. Even if their claims to produce effects by the agency of spirits could be established such results, as the acts of created beings, could not be regarded as miraculous. And when one sees how readily the eye of the public is caught by claptrap exhibitions of this kind, it seems such a pity that attention cannot be more closely riveted on the real genuine miracles which the Church so carefully and so lovingly unfolds to our view. To weigh and examine the evidence in support of these miracles thrills us with their reality, and opens our hearts to the wondrous lessons they teach us, lessons of homage to the Saints, of love and loyalty to Mother Church, and of the deepest respect and reverence for the goodness and omnipotence of God.

It is to be observed, however, that miracles, prophecies, visions, ecstasies, no matter how striking and extraordinary, do not constitute sanctity. It is a widespread error _ an error, too, which prevails to some extent amongst Catholics that these marvelous. phenomena are the dominating characteristic of holiness. And yet we read nothing of miracles performed by the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Baptist, eminent as they were in holiness and virtue. And some other great saints, as St. Ignatius of Loyola, have but very few miracles recorded in their lives. St. Bernard, speaking of the miracles he had wrought, said: "God worked them, not to glorify me, but for the edification of my neighbor." The essential test of sanctity is the practice of virtue carried to the pitch of heroism and perfection. Benedict XIV., speaking of heroic virtues, says: "These virtues are first and most decisive witness to sanctity; visions, prophecies and miracles are only of secondary importance, and they are absolutely ignored if proof of heroic virtues is not forthcoming." Hence in causes of canonization no inquiry is held regarding miracles until satisfactory proof of heroic virtue is first obtained. But though the gift of miracles is not a decisive, proof of holiness the general rule is that it is conferred only on holy men and women. It is, in the language of theologians, a grace "gratis data," or given in order that the recipient may promote the spiritual good of others. And very often miracles are the signs by which God bears witness to the sanctity of those who perform them and to the power of their prayer. Hence the Church makes careful inquiry into their existence before any of her children are placed upon her altars.

Coming, then, to the mode of procedure, it is scarcely necessary to state that the special Process regarding miracles is always Apostolic, or constituted by the delegated authority of the Holy See. It must be instituted in all causes before the final stage of canonization can be reached; for it must be proved that at least two miracles have been wrought by the deceased servant of God since his beatification in order to obtain the decree of canonization. This Process must also be held for beatification whenever satisfactory proof of the required miracles has not been obtained in the Apostolic Process regarding the individual virtues and miracles. The special Process for beatification is always held after the Process for the individual virtues and miracles. It is only when the sanctity of the servant of God is established by clear and irrefragable evidence that the Holy See authorizes the special Process for the examination of the miracles.

The number of miracles which must be proved in order that any cause may proceed to canonization has been clearly laid down by Benedict XIV. in a decree dated 23rd April, 1741. In causes excepted by the Bull of Urban _ that is to say, causes in which immemorial cultus has been established _ confirmation of the cultus, or equipollent beatification may be obtained without proving that any miracle had been wrought by the servant of God. But after this equivalent beatification four miracles must have been wrought in order to obtain canonization. The other class of causes are those which proceed by way of noncultus. And in this class if the virtues or the martyrdom is proved by eyewitnesses two miracles are sufficient for beatification and two for canonization. If, however, the virtues or martyrdom have been established by evidence which is not that of eyewitnesses (testes de auditu), four miracles are required for beatification and two for canonization. In this class there is one other contingency possible. The witnesses in the Ordinary Process may be eyewitnesses, whilst in the Apostolic Process, owing to the lapse of time, no eyewitnesses are available. In this hypothesis three miracles must be proved for beatification and two more for canonization. In all causes, whether proceeding by the way of noncultus or of immemorial cultus, the miracles required for canonization must be wrought after beatification, and must be proved by eyewitnesses.

To be continued.

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