Historical Sketch of Canonization


The Process Regarding Miracles


For the construction of this Process the first step to be taken by the Postulator is to ask the Congregation of Rites to grant a commission of delegation. With this object in view he sends to the Procurator of the Cause in the Eternal City a detailed statement of the occurrences which are regarded as miraculous in the judgment of experts, setting out all the circumstances of time, place, and persons from which it may be inferred that the event was a miracle, and that it was wrought by God at the intercession of the servant of God whose beatification or canonization is under discussion. If, therefore, there is question of a cure which is believed to exceed the powers of nature the Postulator must in his statement (relatio) give the following facts: 1. The full name and address of the person cured; the particular disease from which he suffered; his physical constitution, and the constitution of his parents. 2. Whether in technical language the person was a difficult subject _ that is to say, whether the illness was really grave and dangerous, for lighter disease and illness is utterly disregarded by the Congregation; also the year of his age at which the disease began, how long it continued, whether it was difficult to be healed or incurable. 3. Whether medical aid was called upon, who were the doctors summoned, what treatment they adopted, and with what success; their opinion of the disease, and the possibility of curing it by medical treatment. 4. The whole course of the disease must be minutely and accurately described in chronological order by the doctors in attendance, the cause of the disease, its development and growth, with the various symptoms, all the circumstances from the very beginning down to the time when the servant of God to whom the miracle is attributed was invoked, or his relics or image was applied. 5. By what impulse or at whose suggestion the servant of God was invoked; what were the words used, if any, in the invocation; whether the patient called upon any of the other inhabitants of Heaven, or whether he regained his lost health through the exclusive merits and intercession of the servant of God whose cause is in question. 6. Whether the cure was gradual or instantaneous, and whether the patient, at once or by slow degrees, regained color, strength, energy and other signs of perfect health; whether any vestige of the disease remains, or whether the patient was completely restored, and still continues in the enjoyment of perfect health. 7. The opinion of doctors obtained after the cure, as to whether it was to be attributed to the powers of nature or not, and their certificates to this effect are to be sent to the Roman Congregation. The doctors giving evidence in these cases may be either Catholics or nonCatholics, they may be heretics or infidels. 8. The Postulator should state whether he can prove the miraculous occurrence by a number of eyewitnesses; some witnesses of this class are always necessary for the satisfactory proof of the miracle; and if there are also witnesses who are not eyewitnesses, this should be stated to prove the renown of the alleged miracle.

By these means the Procurator of the Cause is supplied with sufficient material for judging whether he is in a position to apply for the Apostolic Commission, and for preparing the statements and articles necessary for this purpose. If the Commission is asked for, and the Congregation grants the petition, a Remissorial Letter is sent to the Bishop of the diocese where the events occurred, and the Process is formed just like other Apostolic Processes, those changes only being made which are necessarily demanded by the subject-matter of the inquiry.

In regard to the number of witnesses called for proving a miracle at least ten are necessary, two of whom must be official witnesses who are called by the judge or the Promoter of the Faith. The prudent Postulator, however, will not confine himself to the number that is absolutely necessary but will produce as many as may be required for giving complete and perfect proof of the miracle. Moreover, they must be for the most part eyewitnesses. Above all, the Postulator must be careful to call the medical men who were in attendance on the patient in his or her illness. If any of them should refuse to give evidence mention of this refusal should be made in the minutes of the Process. The doctors who are to give evidence, must bind themselves on oath to speak the truth. If infidels they are sworn on their honor, if heretics they are sworn on their honor or on the Holy Gospels, according to the particular sect to which they belong; and the course adopted in; administering the oath should be noted on the minutes.

Besides all these witnesses at least two surgeons or physicians of special skill are called by the judges of the Process to make a careful examination of the person restored to health if he or she is still living. These may be called from a distance if there are no physicians of eminence in the place where the Process is held, and they must be independent men who have given no evidence in the Process hitherto. They inquire whether the health to which the patient was restored still continues; whether any other disease succeeded which might be regarded as an effect of the previous illness; and whether there is any sign from which they may reasonably conclude that the patient might fall again into the disease from which he was said to be cured. This examination of the restored patient is prescribed in the Interrogatories of the Promoter of the Faith; and the experts are sworn beforehand to the conscientious discharge of the duty committed to them. But if there was question of any other form of miracle besides restoration to health exceeding the powers of nature the examination of medical experts would be omitted as unnecessary.

All things follow as in other Processes, and the Supreme judgment rests with the Sovereign Pontiff, who, if the decision is favorable, pronounces sentence: "That there is satisfactory proof of the miracle or miracles in the cause and to the purpose in question."

From all that has been said of the manner in which this Process carries on its work, it is clear that the Church regards the existence or nonexistence of a particular miracle as a question of fact to be determined purely by evidence. There are unbelievers who deny even the possibility of a miracle, and say with Hume that it is impossible to imagine the order of nature interrupted. But, according to the definition given above, no one can consistently deny the possibility of miracles unless he is also prepared to deny the existence of God. For God is necessarily free; He freely established the laws of nature; He is their Creator, and he has the power of suspending them, and He is not bound to operate according to these laws And though He usually works according to natural laws He may on occasion, for wise ends of His own make created things the instruments of effects which transcend their power. Nor does God in working miracles contradict Himself or violate any of His moral attributes such as His Truth, His justice, His Mercy. He has never bound Himself to operate at all times in accordance with natural laws. And He has decreed from eternity the uniformity of the order of nature, and the occasional deviations from this uniformity.

There is another class who in their denial of miracles fall back on the hypothesis of unknown laws of nature. They say that we cannot know all the forces of nature, and that these alleged miracles are produced by its hidden powers. But it may be replied that it is most unreasonable and unscientific to have recourse, in order to give the reason for a certain fact, to purely hypothetical forces, of the action and even existence of which there is absolutely no proof. These objections are generally advanced against miraculous cures. But looking into the matter more narrowly, it must be admitted that if scientific observation has established anything clearly it is that organs injured by accident or disease are not restored instantaneously. This is a law of nature, and to look for some hidden law which overturns this law is to make nature contradict itself and work spontaneously for its own ruin. Moreover, organic life consists essentially of successive generations of cellules, giving birth to others; and this process, which exacts the assistance of time, produces the growth of the tissues of the organism and brings about their restoration when injured by disease. And it is unscientific and contrary to all reason to advance unknown forces of nature which are utterly opposed to the very basis and principle of organic life as it exists in the present creation.

The hypothesis of hidden forces of nature appears still more absurd when unbelievers in their desperate straits try to explain away the higher orders of miracle. How can unknown natural powers account for the sun's going back on the dial of Achaz, or for the duplication of the same human being? Or taking a miracle of the second degree restoring life to a person who is dead, when all the recognized signs of death are present, when putrefaction is already far advanced, and there is every known proof that life has departed, does it not seem pitiful that men will fall back for explanation on some secret forces of nature. The man who in such circumstances can resist Divine intervention will deny anything.

There are those, finally, who, whilst admitting the miracles of Our Lord and His Apostles, laugh at the idea that miracles are wrought by the relics and prayers of the Saints. They assume that no miracles have been wrought since the Apostles, and the Catholic belief in modern miracles excites the most bitter prejudice in their minds.

But it is hard to see how miracles wrought through the intercession of the Saints can present a serious difficulty to the intellect of a person who admits the signs and wonders of Our Lord and His Apostles. "For the most part," says Cardinal Newman, "when God begins He goes on. We conceive that when He first did a miracle, He began a series; what He commenced, He continued; what has been will be. Surely this is good and clear reasoning. To my own mind, certainly, it is incomparably more difficult to believe that the Divine Being should do one miracle and no more, than that He should do a thousand, that He should do one great miracle only, than that He should do a multitude of less besides." The miracles of Our Lord were continued by His Apostles, and there is nothing to indicate that the gift which was given them was personal or confined to a certain definite period. On the contrary, Our Lord promises clearly that miracles would be always continued in His Church. On one occasion He makes use of these remarkable words: _ "Amen, Amen, I say unto you, he that believeth in Me, the works that I do he shall do, and greater than these shall he do" (St. John xvi. 11, 12). So far then from miracles being improbable in our own day, the distinct promise of Our Lord, and the harmony of God's dealing with men, suggest a probability, nay, even a certainty, in their favor. Whilst infidelity exists in the world the stream of miracles must continue to flow. God lives in His Saints, and works His wonders by them, granting them, through their heroic faith, the miraculous power of healing the sick, expelling evil spirits, and raising the dead to life.

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