THE definition of a miracle has been exposed to numerous erroneous views. Inquirers know not what a miracle is. It is wrong to assume that nature and human nature are alike invariably, and that you can, interpret the one by the other. There may be in reality great divergence between the two, though both start from the common point--individuality. A miracle is not a violation of the laws of nature (because nature is not everything), but a something independent of all laws--that is, as we know laws. The mistake that is so commonly made is the interpreting--or rather the perceiving, or the becoming aware of--that thing we denominate a miracle through the operation of the human senses, which in reality have nothing whatever to do with a miracle, because they cannot know it. If nature, as we understand it, or law, as we understand it, be universal, then, as nothing can be possible to us which contradicts either the one or the other (both being the same)--nature being law, and law being nature--miracle must be impossible, and there never was, nor could there ever be, such a thing as a miracle. But a miracle works outwardly from us at once, and not by a human path--moves away from the world (that is, man’s world) as a thing impossible to it, though it may be true none the less, since our nature is not all nature; nor perhaps any nature, but even a philosophical delusion. In the conception of a miracle; however, the thing apprehended
revolves to us, and can come to us in no other way, and we seize the idea of it through a machinery--our own judgment--which is a clear, sight compounded of our senses--a synthesis of senses that, in the very act of presenting an impossible idea, destroys it as humanly possible. Miracle can be of no date or time, whether earlier, whether later, if God has not withdrawn from nature; and if He has withdrawn from nature, then nature must have before this fallen to pieces of itself; for God is intelligence--not life only; and matter is not intelligent, though it may be living. It is not seen that during that space--which is a space taken out of time, though independent of it--in which miracle is possible to us, we cease to be men, because time, or rather sensation, is man’s measure; and that when we are men again, and back in ourselves, the miracle is gone, because the conviction of the possibility of a thing and its non-possibility has expelled it. The persuasion of a miracle is intuition, or the operation of God’s Spirit active in us, that drives out nature for the time, which is the opposite of the miracle.
No miracle can be justified to men’s minds, because no amount of evidence can sustain it; no number of attestations can affirm that which we cannot in our nature believe. In reality, we believe nothing of which our senses do not convince us--even these not always. In other matters, we only believe because we think we believe; and since the conviction of a miracle has nothing of God except the certain sort of motive of possessed, excluding exaltation, which, with the miracle, fills us, and to which exaltation we can give no name, and which we can only feel as a certain something in us, a certain power and a certain light, conquering and outshining another light, become fainter--it will follow that the conviction of the
possibility of a miracle is the same sort of unquestioning assurance that we have of a dream in the dream itself; and that, when the miracle is apprehended in the mind, it just as much ceases to be a miracle when we are in our senses, as a dream ceases to be that which it was, a reality, and becomes that which it is, nonentity, when we awake. But to the questions, what is a dream?--nay, what is waking?--who shall answer? or who can declare whether in that broad outside, where our minds and their powers evaporate or cease, where nature melts away into nothing that we can know as nature, or know as anything else, in regard to dreams and realities, the one may not be the other? The dream may be man’s life to him--as another life other than his own life--and the reality may be the dream (in its various forms), which he rejects as false and confusion simply because it is as an unknown language, of which, out of his dream, he can never have the alphabet, but of which, in the dream, he has the alphabet, and can spell well because that life is natural to him.
'A pretence that every strong and peculiar expression is merely an Eastern hyperbole is a mighty easy way of getting rid of the trouble of deep thought and right apprehension, and has helped to keep the world in ignorance.'--Morsels of Criticism, London, 1800.
It is very striking that, in all ages, people have clothed the ideas of their dreams in the same imagery. It may therefore be asked whether that language, which now occupies so low a place in the estimation of men; be not the actual waking language of the higher regions, while we, awake as we fancy ourselves, may be sunk in a 'sleep of many thousand years, or at least, in the echo of their dreams, and only intelligibly catch a few dim words of that language of God, as sleepers do scattered expressions from the
loud conversation of those around them'. So says Schubert, in his Symbolism of Dreams. There is every form of the dream-state, from the faintest to the most intense, in which the gravitation of the outside world overwhelms the man-senses, and absorbs the inner unit. In fact, the lightest and faintest form of dream is the very thoughts that we think.
A very profound English writer, Thomas de Quincey, has the following: 'In the English rite of Confirmation, by personal choice, and by sacramental oath, each man says, in effect: "Lo! I rebaptize myself; and that which once was sworn on my behalf, now I swear for myself." Even so in dreams, perhaps, under some secret conflict of the midnight sleeper, lighted up to consciousness at the time, but darkened to the memory as soon as all is finished, each several child of our mysterious race may complete for himself the aboriginal fall.'
As to what is possible or impossible, no man, out of his presumption and of his self-conceit, has any right to speak, nor can he speak; for the nature of his terms with all things outside of him is unknown to him. We know that miracle (if once generally believed in) would terminate the present order of things, which are perfectly right and consistent in their own way. Things that contradict nature are not evoked by reason, but by man in his miracle-worked imagining, in all time; and such exceptions are independent of reason, which elaborates to a centre downwards, but exhales to apparent impossibilty (but to real truth) upwards, that is, truth out of this world.
Upwards has nothing of man; for it knows him not. He ceases there; but he is made as downwards, and finds his man’s nature there, lowest of all--his mere bodily nature there perhaps, even to be found originally among the four-footed; for by the raising
of him by God alone has Man got upon his feet, and set his face upward to regard the stars--those stars which originally, according to the great 'Hermes Trismegistus' (Thrice-Master), in the astrological sense, raised him from the primeval level; for we refer heaven always to a place over our heads, since there only we can be free of the confinements of matter; but above us or below us is equally the. altitude.
May not the sacrificial, sacramental rites--may not those minute acts of priestly offering, as they succeed each other, and deepen in intensity and in meaning--may not those aids of music to enlarge and change and conjure the sense of hearing, and to react on sight (it being notorious that object's change their character really as we look at them when operated upon by beautiful music)--may not those dream-producing, somnolent, enchanting vapours of incense, which seem to loosen from around each of us the walls of the visible, and to charm open the body, and to let out (or to let in) new and unsuspected senses, alight with a new light not of this world, the light of a new spiritual world, in which we can yet see things, and see them as things to be recognized--may not all this be true, and involve impossibilities as only seeming so, but true enough; inasmuch as miracle possibly is true enough?
May not all these effects, and may not the place and the persons in the body, and may not the suggestions, labouring to that end, of unseen, unsuspected, holy ministries, such as thronging angels, casting off from about us our swathes and bands of thick mortality in the new, overmastering influence--may not all this be as the bridge across which we pass out from this world gladly into the next, until we meet, as on the other side, Jesus, the Ruler in very deed, but now felt as the Offered, the Crucified, the complete
and accepted 'Living Great Sacrifice'? May we not in this 'Eucharist' partake, not once, but again and again, of that--even of that solid-which was our atonement, and of that blood which was poured out as the libation to the 'Great Earth', profaned by 'Sin', partaking of that reddest (but that most transcendently lucent) sacrament, which is to be the new light of a new world? Is not the very name of the intercommunicating High-Priest that of the factor. of this mystic, glorious, spirit-trodden, invisible 'bridge'? Whence do we derive the word Pontifex, or Pontifex Maximus (the Great, or the Highest, Bridge-Maker, or Builder), elicited in direct translation from the two Latin words pons and facio in the earliest pre-Christian theologies, and become 'Pontiff' in the Roman and the Christian sense--'Pontiff' from 'Pontifex'?
It is surely this meaning--that of fabricator or maker of the bridge between things sensible and things spiritual, between body and spirit, between this. world and the next world, between the spiritualizing 'thither' and the substantiating 'hither', trans being the transit. The whole word, if not the whole meaning, may be accepted in this Roman Catholic sense of 'transubstantiation', or the making of miracle. Never 'Idolatry'--but 'Idea' recognizing and acknowledging.