Reformed Works on Roman Catholic Miracles?

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TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
I recently started reading Bonaventure's "Itinerarium" and at the beginning he says the work was inspired by an encounter his mentor, Francis of Assisi had with a seraphim who appeared to him crucified and then marked Francis with the stigmata. I am just curious as to how we are to think of such things. I believe Francis was genuinely saved, I doubt he was trying to deceive others (and I doubt the entire order was trying to deceive others about the marks on his body after his death). Perhaps a demon appeared to him, but what this was supposed to accomplish on the demon's part, I am quite unsure. The encounter surely seems to have stirred up love for God in both Francis and those who heard of it (Bonaventure), but even so, perhaps it happened in order to introduce superstition into the church which later generations would be deceived by and fall under Rome's spell. Are there any Reformed works that deal specifically with such miraculous claims from the history of the church as this? Thanks!
 

ryanpresnell

Puritan Board Freshman
Brandon,

B.B. Warfield's Counterfeit Miracles is a brilliant (and free) resource on the false miracles of ecclesiastical history, especially those within the Roman Catholic Church. In particular, regarding stigmatization, he writes:

Such a cautious method of dealing with the stigmata is certainly justified by the facts of the case. The single circumstance that only ecstatics receive them42 is suggestion enough of their origin in morbid neuroses.43 It is sufficient to read over an account of the phenomena, written by however sympathetic an observer—say, for example, that by Joseph von Görres in his great book on Christian Mysticism44—to feel sure that we are in the presence of pathological phenomena. It is a crime to drag these suffering women into the public eye; and it is a greater crime to implant in their unformed intelligences45 that spiritual pride which leads them to fancy themselves singled out by the Lord for special favors, and even permitted by Him to share His sufferings—nay, to join with Him in bearing the sins of the world. For we do not fully apprehend the place given to stigmatization in the Roman system of thought until we realize that the passion of the stigmatics is not expended in what we call the "imitation of Christ"—the desire to be like Him, and to enter into His sufferings with loving sympathy—but presses on into the daring ambition to take part in His atoning work, and, by receiving the same bodily wounds which He received, to share with Him the saving of the world. "The substance of this grace," explains Aug. Poulain,46 "consists in pity for Christ, participation in His sufferings, sorrows, and for the same end—the expiation of the sins increasingly committed in the world."
He then rightfully notes that:
The connection of stigmatization with such doctrine is the sufficient proof that it is not from God.50
How, then, since his story is false, are we to view Bonaventure and his mentor as well as his spectacular claim? I think that, rather than as a liar or fraud, Warfield would argue that we ought to view these men of history, as well as the miraculous claim, each as a product of its time- in which marvel-mongery was the spirit of the age. He says, regarding Philostratus' Apollonius of Tyana:
When we come to think of it, it is rather surprising that the Christians had no raisings from the dead to point to through all these years. The fact is striking testimony to the marked sobriety of their spirit. The heathen had them in plenty.33 In an age so innocent of real medical knowledge, and filled to the brim and overflowing with superstition, apparent death and resuscitation were frequent, and they played a role of importance in the Greek prophet and philosopher legends of the time.34 A famous instance occurs in Philostratus's Life of Apollonius of Tyana, which, from a certain resemblance between it and the narrative of the raising of the widow of Nain's son, used to be thought an imitation of that passage.35 Things are better understood now, and it is universally recognized that we have in this beautiful story neither an imitation of the New Testament nor a polemic against it, but a simple product of the aretalogy of the day. Otto Weinreich has brought together the cases of raising from the dead which occur in this literature, in the first excursus to his treatise on Ancient Miracles of Healing.36 He thus enables us to observe at a glance the large place they take in it. It is noticeable that they were not esteemed a very great thing. In the instance just alluded to, the introduction of a resuscitation into Philostratus's Life of Apollonius is accompanied by an intimation that it may possibly be susceptible of a natural explanation. Philostratus does not desire to make the glory of his hero depend on a thing which even a common magician could do, but rather rests it on those greater miracles which intimate the divine nature of the man.37
Obviously, Apollonius of Tyana was written much time before Bonaventure. However, the miracle-mongering of the medieval Roman Catholic Church was not far behind that of the second-century heathen:
The Cathari of Monceval made a portrait of the Virgin, representing her as one-eyed and toothless, saying that, in His humility, Christ had chosen a very ugly woman for mother. They had no difficulty in healing several cases of disease by its means; the image became famous, was venerated almost everywhere, and accomplished many miracles, until the day when the heretics divulged the deception, to the great scandal of the faithful.
I'm not sure how to go about explaining the particular claim of stigmatization related by Bonaventure, but I feel relatively safe in concluding that - no matter whether he was duped into believing it, fabricated it, etc. - the event did not truly occur. It is a common misconception among fanatics that we are obligated to explain whatever they have allegedly experienced. In spite of this, it can still be beneficial to attempt to examine these claims at an individual level wherever possible. Counterfeit Miracles presents a plethora of reasons for fabricating and perpetuating miracle stories. For example, men were denied sainthood for lack of miracles:
Meanwhile the fact remains that throughout the history of the church miracles have rather been thrust upon than laid claim to by their workers.33 Nor did there ever lack those who openly repudiated the notion that any necessary connection existed between saintliness and miracle-working. Richard Rolle of Hampole, who also became posthumously a miracle-worker, was in his lifetime pronounced no saint because he wrought no miracles.
The longer ending of Mark (I say this without intending to advocate for or against the inclusion of the passage in the Bible) has also resulted in some confusion about miracle-working:
"For," Postumianus argues, "since the Lord Himself testified that such works as Martin's were to be done by all the faithful, he who does not believe that Martin [of Tours] did them simply does not believe that Christ uttered such words."
A man's companions would look back on his life and re-interpret events in order to find miracles where there previously were none:
It is very instructive to observe how J. H. Newman endeavors to turn the edge of Gibbon's inquiry. "I observe then, first," he says,32 "that it is not often that the gift of miracles is even ascribed to a saint. In many cases miracles are only ascribed to their tombs or relics; or where miracles are ascribed to them when living, these are but singular or occasional, not parts of a series." "Moreover," he adds as his second answer, "they are commonly what Paley calls tentative miracles, or some out of many which have been attempted, and have been done accordingly without any previous confidence in their power to effect them. Moses and Elijah could predict the result; but the miracles in question were scarcely more than experiments and trials, even though success had been granted to them many times before. Under these circumstances, how could the individual men who wrought them appeal to them themselves? It was not till afterward, when their friends and disciples could calmly look back upon their life, and review the various actions and providences which occurred in the course of it, that they would be able to put together the scattered tokens of divine favor, none or few of which might in themselves be a certain evidence of a miraculous power. As well might we expect men in their lifetime to be called saints as workers of miracles."
Counterfeit Miracles is a work of impeccable scholarship that has greatly helped me in my struggles reconciling the miracle claims of history with the cessation of certain charismata.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
I view these claims on an individual basis. What is the evidence, theologian, worldview etc
What do you think of this one in particular? It is a bit harder for me to call this simple fraud, as I have a high view of Bonaventure and Francis. The story, as far as I remember, was relayed by the Franciscan order from a close friend of Francis' shortly after his death. I suppose it is possible the story was created as mere fraud by Francis' friend and Bonaventure was duped into believing it, but I just never like rushing straight into accusations of lies.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
Brandon,

B.B. Warfield's Counterfeit Miracles is a brilliant (and free) resource on the false miracles of ecclesiastical history, especially those within the Roman Catholic Church. In particular, regarding stigmatization, he writes:


He then rightfully notes that:

How, then, since his story is false, are we to view Bonaventure and his mentor as well as his spectacular claim? I think that, rather than as a liar or fraud, Warfield would argue that we ought to view these men of history, as well as the miraculous claim, each as a product of its time- in which marvel-mongery was the spirit of the age. He says, regarding Philostratus' Apollonius of Tyana:

Obviously, Apollonius of Tyana was written much time before Bonaventure. However, the miracle-mongering of the medieval Roman Catholic Church was not far behind that of the second-century heathen:

I'm not sure how to go about explaining the particular claim of stigmatization related by Bonaventure, but I feel relatively safe in concluding that - no matter whether he was duped into believing it, fabricated it, etc. - the event did not truly occur. It is a common misconception among fanatics that we are obligated to explain whatever they have allegedly experienced. In spite of this, it can still be beneficial to attempt to examine these claims at an individual level wherever possible. Counterfeit Miracles presents a plethora of reasons for fabricating and perpetuating miracle stories. For example, men were denied sainthood for lack of miracles:

The longer ending of Mark (I say this without intending to advocate for or against the inclusion of the passage in the Bible) has also resulted in some confusion about miracle-working:

A man's companions would look back on his life and re-interpret events in order to find miracles where there previously were none:

Counterfeit Miracles is a work of impeccable scholarship that has greatly helped me in my struggles reconciling the miracle claims of history with the cessation of certain charismata.
Thank you for this. I will check it out. I was wondering though if during the time of the Reformation itself there were any major works on this? It is hard for me to believe that there weren't given they were probably bombarded with claims such as these. I just don't know of any Reformation-era works that specifically and comprehensively treat it.
 

Eyedoc84

Puritan Board Sophomore
What do you think of this one in particular? It is a bit harder for me to call this simple fraud, as I have a high view of Bonaventure and Francis. The story, as far as I remember, was relayed by the Franciscan order from a close friend of Francis' shortly after his death. I suppose it is possible the story was created as mere fraud by Francis' friend and Bonaventure was duped into believing it, but I just never like rushing straight into accusations of lies.
Obviously this is somewhat of an ad hominem, but the medieval church had a penchant for quickly deifying popular evangelists/monks/bishops and attributing all sorts of miraculous nonsense to them shortly after they died.
 

Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
monks/bishops
Some years ago three families lived near each other on the South Island's West Coast [New Zealand] - Mr and Mrs Bishop, Mr and Mrs Priest and Mr and Mrs Monk. [True story, the Priest's were friends of our family] One day some people from Christchurch came to visit the Priest's. They got somewhat lost in this rural community near Hokitika. They came to a house they thought belonged to their friend. "Are you a Priest". "No I am a Bishop" was the reply! The poor Christchurch folk were unsure if this was true or an example of that weird West Coast humour!!!
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
What do you think of this one in particular? It is a bit harder for me to call this simple fraud, as I have a high view of Bonaventure and Francis. The story, as far as I remember, was relayed by the Franciscan order from a close friend of Francis' shortly after his death. I suppose it is possible the story was created as mere fraud by Francis' friend and Bonaventure was duped into believing it, but I just never like rushing straight into accusations of lies.
The evidence could go either way; therefore I am not committed to a particular conclusion. Bonaventure was an intellectual giant and hard to dupe; on the other hand, I am always wary of Francis
 

ryanpresnell

Puritan Board Freshman
Thank you for this. I will check it out. I was wondering though if during the time of the Reformation itself there were any major works on this? It is hard for me to believe that there weren't given they were probably bombarded with claims such as these. I just don't know of any Reformation-era works that specifically and comprehensively treat it.
Roman Catholic "miracles" are briefly but effectively addressed by Calvin in his Institutes in the prefatory address to the King of France:
In demanding miracles from us, they act dishonestly; for we have not coined some new gospel, but retain the very one the truth of which is confirmed by all the miracles which Christ and the apostles ever wrought. But they have a peculiarity which we have not—they can confirm their faith by constant miracles down to the present day! Way rather, they allege miracles which might produce wavering in minds otherwise well disposed; they are so frivolous and ridiculous, 9so vain and false. But were they even exceedingly wonderful, they could have no effect against the truth of God, whose name ought to be hallowed always, and everywhere, whether by miracles, or by the natural course of events. The deception would perhaps be more specious if Scripture did not admonish us of the legitimate end and use of miracles. Mark tells us (Mark 16:20) that the signs which followed the preaching of the apostles were wrought in confirmation of it; so Luke also relates that the Lord “gave testimony to the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done” by the hands of the apostles (Acts 14:3). Very much to the same effect are those words of the apostle, that salvation by a preached gospel was confirmed, “The Lord bearing witness with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles” (Heb. 2:4). Those things which we are told are seals of the gospel, shall we pervert to the subversion of the gospel? What was destined only to confirm the truth, shall we misapply to the confirmation of lies? The proper course, therefore, is, in the first instance, to ascertain and examine the doctrine which is said by the Evangelist to precede; then after it has been proved, but not till then, it may receive confirmation from miracles. But the mark of sound doctrine given by our Saviour himself is its tendency to promote the glory not of men, but of God (John 7:18; 8:50). Our Saviour having declared this to be test of doctrine, we are in error if we regard as miraculous, works which are used for any other purpose than to magnify the name of God.13 And it becomes us to remember that Satan has his miracles, which, although they are tricks rather than true wonders, are still such as to delude the ignorant and unwary. Magicians and enchanters have always been famous for miracles, and miracles of an astonishing description have given support to idolatry: these, however, do not make us converts to the superstitions either of magicians or idolaters. In old times, too, the Donatists used their power of working miracles as a battering-ram, with which they shook the simplicity of the common people. We now give to our opponents the answer which Augustine then gave to the Donatists (in Joan. Tract. 23), “The Lord put us on our guard against those wonder—workers, when he foretold that false prophets would arise, who, by lying signs and divers wonders, would, if it were possible, deceive the very elect” (Mt. 24:24). Paul, too, gave warning that the reign of antichrist would be “withall power, and signs, and lying wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9).

But our opponents tell us that their miracles are wrought not by idols, not by sorcerers, not by false prophets, but by saints: as if we did not know it to be one of Satan’s wiles to transform himself “into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). The Egyptians, in whose neighbourhood Jeremiah was buried, anciently sacrificed and paid other divine honours to him (Hieron. in Praef. Jerem). Did they not 10make an idolatrous abuse of the holy prophet of God? and yet, in recompense for so venerating his tomb, they thought14 that they were cured of the bite of serpents. What, then, shall we say but that it has been, and always will be, a most just punishment of God, to send on those who do not receive the truth in the love of it, “strong delusion, that they should believe a lie”? (2 Thess. 2:11). We, then, have no lack of miracles, sure miracles, that cannot be gainsaid; but those to which our opponents lay claim are mere delusions of Satan, inasmuch as they draw off the people from the true worship of God to vanity
This is a very hard-hitting argument from Calvin: if the papists, who so often charged the Reformers with novelty and claimed to possess the Apostolic doctrine, were working miracles, it was actually them who possessed the novel doctrine. It is much more effective and much less time-consuming to detach miracles from being the criterion of proper doctrine (since no new gospel is to ever be preached) than it is to critically examine every single miracle claim and prove it false. For every example of a supposed wrought miracle that they will concede is false, another rises up in its place.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
I remember reading of a Roman Catholic mystic that was famous for many years for his stigmata, until he was caught with carbonic acid in his possession, with which he had been burning marks into the palms of his hands. All miracles associated with Rome are suspect. The New Testament warns of "lying wonders" with good reason. I no more believe that Francis's stigmata are a work of God than I believe he talked to animals.
 
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