Two Healing MIracles for Sainthood. Miracles 2

Two Healing MIracles for Sainthood. Miracles 2 May 17, 2023

Two Healing Miracles for Sainthood

ST 4142 Miracles 2

Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

Two healing miracles. That’s how many it takes to be dubbed a “saint.” Are you a saint? I’m not.

In this Patheos column, we plan to ask: would a scientific confirmation of a miraculous healing help us in determining sainthood? What do you think? Let’s explore the question.

How do Roman Catholics understand miracles?

If you’re a Roman Catholic you’ll likely think of miracles as…

“…wonders performed by supernatural power as signs of some special mission or gift and explicitly ascribed to God…. Hence the miracle is called supernatural, because the effect is beyond the productive power of nature and implies supernatural agency.”

In short, a miracle is a proof of sorts, a proof that God is at work. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church how miracles provide evidence to tantalize our rational sensibility.

“Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all; they are “motives of credibility” (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is by no means a blind impulse of the mind” (Vatican 2003, 1.1.3.156.).

So, let’s wonder out loud: might we examine miracles scientifically? Especially, might we examine scientifically the two or more healing miracles each saint performs?

After all, Pope Francis enlists science in the service of rendering a theological judgment. “The process of Saints’ Causes moves from the scientific evaluation of the Medical Council or technical experts to a theological examination.” So, may I respectfully ask about a scientific investigation into healing miracles?

Let’s ask Cardinal William Joseph Levada

Cardinal William J. Levada, the former archbishop of San Francisco and prefect for the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, died in Rome Sept. 26, 2019, at age 83.

I got my chance to ask this question. It was during a meeting of the CTNS (Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences) board one Saturday in late Spring 2014. Seated next to me at the meeting was fellow board member, Cardinal William Joseph Levada (1936-2019).

The cardinal was the right person to ask. Not only was he interested in the interaction between faith and science, but he had also served as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican from 2005 to 2012. And, only a few weeks prior to our conversation, on April 27, 2014, Pope Saint John Paul II along with Pope Saint John XXIII had been canonized. This meant the investigation of Pope Saint John Paul II’s two miracles had recently concluded, something the Cardinal would likely know all about.

The Two Healing Miracles of Pope Saint John Paul II

Saint John Paul II in 1987. Two healing miracles by Pope John Paul II qualified him for canonization.

In the case of Pope Saint John Paul II, one miracle involved a French nun, Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, who had suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. In 2005, her congregation prayed to the pontiff in heaven to intercede on her behalf. She was then healed.

The second miracle involved Florabeth Mora of Costa Rica who was healed of an otherwise fatal brain aneurysm. The healing, she said, was the result of John Paul’s intercession during prayer.

These claims were investigated by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The results of the investigations were then reported to Pope Francis, who promulgated the canonization decree.

How did Cardinal Levada answer?

With this in mind, during coffee break I asked Cardinal Levada about the two healing miracles this way: “do you think the investigation into the veracity of these miracle claims counts as an example of science serving faith?”

Our conversation took two coffee breaks to follow the long, long train of logic: could scientific investigation confirm or disconfirm that God had acted miraculously? Or, to be more precise, could science determine that what happened “can only be attributed to divine intervention”?

Finally, the Cardinal demurred. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Why?” I pressed.

“Because in almost all cases we’re talking about healing miracles. And healing miracles are especially difficult. They’re ambiguous. It’s difficult to distinguish between a supernatural cure and a spontaneous remission. Even after medical investigation, it’s not crystal clear exactly what was responsible for the healing.”

I was reminded of my friend Paul Lange who would describe healing miracles prosaically as examples of the freak rate.

Jesus’ miracles were unconvincing.

Jesus gives sight to a blind man. Jesus performed more than two healing miracles.

Not everyone who witnesses a miracle is persuaded by what they see. Even Jesus’ miracles were ambiguous to some viewers. In the healing miracle of the man with the withered hand, for example, Jesus only raised the ire of the Scribes and Pharisees.

On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come and stand here.’ He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?’ After looking around at all of them, he said to him, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was restored. But they [Scribes and Pharisees] were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. (Luke 6:6-10)

The Scribes and Pharisees witnessed exactly what others witnessed. But, they could not believe that the healings had come from God. So, they began to plot against Jesus.

I gather we should conclude with Cardinal Levada: healing miracles are ambiguous. Regardless of what you perceive objectively, you can still subjectively deny that divine power had anything to do with it.

Conclusion

Is this the best definition of miracles? Miracles are ”wonders performed by supernatural power as signs of some special mission or gift and explicitly ascribed to God.”

I think the problem is with the phrase, “explicitly ascribed to God.” In the case of Jesus and in the case of Pope Saint John Paul II, the healing miracles remain ambiguous to those who witness and to those who investigate them.

Here’s where we have been and where we are going.

Patheos ST 4141 How to see a miracle? Miracles 1

Patheos ST 4142 Two Healing Miracles for Sainthood. Miracles 2

Patheos ST 4143 Hume on Miracles. Miracles 3

Patheos ST 4144 Is Special Divine Action miraculous? Miracles 4

Patheos ST 4145 Jesus’ Nature Miracles. Miracles 5

Patheos ST 4146 Is resurrection the ultimate miracle? Miracles 6

Patheos ST 4147 The proleptic power of new creation. Miracles 7

Patheos ST 4148 Paul Lange on Miracles. Miracles 8

Patheos ST 4149 C.S. Lewis on Miracles. Miracles 9

Ted Peters

For Patheos, Ted Peters posts articles and notices in the field of Public Theology. He is a Lutheran pastor and emeritus professor at the Graduate Theological Union. He co-edits the journal, Theology and Science, with Robert John Russell on behalf of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, in Berkeley, California, USA. His single volume systematic theology, God—The World’s Future, is now in the 3rd edition. He has also authored God as Trinity plus Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society as well as Sin Boldly: Justifying Faith for Fragile and Broken Souls. See his website: TedsTimelyTake.com.

Watch for his new 2023 book, The Voice of Public Theology, published by ATF Press.

 

About Ted Peters
For Patheos, Ted Peters posts articles and notices in the field of Public Theology. He is a Lutheran pastor and emeritus professor at the Graduate Theological Union. He co-edits the journal, Theology and Science, with Robert John Russell on behalf of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, in Berkeley, California, USA. His single volume systematic theology, God—The World’s Future, is now in the 3rd edition. He has also authored God as Trinity plus Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society as well as Sin Boldly: Justifying Faith for Fragile and Broken Souls. See his website: TedsTimelyTake.com. Watch for his new 2023 book, The Voice of Public Theology, published by ATF Press. You can read more about the author here.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!