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St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430):

On Miracles. From City of God, Book XXII, chap 8.


Chapter 8.—Of Miracles Which Were Wrought that the World Might Believe in Christ, and Which Have Not Ceased Since the World Believed.

Why, they say, are those miracles, which you affirm were wrought formerly, wrought no longer?  I might, indeed, reply that miracles were necessary before the world believed, in order that it might believe.  And whoever now-a-days demands to see prodigies that he may believe, is himself a great prodigy, because he does not believe, though the whole world does.  But they make these objections for the sole purpose of insinuating that even those former miracles were never wrought.  How, then, is it that everywhere Christ is celebrated with such firm belief in His resurrection and ascension?  How is it that in enlightened times, in which every impossibility is rejected, the world has, without any miracles, believed things marvellously incredible?  Or will they say that these things were credible, and therefore were credited?  Why then do they themselves not believe?  Our argument, therefore, is a summary one—either incredible things which were not witnessed have caused the world to believe other incredible things which both occurred and were witnessed, or this matter was so credible that it needed no miracles in proof of it, and therefore convicts these unbelievers of unpardonable scepticism.  This I might say for the sake of refuting these most frivolous objectors.  But we cannot deny that many miracles were wrought to confirm that one grand and health-giving miracle of Christ’s ascension to heaven with the flesh in which He rose.  For these most trustworthy books of ours contain in one narrative both the miracles that were wrought and the creed which they were wrought to confirm.  The miracles were published that they might produce faith, and the faith which they produced brought them into 485greater prominence.  For they are read in congregations that they may be believed, and yet they would not be so read unless they were believed.  For even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ, whether by His sacraments or by the prayers or relics of His saints; but they are not so brilliant and conspicuous as to cause them to be published with such glory as accompanied the former miracles.  For the canon of the sacred writings, which behoved to be closed,1614 causes those to be everywhere recited, and to sink into the memory of all the congregations; but these modern miracles are scarcely known even to the whole population in the midst of which they are wrought, and at the best are confined to one spot.  For frequently they are known only to a very few persons, while all the rest are ignorant of them, especially if the state is a large one; and when they are reported to other persons in other localities, there is no sufficient authority to give them prompt and unwavering credence, although they are reported to the faithful by the faithful.

The miracle which was wrought at Milan when I was there, and by which a blind man was restored to sight, could come to the knowledge of many; for not only is the city a large one, but also the emperor was there at the time, and the occurrence was witnessed by an immense concourse of people that had gathered to the bodies of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius, which had long lain concealed and unknown, but were now made known to the bishop Ambrose in a dream, and discovered by him.  By virtue of these remains the darkness of that blind man was scattered, and he saw the light of day.1615

But who but a very small number are aware of the cure which was wrought upon Innocentius, ex-advocate of the deputy prefecture, a cure wrought at Carthage, in my presence, and under my own eyes?  For when I and my brother Alypius,1616 who were not yet clergymen,1617 though already servants of God, came from abroad, this man received us, and made us live with him, for he and all his household were devotedly pious.  He was being treated by medical men for fistulæ, of which he had a large number intricately seated in the rectum.  He had already undergone an operation, and the surgeons were using every means at their command for his relief.  In that operation he had suffered long-continued and acute pain; yet, among the many folds of the gut, one had escaped the operators so entirely, that, though they ought to have laid it open with the knife, they never touched it.  And thus, though all those that had been opened were cured, this one remained as it was, and frustrated all their labor.  The patient, having his suspicions awakened by the delay thus occasioned, and fearing greatly a second operation, which another medical man—one of his own domestics—had told him he must undergo, though this man had not even been allowed to witness the first operation, and had been banished from the house, and with difficulty allowed to come back to his enraged master’s presence,—the patient, I say, broke out to the surgeons, saying, “Are you going to cut me again?  Are you, after all, to fulfill the prediction of that man whom you would not allow even to be present?”  The surgeons laughed at the unskillful doctor, and soothed their patient’s fears with fair words and promises.  So several days passed, and yet nothing they tried did him good.  Still they persisted in promising that they would cure that fistula by drugs, without the knife.  They called in also another old practitioner of great repute in that department, Ammonius (for he was still alive at that time); and he, after examining the part, promised the same result as themselves from their care and skill.  On this great authority, the patient became confident, and, as if already well, vented his good spirits in facetious remarks at the expense of his domestic physician, who had predicted a second operation.  To make a long story short, after a number of days had thus uselessly elapsed, the surgeons, wearied and confused, had at last to confess that he could only be cured by the knife.  Agitated with excessive fear, he was terrified, and grew pale with dread; and when he collected himself and was able to speak, he ordered them to go away and never to return.  Worn out with weeping, and driven by necessity, it occurred to him to call in an Alexandrian, who was at that time esteemed a wonderfully skillful operator, that he might perform the operation his rage would not suffer them to do.  But when he had come, and examined with a professional eye the traces 486of their careful work, he acted the part of a good man, and persuaded his patient to allow those same hands the satisfaction of finishing his cure which had begun it with a skill that excited his admiration, adding that there was no doubt his only hope of a cure was by an operation, but that it was thoroughly inconsistent with his nature to win the credit of the cure by doing the little that remained to be done, and rob of their reward men whose consummate skill, care, and diligence he could not but admire when be saw the traces of their work.  They were therefore again received to favor; and it was agreed that, in the presence of the Alexandrian, they should operate on the fistula, which, by the consent of all, could now only be cured by the knife.  The operation was deferred till the following day.  But when they had left, there arose in the house such a wailing, in sympathy with the excessive despondency of the master, that it seemed to us like the mourning at a funeral, and we could scarcely repress it.  Holy men were in the habit of visiting him daily; Saturninus of blessed memory, at that time bishop of Uzali, and the presbyter Gelosus, and the deacons of the church of Carthage; and among these was the bishop Aurelius, who alone of them all survives,—a man to be named by us with due reverence,—and with him I have often spoken of this affair, as we conversed together about the wonderful works of God, and I have found that he distinctly remembers what I am now relating.  When these persons visited him that evening according to their custom, he besought them, with pitiable tears, that they would do him the honor of being present next day at what he judged his funeral rather than his suffering.  For such was the terror his former pains had produced, that he made no doubt he would die in the hands of the surgeons.  They comforted him, and exhorted him to put his trust in God, and nerve his will like a man.  Then we went to prayer; but while we, in the usual way, were kneeling and bending to the ground, he cast himself down, as if some one were hurling him violently to the earth, and began to pray; but in what a manner, with what earnestness and emotion, with what a flood of tears, with what groans and sobs, that shook his whole body, and almost prevented him speaking, who can describe!  Whether the others prayed, and had not their attention wholly diverted by this conduct, I do not know.  For myself, I could not pray at all.  This only I briefly said in my heart:  “O Lord, what prayers of Thy people dost Thou hear if Thou hearest not these?”  For it seemed to me that nothing could be added to this prayer, unless he expired in praying.  We rose from our knees, and, receiving the blessing of the bishop, departed, the patient beseeching his visitors to be present next morning, they exhorting him to keep up his heart.  The dreaded day dawned.  The servants of God were present, as they had promised to be; the surgeons arrived; all that the circumstances required was ready; the frightful instruments are produced; all look on in wonder and suspense.  While those who have most influence with the patient are cheering his fainting spirit, his limbs are arranged on the couch so as to suit the hand of the operator; the knots of the bandages are untied; the part is bared; the surgeon examines it, and, with knife in hand, eagerly looks for the sinus that is to be cut.  He searches for it with his eyes; he feels for it with his finger; he applies every kind of scrutiny:  he finds a perfectly firm cicatrix!  No words of mine can describe the joy, and praise, and thanksgiving to the merciful and almighty God which was poured from the lips of all, with tears of gladness.  Let the scene be imagined rather than described!

In the same city of Carthage lived Innocentia, a very devout woman of the highest rank in the state.  She had cancer in one of her breasts, a disease which, as physicians say, is incurable.  Ordinarily, therefore, they either amputate, and so separate from the body the member on which the disease has seized, or, that the patient’s life may be prolonged a little, though death is inevitable even if somewhat delayed, they abandon all remedies, following, as they say, the advice of Hippocrates.  This the lady we speak of had been advised to by a skillful physician, who was intimate with her family; and she betook herself to God alone by prayer.  On the approach of Easter, she was instructed in a dream to wait for the first woman that came out from the baptistery1618 after being baptized, and to ask her to make the sign of Christ upon her sore.  She did so, and was immediately cured.  The physician who had advised her to apply no remedy if she wished to live a little longer, when he had examined her after this, and found that she who, on his former examination, was afflicted with that disease was now perfectly cured, eagerly asked her what remedy she had used, anxious, as we may well believe, to discover the drug which should defeat the decision of Hippocrates.  But when she told him what had happened, he is said to have replied, with reli 487gious politeness, though with a contemptuous tone, and an expression which made her fear he would utter some blasphemy against Christ, “I thought you would make some great discovery to me.”  She, shuddering at his indifference, quickly replied, “What great thing was it for Christ to heal a cancer, who raised one who had been four days dead?”  When, therefore, I had heard this, I was extremely indignant that so great a miracle wrought in that well-known city, and on a person who was certainly not obscure, should not be divulged, and I considered that she should be spoken to, if not reprimanded on this score.  And when she replied to me that she had not kept silence on the subject, I asked the women with whom she was best acquainted whether they had ever heard of this before.  They told me they knew nothing of it.  “See,” I said, “what your not keeping silence amounts to, since not even those who are so familiar with you know of it.”  And as I had only briefly heard the story, I made her tell how the whole thing happened, from beginning to end, while the other women listened in great astonishment, and glorified God.

A gouty doctor of the same city, when he had given in his name for baptism, and had been prohibited the day before his baptism from being baptized that year, by black woolly-haired boys who appeared to him in his dreams, and whom he understood to be devils, and when, though they trod on his feet, and inflicted the acutest pain he had ever yet experienced, he refused to obey them, but overcame them, and would not defer being washed in the laver of regeneration, was relieved in the very act of baptism, not only of the extraordinary pain he was tortured with, but also of the disease itself, so that, though he lived a long time afterwards, he never suffered from gout; and yet who knows of this miracle?  We, however, do know it, and so, too, do the small number of brethren who were in the neighborhood, and to whose ears it might come.

An old comedian of Curubis1619 was cured at baptism not only of paralysis, but also of hernia, and, being delivered from both afflictions, came up out of the font of regeneration as if he had had nothing wrong with his body.  Who outside of Curubis knows of this, or who but a very few who might hear it elsewhere?  But we, when we heard of it, made the man come to Carthage, by order of the holy bishop Aurelius, although we had already ascertained the fact on the information of persons whose word we could not doubt.

Hesperius, of a tribunitian family, and a neighbor of our own,1620 has a farm called Zubedi in the Fussalian district;1621 and, finding that his family, his cattle, and his servants were suffering from the malice of evil spirits, he asked our presbyters, during my absence, that one of them would go with him and banish the spirits by his prayers.  One went, offered there the sacrifice of the body of Christ, praying with all his might that that vexation might cease.  It did cease forthwith, through God’s mercy.  Now he had received from a friend of his own some holy earth brought from Jerusalem, where Christ, having been buried, rose again the third day.  This earth he had hung up in his bedroom to preserve himself from harm.  But when his house was purged of that demoniacal invasion, he began to consider what should be done with the earth; for his reverence for it made him unwilling to have it any longer in his bedroom.  It so happened that I and Maximinus bishop of Synita, and then my colleague, were in the neighborhood.  Hesperius asked us to visit him, and we did so.  When he had related all the circumstances, he begged that the earth might be buried somewhere, and that the spot should be made a place of prayer where Christians might assemble for the worship of God.  We made no objection:  it was done as he desired.  There was in that neighborhood a young countryman who was paralytic, who, when he heard of this, begged his parents to take him without delay to that holy place.  When he had been brought there, he prayed, and forthwith went away on his own feet perfectly cured.

There is a country-seat called Victoriana, less than thirty miles from Hippo-regius.  At it there is a monument to the Milanese martyrs, Protasius and Gervasius.  Thither a young man was carried, who, when he was watering his horse one summer day at noon in a pool of a river, had been taken possession of by a devil.  As he lay at the monument, near death, or even quite like a dead person, the lady of the manor, with her maids and religious attendants, entered the place for evening prayer and praise, as her custom was, and they began to sing hymns.  At this sound the young man, as if electrified, was thoroughly aroused, and with frightful screaming seized the altar, and held it as if he did not dare or were not able to let it go, and as if he were fixed or tied to it; and the devil in him, with loud lamentation, besought that he might be spared, and confessed where and when and how he took possession of the youth. 488At last, declaring that he would go out of him, he named one by one the parts of his body which he threatened to mutilate as he went out and with these words he departed from the man.  But his eye, falling out on his cheek, hung by a slender vein as by a root, and the whole of the pupil which had been black became white.  When this was witnessed by those present (others too had now gathered to his cries, and had all joined in prayer for him), although they were delighted that he had recovered his sanity of mind, yet, on the other hand, they were grieved about his eye, and said he should seek medical advice.  But his sister’s husband, who had brought him there, said, “God, who has banished the devil, is able to restore his eye at the prayers of His saints.”  Therewith he replaced the eye that was fallen out and hanging, and bound it in its place with his handkerchief as well as he could, and advised him not to loose the bandage for seven days.  When he did so, he found it quite healthy.  Others also were cured there, but of them it were tedious to speak.

I know that a young woman of Hippo was immediately dispossessed of a devil, on anointing herself with oil, mixed with the tears of the prebsyter who had been praying for her.  I know also that a bishop once prayed for a demoniac young man whom he never saw, and that he was cured on the spot.

There was a fellow-townsman of ours at Hippo, Florentius, an old man, religious and poor, who supported himself as a tailor.  Having lost his coat, and not having means to buy another, he prayed to the Twenty Martyrs,1622 who have a very celebrated memorial shrine in our town, begging in a distinct voice that he might be clothed.  Some scoffing young men, who happened to be present, heard him, and followed him with their sarcasm as he went away, as if he had asked the martyrs for fifty pence to buy a coat.  But he, walking on in silence, saw on the shore a great fish, gasping as if just cast up, and having secured it with the good-natured assistance of the youths, he sold it for curing to a cook of the name of Catosus, a good Christian man, telling him how he had come by it, and receiving for it three hundred pence, which he laid out in wool, that his wife might exercise her skill upon, and make into a coat for him.  But, on cutting up the fish, the cook found a gold ring in its belly; and forthwith, moved with compassion, and influenced, too, by religious fear, gave it up to the man, saying, “See how the Twenty Martyrs have clothed you.”


Source: St. Augustine, The City of God. At CCEL. https://ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102/npnf102.iv.XXII.8.html

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