Miracles Manifest the Supernatural Order

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 13 January 1988, the Holy Father, quoting St.  Augustine, said that "the miracles worked by our Lord Jesus Christ are divine works which raise the human mind above visible things to understand what is divine" (In Io. Ev. Tr., 24, 1).

Speaking of the miracles which Jesus performed during his earthly ministry, St. Augustine, in an interesting text, interprets them as signs of God's saving power and love and as incentives to raise our minds to the kingdom of heavenly things. "The miracles worked by our Lord Jesus Christ," St. Augustine writes, "are divine works which raise the human mind above visible things to understand what is divine" (In Io. Ev. Tr., 24, 1,).

Connected with this thought is the reaffirmation of the close link of Jesus' "miracles-signs" with the call to faith. These miracles demonstrate the existence of the supernatural order, which is the object of faith. Those who observed them and particularly those who experienced them were made aware as if by the touch of a hand that the natural order does not exhaust the whole of reality. The universe in which we live is not limited merely to the range of things accessible to the senses and even to the intellect itself conditioned by sense knowledge. The miracle is a sign that this order is surpassed by the "power from on high," and is therefore also subject to it. This "power from on high" (cf. Lk 24:49), namely, God himself, is above the entire natural order. It directs this order and at the same time it makes known that—through this order and superior to it—human destiny is the kingdom of God. Christ's miracles are signs of this kingdom.

Miracles are not opposed to the forces and laws of nature. They merely imply a certain empirical suspension of their ordinary function and not their annulment. Indeed, the miracles described in the Gospel indicate the existence of a Power superior to the forces and laws of nature, but which at the same time operates according to the demands of nature itself, even though surpassing its actual normal capacity. Is not this what happens, for example, in every miraculous cure? The potentiality of the forces of nature is actuated by divine intervention which extends this potential beyond the sphere of its normal capacity of action. This does not annul or frustrate the causality which God has communicated to created things, nor does it violate the natural laws established by God himself and inscribed in the structure of creation. But it exalts and in a certain way ennobles the capacity to operate or even to receive the effects of the operation of another, as happens precisely in the cures described by the Gospel.

The truth about creation is the first and fundamental truth of our faith. It is not, however, the only one nor the supreme one. Faith teaches us that the work of creation is contained within the ambit of God's plan which, according to his intention, goes well beyond the limits of creation itself. Creation—particularly the human creature called into existence in the visible world—is open to an eternal destiny, which is fully revealed in Jesus Christ. Even in Christ the work of creation is completed by the work of salvation. Salvation means a new creation (cf. 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15), a creation according to the measure of the Creator's original design. Salvation means a re-establishment of what God had made and which in human history had suffered the disorder and "corruption" following upon sin.

Christ's miracles enter into the project of the "new creation" and are therefore linked to the order of salvation. They are the salvific signs which call to conversion and to faith, and in this way, to the renewal of the world that is subject to "corruption" (cf. Rom 8:19-21).

Therefore they do not stop at the ontological order of creation (creatio), which indeed they touch and set right, but they enter into the soteriological order of the new creation (re-creatio totius universi), of which they are the factors and to which they bear witness as "signs."

The soteriological order is rooted in the Incarnation. The "miracles-signs" of which the Gospels speak also have their foundation in the same reality of the God-Man. This reality-mystery embraces and surpasses all the miraculous happenings connected with Christ's messianic mission. It may be said that the Incarnation is the "miracle of miracles," the radical and permanent "miracle" of the new order of creation. God's entrance into the dimension of creation is effected in the reality of the Incarnation in a unique way. To the eyes of faith it becomes a sign incomparably superior to all the other miraculous signs of the divine presence and action in the world. All these other signs are rooted in the reality of the Incarnation; they radiate its power of attraction and bear witness to it. They repeat to believers what is written by the evangelist John at the end of the prologue on the Incarnation, "We saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14).

The Incarnation is the fundamental sign to which are linked all the signs bearing witness to the disciples and to humanity that "the kingdom of God has come" (cf. Lk 11:20). Still, there is an ultimate and definitive sign, to which Jesus alluded when quoting the prophet Jonah: "Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights" (Mt 12:40). It is the sign of the resurrection.

Jesus prepared the apostles for this definitive sign, but he did so gradually and tactfully, recommending them to be discreet "until a certain time." There is a particularly clear reference after the transfiguration on the mountain: "As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead" (Mk 9:9). One may ask the reason for this gradualness. To this one may reply that Jesus well knew how complicated the situation might become if the apostles and the other disciples had begun to discuss the resurrection. They were not yet sufficiently prepared to understand it, as appears from the comment of the evangelist himself in regard to the recommendation just quoted: "They kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant" (Mk 9:10). Besides, it can be said that the resurrection from the dead, although enunciated and announced, was at the summit of the messianic secret. Jesus wished to maintain secrecy throughout the entire course of his life and mission, until the moment of the final fulfillment and revelation which were verified precisely with the "miracle of miracles," the resurrection, which, according to St. Paul, is the foundation of our faith (cf. 1 Cor 15:12-19).

After the resurrection, ascension and pentecost, the "miracles-signs" performed by Christ were continued by the apostles, and later by the saints from generation to generation. The Acts of the Apostles offer us numerous testimonies concerning miracles worked "in the name of Jesus Christ" by Peter (cf. Acts 3:1-8; 5:15; 9:32-41), Stephen (Acts 6:8) and Paul (e.g., Acts 14:8-10). We also see it in the lives of the saints, the history of the Church and in particular, the processes for the canonization of the Servants of God. These constitute a documentation which, when submitted to the most searching examination of historical criticism and of medical science, confirms the existence of the "power from on high" which operates in the natural order and surpasses it. It is a question of miraculous signs carried out from apostolic times until the present day. Their essential purpose is to indicate that the human person is destined and called to the kingdom of God. These signs therefore confirm in different ages and in the most varied circumstances the truth of the Gospel, and demonstrate the saving power of Christ who does not cease to call people (through the Church) on the path of faith. This saving power of the God-Man is manifested also when the "miracles-signs" are performed through the intercession of individuals, of saints, of devout people—just as the first sign at Cana of Galilee was worked through the intercession of the mother of Christ.