Summary Against Modern Thought: God Alone Works Miracles

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Alone Works Miracles

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If you think not, try it yourself.


1 It can be shown from the foregoing that God alone can work miracles.

2 In fact, whatever is completely confined under a certain order cannot work above that order. But every creature is established under the order which God has put in things. So, no creature can operate above this order; but that is what it means to work miracles.

3 Again, when any finite power produces the proper effect to which it is determined, this is not a miracle, though it may be a matter of wonder for some person who does not understand that power. For example, it may seem astonishing to ignorant people that a magnet attracts iron or that some little fish might hold back a ship.

But the potency of every creature is limited to some definite effect or to certain effects. So, whatever is done by the power of any creature cannot be called a miracle properly, even though it may be astonishing to one who does not comprehend the power of this creature. But what is done by divine power, which, being infinite, is incomprehensible in itself, is truly miraculous.

Notes Astonishment alone is not enough!

4 Besides, every creature needs for its action some subject on which to act, for it is the prerogative of God alone to make something out of nothing, as we showed above. Now, nothing that requires a subject for its action can do anything other than that to which the subject is in potency, for the agent acts on the subject in order to bring it from potency to act. So, just as no creature can create, so no creature can produce any effect in a thing except what is within the potency of that thing. But many miracles are divinely accomplished, when something is done in a thing, which is not within the potency of that thing; for instance, that a dead person be revived, that the sun move backwards, that two bodies be coincident. Therefore, these miracles cannot be done by any created power.

Notes Here we see what was meant last week when it was stated a thing acting against its potential nature is miraculous. Don’t forget to review the basics about potency and act!

5 Moreover, the subject in which an action goes on has a relation both to the agent that reduces it from potency to act and to the act to which it is reduced. Hence, just as a certain subject is in potency to some definite act, and not to merely any act, so also is it impossible for it to be reduced from potency to some definite act except by means of some definite agent.

Indeed, a different kind of agent is required to reduce to different types of act. For instance, since air is potentially either fire or water, it is actually made into fire by one agent and into water by a different one. Likewise, it is clear that corporeal matter is not brought to the condition of perfect actuality by the sole power of a universal agent; rather, there must be a particular agent by which the influence of the universal power is limited to a definite effect. Of course, corporeal matter may be brought to less perfect actuality by universal power alone, without a particular agent.

For example, perfect animals are not generated by celestial power alone, but require a definite kind of semen; however, for the generation of certain imperfect animals, celestial power by itself is enough, without semen. So, if the effects that are accomplished in these lower bodies are naturally capable of being done by superior universal causes without the working of particular lower causes, such accomplishment is not miraculous. Thus, it is not miraculous for animals to be originated from putrefaction, independently of semen. But, if they do not naturally come about through superior causes alone, then particular lower causes are needed for their development. Now, when some effect is produced by a higher cause through the mediation of proper principles, there is no miracle. Therefore, no miracles can be worked in any way by the power of the higher creatures.

6 Furthermore, it seems to pertain to the same rational principle for a thing to be produced from a subject; for that to which the subject is in potency to be produced; and for an orderly action to be produced through definite intermediate stages. Indeed, a subject is not advanced to proximate potency unless it has become actual in regard to the intermediate stages; thus, food is not immediately potential flesh, but only when it has been changed into blood. Now, every creature must have a subject, in order to make something, nor can it make anything to which the subject is not in potency, as we showed. So, it cannot make anything unless the subject is brought to actuality through definite intermediate stages.

Miracles, then, which result from the fact that an effect is produced, but not according to the order in which it can be accomplished naturally, cannot be worked by the power of a creature.

7 Again, a certain order may be observed in the types of motion. The primary motion is local movement, and so it is the cause of the other kinds, since the first in any genus is the cause of the subsequent items in that genus. Now, every effect that is produced in these lower things must be produced by some generation or alteration. So, this must occur by means of something that is moved locally if it be accomplished by an incorporeal agent, which, strictly speaking, cannot be moved locally. Now, the effects that are produced by incorporeal substances through corporeal instruments are not miraculous, since bodies only work naturally. Therefore, created incorporeal substances cannot work any miracles by their own power, and much less can corporeal substances whose every action is natural.

8 So, it is the prerogative of God alone to work miracles. Indeed, He is superior to the order in which the whole of things are contained, just as from His providence this entire order flows. Moreover, His power, being utterly infinite, is not limited to any special effect or to the production of a particular effect in any limited way, or order.

9 Hence it is said about God in the Psalm (135:4): “Who alone does great wonders.”


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