Should we believe in miracles? Are there such things as wonders? Where does this need for us to be amazed, astounded, dazzled or petrified come from – something we both fear and hope for?
What is a miracle? What is a wonder? What is the difference between them? The meaning of a miracle is “an amazing thing”, something wonderful, strange, marvellous – by the way, marvel and miracle have a common meaning. A miracle, however, has taken on a religious meaning, particularly for Christians. It is an act which cannot be explained by natural causes and is attributed to a divine intervention. This is why Christian history abounds with miracles, faithfully based on the facts related in the Old Testament where Elohim (Yahve) appears and manifests himself and, depending on the situation, punishes or saves his people either directly or by the hands of his prophets or angels.
A wonder or prodigy means a “prophetic sign”. This could be wonderful and miraculous but equally it could be hideous like a scourage. But whilst the word “miracle” took on the meaning that we know today, a prodigy became, in its proper sense, “something miraculous”. In other words, it could not be anything else but the result of a divine intervention.
Has this always been the case? No. We have historic proof to help you understand how our ancestors looked at what we still see today – the Sky, the Earth, nature, the supernatural. They looked at these things with interest, curiosity and, above all, with an ability to marvel and be enchanted – which we have largely lost and are sadly lacking – and an acute sense of observation and deduction.
Wonders of nature and signs of the Gods
To illustrate our interpretation, we quote Jean Bottero (Mesopotamia, Writing, Reason and the Gods, Gallimard, 1987) “The ancient Mesopotamians were convinced that the world as a whole could not be explained at all and, to make sense of it, they could only imagine that it had been created and was ruled by superhuman beings… And in the land of ancient written tradition where the decisions of the ruler were regulrly proclaimed in writing, the gods had to make sure that will was laid down and committed to memory.
How? …when the gods produced either a being which did not look like the original or a strange happening, which was sudden or weird, they were expressing their desire to predict an equally unusual destiny, one that could be understood if you knew how to decipher it through the occurence of an abnormal event… Such was the basis of deductive divination: you had to read into the strange or irregular events or objects to extract and deduce the divine decisions affecting the future of those concerned: whether it be the king, the country or an individual associated with the object of the divinatory act.
The miracles of saints
If you want to enter into the world of real or imaginary miracles by Christian saints, we advise you to read The Golden Legend (edited by H Champion, 1997), by Jacques de Varazze de Voragine, a Dominican monk and Archbishop of the town of Genoa in Italy. In the 12th century, he scrupulously edited a chronology of the life and times of the saints.
You cand find out, for example, how Saint Elizabeth healed a monk, gave life back to a hanged0man, a drowned-man and gave sight back to someone born blind. You will read how Saint Martin resuscitated a dead man, how a ball of fire appeared on his head and how he himself appeared several times in different places after his death, notably to heal a blind man and a paralysed person.
Another story has it that Zozime buried Saint Mary, the Egyptian, with the help of a lion, how Saint Peter appeared to Saint Agatha and healed her and how a volcanic eruption was stopped dead by his veil.
This list of miracles attributed to saints goes on and on. Reading through it, we can better understand how and why they belong to the world of beliefs whilst prodigies remain in the domain of omens and divination. Each era has its miracles and omens which are signs of the times.