Miracles and Nature

On this Sunday and next, the Gospel readings will describe miracles that Jesus performed early in His ministry. People often think of a belief in miracles as contrary to modern science or think that people only believed in miracles at one time because they did not understand the laws of science.

However, as St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, the same order that is behind science operates in a different way in the order of miracles. Thus, for example, as St. Thomas points out, when Jesus turned water into wine, or multiplied the loaves and fishes, He was manifesting the same divine order that occurs regularly when water inside of grapes gradually turns into wine, when grains multiply in the ground and fish likewise in the sea.

On a similar point, when Jesus cured people, He was restoring the order of nature as medicine and the natural healing of the body do. By contrast, when the devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, or to jump off a building and float in the air, he was calling for a chaotic violation of the natural order; and that Jesus would not provide. Miracles work with the same order as nature, although in an extraordinary fashion, in order to show the love and Providence of God.

It is true that, as St. Thomas noted, people sometimes attribute to miracles what is really due to laws of nature that they do not know. For example, people may attribute astrological events such as eclipses to miracles, when scientists know there is a natural explanation. St. Thomas used that very example, which shows that, contrary to popular belief, educated people in the Middle Ages knew perfectly well what causes eclipses; they also had fairly good measurements of the motions of the stars, as well as the shape and size of the earth.

People of old may not have had all of the scientific knowledge we have. But they knew there was an order to nature and they knew as well as we do that water does not suddenly turn into wine, people do not naturally walk on water, be cured of leprosy, or rise from the dead. As C.S. Lewis points out in his book entitled Miracles, there should be a natural sense of wonder that there is an order to nature, which we are continuously discovering is more marvelous that we imagined. And that wonder likewise is open to times when God chooses to show forth His power by the order of grace and the providence of miracles.