Miracle (Lat. miraculum, from mirari, to wonder), in the stricter usage of the word, a work of divine power, interrupting (or violating) the ordinary course of nature, and directly designed, to attest the divine commission of him who works the miracle. In the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, both the or prodigium, and the , or sign of divine power, are included in the general idea of miracle, but not dissociated. In the New Testament these words ( ) are used to express the supernatural acts and occurrences by which the character and mission of Christ and his apostles were declared and attested. The first is the most general and indefinite, properly an extraordinary and portending phenomenon, something monstrous and out of the course of nature. The second is more specific, implying the possession of supernatural power, through which such acts were performed. The third is still more specific, expressing the object of such acts, namely, as signs or indications by which something is made known. Christ says: "The works that I do bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me." Augustine, De Civitate Dei, 21, 8, argues that a miracle is not against nature in its highest aspect: "How is that against nature which comes from the will of God, since the will of such a great Creator is what makes the nature of everything?" Abelard maintained that, in relation to the divine omnipotence, nought is miraculous. Aquinas sharpens the contrast between the miraculous and the natural.
The schoolmen set up two criteria of miracles: that they are, 1, above the ordinary course of nature; 2, by the power of God. After the reformation, in connection with the progress of modern philosophy, both physical and metaphysical, the necessity of yet further distinctions and limitations became manifest. Bacon in his " Advancement of Learning " asserts: "There never was a miracle wrought by God to convert an atheist, because the light of nature might have led him to confess a God; but miracles are designed to convert idolaters and the superstitious, who have acknowledged a deity but erred in his adoration; because no light of nature extends to declare the will and worship of God." Spinoza in his Tractatus Theologico-politicusled the way in the historical criticism of the Biblical narratives, on the basis of the definition: " A miracle signifies any work the natural cause of which we cannot explain after the example of anything else to which we are accustomed; or, at least, he who writes about or relates the miracle cannot explain it." German rationalism, in its earlier form, attempted the explanation of the gospel miracles by material and spiritual causes.
Some alleged that Jesus had unusual knowledge of the powers of nature, or effected his cures by his spiritual influence over men's souls. Others, as Paulus, explained them by the supposition that the disciples confounded natural events with supernatural; e. g., the two angels in the tomb, elad in white, were an illusion caused by linen garments hanging there; or by such violent interpretations as that the walking upon the sea meant walking on the border of the sea. Some, again, found in them only a symbolical or allegorical sense, and interpreted them as images of spiritual truths. In the mythical theory of Strauss they are denied as facts, and explained, not as wilful deceptions, but as a spontaneous expression of popular religious feeling, ascribing to Christ what is false in fact, but true in some very general philosophical idea. As to the position of miracles in the evidences, some divines, in the reaction against rationalism, have laid the chief stress upon these external signs of divine power, making the miracle to be the main source of an undoubting belief, while others put the truth of the doctrine in the front rank, and made the doctrine the test of the miracle, rather than the miracle the proof of the doctrine.
Thus Dr. "Wardlaw would test the doctrine by the miracle, while Dean Trench advocates the converse order. But it seems difficult, and even illogical, to construct on this point an absolute dilemma; for, on the one hand, the mind receives spiritual and divine truth on its own evidence, and for its own sake; while, on the other hand, all who are enlisted in this debate allow that miracles have an important position in the external evidences for the Christian faith. - For a full discussion of miracles, see Douglas, " Criterion, or Miracles Examined" (London, 1754); Campbell, " Dissertation on Miracles " (Edinburgh, 1763); Farmer, " Dissertation on the Miracles " (1771); Leland, "View of Deistical Writers" (1798); Schleiermacher, Der Christliche Glaube (Berlin, 1821-2); Strauss, Das Leben Jesu (Tubingen, 1835; abridged ed., 1864; English translation, 1865); Tholuck, Olaubenswurdigkeit der evangelischen Geschichte (Hamburg, 1837), and on the miracles of Mohammed and those in the Catholic church, in his Vermischte Schriften (1839); Leslie, " Truth of Christianity " (1848); Wardlaw, "On Miracles" (1853); W. L.Alexander, " Christ and Christianity " (New York, 1854); N. W. Taylor, " Lectures on Moral Government" (1859); McCosh, "The Supernatural in relation to the Natural" (New York, 1862); Mozley, " Bampton Lectures on Miracles " (London, 1865); G. P. Fisher, "Essays on the Supernatural Origin of Christianity" (New York, 1865); the duke of Argyle, "The Reign of Law" (London, 1866); and "Christianity and Skepticism," the Boston lectures for 1870 (Boston, 1870). On the continuance of miracles in the church, besides the works of Blunt and Bishop Kaye, see Middleton. "Miraculous Powers" (London, 1749; new ed., 1844); J. H. Newman (in reply to Taylor's " Ancient Christianity"), "Essay on Miracles," prefixed to his translation of Fleury's Histoire eccfaiastique, and also published separately (1843 and 1873); II. Bushnell, "Nature and'the Supernatural" (New York, 1858); and Mountford, "Miracles Past and Present " (Boston, 1870).