Contra Reginaldus on Miracles

Over at the New Theological Movement blog, Fr. Reginaldus claims that certain type of miracles are impossible for God to do. Now if we conceive of a miracle that is an evil deed, of course, God cannot do it, for He cannot contradict His own Goodness. But this is not the type of miracle to which Reginaldus is referring. Or if we conceive of a miracle that is not evil, but foolish, of course, God cannot do it, for He cannot contradict His own Perfection. But this is not the type of miracle to which Reginaldus is referring.

The type of miracle that Reginaldus says is impossible is neither evil nor foolish. So why does he claim it is impossible for God? Several examples follow, in this and subsequent posts.

1. The Miracle of the Sun at Fatima

He claims that the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima must have been caused by a “newly created atmospheric ball,” moved around by angels.

He does not believe that a miracle could cause what witnesses described, that the sun “danced” or “fell towards the earth” or “grew in size” or “changed in color.”

Why is God unable to perform such a miracle? The reason that he gives is as follows: “such events would be devastating not only for the planet of earth, but for many other planets in our solar system. Moreover, although the Miracle of the Sun was witnessed by individuals several miles away from Fatima, it was not witnessed around the world.” But this reasoning does not take into account that the Miracle of the Sun is a MIRACLE!! Would it be impossible for God to miraculously affect the light from the Sun, as it traveled to one particular place on earth, and so cause the light to increase, dance, change colors, and seem to plummet to the earth? It is not contrary to His Goodness. It is not contrary to His Perfection. Potuit, decuit, ergo fecit. He was able; it was fitting; therefore, He did it.

You are not supposed to be able to describe the method that results in the miraculous effect. Reginaldus describes the miracle only in terms of what he understands is possible, by nature and angels. He does not allow that God can suspend or contradict the laws of nature in order to perform a miracle.

How was the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima accomplished? The answer given by Reginaldus is absurd:

Therefore, it seems most likely that … a new mass was formed in the sky and filled with an intense light. This illuminated mass also seems to have produced an intense heat…. Positing the creation of this illuminated mass of particles — likely gathered from dust and the air, almost in the manner of an extremely dense cloud — the Miracle of the Sun does not in any way lose its miraculous and wondrous qualities.

So according to Reginaldus, God could not even create this hypothetical ‘fireball in the sky’ out of nothing, God had to gather dust and then illuminate it? No, wait, I see in the comments he adds this note: “This is why I would argue that angels gathered matter from the air (after the manner of a very dense cloud) and filled this with light and heat … such that it looked like the sun.” So the miracle was accomplished by angels, not directly by God. Then, to move the fireball, making it dance, Reginaldus suggests this had to be done by angels also. Why? Cannot God perform a miracle by His own Power? It is an offense against the teaching of the Church that God is all-powerful for anyone to explain miracles as being only the result of natural effects and the work of angels, as if God does not act directly in miracles to accomplish what is BEYOND our understanding.

By the way, whenever an effect is accomplished by holy Angels, not directly by the power of God, it is in fact not a miracle. The actions of angels are said to be preternatural; since Angels are part of Creation, their acts are not miraculous (supernatural).

Does the Miracle of the Sun become much less miraculous and wondrous in this way? Yes, it does. A miracle involving the Sun is astounding because the Sun is so powerful. It proves that God is Lord over the whole universe. Sending angels to make a fireball in the sky out of dust, and then having angels move it around is foolish. And the claimed purpose, to trick the faithful into thinking that this miracle is of the Sun, is a deception that would be contrary to the Goodness of God, and a foolish act that would be contrary to the Perfection of God. Reginaldus’ explanation shows a lack of faith in true miracles and even implies that God was being deceptive.

Another miracle accompanied the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima. It had been raining hard, and everyone was soaking wet, as was the ground. When the miracle of the sun occurred, as Fr. Reginaldus writes:

However, after the miraculous event, witnesses reported that their wet clothing became “suddenly and completely dry, as well as the wet and muddy ground that had been previously soaked because of the rain that had been falling.” According to the Italian priest and Fatima-scholar, De Marchi, “Engineers that have studied the case reckoned that an incredible amount of energy would have been necessary to dry up those pools of water that had formed on the field in a few minutes as it was reported by witnesses.”

Now I’ve always thought that this miracle (drying the people and the ground) was accomplished simply and directly by the power of God. It is not evil or foolish for God to take away the wetness from the people and their surroundings. And He has the power to do so. He could do it directly Himself. It was fitting for Him to do it directly Himself. And He did so.

Reginaldus’ absurd explanation for this miracle is that the fireball in the sky was very hot, and so it evaporated the water: “This illuminated mass also seems to have produced an intense heat….” Again, this is a natural explanation: heat evaporates water. Why can’t God take the water away miraculously? It is apparent that Reginaldus does not believe in miracles accomplished by the direct power of God. Reginaldus does not believe that the drying up of the water was done directly by the power of God. Rather, the fireball produced by the Angels and its heat evaporated the water.

Of course, for that much water to be dried up so quickly, it would take enough heat to cook the people until they were well-done. But Reginaldus does not answer this point (raised by someone in the comments) at all.

2. The Miracle of Bi-location

Some of the Saints experienced the miracle of bi-location. Fr. Reginaldus gives the example of Saint Padre Pio, who was able to bi-locate on a number of different occasions. Other Saints have been able to bi-locate. By definition, bi-location means that the person is in two places at the same time: two-locations. But Reginaldus claims that this is impossible:

“No material body can be present in two places at the same time. While a body can fill a place which is rather large, this place must be continuous and be only one place. The very nature of the material order requires that bodies be present in one and only one location. If the angelic soul cannot be present in two places at the same time, how much less the human body!” (The Problem of Bilocation)

There are several serious theological errors in this denial of bi-location. First, it is not proven that the natural order of the universe does not permit a material thing, a body or anything else, to be in two places at the same time. (I think quantum mechanics says that something can be in multiple places at the same time.) The mere fact that Saint Thomas asserts something (e.g. that angels cannot be in two places at the same time) does not imply that the assertion is true. Reginaldus frequently errs in his theology by treating every assertion of Saint Thomas as if it were dogma. If St. Thomas says it, he accepts it unquestioningly.

Second, even if we grant that the natural order does not permit any material or spiritual thing to be in two places at the same time, the phenomenon of bi-location has always been regarded as a MIRACLE. And miracles are by definition supernatural, beyond what nature can do or even contrary to the laws of nature, because God Himself is acting directly. But as was the case with Reginaldus’ claims about the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, he does not allow that the power of God can do, supernaturally, what is not possible by natural or angelic power. I don’t know if nature ever permits one object to be in two places at the same time. But I believe that God can do ANYTHING that does not contradict His own Goodness or His own Perfection.

Third, Reginaldus does admit that bi-location occurs to a number of the Saints. Therefore, he must agree that bi-location is neither contrary to the Goodness of God, nor contrary to His Perfection.

Potest, decet, ergo facit. He is able; it is fitting; therefore, He does it.

God is able to cause Saints to be in two places at the same time. It is fitting for Him to do so. Therefore, God does so. To say otherwise is to imply that God lacks the power to act beyond the natural order.

As an aside, I should point out that Reginaldus has repeatedly claimed that angels have souls. The angelic nature is spirit, as is the human soul. Both are of the spiritual order, not the material order. But it is not theologically correct to call angelic nature a soul. Such a claim is contrary to the infallible teaching of the Magisterium that the soul is the form of the body. Angels do not have bodies, so they do not have souls. Angels are spirits. They do not have a soul; they are not souls.

So Reginaldus has declared that it is impossible for God to cause a Saint to be in two places at the same time. Why? It violates the natural order. My position is that God is not constrained by the limits of the natural order. God can and does act beyond and even contrary to nature; this is the very meaning of the word Miracle. But every time Reginaldus refers to miracles, it is apparent that he does not permit God to act beyond or contrary to nature.

What if Christ fell from the parapet of the Temple? Nature requires that gravity act on His body, and it plummet to the ground. Is the only way to save Him by sending Angels to catch Him? Cannot our Lord, by His Divine Nature, act apart from the natural order, even without angelic intervention, and keep gravity from taking Him to the ground?

How then is bi-location accomplished? Reginaldus suggests that perhaps the Saint who is bi-locating is acting upon the intellects of other men, to make himself seem to be present. This is much the same answer that he gives for the Miracle of the Sun. The faithful were tricked into thinking that the Sun was dancing, moving, etc., when really it was a fireball created and moved by angels (therefore not even a true miracle). In the case of bi-location, he says that the bi-locating Saint: “would be seen only by the minds of those upon whom he acted.” In other words, it is not truly bi-location, but a way of deceiving people into thinking a Saint is present.

So obstinate is he in the denial that true miracles can act beyond and even contrary to nature, that he is willing to claim that God and the Saints perpetrate a deception, rather than allow that God is all-powerful.

Reginaldus ends his denial of the miracle of bi-location by saying: “How great a mystery is this most wondrous divine work!” This is always the way with those who deny miracles. They say things like, ‘Every day is a miracle!’ and ‘Every life is a miracle!’ and Everything is a miracle!’ by which they mean that true miracles never occurs. We are merely to consider what is natural or angelic to be miraculous.

I am not exaggerating the denial of miracles by Reginaldus. For he also discusses the miracles of Jesus after His Resurrection, again utterly refusing to admit that Christ Himself — after Resurrecting Himself from death — is able to perform any true miracle. He continues to maintain the implicit position that God and Christ cannot do anything beyond or contrary to nature. Miracles, in the view of Reginaldus, are decidedly NOT supernatural.

3. The Miracles of the Risen Christ

The infallible teaching of the Magisterium that God is all-powerful is central to our Faith.

Why do you pray to God, if you think that He is so weak that He cannot act beyond or contrary to nature? If God cannot act beyond or contrary to Nature, then Nature is the God. If you agree with Reginaldus that God’s miracles can only be accomplished by natural or angelic means, how is it that you hope for a resurrection from the dead? Will Nature resurrect you, or will angels? If God can raise the dead to eternal life, then why can’t He cause the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima by true supernatural power? If God can raise the dead to eternal life, then why can’t He cause a Saint to literally and truly be in two places at the same time?

This dispute about miracles is not a small matter. It pertains to the power of God over Creation. The only types of miracle that God cannot perform is one that contradicts His own Goodness, such as an evil deed, or one that contradicts His own Perfection, such as a foolish deed. If an act is good and perfect, then God certainly can do it. This is true even if the act is contrary to nature, even if my small little mind or yours cannot conceive of how it might be done.

Potest, decet, ergo facit. He is able; it is fitting; therefore, He does it.

So what does Reginaldus say next about miracles? Essentially, he is claiming that Jesus Christ, God Incarnate raised from the dead, could not perform miracles in the way that He moved about after His Resurrection. As alleged proof our Lord’s inabilities, Reginaldus cites the abilities and limits of glorified human body. I agree with him that the glorified body has certain abilities that are beyond the abilities of a natural non-glorified body. But the problem is that Reginaldus again does not admit that our Lord can perform miracles, so as to act beyond what even the glorified body can do.

He asks: How did Jesus vanish from the sight of his disciples?

His answer is that Jesus became invisible to the view of the disciples. Reginaldus claims that Jesus could not be present in one location, and then miraculously appear, instantly in another location, without traveling through the places in-between. Why is our all-powerful God Incarnate unable to do so? If Christ needs to be in one place at one point in time, why does He have to walk or run to be in the next place that He needs to be? It is not evil. It is not foolish. Therefore, God is able to do so.

But Reginaldus denies Christ this ability. On this question, he cites the Supplement to the Summa Theologica; this supplement was not even written by St. Thomas, but was written by another person based on St. Thomas’ previous work.

“Opinion is much divided on this point. For some say that a glorified body passes from one place to another without passing through the interval, just as the will passes from one place to another without passing through the interval, and that consequently it is possible for the movement of a glorified body like that of the will to be instantaneous. But this will not hold: because the glorified body will never attain to the dignity of the spiritual nature, just as it will never cease to be a body.” (ST Supplementum, q.84, a.3)

So the quoted text above is expressing the opinion that a glorified body cannot instantly move from one place to another. For a glorified body is still physical, despite its preternatural abilities. Fine. But the question is not, ‘What abilities are natural to a glorified body?’ The question is, ‘Could our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God, perform the miracle of moving from one place to another instantly?’ that is to say, without moving through the intervening places.

Again, Reginaldus denies that God can perform any miracle that is contrary to nature. A glorified body cannot instantly transfer from one place to another by its own power. Well enough; I suppose that is true. But can Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, perform the same transfer by a miracle? Reginaldus answers ‘No’. If such a feat were evil or foolish, then I would agree that God cannot do it. But it is neither. So what is it that prevents our all-powerful God from performing this and many other miracles?

In a previous related post, Reginaldus cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church on this topic.

“Yet at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ’s humanity can no longer be confined to earth, and belongs henceforth only to the Father’s divine realm.” (CCC, n. 645).

So the Catechism plainly says that Jesus is not limited by space or time, and He can be present how and when he wills. This is in fact the answer to the question. Yes, the Resurrected Jesus could vanish from the sight of the disciples by simply being instantly present in another place. He is not constrained by place or time. Problem solved.

But to the contrary, Reginaldus says that the only way for Jesus to instantly be present in another place is by “literally falling out of existence from one place in order to come into existence in another place.” I agree that Jesus does not destroy His body in one location, and then re-create it in another location. But this does not seem, even to my little finite intellect, to be the only possible way for God to perform such a miracle. Why cannot God simply transfer the risen human nature of Christ instantly from one place to another? It does not need to be destroyed and recreated. This miracle is not evil, and is not foolish (as destroying and recreating would be). Therefore, God can do it.

But Reginaldus denies that God has this power, because he cannot think of how such a miracle could be performed, and because the Summa Theologica, does not seem to permit it.

So then, how did Christ appear in a locked room? How did He vanish from the sight of the disciples? How did He move from place to place?

The answer that Reginaldus gives is to attribute superpowers, literally like those of a superhero in a movie, to the Lord Jesus. He claims that Jesus “entered into the locked room by walking through the walls”, that Jesus vanished by making Himself unable to be seen by the disciples, and that Jesus could “move extremely fast” from place to place. But he attributes all of these abilities to the natural powers of any glorified body, not to the power of miracles. Now I have literally seen all of these abilities portrayed in movies as the powers of superheroes. But there is a power that no superhero could ever exercise, even in the movies: the power to perform a true miracle. Strangely, Reginaldus allows the Resurrected Jesus to have these superpowers, but essentially denies to Him the power to perform miracles. He can do all these superhero-like acts, but only because all these abilities, he says, are natural to a glorified body.

From all of the above, it is clear that Reginaldus obstinately continues to deny to Jesus and to God the ability to act beyond or contrary to nature in a true miracle. This denial of the omnipotence of God is a serious doctrinal error.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

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