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Christmas meditation

Olavo de Carvalho
Jornal do Brasil, December 25, 2008

 

If there is one obvious thing in the world, it is that Christianity is, in its origin, not a doctrine, but a narrative of miraculous facts. Jesus Himself makes this very clear in Matthew 11:1–6, when asked who He is: “Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up. . . .” If this is the self-definition of Jesus, this is the definition of Christianity: not doctrinal discourse, but a succession of miracles.

But we live in so stupid an age that people, even believers, can no longer conceive what a miracle is: they believe it to be a strange event to which a “divine cause” is attributed for lack of a “scientific explanation.” This idea is absurd. See, for instance, the miracle of Fatima: it gathers together, at a single moment in time, a variety of correlative events—the apparitions, the thousands of cures of diseases, the prophecies confirmed by the course of history, and, lastly, the dance of the sun, seen from hundreds of miles away by people who had not the least idea of the other facts which were taking place simultaneously. A “materialist explanation” would require a non-existing, rigorously impossible superscience, capable of finding a common material cause not only for those various facts of astronomical, medical, and historical orders which constitute the episode, but also for their convergence at that time and place as well as for their accidental coincidence with Christian symbolics and doctrine.

In truth, such is every miracle: it is not a fact that can be cut out in accordance with the standards of such and such an existing or non-existing science, but an inseparable, inexplicably harmonious complex of different facts pertaining to different planes of reality. There can be no “scientific explanation” of miracles prior to their scientific description, and the latter cannot be valid if it begins by severing the very data which it intends to explain. Nevertheless, the mere hypothesis of a future “material explanation,” though problematic and virtually impossible, is often used as a definitive argument to deny at once the miraculous character of well-attested facts. Suppose that it is possible to find a medical explanation for the girl who, cured by Padre Pio da Pietrelcina, sees with no pupils. It would still be necessary to explain the coincidence that this unusual medical fact was one in the sequence of hundreds of other miraculous facts—some similar, some dissimilar—which occurred in the course of one and the same saintly life. For example, the fact that the same priest knew so well the secret life of so many people whom he was seeing for the first time, or, on the contrary, the fact that he appeared in distant places to people who had never heard of him and who afterwards, when they met him, confirmed what he had told them in those apparitions. The veritable, actually existing Padre Pio is the same concrete human being who did all those things, and did them not at isolated, unconnected moments, but in the course of a life consistently dedicated to Him who, in Padre Pio’s understanding, was the Author of those miracles. What is the common nexus between those various facts—between Padre Pio’s Christian discipline, the girl who sees with no pupils, the apparitions from afar, the intimate secrets known at first sight, and so on and so forth? Either you find this nexus, or the “scientific hypothesis” which you have made up to explain one or other isolated detail—existing as such only in your abstract imagination—is of no avail at all. The impotence of materialist science in the face of miracles is not some temporary obstacle that can be removed by future “advances”: it is an insurmountable abyss. Miracles, to begin with the one which we celebrate today, are not ordinary facts temporarily unexplained: they are facts of a specific order, with a recognizable and irreducible internal structure, distinct from the facts accessible not only to this or that materialist science, but even to a utopian articulation of all materialist sciences, existing or to exist.

Translated by Alessandro Cota and Bruno Mori