If the Reformers were really were sent by God, where are their miracles to prove it? This was the very question I came across while listening to a Called to Communion conversion story. In this story, a former Mid-America Reformed Seminary alumni recounted how he and his wife journeyed across the Tiber. This couple mentioned the importance of the book, The Catholic Controversy: St. Francis de Sales’ Defense of the Faith.
“No one should allege an extraordinary mission unless he prove it by miracles: for, I pray you, where should we be if this pretext of extraordinary mission was to be accepted without proof? Would it not be a cloak for all sorts of reveries? Arius, Marcion, Montanus, Messalius — could they not be received into this dignity of reformers, by swearing the same oath? Never was any one extraordinarily sent unless he brought this letter of credit from the divine Majesty.”
“How then shall those who in our age would allege an extraordinary mission excuse and relieve themselves of this proof of their mission? What privilege have they greater than an Apostolic, a Mosaic? What shall I say more. If our sovereign Master, consubstantial with the Father, having a mission so authentic that it comprises the communication of the same essence, if he himself, I say, who is the living source of all Ecclesiastical mission, has not chosen to dispense himself from this proof of miracles, what reason is there that these new ministers should be believed on their mere word?”
Even though I’ve been familiar with this argument for many years, this was the first time I had ever heard a Roman Catholic convert use it, and that it was a Reformed seminary-trained convert truly amazed me. In this brief mp3 clip from their interview, the interviewer, referencing de Sales, asks, “Where are their papers?” The wife in agreement states back, “Right, where are their miracles?” Then, a few minutes later, the new convert states, “Where are their papers? If God sent them, where are their miracles?”
1. I’m surprised this particular argument had so much weight for these recent Roman Catholic converts. Based on the criteria of miracle = “sent by God”, there are a fair amount of Pentecostal folks that are more than willing to claim they have the credentials required. It becomes even more complicated by the fact that non-Christian religions claim miracles as well.
2. It certainly is true that miracles accompanied many of those people in the Scripture that were given revelation from God. Miracles certainly proved the divine message of the Biblical authors. Keep in mind though, the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.), were not receiving new revelation from God, nor did they claim they were. They weren’t adding books to the Bible. They were testifying to what was in the Bible. John Calvin states this very point: “In demanding miracles of us, they act dishonestly. For we are not forging some new gospel, but are retaining that very gospel whose truth all the miracles that Jesus Christ and his disciples ever wrought serve to confirm.”
3. If one takes the time to work through de Sales argument, you’ll notice he quotes a fair amount of Scripture. However, he assumes that what happened during enscripturation occurs after enscripturation. Calvin, on the other hand, argued that the miracles presented in the New Testament worked as seals of the Gospel. They were the signature of God confirming the revelation of Christ and the apostles. For Calvin, miracles had actually ceased at the end of the apostolic age. Both Calvin and Luther took seriously the Biblical warnings on the legitimate purpose and use of miracles.
The Donatists of old overwhelmed the simplicity of the multitude with this battering-ram: that they were mighty in miracles. We, therefore, now answer our adversaries as Augustine then answered the Donatists: the Lord made us wary of these miracle workers when he predicted that false prophets with lying signs and prodigies would come to draw even the elect (if possible) into error [Matthew 24:24], And Paul warned that the reign of Antichrist would be “with all power, and signs and lying wonders” [2 Thessalonians 2:9]. But these miracles, they say, are done neither by idols, nor by magicians, nor by false prophets, but by the saints. As if we did not understand that to “disguise himself as an angel of light” [2 Corinthians 11:14] is the craft of Satan! The Egyptians of old worshiped Jeremiah, who was buried in their land, rendering to him sacrifices and divine honors. Did they not misuse the holy prophet of God for idolatrous purposes? And yet, they thought that the curing of snake bite was a just reward for such veneration of his tomb. What shall we say except that it has always been, and ever will be, a very just punishment of God to “send to those” who have not received the love of truth “a strong delusion to make them believe a lie” [2 Thessalonians 2:11]?
Luther (commenting on Matthew 7:22-23)
The chief interpretation here is that He is talking about false prophecies and miracles, as He speaks in Matthew 24:24: “False Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10 St. Paul says that the Antichrist will come “with all sorts of pretended powers and signs and wonders and with all wicked deception for unrighteousness, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” So it is certain that false signs will happen in Christendom and that the false Christians will look upon them as true and genuine signs. This has really been happening in the papacy, though in Turkey, too, there are many such priests and special saints. You can read about this in the books and legends, especially in what the monks have written. They are all crawling with miracles, though they were really nothing but lies and rascalities. How they have made fools of the people nowadays with all those pilgrimages to the Grym Valley, to the Oak, or to Trier! I myself have seen some monks who were abominable rascals and reckless men, but who expelled the devil and played with him as if he were a child [LW 21:271].
4. It must be kept in mind that arguing the Reformers needed miracles to confirm their message assumes Roman Catholic presuppositions. Miracles are part of Roman collective piety. One need only recall the many times they claim Mary has visited the earth with messages (it get’s a little murky as to exactly where this sort of special revelation fits in the Roman Catholic scheme of things). Here are some sound words from Martin Luther:
You see, this is the way to beat back the papists, who come crowding around with their “customs, fathers, councils, and so many signs and miracles,” by which they try to substantiate their cause. Just give them a short answer: “All right, let us contrast the two. Here I have Christ?s Word; of this I am certain, and it has been powerfully substantiated throughout the world. You are showing me, by contrast, your teaching and your signs, which point me to rosaries, pilgrimages, the worship of saints, Masses, monkery, and other special and self-chosen works. There is nothing here about Christ, or about faith, Baptism, and the Sacrament, or about obedience and the good works which Christ teaches me to practice within my station, in my relations with my neighbor. Instead, there is the exact opposite. Hence these cannot be genuine signs, but both the teaching and the signs are the devil?s deception.” This way we could easily recognize and judge all false signs and say: “Let the signs come and go, I do not care, even if you raised the dead before my very eyes. All of this can deceive me, but the Word of God does not deceive me” [LW 21:274].
5. Here’s an ironic point. Here is the Bull of Canonization of St. Francis de Sales (Rerum Omnium Perturbationem) Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Promulgated on January 26, 1923. Guess who, according to the Roman Catholic Church, was sent by God? Why, it was none other than Francis de Sales:
The solemn commemoration last year of the third centenary of the canonization of five great saints–Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, Philip Neri, Teresa of Jesus, and Isidore the Farmer– helped greatly, Venerable Brothers, toward reawakening among the faithful a love for the Christian life. We are now happily called upon to celebrate the Third Centenary of the entrance into heaven of another great saint, one who was remarkable not only for the sublime holiness of life which he achieved but also for the wisdom with which he directed souls in the ways of sanctity. This saint was no less a person than Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva and Doctor of the Universal Church. Like those brilliant examples of Christian perfection and wisdom to whom We have just referred, he seemed to have been sent especially by God to contend against the heresies begotten by the Reformation. It is in these heresies that we discover the beginnings of that apostasy of mankind from the Church, the sad and disastrous effects of which are deplored, even to the present hour, by every fair mind. What is more, it appears that Francis de Sales was given to the Church by God for a very special mission.
Now if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you’re wondering exactly what miracle accompanied de Sales to prove he was especially sent by God for his special mission. If you skim through the Bull of Canonization, you’ll find all sorts of tidbits about his life and ministry, but nothing all that extraordinary like healing a leper or raising the dead. In other words, there weren’t any extraordinary miracles that prove he was sent especially by God for a very special mission. He sort of did things like… the early Reformers (he wrote books, ministered, and talked to people, sometimes at great peril). Remember, de Sales says, “no one should allege an extraordinary mission unless he prove it by miracles.” Pope Pius XI says, “[De Sales] seemed to have been sent especially by God to contend against the heresies begotten by the Reformation…it appears that Francis de Sales was given to the Church by God for a very special mission.” So, where are the miracles that proved the extraordinary mission of de Sales? It’s gets even a bit more complicated when certain current Roman apologists claim to be “called by God to do apologetics” or they hold seminars acting like prophets trying to warn Rome of her many sins. I can’t help but wonder if any miracles are forthcoming from Rome’s new apologists. Never underestimate the double standards of Roman Catholic apologetics.
6. Here’s one I can’t pass up pointing out, simply because it’s humorous. Following a Roman Catholic paradigm, Luther vindicated himself and his work from the grave. For the Roman convert looking for the miracles of the Reformers, there is actually a tradition of Luther’s post-life miracles. See this article by Robert Scribner, Incombustible Luther: The Image of the Reformer in Early Modern Germany. Scribner documents the way that many turned Luther into a saint after his death. Stories circulated that paintings of Luther refused to burn. You see, Luther’s special saint-like miracle was his incombustibility. He could not be burned as a heretic while alive, nor could he be burned when dead.