Miracles and the Medieval Mind: Theory, Record, and Event, 1000-1215

Miracles and the Medieval Mind: Theory, Record, and Event, 1000-1215

Miracles and the Medieval Mind: Theory, Record, and Event, 1000-1215

Miracles and the Medieval Mind: Theory, Record, and Event, 1000-1215

Synopsis

The medieval understanding of contact with the powers of heaven is one of the most conspicuous and yet strangest features of the period.

Excerpt

The presuppositions behind any thinking about miracles in the Middle Ages are to be found mainly in four works by Augustine of Hippo: De Genesi ad Litteram, De Trinitate, De Utilitate Credendi, and De Civitate Dei. Augustine argues that there is only one miracle, that of creation, with its corollary of re-creation by the resurrection of Christ. God, he held, created the world out of nothing in six days, and within that initial creation he planted all the possibilities for the future. All creation was, therefore, both 'natural' and 'miraculous': 'all natural things are filled with the miraculous'. 'The events of every day, the birth of men, the growth of plants, rainfall', are all 'daily miracles", signs of the mysterious creative power of God at work in the universe. But Augustine also held that men were so accustomed to these 'daily miracles' that they were no longer moved to awe by them and needed to be provoked to reverence by unusual manifestations of God's power. These, Augustine taught, were events also within the original creation; God had then created seminum semina, seminales rationes hidden within the nature and appearance of things, which at times caused 'miracles' that seemed to be contrary to nature but were in fact inherent in it. The most usual channel for these 'hidden causes' to be made manifest was the prayers of the saints, and Augustine himself illustrated this in his account of the miracles connected with the relics of St Stephen in his diocese after 416.

For Augustine, the mechanics of miracles were clear. They were wonderful acts of God shown as events in this world, not in opposition to nature but as a drawing out of the hidden workings of God within a nature that was all potentially miraculous. There were three levels of wonder: wonder provoked by the acts of God visible daily and dis-

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