|Christ before Caiaphas, who prophesied the Redemption|
9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 7:21-27
Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?” Then I will declare to them solemnly, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.”
When we consider the words of Christ, it appears that even sinners can work miracles. Yet, how can this be? Miracles are worked through prayers, and God does not hear the prayers of sinners. Here we will offer a short reflection on this one aspect of the Sunday Gospel, relying on St. Thomas as our teacher and guide (cf. Vatican II, Optatum Totius 16).
Gratia gratum faciens and gratiae gratis datae
In the supernatural organism, the interior life of the soul, we find that created grace may be divided into two parts: First there is grace which is given to make us holy as something good within us (gratia gratum faciens), then there are graces which are given to the benefit of others and which do not make us holy nor add something good within us (gratiae gratis datae). Among the first graces are the theological virtues, the other infused virtues, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Among the second graces are the charisms: prophecy, miracles, and others. (see ST I-II, q.111)
We must understand that the charisms can be given even to those who are not holy – for so the Lord bestowed the gift of prophecy upon Balaam, that he might proclaim the coming of the Messiah from afar. Likewise, Caiaphas prophesied in truth that Christ should expiate the sins of all through his death.
For, while the virtues and the gifts are habitual realities present in the soul, making the man to be pleasing to God; the charisms are as water passing through an aqueduct. No man in mortal sin possesses any of the gifts (for he is not pleasing to God), but even a sinner may be used as a conduit – thus charisms may operate in him. (see ST II-II, q.178)
Can sinners work miracles to confirm false doctrines?
If we recognize that even sinners can work miracles prophecy, we question whether they may use these charisms to teach falsely. On this point, St. Thomas: “Miracles are always true witnesses to the purpose for which they are wrought. Hence wicked men who teach a false doctrine never work true miracles in confirmation of their teaching, although sometimes they may do so in praise of Christ's name which they invoke, and by the power of the sacraments which they administer. If they teach a true doctrine, sometimes they work true miracles as confirming their teaching, but not as an attestation of holiness. Hence Augustine says (QQ. lxxxiii, qu. 79): "Magicians work miracles in one way, good Christians in another, wicked Christians in another. Magicians by private compact with the demons, good Christians by their manifest righteousness, evil Christians by the outward signs of righteousness."” (ST II-II, q.178, a.2, ad 3)
Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide speaks to the matter more fully: “S. Jerome says, “To work miracles is sometimes not because of his goodness who works them: but it is the invocation of the name of Christ which performs them for the good of others.” Whence S. Gregory collects (lib. 20, Moral. 8): “The proof of sanctity is not the performance of miracles, but to love one’s neighbour as oneself, and to think of God what is true, and to think better of one’s neighbour than of oneself.”
“Observe, although impious and false teachers may, by the gift of God, prophesy and work miracles, yet they cannot do this for the confirmation of false doctrine. For a miracle, even a solitary one, so long as it is real and plain, is not only a probable, but a morally certain proof of true doctrine, whence Christ and the Apostles use it as an inviolable argument for proving the Christian faith. Nor do we ever read of a miracle being wrought in confirmation of heresy or error. And à priori reasoning shows this. For a miracle is a singular and supernatural operation of God alone, by which, as by His own seal, God attests the right faith and truth, wherefore if God should hearken to a false teacher calling upon Him to confirm his error by a miracle, He would seem to co-operate with him, and attest his error, and by consequence, lie and deceive, which is impossible. […] For other things are common to God, with angels, and devils. Wherefore in them it is doubtful whether God, or an angel, or the devil speaks and works. […]
“Let us observe, however, here, that if the gift of miracles has been given to any one by God for any reason, as an abiding habit, or condition, such a one may afterwards abuse the gift, and work the miracle for an evil end, such, for example, as vain glory, gain, or the confirmation of what is false. For in such a case God concurs indeed with the miracle itself but not with the abuse of it, or with the evil object of him who works it. For this He only permits. […] Still it appertains to the providence of God not to allow an impious man to abuse the grace of miracles to deceive others so as to lead them into heresy, if this misuse should be entirely hidden from them. […] In the case of those whom the common people call Saviours, even when they are of evil life, it is plain, says Navarrus in his Manuale, that the gift of curing diseases has been given them by God for the common good of the Church, and that they can abuse this gift for evil purposes. […] Wherefore if any should use this power for evil, we can see that it is the man who is abusing his gift, not God who is co-operating with him for evil. […]
“At any rate up to the present time there is no case on record in which it can be shown that any one who had even the habitual gift, has wrought a miracle for the confirmation of heresy, or false doctrine, unless we choose to allow that Calvin, pretending in confirmation of his heresy to raise a supposed dead man to life, who was really alive, God, to punish the deceit, caused the man to die. But all such miracles, as it were indications of perfidy, condemn heresy and confirm the true faith.”