True and false miracles in the life of the Church

“If in Sodom had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in thee, perhaps it had remained unto this day.”

Image: Wiki Commons. This is an expanded extract taken from the article Possible Miracles, Possible Deception.

Miracles as proof of Christ’s revelation

In the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent, Our Lord condemns the Pharisees for saying that his authority and miracles came from the Devil.

Miracles are not a small affair in the life of the Catholic Church. It is a commonplace of fundamental theology that the revelation of Our Lord was established by the authority of miracles and of prophecies. The theologian Michaele Nicolau SJ, in fact, states the following as one of his central theses:

“The primary criterion for proving the fact of revelation must be placed in miracles and prophecies.”[1] (emphasis added).

This is confirmed authoritatively by Vatican I:

“In order that the submission of our faith should be in accordance with reason, it was God’s will that there should be linked to the internal assistance of the holy Spirit external indications of his revelation, that is to say divine acts, and first and foremost miracles and prophecies, which clearly demonstrating as they do the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are the most certain signs of revelation and are suited to the understanding of all.”[2] (emphasis added)

It is also included in the second affirmation of the Oath Against Modernism:

“Secondly, I accept and acknowledge the external proofs of revelation, that is, divine acts and especially miracles and prophecies as the surest signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion and I hold that these same proofs are well adapted to the understanding of all eras and all men, even of this time.”[3]

The purpose of miracles

St Thomas Aquinas tells us the purpose God intends by working miracles:

“[T]he Holy Ghost provides sufficiently for the Church in matters profitable unto salvation, to which purpose the gratuitous graces are directed. Now just as the knowledge which a man receives from God needs to be brought to the knowledge of others through the gift of tongues and the grace of the word, so too the word uttered needs to be confirmed in order that it be rendered credible. This is done by the working of miracles, according to Mk. 16:20, ‘And confirming the word with signs that followed’: and reasonably so.

“For it is natural to man to arrive at the intelligible truth through its sensible effects. Wherefore just as man led by his natural reason is able to arrive at some knowledge of God through His natural effects, so is he brought to a certain degree of supernatural knowledge of the objects of faith by certain supernatural effects which are called miracles.”[4] (Emphasis added).

In other words, miracles are intended by God as signs confirming revealed words and doctrine, rendering them credible.

In a sense, the possibility of miracles makes things even more confusing. We have seen St Thomas saying that vindicating or confirming something is the very purpose of a miracle. But he also tells us that even wicked men and teachers of error might be able to work miracles – although it would not be in vindication of their errors. He writes:

“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.”[5] (Emphasis added)

In other words, St Thomas grants that even the teacher of a false doctrine may sometimes work a true miracle in confirmation of a true doctrine. A miracle may be worked through such men – not in favour of all their doctrine, but in favour of a particular point.

Perhaps this might explain the possibility of Eucharistic miracles in the Novus Ordo. Without entering into this topic, or conceding the reality of such miracles, or suggesting wickedness on the part of the men involved, perhaps what might be being confirmed here is the reality of the Catholic dogma of transubstantiation – not the goodness of the New Mass, the legitimacy of the Conciliar Church, or the validity of orders.

The continuation of miracles in the Church

Historically, the Catholic Church has insisted on the importance of miracles against her opponents, particularly during the Reformation.

This is not the place to go into detail, but in short, Catholic writers insisted that if the Reformers had received a special, extraordinary mission to change the received religion, then they should be able to prove this, with miracles as divine testimony. The reformers denied this, and along with it the importance of miracles and supernatural phenomenon as signs of credibility.

In most places, the Catholic Church’s credentials have already been established. But as Mgr. Ottaviani wrote in 1953:

“Once the Church was established, the charisms, as is understandable, diminished, but did not disappear.

“The assistance of the Holy Ghost and the presence of Christ in His Church will last until the end of ages, and this presence still manifests itself by supernatural signs: by miracles.”[6]

It will not do to simply claim that miracles simply no longer happen, or are unnecessary, or as if there was something shameful about them. In relation to the crisis in the Church, there is also no need to rule out a resolution confirmed by miracles – and perhaps such confirmation could be linked to the revelations at Fatima. There is nothing absurd about this idea.

Rejecting miracles

We do not want to find ourselves in the position of rejecting true miracles. Elsewhere, Our Lord says:

“If I had not done among them the works that no other man hath done, they would not have sin: but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father.” John 15.24-5

This idea also appears in Our Lord’s parable of Dives and Lazarus. From Hell, the rich man Dives begs Abraham to send Lazarus, “the some-time pauper”, to warn his brothers about their imminent damnation.

“‘Father, I beseech thee that thou wouldst send him to my father’s house, for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments.’

“And Abraham said to him: ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them.’

“But he said: ‘No, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance.’

“And he said to him: ‘If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead.’” (Luke 16.27-31)

This parable warns us that we may be deceived into rejecting true miracles – but also that we have a more fundamental duty to be taught by religious authority.

Elsewhere, Christ is even more specific and terrifying about the consequences of rejecting true miracles:

“Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein were done the most of his miracles, for that they had not done penance.

“‘Woe thee, Corozain, woe to thee, Bethsaida: for if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in you, they had long ago done penance in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you.

“‘And thou Capharnaum, shalt thou be exalted up to heaven?  thou shalt go down even unto hell. For if in Sodom had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in thee, perhaps it had remained unto this day. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for thee.’” (Matthew 11.20-4)

Being too dependent on signs and wonders

Having seen the importance that Our Lord and his Church place on miracles, and the importance of not hardening our heart to them, we should also consider another aspect of our attitude towards miracles.

On two occasions in St Matthew’s Gospel, Our Lord condemns the pharisees for asking for a sign:

“An evil and adulterous generation seeketh a sign: and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was in the whale’s belly three days and three nights: so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.

“The men of Ninive shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they did penance at the preaching of Jonas. And behold a greater than Jonas here.” Matthew 12.39-41

And in St John’s Gospel, Our Lord says:

“Unless you see signs and wonders, you believe not.” (John 4.48)

We have already seen in the parable of Dives and Lazarus, that we have a fundamental duty to be submissive to the Church.

In his exchange with St Thomas, Christ praises those whose Faith is based on this authority, rather than being real eyewitnesses to miracles:

“Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen and have believed.” (John 20.29)

Credulity and false miracles

We must also recognise that Our Lord, the Scriptures and the Church warn us not to be too credulous. Mgr. Ottaviani warns us, “To the true believer, credulity is as harmful as incredulity.”[7]

Why is this? We must take seriously the possibility that we may be deceived by false miracles. We may be deceived by charlatans, or by a superstitious attitude which sees miracles and demons behind merely natural events. This, in turn, can cause a scandal for those outside the Church.

Even more dangerously, we may be deceived by false miracles from the Devil. I am not going to go into how to recognise a true miracle, but it would be the height of pride to assume that false miracles would only deceive “other people”.

In the book of the Apocalypse, in English, the word “signs” appears four times, and all four refer to the false miracles of diabolical origin – and we are told that “the beast” which worked these signs “seduced them that dwell on the earth.”[8] That will no doubt include many Catholics – including those who think that they are impervious to deceit.

Our Lord warns that there will be false Christs and false prophets whose apparent miracles will be so convincing as to convince almost everyone.

“Then if any man shall say to you, Lo here is Christ, or there: do not believe him. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect. Behold I have told it to you, beforehand.

“If therefore they shall say to you, Behold he is in the desert: go ye not out. Behold he is in the closets: believe it not.” (Matthew 24.23-26)

Further, in St Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, he writes:

“And we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and of our gathering together unto him: that you be not easily moved from your sense nor be terrified, neither by spirit nor by word nor by epistle as sent from us, as if the day of the Lord were at hand.

He then talks about a “revolt” which must take place, and the revelation of the person he calls “the man of sin” – who will deceive many with miracles:

“And then that wicked one shall be revealed: whom the Lord Jesus shall kill with the spirit of his mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: him whose coming is according to the working of Satan, in all power and signs and lying wonders: and in all seduction of iniquity to them that perish: because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

“Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying: that all may be judged who have not believed the truth but have consented to iniquity.” (Emphases added)

He then tells the Thessalonians what they should do to remain safe in the care of God:

“Therefore, brethren, stand fast: and hold the traditions, which you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle.” (Emphasis added)

It is interesting that St Paul links a great falling-away from the Church, the appearance of the Antichrist, the removal of a person (labelled the “katechon”) holding the Antichrist back, a proliferation of error and false miracles – and prescribes, as the antidote, standing fast and holding to tradition as the antidote.

There are certainly many parallels here with our current situation. This should make us pay even more attention to the possibility of false miracles leading us into error today.


The dangers we face today are beyond comprehension. It seems as though the Devil has deceptions tailored for everyone, be they educated or simple, pious or irreligious, traditionalist or conservative, and so on. 

When confronted by apparently supernatural occurrences, we should consider whether what happens really is a miracle. We have lived through years of deception, the like of which many of us never dreamed was possible. It would be foolish to let our guard down here.

No one wants to be the man refusing to acknowledge a true miracle – but we should be circumspect. Let us recall again the word of Our Lord:

“There shall arise false Christs and false prophets and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect.” (Matthew 24.24.)

Only a very foolish and proud man could hear these words and assume that they do not apply to him, as if he were sure he was among the elect, or somehow immune to deception. Given the lies and deception of recent years, we should be constantly on guard. Having seen through deceptions previously is no guarantee for the future.

We do not want to reject true miracles, any more than we want to accept false ones. We also want to make sure we understand what is and is not being vindicated by whatever might happen.

We must all watch and pray that we are not led into temptation. Let’s keep our eyes open and our wits about us. We must hold fast to the traditional doctrine of the Church, and stay mindful that all of us – yes, even you and I, dear reader – are liable to be deceived.


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[1] Michaele Nicolau SJ, Sacrae Theologiae Summa IA (Introduction to Theology), Trans. By Kenneth Baker SJ, Keep the Faith, USA 2015. 161

[2] Vatican I, Session 3: 24 April 1870, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chapter 3.

[3] St Pius X, Oath Against Modernism, 1910,

[4] St Thomas, Summa Theologica II-II Q.178 A.1

[5] St Thomas, Summa Theologica II-II Q178 A2

[6] Msgr. Alfredo Ottaviani, Assessor of the Holy Office, Later Cardinal and Secretary of this same Supreme Sacred Congregation, published in the official Vatican newspaper: L’Osservatore Romano, February 4, 1953. Available from The WM Review.

[7] Ottaviani, ibid.

[8] Apocalypse 13.14

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