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Let us now consult the writings of one to whom the literary world does deference. I quote from Gibbon's Rise and Decline of the Roman Empire.
“During the age of Christ, of his apostles, and of their first disciples, the doctrines which they preached were confirmed by innumerable prodigies. The lame walked, the blind saw, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, demons were expelled, and the laws of nature were frequently suspended for the benefit of the church. But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any alterations in the moral or physical government of the world. Under the reign of Tiberius, the whole earth, or at least a celebrated portion of the Roman empire, was involved in a preternatural darkness of three hours. Even this marvellous event, which ought to have excited the wonder, the curiosity, and the devotion of mankind, passed without notice in an age of science and history. It happened in the lifetime of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate effects, or received the earliest intelligence of the prodigy. Each of these philosophers, in a laborious work, has recorded all the great phenomena of nature-earthquakes, meteors, comets, and eclipses—which his indefatigable curiosity could collect. But the one and the other have omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye has been witness since the creation of the globe. A distinct chapter of Pliny is designed for eclipses of an extraordinary nature and unusual duration; but he contents himself with describing the singular deflect of light which followed the murder of Cæsar, when, during the greatest part of the year, the orb of the sun appeared pale and without splendor. This season of obscurity, which surely cannot be compared with the preternatural darkness of the Passion, has been already celebrated by most of the poets and historians of that memorable age."
With regard to the passage from Phlegon, cited by the Father, and referring to the eclipse said to have taken place at the time of the crucifixion, Gibbon in a note remarks: “It has been wisely abandoned.” But Phlegon, it will be remembered, was not the contemporary of Jesus nor of the apostles. Neither was Julian, nor any of the other authors called by the Father to testify to the prodigies which were said to have attended the birth and death of Jesus.
Lambert.—“Why do you reject the works of the evangelists and admit the works of Josephus?"
We do not reject the works of the evangelists in an unqualified sense. They were anonymous productions, written or collated, with perhaps one exception, by some authors whose names they did not originally bear. The highest Catholic authorities tell us, as we have shown, that they do not prove themselves. They record prodigies which, in
. themselves, are incredible. Where Josephus does likewise we do not receive his statements as true. But that he wrote the works accredited to him has never, as far as I know, been questioned. We do not say that miracles have never been wrought, only that they have not been proved. Says Renan : “None of the miracles with which ancient histories are filled occurred under scientific conditions. Observation, never once contradicted, teaches us that miracles occur only in periods and countries in which they are believed in, and before persons disposed to believe them. No miracle was ever performed before an assembly of men capable of establishing the miraculous character of an act. Neither men of the people nor men of the world are competent for that. Great precautions and a long habit of scientific research are requisite. In our days have we not seen nearly all men the dupes of
gross prestiges or puerile illusions ? Marvellous acts attested by every inhabitant of small towns have become, under a more severe scrutiny, acts of felony. It is certain that no contemporaneous miracle bears examination; is it not probable that the miracles of the past, all of which were performed in popular assemblages, would also present to us, were it possible for us to criticise them in detail, their share of illusion?
“ It is not, therefore, in the name of this or that philosophy, but in the name of constant experience, that we banish miracle from history. We do not say 'miracle is impossible;' we say, 'there has been hitherto no miracle proved.' Let a thaumaturgist (believer in wonders) present himself to-morrow with testimony sufficiently important to merit our attention; let him announce that he is able, I will suppose, to raise the dead; and what would be done? A commission composed of physiologists, physicians, chemists, persons experienced in historical criticism, would be appointed. This commission would choose the corpse, make certain that death was real, designate the hall in which the.experiment should be made, and regulate the whole system of precautions necessary to leave no room for doubt. If, under such conditions, the resurrection should be performed, a probability almost equal to certainty would be attained. However, as an experiment ought always to be capable of being repeated, as one ought to be capable of doing again what one has done once, and as in the matter of miracles there can be no question of easy or difficult, the thaumaturgist would be invited to reproduce his marvellous act under other circumstances, upon other bodies, in another medium. If the miracle succeeds each time, two things will be proven: first, that supernatural acts do come to pass in the world; second, that the power to perform them belongs or is delegated to certain persons. But who does not see that no miracle was ever performed under such conditions ? that always hitherto the thaumaturgist has always chosen the subject of the experiment, chosen the means, chosen the public? that moreover, it is, in most cases, the people themselves who, from the undeniable need they feel of seeing in great men and great events something divine, create the marvellous legends afterwards. Till we have new light, we shall maintain, therefore, this principle of historical criticism, that a supernatural relation cannot be accepted as such, that it always implies credulity or imposture, that the duty of the historian is to interpret it, and to seek what portions of truth and what portions of error it may contain.”
REPLY TO CHAPTER XVIII.
Father Lambert's Chow-chow Method—The Dogma of Atonement-Necessity
of Belief and of the Second Birth-Josephus Again-Rev. Lambert's Terrible Mistake about John's Reference to the Ascension--Genealogy of Jesus.
It would be an easy task to point out the fallacies and misconceptions which pervade Chapter XVIII. of the “Notes”—easy and yet annoying to trace multitudinous divisions of subjects which could and should be combined by careful generalization. I can afford no longer to follow the Father in his chowchow method. I will, however, give a specimen of the kind of proof he offers to overwhelm his adversary.
Ingersoll.—"Is it not more amazing than all the rest that Christ himself concealed from Matthew, Mark, and Luke the dogma of the Atonement, the necessity of belief, and the mystery of the second birth?"
To prove that Christ taught Matthew, Mark, and Luke the doctrine of the Atonement, the Father cites Matthew xx. 28:
Even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many.” Also Acts iii. 18: “But those things which God had foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled."
But these passages do not teach the doctrine of vicarious atonement as preached by Paul. Every patriot who dies on the battle-field for liberty gives his life, in an important sense,