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The Rational Judgment of a Miraculous Cure

Dr. Manuel Nevado (left) and St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer (right).

Dr. Manuel Nevado (left) and St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer (right).

My goal in this post is to show how the Catholic Church made the rational judgment, after serious investigation, that one man received a miracle of healing through the intercession of another.

In discussing this “miracle,” I will rely on two definitions of the word miracle. Fr. John Hardon, S.J., wrote: “In theological language, a miracle is an extraordinary event, performed by God, which can be perceived by the senses and which exceeds the powers of nature.” This is what the Catholic Church means in general by a miracle.

Monsignor Michele Di Ruberto, the undersecretary of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, defines a miracle as an “event that goes beyond the forces of nature, which is realized by God outside of what is normal in the whole of created nature by the intercession of a servant of God or a blessed.” This is what the Catholic Church means by a miracle in connection with the process of beatification or canonization.

Dr. Manuel Nevado suffered from cancerous chronic radiodermatitis. His “miraculous cure” is known because it was carefully investigated by the Catholic Church in connection with the canonization of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. It is the “miracle” which opened the way for Pope John Paul II to declare Escriva a saint.

Before going into the putative miracle, here is how the Catholic Church judges whether God has performed a miracle through a saint’s intercession. I’ll be quoting The Process of Investigation of an Alleged Miracle in the Causes for Canonization by Stefania Falasca.

The rules for the legal process for this were established in 1983 by the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister.

In it, there are two subsequent phases. The first is the diocesan phase. It is undertaken in the diocese in which the alleged miracle took place. The second phase takes place in Rome and is undertaken by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

At the diocesan-level, “the bishop opens an inquiry into an alleged miracle during which both the testimony of eyewitnesses, questioned by a duly constituted court, is taken and the complete clinical and instrumental documentation inherent to the case” is recorded.

When the diocesan enquiry is completed, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints sets in motion its process, which, when completed, will be the basis of its verdict. The Congregation subjects the material gathered to two separate investigations, again, one after the other. The first is medical and the second is theological.

According to Falasca, “The medical examination is conducted by...the medical Consulta, a collegiate body made up of five specialists plus two in-house experts. The specialists vary according to the clinical cases presented and the request for consultation or eventual convocation of other experts and specialists is not ruled out. Their testimony is purely scientific, they do not pronounce on the miracle. The examination and final discussion of the medical Consulta conclude by establishing the exact diagnosis of the illness, prognosis, treatment and end result.”

In order for the event “to be regarded as a possible miracle the healing must be judged by the specialists as rapid, complete, lasting, and inexplicable by current medical and scientific knowledge.”

If the medical Consulta pronounces “a majority or unanimous verdict in favor of the extra-natural character of the healing” according to that criteria, then the inquiry passes to the Consulta of theologians.

Why to theologians? It goes to theologians because the medical experts can only look at a healing and declare that it is, at least currently, empirically inexplicable.

The job of the advisory theologians is to identify “the causal link between the prayers to the servant of God and the healing, and express their opinion on whether the prodigious event is a true miracle.”

When the theologians have drafted their verdict, “the evaluation is submitted to the ordinary Congregation of bishops and cardinals, who debate all the features of the miracle.”

All these opinions are then submitted to the pope, who decides whether to declare the event a miracle or not. If he approves the miracle, he authorizes the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints to promulgate a decree to this effect, declaring the event a miracle. In the case of Dr. Nevado’s cure and St. Josemaria’s intercession as its cause, the pope declared in the positive.

Here is the full decree declaring the approval of the miracle, a summary of the facts, and the process of examination.
 

JOSEMARÍA ESCRIVÁ DE BALAGUER
The Miracle Approved for the Canonization

 
On December 20, 2001, Pope John Paul II approved the decree issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on a miraculous cure attributed to the intercession of Blessed Josemaria Escriva. The miracle was the cure of Dr. Manuel Nevado from cancerous chronic radiodermatitis, an incurable disease, which took place in November 1992. The decree opened the doors for the canonization of Blessed Josemaria.

 

Radiodermatitis 
 
Radiodermatitis is a typical skin disease of medical professionals who have been repeatedly exposed to radiation from X-ray machines over a long period of time. The disease is progressive and evolves inexorably, causing the appearance of skin cancers. Radiodermatitis has no cure. The only known treatments are surgical interventions: skin grafts, or amputation of the affected parts of the hand. To date, no case of a spontaneous cure from cancerous chronic radiodermatitis has ever been recorded in medical literature.

 

The Cure
 
Dr. Manuel Nevado Rey was born in Spain in 1932. A specialist in orthopedic surgery, he operated on fractures and other injuries for nearly 15 years with frequent exposure of his hands to X-rays. The first symptoms of radiodermatitis began to appear in 1962, and the disease continued to worsen. By 1984, he had to limit his activities to minor operations because his hands were gravely affected. He stopped operating completely in the summer of 1992, but did not undergo any treatment.

 

In November 1992, Dr. Nevado met Luis Eugenio Bernardo Carrascal, an agricultural engineer working for the Spanish government. On hearing about his disease, Luis Eugenio offered him a prayer card of the Founder of Opus Dei who had been beatified on May 17 that year, and invited him to pray for the cure of his radiodermatitis.

 

The Intercession of Blessed Josemaria
 
Dr. Nevado began praying for a cure through the intercession of Blessed Josemaria. A few days after that meeting, he traveled to Vienna with his wife in order to attend a medical conference. They visited several churches and came across prayer cards of Blessed Josemaria. “This impressed me,” explained Dr. Nevado, “and it encouraged me to pray more for my cure.” From the day that he began to entrust his cure to the intercession of Blessed Josemaria, his hands began to improve. Within a fortnight the lesions had completely disappeared and the cure was complete. By January 1993, Dr. Nevado had returned to perform surgical operations without any problems.

 

The Canonical Process 
 
The canonical process on this miracle took place in the archdiocese of Badajoz where Dr. Nevado lives, and was concluded in 1994. On July 10, 1997, the Medical Committee of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously established the following diagnosis: a cancerous state of chronic radiodermatitis in its third and irreversible stage; therefore with certain prognosis of infaust (without hope of cure). The complete cure of the lesions, confirmed by the objective examinations carried out on Dr. Nevado in 1992, 1994 and 1997, was declared by the Medical Committee to be very rapid, complete, lasting, and scientifically inexplicable.

 

On January 9, 1998, the Committee of Theologian Consultants gave its unanimous approval for attributing the miracle to Blessed Josemaria. The Congregation of the Causes of Saints confirmed these conclusions on September 21, 2001.

 

According to Hardon, a miracle is (1) an extraordinary event, (2) which can be perceived by the senses, (3) which exceeds the powers of nature, and (4) is performed by God.

(1) If the facts alleged are true, the event certainly appears to be extraordinary: Nevado was cured of an incurable form of cancer.

(2) It also was an event that was perceived by the senses. Physical evidence was studied from before and after the cure.

(3) It also appeared to exceed the powers of nature, as far as are now know. That, of course, is a judgment of reason limited by our current, best understanding of this form of cancer and the healing powers of the human body.

(4) That leaves “performed by God.” This point goes to Di Ruberto’s definition that a miracle is “realized by God...by the intercession of a servant of God or a blessed.” The judgment that anything is actually performed by God is a judgment of reason even if you are the pope. Anyone who wants to can judge either way based on one’s assumptions and how compelling the evidence is.

If you are not convinced that this was a miracle, at least I hope you are convinced that the pope's decision was based on a serious investigation and a rational judgment, either by a preponderance of the evidence or evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Catholic Church has set up criteria for determining whom it will recognize as being in heaven, and so, who is worthy of the faithful’s veneration and petition. The Church has a canonization process for the benefit of the faithful of the Catholic Church. In the case of Josemaria Escriva, it was to hold up to the faithful a model of the Christian life that has a special relevance to living the faith in our time. The pope is acknowledging that St. Josemaria is in heaven and is a worthy example to be followed in his message that holiness is for everyone and that it can be found in the ordinary circumstances of our lives.

Kevin Aldrich

Written by

Kevin Aldrich has a Master’s Degree in English literature and is a certified educator with twenty-four years of teaching and administrative leadership experience in pre-K-12 parochial and independent schools. His students have ranged from kindergarteners through college freshmen with four years of high-school English. He has recently authored the teacher editions for ten high-school theology textbooks in The Didache Semester Series and the eight-volume Didache Parish Program. In the area of character formation he is the author of Teen Virtues and wrote the first two generations of the Families of Character curriculum. In addition to his educational writings, he is the author of fourteen feature screenplays, three television pilots, and four novels. His essay “The Sense of Time in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings” has been reprinted in Tolkien: A Celebration: Collected Writings on a Literary Legacy.

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  • Steven Dillon

    What criteria are used to determine whether an event is caused by God?

    • Tim Dacey

      Is this a serious question? I can think of several proposed criteria...

      • Please provide one that is not an argument from ignorance. (I.e. "there is no known scientific explanation" would be arguing "we don't know how he was cured so we accept god did it" a classic argument from ignorance.)

        • Tim Dacey

          Just because you think all all arguments for the existence of God "argue from ignorance" doesn't mean they do

          • Doesn't mean they don't either. But I do not think that. We are still waiting for just one of your several criteria.

      • Great! Please share them with the class.

      • Steven Dillon

        You don't think it's common knowledge which method this panel of theologians uses to determine God's involvement, do you?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      "The advisory theologians . . . are called upon to identify the causal link between the prayers to the servant of God and the healing."

      I have not seen the norms the theologians are to follow to give a judgment on how to link the servant of God and the healing.

      One essay I found says this (but it may be just speculation):

      The theological commission must also determine whether the miracle resulted through the intercession of the Servant of God alone. If the family and friends have been praying without cease to the Servant of God exclusively, then the case is demonstrated. However, if they have been praying to the Servant of God, to the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and others, then the case is clouded, and probably cannot be demonstrated. Thus, the task of the theological commission is two-fold, judge whether the cure was a miracle, and judge whether this miracle is due to the intercession of the Servant of God.

      Source: http://www.ewtn.com/johnpaul2/cause/process.asp

      • Susan

        I have not seen the norms the theologians are to follow to give a judgment on how to link the servant of God and the healing.

        The methodology used to arrive at that judgement is central to this subject.

        There's not much to say about it without that information.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I've asked a priest who is deeply involved in a different cause for beatification to comment. I suspect the answer is pretty simple. For example, did the person in need pray exclusively to the servant of God? Or if the person in need was not capable of praying, did those around him pray to a particular servant of God for help.

  • First of all it is unclear to me why a surgeon would be getting this condition as he would review X-rays not perform them. This why the condition is endemic in nurses and technicians.

    Second, radiodermititis seems to be radiation burns and I see nothing that's says it is fatal. It can lead to cancer, but there is no evidence of such a diagnosis until two a years after the cure and this by clergy investigating it, not independent medical examiners.

    Here is what is left out. What was the diagnosis in 1992? Radiodermitis? Or cancer. If it was cancer, when did it start? Certainly not in 1962 or in the 1980s. What treatment was prescribed in 1992? Was the patient going to have an amputation?

    There is far from enough information here to indicate that even anything anomalous occurred.

    • Sean Alderman

      First of all it is unclear to me why a surgeon would be getting this condition as he would review X-rays not perform them. This why the condition is endemic in nurses and technicians.

      I am no expert by any means, so you can take my anecdote with a grain of salt. I have suffered from chronic back pain for some time, until my immediate symptoms were resolved through surgery. During my pain management time and therapy time I received several corto-steroid epidural injections. In each injection, the doctor and a radiology technician used a horse shoe shaped x-ray machine that could be rotated around my body and adjusted as needed as the doctor used the live images to guide the needle into the epidural space in my back.

      EDIT: These procedures I had would take around 20 minutes. And while not relevant, I can say having that injection brought the 10 on my pain scale to a new high.

      The doctor and radiology tech wore lead vest coats and neck wraps, but their arms and hands were unprotected. Perhaps this or some other similar procedures over the course of a long surgical career would produce such exposure?

      • Point taken, couple at with the reference to poor equipment dr N mentions in his piece, I can concede the point. But i'd still liike to know more about why an orthopaedic surgeon would have so much exposeure, but its certainly plausible.

    • Raphael

      Dr. Nevado got his condition because his hands were exposed to X-rays as he conducted the orthopedic surgeries.

  • Danny Getchell

    It also appeared to exceed the powers of nature........a judgment of reason limited by our current, best understanding

    What would happen if, at some future time, our understanding of the "powers of nature" was expanded to include a medical explanation of what happened?

    Would the canonization remain in effect??

  • Okay I am learning more about this condition.

    See this article http://www.oncolink.org/resources/article.cfm?id=1050

    Indeed chronic radiodermititis can be fatal at stage 5. But note that Dr Nevado claims in his testimony that he had "hyperkeratotic plaques and ulcers of different sizes on those three fingers of my left hand"

    Ulcers would be consistent with very advanced stage 4. By this stage he would have suffered "total hair loss" (which maybe he did, on his hands) at stage 3 he would have had "Marked atrophy. Gross telangiectasia." But not ulcers.

    It seems dr N's concern was inconsistent with a stage 3 or 4 of this disease as he said he thought of going to a dermatologist but never got around to it.

  • David Nickol

    He stopped operating completely in the summer of 1992, but did not undergo any treatment.

    Having received my degree earlier this morning from the Google School of Dermatology, I am puzzled and troubled by the fact that a doctor with skin cancer did not undergo any treatment. There may be no "cure" for chronic radiodermatitis, but there certainly is treatment.

    It is unclear from the little information given whether Dr. Nevado was examined before or after the alleged cure. It is my understanding that the medical Consulta examines all medical records to determine the history of the patient and his treatment before the alleged miracle, but in this case how could there be any history to examine if Dr. Nevado sought no treatment? It seems like the diagnosis was established in 1997, well after the alleged cure in 1992-1993. ("On July 10, 1997, the Medical Committee of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously established the following diagnosis: a cancerous state of chronic radiodermatitis in its third and irreversible stage . . . .")

    The information presented here is really not sufficient to base any conclusions on, either for or against the process, or to determine if something unaccountable and medically inexplicable happened. But it is very strange indeed that a surgeon with a condition allegedly so severe that he could not use his hands did not seek treatment.

    • Raphael

      According to Dr. Nevado's wife, "he didn't apply any remedy, for really there was no adequate medical treatment to stop the development of damage resulting from chronic radiodermatitis."

      • David Nickol

        It appears to be true that "there was no adequate medical treatment to stop the development of damage resulting from chronic radiodermatitis." However, Dr. Nevado had developed skin cancer, and he is quoted as saying, "I was very much afraid that a metastasis might develop, which would have left me with no possible hope of recovery." Skin cancer is treatable. So why didn't he get treatment for cancer? Why would a doctor who has cancer and is afraid it will spread not get appropriate treatment?

        • Raphael

          Dr. Nevado would have just been treating the symptoms and not the disease of radiodermatitis itself.

    • Jimi Burden

      Hey don't knock Google Medical School. I diagnosed myself of two chronic conditions quite some time before the "real" doctors did -- and after considerable about of money spent on tests.

      • David Nickol

        Hey don't knock Google Medical School.

        I would never knock it. It's my alma mater!

  • Finally, I have to say that the information we are given on the canonical process of investigation is very brief. We do not know who gave evidence. Dr N suggests his wife and son as well as a couple of dermatologists he spoke to. Did the committee speak to them? What did they say? Was there a cross examination by a devil's advocate? Did an independent third party make the decision or was it made by a committee tasked with identifying new saints that has to believe in miracles? Were other causes for the symptoms considered? Were medical charts adduced? What did they say? What were the opinions of the 5 specialists? We're they catholic? Were they experts in dermatology or oncology?

    The reasons provided just tell us the conclusions of these doctors. I am not a doctor, but I do work with them as expert witnesses in legal proceedings. The questions above are the kind of information that we need to determine the diagnosis and extent of contested medical conditions. The information provided in this article does not even come close to establishing an independent and fair process for establishing the condition in the first place, mush less that it miraculously disappeared.

    And one last thing, Mr Aldrich notes two standards of proof in his piece, don't we know what standard is applied? Is it beyond reasonable doubt or reasonable suspicion or recourse to the best explanation on insufficient evidence?

    • Danny Getchell

      Was there a cross examination by a devil's advocate?

      Assuming that Wikipedia is correct on this, the office of "advocatus diaboli" was abolished by Pope JPII in 1983.

      Again per Wikipedia, only 98 canonizations took place from 1900 through 1983, as compared to 493 during the remainder of JPII's tenure.

      Any implication of causality I will leave to the reader.

  • David Nickol

    Something is a little confusing. Although it is true that chronic "radiodermatitis has no cure," we at the Google School of Dermatology do not find it to be accurate that "the disease is progressive and evolves inexorably, causing the appearance of skin cancers." It would seem that exposure to radiation can cause radiodermatitis but not skin cancer, and can also cause skin cancer without causing radiodermatitis. And although radiodermatitis has no cure, skin cancer does. Dr. Nevado said, "I was very much afraid that a metastasis might develop, which would have left me with no possible hope of recovery." If "radiodermatitis has no cure," Dr. Nevado had no hope of recovery from radiodermatitis. He must, therefore, be referring to skin cancer. He speaks as if he were aware that he had skin cancer, was afraid of it metastasizing, but limited his treatment if his hand to the use of Vaseline. If he did indeed have skin cancer, there are numerous ways it could have been treated and cured.

    Of course, Dr. Nevado could conceivably have had cancer and (inexplicably) have decided not to have it treated, turning to prayer instead. That makes it a very strange story, though.

  • David Nickol

    Regarding the saint-making process, there are some positive things to say about it. First, the doctors from the Consulta Medica, although all Catholic, are highly credentialed. They are experienced doctors and often medical professors or heads of the hospital departments in their area of specialty. Second, the doctors are not asked to declare that miracles have occurred. They are merely asked to determine whether a cure is medically inexplicable. Third, although Kevin did not mention it, certain diseases that are known to have inexplicable spontaneous remissions are simply not considered. It is well known that even some serious diseases (including certain types of cancer) sometimes go away for no known reason. Although it might be said that spontaneous remission of these diseases is medically inexplicable, it would be a stretch to conclude that in some cases a spontaneous remission is a miracle and in other cases it is a purely natural although currently inexplicable occurrence.

    On the other hand, five doctors vote as to whether a cure is medically inexplicable, and the vote does not have to be unanimous. It would seem to me that a cure is either medically inexplicable or it isn't, so why not require a unanimous vote? (How many votes are 4 to 1 or 3 to 2 I have no idea.) I also do not know if the Consulta Medica doctors know the the identity of the would-be-saint whose alleged miracle they are evaluating. If they do, a decision that can affect the outcome of the canonization of a popular or highly acclaimed figure such as a Mother Teresa, a Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, or a John Paul II might cause Consulta Medica doctors to feel pressured.

    Of course, for those who don't believe in miracles, any process is likely to look rather silly. Still, even if one doesn't believe in miracles, one can still acknowledge that inexplicable things do indeed happen, and the Catholic process for identifying those inexplicable things is reasonably well designed, although I don't thin we have enough information to judge how well it works in practice.

    To make the process more credible to skeptics, publishing all information gathered and all Consulta Medica reports would certainly help, but medical records are confidential, and the beneficiaries of alleged miracles would possibly be put in the kind of spotlight (especially with controversial candidates for sainthood like JPII) that few people would want to deal with.

    • Any medical records before the Consulta would have to be obtained through consent of the patient in the first place, and there would be no need to publish the names of the patients or the details of the condition.

      What would help would be eg. 'The Consulta experts had access to the full medical chart of Dr N's family physician and specialists, these showed a diagnosis of stage 3 radiodermatitis. The physicians notes indicate symptoms of..."

      This would be very different than "the consulta accepted Dr n's statement that he was in stage 3 radiodermatitis two years ago, but he showed no symptoms upon present examination."

      We don't know what they looked at to accept his status in 1992, I am not convinced he was that bad or that he had the condition the Consulta accepted.

  • I'm taking a short moment to return and say: Nice article, Kevin. Thanks for writing it.

    Concerning (1) and (3), a miracle being extraordinary and hard to explain, I wonder if there's a threshold of probability for something being a miracle. Does it have to be 1 in 100 odds? 1 in 1000? After all, the cure, any medical cure, doesn't defy any current natural explanation, because basic statistical physics could result in a definitive and complete cure of any disease (or even death, possibly). Simple random rearrangement of molecules of sick cells into healthy cells is possible. It's just very unlikely.

    So how unlikely must something be for it to be considered a miracle?

  • Sample1

    A fascinating account of an apparent remission and I couldn't be happier for the patient.

    Mike

    • David Nickol

      Tell me, why aren't miracles ever considered an adjunct to science-based medicine?

      Well, in this case, the patient received no medical treatment. (Or at least this is what is claimed. As I have said, why a doctor would let skin cancer go untreated is something that will have to be clarified in order for this story to be credible.)

      And to be fair, if a patient is treated and cured, the Consulta Medica doctors should review the patient's medical history, conclude that treatment was successful, and disqualify the cure from being classified as miraculous. However, in the case that was used in the beatification of Mother Teresa, the patient's doctors along with her husband, insisted that her cure was the result of medical treatment, and apparently the Vatican doctors disagreed. Those skeptical of miracles can hardly be blamed for wondering if the process was faulty in at least that one case, and perhaps in others as well.

      • Sample1

        Thanks for the reply, it has helped me think more about formulating a better investigation of this claim.

        Mike

  • Michael Murray

    The wikipedia article on spontaneous remission is interesting

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spontaneous_remission

    Given that we know it is possible although rare I don't see how we can ever conclude which ones are miracles.

    • Raphael

      How many spontaneous remissions were of chronic radiodermatitis?

      • Susan

        How many spontaneous remissions were of chronic radiodermatitis?

        What's the magic number, the one that means something is a miracle?

        What are the criteria?

        If something terrible happens that rarely happens, it's not a miracle.

        If something good happens that rarely happens and no one is praying for it, it's not a miracle.

        What's a miracle? How do we recognize one?

        Note: This story is too murky to know what happened.

        This one, not so much:

        After Mother Teresa's death in 1997, the Holy See began the process of beatification, the third step toward possible canonisation. This process requires the documentation of a miracle performed from the intercession of Mother Teresa.[109]

        In 2002, the Vatican recognised as a miracle the healing of a tumor in the abdomen of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, after the application of a locket containing Mother Teresa's picture. Besra said that a beam of light emanated from the picture, curing the cancerous tumor. Critics—including some of Besra's medical staff and, initially, Besra's husband—said that conventional medical treatment had eradicated the tumor.[110] Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, who told The New York Times he had treated Besra, said that the cyst was not cancer at all but a cyst caused by tuberculosis. He said, "It was not a miracle.... She took medicines for nine months to one year."[111] According to Besra's husband, "My wife was cured by the doctors and not by any miracle."[112]

        An opposing perspective of the claim is that Besra's medical records contain sonograms, prescriptions, and physicians' notes that could prove whether the cure was a miracle or not. Besra has claimed that Sister Betta of the Missionaries of Charity is holding them. The publication has received a "no comments" statement from Sister Betta. The officials at the Balurghat Hospital where Besra was seeking medical treatment have claimed that they are being pressured by the Catholic order to declare the cure a miracle.

        • Raphael

          Did you mean to reply to a different post? I was asking about the spontaneous remission of chronic radiodermatitis.

      • Michael Murray

        I have no idea. It would be interesting to know.

      • Michael Murray

        Google gives me this article

        http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/path.1700640415/abstract

        and this one

        http://www.opusdei.ie/art.php?p=2504

        claiming that there are no references in the medical literature.

    • stevegbrown

      It is an interesting article. It doesn't mention the stage at which the regression occurs. It would seem to make a big difference if regression occurred AFTER metastasis when the cancer cells travel to other tissue types. When you get tumors in the brain, the game is pretty much over.

      • David Nickol

        It doesn't mention the stage at which the regression occurs.

        Dr. Nevado has said, "I was very much afraid that a metastasis might develop, which would have left me with no possible hope of recovery. But that did not happen."* So we know that if Nevado did indeed have radiodermatitis and skin cancer, the cancer did not metastasize. As I have mentioned before, while it is true that there is no treatment to reverse radiodermatitis, skin cancer can and should be treated, and it can be cured. If he was "very much afraid that a metastasis might develop," it does not make sense that he did not seek treatment.

        ________
        *Of course, if there can be a miraculous cure of "a cancerous state of chronic radiodermatitis in its third and irreversible stage," then surely there can be a cure even if the cancer has metastasized. So the statement is a bit puzzling.

        • stevegbrown

          Thanks David, Agreed.

  • Mike

    I'd like to thank Kevin for the well written and informative article. This topic has been of interest to me for sometime, but I've never had the time to thoroughly investigate the matter. I think this is possibly evidence for God's action in the physical world that many skeptics desire.

    Although I'm a practicing Catholic I also share some of the concerns raised by many here, especially concerning the objectivity of the investigation. While I trust the Vatican on the matter I can appreciate why others would not. I think it would go further for those outside the Vatican

    Likewise, I think there may be cases where recoveries were declared miraculously incorrectly, I'm hesitant to generalize that statement to all miraculous recoveries. I would prefer to personally evaluate them individually. Even if a tiny fraction of the inextricable recoveries are indeed miraculous it would be evidence for God.

    Once again, thank you Kevin for the article.

  • The job of the advisory theologians is to identify “the causal link between the prayers to the servant of God and the healing..." ... According to Hardon, a miracle is (1) an extraordinary event, (2) which can be perceived by the senses, (3) which exceeds the powers of nature, and (4) is performed by God.

    For determining (4) and making at least some attempt to avoid the base rate fallacy, what prior probability (either qualitative with their intuitions or quantitative with medical statistics) do the advisory theologians assign to the cure being caused by God versus by any of all other unknown natural and non-natural phenomena?

    • David Nickol

      I think it is safe to say that the theologians do not use statistical methods to determine the probabilities of miraculous cures. They do not approach miracles as events that a so unlikely that evidence for them must be so overwhelming it would convert unbelievers. They take it for granted that miracles occur all the time. Their role is not to prove that miracles really happen. It is to determine whether something already assumed to be a miracle is indeed a miracle, and to determine who gets "credit."

      If someone has cancer, undergoes chemotherapy, and the cancer shrinks and disappears, it is quite reasonable to assume that the chemotherapy cured the cancer. Likewise, for those who already believe in prayer, intercession, and miraculous cures, if they pray for a miraculous healing and a healing takes place that medical doctors say cannot be accounted for by medical science, then it is quite naturally (and reasonably) taken to be a miracle. If you already believe that miracles are, in some very real sense, "normal" occurrences, it would make no sense to use mathematics to calculate their probability.

      • If you already believe that miracles are, in some very real sense, "normal" occurrences, it would make no sense to use mathematics to calculate their probability.

        That's not quite accurate. There's just no way to avoid using priors in making a decision where there is some uncertainty. Recall that I didn't demand the use of statistics; it would be equally acceptable to know their priors in terms of qualitative intuitions. They still need to have some sense, before gathering evidence, of how likely it was an unexplained cure is caused by God versus being caused by anything else (natural or non-natural). Otherwise there would be no point to them interviewing people or examining the matter at all, because only uncertainties can be changed by new evidence.

        Given that, I take this sentence of yours...

        Likewise, for those who already believe in prayer, intercession, and miraculous cures, if they pray for a miraculous healing and a healing takes place that medical doctors say cannot be accounted for by medical science, then it is quite naturally (and reasonably) taken to be a miracle.

        ...to express your view of what their priors are. Basically, an unexplained cure is presumed highly likely to be a miracle, and is only rejected if the evidence is clearly opposed.

        Now if that's how it works, then (even without them going through any formal math) it does seem like a rational process to me. There's still disagreement, of course, but it's more about how likely we should suppose miracles to be, and not about any accusations of faulty thinking.

        By the same token, since they are starting from an assumption that miracles are quite likely (i.e. their belief is conditioned on the existence of God, the effectiveness of prayer, etc) and categorizing some unexplained cures as miracles on that basis, they can't validly turn it around and use the miracles as evidence in favor of God. It would be a circular argument.

        (If they wanted to use miraculous cures as evidence for God, they could do so. They'd just need to start with priors that don't assume the answer from the outset.)

        • David Nickol

          . . . . they can't validly turn it around and use the miracles as evidence in favor of God . . .

          I agree completely, but they don't do this, at least not in the saint-making process as Kevin outlines it here. They use miracles only as evidence that the deceased candidate for beatification and canonization is actually in heaven and can effectively intercede with God to obtain from him the fulfillment of a request made by (or on behalf of) a sick person for that person to get well. I don't think Kevin's intention in writing his post was to try to convince atheists that the alleged recovery of Dr. Nevado is proof of God's existence. He was doing it to show there was a systematic and "rational" process by which the Catholic Church determines whether a miracle has occurred and who gets "credit" for it.

          Of course, the following is perfectly rational:

          All men have wings.

          Alonzo is a man.

          Alonzo has wings.

          Once certain premises are accepted, even if they are dubious or patently false, you can build a "rational," logically coherent system based on them.

          Apart from the saint-making process, I think believers can use particular miracles to argue for the existence of the supernatural and possibly for the existence of God. I think it is a perfectly reasonable position, given what I know about reality, to maintain that miracles don't happen. However, if I were to go back in a time machine, become a follower of Jesus, and witness with my own eyes that the alleged miracles recorded in the Gospels actually happened exactly as described, I don't think I would have any problem accepting that miracles occurred.

          I read one account on the Internet claiming that Dr. Nevado's hand instantly lost all traces of cancerous radiodermatitis when he prayed. That is not consistent with Dr. Nevado's own account. I think a truly instantaneous cure of just about any physical disease would qualify as a miracle in my book. That is how cures are described in the Bible, but to the best of my knowledge, there is no documented case of a truly instantaneous healing in modern times.

          From a scientific (and skeptical) perspective, it seems to me "miraculous" healings, unless they are truly instantaneous and and dramatic, are poor candidates as convincing miracles. Chronic radiodermatitis doesn't clear up in a matter of weeks, but many other skin conditions do. How do we know the diagnosis was correct? Or how do we know that in rare cases, chronic radiodermatitis can't go into remission? There is plenty of room for skepticism in this very incomplete account. But if Dr. Nevado had a well documented case of chronic radiodermatitis plus skin cancer, and if, say, all traces of it vanished in a flash before the eyes of his doctors the instant he recited the prayer from the prayer card he was handed, that would be an excellent candidate for a true miracle.

          • Mike

            This may not satisfy a skeptic, but I think there are several coincidences with a second miracle attributed to JPII. It involved a brain aneurysm was an overnight recovery. Although cancer does go into remission sometimes, I'm not aware of any other circumstances where blood vessels heal themselves overnight like that. I'd love if the public could see the brain scans before and after to satisfy skeptics, and I'm curious as well.

            For the second miracle to count for his canonization it needed to occur after his beatification (which I think is after the beatification mass), say Noon Rome time. This particular account is reported to have occurred the same night (maybe 18 hours later). Now I'll admit I love JPII, I can think of no one holier that I've seen in my lifetime, so I'm biased, but it would seem to be quick work even for him. I would think the probability of inextricable healing when someone prays to him 18 hours after the clock starts for his canonization is small.

          • David Nickol

            Although cancer does go into remission sometimes, I'm not aware of any other circumstances where blood vessels heal themselves overnight like that.

            See Disappearing Saccular Intracranial Aneurysms: Do They Really Disappear? The answer is yes, they do. Also see Spontaneous cure of intracranial aneurysm.

            According to the account I found, on an unspecified date in 2011, Floribeth Mora Diaz was sent home from the hospital having been told her aneurism was inoperable. On May 1 she improved dramatically, and on November 11, she had medical tests that showed the aneurism was gone. So there is no evidence the aneurism was there one day and gone the next.

          • Mike

            Hi David,

            Thanks for the correction. Always good to learn something new.

          • Susan

            Always good to learn something new.

            I agree. Thanks to links by ,many here (catholics and atheists), it seems that orthopedic surgeons can be exposed to radiation as part of what they do.

            I never thought about it.

  • Peter Piper

    A question reflecting my ignorance: I thought that, according to Catholic thought, God was in some sense the cause of everything. So what is the distinction between this and the particular way God must be the cause of an event for it to be a miracle?

    • David Nickol

      So what is the distinction between this and the particular way God must be the cause of an event for it to be a miracle?

      God is thought to be in control of virtually everything that exists, but without his intervention, the physical world runs according to "the laws of nature." It is a fundamental assumption that such things as diseases usually are governed by the laws of nature. In fact, it is a fundamental assumption that basically everything in the physical world usually acts according to the laws of nature. If this were not the case, could not depend on the law of gravity, we could not assume our lights would go on when we flip the switch, and we would not assume when we booked a flight that the airplane would actually go up in the air.

      Think of God as an elementary school phys ed coach who invents a game for students to play to improve their physical health. He makes up the rules and the students play by the rules. Occasionally, though, without changing the rules, he intervenes in a game to better achieve the purpose of the game for the particular students playing the game. As the inventor of the game, as the teacher of the class, and of as the person who has invented the game for a particular end, he has the authority to override the rules to better achieve his ends. But when he does intervene, everyone knows the rules have been suspended. If he intervenes constantly, for trivial reasons, the game ceases to be an authentic game, since the rules become meaningless and playing the game becomes pointless. So he is like God working a miracle, intervening in the world against the normally governing rules. He can do it for a good reason, but if he does it too often, nobody can trust the rules.

      • Peter Piper

        You seem to be saying that the criterion is that miracles should exceed the powers of nature. But this is the issue I was getting confused about: for example, in the first definition, the miracle should both `exceed the powers of nature' and be `performed by God', so it seems whoever wrote this definition intended to make an additional distinction by saying it should be performed by God. The other definitions similarly seem to intend an additional distinction. Does anyone have any idea what this distinction might be?

        • David Nickol

          in the first definition, the miracle should both `exceed the powers of nature' and be `performed by God', so it seems whoever wrote this definition intended to make an additional distinction by saying it should be
          performed by God.

          The definition Kevin gives is as follows:

          In theological language, a miracle is an extraordinary event, performed by God, which can be perceived by the senses and which exceeds the powers of nature.

          To me that does not imply that there are extraordinary events which can be perceived by the senses and which exceed the powers of nature that are not performed by God.

          I suppose that some may believe the devil can perform miracles. Kevin's source, Fr. John Hardon, does some hairsplitting and says they can't. In any case, it seems to be universally agreed that the devil (if such a being exists) cannot do anything that God does not permit him to do. For believers, it strikes me they would find it highly unlikely that the devil would be permitted to work a miracle (or do anything at all) that would fool the Church's Congregation for the Causes of Saints to canonize an unworthy person and/or one of the damned.

          • Peter Piper

            Thanks, David. That is very clear. What do you make of the following quote from the OP?

            (4) That leaves “performed by God.” This point goes to Di Ruberto’s definition that a miracle is “realized by God...by the intercession of a servant of God or a blessed.” The judgment that anything is actually performed by God is a judgment of reason even if you are the pope. Anyone who wants to can judge either way based on one’s assumptions and how compelling the evidence is.

    • Randall Ward

      In a miracle, God pulls back the vail of the curse that the sin of the world has ushered in, just as he did when the Son of God came to earth to save us. God gives another view of the perfect world waiting for us, by creating a miracle that pierces the vail of sin on the world.

      • Susan

        MIracle claims are everywhere. Catholic miracle claims are just a drop in the bucket.
        How do we know a deity's involved and which deity?
        What are the criteria? How do they stand out from rare, happy events that involved prayer?
        There are rare, unhappy events.
        There are rare, benign events.
        There are rare, happy events that don't involve prayer.
        In all kinds of religions, there are rare, happy events that are attributed to the supernatural.
        There are rare, happy events that do involve prayer that happen to be connected to your religion.
        Also, people make stuff up and people see what they want to see.
        So, how do we know we have a miracle? Is Yahweh any more effective than Vishnu?

        • Randall Ward

          It is not we, Susan, but you. Jesus said; "I am the truth, the life and the way", He also said their is no other way. I am a Christian and there is no confusion in my mind. I prayed and pray for faith in Jesus and He gave it to me; that is all I need to know.
          We all make our own choices, but the way is always open to Jesus, as long as your are alive.

        • Andy Thomas

          Hi Susan, just wondering, how did you come to the conclusion that Catholic miracle claims are just a drop in the bucket? You seem to be confident in suggesting that the majority of miracle claims are outside the context of Catholicism. Interested in your data, thanks

      • Peter Piper

        I'm not entirely sure what you mean, but I'll try to put it in my own words. You seem to be saying that in order to be a miracle the event must be good. Is this your complete criterion: that is, is the distinction that miracles are the good inexplicable events?

        • Randall Ward

          The reason you don't know what I mean is the same reason a fifth grader doesn't understand a calculus problem. To understand deeper questions about things of God, you must study and pray for years. No one can pour the knowledge of God on you like honey on a biscuit. You must let God open your eyes slowly as you learn.
          When I became a christian I wanted to know everything, as I was very excited about everything concerning God. I read and read and finally came to realize there was a lot to learn, so I relaxed and let God show me as I studied, prayed and listened. Many years later I only know what God has shown me, but he is the teacher. Keep seeking and the door will be opened, but it may be a different door from what you think. He will give you answers he wants you to have, and maybe not the answers you seek, but that will be enough because he knows what you need.

          • Peter Piper

            Thanks for that advice, Randall. Now that you have seen more clearly how far I am from being able to follow you, would you be happy to try to explain what you were saying earlier more slowly (that is, at a level at which I might begin to understand)? Even if you think I won't completely get it, maybe there are some helpful thoughts you can pass on.

          • Randall Ward

            No, I can't help you, if indeed I have helped you, any more. The Lord will help you every day, just keep your eyes and your heart open.

          • Peter Piper

            Ok. Thanks again for your advice.

          • Randall Ward

            I thought of a couple of things that might help you. The first is to buy the movie "Jesus of Nazareth" with Robert Powel as Jesus and watch it over and over, expecially the second disk. The movie was made very carefully and has many things in it that will sink in if you watch it enough. I know it sounds dumb, but you will see what I mean if you will watch it, hundreds of times.
            The second is hard to explain, but I will try. When people become christians or try to get closer to God, everything Satan has is thrown against you, he will do anything to try to stop you from really believing. Satan and the world are much smarter than we are and the ways he uses are twisted and devious. We can never prevail against him. When I became a real christian, I tried hard to live a christian life and failed in ever way. Finally the Lord showed me that I did not have to worry, that he was bringing me to believe in him, and that my efforts could actually get in the way. We are not God and only God has lived a good life on earth

          • Randall Ward

            continue from below; Don't concentrate so much on behavior, God will help you with that and you won't even know how you changed. But think of one thing; Satan will tell you; you cannot really believe, he will tell you that the truth is you don't believe, not you- that is for those other people that are better than you. When that lie comes to you; realize where it comes from, it doesn't come from you or Jesus- it is from satan. Jesus loves you just as you really are; as you really are. You may have great sin in your heart, but it doesn't matter, but satan wants you to think it does matter. When I was a new believer I would say "I cast that thought into the outer darknesss in the name of Jesus". I have said it over and over for 15 minutes before, just to remind satan and myself of the truth that Jesus saves me, I do not save me.
            I know this sounds a little crazy but this is where the battle takes place; at the tip of the spear, the small tip where satan works. He will not tell you god doesn't exist, no big stuff, no he will work on the very inner being.
            Hope this helps, if not now at sometime in the future.

          • David Nickol

            No, I can't help you . . .

            It seems to me that Jesus, whom Christians worship as the Son of God, was called "rabbi" (teacher) and constantly answered questions even from those who were hostile to him and were trying to trap him. I don't recall him ever saying something like, "The reason you don't know what I mean is the same reason a fifth grader doesn't understand a calculus
            problem."

          • Randall Ward

            You misunderstand me. I agree with you that when people asked Jesus questions he answered some of them, not all of them. But I am not Jesus and his questions should be directed at Jesus, who is always with us. As it says in the OT; there will come a time that you will not need a teacher, but I will teach every man myself- The lord.

    • Hegesippus

      It depends what you mean by 'the cause of everything'. If you choose to bang your head on a brick wall, did God cause you to do it? I suggest that you chose to do it. God gave us free will, not an antenna.

    • Scott Fahle

      I am a relatively new Catholic, so I don't make any claims of being a theologian. However, I believe there is a difference between God's sustaining work, in which He keeps the universe running, and his super natural work.

      I think we would say that God has established the physical laws of the universe to maintain it, but that He may choose to break those laws whenever He wants. When He does so, we call it a miracle.

      • Peter Piper

        So what would you say is the difference? Would you say that the distinction you are pointing to is that miracles break the laws of nature?

  • Randall Ward

    God heals thousands of times every day all over the world. A few of them are recognized by the Catholic Church, but the largest part of them are not within the Catholic Church. In the non-Catholic world it is expected that God will heal but in the Catholic world the truth that God always wants to heal has been lost to a great extent. Satan is a disease and an angel; he is death itself and yet the latest Catechism barely mentions Satan. The Catechism of the council of Trent from 1563 is full of pages about Satan. Pope Benedict 16th, called the C of the council of Trent the most important catechism.

    • Sample1

      Satan is a disease? Funny you mention that as I was just thinking about devils and demons yesterday. I wondered to myself (granted only for a moment) that if Augustine of Hippo knew about lifeless prions in his century might he have constructed his explanation of evil not as an "absence of the good" but rather in pathogenic terms instead?

      Mike

  • Hegesippus

    The usual dismissals are offered. As there are several groups, covering the medical and scientific fields as well as theological, with each working carefully with their reputations at stake, no error can be allowed to creep in, whether through carelessness or wishful thinking. However, the tone of many comments is that there is fraud on a grand-scale occurring, just because their a priori position is that God does not exist.

    Too often Christians have evidence demanded of them. And when evidence is offered, it is treated with ongoing cynicism. This is not compatible with a scientific mind. It would be good perhaps for some to admit that, as they can only offer a priori negativity, showing no respect to professionals, not those who have suffered terrible illness, there are some phenomena that may well point to supernatural causes. It is surely only a closed (unscientific) mind that cannot do this.

    • Sample1

      May I ask why the Catholic Church even cares that rigorous scientific methodology is at least consulted when examining claims for the miraculous?

      Why doesn't the Magisterium just proclaim it a miracle and be done with it?

      This suggest to me that Catholicism needs science more than science needs Catholicism. Science is a culture of doubt; appeals to arguments from ignorance can't be tolerated.

      Mike

      • Hegesippus

        By reading up on the history of science, you will hopefully discover the very close links between scientific discovery and research and the Catholic Church. I'm fairly sure that this has already been covered on this website.

        The Church has always been careful not to consider a miracle to have occurred unless it is very sure. There has been no "miracle" proclaimed, then later discovered to be false, to the best of my knowledge. That no such event is used to try to discredit the Church suggests that this has not occurred.

        BTW, the a priori position that Church and science are quite separate is not helpful to knowing about processes such as described in the article.

        • Sample1

          My observation isn't about denying a link between Catholics who are and who have contributed to the scientific quest.

          Perhaps I should ask you if you think the canonization process is infallible? In other words, are sainthoods infallible pronouncements?

          I think this is an important question for me to have answered so I can explain my "Church needs science more than science needs Church" statement more thoroughly.

          Thanks,

          Mike, faith-free

          • Hegesippus

            I would suggest, Mike, that you really are not 'faith-free'. You have faith in your "science", which trumps all reality, you have faith in your beliefs (so far erroneous here) about the Catholic Church and I suggest you consider what this means rather than try to dig into the idea of infallibility in the Catholic Church.

            To 'ask why the Catholic Church even cares that rigorous scientific methodology is at least consulted' suggests that you have a serious issue with the compatibility of faith and science. But you then claim that you 'denying a link between Catholics who are and who have contributed to the scientific quest'. You wouldn't be trying that claim that they just so happened to be Catholic, would you? The same position that tries to place a wedge between individual Catholics and the Church? It might be worthwhile reading up on the ongoing contribution that the Church makes to scientific discovery and thought, and also what said individuals have to say about their faith being integral to them.

            At this point, I am wondering what the word 'infallible' actually means to you and what you intend to do with it. And I must ask that, should you find that the Church and its infallibility is not compatible with the faith you have shown, and is indeed discovered to be far more robust and trustworthy than your beliefs, will you hold Christianity as true?

            If the answer is "no", then I must ask whether you are objective, or tied to a priori beliefs.

          • Sample1

            Hegesippus,

            The old "faith in science" canard has been answered many times on this site and shown to be problematic. Unfortunately many of the best atheist arguments have been deleted but I'm sure if you peruse around you can still find a few. I'm reticent to go over it again if only to have my post erased.

            To quote Q. Quine, I will say that I am not a person of faith but rather have reasonable expectations based on prior evidence.

            I think you misread my comment about the Church and scientists. I don't deny a link exists.

            Mike

          • Hegesippus

            To claim you need not deal with a key point as it has been covered elsewhere is fine, but I direct you to the teachings of the First Vatican Council regarding 'infallibility'. That was dealt with there.

            So you (and Quine?) have 'reasonable expectations based on prior evidence' regarding the Church and science? Are these actually indicative of the Church long, close and continuing journey with science? As the Church recognised the staggering revelation of the Incarnation, which, against many ancient beliefs, brought the physical realm into a respectable state in human understanding, this might illustrate exactly why the Church deeply cares about "getting it right", never mind her reputation for indeed "getting it right".

            You seem to have missed my second paragraph which pointed out that you did cast the Catholic Church's connection to science in a bad light. Maybe you need to address that.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Mike, the Church cares about science because she cares about truth.

        Since modern science arose from Christianity, a claim like "Catholicism needs science more than science needs Catholicism" is only impressively sounding rhetoric.

        • Sample1

          Church cares about science because she cares about truth.

          Does the Church care that Transubstantiation isn't a scientifically supportable claim?

          Mike, faith-free

          • Hegesippus

            If I may, Kevin,

            Mike, at what point has the Church claimed that Transubstantiation is scientifically supported? That's where the supernatural bit comes in.

            However, concerning evidence, how does "science" deal with observable evidence such as at Lanciano?

          • Sample1

            I think with all miraculous claims it's fun to play the flawed Lunatic, Liar, Lord strategy of Chesterton but phrased a little differently.

            What is more plausible here? A naturalistic explanation exists but is currently unknown or that one of the gods worshiped by our species turned bread into living flesh centuries ago?

            Forgive me, but I am keeping the skepticism of science, something I've been recently told the Church cares about, alive and well with my simple question.

            Mike, faith-free

          • Hegesippus

            Several issues, Mike.

            I do not recall a 'naturalistic explanation' in the article. Assuming I'm correct, what information do you have that the experts who studied this case did not have, or what did they cover up?

            Why do you feel the need to bolster your claim (above) with polemical points intended only to mock? Who are they aimed at? Does it happen, in your 'reasonable expectations based on prior evidence' that Christians put up their hands and surrender at the first sign of mockery, or is it just a tactic?

            Your final sentence needs an edit; really not sure what you're saying there.

            Chesterton was great, but that was Lewis. And it's not flawed. Read Redford.

          • Sample1

            Mocking? If that's your opinion of my posts, then perhaps I should take a break and re-examine them. It is not my intention to mock here. Another time.

            Thanks for the author correction, indeed.

            Mike, faith-free.

          • Hegesippus

            'one of the gods worshiped by our species turned bread into living flesh centuries ago?'

            This paints the central tenet of Catholicism as relativistic, ascientific, event-singular and at best legend, suggesting fictionality.

            'Transubstantiation' was better.

            If you cannot see my point, try this depiction of atheistic beliefs:

            "Contemporaneously fashionable, claiming a rationalistic monopoly with no philosophical pedigree beyond scepticism."

            Deliberately close enough to bog down in nit-picking and most assuredly negative.

          • Sample1

            one of the gods worshiped by our species turned bread into living flesh centuries ago?

            I'm sorry you see it that way, if there is something incorrect in my post please address it specifically.

            Mike, faith-free

          • Hegesippus

            Catholicism is the faith that developed Europe beyond the barbarian invasions.

            The Christian God is so utterly unlike any other God in history that the only similarity is that God (name) is the same word as god (anthropomorphic deity). If you are not aware of this then please look into it as it is deeply important if you desire to be accurate in debating Christians. Like you dealing with someone who thinks you worship "Athe".

            If you are at all aware of what Transubstantiation is then you will be aware that it is an event repeated at every Mass over the las two millennia. If you did not know that, then it would be very worthwhile learning the basics about what Catholics believe. Like you dealing with someone who thinks you find all the answers in skyence, somewhere up there.

            Really, it may seem daft to write like this, but there are those who do not have accurate enough understanding to argue effectively with Catholics, thus furiously destroying inadvertent straw men, and those who happily target deliberate straw men. For the sake of decency and faith in humanity , I always assume the former until the latter is evident.

          • Sample1

            I've enjoyed our give and go. Thanks for the conversation.

            Mike, faith-free

          • Hegesippus

            Cheers, Mike, best wishes.

          • Susan

            Deliberately close enough to bog down in nit-picking and most assuredly negative.

            I don't see the connection between these two statements:

            Mike's statement:

            'one of the gods worshiped by our species turned bread into living flesh centuries ago?'>

            The claim is also that this particular god continues to do this and there may be more that Mike and are missing. Transubstantiation is pretty foggy. What has Mike got wrong?

            "Contemporaneously fashionable, claiming a rationalistic monopoly with no philosophical pedigree beyond scepticism."

            The first point is irrelevant, not necessarily accurate and wrapped it editorial terms. It's a judgement meant to make it sound frivolous. Not an effort to define a position.

            The second is inaccurate. How is not believing in gods a claim of holding a rationalistic monopoly?

            The third is just confusing. Does it mean that catholic believers are philosophically pedigreed and atheists aren't? That all atheist philosophers are only familiar with scepticism?

            None of your points resemble Mike's. They are all straw men.

            Now, if you think that Mike is erecting a strawman, please correct him. It would be more useful to the discussion.

          • Jimi Burden

            Actually, Mike, this god is turning wafers into flesh daily across the globe right now as we speak.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            This is getting off topic.

            Transubstantiation is rationally and theologically supportable.

            It is also partly scientifically supportable. The doctrine states that the bread and wine retain all the normal appearances of bread and wine. It's pretty evident that they do.

          • Sample1

            I can keep it on topic because what I wanted to call into question is just how important is scientific methodology to the formulation of Catholic claims?

            Not a fair question?

            Mike, faith-free

          • Hegesippus

            Science does the physical, metaphysics does that which is beyond. Theology does the integration because God created both. They were joined in the Incarnation.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is a fair question.

          • Jimi Burden

            Thanks, Kevin, you just made me spit my tea out all over my keyboard. Whatever transubstantiation may be, it certainly isn't "rational" much less scientific. It's even theologically dubious, but that's another longer discussion that you can have with one of your protestant brothers.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Glad to bring some cheer, Jimi.

            Christ said, "This is my body," "This is my blood," and "Do this in memory of me." If Christ is God he is quite capable of changing the substance of bread and the substance of wine into his body, blood, soul, and divinity when a priest says those words.

            That, briefly, is the rational and theological support you think is impossible.

          • Jimi Burden

            I suppose if it were that simple those hundreds of millions of protestants might agree with you. To take a few obscure references in the NT and then arrive at the modern day Catholic doctrine is quite a leap. Jesus said and did many strange things. He's an enigma, a lot which is caused the scarcity of what is known about him.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The modern day Catholic doctrine is there from the beginning, in the Fathers of the Church, in the middle ages, right up to today. It was not invented by the Church anytime recently.

            I've actually never understood why anyone finds it difficult to understand and defend. If you have time, maybe you can try to explain it.

          • Jimi Burden

            Kevin... I'm going out on a limb here and guessing you're a cradle catholic. If you didn't grow up with this idea, it's very strange. I'll admit it's defendable, but really it's a faith issue. I think Pitre did a great job with his recent book Jesus and The Jewish Roots of the Eucharist.

          • I am a protestant convert to Catholicism. I can tell you that many converts are motivated by the Eucharist. Many are surprised to see how clear scripture is. Then when they see that the historical church accepted that for so long as well it is quite compelling. Convincing many protestant pastors to commit professional suicide and become Catholic.

          • David Nickol

            Many are surprised to see how clear scripture is.

            I think many of us (including former Catholics) are surprised to hear an assertion that scripture is clear on the matter of the Eucharist. Could you explain why you think it is? As I mentioned to Kevin, it took over a millennium to come to even the most basic decisions about the eucharist. Sacramental theology didn't develop into the form we recognize it in today until the middle ages. It is very easy to say scripture is clear on various matters, but it wasn't at all clear in the early Church.

          • This is just false. St Thomas developed the doctrine of transubstantiation in the middle ages. It existed since the beginning. Try this: http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/father/a5.html

          • David Nickol

            This is just false.

            It is not clear what you are referring to when you say "this."

            St Thomas developed the doctrine of transubstantiation in the middle ages. It existed since the beginning.

            Again, I am not sure what you are saying. If St. Thomas developed the doctrine of transubstantiation in the Middle Ages, how could it have existed from the beginning? Are you trying to say transubstantiation took place beginning at the Last Supper and afterwards, but St. Thomas figured it out and explained it in the Middle Ages? If so, the doctrine itself still originated in the Middle Ages. As I said, St. Paul would have been mystified by Aquinas's explanation. If one accepts that transubstantiation is true, it is still a doctrine that was not formulated until the Middle Ages. Newton's Laws of Motion, Darwin's Theory of Evolution, and Einstein's Theory of Relativity were all true billions of years before Newton, Darwin, and Einstein lived. However, it would not make sense to say people believed in these theories before they were formulated, even though each one identified things that were true well before they were formulated. To reiterate, St. Paul could not have believed in transubstantiation any more than he could have believed in Newton's Laws of Motion. St. Paul may or may not have believed in some form of the real presence, but transubstantiation and the real presence and definitely not synonyms.

            Perhaps this passage from Doors to the Sacred will be less alarming:

            The fathers of the church had also spoken of a change in the bread and wine, and they referred to the change in a variety of terms: transmutation, transfiguration, transelementation, transformation. But their chief concern was not with explaining how the change was effected but with the affirming that it did in fact occur. For this reason they were usually content to say that the change in the elements took place by the power of God. If they tried to explain anything it was the presence of Christ in the eucharistic liturgy and in the brad and wine after the consecration, and those who did it were satisifed with an answer in terms of Platonic philosophy. But the scholastics were not Platonists, and even since the days of Radbert and Berengar the question of the nature of Christ's presence had become connected with the question of the nature of the change that brought it about.

            The schoolmen through the early 1200s proposed three different explanations of how the bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ. . . .

            Very briefly, they were consubstantiation (in which both realities—that is, bread and wine plus body and blood); "succession" of realities (in which the elements changed, but there was no explanation for why they still looked like bread and wine; and transubstantiation, which Aquinas was not the first to propose but which he developed so fully that we associate it with him. Along with this came new theories of what the eucharistic celebration was, which quite dramatically changed the understanding and purpose of the mass. This is quite fascinating. Here is just a little bit.

            Thus by the end of the Middle Ages the mass had been transformed from an act of public worship to a form of clerical prayer. Instead of being offered once a week as in patristic times, it was offered many times each day. Instead of being concelebrated by the bishop and his assistant priests it was said simultaneously in the same church by many priests. Instead of being a service of scriptural readings followed by a communion service, it was a symbolic sacrifice in which the readings were not heard and communion was not distributed. Although Sunday masses still continued to be attended by the faithful, the vast majority of masses were ones that were paid for by the people and said by the priests on weekdays. By and large the mass had become a "good work" performed by priests for the spiritual benefit of the church. This was the mass that the reformers knew, and this was the mass that many of them rejected.

            It certainly was a far cry from the early days (centuries, actually) when the Lord's Supper was celebrated by groups of people who knew each other meeting in each others' homes and actually eating together.

          • David Nickol

            From your linked article:

            Many Catholics and non-Catholics alike think that the Roman Catholic Church invented the doctrine of transubstantiation.

            Of course the Church invented the doctrine of transubstantiation, just as Einstein invented the Theory of Relativity and Darwin invented the Theory of Evolution. As I said above, real presence and transubstantiation are not synonyms. In a very real sense, the Church invented the notion of the real presence, too. This should be something the most adamant atheist and the most devout Catholic believer should be able to agree on. Transubstantiation is the Church's explanation (or attempt at explanation) of a phenomenon (whether real or not), and as with any church doctrine, it was formulated within the Church and defined as doctrine by the Church. I know the Catholic Church is very much committed to the term transubstantiation, but transubstantiation is couched in Aristotelian philosophy. To insist that a Catholic absolutely must believe in transubstantiation would be to insist that he or she was required to think in Aristotelian terms. I really don't think the Church requires its members to accept all of Aristotelian philosophy or to think that it is the only way to describe reality. If theologians ever come up with an explanation that retains all the meanings and implications of transubstantiation but uses some other philosophical understanding of reality, I don't believe that will be heresy. I think the real presence is a mystery, and transubstantiation is what the Church considers the best available explanation of it. But mysteries cannot be explained, so I do not believe anyone is required to believe transubstantiation is the only way (or even the best way) to understand the mystery of the real presence. On the other hand, there are explanations that have been ruled out (consubstantiation, transignification), so it is not as if Catholics are free to affirm the real presence and subscribe to any explanation they want.

            I am, however, not sure why it is really important to believe in any particular theory of the real presence. As I said earlier, the thing about mysteries is that they can't be explained, so I don't understand why one must affirm any particular explanation of a mystery. It seems somewhat arrogant to claim something is a mystery and then claim not only to explain it, but also to require people to accept a particular explanation.

          • This is development of doctrine. The doctrine becomes better understood over time. That does not mean it was not believed before that. Language and philosophical categories might be used for the first time but the reality of it was understood in some way since the beginning. I gave you a list of quotes from the church fathers. Shameless Popery has a new post up on the subject yesterday
            http://catholicdefense.blogspot.ca/2014/02/did-tertullian-deny-real-presence.html

            The basic Catholic understanding of the Eucharist, the one protestants see as idolatry, was taught in scripture and by many of the church fathers.

          • David Nickol

            This is development of doctrine. The doctrine becomes better understood over time. That does not mean it was not believed before that.

            In my opinion, you are stretching the concept of development of doctrine past the breaking point. If you want to say transubstantiation was arrived at by development of doctrine, that's fine with me. If you want to say belief in the real presence goes back to the earliest Christians, that's probably supportable. But to say the earliest Christians believed in transubstantiation is beyond anachronistic—it's just wrong. It's like saying Newton believed in General Relativity because he believed in gravity. Einstein just developed the concept of gravity further. But Newton believed in gravity, so he believed in General Relativity.

            As everyone knows who has taken part in these kinds of arguments, the Immaculate Conception is now infallibly declared dogma, yet Aquinas argued against it. The Immaculate Conception is a case of development of doctrine. Does this mean it was believed by the earliest Christians? It definitely was not. It would have made no sense to them.

          • Jimi Burden

            I think it's closer to say they fleshed out the doctrine, no pun intended. I think many in the early church believed they were participating in some important way in Calvary and that they were consuming in some way the body/blood of Jesus. However, as you say, it wasn't until later that all the sacramentology developed, much of which seemed unfortunate and left the actual church members out in the cold, again, sometimes literally!

          • Jimi Burden

            I believe it. The scripture always seems clear when looking back through an interpretive lens and community. I talked to my old pastor friend about the Eucharist and he seemed mildly uninterested, like he'd never really thought about it before!

          • Why would he think about it? It is just so easy to ignore a passage when you are a protestant pastor. I know I heard sermon series on John and did bible studies that walked through the book chapter by chapter. They all skipped the last half of chapter 6. Nothing to see here.

          • David Nickol

            It is just so easy to ignore a passage when you are a protestant pastor.

            You said it, man! Those protestant pastors! Sheesh!

          • David Nickol

            The modern day Catholic doctrine is there from the beginning . . . .

            Here is an interesting passage from Doors to the Sacred: A Historical Introduction to the Sacraments in the Catholic Church:

            In 831 Paschase Radbert, abbot of the monastery of Corbie, took this notion of sacrifice a step further and concluded that the real flesh and blood of Christ must be physically present on the altar during the mass: by the power of God the words of consecration changed the bread and wine into the same flesh and blood which Christ had assumed when he became man. Not everyone agreed with Radbert's physicalist interpretation of the sacrifice, but at the time it gave a convincing esplanation of why priests saying the mass experienced the presence of Christ after saying the words of consecration and of how the sacrifice of the mass and the sacrifice of the cross could be one and the same.

            Two centuries later Berengar of Tours challenged this interpretation of Christ's presence and offered another which to him seemed more logical. To Berengar it seemed natural to assume that things were what they appeared to be, and since the bread and wine did not change their appearance after the words of consecration were spoken, he reasoned that they must still be bread and wine. . . .

            Berengar did not deny that Christ was really present in the eucharist, nor did he deny that through the words of consecration the bread and wine were changed into the body and blood of Chirst. But he did deny that Christ was physically present in the eucharist, and he did deny that the body and blood of Christ could logically be called a sacrament . . . .

            The growing sense of Christ's miraculous presence in the eucharist, however, led more and more people to abstain from communion altogether, and since they could not participate in the mas by hearing and responding to the prayers, their worship came to focus on the adoration of the host . . . .

            Berengar was forced to recant, but I think the above shows that there were centuries of development of ideas about what happened at eucharistic celebrations, and I think the notion of "transubstantiation" was long in coming. In fact, it was not until the middle ages that it was worked out.

            It might be argued that although it took a thousand years or more for the doctrine to be formally worked out, from the very moment of the Last Supper the followers of Jesus believed there was some miraculous transformation in bread and wine when the eucharistic meal was celebrated. I am not sure that is demonstrable. But in any case, I think it is claiming too much to say "the modern day Catholic doctrine is there from the beginning." At the very most, the seeds were planted in earliest Christianity that would grow into today's doctrine. To say anything more than that, I think, would be equivalent to assuming the Greeks had a government just like the United States in the 21st century because they invented democracy.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            This took about a second to snag:

            Acts 20:11 "When Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten…" St. Paul explained clearly what "breaking bread" meant. 1 Cor 10:16 "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ?" St. Paul continued, 1 Cor 11:27 "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord." St. Paul in these words confirmed Catholic teaching that the "bread … of the Lord" is truly Christ's Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, and that the "cup of the Lord" is the same substance: "Whoever … eats the bread or drinks the cup … will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord."

            St. Paul added, 1 Cor 11:29 "For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the Body eats and drinks judgment upon himself."

            http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/scrip/a6.html

            And here are a ton of quotes from the Church Fathers on the Eucharist:

            http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-real-presence

          • David Nickol

            This took about a second to snag . . . .

            With all due respect, of course it took only a second to snag. Apologists have been cobbling together for centuries "proofs" that everything in the Catholic Church goes back to Jesus and the apostles. It is infinitely more complex than that, though, even for Catholic believers.

            St. Paul in these words confirmed Catholic teaching that the "bread … of the Lord" is truly Christ's Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, and that the "cup of the Lord" is the same substance: "Whoever … eats the bread
            or drinks the cup … will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord."

            St. Paul would have had no idea what you were talking about if you said to him that the bread and wine were "Christ's body, blood, soul, and divinity." That is 13th-century language, and Paul could not possibly have had a 13-century understanding of the eucharist. Here is the key passage:

            26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
            27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.*
            28 A person should examine himself,* and so eat the bread and drink the cup.
            29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment* on himself.
            30 That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.
            31 If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment;
            32 but since we are judged by [the] Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
            33 Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
            34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that your meetings may not result in judgment. The other matters I shall set in order when I come.

            Here are two important footnotes to that passage:

            * [11:27] It follows that the only proper way to celebrate the Eucharist is one that corresponds to Jesus’ intention, which fits with the meaning of his command to reproduce his action in the proper spirit. If the Corinthians eat and drink unworthily, i.e., without having grasped and internalized the meaning of his death for them, they will have to answer for the body and blood, i.e., will be guilty of a sin against the Lord himself (cf. 1 Cor 8:12).

            * [11:28] Examine himself: the Greek word is similar to that for “approved” in 1 Cor 11:19, which means “having been tested and found true.” The self-testing required for proper eating involves discerning the body (1 Cor 11:29), which, from the context, must mean understanding the sense of Jesus’ death (1 Cor 11:26), perceiving the imperative to unity that follows from the fact that Jesus gives himself to all and requires us to repeat his sacrifice in the same spirit (1 Cor 11:18–25).

            Note that Paul always refers to the bread and wine (or cup) as "bread" and "wine" (or "cup"). He does not say that the bread and wine have miraculously been transformed into something other than bread and wine.

            When Paul says, "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself," he is not using "discerning the body" to mean "recognizing that the bread and wine has changed into the body and blood of Christ." As the footnote says, he means, "understanding the sense of Jesus’ death, perceiving the
            imperative to unity that follows from the fact that Jesus gives himself to all and requires us to repeat his sacrifice in the same spirit."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So although the New Testament writers imposed their views on the Old Testament (through typology), and all later Catholic writers imposed their views on the New Testament, scholars today propose another view entirely, yet *they* are capturing the authentic meaning of the New Testament?

          • David Nickol

            [Y]et *they* are capturing the authentic meaning of the New Testament?

            If the authentic meaning of the New Testament has been clearly understood and explicated by the Fathers of the Church and scholars of the past, why is there any point in contemporary scholars reading the New Testament? I have no problem at all with the idea that contemporary scholars may be able to point out misreadings of scripture that have persisted for many centuries. For example:

            24 When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves.” 25 And the whole people said in reply, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”

            The interpretation of the Matthew 27:24-25 has changed since I went to Catholic school.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Of course contemporary scholars have a lot to contribute to our understanding and many valid readings of the Scriptures can exist side by side.

          • David Nickol

            That, briefly, is the rational and theological support you think is impossible.

            I think in order to have meaningful rational support, the concepts of substance and accidents must be justified. Even if you accept that God can do anything, Jesus was God, and Jesus said of bread, "This is my body," if substance and accidents don't really explain what it is that makes things what they are (substance) and what it is that we perceive (accidents), then transubstantiation is not "rational" in the sense of having explanatory power. That is, it is perfectly rational in the way we can still talk of the ether as the medium through which light is propagated, and the ether wind as the result of the earth moving through the ether. It can be discussed "rationally," but it doesn't correspond to reality.

            The following is, in some sense, as "rational" as possible:

            Chris Christie is a man.
            All men have wings.
            Chris Christie has wings.

            It is impeccable logic, but it doesn't tell us anything true.

        • David Nickol

          Since modern science arose from Christianity . . .

          With all due respect, Kevin, "modern science arose from Christianity" is only impressive sounding rhetoric as well.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It's not *only* rhetoric. It is also true. But that is another topic.

          • Susan

            It's not *only* rhetoric. It is also true. But that is another topic.

            If it's off-topic, it's probably bad form to assert it as "true" and then fail to support it.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        The Catholic Church cares about rigorous scientific methodology because theology is a human science that uses reason to articulate and then explore Divine Revelation.

        Reason is used to establish if something is divinely revealed. Only then is it appropriate to make an act of faith in it. No contemporary miracle can possibly fall under Divine Revelation, so the only way to determine if some act is miraculous is through some rational process.

        Catholicism does need science, metaphysics, ethics, history, and every other field of human knowledge. These other fields do not "need" Catholic theology because they have their own principles that are not dependent on theology.