John KAYE, Ecclesiastical History of the Second and Third Centuries (1845): Preface to the Third Edition. pp. v-xii


IN giving an account of the writings of Tertullian, it was scarcely possible to avoid touching upon the question, which was agitated in the last century between Dr. Middleton and his opponents, respecting the duration of miraculous powers in the Church; and in the following work I have stated the conclusion at which I have myself arrived葉hat the power of working miracles was not extended beyond the Disciples, upon whom the Apostles conferred it by the imposition of hands. Soon after the publication, of the work, the opinion here stated was combated in an article in the British Critic, attributed, I know not whether truly, to the late Dr. Burton; and it has more recently been described as an assumption, as an a priori theory, and as contrary to all rules of evidence.

In one respect it may be said to be an assumption. In offering it, I assumed that which I then believed to be an admitted fact among Protestants葉hat the |vi miraculous powers conferred upon the Apostles had been withdrawn; that no standing power of working miracles either now exists, or has for many centuries existed, in the Church. The writers who engaged in the controversy with Dr. Middleton, how widely soever they differed respecting the particular age in which miracles ceased, all agreed in the fact of their cessation. So far, then, the opinion which I have advanced is founded on an assumption. But when it is described as an a priori theory, and as contrary to all rules of evidence, I must dispute the correctness of the description. It is not an a priori theory. It is an inference, whether just or not, drawn from a consideration of the instances recorded in the Book of Acts, in which miraculous powers were conferred. It is not contrary to all rules of evidence. For what is the evidence in favour of the existence of miraculous powers in the age of Tertullian, to which my work more immediately relates? We find general statements, that miracles continued to be wrought. Particular instances of their occurrence are rarely specified; and those which are specified, are of an equivocal character, such as may be accounted for by the operation of natural causes, without the necessity of supposing any supernatural interposition. But we find also incidental remarks, bespeaking a consciousness on the part of the writers, that the miraculous powers conferred on the Apostles had been withdrawn. Is it contrary to all rules of evidence to lay great stress on such incidental remarks? to regard them as neutralizing at least the effect of the general |vii assertions of the continuance of miraculous powers in the Church? Admissions which escape from a witness unawares, are usually considered evidence of the most decisive character. That which is incidentally admitted by Tertullian, is expressly affirmed by the Fathers of a later age. The learned author of an "Essay on the Miracles recorded in the Ecclesiastical History of the Early Ages," 1 states it to be clear, that the Fathers speak of miracles as having, in one sense, ceased with the Apostolic period: that, according to them, Apostolic miracles, or miracles like the Apostles', were no longer of occurrence in the Church. I had said, that Middleton's object was to prove, that, after the Apostolic age, no standing power of working miracles existed in the Church; that there was no regular succession of favoured individuals, upon whom God conferred supernatural powers, which they could exercise for the benefit of the Church of Christ, whenever their judgment, guided by the influence of the Holy Spirit, told them that it was expedient so to do. The learned author quotes this statement, and adds,2 "Certainly, if this is what Middleton set about to do, he had not a difficult task before him." I may, therefore, plead his authority in justification of my opinion, to this extent at least, that there is evidence that Apostolic miracles had ceased in the time of Tertullian.

But though the Fathers speak of miracles as having |viii in one sense ceased with the Apostolic period, this admission, according to the learned author, by no means invalidates the truth of the assertions which they repeatedly make, of the existence of miraculous powers in their own time. Though Apostolic miracles had ceased, ecclesiastical miracles had taken their place: and he 3 proceeds to point out the distinctions between the two classes of miracles, in order to justify the apparently contradictory language of the Fathers on the subject. On those distinctions I will offer only one remark, suggested by the learned author's own statement葉hat the later or ecclesiastical miracles are deficient in the internal characters of truth which mark the miracles of Scripture, and command our assent to them.

The conclusion which he wishes to establish in the Essay is,4 "that there was no age of miracles, after which miracles ceased." He contends that, far from there being, as Hume asserted, an antecedent improbability against miracles, there is an antecedent probability in their favour. 5 If we believe that Christians are under an extraordinary Dispensation, such as Judaism was葉hat the Church is a supernatural ordinance, and that it 6 is possessed of supernatural powers; if we believe 7 the Divinity of the |ix Church, and the 8 abiding presence of Divinity in it; then, far from being surprised at hearing supernatural events reported in any age, 9 we shall consider them the natural effects of supernatural agency, as 10 part of a Divine agency moving in a system, as 11 at first sight almost to be admitted of course, without a strong reason to suspect them. 12 Miracles are, in a word, the kind of facts proper to ecclesiastical history, just as instances of sagacity and daring, personal prowess or crime, are the facts proper to secular history. 13 "Wherever the Catholic Church is, there we may reasonably expect the occurrence of miraculous interpositions; the antecedent probability is in their favour. Thus argues the learned writer; still, when we come to particular instances, the question resolves itself into one of evidence. For he goes on to say, "Whether this or that alleged miracle be in fact what it professes to be, must be determined by the particular case." Every miracle, then, must be subjected to examination, |x and must be admitted or rejected according to the evidence; and he considers nine cases of alleged miracles, of which one only is mentioned by Tertullian,葉he miracle of the Thundering Legion. I had observed, with respect to this story, that, as told by Tertullian, it contains nothing miraculous. In this observation the learned author appears to concur. 14 "The Christian soldiers," he says, "did ask and did receive, in a great distress, rain for their own supply, and lightning against their enemies; whether through miracle or not, we cannot say for certain, but more probably not through miracle, in the philosophical sense of the word." He 15 says, however, "that it does not much concern him to answer the objection, that there is nothing strictly miraculous in such occurrences葉he common sense of mankind will call them miraculous; for by a miracle is properly meant, whatever be its formal definition, an event which impresses upon the mind the immediate presence of the Moral Governor of the world." But is not this, I would ask, to confound the meaning of words? Is every striking instance of the exercise of a particular Providence to be deemed miraculous? They who believe in a particular Providence, believe that God is at all times immediately present; that He does not merely order the governance of the world by general laws, which He leaves to operate without His immediate interposition, but that He directs the application of those laws in every particular case. Sometimes, as in the |xi preternatural events recorded in Scripture, He suspends, or supersedes the ordinary operation of those laws, and produces the effect in an extraordinary manner, which we term miraculous. One man is raised from the bed of sickness, by the blessing of God upon the means to which we ordinarily have recourse for restoration to health; another is raised by the word or the touch of an Apostle; both are instances of a particular Providence, acting in the one case in its ordinary course, in the other in an extraordinary manner: but is it not a departure from the customary use of terms to call them both miraculous? They who doubt or deny the truth of the ecclesiastical miracles, use the word miracle in its philosophical sense: they mean by it, a preternatural event. To affix another sense to the term, and then to insinuate that they question the truth of miracles in this new sense, that is, that they question the truth of all instances of the immediate presence of the Moral Governor of the world, is to misrepresent their meaning.

The alterations made in the present Edition are neither so numerous nor so important as to render specific enumeration necessary. Since the publication of the second Edition, the work of the late Bishop Mnter, entitled, Primordia Ecclesiae Africans, has appeared, in which the learned author makes frequent reference to Tertullian's writings. The other works connected with Tertullian, which have fallen under my notice, are, the first volume of a Translation of his works by Mr. Dodgson, late Student of Christ Church, published in the Library of the Fathers; and an edition |xii of the Apology, by Mr. Woodham, Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, to which is prefixed an ingenious Essay on the Apologetic Writings of the early Christians. The venerable President of Magdalene College, Oxford, has also printed the Tracts de Oratione, and de Praescriptione Haereticorum, in his Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Opuscula, and has added some learned and valuable notes.

[Footnotes have been moved to the end]

1. 1 p. xxxviii.

2. 2 p. xciv. It is Middleton's own account of his object. See the Vindication of the Free Enquiry, in the second volume of his Works, p. 166, 2nd ed.

3. 3 p. xxiv. 

4. 4 p. xiii..

5. 5 p. lxxiii. Is there not here an assumption of the very point in dispute? The Israelites were under an extraordinary Dispensation; "they were to dwell alone, and not to be reckoned among the nations." But is this the case with Christians? Do they not live under what may be termed an invisible administration of God's Providence, as distinguished from the visible administration under which the Israelites lived?

6. 6 p. lxxiv. 

7. 7 p. lxxiii.

8. 8 p. xciv. 

9. 9 p. lxxvii. 

10. 1 p. xlix. 

11. 2 p. lxxvii.

12. 3 Advertisement to the Family of St. Richard, the Saxon, p. 111. I must confess my inability to discover any connection between the two propositions hero stated. If it had been said, that, as in secular history wo read of instances of sagacity and daring, so in ecclesiastical history we may expect to find instances of patience, forbearance, self-denial, charity, devotion, I should at once admit that the inference from the one case to the other was legitimate. So also, if it had been said that, as in tho fictions of secular romance we find stories of enchanters flying through tho air, so in the fictions of ecclesiastical romance we may expect to find such stories as that of the translation of the holy house by angels to Loretto. But when it is said, that, because we read in secular history of extraordinary exhibitions of moral qualities, whether for good or evil, we ought in ecclesiastical history to expect to find accounts of supernatural interference with the order established by God in the physical world, I must confess myself at a loss to comprehend by what process of reasoning the inference is deduced.

13. 4 p. ccxiv.

14. 5 p. cxxii. Tertullian makes no mention of the lightning.

15. 6 p. cxxi.

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