Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"The miracle of the sun"

In this essay I’m going to discuss the cult of Fatima, with special reference to the so-called “miracle of the sun.”

This will constitute a two-pronged analysis. I will evaluate the sun-miracle on both Catholic and Evangelical grounds. And I’m going to restrict myself to Catholic sources for my information regarding the reported miracle, and attendant phenomena. So this is, by turns, both an internal and external analysis.

When, in the course of this post, I speak of a Catholic miracle, I’m referring to a reported miracle, and not necessarily an actual miracle. Putative miracles.

The report may or may not be true. The putative miracle is a candidate for a true miracle. Whether it passes muster is another question.

It would be pedantic to qualify my usage each time, so keep this caveat in mind.

I. Description

What was the miracle of the sun?

Because the miracle of the sun comes down to us in several first and second-hand reports, the details vary, but here’s a conventional account of what allegedly occurred:

During the night of 12-13 October it had rained throughout, soaking the ground and the pilgrims who make their way to Fátima from all directions by the thousands. By foot, by cart and even by car they came, entering the bowl of the Cova from the Fátima-Leiria road, which today still passes in front of the large square of the Basilica. From there they made their way down the gently slope to the place where a trestle had been erected over the little holm oak of the apparitions.

As for the children, they made their way to the Cova amid the adulation and skepticism which had followed them since May. When they arrived they found critics who questioned their veracity and the punctuality of the Lady, who had promised to arrive at noon. It was well passed noon by the official time of the country. However, when the sun arrived at its zenith the Lady appeared as she had said she would.

While the rain had stopped, dark clouds continued to obscure the sun, which suddenly bursts through them and is seen to be a soft spinning disk of silver.

From this point two distinct apparitions were seen, that of the phenomenon of the sun seen by the 70,000 or so spectators and that beheld by the children alone. Lucia describes the latter in her memoirs.

As the children viewed the various apparitions of Jesus, Mary and Joseph the crowd witnessed a different prodigy, the now famous miracle of the sun. Among the witnesses there were the following:

Dr. Almeida Garrett, PhD (Coimbra University):
I was looking at the place of the apparitions, in a serene, if cold, expectation of something happening, and with diminishing curiosity, because a long time had passed without anything to excite my attention. Then I heard a shout from thousands of voices and saw the multitude suddenly turn its back and shoulders away from the point toward which up to now it had directed its attention, and turn to look at the sky on the opposite side.
It must have been nearly two o'clock by the legal time, and about midday by the sun. The sun, a few moments before, had broken through the thick layer of clouds which hid it, and shone clearly and intensely. I veered to the magnet which seemed to be drawing all eyes, and saw it as a disc with a clean-cut rim, luminous and shining, but which did not hurt the eyes. I do not agree with the comparison which I have heard made in Fátima—that of a dull silver disc. It was a clearer, richer, brighter color, having something of the luster of a pearl. It did not in the least resemble the moon on a clear night because one saw it and felt it to be a living body. It was not spheric like the moon, nor did it have the same color, tone, or shading. It looked like a glazed wheel made of mother-of-pearl. It could not be confused, either, with the sun seen through fog (for there was no fog at the time), because it was not opaque, diffused or veiled. In Fátima it gave light and heat and appeared clear-cut with a well-defined rim.

The sky was mottled with light cirrus clouds with the blue coming through here and there, but sometimes the sun stood out in patches of clear sky. The clouds passed from west to east and did not obscure the light of the sun, giving the impression of passing behind it, though sometimes these flecks of white took on tones of pink or diaphanous blue as they passed before the sun.

It was a remarkable fact that one could fix one's eyes on this brazier of heat and light without any pain in the eyes or blinding of the retina. The phenomenon, except for two interruptions when the sun seemed to send out rays of refulgent heat which obliged us to look away, must have lasted about ten minutes.

The sun's disc did not remain immobile. This was not the sparkling of a, heavenly body, for it spun round on itself in a mad whirl. Then, suddenly, one heard a clamor, a cry of anguish breaking from all the people. The sun, whirling wildly, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge and fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible.

During the solar phenomenon, which I have just described in detail, there were changes of color in the atmosphere. Looking at the sun, I noticed that everything around was becoming darkened. I looked first at the nearest objects and then extended my glance further afield as far as the horizon. I saw everything an amethyst color. Objects around me, the sky and the atmosphere, were of the same color. An oak tree nearby threw a shadow of this color on the ground.

Fearing that I was suffering from an affection of the retina, an improbable explanation because in that case one could not see things purple-colored, I turned away and shut my eyes, keeping my hands before them to intercept the light. With my back still turned, I opened my eyes and saw that the landscape was the same purple color as before.
The impression was not that of an eclipse, and while looking at the sun I noticed that the atmosphere had cleared. Soon after I heard a peasant who was near me shout out in tones of astonishment: "Look, that lady is all yellow!"

And in fact everything, both near and far, had changed, taking on the color of old yellow damask. People looked as if they were suffering from jaundice, and I recall a sensation of amusement at seeing them look so ugly and unattractive. My own hand was the same color. All the phenomena which I have described were observed by me in a calm and serene state of mind, and without any emotional disturbance. It is for others to interpret and explain them.

II. Imporance

Why am I discussing the miracle of the sun rather than any number of other Catholic miracles—whether real or reported? What sets this event apart from the pack?

As Stanley Jaki explains:

Is it not precisely those who stake their purpose in life on Christ as the greatest and incomparably miraculous fact of history, who should be most attentive to facts that support it? And of those supportive facts or miracles that have not ceased occurring for the past 2000 years, has anything more grandiose occurred than the miracle of the sun? S. Jaki, God and the Sun at Fatima (RVB 1999), 287.

So you might say that the miracle of the sun is the trump card among Catholic miracles. They don’t get any better than this. Indeed, nothing else approaches the level of public attestation.

III. State of the record

However, the appeal to thousands of eyewitnesses is misleading. There’s a big difference between 50,000 eyewitness reports, and reports of 50,000 eyewitnesses.

What is the actual state of the record? Here’s what Jaki has to say:

“On April 14 [1930], the Canonical Commission presented to Bishop da Silva its findings in a long document…It contained not a word on the miracle of the sun,” ibid., 186.

“Was any miracle seen by so many and, unfortunately, attested in writing by relatively so few, and indeed painfully few?” (287).

“A careful study of the relatively small amount of first-hand information available today on the miracle of the sun can establish nothing more with certainty than that it was in some way a miracle, though not a miracle involving the sun itself…the miracle of the sun was a meteorological event, however out of the ordinary” (369).

“But as the years went by, their general and often inarticulate impression about the miracle of the sun began to be superseded by elaborations on it by Fatima writers, most of whom could not say that they were eyewitnesses. One eyewitness author, Jose Galamba de Oliveira, was a seminarian in 1917…Galamba failed even more than did Coelho in carrying out the task of giving a detailed account of what he had seen about the sun” (368).

“Another eyewitness-author of books on Fatima was Canon Formigao. A chief apostle of devotion toward our Lady of Fatima, he wrote precious little about what he had seen in the sky over the Cova on October 13,1917. The work of an eyewitness writer, Mabel Norton, who gave a most perceptive and moving account, is still to be rescued from almost total oblivion. No other major student of Fatima, who wrote a book or several on Fatima, was an eyewitness to the miracle” (368).

And here is what Karl Rahner has to say:

“There is no critical history as yet of the celebrated visions of Fatima and its message and no sound critical edition of the texts. C. M. Staehlin points out the omissions and textual variations in so-called ‘critical’ studies of the visions (op. cit., 351-78). On p378 he says of the devotional literature…’When publishes and editors of diaries and the like think nothing of suppressing or alternating parts of the MS it is difficult to control one’s anger. In such cases the reader cannot possibly discovery the fraud. If we write such things it is because we have in our possession evidence which refutes whole pages of allegations in many books now in the hands of pious people,’ K. Rahner, Visions & Prophecies (Herder & Herder 1963), 9-10n5.

“The chroniclers of Fatima, for instances, have taken ample liberties in adapting its history…in Fonseca’s Le meraviglie di Fatima and its translations, where he quotes the Visconde de Montelo with…and without acknowledgement…To give one example of ‘adaptation’: on p23 we read: ‘Francisco, however, only heard Lucia’s voice, but he observed that the Lady spoke, because he saw her lips moving. Is this circumstance not a proof of the little seers’ veracity?’ Yet in Visconde de Montelo we read on p115: ‘Didn’t you see (Francisco is addressed) that her lips moved?”—‘I saw nothing!’ (74-75n96).

“These are probably involved in Lucia’s later statements (since 1936) about the message and promise of Fatima…To claim the assistance of the Holy Ghost in writing down supplementary material twenty-five yeas after the event makes any further discussion difficult,” (75n97).

So the actual record of the event is far less impressive than the usual claim of 50,000 eyewitnesses, give or take.

IV. Locality

One ironic point of tension is not that so many observers witnessed this phenomenon, but so few did. For even if tens of thousands of people saw it, it was a geographically limited phenomenon. And this creates a potential discrepancy between the scale of the event and the scale of the witness base. As Jaki explains:

“As to the term ‘cosmic phenomenon,’ if it occurred, say in the vicinity of the sun, it should have been observed even by the naked eye over thousands of miles outside of Portugal. In addition, if the sun did indeed dance, the gravitational effects all across the solar system should have been enormous, in fact devastating,” ibid., 42.

“The alleged motions of the sun had to have an enormous effect on the rest of the solar system, an effect nowhere noticed. Was one therefore to assume that the sun had those motions, but that they were also deprived of their effects, except in their optical range, though only for those in the Cova and for a very few elsewhere, though not too far away?” (264).

Jaki will offer a way of relieving the tension, but, as we shall see, his harmonization comes with certain trade-offs.

V. Catholic criteria

Catholic apparitions and miracles are subject to traditional Catholic criteria. As Rahner explains:

“Genuine apparitions certainly will not resort to blackmail, threatening with punishments from heaven anybody who is not prepared to yield unqualified assent to everything,” ibid. 10.

“The imaginative vision can be conceived as accompanied by purely spiritual divine influence upon the soul which would give the visionary infallible and objectively valid evidence that here God is really at work. Two points should be noted here, however.

First, that such spiritual evidence is of its nature incommunicable to others. How could one prove to somebody else that one really had it and was not deceived?” (54).

“Piety and personal honesty are absolutely prerequisite before a vision can possibly claim to be considered genuine, but are no proof of its authenticity because these qualities are no protection against error. Even saints have frequently been deceived in such matter” (76).

“Père Tonquedec, with his vast experience as an exorcist in Paris, strongly advises against concluding that a vision must be genuine if the visionary is sincere and seems incapable of deceiving anyone” (78).

“The second type of prophecy is of the ‘parapsychological’ kind, prophetic dreams, second sight, clairvoyance, foreknowledge of death, &c…They seem often to be hereditary and endemic, associated with a certain region” (92-93).

“As for us, outside observers, if it is a matter of purely mystical visions which do not claim a prophetic mission the same criteria will apply, mutatis mutandis, which we have established for the visionary himself. But, as we cannot directly observe the interior, mystical experience of infused contemplation in the seer and it will be less certain or less probable (for us) that it really has occurred, our power to arrive at reasonable certainty, through the use of the same criteria, though not nullified will be seriously diminished” (80).

“Whether what the visionary saw does or does not have a meaning for one’s own spiritual life is a matter for one’s own free judgment. Certainly there is no obligation to attach much importance to such things when classic mystical doctrine warns the visionary himself against attributing too much value or significance to these experiences…The principle always remains valid that supernatural agency is not to be presupposed but must be proved…With such occurrences, therefore, there is more danger of error in credulity than in scepticism, especially in unsettled times” (81).

“But where we encounter ‘prophetic’ visions, which lay demands upon us the validity and binding force of which are not evident apart from these visions, the only criterion which can justify this claim is a real miracle (physical or moral) in the strict sense.” (82).

“If Catholic fundamental theology can and must apply this criterion to public Christian revelation, how much more must it apply to private prophetic revelations…Without a miracle such a vision can lay no claim whatever to the assent of outsiders. To reject such a revelation (always conformably to our general human duty of caution, restraint, and reverence) in any case never implies resistance to divine grace, and may rather be part of man’s duty to ‘believe not every spirit; but try the spirits if they be of God’ [1 Jn 4:1],” (82-83).

And, with reference to Fatima, the Vatican has said the following:

Public Revelation And Private Revelations – Their Theological Status

Before attempting an interpretation…there is a need for some basic clarification of the way in which, according to Church teaching, phenomena such as Fatima are to be understood within the life of faith. The teaching of the Church distinguishes between “public Revelation” and “private revelations”. The two realities differ not only in degree but also in essence.

In this context, it now becomes possible to understand rightly the concept of “private revelation”, which refers to all the visions and revelations which have taken place since the completion of the New Testament. This is the category to which we must assign the message of Fatima. In this respect, let us listen once again to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private' revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church... It is not their role to complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history” (No. 67). This clarifies two things:

The authority of private revelations is essentially different from that of the definitive public Revelation…In this regard, Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, the future Pope Benedict XIV, says in his classic treatise, which later became normative for beatifications and canonizations: “An assent of Catholic faith is not due to revelations approved in this way; it is not even possible. These revelations seek rather an assent of human faith in keeping with the requirements of prudence, which puts them before us as probable and credible to piety”.

The criterion for the truth and value of a private revelation is therefore its orientation to Christ himself. When it leads us away from him, when it becomes independent of him or even presents itself as another and better plan of salvation, more important than the Gospel, then it certainly does not come from the Holy Spirit, who guides us more deeply into the Gospel and not away from it.

The Anthropological Structure Of Private Revelations

In these reflections we have sought so far to identify the theological status of private revelations. Before undertaking an interpretation of the message of Fatima, we must still attempt briefly to offer some clarification of their anthropological (psychological) character. In this field, theological anthropology distinguishes three forms of perception or “vision”: vision with the senses, and hence exterior bodily perception, interior perception, and spiritual vision (visio sensibilis - imaginativa - intellectualis). It is clear that in the visions of Lourdes, Fatima and other places it is not a question of normal exterior perception of the senses: the images and forms which are seen are not located spatially, as is the case for example with a tree or a house. This is perfectly obvious, for instance, as regards the vision of hell (described in the first part of the Fatima “secret”) or even the vision described in the third part of the “secret”. But the same can be very easily shown with regard to other visions, especially since not everybody present saw them, but only the “visionaries”. It is also clear that it is not a matter of a “vision” in the mind, without images, as occurs at the higher levels of mysticism. Therefore we are dealing with the middle category, interior perception. For the visionary, this perception certainly has the force of a presence, equivalent for that person to an external manifestation to the senses.

Interior vision does not mean fantasy, which would be no more than an expression of the subjective imagination. It means rather that the soul is touched by something real, even if beyond the senses. It is rendered capable of seeing that which is beyond the senses, that which cannot be seen—seeing by means of the “interior senses”. It involves true “objects”, which touch the soul, even if these “objects” do not belong to our habitual sensory world.

“Interior vision” is not fantasy but, as we have said, a true and valid means of verification. But it also has its limitations. Even in exterior vision the subjective element is always present. We do not see the pure object, but it comes to us through the filter of our senses, which carry out a work of translation. This is still more evident in the case of interior vision, especially when it involves realities which in themselves transcend our horizon. The subject, the visionary, is still more powerfully involved. He sees insofar as he is able, in the modes of representation and consciousness available to him. In the case of interior vision, the process of translation is even more extensive than in exterior vision, for the subject shares in an essential way in the formation of the image of what appears. He can arrive at the image only within the bounds of his capacities and possibilities. Such visions therefore are never simple “photographs” of the other world, but are influenced by the potentialities and limitations of the perceiving subject.

VI. Evidentiary value

Is the primary purpose of a miracle to attest dogma? According to Catholic theology:

Some writers—e.g., Paley, Mansel, Mozley, Dr. George Fisher—push the Christian view to the extreme, and say that miracles are necessary to attest revelation. Catholic theologians, however, take a broader view. They hold that the great primary ends of miracles are the manifestation of God's glory and the good of men; that the particular or secondary ends, subordinate to the former, are to confirm the truth of a mission or a doctrine of faith or morals, to attest the sanctity of God's servants, to confer benefits and vindicate Divine justice.

Hence they teach that the attestation of Revelation is not the primary end of the miracle, but its main secondary end, though not the only one.

Their motive was mercy. Most of Christ's miracles were works of mercy. They were performed not with a view to awe men by the feeling of omnipotence, but to show compassion for sinful and suffering humanity. They are not to be regarded as isolated or transitory acts of sympathy, but as prompted by a deep and abiding mercy which characterizes the office of Saviour. The Redemption is a work of mercy, and the miracles reveal the mercy of God in the works of His Incarnate Son (Acts 10:38).

VII. Miracle or mirable?

Catholic theology draws a distinction between miracles, which are heaven-sent, and mirables, which are occultic:

“Holy Scripture shows the power of evil spirits as strictly conditioned, e.g., testimony of the Egyptian magicians (Exodus 8:19), the story of Job, evil spirits acknowledging the power of Christ (Matthew 8:31), the express testimony of Christ himself (Matthew 24:24) and of the Apocalypse (Revelation 9:14). Granting that these spirits may perform prodigies -- i.e., works of skill and ingenuity which, relatively to our powers, may seem to be miraculous -- yet these works lack the meaning and purpose which would stamp them as the language of God to men.”

VIII. Interpretation

Due to the geographical confinement of the observable event, Jaki regards the miracle of the sun as a rare, but naturally occurring meteorological phenomenon (ibid., 347-49,60).

This would make it an extrinsic miracle rather than an intrinsic miracle. It’s miraculosity would lie in its prophetic timing: ““The most miraculous aspect of what physically happened, whatever it was, is that a sign, as predicted months ahead of time, manifested itself so that all may believe” (370).

In this respect he compares the sun-miracle to the plagues of Egypt and Red Sea crossing (343).

As I say, on this interpretation the miraculous character of the event inheres, not in the event itself, but in the opportune timing of the event. It occurred when it was predicted to occur.

From a theological perspective, there’s nothing inherently amiss with this explanation. A miracle can be an extraordinary conjunction of otherwise ordinary conditions.

But there are three potential downsides to this interpretation:

i) That explanation comes at a cost, for it involves a potential shift in the testimonial support.

For, on Jaki’s interpretation, the crucial question is not who-all witnessed the event itself, but who-all witnessed the prediction, of which the event is the putative fulfillment.

The fulfillment is only as good as the prediction. How many people were privy to the prediction?

I’m not saying that you need a huge number of people to validate a prediction. But what sets apart the miracle of the sun from so many other Catholic miracles or Marian apparitions is the quantitative factor.

If the key piece of connecting evidence which turns a naturally occurring event into a miraculous event due to the timing of the event wasn’t witnessed by hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of observers, but by just a handful of people, then it’s no different than any other report of its kind.

Unless I missed something, Jaki spends a lot of time sifting through reports of the sun-miracle, but doesn’t offer a single eyewitness report to the prophecy of the sun-miracle.

The oversight is glaring. Perhaps, though, Jaki doesn’t think it’s necessary to document the prophecy since it can be validated after the fact is the sense that unless there were rumors of something miraculous in the offing on October 13, 1917, you wouldn’t have had thousands of people showing up at that place and time. So even if we didn’t have much direct documentation for the miracle, we enjoy indirect confirmation of the prophecy in the simple fact that so many spectators turned out for the event.

I happen to think this would be a successful way of rehabilitating the original argument. Yet it’s odd that Jaki is apparently unaware of the lacuna in his own argument.

But that won’t fix other problems:

ii) For there’s another point of tension involving the prophecy, since a further issue is whether the prediction specified what form the sign would take. This is a typical feature of Biblical predictions—and for the obvious reason that the level of specificity between prediction and fulfillment is what identifies a particular portent or prodigy as, indeed, a prophetic fulfillment.

According to Jaki, “only in November did Lucia state that according to the Apparition the sun was to be part of the miracle” (38n11; cf. 289).

Indeed, he makes this general point on several different occasions, as if the lack of predictive specificity is an argument in favor of the eyewitness reports. If so, he never explains why he thinks this would be a mark of authenticity.

Perhaps, though, his reasoning is as follows: if the prediction has specified the sun, then that prior expectation could have an autosuggestive influence what the onlookers thought they saw.

And there’s some psychological validity of that contention, if, indeed, this is what Jaki has in mind.

Unfortunately for him, it’s in tension with the evidential value of the event. For it augments the credibility of the reports by diminishing the miraculosity of the event.

Remember that, for Jaki, this is an essentially natural event. What makes it miraculous is its uncanny timing.

But the vaguer the forecast, the vaguer the fulfillment. The credibility of the reports is coming at the expense of the reported phenomenon.

It’s more credible that it occurred, but less credible that it occurred on cue, as a prophetic miracle.

iii) And that’s not the only problem. For, as we’ve seen, the prophetic timing is further beclouded by apparent repetition. If, to take one example, the same sort of event was seen a week later, in the same general vicinity, then that undercuts the unique timing of the event.

IX. Counterevidence

In addition to the evidence for the miracle of the sun, there is a certain amount of evidence to the contrary. This takes different forms:

i) The fact that the Vatican has withheld a formal endorsement of the miracle.

If the Vatican isn’t prepared to stick its neck out, why should we?

ii) Conflicting reports of what was seen on October 13, 1917.

iii) Reports of repeated phenomena.

This would not, of itself, undermine the factuality of the event. Rather, it would undermine the miraculosity of the event.

For if the event is a natural phenomenon which is only miraculous due to its providential timing, then repetition undercuts the distinctive timing of the event.

iv) Implausibilities involving the other apparitions.

One cannot assess the significance of the sun-miracle in complete isolation. For the sun-miracle is of a piece with the other Marian apparitions at Fatima. It was allegedly give to confirm the other apparitions and oracles. But that cuts both ways.

According to Jaki:

“The church as such never endorsed the miracle of the sun, the chief external sign of the message,” ibid. 359.

Then came the most important part of his [Coelho’s] article…He claimed nothing less than that the next day he saw the sun do the same again, and apparently over the same place” (56).

“Several people, including Domingos Frutuoso, the bishop of Portalegre, saw, a week later, a recurrence of the miracle of the sun, though with less intensity, in the sky over Leiria” (62; cf. 148).

“Far more significant was the testimony which Jacinto de Almeida Lopes made on December 20. For he not only recalled what he had seen on October 13, 1917, but also that he had seen the same again on the Feast of Purification, February 2, 1918” (153).

The case of “Maria Philomena Moraes de Miranda, who acted as Lucia’s sponsor at her confirmation in Tuy on April 24, 1925. Between June 13, 19221, and August 13, 1927 she saw, so she claimed, the miracle of the sun on four different occasions and sent statements to the bishop of Leiria” (195n37).

“That chapter Martins dos Reis brought to a conclusion with a full reproduction of what the Cardinal Legate Tedeschini had told the huge gathering at the Cova on October 13, 1951…’It was four o’clock in the afternoon on October 30,31, and of November 1 of the last year, 1950…In the Vatican gardens the Holy Father turned his gaze towards the sun and suddenly there reoccurred under his very eyes the miracle that had been witnessed years before, in this vale, on this same day…Is not this Fatima transported to the Vatican?” (301-302).

“To see that problem it would have been enough to recall the dictum, miracula non sun multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, an old age in scholastic theology” (302).

“He [Martindale] reported that the aunt of a lady whom he had met several times in Portugal and a friend of hers went to the Cova on October 13 and knelt during the miracle of the sun with another woman between them. This woman saw the miracle while the two others ‘saw nothing at all’” (323).

“Such concerns were prominent in a four-part article which the Jesuit G. J. Strangfeld published…The article was probing into the credibility of the large number of reports about apparitions of Mary since Fatima, couple with sightings of the miracle of the sun. Strangefeld, who listed specifically twenty-apparitions between 1931 and 1950, tried to follow a middle course between too much and too little credence to be given to private revelations” (303).

“I [Journet] heard reports about a highly cultured Portuguese woman, very devoted to the Blessed Virgin, who saw nothing [at Fatima]” (305).

“The fact that in Fatima a dozen or so people failed to see the miracle of the sun, forced on him [Cordonnier] the second thought that perhaps ‘his explanation was not certain’ (356).

“Only in November did Lucia state that according to the Apparition the sun was to be part of the miracle” (38n11; cf. 289).

According to Rahner:

“This emphatic distinction among the various Madonnas becomes more understandable if one reads Fonseca in ‘Fatima y la critica’ (Santander, 1953), p44: if a priest hearing confession of pilgrims at Fatima gives a certain number of ‘Hail Mary’s’ for a penance, the penitent immediately asks ‘To which Blessed Virgin?’ The people, especially the children, wish to know exactly whom they should address: The Queen of the Rosary, the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Joys, or the Assumpta. They know all these from the different statues. They do not know any statue of the Mother of God without a particular name,” ibid. 34n34.

“Finally we must mention the prayer which Lucia learnt from the angel. In this prayer men are to offer God the Father not only the body and Blood but also the soul and the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is theologically impossible,” ibid. 71.

“Lucia’s answer to the theological objection, according to Fonseca, was that ‘the angel may just not have studied any theology.’ —This expression ‘body and blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ…’ is found in the (Portuguese and Spanish) catechism not quite a prayer but as the answer to the question: What is the consecrated Host? Is this not another case of ‘reproduction,” of which Staehlin cities many examples (op. cit., 109-33).

“Even if one assumes that sun-miracle of Fatima to be a true miracle, it would not prove that the seer’s revelations of the future have received the divine seal. The miracle occurs to confirm the vision, but it does not follow that every pronouncement of the visionary on the future is warranted, especially since this information about the future was only disclosed at a much later date,” ibid. 104.

“1941. The books on Fatima published before that date know nothing about them…but how is it comprehensible that God should reveal certain matters to the whole world to a person, in order that this person should keep them secret until after their fulfillment” ibid. 104n133.

“These miracles, however, must not themselves raise a problem, like the miracle of the sun, which was not by any means seen by all those present. Thus Izabel Brandae de Melo writes in a letter dated October 13, 1917: ‘this (the report of the sun-miracle) is what people were saying next to me, and what thousands of persons claim they saw. I did not see it, although I looked at the sun and felt terribly moved to hear everybody screaming that they saw extraordinary things in the sun” Cf. L. G. de Fonseca, Fatima y la critica, 18 and note 17…Father Martindale in his book The message of Fatima (82) speaks of two English ladies who did not see the sun-miracle either,” ibid. 82-83n108.

“The mystical doctors recognize three kinds of visions: the corporeal, the imaginative, and the purely spiritual,” ibid. 32.

“After the Queen of the Rosary disappeared at Fatima, e.g., on October 13, 1917 (according tot he statements of Jacinta and Francisco) the Holy Family appeared high in the sky, grouped round the sun: on the left side of the sun was St. Joseph with the child Jesus, who presently took up a position under the sun, and our Lady was on the right side (cf. Visconde de Montelo, op. cit., pp114,119),” ibid. 33n25.

“How, for instance, would this objectivistic conception explain the appearance in visions of Jesus as a child? Since he is not a child anymore, how can he appear as such at this particular time and place before the visionary? How would one explain Our Lady under various titles—as the Sorrowful Mother, the Queen of the Rosary, the Virgin of Carmel, &c. —appearing in rapid succession, while other visionaries simultaneously see the Holy Family? Or the appearance of a celestial person (the Saviour carrying his Cross, the Mother of God weeping) in a situation and frame of mind which are inappropriate to that person now? How can one explain those visions which, conveying as vivid an impression of actuality as other visions, present past events as happening here and now and that in a manner which contradicts the known historical facts as well as other visions of the same event?” Ibid. 34-35.

X. Internal appraisal

So what actually happened at Fatima on October 13, 1917?

How we interpret the phenomenon depends, in large measure, on what presuppositions we bring to the claim, and how firmly we do or ought to hold to our presuppositions.

Some people would take this admission as a recipe for relativism. But that’s excessive. Through education, it’s possible to become self-aware of our presuppositions, as well as rival presuppositions. It is possible to compare and contrast competing conceptual schemes according to their internal consistency, correspondence with the evidence, and explanatory power.

Catholics are apt to treat the sun-miracle as genuine, Evangelicals as diabolical, secular sceptics as a paradigm-case of mass hallucination, and ufologists as a flying saucer.

So let’s take stock of where we stand at this point in the process. If I were to judge the sun-miracle on Catholic grounds alone, what would I conclude?

One reasonable explanation is that the sun-miracle was a fluke. This would be a naturalistic explanation. It follows from several considerations:

i) The official report of the Canonical Commission doesn’t even discuss the sun miracle.

ii) Only a handful of eyewitnesses committed their impressions to writing.

iii) We lack critical editions of their writings.

iv) In some cases, the editions we do have are guilty of legendary embellishment.

v) Due to the geographical confinement of the phenomena, the most plausible interpretation construes the event as a rare, but naturally occurring event. What would render it miraculous is the timing of the event, rather than the nature of the event.

vi) Lucia did not predict a solar phenomenon. She only identified the sign as a solar phenomenon after the fact.

vii) According to reports, not everyone present even witnessed the miracle of the sun.

viii) According to other reports, the same phenomenon recurred after the appointed day. But since the timing of the event is what distinguishes the event as miraculous, repetition directly undercuts the miraculous character of the event.

ix) Other Marian apparitions at Fatima, which the sun-miracle was allegedly meant to confirm, are suspect in the way they conform to provincial features of Iberian liturgy and iconography. Prior religious conditioning clearly had a shaping influence on the interpretation of the apparently numinous encounters.

x) Why would Mary predict the future, but bind the recipient to secrecy? To reveal a prediction after the fact undermines the evidential value of the oracle. Anyone can predict the future as soon as the future is past!

xi) According to the Vatican, the apparitions at Fatima were subjective visions.

xii) Subjective visions, even if veridical for the recipient, are hardly veridical for a second party.

xiii) Private revelations can be delusive.

xiv) Private revelations lack the binding force of public revelation.

xv) Miracles are not primarily evidential in value.

xvi) The dark side can simulate miracles.

XI. External appraisal

Turning from an internal appraisal to an external appraisal, what alternative explanations are available, prescinding Catholic criteria?

1. One naturalistic alternative would be mass hallucination. Possible evidence for this interpretation would be the fact that some of the reported onlookers denied seeing the sun-miracle.

But there are major problems with this explanation:

i) The allegation of mass hallucination assumes what it needs to prove. It explains (or explains away) the phenomenon by appeal to the category of mass hallucination. But this classification makes a couple of unstated assumptions:

a) The miracle of the sun could not or did not happen. Hence, some alternative explanation is in order—preferably naturalistic.

b) Mass hallucinations occur, of which one well-attested example is the reported event at Fatima.

Notice the circularity of the reasoning. The nonoccurrence of the miracle of the sun-miracle is evidence for mass hallucination, while mass hallucination is evidence for the nonoccurrence of the miracle of the sun.

So this explanation leaves unexplained why we should either reject the phenomenon or accept the psychological surrogate. Where is the independent evidence for either assumption?

As Gary Habermas observes:

Collective Hallucinations. One of the central issues in this entire discussion concerns whether a group of people can witness the same hallucination. Most psychologists dispute the reality of such occurrences, as pointed out below. A rare attempt suggesting that collective hallucinations are possible, without any application to Jesus' resurrection, is made by Leonard Zusne and Warren Jones. They point to phenomena such as claimed sightings of the virgin Mary and other accompanying reports from groups of people. In cases like these, "expectation" and "emotional excitement" are "a prerequisite for collective hallucinations." In such groups we see the "emotional contagion that so often takes place in crowds moved by strong emotions…" [xxv]

But favoring collective hallucinations is highly problematic, and on several grounds. (1) To begin, the chief examples of "collective hallucinations" provided by Zusne and Jones were group religious experiences such as Marion apparitions. But these citations simply beg the question regarding whether such experiences could possibly be objective, or even supernatural, at least in some sense. In other words, why must a naturalistic, subjective explanation be assumed? [xxvi] This seems to rule them out in an a priori manner, before the data are considered.

ii) Habermas also makes the following point: “In my opinion, one necessary distinction is between hallucinations & illusions. The former are subjective, while the latter are objective, where actual objects are perceived, but taken to be something else—such as spinning suns, etc. The majority of Marion events, at least as reported by the crowds, are the latter. Not only does psychiatry make distinctions between these two, but another contrast is with delusions. My ‘Trinity Journal’ article (the third item under articles on my website) discusses this distinction a bit, in case you want to have a look” (12/11/06 email).

iii) In addition, Jaki repeatedly points out that no one was expecting the sign to take the form of a solar phenomenon. Therefore, generic appeals to Catholic piety and crowd psychology fail to select for this particular “hallucination.”

2.Another naturalistic explanation, if you can call it that, is a ufological interpretation.

But there are several problems with that interpretation:

i) Ufological explanations are only as good as ufology in general, which is subject to many scientific criticisms.

ii) Beyond that, not everyone regards ufology as essentially naturalistic. Some critics regard ufology as essentially diabolical.

For a critique of ufology from both angles, cf. H. Ross et al., Lights in the Sky (Navpress 2002); G. Bates, Alien Intrusion (Creation Book Publishers 2010).

iii) And even if we didn’t reject ufology outright, a generic appeal to ufology would not, of itself, make that the best explanation for Fatima.

iv) There is a level at which both the ufological and pious Catholic interpretation are parallel, for, in both instances, the phenomena are construed in light of preexisting cultural categories. Yesterday’s Fatimist might be today’s ufologist, while today’s ufologist might be yesterday’s Fatimist.

For Lucia, Iberian liturgy and iconography supplied the interpretive grid while, for an ufologist, science fiction supplies the interpretive grid.

3.How should a Protestant approach this phenomenon?

i) To some extent, how we answer this question is bound up with how we answer a related question. For this goes in part to the cessationist/charismatic debate.

At one end of the continuum is the cessationist view, represented by men like B. B. Warfield, Conyers Middleton, and O. P. Robertson, according to which miracles came to an end at the end of the apostolic age.

Cf. C. Middleton, A Free Inquiry (1748); B. B. Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles (1983); O. P. Robertson, The Final World (Banner of Truth 2004).

At the other end of the spectrum is the charismatic position, according to which miracle workers of one sort or another (e.g. prophets, healers) continue in the life of the church.

Somewhere in the middle is the semicessationist position, according to which miracles continue, but not miracle-workers.

In other words, miracles continue, but not in an official capacity. God now works miracles directly or individually, rather than working through an official intermediary (e.g. apostle, prophet, healer).

This taxonomy is subject to further refinements, but that gives you the basic idea. It also allows for diabolical activity during the church age. For a useful review of Biblical demonology and its modern-day manifestations, cf.

For the record, I subscribe to the semicessationist position.

It almost seems as if Warfield position is framed with the express purpose of excluding Catholic miracles, on the unspoken principle that it’s better to filter out every sub-apostolic miracle for fear a single Catholic miracle might slip through the screen, however fine the mesh.

Now, I’m as much opposed to Catholicism as Warfield. But I don’t allow the opposing side to define my own position. Ironically, when your own position is that reactionary, then you put yourself at the mercy of the very thing you disdain. It dictates the contours of what you allow yourself to believe. You are left with the residual scraps of unincorporated land that the other side did not annex or appropriate. But I’m not prepared to cede over so much territory to the other side.

Mind you, Warfield was no one’s fool. His arrows rarely miss their target. I have little reason to take issue with his examples.

But that’s the problem. The power of the presentation lies less in the logical force of the argument than it does in the polemical choice of the illustrations.

If you select a ridiculous example, then your investment will return a ridiculous yield. The argument writes itself. All it takes is a series of well-chosen illustrations and a witty prose style.

This is the stuff of Voltaire, and it’s a bit hair-raising to see B. B. Warfield banish every purported miracle—from subapostolic times to modern times—to banish a single Catholic claim. Rather like euthanizing a whole hospital ward for fear one pathological patient will recover and kill again.

There’s also a central tension in Warfield’s position. Although he deploys cessationism to uphold and undergird the authority of Scripture: “Warfield's cessationism involves a double standard: in Counterfeit Miracles he applies the same rationalistic critical methods as Hume and Harnack to postbiblical miracles that he attacks in liberal critics who apply them to the biblical accounts.”

Speaking for myself, I think it’s better if we don’t burn the house down to exterminate the rats. I prefer a few well-positioned mousetraps to a match and a gallon of gasoline.

I also think there’s a lot of merit in O. Palmer Robertson’s analysis. The problem, though, is the tendency to use one form of overkill to dispatch another form of overkill. Rival reactionaries.

There is a charismatic strand within Reformed tradition:

So it would be a mistake to claim that Reformed theology is committed to cessationism.

For a fair and balanced debate, cf. W. Grudem, ed. Are Miraculous Gifts For Today? (Zondervan 1996).

ii) Semicessationism is open to miracles generally, but whether we should credit any particular claim is subject to further considerations. So what about Catholic miracles?

Many Evangelicals will dismiss a Catholic miracle out of hand on the assumption that a Catholic miracle would attest Catholic dogma, and if we have good reason to reject Catholic dogma, then we have good reason to reject a Catholic miracle.

iii) But this is a bit ambiguous. It assumes that any miracle that happens to a Catholic is a Catholic miracle, in the sectarian sense that it occurred to attest some point of Catholic dogma.

And there is no doubt that some Catholic miracles serve this function. That is to say, appeal is made to a purported miracle to attest the distinctives of Catholicism.

iv) But, in Scripture, the function of miracles is broader. A miracle may simply be an act of divine mercy. God, in his common grace, is often merciful to the reprobate (Acts 14:17).

Or a miracle may be designed to bless the elect via the reprobate. Like the parable of the wheat and the tares, elect and reprobate share a common field. In order to bless the elect, God must bless the reprobate as well—sending his sun and rain on each alike (Mt 5:45; 13:24-30; 36-40).

Dropping the metaphor, election cuts across family lines. A father may be damned, while the son is redeemed. But without the father, there would be no son.

Suppose that God miraculously heals the impious father for the sake of a pious son. Such a miracle would hardly attest the truth of atheism, even if the atheist was the immediate beneficiary.

I’m not saying that this distinction is applicable in every case. But we do need to draw some principled distinctions.

v) Should an Evangelical take the position that God would never answer the prayer of a Catholic? I don’t see why.

If God could bless an atheist, why not a Catholic? So even on the most uncharitable reading, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Catholic miracles—although we must still judge the claim on a case-by-case basis.

vi) But I also think that we can be a bit more charitable. After all, even if you deem the Church of Rome to be an apostate denomination, this doesn’t mean that every individual member thereof is apostate.

Traditionally, Calvinism, among other Evangelical traditions, has allowed for the fact that some Roman Catholics are genuine believers.

Years ago I read the memoirs of Fulton Sheen: Treasure in clay: the autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen. (Doubleday 1980).

It’s been a while, so I’m fuzzy on the details, but as I recall he prayed for the conversion of a woman, she came to the faith, and the timing of the effect in relation to the time of the prayer made it clear that her conversion was, indeed, in answer to prayer.

If we were so inclined, we could, of course, dismiss this account on various grounds. But even though Bishop Sheen always struck me as being rather vain and full of himself, I don’t have any reason to doubt his integrity. Catholicism is better than atheism. So there’s no particular reason, from my vantage-point, to question the story.

vii) But what about Catholic miracles that really are sectarian? Miracles that are tailor-made to attest Catholic dogma, like Marian apparitions?

viii) Well, for one thing, if a claim seems made to order, then it may very well be made to order. It’s exactly what it appears to be—a contrivance!

ix) Another explanation is to treat these as genuine, but diabolical. Cf. E. Miller & K. Samples, The Cult of the Virgin (Baker 1993).

I expect this will strike many people as special pleading. And maybe it is.

On the other hand, it isn’t obviously an instance of special pleading. After all, this is a case of opposing one supernatural explanation to another supernatural explanation. So it operates within the same framework. And Catholicism itself regards some supernatural phenomena as diabolical in origin.

I wouldn’t be as open to Catholic miracles as I am were I not a Christian to begin with. So my theological outlook cuts both ways on this issue.

x) The diabolical explanation also turn on the question of how much power the dark side has over the natural world. Based on Moses encounter with the Egyptian magicians (Exod 7-8), there is some evidence that the dark side can manipulate natural forces—up to a certain point.

xi) But that’s not the only option.

xiv) There is also the question of how, if at all, we correlate the miraculous with the paranormal. Is it possible that some paranormal abilities are natural abilities?

Writers like Stephen Braude, Rosemarie Pilkington, and Rupert Sheldrake operate with this general paradigm.

If so, their possession of paranormal abilities would be morally or spiritual neutral, although what is done with them would not be morally or spiritually neutral.

But even if some paranormal abilities are natural, they can’t account for more spectacular events. Otherwise, we would expect events on this scale on a fairly regular basis.

xv) By “natural” I don’t mean that they are natural to everyone.

xvi) In addition, the natural/supernatural distinction is more essential to the naturalist than the supernaturalist. From a Christian standpoint, even natural events have an ultimately supernatural origin. It’s the naturalist who needs to create a natural/supernatural dichotomy in order to banish the supernatural from his worldview.

xvii) At the same time, some apparently natural paranormal abilities may, in fact, have an obliquely occultic origin. Kurt Koch, the Lutheran exorcist, regarded paranormal abilities as a form of hereditary, mediumistic magic.

An ancestor acquired these abilities through occultic involvement. This, in turn, was passed down the family line.

As such, a devout individual who would never think to dabble in the occult might inherit such abilities. He would be unconscious of the process of transmission.

If this analysis is correct, then paranormal abilities would not be morally or spiritual neutral, even if their exercise was morally or spiritually innocent.

So what actually happened at Fatima on October 13, 1917?

1.I’ve already offered an evaluation of the event, using Catholic criteria, when I treated the phenomenon as a historical curiosity. And I happen to think that’s a perfectly reasonable interpretation for an Evangelical to take.

For example, another problem with the miracle of the sun is that if the purpose of this event was to attest Marian dogma, then it was a rather roundabout and ultimately ambiguous way of making the point.

Would it not have been more to the point for Mary to simply put in a public appearance to 70,000 onlookers? Complete with photographers?

There is, after all, no internal relation between the Virgin Mary and a solar phenomenon. So why choose such an oblique method of getting the message across?

I’d add that one can be sincere, but sincerely deceived. The very ingenuousness of the children would make them easy targets for the dark side.

2.But while a naturalistic explanation is plausible, we’re not limited to naturalistic explanations. Another, equally reasonable explanation, is to construe the phenomenon as a supernatural event.

This does not, however, commit us to a favorable interpretation of the event, for not every numinous encounter or supernatural event is a miraculous confirmation of revealed theology.

As I said before, Catholicism of itself distinguishes between a miracle and a mirable. And Scripture draws the same distinction.

In Deut 13:1-5, we have a programmatic statement regarding the relation between miracle and doctrine. As one commentator explains:

“Prophecy and dreams are common vehicles of divine revelation in the Bible (see 1 Sam 28:6). God truly speaks through these means in the Hebrew Bible. In addition, signs and wonders sometimes accompany the revelation as a means of confirmation. These are normally to be interrelated as confirming the word of the true prophet of Yahweh (18:22).

Here Moses provides an exception: even if the prophet or dreamer produces signs and wonders, if he is promoting apostasy, he is not to be listened to…The people are to maintain exclusive allegiance to Yahweh. Thus the Israelites’ first response is to be rejection of the message given by the false prophet,” J. Currid, Deuteronomy (Evangelical Press 2006), 260.

Several elements are noteworthy in this passage:

a) The miracle may be genuine.

b) The miracle may be sectarian in the sense that a false prophet is performing this miracle to attest his idolatrous belief-system.

c) The miracle is ultimately attributed to God.

d) The miracle is a test of faith.

e) Preexisting revelation supplies the criterion.

f) This passage has its NT counterpart in delusive, endtime signs and wonders (Mt 24:24; 2 Thes 2:9-10; Rev 13).

This passage (and others like it) poses a logical problem for some Christians. How can miracles attest revelation if miracles are subject to revelation? Isn’t that viciously circular?

The short answer is that miracles amount to probative evidence, but insufficient evidence, considered in isolation. The argument from miracles is not a self-standing argument. Miracles are one piece of evidence, but there are other considerations which figure in our assessment. For an overview of the issues,


The OT text is significant in several respects:

a) It isn’t necessary to deny the miracle.

b) It isn’t necessary to attribute the miracle to the dark side.

God may or may not employ a secondary agent. In this case, the miracle has a proximate, occultic point of origin.

c) But the larger point is lies in the purpose of the miracle, as a test of faith.

Regardless of whether the cause is directly attributable to God or the dark side, the overarching purpose is to test the spiritual allegiance of the covenant community. Are its members loyal to the true God, or false gods?

Such a miracle has a winnowing and refining effect. It induces some to defect, but those who remain are numbered among the faithful.

xii) On the one hand, Deut 13:1-5 is reminiscent of the encounter between Moses and the Egyptian wizards. Cf. J. Currid, A Study Commentary on Exodus (Evangelical Press 2000), 1:175-176; J. Durham, Exodus (Word 1987), 89-110.

On the other hand, it foreshadows endtime prophecies in the Olivet discourse and other parts of the NT. Cf. C. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (Word 2001), 323-24; R. France, The Gospel of Mark (Eerdmans 2002), 528-29; D. Hagner, Matthew 14-28 (Word 1995), 706; C. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans 1999), 573-75; 582.

As Beale puts it, commenting on Rev 13:11:

“This beast from the land has been variously identified as Satan, Antichrist, the Roman imperial priesthood, the Catholic Church (so the Reformers), and false teachers…This beast may well take many forms and may at times even be equated with the state, as well as false prophets in the church (as in 2:2,14-15,20-24). That manifestations of the beastly false prophet occur in the church is also suggested by the OT, where false prophecy almost always takes place within the covenant community. This is reinforced by Christ’s prophecy that false prophets and messiahs would arise in the believing community itself (Mt 25:5,11 and parallels). Jesus also likened false prophets to beasts and foretold that ‘false prophets’ would ‘come in sheep’s clothing but are inwardly ravenous wolves’ (Mt 7:15). The image of a wolf in lamb’s clothing suggests a traitor within the fold of the church,” G. Beale, The Book of Revelation (Eerdmans 1999), 707-08.

“Therefore, the imagery and background suggest deception within the covenant community itself. Whereas the first beast speaks loudly and defiantly against God, the second beast makes the first beast’s claims sound plausible and persuasive,” ibid. 708.

“His activities are described [v13] by an ironic echo of the acts of Moses, whose prophetic authority was validated by ‘great signs’ (e.g. Exod 4:17,30; 10:2; 11:10). Even in Exodus (7:11) Pharaoh’s magicians ‘did the same [signs] with their secret arts,’” ibid. 708.

“That an inside threat by a ‘false apostle’ is alluded to is apparent from the fact that the second beast’s authority is modeled on the credentials of Christ’s apostles in that (1) the beast is a successor of his mastery in both ministry and authority (Rev 13:12a; cf. Acts 1:1-11), (2) his attempts to persuade others to worship his master are inextricably linked to his master’s resurrection (Rev 13:12b,14b; cf. Acts 2:22-47), and (3) he performs miraculous ‘signs’ as concrete manifestations of his authority (Rev 13:13; Acts 2:43; 5:12; 15:12). Perhaps the ‘false apostles’ of 2:2 are partly in mind. This inside-outside threat of deception is linked to the prophecy in Dan 11:30-37, where external pagan forces attack the covenant community on two fronts, both persecuting saints who do not compromise their faith and penetrating the covenant community in some way through false teaching and persuading some to defect from following the true God, while remaining apparent members of the community in order to influence others to compromise their loyalty to God and give their allegiance to the idolatrous state,” 709.

Commenting on 1 Thes 2:6-7, the same author notes that “Jesus referred to the same prophecy from Daniel in Mt 24 (see Mt 24:4-5,10-13,23-26)…Jesus predicts that before he comes many antichrists will indeed come. He is focusing not on the final coming of one antichrist but on the coming into the church of many antichrists who are the semifulfillments and forerunners of the final predicted opponent of God (Mt 24:5,10-15,24),” 1-2 Thessalonians (VIP 2003), 219.

xiii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the miracle of the sun is a genuine miracle. Suppose, further, that it’s a Catholic miracle in the sectarian sense.

If various features of Marian dogma (e.g. Assumption, immaculate conception, Mediatrix, Co-Redemptrix, Queen of Heaven, perpetual virginity [ante, in, et post partum]) are contrary to Scripture, then, according to Deut 13 and its NT counterparts, a Christian is obliged to reject the evidentiary status of the miracle.

Paradoxically, if it does attest false doctrine, then that’s reason, not to accept it, but to not accept it. The very reason which a Catholic theologian or apologist will give for crediting the miraculous attestation is the very reason which Scripture gives for discrediting the miraculous attestation.

And a Christian is under no obligation to offer an alternative explanation. He doesn’t have to explain what really happened. Or how it happened. Whether the witnesses were deceivers or self-deceived.

The onus is not on him to answer these questions or disprove the event. For even if everything happened as exactly described, a Christian would still be duty-bound to reject the evidentiary status of the miracle. For, under the circumstances, it would be a test of faith.

xiv) Is Marian dogma contrary to Scripture? That’s a separate argument. It would take me too far afield to address that question. Instead, I’d refer the reader to the following works:

Roman Catholicism (Moody Publishers 1998)
by John Armstrong (Editor)

ISBN-10: 0802471692
ISBN-13: 978-0802471697

The Conflict with Rome (Baker 1958)
by G. C Berkouwer

ASIN: B0007EC3Q8

The Cult of the Virgin: Catholic Mariology and the Apparitions of Mary (Cri Books 1992)
by Elliot Miller, Kenneth R. Samples

ISBN-10: 0801062918
ISBN-13: 978-0801062919

Evangelical Answers (Reformation Press 1999)
by Eric Svendsen

ISBN-10: 0967084083
ISBN-13: 978-0967084084

Mary-Another Redeemer (Bethany House 1998)
by James R. White

ISBN-10: 0764221027
ISBN-13: 978-0764221026

xiii) Does the occultic interpretation sound like special-pleading? It might come across that way if this were a debate between a believer and an unbeliever over the evidential force of miracles—although I don’t think it would be special-pleading even in that context.

But in an intramural debate between two Christian traditions which both take the Bible as a reference point, there’s nothing arbitrary or ad hoc about pointing to a programmatic passage like Deut 13:1-5 or its NT counterparts, in which we’re given explicit criteria adjudicating the relation between revelation and miracle, with canonical revelation taking precedence.

The Evangelical didn’t invent that priority structure as an apologetic escape-hatch. Rather, he is applying to a contemporary analogue a preexisting criterion in Scripture.

In sum, I think a Christian can reject the evidential value of the sun-miracle on either Catholic grounds or Protestant grounds.

On a final note, I’d like to thank Jason Engwer, John Frame, Gary Habermas, and Eric Svendsen for commenting on a brief, preliminary draft of this essay.


  1. Steve,

    this is the best article you've written in a long time.

    Especially because so many of its points can be used against the Bible and Miracles in general.


  2. Maidmarion,

    this is the best comment you've written in a long time.

    Especially because so many of its poitns can be used against materialists and atheism in general.


  3. Semper Reformanda1/17/2007 4:41 PM

    If there really are "so many" of them, it should be easy for you to list a few and mount an argument for them instead of tossing out a drive-by quip.

  4. Hi Paul,

    I'm not sure what "poitns" are, but I bet they are DEVASTATING!!!!

    Please don't slap the rear-naked choke hold on me, mkay?

    Your Favorite Maid

  5. Semper Reformanda said:
    If there really are "so many" of them, it should be easy for you to list a few and mount an argument for them instead of tossing out a drive-by quip.

    You overestimate "maidmarion" and his/her intellectual capacity.

    I doubt s/he has even read what Steve has written. Juding on writing style alone I am forced to conclude that maidmarion spends all his/her time watching the Daily Show, thinking it constitutes urbane and sophisticated humor instead of cheap laughs, or surfing You Tube for Carrot Top routines. S/he then tries to repeat them here (but alas, without the necessary talent, and without the audience's cue cards). Really, it's quite pitiful to watch.

    And that's not even getting into the horrendous theology s/he has.

  6. Steve said:
    "[X].xvi) The dark side can simulate miracles."

    But the Sith are known for their tendency to use these miracles for their own ends --
    Peace is a lie; there is only passion.
    Through passion, I gain strength.
    Through strength, I gain power.
    Through power, I gain victory.
    Through victory, my chains are broken.
    The Force shall set me free.

    Perhaps demons are existentialists? After all, "one might compare the Sith code to Existentialism, as many aspects such as the quest for passion and freedom, and the concept of defining one's own destiny, are shared by the two. Other similarities between the two beliefs include awareness of death (the Jedi do not believe in death, they believe there is only the Force) and the absence of peace due to the role emotions play in life. Existentialists focus on anger and despair as major emotions, and these have been shown as aspects that help define Sith lords such as Anakin Skywalker. However, the appeal to responsibility as tied as one with freedom, at least as appears in Sartre´s writings, makes this comparison difficult, as dark siders clearly lose regard to others as they pursue their ends."

    The only part I cannot figure out is why the Sith used the dark side of the Force here to make all these people feel good. I guess even the Sith feel warm and fuzzy once in a while.

  7. Don't you guys get the fact that you're playing right into the hands of the moron atheists that post drivel?

    Nobody is actually interacting with this excellent post, they're wasting time with responding to the obvious decoy prompts of the obnoxious, and unregenerated moron unbelievers.


  8. Overall it was an ok article, even if it got a little silly with the parable comparisons. It seems like it was a lot of work just to say the same thing everyone else has already said, but it's your time.