Schelte Adamsz Bolswert (1586-1659)
The Cure of Innocentius of Carthage
Oil on copper
69 x 85.7 cm
Wellcome Library, London
This is a depiction of a scene and discussion of a lengthy passage of St Augustine De Civitate Dei, Book XXII, Chapter 8, where he discusses the continuation of miracles into his own age.
The sick man is Innocentius of Carthage, ex-advocate of the deputy prefecture of Carthage.
He was being treated for several anal fistulas, an extremely painful and debilitating condition
Augustine and his brother Alypius were witnesses to the events in Carthage
Innocentius was to undergo a very serious and dangerous operation. The prognosis was not good and it was feared that he would die under the knife. Prayers were said. On the day of the operation it was discovered that the fistulae were healed and no operation was required
Augustine then goes on to list and describe similar examples of healing through prayer and requests for intercessions through the Martyrs and saints in Carthage and beyond and in particular through the intervention of St Stephen, martyr
In subsequent chapters, Augustine goes on to discuss Miracles
In Chapter 9, he writes:
"To what do these miracles witness, but to this faith which preaches Christ risen in the flesh, and ascended with the same into heaven? For the martyrs themselves were martyrs, that is to say, witnesses of this faith, drawing upon themselves by their testimony the hatred of the world, and conquering the world not by resisting it, but by dying. For this faith they died, and can now ask these benefits from the Lord in whose name they were slain. For this faith their marvellous constancy was exercised, so that in these miracles great power was manifested as the result.
For if the resurrection of the flesh to eternal life had not taken place in Christ, and were not to be accomplished in His people, as predicted by Christ, or by the prophets who foretold that Christ was to come, why do the martyrs who were slain for this faith which proclaims the resurrection possess such power?
For whether God Himself wrought these miracles by that wonderful manner of working by which, though Himself eternal, He produces effects in time; or whether He wrought them by servants, and if so, whether He made use of the spirits of martyrs as He uses men who are still in the body, or effects all these marvels by means of angels, over whom He exerts an invisible, immutable, incorporeal sway, so that what is said to be done by the martyrs is done not by their operation, but only by their prayer and request; or whether, finally, some things are done in one way, others in another, and so that man cannot at all comprehend them—nevertheless these miracles attest this faith which preaches the resurrection of the flesh to eternal life."
David Hume (1711 – 1776) famously defined a miracle as “a violation of the laws of nature”
But this is not Augustine`s definition
But Hume suppressed his chapter On Miracles for some time His attack on miracles and especially the literal interpretation of Scripture might have met with criminal prosecution in Scotland
Although he does not refer to Augustine, one does wonder if it was St Augustine who was the main object of the critique by Hume
Unlike Hume, Augustine was also of the view that one need not believe in Miracles to have Faith, and that Faith and Reason do not contradict each other