Sunday, 17 January 2016

Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter - Part 6

For the next weeks, my Sunday postings will be a transcript of the book "Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter" by the Jersey historian, the Reverend G.R. Bailleine (1873 – 1966).

Most of Balleine's books are either currently in print - as for example his History of Jersey - or online in the form of PDF versions. This book is not, so this is something different. As well as being a Jersey historian, Balleine was also a priest in the Church of England, and Ministre Deservant at St Brelade's Church for a time.

It is fascination to see how G.R. Bailleine treats the miracle stories, and in particular healings and possessions.

He understands miracles within a scientific viewpoint. That is not to say he doesn’t believe they do happen, but they are not breaking the laws of nature. It is especially interesting that he treats bringing back Jairus’ daughter to life as a case of a coma, simulating death – and cites modern case studies where even with today’s medical science, doctors can still find it hard to discern whether death has taken place. While medical practice has advanced since Balleine’s time, the recent accounts of someone presumed in a vegetative state for life but recovering has shown that problems of ambiguity still remain, if not with death, with near death states.

He uses historical comparisons, some of accounts written within the healer’s own lifetime, and where enemies would have been quick to seize on any fakery and report on it. This is very like the so-called criteria of embarrassment, although of course it assumes that adverse criticism would survive in the historical record. He doesn’t cite Martin of Tours, but that would be another case study of healings with a near contemporary life of the saint.

He also uses an anthropological approach, comparing healings in many different societies to show that it was widespread and not just Christianity which could present cases of these accounts, and also that demon possession was a commonly held belief with respect some kinds of illness. He also again provides naturalistic explanations – the case of the Gadarene swine being a good example of this approach. This retains the narrative as mostly historical, but alters the framework in which we understand it.

And finally, and most interestingly, he uses almost an incarnational argument for Jesus being a man of his time with regard to beliefs in possessions – he would have not been “true man” if he had a modern scientific world view and not a first-century one.

The Wonder-Worker
by G.R. Balleine

LET us now turn back to the first Sabbath that Jesus spent in Capernaum. When He and Peter went to the synagogue, He was invited to preach. His sermon amazed everyone. He spoke like a Prophet, not like a Scribe. Scribes buttressed every opinion with quotations from time-honoured Rabbis. Jesus merely said, `Verily I say unto you.'

But the sermon was interrupted. Palestine was full of neurotics, who thought they had demons inside them. One screamed out: `Why meddle with us? We know You, God's Holy One!' He may have heard of Peter's claim to have found the Messiah.

What would Jesus do? Holy men were expected to work miracles. The Talmud describes how Hanina ben Dosa, a saintly first-century Rabbi, restored the sick by his prayers. And Jesus, now that He felt sure that He was the Messiah, probably hoped that miracles would accompany His mission. Prophets had said that, when Messiah came, `the eyes of the blind shall see and the ears of the deaf hear; the lame shall leap and the tongue of the dumb sing', and `the foul spirit shall pass out of the land'.

So He stepped down to the man and said: `Silence! Come out!' The man rolled on the floor shrieking. But the paroxysm passed. He grew calm and sane. The congregation dispersed saying: `This teaching has power behind it. Even demons obey Him.'

The problem of miracles will be with us all through our story. We must make up our minds about them. The word `miracle' is quite colourless. Formed from the Latin mirari, `to wonder', it means only `something that creates wonder'. A miracle can be defined as `a fact not explicable by known laws'.

It is`not something contrary to Nature, but contrary to Nature as we know it', supernormal but not necessarily supernatural. Cures not explicable by known laws occur in most religions. Faith-healing is the oldest form of healing, practised in thousands of sacred spots before the birth of medicine. Six hundred sick lay every night round the Temple of Asklepios near Corinth, and masses of votive tablets remain, left by those who were healed.

These cover seven centuries; and it is incredible that among a sceptical race like the Greeks this pilgrimage could have lasted so long on so vast a scale, if all the cures were delusions. Round this god's Temple at Rome thousands of bronze legs, arms and eyes have been found, left as thank-offerings for recovery.

Indeed the Talmud discusses as a mystifying problem: `We know that idols are nothing. Yet men go to them maimed and return sound.'

Similar cures occur in Christendom. Three illustrations must suffice. Some relics were discovered at Milan in A.D. 386, `and,' says Augustine, `a man well known in the city, who had for years been blind, touched the bier with a rag, which he pressed to his eyes; and they were opened. I Witnessed it'. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, preached on this before the Empress with the man standing beside him, and declared that many could testify to the man's previous blindness. He must have been very sure of his facts, for Milan was full of Ambrose-hating Arians, who would have broadcast any flaw in the evidence.

In 1170 Archbishop Becket was murdered by the King's Knights, and miracles began at his tomb. To call Becket a martyr was treason; so the Canterbury monks had to walk warily. The evidence was carefully recorded. Benedict, the recorder, `seems,' writes Dr. E. A. Abbot,' `to have been a man peculiarly accurate, free from exaggeration, and disposed to suspect imposture'. [“St. Thomas of Canterbury, his death and miracles.”]His Register remains, a day-by-day diary, drawn up with the knowledge that any inaccuracy would be pounced on by the King's officials; yet it records among others the cure of a dumb priest, a madman, a blind smith, a lame woman who threw away her crutches, and a paralysed knight, who was carried to the tomb, but mounted his horse and rode home.

A modern example is Lourdes. Rows of sick lie on stretchers. Their prayers rise like the rattle of machine guns. Everyone is expecting miracles: `Faites queje vois!' `Faites queje marche!' Over each a priest makes the sign of the cross. One leaps up; then another. But this is a sceptical age. Cures must be tested and registered. Every pilgrim brings his home doctor's diagnosis. If cured, he reports to the Medical Bureau, where he is examined, not only by Catholic doctors, but by medical men of many nations, Jews, Protestants, Agnostics, hundreds of whom visit this Bureau every year. When the patient gets home, his own doctor sends follow-up reports for at least a year, before any cure is registered.

Healings like these-and their number is innumerable-prove that there is nothing incredible in the Gospel miracles. Similar happenings often accompany outbursts of religious fervour. We cannot explain them, except by cliches like `the influence of mind over matter'. But it often comes true, `Believe you are going to get well, and you will.' Mendelssohn, the Jewish philosopher, said of the Old Testament miracles, `No religion can be proved by miracles, for every religion can produce them.'

One problem remains : the way the Gospels link disease with demons. This was everywhere the primitive explanation of sickness. `In ancient Assyria,' writes Sayce, `all sickness was ascribed to demons.' In Egypt every disease was a demon that had crept up your nostrils. In India the Vedas speak of demons as scientists speak of germs, dangerous creatures that enter the body and undermine its health. Everyone in Palestine believed this in the first century. An educated Jew like Josephus believed it as firmly as any peasant. `I have seen a fellow-countryman,' he writes, `heal demoniacs before Vespasian. With a ring containing a root prescribed by Solomon he drew demons out through the nostrils.' Luke, the physician, takes demon-possession as a matter of course. Lucian, the Greek satirist, speaks of `the Palestinian who straddles over epileptics and calls out the demons by name'.

The Jewish exorcists were once used by Jesus as an argument, `If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out?'

The Gospels clearly assume that Jesus shared this belief. In the synagogue `He rebuked the demon and said, Come out'. `For the Christian,' writes Bishop Rawlinson, `this should not be a difficulty. It was plainly involved in the Incarnation, that His human mind should be that of a Palestinian Jew of the first century.' Indeed it would contradict the doctrine that He was `Very Man' if His conception of disease had been that of a modern psychotherapist.

But His method of treatment was invariably mental. He used no Solomonic incantations. He sought no magic roots by moonlight on the shore of the Dead Sea. He simply strove to help each sufferer to believe that he was free.

For months Peter lived in a whirl of miracles. Let us look at a few at which he was present. On that first Sabbath in Capernaum, when he and Jesus returned from the synagogue, no meal was ready, for Peter's mother-in-law had been suddenly laid low with fever. Fever is a symptom, not a disease; and we are not told what had caused it. But Jesus found her helpless on her pallet. Would the power that freed the demoniac avail in ordinary sickness? He felt impelled to try. He grasped her hand and raised her up, and the fever left her. Soon she was bustling round, setting out the supper.

Meanwhile all Capernaum was discussing the synagogue miracle. At sunset, when Sabbath ended and burden-bearing was permitted, a long stream of sick and maimed arrived at Peter's door. Jesus laid His Hands on them, and healed `many'. Peter was delighted; but Jesus was troubled. Since He had this power, He could not refuse to use it; but He saw that it would gravely hamper His work. He had left Nazareth to proclaim the Kingdom, not to minister to the sick. He shrank from the role of miracle-worker.

When Peter woke next morning, a crowd was gathering again at his door; but Jesus' mat was empty. He had fled, before the sun rose, to a lonely spot for prayer. When Peter found Him, He had resolved to leave Capernaum. But He could not be hidden. It would have needed a heart of stone to refuse help. Moreover these miracles did proclaim His conception of God. Mens Tana in corpore nano was what God desired. Therefore in God's Name He fought disease. But He tried to keep this side of His work as far as possible in the back-ground. However, He could not do it.

It was the healings that made Him famous. Crowds gathered, not to be taught, but to gape at miracles. Mark draws vivid sketches: `A huge crowd came from Judea and Jerusalem, from Edom, and from beyond Jordan, and from round Tyre and Sidon; and He told His disciples to keep a boat handy, lest they should crush Him, for He healed so many, that they kept pressing on Him, that the sick might touch Him.' Or again: 'The people brought the sick on mats, wherever He was, and laid them in the road, and begged Him to let them touch at least the tassel of His cloak; and all who touched were healed.'

If such wholesale healings seem hard to believe, St. Bernard provides a parallel. In 1147 he travelled up the Rhine, preaching the Crusade. Four of his companions, a bishop, two abbots, and an archdeacon, kept diaries, and, before parting, drew up a joint Report. This is full of miracles; yet to discard it would be to discredit all history. Its authors were intelligent men, holding high positions, eye-witnesses of what they describe. It was published a month after the events, in the district where they occurred, a district full of Bernard's enemies. Yet no one challenged its truth.

'At Secking,' we read, 'he cured three cripples, who flung away their crutches, and ran through the streets praising God. Later he healed a sick woman, of which we were witnesses. The sign of the cross over a madman restored his reason. In the afternoon a lame child recovered the use of his legs.' At Constance 'a blind man received his sight, and a woman, who had long been lame, recovered as he blessed her. He made the sign of the cross over a boy's palsied arm, and he stretched it out before us all. Few could see everything through the crowds and confusion, but all saw the blind man, who received his sight at the altar'. At Doningen they list thirty-six miracles in a single day, and add, 'We heard the crowd rejoicing over others, but could not turn back to investigate.'

These quotations make clear the excitement that greeted Bernard. In such an atmosphere scores of miracles were vouched for by responsible witnesses. In such an atmosphere Jesus passed through Galilee; and Peter was as triumphant as Bernard's companions.

Another miracle took place in Peter's cottage. News spread that Jesus was back in Capernaum. The house filled, and the street was so crowded that no one could get near the door. Jesus was sitting inside teaching, when clay began to fall on His hearers' heads. A hole was torn through the mud roof, and a paralysed man was lowered to Jesus' feet.

Such a petition He could not ignore; and the way He dealt with it is instructive. Among Jews the idea lingered that all suffering was a penalty for sin. `Till his sins are forgiven,' says the Talmud, `the sick rises not from his sickness.' Jesus knew that this man thought that his stroke had been a punishment. This belief must be banished before recovery was possible. With all the magic of a strong personality Jesus stooped and said, `God has forgiven your sins.'

Paralysis springs from various causes, one of which is hysteria. This produces Faith-Crippling. Believe that a muscle cannot be used, and it becomes unusable. Make the patient forget the crippling thought, and you effect a cure. Paralytics have raced downstairs to escape a fire, leapt from bath-chairs to avoid a bull, sprung to their feet to avenge an insult. And bundles of crutches left at many pilgrim shrines show what happens when the crippling thought is removed by religious influence. In Peter's cottage Jesus freed the man's mind from thinking he was under a curse. Then He told him to use his muscles, `Pick up your mat, and go.' The muscles responded, and he walked out with his bed under his arm.

The cure of a madman was one of Peter's outstanding memories. Across the lake was a mountain, to which Jesus often went for prayer. On one visit Peter saw from the boat a naked maniac rush on Him from the tombs, a man of superhuman strength, whom no chains could bind. He and Jesus stood face to face. If Jesus was really a little man, the scene is the more dramatic. The huge lunatic meant to attack this intruder; but the calmness of Jesus cowed him, and he cringed at His feet.

Jesus tried the method that had worked in the synagogue, and said, `Come out, foul spirit!' But there was no result. `Why meddle with me?' the man shrieked, `For God's sake don't torment mel' So Jesus tried to help him to recall his lost personality. `What is your name?' But He only got the raving answer: `Legion. There are thousands of us.' The case seemed hopeless. But some stirring towards sanity was at work in that crazy mind. A suggestion came from the man himself. A herd of pigs was near. `Let us enter the swine,' he cried. And Jesus said, `Go.' Demoniacs were seldom cured without a fierce convulsion. We can picture the man rushing towards the swine to transfer his demons to them, and falling with blood-curdling yells. The startled pigs stampeded down the slope, and over a cliff into the lake. To the man this showed that his demons had gone; and he grew calm and sane.

The really staggering miracle would be the reanimation of a corpse, and Mark implies that Jesus even did this. Jair, ruler of the Capernaum synagogue, had seen in his own synagogue the demoniac cured. So, when his little daughter fell ill, he ran to Jesus for help. On the way they were interrupted. A woman with menstrual haemorrhage secretly touched His cloak, and was healed. Psychologists would call this a case of auto-suggestion.

Jesus Himself said, `Your faith has cured you.' A message then came from Jair's house: `The child is dead. Don't trouble the Rabbi further.' But Jesus said: `Fear not! Have faith.' He took with Him into the house Peter and James and John. The hired wailing-women had begun their howls; but Jesus declared, `The child is asleep, not dead,' and bundled them out (the word suggests physical force). Then He took the girl's hand, and said, `Talitha tumi,"Lassie, wake up!' And she jumped up, and walked.

This story does not stand alone. Luke tells of another occa-sion, when Jesus roused a widow's son. Later we shall find Peter himself recalling Dorcas to life. Augustine tells how a dead priest revived, when touched by St. Stephen's relics. One miracle at Becket's tomb was the restoring of a boy to life.

In such cases the question arises, Were they really dead? Death is not always easy to recognize. `The evidence of ordinary observers,' says Professor Huxley, `is absolutely worthless.' `There is but one trustworthy proof,' writes Sir Henry Thompson; `signs of commencing decomposition.' Sir Frederick Treves tells of a man who collapsed in the London Hospital: `No pulse could be felt. He had ceased to breathe. All traces of sensation had vanished. Artificial respiration was employed, injections given, electricity made extensive use of. The man remained without evidence of life.' Yet he recovered.

If death is so hard to vouch for, even in a modern hospital, in less scientific surroundings many must have been considered dead who were only unconscious. Among the mass of miracle stories reports of revival of the dead are extremely rare, and many that seem well authenticated may have been cases of coma.

But could awakening from coma be due to faith-healing? This is not impossible. The most puzzling causes of apparent death are trance and catalepsy. In each the body shows no sign of life, but the patient remains able to hear all that happens.

Hudson's Law of Psychic Phenomena describes how a lady, certified as dead, who was saved from burial by a pin-prick, declared she had never for a moment lost consciousness, but knew all that went on round her; and a man, who sat up in his coffin, said, that `during the time of suspended animation he heard the preparations for his burial, but was unable to move or utter a sound'.

If Jair's daughter could still hear, she knew that the Healer was coming; she heard His kind voice saying, `Wake up.' Her will responded, and she woke from her trance. After all, Jesus had said, `She is only asleep.'

Undeniably Jesus worked wonderful cures. He Himself asserted it: `Woe to thee, Bethsaida! If the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes.' His enemies did not dispute it, but attributed His wonders to black magic, the help of a demon, Beelzebul. His followers gloried in His miracles. Peter spoke of Him later as `a Man Whose mission from God was proved by mighty works and marvels'. But to Jesus they were a problem.

Sympathy forced Him to heal; but He tried to keep His cures quiet. He took the deaf man `aside from the crowd', the blind man `out of the village'. He told the leper, `Say nothing to anyone.' `He strictly charged' Jair's family, `that no man should know of this.' But His healing power could not be hidden. Galilee was agog with excitement. Even Herod wanted to see Him, `because he hoped to see a miracle'.

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