An evaluation of the doctrine of miraculous healing within the Roman Catholic tradition
According to biblical record, diseases and illness have troubled individuals almost since the beginning of creation (Wilkinson, 1998: 7). To understand and make sense of sickness, mankind turned to religion. In the Old Testament health is seen as a gift of God, but illness is perceived as a punishment for sin (Leon-Dufour, 1962: 543). The preaching of Job argues against this view. The problem of evil still causes difficulties for the Christian today. God permits such challenges and, in responding to them, mankind is spiritually transformed: spiritual growth. God has given mankind a soul, and this soul is not part of an evolutionary process towards perfection: only Christ waslis perfect! However, through the crucifixion, God recognizes our suffering and we can recognize His suffering elsewhere (Fiddes, 1988: 11). The central question of this research is: How may one demonstrate the legitimacy and validity of miraculous healing through the charism of the Holy Spirit within the Catholic tradition? As healing miracles have an important place in Scripture, an examination is needed of the words used to describe miracles, tracing the English translation back to the original Greek or Hebrew words. Miracle stories are also attested to in secular sources such as the Antiquities of the Jews and the Babylonian Talmud. Scripture contains accounts of healing miracles, particularly in relation to the ministry of Jesus whose healing miracles are in accordance with His teaching. Such miracles were not simply stories spread by the disciples; they were signs, evidence of who Jesus is and that He had come in fulfilment of prophecy. These signs contained the quintessence of the Gospel itself, promoting faith, and that faith is a personal response to an act of witness. Healing is not dependent upon sinlessness, but is a gift of God to His creature: it can be mental, spiritual, emotional, involving relationships and the reconciliation of a person with God and his community through the receipt of the sacraments. Scriptural accounts of healing miracles contained a message that the Kingdom of God had arrived. They were a demonstration of God's truth to believers and non-believers alike and they continued to play an important part in the first Christians' experiences and mission. The church's healing ministry has its roots and authority in Scripture and the continuation of that ministry is through the action of the Holy Spirit. Both in the Early Church and the Church of today, restoration to health is implemented through the Mass and in the practice of a ministry that includes physical care through the establishment of hospitals managed by religious orders and latterly, through care homes staffed by lay volunteers. Consideration is given to Pasteur's (1822-1895) research into microorganisms and the consequent shift in focus to the avoidance of infection and to the development of effective cures. Understandably, the medical profession has concerns about the healing ministry: why are some healed and others not and why cannot healings be tested scientifically in the laboratory? In the Roman Catholic Church tradition shrines have always played an important role as places of pilgrimage and healing and, in spite of the existence of medical committees made up of scientists, doctors and priests to test all claims of healing before the Church acknowledges these as genuine, scepticism remains (Theillier, 2000: 3). Historically inseparable, a gap has developed between science and religion; this thesis attempts to demonstrate the reasons for this and to show that, since both are concerned with aspects of human suffering and death, the wall of separation between medicine and religion can be demolished (Larson and Matthews, 1997 (2): 3-6). As well as modern medical, technological advancements, which have provided exciting developments in the treatment of diseases like cancer, universities such as Edinburgh and Lancaster have established programmes that focus on how a person's faith may influence the progress of illness in a beneficial way. By considering the apparently opposing views of Hume and Lewis (1953: 51), questions arise concerning the extent to which the Laws of Nature are indeed fixed and unchanging; and concerning the contention that when God acts He does not suspend the Laws of Nature, but works with and through them. The researcher's views are either partially or fully endorsed by Boswell (1992), Brown (1984) and Wilkinson (1998); however, it is necessary to research the understanding of those whose scientific expertise prevents them from conceiving of the possibility of miraculous healing (Dawkins, 1997; Hume 1980; Williams, 1992; et al). The thesis addresses contemporary issues: the extent of modern research into the healing ministry and the fact that this is not reflected comprehensively in the training programmes of the Catholic Church for those preparing for the priesthood or as monks and nuns (Hocken, 2001: 54); and the current debate on euthanasia, which demonstrates clearly that the Bible continues to influence not only medical ethics but also, our society as it debates and determines its evaluation of human life.
- ETD@PUK