1999 May/Questions

  1. How can Protestant evangelists achieve seemingly authentic healings?

With the Protestant “born again” evangelisation expanding at an alarming rate, there is a new phenomenon of healing. There is no doubt from several programmes I and others have seen that a certain evangelist in the USA, Ernest Angley, is travelling the world publicly healing deaf and dumb people, people who were crippled with arthritis, people apparently with AIDS, etc., and thereby converting people to his way of “salvation”. If he were not truly healing them, he would have been exposed worldwide by now.

He claims to have received this “power of healing” when he was very ill himself at the age of 23 years, and “told by God” to “do His healing work” to bring souls to God. We have been warned of false miracle workers, but how is it possible that he is doing this worldwide, most recently in an auditorium of thousands of Blacks (with a few Whites present) in Malawi? Can this be done by the power of the devil, and if so, does the devil have such powers, and are they permanent cures?

A.To answer the question, one must ask: why does God work miracles? A miracle is some observable event that goes beyond natural laws and can have only God as its cause. Miracles are distinguished from prodigies, extraordinary events that go beyond human causes but that are within the power of angels or demons, such as demonic possession.

Miracles, being an evident and irrefutable manifestation of God’s power, are means by which some truth about Him is confirmed or made known. Christ worked miracles to show that He was truly of God, and He frequently referred to them as a confirmation of the divine origin of His teaching. The Apostles worked miracles as a confirmation that their teaching was of God. The miracles the saints worked were a confirmation of the divine origin of their holiness.

It is clear from this that true miracles can never be performed to confirm error, even if the error is wrapped in a good deal of truth. Miracles worked by ministers of a false religion as a confirmation of their false teaching can never come from God. The devil, however, is willing to work prodigies, even with unsuspecting people of good faith, if it will keep those people in a false religion and keep them from finding the truth. As I said last week, error limits and retards a person’s progress towards God, and the more the devil can keep souls in error, the greater his hope of ultimately damning them. To this end he is quite prepared to lay on prodigies, even in Christian denominations, if that will help his purpose.

How does one distinguish a true miracle from a prodigy? True miracles require a power that God alone possesses. This could be an act of creation, as in one case at Lourdes, where a cripple who lacked the ball of his femur bone bathed in the waters of Lourdes and emerged able to walk. X-rays showed that a ball had miraculously appeared. This is a miracle the devil could not do as it involves the creation out of nothing of living matter. Curing someone born blind would fall in the same category. Another example is raising the dead to life. This involves returning the soul back to the body, something that is well beyond the devil’s capability.

Prodigies in cures would the be the equivalent of very skilful medical operations without instruments. That the devil has considerable power over the human body is known from demonic possessions. It is no great difficulty for him to use that power to cure or alleviate a disease. God can work miracles that would fall in the category of prodigies, but from the circumstances it is clear that these miracles are of God

God can also work miracles amongst non-catholics, but only in circumstances where some truth about Him is being made manifest without any possible endorsement of error. There is one case from antiquity when a Vestal Virgin (a sort of pagan nun) was falsely accused of impurity and condemned to death. She beseeched from God (as she knew Him) a miracle to prove her innocence. A miracle was performed and she was acquitted. God could, and probably did, perform such a miracle, not to endorse Roman paganism, but to confirm the purity of the Vestal.

  1. Can anyone other than practising Catholics achieve success in exorcising devils?

There are incredible seemingly authentic stories of Protestants claiming to do this. And is it only Catholic priests who can truly exorcise, or is this power also given to Catholic lay people at times?

  1. In the Catholic Church, exorcism in the strict sense is a power granted by the Church to certain priests to cast out devils from possessed individuals. This power is infallible if the Church’s ritual of exorcism is strictly followed.

In addition to this there is the minor exorcism, or prayer to St. Michael, which works like a sacramental, having great power over devils, as does Holy Water and the Sign of the Cross, but which is not an infallible means of exorcism.

In Protestantism, there is no power of exorcism strictly-speaking. However, it is possible for Protestants who have a supernatural Faith in Christ to pray for someone possessed by the devil and obtain that person’s deliverance. Such prayers are not infallible and depend a good deal upon the dispositions of the persons praying. As for miracles, God will not hear such prayers if the exorcism is intended to confirm a false religion. Devils can simulate such “exorcisms”, though in the cases I have heard of, signs of demonic possession often reappear in the “exorcised” persons.


  1. What Commandments are certain sins related to?

Apparently all sins somehow are related to the Ten Commandments. To which Commandments do the following sins relate: presumption, despair, greed, impatience, laziness?

  1. The Ten Commandments are ten categories—some broader than others—under which all sins can be grouped.

Presumption and despair are faults by excess and default of the theological virtue of Hope, which itself is a confidence in the means God gives for salvation. Sins against this virtue would fall under the Third Commandment, “Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day”, a commandment which concerns all the: necessary means God has given us to save our souls. Most of the Six Commandments of the Church are developments of this Commandment.

Greed, or gluttony, would fall under the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”, since this Commandment includes an injunction to take all reasonable means to safeguard one’s health, and excess in eating and drinking is sinful because it undermines rather than strengthens health.

Impatience, equally, falls under the Fifth Commandment, since it contains an injunction against anger, of which impatience is a milder manifestation.

Laziness can manifest itself several ways; as a failure to fulfil one’s obligations towards God, or accedic, which would go against the Third Commandment, or by a failure to fulfil one’s obligations towards one’s neighbour, which would go against the Fourth Commandment, “Honour thy father and thy mother”, a Commandment which covers our obligations towards all our superiors and inferiors.


  1. Please explain the regulations in detail on servile work.

On the Commandment of the Church about servile work on Sundays, what exactly does this entail? One has to obtain permission from the SSPX priests, but surely it is not fair that they seem to place varying degrees of gravity on the question.

Some SSPX priests say servile work comprises (amongst other things) unnecessary work done to make money, others say it includes manual labour like mowing the lawn, whilst some have even suggested that knitting on Sunday is a sin! What is the truth?

  1. The truth is arrived at by a clear understanding of just what constitutes “servile work”. Servile work is any work that by its nature is necessary for a living and hence, at least at times, is onerous. This includes any work done for a salary, and work necessary for one’s own well-being and that of one’s family. This is in contrast with liberal work: any activity that is not necessary for a living and is recreative, that is enjoyable and relaxing. Since no law obliges if it causes grave inconvenience, forms of servile work that by their nature must be done on a Sunday are exempt from this Commandment, such as preparing meals at home, and occupations that must be kept up on Sundays, e.g. hospital duties.

“Within this law, there is a “grey area”, or a number of occupations that could be defined as servile or liberal depending on the circumstances. Knitting or mowing the lawn can be a chore for some and pleasant recreation for others. When one has an occupation that does not clearly belong to one or the other category, then one may apply a rule common in moral theology: if one is uncertain whether a law applies in a particular case, and one has some good reasons for thinking that it does not, then one may be dispensed from the law. If I am not certain whether knitting is servile work or not, but I do find I enjoy it, then I may presume that it is liberal work and do it on a Sunday. One must be honest: there are some forms of knitting that are clearly drudgery and can be left for another day.

  1. What are the regulations for Catholic lawyers?

Can Catholic lawyer agree to defend someone in Court whom he feels sure is guilty of the crime?

  1. A distinction must be made between civil cases and criminal cases. The former would have no worse sentence than the payment of a fine, within the means of the defendent; the latter could involve a gaol sentence or even death. In a civil case, if the lawyer is reasonably certain of the injustice of his client’s cause, then he may not defend it: if he wins, then he co-operates in the damage of the other party, if he loses, then he has made his client undertake useless expenses.

In a criminal case, the defendent faces a gaol term or worse and has the right to adequate legal defence. A lawyer, in defending such a client whom he knows is guilty, is ensuring that his conviction is secured by due process of law. Even if he obtains the acquittal of his client, he has benefitted the common good by doing his part to ensure that no-one is unjustly condemned by an inadequate legal process.