Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jaki on Fatima

Books on Fatima are legion, but only a few suggest that their aim is to come to grips with the miracle of the sun as a legitimate question for science. This book has no other aim than that. And since science must begin with facts, the scientific approach to the miracle of the sun should seem to depend on a full presentation of the reports which eyewitnesses gave about that miracle. Further, those reports must be given in their contemporary context if their demonstrative value is to be properly appraised.

Most of those who have read several books on Fatima are in for a surprise. There is a much larger number of eyewitness accounts than one would suspect and yet far less than should have been procured right after that incredible day of October 13, 1917. On seeing these disparities some will be pleased on being faced with a wealth of new information. Others will be displeased. It is never a pleasant experience to find that one's fund of information is not so full as one believed it to be. Nor is it pleasant to find that a very basic task failed to be implemented and with all possible speed. The memories of even those who saw something truly incredible may fade as days, weeks, months, let alone years and decades go by.

Champions of Fatima must still learn full respect for facts that can only be gathered from the eyewitnesses of that stupendous event. Some information in this book may especially disturb those of them who think that the voice of science has already been fully heard about the miracle of the sun. Scoffers at Fatima, who now for eight decades have systematically disregarded the testimonies of eyewitnesses, will, in all likelihood, continue to honor facts in the breach and glory in their "scientific" posture.

Both groups will find disturbing this book for the wrong reason. It is not right to be overconfident about one's presumed command of facts indicative of a miracle. Much less is it right to disregard facts just because they do not fit one's presumption that miracles are impossible.

Those who think that miracles are not only possible but that miracles also happen and that this is the most incredible thing about them, ought to be ready for a concession. The latter concerns the intimate connection between the natural and the supernatural that almost always can be detected whenever a miracle is on hand. It is for those ready to concede this that this book has been primarily written.
[Jaki, God and the Sun at Fatima, introduction]
Perhaps you have a vague sense that Jaki is quoting something in that last paragraph? You are correct: he used that quote in his small book Miracles and Physics. He's quoting Chesterton:
The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.
[GKC "The Blue Cross" in The Innocence of Father Brown]
One of the future projects of our Society - yes, write it down in your notebooks - one of our future projects is to augment SLJ's book on Chesterton. A chief topic to be studied is Chesterton on Miracles, which might even be a book in itself. For your further study, I would recommend starting with Chesterton's "The Miracle of Moon Crescent" (another Father Brown story) and "The Trees of Pride", a short story which can be found in CW14. But, as in the case of SLJ, we find the discussion and the gems of insight strewn through many of GKC's books. I shall conclude with just one sample:
What is the attitude of an ordinary man on being told of an extraordinary event: a miracle? I mean the sort of thing that is loosely called supernatural, but should more properly be called preternatural. For the word supernatural applies only to what is higher than man; and a good many modern miracles look as if they came from what is considerably lower. Anyhow, what do modern men say when apparently confronted with something that cannot, in the cant phrase, be naturally explained ? Well, most modern men immediately talk nonsense. When such a thing is currently mentioned, in novels or newspapers or magazine stories, the first comment is always something like, "But my dear fellow, this is the twentieth century!" It is worth having a little training in philosophy if only to avoid looking so ghastly a fool as that. It has on the whole rather less sense or meaning than saying, "But my dear fellow, this is Tuesday afternoon." If miracles cannot happen, they cannot happen in the twentieth century or in the twelfth. If they can happen, nobody can prove that there is a time when they cannot happen. The best that can be said for the sceptic is that he cannot say what he means, and therefore, whatever else he means, he cannot mean what he says. But if he only means that miracles can be in the twelfth century, but cannot be believed in the twentieth, then he is wrong again, both in theory and in fact. He is wrong in theory, because an intelligent recognition of possibilities does not depend on a date but on a philosophy. An atheist could disbelieve in the first century and a mystic could continue to believe in the twenty-first century. And he is wrong, in fact, because there is every sign of there being a great deal of mysticism and miracle in the twenty-first century; and there is quite certainly an increasing mass of it in the twentieth.
[GKC The Common Man 176-7; cf. Orthodoxy CW1:278, The Thing CW3:227-228]

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