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Proclaiming the Gospel with Miraculous Gifts in the Postbiblical Early Church

To remove any reason for disbelief on the part of his readers, Gregory declares that he will give the authority on which each of his miracle stories is based.22 By and large, he is faithful in keeping this promise. His sources are usually eyewitnesses or members of the immediate entourage of the saints involved in the miracles. There are only nineteen episodes among the approximately two hundred reported for which no source is given, and for most of these there is some kind of explanation. Gregory also connects as many miracles as he can to similar accounts in Scripture.

Among the miracles recorded in the Dialogues, the most frequently mentioned involve healings of various ailments, raising of the dead to life, exorcisms of evil spirits, foretelling of the future, and deliverance from danger. Those from the life and ministry of Benedict of Nursia are good examples.

Gregory understood that miracles were necessary in the Early Church to accomplish the work of evangelism. So too they were necessary in his own time.

Gregory informs the reader that he learned about Benedict’s miracles from four of Benedict’s own disciples.23 Benedict brought deliverance to a young monk who had been crushed under a collapsing wall. He also brought healing for numerous illnesses, including leprosy, and raised the dead back to life.

Benedict manifested a spirit of prophecy by foretelling future events and by describing to those who were with him what they had done in his absence (cf. I Cor. 14:24-25).24 He even was able to know the unspoken thoughts in the minds of his monks. For example, he was forewarned of a poison placed in his drinking water by some evil monks. He discerned the work of evil spirits, and exorcised many such spirits. Gregory asserts that such gifts of prophecy and discernment are directly from the Spirit of God. “To us, then, God has made a revelation of it through his Spirit.”25

Gregory the Great’s own ministry apparently was not graced with miracles. He does refer to one personal experience in which he was the beneficiary of a miracle, however. He recalls that he was seriously ill with such severe pain from an intestinal illness that he thought he was near death. He especially grieved that he would not be able to fast on the Saturday before Easter. In his distress, he asked the abbot Eleutherius of Spoleto to pray on his behalf. The prayer was no sooner said than he found strength returning to his weakened body, and his anxiety banished. Not only was he able to keep the fast, but he could have prolonged it to the next day had he so desired.26

While miracle stories are most prominent in the Dialogues, Gregory systematically reports and refers to them elsewhere as well. His Homilies on the Gospels, preached on public occasions, contain many stories of contemporary miracles.27 In his Homilies on Ezechiel, he insists that miracles as striking as any reported in Scripture are being performed: “Now, generally, we see holy men do wonderful things, perform many miracles, cleanse lepers, cast out demons, dispel bodily sicknesses by touch, predict things to come by the spirit of prophecy.”28 In a letter of July 598 to Eulogius, Bishop of Alexandria, Gregory reports that Augustine of Canterbury and his companions in their missionary work in England had such great miracles accompany their preaching that they seemed to imitate the powers of the apostles.29 In the Moralia Gregory rejoices over the success with which God had crowned their preaching with miracles, for with the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons virtually the whole world had been brought to the Christian faith.30

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Category: Church History, Summer 2008

About the Author: Stanley M. Burgess received a BA and MA from the University of Michigan and a PhD from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He has taught history for 57 years and was Distinguished Professor of Christian History, Regent University, Virginia Beach, Virginia (2004–2011). He has written numerous scholarly articles on church history and the history of Christianity as well as several books, including The Spirit and the Church: Antiquity (Hendrickson), The Holy Spirit: Eastern Christian Traditions (Hendrickson), and The Holy Spirit: Medieval Roman Catholic and Reformation Traditions (Hendrickson), a documentary history of the Christian Peoples of the Spirit: A Documentary History of Pentecostal Spirituality from the Early Church to the Present (New York University Press, 2011), and was co-editor of the Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Social Justice (Oxford, 2012).

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