Why Saint John Was Not Boiled In Oil

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Saint John, the Beloved Apostle of Our Lord, being Boiled in Oil - by Charles Le Brun


A MIRACLE may be considered as an 'Event' Inconsistent-with the Constitution of Nature, that is, with the Established Course of Things, in which it is found. Or, again, an 'Event' in a Given System, which cannot be Referred-to any Law, or Accounted-for by the Operation-of any Principle, in that System. It does not necessarily imply a Violation of Nature, as some have supposed, merely the Interposition of an External Cause, which, we shall hereafter show, can be no other than the Agency of the Deity. And the Effect Produced, is that of Unusual or Increased Action in the Parts of the System.

Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman


Why Saint John Was Not Boiled In Oil
(The Basis of all Miracles)

by Andrew Nimmo,
Centre for Thomistic Studies

Perhaps you are thinking as you read the Title that I am going to Demythologise the Tradition that Saint John the Evangelist was Miraculously Preserved-from Death in Boiling Oil. Not at all. Quite the Opposite, in fact. This Article presupposes that the Miracle did take place, and seeks to Understand the Nature of the Miracle that occurred.

mass_latin.gif (10689 bytes) First of all, it is held that Saint John, who was Especially Beloved of Our Lord, was Sentenced-to be Executed in a Cauldron of Boiling Oil, but when Placed-in the Oil, was not Burnt or Killed. Nothing Natural, could Account for it. It was an Event of Supernatural Origin. Saint John is Counted a Martyr, however, because he Underwent the Act of Martyrdom, which would Ordinarily have led to Death. Thus, as with the other Apostles, the Mass and Office of his Feast Day, are Celebrated-in Liturgical Red.

Some might ask how it was that the Boiling Oil did not Burn the Apostle, when it is in the Nature-of it to do so. Since Fire is a Common Cause of Heat and Burning, let us use it as the Example for Explanation. Whatever is said about Fire, in this respect, can be said of Boiling Oil, and anything else Capable-of Heating.

Is it not in the Nature of Fire to Heat? I doubt that there is any Objection to this Notion. How then could Something "Heatable", not be Heated when coming into Contact-with Fire? For example, how could Paper, Exposed-to a Naked Flame, not Burn? I am here excluding any Natural Impediments, such as Dampness, etc. The Answer lies in a Refinement of the Statement. It is in the Nature of Fire to have the Power to Heat. How does this Help? It Helps because it Leads-to the very Distinction-of When Miracles are possible, and When they are not.

When we speak of the Natures of Things, and the Properties of those Natures, we are Dealing-with what is known as the 'Essential' Order. It is also known as the 'Metaphysical' or 'Necessary' Order. Miracles are not Possible in this Order because Natures cannot be Changed. Natures are Immutable. Why? Because they Reflect the Immutable Nature of God. To give Examples: by Nature, a Square must have Four (4) Sides. Take a Side away, or Add one, and you no-Longer have a Square. By Nature, an Animal must have at least One (1) Sense, or it is not an Animal. A Man must have Reason and Will, or he is not a Man - they are 'Essential' to Human Nature.

But Natures, and the Properties which belong-to them, do not make up the Whole of Created Reality. The Order of Natures, or Essences, tells us What things are, but knowing What they are, is not Enough to make them Exist. We can Know the Natures of Fictional Beings or of Things yet to be Made (as in Inventions), which do not Actually Exist. So besides the Order of Essences, there must be the Order of 'Be' (Existence). For Essences to be Real, they must receive their 'Be' or Existence, for they are not their own 'Be'. This is not the Order of Natures, of What things are, but of Existence, of Whether things are:


Order of Existence: The Contingent, Physical (See Note 1 below) Order, Whether things are . .

star4.gif (851 bytes) Miracles are Possible in this Order!

Order of Natures/Essence: The Necessary, Metaphysical Order, What things are . . .

star4.gif (851 bytes) Miracles not Possible in this Order!


The Natures of Things, are Based-on the Divine Nature. But the Existence of Things, Whether Men or Trees or Clouds Exist, Depends-on the Divine Will. If God is going to make a Man, He has to give him an Intellect, but Whether He is going to make One or not, is up to His Free Will. God is Utterly Free about whether to Create or Not. That is, He can Choose Whether or Not to confer Existence or 'Be' on a Nature. Created Beings are Contingent (the opposite of Necessary) - they can 'Be' or 'Be-not' - their Creation and Continued Existence, depend Completely-on the Creative and Conserving Will of God. Now, as ' Do' follows 'Be', just as the 'Be' of Creatures is Contingent, so too is their 'Do'. Just as Creatures Depend-on Divine Conservation, to continue-in Existence, so too, do they Depend-on Divine Concurrence for their Acts.

What do I mean by this? The Acts that we Perform, such as Seeing, Walking, Thinking, Eating, Talking and so on, Flow-from our Nature and its Powers, but are not Identical-with them. My Power to See is not my Act of Seeing. If it were, having the Power of Sight would mean actually Seeing all the time, but we know that this is not the Case. My Power of Sight, though Ordered to the Act of Seeing, is really Distinct-from it. I can Close my Eyes, or go to Sleep, and I do not See, while still having the Ability to See. This is the Real Distinction between the Power (the 'Can-do') and the Act (the 'Does-do'). Now since the Power is not the Act (although Ordered by Nature to it), something must be Required-to Move the Power into Act (See Note 2 below). This is because of the Principle so well Enunciated in the Living the Truth Series, that Nothing can ever give what it has not got. I can't give you Ten (10) Dollars, if I have only Five (5). Non-Livings things, cannot of themselves, give Rise to Life. Creatures without Senses, cannot (by reason of being what they are), Evolve into Sensitive Life. Irrational Animals (by Reason of being Irrational Animals), cannot Develop into Human Beings. Non-Being cannot give Rise to Being (because it is not Being). Less, cannot of itself, give Rise to More. 'Can-do' cannot of itself give Rise to 'Does-do'. Non-livings Things, cannot of themselves, give Rise to Life.

In His Ordinary Providence, God cooperates-with Creatures in their Acts (See Note 3 below) - this is Divine Concurrence. So in our Experience, the Power of Sight, results-in the Act of Sight; the Corrosive Power of an Acid succeeds in Corroding the Metal it makes contact with; and the Fire Heats the Coals to Cook the Barbecue. But God can, if He Wishes, Refuse-to Cooperate-with moving the 'Can-do' to 'Does-do'; the 'Can-see' to 'Does-see'; the ' Can-heat' (of the Fire) to 'Does-heat'. When this happens, it is a Source of a Wonder to us, because it is Out-of the Ordinary - it is a Work, in fact, of God's Extraordinary Providence. This is One Type of Miracle. Just as God can Withhold Existence, that is, Create or Not, so also can He can Withhold 'Does-do' or Act. They are both 'Contingent' Realities:

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Natures are Based-on God's Nature and are therefore Unalterable,

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) but Creation, Conservation-in 'Be' and Concurrence, are Effects-of God's Will and He is Free to Cause them, or Not.

So when Saint John was Thrown-into the Boiling Oil, God simply Refused to Cooperate with the 'Can-Burn' of the Oil in the Ordinary Production of Burning, and no ' Does-Burn' or Burning-of the Evangelist occurred.


Deo Gratias.



littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Note 1 - By "Physical" here is not meant "Bodily" but "in the Order of Actual Existence".

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Note 2 - Another way of putting it is that following the Principle that "not of themselves are the Diverse United", when you find Two (2) Diverse Realities United, and Power and Act are Diverse by Relative Opposition, there must have been a Third which United them, i.e. God.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes) Note 3 - Creatures are Secondary Causes - they are Caused to Cause - and Depend on the Prime Cause for their Causative Power. The Prime Cause, God, is necessarily the Uncaused Cause.



Nota Bene

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The entire Universe and the Laws of Physics, Mathematics and the other Sciences are all Subject to the "Sustaining Will of God".