Questioning the genuineness of the Lourdes curing miracles


The shrine of Lourdes in France. Following legendary appearances of Jesus' mother to Bernadette there in 1858, reports of remarkable healings started to appear.  A small minority of them were sanctioned as true miracles by the Catholic Church.  Bernadette herself did not believe the reports probably because the apparition never promised cures.

Source: The Third Day by Arnold Lunn

Chapter I, Page 7. Marie Lemarchand

The facts are given in "Lourdes. A History of its Apparitions and Cures" (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., Ltd.) by Georges Bertrin. They are as follows:

I have already described the cure, and Zola's first reactions. Marie Lemarchand's doctor, Dr. La Naelle, who had been some time attached to the infirmary at Caen, when he saw how completely his young patient had been transformed, wrote: "I am still much touched by having come into contact with this absolutely supernatural cure. Marie Lemarchand undoubtedly suffered from advanced tuberculosis, and now I find no trace of it."
Bertrin describes a lecture given by Dr. Boissarie in November 1893. Marie Lemarchand was present. The lecturer read Zola's description of her appearance before the cure. "The sight of the girl's sweet and innocent face after the revolting picture which had been drawn made the people applaud loudly. Not the slightest disfiguring trace was left of the horrible disease which had disfigured the girl only fifteen months ago." In January 1904, Marie Lemarchand's doctor wrote a letter to a celebrated doctor who asked for his views. He described the terrible appearance of Marie Lemarchand before her journey to Lourdes. "She had ulcers on the face which were as large as one's hand, and which suppurated freely.... I saw the invalid immediately on her return. I did not recognize her, so much was she changed. I saw a graceful young girl coming towards me instead of the mass of humanity with a horrible and monstrous face which I had seen ten days previously. The tuberculosis had also disappeared. The cure had lasted."

Marie had been cured in August 1892. On December 1st 1905, she wrote to M. Bertrin as follows "the dreadful disease of which I was cured at Lourdes has never reappeared. I am a housekeeper in a chateau. I have been married six years, have had four healthy children, and am expecting a fifth. This is what the Blessed Virgin has done for a poor invalid who was given up by her doctors and declared incurable, and was only expecting death" and she reaffirmed the fact that the cure was instantaneous "not, after several baths, but after one only".

Chapter II, Page 16. J. B. S. Haldane And Peter De Rudder

Professor J. B. S. Haldane, F.R.S., recently stated that whereas, when he and I collaborated in our book, he was of opinion that the odds were that de Rudder's bones were united suddenly, and that this—in his view—was more probable than the only remaining alternative, a pious fraud, his views had changed since the Spanish war. He regarded the Catholic organization in Spain as a fountain of lies, and he was now of opinion that a pious fraud was the more probable alternative.

Professor J. B. S. Haldane who has been closely associated with "The Daily Worker" feels very strongly about tendentious propaganda, but I cannot see the relevance between the alleged inaccuracies of war propaganda, on one side or the other in a civil war, and the "bona fides" of those who certified to the cure of de Rudder.

The cure took place on April 7th, 1875. On April 15th, 1875, fourteen parishioners of de Rudder's home town, Jobbeke, including Senator Viscount de Bus who had never believed in miracles, and M. P. Sorge, a free-thinker, signed a document to the effect that "every recourse of surgery having been exhausted, the patient was given up and declared incurable by the doctors and considered as such by all who knew him; that he invoked our Lady of Lourdes, venerated at Oostaker, and that he returned cured and without crutches, so that he can do any kind of work as before his accident. We declare that this sudden and admirable cure took place on April 7th, 1875." The statement was signed by fourteen witnesses. The document being sealed with the Municipal Seal, was dated April 15th, 1875 (a week after the cure).

De Rudder was examined by Dr. Affenaer on the day after the cure. On April 9th, Dr. Van Hoestenberghe examined de Rudder, and was converted from skepticism to Christianity by the clear evidence of miracle.

Peter de Rudder's bones were exhumed after his death. "The left leg shows evident traces of the double fracture, and is repaired in such a way that, in spite of the deviation of the superior portion of the bones, which were drawn backwards during eight years by the flexor muscles of the thigh, the vertical axis of the left limb keeps the same direction as the axis of the right leg. Thus, the weight of the body was equally and normally borne by both sides. Moreover, notwithstanding the elimination of an osseus fragment from the broken limb, the two limbs are of equal length" (Bertrin, p. 181).

It is sometimes asked why, if these miracles occurred, Catholic doctors do not send all their patients to Lourdes. The proportion of cures is extremely small, and a Catholic who had no conviction that he would be the recipient of one of these rare supernatural favors might hesitate to face the journey on the off-chance of a cure.

Let me reaffirm the fact that it is possible to believe that genuine miracles occur at Lourdes and yet reject the Catholic interpretation, and it is possible to be a Catholic and reject the evidence for the miracles, possible at least in this sense that it is not "de fide" for a Catholic to believe in any of these miracles.

Chapter II, Page 18. Medical Proof

The standard book on the medical aspect of the Lourdes cures is "Medical Proof of the Miraculous," by E. Le Bec, Honorary Surgeon to St. Joseph's Hospital, Paris, President of the Bureau des Constatations, Lourdes. An English translation by Dom H. E. Izard, O.S.B., was published by Harding and More, Ltd., The Ambrosden Press. Here are some extracts from his book:

Absence of convalescence. In the case of miracles there is no period of convalescence. The subject "is cured and the injured organs are rendered capable in a moment of performing their normal functions". Had Peter de Rudder been cured by normal means, a treatment of two to three months would have been necessary before he could walk again with ease after remaining for eight years with a disunited leg. "Some hours after the sudden consolidation of the fracture de Rudder was able to run to catch the vehicle" (p. 18).

"Clinically we are well aware of the extreme thinness of the new epidermis formed on young scars. In ulcers of the leg, for example, the surgeons are obliged to prohibit the patient's getting about too soon, otherwise the scar breaks down and the ulcer reappears. In the case of Joachine Dehant nothing of the kind happened; despite the enormous surface of the recent scar, the young epidermis of recent origin was immediately so strong that the patient could walk and undertake a fatiguing Journey by rail without the wound reopening."

Cure of Fracture. Fractures are cured by the formation of "callus". This callus acquires solidity and strength by being mineralized, and this is effected by a deposit of lime which the blood furnishes to it. Pure phosphate of lime is only contained in the blood in minute quantities. Forty to fifty days are usually necessary to form callus sufficiently thick to carry the average body weight. This phosphate is derived by the blood from the food, and it is only after chemical elaboration by the digestive secretions that the blood is able to absorb this salt and carry it to the capillaries of the callus.... The following is the series of necessary changes through which the phosphate of lime passes before arriving at the callus of the fractured bone. 1. Introduction of food into the intestine. 2. Action of intestinal secretions and ferments upon the food. 3. Liberation of phosphate of lime. 4. Absorption of the phosphate by the blood. Transportation by the blood to the cells, forming the new bone. 6. Deposition of the salts about the cells. Here we may point out all these various operations by their very nature take place successively, and this excludes instantaneity. The instantaneousness of the cure (Peter de Rudder) constitutes the definite supernatural fact.

It would be equally interesting to discover what is the unknown force which determines that this excess of phosphate shall circulate only during the time necessary for the repair of the fracture, disappearing as soon as the callus is formed (pp. 21-26.)

The appeal to unknown natural forces "is only an evasion. To be active these natural forces should be ruled by biological laws, and these would contradict laws of the same nature.... Certain newly discovered forces, as, for example, electricity under the form of X-rays, Radium, and bodies of that series, have explained phenomena, the cause of which was previously unknown. They have ranged themselves alongside forces known for a long time, but they have destroyed none of them. It is quite contrary with the miraculous, which is directly opposed to natural forces. Clinical observation and physiology demonstrate to us that phosphate of lime does not exist freely in the body. It appears instantly when a fracture is consolidated. Science teaches us that the essential property of cancerous cells is to destroy the cells of other tissues and to infect their system. Suddenly they lose their destructive properties, and are replaced by cicatricial tissue cells of benign nature. The experience of centuries has demonstrated that tubercle in all lesions is extremely refractory to treatment, and a cure extends into years. Yet here at Lourdes, suddenly during a bath which lasts but a few minutes, in water which contains no agent capable of acting on the bacillus, the most advanced cases of tuberculosis are suddenly cured" (pp. 106-108).

COMMENT: Some distortions stand out here.  He says that arguing that unknown natural forces caused some of the Lourdes cures is only an evasion.  No it is not only.  If you really believe in the supernatural then why can't a miracle use such forces or make them?  Why can't it be a combination of supernatural and unknown natural forces?  Why do believers in miracles accuse critics of thinking they know too much when they overplay their own hand?  And the critics are not claiming to know too much.  They are saying it is unknown forces so they are not pretending to be psychic.  The believers are the one's who overreach.  They act as if they can speak for a divine agent who is not speaking for himself!  God if he does a miracle is not telling us what to think of it.  Plus the Church does say miracles happened at Lourdes but it warns that it can change its mind about exactly what report was a miracle and what was not.  It is not final.  Many impressive healings have been dismissed as miracles.  The moral is that if nature can be so surprising then Jesus could have been buried alive and healed enough to present himself again.

Jesus did say that you should act on your mustard seed of faith and what you seek will be granted.  This opens up the way to doctors sending truckloads of patients to Lourdes on the basis that though few get cured there we need faith and expectation that this time it will be more.  New Age people might say that the reason the numbers are small is that not enough people expect mass cures.  And given that if doing x gives you y for a hundred years it does not mean it will give you y in a moment's time AT ALL the doctors can send the patients.  With or without a God, x is not guaranteed to give you y even if it has always done so.  As we say, there is NO GUARANTEE anyway.  If there is a God to intervene then that is an additional reason for NO GUARANTEE.  He can decide that if chance is going to make x give you y in a moment then he can change that and make you get z.  It is a double NO GUARANTEE in a sense.

Suppose nature for some can do remarkable things.  In fact even the unremarkable things have some mystery too.  You cannot give a complete explanation for why the daffodil flowered a day earlier than expected.  A miracle report is based largely if not completely on the gap.  Just because there is something that cannot be explained well, just because the real explanation will never be known or is not knowable, they say a miracle from a specific version of God and Jesus has taken place.

Okay if you say some unknown natural force did an unprecedented cure, how do you know the cure was really unprecedented?  The vast majority of sick people have never been tended to by a knowledgeable doctor.   And if it is evasion to say a miracle is caused by something normal but unknown it is evasion to say the opposite too.  You cannot win.  The biggest evasion is from the believer.  You do not regard the brick coming out of a strong wall and killing your enemy in a fluke as a miracle.  You don't need to invoke anything unnatural.  The believer will not think that way except for some events for ideological purposes.  If the brick event was actually odder than the cure of whoever at Lourdes they won't even care.

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