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The Deaf and the Dumb

ST MARK VII. 32-37.

And they bring unto Jesus one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech Him to put His hand upon him. And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers into his ears, and He spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. . . . And they were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.

Our greatest living philologer has said, and said truly--"If wonder arises from ignorance, it is from that conscious ignorance which, if we look back at the history of most of our sciences, has been the mother of all human knowledge. Till men began to wonder at the stratification of rocks, and the fossilization of shells, there was no science of Geology. Till they began to wonder at the words which were perpetually in their mouths, there was no science of Language."

He might have added, that till men began to wonder at the organization of their own bodies, there was no science of healing; that in proportion as the common fact of health became mysterious and marvellous in their eyes, just in that proportion did they become able to explain and to conquer disease. For there is a deep difference between the wonder of the uneducated or half-educated man, and the wonder of the educated man.

The ignorant in all ages have wondered at the exception; the wise, in proportion as they have become wise, have wondered at the rule. Pestilences, prodigies, portents, the results of seeming accidents, excite the vulgar mind. Only the abnormal or casual is worthy of their attention. The man of science finds a deeper and more awful charm in contemplating the results of law; in watching, not what seem to be occasional failures in nature: but what is a perpetual and calm success.

The savage knows not, I am told, what wonder means, save from some prodigy. Seeing no marvel in the daily glory of the sunlight, he is startled out of his usual stupidity and carelessness by the occurrence of an eclipse, an earthquake, a thunderbolt. The uneducated, whatever their rank may be, are apt to be more interested by the sight of deformities, and defects or excesses in nature, than by that of the most perfect normal and natural beauty.

Those, in the same way, who in the infancy of European science, thought it worth while to register natural phenomena, registered exclusively the exceptions. Eclipses, meteors, auroras, earthquakes, storms, and especially monstrosities, animal or vegetable, exercised their barbaric wonder. The mystery and miracle which underlies the unfolding of every bud, the development of every embryo, the growth of every atom of tissue, in any organism, animal or vegetable--to all this their intellectual eye was blind. How different from such a state of mind, that calm and constant wonder, humbling and yet inspiring, with which the modern man of science searches into the "open mystery" of the universe; and sees that the true marvel lies, not in the infringement of law, but in its permanence; not in the imperfect, but in the perfect; not in disease, but in health; not in deformity, but in beauty.

These words are true of all nature; and specially true, it seems to me, of our outward senses and faculties; true of sight, hearing, speech. The wonder, I think, with the wise man will be, not that there are deaf and dumb persons to be found here and there among us: but that the average, nay, the majority of mankind, are not deaf and dumb. Paradoxical as this assertion may seem at first, a little thought I believe will prove it to be reasonable.

Whatever view you take of the origin of sight, hearing, voice, the wonder to a thoughtful mind is just the same; how, under the storm of circumstances, and through the lapse of ages, those faculties have not been lost again and again, by countless individuals, nay, by the whole species. For we must confess that those faculties are gradually developed in each individual; that every animal and every human being which is born into the world, has built up, unconsciously, involuntarily, and as it were out of nothing, those delicate and complex organs, by which he afterwards learns to see, hear, and utter sounds. Is not the wonder, that he should, in the majority of cases, succeed without any effort of his own?

And if I am answered, that the success is owing to hereditary tendencies, and to the laws by which the offspring resembles the parents, I answer: Is not that a greater wonder still? A wonder which all the discoveries of the scalpel and the microscope have been as yet unable, and will be, I believe, to the last unable, to unravel, even to touch? A wonder which can be explained by no theories of vibratory atoms, vital forces, plastic powers of nature, or other such phrases, which are but metaphysical abstractions, having no counterpart in fact, and only hiding from us our ignorance of the vast and venerable unknown. The physiologist, when he considers the manifold combination of innumerable microscopic circumstances which are required to bring any one creature into the world with a perfectly hearing ear, ought to confess that the chances--if the world were governed by chance--are infinitely greater in favour of a child's being born with an imperfect ear rather than with a perfect one. And if he should evade the difficulty; and try to explain the usual success by saying that nature is governed by law: I answer--What is nature? What is law? You never saw nature nor law either under the microscope. They too are metaphysical abstractions, necessary notions and conceptions of your own brain. You have seen nothing but the fact and the custom; and all you can do, if you be strictly rational, is with a certain modern school to say, with a despairing humility, which I deplore while I respect--deploring it because it is needless despair, and yet respecting it because it is humility, which is the path out of despair and darkness into hope and light--to say with them, "Man can know nothing of causes, he can only register positive facts." This, I say, is one path--one which I trust none here will tread. The only other path, I believe, is, to go back to the lessons which we ought to have learnt in our childhood, for those to whom the human race owes most learnt them thousands of years ago; and to ascribe the ever successful miracles of nature to a Will, to a Mind, to a Providence so like that which each of us exercises in his own petty sphere, that we are not only able to understand in part the works of God, but to know from the very fact of being able to understand them--as one of our greatest astronomers has so well said lately--that we are made in the image of God. To say with the old Psalmist, that the universe is governed by "a law which cannot be broken:" but why? Because God has given it that law. To say "All things continue as they were at the beginning:" but why? Because all things serve Him in whom we live and move and have our being. To confess the mystery and miracle of our mortal bodies, and say with David, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made; such knowledge is too wonderful and excellent for me, I cannot attain unto it:" but to add the one only rational explanation of the mystery which, thank God, common sense has taught, though it may be often in confused and defective forms, to the vast majority of the human race in all times and all lands--that He who grasps the mystery and works the miracle is God; that "His eye sees our substances yet being imperfect; and in His book are all our members written, which day by day were fashioned, when as yet there were none of them."

And then to go forward with the Psalmist, and with the common sense of humanity; to conclude that if there be a Creator, there must also be a Providence; that that life-giving Spirit which presided over the creation of each organism presides also over its growth, its circumstances, its fortunes; and to say with David, "Whither shall I go then from Thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I climb up to heaven, Thou art there. If I go down to hell, Thou art there also. If I take the wings of the morning, and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there Thy hand shall lead me; Thy right hand shall hold me still."

Yes. To this--to faith and adoration--ought right and reason to lead the physical philosopher. And to what ought it to lead us, who are most of us, I presume, not physical philosophers? To gratitude, surely, not unmixed with fear and trembling; till we say to ourselves--Who am I, to boast? Who am I, to pride myself on possessing a single faculty which one of my neighbours may want? What have I, that I did not receive? Considering the endless chances of failure, if the world were left to chance; and I may say, the absolute certainty of failures, if the world were left to the blind competition of merely physical laws, is it not only of the Lord's mercies that we are not failures too? that we have not been born crippled, blind, deaf, dumb--what not?--by the effect of circumstances over which we have had no control; which have been working, it may be, for generations past, in the organizations of our ancestors?

But what shall we say of those who have not received what we have received? What shall we say of those who, like the deaf and dumb, are, in some respects at least, failures--instances in which the laws which regulate our organization have not succeeded in effecting a full development?

We can say this, at least, without entangling and dazzling ourselves in speculations about final causes; without attempting to pry into the mystery of evil.

We can say this: That if there be a God--as there is a God--these failures are not according to His will. The highest reason should teach us that; for it must tell us that in the work of the Divine Artist, as in the work of the human, imperfection, impotence, disorder of any kind, must be contrary to the mind and will of the Creator. The highest reason, I say, teaches us this. And Scripture teaches it like wise. For if we believe our Lord to have been as He was--the express image of the Almighty Father; if we believe that He came--as He did come--to reveal to men His Father's will, His Father's mind, His Father's character: then we must believe that He acted according to that will and according to that character, when He made the healing of disease, and the curing of imperfections of this very kind, an important and an integral part of His work on earth.

"And they brought unto Jesus one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech, and besought Him to put His hand upon him. And Jesus took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers into his ears; and He spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain . . . And they were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak."

Consider this story awhile. He healed the man miraculously, by means at which we cannot guess, which we cannot even conceive. But the healing signified at least two things--that the man could be healed, and that the man ought to be healed; that his bodily defect--the retribution of no sin of his own--was contrary to the will of that Father in Heaven, who willeth not that one little one should perish.

But Jesus sighed likewise. There was in Him a sorrow, a compassion, most human and most divine.

It may have been--may He forgive me if I dare rashly to impute motives or thoughts to Him--that there was something too of a divine weariness--I dare not say impatience, seeing how patient He was then and how patient He has been since for more than 1800 years--of the folly and ignorance of man, who brings on himself and on his descendants these and a hundred other preventible miseries, simply because he will not study and obey the physical laws of the universe; simply because he will not see that those laws which concern the welfare of his body, are as surely the will of God as those which concern the welfare of his soul; and that therefore it is not merely his interest but his solemn duty to study and to obey them, lest he bear the punishment of his own neglect and disobedience.

It is not for man even to guess what thoughts may have passed through the mind of Christ when He sighed over the very defect which He was healing. But it is surely not irreverent in us to say that our Lord had cause enough to sigh, if He foresaw the follies of mankind during an age which was too soon to come.--How men, instead of taking the spirit of His miracles and acting on it, would counterfeit the mere outward signs of them, to feed the vanity or the superstition of a few devotees. How, instead of looking on His miracles as rebukes to their own ignorance and imbecility; instead of perceiving that their bodily afflictions were contrary to the will of God, and therefore curable; instead of setting themselves to work manfully, in the light of God, and by the help of God, to discover and correct the errors which produced them, mankind would idle away precious centuries in barbaric wonder at seeming prodigies and seeming miracles, and would neglect utterly the study of those far more wondrous laws of nature which Christ had proved to be under His government and His guidance, and had therefore proved to be working for the good of those for whom He came to die. Christ had indeed sown good seed in His field. He had taught men by His miracles, as He had taught them by His parables, to Whom nature belonged, and Whose laws nature obeyed. And the cessation of miracles after the time of Christ and His Apostles had taught, or ought to have taught, mankind a further lesson; the lesson that henceforth they were to carry on for themselves, by the faculties which God had given them, that work of healing and deliverance which He had begun. Miracles, like prophecies, like tongues, like supernatural knowledge, were to cease and vanish away: but charity, charity which devotes itself for the welfare of the human race, was to abide for ever.

Christ, as I said, had sown good seed: but an enemy--we know not whence or when--certainly within the three first centuries of the Church--came and sowed tares among that wheat. Then began men to believe that devils, and not their Father in Heaven, were, to all practical intents, the lords of nature. Then began they to believe that man's body was the property of Satan, and his soul only the property of God. Then began they to fancy that man was to be delivered from his manifold earthly miseries, not by purity and virtue, reason and knowledge, but by magic, masked under the sacred name of religion. No wonder if, in such a temper of mind, the physical amelioration of the human race stood still. How could it be otherwise, while men refused to see in facts the acted will of God; and sought not in God's universe, but in the dreams of their own brains, for glimpses of that divine and wonderful order by which The eternal Father and The eternal Son are working together for ever through The eternal Spirit for the welfare of the universe?

We boast, my friends, at times, of the rapid triumphs of modern science. Were we but aware of the vast amount of preventible misery around us, and of the vast possibility of removing it, which lies in the little science which we know already, we should rather bewail the slow departure of modern barbarism.

There has been no period of the world for centuries back, I believe, in which man might not have been infinitely healthier, happier, more prosperous, more long-lived than he has been, if he had only believed that disease, misery, and premature death were not the will of God and of Christ; and that God had endowed him with an intellect which could understand the laws of the universe, in order that he might use those laws for his own health, wealth, and life. Very late is society in commencing that rational course on which it ought to have entered centuries ago; and therefore very culpable. And it is not too much to say, that to the average of persons suffering under preventible disease or defect, even though it be hereditary, society owes a sacred debt, which it is bound to pay by making those innocent sufferers from other's sins as happy as possible; where it has not yet learnt--as it will learn, please God, some day--to cure them.

There is, thank God, a healthier feeling than of old abroad of late upon this point. Men are learning more and more to regard such sufferers not as the victims of God's wrath, but of human ignorance, vice, or folly. And it was with deep satisfaction that I read in the last Report of the Schools for the Deaf and Dumb a statement of what were considered the most probable physical causes of deafness and dumbness, and a hope that it would be possible, hereafter, to prevent as well as cure those diseases.

Whether the causes assigned in that Report are the true ones, is a point of inferior importance for the moment. The really important point is, that the principle should be allowed, the question raised, by a society, composed of religious men, and teaching to those poor deaf and dumb as almost their primary work that true religion which they are just as capable of receiving as we. The right path has been entered--the path which is certain in due time to lead to success. And meanwhile our duty is, while we confess that it is the fault of society and not of God, that these afflicted ones exist among us--it is our duty, I say, to cultivate and to develop to the highest every faculty, instinct, and power, in them which God's order has preserved from the effects of man's disorder; to feed the eye with fair and noble sights, though the ear be shut to soothing and inspiring sounds; to cultivate the intellect to such a pitch that it may be able to perform practical work, and if possible to earn a sufficient livelihood, even though the want of speech makes it impossible for them, deaf and dumb, to compete on equal terms with their fellow-men; to awaken in them, by religious training, teaching and worship, those purer and more unselfish emotions by which their hearts may become a field ready and prepared for God's grace. To do this; and to regard them, whenever we come in contact with them; not merely with pity, while we remember how much their intellects lose, in losing the whole world of sound; but with hope, when we see that through the one sense which is left they take in fully not only the meaning of the voluble hands which teach them, but more, the meaning of that meaning--the spiritual truths and feelings which signs express; with wonder, not at the defect, but at the innate health which almost compensates for the want of hearing by concentrating its powers upon the sight; and lastly, with admiration for that humanity which, as it were imprisoned, fettered, maimed, yet can, by the God-given force of the immortal spirit, so burst its prison-bars, and rise, through hindrances which seem to us impassable, to the tenderest, the noblest, the purest, and most devout emotions.


Charles Kingsley