When deeds are words
This is how Augustine began his series of sermons on John 6, which begins with the multiplication of the loaves and moves on to the Bread of Life discourse. The paragraphs indicate in brief how he thought of miracles and also how he approached the deeds of Jesus as themselves words needing to be understood.
The wonders performed by our Lord Jesus Christ are, of course, divine works and incite the human mind to an understanding of God from visible realities. For, since he is not the sort of substance that can be seen with the eyes, and because those wonders of his by which he governs the whole world and administers all of creation have by their regularity come to be disregarded, to the point that hardly anyone deigns to give any attention to the wondrous and stupendous works of God in any grain of seed, God, in his great mercy, has reserved to himself certain works to be performed at appropriate times outside the usual course and order of nature, so that people who disregard his daily works might be moved to wonder by the sight of deeds that are not greater but rarer. The governance of the whole world is a greater wonder than satisfying five thousand people with five loaves, and yet no one wonders at the former while people wonder at the latter not because it is greater but because it is rare. For who is it who is now feeding the whole world but the one who creates a cornfield from a few grains? He therefore created as God creates. For the power by which he multiplies the produce of the fields from a few grains is the same power by which he multiplied in his hands the five loaves. There was power, indeed, in the hands of Christ; and those five loaves were like seeds, not, of course, sown in the earth, but multiplied by the one who made the earth. This wonder, therefore, was brought to the senses so that the mind should be raised, it was exhibited to the eyes so that the understanding should be exercised, and we might wonder at the invisible God because of his visible works and, raised to faith and purged by faith, we might desire to see him even invisibly whom we have come to know invisible by visible things.
Yet it is not enough to look upon such things in the wonders of Christ. Let us interrogate the wonders themselves for what they can tell us about Christ, for when understood, they have a language of their own. For since Christ is himself the Word of God, deeds of the Word are also words to us. As we have heard how great a wonder this is, let us also seek how profound it is: let’s not simply take delight in its surface, let’s also investigate its depth. What we wonder at externally also has something inward. We’ve seen, we’ve looked at, something great, something splendid, utterly divine, which could only be performed by God, and we have praised the doer for his deed. But it’s as when we inspect some beautiful lettering, it wouldn’t be enough for us to praise the writer’s hand, that he had shaped the letters so evenly, equally and elegantly, unless we were also to read what he had conveyed to us by those letters. So also here: someone who simply inspects the deed delights in the beauty of the deed and admires the doer, but the one who understands it goes on, as it were, to read it. For we look at a picture and at writing in different ways. When you look at a picture, seeing it and praising it is all there is to it; but that’s not the whole of it when you look at writing, because you’re invited also to read it. If you see writing but perhaps can’t read it, you say, “What’s written here?” You’ve already seen something and you ask what it is. The one whom you ask to inform you about what you’ve seen will show you something else. He has other eyes than you do. Yes, you both see the shapes of the letters in the same way, but you don’t understand the signs in the same way. You see and praise, but he sees, praises, reads and understands. So, because we have seen and praised this wonder of Christ, let us now also read it and understand it. (Augustine, Treatises on John, 24,1-2; PL 35, 1592-93)