Arguments concerning Apparitions

 [This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010.  Copyright as such.]

apparition

After having spoken at some length upon apparitions, and after having established the truth of them, as far as it has been possible for us to do so, from the authority of the Scripture, from examples, and by arguments, we must now exercise our judgment on the causes, means, and reasons for these apparitions, and reply to the objections which may be made to destroy the reality of them, or at least to raise doubts on the subject.

We have supposed that apparitions were the work of angels, demons, or souls of the defunct; we do not talk of the appearance of God himself; his will, his operations, his power, are above our reach; we acknowledge that he can do all that he wills to do, that his will is all-powerful, and that he places himself, when he chooses, above the laws which he has made. As to the apparitions of the living to others also living, they are of a different nature from what we propose to examine in this place; we shall not fail to speak of them hereafter.

Whatever system we may follow on the nature of angels, or demons, or souls separated from the body; whether we consider them as purely spiritual substances, as the Christian church at this day holds; whether we give them an aerial body, subtle, and invisible, as many have taught; it appears almost as difficult to render palpable, perceptible, and thick a subtle and aerial body, as it is to condense the air, and make it seem like a solid and perceptible body; as, when the angels appeared to Abraham and Lot, the angel Raphael to Tobias, whom he conducted into Mesopotamia; or when the demon appeared to Jesus Christ, and led him to a high mountain, and on the pinnacle of the Temple at Jerusalem; or when Moses appeared with Elias on Mount Tabor: for those apparitions are certain from Scripture.

If you will say that these apparitions were seen only in the imagination and mind of those who saw, or believed they saw angels, demons, or souls separated from the body, as it happens every day in our sleep, and sometimes when awake, if we are strongly occupied with certain objects, or struck with certain things which we desire ardently or fear exceedingly—as when Ajax, thinking he saw Ulysses and Agamemnon, or Menelaus, threw himself upon some animals, which he killed, thinking he was killing those two men his enemies, and whom he was dying with the desire to wreak his vengeance upon—on this supposition, the apparition will not be less difficult to explain. There was neither prepossession nor disturbed imagination, nor any preceding emotion, which led Abraham to figure to himself that he saw three persons, to whom he gave hospitality, to whom he spoke, who promised him the birth of a son, of which he was scarcely thinking at that time. The three apostles who saw Moses conversing with Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor were not prepared for that appearance; there was no emotion of fear, love, revenge, ambition, or any other passion which struck their imagination, to dispose them to see Moses; as neither was there in Abraham, when he perceived the three angels who appeared to him.

Often in our sleep we see, or we believe we see, what has struck our attention very much when awake; sometimes we represent to ourselves in sleep things of which we have never thought, which even are repugnant to us, and which present themselves to our mind in spite of ourselves. None bethink themselves of seeking the causes of these kinds of representations; they are attributed to chance, or to some disposition of the humors of the blood or of the brain, or even of the way in which the body is placed in bed; but nothing like that is applicable to the apparitions of angels, demons, or spirits, when these apparitions are accompanied and followed by converse, predictions and real effects preceded and predicted by those which appear.

If we have recourse to a pretended fascination of the eyes or the other senses, which sometimes make us believe that we see and hear what we do not, or that we neither see nor hear what is passing before our eyes, or which strikes our ears; as when the soldiers sent to arrest Elisha spoke to him and saw him before they recognized him, or when the inhabitants of Sodom could not discover Lot's door, although it was before their eyes, or when the disciples of Emmaus knew not that it was Jesus Christ who accompanied them and expounded the Scriptures; they opened their eyes and knew him only by the breaking of bread.

That fascination of the senses which makes us believe that we see what we do not see, or that suspension of the exercise and natural functions of our senses which prevents us from seeing and recognizing what is passing before our eyes, is all of it hardly less miraculous than to condense the air, or rarefy it, or give solidity and consistence to what is purely spiritual and disengaged from matter.

From all this, it follows that no apparition can take place without a sort of miracle, and without a concurrence, both extraordinary and supernatural, of the power of God who commands, or causes, or permits an angel, or a demon, or a disembodied soul to appear, act, speak, walk, and perform other functions which belong only to an organized body.

I shall be told that it is useless to recur to the miraculous and the supernatural, if we have acknowledged in spiritual substances a natural power of showing themselves, whether by condensing the air, or by producing a massive and palpable body, or in raising up some dead body, to which these spirits give life and motion for a certain time.

I own it all; but I dare maintain that that is not possible either to angel or demon, nor to any spiritual substance whatsoever. The soul can produce in herself thoughts, will, and wishes; she can give her impulsion to the movements of her body, and repress its sallies and agitations; but how does she do that? Philosophy can hardly explain it, but by saying that by virtue of the union between herself and the body, God, by an effect of his wisdom, has given her power to act upon the humors, its organs, and impress them with certain movements; but there is reason to believe that the soul performs all that only as an occasional cause, and that it is God as the first, necessary, immediate, and essential cause, which produces all the movements of the body that are made in a natural way.

Neither angel nor demon has more privilege in this respect over matter than the soul of man has over its own body. They can neither modify matter, change it, nor impress it with action and motion, save by the power of God, and with his concurrence both necessary and immediate; our knowledge does not permit us to judge otherwise; there is no physical proportion between the spirit and the body; those two substances cannot act mutually and immediately one upon the other; they can act only occasionally, by determining the first cause, in virtue of the laws which wisdom has judged it proper to prescribe to herself for the reciprocal action of the creatures upon each other, to give them being, to preserve it, and perpetuate movement in the mass of matter which composes the universe, in himself giving life to spiritual substances, and permitting them with his concurrence, as the First Cause, to act, the body on the soul, and the soul on the body, one on the other, as secondary causes.

Porphyry, when consulted by Anebo, an Egyptian priest, if those who foretell the future and perform prodigies have more powerful souls, or whether they receive power from some strange spirit, replies that, according to appearance, all these things are done by means of certain evil spirits that are naturally knavish, and take all sorts of shapes, and do everything that one sees happen, whether good or evil; but that in the end they never lead men to what is truly good.

St. Augustine, who cites this passage of Porphyry, lays much stress on his testimony, and says that every extraordinary thing which is done by certain tones of the voice, by figures or phantoms, is usually the work of the demon, who sports with the credulity and blindness of men; that everything marvelous which is transacted in nature, and has no relation to the worship of the true God, ought to pass for an illusion of the devil. The most ancient Fathers of the Church, Minutius Felix, Arnobius, St. Cyprian, attribute equally all these kinds of extraordinary effects to the evil spirit.

Tertullian had no doubt that the apparitions which are produced by magic, and by the evocation of souls, which, forced by enchantments, come out, say they, from the depth of hell (or Hades), are but pure illusions of the demon, who causes to appear to those present a fantastical form, which fascinates the eyes of those who think they see what they see not; "which is not more difficult for the demon," says he, "than to seduce and blind the souls which he leads into sin. Pharaoh thought he saw real serpents produced by his magicians: it was mere illusion. The truth of Moses devoured the falsehood of these impostors."

Is it more easy to cause the fascination of the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants than to produce serpents, and can it be done without God's concurring thereto? And how can we reconcile this concurrence with the wisdom, independence, and truth of God? Has the devil in this respect a greater power than an angel and a disembodied soul? And if once we open the door to this fascination, everything which appears supernatural and miraculous will become uncertain and doubtful. It will be said that the wonders related in the Old and New Testament are in this respect, in regard both to those who are witnesses of them, and those to whom they happened, only illusions and fascinations: and whither may not these premises lead? It leads us to doubt everything, to deny everything; to believe that God in concert with the devil leads us into error, and fascinates our eyes and other senses, to make us believe that we see, hear, and know what is neither present to our eyes, nor known to our mind, nor supported by our reasoning power, since by that the principles of reasoning are overthrown.

We must, then, have recourse to the solid and unshaken principles of religion, which teach us—

1. That angels, demons, and souls disembodied are pure spirit, free from all matter.

2. That it is only by the order or permission of God that spiritual substances can appear to men, and seem to them to be true and tangible bodies, in which and by which they perform what they are seen to do.

3. That to make these bodies appear, and make them act, speak, walk, eat, etc., they must produce tangible bodies, either by condensing the air or substituting other terrestrial, solid bodies, capable of performing the functions we speak of.

4. That the way in which this production and apparition of a perceptible body is achieved is absolutely unknown to us; that we have no proof that spiritual substances have a natural power of producing this kind of change when it pleases them, and that they cannot produce them independently of God.

5. That although there may be often a great deal of illusion, prepossession, and imagination in what is related of the operations and apparitions of angels, demons, and disembodied souls, there is still some reality in many of these things; and we cannot reasonably doubt of them all, and still less deny them all.

6. That there are apparitions which bear about them the character and proof of truth, from the quality of him who relates them; from the circumstances which accompany them; from the events following those apparitions that announce things to come; which perform things impossible to the natural strength of man, and too much in opposition to the interest of the demon, and his malicious and deceitful character, for us to be able to suspect him to be the author or contriver of them. In short, these apparitions are certified by the belief, the prayers, and the practice of the church, which recognizes them, and supposes their reality.

7. That although what appears miraculous is not so always, we must at least usually perceive in it some illusion and operation of the demon; consequently, that the demon can, with the permission of God, do many things which surpass our knowledge, and the natural power which we suppose him to have.

8. That those who wish to explain them by fascination of the eyes and other senses, do not resolve the difficulty, and throw themselves into still greater embarrassment than those who admit simply that apparitions appear by the order or the permission of God.
 

Continued


 

       

 

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