By Augustine Calmet.
We believe that the spirit which once inspired Elijah, for instance, rested on Elisha, his disciple; and that the Holy Spirit which inspired the first animated the second also, and even St. John the Baptist, who, according to the words of Jesus Christ, came in the power of Elijah to prepare a highway for the Messiah. Thus, in the prayers of the Church, we pray to God to fill his faithful servants with the spirit of the saints, and to inspire them with a love for that which they loved, and a detestation of that which they hated.
That the demon, and even a good angel by the permission or commission of God, can take away the life of a man appears indubitable. The angel which appeared to Zipporah, as Moses was returning from Midian to Egypt, and threatened to slay his two sons because they were not circumcised; as well as the one who slew the first-born of the Egyptians, and the one who is termed in Scripture the Destroying Angel, and who slew the Hebrew murmurers in the wilderness; and the angel who was near slaying Balaam and his donkey; the angel who killed the soldiers of Sennacherib, he who smote the first seven husbands of Sara, the daughter of Raguel; and, finally, the one with whom the Psalmist menaces his enemies, all are instances in proof of this.
Does not St. Paul, speaking to the Corinthians of those who took the Communion unworthily, say that the demon occasioned them dangerous maladies, of which many died? Will it be believed that those whom the same Apostle delivered over to Satan suffered nothing bodily; and that Judas, having received from the Son of God a bit of bread dipped in the dish, and Satan having entered into him, that bad spirit did not disturb his reason, his imagination, and his heart, until at last he led him to destroy himself, and to hang himself in despair?
We may believe that all these angels were evil angels, although it cannot be denied that God employs sometimes the good angels also to exercise his vengeance against the wicked, as well as to chastise, correct, and punish those to whom God desires to be merciful; as he sends his Prophets to announce good and bad tidings, to threaten punishment, and excite to repentance.
But nowhere do we read that either the good or the evil angels have of their own authority alone either given life to any person or restored it. This power is reserved to God alone. The demon, according to the Gospel, in the last days, and before the last Judgment, will perform, either by his own power or that of Antichrist and his subordinates, such wonders as would, were it possible, lead the elect themselves into error. From the time of Jesus Christ and his Apostles, Satan raised up false Christs and false Apostles, who performed many seeming miracles, and even resuscitated the dead. At least, it was maintained that they had resuscitated some: St. Clement of Alexandria and Hegesippus make mention of a few resurrections operated by Simon the magician; it is also said that Apollonius of Thyana brought to life a girl they were carrying to be buried. If we may believe Apuleius, Asclepiades, meeting a funeral convoy, resuscitated the body they were carrying to the pile. It is asserted that Asclepius restored to life Hippolytus, the son of Theseus; also Glaucus, the son of Minos, and Campanes, killed at the assault of Thebes, and Admetus, King of Phera in Thessaly. Elian attests that the same Asclepius joined on again the head of a woman to her corpse, and restored her to life.
But if we possessed the certainty of all these events which we have just cited—I mean to say, were they attested by ocular witnesses, well-informed and disinterested, which is not the case—we ought to know the circumstances attending these events, and then we should be better able to dispute or assent to them. For there is every appearance that the dead people resuscitated by Asclepius were only persons who were dangerously ill, and restored to health by that skillful physician. The girl revived by Apollonius of Thyana was not really dead; even those who were carrying her to the funeral pile had their doubts if she were deceased. What is said of Simon the magician is anything but certain; and even if that impostor by his magical secrets could have performed some wonders on dead persons, it should be imputed to his delusions and to some artifice, which may have substituted living bodies or phantoms for the dead bodies which he boasted of having recalled to life. In a word, we hold it as indubitable that it is God only who can impart life to a person really dead, either by power proceeding immediately from himself, or by means of angels or of demons, who perform his behests.
I own that the instance of that boy of Dalhem is perplexing. Whether it was the spirit of the child that returned into his body to animate it anew, or the demon who replaced his soul, the puzzle appears to me the same; in all this circumstance we behold only the work of the evil spirit. God does not seem to have had any share in it. Now, if the demon can take the place of a spirit in a body newly dead, or if he can make the soul by which it was animated before death return into it, we can no longer dispute his power to restore a kind of life to a dead person; which would be a terrible temptation for us, who might be led to believe that the demon has a power which religion does not permit us to think that God shares with any created being.
I would then say, supposing the truth of the fact, of which I see no room to doubt, that God, to punish the abominable crime of the father, and to give an example of his just vengeance to mankind, permitted the demon to do on this occasion what he perhaps had never done, nor ever will again—to possess a body, and serve it in some sort as a soul, and give it action and motion whilst he could retain the body without its being too much corrupted.
And this example applies admirably to the ghosts of Hungary and Moravia, whom the demon will move and animate—will cause to appear and disturb the living, so far as to occasion their death. I say all this under the supposition that what is said of the vampires is true; for if it all be false and fabulous, it is losing time to seek the means of explaining it.
For the rest, several of the ancients, as Tertullian and Lactantius, believed that the demons were the only authors of all the magicians do when they evoke the souls of the dead. They cause borrowed bodies or phantoms to appear, say they, and fascinate the eyes of those present, to make them believe that to be real which is only seeming.
This is taken from Phantom World, originally published in 1850.
Copyright © D. J. McAdam· All Rights Reserved