Objections against Apparitions, and Replies to those Objections

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

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The greatest objection that can be raised against the apparitions of angels, demons, and disembodied souls, takes its rise in the nature of these substances, which being purely spiritual, cannot appear with evident, solid, and palpable bodies, nor perform those functions which belong only to matter, and living or animated bodies.

For, either spiritual substances are united to the bodies which appear or not. If they are not united to them, how can they move them, and cause them to act, walk, speak, reason, and eat? If they are united to them, then they form but one individual; and how can they separate themselves from them, after being united to them? Do they take them and leave them at will, as we lay aside a habit or a mask? That would be to suppose that they are at liberty to appear or disappear, which is not the case, since all apparitions are solely by the order or permission of God. Are those bodies which appear only instruments which the angels, demons, or souls make use of to affright, warn, chastise, or instruct the person or persons to whom they appear? This is, in fact, the most rational thing that can be said concerning these apparitions; the exorcisms of the church fall directly on the agent and cause of these apparitions, and not on the phantom which appears, nor on the first author, which is God, who orders and permits it.

Another objection, both very common and very striking, is that which is drawn from the multitude of false stories and ridiculous reports which are spread amongst the people, of the apparitions of spirits, demons, and elves, of possessions and obsessions.

It must be owned that, out of a hundred of these pretended appearances, hardly two will be found to be true. The ancients are not more to be credited on that point than the moderns, since they were, at least, equally as credulous as people are in our own age, or rather they were more credulous than we are at this day.

I grant that the foolish credulity of the people, and the love of everything that seems marvelous and extraordinary, have produced an infinite number of false histories on the subject we are now treating of. There are here two dangers to avoid: a too great credulity, and an excessive difficulty in believing what is above the ordinary course of nature; as likewise, we must not conclude what is general from what is particular, or make a general case of a particular one, nor say that all is false because some stories are so; also, we must not assert that such a particular history is a mere invention, because there are many stories of this latter kind. It is allowable to examine, prove, and select; we must never form our judgment but with knowledge of the case; a story may be false in many of its circumstances (as related), but true in its foundation.

The history of the deluge, and that of the passage across the Red Sea, are certain in themselves, and in the simple and natural recital given of them by Moses. The profane historians, and some Hebrew writers, and even Christians, have added some embellishment which must militate against the story in itself. Josephus the historian has much embellished the history of Moses; Christian authors have added much to that of Josephus; the Muslims have altered several points of the sacred history of the Old and New Testament. Must we, on this account, consider these histories as problematical? The life of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus is full of miracles, as are also those of St. Martin and St. Bernard. St. Augustine relates several miraculous cures worked by the relics of St. Stephen. Many extraordinary things are related in the life of St. Ambrose. Why not give faith to them after the testimony of these great men, and that of their disciples, who had lived with them, and had been witnesses of a good part of what they relate?

It is not permitted us to dispute the truth of the apparitions noted in the Old and New Testament; but we may be permitted to explain them. For instance, it is said that the Lord appeared to Abraham in the valley of Mamre; that he entered Abraham's tent, and that he promised him the birth of a son; also, it is allowed that he received three angels, who went from thence to Sodom. St. Paul notices it expressly in his Epistle to the Hebrews; angelis hospitio receptis. It is also said that the Lord appeared unto Moses, and gave him the law; and St. Stephen, in the Acts, informs us that it was an angel who spoke to him from the burning bush, and on Mount Horeb; and St. Paul, writing to the Galatians, says, that the law was given by angels.

Sometimes, the name of angel of the Lord is taken for a prophet, a man filled with his Spirit, and deputed by him. It is certain that the Hebrew malae and the Greek angelos bear the same signification as our envoy. For instance, at the beginning of the Book of Judges, it is said that there came an angel of the Lord from Gilgal to the place of tears (or Bochim), and that he there reproved the Israelites for their infidelity and ingratitude. The ablest commentators think that this angel of the Lord is no other than Phineas, or the then high priest, or rather a prophet, sent expressly to the people assembled at Gilgal.

In the Scripture, the prophets are sometimes styled angels of the Lord. "Here is what saith the envoy of the Lord, amongst the envoys of the Lord," says Haggai, speaking of himself.

The prophet Malachi, the last of the lesser prophets, says that "the Lord will send his angel, who will prepare the way before his face." This angel is St. John the Baptist, who prepares the way for Jesus Christ, who is himself styled the Angel of the Lordó"And soon the Lord whom ye demand, and the so much desired Angel of the Lord, will come into his temple." This same Savior is designated by Moses under the name of a prophet: "The Lord will raise up in the midst of your nation, a prophet like myself." The name of angel is given to the prophet Nathan, who reproved David for his sin. I do not pretend, by these testimonies, to deny that the angels have often appeared to men; but I infer from them that sometimes these angels were only prophets or other persons, raised up and sent by God to his people.

As to apparitions of the demon, it is well to observe that in Scripture the greater part of public calamities and maladies are attributed to evil spirits; for example, it is said that Satan inspired David with the idea of numbering his people; but in another place it is simply said that the anger of the Lord was inflamed against Israel, and led David to cause his subjects to be numbered. There are several other passages in the Holy Books, where they relate what the demon said and what he did, in a popular manner, by the figure termed prosopopúia; for instance, the conversation between Satan and the first woman, and the discourse which the demon holds in company with the good angels before the Lord, when he talks to him of Job, and obtains permission to tempt and afflict him. In the New Testament, it appears that the Jews attributed to the malice of the demon and to his possession almost all the maladies with which they were afflicted. In St. Luke, the woman who was bent and could not raise herself up, and had suffered this for eighteen years, "had," says the evangelist, "a spirit of infirmity;" and Jesus Christ, after having healed her, says "that Satan held her bound for eighteen years;" and in another place, it is said that a lunatic or epileptic person was possessed by the demon. It is clear, from what is said by St. Matthew and St. Luke, that he was attacked by epilepsy. The Savior cured him of this evil malady, and by that means took from the demon the opportunity of tormenting him still more; as David, by dissipating with the sound of his harp the somber melancholy of Saul, delivered him from the evil spirit, who abused the power of those inclinations which he found in him, to awaken his jealousy against David. All this means, that we often ascribed to the demon things of which he is not guilty, and that we must not lightly adopt all the prejudices of the people, nor take literally all that is related of the works of Satan.
 

Continued



       

 

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