Opinions of the Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Oriental Nations, concerning the Apparitions of Good Angels

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

Tobias and Angel 

It cannot be disavowed that the Jews in general, the apostles, the Christians, and their disciples have commonly believed in the apparitions of good angels. The Sadducees, who denied the existence and the apparition of angels, were commonly considered by the Jews as heretics, and as supporting an erroneous doctrine. Jesus Christ refutes them in the Gospel. The Jews of our days believe literally what is related in the Old Testament, concerning the angels who appeared to Abraham, Lot, and other patriarchs. It was the belief of the Pharisees and of the apostles in the time of our Savior, as may be seen by the writings of the apostles and by the whole of the Gospel.

The Muslims believe, as do the Jews and Christians, that good angels appear to men sometimes under a human form; that they appeared to Abraham and Lot; that they punished the inhabitants of Sodom; that the archangel Gabriel appeared to Mahomet, and revealed to him all that is laid down in his Koran: that the genii are of a middle nature, between man and angel; that they eat, drink, beget children; that they die, and can foresee things to come. In consequence of this principle or idea, they believe that there are male and female genii; that the males, whom the Persians call by the name of Dives, are bad, very ugly, and mischievous, making war against the Peris, who are the females. The Rabbis will have it that these genii were born of Adam alone, without any concurrence of his wife Eve, or of any other woman, and that they are what we call ignis fatuii (or wandering lights).

The antiquity of these opinions touching the corporality of angels appears in several old writers, who, deceived by the apocryphal book which passes under the name of the Book of Enoch, have explained of the angels what is said in Genesis, "That the children of God, having seen the daughters of men, fell in love with their beauty, wedded them, and begot giants of them." Several of the ancient Fathers have adopted this opinion, which is now given up by everybody, with the exception of some new writers, who desire to revive the idea of the corporality of angels, demons, and souls—an opinion which is absolutely incompatible with that of the Catholic church, which holds that angels are of a nature entirely distinct from matter.

I acknowledge that, according to their system, the affair of apparitions could be more easily explained; it is easier to conceive that a corporeal substance should appear, and render itself visible to our eyes, than a substance purely spiritual; but this is not the place to reason on a philosophical question, on which different hypotheses could be freely grounded, and to choose that which should explain these appearances in the most plausible manner, even though it answer in the most satisfactory manner the question asked, and the objections formed against the facts, and against the proposed manner of stating them.

The question is resolved, and the matter decided. The church and the Catholic schools hold that angels, demons, and reasonable souls, are disengaged from all matter; the same church and the same school hold it as certain that good and bad angels, and souls separated from the body, sometimes appear by the will and with the permission of God: there we must stop; as to the manner of explaining these apparitions, we must, without losing sight of the certain principle of the immateriality of these substances, explain them according to the analogy of the Christian and Catholic faith, acknowledged sincerely that in this matter there are certain depths which we cannot sound, and confine our mind and information within the limits of that obedience which we owe to the authority of the church, that can neither err nor deceive us.

The apparitions of good angels and of guardian angels are frequently mentioned in the Old as in the New Testament. When the Apostle St. Peter had left the prison by the assistance of an angel, and went and knocked at the door where the brethren were, they believed that it was his angel and not himself who knocked. And when Cornelius the Centurion prayed to God in his own house, an angel (apparently his good angel) appeared to him, and told him to send and fetch Peter, who was then at Joppa.

St. Paul desires that at church no woman should appear among them without her face being veiled, because of the angels; doubtless from respect to the good angels who presided in these assemblies. The same St. Paul reassures those who were with him in danger of almost inevitable shipwreck, by telling them that his angel had appeared to him and assured him that they should arrive safe at the end of their voyage.

In the Old Testament, we likewise read of several apparitions of angels, which can hardly be explained but as of guardian angels; for instance, the one who appeared to Hagar in the wilderness, and commanded her to return and submit herself to Sarah her mistress; and the angel who appeared to Abraham, as he was about to immolate Isaac his son, and told him that God was satisfied with his obedience; and when the same Abraham sent his servant Eleazer into Mesopotamia, to ask for a wife for his son Isaac, he told him that the God of heaven, who had promised to give him the land of Canaan, would send his angel to dispose all things according to his wishes. Examples of similar apparitions of tutelary angels, derived from the Old Testament, might here be multiplied, but the circumstance does not require a greater number of proofs.

Under the new dispensation, the apparitions of good angels, of guardian spirits, are not less frequent in most authentic stories; there are few saints to whom God has not granted similar favors: we may cite, in particular, St. Frances, a Roman lady of the sixteenth century, who saw her guardian angel, and he talked to her, instructed her, and corrected her.
 

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