[This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010. Copyright as such.]
It seems that a thing which passed before the eyes of a whole population in broad day, and in the midst of the most redoubtable mysteries, can be neither denied nor disputed. Nevertheless, it may be asked, How these bodies came out? Were they whole, or in a state of decay? naked, or clad in their own dress, or in the linen and bandages which had enveloped them in the tomb? Where, also, did they go?
The cause of their forthcoming is well noted; it was the major excommunication. This penalty is decreed only to mortal sin. Those persons had, then, died in the career of deadly sin, and were consequently condemned and in hell; for if there is naught in question but a minor excommunication, why should they go out of the church after death with such terrible and extraordinary circumstances, since that ecclesiastical excommunication does not deprive one absolutely of communion with the faithful, or of entrance to church?
If it be said that the crime was remitted, but not the penalty of excommunication, and that these persons remained excluded from church communion until after their absolution, given by the ecclesiastical judge, we ask if a dead man can be absolved and be restored to communion with the church, unless there are unequivocal proofs of his repentance and conversion preceding his death.
Moreover, the persons just cited as instances do not appear to have been released from crime or guilt, as might be supposed. The texts which we have cited sufficiently note that they died in their guilt and sins; and what St. Gregory the Great says in the part of his Dialogues there quoted, replying to his interlocutor, Peter, supposes that these nuns had died without doing penance.
Besides, it is a constant rule of the church that we cannot communicate or have communion with a dead man, whom we have not had any communication with during his lifetime. "Quibus viventibus non communicavimus, mortuis, communicare non possumus," says Pope St. Leo. At any rate, it is allowed that an excommunicated person who has given signs of sincere repentance, although there may not have been time for him to confess himself, can be reconciled to the church and receive ecclesiastical sepulture after his death. But, in general, before receiving absolution from sin, they must have been absolved from the censures and excommunication, if such have been incurred: "Absolutio ab excommunicatione debet præcedere absolutionem à peccatis; quia quandiu aliquis est excommunicatus, non potest recipere aliquod Ecclesiæ Sacramentum," says St. Thomas.
Following this decision, it would have been necessary to absolve these persons from their excommunication, before they could receive absolution from the guilt of their sins. Here, on the contrary, they are supposed to be absolved from their sins as to their criminality, in order to be able to receive absolution from the censures of the church.
I do not see how these difficulties can be resolved.
1. How can you absolve the dead? 2. How can you absolve him from excommunication before he has received absolution from sin? 3. How can he be absolved without asking for absolution, or its appearing that he hath requested it? 4. How can people be absolved who died in mortal sin, and without doing penance? 5. Why do these excommunicated persons return to their tombs after mass? 6. If they dared not stay in the church during the mass, when were they?
It appears certain that the nuns and the young monk spoken of by St. Gregory died in their sins, and without having received absolution from them. St. Benedict, probably, was not a priest, and had not absolved them as regards their guilt.
It may be said that the excommunication spoken of by St. Gregory was not major, and in that case the holy abbot could absolve them; but would this minor and regular excommunication deserve that they should quit the church in so miraculous and public a manner? The persons excommunicated by St. Gothard, and the gentleman mentioned at the Council of Limoges, in 1031, had died unrepentant, and under sentence of excommunication; consequently in mortal sin; and yet they are granted peace and absolution after their death, at the simple entreaty of their friends.
The young solitary spoken of in the acta sanctorum of the Greeks, who after having quitted his cell through incontinency and disobedience, had incurred excommunication, could he receive the crown of martyrdom in that state? And if he had received it, was he not at the same time reconciled to the church? Did he not wash away his fault with his blood? And if his excommunication was only regular and minor, would he deserve after his martyrdom to be excluded from the presence of the holy mysteries?
I see no other way of explaining these facts, if they are as they are related, than by saying that the story has not preserved the circumstances which might have deserved the absolution of these persons, and we must presume that the saints—above all, the bishops who absolved them—knew the rules of the church, and did nothing in the matter but what was right and conformable to the canons.
But it results from all that we have just said, that as the bodies of the wicked withdraw from the company of the holy through a principle of veneration and a feeling of their own unworthiness, so also the bodies of the holy separate themselves from the wicked, from opposite motives, that they may not appear to have any connection with them, even after death, or to approve of their bad life. In short, if what is just related be true, the righteous and the saints feel deference for one another, and honor each other ever in the other world; which is probable enough.
We are about to see some instances which seem to render equivocal and uncertain, as a proof of sanctity, the uncorrupted state of the body of a just man, since it is maintained that the bodies of the excommunicated do not rot in the earth until the sentence of excommunication pronounced against them be taken off.
© D J McAdam. Please note: all applicable material on this website is protected by law and may not be copied without express written permission.
Home | Book Collecting | Folklore / Myth | Philately | Playing Cards | Literature | Contents