Conclusion of the Treatise on 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.]

deadly sins

After having made this exposition of my opinion concerning the apparitions of angels, demons, souls of the dead, and even of one living person to another, and having spoken of magic, of oracles, of obsessions and possessions of the demon; of sprites and familiar spirits; of sorcerers and witches; of specters which predict the future; of those which haunt houses—after having stated the objections which are made against apparitions, and having replied to them in as weighty a manner as I possibly could, I think I may conclude that although this matter labors still under very great difficulties, as much respecting the foundation of the thing—I mean as regards the truth and reality of apparitions in general—as for the way in which they are made, still we cannot reasonably disallow that there may be true apparitions of all the kinds of which we have spoken, and that there may be also a great number very disputable, and some others which are manifestly the work of knavery, of maliciousness, of the art of charlatans, and flexibility of those who play sleight of hand tricks.

I acknowledge, moreover, that imagination, prepossession, simplicity, superstition, excess of credulity, and weakness of mind have given rise to several stories which are related; that ignorance of pure philosophy has caused to be taken for miraculous effects, and black magic, what is the simple effect of white magic, and the secrets of a philosophy hidden from the ignorant and common herd of men. Moreover, I confess that I see insurmountable difficulties in explaining the manner or properties of apparitions, whether we admit with several ancients that angels, demons, and disembodied souls have a sort of subtle transparent body of the nature of air, whether we believe them purely spiritual and disengaged from all matter, visible, gross, or subtle.

I lay down as a principle that to explain the affair of apparitions, and to give on this subject any certain rules, we should—

1st. Know perfectly the nature of spirits, angels and souls, and demons. We should know whether souls by nature are so spiritualized that they have no longer any relation to matter; or if they have, again, any alliance with an aerial, subtle, invisible body, which they still govern after death; or whether they exert any power over the body they once animated, to impel it to certain movements, as the soul which animates us gives to our bodies such impulsions as she thinks proper; or whether the soul determines simply by its will, as occasional or secondary cause, the first cause, which is God, to put in motion the machine which it once animated.

2d. If after death the soul still retains that power over its own body, or over others; for instance, over the air and other elements.

3d. If angels and demons have respectively the same power over sublunary bodies—for instance, to thicken air, inflame it, produce in it clouds and storms; to make phantoms appear in it; to spoil or preserve fruits and crops; to cause animals to perish, produce maladies, excite tempests and shipwrecks at sea; or even to fascinate the eyes and deceive the other senses.

4th. If they can do all these things naturally, and by their own virtue, as often as they think proper; or if there must be a particular order, or at least permission from God, for them to do what we have just said.

5th. Lastly, we should know exactly what power is possessed by these substances which we suppose to be purely spiritual, and how far the power of the angels, demons, and souls separated from their gross bodies, extends, in regard to the apparitions, operations and movements attributed to them. For whilst we are ignorant of the power which the Creator has given or left to disembodied souls, or to demons, we can in no way define what is miraculous, or prescribe the just bound to which may extend, or within which may be limited, the natural operations of spirits, angels, and demons.

If we accord the demon the faculty of fascinating our eyes when it pleases him, or of disposing the air so as to form the appearance of a phantom, or phenomenon; or of restoring movement to a body which is dead but not entirely corrupted; or of disturbing the living by ill dreams, or terrific representations, we should no longer admire many things which we admire at present, nor regard as miracles certain cures and certain apparitions, if they are only the natural effects of the power of souls, angels and demons.

If a man invested with his body produced such effects of himself, we should say with reason that they are supernatural operations, because they exceed the known ordinary and natural power of the living man; but if a man held commerce with a spirit, an angel, or a demon, whom by virtue of some compact, explicit or implicit, he commanded to perform certain things which would be above his natural powers, but not beyond the powers of the spirit whom he commanded, would the effect resulting from it be miraculous or supernatural? No, without doubt, supposing that the spirit which produced the result did nothing that was above his natural powers and faculties.

But would it be a miracle if a man had anything to do with an angel or a demon, and that he should make an explicit and implicit compact with them, to oblige them on certain conditions, and with certain ceremonies, to produce effects which would appear externally, and in our minds, to be beyond the power of man? For instance, in the operations of certain magicians who boast of having an explicit compact with the devil, and who by this means raise tempests, or go with extraordinary haste when they walk, or cause the death of animals, and to men incurable maladies; or who enchant arms; or in other operations, as in the use of the divining rod, and in certain remedies against the maladies of men and horses, which having no natural proportion to these maladies do not fail to cure them, although those who use these remedies protest that they have never thought of contracting any alliance with the devil.

To reply to this question, the difficulty always recurs to know if there is between living and mortal man a proportion or natural relation, which renders him capable of contracting an alliance with the angel or the demon, by virtue of which these spirits obey him and exert, under his empire over them, by virtue of the preceding compact, a power which is natural to them; for if in all that there is nothing beyond the ordinary force of nature, either on the side of man, or on that of angels and demons, there is nothing miraculous in one or the other; neither is there either in God's permitting secondary causes to act according to their natural faculties, of which he is nevertheless always the principle, and the absolute master, to limit, stop, suspend, extend, or augment them, according to his good pleasure.

But as we know not, and it seems even impossible that we should know by the light of reason, the nature and natural extent of the power of angels, demons, and disembodied souls, it seems that it would be rash to decide in this matter, as deriving consequences of causes by their effects, or effects by causes. For instance, to say that souls, demons, and angels have sometimes appeared to men—then they have naturally the faculty of returning and appearing, is a bold and rash proposition. For it is very possible that angels and demons appear only by the particular will of God, and not in consequence of his general will, and by virtue of his natural and physical concurrence with his creatures.

In the first case, these apparitions are miraculous, as being above the natural power of the agents in question; in the second case, there is nothing supernatural in them except the permission which God rarely grants to souls to return, to angels and demons to appear, and to produce the effects of which we have spoken.

According to these principles we may advance without temerity—

1st. That angels and demons have often appeared unto men, that souls separated from the body have often returned, and that both the one and the other may do the same thing again.

2d. That the manner of these apparitions, and of these returns to earth, is perfectly unknown, and given up by God to the discussions and researches of mankind.

3d. That there is some likelihood that these kinds of apparitions are not absolutely miraculous on the part of the good and evil angels, but that God allows them sometimes to take place, for reasons the knowledge of which is reserved to himself alone.

4th. That no certain rule on this point can be given, nor any demonstrative argument formed, for want of knowing perfectly the nature and extent of the power of the spiritual beings in question.

5th. That we should reason upon those apparitions which appear in dreams otherwise than upon those which appear when we are awake; differently also upon apparitions wearing solid bodies, speaking, walking, eating and drinking, and those which seem like a shade, or a nebulous and aerial body.

6th. Thus it would be rash to lay down principles, and raise uniform arguments, and all these things in common, every species of apparition demanding its own particular explanation.




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