[This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010. Copyright as such.]
St. Augustine acknowledges that the dead have often appeared to the living, have revealed to them the spot where their body remained unburied, and have shown them that where they wished to be interred. He says, moreover, that a noise was often heard in churches where the dead were inhumed, and that dead persons have been seen often to enter the houses wherein they dwelt before their decease.
We read that in the Council of Elvira, which was held about the year 300, it was forbidden to light tapers in the cemeteries, that the souls of the saints might not be disturbed. The night after the death of Julian the Apostate, St. Basil had a vision in which he fancied he saw the martyr, St. Mercurius, who received an order from God to go and kill Julian. A little time afterwards the same saint Mercurius returned and cried out, "Lord, Julian is pierced and wounded to death, as thou commandest me." In the morning St. Basil announced this news to the people.
St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who suffered martyrdom in 107, appeared to his disciples, embracing them, and standing near them; and as they persevered in praying with still greater fervor, they saw him crowned with glory, as if in perspiration, coming from a great combat, environed with light.
After the death of St. Ambrose, which happened on Easter Eve, the same night in which they baptized neophytes, several newly baptized children saw the holy bishop, and pointed him out to their parents, who could not see him because their eyes were not purified—at least says St. Paulinus, a disciple of the saint, and who wrote his life.
He adds that on the day of his death the saint appeared to several holy persons dwelling in the East, praying with them and giving them the imposition of hands; they wrote to Milan, and it was found, on comparing the dates, that this occurred on the very day he died. These letters were still preserved in the time of Paulinus, who wrote all these things. This holy bishop was also seen several times after his death praying in the Ambrosian church at Milan, which he promised during his life that he would often visit. During the siege of Milan, St. Ambrose appeared to a man of that same city, and promised that the next day succor would arrive, which happened accordingly. A blind man having learnt in a vision that the bodies of the holy martyrs Sicineus and Alexander would come by sea to Milan, and that Bishop Ambrose was going to meet them, he prayed the same bishop to restore him to sight, in a dream. Ambrose replied; "Go to Milan; come and meet my brethren; they will arrive on such a day, and they will restore you to sight." The blind man went to Milan, where he had never been before, touched the shrine of the holy martyrs, and recovered his eyesight. He himself related the circumstance to Paulinus.
The lives of the saints are full of apparitions of deceased persons; and if they were collected, large volumes might be filled. St. Ambrose, of whom we have just spoken, discovered after a miraculous fashion the bodies of St. Gervasius and St. Protasius, and those of St. Nazairius and St. Celsus.
Evodius, Bishop of Upsal in Africa, a great friend of St. Augustine, was well persuaded of the reality of apparitions of the dead, from his own experience, and he relates several instances of such things which happened in his own time; as that of a good widow to whom a deacon appeared who had been dead for four years. He was accompanied by several of the servants of God, of both sexes, who were preparing a palace of extraordinary beauty. This widow asked him for whom they were making these preparations; he replied that it was for the youth who died the preceding day. At the same time, a venerable old man, who was in the same palace, commanded two young men, arrayed in white, to take the deceased young man out of his grave and conduct him to this place. As soon as he had left the grave, fresh roses and rose-beds sprang up; and the young man appeared to a monk, and told him that God had received him into the number of his elect, and had sent him to fetch his father, who in fact died four days after of slow fever.
Evodius asks himself diverse questions on this recital: If the soul on quitting its (mortal) body does not retain a certain subtle body, with which it appears, and by means of which it is transported from one spot to another? If the angels even have not a certain kind of body?—for if they are incorporeal, how can they be counted? And if Samuel appeared to Saul, how could it take place if Samuel had no members? He adds, "I remember well that Profuturus, Privatus and Servitus, whom I had known in the monastery here, appeared to me, and talked with me after their decease; and what they told me, happened. Was it their soul which appeared to me, or was it some other spirit which assumed their form?" He concludes from this that the soul is not absolutely bodiless, since God alone is incorporeal.
St. Augustine, who was consulted on this matter by Evodius, does not think that the soul, after the death of the body, is clothed with any material substantial form; but he confesses that it is very difficult to explain how an infinite number of things are done, which pass in our minds, as well in our sleep as when we are awake, in which we seem to see, feel, and discourse, and do things which it would appear could be done only by the body, although it is certain that nothing bodily occurs. And how can we explain things so unknown, and so far beyond anything that we experience every day, since we cannot explain even what daily experience shows us. Evodius adds that several persons after their decease have been going and coming in their houses as before, both day and night; and that in churches where the dead were buried, they often heard a noise in the night as of persons praying aloud.
St. Augustine, to whom Evodius writes all this, acknowledges that there is a great distinction to be made between true and false visions, and that he could wish he had some sure means of discerning them correctly. The same saint relates on this occasion a remarkable story, which has much connection with the matter we are treating upon. A physician named Gennadius, a great friend of St. Augustine's, and well known at Carthage for his great talent and his kindness to the poor, doubted whether there was another life. One day he saw, in a dream, a young man who said to him, "Follow me;" he followed him in spirit, and found himself in a city, where, on his right hand, he heard most admirable melody; he did not remember what he heard on his left.
Another time he saw the same young man, who said to him, "Do you know me?" "Very well," answered he. "And whence comes it that you know me?" He related to him what he had showed him in the city whither he had led him. The young man added, "Was it in a dream, or awake, that you saw all that?" "In a dream?" he replied. The young man then asked, "Where is your body now?" "In my bed," said he. "Do you know that now you see nothing with the eyes of your body?" "I know it," answered he. "Well, then, with what eyes do you behold me?" As he hesitated, and knew not what to reply, the young man said to him, "In the same way that you see and hear me now that your eyes are shut, and your senses asleep; thus after death you will live, you will see, you will hear, but with eyes of the spirit; so doubt not that there is another life after the present one."
The great St. Anthony, one day when he was wide awake, saw the soul of the hermit St. Ammon being carried into heaven in the midst of choirs of angels. Now, St. Ammon died that same day, at five days' journey from thence, in the desert of Nitria. The same St. Anthony saw also the soul of St. Paul Hermitus ascending to heaven surrounded by choirs of angels and prophets. St. Benedict beheld the spirit of St. Germain, Bishop of Capua, at the moment of his decease, who was carried into heaven by angels. The same saint saw the soul of his sister, St. Scholastica, rising to heaven in the form of a dove. We might multiply such instances without end. They are true apparitions of souls separated from their bodies.
St. Sulpicius Severus, being at some distance from the city of Tours, and ignorant of what was passing there, fell one morning into a light slumber; as he slept he beheld St. Martin, who appeared to him in a white garment, his countenance shining, his eyes sparkling, his hair of a purple color; it was, nevertheless, very easy to recognize him by his air and his face. St. Martin showed himself to him with a smiling countenance, and holding in his hand the book which St. Sulpicius Severus had composed upon his life. Sulpicius threw himself at his feet, embraced his knees, and implored his benediction, which the saint bestowed upon him. All this passed in a vision; and as St. Martin rose into the air, Sulpicius Severus saw still in the spirit the priest Clarus, a disciple of the saint, who went the same way and rose towards heaven. At that moment Sulpicius awoke, and a lad who served him, on entering, told him that two monks who were just arrived from Tours, had brought word that St. Martin was dead.
The Baron de Coussey, an old and respectable magistrate, has related to me more than once that, being at more than sixty leagues from the town where his mother died the night she breathed her last, he was awakened by the barking of a dog which laid at the foot of his bed; and at the same moment he perceived the head of his mother environed by a great light, who, entering by the window into his chamber, spoke to him distinctly, and announced to him various things concerning the state of his affairs.
St. Chrysostom, in his exile, and the night preceding his death, saw the martyr St. Basilicus, who said to him—"Courage, brother John; to-morrow we shall be together." The same thing was foretold to a priest who lived in the same place. St. Basilicus said to him, "Prepare a place for my brother John; for, behold, he is coming."
The discovery of the body of St. Stephen, the first martyr, is very celebrated in the Church; this occurred in the year 415. St. Gamaliel, who had been the master of St. Paul before his conversion, appeared to a priest named Lucius, who slept in the baptistery of the Church at Jerusalem to guard the sacred vases, and told him that his own body and that of St. Stephen the proto-martyr were interred at Caphargamala, in the suburb named Dilagabis; that the body of his son named Abibas, and that of Nicodemus, reposed in the same spot. Lucius had the same vision three times following, with an interval of a few days between. John, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who was then at the Council of Dioscopolis, repaired to the spot, made the discovery and translation of the relics, which were transported to Jerusalem, and a great number of miracles were performed there.
Licinius, being in his tent, thinking of the battle he was to fight on the morrow, saw an angel, who dictated to him a form of prayer which he made his soldiers learn by heart, and by means of which he gained the victory over the Emperor Maximian.
Mascezel, general of the Roman troops which Stilicho sent into Africa against Gildas, prepared himself for this war, in imitation of Theodosius the Great, by prayer and the intervention of the servants of God. He took with him in his vessel some monks, whose only occupation during the voyage was to pray, fast, and sing psalms. Gildas had an army of seventy thousand men; Mascezel had but five thousand, and did not think he could without rashness attempt to compete with an enemy so powerful and so far superior in the number of his forces. As he was pondering uneasily on these things, St. Ambrose, who died the year before, appeared to him by night, holding a staff in his hand, and struck the ground three times, crying, "Here, here, here!" Mascezel understood that the saint promised him the victory in that same spot three days after. In fact, the third day he marched upon the enemy, offering peace to the first whom he met; but an ensign having replied to him very arrogantly, he gave him a severe blow with his sword upon his arm, which made his standard swerve; those who were afar off thought that he was yielding, and that he lowered his standard in sign of submission, and they hastened to do the same. Paulinus, who wrote the life of St. Ambrose, assures us that he had these particulars from the lips of Mascezel himself; and Orosius heard them from those who had been eye-witnesses of the fact.
The persecutors having inflicted martyrdom on seven Christian virgins, one of them appeared the following night to St. Theodosius of Ancyra, and revealed to him the spot where herself and her companions had been thrown into the lake, each one with a stone tied around her neck. As Theodosius and his people were occupied in searching for their bodies, a voice from heaven warned Theodosius to be on his guard against the traitor, meaning to indicate Polycronius, who betrayed Theodosius, and was the occasion of his being arrested and martyred.
St. Potamienna, a Christian virgin who suffered martyrdom at Alexandria, appeared after her death to several persons, and was the cause of their conversion to Christianity. She appeared in particular to a soldier named Basilidus, who, as he was conducting her to the place of execution, had protected her from the insults of the populace. This soldier, encouraged by Potamienna, who in a vision placed a garland upon his head, was baptized, and received the crown of martyrdom.
St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, Bishop of Neocæsarea in Pontus, being greatly occupied with certain theological difficulties, raised by heretics concerning the mysteries of religion, and having passed great part of the night in studying those matters, saw a venerable old man enter his room, having by his side a lady of august and divine form; he comprehended that these were the Holy Virgin and St. John the Evangelist. The Virgin exhorted St. John to instruct the bishop, and dissipate his embarrassment, by explaining clearly to him the mystery of the Trinity and the Divinity of the Verb or Word. He did so, and St. Gregory wrote it down instantly. It is the doctrine which he left to his church, and which they have to this very day.
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