[This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010. Copyright as such.]
Apparitions in dreams, for instance, that of the angel who told St. Joseph to carry the infant Jesus into Egypt because King Herod wished to put him to death; there are two things appertaining to this apparition—the first is, the impression made on the mind of St. Joseph that an angel appeared to him; the second is, the prediction or revelation of the ill-will of Herod. Both these are above the ordinary powers of our nature, but we know not if they be above the power of angels; it is certain that it could not have been done except by the will and command of God.
The apparitions of a spirit, or of an angel and a demon, which show themselves clothed in an apparent body, and only as a shadow or a phantom, as that of the angel who showed himself to Manoah the father of Samson, and vanished with the smoke of the sacrifice, and of him who extricated St. Peter from prison, and disappeared in the same way after having conducted him the length of a street; the bodies which these angels assumed, and which we suppose to have been only apparent and aerial, present great difficulties; for either those bodies were their own, or they were assumed or borrowed.
If those forms were their own, and we suppose with several ancient and some new writers that angels, demons, and even human souls have a kind of subtle, transparent, and aerial body, the difficulty lies in knowing how they can condense the transparent body, and render it visible when it was before invisible; for if it was always and naturally evident to the senses and visible, there would be another kind of continual miracle to render it invisible, and hide it from our sight; and if of its nature it is invisible, what might can render it visible? On whatever side we regard this object it seems equally miraculous, whether to make evident to the senses that which is purely spiritual, or to render invisible that which in its nature is palpable and corporeal.
The ancient fathers of the church, who gave to angels subtle bodies of an airy nature, explained, according to their principles, more easily the predictions made by the demons, and the wonderful operations which they cause in the air, in the elements, in our bodies, and which are far beyond what the cleverest and the most learned men can know, predict, and perform. They likewise conceived more easily that evil angels can cause maladies, render the air impure and contagious, that they inspire the wicked with wrong thoughts and unjust desires, that they can penetrate our thoughts and wishes, that they foresee tempests and changes in the air, and derangements in the seasons; all that can be explained with much more facility on the hypothesis that demons have bodies composed of very fine and subtle air.
St. Augustine had written that they could also discover what is passing in our mind, and at the bottom of our heart, not only by our words, but also by certain signs and movements, which escape from the most circumspect; but reflecting on what he had advanced in this passage, he retracted, and owned that he had spoken too affirmatively upon a subject but little known, and that the manner in which the evil angels penetrate our thoughts is a very hidden thing, and very difficult for men to discover and explain; thus he preferred suspending his judgment upon it, and remaining in doubt.
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