[This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010. Copyright as such.]
Several objections may be raised against the obsessions and possessions of demons; nothing is subject to greater difficulties than this matter, but Providence constantly and uniformly permits the clearest and most certain truths of religion to remain enveloped in some degree of obscurity; that facts the best averred and the most indubitable should be subject to doubts and contradictions; that the most evident miracles should be disputed by some incredulous persons on account of circumstances which appear to them doubtful and disputable.
All religion has its lights and shadows; God has permitted it to be so in order that the just may have somewhat to exercise their faith in believing, and the impious and incredulous persist in their willful impiety and incredulity. The greatest mysteries of Christianity are to the one subjects of scandal, and to the others means of salvation; the one regarding the mystery of the cross as folly, and the others as the work of most sublime wisdom, and of the most admirable power of God. Pharaoh hardened his heart when he saw the wonders wrought by Moses; but the magicians of Egypt were at last obliged to recognize in them the hand of God. The Hebrews on sight of these wonders take confidence in Moses and Aaron, and yield themselves to their guidance, without fearing the dangers to which they may be exposed.
We have already remarked that the demon often seems to act against his own interest, and destroy his own empire, by saying that everything which is related of the return of spirits, the obsessions and possessions of the demon, of spells, magic, and sorcery, are only tales wherewith to frighten children; that they all have no existence except in weak and prejudiced minds. How can it serve the demon to maintain this, and destroy the general opinion of nations on all these things? If in all there is only falsehood and illusion, what does he gain by undeceiving people? and if there is any truth in them, why decry his own work, and take away the credit of his subordinates and his own operations?
Jesus Christ in the Gospel refutes those who said that he expelled devils in the name of Beelzebub; he maintains that the accusation is unfounded, because it was incredible that Satan should destroy his own work and his own empire. The reasoning is doubtless solid and conclusive, above all to the Jews, who thought that Jesus Christ did not differ from other exorcists who expelled demons, unless it was that he commanded the prince of devils, while the others commanded only the subaltern demons. Now, on this supposition, the prince of the demons could not expel his subalterns without destroying his own empire, without decrying himself, and without ruining the reputation of those who only acted by his orders.
It may be objected to this argument, that Jesus Christ supposed, as did the Jews, that the demons whom he expelled really possessed those whom he cured, in whatever manner he might cure them; and consequently that the empire of the demons subsisted, both in Beelzebub, the prince of the demons, and in the other demons who were subordinate to him, and who obeyed his orders; thus, his empire was not entirely destroyed, supposing that Jesus Christ expelled them in the name of Beelzebub; that subordination, on the contrary, supposed that power or empire of the prince of the demons, and strengthened it.
But Jesus Christ not only expelled demons by his own authority, without ever making mention of Beelzebub; he expelled them in spite of themselves, and sometimes they loudly complained that he was come to torment them before the time. There was neither collusion between him and them, nor subordination similar to that which might be supposed to exist between Beelzebub and the other demons.
The Lord pursued them, not only in expelling them from bodies, but also in overthrowing their bad maxims, by establishing doctrines and maxims quite contrary to their own; he made war upon every vice, error, and falsehood; he attacked the demon face to face, everywhere, unflinchingly; thus, it cannot be said that he spared him, or was in collusion with him. If the devil will sometimes pass off as chimeras and illusions all that is said of apparitions, obsessions and possessions, magic and sorcery; and if he appears so absolutely to overthrow his reign, even so far as to deny the most marked and palpable effects of his own power and presence, and impute them to the weakness of mind of men and their foolish prejudices; in all this he can only gain advantage for himself: for, if he can persuade people of the truth of what he advances, his power will only be more solidly confirmed by it, since it will no longer be attacked, and he will be left to enjoy his conquests in peace, and the ecclesiastical and secular powers interested in repressing the effects of his malice and cruelty will no longer take the trouble to make war upon him, and caution or put the nations on their guard against his stratagems and ambuscades. It will close the mouth of parliaments, and stay the hand of judges and powers; and the simple people will become the sport of the demon, who will not cease continuing to tempt, persecute, corrupt, deceive, and cause the perdition of those who shall no longer mistrust his snares and his malice. The world will relapse into the same state as when under paganism, given up to error, to the most shameful passions, and will even deny or doubt those truths which shall be the best attested, and the most necessary to our salvation.
Moses in the Old Testament well foresaw that the evil spirit would set every spring to work, to lead the Israelites into error and unruly conduct; he foresaw that in the midst of the chosen people he would instigate seducers, who would predict to them the hidden future, which predictions would come true and be followed up. He always forbids their listening to any prophet or diviners who wished to mislead them to impiety or idolatry.
Tertullian, speaking of the delusions performed by demons, and the foresight they have of certain events, says, that being spiritual in their nature, they find themselves in a moment in any place they may wish, and announce at a distance what they have seen and heard. All this is attributed to the Divinity, because neither the cause nor the manner is known; often, also, they boast of causing events, which they do but announce; and it is true that often they are themselves the authors of the evils they predict, but never of any good. Sometimes they make use of the knowledge they have derived from the predictions of the prophets respecting the designs of God, and they utter them as coming from themselves. As they are spread abroad in the air, they see in the clouds what must happen, and thus foretell the rain which they were aware of before it had been felt upon earth. As to maladies, if they cure them, it is because they have occasioned them; they prescribe remedies which produce effect, and it is believed that they have cured maladies simply because they have not continued them. Quia desinunt lędere, curasse credentur.
The demon can then foresee the future and what is hidden, and discover them by means of his votaries; he can also doubtlessly do wonderful things which surpass the usual and known powers of nature; but it is never done except to deceive us, and lead us into disorder and impiety. And even should he wear the semblance of leading to virtue and practicing those things which are praiseworthy and useful to salvation, it would only be to win the confidence of such as would listen to his suggestions, to make them afterward fall into misfortune, and engage them in some sin of presumption or vanity: for as he is a spirit of malice and lies, it little imports to him by what means he surprises us, and establishes his reign among us.
But he is very far from always foreseeing the future, or succeeding always in misleading us; God has set bounds to his malice. He often deceives himself, and often makes use of disguise and perversion, that he may not appear to be ignorant of what he is ignorant of, or he will appear unwilling to do what God will not allow him to do; his power is always bounded, and his knowledge limited. Often, also, he will mislead and deceive through malice, because he is the father of falsehood. He deceives men, and rejoices when he sees them doing wrong; but not to lose his credit amongst those who consult him directly or indirectly, he lays the fault on those who undertake to interpret his words, or the equivocal signs which he has given. For instance, if he is consulted whether to begin an enterprise, or give battle, or set off on a journey, if the thing succeeds, he takes all the glory and merit to himself; if it does not succeed, he imputes it to the men who have not well understood the sense of his oracle, or to the aruspices, who have made mistakes in consulting the entrails of the immolated animals, or the flight of birds, etc.
We must not, then, be surprised to find so many contradictions, doubts, and difficulties, in the matter of apparitions, angels, demons, and spirits. Man naturally loves to distinguish himself from the common herd, and rise above the opinions of the people; it is a sort of fashion not to suffer one's self to be drawn along by the torrent, and to desire to sound and examine everything. We know that there is an infinity of prejudices, errors, vulgar opinions, false miracles, illusions, and seductions in the world; we know that many things are attributed to the devil which are purely natural, or that a thousand apocryphal stories are related. It is then right to hold one's self on one's guard, in order not to be deceived. It is very important for religion to distinguish between true and false miracles, certain or uncertain events, and works wrought by the hand of God, from those which are the work of the seducing spirit.
In all that he does, the demon mixes up a great many illusions amid some truths, in order that the difficulty of discerning the true from the false may make mankind take the side which pleases them most, and that the incredulous may always have some points to maintain them in their incredulity. Although the apparitions of spirits, angels, and demons, and their operations, may not, perhaps, always be miraculous, nevertheless, as the greater part appear above the common course of nature, many of the persons of whom we have just spoken, without giving themselves the trouble to examine the things, and seek for the causes of them, the authors, and the circumstances, boldly take upon themselves to deny them all. It is the shortest way, but neither the most sensible nor the most rational; for in what is said on this subject, there are effects which can be reasonably attributed to the Almighty power of God alone, who acts immediately, or makes secondary causes act to his glory, for the advancement of religion, and the manifestation of the truth; and other effects there are, which bear visibly the character of illusion, impiety, and seduction, and in which it would seem that, instead of the finger of God, we can observe only the marks of the spirit of deceit and falsehood.
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