[This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010. Copyright as such.]
All that has just been said is more fitted to prove that the going of sorcerers and witches to the sabbath is only an illusion and a deranged imagination on the part of these persons, and malice and deceit on that of the devil, who misleads them, and persuades them to yield themselves to him, and renounce true religion, by the lure of vain promises that he will enrich them, load them with honors, pleasures, and prosperity, rather than to convince us of the reality of the corporeal transportation of these persons to what they call the sabbath.
Here are some arguments and examples which seem to prove, at least, that the transportation of sorcerers to the sabbath is not impossible; for the impossibility of this transportation is one of the strongest objections which is made to the opinion that supposes it.
There is no difficulty in believing that God may allow the demon to mislead men, and carry them on to every excess of irregularity, error, and impiety; and that he may also permit him to perform some things which to us appear astonishing, and even miraculous; whether the devil achieves them by natural power, or by the supernatural concurrence of God, who employs the evil spirit to punish his creature, who has willingly forsaken Him to yield himself up to his enemy. The prophet Ezekiel was transported through the air from Chaldea, where he was a captive, to Judea, and into the temple of the Lord, where he saw the abominations which the Israelites committed in that holy place; and thence he was brought back again to Chaldea by the ministration of angels, as we shall relate in another chapter.
We know by the Gospel that the devil carried our Savior to the highest point of the temple at Jerusalem. We know also that the prophet Habakkuk was transported from Judea to Babylon, to carry food to Daniel in the lion's den. St. Paul informs us that he was carried up to the third heaven, and that he heard ineffable things; but he owns that he does not know whether it was in the body or only in the spirit. He therefore doubted not the possibility of a man's being transported in body and soul through the air. The deacon St. Philip was transported from the road from Gaza to Azotus in a very little time by the Spirit of God. We learn by ecclesiastical history, that Simon the magician was carried by the demon up into the air, whence he was precipitated, through the prayers of St. Peter. John the Deacon, author of the life of St. Gregory the Great, relates that one Farold having introduced into the monastery of St. Andrew, at Rome, some women who led disorderly lives, in order to divert himself there with them, and offer insult to the monks, that same night Farold having occasion to go out, was suddenly seized and carried up into the air by demons, who held him there suspended by his hair, without his being able to open his mouth to utter a cry, till the hour of matins, when Pope St. Gregory, the founder and protector of that monastery, appeared to him, reproached him for his profanation of that holy place, and foretold that he would die within the year—which did happen.
I have been told by a magistrate, as incapable of being deceived by illusions as of imposing any such on other people, that on the 16th of October, 1716, a carpenter, who inhabited a village near Bar, in Alsace, called Heiligenstein, was found at five o'clock in the morning in the garret of a cooper at Bar. This cooper having gone up to fetch the wood for his trade that he might want to use during the day, and having opened the door, which was fastened with a bolt on the outside, perceived a man lying at full length upon his stomach, and fast asleep. He recognized him, and having asked him what he did there, the carpenter in the greatest surprise told him he knew neither by what means, nor by whom, he had been taken to that place.
The cooper not believing this, told him that assuredly he was come thither to rob him, and had him taken before the magistrate of Bar, who having interrogated him concerning the circumstance just spoken of, he related to him with great simplicity, that, having set off about four o'clock in the morning to come from Heiligenstein to Bar—there being but a quarter of an hour's distance between those two places—he saw on a sudden, in a place covered with verdure and grass, a magnificent feast, brightly illuminated, where a number of persons were highly enjoying themselves with a sumptuous repast and by dancing; that two women of his acquaintance, inhabitants of Bar, having asked him to join the company, he sat down to table and partook of the good cheer, for a quarter of an hour at the most; after that, one of the guests having cried out "Citò, Citò," he found himself carried away gently to the cooper's garret, without knowing how he had been transported there.
This is what he declared in presence of the magistrate. The most singular circumstance of this history is, that hardly had the carpenter deposed what we read, than those two women of Bar who had invited him to join their feast hung themselves, each in her own house.
The superior magistrates, fearing to carry things so far as to compromise perhaps half the inhabitants of Bar, judged prudently that they had better not inquire further; they treated the carpenter as a visionary, and the two women who hung themselves were considered as lunatics; thus the thing was hushed up, and the matter ended.
If this is what they call the witches' sabbath, neither the carpenter, nor the two women, nor apparently the other guests at the festival, had need to come mounted on a demon; they were too near their own dwellings to have recourse to superhuman means in order to have themselves transported to the place of meeting. We are not informed how these guests repaired to this feast, nor how they returned each one to their home; the spot was so near the town, that they could easily go and return without any extraneous assistance.
But if secrecy was necessary, and they feared discovery, it is very probable that the demon transported them to their homes through the air before it was day, as he had transported the carpenter to the cooper's garret. Whatever turn may be given to this event, it is certainly difficult not to recognize a manifest work of the evil spirit in the transportation of the carpenter through the air, who finds himself, without being aware of it, in a well-fastened garret. The women who hung themselves, showed clearly that they feared something still worse from the law, had they been convicted of magic and witchcraft. And had not their accomplices also, whose names must have been declared, as much to fear?
William de Neubridge relates another story, which bears some resemblance to the preceding. A peasant having heard, one night as he was passing near a tomb, a melodious concert of different voices, drew near, and finding the door open, put in his head, and saw in the middle a grand feast, well lighted, and a well-covered table, round which were men and women making merry. One of the attendants having perceived him, presented him with a cup filled with liquor; he took it, and having spilled the liquor, he fled with the cup to the first village, where he stopped. If our carpenter had done the same, instead of amusing himself at the feast of the witches of Bar, he would have spared himself much uneasiness.
We have in history several instances of persons full of religion and piety, who, in the fervor of their orisons, have been taken up into the air, and remained there for some time. We have known a good monk, who rises sometimes from the ground, and remains suspended without wishing it, without seeking to do so, especially on seeing some devotional image, or on hearing some devout prayer, such as "Gloria in excelsis Deo." I know a nun to whom it has often happened in spite of herself to see herself thus raised up in the air to a certain distance from the earth; it was neither from choice, nor from any wish to distinguish herself, since she was truly confused at it. Was it by the ministration of angels, or by the artifice of the seducing spirit, who wished to inspire her with sentiments of vanity and pride? Or was it the natural effect of Divine love, or fervor of devotion in these persons?
I do not observe that the ancient fathers of the desert, who were so spiritual, so fervent, and so great in prayer, experienced similar ecstasies. These risings up in the air are more common among our new saints, as we may see in the Life of St. Philip of Neri, where they relate his ecstasies and his elevations from earth into the air, sometimes to the height of several yards, and almost to the ceiling of his room, and this quite involuntarily. He tried in vain to hide it from the knowledge of those present, for fear of attracting their admiration, and feeling in it some vain complacency. The writers who give us these particulars do not say what was the cause, whether these ecstatic elevations from the ground were produced by the fervor of the Holy Spirit, or by the ministry of good angels, or by a miraculous favor of God, who desired thus to do honor to his servants in the eyes of men. God had moreover favored the same St. Philip de Neri, by permitting him to see the celestial spirits and even the demons, and to discover the state of holy spirits, by supernatural knowledge.
St. John Columbino, teacher of the Jesuits, made use of St. Catherine Columbine, a maiden of extraordinary virtue, for the establishment of nuns of his order. It is related of her, that sometimes she remained in a trance, and raised up two yards from the ground, motionless, speechless, and insensible.
The same thing is said of St. Ignatius de Loyola, who remained entranced by God, and raised up from the ground to the height of two feet, while his body shone like light. He has been seen to remain in a trance insensible, and almost without respiration, for eight days together.
St. Robert de Palentin rose also from the ground, sometimes to the height of a foot and a half, to the great astonishment of his disciples and assistants. We see similar trances and elevations in the Life of St. Bernard Ptolomei, teacher of the congregation of Notre Dame of Mount Olivet; of St. Philip Benitas, of the order of Servites; of St. Cajetanus, founder of the Théatins; of St. Albert of Sicily, confessor, who, during his prayers, rose three cubits from the ground; and lastly of St. Dominic, the founder of the order of Preaching Brothers.
It is related of St. Christina, Virgin at S. Tron, that being considered dead, and carried into the church in her coffin, as they were performing for her the usual service, she arose suddenly, and went as high as the beams of the church, as lightly as a bird. Being returned into the house with her sisters, she related to them that she had been led first to purgatory, and thence to hell, and lastly to paradise, where God had given her the choice of remaining there, or of returning to this world and doing penance for the souls she had seen in purgatory. She chose the latter, and was brought back to her body by the holy angels. From that time she could not bear the effluvia of the human body, and rose up into trees and on the highest towers with incredible lightness, there to watch and pray. She was so light in running that she outran the swiftest dogs. Her parents tried in vain all they could do to stop her, even to loading her with chains, but she always escaped from them. So many other almost incredible things are related of this saint, that I dare not repeat them here.
M. Nicole, in his letters, speaks of a nun named Seraphina, who, in her ecstasies, rose from the ground with so much impetuosity that five or six of the sisters could hardly hold her down.
This doctor, reasoning on the fact, says, that it proves nothing at all for Sister Seraphina; but the thing well verified proves God and the devil—that is to say, the whole of religion; that the circumstance being proved, is of very great consequence to religion; that the world is full of certain persons who believe only what cannot be doubted; that the great heresy of the world is no longer Calvinism and Lutheranism, but atheism. There are all sorts of atheists—some real, others pretended; some determined, others vacillating, and others tempted to be so. We ought not to neglect this kind of people; the grace of God is all-powerful; we must not despair of bringing them back by good arguments, and by solid and convincing proofs. Now, if these facts are certain, we must conclude that there is a God, or bad angels who imitate the works of God, and perform by themselves or their subordinates works capable of deceiving even the elect.
One of the oldest instances I remark of persons thus raised from the ground without any one touching them, is that of St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, who died in 988, and who, a little time before his death, as he was going up stairs to his apartment, accompanied by several persons, was observed to rise from the ground; and as all present were astonished at the circumstance, he took occasion to speak of his approaching death.
Trithemius, speaking of St. Elizabeth, Abbess of Schonau, in the diocese of Treves, says that sometimes she was in an ecstatic trance, so that she would remain motionless and breathless during a long time. In these intervals, she learned, by revelation and by the intercourse she had with blessed spirits, admirable things; and when she revived, she would discourse divinely, sometimes in German, her native language, sometimes in Latin, though she had no knowledge of that language. Trithemius did not doubt her sincerity and the truth of her discourse. She died in 1165.
St. Richard, Abbot of S. Vanne de Verdun, appeared in 1036 elevated from the ground while he was saying mass in presence of the Duke Galizon, his sons, and a great number of lords and soldiers.
In the last century, the reverend Father Dominic Carme Déchaux, was raised from the ground before the King of Spain, the queen, and all the court, so that they had only to blow upon his body to move it about like a soap-bubble.
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