[This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010. Copyright as such.]
The dogma of the immortality of the soul, and of its existence after its separation from the body which it once animated, being taken for indubitable, and Jesus Christ having invincibly established it against the Sadducees, the return of souls and their apparition to the living, by the command or permission of God, can no longer appear so incredible, nor even so difficult.
It was a known and received truth among the Jews in the time of our Savior; he assumed it as certain, and never pronounced a word which could give any one reason to think that he disapproved of, or condemned it; he only warned us that in common apparitions spirits have neither flesh nor bones, as he had himself after his resurrection. If St. Thomas doubted of the reality of the resurrection of his Master, and the truth of his appearance, it was because he was aware that those who suppose they see apparitions of spirits are subject to illusion; and that one strongly prepossessed will often believe he beholds what he does not see, and hear that which he hears not; and even had Jesus Christ appeared to his apostles, that would not prove that he was resuscitated, since a spirit can appear, while its body is in the tomb and even corrupted or reduced to dust and ashes.
The apostles doubted not of the possibility of the apparition of spirits: when they saw the Savior coming towards them, walking upon the waves of the Lake of Gennesareth, they at first believed that it was a phantom.
After St. Peter had left the prison by the aid of an angel, and came and knocked at the door of the house where the brethren were assembled, the servant whom they sent to open it, hearing Peter's voice, thought it was his spirit, or an angel who had assumed his form and voice. The wicked rich man, being in the flames of hell, begged of Abraham to send Lazarus to earth, to warn his brothers not to expose themselves to the danger of falling like him in the extreme of misery: he believed, without doubt, that souls could return to earth, make themselves visible, and speak to the living.
In the transfiguration of Jesus Christ, Moses, who had been dead for ages, appeared on Mount Tabor with Elias, conversing with Jesus Christ then transfigured. After the resurrection of the Savior, several persons, who had long been dead, arose from their graves, went into Jerusalem and appeared unto many.
In the Old Testament, King Saul addresses himself to the witch of Endor, to beg of her to evoke for him the soul of Samuel; that prophet appeared and spoke to Saul. I know that considerable difficulties and objections have been formed as to this evocation and this apparition of Samuel. But whether he appeared or not—whether the Pythoness did really evoke him, or only deluded Saul with a false appearance—I deduce from it that Saul and those with him were persuaded that the spirits of the dead could appear to the living, and reveal to them things unknown to men.
St. Augustine, in reply to Simplicius, who had proposed to him his difficulties respecting the truth of this apparition, says at first, that it is no more difficult to understand that the demon could evoke Samuel by the help of a witch than it is to comprehend how that Satan could speak to God, and tempt the holy man Job, and ask permission to tempt the apostles; or that he could transport Jesus Christ himself to the highest pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem.
We may believe also that God, by a particular dispensation of his will, may have permitted the demon to evoke Samuel, and make him appear before Saul, to announce to him what was to happen to him, not by virtue of magic, not by the power of the demon alone, but solely because God willed it, and ordained it thus to be.
He adds that it may be advanced that it is not Samuel who appears to Saul, but a phantom, formed by the illusive power of the demon, and by the force of magic; and that the Scripture, in giving the name of Samuel to this phantom, has made use of ordinary language, which gives the name of things themselves to that which is but their image or representation in painting or in sculpture.
If it should be asked how this phantom could discover the future, and predict to Saul his approaching death, we may likewise ask how the demon could know Jesus Christ for God alone, while the Jews knew him not, and the girl possessed with a spirit of divination, spoken of in the Acts of the Apostles, could bear witness to the apostles, and undertake to become their advocate in rendering good testimony to their mission.
Lastly, St. Augustine concludes by saying that he does not think himself sufficiently enlightened to decide whether the demon can, or cannot, by means of magical enchantments, evoke a soul after the death of the body, so that it may appear and become visible in a corporeal form, which may be recognized, and capable of speaking and revealing the hidden future. And if this potency be not accorded to magic and the demon, we must conclude that all which is related of this apparition of Samuel to Saul is an illusion and a false apparition made by the demon to deceive men.
In the books of the Maccabees, the High-Priest Onias, who had been dead several years before that time, appeared to Judas Maccabeus, in the attitude of a man whose hands were outspread, and who was praying for the people of the Lord: at the same time the Prophet Jeremiah, long since dead, appeared to the same Maccabeus; and Onias said to him, "Behold that holy man, who is the protector and friend of his brethren; it is he who prays continually for the Lord's people, and for the holy city of Jerusalem." So saying, he put into the hands of Judas a golden sword, saying to him, "Receive this sword as a gift from heaven, by means of which you shall destroy the enemies of my people Israel."
In the same second book of the Maccabees, it is related that in the thickest of the battle fought by Timotheus, general of the armies of Syria, against Judas Maccabeus, they saw five men as if descended from heaven, mounted on horses with golden bridles, who were at the head of the army of the Jews, two of them on each side of Judas Maccabaeus, the chief captain of the army of the Lord; they shielded him with their arms, and launched against the enemy such fiery darts and thunderbolts that they were blinded and mortally afraid and terrified.
These five armed horsemen, these combatants for Israel, are apparently no other than Mattathias, the father of Judas Maccabaeus, and four of his sons, who were already dead; there yet remained of his seven sons but Judas Maccabeus, Jonathan, and Simon. We may also understand it as five angels, who were sent by God to the assistance of the Maccabees. In whatever way we regard it, these are not doubtful apparitions, both on account of the certainty of the book in which they are related, and the testimony of a whole army by which they were seen.
Whence I conclude, that the Hebrews had no doubt that the spirits of the dead could return to earth, that they did return in fact, and that they discovered to the living things beyond our natural knowledge. Moses expressly forbids the Israelites to consult the dead. But these apparitions did not show themselves in solid and material bodies; the Savior assures us of it when he says, "Spirits have neither flesh nor bones." It was often only an aerial figure which struck the senses and the imagination, like the images which we see in sleep, or that we firmly believe we hear and see. The inhabitants of Sodom were struck with a species of blindness, which prevented them from seeing the door of Lot's house, into which the angels had entered. The soldiers who sought for Elisha were in the same way blinded in some sort, although they spoke to him they were seeking for, who led them into Samaria without their perceiving him. The two disciples who went on Easter-day to Emmaus, in company with Jesus Christ their Master, did not recognize him till the breaking of the bread.
Thus, the apparitions of spirits to mankind are not always in a corporeal form, palpable and real; but God, who ordains or permits them, often causes the persons to whom these apparitions appear, to behold, in a dream or otherwise, those spirits which speak to, warn, or threaten them; who makes them see things as if present, which in reality are not before their eyes, but only in their imagination; which does not prove these visions and warnings not to be sent from God, who, by himself, or by the ministration of his angels, or by souls disengaged from the body, inspired the minds of men with what he judges proper for them to know, whether in a dream, or by external signs, or by words, or else by certain impressions made on their senses, or in their imagination, in the absence of every external object.
If the apparitions of the souls of the dead were things in nature and of their own choice, there would be few persons who would not come back to visit the things or the persons which have been dear to them during this life. St. Augustine says it of his mother, St. Monica, who had so tender and constant an affection for him, and who, while she lived, followed him and sought him by sea and land. The bad rich man would not have failed, either, to come in person to his brethren and relations to inform them of the wretched condition in which he found himself in hell. It is a pure favor of the mercy or the power of God, and which he grants to very few persons, to make their appearance after death; for which reason we should be very much on our guard against all that is said, and all that we find written on the subject in books.
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