The Apparition of Bad Angels
[This is taken from Augustine Calmet’s Phantom World, originally published in 1850.]
The books of the Old and New Testament, together with sacred and profane history, are full of relations of the apparition of bad spirits. The first, the most famous, and the most fatal apparition of Satan, is that of the appearance of this evil spirit to Eve, the first woman, in the form of a serpent, which animal served as the instrument of that seducing demon in order to deceive her and induce her to sin. Since that time he has always chosen to appear under that form rather than any other; so in Scripture he is often termed the Old Serpent; and it is said that the infernal dragon fought against the woman who figured or represented the church; that the archangel St. Michael vanquished him and cast him down from heaven. He has often appeared to the servants of God in the form of a dragon, and he has caused himself to be adored by unbelievers in this form, in a great number of places: at Babylon, for instance, they worshiped a living dragon, which Daniel killed by making it swallow a ball or bolus, composed of ingredients of a mortally poisonous nature. The serpent was consecrated to Apollo, the god of physic and of oracles; and the pagans had a sort of divination by means of serpents, which they called Ophiomantia.
The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans worshiped serpents, and regarded them as divine. They brought to Rome the serpent of Epidaurus, to which they paid divine honors. The Egyptians considered vipers as divinities. The Israelites adored the brazen serpent elevated by Moses in the desert, and which was in after times broken in pieces by the holy king Hezekiah.
St. Augustine assures us that the Manicheans regarded the serpent as the Christ, and said that this animal had opened the eyes of Adam and Eve by the bad counsel which he gave them. We almost always see the form of the serpent in the magical figures Akraxas and Abracadabra, which were held in veneration among the Basilidian heretics, who, like the Manicheans, acknowledge two principles in all things—the one good, the other bad; Abraxas in Hebrew signifies that bad principle, or the father of evil; ab-ra-achad-ab-ra, the father of evil, the sole father of evil, or the only bad principle.
St. Augustine remarks that no animal has been more subject to the effects of enchantment and magic than the serpent, as if to punish him for having seduced the first woman by his imposture.
However, the demon has usually assumed the human form when he would tempt mankind; it was thus that he appeared to Jesus Christ in the desert; that he tempted him and told him to change the stones into bread that he might satisfy his hunger; that he transported him, the Savior, to the highest pinnacle of the temple, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and offered him the enjoyment of them.
The angel who wrestled with Jacob at Peniel, on his return from his journey into Mesopotamia, was a bad angel, according to some ancient writers; others, as Severus Sulpicius and some Rabbis, have thought that it was the angel of Esau, who had come to combat with Jacob; but the greater number believe that it was a good angel. And would Jacob have asked him for his blessing had he deemed him a bad angel? But however that fact may be taken, it is not doubtful that the demon has appeared in a human form.
Several stories, both ancient and modern, are related which inform us that the demon has appeared to those whom he wished to seduce, or who have been so unhappy as to invoke his aid, or make a compact with him, as a man taller than the common stature, dressed in black, and with a rough ungracious manner; making a thousand fine promises to those to whom he appeared, but which promises were always deceitful, and never followed by a real effect. I can even believe that they beheld what existed only in their own confused and deranged ideas.
At Molsheim, in the chapel of St. Ignatius in the Jesuits’ church, may be seen a celebrated inscription, which contains the history of a young German gentleman, named Michael Louis, of the house of Boubenhoren, who, having been sent by his parents when very young to the court of the Duke of Lorraine, to learn the French language, lost all his money at cards: reduced to despair, he resolved to give himself to the demon, if that bad spirit would or could give him some good money; for he doubted that he would only furnish him with counterfeit and bad coin. As he was meditating on this idea, suddenly he beheld before him a youth of his own age, well made, well dressed, who, having asked him the cause of his uneasiness, presented him with a handful of money, and told him to try if it was good. He desired him to meet him at that place the next day.
Michael returned to his companions, who were still at play, and not only regained all the money he had lost, but won all that of his companions. Then he went in search of his demon, who asked as his reward three drops of his blood, which he received in an acorn-cup; after which, presenting a pen to Michael, he desired him to write what he should dictate. He then dictated some unknown words, which he made him write on two different bits of paper, one of which remained in the possession of the demon, the other was inserted in Michael’s arm, at the same place whence the demon had drawn the blood. And the demon said to him, “I engage myself to serve you during seven years, after which you will unreservedly belong to me.”
The young man consented to this, though with a feeling of horror; and the demon never failed to appear to him day and night under various forms, and taught him many unknown and curious things, but which always tended to evil. The fatal termination of the seven years was approaching, and the young man was then about twenty years old. He returned to his father’s house, when the demon to whom he had given himself inspired him with the idea of poisoning his father and mother, of setting fire to their château, and then killing himself. He tried to commit all these crimes, but God did not allow him to succeed in these attempts. The gun with which he wished to kill himself missed fire twice, and the poison did not take effect on his father and mother.
More and more uneasy, he revealed to some of his father’s domestics the miserable state in which he found himself, and entreated them to procure him some succor. At the same time the demon seized him, and bent his body back, so that he was near breaking his bones. His mother, who had adopted the heresy of Suenfeld, and had induced her son to follow it also, not finding in her sect any help against the demon that possessed or obseded him, was constrained to place him in the hands of some monks. But he soon withdrew from them and retired to Islade, from whence he was brought back to Molsheim by his brother, a canon of Wurzburg, who put him again into the hands of fathers of the society. Then it was that the demon made still more violent efforts against him, appearing to him in the form of ferocious animals. One day, amongst others, the demon, wearing the form of a hairy savage, threw on the ground a schedule, or compact, different from the true one which he had extorted from the young man, to try by means of this false appearance to withdraw him from the hands of those who kept him, and prevent his making his general confession. At last they fixed on the 20th of October, 1603, as the day for being in the Chapel of St. Ignatius, and to cause to be brought the true schedule containing the compact made with the demon. The young man there made profession of the Catholic and orthodox faith, renounced the demon, and received the holy sacrament. Then, uttering horrible cries, he said he saw as it were two he-goats of immeasurable size, which, holding up their forefeet (standing on their hind legs), held between their claws, each one separately, one of the schedules or agreements. But as soon as the exorcisms were begun, and the priests invoked the name of St. Ignatius, the two he-goats fled away, and there came from the left arm or hand of the young man, almost without pain, and without leaving any scar, the compact, which fell at the feet of the exorcist.
There now wanted only the second compact, which had remained in the power of the demon. They recommenced their exorcisms, and invoked St. Ignatius, and promised to say a mass in honor of the saint; at the same moment there appeared a tall stork, deformed and badly made, who let fall the second schedule from his beak, and they found it on the altar.
The pope, Paul V, caused information of the truth of these facts to be taken by the commissionary-deputies, M. Adam, Suffragan of Strasburg, and George, Abbot of Altorf, who were juridically interrogated, and who affirmed that the deliverance of this young man was principally due, after God, to the intercession of St. Ignatius.
The same story is related rather more at length in Bartoli’s Life of St. Ignatius Loyola.
Melancthon owns that he has seen several specters, and conversed with them several times; and Jerome Cardan affirms that his father, Fassius Cardanus, saw demons whenever he pleased, apparently in a human form. Bad spirits sometimes appear also under the figure of a lion, a dog, or a cat, or some other animal—as a bull, a horse, or a raven; for the pretended sorcerers and sorceresses relate that at the (witches’) Sabbath he is seen under several different forms of men, animals, and birds; whether he takes the shape of these animals, or whether he makes use of the animals themselves as instruments to deceive or harm, or whether he simply affects the senses and imagination of those whom he has fascinated and who give themselves to him; for in all the appearances of the demon we must always be on our guard, and mistrust his stratagems and malice. St. Peter tells us that Satan is always roaming round about us, like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. And St. Paul, in more places than one, warns us to mistrust the snares of the devil, and to hold ourselves on our guard against him.
Sulpicius Severus, in the life of St. Martin, relates a few examples of persons who were deceived by apparitions of the demon, who transformed himself into an angel of light. A young man of very high rank, and who was afterwards elevated to the priesthood, having devoted himself to God in a monastery, imagined that he held converse with angels; and as they would not believe him, he said that the following night God would give him a white robe, with which he would appear amongst them. In fact, at midnight the monastery was shaken as with an earthquake, the cell of the young man was all brilliant with light, and they heard a noise like that of many persons going to and fro, and speaking.
After that, coming forth from his cell, he showed to the brothers (of the convent) the tunic with which he was clothed: it was made of a stuff of admirable whiteness, shining as purple, and so extraordinarily fine in texture that they had never seen anything like it, and could not tell from what substance it was woven.
They passed the rest of the night in singing psalms of thanksgiving, and in the morning they wished to conduct him to St. Martin. He resisted as much as he could, saying that he had been expressly forbidden to appear in his presence. As they were pressing him to come, the tunic vanished, which led every one present to suppose that the whole thing was an illusion of the demon.
Another solitary suffered himself to be persuaded that he was Eli; another that he was St. John the Evangelist. One day, the demon wished to mislead St. Martin himself, appearing to him, having on a royal robe, wearing on his head a rich diadem, ornamented with gold and precious stones, golden sandals, and all the apparel of a great prince. Addressing himself to Martin, he said to him, “Acknowledge me, Martin; I am Jesus Christ, who, wishing to descend to earth, have resolved to manifest myself to thee first of all.” St. Martin remained silent at first, fearing some snare; and the phantom having repeated to him that he was the Christ, Martin replied: “My Lord Jesus Christ did not say that he should come clothed in purple and decked with diamonds. I shall not acknowledge him unless he appears in that same form in which he suffered death, and unless I see the marks of his cross and passion.”
At these words the demon disappeared; and Sulpicius Severus affirms that he relates this as he heard it from the mouth of St. Martin himself. A little before this, he says that Satan showed himself to him sometimes under the form of Jupiter, or Mercury, or Venus, or Minerva; and sometimes he was to reproach Martin greatly because, by baptism, he had converted and regenerated so many great sinners. But the saint despised him, drove him away by the sign of the cross, and answered him that baptism and repentance effaced all sins in those who were sincere converts.
All this proves the malice, envy, and fraud of the devil against the saints, on the one side; and on the other, the weakness and uselessness of his efforts against the true servants of God, and that it is but too true he often appears in a visible form.
In the histories of the saints we sometimes see that he hides himself under the form of a woman, to tempt pious hermits and lead them into evil; sometimes in the form of a traveler, a priest, a monk, or an angel of light, to mislead simple minded people, and cause them to err; for everything suits his purpose, provided he can exercise his malice and hatred against men.
When Satan appeared before the Lord in the midst of his holy angels, and asked permission of God to tempt Job, and try his patience through everything that was dearest to that holy man, he doubtless presented himself in his natural state, simply as a spirit, but full of rage against the saints, and in all the deformity of his sin and rebellion.
But when he says, in the Books of Kings, that he will be a lying spirit in the mouth of false prophets, and that God allows him to put in force his ill-will, we must not imagine that he shows himself corporeally to the eyes of the false prophets of King Ahab; he only inspired the falsehood in their minds—they believed it, and persuaded the king of the same. Amongst the visible appearances of Satan may be placed mortalities, wars, tempests, public and private calamities, which God sends upon nations, provinces, cities, and families, whom the Almighty causes to feel the terrible effects of his wrath and just vengeance. Thus the exterminating angel kills the first-born of the Egyptians. The same angel strikes with death the inhabitants of the guilty cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He does the same with Onan, who committed an abominable action. The wicked man seeks only division and quarrels, says the sage; and the cruel angel shall be sent against him. And the Psalmist, speaking of the plagues which the Lord inflicted upon Egypt, says that he sent evil angels among them.
When David, in a spirit of vanity, caused his people to be numbered, God showed him an angel hovering over Jerusalem, ready to smite and destroy it. I do not say decidedly whether it was a good or a bad angel, since it is certain that sometimes the Lord employs good angels to execute his vengeance against the wicked. But it is thought that it was the devil who slew eighty-five thousand men of the army of Sennacherib. And in the Apocalypse, those are also evil angels who pour out on the earth the phials of wrath, and caused all the scourges set down in that holy book.
We shall also place amongst the appearances and works of Satan false Christs, false prophets, Pagan oracles, magicians, sorcerers, and sorceresses, those who are inspired by the spirit of Python, the obsession and possession of demons, those who pretend to predict the future, and whose predictions are sometimes fulfilled; those who make compacts with the devil to discover treasures and enrich themselves; those who make use of charms; evocations by means of magic; enchantment; the being devoted to death by a vow; the deceptions of idolatrous priests, who feigned that their gods ate and drank and had commerce with women—all these can only be the work of Satan, and must be ranked with what the Scripture calls the depths of Satan.
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