Some Objections and Replies related to Apparitions
[This is taken from Augustine Calmet’s Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010. Copyright as such.]
In order to combat the apparitions of angels, demons, and disembodied souls, we still bring forward the effects of a prepossessed fancy, struck with an idea, and of a weak and timid mind, which imagine they see and hear what subsists only in idea; we advert to the inventions of the malignant spirits, who like to make sport of and to delude us; we call to our assistance the artifices of the charlatans, who do so many things which pass for supernatural in the eyes of the ignorant. Philosophers, by means of certain glasses, and what are called magic lanterns, by optical secrets, sympathetic powders, by their phosphorus, and lately by means of the electrical machine, show us an infinite number of things which the simpletons take for magic, because they know not how they are produced.
Eyes that are diseased do not see things as others see them, or else behold them differently. A drunken man will see objects double; to one who has the jaundice, they will appear yellow; in the obscurity, people fancy they see a specter, when they see only the trunk of a tree.
A mountebank will appear to eat a sword; another will vomit coals or pebbles; one will drink wine and send it out again at his forehead; another will cut off his companion’s head, and put it on again. You will think you see a chicken dragging a beam. The mountebank will swallow fire and vomit it forth, he will draw blood from fruit, he will send from his mouth strings of iron nails, he will put a sword on his stomach and press it strongly, and instead of running into him, it will bend back to the hilt; another will run a sword through his body without wounding himself; you will sometimes see a child without a head, then a head without a child, and all of them alive. That appears very wonderful; nevertheless, if it were known how all those things are done, people would only laugh, and be surprised that they could wonder at and admire such things.
What has not been said for and against the divining-rod of Jacques Aimar? Scripture proves to us the antiquity of divination by the divining-rod, in the instance of Nebuchadnezzar, and in what is said of the prophet Hosea. Fable speaks of the wonders wrought by the golden rod of Mercury. The Gauls and Germans also used the rod for divination; and there is reason to believe that often God permitted that the rods should make known by their movements what was to happen; for that reason they were consulted. Every body knows the secret of Circe’s wand, which changed men into beasts. I do not compare it with the rod of Moses, by means of which God worked so many miracles in Egypt; but we may compare it with those of the magicians of Pharaoh, which produced so many marvelous effects.
Albertus Magnus relates that there had been seen in Germany two brothers, one of whom passing near a door securely locked, and presenting his left side, would cause it to open of itself; the other brother had the same virtue in the right side. St. Augustine says that there are men who move their two ears one after another, or both together, without moving their heads; others, without moving it also, make all the skin of their head with the hair thereon come down over their forehead, and put it back as it was before; some imitate so perfectly the voices of animals, that it is almost impossible not to mistake them. We have seen men speak from the hollow of the stomach, and make themselves heard as if speaking from a distance, although they were close by. Others swallow an incredible quantity of different things, and by tightening their stomachs ever so little, throw up whole, as from a bag, whatever they please. Last year, in Alsatia, there was seen and heard a German who played on two French horns at once, and gave airs in two parts, the first and the second, at the same time. Who can explain to us the secret of intermitting fevers, of the flux and reflux of the sea, and the cause of many effects which are certainly all natural?
Galen relates that a physician named Theophilus, having fallen ill, fancied that he saw near his bed a great number of musicians, whose noise split his head and augmented his illness. He cried out incessantly for them to send those people away. Having recovered his health and good sense, he perfectly well remembered all that had been said to him; but he could not get those players on musical instruments out of his head, and he affirmed that they tired him to death.
In 1629, Desbordes, valet-de-chambre of Charles IV., Duke of Lorraine, was accused of having hastened the death of the Princess Christina of Salms, wife of Duke Francis II., and mother of the Duke Charles IV., and of having inflicted maladies on different persons, which maladies the doctors attribute to evil spells. Charles IV. had conceived violent suspicions against Desbordes, since one day when in a hunting-party this valet-de-chambre had served a grand dinner to the duke and his company, without any other preparation than having to open a box with three shelves; and to wind up the wonders, he had ordered three robbers, who were dead and hung to a gibbet, to come down from it, and come and make their bow to the duke, and then to go back and resume their place at the gallows. It was said, moreover, that on another occasion he had commanded the personages in a piece of tapestry to detach themselves from it, and to come and present themselves in the middle of the room.
Charles IV was not very credulous; nevertheless, he allowed Desbordes to be tried. He was, it is said, convicted of magic, and condemned to the flames; but I have since been assured that he made his escape; and some years after, on presenting himself before the duke, and clearing himself, he demanded the restitution of his property, which had been confiscated; but he recovered only a very small part of it. Since the adventure of Desbordes, the partisans of Charles IV. wished to cast a doubt on the validity of the baptism of the Duchess Nichola, his wife, because she had been baptized by Lavallée, Chantre de St. George, a friend of Desbordes, and like him convicted of several crimes, which drew upon him similar condemnation. From a doubt of the baptism of the duchess, they wished to infer the invalidity of her marriage with Charles, which was then the grand business of Charles IV.
Father Delrio, a Jesuit, says that the magician called Trois-Echelles, by his enchantments, detached in the presence of King Charles IX. the rings or links of a collar of the Order of the King, worn by some knights who were at a great distance from him; he made them come into his hand, and after that replaced them, without the collar appearing deranged.
John Faust Cudlingen, a German, was requested, in a company of gay people, to perform in their presence some tricks of his trade; he promised to show them a vine loaded with grapes, ripe and ready to gather. They thought, as it was then the month of December, he could not execute his promise. He strongly recommended them not to stir from their places, and not to lift up their hands to cut the grapes, unless by his express order. The vine appeared directly, covered with leaves and loaded with grapes, to the great astonishment of all present; every one took up his knife, awaiting the order of Cudlingen to cut some grapes; but after having kept them for some time in that expectation, he suddenly caused the vine and the grapes to disappear: then every one found himself armed with his knife and holding his neighbor’s nose with one hand, so that if they had cut off a bunch without the order of Cudlingen, they would have cut off one another’s noses.
We have seen in these parts a horse which appeared gifted with wit and discernment, and to understand what his master said. All the secret consisted in the horse’s having been taught to observe certain motions of his master; and from these motions he was led to do certain things to which he was accustomed, and to go to certain persons, which he would never have done but for the sign or motion which he saw his master make.
A hundred other similar facts might be cited, which might pass for magical operations, if we did not know that they are simple contrivances and tricks of art, performed by persons well exercised in such things. It may be that sometimes people have ascribed to magic and the evil spirit operations like those we have just related, and that what have been taken for the spirits of deceased persons were often arranged on purpose by young people to frighten passers-by. They will cover themselves with white or black, and show themselves in a cemetery in the posture of persons requesting prayers; after that they will be the first to exclaim that they have seen a spirit: at other times it will be pick-pockets, or young men, who will hide their amorous intrigues, or their thefts and knavish tricks, under this disguise.
Sometimes a widow, or heirs, from interested motives, will publicly declare that the deceased husband appears in his house, and is in torment; that he has asked or commanded such and such things, or such and such restitutions. I own that this may happen, and does happen sometimes; but it does not follow that spirits never return. The return of souls is infinitely more rare than the common people believe; I say the same of pretended magical operations and apparitions of the demon.
It is remarked that the greater the ignorance which prevails in a country, the more superstition reigns there; and that the spirit of darkness there exercises greater power, in proportion as the nations we plunged in irregularity, and into deeper moral darkness. Louis Vivez testifies that, in the newly-discovered countries in America, nothing is more common than to see spirits which appear at noonday, not only in the country, but in towns and villages, speaking, commanding, sometimes even striking men. Olaüs Magnus, Archbishop of Upsal, who has written on the antiquities of the northern nations, observes that in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Finmark, and Lapland, they frequently see specters or spirits, which do many wonderful things; that there are even some amongst them who serve as domestics to men, and take the horses and other cattle to pasture.
The Laplanders, even at this day, as well those who have remained in idolatry as those who have embraced Christianity, believe the apparition of the manes or ghosts, and offer them a kind of sacrifice. I believe that prepossession, and the prejudices of childhood, have much more to do with this belief than reason and experience. In effect, among the Tartars, where barbarism and ignorance reign as much as in any country in the world, they talk neither of spirits nor of apparitions, no more than among the Muslims, although they admit the apparitions of angels made to Abraham and the patriarchs, and that of the Archangel Gabriel to Mahomet himself.
The Abyssinians, a very rude and ignorant people, believe neither in sorcerers, nor spells, nor magicians; they say that it is giving too much power to the demon, and by that they fall into the error of the Manicheans, who admit two principles, the one of good, which is God, and the other of evil, which is the devil. The Minister Becker, in his work entitled “The Enchanted World,” (Le Monde Enchanté,) laughs at apparitions of spirits and evil angels, and ridicules all that is said of the effects of magic: he maintains that to believe in magic is contrary to Scripture and religion.
But whence comes it, then, that the Scriptures forbid us to consult magicians, and that they make mention of Simon the magician, of Elymas, another magician, and of the works of Satan? What will become of the apparitions of angels, so well noted in the Old and New Testaments? What will become of the apparitions of Onias to Judas Maccabeus, and of the devil to Jesus Christ himself, after his fast of forty days? What will be said of the apparition of Moses at the transfiguration of the Savior; and an infinity of other appearances made to all kinds of persons, and related by wise, grave, and enlightened authors? Are the apparitions of devils and spirits more difficult to explain and conceive than those of angels, which we cannot rationally dispute without overthrowing the entire Scriptures, and practices and belief of the churches?
Does not the apostle tell us that the angel of darkness transforms himself into an angel of light? Is not the absolute renunciation of all belief in apparitions assaulting Christianity in its most sacred authority, in the belief of another life, of a church still subsisting in another world, of rewards for good actions, and of punishments for bad ones; the utility of prayers for the dead, and the efficacy of exorcisms? We must then in these matters keep the medium between excessive credulity and extreme incredulity; we must be prudent, moderate, and enlightened; we must, according to the advice of St. Paul, test everything, examine everything, yield only to evidence and known truth.