Theosophist, September, 1881
That golden treasury of arcane knowledge—the Catholic Mirror—reports a “magnificent lecture” upon miracles by Archbishop Seguers. It is a “fascinating discourse” on the “manifestations of supernatural powers of evil spirits,” and—“how the demons take possession of human beings.” The most reverend lecturer by selecting the Masonic Hall of Portland (Oregon) showed much judiciousness. A “Jadookhana” is the most appropriate place for discussion on such thrilling subjects. Those of our pious readers who have grumbled at us for giving room to ghastly stories from the pen of infidels, will give more credit, we hope, to the present one as it emanates from the divinely authorized and sanctified lips of an orthodox Bishop.
Remarking by way of introduction that the extraordinary manifestations of a “supernatural and mysterious power at Knocke and Lourdes have attracted the attention of the world” the lecturer said he took this opportunity “to elucidate a subject essentially mysterious and obscure with which comparatively few persons are familiar.” He, the reverend lecturer, believed in such powers.
“I intend,” he said, “to treat the subject of miracles, under the four following heads: 1st. The essence and nature of a miracle; 2nd. The possibility of miracles; 3rd. The authority of miracles; 4th. The means to ascertain them, or criterion of miracles.”
Space forbidding, we regret our inability to give the whole of the strictly Catholic philosophy upon this interesting topic. We will cull but the most exotic of rhetorical flowers and plants. The learned Bishop after criticising Hume’s definition of miracles offered in lieu of his own.
“I introduce,” he said, “my definition of a miracle, taking it in a broad, or rather in its broadest sense. We will call miracle, a wonderful fact or event produced in the visible world by a cause which is not natural. This definition comprises both miracles, as I said, in their restricted meaning, and miracles in their widest or broadest signification. If the cause, that produces the effect under consideration, is God himself or a spirit acting by God’s positive and direct order, that effect is a miracle in the strict sense of the word; if that cause is a created spirit, good or evil, acting spontaneously and without positive instructions received from the Almighty, its effect is a miracle in a broad sense.” 1
“The tendency of our epoch has been called rightfully naturalism. It is against that tendency that we must vindicate the existence of the ‘supernatural.’ Many people deny the ‘supernatural’; they think that every fact can be explained and ought to be explained by natural reasons and causes; the position they take is a very weak one and can easily be taken by storm; they maintain that God, angels and evil spirits never produce an effect, never meet a visible phenomenon in the sphere of nature; now, if we can prove one fact, only one fact, which has a spirit, either created or uncreated for cause, this position is taken, naturalism is exploded and the supernatural is vindicated. And what have we to do in order to show and prove a fact to be caused by a spirit? We must show that the agent of the fact under consideration is endowed with intelligence and free will.”
With regard to this we will permit ourselves a remark. If, in this passage, by “naturalism” is meant the denial of a supernatural agency in the miracles and revelations contained in the Bible, a disbelief which leads invariably to a thorough rejection of the very occurrence of the latter, the Bishop is right. But the proof of “such an agent endowed with intelligence and free will” would far sooner lead to belief in Spiritism and Spiritualism than in Christianity. The former, irrational as it may seem, is yet far more logical than the latter, and belief in “Spirits” does not at all necessitate belief in God, i.e., monotheism; our argument being proved by the twenty million spiritualists and the eight hundred million Buddhists, Brahmins and many more belonging to other non-Christian religions who are either atheists, polytheists or pantheists. Naturalism, properly defined, is simply another form of pantheism, that theory which resolves all phenomena into forces in nature—forces either blind or intelligent—but ever in accordance with fixed and immutable laws, and independent of any direction by one intelligent force called God. And such “naturalists” believe in invisible beings endowed with will and various gradations of intelligence. Therefore, we must again protest against the learned lecturer’s assumption when he says:
“I believe that very few will be found to disagree with me if I assert that a wonderful event is miraculous, not only it evinces intelligence and free will in the unknown agent that enacts it, but also as soon as it surpasses the known forces of nature.”
No real man of science has ever asserted yet that he knew all the forces of nature; that, therefore, which only “surpasses the known” may be entirely within the existing natural law though that law be yet unknown. Why should we call the effect “miraculous” for all that? Enumerating the causes of miracles, the Bishop speaks of
“three agents, mysterious agents, who must be considered as the causes of any phenomenon which is either supernatural or preternatural—evil spirits, angels, God.”
He blames those who disbelieve in a “personal devil.” No man can be a Christian, he says, and refuse to believe in Satan.
“The existence of the devil and his evil influence over man is the very foundation of Christianity; if there is no Satan, there is no Redeemer; if there is no Redeemer, Christianity is a lie.” 2 No, no, we ought not to consider this matter as devoid of importance; it is of the greatest importance, as the whole structure of Christianity rests upon the actions of Satan as on its foundations; the extreme of evil necessitates the extreme bounty of a bountiful Saviour.”
After this theological manifesto, the sine qua non of both Catholicism and Protestantism, the lecturer spoke on objective and subjective phases of phenomena, which, he said, were of two kinds. There was “obsession and possession.”
“If we consult medical men, they will be called by them ‘hallucinations,’ corresponding to obsession, and ‘mysterious neuropathy, demonopathy, mania,’ and several other medical terms corresponding to possession.”
Socrates—he thinks—was “obsessed.”
“Every one that has, in his classical studies, read a few lines of Xenophon or Plato, remembers undoubtedly the daimon, the god (Theos) of Socrates, wherein there is no mention of his god. Sometimes, while walking with his disciples, Socrates would suddenly stop and listen to the interior voice of his god. ‘Everybody knows,’ says Xenophon, ‘that Socrates was frequently warned by a demon. . . . He said what he thought, and he maintained that a god (daimon) gave him secret warnings; and he warned his disciples to do or not to do certain things, according to the dictates of his genius. Those that followed his directions did well, and those that neglected them had to repent of their folly. Everybody knows that his disciples did not consider him to be an impostor or a fool; now, he would have been both if, pretending to announce hidden things through the inspiration of his god, he had been found a liar.’ Thus writes Xenophon, himself one of his disciples; thus speaks Plato, thus testifies Aristophanes. Now, there is a question here, not of any superiority of Socrates’ intellectual powers, but of the real inspirations of a god sent to him by the god at Delphi; it is Socrates himself that says so, his disciples understand him to say so; the general public know that he says so. There is question of mysterious manifestations of unknown events at the time that they were taking place at great distances; for instance, when he announced the defeat and death of Sannion, when the latter was marching against Ephesus, there is question of warnings, of presentiments, of predictions, which found accurate and exact fulfilment. To maintain that Socrates was a fraudulent knave, is preposterous; to assert that he was a fool, is absurd; he was the wisest, the most virtuous and most modest of philosophers, the glory of Greece, and the master of the most illustrious disciples. What, then, shall we say of this hallucination? Simply that it is
A HISTORICAL CASE OF OBSESSION
one which cannot be called in question without shaking the foundations of the authority of history. Let us conclude this part of our remarks with one fact borrowed from Plato’s Theages, and then we may dismiss Socrates. ‘Clitomachus,’ said the latter’s brother, Timarchus, ‘I die for neglecting to listen to Socrates!’ What did he mean? When he rose from the table with Philemon, to go and kill Nicias, their object not being known to any mortal man, Socrates stood up and said: ‘Do not go out; I receive the usual warning.’ Timarchus stopped; but a moment later he rose and said: ‘Socrates, I go.’ Socrates heard his god’s voice once more, and stopped him a second time. Finally, the third time, Timarchus stood up and left, without saying a word, while Socrates’ attention was engaged by something else: and he did that which led him to his death.”
And it leads, moreover, every reasonable man—once that he accepts the reality of the “Daimon”—to firmly maintain that the latter if it was a “Spirit,” independent from Socrates, could not be a bad or evil spirit—least of all a devil, for the fallen angels were never known to be “guardian angels” and hence—the Bishop is preaching Spiritualism pure and simple. He is, however, right in remarking that “some people affect to disbelieve them (the devils), because, they say, they are never afraid of them. But not to believe and not to be afraid are two different things. I read about an English unbeliever, who gloried in his unbounded incredulity, and who would never sleep alone in a room without a burning lamp,” he added. Nor, as a true son of the Catholic Church, does the lecturer forget the usual hit at his brother Christians—the Protestants.
“It is under this class of phenomena (obsession),” he says, “that we must rank spirit-rappers, apparitions of ghosts, temptations of visible spirits under a visible form. Samuel Wesley has left us a conscientious account of the spirit-rappers that obsessed his father, the famous founder of Methodism, and especially his sister.” . . .
Having done with obsession, the Bishop gives his verdict upon
“possession called by medical men mysterious neuropathy, demonopathy, monomania, etc., and the difference between possession and obsession is that the latter exhibits the action of spirits vexing, tormenting, persecuting a person, whereas possession implies the presence of spirits in a person, the union of a spirit with the body, the limbs, the senses of a person, so that in the case of a possession, the movements, the words of a person are no more under that person’s control, but under the control of another spiritual agent, who has taken possession of that person’s organism.”
After this, the venerable prelate passes on to the symptoms of possession.
“What are those symptoms that prove and demonstrate the presence and the action of spirits?” he asks, and he answers “the Ritual enumerates the following: 1st, the speaking and understanding by the patient of a foreign language unknown to him, as was noticeable in the case of that Chinese Christian of Cochin-China; 2nd, the revelation of hidden things or of distant things which cannot naturally be known by the patient, as was the case with a most remarkable diabolical possession at Loudun in France, as we read in Dr. Calmeil’s book on Insanity; 3rd, the exertion of irresistible power, far above the forces of the patient, as we saw in the case of that hallucinated girl, described by Dr. Delpit; 4th, the subversion of all the laws of nature, for instance, suspension in the air, flight through the air, as we saw in the life of St. Crescentia, the hanging from the ceiling of a church with the head down, as we heard from Father Lacour, the vomiting of hair, needles, pins, thimbles, rags, pieces of glass and crockery-ware, as was the case with some girls at Amsterdam, described by Dr. de Weir and accepted by Dr. Calmeil. I am aware that legerdemain and sleight-of-hand can accomplish many wonderful things. I saw myself a man suspended from the ceiling of a room with his head downward, by means of iron shoes and a load-stone during two or three minutes; but such practices are performed with and after due preparation, and no one is deceived by them, because all know that those tricks had been prepared and are performed for the sake of lucre. There is no similarity between the facts of these so-called wizards and the facts of which I have been speaking: the former show ingenuity of mind and nimbleness of hands, the latter demonstrate the presence and action of spiritual and powerful beings, invisible and consequently strangers to this natural and visible world.”
And here we will close our quotations, giving but one more opinion thereon. The learned Bishop has brilliantly and once more proved the occurrence of various most weird phenomena, the existence of which no sane man who has seen them would ever think of denying. But no more than the long line of his predecessors of the infallible Church or the unanimous verdict of materialistic science (as infallible in the opinion of its representatives) has he explained, or even helped to elucidate the cause of these supposed miracles. His “three agents—evil spirits, angels and god”—are on a par with the “human spirits” of the spiritualists. He who is neither a believer in the Church’s infallibility nor in the doctrines of the spiritists will never be satisfied with their respective explanations, for the contradiction between cause and effect is too palpable, and the theories both one-sided and unphilosophical. Hence even that “magnificent lecture” leaves the question as it stood before—both sub judice and sub rosa.
1. Truly wise are they, who are enabled to distinguish by the effect the true nature of the Cause! As a matter of course this class of divinely appointed technologists of black art and white magic can only be found within the holy orthodox Church, as no layman, least of all a heretic, is competent to judge.
2. This sentence we are sorry to see is plagiarized word for word by the noble lecturer from Des Mousseaux’s work—Moeurs et Pratiques des Démons, p. X, and Les Hauts Phenomenes de la Magie. Preface, p. 12. Yet it is eminently orthodox.