Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Ghosts and Demons

Seán Manchester (from his writings) on ghosts and demons:

A ghost is generally regarded as the soul or spirit of a deceased person capable of appearing as an apparition or manifesting itself by some means to the living. Such apparitions range from an invisible presence to translucent spectres and life-like forms. The deliberate attempt to contact the spirit of a deceased person is called necromancy. In spiritism (also known as spiritualism) it is described as conducting a séance.

Christianity teaches that the soul enters the afterlife after expiry. The person's soul is then judged as to whether or not it is a worthy candidate for entry into Heaven. Those souls that are not accepted into Heaven are consigned to Hell. Catholics believe in Purgatory, or a waiting place for such souls who are not obviously saintly or wicked, but there is little belief in Purgatory outside the Catholic Church. Most ghosts are considered to be souls assigned to Purgatory, condemned for a specific period to atone for their transgressions in life. Their penance is generally related to their sin. These ghosts in medieval times appeared to the living to ask for prayers to end their suffering. Other dead souls returned to urge the living to confess their sins before their own deaths. Some will point to the possibility that Earth is purgatory for those souls that have become ghosts, but only a very small number of Christians make this argument and it is not backed by general Christian doctrine.

The basic Christian premise of good souls going to Heaven and the bad ones go to Hell is strongly questioned by a belief in ghosts. Ghosts are considered by most who believe in them to be the spirits of people who have never departed the Earth. These spirits travel around continuing to do the same things that were done in life. This is completely against the fundamental tenet of Heaven and Hell as understood by most Christians. Paradoxically, many Christians still claim to believe in the existence of ghosts.

The Catholic Church, however, believes that ghosts, ie spirits, do exist. There are even times when spirits appear to our benefit, but Catholics are warned against attempting to contact spirits.

“Ghost” is simply another word for “spirit” (geist means “spirit” in German). Spirit is of three kinds: the human spirit which combined with body make up a human being; the defined spirit that has no body, such as angels; and the infinite Spirit, or God, of Whom the Third Person is the Holy Ghost. When someone asks whether ghosts exist, he usually has in mind the first kind, a human spirit. Hence Father John Hardon defines a ghost as “a disembodied spirit. Christianity believes that God may, and sometimes does, permit a departed soul to appear in some visible form to people on earth. Allowing for legend and illusion, there is enough authentic evidence, for example in the lives of the saints, to indicate that such apparitions occur. Their purpose may be to teach or warn, or request some favour of the living” - Fr John A Hardon SJ, Modern Catholic Dictionary (Garden City, New York: John A. Hardon, © 1980) published by Doubleday and Company, p. 229. 

The last sentence of Father Hardon’s definition implicitly gives the Church’s teaching on ghosts. Appearances of ghosts are understood with regard to our salvation. Ghosts can come to us for good, but we must not attempt to conjure or control spirits. The Church teaches that spiritism,ie seeking recourse or power from ghosts, is contrary to the virtue of religion (the Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me”):

“All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others — even if this were for the sake of restoring their health — are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 2117). 

Thus, while the Church recognises the existence of ghosts, Catholics are not to intentionally seek them out — for good or for ill. Another theory about ghosts is that these spectres are actually a space-time-continuum replay of events that have happened in the past. This theory is possible, and is the most likely one that could fit into the belief system of the majority of Christians. Finally, there is always the strong risk that a "ghost" might, in fact, be a demon masquerading as a departed soul to torment and deceive the living. The Catholic Church unequivocally teaches that angels and demons are real personal beings, not just symbolic devices. The Catholic Church has a cadre of officially sanctioned exorcists who perform many exorcisms each year. These exorcists teach that demons attack humans continually but that afflicted persons can be effectively healed and protected either by the formal rite of exorcism, authorised to be performed only by bishops and those they designate, or by prayers of deliverance which any Christian can offer for themselves or others.

In contemporary Christianity, demons are generally considered to be angels who fell from grace by rebelling against God. However, other schools of thought in Christianity or Judaism teach that demons, or evil spirits, are a result of the sexual relationships between fallen angels and human women. When these hybrids (Nephilim) died they left behind disembodied spirits that "roam the earth in search of rest" (Luke 11: 24). Many non-canonical historical texts describe in detail these unions and the consequences thereof. This belief is repeated in other major ancient religions and mythologies. Christians who reject this view do so by ascribing the description of "Sons of God" in Genesis 6 to be the sons of Seth (one of Adam's sons).

In religion and mythology, occultism and folklore, a demon (or daemon,daimon; from Greek δαίμων daimôn) is a supernatural being that is generally described as a malevolent spirit.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus casts out many demons, or evil spirits, from those who are afflicted with various ailments. Jesus is far superior to the power of demons over the beings they inhabit, and He is able to free these victims by commanding and casting out the demons, by binding them, and forbidding them to return. Jesus also lends this power to some of His disciples, who rejoice at their new found ability to cast out demons.

By way of contrast, in the book of Acts a group of Judaistic exorcists known as the sons of Sceva try to cast out a very powerful spirit without believing in or knowing Jesus, but fail with disastrous consequences. Jesus, on the other hand, never fails to vanquish a demon; irrespective of how powerful the demon might be (see the account of the demon-possessed man at Gerasim); and even defeats Satan in the wilderness (see the Gospel of Matthew).

There is a description in the Book of Revelation 12: 7-17 of a battle between God's army and Satan's followers, and their subsequent expulsion from Heaven to Earth to persecute humans (although this event is related as being foretold and taking place in the future). In Luke 10: 18 it is mentioned that a power granted by Jesus to control demons made Satan "fall like lightning from heaven."

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