Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Apologetic/A Treatise on the Soul/Chapter LVII
Chapter LVII.—Magic and Sorcery Only Apparent in Their Effects. God Alone Can Raise the Dead.
It is either a very fine thing to be detained in these infernal regions with the Aori, or souls which were prematurely hurried away; or else a very bad thing indeed to be there associated with the Biaeothanati, who suffered violent deaths. I may be permitted to use the actual words and terms with which magic rings again, that inventor of all these odd opinions—with its Ostanes, and Typhon, and Dardanus, and Damigeron, and Nectabis, and Berenice. There is a well-known popular bit of writing, which undertakes to summon up from the abode of Hades the souls which have actually slept out their full age, and had passed away by an honourable death, and had even been buried with full rites and proper ceremony. What after this shall we say about magic? Say, to be sure, what almost everybody says of it—that it is an imposture. But it is not we Christians only whose notice this system of imposture does not escape. We, it is true, have discovered these spirits of evil, not, to be sure, by a complicity with them, but by a certain knowledge which is hostile to them; nor is it by any procedure which is attractive to them, but by a power which subjugates them that we handle (their wretched system)—that manifold pest of the mind of man, that artificer of all error, that destroyer of our salvation and our soul at one swoop. In this way, even by magic, which is indeed only a second idolatry, wherein they pretend that after death they become demons, just as they were supposed in the first and literal idolatry to become gods (and why not? since the gods are but dead things), the before-mentioned Aori Biaeothanati are actually invoked,—and not unfairly, if one grounds his faith on this principle, that it is clearly credible for those souls to be beyond all others addicted to violence and wrong, which with violence and wrong have been hurried away by a cruel and premature death and which would have a keen appetite for reprisals. Under cover, however, of these souls, demons operate, especially such as used to dwell in them when they were in life, and who had driven them, in fact, to the fate which had at last carried them off. For, as we have already suggested, there is hardly a human being who is unattended by a demon; and it is well known to many, that premature and violent deaths, which men ascribe to accidents, are in fact brought about by demons. This imposture of the evil spirit lying concealed in the persons of the dead, we are able, if I mistake not, to prove by actual facts, when in cases of exorcism (the evil spirit) affirms himself sometimes to be one of the relatives of the person possessed by him, sometimes a gladiator or a bestiarius, and sometimes even a god; always making it one of his chief cares to extinguish the very truth which we are proclaiming, that men may not readily believe that all souls remove to Hades, and that they may overthrow faith in the resurrection and the judgment. And yet for all that, the demon, after trying to circumvent the bystanders, is vanquished by the pressure of divine grace, and sorely against his will confesses all the truth. So also in that other kind of magic, which is supposed to bring up from Hades the souls now resting there, and to exhibit them to public view, there is no other expedient of imposture ever resorted to which operates more powerfully. Of course, why a phantom becomes visible, is because a body is also attached to it; and it is no difficult matter to delude the external vision of a man whose mental eye it is so easy to blind. The serpents which emerged from the magicians’ rods, certainly appeared to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians as bodily substances. It is true that the verity of Moses swallowed up their lying deceit. Many attempts were also wrought against the apostles by the sorcerers Simon and Elymas, but the blindness which struck (them) was no enchanter’s trick. What novelty is there in the effort of an unclean spirit to counterfeit the truth? At this very time, even, the heretical dupes of this same Simon (Magus) are so much elated by the extravagant pretensions of their art, that they undertake to bring up from Hades the souls of the prophets themselves. And I suppose that they can do so under cover of a lying wonder. For, indeed, it was no less than this that was anciently permitted to the Pythonic (or ventriloquistic) spirit—even to represent the soul of Samuel, when Saul consulted the dead, after (losing the living) God. God forbid, however, that we should suppose that the soul of any saint, much less of a prophet, can be dragged out of (its resting-place in Hades) by a demon. We know that “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light”—much more into a man of light—and that at last he will “show himself to be even God,” and will exhibit “great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, he shall deceive the very elect.” He hardly hesitated on the before-mentioned occasion to affirm himself to be a prophet of God, and especially to Saul, in whom he was then actually dwelling. You must not imagine that he who produced the phantom was one, and he who consulted it was another; but that it was one and the same spirit, both in the sorceress and in the apostate (king), which easily pretended an apparition of that which it had already prepared them to believe as real—(even the spirit) through whose evil influence Saul’s heart was fixed where his treasure was, and where certainly God was not. Therefore it came about, that he saw him through whose aid he believed that he was going to see, because he believed him through whose help he saw. But we are met with the objection, that in visions of the night dead persons are not unfrequently seen, and that for a set purpose. For instance, the Nasamones consult private oracles by frequent and lengthened visits to the sepulchres of their relatives, as one may find in Heraclides, or Nymphodorus, or Herodotus; and the Celts, for the same purpose, stay away all night at the tombs of their brave chieftains, as Nicander affirms. Well, we admit apparitions of dead persons in dreams to be not more really true than those of living persons; but we apply the same estimate to all alike—to the dead and to the living, and indeed to all the phenomena which are seen. Now things are not true because they appear to be so, but because they are fully proved to be so. The truth of dreams is declared from the realization, not the aspect. Moreover, the fact that Hades is not in any case opened for (the escape of) any soul, has been firmly established by the Lord in the person of Abraham, in His representation of the poor man at rest and the rich man in torment. No one, (he said,) could possibly be despatched from those abodes to report to us how matters went in the nether regions,—a purpose which, (if any could be,) might have been allowable on such an occasion, to persuade a belief in Moses and the prophets. The power of God has, no doubt, sometimes recalled men’s souls to their bodies, as a proof of His own transcendent rights; but there must never be, because of this fact, any agreement supposed to be possible between the divine faith and the arrogant pretensions of sorcerers, and the imposture of dreams, and the licence of poets. But yet in all cases of a true resurrection, when the power of God recalls souls to their bodies, either by the agency of prophets, or of Christ, or of apostles, a complete presumption is afforded us, by the solid, palpable, and ascertained reality (of the revived body), that its true form must be such as to compel one’s belief of the fraudulence of every incorporeal apparition of dead persons.
- Oehler takes these descriptive clauses as meant of Satan, instead of being synonymes of magic, as the context seems to require.
- Above, in ch. xxxix. p. 219.
- Aliquem ex parentibus.
- One who fought with wild beasts in the public games, only without the weapons allowed to the gladiator.
- Ex. vii. 12.
- Acts viii. 9; xiii. 8.
- See above in ch. xxviii. p. 209, supra.
- 1 Sam. xxviii. 6–16.
- 2 Cor. xi. 14.
- 2 Thess. ii. 4.
- Matt. xxiv. 24.
- Si forte.
- Non frustra.
- In iv. 172.
- Luke xvi. 26. [Compare note 15, p. 231. supra.]