§ 16. Credibility of Apparitions of Departed Souls.
60. Bellarmine proposes the question whether souls return from Purgatory to this world. This question is by no means irrational, as many are inclined to believe. It is remarkable that in our day there are so many, even pious and learned persons, who are in general disinclined to believe in apparitions of the dead, not even admitting that there may be exceptions; and yet such apparitions are fully corroborated by the testimony of Holy Scripture and attested by most reliable witnesses. In the Old Testament we have apparitions of Samuel, Jeremias and Onias; in the New Testament Moses and Elias appear on Mount Thabor. At Our Lord's death on the cross, "the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints that had slept, arose. And coming out of the tombs after His resurrection, came into the holy city and appeared to many." (Matth. xxvii. 52, 53.) The Venerable Catherine Emmerich, in her book of visions, says in relation to this passage, "The high priest Zacharias, slain between the temple and the altar, appeared in the sanctum and spoke threatening words; he also referred to the death of that other Zacharias, whom Herod had ordered to be killed, and to that of St. John, and to the murder of the prophets in general. Two sons of the pious highpriest Simon the Just, an ancestor of Simeon who prophesied at the presentation of Jesus in the temple, appeared in the great pulpit as spirits of enlarged form. They denounced the murder of the prophets, declared that the sacrifice was now at an end, and exhorted all to believe in the doctrine of the Crucified. At the altar Jeremias appeared issuing threats, and declaring that the sacrifice of the Old Law now gave way to that of the new dispensation. The apparitions and exhortations in places to which Caiphas alone had access were kept secret and denied, and those that dared to mention them were threatened with severe penalties. Then I saw the portals of the sanctuary open amid a great noise. A voice exclaimed, 'Let us go hence! and the angels left the temple. The altar of incense trembled and a censer fell, the case containing the Scriptures was overturned, and the sacred books were tumbled out. The confusion increased, and the time of day was forgotten. Here and there lay dead bodies; other dead walked about among the people and spoke threats; at the sound of the voice of the angels leaving the temple they returned to their tombs. Whilst this was going on in the temple, similar consternation was visible throughout all Jerusalem. Immediately after three o'clock many graves opened, particularly in the northwestern part of the city. Pilate, confused and superstitious, was greatly terrified and incapable of attending to his duties. The earthquake shook his palace, which rocked to and fro whilst he fled from one room into another. The dead appeared in the adjoining court-yard and upbraided him with his unjust sentence and contradicting judgment. Herod, in his palace, was beside himself with fear, and had all his apartments closed up."
Apparitions of angels are also frequently mentioned in Scripture. These pure spirits, though never clothed with a body, yet appeared in visible form to Abraham and partook of food with him. Angels appeared to Hagar, to Lot, to Jacob, to Balaam, to the Israelites, to Gideon, to the mother of Samson, to David, to Elias, to the servant of Eliseus, to Tobias, to Sidrach and his companions, to Judas the Machabee and his warriors ; to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to St. Joseph, to the shepherds at Bethlehem, etc., etc. Verily, whosoever denies the possibility of such apparitions, professes little knowledge of the supernatural, and denies his belief in Holy Scripture, which attests that souls and spirits appeared from the other world.
61. The holy Fathers also regarded the apparitions which the martyrs and other saintly persons had as genuine. Who would have the presumption to fix a boundary in this matter, thus circumscribing the omnipotence of God by a denial of the possibility of apparitions?—St. Augustine relates that a deceased father appeared to his son, declaring invalid a debt he was said to have contracted before his death.—St. Gregory of Tours mentions that St. Vitalina appeared to St. Martin.—St. Peter Damian describes how a priest saw the soul of St. Severin,archbishop of Cologne. —Sister Frances of the Blessed Sacrament was continually visited by the Holy Souls; at all hours of the day and night they thronged about her, asking her prayers and help. Often they would appear to her surrounded by fire; at other times, black and emitting sparks; again as shadows, or in hideous forms. If she was in choir, they would wait near the door; and when she left, they followed her to her cell or wherever she went, to inform her of their wants. If they found their benefactress asleep, they would remain standing at her bedside without disturbing her in order not to frighten her. On All Souls' day especially they appeared in great numbers.' Among them were many souls long ago forgotten on earth, particularly those of poor patients who had died in hospitals, and of soldiers fallen in war. Concerning the latter she remarked, "They seemed to be a whole army." She would liken the number of souls about her with the throngs crowding a church on extraordinary occasions. Sometimes these souls brought her messages of other souls that were not permitted to visit her. Thus one of the deceased Sisters of her convent brought her a message of four other Sisters who were not allowed to leave Purgatory,
Similar instances are related of Louis of Blois, Mary of the Angels, Joanna of Jesus-Mary, Gertrude of Dominico, Bernardine of the Cross, Benedicta of Brescia, and a great number of others, particularly of Catherine Emmerich. St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and the holy Fathers generally, accept these apparitions unhesitatingly and refer to them in their writings as to facts. The same is true of other spiritual writers, for instance Dionysius the Carthusian, Louis Blosius, Thomas a Kempis; also of the most renowned historians of the Church, such as Baronius, Surius, the Bollandists, Calmet, Stolberg, Butler, etc.; then of the great theologians, Blessed Peter Canisius, Bellarmine, Suarez and others. Finally, the Church herself, after due investigation during processes of canonization, often declared the authenticity of such apparitions and recognized them as genuine by pontifical Briefs. The possibility, then, of such apparitions is demonstrated by an uninterrupted chain of facts running back through centuries, and supported by a mass of trustworthy and reliable, yea, ecclesiastical and divine evidence.
62. In view of this mass of facts, which might easily be increased, it is inexplicable how a faithful Catholic can entertain doubts concerning this matter. According to St. Augustine it would be great temerity to deny that the souls of the departed cannot, with God's permission, return to us; for nobody can doubt with any show of reason the testimony of these unimpeachable authorities concerning the return of Suffering Souls to this world. To the objection, that spirits have no body, and are therefore invisible, we reply: If it was and still is possible for angels to appear, why not also for souls, if God empowers them to act on the corporeal world? If it was possible to God's omnipotence to permit angels and souls from Limbo to appear to men on earth, it is certainly not unreasonable to ascribe to the same omnipotence the possibility of permitting souls to appear to men for the purpose of invoking the aid of or thanking their benefactors.
63. Concerning the manner how these apparitions and manifestations of souls from Purgatory are brought about, St. Thomas and St. Augustine incline to the opinion that in many cases there occurs a supernatural action of angels on the mind of those to whom they are granted. Moreover, it is likely that the souls, like the angels, can manifest themselves in such a manner that they produce perceptible images on a person's mind without appearing visibly to him. Of the Venerable Lindmayer we read that she often heard the Suffering Souls calling on her for help, felt them fanning a cold wind to her face or tugging at her dress, though she did not see them. Other souls manifested themselves by groaning or rustling which was heard also by others in the house. The souls can also appear as phantoms, and are able, with the assistance of the angels, to reproduce all the actions of a real body, such as movement, sound, speech, light and warmth.
Whenever our attention is directed to the departed souls by any one of these kinds of manifestation, it is a sign of the great mercy of God towards the Suffering Souls and towards us. Such apparitions make u§ aware of the great distress of the Church suffering, of which Church we on earth often have not the least conception, and which yet is entirely dependent on us for help. A Holy Mass, a rosary, an alms, a mortification, some other good work, even a compassionate ejaculation or pious thought offered up confidently to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the Suffering Souls, is powerful to create an ineffable joy in that mystic abode. At the same time the apparition of a Suffering Soul, or a visible manifestation of its distress, is a salutary admonition for the living, whereby they are reminded most impressively amid their carelessness, frivolity and tepidity of the severe judgments of God.