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Spiritistic Phenomena among the Early Christians. - Testimony of the Christian Fathers. The Departure from Jesus' Example. Paul's Explanation of Spiritistic Phenomena. - John's Tests. Paul's Ecstatic. The Oriental Ecstatics.. Modern Occidental Ecstatics. Alleged Perception of Divine Truth in the Ecstatic Condition. Neither Jesus, Paul, nor John believed in Spiritism. - Primitive Christianity promoted by Psychic Phenomena. - Constantine. - The Priesthood. - - Prohibition of Psychic Manifestations among the Laity. - The Beneficence of the Inhibition.
T would be interesting and perhaps profitable to trace the history of psychic phenomena from the time of Jesus. down through the dark ages, and to note its influence upon the Christian Church both before and after the days of Constantine. But, fortunately for the common people, the production of the phenomena, after the first three hundred years of primitive Christianity, was confined largely to the priesthood, that body having set up a claim to the exclusive right to work miracles, by virtue of their claim to the apostolic succession. The result of this was that its production was diverted to vastly different uses from those contemplated by the Master, and its history is, consequently, so contorted and obscured that it would be difficult to separate the genuine from the spurious.
It will be comparatively easy, however, to discover the influence which psychic manifestations exerted upon the early Christians, and to speculate with some degree of
accuracy upon the effect which phenomena cognate to if not identical with those of modern spiritism had upon the destinies of the Church and the character of its teachings; but, in a work like the present, even this can be but briefly alluded to.
It is well known that such phenomena began to be produced among the early Christians almost immediately after the Crucifixion, and continued to be a salient feature of Church customs, certainly until the days of Constantine. This fact is abundantly attested by the writings of the early Christian Fathers, healing of the sick by the laying on of hands being one of the most common of the manifestations of psychic power. This power was not then confined to any one class or rank, but was possessed by all who observed the conditions prescribed by the Master. The physical condition necessary for the most successful work of this kind being identical with that required for the production of other phenomena, it soon became a common practice to go through with the whole repertoire of what are now known as spiritistic phenomena. Saint Paul himself mentions a long list of such phenomena which were produced in his day; and Ignatius has this to say,
"Some in the Church most certainly have a knowledge of things to come. Some have visions, others utter prophecies, and heal the sick by laying on of hands; and others still speak in many tongues, bringing to light the secret things of men [telepathy] and expounding the mysteries of God."
Saint Anthony declared that, after fasting, he had often been surrounded by bands of angels, "and joyfully joined in singing with them." Tatian declares that "our virgins at the distaff utter divine oracles, see visions, and sing the holy words that are given them," being "full of the faith in Christ." Tertullian relates the case of a sister in the
1 See I Corinthians xii.
Church, who, when entranced, was able to see spirits; and Montannas affirms with great emphasis that prophecies, the power to heal the sick, "tongues and visions, are the divine inheritance of the true Christian." These statements are amply confirmed by Apollinaris, Barnabas, Clement, Cyprian, Lactantius, Papias, and others. It was a common. event in these manifestations for their psychics to hold alleged communication with the angels; and Tertullian declares that, during religious services, they became entranced, and sometimes "beheld Jesus himself, heard the divine mysteries explained," and "read the hearts" of those present.
It is almost superfluous to observe that these manifestations were identical with the so-called spirit manifestations of the present day. But it is worth while to note the fact that not one of them was authorized or countenanced by Jesus, with the single exception of that of healing the sick. This is a most significant fact, and it is demonstrative evidence that he discountenanced the practice, knowing, as only he could know, that communication with spirits was impossible. He knew the laws governing all such manifestations, and it is to the last degree improbable that he would have neglected to instruct his followers in the art of spirit intercourse, if by that means they could have been put into communication with intelligences capable of "explaining the divine mysteries." It is also to the last degree improbable that one whose mission it was to "bring life and immortality to light" would have neglected so glorious an opportunity to demonstrate the truth of his teachings, and to point out a means by which his disciples could hold communion not only with angels and ministers of grace, but with himself after he had ascended to the Father. His whole life and career was a living protest against that species of psychism wherein the prophets assumed to have direct verbal communication with God, and others claimed to hold communion with
spirits of the dead; the latter, however, being denounced as witchcraft by the Mosaic law and punished with death. Is it not probable and in keeping with the whole character and the career -the mission-of Christ, which was to teach spiritual truth to mankind, that, if communication with spirits of the dead had been possible, and if it had been that beneficent practice which modern spiritists would have us believe it to be, he would have in some way indicated to us his approval of such practices? If it is true that spirits of the dead can communicate with the living inhabitants of this world, he knew it. If it is true, it is important for us to know it; for that would be demonstrative of a future life. If it is demonstrative of a future life, he would surely have informed us of the fact, and would have enjoined upon mankind a diligent cultivation of the art of spirit intercourse. It was his mission to teach the doctrine of immortality. It was his desire and purpose to demonstrate the fact of immortality; and he accomplished his object so far as it was possible for him to do so in the age in which he lived. He has left a record which gives us indubitable evidence of his perfect knowledge of the laws of the human soul. He has left a record demonstrative of his perfect character and of his zeal for the promulgation of spiritual truth. He offered up his life as a sacrifice upon the altar of spiritual truth. The spirit of altruism was regnant in his whole character; but if there was one thing more than another wherein that spirit was manifest, it was in his desire to teach to mankind the fact of immortality. It is simply a monstrous absurdity to suppose that, if it was possible to communicate with departed souls, he deliberately neglected so grand an opportunity to demonstrate the truth of the essential doctrine which it was his mission to bring to light; and that it was left for hysterical women of the nineteenth century, aided and abetted by convulsive furniture, to teach us "the way, the truth, and the life."
It is impossible to suppose that he was not aware of the psychic manifestations of his day, and of the current theory of their origin.
"The group," says Renan, "that pressed around him upon the banks of the Lake of Tiberias believed in spectres and spirits. Great spiritual manifestations were frequent. All believed themselves to be inspired in different ways."
But there is no record to show that he did more than to tolerate the current beliefs. He did not sanction them either by precept or by example; much less did he encourage them by advancing the idea that the phenomena proceeded from disembodied spirits. On the contrary, his whole life was a protest against such beliefs and such practices. By precept and example he taught the world that healing the sick was the only legitimate use of psychic power; and the lesson of his three temptations in the wilderness is that neither for bread, nor for glory, nor for power, nor for emolument, can psychic power be legitimately exercised outside of the limitations which he prescribed.
After the crucifixion and death of Jesus, Saint Paul appears to have been tolerant of the psychic manifestations which soon became common in the Church, doubtless for the reason that it was, ir that primitive and superstitious age, an element of strength. It enabled Christianity to become an aggressive power, carrying with it what was supposed to be demonstrative proofs of its divine source in the form of phenomena the supermundane origin of which in that day could not be successfully denied. To the credit of Saint Paul, however, it must be remarked that he not only had a very clear perception of the true origin of the phenomena, but he took pains to place on record a statement of his convictions. Paul was a learned man, filled to saturation with the philosophies of the civilized world; and although he sometimes injected some of his Greek philosophy into that of Jesus, yet he was a man who could not be deceived