1318. How does the Roman Catholic Church view Spiritualism?

On April 24th, 1917, the Holy See issued the following decree: “It is not lawful to assist at any spiritualistic meetings, conversations with spirits, or manifestations of spirits. It matters not whether a medium be present or not, nor whether the meeting seems to be above board and apparently conducted from motives of piety. A Catholic may not be present at such meetings even as an onlooker, let alone asking questions of departed spirits and listening to their supposed replies.”

1319. How do you account for the supernatural powers of some spiritualistic mediums?

Some of the phenomena produced by spiritualistic mediums are due to dexterity and fraud; some to natural clairvoyant and telepathetic powers; some to the influence of evil spirits. None can be ascribed to good spirits. God does not work that way, nor do His good ministering angels.

1320. Do departed souls return to speak at spiritualistic meetings?

No. With God’s special permission, and by His power, it would be possible for a departed soul to communicate with those still in this world. But I deny that this occurs at spiritualistic seances. Supposed communications from deceased people at such weird gatherings are due to fraud on the part of the mediums; or are only imaginary and due to mental suggestion imposed by a medium; or are created by some dupe’s own excited and expectant psychological state; or due to impersonation, some evil spirit exerting its influence and pretending to be this or that departed personality. Not only the Catholic Church condemns spiritualism. No professing Christian should have anything to do with it and its occult practices.

1321. Catholics believe in the communications of the Saints.

We do not believe in any communication with the souls of departed human beings in any spiritualistic way. Those souls are not in a condition of life adapted to such communication with us in this world. If God wishes, He can by a miracle permit such communications, but that very rarely happens and is quite abnormal. The Communion of Saints means simply that we who belong to the same Christ as fellow members of Him can benefit by the merits of the Saints and by their intercession. Communication with them is by prayer on our part. We are certain that they enjoy the very Vision of God, in which Vision they are aware of our prayers to them. But souls which have not attained to the Vision of God have no normal medium by which they can be aware of our doings in this world.

1322. By not believing in spiritualism the Church discourages inquiries which could lead to the discovery of knowledge not possessed by herself.

The Church does not believe in spiritualism as a semi-religious cult. She does believe in the existence of a spirit-world. God Himself is a pure spirit. Angels are spirits. So, too, are departed souls, and likewise devils. But the Church does not rely on spiritualism to provide her with the truth she must teach to mankind. She has received that truth from Jesus Christ who commanded her to teach mankind all that He had taught her. In the natural order the Church encourages men to discover all that science can teach them. In the supernatural order, she remains strictly faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ. And she condemns spiritualism as a movement with all its works. If men want supernatural progress, let them seek to unite themselves with God by prayer and by the Sacraments of Christ, not with spirits by superstitious incantations in dark corners, moved rather by a morbid curiosity than by any desire to serve God and sanctify their souls. Baron Von Hugel rightly said, “One never gets any spiritual ideas out of spiritualism.”

1323. The Bible speaks of visions received by men, and of voices heard prompting to a certain course of action.

The Bible records that such things happened at times to certain people. But it does not say that they will happen to all. If you came to me to say that you had received a vision of some departed person, you would not convince me by producing documentary proof that St. Paul had a vision whilst on the way to Damascus. His vision would not prove yours; and I would certainly not take your mere word for it

1324. Why do you doubt visions today, or treat them as being of the devil or as due to insanity, or a temporary delusion?

The presumption is against God’s departure from His ordinary ways. And the giving of visions is not God’s ordinary way of acting. Therefore I would take it for granted that a supposed vision would be due, not to God, but to some physiological or psychological cause, or to the influence of some evil spirit. Certainly all such causes would have to be positively disproved before I would go on to consider this vision in a supernatural light. That is ordinary prudence, from which the Christian religion dispenses no one. If a case were submitted to me, I would first weigh very carefully all the natural qualities of the person concerned. Is he neurotic, nervous hysterical? Or is he of a calm, well-balanced temperament, and in good bodily health? Is he normal mentally, or endowed with an extravagant imagination? I would weigh well his virtue. Is he utterly sincere and humble, or eaten up with pride and given to vanity, boasting, and untruthfulness? Then I would examine the nature of his vision, and ask myself whether it in any way conflicted with the doctrines of Christian Faith already revealed by God; or whether it was in strict accordance with Christian holiness and moral decency. I would note also its effects upon himself—good, or bad. The Catholic Church has laid down many such tests. She does no deny the possibility of such things; but she does deny the right of any man to accept them as from God with blind credulity.

1325. The Bible prophesies that such things will be.

The Bible does not say that such things will occur always to everybody. Nor are they at all necessary. Visions do not make the recipient of them any better or holier. God may grant visions at times to the Saints because they are Saints. But they are not Saints because they have visions. They are Saints because they avoid sin as a very plague, and courageously practise Christian virtue. It is virtue and goodness that matter, not visions.

1326. The Bible should at least dispose you to accept spirit manifestations claimed by spiritualism.

That is not so. The evidence produced by spiritualists has nothing like the value of the evidence of Sacred Scripture. I do not deny that, at times, spirit-beings may be responsible for some of the manifestations at spiritualistic seances. But, if they are, they are not good, but evil spirits. God has given His complete revelation through Christ. Also, since good spirits are in perfect accordance with the will of God, they could not be sent by Him to reveal the contradictory and often blasphemous doctrines claimed by spiritualists to come from the spirit-world. Moreover, if Scripture has any authority, we must obey its precepts. What are they? “Let there not be found among you anyone that seeketh the truth from the dead.” Deut. XVIII., 10. In Lev. XX., God absolutely condemns the man or woman who claims to have a “divining spirit”—not a very comforting reflection for the modern medium. The Prophet Isaiah (VIII., 19) says, “When they shall say to you: Seek of people with a prophesying spirit and of diviners who mutter in their enchantments, should not the people seek of their God instead of seeking comfort for the living from the dead?”

1327. I John, IV., 1, tells us to “try the spirits, if they be of God.”

St. John is not referring to spiritual beings of another world than this. He is speaking of impulses and inclinations which come into our minds, and which can lead to disaster if people insist on following private judgment. He also refers to the spirit of other people’s teachings. Immediately he makes this clear. “Believe not every spirit,” he says, “for many prophets have gone out into the world.” I Jn. IV., 1. We must try the spirit of these teachings to see if they be in conformity with the true doctrine revealed by Christ. How are we to know that true doctrine? If every man is to decide for himself what that true doctrine is, we are back in chaos again. Christ knew this, and took the precaution of establishing the Catholic Church, promising to preserve it from error till the end of time. If any doctrine contradicts the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church, it is false.