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Spiritism

SPIRITISM

Belief in the possibility of communication with the spirits of the departed, and the practice of attempting such communication, usually with the help of some person (a medium) regarded as gifted to act as an intermediary with the spirit world. In popular speech the word "spiritualism" is more commonly employed to express this meaning, but its use is here avoided to prevent confusion with spiritualism in its philosophical sense.

Moral Evaluation. Catholic theologians reject the idea that disincarnate spirits can be evoked at will, but they do not, in general, favor any particular interpretation of the phenomena that spiritists claim have occurred. Catholic moralists are agreed that to participate in spiritistic activities is gravely illicit for the following reasons.(1) Spiritistic organizations often constitute a heretical sect that professes doctrines entirely opposed to divine revelation. Frequently spiritists incline to pantheism or some form of theosophy; they generally admit the permanent existence of human personality after death, but they teach a form of metempsychosis for all and deny an eternity of punishment. They consider Christ and the Prophets as only "mediators" of a natural religion. Needless to say, they are opposed to other organized religions, considering them to have only an indifferent value. (2) Sacred Scripture expressly forbids the practice of trying to summon up the souls of the deceased (See Dt 18.1012; Lv 19.31; Lv 20.6, 27). (3) Catholic moralists point to the possibility that many of the things reported in spiritistic séances could be due to diabolical influence, so that to engage in spiritistic practice could, in effect, amount to a kind of trafficking with evil spirits. (4) Spiritistic activity not infrequently causes damage to the health of body and mind.

It is not lawful to have recourse to spiritism as a means of therapy even if a physician thinks that it can produce possible beneficial effects on the psychoneurotic patient. Psychiatry today possesses other shock therapeutic methods that are effective, lawful, and advisable. It is also held to be gravely sinful to act as a medium or to consult one with the intention of finding out something that is not known. It is basically a form of divination, and as such, is contrary to the law of God.

Decrees of the Church. A decree issued by the Congregation of the Inquisition on July 30, 1856, mentioned "evocation of departed spirits and other superstitious practices of spiritism," and exhorted the bishops to employ every effort to suppress these abuses. The reason it called for strenuous and swift action on the part of the bishops was stated: "that the flock of the Lord may be protected against the enemy, the deposit of faith safeguarded, and the faithful preserved from moral corruption." When asked "whether it is allowed either through a so-called medium or without one, and with or without hypnotism, to assist at any spiritualistic communications or manifestations, even such as appear to be blameless or pious, either asking questions of the souls or spirits, or listening to their answers, or merely looking on, even with a tacit or express protestation that one does not want to have anything to do with evil spirits?" the Holy Office replied in the negative to all points in the inquiry on April 26, 1917 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 9269; T. L. Bouscaren and J. I. O'Connor, Canon Law Digest 1.155).

It is understood, however, that what is condemned is superstitious abuse and that there was no intention to preclude legitimate scientific study, provided there is no recourse to means that are essentially immoral or specifically forbidden.

Bibliography: a. wiesinger, Occult Phenomena (Westminster, MD 1957). r. omez, Psychical Phenomena, tr. r. haynes (New York 1958). a. flew, A New Approach to Psychical Research (London 1953). c. m. de heredia, Spiritism and Common Sense (New York 1922). h. thurston, The Church and Spiritualism (Milwaukee 1933). a. h. m. lÉpicier, The Unseen World (new ed. enl., London 1929). j. liljencrants, Spiritism and Religion (New York 1918).

[m. d. griffin]

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