When I was a new ager, I was seeking the truth. I had no idea where to find it but I was seeking it. I had so many questions and many of them were the same ones that man has asked for as long as he has had the use of language with which to ask: What are we? Who are we? Is reality limited to what we can see with our eyes, touch with our hands? Is there life after death? What is the soul? What does the soul do? How do sin, evil, and the Fall effect the soul? What about the spiritual world and angels?
Enter the book I wish I’d had all those years ago: Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology, by Cistercian abbot, Alois Wiesinger, OCSO, published in the nineteen fifties. (There is a link to a free copy of the book in PDF format at the end of this post.) Wiesinger doesn’t try to be cute or entertaining, and his book is not likely to be showing up on many new ager’s book shelves. Though it does have that much-abused word “occult” in the title, so some may pick it up not suspecting in the least what they’re in for. (Until they open it up and see the word Christian a few times. That’ll put them off. Sadly.) This is Catholic theology and it doesn’t mess around. If you’ve ever read any Catholic books from that the fifties or earlier, then you know what I mean.
That’s not a criticism, by the way, far from it. I do at times read to be entertained but generally I read because there is something I want to know and in this case I want to know more about the human soul. Please do not let the word “occult” in the title alarm you. Wiesinger’s book is not about witches and goblins, and is not a how-to for spiritualists to conjure up the spirit of dead Uncle Fred, but is a serious attempt (and a good one, says I) to understand what takes place in so-called occult phenomena from the standpoint of a solidly grounded Catholic viewpoint, and with a mind well-suited for keen, scientific observation and reasoning.
I’ll quote some passages now and let the author speak for himself.
The explanations of occultism are as varied as they are numerous; the materialists seek to explain it in terms of matter and its movements, by a theory of “waves”, the exact nature of which is not yet known. Others believe that we are dealing with reappearances of the dead, with “rebirths”, or with a “peri-spirit” which is not truly either spirit or body but is what is called an astral body. The majority of learned Christians fall back on the devil, who is supposed in these cases to misuse human powers and so to deceive us. Admittedly they try increasingly to ascribe as many of these phenomena as possible to natural powers. So far, however, they do not appear to have arrived at a satisfactory explanation.
Writers who ascribe everything to demoniac intervention, or, at any rate, do this in the case of transcendental phenomena (supersensual manifestations) such as “spiritual suggestion”, perception of objects that are not present to the eye, movement of objects at a distance, etc., argue as follows: there are certain manifestations for which there is no natural explanation, and since they cannot be ascribed to the intervention of God or the angels or to the dead, there remains only one possible author, and that is the devil.Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology, by Cistercian abbot, Alois Wiesinger, OCSO (1957): viii.
Now, Fr. Wiesinger isn’t saying that the devil doesn’t try to deceive us. He’s just saying that not every event that someone ascribes to the devil should be.
At first sight this seems sensible enough, but it rests on the supposition that the soul has no powers save those which it ordinarily displays; it is thus essentially a superficial view, and those who hold it seem unaware of the fact that they are opening the door to precisely that kind of demonomania that for some five hundred years caused the West to have witches on the brain. Moreover, to call on the devil as though he were a kind of deus ex machina, every time we cannot think of some natural explanation for a thing, is really a little unscientific.
The teaching of the Church is equally far removed from either extreme, from materialism as from demonomania. The Church does not deny the possibility of diabolical possession and even has a special ordination conferring powers of exorcism for the casting out of devils, but she enjoins us to treat everything as natural until the contrary is proved, a rule that she applies with particular strictness when alleged miracles are cited in a canonization process.Wiesinger, viii, ix.. Italics in the original.
And now we come to the reason Fr. Wiesinger wrote his book and the heart of his thesis:
In these circumstances it is surely legitimate to present in the light of theology and of Christian philosophy an explanation which seems to come closer to the truth…One could call this theory the theory of the spirit-soul, and its basic assumption is that the depths of this spirit-soul are as yet insufficiently known to us.Ibid., ix.
The phenomena of occultism are very remarkable, but they are not unlike certain manifestations which occur in sleep, under hypnosis, in magic, in the delusions of witchcraft and even in lunacy. Perhaps we can find a common cause for all of them in the fact that under certain conditions the soul is freed from the bonds which bind it to the body and from the restrictions thus imposed, and that when in this state it may be capable of extraordinary activities.Ibid., x-xi.
Seeing certain words in that paragraph above brought up certain feelings and I want to say something about that. Over the years, after converting to Catholicism (and at the time of a deeper conversion at about twelve years in), I was reluctant to have anything to do with many of the things I used to have no problem with. This book has made me step back and look at that. Now I think I need to learn when to keep my distance and when to be able to look at this stuff (so-called paranormal activity, NDEs, etc.) without giving in to the allure but also not presenting an overly closed mind, either. For years I had to protect my newly renewed innocence. And I still do. But I am beginning to be able to look soberly at such things and see them for what they really are. And I genuinely want to know what two thousand years of prayer, reflection, meditation, contemplation, and good, solid, Catholic theology have to say on the matter.
Fr. Wiesinger continues. (And after reading these paragraphs the first time I had to pause and allow them to soak in. I knew this book was going to be very important for my studies, very important, indeed).
It is most necessary that when we are trying to define the extent of the natural powers of the soul, we should remember that we do not actually know the limits of this same human soul at all…Theology teaches us that in Paradise man possessed powers which were afterwards lost to him. The question is, which powers were lost completely, which were merely weakened, and whether certain of these powers, which may have remained latent, might not in certain circumstances be capable of revival.
There are two truths which people today have almost completely forgotten. The first is that man is a fallen creature, which means that he once possessed certain spiritual powers that can now only be present in him in a weakened state; they can thus only become effective under certain exceptional conditions, and even then only in a very imperfect way. The second truth is that, although it is connected with the body, the soul is a spirit which may sometimes loosen that connection, and may thus be able to achieve things that would ordinarily be impossible. The writer is acquainted with those veritable mountains of objection that can be raised against such a theory; he is nevertheless prepared to defend himself.
If we can succeed in throwing new light on the two truths to which reference has just been made then the way is open to a better understanding of certain acts of the soul which it has hitherto been thought necessary to ascribe to the intervention of an alien intelligence…
There is yet another purpose that is served by this work. The findings of modern research into matters pertaining to the soul often shed a quite surprising light on to many of the truths of the Faith, which indeed, according to the medieval view, is the real purpose of scientific enquiry, so that every increase in our scientific knowledge is really a stage in the progress of our knowledge of God and of his Revelation; thus “religious belief may obtain a (new) scientific basis and our knowledge may become a continuous and unbroken progress from the things of this world to those of the next”, while the facts we thus discover may provide “an experimental demonstration of survival after death and bring about a fusion of religion and science.” (Moser.) [See endnotes.]Ibid., xi, xii.
Did you catch that? Do you see how important this is? When I think of all the time I wasted in the new age, it makes me ill. I could have been studying Catholic theology all along. I could have been learning the truth about the human person and the soul and where we came from and where we’re going and why we’re here. We are not mere animals, no matter how hard some try to convince us that we are. We are rational souls, joined with a body, made in the image and likeness of God Himself. It was God’s grace I needed all along, not the “new age” pretender but the REAL New Age, the Kingdom of God with its King in its midst, Christ, King of the Universe on His Throne and in tabernacles around the world! (Or standing on hillsides looking a lot like Aragorn in the Return of the King.)
End rant. ;)
I’ll be sharing more passages from Fr. Wiesinger’s book during November. When I have any thoughts of my own worth sharing, I’ll include those, too. I was going to do this as a series of threads on Twitter, but I’ve decided to post most of it here instead. The blog is more suited to Wiesinger’s German longer sentences even in translation, and I spend more than enough time on Twitter as it is. Expect weekly posts, probably beginning on Monday. This is all over my head and I’m so excited! Looking forward to the re-read for the writing.
Hat tip to my friend Trevor for introducing me to book and author. Virtually, anyway. Follow Trevor on Twitter: @aquinasbear. Follow me on Twitter, too: @disciple96. I post there much more than I do here and that’s an understatement.
Oh, by the way, I did finally notice that my beautiful Rosary Project image galleries were behaving not-so-beautifully. Instead of displaying in a grid with three columns, the images were one long column on each page. So I went through and changed each gallery to two columns and it worked. I have no idea how long that had been happening and that’s what I get for not blogging and checking on things regularly. Or, at least, more regularly than I have been. Serves me right. But it doesn’t serve you right and for that I apologize. At least now the images are larger when you initially see them. So, silver lining. :)
Thanks for visiting and for reading. Comments are welcome. Enjoy your stay. Until next time, may His peace be always with you. God bless you!
- Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology, by Cistercian abbot, Alois Wiesinger, OCSO. (The black and white copy of the text has page 52 which was missing in the other PDF scan.)
- Internet Archive: “a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.”
- Moser, Fanny, treatise, Der okkultismus: Tauschungen und Tatsachen (Occultism: Deception and Fact), 2 vols (1935). I haven’t been able to find this in an English translation. In fact, I’ve only seen mentions of the book in articles on the web.
- Rosary Project: Wander over to the Rosary pages and take a gander while you’re here at the blog. Soothe your soul and pray a while.
Annotated Table of Contents for the Weekly Series On the Soul.
Annotated Table of Contents for all series.