The Magical Arts of Pope Sylvester II by Herbert Thurston 1911
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In a Flotsam note contributed to the last number of this Review, the present writer ventured to utter a word of protest against the plague of Occultism which seems to have been settling down upon us of late years, a sure indication of the moral decadence of the age in which we live. As the illustration there given sufficiently showed, there is hardly any extravagance so ridiculous that it may not find its way into serious literature claiming to be respectfully treated as a contribution to psychic or scientific experience. Two conditions only seem to be required. The one is that the communication should in some vague way shelter itself under the name of mysticism; the other that it should not be connected too closely with any definite creed, more especially that of the Catholic Church. Granted these two conditions, the more fantastic the jumble of fact and illusion, the more readily it will find acceptance with such fosterers of superstition as Mr. W. T. Stead and with the public to whom this kind of mental pabulum especially appeals.
However regrettable this tendency may seem on its positive side, the negative and indirect effects are hardly less serious. We may deplore the nonsense disseminated and the credulity and loose thinking thus engendered, but there is perhaps equally grave reason for lamenting the discredit which is thrown upon rational psychical research, upon such sane studies, to take a single example, as the experience which has been so widely read during the last few months under the title of _An Adventure_. There is, so far as we can see, nothing morbid or dangerous or irreligious about such an investigation as this last, while there is ground to hope that by similar methods a strange psychic experience, which presented itself wholly unsought, may be made to yield most useful information regarding the tie which unites the spiritual and the bodily part of man. But spiritualism and magic belong to a wholly different order of ideas. They start avowedly with just that form of communication with the world of spirits which the Catechism plainly if crudely denounces as "dealing with the devil and superstitious practices." It is barely possible to conceive in what way mankind could benefit by any knowledge obtained through this sort of occultism, and certainly there is nothing in the way of tangible results to show for all the necromancy and pretended intercourse with spirits, good and evil, which have gone on from the time of the Witch of Endor down to the present day.
It is for this reason that we cannot but deplore the fact when we find in a recent issue of the Times Literary Supplement, a review of two and a half columns devoted to a book on the Ceremonial of Magic. With the book itself, though we have looked through it carefully, we have little concern. One thing is certain, that there is absolutely nothing in the volume to call for so extensive a notice. From a religious point of view, it is harmless enough. As the author himself does not seem to treat the subject as a serious reality,it is not likely that ordinary readers will be carried away by any overwhelming desire to carry the ceremonial into practice. Again, when one finds it stated that we do not possess any letter of Charlemagne's, and that it is not certain whether the Emperor could write, or again, when the mystic writer Molinos is described as a jesuit, one cannot resist the conclusion that the erudition of the book is not of a very high order. Again, the whole work is curiously pretentious and turgid in style. The writer seems to find it impossible to say the simplest thing in ordinary, intelligible language. We are quite prepared to agree with many of his statements on the subject of magic and its professors, but we do not any the less feel that the phraseology he uses is stilted and ridiculous. It is as if something of the mumbo jumbo of the subject he is treating had transferred itself to the historian, and as if he wished to take advantage of it to persuade the ordinary reader that this atmosphere really veils mysteries which ought not to be approached too unceremoniously. For example, we find statements like the following. We perfectly agree with the sentiment, but the expression is surely absurd.
"As there is a door in the soul which opens on God, so there is another door which opens on the recremental deeps, and there is no doubt that the deeps come in when it is opened effectually. . . The Pater noster, moreover, is worth all the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, all the Commentary of Hierocles, and every oracle of Zoroaster, including the forged citations. And, in fine, I do not think that there is any power in the abyss, or any thrice-great Magus, or any sorcerer in final impenitence who has charm, talisman, or conjuration which would look in the face without perishing that one loving supplication: Custodi tios, Domine, ut pupillam oculi; sub umbra alarum tuarum protege nos."
This is very true, no doubt, but surely the language is curiously inept. As is also the following:
"But unhappily this domain of enchantment is in all respects comparable to the gold of Faerie, which is presumably its medium of exchange. It cannot withstand daylight, the test of the human eye, or the scale of reason. When these are applied its paradox becomes an anticlimax, its antithesis ludicrous; its contradictions are without genius; its mathematical marvels end in a verbal quibble, its elixirs fail even as purges, its transmutations do not need exposure at the assayer's hands, its marvel-working words prove barbarous mutilation of dead languages and are impotent from the moment they are understood; separated friends and even planetary intelligences must not be seized by the skirts, for they are apt to desert their draperies and these are not like the mantle of Elijah."
But, as already stated, we have little concern with Mr. Waite's last piece of book-making, which is not likely to find its way into many hands or to evoke any disastrous enthusiasms in those who read it. Much more regrettable is the review devoted to it in the Times Literary Supplement, the tone and purport of which may be very well illustrated by the following extract, upon which we propose to offer a few comments.
And as Mr. Waite points out, the spheres of "White" and "Black" Magic overlap, because, in practice, the former achieved good by means of evil instruments (as when a church was built by a horde of unwilling devils) whereas the latter often performed innocuous tasks by innocent means. But the vital distinction does not depend, as he seems to believe, on considerations of means and end. For all practical purposes, as is clear enough from the records of witchcraft trials, it is a question of the difference between authorized and unauthorized magic; between occult processes of which the Mediaeval Church did not disapprove and those of which she disapproved as an infringement of her Divine right to coerce demons for her own sole benefit. The discovery of buried treasures was at all times an important part of the magician’s business. If the sorcerer engaged in this business for his own benefit, it was a case of black magic and punishable as such by the stake. But if—as often happened—he obtained the consent of some ecclesiastical dignitary to the experiment on condition that the whole of the proceeds (deducting what may be called his commission) went into the coffers of the Church, it was a case of white magic, and as such praiseworthy. More than one of the Popes dabbled in the black art (which became white as white could be in his sanctified hands) and was not blamed for it in his lifetime—though, to be sure, his reputation suffered in after ages. The alien Pope forced on Rome by the Emperor’s power at the close of the tenth century when the whole of Christendom was expecting the end of the world, was thought in subsequent centuries to be the greatest magician who ever wore the Triple Crown. His progressive promotion from Rheims to Ravenna and from Ravenna to Rome had been foretold by a verse of diabolical ingenuity—
Scandit ad R Gerbertus ad R post Papa vigens R —
and it was only to be expected that he would scandalize even the tolerant aristocracy of Rome by his intrigues with demons when, under the title of Sylvester II., he became the third Otho's ame damnee in the eyes of all Italy. But other Popes followed his example part of the way, and the list of Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, and Abbots who were interested in magic would fill a folio page. Heresy was the unpardonable sin in the eyes of the Mediaeval Church, which was infinitely tolerant as regards offences against discipline or morality. And the sorcerer was adjudged guilty of heresy—but only if he practised his art without her authority and connivance.
Now it seems fair to judge the importance of an insinuation of this kind by the reliability of the one definite instance adduced in support of it. The writer, it is true, refers vaguely to many examples of ecclesiastical dignitaries who were willing to acquire treasure by the use of any kind of magic whatever, black or white, but he tells us nothing definite on the subject, and certainly the facts cannot be said to be notorious in history. The one definite instance that he quotes of an exalted ecclesiastic dabbling in magic is the case of Pope Sylvester II. (Gerbert), and if on the one hand he seems to allow by referring to this story as the talk of "subsequent centuries" that the Pope's contemporaries knew nothing about it, he takes back any doubt implied in such a concession by declaring that many other Pontiffs "followed his example." If Gerbert himself did not deal in magic, it is obvious that he can have set no example for others to follow. Moreover, the Times reviewer clearly implies that the Church in a later age, while accepting the fact of Gerbert's necromancy, called it white magic, and passed no condemnation upon it. It seems worth while, then, to devote a little space to this notorious example of Papal sanction of the sorcerer’s arts, the more so perhaps that, for some reason unexplained, English writers have contributed more than any others to the diffusion of the legend in its more aggravated form. The worst offender, though probably writing in all good faith according to the credulous ideas of the age in which he lived, was the well-known English historian, William of Malmesbury, who lived in the first half of the twelfth century, more than a hundred years after Gerbert's death. William of Malmesbury’s narration is so characteristic of the age in which it was written and throws so much light indirectly upon the generation of such legends that at the risk of rather long quotations, it will be better, where possible, to keep to his actual words.
Gerbert, Malmesbury tells us, and in this he seems to be already following legendary sources, was a monk of Fleury, who, growing tired of religious discipline, and ambitious to acquire knowledge, ran away from his monastery and made his way to Spain. There, under Saracen teachers, he learnt arithmetic, astronomy, music, geometry, and also augury, necromancy and magic generally. Now, the master to whom he attached himself had a book of magical lore containing the most profound secrets of the black art, which he could not by any entreaties or inducements be persuaded to part with. Gerbert, accordingly, made love to the magician’s daughter, and by her means contrived to make the old man drunk, and then to steal the precious volume from under his pillow. When the Saracen discovered his loss and found that his pupil had fled, he at once set out in pursuit, using his magical knowledge to ascertain the direction of his flight. But Gerbert also, by means of unholy arts, learned that he was being pursued, and to escape, hid himself between air and water under the beams of a wooden bridge. He avoided detection for the time being, but he was afterwards stopped by coming to the sea, which he had no means of crossing. Thereupon, in despair, he invoked the devil, and upon condition that he was carried safely across the water, agreed to become the devil's man, doing him homage in due feudal form. In this way he got back to his own country, and began the remarkable career which Malmesbury details at length.
But before proceeding further, Malmesbury inserts the following note, highly characteristic of the writer and of the tone of mind of the age in which he lived:
"Perhaps [he says] someone may think that this is but a vulgar action, because the common people often attack the reputation of the learned accusing of dealing with the devil any one who excels in his art. I, however, am convinced of his impiety by the thought of his unheard-of death. For why should he, on his death-bed, as we shall relate hereafter, have caused his own body to be chopped up, if he had not been conscious of some unprecedented crime? For this cause, in an old book which fell into my hands, in which all the names of the Popes are written, with the years of their reign, I saw these words: Sylvester, qui et Gerbertus, annos quatuor, mensem unum, dies decem: hic turpiter vitam suam finivit."
After this Malmesbury proceeds to tell his readers how Gerbert returned to Gaul and became a most famous professor, having many illustrious men among his pupils. So far as the general outlines of the history are concerned, Malmesbury’s account is fairly correct. It is quite true that he became successively Archbishop of Rheims and of Ravenna, and that it was mainly due to the influence of his former pupil, the Emperor Otto III., that he succeeded Gregory V. in the chair of St. Peter. Again, it is highly probable that Gerbert did derive his abacus, or calculating tablet, from the Arabs, through the Saracens in Spain, and we have satisfactory evidence that he was the most remarkable mathematician of his time. Once more as Gerbert in two of his letters speaks of the organs he had built, there may very probably be foundation for what Malmesbury tells us about his marvellous “hydraulic organs in which, after a wonderful fashion, by the violence of heated water, the wind emerging fills the concavity of the instrument, and brazen pipes emit modulated sounds through surfaces perforated with many holes.” But the two special stories which the historian recounts to illustrate the Pope's unholy knowledge of magic bear every sign of having been derived, with the Spanish episode already summarized, from some collection or treasure-house of stories such as we find in the later Gesta Romanorum. Collections of this kind were familiar to all epochs, and despite their Christian colouring they commonly contain about the same admixture of fiction with the real names and facts of history as we find in the tales of the Arabian Nights. Be this as it may, here is Malmesbury's version of the two stories in question:
What object Gerbert could have had in preparing such a demonstration to strike terror into the solitary youth who accompanied him, Malmesbury does not suggest. The second story has a much more immediate bearing upon the legendary history of the Pontiff, and runs as follows:
"The Speaking Head. Gerbert, they say, fashioned the head of a statue under a certain aspect of the stars—that is just at the time when all the planets were about to begin their course. It would not speak except when questioned, but would truly answer "Yes " or “ No." For instance Gerbert asked it “Shall I be Pope?" "Yes." "Shall I die before I sing Mass in Jerusalem?" "No." And with that ambiguous reply they say that he was deceived, so that he might take no thought of repentance while he flattered himself with the hope of a long life. For when would he think of going to Jerusalem only to hasten his death? But he did not perceive that there was in Rome a church called Jerusalem (that is visio pacis, because whoever fled to it, of whatever crime he was accused, found help). There the Pope sings Mass on three Sundays of the year, which are called Statio ad Jerusalem. Wherefore as, on one of these, Gerbert was preparing himself for the Mass, he felt a sudden sickness, and as it increased he lay down. He consulted the statue and learned at once his mistake and his death. Calling, therefore, the Cardinals together, he long deplored his crimes, and then in his madness—for his reason was dulled with pain—ordered his body to be cut limb from limb and cast into the street, saying: 'Let him have the use of my limbs who received homage from them, for my soul never loved that oath or rather sacrilege.'"
These are then, practically speaking, the only charges of necromancy alleged against Pope Sylvester II. It is upon just this evidence that the Middle Ages declared him to be a magician, and the uncritical chroniclers of later times the devout as well as the irreligious, were content to pronounce judgment against him without further enquiry. But what in fact is the verdict of the scientific historian of the present day? Is there the slightest inclination to concur with what is plainly the opinion of the Times reviewer, that Pope Sylvester did busy himself with the black art, and that, so far as he knew how, he invoked the spirits of evil to promote his ambitious schemes?
To discuss the career of Gerbert, who was perhaps, as a man of intellect, if not as a prelate and a statesman, the greatest pontiff who ruled the Church from the time of Gregory the Great to that of St. Gregory VII. would be impossible here. We can only refer our readers to the admirable account of him given in the fourth and fifth volumes of Father Mann’s recently published Lives of the Popes. Be it sufficient to say here, that, so far as we are aware, there is not a single historian of any standing, whether his sympathies be Roman or anti-Roman, who attaches the least importance to the legends of Pope Sylvester's magical practices. The whole of this mythology, as Bishop Stubbs suggests, is probably to be regarded as no more than "the tribute which superstitious ignorance pays to genius or unexpected success in life." No one is less likely to be prejudiced in favour of any representative of the Papacy than the German historian Gregorovius. Now Gregorovius says:
"A German and a Frenchman swept away the barbarism which so long prevailed at the Lateran. Gerbert in Rome is like a solitary torch in the darkness of the night. The century of grossest ignorance closed strangely enough with the appearance of a renowned genius. . . . But Rome can merely claim the honour of having served as the scene of his studies which have met with no response. If the Romans noticed their aged Pope watching the stars from his observatory in a tower of the Lateran, or surrounded in his study by parchments and drawing geometrical figures, designing a sundial with his own hand or studying astronomy on a globe covered with horse's skin, they probably believed him in league with the devil."
Professor Dollinger, as is well-known, included the legend of Gerbert’s necromancy in his volume of Papst-fabeln, and it is to be noted that in the second edition of that work, published after the author's death, the historian had apparently seen no reason to modify in any way the favourable judgment which he had originally pronounced. It would be ridiculous to multiply testimonies upon a point so generally accepted. Writers, no doubt, there have been who have severely criticized certain incidents in his career as an ecclesiastic and a statesman, but all are agreed, save apparently the Times reviewer, in dismissing the charge of dabbling in the black arts, as a matter unworthy of serious discussion. The majority seem disposed to agree in the high eulogy pronounced by M. julien Havet, the editor of the standard edition of Gerbert's letters:
"Gerbert has been very differently judged. In the Middle Ages legend represented him as an adept in Mohammedan necromancy or sorcerer, a limb of the fiend (suppot du diable). Among modern writers some have done him justice, others have taken pleasure in repeating the old accusations of intrigue, duplicity, and treachery . . . The fact is that in all the offices which he successively held, I do not believe that it would be possible to instance a single act done by his authority or due to his influence which was dictated by any other motive than a sense of duty, by zeal for justice, or by solicitude for the public welfare. Could we find higher praise to give to a prelate, who was at once Supreme Pontiff and the favourite of an Emperor?"
But how, it may be asked, can legend have attached such a reputation so persistently to an able and high-minded Pontiff, if there were no sort of foundation for this suspicion of magical practices? We may answer that quite sufficient foundation is provided by the simple and unquestioned fact that Gerbert in his professorial days had acquired a great reputation for experimental science. It will be remembered that some centuries later, not only was Friar Roger Bacon denounced for his supposed communications with the evil one, but even Blessed Albertus Magnus, the holy Dominican, who had St. Thomas Aquinas for his pupil, has given his name to a whole flood of unsavoury literature, Le Grand Albert, Le Petit Albert, &c., of a more or less magical character. In Gerbert’s case we have also the additional circumstance that in all probability his arithmetical studies, as is proved by the figures which he used, were stimulated by some acquaintance, possibly at second or third hand, with works of Saracen origin. Again, Gerbert as a man of low birth who had gradually climbed his way upwards, and had become the favourite and counsellor of the Emperor, was bound to have many enemies. The earliest suggestion of magical practices comes, so far as we know, from Cardinal Benno, the supporter of the anti-Pope, Clement III. (Guibert), who in the crisis of the violent attacks upon St. Gregory VII. (Hildebrand), wrote a Life of that Pontiff, accusing him also of magical arts, and trying to make out that such unholy practices and compacts with the evil one, had become a tradition in the Papacy since the low-born Gerbert had introduced these evil ways. It is likely enough that the legend began with some malicious insinuation of this kind on the part of Benno. But there must have been other elements that aided in the full development of the legend, not the least important of which was probably the mysterious line:
Scandit ab R Gerbertus in R, post papa vigens R.
We first hear of this supposed oracle from Helgald, who wrote about the year 1050, less than fifty years after Gerbert's death, and who tells us that the verse was a jeu d'esprit of Gerbert himself, playing on the letter R. It is, perhaps, not wonderful that the precise point of the jest was misconceived. In any case, the idea of an oracle is only a step removed from this sort of conundrum, and an oracular utterance of any kind brings us into close contact with the powers of evil. There is also considerable probability in the suggestion that Gerbert has had attached to his name stories which originally were either consciously works of fiction, or belonged to some other personality. Bishop Stubbs, for example, shows very good reason for believing that there was a confusion in Malmesbury’s mind, as also in that of another English writer, William Godel, between Gerbert and a far less reputable Pontiff, the anti-Pope, John XVI. It is certain that in some details both Malmesbury and Godel have confused the two, why not also in this? Moreover, we have further confirmation in the fact that in a curious fourteenth century English poem, the greater part of the legend of Pope Sylvester II., is told of another Pope who is called Celestin. The poem has been edited by Dr. Horstman in the periodical Anglia of Halle. A few specimens may be acceptable on account of its connection with the subject, but the verse itself is wretched doggerel. This is how the poet describes the promise made by the devil in return for "Celestine's" undertaking to serve him as his vassal.
I shall be by thee both early and late
So that sickness shall thee not take,
From death thou shall right well escape,
More and less,
Until thou in the chapel of Jerusalem have sungen a Messe.
He said: "that shall never betide
Into that land will I never ride
Ne further seek on no side,
If that I may."
"Then shalt thou live,” the devil said, "till doomsday."
When "Celestine" is on the point of death the demons come from Hell to claim their bargain.
So thick the devils came from hell
That no tongue ne might them tell
Fire and brimstone from them fell
With stink of might;
The bright sun withdrew and gave no light.
But Celestine repents.
The Pope kneeled down on the stone
The blood burst through flesh and bone
Wringing his hands he made his mone
And wept well sore
And prayed that Jesu should him save; if his will wore.
Even more potent is his prayer to our Lady, which is thus worded:
Queen of heaven, I pray with cheer
To your son make for me your prayer
As he bought us well dear,
Upon the crois,
If that it were his will, to hear my voice.
In return for this anguish of repentance the powers of Heaven intervene and Satan is defrauded of his bargain. Though the Pope’s body is torn to pieces and left to the fiends to bear away, his soul is saved.
Lastly, it is very important to notice that this anguish of repentance is present in every form of the legend. Nothing could be more untrue, so far at least as the legend of Sylvester II. is concerned, than the insinuation that magic used by a Pope for his own purposes at once becomes white magic and is accounted innocent of all offence. The supposed necromancy of Gerbert is everywhere represented as a crime of the deepest dye. This aspect of the case is curiously emphasized by the existence as late as the end of the sixteenth century of an inscription which was visible to all not only at the Basilica of the Holy Cross (or Jerusalem), where the Pope is supposed by the legend to have died immediately after singing Mass, but also by a duplicate of the same in the Church of St. John Lateran, where he was buried. Montaigne, in the Diary of his tour in Italy remarks:
"I do not know why some people are so scandalized when they find accusations freely levelled at the life of some particular prelate, who is a public character and known to everyone, for both at St. John Lateran and at the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem I saw the history of Pope Sylvester II. written up in a most conspicuous place, and it is the most discreditable story you can think of."
The existence of the duplicate of this inscription has been disputed, but the description of Rome by N. Muffel in the fifteenth century seems to support Montaigne’s statement, even though there was another inscription at the Lateran concerning Sylvester II. which is still to be seen there to this day. The inscription which undoubtedly existed in the Church of Santa Croce, and most probably in substantially identical terms at the Lateran also, was to the following effect:
"In the year of our Lord MIII., in the time of Otto III., Sylvester, the second Pope of that name, who had previously been Otto's tutor, not having, it seems, obtained the Papacy by rightful means, after receiving warning from a spirit that he would die on the day that he came to Jerusalem, though he failed to understand that this sanctuary here was a second Jerusalem, in the fifth year of his pontificate, on the day determined, while offering here the Holy Sacrifice, died on that same day. But by the Divine grace, before the Communion, when he understood that he was near the point of death, he, on account of his worthy penance and his tears and the holiness of the place, was brought back, as we may piously believe, to the state of salvation. For after the Mass was ended, after disclosing to the people his crimes, and after giving directions that in punishment of these said crimes his lifeless body should be dragged by wild horses in any direction through the city, and should be left unburied, unless God in His mercy should otherwise dispose, when the horses, after careering far and wide, came to a standstill within the temple of the Lateran, he was buried in that spot by Otto. And Sergius IV., his successor, afterwards adorned his tomb in more seemly wise."
No one could possibly say in the presence of such an inscription that the necromancy of Pope Sylvester was in any sense condoned and presented to the people as free from sin. Of course this inscription was of late date and founded entirely upon the legend. The other inscription, which, as just stated, still exists at the Lateran, is a serious historical document. Antiquaries are agreed that it is a copy probably of that which originally was engraved on the tomb itself. This certainly cannot be the inscription referred to by Montaigne, for no one could describe it as la plus injurieuse qui se puisse imaginer. It contains of course no reference to the legend of Sylvester’s magical arts, but describes him to us as in the opinion of his successor he really was. The verdict which it pronounces has been of late more and more fully justified by all historians who have seriously investigated the question.
This spot will yield up the remains of Sylvester
When the Lord cometh at the last trump
This famous man was given to the world by a most learned virgin
And the seven-billed city of Romulus head of all the world.
At first Gerbert was deemed worthy to rule
The Metropolis of Rheims, filling a Frankish See,
And later to acquire the chief sway
For the noble city of Ravenna, thus waxing powerful.
After a year under an altered name, he acquired Rome
And became the new Shepherd of the world.
He to whom this loyal and friendly mind was all to dear—
Otto third Caesar of the name—has raised this tomb.
Each of the two sheds lustre on the age by his conspicuous virtue and wisdom
The whole age rejoiced and every guilty thing was shattered,
Like the Apostolic Bearer of the keys he gained a place in Heaven,
Having thrice been chosen to fill his place on earth.
After filling the See of Peter for the space of five years,
Death carried him into eternity
The world was stupified by the loss of its peace,
And wavering unlearned its repose and the triumphs of the Church.
Sergius the priest, his successor, had adorned this humble tomb
With gentle piety and as a sign of love.
Thou who mays’t chance to turn thy gaze upon his tomb
Pronounce the prayer: “Almighty God have mercy on him.”
He died in the year of our Lord’s Incarnation 1003, in the first indiction,
On the twelfth day of the month of May.
There is no word here of any dismemberment of the body of Pope Sylvester. Indeed, the first lines imply the contrary. And if any further proof were needed of the utterly mythical character of the legend which represented the self-imposed sentence of mutilation the condition by which the compact with the devil was set at nought, we are told that in the course of some necessary repairs in 1648 the tomb of Gerbert was opened. Canon Cesare Raspo, who was present, asserts that the body of Gerbert was found complete, dressed in full pontificals with ring and crozier, though on exposure to the air it at once fell into dust, emitting a sweet perfume, due no doubt to the spices with which it had been embalmed.
As for the attitude of the Church towards magic in general, whether black or white, we cannot conclude this article better than by quoting the following words from the article on Occult Arts which Dr. Arendzen has contributed to the last published volume of the Catholic Encyclopedia.
"Magic as a practice finds no place in Christianity, though the belief in the reality of magical powers has been held by Christians, and individual Christians have been given to the practice. . . . Catholic theology defines magic as the art of performing actions beyond the power of man with the aid of powers other than the divine, and condemns it and every attempt at it as a grievous sin against the virtue of religion, because all magical performances, if undertaken seriously, are based upon the expectation of interference by demons or lost souls. Even if undertaken out of curiosity, the performance of a magical ceremony is sinful, as it either proves a lack of faith or is a vain repetition. The Catholic Church admits in principle the possibility of interference in the course of nature by spirits other than God, whether good or evil, but never without God's permission. As to the frequency of such interference, especially by malignant agencies at the request of man, she observes the utmost reserve."
It will be noticed that there is no suggestion here of any distinction between white and black magic, and, so far as we are aware, this language represents faithfully the opinion of all approved moral teachers who have written upon the subject within the Catholic Church. HERBERT THURSTON.
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