When god seems omnipotent and when god seems weak and crucified


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The Texts of the Convivium



CONTENTS: 1. The crucified God of the New Testament. - 2. The sense of divine omnipotence in the Old Testament. - 3. The manifestation of divine power through paranormal phenomenology. - 4. Paramystic phenomena as foretaste of the full advent of the kingdom of God. - 5. The limits of the paranormal, of the miracle and of divine omnipotence in the present evolutional phase of the universe.

  1. The crucified God

of the New Testament

When we speak of an all-powerful God, we are in the wake, as it were, of a traditional and very widespread manner of feeling the Divinity. Whoever shares this manner will find it strange and disagreeable to speak of a weak and crucified God. And yet it is Christianity itself that proposes this crucified God.

A crucified God in what sense? Certainly not in his absolute dimension, in his “heaven”. Our faith tells us that only in heaven is the name of God fully sanctified, only there does he truly reign and his will is done in all things. On the other hand, God seems crucified in his manifestation. As Jesus himself said to Pilate, his kingdom is not of this world. In the present situation the kingdom of God is present in this world only as a mustard seed or an ear of wheat still in the germination phase.

For this reason the prayer that Jesus taught us recites literally: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth (where its application is still germinal) as it is in heaven (where it is fully in force)”.

If we identify God with the perfection of the true, the good and the beautiful, undoubtedly the divine presence still seems very weak on this earth. Is it God who holds back and lets things be, for mysterious reasons of his own? Or is his presence really crucified, that is, impeded and nailed within these limits?

The first alternative is obviously the more agreeable to those who are not prepared to accept that the presence of God could really be weak at our level. But the second alternative seems to me the only one really capable of opening a road to the solution of the problem of evil.

God would be omnipotent, but – precisely in the logic of his creative act – would have to accord his creatures a space of freedom, of autonomy in all senses. The creature would therefore be free even to assume a negative attitude and, in doing so, would condition the selfsame divine presence. It follows that God stands in need of his crea-tures. The full advent of the divine kingdom could not take place without the coopera-tion of his creatures. Hence the need for the prior redemption of the entire creation.

Affirming that God is omnipotent in this particular perspective is equivalent to saying not that we can obtain from Him everything and right away, any grace at any time, but rather that, even though crucified and killed in his presence in this world, in our dimension, He is yet destined to be resurrected there and to triumph to the highest degree. The gates of hell shall not prevail, the final victory belongs to God, and will prove to be the total triumph of good, the apotheosis of beauty, the full and exhaustive revelation of truth.

The kingdom of God will come with the glorious return of Christ accompanied by all his saints. It will be the encounter of earth and heaven. It will be the deification of man and all his authentic values. Matter will be wholly spiritualized. Paranormal phenomena, i.e. phenomena in which the spirit acts on matter in a direct and immediate manner, will become normality.

The resurrection of Christ is the first fruit of the final universal resurrection. The miracles of Christ – and of his disciples and saints after Pentecost – give us a foretaste of what will be the condition of the risen.

In the early days of Christianity there was a fervent expectation of the return of Christ. It was felt to be close, even though not altogether imminent. Then the event seemed to be postponed: perhaps to some day, still very distant, when the earth will be mature enough to welcome the supreme manifestation of heaven.

Since man’s cooperation is necessary, one may – among others – assume that it is just as necessary for human values to be fully implemented, for science and technology to progress to the very threshold of omniscience and omnipotence, for creativity to express itself to the very climax in all the arts, for every form of humanism to be fully developed, for man to become receptive in every respect for deification.

The recently coined word “triumphalism” has a somewhat negative sound. If this were not so, one could well describe the early centuries of historical Christianity and even Patristics as “triumphalist”, and in the case of Eastern Christianity this could be said even of more recent periods, since it remained bound to this theology and philosophy far longer than Latin Christianity. The triumphalism I have in mind refers to the imminent triumphant return of Christ, which the Church is already living in expectation. The figure of this world is going by, and there, the Lord is coming!

Just think of how Christ is depicted in the churches of the early centuries. He is no longer the humiliated and suffering man Jesus, but the Lord of the universe, the panto-crátor (all-powerful, that is), the risen, transfigured, glorious Christ who now reigns over all realities. And the cross is no longer an instrument of execution, but the tree of life. The first pages of the Bible already hinted at it in the representation of the earthly paradise, but now it was sprouting forth again in a new and redeemed world, freed of all evil and rendered perfect (cfr. P. Evodokimov, Orthodoxy).

As the years and centuries passed, the palingenesy of the world seems to be postponed sine die. The resurrection of the flesh continues to be mentioned in the Credo, but almost hidden from the attention of the faithful. The men of Christianity, especially in the West, concentrate on the problems of earthly existence and on what they have to do in order to render it more bearable. And also, undoubtedly, to live it more holily – why not? – so that all can go to paradise when they die.

After a great deal of vain expectation of the ultimate events, the world once again comes to appear to the faithful for what it really is, with all its burden of ills and suffering. “Jesus will be in agony to the end of the world”, writes Pascal. And icono-graphy presents him as the suffering servant, abandoned to himself in the silence of the Father, as the crucified Man-God in all his kénosis, lowering, emptying.

And devotion lives him in the same way. There is thus a return to the idea of the weak God conditioned by his creation. The idea of a God whose kingdom is still germinating, even though there can be no doubt as to his final triumph. Such might be the Christian God in the vision not of the “ultimate” (i.e. his final triumph), but rather the “penultimate”, the period that precedes it, namely the present situation, history’s century-long Good Friday.

  1. The sense of divine omnipotence

in the Old Testament
At this point it is interesting to compare this with the vision of the Old Testament. Here, too, one may note a kind of triumphalism in the previously explained sense. But there is a difference between this triumphalism and that of the early Christians: the triumphalism of the early Christians was connected with the full advent of the kingdom of God, felt to be close at hand: they saw the miracles of Jesus and the disciples and the prodigious expansion of the Church as a foretaste, the first fruit, the down payment of the total miracle, the full and perfect effusion of the Spirit on the occasion of Christ’s return.

The triumphalism of the ancient Hebrews took shape from their sense of being in the hands of God as his creatures. The creation of the Jewish people is creation at the historical level. They lived the experience of God himself taking the initiative of liberating them from slavery in Egypt and to lead them through the desert and back to the Promised Land.

God revealed himself to Moses from the burning bush that remained unscathed. He inspired him to go to Pharaoh and ask that he should let the people of Israel go. Pharaoh refused, so God unleashed the Ten Plagues upon Egypt. In the end the king allowed the people to go, but then he repented and ordered his army to pursue them. God opened a passage across the sea for his people, but then closed it upon the pursuers, drowning them. Then he guided the people across the desert, caused manna to drop from the sky and also an abundance of quail to restore them. Water to slake their thirst sprang from a rock when it was touched by the rod of Moses. God gave them the Ten Commandments and a whole series of regulations that they were to obey if they wanted to prosper and be saved. In the end, after Moses had died on Mount Nebo within sight of the Promised Land, God entrusted Joshua with the task of introducing the people into Canaan, made him gain a series of victories and gain dominion over the land. And thus the creation of the people of Israel was completed.

The motivation of the creatural feeling that binds the Jews to their God can be summarized in the famous words of Deuteronomy (6, 4 et seq.): “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone. You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might… When Yahweh your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you – a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant – and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget Yahweh, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…

“Do not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you, because Yahweh your God, who is present with you, is a jealous God. The anger of Yahweh your God would be kindled against you and he would destroy you from the face of the earth” (Deut. 6, 4-15).

We find an eloquent verification of this divine admonishment in the reply that the tribes of Israel, assembled at Shechem, give to a question formulated by Joshuah: whether they wanted to continue having Yahweh as their God or preferred to address their cult to the divinities of the Amorites. And here is their unanimous answer: “Far be it from us that we should forsake Yahweh to serve other gods; for it is Yahweh our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and Yahweh drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve Yahweh, for he is our God” (Josh 24,16-18).

The ancient Hebrews felt themselves to have been created by God at the historical level, and also at the existential level. Each one of them felt that he owed his personal existence to God. “Your hands fashioned and made me…”says Job to God. “Remember that you fashioned me like clay… / Did you not pour me out like milk / and curdle me like cheese? / You clothed me with skin and flesh, / and knit me together with bones and sinews. / You have granted me life and steadfast love, / and your care has preserved my spirit” (Job 10, 8-9).

“If he should take back his spirit to himself, / and gather to himself his breath, / all flesh would perish together, / and all mortal return to dust” (34, 14-15).

Each one of them felt to have been created from nothing to everything. “Yahweh”, says the Psalmist. “will fulfil his purpose for me”. And hence the altogether confident invocation: “Do not forsake the work of your hands” (Ps 138, 8).

Each one of them felt that his life had to be wholly entrusted to the Creator. “Many are the torments of the wicked, / but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in Yahweh”, says the Psalmist (Ps 32, 10). And Jeremiah: “Blessed are those who trust in Yahweh, / whose trust is Yahweh. / They shall be like a tree planted by water, / sending out its roots by the stream. / It shall not fear when heat comes, / and its leaves shall stay green; / in the year of drought it is not anxious, / and it does not cease to beat fruit” (Jer 17, 7-8). “For me it is good to be near God” (Ps. 73, 28). Because, indeed, those who abide by God draw all life from Him: and “the righteous flourish like the palm tree, / and grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (Ps 92, 13).

The author of Psalm 100 (v. 3) relates this selfsame creatural experience to the whole of the people of Israel: “Know that Yahweh is God. / It is he that made us, and we are his, / we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture”. Says the Second Isaiah: “...O Yahweh, you are our Father; / we are the clay, and you are our potter; / we are all the work of your hand” (Is 64, 7). And Jeremiah: “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel” (Jer 18, 6).

For Israel being in the hands of one’s God, placing oneself continuously in his hands in full fidelity and trust meant assuring the people every fortune in peace and war, meant assuring a happy future, blessed with spiritual and material benefits.

The history of the Jewish people consisted of a long series of tribulations and at a certain moment the fortunes of the nation vacillated altogether, ending with the loss of independence. The people were deported in mass to Babylonia. The prophets asked themselves how it was possible that so many misfortunes should have descended onto the chosen people of the Lord. The answer they gave was that these misfortunes were the punishment, the negative fruit of the sins of Israel, of their infidelity, their having turned to adoring the idols of their neighbours.

But the Jews never lost their hope that Yahweh would again accord them his grace and allow them to return home. This confidence drew its strength from the continuous memory of the help they had already received from God in the course of their highly tormented history: “God is our refuge and strength, / a very present help in trouble”, says Psalm 46 (v. 2).

And Psalm 77 (12-16): “I will call to mind the deeds of Yahweh; / I will remember your wonders of old. / I will meditate on all your work, / and muse on your mighty deeds. / Your way, O God, is holy. / What god is so great as our God? / You are the God who works wonders; / you have displayed your might among the peoples. / With your strong arm you redeemed your people, / the descendants of Jacob and Joseph”.

Jeremiah founded his unshakeable confidence on the omnipotence of the Creator: “Ah Lord God! It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jer 32, 17).

“God Most High” is the “maker of heaven and earth”, the one who blessed Abraham by the mouth of his priest Melchizedek, king of Salem (Gen 14, 18-20). He then revealed himself to the patriarch in person under the name of El Shaddai, which means “the all-powerful” (Gen 17, 1).

Psalm 124 recites (v. 8): “Our help is in the name of Yahweh, / who made heaven and earth”. And Psalm 121 (vv. 1-2) employs an even more forceful and poetic expression: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – / from where will my help come? / My help will come from Yahweh, / who made heaven and earth” (see Ps 33, 6; 115, 3-8; 135, 6; Wis 12, 23-27 and chapters 13-15).

The creation of the entire universe and the historical creation of the chosen people, which constitute the twofold aspect of the creative activity of Yahweh, are brought into clear relation by Psalm 136. This begins with the verse “O give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good, / for his steadfast love endures forever”. As in a litany, this phrase is repeated after each verse of the variable part, which, for the sake of brevity, I shall here quote without the refrain.

“O give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good… / O give thanks to the God of gods… / O give thanks to the Lord of lords… / who alone does great wonders… / who by understanding made the heavens… / who spread out the earth on the waters… / who made the great lights… / the sun to rule over the day… / the moon and stars to rule over the night… / who struck Egypt through their firstborn… / and brought Israel out from among them… / with a strong hand and an outstretched arm… / who divided the Red Sea in two… / and made Israel pass through the midst of it… / but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea… / who led his people through the wilderness… / who struck down great kings… / and killed famous kings… / and gave their land as a heritage… / heritage to his servant Israel… / It is he who remembered us in our low estate… / and rescued us from our foes… / who gives food to all flesh… / O give thanks to the God of heaven, / for his steadfast love endures forever” (cfr. Ps 135, 6-12).

As we can see, among the Jewish people the sense of divine omnipotence is sustained by the need for feeling themselves in good hands: that is, entrusted to a God who is both faithful and powerful. Yahweh had already given proof of this power, above all in the days of Moses, in the course of the long and troubled journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. The memory of this past sustained the confidence of the Jews that the future would see them reconciled with their God, become re-established in his grace and thus come to enjoy all good in him.

  1. The manifestation of divine power

through paranormal phenomenology
Divine power manifested itself, above all, in many highly prodigious facts. These can be identified with a series of paranormal phenomena that are indeed very striking. These phenomena seem to go far beyond the possibilities of man. Accepting their paranormal nature, one may ask oneself whence they draw their first origin: a psychic and purely human level or a pneumatic, divine level?

Many paranormal phenomena are obtained by human subjects who enjoy particular psychic gifts, but otherwise do not seem to be transformed at the spiritual level, do not seem to be particularly “holy”, but just ordinary men and women, not yet free of their egotism and carnality, from being “human and far too human”. Paranormal phenomena of this type may also be called “parapsychic”.

But then there are also other kinds of paranormal phenomenona that seem to spring not from human forces, but rather from divine energies that transcend them and weigh on the human, which they transform and sanctify. Such phenomena seem to be closely connected with sanctity and may be called “paramystic”.

Decidedly paramystic would seem to be the phenomena that religious sensitivity attributes to the divine Source.

In the course of the biblical narration God seems to express himself as in the first person, and yet always through some human mediation: manifesting himself to particular men, and then through them; manifesting himself to the people of Israel and then through this people.

It is well known that human receptivity is very important in paranormal phenomena. If the receptive subject is contaminated, the manifestation may become contaminated. In any case, the revelation of the entity that manifests itself passes through a kind of filter constituted by the culture and the language of the receptive subject, his prejudices and character traits.

Even the water issuing from the purest spring may become polluted as it winds on its way: it will flow as a brook or a river and carry with it the debris it encounters in the various zones through which it flows. The sun sends out an infinity of rays, each one of which will illumine a different environment in a different way, depending on the variations of the medium.

If the windows of my room have red panes, the sunlight that enters will be red; if some other window has green panes, the room behind it will be illumined with a green tinge. But the source is always the one and only sun, which prolongs itself in its many rays without ever ceasing to be what it is.

What in the Bible appears to be the relationship between God and his angels may be likened to the sun and its rays. On many occasions the Bible speaks either of God or his angel as if they were the same (Gen, chapters. 18 and 19; Gen 32, 23-33; Ex, ch. 3; Ex 13, 21 and 14, 19).

The angel is the manifestation of God to receptive subjects who necessarily condition it. That is why “the angel of Yahweh” who appears to Moses, (Ex 3, 2), but also to Abraham (Gen 22, 15), to Joshua (Josh 5, 15), to those who are about to become the parents of Samson (Judg, ch. 13), to Eliah (1 Kings 19, 5; 2 Kings 1, 3), to Isaiah (Is 6, 6) always seems to express the culture of the Hebrew people at the time with all its limits, with all its asperities and even many traits that to our own sensitivity seem truculent, pitiless to the point of atrocity.

It is an angel of Yahweh, that is, a divine manifestation, a ray of the divine Sun, that manifest itself to Moses on Mount Horeb. The initiative is divine: it comes from God through one of his angels; it comes from God himself through an emanation of his energy that assumes shape in the particular situation in which it expresses itself, makes itself felt.

Particular interest attaches to what the inspired Pietro Ubaldi affirms in considerable detail about what he calls “Nouri”. They are psychic entities – we could also call them spiritual or pneumatic – that take shape in the course of cosmic evolution and human history, take initiatives, guide persons chosen as their channels, use them as media and, acting through them, can also affect history and bring about important transformations. For Ubaldi, Yahweh is a Nouri who reveals himself to be of central importance in the evolution of humanity (cfr. Pietro Ubaldi, Le Nouri, Hoepli, Milan 1937).

The invisible transcendent subjects who led Mohammed to found Islam or Joan of Arc to free France from English domination could well be of nouric character. We shall come back to this later on.

For the moment let us concentrate on the divine manifestation, the “angel” – the “nouri” in the Ubaldian sense – who inspired Moses and worked through him. It is through his relationship with Moses that this angel assumed ever greater consistency, to the point of becoming the people’s guide through the desert of Sinai. Through the mediation of Moses, this angel became the very spirit of the people of Israel, who accompanied them in their peregrinations enclosed in the Ark of the Covenant. At a certain point it was no longer Moses alone who functioned as the medium, but rather the entire collectivity of Israel as if merged into a single spirit. Later the manifestation of Yahweh was given a stable home in the Holy of the Holies of the Temple of Jerusalem.

The place where this divine presence manifested itself, the Ark of the Covenant, where one remains as if in a state of extreme concentration, is taboo. Woe to him who approaches it without taking due precautions. He may remain smitten, as happened to Uzzah who, be it even with good intentions, had touched the Ark to prevent it from falling: then “the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God” (2 Sam 6, 7).

A similar fate was suffered by the two sons of Aaron for having “offered unholy fire to the Lord”: the divine reaction was that “fire came forth from the presence of the Lord, and they died before the Lord” (Lev 10, 1-3).

The long direct relationship that Moses had with the divine presence had the effect that the skin of his face shone. And thus he was obliged to keep it covered by a veil that he took off only when he went in before the Lord to speak with him (Ex 34, 29-34).

Yahweh is “holy”, sacrality concentrated to the highest degree, and therefore any inappropriate behaviour, any impurity will bring misfortune in its wake and calls for immediate purification as an elementary protective measure.

The sense of the forbidden, the taboo, is very common in the primitive-archaic civilizations; and also the idea that certain negative thoughts, certain feelings and resentments can do harm to the people they concern; and, lastly, there is the idea that certain improper attitudes can disturb the scared energies and can therefore do harm to those who assume them (cfr. L. Lévy-Bruhl, Le surnaturel et la nature dans la mentalité primitive [Supernatural and nature in the primitive mentality], Presses Universitaires de France, Paris 1963, especially chapters II and III).

It is known that concentrated thought can in the limit express itself even in materialized form. This is demonstrated by certain apparitions and also by the UFOs, which everything suggests should be interpreted as the materialization, or almost, of thoughts concentrated for a long series of years by innumerable people on certain science-fiction fantasies: thoughts laden with emotivity also on account of being sustained by fears and hopes (cfr. La mente plasma la materia, ne è autonoma e le sopravvive, [Mind moulds matter, is autonomous of it and survives it], edited by F. Liverziani, Quaderni della Speranza, No. 21, Rome 2000, ch. IV).

And then there is the current idea that, just as a concentration of positive thoughts and prayers can produce good effects also at the material level, so also a concentration of negative thoughts, thoughts of hate and malediction, can cause ill health and misfortune to the persons who are their objects. We should bear in mind, among others, the black magic practiced by wizards or sorcerers endowed with effective psychic powers. That these practices can cause grave harm to people is a belief that is not only widely held, but is also deep-rooted and, so it would seem, sustained by a certain experience.

Among the Hebrews the sense of sacrality that had come to be concentrated in the people constituted by God as his “chosen vessel” was very vivid. This very strong feeling gave rise to the expectation that every act of hostility perpetrated against the people of Israel would bring misfortune to their enemies and act against them just like a powerful malediction with particularly fateful effects.

If it is true that the concentration of thought can in some way materialize, it is not improbable that something very negative could happen, for example, to the Egyptian, dominators, exploiters and persecutors of the people of Israel (see E. Bozzano, Popoli primitivi e manifestazioni supernormali, F.lli Bocca, Milan 1953, especially chapters VI and VII).

The account of the Ten Plagues of Egypt and the crossing of the Reed Sea, whose waters then closed upon the pursuers and drowned them, refers to alleged facts that happened far too long ago to be capable of being verified. Here I shall simply review, if not all the prodigious facts alleged in the story of Moses, at least some of them, namely the more credible ones, in the endeavour of finding some reasonable interpretation, however imperfect it might be.

In general one may say that the acts of Moses are undoubtedly underlain by something paranormal. To give a first example: the manna and the quail that drop from the sky to provide food for the Israelites, striking as they are, can undoubtedly be reduced to apport phenomena.

Likewise, the presence of water that came forth from the rock (Ex 17, 1-7) could have been the object of a clairvoyance. It could also be that the precious liquid came forth thanks to a psycho-kinetic phenomenon that heightened the effect of the simple blows of the rod that Moses held in his hand, which by themselves were certainly not such as to act as a drill!

And what shall we say of the light that shone from the face of Moses? It seems undoubtedly attributable to the well known paranormal phenomenon of luminosity. We have striking examples of this phenomenon in the light that shone from the hand of Saint Colomban of Ireland (540-615) and Saint Filippo Neri (1515-1595); from the breast of Saint Giovanni Colombini of Siena (1320-1367); from the entire body of Saint Tommaso of Cori (1655-1729) and Saint Bernardo Realino (d.1616), and from many other men and women of God. Other phenomena of effulgence occurred in the immediate vicinity of saints, a case in point being the light similar to a resplendent lamp that lit up by the side of Saint Luigi Bertràn when he died in 1584.

Speaking of luminosity, there almost spontaneously comes to mind the burning bush from which Yahweh spoke to Moses for the first time, and then again Mount Sinai aflame for the manifestation of God when he consigned the ten commandments to the people of Israel. “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast … and Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire” (Ex 19, 16).

The light manifestations that have been mentioned can in some way be likened, albeit very approximately, to the sky that opened and the divine lights that shone for about three hours on the deathbed of Saint Medardus, Bishop of Noyon (from about 545 to 560), the moment he passed away. And the immense light that surrounded Saint Severinus, apostle the people of Noricum (d. 482), when he died.

But one should add that such light manifestations are also associated with paranormal experiences that have nothing to do with religion (cfr., for example, G. De Boni, L’uomo alla conquista dell’anima [Man at the conquest of his soul], Ed. “Luce e ombra”, Verona 1961, Part I, § 6).

The theophany on Mount Sinai was also associated with sound manifestations. Just as voices, noises, sounds and music can be heard in paranormal experiences (cfr. De Boni, op.cit., and E. Bozzano, Musica trascendentale [Transcendental music], Edizioni Mediterranee, Rome 1982).

Coming back to light manifestations for a moment, particularly suggestive is the account given by Saint Francis of Assisi of the occasion when, at the insistent request of Saint Chiara, he invited her and a companion to have lunch with him and a confrere, and they took their meal sitting on the ground, as was their custom. The four were sitting together with all the confreres around them. But let me quote the actual words of the author of Fioretti, ch. XV: “As first course, Saint Francio spoke of God so gently, so loftily and marvellously that the abundance of divine grace descended upon them and they were all merry in God.

“And being so cheerful, with eyes and hands raised to heaven, the men of Assisi and Bettona, and those from the countryside all around, saw that the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, as also the wood that surrounded the place at the time, were aflame, and it seemed that a great fir occupied the church, the place and the wood. So that the people of Assisi ran down there in great haste to put out the fire, firmly convinced that everything was burning.

“But when they arrived at the place and found that nothing was burning, they came inside and found Saint Francis with Saint Clara and the whole of the company merry in God for contemplation. Which certainly made them understand that what they had seen was divine rather than material fire …”

Another light manifestation is the one associated with the presence of Yahweh – or, which is the same thing, his angel - who at night turned himself into a pillar of fire to give light to the people of Israel and guide them on their march. By day his presence took the form of a pillar of cloud to show them the way (Ex 13, 21-22; cfr. Num 9, 15-23). This second phenomenon can once again be likened to a materialization – if we may call it such – of a phantomatic nature.

The Rev. Maurice Elliott, a Bible scholar and expert of psychic science, comments that “such ‘psychic clouds’ are well known in psychic science, and the Bible often refers to them … The clouds in question are hectoplasmic. And the ‘column of light’ was psychic light, equally well known to psychic scientists” (M. E., Spiritualism in the Old Testament, Psychic Press, London 1938, p. 70).

The crossing of the Reed Sea is said to have been rendered possible by a strong wind that, blowing from the East, turned the sea into dry land, as the account in Exodus tells us (14, 21) or, as we might add, at least fordable.

We can establish parallels with the action that some saints exerted on the elements, causing rain to fall for the benefit of the land, but also stopping it in certain specific places to avoid wetting people (this is what Saint Filippo Neri did), assuaging storms (like Saint Francesco Saverio, one of the first Jesuit missionaries), but also arousing them (cfr. W. Keller, Und die Bibel hat doch Recht [And the Bible was right], Econ-Verlag GmbH, Düsseldorf und Wien, III, 1).

In general principle, however, arousing strong wind seems possible also with paranormal means.

We may also recall that, according to witnesses deemed to be reliable, certain men of God walked on the waters like Christ (among them Saint Peter of Alcántara 1499-1562; Saint Hyacinth of Poland, d. 1257; Saint Raymond of Penyafort, 1175-1275), or used their cloak as a boat (Saint Bernardino of Siena, 1380-1444; Saint John of Capestrano, ca.1385-1456).

The Jews also attribute victories to their God. “God has burst out against my ene-mies by my hand…”, attests King David (1 Chron 14, 11; cfr. 1 Mac 4, 30). “With God we shall do valiantly”, seems to echo Psalm 108 (v. 14).

To give another example: in a much later period, the army commanded by Judas Maccabeus engaged battle with Timothy, and the Chronicler notes that “the one had as pledge of success and victory not only their valour but also their reliance on Yahweh, while the other made rage their leader in the fight” (2 Mac 10, 28). The Jews under Judas defeated the Asian army, and even their astonishing victory over Nicanor was explained by the fact that they were “fighting with heir hands and praying to God in their hearts” (15, 27).

This invocation, this receptive attitude vis-à-vis God already found expression, for example, during the exodus across Sinai, in the battle against Amalech. Moses entrusted command of the army to Joshua and then climbed to the top of a hill with Aaron and Khur to invoke divine help with his hands raised towards the sky: “Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword” (Ex 17, 11-13).

According to this concept one can say that Israel’s host operated as the medium of a divine initiative. God blessed the army with his active presence. Now, to render themselves adequately receptive to the divine presence, they had to attain and maintain a state of purity. Hence the need for respecting certain taboos, becoming subject to certain directives. Here the laws that generally regulate the behaviour of the Israelites are integrated by more specific regulation that discipline the army and war (Deut, ch. 20; 21, 1-14: 23, 10-15).

Particularly curious are certain prescriptions that the soldiers had to observe to keep their camp pure from any act or thing that could even remotely be deemed to be indecent: “When you are encamped against your enemies you shall guard against any impropriety. If one of you becomes unclean because of a nocturnal emission, then he shall go outside the camp; he must not come within the camp. When evening comes, he shall wash himself with water, and when the sun has set, he may come back into the camp.

“You shall have a designated area outside the camp to which you shall go. With your utensils you shall have a trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole with it and then cover up your excrement.

The motivation for this is even more interesting: “Yahweh your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you” (Deut 23, 10-15; cfr. Lévy-Bruhl, op. cit., c. VIII; G. van der Leeuw, Phänomenologie der Religion, J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], Tubingen 1956, § 49).

The Judeo-Christian tradition continued over a long series of centuries. Undoubtedly connected with it is the story of Joan of Arc, whom supernatural powers called in the name of God to come to the aid of the King of France to save the country from the oppression of the English. The vocation came to her when, as a thirteen-year-old girl, she had a vision of the Archangel Michael, who in subsequent apparitions was joined by Saints Catherine and Margaret, martyrs of the ancient Church.

The story is well known: following four years of colloquy with these celestial personages, Joan sought an audience with the newly enthroned Charles VII and eventually induced him, albeit reluctantly, to wage war against the English again, to liberate Orléans, then under siege, to recover a large part of the country, and to have himself crowned at Reims. Walter Nigg comments as follows: “History lacks paragons for what the seventeen-year-old peasant girl managed to do in a few weeks. The few months during which Joan led her armies from the Loire towards the north of France are among the most glorious of the French armies in the Hundred Year War” (Walter Nigg, Grosse Heilige [Great Saints], “The Angel of France: Joan of Arc”.

When a small army was placed under her command, Joan “ordered the soldiers accustomed to swearing and debauchery to go to confession right away... Even the pros-titutes who had accompanied the army had to be sent home”. Indeed, “God could grant victory only to a pious army” (ibidem).

A considerable parallel with the work of Moses and his feats – with the legislation he imposed on the Israelites as inspired by God – can be found in Mohammed. The Prophet of Islam, once again, was in constant colloquy with God and was convinced to receive all his directives from him. He, too, raised an army and set out to do battle in the name of the one God, and gained resounding victories. The rules he gave the faithful and – more particularly – the combatants constitute a detailed code that sought to maintain them in a state of constant purity that alone could assure their good fortune.

The drive that this impressed upon the nascent Islam was such as to promote in the space of relatively few years a spiritual renewal, a civil and cultural flowering, a progress of the sciences and a political and economic expansion that seem altogether incredible. One should not therefore be surprised to see that, in a manner similar to what happened to the Jews, such a series of prodigies should have consolidated also in the minds of Muslims the profound conviction of the omnipotence of their God. We can recognize all this without thereby excluding that further analysis of the entire question may help us to better specify the kind and the sense of omnipotence with which we are here concerned.

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