When god seems omnipotent and when god seems weak and crucified

Paramystic phenomena as foretaste


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Paramystic phenomena as foretaste

of the full advent of the kingdom of God
Right from the beginning we saw how the idea of the crucified God affirmed itself for the first time in the New Testament. If it is true, as Pascal put it, that “Jesus will be in agony to the end of the world”, we may well have the feeling of living a long Good Friday that is till running its course; on the other hand, the Christian faith speaks to us very clearly of an Easter of Resurrection that is in preparation, the glorious sun of which will eventually rise also for us.

The resurrection the Christians expect is the final one, universal, total and resolutive. It will coincide with the return to this earth of Christ, accompanied by all the saints and angels of heaven. That will be the moment when the kingdom of God will see its total triumph and become fully instituted in the whole of reality and at all levels.

The first earthly manifestation of Christ, together with the acts and prodigies here performed by his saints, give us a foretaste of all this. The teachings of Christ and also his miracles have this significance: they confirm to us that the kingdom of God already manifested itself on the occasion of his first coming, albeit still in embryonic form.

John the Baptist, imprisoned in Herod’s dungeon, sent two disciples to Jesus to ask him whether he was really “the one who is to come”, the Messiah. Jesus did not reply with arguments or some theoretical discourse. He immediately performed some healings and then turned to the two envoys to tell them: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lamed walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Mt 11, 2-6).

It is as if he had said: there is no need to demonstrate anything or even to waste breath to explain it; whoever wants to understand can see the Messiah and the Kingdom that de facto, concretely advances with him, as Isaiah prophesied (35, 5-6).

Or as if he had said: the Kingdom to come is the triumph in God of everything good, on the spiritual level, but also at the level of humans values and even the physical level.

With the advent of the Kingdom the whole of reality and even matter will be spiritu-alized. The spirit will command matter directly, without further mediations. And this dominion of the spirit over matter expresses itself in the paranormal.

But no longer a simply psychic paranormal entrusted to purely human forces. The driving principle of the transformation is no longer the human psyche. We are no longer in the domain of magic. The acting principle at this point will be the spirit, the pneuma, the divine that dwells in the human at a level even more intimate than the most intimate that man may have deep down within him.

The paranormal phenomena occurring at this point will be of a paramystic character, no longer parapsychic. Though as yet mere fragments, these phenomena in some way prefigure what is to come, what in the end will be the condition of the risen.

Let us therefore briefly review some of them, considering the significance of each and also its concrete possibilities in terms of the paranormal phenomenology known to us.

I said that the acting principle of paramystic phenomena is the pneuma, the spirit: the Holy Spirit, to be more precise. However, the pneuma exerts its action on the physical through the human psyche. And it does so in the most direct manner, without passing through the mediation of the nerves (afferent or efferent as they may be, according to whether it is a question of knowing or acting).

We can divide the paramystic pehenomena into four categories. A first category comprises the phenomena in which the psyche, regenerated by the pneuma, i.e. by the divine Spirit, knows in a direct manner without any mediation of the physical senses. Here one has to mention hierognosis (i.e. experience of the sacred, perception of the holy realities), the various gifts of sapience and science, various forms of inspiration, including artistic inspiration, the penetration of hearts.

Let us limit our examples. Referring to hierognosis, the Apostle Paule tells us that “the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Cor. 2, 10). This experience of God, of which the Bible sets out to furnish a continuous documentation, enriches the men of God with every kind of sapiential gift: so that men of God even devoid of culture and of low intellectual standing show themselves to possess profound theological wisdom.

Together with the gifts of sapience, the Spirit also grants gifts of science: Saint Catherine of Siena, still illiterate at the time, asked the Lord for the capacity of reading and was immediately contented; she then obtained the gift of writing in the same way.

The Spirit of God infused inspiration and skill in all arts in the sculptors, the woodcarvers and goldsmiths working at God’s tabernacle (Ex, ch. 35-35), and David composed under inspiration; but hagiography also offers us examples of poetical, musical and pictorial inspiration of supernatural origin.

Jesus read in the hearts of the scribes (Mt, ch. 9) and of Judas (Jn, ch. 13), but the holy Curate of Ars (Jean-Marie Vianney, 1786-1859) likewise read in the minds of those who came to his confessional for the first time. The same can be said of other saintly confessors, right through to Padre Pio.

And in our brief excursus this bring us to the point of passing to a second category of phenomena in which the psyche, regenerated by the Spirit, shows itself to be autonomous of the body: here we have a series of phenomena that range from experiences out-of-the-body to bilocation in the proper sense of the term. In the latter an individual appears in some other place, even very far away, and not only appears there, but – in the limit – also performs some physical action and at times even takes physical objects away with him. Here I can limit myself to mentioning Saint Anthony of Padua and, in our own days, Padre Pio and – why not? – even Natuzza Evolo.

A third category of paramystic phenomena is the one in which the psyche, regenerated by the Spirit, exerts a true fashioning action on its own body.

Here one can begin by recalling the phenomena of luminosity. The spirit is light, and therefore luminosity well symbolizes the presence in a sanctified man of the all-illuminating divine spirit. In the Transfiguration the face of Jesus shone like the sun and his garments became “very white”, “white as light” (Mt 17, 2; etc.).

I have already mentioned that the skin of the face of Moses emitted rays of light when he came down from Mount Sinai with the Tables of the Law.

In order to compare the phenomenon with something that often occurs in hagiography, however, one should here recall two examples that have already been mentioned: Saint Giovanni Colombini of Siena entered a hospice to pass the night there and when he arrived at the dormitory, opened his tunic to lie down, but woke up all the others on account of the sun-like splendour that radiated from his chest; the Archbishop of Ravenna, taking the hands of Saint Filippo Neri in his own to kiss them, remained astonished when he saw them sparkle like gold and shine like the sun.

Transfiguration is a term that in parapsychology denotes something slightly different from what it means in the scared sciences. In particular, in certain mediumistic sessions it may happen that the face of the medium changes connotations and assumes those of the communicating entity. Now, in an obviously very different context, a phenomenon of this kind is described also in the Gospels. The face of the risen Christ changed its lineaments to such an extent that Mary Magdalene at first did not recognize him (Jn, ch. 20); nor was he recognized by the two disciples of Emmaus, even though they talked to their Divine Master for a long time (Lk 24; Mc 16). Here we have a phenomenon that well expresses the spirit’s capacity of moulding matter.

Although not mentioned in the Gospels, another phenomenon is the odour of sanctity. But we can find a symbolic parallel in the words of Paul: “We are the aroma of Christ to God… a fragrance…” (2 Cor 2, 15-16). The odour of sanctity is the extra-ordinary perfume that emanates from the body of some saints and even from their corpse: in certain cases the body does not decompose, and does not assume the normal characteristic of rigidity, sometimes remaining also warm for a long time, almost as if it were still alive.

The Blessed Mary of the Angels (1661-1717), a Carmelitan, emanated a particular perfume that enabled the other sisters in the convent to find her right away by simply following the trail she left. The perfumer at the Savoy court declared that this perfume did not resemble any of the known perfumes; in fact, the sisters called it an odour of paradise.

When the tomb of Saint Theresa of Avila (1515-1582) was opened for the first time, her body was found to be intact, giving out a delicious perfume and a sweet oil that soaked her garments and the ground all around.

In general principle, incombustibility gives expression to the invulnerability of the spirit. Maintaining an attitude of relato refero, let me recall also what has been handed down about the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna (d. 155 or 156): he had been condemned to die at the stake, but the flames surrounded his body without doing him the least harm, so much so that the executioners had to excogitate some other way of killing him, and his body was burnt and reduced to ashes only after it had become a corpse.

More authentic is the case of Saint Pietro Igneo who, in obedience to Saint Giovanni Gualberto, submitted to an ordeal of God and passed unharmed between two large stacks of burning wood (1062).

The Blessed Giovanni Buono (d. 1249) wanted to exhort a despairing monk to place his trust in divine aid and remain faithful to his vocation without fearing anything at all. And, having said this, he passed through a big fire that had been lit, remaining in it for half the time it takes to recite a Miserere without suffering any burns, not even his clothing.

On several occasion Saint Francis of Paola (1416-1507) picked up burning coals and red-hot iron bars with the utmost simplicity and nonchalance and, once again, suffered no harm at all. On those occasions he also succeeded in transmitting this capacity, at least temporarily, to others.

During an ecstasy that took her unawares in the kitchen, Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) fell into the fire and remained lying there without her body suffering harm and not even her clothes were burnt.

The phenomenon recurs not only in hagiography, but also in the religious phenomenology of the present day or of epochs very close to us, on particular occasions and in places very far apart: in Natal at the Hindu temple of Umbilo, at Singapore, in Mysore, in the state of Chitral, at Tahiti, in the Fiji Islands, in the Antilles, at Mauritius, at Saint Helena and at Langadha (in Greek Macedonia).

Father Thurston, in Chapter 6 (Human Salamanders”) of his book The physical phenomena of mysticism (Burns Oates, London 1952) also recalls some impressive phenomena of incombustibility that occurred during sessions of the medium Home, i.e. in an ambit that had nothing whatever to do with mystic instances.

Extreme fasting, of which we have an example in Jesus’ long fast in the desert (Mt 4, 1; etc.), and also in Moses many centuries before him (Ex 34, 28; Deut 9, 18), is the capacity of surviving without – or almost without – eating or drinking for a long time. Jesus’ reply to Satan that “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”, a reply taken from Deuteronomy (8,3), gives a very clear idea of what extreme fasting symbolizes. Extreme examples are those of the Blessed Lidwina (1380-1433), who abstained from food for 38 years; the Venerable Domenica of Paradise (d. 1553), who fasted for twenty; and Saint Nicholas of Flüe (1417-1487), who fasted for nineteen.

Father Thurston made a detailed analysis of a series of cases that ranged from the Blessed Maria d’Oignes (1177-1213) to Saint Catherine of Genoa (1448-1510), to Saint Catherine of Siena, to Luisa Lateau (1850-1883) and Teresa Neumann, who was still alive in his day.

At times one notes an absolute repugnance of the faster at the idea of touching any food other than a consecrated host. Even when unaware that the host offered him has not been consecrated, such subjects will spontaneously refuse it. The Eucharist sustains not only their life of prayer, but also their active life. Father Thurston also reviews a number of cases of indefinite fasting not motivated by religious instances (see chapters XVI-XVII).

Prolonged wakefulness is the capacity of abstaining from sleep for extraordinarily long periods: cases of this kind are likewise extensively documented both in hagiography and in religious phenomenology of many different traditions.

The limit case in Christian mysticism would seem to be represented by the Blessed Lidwina mentioned only a moment or two ago, who in thirty years slept for the equivalent of not more than three nights. Saint Peter of Alcántara slept the equivalent of two hours per night for the duration of forty years; Saint Rosa of Lima (1586-1617) two hours per night and even less. Until she was twenty years of age, Saint Caterina de’ Ricci (1523-1590) slept two or three hours per night, bewailing them as time subtracted from Jesus Christ, and from that time onwards lived in a state of continuous ecstasy that left her with not more than one hour of sleep per week.

The instance that induces many people to sacrifice so many hours of sleep is clearly expressed by Jesus in his exhortation to keep vigil: “Keep awake… for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming… Be ready… I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me… Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial” (Mt 24, 42-44; 26, 36-46).

Of levitation, which well expresses the soul’s upward longing also in physical terms, the Gospels give us the example of Jesus who walks on the waters (Mt 14, 22-23; etc.) and then rises to heaven (Lk 24, 50-52), and we find it mentioned also in the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Dominic of Guzman, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint Theresa of Avila, Saint Peter of Alcántara, Saint Filippo Neri, Saint Paul of the Cross (1694-1775) and many others, and would also seem to have been the most characteristic charism of Saint Joseph of Copertino (1603-1663); according to innumerable witnesses, he levitated very frequently and in the most prodigious manner, moving in the air over considerable distances just as if he were flying.

Levitation is not only a paramystic phenomenon, but also a parapsychic one. A really striking example is provided by Daniel Douglas Home, an English medium who lived in the nineteenth century, who in the presence of three reliable witnesses flew out of a window and then returned through another (cfr. W. Crookes, Ricerche sui fenomeni dello ‘Spiritualismo’ e altri scritti, Ital. translation by E. Servadio, Libreria Lombarda, Milano 1932, Ch. I; H. Thurston, op. cit., Ch. I). I personally saw the Italian medium Demofilo Fidani levitate on three occasions.

There are also cases of men of God – some of whom already recalled in the previous chapter – who on particular occasions walked at length on water.

A paramystic phenomenon not known to early Christianity, but one that well illustrates the fashioning powers that the psyche exerts on the soma, is represented by stigmata. Albeit in a more ideal sense, Paul mentions it in his Letter to the Galatians (6, 17) when he says: “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus”. Possibly, too, we here have an allusion to the maltreatments he suffered for the Christian cause. It is clear, however, that the literal interpretation of these words begins to prevail in the 12th century.

Saint Francis of Assisi was not the first in order of time to bear the stigmata, but undoubtedly the most illustrious who opened the road to a long series of stigmatised. From him to Teresa Neumann and Padre Pio, there are innumerable examples of an action of the psyche on the body, where it fashions – in a manner that may vary from case to case – the marks of the Passion, causing the wounds to bleed and sometimes to disappear completely or to become re-opened every Good Friday or simply every Friday (cfr. M. Margnelli, Gente di Dio [God’s People], SugarCo Edizioni, Milan 1988).

Dermographism, namely marks that appear in the skin due to a dominant emotion, bear a close resemblance to stigmata. But such modifications may also occur in the organs within the body. I would here recall a little known example, that of Sister Maria Villani, who died at eighty-six years of age in 1670: in her heart there was found an open wound of the same shape and size as the figure that this servant of God had drawn on a page of a treatise she had written.

These phenomena do not always seem to be, as it were, expressions of a Catholic spirituality in the pure state. There are cases of dermographism and stigmata, as also of prolonged fasting and waking, that seem more closely connected with hysteria than with genuine sanctity. On the other hand, hysteria is not such as to wholly exclude sanctity and supernatural gifts.

Lastly, a fourth category is represented by paramystic phenomena in which the regenerated psyche exerts a fashioning action on the bodies of other people or on the environment sometimes also a certain loving dominion over animals and nature in general.

Such action is expressed, above all, in miraculous healings, and this not only in those reported in the New Testament, but also in the cases that abound in hagiography and frequently occur in such places as Lourdes. They have some counterpart in the psychic and spiritual healings that take place in many different religious contexts, as also in others that occur in more “lay” contexts. (Particularly interesting is the volume entitled Les miracles de la volonté [Miracles of will] by E. Duchâtel and R. Warcollier, especially Chapter VI. See also Lourdes by P. Marnham, Appendices III-V).

Examples of the fashioning action exerted by the psyche on the external realities in the Gospels are represented by the transmutation of the water into wine at the marriage in Cana (Jn 2), the multiplication of the bread and fish (Mt 14 and 15; Mt 6 and 8; Lk 9; Jn 6), the miraculous fishing (Mt 4; Mk 1; Lk 5, Jn 21), the fig tree withered by the power of faith (Mt 21; Mk 11), and the calming of the tempest (Mt 8, Mk 4; Lk 8).

Among the many different possible interventions in the external world, mention may here be made, first of all, of two psychokinetic phenomena that, even though they may find some confirmation when they occur in a mediumistic session, here reveal themselves as particularly formidable and devoid of precedents. Saint Vincenzo Ferrer (1350-1419) picked up and placed on a cart a piece of wooden furniture that ten men would have found difficult to lift. And tradition also hands down an even more striking case that occurred many centuries earlier: by means of a simple word, Saint Gregory the Thaumaturgist (ca. 213-270) shifted an enormous rock from one place to another. It is true that a medium in trance can unleash physical effects far greater than his normal physical force, but here we come face to face with the evangelical faith that shifts mountains, or just a little less!

Let us now concentrate attention on the phenomenon of the multiplication of food. Apart from the manna that fell from heaven to nourish the people of Israel on their march across the desert to reach the Promised Land (Ex 16), there are several more minute and detailed examples in the Old Testament: Elijah who multiplies the meal in the jar and the oil in the cruse of the widow (1 Kings 17), and something similar is attributed also to Elisha (2 Kings 4).

But facts of this kind are recalled also in hagiography, among others, in connection with Saint André-Hubert Fournet (1752-1834), Saint Gaspare del Bufalo (1786-1837), Don Bosco (1815-1888), Cottolengo (1786-1842), Saint Germaine Cousin (ca. 1579-1601) and numerous others.

To give but one example, at the small orphanage founded by the Curate of Ars the granary became filled with wheat and the kitchen cupboard became filled with pasta in a prodigious manner at a time when famine plagued the land. In the granary the Curate had hidden a statuette of Saint François Régis, to whom he addressed continuous prayers. Then he told his little orphans to go and measure the stock that remained: the girls had to toil to open the door, but the grain spilled out as soon as they had done so. During the pastoral visit following one of these prodigious events, the Bishop of Belley went into the famous granary and, not least to put his saintly parish priest to the test, suddenly raised his hand to a certain height and asked him point blank: “The grain arrived at this level, didn’t it?”. “No, Monseigneur, much higher: up to there!” (La Varende, Le Curé d’Ars et sa passion, Èditions Bloud et Gay, Paris 1958, p. 110).

The paramystic phenomenon of the multiplication of food can in a certain way recall the parapsychic phenomenon of the apport of objects and even of living beings in closed environments.

Likewise, to make just a fleeting mention of another type of phenomenon, the calming of the storm may find some counterpart in supernatural actions of the saints like those already mentioned, but also in the psychic action of the so-called rainmakers.

Hagiography hands down episodes regarding the prestige that many saints enjoyed with animals and the loving dominion they are said to have exerted over them. Here we have a kind of telepathic communion and strong suggestion exercised in this manner.

Just a few examples. Saint Hubert (ca. 685-727) made a bear, who had just eaten his horse, carry the same burden that would normally have been borne by the horse. Rather than being menaced by the tigers, Saint Louis Bertrán was protected by them. Saint Ivan the Hermit was nourished by a hind. A wild roebuck given to the monastery as a gift had broken his bonds and run amok, but became docile in the presence of Saint Maddalena de’ Pazzi (1566-1607).

Saint Martin of Porres (1569-1639) called together the mice that were damaging his church and promised to feed them, in return for less aggressive behaviour. Saint Francesco de Solano (1549-1610) arrived at an agreement of the same kind with the ants that infested a monastery at Lima. And particularly well known is the episode of Saint Francis of Assisi who tamed a wolf at Gubbio, who was henceforth to be nourished by the city, but pledged himself not to kill people any more and thereafter lived like a good domestic animal.

Saint Rosa of Lima had her room full of gnats that never stung her: at a certain time of the day she asked them to praise the Lord, which they would do with a general and rather melodious buzz; and at a certain moment of the night she gave them a signal, after which they fell silent to let the saint sleep in peace (Cfr. V. Vezzani, Mistica e metapsichica, S.E.I., Turin 1958, from which I have taken many of the cited examples).

Though limited and fragmentary, they are all signs of a transformation, a palingenesis. They indicate an evolutional process that ultimately tends towards the full realization of the kingdom of God everywhere, the dominion of God over all things. Fully realizing the kingdom of God everywhere means translating into practice the divine omnipotence that, as things stand at present, seems in many respects still virtual and only in development.

  1. The limits of the paranormal

of the miracle

and of divine omnipotence

in the present evolutional phase

of the universe

Divine power seems attested by the miracles. In a certain way these are proposed as the signature of God. Many theologians define miracles as facts that upset the laws of nature and to such an extent that they can only have God as their author.

But who is in a position to establish the exact confines of the possibilities of nature? Side by side with the “normal” phenomena, there are also the so-called “paranormal” ones, phenomena that are not altogether unlike miracles. Are they, too, natural events. If yes, what distinguishes them from miracles? As a general rule, theologians – be they Christian or of other religious traditions – pay very little attention to the reality of the paranormal phenomena, something they have in common with ambits that can be defined as wholly “lay”. This decidedly prevents them from studying the nature of the paranormal and, what is worse, having even the most elementary ideas about it.

The idea that I have succeeded in forming about it, the conviction I have derived from it is this: miracles are paranormal facts that have their acting principle not in the human psyche, but in the pneuma, in the divine spirit or, if you prefer, the Holy Spirit. Even though they do not spring from the psyche as their original source, they yet pass through it. And, in any case, their mechanism, the logic that underlies them is the same as that of the paranormal phenomena. From this one may draw the conclusion that the reach of a miracle is always very limited. In the limit, it may attest the great power of the Spirit from which it derives, but certainly not its omnipotence.

Saying “omnipotence” is equivalent to saying “capacity of doing anything whatsoever, of producing any kind of phenomenon at one’s will or pleasure”. Now, whoever makes a thorough study of the paranormal and, more generally, unusual facts will realize that each miracle is subject to certain laws that it can never evade.

Any paranormal phenomenon can be reduced to ideoplasty. What does that mean? The term refers to the active and not precisely material principle that we can call “idea” or “mind”. A very wide range of paranormal phenomena permits us to conclude that this active principle is capable of fashioning or modelling matter, forging it, giving it form, and can do so directly without passing through any mediation of the nervous system or of hands, supplemented by instruments or machines as they might be.

Normally, when we want to impress a certain form upon matter, we first use our hands and then possibly also tools and machines. What we are doing is what Henri Bergson calls fabrication. The French philosopher also distinguishes organization from fabrication. And it is there that ideoplasty becomes explicated (Cfr. H.B., L’évolution créatrice, Presses Universitaires de France, 118ª ed., Paris 1966, pp. 93 ss. To the end of Chapter I).

In fabrication man constructs his working instruments as necessary; and then, availing himself of these tools, he proceeds to carry out a series of partial operations that in the end will give rise to the finished product. In artisanship and industry this leads to a kind of work that involves the composition, the putting together of previously fabricated parts.

But, on the contrary, what exactly is it that happens in organization by virtue of what we can call ideoplasty? Whereas fabrication is peculiar of man, organization underlain by ideoplasty is the process of life itself. Fabrication is conscious and reasoned, organization is instinctive and spontaneous.

Bergson notes that what he calls the élan vital (vital drive) encounters considerable resistance in matter. Its ideoplastic action succeeds only with great difficulty in opening a road for itself in the midst of many obstacles, and has to find ingenious ways of bypassing them when they prove to be insurmountable (ibid., pp. 99-100; beginning of Chapter II).

All this confirms that the power of life, the very power of the divine Spirit at work in the world is limited and as it were imprisoned, even though it tends towards an ultimate object of perfection and – let us say it – omnipotence.

The vital principle operates in the heart of matter, but when it succeeds in freeing itself of it, in projecting itself outside matter and operating in a direct manner without any corporeal mediations, it produces the wide range of paranormal phenomena of which I have already given a series of examples.

The manner in which ideoplasty operates in accordance with its own laws, in accordance with its own logic, renders possible the phenomena we have here reviewed: from telepathy to hierognosis, from bilocation to luminosity, incombustibility, extreme fasting, levitation, apport and psychic and spiritual healing.

The limits of the present note do not permit me here to come to grips with the problem of how ideoplasty may act in each one of these phenomena. I have put together some data and suggestions in the previously mentioned volume La mente plasma la materia, ne è autonoma e le sopravvive, quoted above. (Mind moulds matter, is of it and survives it), Quaderni della Speranza, No. 21, Rome 2000).

Asking my readers to refer to this study, I shall here limit myself to a more general discussion. Though my review of the most frequently recurring paranormal phenomena was necessarily rather summary, it yet permits me to draw a conclusion: ideoplasty is something surprising and prodigious to the highest degree, but nevertheless far from being able to obtain any arbitrarily desired result.

To limit ourselves to a single example, many people have noted that no paranormal phenomenon, no miracle, no matter how astonishing it may be, has ever permitted a person to grow a leg or an arm that did not exist before (as in certain phocomeli) or was lost in an accident or had to be amputated. In a book entitled Il miracolo (Miracle, dedicated to a study of the most astonishing Marian prodigies, Rizzoli, Milan 1999), Vittorio Messori, almost as if to belie this assertion, reports an extraordinary fact as having happened in Spain in 1640: a peasant, who had lost a leg by amputation a few years earlier, recovered it unexpectedly one night while he was fast asleep and therefore woke up with two legs!

A miracle that, notwithstanding his omnipotence, our good God never performs, as Messori suggests; indeed, he refrains from doing so, because he does not want to oblige men to the act of faith by bringing them face to face with excessively stunning phenomena as arguments.

Calanda’s Gran Milagro seems almost as if it had inadvertently slipped out of his hand. However, the fact that this miracle has been talked about so little during the centuries as to be practically unknown today remains in keeping with his unfathomable plans.

I shall try to briefly summarize the essential facts. The young peasant Miguel Juan Pellicer, from the village of Calanda in Lower Aragona, had one of legs crushed by the wheel of a cart. The gangrene that developed obliged the surgeon at the great hospital in Saragossa to amputate the limb a couple of inches below the knee. The leg was buried in a clearly identifiable place of the nearby cemetery.

Even before the operation and for the two years that followed it, the young peasant implored the Virgin of Pilar, venerated in the sanctuary at Saragossa, to have his leg restored to him safe and sound.

He established himself as an authorized beggar at the sanctuary and passed entire days in the chapel of Our Lady and each day rubbed the stub of his leg with the oil of the lamps that burn there.

He eventually returned to his village, to the house in which his parents lived. One night he awoke there from a deeps sleep with the joy of once again having two legs. He had dreamed to be in the Pilar Chapel to pray and rub his stub with oil. Without going into further details, we should note that the recuperated leg was weak and shorter than the other: let us say that it was not yet fully healed. The full healing, the complete re-establishment took place by degrees.

As even Messori admits, “there had been no creation, but merely an astonishing ‘repair’, not a re-growth, but a ‘re-attachment’. Even though there must necessarily have been ‘creation’ as regards the muscles, nerves, skin, tissues and blood vessels destroyed during the amputation and the subsequent and even more devastating cauterization by means of live fire” (op. cit., p. 85).

How can all this be explained? It may be useful to compare the Milagro with well known paranormal phenomena and then try to adumbrate a hypothesis. Miguel Juan’s singular and obstinate fervour and his daily unction of the stub may have canalised – as it were – the enormous accumulation of sacrality and grace, but also of human devotion, that condensed and still keeps condensing at the Pilar Sanctuary. All this “charge”, all this spiritual force may have kept the leg buried in the cemetery intact and in a certain way still alive for two long years. At this point there could have occurred the transfer of the buried leg to its natural position, the body from which it had been amputated.

The conservation of the leg in the soil could have a parallel in what at times happens on the occasion of the death of a saint: his corpse may display a complete absence of rigidity, persistence of a certain warmth and blood flow and immunity to the natural process of decay, and this even for a very long period of time, in the limit for entire centuries. Father Thurston provides a more than exhaustive documentation of this phenomenon and others associated with it (op. cit., Chapters IX-XII).

Over and above this, one should note another possible parallel: an object, and even a live being, may disappear in one place and then re-appear in another, even a long distance away. Scholars of parapsychology refer to the first phenomenon as “removal” and to the second as “apport”. If Miguel Juan’s buried leg had remained “alive”, nothing could have prevented, at least in general principle, its “transport” from the cemetery in Saragossa to the house in Calanda: distances mean little in paranormal phenomena, which give expression to an overcoming, a suppression of space.

At this point there may have intervened a third phenomenon: the vital welding or re-attachment of the leg to the stump and the body of the young man. This can be seen as a phenomenon of spiritual healing. It has long since been demonstrated that ideoplasty may arrive at obtaining the partial reconstitution or regeneration of tissue. Moreover, it should be noted that when a tissue receives the transplant of some other and different tissue, the latter ends up by assuming the nature of the former: transformations occur even at the histological level (cfr., once again, Duchâtel and Warcollier, Chapter VI).

The miracle of Calanda was a very potent one, perhaps or, rather, undoubtedly the only one of its kind. Here I am not by any means trying to belittle the miracle, but rather to show that even such an extraordinary miracle can be explained in terms of the laws of the paranormal.

There are no miracles where this cannot be done. The greatest prodigy attributed to Jesus is the resurrection first of Lazarus and then of himself. But not even the supremely prodigious character of these resurrections places them beyond the bounds of ideoplasty, its logic, its laws.

In the resurrection of Lazarus (recounted in the Gospel according to Saint John, 11, 1-14) there may have intervened first a phenomenon of clairvoyance in the present, by virtue of which Jesus must have learnt of the death of his friend. (He had already been appraised of his illness). At this point it may be that Jesus, be it even at a distance, produced a spiritual inflow into the corpse of Lazarus capable of preventing its corruption. And this must have facilitated the miracle of calling him back to life, which took place at a somewhat later time, when Jesus had reached the place where it had been buried.

It is true that Marta, the dead man’s sister, asked how the master could give life back to a corpse that had already been buried for four days and therefore had an odour (v. 39). But it seems probable that this was nothing other than an affirmation of a general character – “It is well known that corpses are already in decomposition after four days” – and not a conclusion induced by effective first-hand experience: a properly closed sepulchre should not permit any bad odours to filter to the outside, so that the fact must have been surmised as common knowledge on the basis of previous experience.

I would now pass on to saying something about the resurrection of Christ himself, but with great humility and without the least pretence of clarifying its profound mystery. Here I shall limit myself to saying what can be assumed in this connection from a purely parapsychological point of view.

The paranormal mechanism of this resurrection seems to me to consist of two distinct and successive operations. First of all, the corpse of Jesus would have dematerialized inside the funeral shroud. The luminous effect produced by this dematerialization would have impressed the corpses’ physical features onto the shroud in much the same way in which a negative is impressed on a photographic plate.

At some subsequent moment – or, if your prefer, at a series of successive moments, successive apparitions – the image of Jesus would have rematerialized also in its more tangible form.

As a general rule, materializations take place in the course of mediumistic sessions, and only those in which there is present a medium capable of exerting powerful physical effects. Of powerful and very tangible materializations that have occurred in other contexts I have read only in Paramhansa Yogananda’s well known book entitled Autobiography of a Yogi, Self-Realization Fellowship, Publishers, Los Angeles, California 1952, Chapters 19 and 43). They are those of Yogananda’s master, Sri Yukteswar. One is said to have taken place while he was still alive, the other after the death of this great yogi.

After his death, Jesus would have manifested himself in a strong materialization, certainly not an evanescent one as is the case of many ghosts. Such a materialization would be capable of changing appearance in such a manner as not to be recognized, entering a house with locked doors, disappearing suddenly and then re-appearing even in places far away and, lastly, levitating and eventually disappearing in the sky.

Obviously, I am not trying to belittle these two resurrections in any way, but only trying to give an explanation, be it even a very partial and superficial one – in parapsychological terms. My conclusion is that there are no miracles – credible and believable ones, of course – of which the mechanism does not prove to be of a paranormal nature.

All this is far from meaning that all miracles can be reduced to common paranormal phenomena of an ordinary level. The Bible tells us about miracles that, if they really happened as they are reported, appear to be extremely forceful and are therefore well capable of suggesting the idea of the great power of God, to whom they are ascribed as the primary Source.

But now, as we have seen, no matter how formidable it may be, power of itself does not mean omnipotence. In some way, however, it can represent the proof, the sign, the symbol, the foretaste, the down-payment of a supreme manifestation of God in which He will show himself to be truly omnipotent, because He will regenerate all the realities at every level without any limits and “will be all in all”, and everything will be a true miracle.

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