We are not just material beings, but spiritual persons with a need for meaning, purpose, and fulfillment that transcends the visible confines of this world. This longing for transcendence is a longing for truth, goodness, and beauty. Truth, goodness, and beauty are called the transcendentals of being, because they are aspects of being. Everything in existence has these transcendentals to some extent. God, of course, as the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty, has these transcendentals to an infinite degree. Oftentimes, he draws us to himself primarily through one of these transcendentals. St. Augustine, who was drawn to beauty in all its creaturely forms, found the ultimate beauty he was seeking in God, his creator, the beauty “ever ancient, ever new.”―Sister Gabriella Yi, O.P.

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Lure of Magic

magic (n.) late 14c., "art of influencing events and producing marvels using hidden natural forces," from Old French magique "magic, magical," from Late Latin magice "sorcery, magic," from Greek magike (presumably with tekhne "art"), fem. of magikos "magical," from magos "one of the members of the learned and priestly class," from Old Persian magush, possibly from Proto-Indo-European magh- (1) "to be able, to have power". Transferred sense of "legerdemain, optical illusion, etc." is from 1811. Displaced Old English wiccecræft; also drycræft, from dry "magician," from Irish drui "priest, magician".—Online Etymological Dictionary
There are far many so-called enlightened moderns who insist on attempting to manipulate some aspect of reality (matter, minds, relationships) to influence people, things and circumstances in order to gain advantage (for oneself or another) and/or to accumulate personal power. A quick trip to a local shopping mall meets with weekly "psychic fairs" held for two or three days on a regular basis that are popular in the sense they are well attended.
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 any attempt at it as a grievous sin against the virtue of religion, because all magical performances, if undertaken seriously, are based on 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 superstition. 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.—Catholic Encyclopedia.
Closely associated with the word magic is the term occult.
occult (adj.) 1530s, "secret, not divulged," from Middle French occulte and directly from Latin occultus "hidden, concealed, secret," past participle of occulere "cover over, conceal," from ob "over" + a verb related to celare "to hide," from PIE root kel- (2) "to cover, conceal". Meaning "not apprehended by the mind, beyond the range of understanding" is from 1540s.—Online Etymological Dictionary
In an article on the occult, the Catholic Encyclopedia gives the following definition:
The English word magic is derived through the Latin, Greek, Persian, Assyrian from the Sumerian or Turanian word imga or emga ("deep", "profound"), a designation for the Proto-Chaldean priests or wizards. Magi became a standard term for the later Zoroastrian, or Persian, priesthood through whom Eastern occult arts were made known to the Greeks; hence, magos (as also the kindred words magikos, mageia, a magician or a person endowed with secret knowledge and power like a Persian magus.
The Church has warred against the intrusion of magic into her precincts since her inception:
Now a certain man named Simon had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money! You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me.”—Acts of the Apostles 8:9-24
Always, it is the allure of power—the power to control and influence one's surroundings for the sake of personal advantage—which entices people into the strange, the wicked and the deadly.
(B)elief in the frequency of diabolical interference with the forces of nature led easily to belief in real magic. The early Christians were emphatically warned against the practice of it in the "Didache" (v, 1) and the letter of Barnabas (xx, 1). In fact it was condemned as a heinous crime. The danger, however, came not only from the pagan world but also from the pseudo-Christian Gnostics. Although Simon Magus and Elymas, that child of the devil (Acts 13:6) served as deterrent examples for all Christians, it took centuries to eradicate the propensity to magic. St. Gregory the Great, St. Augustine, St. Chrysostom, and St. Ephraem inveighed against it. A more rational view of religion and nature had hardly gained ground, when the Germanic nations entered the Church and brought with them the inclination for magic inherited from centuries of paganism. No wonder that during the Middle Ages wizardry was secretly practiced in many places notwithstanding innumerable decrees of the Church on the subject. Belief in the frequency of magic finally led to stringent measures taken against witchcraft.—Catholic Encyclopedia.
Another wide avenue into the occult arts, at last to modern minds and not few earlier minds, were the writings based on the thought of Hermeticism.
Hermeticism is a religious, philosophical, and esoteric tradition based primarily upon writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus ("Thrice Great"). These writings have greatly influenced the Western esoteric tradition and were considered to be of great importance during both the Renaissance and the Reformation. The tradition claims descent from a prisca theologia, a doctrine that affirms the existence of a single, true theology that is present in all religions and that was given by God to man in antiquity.
Some Christians of the earliest era, perhaps not fully aware of the liabilities of hermeticism,
considered Hermes Trismegistus to be a wise pagan prophet who foresaw the coming of Christianity (Wikipedia).
The appreciation for Hermes Trismegistus' work was not unlike the appreciation given to some of the utterances of the Sibylline Oracles that witnessed to the advent of Christ. One might consider the thought that Truth can be found hidden in the shadows, i.e., in pagan thought. The "hidden" Gospel, however, is not the hidden knowledge of the gnostic heretics. Hints of the Gospel are hidden in pagan religions insofar as the Truth of the Gospel—for example the Golden Rule—is hidden in plain sight. Let us not descend into the shadows where demons dwell and lie in wait for naive souls to fall into their web of deceit.

Some may recall a fairly recent attempt to reinsert hermetic thought into the Catholic vocabulary with the introduction of the book Meditations on The Tarot, a labyrinthine text that demonstrates a rather involved apprehension of historical hermeticism, by Valentin Arnoldevitch Tomberg, the "anonymous" author of the text.

So why this post, why this reminder?

Superstitions are multiplying. People are turning to superstitious practices in order to find consolation or, again, control over their lives. Little do they realize that the more they invest in such practices the more they surrender control to powers which will only enslave them and rob them of freedom.

A modern puritanism in the form of political correctness has people so afraid to offend that they are not willing to confront evil in its various forms. There are many spells being used to bind people from exercising their inalienable rights. What are these "incantations"?
  • Tolerance: tolerance of sin; rejection of virtue. The only way sin can multiply is for people to persist in ignorance and give preference to feelings that trump facts.
  • Choice: freedom from responsibility. Freed from the natural law, man is hopelessly ensnared in base instincts. The innocent unborn pay the price of other people exercising their rotten choices.
  • Relativism: there are no absolutes; truth is relative. Thus, consciences cannot be bound to anything but what the state demands. States are very good at enslaving citizens if the citizens fail to hold their leaders to the standard of the Holy Gospel.
Of course, magic is a cheap replacement of Christian mysticism. Many modern "spiritual" practices are merely remedial incantations that seek to manufacture an experience of the divine, however that is defined—Centering Prayer; Transcendental Meditation; Falun Dafa; etc.

In the Catholic context, which is the only all-true and all encompassing context, all spiritual practice and understanding must flow from and toward the Holy Eucharist, for the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life (CCC1324). Because He loves us, the Lord is mercifully strict when He issues the reminder that He alone is the gate. No man-made edifice—not Buddhism, Islam, Taoism nor any other imitation—can provide the grace needed to escape the devastating consequences of sin. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He alone can rescue us from death.
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."Holy Gospel according to St. John 10:1-10
Let's be clear: all non-Catholic religions are incomplete. Sure, partial glimpses of the Truth mingle among shadows in pagan religions. The only true "religion", however, is found in and through Jesus Christ, the Lord. He is the Incarnate Word that enlightens all minds and brings people to the Father. Jesus founded a Church—the Catholic Church—in which His Presence would continue by the power of the Holy Spirit to bring people to holiness and salvation.

Catholics know that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law, which means we preach a person, not merely a set of tenets, Who alone can deliver man from exile and death into the joy and hope of new life in Jesus Christ.

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