Apparitions of the Damned
St. Antoninus (1389--1459), Archbishop of Florence, relates in his writings a terrible fact which about the middle of the 15th century, spread fright over the whole North of Italy. A young man of good stock, who, at the age of 16 or 17, had had the misfortune of concealing a mortal sin in Confession, and, in that state, of receiving Communion, had put off from week to week and month to month, the painful disclosures of his sacrileges. Tortured by remorse, instead of discovering with simplicity his misfortune, he sought to gain quiet by great penances, but to no purpose. Unable to bear the strain any longer, he entered a monastery; there, at least, he said to himself, I will tell all, and expiate my frightful sins. Unhappily, he was welcomed as a holy young man by his superiors, who knew him by reputation, and his shame again got the better of him. Accordingly, he deferred his confession of this sin to a later period; and a year, two years, three years passed in this deplorable state; he never dared to reveal his misfortune. Finally, sickness seemed to him to afford an easy means of doing it. "Now is the time," he said to himself; "I am going to tell all; I will make a general confession before I die." But this time, instead of frankly and fairly declaring his faults, he twisted them so artfully that his confessor was unable to understand him. He hoped to come back again the next day, but an attack of delirium came on, and the unfortunate man died.
The community, who were ignorant of the frightful reality, were full of veneration for the deceased. His body was borne with a certain degree of solemnity into the church of the monastery, and lay exposed in the choir until the next morning when the funeral was to be celebrated.
A few moments before the time fixed for the ceremony, one of the Brothers, sent to toll the bell, saw before him, all of a sudden, the deceased, encompassed by chains that seemed aglow with fire, while something blazing appeared all over his person. Frightened, the poor Brother fell on his knees, with his eyes riveted on the terrifying apparition. Then the damned soul said to him: "Do not pray for me, I am in here for all eternity." And he related the sad story of his false shame and sacrileges. Thereupon, he vanished, leaving in the church a disgusting odor, which spread all over the monastery, as if to prove the truth of all the Brother just saw and heard. Notified at once, the Superiors had the corpse taken away, deeming it unworthy of ecclesiastical burial.
After having cited the preceding example, Monsignor de Segur adds what follows (from Opuscule on Hell):
"In our century, three facts of the same kind, more authentic than some others, have come to my knowledge. The first happened almost in my family.
"It was in Russia, at Moscow, a short while before the horrible campaign of 1812. My maternal grandfather, Count Rostopchine, the Military Governor of Moscow, was very intimate with General Count Orloff, celebrated for his bravery, but as godless as he was brave.
"One day, at the close of a supper, Count Orloff and one of his friends, General V., also a disciple of Voltaire, had set to horribly ridiculing religion, especially Hell. 'Yet,' said Orloff, 'yet if by chance there should be anything the other side of the curtain?' 'Well,' took up General V., 'whichever of us shall depart first will come to inform the other of it. Is it agreed?' 'An excellent idea,' replied Count Orloff, and both interchanged very seriously their word of honor not to miss the engagement.
"A few weeks later, one of those great wars which Napoleon had the gift of creating at that time, burst forth. The Russian army began the campaign, and General V. received orders to start out forthwith to take an important command.
"He had left Moscow about two or thee weeks, when one morning, at a very early hour, while my grandfather was dressing, his chamber door was rudely pushed open. It was Count Orloff, in dressing gown and slippers, his hair on end, his eyes wild, and pale like a dead man. 'What? Orloff, you? At this hour? And in such a costume? What ails you? What has happened?' 'My sir,' replied Count Orloff, 'I believe I am beside myself. I have just seen General V.' 'Has General V., then, come back?' 'Well, no,' rejoined Orloff, throwing himself on a sofa, and holding his head between his hands; 'No, he has not come back, and that is what frightens me!'
"My grandfather did not understand him. He tried to soothe him. 'Relate to me,' he said to Orloff, 'what has happened to you, and what all this means.' Then, striving to stifle his emotion, the Count related the following: 'My dear Rostopchine, some time ago, V. and I mutually swore that the first of us who died should come and tell the other if there is anything on the other side of the curtain. Now this morning, scarcely half an hour since, I was calmly lying awake in my bed, not thinking at all of my friend, when all of a sudden, the curtains of my bed were rudely parted, and at two steps from me I saw General V. Standing up, pale, with his right hand on his breast, and saying to me: "What do we do now? There is a Hell, and I am there! What do we do now?" And he disappeared. I came at once to you. My head is splitting! What a strange thing! I do not know what to think of it.'
"My grandfather calmed him as well as he could. It was no easy matter. He spoke of hallucinations, nightmares; perhaps he was asleep... There are many extraordinary unaccountable things... and other commonplaces, which constitute the comfort of freethinkers. Then he ordered his carriage, and took Count Orloff back to his hotel.
"Now, ten or twelve days after this strange incident, an army messenger brought my grandfather, among other news, that of the death of General V. The very morning of the day Count Orloff had seen and heard him, the same hour he appeared at Moscow, the unfortunate General, reconnoitering the enemy's position, had been shot through the breast by a bullet and had fallen stark dead."
"There is a Hell, and I am there!" These are the words of one who came back.
Mgr. de Segur relates a second fact, which he regards as alike free from doubt. He had learned it in 1859, of a most honorable priest and superior of an important community. This priest had the particulars of it from a near relation of the lady to whom it had happened. At that time, Christmas Day, 1859, this person was still living and little over 40 years.
She chanced to be in London in the winter of 1847-1848. She was a widow, about 29 years old, quite rich and worldly. Among the gallants who frequented her salon, there was noticed a young lord, whose attentions compromised her extremely and whose conduct, besides, was anything but edifying!
One evening, or rather one night, for it was close upon midnight, she was reading in her bed some novel, coaxing sleep. One o'clock struck by the clock; she blew out her taper. She was about to fall asleep when, to her great astonishment, she noticed that a strange, wan glimmer of light, which seemed to come from the door of the drawing-room, spread by degrees into her chamber, and increased momentarily. Stupefied at first and not knowing what this meant, she began to get alarmed, when she saw the drawing-room door slowly open and the young lord, the partner of her disorders, enter the room. Before she had time to say a single word, he seized her by the left wrist, and with a hissing voice, whispered to her in English: "There is a Hell!" The pain she felt in her arm was so great that she lost her senses.
When, half an hour after, she came to again, she rang for her chambermaid. The latter, on entering, noticed a keen smell of burning. Approaching her mistress, who could hardly speak, she noticed on her wrist so deep a burn that the bone was laid bare and the flesh almost consumed; this burn was the size of a man's hand. Moreover, she remarked that, from the door of the salon to the bed, and from the bed to that same door, the carpet bore the imprint of a man's steps, which had burned through the stuff. By the directions of her mistress, she opened the drawing-room door; there, more traces were seen on the carpet outside.
The following day, the unhappy lady learned, with a terror easy to be divined, that on that very night, about one o'clock in the morning, her lord had been found dead-drunk under the table, that his servants had carried him to his room, and that there he had died in their arms.
I do not know, added the Superior, whether that terrible lesson converted the unfortunate lady, but what I do know is that she is still alive and that, to conceal from sight the traces of her ominous burn, she wears on the left wrist, like a bracelet, a wide gold band, which she does not take off day or night. I repeat it, I have all these details from her near relation, a serious Christian, in whose word I repose the fullest belief. They are never spoken of, even in the family; and I only confide them to you, suppressing every proper name.
Notwithstanding the disguise beneath which this apparition has been, and must be enveloped, it seems to me impossible, adds Mgr. de Segur, to call into doubt the dreadful authenticity of the details.
Here is a third fact related by the same writer. "In the year 1873," he writes, "a few days before the Assumption, occurred again one of those apparitions from beyond the grave, which so efficaciously confirms the reality of Hell. It was in Rome. A brothel, opened in that city after the Piedmontese invasion, stood near a police station. One of the bad girls who lived there had been wounded in the hand, and it was found necessary to take her to the hospital of Consolation. Whether her blood, vitiated by bad living had brought on mortification of the wound, or from an unexpected complication, she nonetheless died suddenly during the night. At the same instant, one of her companions, who surely was ignorant of what had happened at the hospital, began to utter shrieks of despair to the point of awaking the inhabitants of the locality, creating a flurry among the wretched creatures of the house, and provoking the intervention of the police. The dead girl of the hospital, surrounded by flames, had appeared to her and said: 'I am damned! And if you do not wish to be like me, leave this place of infamy and return to God.'
"Nothing could quell the despair of this girl, who, at daybreak, departed, leaving the whole house plunged in a stupor, especially as soon as the death of her companion at the hospital was known.
"Just at this period, the mistress of the place, an exalted Garribaldian and known as such by her brethren and friends, fell sick. She soon sent for a priest to receive the Sacraments. The ecclesiastical authority deputed for this task a worthy prelate, Mgr. Sirolli, the pastor of the parish of Saint-Saviour in Laura. He, fortified by special instructions, presented himself and exacted of the sick woman, before all, in presence many witnesses, the full and entire retraction of her blasphemies against the Sovereign Pontiff and the discontinuance of the infamous trade she plied. The unhappy creature did so without hesitating, consented to purge her house, then made her confession and received the Holy Viaticum with great sentiments of repentance and humility.
"Feeling that she was dying, she besought the good pastor with tears not to leave her, frightened as she always was by the apparition of that damned girl. Mgr. Sirolli, unable to satisfy her on account of the proprieties which would not permit him to spend the night in such a place, sent to the police for two men, closed up the house and remained until the dying woman had breathed her last.
"Pretty soon, all Rome became acquainted with the details of these tragic occurrences. As ever, the ungodly and lewd ridiculed them, taking good care not to seek for any information about them; the good profited by them, to become still better and more faithful to their duties."
The Denial of Hell is Foolish Bravado
There are some miserable men, let us rather say, fools, who in the delirium of their iniquity make bold to declare that they laugh at Hell. They say so, but only with their lips; their consciences protest and give them the lie. Collot de Herbois, famous for his impiety as much as for his sanguinary ferocity, was the chief author of the massacres of Lyons in 1793; he caused the destruction of 1,600 victims. Six years after, in 1799, he was banished to Cayenne, and used to give vent to his infernal rage by blaspheming the holiest things. The least act of religion, the slightest show of Christian piety, became the subject of his jests. Having seen a soldier make the Sign of the Cross, he said to him, "Imbecile! You still believe in superstition! Do you not know that god, the Holy Virgin, Paradise, Hell, are the inventions of the accursed tribe of priests?" Shortly after, he fell sick and was seized by violent pains. In an excess of fever he swallowed, at a single draught, a bottle of liquor. His disease increased; he felt as if burned by a fire that was devouring his bowels. He uttered frightful shrieks, called upon God, the Holy Virgin, a priest, to come to he relief. "Well, indeed," said the soldier to him, "you ask for a priest? You fear Hell, then? You used to curse the priests, make fun of Hell!" "Alas!" he then answered, "my tongue was lying to my heart." Pretty soon, he expired, vomiting blood and foam.
The following incident happened in 1837. A young second lieutenant, being in Paris, entered the Church of the Assumption near the Tuileries and saw a priest kneeling near a confessional. As he made religion the habitual subject of his jokes, he wished to go to Confession to while away the time and went into the confessional. "Monsieur l'Abbe," he said, "would you be good enough to hear my confession?" "Willingly, my son; confess unrestrained." "But I must first say that I am a rather unique kind of sinner." "No matter, the Sacrament of Penance has been instituted for all sinners." "But I am not very much of a believer in religious matters." "You believe more than you think." "Believe? Me? I am a regular scoffer." The confessor saw with whom he had to deal and that there was some mystification. He replied, smiling: "You are a regular scoffer? Are you, then making fun of me too?" The pretended penitent smiled in like manner. "Listen," the priest went on, "what you have just done here is not serious. Let us leave confession aside; and, if you please, have a little chat. I like military people very much, and then you have the appearance of a good, amiable youth. Tell me, what is your rank?" "Second lieutenant." "Will you remain a second lieutenant long?" "Two, three, perhaps four years." "And after?" "I shall become a first lieutenant." "And after?" "I hope to become a captain." "And after?" "Lieutenant colonel." "How old will you be then?" "Forty to forty-five years." "And after that?" "If I rise higher, I shall be general of a division." "And after?" "After! There is nothing more except the Marshal's baton, but my pretensions do not reach so high." "Well and good. But do you not intend to get married?" "Yes, when I shall be a superior officer." "Well! There you are married; a superior officer, a general, perhaps even a French marshal, who knows? And after?" "After? Upon my word, I do not know what will be after."
"See, how strange it is!" said the abbe. Then, in a tone of voice that grew more sober: "You know all that shall happen up to that point, and you do not know what will be after. Well, I know, and I am going to tell you. After, you shall die, be judged, and, if you continue to live as you do, you shall be damned, you shall go and burn in Hell; that is what will be after."
As the second lieutenant, dispirited at this conclusion, seemed anxious to steal away, the abbe said, "One moment, sir. You are a man of honor. So am I. Agree that you have offended me and owe me an apology. It will be simple. For eight days, before retiring to rest, you will say: 'One day I shall die, but I laugh at the idea. After my death I shall be judged, but I laugh at the idea. After my judgment, I shall be damned, but I laugh at the idea. I shall burn forever in Hell, but I laugh at the idea!' That is all. But you are going to give your word of honor not to neglect it, eh?"
More and more wearied, and wishing at any price to extricate himself from this blunder, the second lieutenant made the promise. In the evening, his word being given, he began to carry out his promise. "I shall die," he said. "I shall be judged." He had not the courage to add, "I laugh at the idea." The week had not passed before he returned to the Church of the Assumption, made his confession seriously and came out of the confessional, his face bathed with tears and with joy in his heart.
A young person who had become an unbeliever in consequence of her dissipation kept incessantly shooting sarcasm at religion and making jests of its most awful truths. "Juliette," someone said to her one day, "this will end badly. God will be tired of your blasphemies, and you shall be punished." "Bah," she answered insolently, "it gives me very little trouble. Who has returned from the other world to relate what passes there?" Less than eight days after, she was found in her room, giving no sign of life, and already cold. As there was no doubt that she was dead, she was put in a coffin and buried. The following day, the gravedigger, digging a new grave beside that of the unhappy Juliette, heard some noise; it seemed to him that there was a knocking in the adjoining coffin. At once, he put his ear to the ground and in fact heard a smothered voice, crying out: "Help! help!" The authorities were summoned; by their orders, the grave was opened, the coffin taken up and unnailed. The shroud was removed; there was no further doubt, Juliette had been buried alive. Her hair, her shroud were in disorder, and her face was streaming with blood. While they were releasing her and feeling her heart to be assured that it was still beating, she heaved a sigh, like a person for a long time deprived of air; then she opened her eyes, made an effort to lift herself up, and said: "My God, I thank Thee." Afterward, when she had got her senses well back and, by the aid of some food, recovered her strength, she added: "When I regained consciousness in the grave and recognized the frightful reality of my burial, when after having uttered shrieks, I endeavored to break my coffin, and struck my forehead against the boards, I saw that all was useless; death appeared to me with all its horrors; it was less the bodily than the eternal death that frightened me. I saw I was going to be damned. My God, I had but too well deserved it! Then I prayed, I shouted for help, I lost consciousness again, until I awoke above ground. Oh, the goodness of my God!" she said, again shedding tears. "I despised the truths of Faith; Thou hast punished me, but in Thy mercy, I am converted and repentant."
They who deny Hell will be forced to admit it soon; but alas! it will be too late. Father Nieremberg, in his work The Difference between Time and Eternity, speaks of an unfortunate sinner, who, as the result of his evil ways, had lost the Faith. His virtuous wife exhorted him to return to God and reminded him of Hell, but he would answer obstinately: "There is no Hell." One day his wife found him dead, and strange circumstance, he held in his hand a mysterious paper on which in large characters was traced this terrifying avowal: "I now know that there is a Hell!"
Chapter 5: The Awaking of the Ungodly Soul in Hell
Four Last Things Page