Why Ghosts Rarely Visit Us

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Philip Kosloski10/31/21

St. Thomas Aquinas believed in ghosts and explains why they do not appear more often.

For Catholics, ghosts are real, though they don’t always fit the mold of familiar ghost stories.

In Catholicism, the word “ghost” can refer to a departed soul, whether they are in Heaven, Hell or Purgatory. St. Thomas Aquinas elaborates on these separated souls in a supplement to his Summa Theologiae.

[A]ccording to the disposition of Divine providence separated souls sometimes come forth from their abode and appear to men, as Augustine, in the book quoted above, relates of the martyr Felix who appeared visibly to the people of Nola when they were besieged by the barbarians. It is also credible that this may occur sometimes to the damned, and that for man’s instruction and intimidation they be permitted to appear to the living; or again in order to seek our suffrages, as to those who are detained in purgatory, as evidenced by many instances related in the fourth book of the Dialogues.

Souls from purgatory may appear to us to ask us for our prayers, while souls in Hell may also appear, to instruct us or put the fear of God in our hearts. Those in Heaven can appear to us as well, for our spiritual benefit.

Aquinas notes that there is a major difference between saints in Heaven and the damned in Hell.

There is, however, this difference between the saints and the damned, that the saints can appear when they will to the living, but not the damned; for even as the saints while living in the flesh are able by the gifts of gratuitous grace to heal and work wonders, which can only be done miraculously by the Divine power, and cannot be done by those who lack this gift, so it is not unfitting for the souls of the saints to be endowed with a power in virtue of their glory, so that they are able to appear wondrously to the living, when they will: while others are unable to do so unless they be sometimes permitted.

Essentially, saints in Heaven are fully united to God and are allowed to appear to us whenever it is most fitting. Those in Hell do not have that same union and are only allowed to frighten us when God deems it necessary.

These types of ghosts are not to be confused with demonic spirits, who may appear as ghosts in order to intimidate us and lead us away from God.

While Halloween may seem like fun and games, in truth ghosts are real, though their appearance to us only occurs when it is in the will of God.

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