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My question is inspired by the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Concretely, by Matthew 14:26-27 and Luke 24:36-39:

26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

[Matthew 14:26-27 NASB]

36 Now while they were telling these things, Jesus Himself suddenly stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” 37 But they were startled and frightened, and thought that they were looking at a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why are doubts arising in your hearts? 39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you plainly see that I have.”

[Luke 24:36-39 NASB]

These passages tell us about the worldview of Jesus' disciples. They believed that apparitions of ghosts/spirits were a real phenomenon, to the point that in at least two instances they mistook their own Master for apparitions of this kind. This makes me wonder: why did the disciples have such a worldview in the first place? Was it rooted in actual experience?

How common have reports of paranormal activity and ghost or spirit apparitions been among Christians throughout history, from the first century until modern times?


Related questions:

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  • The question needs to be scoped historically. There will be different answers to this question depending on which 'Christian Bodies' one looks at in history.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 1:50
  • @NigelJ - what periods of history would you split this question into?
    – user50422
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 1:51
  • I did not suggest splitting history into periods. I am pointing out that different Christian Bodies, historically, will answer the question differently - Catholic/Protestant for a start.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 1:52
  • @NigelJ - Oh, but you said that the question needed to be scoped historically, not denominationally, so I took it that you were referring to periods of history. But denominationally speaking, would you say that Catholics experience more the paranormal than Protestants or vice versa?
    – user50422
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 1:54
  • Some groups of people are more superstitious than others and will be more prone to false reporting of ordinary phenomena as 'paranormal'. This has been documented.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 2:06

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How common have reports of paranormal activity and ghost or spirit apparitions been among Christians throughout history?

Such phenomena are and have always been quite common throughout the history of the Church.

Did not the Angel help St. Peter escape from prison in the Acts of the Apostles.

Peter Freed from Prison

5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. 6 And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. 7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. 8 Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.” 9 So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.

11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.”

12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. 13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. 15 But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”

16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place.

Now it stands to reason that if the Holy Angels can occasionally manifest themselves in the lives of individuals, the bad angels can do the same.

Once again the Acts of the Apostles recounts a story about how some Jews tried to perform an exorcism of a possessed person.

13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. - Acts 19:13-16

In The Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, we can read of several stories of Devil’s manifestation to Christian and non-Christians alike. Here is one of my favourite ones:

But as I am thus busied in telling the acts of holy men, there cometh to my mind what God of his great mercy did for Andrew, Bishop of the city of Funda: which notable story I wish all so to read, that they which have dedicated themselves to continency, presume not in any wise to dwell amongst women: lest in time of temptation their soul perish the sooner, by having that at hand which is unlawfully desired.

Neither is the story which I report either doubtful or uncertain: for so many witnesses to justify the truth thereof may be produced, as there be almost inhabitants in that city. When, therefore, this venerable man Andrew lived virtuously, and with diligent care, answerable to his priestly function, led a continent and chaste life: he kept in his house a certain Nun, which also had remained with him before he was preferred to that dignity; for assuring himself of his own continency, and nothing doubting of hers, content he was to let her remain still in his house: which thing the devil took as an occasion to assault him with temptation : and so he began to present before the eyes of his mind the form of that woman, that by such allurements he might have his heart wholly possessed with ungodly thoughts. In the meantime it so fell out, that a Jew was travelling from Campania to Rome, who drawing nigh to the city of Funda, was so overtaken with night, that he knew not where to lodge, and therefore, not finding any better commodity, he retired himself into a temple of the god Apollo, which was not far off, meaning there to repose himself: but much afraid he was, to lie in so wicked and sacrilegious a place : for which cause, though he believed not what we teach of the cross, yet he thought good to arm himself with that sign. About midnight, as he lay waking for very fear of that forlorn and desert temple, and looked suddenly about him, he espied a troop of wicked spirits walking before another or greater authority: who coming in took up his place, and sat down in the body of the temple: where he began diligently to inquire of those his servants, how they had bestowed their time, and what villany they had done in the world. And when each one told what he had done against God's servants, out stepped a companion, and made solemn relation, with a notable temptation of carnality he had put into the mind of Bishop Andrew, concerning that Nun which he kept in his palace : whereunto whiles the master devil gave attentive ear, considering with himself what a notable gain it would be, to undo the soul of so holy a man the former devil went on with his tale, and said that the very evening before he assaulted him so mightily, that he drew him so far forth, that he did merrily strike the said Nun upon the back. The wicked serpent and old enemy of mankind hearing this joyful news, exhorted his agent with very fair words, diligently to labour about the effecting of that thing which he had already so well begun, that for so notable a piece of service, as the contriving the spiritual ruin of that virtuous Prelate, he might have a singular reward aboveall his fellows. The Jew who all this while lay waking, and heard all that which they said, was wonderfully afraid : at length the master devil sent some of his followers to see who he was, and how he durst presume to lodge in their temple. When they were come, and had narrowly viewed him, they found that he was marked with the mystical sign of the cross: where at they marvelled and said: " Alas, alas, here is an empty vessel, but yet it is signed" : which news the rest of those hellhounds hearing, suddenly vanished away. The Jew, who had seen all that which then passed among them, presently rose up, and in all haste sped himself to the Bishop, whom he found I n the church: and taking him aside he demanded with what temptation he was troubled : but shame so prevailed, that by no means he would confess the truth. Then the Jew replied and told him, that he had cast his eyes wickedly upon such a one of God's servants; but the Bishop would not acknowledge that there was any suchthing. "Why do you deny it,'quoth the Jew’," for is it not so true that yesternight you were brought so far by sinful temptation, that you did strike her on the back.'” When the Bishop, by these particulars, perceived that the matter was broken forth, he humbly confessed what before he obstinately denied. Then the Jew, moved with compassion to his soul, and tendering his credit, told him by what means he came to the knowledge thereof, and what he heard of him in that assembly of wicked spirits. The Bishop, hearing this, fell prostrate upon the earth, and betook himself to his prayers: and straight after he discharged out of his house, not only that Nun, but all other women that attended upon her. And not long after, he converted the temple of Apollo into an oratory of the blessed Apostle, St. Andrew: and never after was he troubled with that carnal temptation: and the Jew, by whose means he was so mercifully preserved, he brought to everlasting salvation : for he baptized him, and made him a member of holy Church. And thus, by God's providence, the Jew having care of the spiritual health of another, attained also himself the singular benefit of the same : and almighty God by the same means brought one to embrace piety and virtue, by which he preserved another in an holy and godly life. - Book 3, Chapter 7

Pope St. Gregory I (540-640) recounts several other stories in his Dialogues.

There are many chilling stories from the Middle Ages, such as these **3 curious medieval ghost stories

  • The Haunting of Frodriver
  • The Bathkeeper
  • Byland Abbey Ghost Stories (From fragments in a late 14th-century manuscript, transcribed by MR James in 1920 in Twelve Medieval Ghost Stories)

Other sources are as follows:

Even in modern times such stories are still recounted. The Life of St. John Vianney is no stranger to the operations of the Evil One, so much so as to know when souls have been to a seance in another town and city that when bad!

Vianney is well known for his encounters with Satan. For 35 years Satan threw everything he had against the holy priest who would hear confessions for sixteen hours each day.

At night Vianney would hear taunts, harrowing voices, evil singing, or shouting. He was physically dragged from his bed and one night his bed caught on fire. This torment would prevent him from having much sleep, but it did not deter him from living a life of holiness.

His ability to read souls and teach the profound truths of the Gospel brought him a lot of attention. Men and women would flock to his parish from miles around. However, Vianney was a very humble man and never sought any reward or respect from his people. There is a story of a neighboring priest who was jealous of Vianney’s fame and started a petition to remove him from Ars because of his lack of studies. Vianney caught wind of the petition, signed it himself and sent it off to the bishop! Thankfully, the bishop saw through the petition and didn’t do anything with it.

Vianney accepted the torment from the devil and knew that he was attacking him because of the many sinners that were being reconciled. He would often get attacked the most the night before a “big sinner” came to town to confess their sins.

The attacks continued but he remarked later that, “The demon is very cunning, but he is not strong. Making a Sign of the Cross soon puts him to flight… when I made the Sign of the Cross they departed.”

He became so accustomed to the encounters that he gave a nickname to the devil, calling him “the grappin.” He said once, “Oh! the grappin and myself? We are almost chums.”

Saint John Vianney underwent such horrifying attacks because God knew he could handle them and they would strengthen him for his ministry of mercy. Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians on this topic, “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

The Devil vs. St. Jean Vianney

In Begone Satan: A Soul Stirring Account of Diabolical Possession in Iowa claimed to have as one of those possessing this individual as no other than the Betrayer of Jesus, Judas Iscariot himself.

Anneliese Michel’s possession (1976) was one that turned bad. Not only did she die, but she revealed that among those who possessed her were Lucifer and Judas Iscariot.

Anneliese revealed that she believed she was possessed by six demons: Lucifer, Cain, Judas Iscariot, Adolf Hitler, Nero, and Fleischmann (a disgraced priest). - Anneliese Michel And The Shocking Images From The Exorcism Of The Real Emily Rose

I think this suffices to tell us that such stories will never die out!

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