Near Death Experiences and Traditional Catholic Teaching
#1
What are Catholics to think of near death experiences that we often hear about by several sources? I have a skeptical attitude towards what many claim to experience when it comes to Near death Experiences for various reasons.

Traditional Catholic Teaching states that there are 4 main places that a person can go upon death. The four last things which consists of Heaven, Purgatory, Hell and the possibility of Limbo of the Children for those who accept this possible theological opinion. Furthermore many theologians are of the opinion that most people who are saved and are Heaven bound need to undergo purification in Purgatory. Furthermore many theologians and saints are in agreement that sadly many will be lost as well. Scripture itself alludes to the point in many places that nothing unclean will enter Heaven.

With all this being said all these discriptions of near death experiences sound more New Agey than it sounds Catholic. Most people who claim to have had near death experiences come from a variety of backgrounds. Some of them may be Catholic, but many others may be non Catholic and many others are non believers or Non Christian (pagan) in general. Yet most of them claim that they feel a sense of peace and comfort upon these experiences so much so thst they do not want to come back to earth. There is often no reference to a particular judgement which traditional Catholic teaching states that we are all judged immediately upon death.

I am naturally skeptical on these accounts for obvious reasons. I doubt that many of these people are without sin or any stain of sin. These accounts almost make it sound like they are going directly to Heaven which I doubt is the case of even the majority of devout Catholics. Furthermore there is not only no description of Heaven but many of these Near Death Experience accounts give no account of anything sounding even close to traditional Catholic teaching on different aspects of the Afterlife.

What are your guys thoughts?
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#2

(An aside, and FYI:  the "Four Last Things" are Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell)

To the question: Pope St. Gregory the Great accepted the reality of NDEs. And me, I think many of them are quite real. I've heard some very "trad-sounding" NDE experiences. I also recall the alleged NDE of a Protestant minister who was all "fire and brimstone" before he "died," then went to Hell, and came back to preach and emphasize Christ's mercy much more than he did before. He was told he was unnecessarily frightening people, misrepresenting God, etc., so he changed his ways. And I've heard of people going, allegedly, to Hell for other reasons as well. I've heard people talk of seeing the Face of Christ.



Gregory the Great
Dialogues, Book IV


Chapter Thirty-six: of those souls which seem as it were through error to be taken out of their bodies: and of the death and reviving of a monk calleo Peter: of the death, likewise, and raising up again of one Stephen: and of the strange vision of a certain soldier.



GREGORY. When this happeneth, Peter, it is not, if it be well considered, any error, but an admonition. For God of his great and bountiful mercy so disposeth, that some after their death do straightways return again to life, that having seen the torments of hell, which before when they heard they would not believe, they may now at least tremble at, after they have with their eyes beheld them. For a certain Sclavonion, who was a monk and lived with me here in this city in my Monastery, used to tell me that at such time as he dwelt in the wilderness, that he knew one Peter, a monk born in Spain, who lived with him in the vast desert called Evasa  which Peter (as he said) told him how, before he came to dwell in that place, by a certain sickness he died, and was straightways restored to life again, affirming that he had seen the torments and innumerable places of hell, and divers, who were mighty men in this world, hanging in those flames; and that as himself was carried to be thrown also into the same fire, suddenly an Angel in a beautiful attire appeared, who would not suffer him to be cast into those torments: but spake unto him in this manner: "Go thy way back again, and hereafter carefully look unto thyself, how thou leadest thy life": after which words his body by little and little became warm, and himself, waking out of the sleep of everlasting death, reported all such things as happened about him: after which time he bound himself to such fasting and watching, that though he had said nothing, yet his very life and conversation did speak what torments he had seen and was afraid of: and so God's merciful providence wrought in his temporal death that he died not everlastingly.

But because man's heart is passing obdurate and hard, hereof it cometh that though others have the like vision, and see the same pains, yet do they not always reap the like profit. For the honourable man Stephen, whom you knew very well, told me of himself, that at such time as he was upon business resident in the city of Constantinople, that he fell sick and died; and when they sought for a surgeon to bowel him, and to embalm his body, and could not get any, he lay unburied all the night following: in which space his soul was carried to the dungeon of hell, where he saw many things, which before when he heard he little believed. But when he was brought before the judge that sat there, he would not admit him to his presence, saying: "I commanded not this man to be brought, but Stephen the smith ": upon which words he was straightway restored to life, and Stephen the smith, that dwelled hard by, at that very hour departed this life: whose death did show that the words which he heard were most true. But though the foresaid Stephen escaped death in this manner at that time, yet three years since, in that mortality which lamentably wasted this city (and in which, as you know, men with their corporal eyes did behold arrows that came from heaven, which did strike divers), the same man ended his days: at which time a certain soldier being also brought to the point of death, his soul was in such sort carried out of his body, that he lay void of all sense and feeling, but coming quickly again to himself, he told them that were present, what strange things he had seen. For he said (as many report that know it very well) that he saw a bridge, under which a black and smoky river did run, that had a filthy and intolerable smell: but upon the farther side thereof there were pleasant green meadows full of sweet flowers, in which also there were divers companies of men apparelled in white: and such a delicate savour there was, that the fragrant odour thereof did give wonderful content to all them that dwelt and walked in that place. Divers particular mansions also there were, all shining with brightness and light, and especially one magnificent and sumptuous house which was a building, the brick whereof seemed to be of gold, but whose it was, that he knew not.

There were also upon the bank of the foresaid river certain houses, but some of them the stinking vapour which rose from the river did touch, and some other it touched not at all. Now those that desired to pass over the foresaid bridge, were subject to this manner of trial: if any that was wicked attempted to go over, down he fell into that dark and stinking river; but those that were just and not hindered by sin, securely and easily passed over to those pleasant and delicate places. There he said also that he saw Peter, who was steward of the Pope's family, and died some four years since, thrust into a most filthy place, where he was bound and kept down with a great weight of iron: and inquiring why he was so used, he received that answer, which all we that knew his life can affirm to be most true: for it was told him that he suffered that pain, because when himself was upon any occasion to punish other, that he did it more upon cruelty than to shew his obedience; of which his merciless disposition none that knew him can be ignorant. There also he said that he saw a Priest whom he knew: who coming to the foresaid bridge, passed over with as great security, as he lived in this world sincerely.

Likewise, upon the same bridge he said that he did see this Stephen, whom before we spake of, who being about to go over, his foot slipped, and half his body hanging beside the bridge, he was of certain terrible men, that rose out of the river, drawn by the legs downward: and by certain other white and beautiful persons, he was by the arms pulled upward: and whiles they strove thus, the wicked spirits to draw him downward, and the good to lift him upward, he that beheld all this strange sight returned to life, not knowing in conclusion what became of him. By which miraculous vision we learn thisvthing concerning the life of Stephen, to wit, that in him the sins of the flesh did strive with his works of alms. For in that he was by the legs drawn downward, and by the arms plucked upward, apparent it is, that both he loved to give alms, and yet did not perfectly resist the sins of the flesh, which did pull him downward: but in that secret examination of the supreme judge, which of them had the victory, that neither we know, nor he that saw it. Yet most certain it is, that the same Stephen, after that he had seen the places of hell, as before was said, and returned again to his body, did never perfectly amend his former wicked life, seeing many years after he departed this world, leaving us in doubt whether he were saved or damned. Whereby we may learn, that when any have the torments of hell shewn them, that to some it is for their commodity, and to others for their testimony: that the former may see those miseries to avoid them, and these other to be so much the more punished, in that they would not take heed of those torments, which they both knew and with their eyes beheld.

PETER. What, I beseech you, was meant by the building of that house in those places of delight, with bricks of gold? For it seemeth very ridiculous, that in the next life we should have need of any such kind of metal.

What is meant by the building of the house in those pleasant places. And of one Deusdedit, whose house was seen to be built upon the Saturday.54

GREGORY. What man of sense can think so? but by that which was shewn there, whosoever he was, for whom that house was built, we learn plainly what virtuous works he did in this world: for he that by plenty of alms doth merit the reward of eternal light, certain it is, that he doth build his house with gold. For the same soldier who had this vision said also, which I forgot before to tell you, that old men, and young, girls, and boys, did carry those bricks of gold for the building of that house: by which we learn that those to whom we shew compassion in this world, do labour for us in the next. There dwelt also hard by us a religious man, called Deusdedit, who was a shoemaker, concerning whom another saw by revelation that he had in the next world an house a building; but the workmen thereof laboured only upon the Saturday. Who afterward enquiring more diligently how he lived, found that whatsoever he got by his labour all the week, and was not spent upon necessary provision of meat and apparel, all that upon the Saturday he bestowed upon the poor in alms at St. Peter's church: and therefore see what reason there was, that his building went forward upon the Saturday.

PETER. You have given me very good satisfaction touching this one point: yet desirous I am further to know, what the reason was that some of those habitations were touched, by the stinking vapour, and some were not; and what is meant by the bridge and river which he saw.

GREGORY. By the representation of these things, Peter, are expressed the causes which they do signify. For the bridge, by which he beheld God's servants to pass unto those pleasant places, doth teach us that the path is verystrait which leadeth to everlasting life: and the stinking river, which he saw running beneath, signifieth that the filthy corruption of vice in this world doth daily run to the downfall of carnal pleasure. And that some of the habitations were touched with the stinking vapour, and some were not, what is meant else, but that there be divers which do many good works, yet in their soul they are touched with the delight of carnal sins? and therefore very great reason there is, that in the next world such should taste of a stinking vapour, whom filthy carnality did delight in this; and therefore blessed Job, perceiving the pleasure of the flesh to be stinking, pronounceth this sentence of the wanton and carnal man: His sweetness be worms. But those that do preserve their heart free from all pleasure of carnal thoughts, have not their houses touched with any such stinking vapour: and here we have also to note, that he saw one and the same thing both to be a vapour and also to have an ill savour, because carnal delight doth so obscure the soul which it hath infected, that it can not see the brightness of true light: for the more pleasure it hath in the inferior part, the more darkness it hath in the superior, which doth hinder it from the contemplation of heavenly mysteries.
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#3
From what I understand, a chemical in your brain is released when you are dying (or in this case, when your brain just thinks you're dying) that causes this experience. As "spiritual" as it might feel, it is a part of the body's experience of dying rather than the soul's experience of being detached from the body.
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#4
Thanks for the reply Vox :)

Sorry about mixing up the Four Last Things. I was literally typing this post late in the night before going to sleep.

Yes I believe that certain near death experiences are valid and real but there are others which do not sound as real especially those which are related by non Christian sources.

I am recalled of a near death experience by a priest which  was shared on EWTN

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#5
This falls under the category of "interesting" and "maybe." but also which is incomplete. It is said that in some of these experiences they encounter their own judgement and Hell. No one is obliged to believe them and certainly the Devil is capable of throwing sand into the mix and trying to cause confusion.
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#6
We have a young man in our parish that had a "near death experience". From what I'm told, he was a child when it happened, and when he woke up he asked to join the Catholic Church. He's come ever since, even though none of his family is Catholic from what I believe.

There's just stuff we aren't supposed to understand, I think.
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#7
(06-22-2015, 08:09 AM)Credidi Propter Wrote: From what I understand, a chemical in your brain is released when you are dying (or in this case, when your brain just thinks you're dying) that causes this experience. As "spiritual" as it might feel, it is a part of the body's experience of dying rather than the soul's experience of being detached from the body.

I believe the chemical you are referring to is DMT.

As for near death experiences, I think it really depends. There are certain popular ones that have made it into books and even movies that I have a hard time supporting. There are also some experiences that I think are very dangerous, such as that of a woman who said she was told that there were no sins in the way we think of them on earth. That said, I have also heard some very interesting accounts, such as that of a woman who was born blind due to a lack of oxygen in the incubator when she was very young who could see in her near-death experience. When she was revived, she could no longer see in the same way as she did in her experience. That one rather reminds me of Gemma di Giorgi, who was blessed by Saint Padre Pio and could see from then on, even though she has no pupils in her eyes to this day.
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#8
I read one account by a protestant minister as well. Reading carefully each stage of his story, he finally finds himself in front of an angel. The angel tells him that it doesn't matter what religion we adopt. Bingo! The ruse is up with this 'all encompassing, always saved nonesense'.

For a minister, he didn't try hard enough with this ruse. An angel would not lie concerning the truths of the True Church and would not hold that back from him at this crucial point of his existence.

To me, any story that does not fall in line with truthful teaching is suspect.

There's even the one where a biker gets killed while high, and gets to walk with Jesus who one-on-one has the time to go on a leisurely stroll through a garden with him explaining the meaning of life to him.  Apparently capital sin doesn't illicite even a first mention for teatime discussions, but  I would guess Catholics at particular judgment get to go through the 'meet grinder' in this respect.
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#9
I read many books about NDE. I believe that a part of them is real and valid and the phenomena is really interesting. Nonetheless I am convinced that most of the experiences is caused by the devil. There are cases of people who "understand" during the NDE  that all religions are equal and something like that. I read about a lesbian who met her dead girlfriend. Well, it is not very reasonable to think that this is caused by God oder good angels.
There is a good book written by an orthodox monk about NDEs. "The Soul after Death" by Seraphim Rose. He compares the modern NDEs with the cases recorded by pope Gregory and the difference is great. The gregorian cases generated a feeling that the man who experienced death needs penitence. The modern cases do not.
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#10
Still the best book on NDE from a Christian perspective is the sobering The Soul after Death by the late, great American Orthodox monastic Father Seraphim Rose. Whatever you may think of the whole " Aerial Toll House" thing in Orthodox circles put that aside and read the book for his thorough look at various NDEs, the occult background of NDE pioneers like Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross and the Patristic take on what happens after death. He even quotes St. Gregory's Dialogues.

To make a long story short he is of the opinion that some of these overly positive NDE 's are very possibly demonic deceptions, and that there is precious little we can really know about where these messages from beyond are coming from and just who or what is putting them into our minds in the moments right at death. It's very interesting to say the least.

Just like with alledged voices and messages from beyond given by psychics or new age gurus  ( think stuff like A Course in Miracles we have to remain skeptical of these feelings and experiences of people on their deathbeds. Did they really die? Does their soul really leave the body? If the messages deny Christian doctrines and dogmas,why should we believe them? Should we really base our belief on how we feel or what a voice says to us after we alledgedly die?

Another thing is that even in the Tibetan culture we see stern warnings In the Tibetan Book of the Dead about taking caution at sights, sounds etc. in the realms immediately after death. Its just interesting all around.  Most cultures have some stern warnings about experiences right after death. Modern Western culture,on the other hand looks at death as extinction or automatic Heaven.
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