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A modern dictionary of Catholic terms, both common and obscure. Find accurate definitions of words and phrases.


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The art of knowing and declaring future events or hidden things by means of communication with occult forces. It is always an act of a religious nature. There is no divination if the religious element is missing, as in any scientific investigation. The occult forces in divination are always created rational powers that the Church identifies as diabolical. Implicit in this judgment is the belief that neither God nor the spiritual powers friendly to God would lend themselves to frivolous practices or subject themselves to any evoking human force. Hence, evoking these powers, whether explicitly or even implicitly, is considered an appeal to Satan's aid. It is therefore a grave offense against God to attribute to the devil a sure knowledge of the contingent future, which, as depending on free will, is known to God alone.

This explains the strong prohibition in the Bible of any divining practices. "Do not have recourse," the people were told, "to the spirits of the dead or to magicians; they will defile you. I am Yahweh your God" (Leviticus 19:31). And again: "Any man or woman who is necromancer or magician must be put to death by stoning; their blood shall be on their own heads" (Leviticus 20:27).

In the history of christianity every form of divination has been condemned by the Church. Among the more common are augury (Latin augurare, to predict) by the interpretation of omens such as watching the flight of birds or inspecting the entrails of sacrificed animals; axinomancy (Greek axine, axhead + manteia, divination) by means of the movements of an ax placed on a post; belomancy (Greek belos, dart) by drawing arrows at random from a container; bibliomancy (Greek biblion,book) by superstitiously consulting books, notably the Bible; capnomancy (Greek kapnos, smoke) by studying the ascent and descent of smoke and concluding that it was a good omen if the smoke rose vertically, especially from a sacrifice; chiromancy (Greek cheir, hand) by inspecting the lines of the hand, also called palmistry; necromancy (Greek necros, dead person) by consulting the dead or conjuring up the souls of the dead to inquire of them some secrets from the past or into the future, more commonly known as spiritualism. (Etym. Latin devinare, to foresee, predict, prophesy.)

All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.

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