St. Gregory's Ghost Story

May 21, 2022

The Ghost of Tauriana 

In 593 AD, Pope St. Gregory the Great tells this fascinating ghost story in his Dialogues:  
Bishop Felix…said that he had been told of such a case by a saintly priest who was still living two years ago in the diocese of Centum Cellae as pastor of the Church of St. John in Tauriana [Italy]. This priest used to bathe in the hot springs of Tauriana whenever his health required. One day, as he entered the baths, he found a stranger there who showed himself most helpful in every way possible, by unlatching his shoes, taking care of his clothes, and furnishing him towels after the hot bath.

After several experiences of this kind, the priest said the himself: ‘It would not do for me to appear ungrateful to this man who is so devoted in his kind services to me. I must reward him in some way.’ So one day he took along two crown-shaped loaves of bread to give him.

When he arrived at the place, the man was already waiting for him and rendered the same services he had before. After the bath, when the priest was again fully dressed and ready to leave, he offered the man the present of bread, asking him kindly to accept it as a blessing, for it was offered a token of charity.

But the man sighed mournfully and said, "Why do you give it to me, Father? That bread is holy and I cannot eat it. I who stand before you was once the owner of this place. It is because of my sins that I was sent back here as a servant. If you wish to do something for me, then offer this bread to almighty God, and so make intercession for me, a sinner. When you come back and do not find me here, you will know that your prayers have been heard."

With these words he disappeared, thus showing that he was a spirit disguised as a man. The priest spent the entire week in prayer and tearful supplications, offering Mass for him daily. When he returned to the bath, the man was no longer to be found. This incident points out the great benefits souls derive from the Sacrifice of the Mass. Because of these benefits the dead ask us, the living, to have Masses offered for them, and even show us by signs that it was through the Mass that they were pardoned.

My Takeaway

The story of the ghost of Tauriana not a firsthand account.  It is related to St. Gregory by trusted individuals, however, and the saint found it credible enough to include in his dialogues.  Whether or not the ghost was actually able to unlatch shoes and pass out towels is a matter of opinion - but I think that the bulk of the story could very well be true.

This story is of interest because it describes an apparition of a departed human being.  But there are a few other takeaways which I think are worth mentioning.

Making Amends

The ghost was serving in a bathhouse he once owned.  While we don't known the exact nature of his sin, we do know that he is now serving there because of his sins.  To me, this hints at a need to make reparation.  

Most Catholic exorcists and demonologists agree that there are two primary reasons that God may allow a soul to appear to the living.  The first is to ask for prayer.  The second is to make amends.  Reparation and amends are synonyms though their meaning is slightly different.  To me, making amends in the Catholic sense can included all of the meanings specified below.
Amends is a synonym of reparation. As nouns the difference between reparation and amends is that reparation is (usually in plural) a payment of time, effort or money to undo past transgression(s) while amends is compensation for a loss or injury; recompense; reparation.
As the owner of the bathhouse, the ghost of Tauriana may have been a proud man or a hard boss.  If so, serving in a place he once owned would be the perfect path to purification. 

Purgatory on Earth?

The idea of purgatory on earth can be found in some Catholic sources, including the fascinating Purgatory Explained (affiliate link) by Rev. Fr. F. X. Schouppe S.J. which bears a 1893 Imprimatur.
"A very probable opinion,” says St. Thomas, “and one which, moreover, corresponds with the words of the saints in particular revelation, is that Purgatory has a double place for expiation. The first will be destined for the generality of souls, and is situated below, near to Hell; the second will be for particular cases, and it is from thence that so many apparitions occur.” (Suppl., part. 3, ques. ult.).  The holy Doctor admits, then, like so many others who share his opinions, that sometimes Divine Justice assigns a special place of purification to certain souls, and even permits them to appear either to instruct the living or to procure for the departed the suffrages of which they stand in need; sometimes also for other motives worthy of the wisdom and mercy of God.
Does such a situation explain some hauntings?  

I think it might though I still feel that a true human haunting is an unusual or rare occurrence.   To me the correct response to a haunting is to pray for the departed or, as St. Gregory recommends, have a Mass said.  Conversing with the spirit (as many paranormal investigators do) would fall under the umbrella of mediumship and should always be avoided.  

Any experience of paranormal phenomena is likely to be demonic.  So, if you sense or experience anything in your home, please your parish priest to bless the location and consider implementing your own protective measures, as the home owner, after he has finished (I'm planning to talk about this more in an upcoming post).

What Spirits Want

To me, the most important takeaway from St. Gregory's Ghost story, is the clear message that departed want and need prayers and Masses.  In my opinion, this is the proper response to any kind of paranormal activity.  If the presence is a human spirit praying or having a Mass said will bring peace - to you and to them.

I'd also like to stress that if we believe that a departed loved one, or other human spirit, has come to us in a vivid dream or supernatural apparition - we should NOT assume that we have some sort of special psychic abilities.  This is where I went wrong and one reason why I got caught up in spiritism and occult practices. 

It's part our fallen nature to become proud and imagine we have some sort of special gift when these things happen, but the story of the ghost of Tauriana does not support this.  Instead it makes at three important points. 
  1. The conversation between the living and the dead was limited to the topic of sin, making amends and the request for prayer and Masses.  The priest in the story didn't try to contact the spirit again in order to satisfy his own curiosity. Instead, this man of God immediately turned to prayer and supplication and the offering of the Mass.  This, in my opinion, is a lesson to us all.
  2. The spirit said he had been sent to the bathhouse.  This is consistent with the fact that the departed appear to us ONLY by the grace of God.  They do not chose to be here.  We do not summon them.  Nor do we see them because we have some special ability that others lack.  It is up to God to assign a departed soul to heaven, hell or purgatory.  And it is up to Him to allow them to contact the living (though, judging from Luke 16:19-31, it seems that those in hell are not granted this privilege).
  3. The departed could not eat and, in this case, was unable to take the "holy bread."  To me, this sounds like a reminder that the dead cannot receive the Host.  This lines up with the Catholic teaching on purgatory, as I understand it.  In contrast with our earthly life, once in purgatory we cannot actively develop virtue, but are only able to be passively purified of sin.  This is why the holy souls in purgatory need our prayers!
For more on this topic, please visit my Paranormal Investigation page!
  • The Dialogues of St. Gregory (affiliate link) is available on Amazon as is Purgatory Explained (affiliate link) by Rev. Fr. F. X. Schouppe S.J.  The Dialogues can also be found for free online.
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