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This may indeed be interpreted as a reaction against Materialism ; but it is none the less, at bottom, an evidence of man's restless desire to penetrate, by any and every means, the mystery that lies beyond death.While it is easy to condemn Spiritism as superstitious and vain, the condemnation does not do away with the fact that Spiritism has become widespread in this age of enlightenment.
Of these essential factors the first is often wanting entirely, and the second is only imperfectly present."Those who for whole days prayed and offered sacrifice that their children might survive them, were called superstitious" (Cicero, ibid., II, 28, 72).Cicero also drew the distinction: "Superstitio est in qua timor inanis deorum, religio quæ deorum cultu pio continetur", i.e.Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath . It is also against the positive law of the Church, which visits the worst kinds of superstitions with severe punishments, and against the natural law inasmuch as it runs counter to the dictates of reason in the matter of man's relations to God.Such objective sinfulness is inherent in all superstitious practices from idolatry down to the vainest of vain observances, of course in very different degrees of gravity.Thomas (II-II:92:1) as "a vice opposed to religion by way of excess; not because in the worship of God it does more than true religion, but because it offers Divine worship to beings other than God or offers worship to God in an improper manner".
Superstition sins by excess of religion, and this differs from the vice of irreligion, which sins by defect.
Now as in the past the rejection of Divine truth in the name of reason often opens the way to beliefs and practices which are at once unworthy of reason and dangerous to morality.
Superstition of any description is a transgression of the First Commandment: "I am the Lord thy God ,-- thou shalt not have strange gods before me. thou shalt not adore them nor serve them" ( Exodus 20:2-5 ).
Such false elements, be their origin culpable deceit or inculpable credulity, vitiate the virtue of religion by substituting error for truth in the service of God.
A layman performing priestly functions, a pardoner selling spurious indulgences, a fanatic devotee inventing false miracles and answers to prayers in order to introduce or spread his own favourite devotion, wholesale believers in supernatural apparitions, visions, revelations, which serve no good purpose -- all these are guilty of superstition, at least material.
They were to a large extent eliminated by the preaching of Christianity ; but so deep-rooted was the tendency to which they gave rise that many of the ancient practices survived, especially among peoples just emerging from barbarism.