This section is from the book "Faith - Healing. Christian Science And Kindred Phenomena", by James Monroe Buckley. Also available from Amazon: Faith-Healing, Christian Science and Kindred Phenomena.
The visions which the dying arc supposed to see are regarded by many with reverence bordering upon awe. The explanation given by Dr. Edward H. Clarke, a devout physician of Boston, in his " Visions: a Study of False Sight," is strictly physiological. After a long and suggestive philosophical exposition, he says:
Should a bright ray of light falling from some object in the chamber on the retina of a dying person excite the visual apparatus and cells, the hieroglyphic of a departed child, husband, lover, or friend be brought into the field of subjective sight, the beloved one would be reproduced, and at once projected into space. Intense emotion, engendered by such a sight, would for an instant break through the stupefying power of nature's an-asthotic, as the surgeon's knife sometimes momentarily breaks the spell of ether, and the dying individual, springing, with eyes intent, features transfigured, and arms outstretched, toward the vision, would naturally pronounce the long-remembered name, and then fall back and die. Such scenes have occurred. Few could witness them without an overwhelming sense of awe, oppressed "with thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls," at beholding for a moment the apparent lifting of the veil and the glory within. To the dying such a vision would not be false. It would not be imagination. It would be real to him. The well-known features would be there, and yet they would bo a creation or reproduction of a dissolving brain, and not a messenger from the opened heavens. The vision would be a physiological effect, not a supernatural intervention.
Dr. Clarke is not willing to say that it is impossible that there should be to the dying a revelation of the ful lire into which they are about to enter. He savs "Probably all such visions as these are automatic. But yet, who, believing in God and personal immortality, as the writer rejoices in doing, will dare to say absolutely all ?ówill dare to assert there is no possible exception?" The single case given by Dr. Clarke appears insufficient to raise a presumption, much less to support a conclusion.
During the past thirty years I have seen many die, and many who thought themselves to be dying who afterward recovered, but I have no ground to suppose any of the visions supernatural, nor have I seen any indication of the development of a faculty of cognizing another world.
Some years ago I was visiting at the house of a citizen of Brooklyn, now one of the editors of a leading scientific publication. The father of his wife was very ill, the disease being consumption complicated with extreme age. It was thought that he could not survive the day. For several days he had been in a state of stupor bordering upon coma, and had not spoken for some hours. During the absence of his daughter from the room I sat by his bedside watching his painful breathing and anticipating the end, which could not be long delayed. Suddenly the dying man opened his eyes and said, " Old Virginia! old Virginia! old Virginia!" I immediately summoned his daughter, but he neither uttered another syllable nor showed any sign of consciousness, and died in a few hours. On asking members of the family if he had been connected in any way with Virginia, they said he had not, but was a native of Kentucky. Three months afterward his son-in-law informed me that inquiry suggested by the circumstance revealed the fact that he was born in Virginia and lived there until he was ten years old. The sufficient explanation was that the vital force was so nearly exhausted as to be incapable of stimulating any of the brain cells, except those early impressed: a vision of the lovely scenes of his childhood rose in his mind, and his intelligence was sufficient only to recognize it as in a dream.
The following facts cannot be disregarded in elucidating the subject:
Such visions occur in all parts of the world, under every form of civilization and religion; and when the dying appear to see anything, it is in harmony with the traditions which they have received.
Such visions are often experienced by those whose lives have not been marked by religious consistency, while many of the most devout are permitted to die without such aid, sometimes experiencing the severest mental conflicts as they approach the crisis.
Where persons appear to see angels and disembodied spirits, the visions accord with the traditional views of their shape and expression ; and where wicked persons see fiends and evil spirits, they harmonize with the descriptions which have been given in the sermons, poems, and supernatural narratives with which they have been familiar.
Many of the most remarkable visions have been seen by persons who supposed themselves to be dying, but were not; and who when they recovered had not the slightest recollection of what had occurred. When a student I was called with others to witness the death-bed scene of the most popular young man in the institution. He had professed during his illness a religious conversion, and was supposed to be dying of typhoid fever. Never have I heard more vivid descriptions or more eloquent words. It seemed as though he must see another state of being. After the scene he sank into a lethargic state, in which he remained for some days, afterward gradually recovering. Both his conversion and visions were utterly forgotten, and not until many years later did he enter upon a religious life.
A consideration of great weight is this: the Catholic Church confers great honor upon the Holy Virgin; Protestants seldom make any reference to her. Trained as the former are to supplicate the sympathy and prayers of the mother of our Lord, I am informed by devout priests and by physicians that when they have visions of any kind she generally appears in the foreground. Among the visions which dying Protestants have been supposed to see I have heard of only two in which the Virgin figured, and these were seen by persons trained in their youth as Catholics.