Knowledge of the Departed Human Soul

Author: Alexis Henry Cardinal Lepicier


Alexis Henry M. Cardinal Lepicier

1. It has been shown that the spirituality of the human soul is the reason of man's personality surviving the death of the body, that is, in a somewhat changed condition. But, if this be so, the soul that then alone represents that personality must be capable of knowledge and of action. What, then, is the nature of this knowledge which appertains to the soul separated from the body?

In order to answer this question satisfactorily we must first briefly explain the way in which we arrive at the knowledge of truth in this present life. The explanations which we shall give will enable us to understand the difference existing between the modes of reaching knowledge in this life and in the next. We may also establish a comparison between the kind of knowledge which belongs to the soul after death, and that which we naturally possess during the present life.

This point requires very special examination; as it is only from the knowledge of it that we are able to obtain any real help in ascertaining the true causes of spiritistic manifestations. If we would determine, for instance, whether it is possible for the souls of the dead to impart the knowledge of some special science, in a manner different from that in ordinary use during the present life, we must first understand what particular objects the souls of the dead can know in that new state, and also whether it be possible for them to place themselves in communication with us.

2. In order to decide this second point, it will be necessary to inquire, in the first place, whether and how departed souls can converse with each other, and how we can, in the present life, enter into communication with our fellow-men.

Having settled these preliminary points, we shall pass on to the discussion of those controverted questions which most concern us, namely:

Whether departed human souls can manifest their thoughts to us and, vice versa, whether we can do the same towards them. This inquiry will lead us to find an answer to our original question, whether, namely, the manifestations under consideration are to be attributed to the souls of the dead, or to angelic spirits?

3. We must here again make the observation which we have already made above, when speaking of the knowledge proper to angelic substances, viz., that we are not considering now the human soul after death according to that superior light lent us by the Catholic Faith, but according to the light of natural reason, because we intend to speak only of the natural knowledge of the soul, and not of that supernatural knowledge which, as an inheritance proper to the souls of the Blessed, consists in the vision of the Divine Essence and which ennobles the soul far above all that we can imagine. It would indeed be pleasing to us to speak of the vision of God in which the essence of eternal blessedness consists, but this consideration lies outside the scope of the present work, and so we do not propose to enter upon it here.

I. How Knowledge can be acquired in the Present Life.

1. The soul being essentially destined to inform the body and to constitute with it one specifically complete nature, it is natural that it should make use of the senses of the body to acquire its knowledge, whatever this knowledge may be imagined to be. Hence it is that an infant's soul may be said to be like to a blank sheet of paper which only in the course of time receives those intelligible signs which are impressed upon it. In fact, it is only in the course of years, when the child's sensitive faculties are sufficiently developed, that truth begins to dawn on its mind, increasing, proportionately with the growth of those same faculties. The sensitive faculties are necessary in the course of the present life for the normal exercise of the intellectual powers; so that, should they in any way be impaired, the intellect also remains impaired and cannot have free play.

2. It should not be inferred, however, that because the intellect-man's supreme faculty- has recourse in its operations to the instrumentality of the senses, it therefore depends, in its essence, upon these same senses, whether internal or external. The intellect is a purely spiritual faculty and therefore intrinsically independent of sensitive faculties. It is, however, necessary that these minister to it those sensible images of things without which the intellect would naturally be, during this life, without objects to contemplate. The material images are elevated and spiritualized by the intellect which, penetrating their hard bark, reaches truth, which is, indeed, the proper object of its operation.

3. Thus it is that intellectual knowledge is far superior to sensitive knowledge, although mental speculation, in the present life, be not exercised without the aid of sensible images. Yet on account of the close and intimate union of all our faculties in one and the same personality, it is not always easy to say where the sensible image ceases and the intellectual perception begins. Whence it follows that the more capable a man becomes of penetrating the material wall of sensible images, the easier and fuller is his access to the knowledge of those spiritual truths which lie beyond the sensible images. In any case, we should keep in mind this great principle that, in the natural state of the present life, we cannot understand anything, unless we first acquire those sensible images of things from which our intellect, floating as it were over matter, extracts the objects of its spiritual perceptions.

II. Nature of the Knowledge of the Soul after Death.

1. The present condition of life is such that perfect freedom from the sensible images of things is not possible here below, simply because of the intimate union existing between our higher and lower faculties. But is the same to be said of the future condition when death shall have separated body and soul?

No. When by death our soul has been left in its state of pure intellectual substance, though still with a constant inclination to its former body, it will then be capable of pure intellectual speculation without having recourse to the medium of the senses and to the material images which in life accompany all our thoughts. The images or representations of things in our minds will then be altogether spiritual, such indeed as are proper to angelic spirits who, being free from matter in their essence, are also free from every concurrence of material phantasms in their speculations.

The mode in which angels derive spiritual images will then also be the mode in which the human soul will derive them, so that the moment it departs this life it receives immediately from God an influx of intellectual images, in the contemplation of which it will perform its intellectual operations. Whence it follows that the soul after death, will not, as in the present life, have to go out of itself, as it were, in order to know the things of this world, but it will, by these intellectual inward images arrive at the knowledge of outward things.

2. As regards its own self, no such image will even be necessary in order that the soul may contemplate its own being. But, by an immediate introversion, it will intellectually feed upon itself, just as, if the material light were able to see itself, it would do so without the intervention of any other light. And, in this spiritual light which is the soul's very essence, it will also naturally see God, in so much as it is in itself a spiritual reflection of the Deity.

This is indeed a wonderful process of which we are incapable of forming an exact idea in the present state of union of body and soul, however much we may concentrate our thoughts upon ourselves. And yet such a process will naturally flow from the very state of our soul after death, since without the infusion of those spiritual images it would be in a state of complete inactivity, a thing contrary to its very nature.

3. It would seem, at first sight, that the natural knowledge of the separated soul is superior to the knowledge which we have in this life. Whatever knowledge we acquire in the present state is in some way proportioned to the phantasms of the body which are as it were the instruments of our knowledge. But, after death, this knowledge will be infused in us immediately by God, under the form of purely intellectual species which, spiritual as they are, will be for us the means of knowing the things of this world. Now, it is clear that a knowledge infused in us directly by God, under the form of purely intellectual species, is more perfect than that which we acquire through means of sensible images. This however is a point which we must further examine.

III. A comparison between our knowledge during Life and our Knowledge after Death.

1. The question now proposed to us regards the difference between the knowledge which the soul naturally possesses after death and that which it possesses in this life. Will that knowledge, then, be of a more perfect character, and will it embrace a wider range of intellectual objects?

It should be borne in mind that, as already pointed out, we are here only considering the knowledge which, according to the laws of nature, is peculiar to the soul after death, and which is possessed by all alike, good and bad, ignorant and learned. Of the knowledge of the Divine Essence, which is granted to saints in heaven and is called the Beatific Vision, we are not treating here.

2. In order to understand what the natural knowledge of the soul after death is, it is sufficient to remember that, although the spiritual images impressed on the mind after death are of a more universal nature than the images in which, during life, we contemplate the objects of our knowledge, yet are they of a less definite character, that is, they are confined to things in general, not to things in particular. Consequently the knowledge of the soul after death, though it be of a more universal character, does not convey such a distinct notion of individual objects as does the knowledge we have during the present life.

In fact, the state of the soul is changed after death, but its natural mental power remains unaltered. The circumstance, then, that for the more limited images of this life other images of a larger range are actually substituted brings but little advantage to the soul's knowledge, since that knowledge implies a certain want of proportion on the part of the mind with reference to those general images. Our soul will then experience, as it were, a certain inability to turn to those images, and it will consequently fail to grasp, as angels do, each particular object contained in the images. Hence the knowledge which the soul has after death. although of a more universal character, does not embrace individual objects with that clearness of perception with which we know them in the present life.

3. To illustrate this truth and to mark the difference that exists between the knowledge natural to angels and the knowledge natural to our soul after death, we only need take an example from what we ourselves know to take place in the ordinary didactic process of the human mind.

If, whilst endeavoring to teach others, we meet with a pupil of superior intellectual power and comprehension, it may be enough, on our part to present him with general principles, without deducing for him in detail all the conclusions that flow from those principles, the pupil's intellect being of itself capable of drawing those conclusions which, at a glance, may be perceived to be included in the general principles. But, with an intellect of inferior capacity, the teaching process is a more laborious one. To lead such an intellect to a thorough comprehension of those principles, it is necessary that the teacher should disclose to it, one by one, all the various conclusions which may be deduced from them. It is only then that it can be said to comprehend those general principles in all their application. To present to it those general principles only and not their inferences and deductions, would not be sufficient, seeing that the pupil's understanding lacks intuitive powers necessary to draw them for itself. The knowledge imparted would, in that case, remain of a more general character and would be deficient in that exactness of application which is the perfection of all knowledge.

4. The same thing applies to the separated soul as compared with angels. Whilst in the images they have, angels can see all the individuals of the various species, together with all the most minute details belonging to them, the human soul, on the other hand, can only see in those images the general principles. Of the infinite number of particular objects contained in those images it can only know a limited portion, greater or smaller as the case may be, as we shall more fully explain later on.

Indeed it may be said that the departed soul has lost that power of knowing particular objects which it had when united to the body. For, so long as the present life endures, our knowledge is more definite and articulate, simply because the soul, being bound to the body, has to have recourse to the senses in order to reach the knowledge of truth, and the perceptions of our senses are of a definite and particular nature.

5. It follows from this that, during this life, the spiritual images in which our mind contemplates the truth, are not of such a general character as to preclude the distinctness of the different objects contained in those images. But when this union is broken by death and our soul is placed under the immediate influence of the divine light, the very nature of this light is as it were too strong for us. Our mind was not made for such glaring brightness, but rather for a more subdued light, and so, after death, the soul remains somewhat dazzled in the contemplation of those spiritual images, without distinctly perceiving the particular objects virtually contained in them. It is as if the outlines of things seen in those pictures or images were less marked and resulted in less clearness and distinctness of the knowledge of the things represented in the soul's vision.

6. We must conclude, then, that, although the range of our soul's knowledge will, after death, be in some way naturally wider than it is in the present life, yet will it lack that distinctness and precision in which the perfection of all knowledge consists. The mental eye, when raised to a higher plane, takes in, in its vision, a vaster circle of objects, but these it perceives only in a confused manner, because they are outside the natural distance of its clear vision.

IV. What particular Objects the Soul can know when separated from the Body.

1. It should not be concluded from what has been said that the soul, after death, will not in any way perceive particular objects. Our contention is that it will not then perceive those objects as it does now, moreover that it will not perceive them as the angels do. That some special objects will come within the reach of the separated soul, for the knowledge of which objects the spiritual images spoken of above will be efficacious means of representation, cannot be doubted.

2. It is not easy, however, to state with perfect precision what these particular objects will be, seeing that they may vary according to the condition of each individual soul. Yet we may safely state that each separated soul will then know itself much more perfectly than it does now, and that in this knowledge of itself it will know God, not as the Saints see Him who contemplate Him face to face, but as we see in a mirror the objects therein reflected. For the soul, with its intellectual power, will then be like a spiritual mirror, reflecting, in an imperfect way, it is true, but more perfectly than material creatures can do, God's infinite perfections: so that, by seeing itself, the soul will also see, in a natural way, God's perfections.

Now what other objects besides itself and God will the disembodied soul know?

3. In the first place, it will have the recollection of things known during the present life. For it is a point of Catholic theology, which is otherwise generally admitted in spiritistic communications, that the knowledge acquired during this life endures even after death.

Of course the manner in which this knowledge is recollected by the mind after death is different from what it was during life. In the present life memory requires to be accompanied by sensible images; but, after death, those sensible images cease; so that the knowledge acquired is, then, as it were, bound up together with, and modified by the spiritual images supplied to the soul by God for its intelligence.

We may also add that the knowledge acquired in life, will vary greatly in different individuals as will be readily understood: thus it must be considered nil in children who die before having the use of reason, while it will be of very wide range in men whose lives have been spent in profound study, an infinite number of degrees being easily imaginable between these two extremes.

4. Besides the knowledge acquired in life, we may say that the separated soul will also have a knowledge of those objects to which it is, in its new state, in some way determined, that is, by some affection or by some natural relationship. And again, under this head, a very great difference may exist between the knowledge of one soul and that of another, not all souls being then equally disposed or affected towards the different objects of this world. We will endeavour to explain wherein this difference consists.

First of all, with regard to God, it is evident that not every soul is equally inclined towards Him. Some may be His friends, others His enemies. Consequently though each soul, as has been said, sees God naturally in itself, yet the aspect under which the good souls see Him must needs be different from the aspect under which He appears to the wicked. To the former, God must appear as a kind friend, and a tender Father; to the latter, on the contrary, as a severe Judge.

The disembodied soul will also have some knowledge of angels, not of all angels distinctly, but of those with whom it may have established some sort of relationship during life. Indeed there is no doubt that each soul will then know those angels under whose special influence it has been in life. These are, on the one hand, the guardian angel, and on the other, the tempting devil.

Of other souls also departed out of this life, it cannot be doubted that the disembodied soul will have some knowledge, at least speaking of those with whom it had an interest in life as we shall show presently. Nay, this knowledge will then be much more perfect than it was in the present life, seeing that the soul will obtain it, not by appealing to any outward object, but simply by turning to its own self, it being as it were a mirror in which other souls may be contemplated.

5. We said that the departed soul will have a natural knowledge of those souls with whom it had an interest in life. It would indeed be erroneous to imagine that each single departed soul will naturally know all other departed souls. The knowledge of each soul will be restricted to such souls as have been with it in some sort of actual relationship. Thus a disembodied soul may know the state and condition of the souls of those who, in life, were its relatives and friends and from whom it received some impulse, either towards the good and true or, as the case may be, in an evil direction. But, speaking generally, we may say that a soul will, after death, know naturally those souls in whose state and condition it is interested, while of other souls it will naturally know nothing until the advent of the Day of Judgment, when the actions of each individual soul, whether good or evil, will be made manifest to the whole world.

6. Further, the separated soul will naturally have some knowledge of the place it will be destined to occupy and which may be a place of happiness or a place of woe, according to the disposition of God's infinite justice.

7. To this knowledge, coming to the soul on account of its new state, we must add another source of knowledge, which is that coming from special revelations conveyed from God to the soul through the ministry of angels. For it may well be that God, from Whom the soul's illumination originally springs, and Whose providence rules all things mightily and sweetly, may impart, through the agency of angels, special light to some particular soul, and make known to it some particular event of which it could not otherwise have any knowledge. Thus God may reveal to a determined soul, for some special end known to Himself alone, events with which that soul would otherwise have no relation whatever, and of which it would consequently remain entirely ignorant. He may, for instance, impart to a king some sort of knowledge of the affairs of what was once his kingdom, or to a father of a family He may reveal what the general state of his children may be on earth, or to a friend what are the varying fortunes of his friends and so on.

8. To this may be added yet another source of knowledge, arising from the intercourse of one soul with another. This kind of communication of departed souls among themselves is all the more possible after death, as no words will then be necessary for the interchange of thought. Indeed this communication takes place in a manner very similar to that in which angelic intercourse is carried on, as will be further explained.

9. These, then, are the different heads under which we may classify the natural knowledge which the soul will have after death concerning particular and determinate objects. First, it will know itself, and in itself know God, with this difference, that, while it will know itself with great certainty and accuracy, it will know God only imperfectly. Secondly, it will retain that knowledge which it may have acquired during life. Thirdly, it will be acquainted with those particular persons or objects for which it has a special interest, or with which it is in some way naturally connected. Fourthly, special revelations may be made to the separated soul as it may please the providence of God to dispose. Lastly, the soul may draw some new information from its conversation with angels or with other separated souls.

10. Beyond these sources of information, the soul, after death, will have no other means of knowing the things of this world. For, being cut off from the life of the senses and from earthly environment, and transferred into the invisible world of spirits, it will not then be able to perceive the vicissitudes peculiar to the life on earth. Hence it will be a stranger to wars and rumors of war, to the fall of empires, the ruin of thrones, the changes of dynasties, and such like temporal events.

It is interesting to connect this teaching, which is taken from St. Thomas, with the pathetic descriptions of Dante concerning the souls of the departed, whom he represents, either in Hell or Purgatory, as being anxious to gather from himself some news about earthly events of which they were entirely ignorant.

11. It must be carefully borne in mind that, besides the knowledge of which we are here speaking, there is in store, for the holy souls, another source of knowledge, infinitely surpassing all that can be imagined. It is the knowledge of God's essence face to face, from which the Blessed derive their happiness and in which they will see all that they may desire to know of the things of this world. Of this knowledge, however, we cannot speak in this place, where we are treating only of what the human soul may gather in a natural manner, as being more or less common to all separated souls.

12. It will be seen, then, that the knowledge of the disembodied souls is far inferior to that of the angelic spirits to whose mental perception each individual object is present together with all its attending circumstances.

As regards the knowledge of the natural sciences in particular, the separated soul can in no wise be compared with the angelic intelligences. For, excepting the knowledge which it may have acquired in life, it has now no natural means of ascertaining the various workings of the laws of nature. Hence the vicissitudes of the physical world, the possibilities of which are so far-reaching, are to the disembodied soul a closed book.

13. As regards the secret thoughts of the human heart and future events, the soul, after death, cannot, any more than the angelic spirits, know anything, although, by making use of what it already knows about the things of this world, it may prognosticate the future even as angels do. But, since the present world lies outside its reach, it may very well be that the things which it may have foreseen, may in reality take place without its being aware of the fact.

This point is extremely well illustrated in Dante's <Inferno>, and the passage deserves to be quoted here.

Farinata degli Uberti, placed in hell by Dante because of his unbelief, had announced to the Poet his forthcoming exile. Now Dante was considering within himself how Farinata could be able to know future events, whereas the dead do not even know present happenings. The Poet thus exposes his doubt and receives an answer from Farinata:

" So may thy lineage find at last repose." I thus adjured him, " as thou solve this knot Which now involves my mind. If right I hear, Ye seem to view beforehand that which time Leads with him, of the present uninform'd" "'We view as one who hath an evil sight," He answer'd," plainly, objects far remote; So much of His large splendour yet imparts The Almighty Ruler: but when they approach, Or actually exist, our intellect Then wholly fails; nor of your human state, Except what others bring us, know we aught." Hence, therefore, may'st thou understand, that all Our knowledge in that instant shall expire, When on futurity the portals close.' "[1]

These words, as we have already explained, are not to be understood in the sense that the departed souls can know the future and not the present, since the former is less knowable than the latter. But as the souls of the departed can no longer communicate naturally with the living, they can, in virtue of their previous associations, foretell the future without knowing the present. When the final judgment shall have taken place, and there shall no longer be any future changeable events, the departed souls will no longer have knowledge of the things peculiar to this world.

14. Now, it may be asked, how is that special knowledge of worldly affairs, to which we have just now alluded imparted to the separated soul? For we know that the soul after death is deprived of the use of the external senses which are the one necessary medium by which knowledge of external objects can be conveyed, hence it would then seem incapable of knowing anything.

The answer to this question is contained in what has been already said above, viz., that the images infused into the soul are the proper channels by which it comes into possession of that knowledge. And these images emanate from God and vary in their character according to the number of objects which they are made to represent.

15. It may be that, from this survey of the soul's natural knowledge after life, a spiritist may well thus far think himself justified, even from a Catholic standpoint, in drawing conclusions favorable to his own position. If it be true that the soul, in passing the threshold of death, carries along with it the knowledge which it has acquired in life, if moreover its new state supplies it with fresh sources of information, and if it also enjoys the benefit of intercourse with friends in the other world as well as occasional revelations, is it not reasonable to expect that, at least, some of the nobler among the departed souls possess knowledge and information sufficient for the instruction and illumination of men not yet freed by death from the burden of the body? The disclosures made at spiritistic seances are, as is well known, frequently ascribed to personages that have been conspicuous in life for their mental achievements. Might we not, then, thus reasonably account for at least a certain number of the modern spiritistic manifestations?

16. Such an inference would be perfectly admissible were it not for the further consideration of the power and proper mode of action of the separated soul, to which point we have still to direct our attention.[2] That power cannot, as we shall see, compare with that of the angels who are able to form for themselves bodies, and who, by means of these bodies, can hold intercourse with us As a matter of fact the separated soul does not possess any such power. Moreover, the disembodied soul does not dwell among the living, nor is there any reason why it should ever leave its proper abode. Amongst the angels, on the contrary, as will be shown hereafter, there are some of a low moral order who inhabit and roam about this earth, and who have it in their power, with God's permission, to cause many of those phenomena which, at first sight, appear so very wonderful to us. Hence an angel may naturally come into communication with the living, but this is beyond the reach of the separated soul. However, these differences will be more clearly brought out as we advance in our study and especially when we speak, <ex professo>, of the power of the separated souls.

V. Whether Spiritistic Manifestations can be attributed to the Departed Souls?

1. Coming now to the manifestations taking place at spiritistic seances, and involving the disclosure of things unknown to the persons participating in them, the question which presents itself is: Can these manifestations, as it is claimed. be ascribed to the agency of the departed souls?

Our answer is: Granting, for a moment, and for argument's sake, that a direct intercourse between departed souls and living men were possible, it would still have to be objected that many of the spiritistic manifestations involve a power of perception on the part of the communicating intelligences of which the departed soul cannot possibly be conceived to be capable.

This holds good especially with regard to those communications by which new and startling disclosures are made regarding the natural world, such, for instance, as meteoric phenomena, which lie altogether outside the reach of our experiences; or the manifestation of hidden treasures, of sudden accidents, or of future natural events. In the same way the speaking with diverse tongues, the giving of precise details about the arts and sciences, or about unknown occurrences-these and all manifestations of a like order cannot possibly be attributed to the agency of the departed souls which have not a sufficient knowledge of these things.

2. As regards events occurring at a distance, it should be noted that local distance constitutes in itself no impediment to the knowledge of disembodied souls as some philosophers have thought. For, assuming that the soul, after death, no longer obtains its knowledge, as during life, from the consideration of sensible objects, but that this knowledge is derived from the images emanating from the divine light—which light is independent of local distance—it follows that local distance is in itself no impediment to the knowledge of the disembodied soul.

To make this point clearer, we might add that, when we say that the disclosure of distant events lies beyond the power of the disembodied soul, this is not because local distance in itself creates the difficulty, but because such knowledge (clairvoyance, as it is termed by spiritists) lies outside its field of perception, those particular objects alone being known to it to which it is determined in the way explained above. Hence, supposing that the separated souls could freely communicate with us, many among the spiritistic manifestations could not be attributed to them, because their knowledge does not, like the knowledge of angels, embrace indistinctly those remote events.

3. But, even supposing the disembodied soul to possess a knowledge equal to that of the angelic mind, we would still have to consider how it could communicate such knowledge to a living being, and whether it could illumine a person's mind in the same way that an angel can. Our examination of this question will, we trust, throw a new light on the subject of spiritistic manifestations, while our solution of the further question as to the extent of the power possessed by the disembodied soul over the elements of the world (which we propose to consider in the next chapter) will furnish the mind with the information needed to solve the problem whether the modern manifestations of spiritism are to be attributed to the departed souls of men, or rather to a superior order of intellectual agents whom we call pure spirits or angels.

The first point under consideration turns upon the twofold question:—(1) Whether the disembodied soul can manifest its thoughts to us while we are still in the present life, and (2) vice versa, whether we can, in this life, communicate our thoughts to a disembodied soul.

Before entering upon a consideration of these questions, however, we propose, for clearness' sake, to inquire first, whether disembodied souls can communicate with each other, and also in what manner we communicate our inmost thoughts and desires to each other in the present life.

A fourfold inquiry then lies before us: first, whether and how two or more disembodied souls can converse together; secondly, how two individuals in the present life communicate their thoughts and desires to each other; thirdly, whether a disembodied soul can manifest its thoughts to us; and fourthly, whether we can make known our thoughts to a disembodied soul.

The second point will give us an opportunity of examining, at some length, a twofold theory put forward by modern scientists with a view to discovering a natural origin for some, at least, among spiritistic communications, viz.:—the theory of the unconscious subliminal self already alluded to, and the theory of mental vibrations.

VI. Whether and How Departed Souls can Converse Together?

1. With regard to the first question, whether and how two or more disembodied souls can converse together, there can be no doubt that the soul after death can communicate to another soul its thoughts and desires in the same way in which angelic intelligences can.

For the obstacle which, in life, prevents immediate intercourse and necessitates the intervention of sensible signs, is removed by the disappearance of the body; and, as one angel converses with another simply by directing his intellect to the intellect of his companion, so the mental communication between two disembodied souls is effected by the simple turning of the mind of one to the mind of the other. And in this manner the separated soul, too, can communicate with the angelic intellect, if it so desires, since its state of separation from the body has made it, in this respect, like unto those pure spirits.

2. Moreover we should note that, as the condition of our souls after death is independent of the conditions of time and space, it follows that local distance is no impediment whatever to this spiritual intercourse, even as local distance is no impediment to angelical substances seeing and knowing one another.

3. It should not, however, be inferred from this that the communication which one soul desires to have with another must necessarily be known to all the inhabitants of the invisible world. For, as the communications with which we are dealing depend altogether on the free-will of the speaker, and this speaker may object to his thoughts being made known to others, the conversation of the departed soul is, as in the case of angels, hidden from the knowledge of strangers, and known to themselves and to God only.

VII. How we Communicate our Thoughts to our Fellowmen in the Present Life.

1. This second question: How man, during his present state of life, communicates his thoughts to his fellowmen, is easily solved, if we consider that our tongue is the organ of speech by which we can express our thoughts, and which, by arresting the hearer's attention, causes him to apprehend what our words are meant to convey. Writing, gestures, and other conventional signs are only substitutes for the organ of speech. Thus our intellectual intercourse with our fellow men is effected partly by means of our natural organs supplying the means of communication, and partly by previous agreement respecting the signification of the words or signs employed.

2. The question however here which is much more difficult of solution is this: Can an entirely spiritual communication be directly carried on with other living persons by some mysterious means at present not fully understood, in a manner similar to that in which angels and separated souls communicate one with another? For instance, can a man, by concentrating his thoughts and his will, place himself in direct communication with his neighbor, be he present or absent, without the use of any sign or any instrument whatever? This question is extremely important, as on the solution of it depends our acceptance or rejection of the telepathic theory.

3. According to this theory it is claimed that there exists some physical means (hitherto unknown to science) other than the use of speech, of writing, or of any other sensible and conventional sign, by which it is possible for one person to make known his thoughts and intentions to another or to more persons not only when these persons are present, but also when they are separated by great distances from each other. As, however, we shall have to deal with the telepathic theory <ex professo> later on, we shall now come to an examination of the principal question proposed: Whether a separated soul can communicate with souls in the present state of life, that is when still united to the body?

VIII. Whether a Separated Soul can communicate its Thoughts to us?

1. The question now is: Can the human soul, when it has been separated from the body, hold intercourse with the living and manifest to them things connected with its new state? We say things connected with its new state because we have already explained the extent of the soul's knowledge after death, and have shown that a knowledge of future things, of secret thoughts, of ordinary events, and also for the greater part of the secrets of nature, must be denied them. Should, therefore, such an intercourse between the dead and the living be possible, it would needs be of a very limited nature-that is, it would have to be confined to the manifestations of certain truths or facts connected with that soul's new state.

But can even this much be communicated by a disembodied soul to a soul not yet freed by death from the body?

2. The answer to this question must, like the preceding one, be in the negative. For our mind or intellect, in the present state of union of soul and body, can be reached by a mere creature, whether corporeal or spiritual, only through the medium of the imagination, inasmuch as we are naturally led by those sensible images into the knowledge of truth. To know things in this life without the help of these images is above the condition of our nature. Now, the soul separated from the body has no power whatever over the phantasms of our imagination because matter is not subject to its sway as regards local motion; and therefore a disembodied soul cannot by itself illuminate or instruct us in any way.

This truth, however, that the disembodied soul has no power over matter, will be more specially examined later on, when we speak of the power of departed souls.[3]

3. We may infer, then, that the disembodied soul is, in this respect also, in a condition far inferior to that of angels, who, by drawing our attention to the sensible phantasms of imagination which they have the power of exciting in us, can manifest to us truths very remote from our senses, or even things unknown to any mortal man. The disembodied soul can exercise, on the other hand, no such influence on us and for this reason it may be said to be naturally cut off from all communication with the living.

4. But if the departed soul is unable to reach or illumine our mind and to make known to us its thoughts or desires, can we, on our part, manifest our thoughts to the departed souls, either by sensible signs or by inward communication of the mind?

This question is of very great importance, as from the solution of the same we shall be able to complete what we said regarding the nature and operations of the separated soul. We shall study the problem under a twofold aspect, viz., first, whether we can, through means of sensible signs, manifest our thoughts to the separated souls; and secondly, whether we can do this through means of internal communications.

We propose to consider these two points separately and it will be seen that a negative answer must involve the final conclusion that a direct communication between the living and the souls of the departed is altogether impossible.

IX. Whether we can, through Sensible Signs, manifest our Thoughts to Departed Souls?

1. In the first place, as regards any sensible means we may use, such as speech, writing, gesticulation, and the like, it has already been shown that these signs, being wholly unconnected with the new condition of the disembodied soul, do not naturally come within its reach, although they are apprehended by angelic substances.

The reason of this is that the angel's direct knowledge embraces not only spiritual objects, but also all the material phenomena of this world, among which we may reckon those sensible signs of which we speak; whereas the human soul, separated from the body, has indeed a knowledge of spiritual substances; but of the sensible phenomena of this world it only knows those with which it has a special affinity, as we have already explained above. Now, among the phenomena which the soul may know, those sensible signs, which are the vehicle of thought with us, cannot be numbered, as they wholly depend on the free will of those who first invented them or who actually make use of them, and therefore they have no natural affinity with the departed soul, to which they consequently remain totally unknown.

2. But, it will be further asked, what is the ultimate reason of the fact that an angel knows all the material phenomena of this world, whereas the disembodied soul does not? Is not the disembodied soul similar to angelic beings?

The reason why an angel embraces, in his simple and direct knowledge, all the material objects of this world with their particular phenomena, and the disembodied soul does not, is to be found in the specific superiority of angelic beings over the human soul, whether united to the body or separated from it.

A simple survey of the world's constitution will convince us of the fundamental law, that a being of a superior order comprehends in its oneness and simplicity the different qualities of distinct beings of an inferior order. Thus we see that our rational soul, which is but one, possesses in its simple unity the capabilities of the sensitive souls of animals and of the vegetative souls of plants, and is moreover capable of producing by itself the same effects which these distinct souls produce in the vegetative and animal order. And so angels, who are superior in kind to the human soul, comprehend in their simple and direct knowledge, not only general principles, but also material objects together with their particular phenomena.

Not so the human soul, which, being inferior in kind to angels, embraces, in its direct knowledge, in this life, general principles only, and cannot know particular objects or phenomena except indirectly—that is, in so far as the general principles or essences of things are contained in the particular or material objects of the universe.

3. In fact, to this knowledge of material objects and of particular phenomena we come, during life, through the application of our sensitive faculties, by which we directly perceive material or particular objects. But, through the power of abstraction of our intellects, we next come to know the general principles or essences of things, which indeed are the proper and direct objects of our intellectual knowledge, while the particular and material things of this world are the proper and direct objects of our sensitive knowledge. Hence the human intellect embraces, in its direct knowledge, the general principles or essences of things only, and does not know particular or material objects except indirectly, inasmuch as these particular objects are in some way contained in the general essences of things.

4. Thus, to illustrate our meaning, when we see a plant, that particular thing and the phenomena connected with it are first perceived by the material eye and so are the direct objects of that sensitive faculty. But the nature or essence of plant-that indeed which is contained in every plant and is common to them all, is that which our intellect abstracts from that particular plant, and so constitutes the object of its direct knowledge, although our intellect, as distinct from our eye, comes to know thereby indirectly that particular plant and its phenomena, out of which it has abstracted and in which it considers the universal nature of plant.

5. To sum up: we arrive in this life at the sum total of our knowledge by a twofold road, viz., by sense and intellect. Sense embraces individual or material objects only and their particular phenomena: intellect embraces both general principles or essences and individual objects—the general essences directly, the individual objects indirectly. Angels, on the contrary, by reason of the superiority of their knowledge, apprehend by their intellect in a like manner both the general principles and the material objects together with their particular phenomena.

Hence it is clear that, as long as we have the use of the sensitive organs or faculties of our body, that is as long as the present life endures, we can always add to our knowledge of particular sensible objects, as also of their respective phenomena, which all come within the reach of our senses, and from which we abstract that universal knowledge which regards the general nature of things. But as soon as the soul is separated from the body, and only knows truth through the immediate influence of the general images infused into it by God, it is no longer capable of perceiving the particular objects, or the particular phenomena of this world, except in the way and measure explained above.

6. We may conclude then that the sensible signs, by which in this life we manifest our thoughts to our fellow-men, are to the disembodied souls a closed book. We cannot, therefore, by their means, convey to them directly our thoughts, sentiments, affections or desires.

X. Whether we can Mentally Manifest our Thoughts to the Departed Souls?

1. Having shown how it is impossible for us to manifest our thoughts to disembodied souls by any sensible signs, we now come to prove that it is also beyond our power to communicate with them intellectually in an inward mental manner, that is by simply turning our minds to theirs, as is the case when we converse with angelic beings.

For such is the natural condition of our thoughts in the present life that, although of a spiritual nature in themselves, they are yet always attended by a corresponding modification of the brain. Hence those alone, among created intelligences, are able to read our interior thoughts who have a clue to the sensible images or phantasms of our imagination, the different modifications of which correspond to our different thoughts, just as the different arrangements of letters of the alphabet correspond to the different meanings of the writer.

2. But here again the question arises: How is it that we can directly manifest our thoughts to angels, and cannot do so to departed souls?

The reason is that the sensible modification of our brain which accompanies each one of our intellectual operations can be known by angels, who can thereby be led to the knowledge of our inmost thoughts. Not that a mere inspection of our cerebral modifications is of itself sufficient to lead angels to the knowledge of our thoughts; but that our willingness to manifest our thoughts to them gives them, as it were, a key whereby they may understand the meaning conveyed by these modifications.

Indeed, it should be acknowledged that all such modifications of our brain may be used in sundry ways by the will, just as one word in our ordinary language may have sundry meanings. As we cannot exactly understand a written document unless we read into it the writer's meaning, so also is a mere inspection of the phantasms of our brain insufficient for an angel to know our own thoughts; he must besides read into our mind, which can only be done with the consent of our will; that is, by our choosing to turn our mind to him, and thus give him the key to the understanding of those cerebral modifications which are the ordinary accompaniments of our thoughts during the present life.

3. Now, can this be done with regard to the disembodied soul of man?

We must here again answer that this is impossible, and that for the reason just given, namely, that the disembodied soul has of itself no clue whatever to the knowledge of these material and particular modifications of our brain to which we allude, and which, unless understood, constitute a barrier that intercepts the light of our mind and prevents it from shining outside ourselves. Thus the discarnate soul can very well communicate with angelic spirits and with other disembodied souls; but just as it cannot make itself manifest to us, so it also cannot directly perceive the thoughts of any living person even though this person be willing that his thoughts should thus be made known to the discarnate soul. For such a manifestation a medium of some kind is necessary, one who, while reading our thoughts, can also converse with the disembodied souls. But this is just the power appertaining to the angelic substance.

4. The idea, then, that we can freely and without the mediation of any other agent hold intercourse with the souls of our departed friends should be considered a poetical fiction rather than a philosophical truth. The fact is that the soul departed from the body is, naturally speaking, so far cut off from all communication with the living, that, as the world into which it has passed is altogether different from our material world, so also has its mode of conversation nothing in common with ours. The departed soul is to us an entire stranger, which neither understands our language, nor can be understood by us. A wide chasm separates it from us. This chasm, however may be bridged by God's providence through the ministry of angels. Of such extraordinary interventions, however we shall have occasion to speak hereafter.


1. <Inferno>, Canto X, v. 96, foll.

2. This point will be considered in Chapter iii.

3. Chapter iii.

Chapter II of Part II of "The Unseen World: An Exposition of Catholic Theology In Reference To Modern Spiritism". Published by Benziger Brothers 1929.