State of the Departed Soul

Author: Cardinal Lepicier


Alexis Henry M. Cardinal Lepicier, O.S.M.

Chapter I of Part II of "The Unseen World: An Exposition of Catholic Theology In Reference To Modern Spiritism"

1. Although the human soul is destined, by reason of its nature, to be united to an organic body, yet it is in itself absolutely devoid of all matter. It is an immaterial substance akin to angels, and would be called a pure spirit, but for the relation it has with the body. But its union with the body is so close and intimate as to exclude between the two the presence of any veil, however subtle and ethereal this might seem to be. To admit between the one and the other any entity whatever uniting them would include the rejection of the teaching of Catholic psychology on the union of the soul and body in the present life.

2. The respective boundaries of these two substances are not traceable by any such line of demarcation as would be, for example, a most subtle envelope or perispirit, as modern scientists would call it: an envelope which would contain the body as a superficies modeled upon it, and which would represent as it were its features. Such an hypothesis must be discountenanced as opposed not only to the soul's spirituality, but to its simplicity also.

In fact, this perispirit, called by some scientists astral body, cannot be an intrinsic part of the soul because the soul itself is immaterial. Neither can it be its external envelope, since a truly spiritual substance—as the human soul is—transcends all matter and cannot be contained in or recognized through any body whatever, however subtle this may be imagined to be. The human soul is perfectly simple and as such, deprived of the properties of matter such as, for example, extension, figure, weight and position. If this simplicity be denied, it is impossible to explain that formal union between soul and body which is fundamental in Catholic philosophy.

3. It is worth our while to explain, at this point, how, if our soul after death is freed from every tie that united it to the body, the great poets of antiquity could represent the souls of the departed as re-clothed, prior to the resurrection in, as it were, airy bodies in which they might perform the operations proper to sensitive life. Such is especially the case with Dante Alighieri, the Prince of Italian Poets, who, in almost every canto of his Divina Comedia, imagines the souls of the dead re-clothed with their bodies after this fashion. Now the importance of the question requires precisely that we should explain the how and wherefore of this poetic license.

4. One of the principal preoccupations of Dante, in describing the state of departed souls, must have been to explain how, while separated from their bodies, they still can be made visible and suffer such torments as may make an impression on the imagination of the reader. To do this he found it necessary to depart somewhat from the teaching of Catholic Philosophy.

As regards the souls in purgatory or hell, faith teaches us that they undergo a two-fold torment; namely, that of loss, which is the privation of the vision of God; and that of sense, which consists in the fact that these souls are not free in their movements, but tied down to corporeal matter—to fire; not indeed in order to be intrinsically tormented by it, since they have no longer their senses by means of which they might suffer materially, but in order to be kept like prisoners, <per modum detentionis et alligationis>,[1] so that they cannot go where they would.

This conception of purgatory and hell, however, does not find favor with the popular mind, which is accustomed to think of the departed souls as if they were actually tormented by fire. Hence it did not seem to Dante as efficacious as the other conception for the dramatic action of his poem. Consequently, giving full vent to his vast imagination, and taking inspiration from the poets of mythology, he pictured all these souls gifted with, as it were, an informative power, by means of which they could make use of the surrounding air and thus assume not only those exterior visible features which they had in life, but also feel and suffer, through these mysterious masks, the passions and sorrows proper to souls still united to the body.

Hence, first, he says, that Divine power forms, for these separated souls, in an incomprehensible way, aerial bodies, disposing them in such a manner, that they can feel the pain caused to the living by heat and cold:[2]

" To endure Torments of heat and cold extreme, like frames, That virtue hath disposed, which, how it works, Wills not to us should be revealed."

Further he describes more minutely the way in which this can happen. The beautiful passage is well worth quotation:[3]

" Soon as the place Receives her (the soul), round the plastic virtue beams, Distinct as in the living limbs before: And as the air, when saturate with showers, The casual beam refracting, decks itself With many a hue; so here the ambient air Weareth that form, which influence of the soul Imprints on it: and like the flame, that where The fire moves, thither follows; so, henceforth The new form on the spirit follows still: Hence hath it semblance, and is shadow call'd With each sense, even to the sight, endued: Hence speech is ours, hence laughter, tears, and sighs, Which thou may'st oft have witness'd on the mount. The obedient shadow fails not to present Whatever varying passion moves within us. And this the cause of what thou marvell'st at."[3]

This, then, seemed to Dante Alighieri the most plausible way of justifying the many phantastic creations with which he enriches his sacred poem. But this, we say, is the fruit of his imagination, not an exhibition of Christian philosophy. The human soul, after death, precisely because simple in its essence, cannot be united to any matter whatever as the substantial form of the same. If at the resurrection, it will be reunited to its own body this will be owing to a miracle of the omnipotence of God.

5. But now we must examine what is the natural state of this spiritual substance, that is, of the soul after it has departed from the body. From this first investigation we shall pass on to inquire into the question as to the knowledge and power which our separated souls may naturally possess. We say <naturally>, because in this inquiry we make abstraction from the supernatural order, that is to say the order of grace, according to which the soul, by the mercy of God, may be raised to a state far superior to that which it naturally possesses, and may be gifted with a knowledge and power far superior to its own natural capacity.

It would, however, be of no use to endeavor to find out what the condition of the disembodied souls of men is, unless their existence, and the manner in which they survive the body, be first ascertained. It will therefore be necessary, before speaking of the knowledge and power belonging to the separated human soul, not only to lay down the fact of its survival after death, but also to explain the sense in which it may be said that the human personality continues then to subsist. The theory also of an unconscious subliminal self, invented by modern spiritists, will have to be examined, as well as the old theory of metempsychosis, otherwise called reincarnation, which is still accepted by some, even in the scientific world, as a plausible hypothesis.

6. We must also note that the proper way of designating the human soul after death is to say that it is <separated from the body>. The expression <divested> or <disembodied> soul, as used by some writers, seems to imply that our soul is not substantially united to the body during life, but that it is bound to it only in the manner in which a garment is joined to the person it covers.[4] The expression <discarnate soul> is also inexact. It conveys the idea that our soul existed before it was united to our body in the unity of person, as is the case in the mystery of the Incarnation of Our Blessed Lord, in which the second person of the Blessed Trinity, or the Word, eternal in itself, was in time united personally to a human nature.

In the course of the present study, therefore, we make use of the more Catholic and formally theological expression, <soul separated from the body>. If we sometimes use one or other of the above-mentioned expressions it will only be with a view of facilitating the understanding of the doctrine we are explaining, and without any reference to the meanings which we have just indicated and which Catholic philosophy rejects. But, as a matter of fact, it both asserts and teaches that the soul is the <substantial form of the body>.

7. Finally let us note that, when using the word <phenomena> in connection with the facts verified in spiritistic seances, we do not intend to deny, in the occurrences alluded to, their objective reality, as some philosophers have held, reducing them to mere appearances of which, they say, we cannot know the objective reality. Although, as we have said, spiritistic manifestations are often mixed with fraud and deceit, yet there are sufficiently convincing proofs to confirm us in the belief that genuine manifestations are not wanting and it is concerning these we now intend to speak.

I. Survival of the Human Soul after Death.

1. The fact of the survival of the human soul after death is not only a tenet of Catholic theology, it is also a truth generally admitted by philosophers both ancient and modern. Materialists are an exception to the universal acceptation of this truth. But their dissent if not prompted by private interest, must be pronounced to originate in their ignorance of the spiritual nature of the human soul.

It is a philosophic principle that an operation can never be more perfect than the principle from which it emanates. If, therefore, we find a substance which has a spiritual action proper to itself, that is an action not depending intrinsically on compound matter, such a substance must necessarily itself be spiritual, that is not composed of matter nor intrinsically depending on matter. Now this is precisely the case with the human soul, which has an intrinsically spiritual operation peculiar to itself, which is understanding and willing, which does not intrinsically depend on compound matter. Consequently it cannot itself be composed of matter or depending on matter. Now what is death, but a dissolution of the elements which come together to compose a whole, a corruption of the individual? Therefore a being that is spiritual, and consequently is not intrinsically composed of material elements, cannot be subjected to dissolution and corruption.

2. It may be objected that the souls of animals, being the life-giving principle, are also simple substances and therefore not composed of matter, and yet are subject to corruption. But it should be observed that the souls of animals are not spiritual, being devoid of a spiritual operation proper to themselves, that is of understanding and willing. Hence those souls do not subsist by themselves, but have to depend entirely upon the body whose operations they share, and therefore they must vanish away as the body falls into decay. But this is not the case with the human soul. Its operations show that it is not only simple in its essence, but also of a spiritual nature, that is to say that it subsists by itself and therefore cannot share the death of the body. In other words, we say that the human soul is not corruptible <per se> because it is a simple substance; nor is it corruptible at the death of the body, that is per accidens, because it subsists of itself. Inferior forms, also, being simple, are likewise incorruptible <per se>; but because they do not subsist of themselves, they cease to exist at the dissolution of the composite. Hence they are corruptible <per accidens>.

3. Besides, the immortality of the human soul is one of those truths deposited as it were like a germ in the heart of every man. How can the materialist philosopher himself account for that natural craving after an unending life, which every man feels in his inmost heart? Surely the voice of nature cannot speak falsely. At any rate the partisans of the spiritistic theory agree with the Catholic doctrine concerning the survival of the soul separated from the body. The only difference between the one and the other is as to the <way> in which the soul exists after death, and the manner in which it can set in action its intellect and its will, and in deciding the field in which it can exercise its active power.

4. The reader will remember what we have already said, namely, that we are speaking in this connection of the state of the human soul after death, quite apart from what the Catholic Church teaches concerning its final destiny. It is of faith that after death the souls of those who have done evil in this life and have not repented are immediately condemned to eternal punishment; whereas the souls of those who have done well are admitted, either at once or after a certain period of purgation, to the vision of the Divine Essence in heaven. This vision, besides filling the soul with happiness, enables it to see with perfect clearness, in that ocean of infinite light, all that it may desire to see.

But this vision does not make void the natural knowledge of the soul, which may be regarded as a common possession of the good in heaven, and of the bad condemned to eternal punishment. It is precisely of this natural knowledge of the soul separated from the body apart, as we have said, from the question of its final destiny as presented to us by the Catholic faith, that we intend now to speak.

5. However, all that we are here about to say—presupposes the substantial identity of our personality in life and after death. It is necessary, therefore, that, before proceeding further, we should state clearly this most important truth. For, what we shall now explain cannot fit in with a system, however elaborate it may seem, which teaches the absorption, after death, of each individual personality into one great whole as is the case with the Nirvana of Buddha, or the ascension of the discarnate soul towards a substantially different state as repeatedly asserted in spiritistic circles. It is necessary, therefore, to establish the principle that the human individuality or personality preserves its identity after death. We shall afterwards pass on to inquire into the nature of the operations of the soul after its separation from the body.

II. How the Human Personality subsists after Death.

1. Perhaps there is no notion that is more common among men, and yet more difficult to define, than that of individuality or personality. As a matter of fact, although these two words mean the same thing, yet when speaking of man, the word personality is more fitly employed than the word individuality, which latter word is used in connection with lower forms of life or even with inorganic beings. So a stone, a tree or an animal are called an individual, but a man on the other hand is properly called a person. So, as we are dealing here with the soul, which possesses a higher form of life, viz., intellectual life, it is the term personality that we propose to employ. We shall now endeavor to give an exact notion of what constitutes personality in general with the object of showing how human personality can be said to subsist after death, substantially identical with what it was in life, though somewhat modified.

2. The common meaning conveyed by the word <personality> is that of a complete being which so subsists by itself, as to be distinct from all other beings. It is what we mean when we employ the pronouns <I, Thou, He>. These words are used to designate the complete and distinct being of the particular individual to which they refer. Our personality, then, during the present life, comprehends not only the soul, but also the body, that is that <one being> which is neither soul nor body but a compound of both.

This is the reason why actions of both body and soul are attributed not to the body only nor to the soul only, but to that <Ego> which answers for both, because it is a compound of both. But precisely if our personality comprehends both body and soul, how can it be said to continue to subsist after death when the body exists no longer, at least as a human body united to the soul?

3. Yet a sort of personality remains to the soul after death, for even then the <Ego> will continue to subsist, to think, to will and to answer to another's call; although it cannot be denied that the personality will be somewhat changed, as what before corresponded to the pronoun <Ego> will no longer correspond to it, a part being then wanting, namely the body. As a matter of fact, if the <Ego> be composed of body and soul, the absence of the body will in some way impair the entirety of the person. In other words, man as man will subsist no longer after death, because the soul which will then alone subsist will not be the whole man.

4. This truth will be more evident from a recognition of the difference which exists between the human soul and the angelic substance. It is the nature of an angel to be not only free from all matter, but even from all substantial union with matter. The human soul, on the other hand, though immaterial, in itself, has a necessary relation to flesh and blood, that is to say to a determinate human body. Its very nature, its very essence is, not indeed to be actually united to its body, since it can exist separated from it, but to be ordained to a substantial union with it. The human soul is a substance unique in its kind, which cannot come into existence unless it be received into a determinate body, which becomes its own body and which has not the perfection of its nature, when it is actually separated from it. Hence the <Ego> of the angel is one thing and that of man is another. The <Ego> of the Angel never undergoes any change, whereas the <Ego> of man is somewhat modified by death.

5. Moreover the natural relation of each soul to its own body is the precise cause of the individual difference of one soul from another. Although the soul is more noble than the body, we can say that the body gives, as it were, to each distinct soul its characteristic mark, so that each soul can be said to bear upon itself, in some way, the impress of the body. This is the reason why, in the present state of life, although the intellect far surpasses the imagination, yet we understand nothing except with the concurrence of phantasms or sensible images; whereas angelic beings, on the contrary, do not need sensitive images or the phantasms of the material things in their operations.

6. This being the case, the human personality must be said to be somewhat maimed and imperfect when, after death, the body is no more. Hence, however happy we may imagine a discarnate soul to be, yet it has not all the perfection of its nature since it retains a certain craving after its own body. The human soul will not have perfect happiness and complete contentment, except at the resurrection of the flesh. Whence Dante sublimely declared:

" Our shape, regarmented with glorious weeds of saintly flesh, must, being thus entire, show yet more gracious."[5]

7. From all this two conclusions naturally follow. The first is that it is impossible to admit the existence within us of a second personality, contained in the first, though inferior to it, yet in some way independent of it. The very nature of our personality demands not only that it should in itself be undivided, but also that it should be distinct from all other individuals. If this were not so, we would have the absurdity of one man being at the same time one or more individuals. Whatever hypothesis one may wish to think out in order to admit the presence of this second personality falls through when one considers, for example, that my personality precludes the possibility of another <Ego>, distinct from it; of a second <Ego> which would be the duplicate of the first <Ego>, as though within my personality a second personality were included, unfolding itself from the personality of which I am conscious. This subconscious personality called by Professor F. W. H. Myers and his followers <subliminal>, in opposition to the first which he calls <superliminal,> and which he considers responsible for the subjective phenomena that escape our vigilant attention, is an absurdity rejected no less by Catholic theology than by common sense.

8. The second conclusion to be deduced from what has been said is that the personality which survives the body, although it be somewhat altered, that is to say, with regard to the body which by death is destroyed, is still substantially the same as during life. That same <Ego> which now bears witness to the identity of my personality in life, will be the very same <Ego> which will subsist after death. As the presence of another <Ego>, besides my conscious <Ego>, would imply the destruction of the latter, so, after death, another <Ego> could not succeed the present <Ego> without this present one being discontinued.

9. It must then be held as a fundamental and indisputable truth in psychology that as there is only one personality in each human individual during life, so after death, this same personality will continue to subsist identically the same, except that owing to the absence of the body, it will be somewhat changed. There is in each man, therefore, but one personality, and this will endure for ever.

The aforesaid doctrine will now have to be applied to that well-known hypothesis of modern scientists which claims that there exists within our human personality another or inferior personality—a second and unconscious self—which is conceived of as a kind of replica of the first self with some accidental modifications such as the absence of consciousness and the impossibility for us to direct or control it while it lies hidden in us ready for occasional manifestations.

Let us see whether such a hypothesis can stand the test of criticism. This point is of extreme importance, as the problem of subliminal personality is not, as is erroneously thought, a mere question of terms, but a vital and fundamental point in Christian psychology.

III. Analogy between the Bilocation of Saints and the Hypothesis of a Subconscious or Subliminal Personality.

1. It is the teaching of modern psychologists, as we have said, that there is hidden in our being a second personality which is ever ready to manifest itself under certain abnormal conditions of a mental or physiological nature. The apparent unfolding, in spiritistic practices, of the person of the medium leads them to think that to his inferior or subliminal unconscious personality those strange phenomena are to be ascribed to which the medium gives rise in the séances. Now, as some have thought that a similar fact takes place in what, in theological language, is called the bilocation of saints, it will be well to say a few words here about this phenomenon.

2. Bilocation is a phenomenon which happens very seldom and is not to be confounded with the unfolding of human personality. This phenomenon occurs only in cases of persons endowed with extraordinary sanctity, and for some very special and important purpose. These cases, moreover, of bilocation do not entail, according to Catholic theology, the presence of the same body existing locally in two or more different places, even though this body should be imagined to exist in one place to the full extent of its material qualities, and in the other only in a lesser degree. For it is impossible, even for God's power, to cause one and the same body to occupy locally two different places, since this would involve a manifest contradiction. A body already <fully> contained by and commensurate to the place it occupies cannot at the same time be measured and contained by a place different from it. Bilocation, in the case of saints, consists in this, that while their bodies occupy locally a determined space, an angel is sent by God to take their features and to perform, in their place, those operations which they themselves would otherwise accomplish. Thus, when, in relatively recent times, St. Alphonsus Liguori, while in the town of Nocera dei Pagani, in south Italy, was seen to stand miraculously at the deathbed of Clement XIV assisting him, it was really an angel who took his form and reproduced his features.

3. It may be objected that the body of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the blessed Eucharist, is present, not in two, but in many places, that is, in as many places as there are consecrated hosts. Hence, it is inferred, there seems to be no objection to one and the same personality being unfolded or multiplied.

We say, however, that Christ is not in the Blessed Sacrament in a local manner as are bodies which are contained and measured by the place which they occupy. He is there sacramentally, that is to say, not by a commensuration of his outward dimensions to the dimensions of the place where the Sacrament is, but immediately by His own invisible substance hidden under the sacramental species. The subliminal self, on the contrary, would, according to the very conditions of the case, be present in a determinate place distinct from that occupied by the corresponding superior personality, and would occupy that place by its own dimensions corresponding with the dimensions of the place in which it is, and so would be there locally.

4. We have said that the bilocations recorded in the annals of the Church are due to the presence of good angels representing one person or another. In virtue of the power which an angel has over the elements, even the more subtle ones, of matter, he can exactly reproduce a determined person's body, his height, features, tone of voice, and his other accidental properties, in such a manner as to give it the appearance of that person's second self. Why then could not the "subliminal self" be the issue of a similar process instead of being, as is claimed by modern psychists, a direct emanation of the person whom it represents?

5. In fact, it may be confidently asserted that the production of this unconscious personality is wholly due to the immediate action of some pure spirits who can, as we have said, by the natural power which they possess over the elements of matter, shape a figure representing a particular person's features, his gait, speech and characteristic mode of action.

6. We must conclude, then, by saying that the hypothesis of a second unconscious or subconscious self, distinct from our own conscious and responsible personality, as understood by modern spiritists, cannot be admitted. Such an hypothesis is contrary to the data of true philosophy. It has no support in the dogmas of our faith. Furthermore, it is not needed to explain those extraordinary manifestations obtained by means of suggestion or of other occult practices, as we shall show hereafter.

7. But, it may be assumed that this subconscious self, whatever may be said of it during the present life, will surely exist after death, as an exterior manifestation though in a lower degree, of our soul's own substance. No, we reply, this is even more opposed to Catholic teaching than is the preceding hypothesis. For after death, as the human personality is represented by the soul alone, the idea of the latter possessing the power of unfolding a second self distinct from the soul's self, would be equivalent to denying its simplicity and spirituality. We may add that this is more especially so as the manifestations for the sake of which that subconscious self is postulated are of a visible character, and our soul is essentially invisible.

IV. Foundation of the Error regarding the Subconscious Personality.

1. It may now be asked what the foundation of the error is on which is based the hypothesis, nowadays so widely spread, of a second inferior self in us, hidden in the folds of our superior personality and which, while escaping our control, is not responsible for our actions though it be capable of revealing itself, while we least expect it, in such extraordinary manifestations.

2. The error springs from the fact that our full and perfect personality, which is called supraliminal, is identified with conscience or consciousness, that is with that act by which we give to our own selves, as it were, an account both of our interior and exterior operations. Hence, it is claimed, those acts of ours which escape our notice, though ours in a certain degree, are not imputable to our superior personality, proceeding as they do from an inferior subconscious or subliminal personality.

3. An example will be sufficient to prove how false is the identification of personality with consciousness. Supposing a man who has, in the course of his life, deserved well of his country, comes suddenly, through illness or other cause, to lose altogether his consciousness or the memory of the past. In this case we ought to say that he loses entirely his first personality and acquires another. Now, if that man does not any longer possess that personality which had been the cause of his merits, and has now acquired another personality, succeeding to the first, it is evident that that man will not be able to be rewarded, in a just and equal manner, for his merits, since that personality from which those merits emanated and to which they belong, is now no longer.

Again, in the case of a man who, previous to the loss of his consciousness, had led a criminal life, any subsequent penance on his part would fail to blot out his fault, since he would now have a new personality. Moreover, any punishment that might be inflicted on him would be sheer injustice, as it would fall on an entirely innocent head.

4. That personality is something very distinct from conscience, is clear from the fact that consciousness, as the name indicates, is nothing else than the application of the mind to what we think, say or do. Hence, properly speaking, it is neither a faculty nor a habit, and much less is it a substance. It is that act of the mind by which we realize our operations in the intellectual as well as in the moral order.

Hence it belongs to consciousness, first, to bear testimony of what we have done or are doing; second, to illumine us on what is to be done or to be omitted and thus to withdraw us from some actions and stimulate us to others; thirdly, to pass a judgment on the goodness or malice of our actions, hence conscience is said at times to accuse us at times to prick us.

Sometimes, by extension, the name of conscience is given to that principle which serves to illumine all our actions, and which is called the habit of the first principle of morality, the classical name of which is synderesis. In any case, conscience is a thing totally distinct from morality.

5. The foundation, then, of the error of those who would recognize in us a twofold personality lies in the circumstance that we are apt to mistake that state of unconsciousness into which we occasionally fall, even whilst waking, for a really subsisting self, lurking in our inner personality, different from it and coming out in action without our knowing it. Now such an accidental modification in the state of our soul cannot be sufficient to constitute a really subsisting being distinct from our own self or true personality.

6. As regards the existence of a sub-conscious self after death, we may add that such a hypothesis is irreconcilable also with the fact that our soul will then no longer be liable to lose its own consciousness, as it will no longer be prevented by the senses or by any external object from contemplating itself and its own actions, but it will ever be present to itself. We cannot, in this life,. always reflect upon our own selves, prevented as we are by many distractions. But, after death, the soul will center upon itself the gaze of its intellect, never losing sight of its being and operations and always, as it were, feeding upon itself.

7. The hypothesis, therefore, commonly known under the name of <dedoublement> of spirits, by which some endeavor to explain the phenomena of suggestion and also of materialization, and generally all those phenomena in which another personality, different from that commonly appearing, seems to be at work, must be abandoned as contrary to sound principles of philosophy in what regards the intrinsic nature of our own personality.

V. Metempsychosis.

1. What we have said up to now regards the impossibility of dividing the human personality either during the present life or after death. There is however another theory, which has been very much favored in ancient times and is now prevalent in India, a theory which modern scientists are trying to revive. This is Metempsychosis which claims that the human soul is capable of informing or animating successively diverse bodies.

By Metempsychosis is meant the passage of the soul from one body into another. But as by the word soul may be meant either the human soul or the soul of brute animals and again by the word <body> may be understood either a dead body or a live one, so the hypothesis of metempsychosis takes various forms according as one considers the possibility of a human soul or the soul of a brute passing from one body into another, either while this body is alive, or after death.

2. The theory of metempsychosis, which is but a travesty of the faith of mankind in the immortality of the soul, has been the foundation upon which the poets of old have built up a good deal of their fiction. The transmigration of souls from one body to another, which has found acceptance with some scientists of the present day, is but a revival of the old doctrine known as the circuitous travel of spirits.[6] The reincarnation taught by Allan Kardec[7] is nothing but the metempsychosis of Buddha, with this difference, that while Buddha admits the transmigration of souls into the bodies of beasts, Allan Kardec holds to its reincarnation in other human bodies only. But once the essential and necessary relationship of the soul to its own body is taken away, there is no reason for such a limitation. If the human soul can indifferently inform anybody whatever, it can very well be received into the body of a brute beast also. Carried to its ultimate conclusion the doctrine of metempsychosis leads to this ludicrous consequence, that we should have to abstain from eating the flesh of animals lest we should be exposing ourselves to the danger of feeding upon what may be considered to have been the substance of our own relatives:—thus we know how pagan Indians abstain from flesh meat, especially of cows and oxen.

3. Metempsychosis, under whatever form it may be conceived, is contradicted by the dictates of conscience which directly rejects the idea of such a passage of the soul from one body to another. The theory is also repudiated by Catholic Philosophy, the teaching of which concerning the nature of the human soul is most explicit.

4. As already pointed out, our souls are distinct from angelic substances in that they have a marked relation to their organized bodies, not indeed to any kind of organic bodies, but to those bodies into which they are respectively infused at the very moment of their creation. This relation so distinguishes and, as it were, characterizes the essence of the human soul, that, as it is impossible for it during the present life to migrate from one body to another, so it is equally impossible for it, after this life, to animate or inform any other body, whether of an equal or of a lower form of life. The only thing that might possibly occur is that the human soul should again be made to animate and inform that same body which it had during life and towards which, although now in the grave, it has never ceased to retain a kind of inclination. This possibility, however, lies beyond the sphere of natural agency and can come to pass only by the divine will and power. The fact of the resurrection of the dead or the re-uniting of the soul to the very same flesh which it had during life, is a miracle of divine omnipotence and forms one of the principal tenets of our holy faith.

5. Akin to Metempsychosis is the poetic fiction according to which the devil takes in a man's body the place of the human soul, in such a way as to inform and govern it just as its own soul would do. Now this also is impossible since the body cannot be informed by any other than its own soul; although it would not be altogether impossible, absolutely speaking, for the devil to inhabit a human body deprived of its soul, not as its form, but as an assisting and moving principle. With poetic license Dante has expressed the foregoing thought when he imagined the souls of traitors separated from their own bodies to be tormented in hell, the devil taking meanwhile their place on earth by making their bodies appear as if they were still animated by their own souls.

"Know that the soul, that moment she betrays, As I did, yields her body to a fiend Who after moves and governs it at will, Till all its time be rounded: headlong she Falls to the cistern."[8]

6. Having thus briefly recalled to mind the Catholic teaching as to the nature of the soul in life and after death, we must now pass on to explain what degree of knowledge and power the soul may be said to possess after death. A clear understanding of these two points will be found to be of the utmost importance for a complete investigation into the real causes of spiritistic manifestations. It is a difficult, but no less important task to seek for a solution to these questions. A sure guide for us in our research will be found in that light which Catholic philosophy has shed on this abstruse subject.

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


1 <Q. disp. De anima>, Art. 21 ad 17 m.

2 <Purg.> iii, 29, foll., Cary's translation.

3 <Purg.> xxv, 88, foll., Cary's translation.

4 Therefore the expression used by Dante in <Purgatory> (Canto I, line 75), in which he calls the body ". . . the garment That in the last great day will shine so bright," is nothing more than a poetic license.

5 <Parad.>, Canto XIV, 39 (Cary's translation).

6 In theology it is called <circulus> or <transitus animarum.>

7 The true name of Allan Kardec, who is considered by many to be the founder of modern Spiritism is Leon Hippolyte Denizard Rivail.

8 <Hell>, Canto XXXIII, vv. 127-131.