Weekly Series On the Soul, Part 31 – Spirits

+JMJ+ Welcome to part 31 of our weekly series on the soul. Can you believe it? Part 31 of a series that was only intended for the month of November 2019, yet here we are. I reckon I’ll keep going with it for as long as I can find something that interests me about it. I hope it interests somebody else out there, too. As usual you’ll find notes and links at the end of the post.

Attention! We interrupt this post to bring you an important story. Like me, you may have heard about the Jesuit priests who were spared when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima at the end of WWII. But did you know about the Fatima and Transfiguration connections? I did not. You can read about it in this post by Myra Adams and watch the videos below for more.

The Transfiguration - by Ludovico Carracci

Jesuit Priests Praying the Rosary, Survive the Hiroshima Bomb – 1945

The Hiroshima Survivors, the Jesuit 8

We now return you to our regular weekly post, already in progress.

The Unseen Angelic World

In chapter one of the Unseen World Cardinal Lépicier inquires whether there are “in the invisible order, pure spirits, free from matter and distinct in kind from the souls of men separated from the body, and if so, what knowledge of material things such beings may be supposed to possess, and what power over the elements of the visible universe they may be said to have.” He said that for the most part those who looked into these things had put forth hypotheses that fell into two broad categories. 

  • One, that there exists a certain magnetic or radiating neurotic fluid, material in its nature and yet possessing none of the properties of matter” but that “must nevertheless be admitted to be endowed with extraordinary and at present [this was published in 1906] very imperfectly known powers.” 
  • The other hypothesis “connects the phenomena with the souls of the dead who may be supposed to have acquired, by their separation from the body, a condition and power superior to that of their former state, and who have consequently become capable of producing such remarkable effects in the natural world.” (Ibid., 9-10)

But the Cardinal suggests in this chapter that we inquire whether there are, “in the invisible order, pure spirits, free from matter and distinct in kind from the souls of men separated from the body, and if so, what knowledge of material things such beings may be supposed to possess, and what power over the elements of the visible universe they may be said to have.” 

Existence and Nature of Pure Spirits

Are there really, “besides the souls of the dead, other spiritual agents who have never been united to a material body, and who are consequently wholly different from them” in kind? Cardinal Lépicier will first look at what natural reason says, then whether the “extraordinary phenomena occurring in spiritistic séances” provides sufficient evidene for the existence of these pure spirits. Then he’ll look at what the Church teaches about pure spirits and what their real nature is. 

He suggests here that we can not, using reason alone, “arrive at any indisputable con- clusion as to the existence of pure spirits.” 

It is true that the philosophers of Greece and the rhetors of Rome believed in the existence of demi-gods, of genii and demons. It is furthermore beyond doubt that a belief in beings of an invisible nature, exercising an influence, for good or evil, over men, has existed at all times and in all countries. But it is equally true that the sages of antiquity have frequently been found to be in error, and that such a belief, however widely spread, has for itself no sufficient evidence to make it acceptable beyond all possibility of doubt.

The Unseen World: An Exposition Of Catholic Theology in its Relation to Modern Spiritism, A. H. M. Cardinal Lépicier, 1906, p 12.

Here he brings up an idea with which many in the world today, even Catholics, take issue. 

A survey of the constitution of this world, on the other hand, and of its several parts, although insufficient to demonstrate conclusively the existence of such invisible beings, distinct from and superior to ourselves, is nevertheless apt to predispose the thoughtful mind in favour of such a belief, and, if proposed by lawful authority, to prepare it to accept the fact as a fundamental truth.

Ibid., 12.

Sadly, even many Catholics do not accept basic Catholic teaching, much less things like this which require thought and a good deal of humility to accept. I can’t tell you how many times Catholics have told me there is no such thing as the devil, there are no angels, there are no spirits. They even accept the terribly un-Catholic idea of soul sleep, that the souls of the dead are somehow in the ground with the bodies of the dead instead of having gone to the next life, whether in Purgatory or in Heaven. How can a Catholic deny and reject basic fundamental teaching of the Church and yet continue to call himself a Catholic? Really, these things are basic Christianity, even if many Christians have rejected or forgotten or never knew them in the first place. This is why we need catechesis and evangelization and we need lots of it, fast!

And now a point about our human nature: undivided, made of a body and a soul.

By reason of our bodies we rank superior to all beings of an order entirely material ; why, then, should we not, by reason of our souls, occupy the lowest place amongst beings wholly spiritual in their essence, forming as it were a link between the world material and immaterial, between substances visible and invisible, between body and pure spirit?

As man is the apex of the material world, it is not unnatural to look for the complement of that spiritual perfection, which is but shadowed forth in him, in a class of beings of a superior order, free from all matter, however subtle we may conceive this to be. 

Again, a survey of the nature of our own intellectual powers leads us to the same con- clusion, viz., that the existence of substances, wholly spiritual, is consistent with the harmony of the universe.

Ibid., 12-13

He continues to consider reason and how it helps us understand the world around us and how we can reason about things we cannot perceive directly, and the analogy he uses is the way we use dark glass in order to see the sun. We have to use something that will step down the light so we to make it visible to us, which also at the same time “prevents our seeing it in all its glorious brilliancy.” We can imagine beings who don’t have to do that, who can see directly, and we can imagine “intelligent spiritual substances, having mental perception wholly independent of sensible images and a spiritual sight compared with which ours is that of an unborn child.”

But he realizes that though plausible these observations don’t prove the existence of pure spirits. We want to know about their objective reality but here reason alone cannot tell us this. What we do know of the universe is “sufficient evidence to prove the existence of God, the Maker of all things. For the consideration of the universe necessarily leads the mind to the knowledge of a first cause, one in nature, and infinitely good and perfect…”

For the invisible things of Him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, His eternal power also and divinity.

Rom 1:20

But the existence of pure spirits would remain a mystery to us, “were it not for a special revelation from God, of which we shall speak hereafter.” 

The Spiritistic Phenomena not Sufficient Evidence for the Existence of Pure Spirits.

I think I can sum up this section by saying that merely observing that some things take place that seem to not be caused by the human persons present, or by the souls of the dead, and seem to defy the laws of nature, is not evidence enough to prove conclusively that pure spirits are responsible for them or even that pure spirits exist. For one thing, the souls of the dead have been separated from their bodies, and therefore cannot exert control over the elements of matter, so it can’t be due to them, but we have not stated enough evidence to justify attributing these acts to other spirits, either.

Here we would do well to call to mind what Dom Alois Wiesinger said in his book, which we explored in the first five posts in this series. He disagrees with Cardinal Lépicier about this, though that doesn’t mean he’ll disagree with everything the Cardinal wrote. I’ll quote him here. 

It is instructive to observe how those authors who ascribe all spiritualist and occult phenomena to the devil seem concerned to minimize the powers possessed by the soul when it has become separated from the body; they seem determined that this whole territory shall remain strictly reserved for the powers of evil which alone are assumed to be capable of these activities. We should therefore really submit the facts to a calm examination, and take note of what the masters have to tell us so that we may attain clarity in this important question. Certainly it is misleading for Fr. Lacroix to say: ‘The soul, when separated from the body, has no power over the body’, or when Alessio Lépicier continually speaks of an essential difference that exists between a spirit on the one hand and the soul that is freed from the body on the other.

Admittedly the soul belongs to a different species of spirits than those to which the term spirit usually refers, but that is no reason for denying that it possesses any of the powers which usually belong to spirits, all the more so since according to some writers every angel belongs to a different species but all have the powers proper to spirits. Naturally, as an inferior spirit, the human soul possesses these advantages in a less degree than the angels, but in essence it does possess them in one form or another.

Occult Phenomena in the Light of the Soul, Dom Alois Wiesinger, 1957, p 21-22.

With that caveat in mind, let’s see what Cardinal Lépicier has to say about adequate proof. It involves more than the use of reason, which is insufficient for proof.

Adequate Proof of the Existence of Pure Spirits.

This insufficiency, however, has been supplemented by the teaching of the Catholic Church, in the definition found in the fourth Council of Lateran: “(God) By His almighty power created together in the beginning of time both creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, namely the Angelic and the earthly, and afterwards the human, as it were a common creature, composed of spirit and body.’

Ibid., 19.

There are those, he says, that believe the “human soul related to a body” and “pure spirits free from such relation” are distinct in degree but not in kind, so that the difference is accidental and not substantial. But the Church says, no, the pure spirit is “essentially different from the human soul,” so different that it “cannot be substantially united to a body, while the latter is received into the body which it animates from the very first moment of its creation.” (Ibid., 20.)

And here is something those should read who say that people become angels after they die. And also those who embrace the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin. 

An evolution of the human soul into an angelic nature is contradicted by the voice of nature, our natural craving being for some accidental perfection, not for a change in kind. Such a change, moreover, in order to take place, would imply the very destruction of the soul itself, seeing that it could not attain to a higher specific form without suffering substantial change and the consequently previous destruction. Indeed, the evolution of a being into a substantially distinct species is contrary to Catholic teaching.

Ibid., 20-21.

The Nature of Pure Spirits

Hindered as we are by our material surroundings, and all the conceptions of our minds being necessarily accompanied by material and sensible images, we cannot, except with great difficulty, arrive at an exact notion of the essence of a pure spirit.

Now by the ‘words, pure spirits we mean intelligent beings of so subtle a nature as to be in no wise composed of matter, however refined or ethereal we may conceive that matter to be. Such beings would thus be imperceptible to the keenest and most perfect of our senses, and transcend the entire order of the material and visible world. It would be a mistake, therefore, to conceive of them as belonging to a class intermediate between beings which are endowed with and beings which are without a bodily form, such as the credulity of the middle ages has imagined Sylphs to be…The beings of which we speak here are not in any sense composed of matter. But they must not only be conceived to be intrinsically free from all matter, but also in no wise substantially united or related to it.

The immateriality of the beings we are now contemplating is the reason why they are properly called spirits, the term spirit implying an idea of something altogether above matter and free from all essential relation to it. Hence this term should not properly be applied to designate the human soul. For, although the human soul too is of a spiritual nature, yet, since it is ordained to inform a body, and to constitute with it one individual substance, it is not a pure spirit except in a much wider sense of that term.

Ibid., 21-22.

Pure spirits are endowed with “a mental perception far superior to ours,” so they are also called intellects, intelligences, or minds, wihch is “that faculty by which these pure spirits know the truth.” (Ibid., 22-23.) 

These intelligences are closer God than any other creatures, midway between God and man, so they are used by God to deliver the divine message to the human race, and we call them Angels, from the Greek, ἄγγελος, aggelos—a messenger. But there are good and evil angels.

Angels are not composed of any kind of material, no matter how subtle we imagine material to be. “God has created all things in this world for the manifestation of His infinite perfections, and Angels are by nature most beautiful mirrors, reflecting the spirituality of the Godhead.” (Ibid., 24.) But they are limited, whereas God is not. God can know and do all things, Angels can only know and act within certain boundaries. 

And this brings us to the close of this chapter and also this post. Next week’s chapter is on the topic of Angelic Knowledge. Apparently, Cardinal Lépicier and Dom Wiesinger are mostly in accord in their views. Hopefully I can do some comparison and make some notes on it for next week’s post.

Thank you for visiting and reading. Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, please stay safe and well, virtuous and holy. May the Lord bless and keep you and yours, and may His peace be always with you. +JMJ+

Notes and Links

  • A. H. M. Cardinal Lépicier is quoted in Dom Wiesinger’s book, Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology, which was the subject of the first five posts in this series
  • Get a copy of The Unseen World: An Exposition Of Catholic Theology in its Relation to Modern Spiritism by A. H. M. Cardinal Lépicier, 1906: Leatherbound. Paperback. Free formats including PDF or black and white PDF (smaller file size). (First two links are affiliate links. See Full Disclosure below  for more about that.)
  • If you haven’t read those first five posts, you might want to go back to the beginning and read them before you go much further. They’re probably the most important ones in the whole project so far and Dom Wiesinger is one who I have come to rely on more than almost any other source. More than St. Thomas you might ask? No, because Dom Wiesinger himself relies so much on St. Thomas. It’s one of the reasons I am confident in his reliability. This is not to say that Cardinal Lépicier has nothing useful to say. After all, Dom Wiesinger does cite his work in his book, so he did think it worthwhile to see what he had to say. 

Image: In the series banner, The Blessed Soul, by Guido Reni, Wikimedia, public domain. At first glance it looked like an Angel to me, though I suppose the wings could be taken to suggest the soul’s movement upward toward the divine light after the body’s death, as I read in a description, and not representing an angel’s wings.) The Transfiguration, by Ludovico Carracci. Wikimedia, public domain.

Copyright: All original material on Catholic Heart and Mind is Copyright © 2009-2023 Lee Lancaster. All rights reserved. Read more.

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