Weekly Series on the Soul, Part 32 – After Death

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+JMJ+ Welcome to part 32 of our weekly series on the soul. There’s more about the angels in the first chapter of The Unseen World, but I’m jumping ahead to dive into chapter two, “The Human Soul After Death.” A link to a free PDF copy of the book will be at the end of this post, along with other notes and links.

Chapter 2 The Human Soul After Death

”As already pointed out, a large number of modern scientists, relying on the declarations repeatedly elicited at séances that the authors of the spiritistic phenomena are none other than the souls of human beings separated by death from the body, are increasingly coming to the conclusion that this must in reality be so, and that these souls must be supposed to have acquired, in their new state, stores of knowledge and of power which they could not have possessed in this present life.”

The Unseen World, 93.

We saw in the first posts of this series what Dom Wiesinger had to say about that idea. The human soul has amazing abilities in this present life, but the soul’s attention and powers are usually too taken up with matters of the body to exercise those powers and abilities. More about this in a moment.

The next paragraph mentions how widespread the practice was of trying to communicate with the dead. Christian emperors tried to stop it by enacting severe laws against it as converts from paganism brought their paganism with them. Several councils seconded the enactment of these laws, but they weren’t very successful. (Ibid., 93.)

I want to point out again that Dom Wiesinger (in Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology, see note below) discusses those powers and acts of the human soul that are often attributed to other beings, even demons, powers and abilities that are still present after the Fall, but not in their original full capacity; and that the phenomena at séances, if real, does not have to be ascribed to any human who has already passed over or any non-human spirit, either; but can quite possibly have its origin in someone present at the séance, someone alive in this present life. (Ibid., 11.) But Cardinal Lépeicier takes a different view, as Dom Wiesinger points out in his book (Ibid., viii.) I don’t know what the Cardinal may say further along about the preternatural gifts of our parents that were lost to us (partially, but not completely) at the Fall or not. This is just something to keep in mind as we go along. It’ll be interesting to see where and how much they differ in their ideas.

Now, keep in mind I’m no expert–which has certainly become obvious long before now–and I’m not teaching this material–I wouldn’t presume! I’m discovering it while reading it and blogging it as I go. I haven’t put all the pieces of the puzzle together yet. I haven’t even found all the pieces. So since I have not worked with this material for long, I highly recommend that you get copies (the free PDFs would be just fine) to read for yourself. As we continue the series, I’ll be able (I hope) to compare more and more the works of other authors to Dom Wiesinger. And I’ll do a re-read and post more of his book that I haven’t covered yet, if not in lengthy quotes, then in references and shorter quotes.

Back to Cardinal Lépicier. 

“Now, in order to determine whether the phenomena of spiritism may, in some way or other, be attributed to the souls of the dead, it is necessary to explain, according to sound principles of philosophy, first, what the state of the soul, separated by death from the body, is; secondly, what the knowledge is which it may be said to possess; thirdly, what is the extent of its power.

“But as it is impossible to arrive at any conclusion as to the knowledge of the human soul after death without inquiring what that knowledge is in this life, we shall incidentally explain to the reader the teaching of Catholic philosophy on this point.”

Ibid., 93.

Section 1: The State of the Soul Separated from the Body

“Although the human soul is destined, by reason of its nature, to be united to an organic body, yet is it 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.”

Ibid., 94.

This next is very important, especially in light of the ubiquitous of New Age nonsense, distortions and errors about the soul, even in the Church these days. 

“[The soul’s] union with the [body] is so close and intimate that to admit between the two the presence of any veil, however ethereal, would mean the rejection of the teaching of Catholic psychology on the union of soul and body in the present life.”

Ibid., 94-95. Emphasis added.

You might want to read that again. This is denied by so many that it bears repeating and repeating often. The New Age and spiritistic ideas about the soul are in conflict with the teachings of the Church on the soul and its union with the body.

He continues:

“Their [the soul’s and the body’s] respective boundaries are not traceable by any line of demarcation, and the traditional teaching of the Church has discountenanced, as opposed to the soul’s spirituality, anything like an envelope or perispirit containing the soul and exhibiting as it were its outlines. For, if this perispirit called by some astral body be intrinsic to the soul, it is part of the same and the soul is as a consequence material; if it is only an outward involucrum, it again supposes the soul to be material, for a truly spiritual being transcends all matter and cannot be contained by a body however subtle this may be. In either case we have the destruction of that formal union between soul and body which is taught by Catholic philosophy. 

Ibid., 95.

On this Wiesinger (Occult Phenomena, p 215) and Lépicier agree, which is good because this seems to me to be a foundational point. Get this wrong and I don’t see one could help but get everything else wrong.

“But we must now examine what is the natural state of this spiritual substance, that is, of our soul after it has departed the body, that so we may pave the way to an understanding of the knowledge and power it then naturally possesses. It would, however, be of no use endeavouring 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 as a probable hypothesis.”

Ibid., 95-96.

A note here about the word metempsychosis:

metempsychosis (n.)

1580s, “passing of the soul at death into another body, human or animal,” from Late Latin metempsychosis, from Greek metempsychosis, from meta, here indicating “change” (see meta-) + empsykhoun “to put a soul into,” from en “in” (see in- (2)) + psychē “soul” (see psyche). A Pythagorean word for transmigration of souls at death. Related: Metempsychose (v.) “transfer from one body to another” (1590s).

Metempsychosis, from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

The notion of transmigration of souls, or metempsychosis or reincarnation, which is widespread in New Age thought (as well as in other religions and philosophies) is rejected by the Church and cannot be held to be compatible with her teachings.

And this brings us to a good stopping place for today. Here’s a preview of what is coming up in the book. Looks interesting. :) The checkmarks are in the scan of the book, they’re not mine.

Thanks for visiting and reading. I hope you’re finding something useful on this now-sprawling site. Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, please stay safe and well, virtuous and holy. May the Lord bless and keep you, and may His peace be always with you. +JMJ+

Saints Pontian and Hippolytus, pray for us!

Saints Pontian and Hippolytus, Holy Martyrs, pray for us!


Notes and Links

  • A. H. M. Cardinal Lépicier’s book, The Unseen World (see next note), 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. That’s where I first came across his name. Links to the Dom’s book may be found at the end of those posts.
  • 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. We just have to keep Wiesinger’s work in mind, I think. In any case, I’m exploring what Catholic teaching on the soul is and has been in the past.

Image: 1) 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. 2) The Unseen World, Table of Contents for chapters 2 and 3. screenshot. 3) Saints Pontian and Hippolytus, saved from the Liturgy Archive, still searching for the artist. Read more about these martyrs.

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