Weekly Series on the Soul, Part 35 – What the Soul Knows After Death

+JMJ+ Welcome to part 35 of our weekly series on the soul. Our text is The Unseen World: An Exposition Of Catholic Theology in its Relation to Modern Spiritism by A. H. M. Cardinal Lépicier, and we’re currently reading chapter 2, section 2: The Knowledge of the Departed Human Soul. We’re talking about the Catholic teaching on these things and not about soul sleep (a belief of some of our separated brethren) and not about raising the spirits of the dead (which would be necromancy and was condemned by the Church from earliest times, as it is in the Bible). We are talking about how the human soul lives on even after the body dies. One day the soul and the body will be reunited at the resurrection, and, specifically in this post, about the soul and its knowledge after separation from the body, after the death of the body. Notes and links will be at the end of this post.

To understand how the separated soul (separated from its body) can attain knowledge, Cardinal Lépicier says we need to understand the way we “arrive at the knowledge of truth in this present life.” This will help us see the difference between the way of attaining knowledge and also allow us to compare the kind of knowledge which belongs to the soul after death and the knowledge we naturally possess during (this) life. This will also help us to ascertain the true causes of spiritistic manifestations.

If we would determine, for instance, whether such a phenomenon as the imparting of special knowledge, in a manner different from that in ordinary use during life, may be attributed to the souls of the dead, it is necessary that we should 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. To decide this latter 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—an inquiry which will lead us to consider the modern phenomenon of telepathy.

Lépicier, Unseen, 112-113.

We will also be able to examine further the “theory of the second or subconscious self” (see part 34), and the theory of mental vibrations (“closely connected with the theory of fluidic magnetic emanations from the human body”). 

(Remember, this book was published in 1906 when a good many people believed those theories were true, and don’t for one minute think that’s all gone away now. Look up “spiritism” or “Theosophy” on the web and you won’t have to go far to find articles about the “etheric double” and “magnetism” or “attraction” as it’s sometimes called. Mesmer may be gone, but there aare a whole lot of people still trying to do what he allegedly did. Different groups, and different people in different groups, use their own names for things. It can get downright confusing.)

After we understand what the soul can know in this life and what the soul can know in the next life, then he’ll discuss the main points at issue:

Whether the departed human soul can manifest its thoughts to us and, vice versdy whether we can manifest our thoughts to a departed soul. And the result of our inquiry will constitute the answer to our original question, which of the two is to be held responsible for the manifesta- tions under consideration: the souls of the dead, or angelic spirits?

Ibid., 114.

The Cardinal reminds us that 

“we are now considering the human soul after death according to the light of reason only, and not according to the light of faith : that is, we intend to speak of its natural knowledge, and not of that supernatural knowledge which only the souls of the blessed possess in the vision of the Divine Essence. This knowledge ennobles the soul far above all that we can imagine; but as this consideration lies outside the scope of the present work, we do not propose to enter upon it here.”

Ibid., 114.

An aside: Since the Cardinal brought it up, the “supernatural knowledge which only the souls of the blessed possess in the vision of the Divine Essence” is the Beatific Vision, and that reminds me of an early episode of the Taylor Marshall podcast, episode 10, wherein he answers the question, How Do Saints Hear Our Prayers? Start listening at about 7:17 for that segment, it’s a good one. Let me know if it blows your mind. It sure blew mine. By the way, Dr. Marshall says in the podcast that the saint who saw the apparition of St. John and the Blessed Virgin Mary was St. Gregory of Nyssa, but he corrected that in a later podcast. It was St. Gregory the Wonderworker or St. Gregory Thaumaturgus. The link is to a Christian iconography site but there are many others pages on the web about the event. Now, back to the text.

How Knowledge can be obtained in the Present Life

The soul being essentially destined to inform the body and to be one complete nature with it, it is in the very nature of things that it should make use of the senses of the body to acquire knowledge, whatever we may imagine this knowledge to be. Hence it is that an infant’s soul is but a blank sheet of paper [don’t get too distracted by what sounds like a tabla rasa remark, perhaps we can just say the infant is not bringing knowledge of past lives with him, and leave it at that], and that it is only in the course of years, when its sensitive faculties are developed, that truth begins to dawn on its intellect, and increases proportionately with the growth of those faculties, which are also necessary for the normal exercise of its mental powers ; for should they in any way be impaired, the intellect cannot have free play.

It should not be inferred therefrom, 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 senses whether external or internal. The truth is that, unless these faculties supply the sensible images of things, the intellect will be without objects to contemplate. And the power of the human intellect is so great that, by turning to those sensitive images, it can penetrate the wall of material things and reach intellectual truth, which indeed is the end for which it was created.

Thus it is that intellectual knowledge is far superior to sensitive knowledge, although mental speculation, in the present life, is always accompanied by sensible images. But, because 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 reading of that spiritual truth which lies beyond them.

Ibid., 114-116.

The Knowledge of the Soul after Death

The present condition of life is such that perfect freedom from the sensible images of things is not possible, simply because of the intimate union existing between the 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 the 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.

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—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 and could have no mental operation whatever, a thing contrary to its very nature.

Ibid., 116-118.

We’ll pick up with the next section, A Comparison between our Knowledge during Life and our Knowledge after Death, page 118, in 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 may His peace be always with you. +JMJ+

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.
  • If you want to get a head start on the ones coming up in a few weeks, here are the links. 
    • Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate, by John W. Cooper. Paperback. Kindle.
    • A Brief History of the Soul, by Charles Taliaferro and Stewart Goetz. Paperback. Kindle.
    • And a whole bunch of other things I’ve found which I haven’t even begun to look at yet.

Image credits: 1) In the series banner, The Blessed Soul, by Guido Reni. 2) Adoration of the Trinity, by Vicente López Portaña. Both are from Wikimedia, public domain. 

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

Full Disclosure: Some links on my site are marked as affiliate links. That means that if you purchase a product using those links, or any product after clicking through those links (or my general Amazon link), I may earn a small commission (at no cost to you) that will help pay for this site, my book habit, or treats for Miss Lucy Dawg. We thank you in advance. God bless!

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