Weekly Series on the Soul, Part 36 – Knowledge During Life and After Death

+JMJ+ Welcome to part 36 of our weekly series on the soul. We’re nearly at the end of our exploration of the soul according to Cardinal Lépicier in his book, The Unseen World: An Exposition Of Catholic Theology in its Relation to Modern Spiritism, which you can get as a free PDF in the Notes and Links section at the end of this post. This week, beginning on page 118: “A Comparison between our Knowledge during Life and our Knowledge after Death.”

A Comparison between our Knowledge during Life and our Knowledge after Death.

“What, it may now be asked, is the difference between the knowledge which the soul thus 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.”

Lépicier, The Unseen World, page 118.

The Cardinal reminds us again that he is not discussing the Beatific vision, the knowledge that the saints have but those who have not attained the perfection of sainthood do not have. 

“Now, in order to understand what the natural knowledge of the soul after death is, it is sufficient to remember that, though 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 of turning to those images, and it will consequently fail to grasp, as angels do, each particular object contained in the images.”

Ibid., 118-119.

Let me see if I can summarize: Basically, angels can see something and comprehend what they see in its particulars and comprehend the principles, too, in general, and all of this without having to depend upon the senses since they don’t have them. We, on the other hand, depend on our senses for knowledge, so the soul in the afterlife, suddenly bereft of its body, and so also its senses, is without ability to see. Still, the soul after death would not be totally blind because the soul does have faculties higher than physical sight, but these faculties, if not yet perfected as the saints’ faculties are, are not able to see clearly. The light to which they are exposed is overwhelming to them and so they are blind without being blind. They could see but cannot see, or can’t see yet. 

We know nothing impure can be in heaven, we know the saints are in heaven, and we know that some souls are not bound for hell but are not yet purified before death. So those souls woud be in Purgatory where they are being purified and made ready for heaven, and the Beatific Vision that the saints enjoy. So things must appear dark to them at first, while they are being purified, even though it is actually a very bright light that is blinding them and making it difficult for them to see. The senses help us to see things with distinctness and definition, but the soul after death sees perhaps more things but without that distinctness. So the soul would see more, but less clearly. Here we see less, but more clearly. And we also don’t see things as well as the angels do, they being spirits who can perceive directly without ever being impeded by matter or senses.

I’m probably not using the proper philosophical or theological terms, but I hope I’m making some sort of sense and that I understand what the Cardinal is saying.

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

The separated soul will “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.” The soul will also have “the recollection of things known during the present life. For it is a point of Catholic Theology, which is generally admitted in spiritistic communications, that the knowledge acquired during this life endures even after death.” Images from the senses cease but “spiritual images [are] supplied to the soul by God for its intelligence.” All of this will be different for different individuals. (Ibid., 122.)

“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; and 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, 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. It will moreover naturally know, to some extent at least, those angels whose company it actually shares.”

“But it does not follow from this that each single soul will naturally know all other departed souls. The knowledge of each soul will be restricted to such souls only 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 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 oul, whether good or evil, will be made manifest to the whole world.”

“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.”

“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 special event of which it could not otherwise have any knowledge. Thus God may reveal to a particular 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 friend, and so on.”

Ibid., 125-126.

There is another source of knowledge for the soul after death and that is from other souls after death. No words will be necessary. 

So there are five kinds of knowledge the soul will have after death:

  1. 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.
  2. It will retain that knowledge which it may have acquired during life. 
  3. 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. 
  4. Special revelations may be made to the separated soul as it may please the providence of God. 
  5. The soul may draw some new information from its conversation with angels or with other souls.

The Beatific Vision is another kind of knowledge the soul may have, but not all souls will have it and, besides, that is not what we’re covering here. (There is something about the Beatific Vision in part 35, an early podcast from Taylor Marshall about how the saints can hear our prayers. Blew my mind when I heard it a few years ago. All of this stuff does. Been studying Catholicism since 1994 and it STILL blows my mind like nothing else ever has.)

The Cardinal goes on to say that there are no other ways of acquiring knowledge for the separated soul and they won’t know of our goings on here unless it is by one of the ways mentioned already.

So can departed souls really make known what they have learned in the afterlife when they appear during spiritistic séances? The Cardinal says, in a word, No. The human soul after death has powers, yes, but they cannot compare to that of the angels who can form bodies which they can use to communicate 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. But these differences will be more clearly brought out as we advance in our study.”

Ibid., 131.

Next week, I’ll try to cover at least these sections: 

  • Whether Spiritistic Manifestations can be attributed to Departed Souls? 
  • Whether and How Departed Souls can Converse Together? 
  • How we Communicate our Thoughts to our Fellow-men in the Present Life. 

If I can get further in that post, I will. We’ll just have to see. I can summarize some, but I’m still learning so I’m reluctant to try that too much. 

Thanks for 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. 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. 
  • If you want to get a head start on the ones coming up in a few weeks, or if you simply want to know more about all of this like I do, here are some 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 some more stuff I’ve only collected so far and haven’t done more than glance at. :)

Image credits: 1) In the series banner, The Blessed Soul, by Guido Reni, Wikimedia, public domain. 2) The Church Triumphant (Saints in heaven), the Church Suffering (Holy Souls in Purgatory), and the Church Militant (the souls still living in this life, Christian Soldiers engaged in the Spiritual Combat). I’ve had this image so long in my collection, I don’t remember where I found it or who the artist is. It’s ubiquitous on the web. I’ll search my database and see if I jotted down any notes on it.

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