Weekly Series on the Soul, Part 37 – Communication

+JMJ+ Welcome to part 37 of our weekly series on the soul. This will likely be the last post in our exploration of the soul according to Cardinal Lépicier’s 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, we’re beginning on page 131, Whether Spiritistic Manifestations can be attributed to Departed Souls.

“Coming now to the manifestations taking place at spiritistic séances, and involving the disclosure of things unknown to the persons participating in them, the question which presents itself is: Can these manifestations, as it is claimed, be ascribed to the agency of departed souls?”

“Our answer is: Granting for a moment, and for argument’s sake, that a direct intercourse between departed souls and living men were possible, it would still have to be objected that many of the spiritistic manifestations involve a power of perception on the part of the communicating intelligences of which the departed soul cannot possibly be conceived to be capable.”

Ibid., 131-132.

Things that “cannot be attributed to the agency of departed souls” include:

“[N]ew and startling disclosures are made regarding the natural world, such, for instance, as meteoric phenomena, which lie altogether outside the reach of our experiences or the manifestation of hidden treasures, of sudden accidents, or of future natural events. In the same way the speaking with diverse tongues, the giving of precise details about the arts and sciences, or about unknown occurrences.”

Ibid., 132.

It’s not because of distance. After death, the soul obtains “knowledge from images emanating from the divine light, which is independent of local distance” (page 132). So it’s not distance that’s the problem but the fact that clairvoyance (seeing things at a distance) “lies entirely outside its field of perception. Cardinal Lépicier asks, even if the knowledge of the disembodied soul were equal to that of the angelic mind (and he is not saying that it is), how could that soul communicate such knowledge to a living being? Can it illuminate a person’s mind the way an angel can? He suggests on page 133 that we must answer this twofold question:

  • Whether the disembodied soul can manifest its thoughts to us in this present life, and 
  • whether we can in this life communicate our thoughts to a disembodied soul.

And before we can answer that, we need to consider this: 

  • first, whether disembodied souls can communicate with each other, and also 
  • in what manner we communicate our inmost thoughts and desires to each other in the present life.

Some scientists were trying then (and are trying now) to discover a natural origin for at least some spiritistic communications: the theory of the unconscious self and the theory of mental vibrations. (I’ve obtained some books on this very subject from this very angle in recent weeks.)

Whether and How Departed Souls can Converse Together?

Cardinal Lépicier says, yes, departed souls can communicate with each other because the obstacle has been removed (the body) which in life prevents them. Disembodied souls communicate the way angels do, by simply turning the mind of one to another, and can communicate with the angels, too, in this same way. And time and space are no longer impediments to it either. But these communications are not known to all the other souls. (See page 135).

How we Communicate our Thoughts to our Fellow-men in the Present Life

We communicate with each other in this life by means of the tongue, and by writing, gestures, and other signs “which are only substitutes for the organ of speech.” But can “an entirely spiritual communication be directly carried on with other living persons in a manner similar to that in which angels and separated souls communicate with each other?” Do we accept or not the telepathic theory? Does there exist some physical means (other than speech or writing or any other conventional and sensible sign) by which one person can make known his thoughts and intentions to another person when they are present or separated by great distances from each other? (See page 136.)

“Now, in order to explain any such mysterious communication, one or other of these hypotheses only is conceivable.”

“(1) Either an unconscious subliminal or inferior self is, with or without the agency of a medium, made to project itself from the communicator to the person whom he desires to reach; —or (2) some waves of mental vibration, having for their substratum a certain kind of radiating neurotic fluid, may be imagined to be put in undulatory motion by the thinking intellect, and to be awakening in the other intellect similar thoughts and desires, perhaps in the way in which light emanating from a star reaches our eyes, or the sound of a speaker’s voice conveys to us his thoughts;—or (3) these communications must be attributed to some immaterial or spiritual entity, independent of and distinct from our own minds and souls; in such a way that we be able to manifest our thoughts and desires to this entity, and this entity, in its turn, manifesting its own thoughts and desires to us.”

Ibid., 137.

The Theory of the Unconscious Subliminal Self

“If by a subliminal self is meant, not a distinct entity, but only a certain class of unconscious mani- festations which are in us the effect of previous habit and which escape our control, the acceptance of the theory cannot meet with any difficulty whatever.”

But, what we here consider, and what is really meant by the upholders of the subliminal theory, is the assumption that this kind of subconscious manifestation is due to a separate personality, distinct from the normal one, and operating on lines entirely different from it. Now the assumption of the existence of any such distinct personality is contrary to the postulates of Catholic philosophy… {I]t divides our human personality, the nature of which is to be essentially one.”

Ibid., 140-141.

“Besides this, this theory has the fault of presenting to us, as part of our own selves, an object of which our conscience tells us absolutely nothing. This inferior self escapes, it is assumed, our notice and eludes our control, so that however deeply we may examine our innermost being, we can never realize it as part of ourselves. But if this entity were really an integral part of us, it ought to come, in one way or another, within the range of our intimate knowledge, and we ought, at least in some degree, to be conscious of it. And this would seem the more obvious from the fact that we acknowledge as our own even those actions which, at the moment of their performance, escape our notice, but which we know from our own experience or from that of others to have emanated from us, although there is of course a vast difference between a passing action and an entity which endures, such as the subHminal self assumed to be.”

“But, leaving this aside, and granting that, contrary to what we have said above as to the impossibility of dividing the personality, such a being really does exist either in us, or in the medium of whom we may make use, the acceptance of it would still meet with this insurmountable difficulty, that such a self could neither be influenced by our minds, nor act upon the minds of those to whom we wish to communicate our thoughts. Our mind is, in its essence, of a wholly spiritual nature, whereas this subliminal being is, from the very condition of the case, made up of a certain kind of matter, which is wholly different from spirit, however subtle that matter may be imagined to be. Now it is impossible, both that our mind should act directly upon matter, and vice versa, that matter should act directly upon our mind.”

“A subconscious material self which would act as a channel by which we may communicate, without words or signs of any kind, with persons either present or distant, is above the forces and laws of nature, our mind being incapable of communicating its thoughts to matter, and matter, in its turn, being inadequate to receive or transmit thought except through conventional signs, such as human skill has either invented or at least perfected. A subconscious self, such as scientists imagine it, would have to be both material and immaterial material because it is, under certain conditions, said to be visible to the senses, and immaterial because it is assumed to be the recipient and transmitter of immaterial thoughts.”

Ibid., 141-143. Emphasis added.

The Theory of Mental Vibrations

“Now, although we possess a certain amount of control over the organs of our body, we have certainly no direct power over any extraneous matter. And the reason for this is not the fact of our soul’s spirituality—for the angels also are spiritual and yet have great power over matter but just because of the difference that exists between the nature of the soul and that of angelic beings. The angelic substances, being free from and superior to all matter, can act upon any kind of matter, but the human soul, being bound to an organic body, can act only on the matter of that body. Thus we may form in our imagination any phantasm we please and utter any word we like, but all the power of our will will not enable our soul to lift up as much as the weight of a straw without the use of external means.”

Ibid., 144.

“The notion that our thoughts might be but certain forms of a material substance of a definite character and capable of being projected in any direction, is a conception so gross and one so often examined and condemned, that its consideration here would involve us in too lengthy a discussion, and would moreover take us back to the question of the spirituality of the human soul. And as on the one hand this truth is not denied by intelligent spiritualists, and on the other it is impossible to agree with confirmed materialists as to the true character of mental operations, we shall refrain from a detailed exposition of the Catholic doctrine of the spirituality of the human soul and the nature of its operations. We have from the outset accepted its truth as the basis of our present consideration.” 

“Taking it for granted, therefore, that the soul is a spiritual substance and that the operations properly belonging to it, viz., understanding and willing, are spiritual operations, and seeing that what is spiritual does not depend on matter and cannot be locally transferred as bodies can from one place to another, we must reject, as contrary to the soul’s intrinsic nature, any system that seeks for an explanation of spiritistic phenomena either in a local transmission of thought or in the projection of the will.”

Ibid., 145-146.

The Hypothesis of a Magnetic Fluid

“This hypothesis has recently obtained special favour with scientists. It is, however, explained by them in a variety of ways. Some assume the existence of a neurotic magnetic fluid, emanating from the brain and travelling in the direction of the person to whom the attention is directed; others hold that extremely minute particles of brain substance are projected with great rapidity from the brain of the communicator to that of the recipient; others again postulate the creation and projection of brain-waves, not altogether unlike the Hertzian waves, which, having their starting-point in the brain-cells and terminating in those of the recipient, are the means of awakening in the latter corresponding thoughts and sensations.”

Ibid., 146.

These theories all assume that “by the exercise of the same power an extremely subtle but powerful substance, intrinsically conjoined to our body, is set in motion and is able to receive and to communicate at will any thought of our own mind which may impress itself upon it…[I]t is maintained that this process which is only in its embryonic stage will, in the course of time and when science shall come to know more of this mysterious element, develop into an ordered system of communication between mind and mind.” (See page 147.)

“[I]t is well to point out here once more that if the substance which is supposed to be the recipient of these mental impressions is to be regarded as extraneous to our body, it would be evident that so far the theory certainly could not be admitted, it having been shown that our will is powerless as regards the direct use of matter lying outside our own being. The hypothesis, therefore, is only admissible on the condition that the matter conceived to be the substratum of these mental waves be considered as being intrinsically and vitally connected with our own substance, and as having its origin in us in such a way that, radiating from our brain-centre, no distance, however great, can cause it to cease to be part of that substance; it must be regarded as an extension, in fact, of our own personality.”

Ibid., 147-148.

This type of substance may exist. But to what kind of “phenomena could such matter, should it be proved to exist, give rise? Would they be of an intellectual or merely of a physical order? Could such material waves receive the impression of our ideas and thus convey them to another person at a distance?” (See page 149.)

“Now it must be evident that if this imaginary fluid or substance is to convey our thoughts to some particular person in such a manner that this person be able to perceive them, it would have to obey our will and take the direction intended and find its resting-place. And here is our first great difficulty. For, in order to be able to accomplish this, it would be necessary that this fluid should be an extension of ourselves, a substance animated by our own soul, the will itself being powerless as regards outside matter, and no substance being under its control which has passed the threshold of the body, as has been observed before.”

“[S]upposing this fluid to be part of our substance in such a way that we may be able to control it in the manner in which we can control our hands or our feet, there would be the further question: Is this fluid capable of receiving the impressions of our thoughts, at least in the same way in which our own brain receives them?”

“Of themselves they are simply physical modifica- tions of matter, and become a principle of know- ledge only in so far as the subject to which they belong reads into them. Those images would, therefore, be a means of knowledge only in and for the subject to which they belong. It would be the same as if our soul, instead of making use of the cerebral organ, made use of the magnetic fluid for an identical end and purpose.”

Ibid., 149-150.

“And supposing we here further grant that this fluid, set in motion by our brain, really comes in contact with the brain of the person with whom we wish to communicate, can the thoughts of the first brain be thus conceived to impress themselves upon the second? These images, as we have pointed out, are essentially those of the first brain; now, is it possible that the second brain, supposed to be in contact with the substance emanating from the first, so apprehends those images as to know what this first person is thinking about?”

“We cannot admit any such possibility. For, as these mental images are vital images, they are principles of knowledge only for the person in whom they originate. The brain-fluid may perhaps rouse another person in a general sort of way, but the images which it conveys must remain a sealed book to him, for the simple reason that knowledge is not communicated by the transfer of mental images from one subject to another, but by an intelligent being exciting within himself his innate power of forming the images for himself, both the acquisition of knowledge and the contemplation of it being a personal vital action.”

Ibid., 151.

“The wave-theory, therefore, inadmissible as a proven fact, cannot be reasonably entertained even as a hypothesis, and cannot be considered as furnishing a plausible explanation of those unseen and direct communications taking place through spiritism or practices akin to it, and, as in some instances, between persons placed at a great distance from each other. It is a theory wholly made up of assumptions and suppositions, and one which falls to the ground immediately it is closely examined and analyzed.”

Ibid., 152.

“We must conclude, then, that the spiritistic phenomena, whether psychological, physiological, or mechanical, can neither be the result of the working of the human will or intelligence, nor the outcome of the action of some unknown subtle fluid or substance which is at the control of the will.”

“The theory of mental vibrations, therefore, with which neither the phenomena occurring in the ordinary course of nature nor those taking place in spiritistic seances are in agreement, cannot be admitted. And this applies equally to those other similar systems, such as that of the radiating or astral force, or the exteriorization of moving force, which have recently been excogitated in order to explain the phenomena. Such theories in reality present to us mysteries quite as great as those which they are proposed to solve.”

Ibid., 155.

Some Concluding Thoughts on The Unseen World

So, higher beings—angels—can communicate with us and can produce phenomena that are striking and marvellous, but this is something Cardinal Lépicier is not willing to ascribe to our own souls while still embodied. He thinks that what we call telepathy “may well be attributed to those pure spirits. Whether these are of a high or of a low moral order will be more clearly seen as we advance in our study.” (See page 156.)

I have to say here, though, that Dom Wiesinger does think that the soul embodied in life, here, now, has powers that Cardinal Lépicier seems unwilling to acknowledge. Remember, Wiesinger talks about the soul almost totally bound up with things of the body, the soul partly free of such constraints (in great sickness or in deep prayer or contemplation), and the soul that is, in this life, temporarily free of the body, and the soul that is separated from the body after death, until the resurrection and the reunion of body and soul. 

He also discusses the preternatural modes of knowledge and the preternatural will that our first parents had and which they lost for us by sin. But these things were not lost completely. We don’t have them to the degree that they did, but we do have them.

I don’t recall seeing any of this in Cardinal Lépicier’s book. But reading Lépicier has made me all the more appreciative of Dom Wiesinger and his Thomism, so I plan to go through his book again in the next few months. I’ve read it twice now and it’s time for me to do a more in-depth study of it. I’ve shared a lot of Wiesinger (the first five posts in this series) already.

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. 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 Catholic teaching on the soul, now and 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.

Image credits: In the series banner, The Blessed Soul, by Guido Reni, Wikimedia, public domain. Angel, from Pixabay, user Lolame.

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Annotated Table of Contents for the Weekly Series On the Soul.
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