At the beginning of the war in Italy, in 1859, a tradesman of Paris, the father of a family, and much esteemed by all his neighbors, had an only son who had been taken by the conscription. Not having the money necessary for purchasing a substitute for him, he killed himself in order to procure for the conscript the exoneration from the military service that is granted by French law to only sons of widows. He was evoked, a year afterwards, by the Spiritist Society of Paris, at the request of a person who had been acquainted with him, and who wished to learn of his state in the spirit-world.
(To Saint Louis) Please tell us if we may evoke the spirit of whom our friend has been
A. Yes, he will be glad to reply, for it will be a relief to him.
1. (Evocation.) – Oh, thank you for speaking to me! I suffer greatly, but…is just. He will forgive me.
The spirit wrote with much difficulty. His writing was irregular and ill done; after the word but, he stopped, making vain efforts to write, but tracing only dots and illegible strokes. It was evidently the word God that he was unable to write.
2. Fill up the gap you have left.
A. I am unworthy to do so.
3. You say that you suffer; and you undoubtedly did very wrong in committing suicide. But has not the motive that led you to the act obtained for you some indulgence?
A. My punishment will be shortened on that account; but the action itself was, nonetheless, reprehensible.
4. Can you describe to us the punishment you are undergoing?
A. I suffer doubly, in my soul and in my body; I suffer in the latter, although no longer possessing it, as one who has been amputated suffers in his absent limb.
5. Was your anxiety for your son the sole motive of your deed? Were you tempted by any other cause?
A. Paternal affection was my sole guide, though a guide that led me astray; in consideration of my motive, my punishment will be abridged.
6. Do you foresee the end of your suffering?
A. I do not know when its end will come; but I know that it will have an end, and this is a consolation for me.
7. A few moments ago, you were unable to write the name of God; but we have seen it written by spirits who were very unhappy; is that inability part of your punishment?
A. I shall be able to write it when I have sufficiently repented.
8. Well, then, make the effort to repent heartily, and try to write it; we are convinced that, if you succeed in doing this, you will find relief in it.
The spirit succeeded, at last, in writing, in very large, shaky, irregular letters, “God is very good.”
9. We thank you for having come to our call, and we will pray for you, in order to invoke upon you the mercy of God.
A. Yes, please do so.
10. (To Saint Louis.) We beg to know your personal opinion of the act of the spirit we have just evoked.
A. He suffers justly, for he lacked confidence in God, which is a fault that always deserves punishment; his punishment would be terrible and very long, if he had not in his favor a praiseworthy motive, that of preventing his son from being sent to his death; God, who sees the bottom of the heart, and who is just, only punishes him according to the measure of his fault.
Observation - At the first glance, this suicide seems to be almost excusable, because it may be considered as an act of devotion; it was such, in fact, but not merely such. As was remarked by the spirit of Saint Louis, this man had lacked confidence in God. He may, also, by his action, have prevented his son’s destiny from being accomplished. It is not certain that his son would have been killed in the war; and it is quite possible that the military career was intended to furnish him with the occasion of doing something that would have been useful for his advancement. The father’s intention was undoubtedly good; and, accordingly, it is counted to him as such; the intention attenuates the fault and merits indulgence, but it cannot prevent what is wrong from being wrong; otherwise, all misdeeds might claim to be excused by the plea of good intentions, and men might murder one another under the pretext of rendering a service by so doing. If a woman kills her child in the belief that she thus sends it straight to Heaven, is she less faulty because she has acted from a good motive? The plea of good intentions, if admitted, would justify all the crimes that have been committed by blind fanaticism in what are improperly termed “religious wars.”
Man has no right to dispose of his life, because it has been given him in view of the duties which he ought to accomplish upon the Earth; for which reason he should not shorten it voluntarily on any pretext whatsoever. As he has his free-will, he cannot be prevented from doing so if he will; but he has always to undergo the consequences of the deed. The suicide that is most severely punished is that which is prompted by despair and the hope of avoiding the troubles of life; because these troubles being both trials and expiations, to shirk them is to draw back from a task that had been previously accepted, and, sometimes, from a mission which ought to have been fulfilled.
Suicide does not consist simply in the voluntary act that produces instantaneous death; it comprises everything that is done, knowingly, to bring about a premature extinction of the vital forces. The devotion of him who exposes himself to a danger of death, in order to save the life of a
fellow-creature, is not to be confounded with suicide; first, because, in such a case, there is no premeditated intention to withdraw one’s self from life, and, secondly, because there is no peril from which Providence cannot save us, if the hour appointed for our quitting the earth has not come. When death takes place under such circumstances, it is a meritorious sacrifice, for it is an act of abnegation for the good of others. (“The Gospel According to Spiritism,” chap. V., Nos. 53, 65, 66, 67)