The 3rd of January, 1857, Msgr. Sibour, Archbishop of Paris, on coming out of the church of St. Stephen-of-the-Mount, in Paris, was stabbed by a young priest named Verger, who was sentenced to death, and executed, on January 30th. Up to the moment of his death, Verger showed neither regret nor repentance for his crime.
Evoked on the day of his execution, he gave the following replies:
1. (Evocation) – A. I am still retained in my body.
2. Is not your soul entirely free from your body?
A. No…I am afraid…I don’t know…Wait until I can see myself…I am not dead, am I?
3. Do you repent of what you have done?
A. I did wrong to kill; but I was driven to it by my temper, which cannot put up with humiliations…you will evoke me another time.
4. Why do you want to go away?
A. I should be too much frightened if I saw him; I should fear he would do as much to me!
5. But you have nothing to fear, since your soul is separated from your body; banish all uneasiness; it is unreasonable.
A. One can’t help one’s impressions! I don’t know where I am…I am mad.
6. Try to be more self-possessed.
A. I cannot be so, since I am mad…Wait…I will try to recall my lucidity.
7. If you prayed, it would help you to recover your self-command.
A. I am afraid…I dare not to pray.
8. Pray! The mercy of God is great. We will pray with you.
A. Yes, the mercy of God is infinite; I always believed it to be so.
9. Now, do you understand your position more clearly?
A. It is so extraordinary! I cannot yet make it out.
10. Do you see your victim?
A. I seem to hear a voice, like his, that says, “I am not angry with you”…but that is a an effect of my imagination! …I tell you, I am mad; for I see my own body on one side and my head on the other; and yet I seem to be alive, but in space, between the Earth and what you call the sky. I feel the chill of the knife falling on my neck, but that is the fear I have of dying. It seems to me that I see a number of spirits about me, looking at me with compassion; they talk to me; but I don’t understand them.
11. Is there, among those spirits, one whose presence humiliates you on account of your crime?
A. There is only one of them whom I am afraid of, it is he whom I struck.
12. Do you remember your past lives?
A. No, I am in a state of vagueness; I seem to be dreaming…another time…I must recover myself.
13. (Three days later) – Do you understand your position more clearly?
A. I know that I no longer belong to your world, and I am not sorry for it. I am sorry for what I did; but my spirit is now freer; I see more clearly that there is a succession of existences which give us the knowledge we need in order to become, at length, as perfect as the nature of created beings permits.
14. Are you being punished for your crime?
A. Yes, I regret what I did, and I suffer for it.
15. In what way are you punished?
A. I am punished by perceiving the true nature of my act, for which I beg of God to grant me forgiveness; I am punished by the consciousness of my lack of faith in God, and because I now know that we ought not to cut short the life of our brethren; I am punished by remorse for having delayed my advancement through taking the wrong road and through not having hearkened to the voice of my conscience, which told me that it was not by killing that I should attain my end; but I allowed myself to be mastered by envy and jealousy; I made a mistake, and I am sorry for it; for a man should always do his utmost to master his bad passions, and I did not do so.
16. What do you feel when we evoke you?
A. Pleasure and fear, for I am not malicious.
17. In what do this pleasure and fear consist?
A. The pleasure is to talk with men, and to partly atone for my fault by confessing it. The fear is something I cannot define...a sort of shame at having been a murderer.
18. Would you like to be reincarnated upon the Earth?
A. Yes, I beg to be allowed to do so; and I desire to be always exposed to the danger of being killed and to be afraid of it.
Archbishop Sibour, having been evoked, assured us that he forgave his murderer and prayed for his return to rectitude. He added that, although he had been present, he had abstained from showing himself to Verger, in order not to add to his suffering; and that his fear of seeing him, which was a sign of remorse, was, in itself, a chastisement.
Q. Does the man who will commit murder know, on choosing his existence, that he will become an assassin?
A. No, he knows that, by choosing a life of struggle, he incurs the chance of killing a fellow- creature; but he does not know whether he will do so or not, for there is almost always hesitation in the murderer’s mind before committing the crime.
The situation of Verger, immediately after his execution, is that of almost all of those who die a violent death. The separation of body and soul being a process that cannot be accomplished suddenly, they are stunned, so to say, and do not know whether they are dead or alive. Verger was spared the sight of the Archbishop, because it was not needed to excite his remorse; in contrary cases, murderers are incessantly haunted by the sight of their victims.
To the enormity of his crime, Verger had added the absence of repentance up to his last moment; he was consequently in the best possible state for incurring, according to the Church, the penalty of eternal damnation. And yet, hardly had he quitted the Earth, than repentance awakens in his soul; he repudiated his past and sincerely demands to be allowed to make reparation for his offence. He is not driven to repentance by the force of suffering, for he has not, as of yet, had time to suffer; the change is due, solely, to the voice of his conscience, which he failed to heed during his life, but which he heeds now. Why should no account be taken of his change of feeling? Why should this change, which the Church says would have saved him from hell a few days previously, be unable to save him now? Why should God, who would have taken pity on his repentance before death, be without pity for the same repentance a few hours afterwards?
Surprise may be felt at the rapidity with which this change sometimes occurs in the mind of a criminal who has remained hardened up to his last moment, and for whom the mere passage into the other life suffices to show him the iniquity of his course. But this sudden enlightenment is far from being general; if it were, there would be no bad spirits. Repentance is usually slow; and it is for this reason that punishment is usually long.
Obstinacy in evil, during life, is often caused by pride, which refuses to yield and to avow mistake; moreover, man is under the influences of matter, which throws a veil over his spiritual perceptions and fascinates him with false seemings. When this veil drops away from him, his mind is suddenly flooded with light, and he is sobered from the intoxication of sense. A prompt return to better sentiments is always evidence of a certain amount of moral progress previously made by the spirit and awaiting only favorable conditions for asserting itself; as, on the other hand, a spirit’s persistence in evil, after death, is always a sign of backwardness on his part and shows that, in him, the material instincts are still stifling the germ of goodness, and that he will have to undergo new trials that will force him, at length, into the path of amendment.