3. The fundamental assumption of the doctrine set forth in the preceding quotation is that the angels are beings purely spiritual, anterior, and superior, to the human race; privileged creatures destined from their formation to absolute and eternal happiness, and endowed by their very nature with the plentitude of virtue and of knowledge, without having done anything to acquire either the one or the other. They constitute the highest rank of the creation, the lowest rank being purely physical life; and between the two, is the human race, composed of souls, that is to say, of beings of a spiritual nature but inferior to the angels, united to physical bodies.
This theory is open to several very serious objections. What, in the first place, is the “purely physical life” referred to? Is it that of inanimate matter? But inanimate matter has no life of its own. Is it that of the plants and animals? But this would be to add a fourth order to the divisions of the creation already established, for it is indisputable that there is, in the intelligent animal, something that there is not in the plant, and equally indisputable that there is in the plant, something that there is not in stone. As for the human soul, it is in direct and immediate union with a body that is merely brute matter, for without a soul, the body has no more life than a clod of earth.
Such a division evidently lacks clearness and does not accord with the results of observation; it resembles the theory of the four elements that has been upset by the progress of physical science. But admitting, nevertheless, the three orders of beings assumed by the theory we are considering, viz., the spiritual, the human, and the physical, we have first to remark that there is no necessary union between these three orders, for they constitute three distinct and successive creations between each of which there is a solution of continuity; whereas everything in nature reveals the existence of an admirable law of unity, the elements of all entities being only transformations of one another, and everything being linked together into a continuous chain. The theory in question is true as regards the existence of the three orders of beings on which it is based, but it is incomplete; for it takes no note of the points of contact between them, as we are about to show.
4. The three orders of created beings are necessary, according to the declaration of the Church, to the harmony of the universe; to suppress any one of them would be to render the work of the Creator incomplete, and to contravene the plan of the eternal wisdom. Nevertheless, one of the fundamental dogmas of the Church declares that the Earth, the animals, the plants, the sun, moon, and stars, and light itself, were created, drawn forth out of nothing, six thousand years ago. Consequently, before that epoch, there existed neither human beings nor any purely physical beings; so that, throughout the whole of the eternity of the past, the work of the Divinity had remained incomplete. The creation of the universe six thousand years ago is so strictly an article of faith among orthodox believers that, only a few years ago, science was anathematized because it had upset the chronology of the Bible by demonstrating the immense antiquity of the Earth and of its inhabitants.
Again; the Lateran Council – an Ecumenical Council whose decisions are accepted as law by the orthodox – says expressly: – “We firmly believe that there is but one sole true God, eternal and infinite, who, in the beginning of time, drew forward together, out of nothing, both orders of creatures, viz., the spiritual and the corporeal.” “The beginning of time” can only be understood, as referring to some epoch in the past, for time is infinite, like space; and “the beginning of time” is therefore merely a figure of speech implying some undefined anteriority. The Lateran Council, then, “firmly believes” that the spiritual and corporeal beings were created simultaneously, and that they “were drawn forth together, out of nothing,” at some undetermined epoch in the past. But, in that case, what becomes of the text of the Bible, which fixes the date of this creation at six thousand (of our) years ago? Even if we admit that date as the beginning of the visible universe, it certainly could not be “the beginning of time.” Which of these two statements are we to believe, that of the Council, or that of the Bible?
5. The same Council, moreover, laid down the following strange proposition: “Our soul,” says the ecclesiastical authority referred to, “equally spiritual (i.e., of a nature equally spiritual as the nature of the angels), is associated with the body in such a manner as to form with it only one and the same person, and such is essentially its destination.” If the soul’s essential destiny is to be united to the body, this union constitutes its normal state, its aim, its end, since such is its “destination.” But the soul is immortal and the body is mortal; its union with the body takes place according to the Church, but once, and even if it were prolonged for a century, what is such a span of time in comparison with eternity? For a great number of human beings, the union of the soul and body is only of a few hours; of what use can so ephemeral a union be to the soul? If, in comparison with eternity, the longest duration of the union of soul and body is a mere nothing, can it be correct to say that its essential destination is to be united with the body? The truth is that the union of the soul and body is but an incident, a speck, in the life of the soul, and not its “essential” state.
If it were the essential destination of the soul to be united to a material body; – if, in virtue of its nature and in accordance with the aim of Providence in its creation, this union is necessary to the manifestation of its faculties – it follows that, without the body, the human soul is an incomplete being; consequently, in order for the soul to remain what it is destined to be, it must necessarily, on quitting its material body, take another body of the same nature, which leads us inevitably to the doctrine of the plurality of existences, in other words, to the doctrine of the reincarnation of the soul, forever, in a succession of material bodies. It is really strange that a Council which is considered to be one of the lights of the Church should have so completely mixed up the spiritual being with the material being that the one cannot be conceived of as existing without the other, since the “essential” condition of their creation is to be united.
6. The hierarchical picture of the angels, informs us that several orders of those beings are charged, in virtue of their attributes, with the government of the physical universe and of the human race, and that they were created for the purpose of doing this work. But, according to the Book of Genesis, the material world and the human race have only been in existence for six thousand years; what then, did the angels do before that epoch, through the eternity of the Past, seeing that the object for which they were created was not in existence? Have the angels existed from all eternity? It is to be supposed so, since we are assured by the Church that they serve for the glorification of the Almighty; for, if they were created at any given epoch in the past, God must have remained, previously to that epoch – that is to say, throughout an eternity – without worshippers.
7. Further on, we find, in the Pastoral referred to, these words: “As long as this intimate union of soul and body lasts.” Does there come, then, a moment when this union exists no longer? But this admission contradicts the declaration of the Lateran Council that this union is the “essential destination” of the soul.
The Prelate, summing up the views of the Christian Church, asserts, still further: “Ideas reach the soul through the senses, by the comparison of external objects.” This is a philosophic doctrine that is true to a certain extent, but not absolutely. According to the eminent theologian, it is a condition inherent in the nature of the soul not to receive any ideas otherwise than through the senses; he forgets the innate ideas, the faculties in some cases so transcendently developed, the intuitive knowledge of certain things, which some children bring with them at birth, and which they manifest without having received any instruction in regard to them. By which of the senses is it that children, who have exhibited the ability of natural arithmeticians and algebraists, and who have excited the wonder of the learned world, acquired the ideas necessary for the almost instantaneous solution of the most complicated problems? The same query has to be answered in regard to the various youthful musicians, painters, and linguists.
“The knowledge possessed by the angels,” says the Pastoral in question, “is not the result of induction and reasoning;” they know because they are angels, without having had any need of learning; God created them like this: the human soul, on the contrary, has to learn. If the soul receives ideas only through the bodily organs, what ideas can be possessed by the soul of an infant who died after a few days of life, if we suppose, with the Church, that he or she will not be born again into the earthly life?
8. We have here to consider a question of vital importance: – Does the soul acquire ideas and knowledge after the death of the body? If the soul can acquire nothing when separated from the body, that of the child, the savage, the idiot, the ignorant, will remain forever just what it was at death; in which case it is condemned to nullity throughout eternity.
If, on the contrary, it acquires knowledge after the close of the earthly life, it is evident that it can progress when separated from the body. The denial of the possibility of the soul’s progress after death leads to absurd consequences; the admission of the soul’s progress after death is the negation of all the dogmas based on the assumption of its stationary condition, of irrevocable condemnation, of eternal punishment, etc. But, if the soul can progress at all after death, what limit is there to its possibilities of progress? If it can go forward a single step, there is no reason why it should not continue to progress until it reaches the degree of angels or Pure Spirits. If the human soul can thus attain to the rank of angelhood, there was no need to create special beings to fill that rank, beings distinguished by special privileges, exempted from all labor, and enjoying eternal happiness without having done anything to earn it, while other beings, less favored only obtain the supreme felicity through long and cruel sufferings, and as the result of heavy trials. God could, doubtless, have created such privileged beings had God chosen to do so; but if we admit the infinity of God’s perfections, without which God would not be God, we must also admit that God does nothing useless, nothing that would contradict God’s sovereign justice and God’s sovereign goodness.
9. “Since the majesty of kings,” continues the Prelate, “derives its splendor from the number of their subjects, of their officers, and of their servants, what could give us a more fitting idea of the majesty of the King of kings than this innumerable multitude of angels that people Heaven and Earth, the sea and the abysses, and the dignity of those glorious beings who remain, forever, bowed down, or erect, about God’ s throne?”
But do we not abase the Divinity by thus assimilating God’s glory to the pomp of earthly sovereigns? The inculcation of such an idea in the ignorant minds of the masses gives them an utterly false impression in regard to God’s greatness; while, to represent that Being as requiring to have millions of worshipers remaining “forever, bowed down, or erect, about God’s throne,” is to attribute to God the weakness, vanity, and haughtiness of Oriental despots. And what is it, in point of fact, that renders even earthly sovereigns veritably great? Is it the number and splendor of their courtiers? No; it is their goodness, their justice, their devotion to the interests of their subjects; it is to earn the title of “Father of their country.” We are asked whether anything “can give us a more fitting idea of the majesty of God, than the multitude of angels composing God’s court?” We reply, Yes, certainly, there is something much better calculated to do so; it is to represent the Divine Being as supremely good, just, and merciful for all God’s creatures, instead of representing God as an angry, jealous, vindictive, inexorable, exterminating, and partial God, creating, for God’s own personal glory one set of creatures whom God loads with the most splendid privileges and favors in every possible way, bestowing on them eternal felicity as their birthright, while God creates another set of creatures under diametrically opposite conditions, compelling them to purchase their eventual happiness at the cost of long and terrible sufferings, and punishing a momentary error on their part with an eternity of torture!
10. Spiritism professes, in regard to the union of the soul and body, a doctrine that is infinitely more spiritualistic, not to say, less materialistic, a doctrine which has, moreover, the merit of being in conformity with what observation has shown us to be the destiny of the soul. According to this doctrine, the soul is independent of the body, which is only its temporary garment; its essence is spirituality; its normal life is the life of the spirit-world. The body is merely an instrument for the exercise of its faculties in connection with the material world; but, when separated from the body, it uses its faculties with greater freedom and wider scope.
11. The union of the soul with a material body, though necessary to its progress in the early stages of its development, only takes place during the period which may be termed its infancy and youth; when it has attained to a certain degree of purification and dematerialization, this union is no longer needed by the soul, which thenceforth continues to progress in spirit-life. However numerous may be the corporeal existences of the soul, those existences are necessarily limited to the life of its successive bodies; and the sum total of those existences only comprises in any case an imperceptible fraction of the life of the soul, which is without end.