Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Soul

SECTION I


This is a vague, indeterminate term, which expresses an unknown principle of known effects that we feel in us. The word soul corresponds to the Latin anima, to the Greek +pneuma+, to the term of which all nations have made use to express what they did not understand any better than we do.

In the proper and literal sense of the Latin and the languages derived from Latin, it signifies that which animates. Thus people have spoken of the soul of men, of animals, sometimes of plants, to signify their principal of vegetation and life. In pronouncing this word, people have never had other than a confused idea, as when it is said in Genesis--"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul; and the soul of animals is in the blood; and kill not my soul, etc."

Thus the soul was generally taken for the origin and the cause of life, for life itself. That is why all known nations long imagined that everything died with the body. If one can disentangle anything in the chaos of ancient histories, it seems that the Egyptians at least were the first to distinguish between the intelligence and the soul: and the Greeks learned from them to distinguish their +nous+, their +pneuma+, their +skia+. The Latins, following their example, distinguish animus and anima; and we, finally, have also had our soul and our understanding. But is that which is the principle of our life different from that which is the principle of our thoughts? is it the same being? Does that which directs us and gives us sensation and memory resemble that which is in animals the cause of digestion and the cause of their sensations and of their memory?

There is the eternal object of the disputes of mankind; I say eternal object; for not having any first notion from which we can descend in this examination, we can only rest for ever in a labyrinth of doubt and feeble conjecture.

We have not the smallest step where we may place a foot in order to reach the most superficial knowledge of what makes us live and of what makes us think. How should we have? we should have had to see life and thought enter a body. Does a father know how he has produced his son? does a mother how she conceived him? Has anyone ever been able to divine how he acts, how he wakes, how he sleeps? Does anyone know how his limbs obey his will? has anyone discovered by what art ideas are marked out in his brain and issue from it at his command? Frail automatons moved by the invisible hand which directs us on this stage of the world, which of us has been able to detect the wire which guides us?

We dare question whether the soul is "spirit" or "matter"; if it is created before us, if it issues from non-existence at our birth, if after animating us for one day on earth, it lives after us into eternity. These questions appear sublime; what are they? questions of blind men saying to other blind men--"What is light?"

When we want to learn something roughly about a piece of metal, we put it in a crucible in the fire. But have we a crucible in which to put the soul? "The soul is spirit," says one. But what is spirit? Assuredly no one has any idea; it is a word that is so void of sense that one is obliged to say what spirit is not, not being able to say what it is. "The soul is matter," says another. But what is matter? We know merely some of its appearances and some of its properties; and not one of these properties, not one of these appearances, seems to have the slightest connection with thought.

"Thought is something distinct from matter," say you. But what proof of it have you? Is it because matter is divisible and figurable, and thought is not? But who has told you that the first principles of matter are divisible and figurable? It is very probable that they are not; entire sects of philosophers maintain that the elements of matter have neither form nor extension. With a triumphant air you cry--"Thought is neither wood, nor stone, nor sand, nor metal, therefore thought does not belong to matter." Weak, reckless reasoners! gravitation is neither wood, nor sand, nor metal, nor stone; movement, vegetation, life are not these things either, and yet life, vegetation, movement, gravitation, are given to matter. To say that God cannot make matter think is to say the most insolently absurd thing that anyone has ever dared utter in the privileged schools of lunacy. We are not certain that God has treated matter like this; we are only certain that He can. But what matters all that has been said and all that will be said about the soul? what does it matter that it has been called entelechy, quintessence, flame, ether? that it has been thought universal, uncreated, transmigrant, etc.?

In these matters that are inaccessible to the reason, what do these romances of our uncertain imaginations matter? What does it matter that the Fathers of the first four centuries thought the soul corporeal? What does it matter that Tertullian, by a contradiction frequent in him, has decided that it is simultaneously corporeal, formed and simple? We have a thousand witnesses to ignorance, and not one that gives a glimmer of probability.

How then are we so bold as to assert what the soul is? We know certainly that we exist, that we feel, that we think. Do we want to take a step beyond? we fall into a shadowy abyss; and in this abyss we are still so madly reckless as to dispute whether this soul, of which we have not the least idea, was made before us or with us, and whether it perishes or is immortal.

The article SOUL, and all the articles of the nature of metaphysics, must start by a sincere submission to the incontrovertible dogmas of the Church. Revelation is worth more, without doubt, than the whole of philosophy. Systems exercise the mind, but faith illumines and guides it.

Do we not often pronounce words of which we have only a very confused idea, or even of which we have none at all? Is not the word soul an instance? When the clapper or valve of a bellows is out of order, and when air which is in the bellows leaves it by some unexpected opening in this valve, so that it is no longer compressed against the two blades, and is not thrust violently towards the hearth which it has to light, French servants say--"The soul of the bellows has burst." They know no more about it than that; and this question in no wise disturbs their peace of mind.

The gardener utters the phrase "the soul of the plants," and cultivates them very well without knowing what he means by this term.

The violin-maker poses, draws forward or back the "soul of a violin" beneath the bridge in the belly of the instrument; a puny piece of wood more or less gives the violin or takes away from it a harmonious soul.

We have many industries in which the workmen give the qualification of "soul" to their machines. Never does one hear them dispute about this word. Such is not the case with philosophers.

For us the word "soul" signifies generally that which animates. Our ancestors the Celts gave to their soul the name of seel, from which the English soul, and the German seel; and probably the ancient Teutons and the ancient Britons had no quarrels in their universities over this expression.

The Greeks distinguished three sorts of souls--+psychê+, which signified the sensitive soul, the soul of the senses; and that is why Love, child of Aphrodite, had so much passion for Psyche, and why Psyche loved him so tenderly: +pneuma+, the breath which gives life and movement to the whole machine, and which we have translated by spiritus, spirit; vague word to which have been given a thousand different meanings: and finally +nous+, the intelligence.

We possessed therefore three souls, without having the least notion of any of them. St. Thomas Aquinas (Summation of St. Thomas. Lyons edition, 1738) admits these three souls as a peripatetic, and distinguishes each of these three souls in three parts. +psychê+ was in the breast, +pneuma+ was distributed throughout the body, and +nous+ was in the head. There has been no other philosophy in our schools up to our day, and woe betide any man who took one of these souls for the other.

In this chaos of ideas there was, nevertheless, a foundation. Men had noticed that in their passions of love, hate, anger, fear, their internal organs were stimulated to movement. The liver and the heart were the seat of the passions. If one thought deeply, one felt a strife in the organs of the head; therefore the intellectual soul was in the head. Without respiration no vegetation, no life; therefore the vegetative soul was in the breast which receives the breath of air.

When men saw in dreams their dead relatives or friends, they had to seek what had appeared to them. It was not the body which had been consumed on a funeral pyre, or swallowed up in the sea and eaten by the fishes. It was, however, something, so they maintained; for they had seen it; the dead man had spoken; the dreamer had questioned him. Was it +psychê+, was it +pneuma+, was it +nous+, with whom one had conversed in the dream? One imagined a phantom, an airy figure: it was +skia+, it was +daimôn+, a ghost from the shades, a little soul of air and fire, very unrestricted, which wandered I know not where.

Eventually, when one wanted to sift the matter, it became a constant that this soul was corporeal; and the whole of antiquity never had any other idea. At last came Plato who so subtilized this soul that it was doubtful if he did not separate it entirely from matter; but that was a problem that was never solved until faith came to enlighten us.

In vain do the materialists quote some of the fathers of the Church who did not express themselves with precision. St. Irenæus says (liv. v. chaps. vi and vii) that the soul is only the breath of life, that it is incorporeal only by comparison with the mortal body, and that it preserves the form of man so that it may be recognized.

In vain does Tertullian express himself like this--"The corporeality of the soul shines bright in the Gospel." (Corporalitas animæ in ipso Evangelio relucescit, DE ANIMA, cap. vii.) For if the soul did not have a body, the image of the soul would not have the image of the body.

In vain does he record the vision of a holy woman who had seen a very shining soul, of the colour of air.

In vain does Tatien say expressly (Oratio ad Græcos, c. xxiii.)--"The soul of man is composed of many parts."

In vain is St. Hilarius quoted as saying in later times (St. Hilarius on St. Matthew)--"There is nothing created which is not corporeal, either in heaven, or on earth, or among the visible, or among the invisible: everything is formed of elements; and souls, whether they inhabit a body, or issue from it, have always a corporeal substance."

In vain does St. Ambrose, in the sixth century, say (On Abraham, liv. ii., ch. viii.)--"We recognize nothing but the material, except the venerable Trinity alone."

The body of the entire Church has decided that the soul is immaterial. These saints fell into an error at that time universal; they were men; but they were not mistaken over immortality, because that is clearly announced in the Gospels.

We have so evident a need of the decision of the infallible Church on these points of philosophy, that we have not indeed by ourselves any sufficient notion of what is called "pure spirit," and of what is named "matter." Pure spirit is an expression which gives us no idea; and we know matter only by a few phenomena. We know it so little that we call it "substance"; well, the word substance means "that which is under"; but what is under will be eternally hidden from us. What is under is the Creator's secret; and this secret of the Creator is everywhere. We do not know either how we receive life, or how we give it, or how we grow, or how we digest, or how we sleep, or how we think, or how we feel.

The great difficulty is to understand how a being, whoever he be, has thoughts.



SECTION II

The author of the article SOUL in the "Encyclopedia" (the Abbé Yvon) followed Jaquelot scrupulously; but Jaquelot teaches us nothing. He sets himself also against Locke, because the modest Locke said (liv. iv, ch. iii, para. vi.)--"We possibly shall never be able to know whether any mere material being thinks or no; it being impossible for us, by the contemplation of our own ideas without revelation, to discover whether Omnipotency has not given to some systems of matter, fitly disposed, a power to perceive and think, or else joined and fixed to matter, so disposed, a thinking immaterial substance: it being, in respect of our notions, not much more remote from our comprehension to conceive that God can, if he pleases, superadd to matter a faculty of thinking, than that he should superadd to it another substance with a faculty of thinking; since we know not wherein thinking consists, nor to what sort of substances the Almighty has been pleased to give that power which cannot be in any created being but merely by the good pleasure and bounty of the Creator, for I see no contradiction in it, that the first eternal thinking Being should, if he pleased, give to certain systems of created senseless matter, put together as he thinks fit, some degrees of sense, perception and thought."

Those are the words of a profound, religious and modest man.

We know what quarrels he had to undergo on account of this opinion which appeared bold, but which was in fact in him only a consequence of his conviction of the omnipotence of God and the weakness of man. He did not say that matter thought; but he said that we have not enough knowledge to demonstrate that it is impossible for God to add the gift of thought to the unknown being called "matter", after according it the gift of gravitation and the gift of movement, both of which are equally incomprehensible.

Locke was not assuredly the only one who had advanced this opinion; it was the opinion of all antiquity, who, regarding the soul as very unrestricted matter, affirmed consequently that matter could feel and think.

It was Gassendi's opinion, as may be seen in his objections to Descartes. "It is true," says Gassendi, "that you know what you think; but you are ignorant of what species of substance you are, you who think. Thus although the operation of thought is known to you, the principle of your essence is hidden from you; and you do not know what is the nature of this substance, one of the operations of which is to think. You are like a blind man who, feeling the heat of the sun and being informed that it is caused by the heat of the sun, thinks he has a clear and distinct idea of this luminary; because if he were asked what the sun was, he could reply that it is a thing which heats, etc."

The same Gassendi, in his "Epicurean Philosophy," repeats several times that there is no mathematical evidence of the pure spirituality of the soul.

Descartes, in one of his letters to the Palatine Princess Elisabeth, says to her--"I confess that by the natural reason alone we can make many conjectures on the soul, and have gratifying hopes, but no certainty." And in that sentence Descartes combats in his letters what he puts forward in his works; a too ordinary contradiction.

In fine we have seen that all the Fathers of the first centuries of the Church, while believing the soul immortal, believed it at the same time material; they thought that it is as easy for God to conserve as to create. They said--"God made the soul thinking, He will preserve it thinking."

Malebranche has proved very well that we have no idea by ourselves, and that objects are incapable of giving us ideas: from that he concludes that we see everything in God. That is at the bottom the same thing as making God the author of all our ideas; for with what should we see in Him, if we had not instruments for seeing? and these instruments, it is He alone who holds them and guides them. This system is a labyrinth, one lane of which would lead you to Spinozism, another to Stoicism, another to chaos.

When one has had a good argument about spirit and matter, one always finishes by not understanding each other. No philosopher has been able with his own strength to lift this veil stretched by nature over all the first principles of things. Men argue, nature acts.



SECTION III

OF THE SOUL OF ANIMALS, AND OF SOME EMPTY IDEAS


Before the strange system which supposes animals to be pure machines without any sensation, men had never thought that the beasts possessed an immaterial soul; and nobody had pushed recklessness to the point of saying that an oyster has a spiritual soul. Everyone concurred peaceably in agreeing that the beasts had received from God feeling, memory, ideas, and no pure spirit. Nobody had abused the gift of reason to the point of saying that nature had given the beasts all the organs of feeling so that they might not feel anything. Nobody had said that they cry when they are wounded, and that they fly when pursued, without experiencing pain or fear.

At that time people did not deny the omnipotence of God; He had been able to communicate to the organized matter of animals pleasure, pain, remembrance, the combination of a few ideas; He had been able to give to several of them, such as the monkey, the elephant, the hunting-dog, the talent of perfecting themselves in the arts which were taught to them; not only had He been able to endow nearly all carnivorous animals with the talent of warring better in their experienced old age than in their too trustful youth; not only, I say, had He been able to do these things, but He had done them: the universe bore witness thereto.

Pereira and Descartes maintained that the universe was mistaken, that God was a juggler, that He had given animals all the instruments of life and sensation, so that they might have neither life nor sensation, properly speaking. But I do not know what so-called philosophers, in order to answer Descartes' chimera, leaped into the opposite chimera; they gave liberally of pure spirit to the toads and the insects.

Between these two madnesses, the one refusing feeling to the organs of feeling, the other lodging a pure spirit in a bug, somebody thought of a middle path. It was instinct. And what is instinct? Oh, oh, it is a substantial form; it is a plastic form; it is I do not know what! it is instinct. I shall be of your opinion so long as you will call the majority of things, "I do not know what"; so long as your philosophy begins and ends with "I do not know what", I shall quote Prior to you in his poem on the vanity of the world.

The author of the article SOUL in the "Encyclopedia" explains himself like this:--"I picture the animals' soul as an immaterial and intelligent substance, but of what species? It must, it seems to me, be an active principle which has sensations, and which has only that.... If we reflect on the nature of the soul of animals, it supplies us with groundwork which might lead us to think that its spirituality will save it from annihilation."

I do not know how one pictures an immaterial substance. To picture something is to make an image of it; and up till now nobody has been able to paint the spirit. For the word "picture", I want the author to understand "I conceive"; speaking for myself, I confess I do not conceive it. I confess still less that a spiritual soul may be annihilated, because I do not conceive either creation or non-existence; because I have never been present at God's council; because I know nothing at all about the principle of things.

If I wish to prove that the soul is a real being, someone stops me by telling me that it is a faculty. If I assert that it is a faculty, and that I have the faculty of thinking, I am told that I am mistaken; that God, the eternal master of all nature, does everything in me, and directs all my actions and all my thoughts; that if I produced my thoughts, I should know the thought I will have in a minute; that I never know it; that I am only an automaton with sensations and ideas, necessarily dependent, and in the hands of the Supreme Being, infinitely more compliant to Him than clay is to the potter.

I confess my ignorance, therefore; I avow that four thousand tomes of metaphysics will not teach us what our soul is.

An orthodox philosopher said to a heterodox philosopher--"How have you been able to come to the point of imagining that the soul is mortal by nature, and eternal only by the pure wish of God?"

"By my own experience," said the other.

"How! are you dead?"

"Yes, very often. I suffered from epilepsy in my youth, and I assure you that I was completely dead for several hours. No sensation, no remembrance even of the moment that I fell ill. The same thing happens to me now nearly every night. I never feel the precise moment that I go to sleep; my sleep is absolutely dreamless. I cannot imagine by conjecture how long I have slept. I am dead regularly six hours out of the twenty-four. That is a quarter of my life."

The orthodox then asserted that he always thought during his sleep without knowing anything about it. The heterodox answered him--"I believe through revelation that I shall always think in the other life; but I assure you I think rarely in this one."

The orthodox was not mistaken in asserting the immortality of the soul, for faith and reason demonstrate this truth; but he might be mistaken in asserting that a sleeping man always thinks.

Locke admitted frankly that he did not always think while he was asleep: another philosopher has said--"Thought is characteristic of man; but it is not his essence."

Let us leave to each man the liberty and consolation of seeking himself, and of losing himself in his ideas.

It is good, however, to know, that in 1730 a philosopher[21] suffered a severe enough persecution for having confessed, with Locke, that his understanding was not exercised at every moment of the day and night, just as he did not use his arms and his legs at all moments. Not only did court ignorance persecute him, but the malignant influence of a few so-called men of letters was let loose against him. What in England had produced merely a few philosophical disputes, produced in France the most cowardly atrocities; a Frenchman suffered by Locke.

There have always been in the mud of our literature more than one of these miscreants who have sold their pens, and intrigued against their benefactors even. This remark is rather foreign to the article SOUL; but should one miss an opportunity of dismaying those who make themselves unworthy of the name of men of letters, who prostitute the little mind and conscience they have to a vile self-interest, to a fantastic policy, who betray their friends to flatter fools, who in secret powder the hemlock which the powerful and malicious ignoramus wants to make useful citizens drink?

In short, while we worship God with all our soul, let us confess always our profound ignorance of this soul, of this faculty of feeling and thinking which we possess from His infinite goodness. Let us avow that our feeble reasonings can take nothing away from, or add anything to revelation and faith. Let us conclude in fine that we should use this intelligence, the nature of which is unknown, for perfecting the sciences which are the object of the "Encyclopedia"; just as watchmakers use springs in their watches, without knowing what a spring is.



SECTION IV

ABOUT THE SOUL, AND ABOUT OUR LITTLE KNOWLEDGE


On the testimony of our acquired knowledge, we have dared question whether the soul is created before us, whether it comes from non-existence into our body? at what age it came to settle between a bladder and the intestines cæcum and rectum? if it brought ideas with it or received them there, and what are these ideas? if after animating us for a few moments, its essence is to live after us into eternity without the intervention of God Himself? if being spirit, and God being spirit, they are both of like nature? These questions seem sublime; what are they? questions about light by men born blind.

What have all the philosophers, ancient and modern, taught us? a child is wiser than they are; he does not think about things of which he can form no conception.

You will say that it is sad for our insatiable curiosity, for our inexhaustible thirst for happiness, to be thus ignorant of ourselves! I agree, and there are still sadder things; but I shall answer you:

Sors tua mortalis, non est mortale quod optas.

--Ovid, Met. II. 56

"You have a man's fate, and a god's desires."


Once again, it seems that the nature of every principle of things is the Creator's secret. How does the air carry sound? how are animals formed? how do some of our limbs constantly obey our wills? what hand puts ideas in our memory, keeps them there as in a register, and pulls them out sometimes when we want them and sometimes in spite of ourselves? Our nature, the nature of the universe, the nature of the least plant, everything for us is sunk in a shadowy pit.

Man is an acting, feeling, thinking being: that is all we know of him: it is not given to us to know what makes us feel and think, or what makes us act, or what makes us exist. The acting faculty is as incomprehensible for us as the thinking faculty. The difficulty is less to conceive how a body of mud has feelings and ideas, than to conceive how a being, whatever it be, has ideas and feelings.

Here on one side the soul of Archimedes, on the other the soul of an idiot; are they of the same nature? If their essence is to think, they think always, and independently of the body which cannot act without them. If they think by their own nature, can the species of a soul which cannot do a sum in arithmetic be the same as that which measured the heavens? If it is the organs of the body which made Archimedes think, why is it that my idiot, who has a stronger constitution than Archimedes, who is more vigorous, digests better and performs all his functions better, does not think at all? It is, you say, because his brain is not so good. But you are making a supposition; you do not know at all. No difference has ever been found between healthy brains that have been dissected. It is even very probable that a fool's cerebellum will be in better condition than Archimedes', which has worked prodigiously, and which might be worn out and shrivelled.

Let us conclude therefore what we have already concluded, that we are ignoramuses about all first principles. As regards ignoramuses who pride themselves on their knowledge, they are far inferior to monkeys.

Now dispute, choleric arguers: present your petitions against each other; proffer your insults, pronounce your sentences, you who do not know one word about the matter.



SECTION V

OF WARBURTON'S PARADOX ON THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL


Warburton, editor and commentator of Shakespeare and Bishop of Gloucester, making use of English freedom, and abuse of the custom of hurling insults at one's adversaries, has composed four volumes to prove that the immortality of the soul was never announced in the Pentateuch, and to conclude from this same proof that Moses' mission is divine. Here is the précis of his book, which he himself gives, pages 7 and 8 of the first volume.

"1. The doctrine of a life to come, of rewards and punishments after death, is necessary to all civil society.

"2. The whole human race (and this is where he is mistaken), and especially the wisest and most learned nations of antiquity, concurred in believing and teaching this doctrine.

"3. It cannot be found in any passage of the law of Moses; therefore the law of Moses is of divine origin. Which I am going to prove by the two following syllogisms:

First Syllogism

"Every religion, every society that has not the immortality of the soul for its basis, can be maintained only by an extraordinary providence; the Jewish religion had not the immortality of the soul for basis; therefore the Jewish religion was maintained by an extraordinary providence.

Second Syllogism

"All the ancient legislators have said that a religion which did not teach the immortality of the soul could not be maintained but by an extraordinary providence; Moses founded a religion which is not founded on the immortality of the soul; therefore Moses believed his religion maintained by an extraordinary providence."

What is much more extraordinary is this assertion of Warburton's, which he has put in big letters at the beginning of his book. He has often been reproached with the extreme rashness and bad faith with which he dares to say that all the ancient legislators believed that a religion which is not founded on pains and recompenses after death, can be maintained only by an extraordinary providence; not one of them ever said it. He does not undertake even to give any example in his huge book stuffed with a vast number of quotations, all of which are foreign to his subject. He has buried himself beneath a pile of Greek and Latin authors, ancient and modern, for fear one might see through him on the other side of a horrible multitude of envelopes. When criticism finally probed to the bottom, he was resurrected from among all these dead men in order to load all his adversaries with insults.

It is true that towards the end of his fourth volume, after having walked through a hundred labyrinths, and having fought with everybody he met on the road, he comes at last to his great question which he had left there. He lays all the blame on the Book of Job which passes among scholars for an Arab work, and he tries to prove that Job did not believe in the immortality of the soul. Later he explains in his own way all the texts of Holy Writ by which people have tried to combat this opinion.

All one can say about it is that, if he was right, it was not for a bishop to be right in such a way. He should have felt that one might draw dangerous inferences; but everything in this world is a mass of contradiction. This man, who became accuser and persecutor, was not made bishop by a minister of state's patronage until immediately after he had written his book.

At Salamanca, Coimbre or Rome, he would have been obliged to recant and to ask pardon. In England he became a peer of the realm with an income of a hundred thousand livres; it was enough to modify his methods.



SECTION VI

OF THE NEED OF REVELATION


The greatest benefit we owe to the New Testament is that it has revealed to us the immortality of the soul. It is in vain, therefore, that this fellow Warburton tried to cloud over this important truth, by continually representing in his legation of Moses that "the ancient Jews knew nothing of this necessary dogma, and that the Sadducees did not admit it in the time of our Lord Jesus."

He interprets in his own way the very words that have been put into Jesus Christ's mouth: "... have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (St. Matt. xxii. 31, 32). He gives to the parable of the wicked rich man a sense contrary to that of all the Churches. Sherlock, Bishop of London, and twenty other scholars refuted him. English philosophers even reproached him with the scandal of an Anglican bishop manifesting an opinion so contrary to the Anglican Church; and after that, this man takes it into his head to treat these persons as impious: like the character of Arlequin in the comedy of the Dévaliseur de maisons, who, after throwing the furniture out of the window, sees a man carrying some of it off, and cries with all his might "Stop thief!"

One should bless the revelation of the immortality of the soul, and of rewards and punishments after death, all the more that mankind's vain philosophy has always been sceptical of it. The great Cæsar did not believe in it at all, he made himself quite clear in full senate when, in order to stop Catalina being put to death, he represented that death left man without sensation, that everything died with him; and nobody refuted this view.

The Roman Empire was divided between two principal sects: that of Epicurus which asserted that deity was useless to the world, and that the soul perished with the body: and that of the Stoics who regarded the soul as part of the Deity, which after death was joined again to its origin, to the great everything from which it emanated. Thus, whether one believed the soul mortal, or whether one believed it immortal, all the sects were agreed in laughing at pains and punishments after death.

We still have a hundred monuments of this belief of the Romans. It is by virtue of this opinion graved profoundly in their hearts, that so many simple Roman citizens killed themselves without the least scruple; they did not wait for a tyrant to hand them over to the executioners.

The most virtuous men even, and those most persuaded of the existence of a God, hoped for no reward, and feared no punishment. Clement, who later was Pope and saint, began by himself doubting what the early Christians said of another life, and consulted St. Peter at Cæsarea. We are far from believing that St. Clement wrote the history that is attributed to him; but this history makes evident the need the human race had of a precise revelation. All that can surprise us is that so repressive and salutary a doctrine has left a prey to so many horrible crimes men who have so little time to live, and who see themselves squeezed between two eternities.



SECTION VII

SOULS OF FOOLS AND MONSTERS


A deformed child is born absolutely imbecile, it has no ideas and lives without ideas; we have seen examples of this. How shall this animal be defined? doctors have said that it is something between man and beast; others have said that it had a sensitive soul, but not an intellectual soul. It eats, drinks, sleeps, wakes, has sensations; but it does not think.

Is there another life for this creature, or is there none? The question has been posed, and has not yet been completely answered.

Some say that this creature must have a soul, because its father and mother had one. But by this reasoning one would prove that if it came into the world without a nose it would be deemed to have one, because its father and its mother had noses.

A woman gives birth to child with no chin, its forehead is receding and rather black, its nose is slim and pointed, its eyes are round, it bears not a bad resemblance to a swallow; the rest of its body, nevertheless, is made like ours. The parents have it baptised; by a plurality of votes it is considered a man and possessor of an immortal soul. But if this ridiculous little figure has pointed nails and beak-like mouth, it is declared a monster, it has no soul, and is not baptised.

It is well known that in London in 1726 there was a woman who gave birth every week to a rabbit. No difficulty was made about refusing baptism to this child, despite the epidemic mania there was for three weeks in London for believing that this poor rogue was making wild rabbits. The surgeon who attended her, St. André by name, swore that nothing was more true, and people believed him. But what reason did the credulous have for refusing a soul to this woman's children? she had a soul, her children should be provided with souls also; whether they had hands, whether they had paws, whether they were born with a little snout or with a face; cannot the Supreme Being bestow the gift of thought and sensation on a little I know not what, born of a woman, shaped like a rabbit, as well as to a little I know not what, shaped like a man? Shall the soul that was ready to lodge in this woman's foetus go back again into space?

Locke makes the sound observation, about monsters, that one must not attribute immortality to the exterior of a body; that the form has nothing to do with it. This immortality, he says, is no more attached to the form of his face or his chest, than to the way his beard is dressed or his coat cut.

He asks what is the exact measure of deformity by which you can recognize whether or no a child has a soul? What is the precise degree at which it must be declared a monster and deprived of a soul?

One asks still further what would be a soul which never has any but fantastic ideas? there are some which never escape from them. Are they worthy or unworthy? what is to be done with their pure spirit?

What is one to think of a child with two heads? without deformity apart from this? Some say that it has two souls because it is provided with two pineal glands, with two corpus callosum, with two sensorium commune. Others reply that one cannot have two souls when one has only one chest and one navel.[22]

In fine, so many questions have been asked about this poor human soul, that if it were necessary to answer them all, this examination of its own person would cause it the most intolerable boredom. There would happen to it what happened to Cardinal de Polignac at a conclave. His steward, tired of never being able to make him settle his accounts, made the journey from Rome, and came to the little window of his cell burdened with an immense bundle of papers. He read for nearly two hours. At last, seeing that no reply was forthcoming, he put his head forward. The cardinal had departed nearly two hours before. Our souls will depart before their stewards have acquainted them with the facts: but let us be exact before God, whatever sort of ignoramuses we are, we and our stewards.


FOOTNOTES:

[21] Voltaire himself.

[22] The Chevalier d'Angos, learned astronomer, has carefully observed a two-headed lizard for several days; and he has assured himself that the lizard had two independent wills, each of which had an almost equal power over the body. When the lizard was given a piece of bread, in such a way that it could see it with only one head, this head wanted to go after the bread, and the other wanted the body to remain at rest.


Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire