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SOUL. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. VII (Philosophical Dictionary Part 5) 
The Works of Voltaire, A Contemporary Version, (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901), A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming. Vol. VII.
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This is a vague and indeterminate term, expressing an unknown principle of known effects, which we feel in ourselves. This word “soul” answers to the “anima” of the Latins—to the “pneuma” of the Greeks—to the term which each and every nation has used to express what they understood no better than we do.
In the proper and literal sense of the Latin and the languages derived from it, it signifies that which animates. Thus people say, the soul of men, of animals, and sometimes of plants, to denote their principle of vegetation and life. This word has never been uttered with any but a confused idea, as when it is said in Genesis: “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul”; and: “The soul of animals is in the blood”; and: “Stay not my soul.”
Thus the soul was taken for the origin and the cause of life, and for life itself. Hence all known nations long imagined that everything died with the body. If anything can be discerned with clearness in the chaos of ancient histories, it seems that the Egyptians were at least the first who made a distinction between the intelligence and the soul; and the Greeks learned from them to distinguish their “nous” and their “pneuma.” The Latins, after the example of the Greeks, distinguished “animus” and “anima”; and we have, too, our soul and our understanding. But are that which is the principle of our life, and that which is the principle of our thoughts, two different things? Does that which causes us to digest, and which gives us sensation and memory, resemble that which is the cause of digestion in animals, and of their sensations and memory?
Here is an eternal object for disputation: I say an eternal object, for having no primitive notion from which to deduce in this investigation, we must ever continue in a labyrinth of doubts and feeble conjectures.
We have not the smallest step on which to set our foot, to reach the slightest knowledge of what makes us live and what makes us think. How should we? For we must then have seen life and thought enter a body. Does a father know how he produced his son? Does a mother know how she conceived him? Has anyone ever been able to divine how he acts, how he wakes, or how he sleeps? Does anyone know how his limbs obey his will? Has anyone discovered by what art his ideas are traced in his brain, and issue from it at his command? Feeble automata, moved by the invisible hand which directs us on the stage of this world, which of us has ever perceived the thread which guides us?
We dare to put in question, whether the intelligent soul is spirit or matter; whether it is created before us, or proceeds from nothing at our birth; whether, after animating us for a day on this earth, it lives after us in eternity. These questions appear sublime; what are they? Questions of blind men asking one another: What is light?
When we wish to have a rude knowledge of a piece of metal, we put it on the fire in a crucible; but have we any crucible wherein to put the soul? It is spirit, says one; but what is spirit? Assuredly, no one knows. This is a word so void of meaning, that to tell what spirit is, you are obliged to say what it is not. The soul is matter, says another; but what is matter? We know nothing of it but a few appearances and properties; and not one of these properties, not one of these appearances, can bear the least affinity to thought.
It is something distinct from matter, you say; but what proof have you of this? Is it because matter is divisible and figurable, and thought is not? But how do you know that the first principles of matter are divisible and figurable? It is very likely that they are not; whole sects of philosophers assert that the elements of matter have neither figure nor extent. You triumphantly exclaim: Thought is neither wood, nor stone, nor sand, nor metal; therefore, thought belongs not to matter. Weak and presumptuous reasoners! Gravitation is neither wood, nor sand, nor metal, nor stone; nor is motion, or vegetation, or life, any of all these; yet life, vegetation, motion, gravitation, are given to matter. To say that God cannot give thought to matter, is to say the most insolently absurd thing that has ever been advanced in the privileged schools of madness and folly. We are not assured that God has done this; we are only assured that He can do it. But of what avail is all that has been said, or all that will be said, about the soul? What avails it that it has been called “entelechia,” quintessence, flame, ether—that it has been believed to be universal, uncreated, transmigrant?
Of what avail, in these questions inaccessible to reason, are the romances of our uncertain imaginations? What avails it, that the fathers in the four primitive ages believed the soul to be corporeal? What avails it that Tertullian, with a contradictoriness that was familiar to him, decided that it is at once corporeal, figured, and simple? We have a thousand testimonies of ignorance, but not one which affords us a ray of probability.
How, then, shall we be bold enough to affirm what the soul is? We know certainly that we exist, that we feel, that we think. Seek we to advance one step further—we fall into an abyss of darkness; and in this abyss, we have still the foolish temerity to dispute whether this soul, of which we have not the least idea, is made before us or with us, and whether it is perishable or immortal?
The article on “Soul,” and all articles belonging to metaphysics, should begin with a sincere submission to the indubitable tenets of the Church. Revelation is doubtless much better than philosophy. Systems exercise the mind, but faith enlightens and guides it.
Are there not words often pronounced of which we have but a very confused idea, or perhaps no idea at all? Is not the word “soul” one of these? When the tongue of a pair of bellows is out of order, and the air, escaping through the valve, is not driven with violence towards the fire, the maid-servant says: “The soul of the bellows is burst.” She knows no better, and the question does not at all disturb her quiet.
The gardener uses the expression, “Soul of the plants”; and cultivates them very well without knowing what the term means.
The musical-instrument maker places, and shifts forward or backward, the soul of a violin, under the bridge, in the interior of the instrument: a sorry bit of wood more or less gives it or takes from it a harmonious soul.
We have several manufactures in which the workmen give the appellation of “soul” to their machines; but they are never heard to dispute about the word: it is otherwise with philosophers.
The word “soul,” with us, signifies in general that which animates. Our predecessors, the Celts, gave their soul the name of “seel,” of which the English have made soul, while the Germans retain “seel”; and it is probable that the ancient Teutons and the ancient Britons had no university quarrels about this expression.
The Greeks distinguished three sorts of souls: “Psyche,” signifying the sensitive soul—the soul of the senses; and hence it was that Love, the son of Aphrodite, had so much passion for Psyche, and that she loved him so tenderly; “Pneuma,” the breath which gave life and motion to the whole machine, and which we have rendered by “spiritus”—spirit—a vague term, which has received a thousand different acceptations: and lastly, “nous,” intelligence.
Thus we possess three souls, without having the slightest notion of any one of them. St. Thomas Aquinas admits these three souls in his quality of peripatetic, and distinguishes each of the three into three parts.
“Psyche” was in the breast; “Pneuma” was spread throughout the body; and “Nous” was in the head. There was no other philosophy in our schools until the present day; and woe to the man who took one of these souls for another!
In this chaos of ideas, there was however a foundation. Men had clearly perceived that in their passions of love, anger, fear, etc., motions were excited within them; the heart and the liver were the seat of the passions. When thinking deeply, one feels a laboring in the organs of the head; therefore, the intellectual soul is in the brain. Without respiration there is no vegetation, no life; therefore, the vegetative soul is in the breast, which receives the breath of the air.
When men had seen in their sleep their dead relatives or friends, they necessarily sought to discover what had appeared to them. It was not the body, which had been consumed on a pile or swallowed up in the sea and eaten by the fishes. However, they would declare it was something, for they had seen it; the dead man had spoken; the dreamer had questioned him. Was it “Psyche”; was it “Pneuma”; was it “Nous,” with whom he had conversed in his sleep? Then a phantom was imagined—a slight figure; it was “skia”—it was “daimonos”—a shade of the manes; a small soul of air and fire, extremely slender, wandering none knew where.
In after times, when it was determined to sound the matter, the undisputed result was, that this soul was corporeal, and all antiquity had no other idea of it. At length came Plato, who so subtilized this soul, that it was doubted whether he did not entirely separate it from matter; but the problem was never resolved until faith came to enlighten us.
In vain do the materialists adduce the testimony of some fathers of the Church who do not express themselves with exactness. St. Irenæus says that the soul is but the breath of life, that it is incorporeal only in comparison with the mortal body, and that it retains the human figure in order that it may be recognized.
In vain does Tertullian express himself thus: “The corporality of the soul shines forth in the Gospel. ‘Corporalitas animæ in ipso evangelio relucesseit.’ ” For if the soul had not a body, the image of the soul would not have the image of the body.
In vain does he even relate the vision of a holy woman who had seen a very brilliant soul of the color of the air.
In vain does Tatian expressly say:
Ψυχὴ μὲν οὖν εὶ τῶν ὰνθρώπων πολυμερής ὲστιν
—“The soul of man is composed of several parts.”
In vain do they adduce St. Hilary, who said in later times: “There is nothing created which is not corporeal, neither in heaven nor on earth; neither visible nor invisible; all is formed of elements; and souls, whether they inhabit a body or are without a body, have always a corporeal substance.”
In vain does St. Ambrose, in the fourth century, say: “We know nothing but what is material, excepting only the ever-venerable Trinity.”
The whole body of the Church has decided that the soul is immaterial. These holy men had fallen into an error then universal; they were men: but they were not mistaken concerning immortality, because it is evidently announced in the Gospels.
So evident is our need of the decision of the infallible Church on these points of philosophy, that indeed we have not of ourselves any sufficient notion of what is called pure spirit, nor of what is called matter. Pure spirit is an expression which gives us no idea; and we are acquainted with matter only by a few phenomena. So little do we know of it, that we call it substance, which word “substance” means that which is beneath; but this beneath will eternally be concealed from us; this beneath is the Creator’s secret, and this secret of the Creator is everywhere. We do not know how we receive life, how we give it, how we grow, how we digest, how we sleep, how we think, nor how we feel. The great difficulty is, to comprehend how a being, whatsoever it be, has thoughts.
The author of the article on “Soul,” in the “Encyclopædia,” who has scrupulously followed Jacquelot, teaches us nothing. He also rises up against Locke, because the modest Locke has said:
“Perhaps we shall never be capable of knowing whether a material being thinks or not; for this reason—that it is impossible for us to discover, by the contemplation of our own ideas, ‘without revelation,’ whether God has not given to some portion of matter, disposed as He thinks fit, the power of perceiving and thinking; or whether He has joined and united to matter so disposed, an immaterial and thinking substance. For with regard to our notions, it is no less easy for us to conceive that God can, if He pleases, add to an idea of matter the faculty of thinking, than to comprehend that He joins to it another substance with the faculty of thinking; since we know not in what thought consists, nor to what kind of substance this all-powerful Being has thought fit to grant this power, which could be created only by virtue of the good-will and pleasure of the Creator. I do not see that there is any contradiction in God—that thinking, eternal, and all-powerful Being—giving, if He wills it, certain degrees of feeling, perception, and thought, to certain portions of matter, created and insensible, which He joins together as he thinks fit.”
This was speaking like a profound, religious, and modest man. It is known what contests he had to maintain concerning this opinion, which he appeared to have hazarded, but which was really no other than a consequence of the conviction he felt of the omnipotence of God, and the weakness of man. He did not say that matter thought; but he said that we do not know enough to demonstrate that it is impossible for God to add the gift of thought to the unknown being called “matter,” after granting to it those of gravitation and of motion, which are equally incomprehensible.
Assuredly, Locke was not the only one who advanced this opinion; it was that of all the ancients—regarding the soul only as very subtile matter, they consequently affirmed that matter could feel and think.
Such was the opinion of Gassendi, as we find in his objections to Descartes. “It is true,” says Gassendi, “that you know that you think; but you, who think, know not of what kind of substance you are. Thus, though 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 that substance, one of the operations of which is to think. You resemble a blind man who, feeling the heat of the sun, and being informed that it is caused by the sun, should believe himself to have a clear and distinct idea of that luminary, because, if he were asked what the sun is, he could answer, that it is a thing which warms. . . . .”
The same Gassendi, in his “Philosophy of Epicurus,” repeats several times that there is no mathematical evidence of the pure spirituality of the soul.
Descartes, in one of his letters to Elizabeth, princess palatine, says to her: “I confess, that by natural reason alone, we can form many conjectures about the soul, and conceive flattering hopes; but we can have no assurance.” And here Descartes combats in his letters what he advances in his books—a too ordinary contradiction.
We have seen, too, that all the fathers in the first ages of the Church, while they believed the soul immortal, believed it to be material. They thought it as easy for God to preserve as to create. They said, God made it thinking, He will preserve it thinking.
Malebranche has clearly proved, that by ourselves we have no idea, and that objects are incapable of giving us any; whence he concludes that we see all things in God. This, in substance, is the same as making God the author of all our ideas; for wherewith should we see ourselves in Him, if we had not instruments for seeing? and these instruments are held and directed by him alone. This system is a labyrinth, of which one path would lead you to Spinozism, another to Stoicism, another to chaos.
When men have disputed well and long on matter and spirit, they always end in understanding neither one another nor themselves. No philosopher has ever been able to lift by his own strength the veil which nature has spread over the first principle of things. They dispute, while nature is acting.
Before the strange system which supposes animals to be pure machines without any sensation, men had never imagined an immaterial soul in beasts; and no one had carried temerity so far as to say that an oyster has a spiritual soul. All the world peaceably agreed that beasts had received from God feeling, memory, ideas, but not a pure spirit. No one had abused the gift of reason so far as to say that nature has given to beasts the organs of feeling, in order that they may have no feeling. No one had said that they cry out when wounded, and fly when pursued, without experiencing either pain or fear.
God’s omnipotence was not then denied: it was in His power to communicate to the organized matter of animals pleasure, pain, remembrance, the combination of some ideas; it was in His power to give to several of them, as the ape, the elephant, the hound, the talent of perfecting themselves in the arts which are taught them: not only was it in His power to endow almost all carnivorous animals with the talent of making war better in their experienced old age than in their confiding youth; not only was it in His power to do this, but He had done it, as the whole world could witness.
Pereira and Descartes maintained against the whole world that it was mistaken; that God had played the conjurer; that He had given to animals all the instruments of life and sensation, that they might have neither sensation or life properly so called. But some pretended philosophers, I know not whom, in order to answer Descartes’ chimera, threw themselves into the opposite chimera very liberally, giving “pure spirit” to toads and insects. “In vitium ducit culpæ fuga.”
Betwixt these two follies, the one depriving of feeling the organs of feeling, the other lodging pure spirit in a bug—a mean was imagined, viz., instinct. And what is “instinct”? Oh! it is a substantial form; it is a plastic form; it is a—I know not what—it is instinct. I will be of your opinion, so long as you apply to most things “I know not what”; so long as your philosophy shall begin and end with “I know not”; but when you “affirm,” I shall say to you with Prior, in his poem on the vanity of the world:
The author of the article on “Soul,” in the “Encyclopædia,” explains himself thus: “I represent to myself the soul of beasts as a substance immaterial and intelligent.” But of what kind? It seems to me, that it must be an active principle having sensations, and only sensations. . . . . If we reflect on the nature of the souls of beasts, it does not of itself give us any grounds for believing that their spirituality will save them from annihilation.
I do not understand how you represent to yourself an immaterial substance. To represent a thing to yourself is to make to yourself an image of it; and hitherto no one has been able to paint the mind. I am willing to suppose that by the word “represent,” the author means I “conceive”; for my part, I own that I do not conceive it. Still less do I conceive how a spiritual soul is annihilated, because I have no conception of creation or of nothing; because I never attended God’s council; because I know nothing at all of the principle of things.
If I seek to prove that the soul is a real being, I am stopped, and told that it is a faculty. If I affirm that it is a faculty, and that I have that of thinking, I am answered, that I mistake; that God, the eternal master of all nature, does everything in me, directing all my actions, and all my thoughts; that if I produced my thoughts, I should know those which I should have the next minute; that I never know this; that I am but an automaton with sensations and ideas, necessarily dependent, and in the hands of the Supreme Being, infinitely more subject to Him than clay is to the potter.
I acknowledge then my ignorance; I acknowledge that four thousand volumes of metaphysics will not teach us what our soul is.
An orthodox philosopher said to a heterodox philosopher, “How can you have brought yourself to imagine that the soul is of its nature mortal, and that it is eternal only by the pure will of God?” “By my experience,” says the other. “How! have you been dead then?” “Yes, very often: in my youth I had a fit of epilepsy; and I assure you, that I was perfectly dead for several hours: I had no sensation, nor even any recollection from the moment that I was seized. The same thing happens to me now almost every night. I never feel precisely the moment when I fall asleep, and my sleep is absolutely without dreams. I cannot imagine, but by conjectures, how long I have slept. I am dead regularly six hours in twenty-four, which is one-fourth of my life.”
The orthodox then maintained against him that he always thought while he was asleep, without his knowing of it. The heterodox replied: “I believe, by revelation, that I shall think forever in the next world; but I assure you, that I seldom think in this.”
The orthodox was not mistaken in affirming the immortality of the soul, since faith demonstrates that truth; but he might be mistaken in affirming that a sleeping man constantly thinks.
Locke frankly owned that he did not always think while he was asleep. Another philosopher has said: “Thought is peculiar to man, but it is not his essence.”
Let us leave every man at liberty to seek into himself and to lose himself in his ideas. However, it is well to know that in 1750, a philosopher underwent a very severe persecution, for having acknowledged, with Locke, that his understanding was not exercised every moment of the day and of the night, no more than his arms or his legs. Not only was he persecuted by the ignorance of the court, but the malicious ignorance of some pretended men of letters assailed the object of persecution. That which in England had produced only some philosophical disputes, produced in France the most disgraceful atrocities: a Frenchman was made the victim of Locke.
There have always been among the refuse of our literature, some of those wretches who have sold their pens and caballed against their very benefactors. This remark is to be sure foreign to the article on “Soul”: but ought one to lose a single opportunity of striking terror into those who render themselves unworthy of the name of literary men, who prostitute the little wit and conscience they have to a vile interest, to a chimerical policy, who betray their friends to flatter fools, who prepare in secret the hemlock-draught with which powerful and wicked ignorance would destroy useful citizens.
Did it ever occur in true Rome, that a Lucretius was denounced to the consuls for having put the system of Epicurus into verse; a Cicero, for having repeatedly written, that there is no pain after death; or that a Pliny or a Varro was accused of having peculiar notions of the divinity? The liberty of thinking was unlimited among the Romans. Those of harsh, jealous, and narrow minds, who among us have endeavored to crush this liberty—the parent of our knowledge, the mainspring of the understanding—have made chimerical dangers their pretext; they have forgotten that the Romans, who carried this liberty much further than we do, were nevertheless our conquerors, our lawgivers; and that the disputes of schools have no more to do with government than the tub of Diogenes had with the victories of Alexander.
This lesson is worth quite as much as a lesson on the soul. We shall perhaps have occasion more than once to recur to it.
In fine, while adoring God with all our soul, let us ever confess our profound ignorance concerning that soul—that faculty of feeling and thinking which we owe to His infinite goodness. Let us acknowledge that our weak reasonings can neither take from nor add to revelation and faith. Let us, in short, conclude that we ought to employ this intelligence, whose nature is unknown, in perfecting the sciences which are the object of the “Encyclopædia,” as watchmakers make use of springs in their watches, without knowing what spring is.
Relying on our acquired knowledge, we have ventured to discuss the question: Whether the soul is created before us? Whether it arrives from nothing in our bodies? At what age it came and placed itself between the bladder and the intestines, “cæcum” and “rectum”? Whether it received or brought there any ideas, and what those ideas are? Whether, after animating us for a few moments, its essence is to live after us in eternity, without the intervention of God Himself? Whether, it being a spirit, and God being spirit, they are of like nature? These questions have an appearance of sublimity. What are they but questions of men born blind discussing the nature of light?
What have all the philosophers, ancient and modern, taught us? A child is wiser than they: he does not think about what he cannot conceive.
How unfortunate, you will say, for an insatiable curiosity, for an unquenchable thirst after well-being, that we are thus ignorant of ourselves! Granted: and there are things yet more unfortunate than this; but I will answer you: “Sors tua mortalis, non est mortale quod optas.”—“Mortal thy fate, thy wishes those of gods.”
Once more let it be repeated, the nature of every principle of things appears to be the secret of the Creator. How does the air convey sound? How are animals formed? How do some of our members constantly obey our will? What hand places ideas in our memory, keeps them there as in a register, and draws them thence sometimes at our command, and sometimes in spite of us? Our own nature, that of the universe, that of the smallest plant—all, to us, involved in utter darkness.
Man is an acting, feeling, and thinking being; this is all we know of the matter: it is not given to us to know either what renders us feeling or thinking, or what makes us act, or what causes us to be. The acting faculty is to us as incomprehensible as the thinking faculty. The difficulty is not so much to conceive how this body of clay has feelings and ideas as to conceive how a being, whatever it be, has ideas and feelings.
Behold on one hand the soul of Archimedes, and on the other that of a simpleton; are they of the same nature? If their essence is to think, then they think always and independently of the body, which cannot act without them. If they think by their own nature, can a soul, which is incapable of performing a single arithmetical operation, be of the same species as that which has measured the heavens? If it is the organs of the body that have made Archimedes think, why does not my idiot think, seeing that he is better constituted than Archimedes, more vigorous, digesting better, performing all his functions better? Because, say you, his brain is not so good; but you suppose this; you have no knowledge of it. No difference has ever been found among sound brains that have been dissected; indeed, it is very likely that the brain-pan of a blockhead would be found in a better state than that of Archimedes, which has been prodigiously fatigued, and may be worn and contracted.
Let us then conclude what we have concluded already, that we are ignorant of all first principles. As for those who are ignorant and self-sufficient, they are far below the ape.
Now then dispute, ye choleric arguers; present memorials against one another; abuse one another; pronounce your sentences—you who know not a syllable of the matter!
Warburton, the editor and commentator of Shakespeare, and Bishop of Gloucester, using English liberty, and abusing the custom of vituperating against adversaries, has composed four volumes to prove that the immortality of the soul was never announced in the Pentateuch; and to conclude from this very proof, that the mission of Moses, which he calls “legation,” was divine. The following is an abstract of his book, which he himself gives at the commencement of the first volume:
“1. That to inculcate the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments is necessary to the well-being of civil society.
“2. That all mankind [wherein he is mistaken], especially the most wise and learned nations of antiquity, have concurred in believing and teaching, that this doctrine was of such use to civil society.
“3. That the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments is not to be found in, nor did it make part of, the Mosaic dispensation.
“That therefore the law of Moses is of divine origin;
“Which one or both of the two following syllogisms will evince:
“I. Whatever religion and society have no future state for their support must be supported by an extraordinary Providence.
“The Jewish religion and society had no future state for their support;
“Therefore the Jewish religion and society were supported by an extraordinary Providence.
“II. The ancient lawgivers universally believed that such a religion could be supported only by an extraordinary Providence.
“Moses, an ancient lawgiver, versed in all the wisdom of Egypt, purposely instituted such a religion;
“Therefore Moses believed his religion was supported by an extraordinary Providence.”
What is most extraordinary, is this assertion of Warburton, which he has put in large characters at the head of his work. He has often been reproached with his extreme temerity and dishonesty in daring to say that all ancient lawgivers believed that a religion which is not founded on rewards and punishments after death cannot be upheld but by an extraordinary Providence: not one of them ever said so. He does not even undertake to adduce a single instance of this in his enormous book, stuffed with an immense number of quotations, all foreign to the subject. He has buried himself under a heap of Greek and Latin authors, ancient and modern, that no one may reach him through this horrible accumulation of coverings. When at length the critic has rummaged to the bottom, the author is raised to life from among all those dead, to load his adversaries with abuse.
It is true, that near the close of the fourth volume, after ranging through a hundred labyrinths, and fighting all he met with on the way, he does at last come back to his great question from which he has so long wandered. He takes up the Book of Job, which the learned consider as the work of an Arab; and he seeks to prove, that Job did not believe in the immortality of the soul. He then explains, in his own way, all the texts of Scripture that have been brought to combat his opinion.
All that should be said of him is, that if he was in the right, it was not for a bishop to be so in the right. He should have felt that two dangerous consequences might be drawn: but all goes by chance in this world. This man, who became an informer and a persecutor, was not made a bishop through the patronage of a minister of state, until immediately after he wrote his book.
At Salamanca, at Coimbra, or at Rome, he would have been obliged to retract and to ask pardon. In England he became a peer of the realm, with an income of a hundred thousand livres. Here was something to soften his manners.
The greatest benefit for which we are indebted to the New Testament is its having revealed to us the immortality of the soul. It is therefore quite in vain that this Warburton has sought to cloud this important truth, by continually representing, in his “Legation of Moses,” that “the ancient Jews had no knowledge 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 which Jesus Christ is made to utter: “Have ye not read that which is 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.” He gives to the parable of the rich bad man a sense contrary to that of all the churches. Sherlock, bishop of London, and twenty other learned men, have refuted him. Even the English philosophers have reminded him how scandalous it is in an English bishop to manifest an opinion so contrary to the Church of England; and after all, this man has thought proper to call others impious: like Harlequin, in the farce of “The Housebreaker” (Le Dévaliseur des Maisons) who, after throwing the furniture out at the window, seeing a man carrying some articles away, cries with all his might—“Stop, thief!”
The revelation of the immortality of the soul, and of pains and rewards after death, is the more to be blessed, as the vain philosophy of men always doubted of it. The great Cæsar had no faith in it. He explained himself clearly to the whole senate, when, to prevent Catiline from being put to death, he represented to them that death left man without feeling—that all died with him: and no one refuted this opinion.
The Roman Empire was divided between two great principal sects: that of Epicurus, who affirmed that the divinity was useless to the world, and the soul perished with the body; and that of the Stoics, who regarded the soul as a portion of the divinity, which after death was reunited to its original—to the great All from which it had emanated. So that, whether the soul was believed to be mortal, or to be immortal, all sects united in contemning the idea of rewards and punishments after death.
There are still remaining numerous monuments of this belief of the Romans. It was from the force of this opinion profoundly engraved on all hearts, that so many Roman heroes and so many private citizens put themselves to death without the smallest scruple; they did not wait for a tyrant to deliver them into the hands of the executioner.
Even the most virtuous men, and the most thoroughly persuaded of the existence of a God, did not then hope any reward, nor did they fear any punishment. It has been seen in the article on “Apocrypha,” that Clement himself, who was afterwards pope and saint, began with doubting what the first Christians said of another life, and that he consulted St. Peter at Cæsarea. We are very far from believing that St. Clement wrote the history which is attributed to him; but it shows what need mankind had of a precise revelation. All that can surprise us is that a tenet so repressing and so salutary should have left men a prey to so many horrible crimes, who have so short a time to live, and find themselves pressed between the eternities.
A child, ill-formed, is born absolutely imbecile, has no ideas, lives without ideas; instances of this have been known. How shall this animal be defined? Doctors have said that it is something between man and beast; others have said that it is a sensitive soul, but not an intellectual soul: it eats, it drinks, it sleeps, it wakes, it has sensations, but it does not think.
Is there for it another life, or is there none? The case has been put, and has not yet been entirely resolved.
Some have said that this creature must have a soul, because its father and its mother had souls. But by this reasoning it would be proved that if it had come into the world without a nose, it should have the reputation of having one, because its father and its mother had one.
A woman is brought to bed: her infant has no chin; its forehead is flat and somewhat black, its eyes round, its nose thin and sharp; its countenance is not much unlike that of a swallow: yet the rest of his body is made like ours. It is decided by a majority of voices that it is a man, and possesses an immaterial soul; whereupon the parents have it baptized. But if this little ridiculous figure has pointed claws, and a mouth in the form of a beak, it is declared to be a monster; it has no soul; it is not baptized.
It is known, that in 1726, there was in London a woman who was brought to bed every eight days of a young rabbit. No difficulty was made of refusing baptism to this child, notwithstanding the epidemic folly which prevailed in London for three weeks, of believing that this poor jade actually brought forth wild rabbits. The surgeon who delivered her, named St. André, swore that nothing was more true; and he was believed. But what reason had the credulous for refusing a soul to this woman’s offspring? She had a soul; her children must likewise have been furnished with souls, whether they had hands or paws, whether they were born with a snout or with a face: cannot the Supreme Being vouchsafe the gift of thought and sensation to a little nondescript, born of a woman, with the figure of a rabbit, as well as a little nondescript born with the figure of a man? Will the soul which was ready to take up its abode in this woman’s fœtus return unhoused?
It is very well observed by Locke, with regard to monsters, that immortality must not be attributed to the exterior of a body—that it has nothing to do with the figure. “This immortality,” says he, “is no more attached to the form of one’s face or breast than it is to the way in which one’s beard is clipped or one’s coat is cut.”
He asks: What is the exact measure of deformity by which you can recognize whether an infant has a soul or not? What is the precise degree at which it is to be declared a monster and without a soul?
Again, it is asked: What would a soul be that should have none but chimerical ideas? There are some which never go beyond such. Are they worthy or unworthy? What is to be made of their pure spirit?
What are we to think of a child with two heads, which is otherwise well formed?” Some say that it has two souls, because it is furnished with two pineal glands, with two callous substances, with two “sensoria communia.” Others answer that there cannot be two souls, with but one breast and one navel.
In short, so many questions have been asked about this poor human soul, that if it were necessary to put an end to them all, such an examination of its own person would cause it the most insupportable annoyance. The same would happen to it as happened to Cardinal Polignac at a conclave: his steward, tired of having never been able to make him pass his accounts, took a journey to Rome, and went to the small window of his cell, laden with an immense bundle of papers; he read for nearly two hours; at last, finding that no answer was made, he thrust forward his head: the cardinal had been gone almost two hours. Our souls will be gone before their stewards have finished their statements; but let us be just before God—ignorant as both we and our stewards are.
See what is said on the soul in the “Letters of Memmius.”
I must acknowledge, that when I examined the infallible Aristotle, the evangelical doctor, and the divine Plato, I took all these epithets for nicknames. In all the philosophers who have spoken of the human soul, I have found only blind men, full of babble and temerity, striving to persuade themselves that they have an eagle eye; and others, curious and foolish, believing them on their word, and imagining that they see something too.
I shall not feign to rank Descartes and Malebranche with these teachers of error. The former assures us that the soul of man is a substance, whose essence is to think, which is always thinking, and which, in the mother’s womb, is occupied with fine metaphysical ideas and general axioms, which it afterwards forgets.
As for Father Malebranche, he is quite persuaded that we see all in God—and he has found partisans: for the most extravagant fables are those which are the best received by the weak imaginations of men. Various philosophers then had written the romance of the soul: at length, a wise man modestly wrote its history. Of this history I am about to give an abridgment, according to the conception I have formed of it. I very well know that all the world will not agree with Locke’s ideas; it is not unlikely, that against Descartes and Malebranche, Locke was right, but that against the Sorbonne he was wrong: I speak according to the lights of philosophy, not according to the relations of the faith.
It is not for me to think otherwise than humanly; theologians decide divinely, which is quite another thing: reason and faith are of contrary natures. In a word, here follows a short abstract of Locke, which I would censure, if I were a theologian, but which I adopt for a moment, simply as a hypothesis—a conjecture of philosophy. Humanly speaking, the question is: What is the soul?
1. The word “soul” is one of those which everyone pronounces without understanding it; we understand only those things of which we have an idea; we have no idea of soul—spirit; therefore we do not understand it.
2. We have then been pleased to give the name of soul to the faculty of feeling and thinking, as we have given that of life to the faculty of living, and that of will to the faculty of willing.
Reasoners have come and said: Man is composed of matter and spirit: matter is extended and divisible; spirit is neither extended nor divisible; therefore, say they, it is of another nature. This is a joining together of beings which are not made for each other, and which God unites in spite of their nature. We see little of the body, we see nothing of the soul; it has no parts, therefore it is eternal; it has ideas pure and spiritual, therefore it does not receive them from matter; nor does it receive them from itself, therefore God gives them to it, and it brings with it at its birth the ideas of God, infinity, and all general ideas.
Still humanly speaking, I answer these gentlemen that they are very knowing. They tell us, first, that there is a soul, and then what that soul must be. They pronounce the word “matter,” and then plainly decide what it is. And I say to them: You have no knowledge either of spirit or of matter. By spirit you can imagine only the faculty of thinking; by matter you can understand only a certain assemblage of qualities, colors, extents, and solidities, which it has pleased you to call matter; and you have assigned limits to matter and to the soul, even before you are sure of the existence of either the one or the other.
As for matter, you gravely teach that it has only extent and solidity; and I tell you modestly, that it is capable of a thousand properties about which neither you nor I know anything. You say that the soul is indivisible, eternal; and here you assume that which is in question. You are much like the regent of a college, who, having never in his life seen a clock, should all at once have an English repeater put into his hands. This man, a good peripatetic, is struck by the exactness with which the hands mark the time, and still more astonished that a button, pressed by the finger, should sound precisely the hour marked by the hand. My philosopher will not fail to prove that there is in this machine a soul which governs it and directs its springs. He learnedly demonstrates his opinion by the simile of the angels who keep the celestial spheres in motion; and in the class he forms fine theses, maintained on the souls of watches. One of his scholars opens the watch, and nothing is found but springs; yet the system of the soul of watches is still maintained, and is considered as demonstrated. I am that scholar, opening the watch called man; but instead of boldly defining what we do not understand, I endeavor to examine by degrees what we wish to know.
Let us take an infant at the moment of its birth, and follow, step by step, the progress of its understanding. You do me the honor of informing me that God took the trouble of creating a soul, to go and take up its abode in this body when about six weeks old; that this soul, on its arrival, is provided with metaphysical ideas—having consequently a very clear knowledge of spirit, of abstract ideas, of infinity—being, in short, a very knowing person. But unfortunately it quits the uterus in the uttermost ignorance: for eighteen months it knows nothing but its nurse’s teat; and when at the age of twenty years an attempt is made to bring back to this soul’s recollection all the scientific ideas which it had when it entered its body, it is often too dull of apprehension to conceive any one of them. There are whole nations which have never had so much as one of these ideas. What, in truth, were the souls of Descartes and Malebranche thinking of, when they imagined such reveries? Let us then follow the idea of the child, without stopping at the imaginings of the philosophers.
The day that his mother was brought to bed of him and his soul, there were born in the house a dog, a cat, and a canary bird. At the end of eighteen months I make the dog an excellent hunter; in a year the canary bird whistles an air; in six weeks the cat is master of its profession; and the child, at the end of four years, does nothing. I, a gross person, witnessing this prodigious difference, and never having seen a child, think at first that the cat, the dog, and the canary are very intelligent creatures, and that the infant is an automaton. However, by little and little, I perceive that this child has ideas and memory, that he has the same passions as these animals; and then I acknowledge that he is, like them, a rational creature. He communicates to me different ideas by some words which he has learned, in like manner as my dog, by diversified cries, makes known to me exactly his different wants. I perceive at the age of six or seven years the child combines in his little brain almost as many ideas as my hound in his; and at length, as he grows older, he acquires an infinite variety of knowledge. Then what am I to think of him? Shall I believe that he is of a nature altogether different? Undoubtedly not; for you see on one hand an idiot, and on the other a Newton; yet you assert that they are of one and the same nature—that there is no difference but that of greater and less. The better to assure myself of the verisimilitude of my probable opinion, I examine the dog and the child both waking and sleeping—I have them each bled immediately; then their ideas seem to escape with their blood. In this state I call them—they do not answer; and if I draw from them a few more ounces, my two machines, which before had ideas in great plenty and passions of every kind, have no longer any feeling. I next examine my two animals while they sleep; I perceive that the dog, after eating too much, has dreams; he hunts and cries after the game; my youngster, in the same state, talks to his mistress and makes love in his dreams. If both have eaten moderately, I observe that neither of them dream; in short, I see that the faculties of feeling, perceiving, and expressing their ideas unfold themselves gradually, and also become weaker by degrees. I discover many more affinities between them than between any man of strong mind and one absolutely imbecile. What opinion then shall I entertain of their nature? That which every people at first imagined, before Egyptian policy asserted the spirituality, the immortality, of the soul. I shall even suspect that Archimedes and a mole are but different varieties of the same species—as an oak and a grain of mustard are formed by the same principles, though the one is a large tree and the other the seed of a small plant. I shall believe that God has given portions of intelligence to portions of matter organized for thinking; I shall believe that matter has sensations in proportion to the fineness of its senses, that it is they which proportion them to the measure of our ideas; I shall believe that the oyster in its shell has fewer sensations and senses, because its soul being attached to its shell, five senses would not at all be useful to it. There are many animals with only two senses; we have five—which are very few. It is to be believed that in other worlds there are other animals enjoying twenty or thirty senses, and that other species, yet more perfect, have senses to infinity.
Such, it appears to me, is the most natural way of reasoning on the matter—that is, of guessing and inspecting with certainty. A long time elapsed before men were ingenious enough to imagine an unknown being, which is ourselves, which does all in us, which is not altogether ourselves, and which lives after us. Nor was so bold an idea adopted all at once. At first this word “soul” signifies life, and was common to us and the other animals; then our pride made us a soul apart, and caused us to imagine a substantial form for other creatures. This human pride asks: What then is that power of perceiving and feeling, which in man is called soul, and in the brute instinct? I will satisfy this demand when the natural philosophers shall have informed me what is sound, light, space, body, time. I will say, in the spirit of the wise Locke: Philosophy consists in stopping when the torch of physical science fails us. I observe the effects of nature; but I freely own that of first principles I have no more conception than you have. All I do know is that I ought not to attribute to several causes—especially to unknown causes—that which I can attribute to a known cause; now I can attribute to my body the faculty of thinking and feeling; therefore I ought not to seek this faculty of thinking and feeling in another substance, called soul or spirit, of which I cannot have the smallest idea. You exclaim against this proposition. Do you then think it irreligious to dare to say that the body can think? But what would you say, Locke would answer, if you yourselves were found guilty of irreligion in thus daring to set bounds to the power of God? What man upon earth can affirm, without absurd impiety, that it is impossible for God to give to matter sensation and thought? Weak and presumptuous that you are! you boldly advance that matter does not think, because you do not conceive how matter of any kind should think.
Ye great philosophers, who decide on the power of God, and say that God can of a stone make an angel—do you not see that, according to yourselves, God would in that case only give to a stone the power of thinking? for if the matter of the stone did not remain, there would no longer be a stone; there would be a stone annihilated and an angel created. Whichever way you turn you are forced to acknowledge two things—your ignorance and the boundless power of the Creator; your ignorance, to which thinking matter is repugnant; and the Creator’s power, to which certes it is not impossible.
You, who know that matter does not perish, will dispute whether God has the power to preserve in that matter the noblest quality with which He has endowed it. Extent subsists perfectly without body, through Him, since there are philosophers who believe in a void; accidents subsist very well without substance with Christians who believe in transubstantiation. God, you say, cannot do that which implies contradiction. To be sure of this, it is necessary to know more of the matter than you do know; it is all in vain; you will never know more than this—that you are a body, and that you think. Many persons who have learned at school to doubt of nothing, who take their syllogisms for oracles and their superstitions for religion, consider Locke as impious and dangerous. These superstitious people are in society what cowards are in an army; they are possessed by and communicate panic terror. We must have the compassion to dissipate their fears; they must be made sensible that the opinions of philosophers will never do harm to religion. We know for certain that light comes from the sun, and that the planets revolve round that luminary; yet we do not read with any the less edification in the Bible that light was made before the sun, and that the sun stood still over the village of Gibeon. It is demonstrated that the rainbow is necessarily formed by the rain; yet we do not the least reverence the sacred text which says that God set His bow in the clouds, after the Deluge, as a sign that there should never be another inundation.
What though the mystery of the Trinity and that of the eucharist are contradictory to known demonstrations? They are not the less venerated by Catholic philosophers, who know that the things of reason and those of faith are different in their nature. The notion of the antipodes was condemned by the popes and the councils; yet the popes discovered the antipodes and carried thither that very Christian religion, the destruction of which had been thought to be sure, in case there could be found a man who, as it was then expressed, should have, as relative to our own position, his head downwards and his feet upwards, and who, as the very unphilosophical St. Augustine says, should have fallen from heaven.
And now, let me once repeat that, while I write with freedom, I warrant no opinion—I am responsible for nothing. Perhaps there are, among these dreams, some reasonings, and even some reveries, to which I should give the preference; but there is not one that I would not unhesitatingly sacrifice to religion and to my country.
I shall suppose a dozen of good philosophers in an island where they have never seen anything but vegetables. Such an island, and especially twelve such philosophers, would be very hard to find; however, the fiction is allowable. They admire the life which circulates in the fibres of the plants, appearing to be alternately lost and renewed; and as they know not how a plant springs up, how it derives its nourishment and growth, they call this a vegetative soul. What, they are asked, do you understand by a vegetative soul? They answer: It is a word that serves to express the unknown spring by which all this is operated. But do you not see, a mechanic will ask them, that all this is naturally done by weights, levers, wheels, and pulleys? No, the philosophers will say; there is in this vegetation something other than ordinary motion; there is a secret power which all plants have of drawing to themselves the juices which nourish them; and this power cannot be explained by any system of mechanics; it is a gift which God has made to matter, and the nature of which neither you nor we comprehend.
After disputing thus, our reasoners at length discover animals. Oh, oh! say they, after a long examination, here are beings organized like ourselves. It is indisputable that they have memory, and often more than we have. They have our passions; they have knowledge; they make us understand all their wants; they perpetuate their species like us. Our philosophers dissect some of these beings, and find in them hearts and brains. What! say they, can the author of these machines, who does nothing in vain, have given them all the organs of feeling, in order that they may have no feeling? It were absurd to think so—there is certainly something in them which, for want of knowing a better term, we likewise call soul—something that experiences sensations, and has a certain number of ideas. But what is this principle? Is it something absolutely different from matter? Is it a pure spirit? Is it a middle being, between matter, of which we know little, and pure spirit, of which we know nothing? Is it a property given by God to organized matter?
They then make experiments upon insects; upon earth worms—they cut them into several parts, and are astonished to find that, after a short time, there come heads to all these divided parts; the same animal is reproduced, and its very destruction becomes the means of its multiplication. Has it several souls, which wait until the head is cut off the original trunk, to animate the reproduced parts? They are like trees, which put forth fresh branches, and are reproduced from slips. Have these trees several souls? It is not likely. Then it is very probable that the soul of these reptiles is of a different kind from that which we call vegetative soul in plants; that it is a faculty of a superior order, which God has vouchsafed to give to certain portions of matter. Here is a fresh proof of His power—a fresh subject of adoration.
A man of violent temper, and a bad reasoner, hears this discourse and says to them: You are wicked wretches, whose bodies should be burned for the good of your souls, for you deny the immortality of the soul of man. Our philosophers then look at one another in perfect astonishment, and one of them mildly answers him: Why burn us so hastily? Whence have you concluded that we have an idea that your cruel soul is mortal? From your believing, returns the other, that God has given to the brutes which are organized like us, the faculty of having feelings and ideas. Now this soul of the beasts perishes with them; therefore you believe that the soul of man perishes also.
The philosopher replies: We are not at all sure that what we call “soul” in animal perishes with them; we know very well that matter does not perish, and we believe that God may have put in animals something which, if God will it, shall forever retain the faculty of having ideas. We are very far from affirming that such is the case, for it is hardly for men to be so confident; but we dare not set bounds to the power of God. We say that it is very probable that the beasts, which are matter, have received from Him a little intelligence. We are every day discovering properties of matter—that is, presents from God—of which we had before no idea. We at first defined matter to be an extended substance; next we found it necessary to add solidity; some time afterwards we were obliged to admit that this matter has a force which is called “vis inertiæ”; and after this, to our great astonishment, we had to acknowledge that matter gravitates.
When we sought to carry our researches further, we were forced to recognize beings resembling matter in some things, but without the other attributes with which matter is gifted. The elementary fire, for instance, acts upon our senses like other bodies; but it does not, like them, tend to a centre; on the contrary, it escapes from the centre in straight lines on every side. It does not seem to obey the laws of attraction, of gravitation, like other bodies. There are mysteries in optics, for which it would be hard to account, without venturing to suppose that the rays of light penetrate one another. There is certainly something in light which distinguishes it from known matter. Light seems to be a middle being between bodies and other kinds of beings of which we are ignorant! It is very likely that these other kinds are themselves a medium leading to other creatures, and that there is a chain of substances extending to infinity. “Usque adeo quod tangit idem est, tamen ultima distant!”
This idea seems to us to be worthy of the greatness of God, if anything is worthy of it. Among these substances He has doubtless had power to choose one which He has lodged in our bodies, and which we call the human soul; and the sacred books which we have read inform us that this soul is immortal. Reason is in accordance with revelation; for how should any substance perish? Every mode is destroyed; the substance remains. We cannot conceive the creation of a substance; we cannot conceive its annihilation; but we dare not affirm that the absolute master of all beings cannot also give feelings and perceptions to the being which we call matter. You are quite sure that the essence of your soul is to think; but we are not so sure of this; for when we examine a fœtus, we can hardly believe that its soul had many ideas in its head; and we very much doubt whether, in a sound and deep sleep, or in a complete lethargy, any one ever meditated. Thus it appears to us that thought may very well be, not the essence of the thinking being, but a present made by the Creator to beings which we call thinking; from all which we suspect that, if He would, He could make this present to an atom; and could preserve this atom and His present forever, or destroy it at His pleasure. The difficulty consists not so much in divining how matter could think, as in divining how any substance whatever does think. You have ideas only because God has been pleased to give them to you; why would you prevent Him from giving them to other species? Can you really be so fearless as to dare to believe that your soul is precisely of the same kind as the substances which approach nearest to the Divinity? There is great probability that they are of an order very superior, and that consequently God has vouchsafed to give them a way of thinking infinitely finer, just as He has given a very limited measure of ideas to the animals which are of an order inferior to you. I know not how I live, nor how I give life; yet you would have me know how I have ideas. The soul is a timepiece which God has given us to manage; but He has not told us of what the spring of this timepiece is composed.
Is there anything in all this from which it can be inferred that our souls are mortal? Once more let us repeat it—we think as you do of the immortality announced to us by faith; but we believe that we are too ignorant to affirm that God has not the power of granting thought to whatever being He pleases. You bound the power of the Creator, which is boundless; and we extend it as far as His existence extends. Forgive us for believing Him to be omnipotent, as we forgive you for restraining His power. You doubtless know all that He can do, and we know nothing of it. Let us live as brethren; let us adore our common Father in peace—you with your knowing and daring souls, we with our ignorant and timid souls. We have a day to live; let us pass it calmly, without quarrelling about difficulties that will be cleared up in the immortal life which will begin tomorrow.
The brutal man, having nothing good to say in reply, talked a long while, and was very angry. Our poor philosophers employed themselves for some weeks in reading history; and after reading well, they spoke as follows to this barbarian, who was so unworthy to have an immortal soul:
My friend, we have read that in all antiquity things went on as well as they do in our own times—that there were even greater virtues, and that philosophers were not persecuted for the opinions which they held; why, then, should you seek to injure us for opinions which we do not hold? We read that all the ancients believed matter to be eternal. They who saw that it was created left the others at rest. Pythagoras had been a cock, his relations had been swine; but no one found fault with this; his sect was cherished and revered by all, except the cooks and those who had beans to sell.
The Stoics acknowledged a god, nearly the same as the god afterwards so rashly admitted by the Spinozists; yet Stoicism was a sect the most fruitful in heroic virtues, and the most accredited.
The Epicureans made their god like our canons, whose indolent corpulence upholds their divinity, and who take their nectar and ambrosia in quiet, without meddling with anything. These Epicureans boldly taught the materiality and the mortality of the soul; but they were not the less respected; they were admitted into all offices; and their crooked atoms never did the world any harm.
The Platonists, like the Gymnosophists, did not do us the honor to think that God had condescended to form us Himself. According to them, He left this task to His officers—to genii, who in the course of their work made many blunders. The god of the Platonists was an excellent workman, who employed here below very indifferent assistants; but men did not the less reverence the school of Plato.
In short, among the Greeks and the Romans, so many sects as there were, so many ways of thinking about God and the soul, the past and the future, none of these sects were persecutors. They were all mistaken—and we are very sorry for it; but they were all peaceful—and this confounds us, this condemns us, this shows us that most of the reasoners of the present day are monsters, and that those of antiquity were men. They sang publicly on the Roman stage: “Post mortem nihil est, ipsaque mors nihil.”—“Naught after death, and death is nothing.”
These opinions made men neither better nor worse; all was governed, all went on as usual; and Titus, Trajan, and Aurelius governed the earth like beneficent deities.
Passing from the Greeks and the Romans to barbarous nations, let us only contemplate the Jews. Superstitious, cruel, and ignorant as this wretched people were, still they honored the Pharisees, who admitted the fatality of destiny and the metempsychosis; they also paid respect to the Sadducees, who absolutely denied the immortality of the soul and the existence of spirits, taking for their foundation the law of Moses, which had made no mention of pain or reward after death. The Essenes, who also believed in fatality, and who never offered up victims in the temple, were reverenced still more than the Pharisees and the Sadducees. None of their opinions ever disturbed the government. Yet here were abundant subjects for slaughtering, burning, and exterminating one another, had they been so inclined. Oh, miserable men! profit by these examples. Think, and let others think. It is the solace of our feeble minds in this short life. What! will you receive with politeness a Turk, who believes that Mahomet travelled to the moon; will you be careful not to displease the pasha Bonneval; and yet will you have your brother hanged, drawn, and quartered, because he believes that God created intelligence in every creature?
So spake one of the philosophers; and another of them added: Believe me, it need never be feared that any philosophical opinion will hurt the religion of a country. What though our mysteries are contrary to our demonstrations, they are not the less reverenced by our Christian philosophers, who know that the objects of reason and faith are of different natures. Philosophers will never form a religious sect; and why? Because they are without enthusiasm. Divide mankind into twenty parts; and of these, nineteen consist of those who labor with their hands, and will never know that there has been such a person as Locke in the world. In the remaining twentieth, how few men will be found who read! and among those who read, there are twenty that read novels for one that studies philosophy. Those who think are excessively few; and those few do not set themselves to disturb the world.
Who are they who have waved the torch of discord in their native country? Are they Pomponatius, Montaigne, La Vayer, Descartes, Gassendi, Bayle, Spinoza, Hobbes, Shaftesbury, Boulainvilliers, the Consul Maillet, Toland, Collins, Flood, Woolston, Bekker, the author disguised under the name of Jacques Massé, he of the “Turkish Spy,” he of the “Lettres Persanes,” of the “Lettres Juives,” of the “Pensées Philosophiques”? No; they are for the most part theologians, who, having at first been ambitious of becoming leaders of a sect, have soon become ambitious to be leaders of a party. Nay, not all the books of modern philosophy put together will ever make so much noise in the world as was once made by the dispute of the Cordeliers about the form of their hoods and sleeves.
The dogma of the immortality of the soul is at once the most consoling and the most repressing idea that the mind of man can receive. This fine philosophy was as ancient among the Egyptians as their pyramids; and before them it was known to the Persians. I have already elsewhere related the allegory of the first Zoroaster, cited in the “Sadder,” in which God shows to Zoroaster a place of chastisement, such as the Dardaroth or Keron of the Egyptians, the Hades and the Tartarus of the Greeks, which we have but imperfectly rendered in our modern tongues by the words “inferno,” “enfer,” “infernal regions,” “hell,” “bottomless pit.” In this place of punishment God showed to Zoroaster all the bad kings; one of them had but one foot; Zoroaster asked the reason; and God answered that this king had done only one good action in his life, which was by approaching to kick forward a trough which was not near enough to a poor ass dying of hunger. God had placed this wicked man’s foot in heaven; the rest of his body was in hell.
This fable, which cannot be too often repeated, shows how ancient was the opinion of another life. The Indians were persuaded of it, as their metempsychosis proves. The Chinese venerated the souls of their ancestors. Each of these nations had founded powerful empires long before the Egyptians. This is a very important truth, which I think I have already proved by the very nature of the soil of Egypt. The most favorable grounds must have been cultivated the first; the ground of Egypt is the least favorable of all, being under water four months of the year; it was not until after immense labor, and consequently after a prodigious lapse of time, that towns were at length raised which the Nile could not inundate.
This empire, then, ancient as it was, was much less ancient than the empires of Asia; and in both one and the other it was believed that the soul existed after death. It is true that all these nations, without exception, considered the soul as a light ethereal form, an image of the body; the Greek word signifying “breath” was invented long after by the Greeks. But it is beyond a doubt that a part of ourselves was considered as immortal. Rewards and punishments in another life were the grand foundation of ancient theology.
Pherecides was the first among the Greeks who believed that souls existed from all eternity, and not the first, as has been supposed, who said that the soul survived the body. Ulysses, long before Pherecides, had seen the souls of heroes in the infernal regions; but that souls were as old as the world was a system which had sprung up in the East, and was brought into the West by Pherecides. I do not believe that there is among us a single system which is not to be found among the ancients. The materials of all our modern edifices are taken from the wreck of antiquity.
It would be a fine thing to see one’s soul. “Know thyself” is an excellent precept; but it belongs only to God to put it in practice. Who but He can know His own essence?
We call “soul” that which animates. Owing to our limited intelligence we know scarcely anything more of the matter. Three-fourths of mankind go no further, and give themselves no concern about the thinking being; the other fourth seek it; no one has found it, or ever will find it.
Poor pedant! thou seest a plant which vegetates, and thou sayest, “vegetation,” or perhaps “vegetative soul.” Thou remarkest that bodies have and communicate motion, and thou sayest, “force”; thou seest thy dog learn his craft under thee, and thou exclaimest, “instinct,” “sensitive soul”! Thou hast combined ideas, and thou exclaimest, “spirit”!
But pray, what dost thou understand by these words? This flower vegetates; but is there any real being called vegetation? This body pushes along another, but does it possess within itself a distinct being called force? Thy dog brings thee a partridge, but is there any being called instinct? Wouldst thou not laugh, if a reasoner—though he had been preceptor to Alexander—were to say to thee: All animals live; therefore there is in them a being, a substantial form, which is life?
If a tulip could speak and were to tell thee: I and my vegetation are two beings evidently joined together; wouldst thou not laugh at the tulip?
Let us at first see what thou knowest, of what thou art certain; that thou walkest with thy feet; that thou digestest with thy stomach; that thou feelest with thy whole body; and that thou thinkest with thy head. Let us see if thy reason alone can have given thee light enough by which to conclude, without supernatural aid, that thou hast a soul.
The first philosophers, whether Chaldæans or Egyptians, said: There must be something within us which produces our thoughts; that something must be very subtile; it is a breath; it is fire; it is ether; it is a quintessence; it is a slender likeness; it is an antelechia; it is a number; it is a harmony. Lastly, according to the divine Plato, it is a compound of the same and the other. “It is atoms which think in us,” said Epicurus, after Democrites. But, my friend, how does an atom think? Acknowledge that thou knowest nothing of the matter.
The opinion which one ought to adopt is, doubtless, that the soul is an immaterial being; but certainly we cannot conceive what an immaterial being is. No, answer the learned; but we know that its nature is to think. And whence do you know this? We know, because it does think. Oh, ye learned! I am much afraid that you are as ignorant as Epicurus! The nature of a stone is to fall, because it does fall; but I ask you, what makes it fall?
We know, continue they, that a stone has no soul. Granted; I believe it as well as you. We know that an affirmative and a negative are not divisible, are not parts of matter. I am of your opinion. But matter, otherwise unknown to us, possesses qualities which are not material, which are not divisible; it has gravitation towards a centre, which God has given it; and this gravitation has no parts; it is not divisible. The moving force of bodies is not a being composed of parts. In like manner the vegetation of organized bodies, their life, their instinct, are not beings apart, divisible beings; you can no more cut in two the vegetation of a rose, the life of a horse, the instinct of a dog, than you can cut in two a sensation, an affirmation, a negation. Therefore your fine argument, drawn from the indivisibility of thought, proves nothing at all.
What, then, do you call your soul? What idea have you of it? You cannot of yourselves, without revelation, admit the existence within you of anything but a power unknown to you of feeling and thinking.
Now tell me honestly, is this power of feeling and thinking the same as that which causes you to digest and to walk? You own that it is not; for in vain might your understanding say to your stomach—Digest; it will not, if it be sick. In vain might your immaterial being order your feet to walk; they will not stir, if they have the gout.
The Greeks clearly perceived that thought has frequently nothing to do with the play of our organs; they admitted the existence of an animal soul for these organs, and for the thoughts a soul finer, more subtile—a nous.
But we find that this soul of thought has, on a thousand occasions, the ascendency over the animal soul. The thinking soul commands the hands to take, and they obey. It does not tell the heart to beat, the blood to flow, the chyle to form; all this is done without it. Here then are two souls much involved, and neither of them having the mastery.
Now, this first animal soul certainly does not exist; it is nothing more than the movement of our organs. Take heed, O man! lest thou have no more proofs but thy weak reason that the other soul exists. Thou canst not know it but by faith; thou art born, thou eatest, thou thinkest, thou wakest, thou sleepest, without knowing how. God has given thee the faculty of thinking, as He has given thee all the rest; and if He had not come at the time appointed by His providence, to teach thee that thou hast an immaterial and an immortal soul, thou wouldst have no proof whatever of it.
Let us examine the fine systems on the soul, which thy philosophy has fabricated.
One says that the soul of man is part of the substance of God Himself; another that it is part of the great whole; a third that it is created from all eternity; a fourth that it is made, and not created. Others assure us that God makes souls according as they are wanted, and that they arrive at the moment of copulation. They are lodged in the seminal animalcules, cries one. No, says another, they take up their abode in the Fallopian tubes. A third comes and says: You are all wrong; the soul waits for six weeks, until the fœtus is formed, and then it takes possession of the pineal gland; but if it finds a false conception, it returns and waits for a better opportunity. The last opinion is that its dwelling is in the callous body; this is the post assigned to it by La Peyronie. A man should be first surgeon to the king of France to dispose in this way of the lodging of the soul. Yet the callous body was not so successful in the world as the surgeon was.
St. Thomas in his question 75 and following, says that the soul is a form subsisting per se, that it is all in all, that its essence differs from its power; that there are three vegetative souls, viz., the nutritive, the argumentative, and the generative; that the memory of spiritual things is spiritual, and the memory of corporeal things is corporeal; that the rational soul is a form “immaterial as to its operations, and material as to its being.” St. Thomas wrote two thousand pages, of like force and clearness; and he is the angel of the schools.
Nor have there been fewer systems contrived on the way in which this soul will feel, when it shall have laid aside the body with which it felt; how it will hear without ears, smell without a nose, and touch without hands; what body it will afterwards resume, whether that which it had at two years old, or at eighty; how the I—the identity of the same person will subsist; how the soul of a man become imbecile at the age of fifteen, and dying imbecile at the age of seventy, will resume the thread of the ideas which he had at the age of puberty; by what contrivance a soul, the leg of whose body shall be cut off in Europe, and one of its arms lost in America, will recover this leg and arm, which, having been transformed into vegetables, will have passed into the blood of some other animal. We should never finish, if we were to seek to give an account of all the extravagances which this poor human soul has imagined about itself.
It is very singular that, in the laws of God’s people, not a word is said of the spirituality and immortality of the soul; nothing in the Decalogue, nothing in Leviticus, or in Deuteronomy.
It is quite certain, it is indubitable, that Moses nowhere proposes to the Jews pains and rewards in another life; that he never mentions to them the immortality of their souls; that he never gives them hopes of heaven, nor threatens them with hell; all is temporal.
Many illustrious commentators have thought that Moses was perfectly acquainted with these two great dogmas; and they prove it by the words of Jacob, who, believing that his son had been devoured by wild beasts, said in his grief: “I will go down into the grave—in infernum—unto my son”; that is, I will die, since my son is dead.
They further prove it by the passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel; but the Hebrews, to whom Moses spoke, could not have read either Ezekiel or Isaiah, who did not come until several centuries after.
It is quite useless to dispute about the private opinions of Moses. The fact is that in his public laws he never spoke of a life to come; that he limited all rewards and punishments to the time present. If he knew of a future life, why did he not expressly set forth that dogma? And if he did not know of it, what were the object and extent of his mission? This question is asked by many great persons. The answer is, that the Master of Moses, and of all men, reserved to Himself the right of expounding to the Jews, at His own time, a doctrine which they were not in a condition to understand when they were in the desert.
If Moses had announced the immortality of the soul, a great school among the Jews would not have constantly combated it. This great retreat of the Sadducees would not have been authorized in the State; the Sadducees would not have filled the highest offices, nor would pontiffs have been chosen from their body.
It appears that it was not until after the founding of Alexandria that the Jews were divided into three sects—the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The historian Josephus, who was a Pharisee, informs us in the thirteenth book of his “Antiquities” that the Pharisees believed in the metempsychosis; the Sadducees believed that the soul perished with the body; the Essenes, says Josephus, held that souls were immortal; according to them souls descended in an aërial form into the body, from the highest region of the air, whither they were carried back again by a violent attraction; and after death, those which had belonged to the good dwelt beyond the ocean in a country where there was neither heat nor cold, nor wind, nor rain. The souls of the wicked went into a climate of an opposite description. Such was the theology of the Jews.
He who alone was to instruct all men came and condemned these three sects; but without Him we could never have known anything of our soul; for the philosophers never had any determinate idea of it; and Moses—the only true lawgiver in the world before our own—Moses, who talked with God face to face, left men in the most profound ignorance on this great point. It is, then, only for seventeen hundred years that there has been any certainty of the soul’s existence and its immortality.
Cicero had only doubts; his grandson and granddaughter might learn the truth from the first Galileans who came to Rome.
But before that time, and since then, in all the rest of the earth where the apostles did not penetrate, each one must have said to his soul: What art thou? whence comest thou? what dost thou? whither goest thou? Thou art I know not what, thinking and feeling: and wert thou to feel and think for a hundred thousand millions of years, thou wouldst never know any more by thine own light without the assistance of God.
O man! God has given thee understanding for thy own good conduct, and not to penetrate into the essence of the things which He has created.
So thought Locke; and before Locke, Gassendi; and before Gassendi, a multitude of sages; but we have bachelors who know all of which those great men were ignorant.
Some cruel enemies of reason have dared to rise up against these truths, acknowledged by all the wise. They have carried their dishonesty and impudence so far as to charge the authors of this work with having affirmed that the soul is matter. You well know, persecutors of innocence, that we have said quite the contrary. You must have read these very words against Epicurus, Democritus, and Lucretius: “My friend, how does an atom think? Acknowledge that thou knowest nothing of the matter.” It is then evident, ye are calumniators.
No one knows what that material being is, which is called “spirit,” to which—be it observed—you give this material name, signifying “wind.” All the first fathers of the Church believed the soul to be corporeal. It is impossible for us limited beings to know whether our intelligence is substance or faculty: we cannot thoroughly know either the extended being, or the thinking beings, or the mechanism of thought.
We exclaim to you, with the ever to be revered Gassendi and Locke, that we know nothing by ourselves of the secrets of the Creator. And are you gods, who know everything? We repeat to you, that you cannot know the nature and distinction of the soul but by revelation. And is not this revelation sufficient for you? You must surely be enemies of this revelation which we claim, since you persecute those who expect everything from it, and believe only in it.
Yes, we tell you, we defer wholly to the word of God; and you, enemies of reason and of God, treat the humble doubt and humble submission of the philosopher as the wolf in the fable treated the lamb; you say to him: You said ill of me last year; I must suck your blood. Philosophy takes no revenge; she smiles in peace at your vain endeavors; she mildly enlightens mankind, whom you would brutalize, to make them like yourselves.