What does the Church think of reincarnation? (5)

The confrontation of the theory of reincarnation and the Catholic faith showed their radical opposition. It remains to shed light on the subject in the light of natural reason. The first point of view having been that of faith, the main argument was the authority of God. Here intelligence seeks the principles of nature. It must therefore penetrate the very intimacy of things, which goes beyond the sensible order.

What are the philosophical presuppositions and difficulties raised by metempsychosis?

If the soul must pass through several terrestrial lives before reaching bliss, and pass from body to body, it is therefore not particularly linked to any of them. The soul is in the body only occasionally, it remains foreign to it. Which presupposes a special conception of the soul and its relationship to the body.

Moreover, metempsychosis, which admits reincarnation in beings other than men, seems to grant the souls of plants and animals the same prerogatives as the human soul.

Some supporters of this thesis claim to still remember their past lives. This poses the problem of memory. Does it reside in the spiritual soul alone or in the body? In the latter case, shouldn’t a change of body erase all memory of the past?

It is therefore necessary to successively study the soul in itself, then its relations with the body and, finally, the powers of the soul, in particular memory.

The soul itself

It presents itself to us under different aspects which must be studied separately although they are not separated in reality: the soul is the principle of life, it is the form of the body, it is its act.

The principle of life

* Movement

The first experience that our senses allow, after that of the existence of things, is that of their movement. Observing the various movements separates the world into two distinct parts. Certain beings only move under the action of an external principle. The others, on the contrary, have in themselves the principle of their movement. They move themselves.

This difference distinguishes living things from non-living things. “What distinguishes the living from the non-living is that by which life first manifests itself and that which remains until the end. Now, the first thing that makes us say that an animal lives is that it begins to move, and we say that it lives as much as this movement appears in it. »

But the movement which translates life is only that which the thing gives itself. “When it no longer has the movement by itself, but is only moved by another, then we say that the animal is dead, the life has left it. » What are the main movements that present themselves to us?

Local movement: dunes move and change shape, but this is only due to the action of the wind. They are inert by themselves. On the contrary, it is through an inner dynamism that the fly flies and the dog runs.

The increase. Ice stalactites grow, but only by addition. Their growth is only an accumulation of matter, while the moss on the roof grows by itself.

The grass in the garden grows by a phenomenon which cannot be explained solely by external influences. But metal only expands when exposed to a heat source. If minerals developed on their own, we would have diamonds, silver and gold galore!

The other species of movements peculiar to living beings, nutrition and generation, lead us to the same results. A living being is one that moves by itself, due to an internal dynamism that cannot be reduced to external actions. What philosophers have summed up in a concise definition: life is movement by itself.

* The principle of movement by oneself

What is it, in the very nature of the living being, which gives it the ability to move by itself, and which also radically distinguishes it from non-living things? What is the principle of this “movement by oneself”?

Ordinary language provides an indication: “We say of the living that they are animate, and of those who have no life that they are inanimate. It is therefore the fact of being “animated”, of having a soul, which makes a thing alive. To be alive is to have a soul.

This fact is confirmed by an observation: for a different soul, a different activity. The animal, for example, moves by its own movement, unlike plants. “Sensible perception is likewise a certain change; but it is found only in those who have a soul. Likewise the movement of growth and decline is found only in those who eat. But only those who have a soul are nourished. It is therefore the soul which is the principle of all these movements. This is the first definition of the soul: the soul is the principle of the life of the living.

The soul is therefore the vital function of a living body. It is a source of life and movement. The etymology emphasizes this well: the Latin anima translates the Greek Ψυχε which comes from the verb Ψυχω I breathe. Which means that the soul is in immediate relation with a body; its very function is to be the source of life of a body. A soul cannot be conceived without its correlative, the body which it vivifies.

Proponents of reincarnation, on the contrary, imagine the soul as created for itself, justifying itself on its own and not in a necessary relationship with a body. The union of soul and body is only the fruit of a fault, no longer a natural state.

On the other hand, if the soul is by its nature the life principle of a body, this means that it is not the living thing itself, but one of its parts. What lives is not the soul alone, but the composite body and soul. We “do not say that the soul walks, sees or hears, because it is man who does so thanks to it. […] It is not the soul which exercises, by itself, any of the vital functions, but it is the animate being which exercises them through the soul. »

This is the finding of common experience. Take a man who walks, smells a flower, remembers an event, thinks about the future and begins to pray. What is the subject of all these operations? Is it, successively and without connection between them, each of its powers: its motor faculty, its sense of smell, its memory and its intelligence? Is it only his body, then only his soul?

Isn’t it rather the same character, the composite body and soul? We all have the feeling of this unity of our life and we express it each time we use the pronoun “I”. It is one and the same “I” who sleeps, eats, dreams or regrets his faults.

For reincarnation, on the contrary, the soul alone is the living. The body is for her only a second-hand and interchangeable dwelling.

Fr. Jean-Dominique, PO

To be continued…

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What does the Church think of reincarnation? (5)

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