The Destiny of the Soul - A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life
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The Destiny of the Soul - A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life


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Project Gutenberg's The Destiny of the Soul, by William Rounseville AlgerThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it,give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online atwww.gutenberg.orgTitle: The Destiny of the Soul A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future LifeAuthor: William Rounseville AlgerRelease Date: August 19, 2006 [EBook #19082]Language: English*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE DESTINY OF THE SOUL ***Produced by Edmund DejowskiTHE DESTINY OF THE SOUL.A CRITICAL HISTORY OF THE DOCTRINE OF A FUTURE LIFE,BY WILLIAM ROUNSEVILLE ALGER.TENTH EDITION,WITH SIX NEW CHAPTERS, ANDA Complete Bibliography of the Subject.[Note: bibliography not included here]COMPRISING 4977 BOOKS RELATING TO THE NATURE, ORIGIN, AND DESTINY OF THE SOUL. THE TITLES CLASSIFIED AND ARRANGEDCHRONOLOGICALLY, WITH NOTES, AND INDEXES OF THE AUTHORS AND SUBJECTS.BY EZRA ABBOT,PROFESSOR OF NEW TESTAMENT CRITICISM AND INTERPRETATION IN THE DIVINITY SCHOOL OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY.BOSTON: ROBERTS BROTHERS. 1880Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1860, byWILLIAM ROUNSEVILLE ALGER,in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the UnitedStates for the District of Massachusetts.Copyright 1878, W.R. AlgerELECTROTYPED BY JOHNSON & CO., PHILADA.University Press: John Wilson & Son,Cambridge.PREFACE TO THE TENTH EDITION ...



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Project Gutenberg's The Destiny of the Soul, by William Rounseville Alger
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at
Title: The Destiny of the Soul A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life
Author: William Rounseville Alger
Release Date: August 19, 2006 [EBook #19082]
Language: English
Produced by Edmund Dejowski
A Complete Bibliography of the Subject. [Note: bibliography not included here]
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1860, by WILLIAM ROUNSEVILLE ALGER, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the District of Massachusetts.
Copyright 1878, W.R. Alger
University Press: John Wilson & Son, Cambridge.
THIS work has passed through nine editions, and has been out of print now for nearly a year. During the twenty years which have elapsed since it was written, the question of immortality, the faith and opinions of men and the drift of criticism
and doubt concerning it, have been a subject of dominant interest to me, and have occupied a large space in my reading and reflection. Accordingly, now that my publisher, moved by the constant demand for the volume, urges the preparation of a new edition introducing such additional materials as my continued researches have gathered or constructed, I gladly comply with his request.
The present work is not only historic but it is also polemic; polemic, however, not in the spirit or interest of any party or conventicle, but in the spirit and interest of science and humanity. Orthodoxy insists on doctrines whose irrationality in their current forms is such that they can never be a basis for the union of all men. Therefore, to discredit these, in preparation for more reasonable and auspicious views, is a service to the whole human race. This is my justification for the controversial quality which may frequently strike the reader.
Looking back over his pages, after nearly a quarter of a century more of investigation and experience, the author is grateful that he finds nothing to retract or expunge. He has but to add such thoughts and illustrations as have occurred to him in the course of his subsequent studies. He hopes that the supplementary chapters now published will be found more suggestive and mature than the preceding ones, while the same in aim and tone. For he still believes, as he did in his earlier time, that there is much of error and superstition, bigotry and cruelty, to be purged out of the prevailing theological creed and sentiment of Christendom. And he still hopes, as he did then, to contribute something of good influence in this direction. The large circulation of the work, the many letters of thanks for it received by the author from laymen and clergymen of different denominations, the numerous avowed and unavowed quotations from it in recent publications, all show that it has not been produced in vain, but has borne fruit in missionary service for reason, liberty, and charity.
This ventilating and illumining function of fearless and reverential critical thought will need to be fulfilled much longer in many quarters. The doctrine of a future life has been made so frightful by the preponderance in it of the elements of material torture and sectarian narrowness, that a natural revulsion of generous sentiment joins with the impulse of materialistic science to produce a growing disbelief in any life at all beyond the grave. Nothing else will do so much to renew and extend faith in God and immortality as a noble and beautiful doctrine of God and immortality, freed from disfiguring terror, selfishness, and favoritism.
The most popular preacher in England has recently asked his fellow believers, "Can we go to our beds and sleep while China, India, Japan, and other nations are being damned?" The proprietor of a great foundry in Germany, while he talked one day with a workman who was feeding a furnace, accidentally stepped back, and fell headlong into a vat of molten iron. The thought of what happened then horrifies the imagination. Yet it was all over in two or three seconds. Multiply the individual instance by unnumbered millions, stretch the agony to temporal infinity, and we confront the orthodox idea of hell!
Protesting human nature hurls off such a belief with indignant disdain, except in those instances where the very form and vibration of its nervous pulp have been perverted by the hardening animus of a dogmatic drill transmitted through generations. To trace the origin of such notions, expose their baselessness, obliterate their sway, and replace them with conceptions of a more rational and benignant order, is a task which still needs to be done, and to be done in many forms, over and over, again and again. Though each repetition tell but slightly, it tells.
Every sound argument is instantly crowned with universal victory in the sight of God, and therefore must at last be so in the sight of mankind. However slowly the logic of events limps after the logic of thoughts, it always follows. Let the mind of one man perceive the true meaning of the doctrine of the general resurrection and judgment and eternal life, as a natural evolution of history from within, and it will spread to the minds of all men; and the misinterpretation of that doctrine so long prevalent, as a preternatural irruption of power from without, will be set aside forever. For there is a providential plan of God, not injected by arbitrary miracle, but inhering in the order of the world, centred in the propulsive heart of humanity, which beats throb by throb along the web of events, removing obstacles and clearing the way for the revelation of the completed pattern. When it is done no trumpets may be blown, no rocks rent, no graves opened. But all immortal spirits will be at their goals, and the universe will be full of music.
NEW YORK, February 22, 1878.
WHO follows truth carries his star in his brain. Even so bold a thought is no inappropriate motto for an intellectual workman, if his heart be filled with loyalty to God, the Author of truth and the Maker of stars. In this double spirit of independence and submission it has been my desire to perform the arduous task now finished and offered to the charitable judgment of the reader. One may be courageous to handle both the traditions and the novelties of men, and yet be modest before the solemn mysteries of fate and nature. He may place no veil before his eyes and no finger on his lips in presence of popular dogmas, and yet shrink from the conceit of esteeming his mind a mirror of the universe. Ideas, like coins, bear the stamp of the age and brain they were struck in. Many a phantom which ought to have vanished at the first cock crowing of reason still holds its seat on the oppressed heart of faith before the terror stricken eyes of the multitude. Every thoughtful scholar who loves his fellow men must feel it an obligation to do what he can to remove painful superstitions, and to spread the peace of a cheerful faith and the wholesome light of truth. The theories in theological systems being but philosophy, why should they not be freely subjected to philosophical criticism? I have endeavored, without virulence, arrogance, or irreverence towards any thing sacred, to investigate the various doctrines pertaining to the great subject treated in these pages. Many persons, of course, will find statements from which they dissent, sentiments disagreeable to them. But, where thought and discussion are so free and the press so accessible as with us, no one but a bigot will esteem this a ground of complaint. May all such passages be charitably perused, fairly weighed,
and, if unsound, honorably refuted! If the work be not animated with a mean or false spirit, but be catholic and kindly, if it be not superficial and pretentious, but be marked by patience and thoroughness, is it too much to hope that no critic will assail it with wholesale condemnation simply because in some parts of it there are opinions which he dislikes? One dispassionate argument is more valuable than a shower of missile names. The most vehement revulsion from a doctrine is not inconsistent, in a Christian mind, with the sweetest kindness of feeling towards the persons who hold that doctrine. Earnest theological debate may be carried on without the slightest touch of ungenerous personality. Who but must feel the pathos and admire the charity of these eloquent words of Henry Giles?
"Every deep and reflective nature looking intently 'before and after,' looking above, around, beneath, and finding silence and mystery to all his questionings of the Infinite, cannot but conceive of existence as a boundless problem, perhaps an inevitable darkness between the limitations of man and the incomprehensibility of God. A nature that so reflects, that carries into this sublime and boundless obscurity 'the large discourse of Reason,' will not narrow its concern in the solution of the problem to its own petty safety, but will brood over it with an anxiety which throbs for the whole of humanity. Such a nature must needs be serious; but never will it be arrogant: it will regard all men with an embracing pity. Strange it should ever be otherwise in respect to inquiries which belong to infinite relations, that mean enmities, bitter hatreds, should come into play in these fathomless searchings of the soul! Bring what solution we may to this problem of measureless alternatives, whether by Reason, Scripture, or the Church, faith will never stand for fact, nor the firmest confidence for actual consciousness. The man of great and thoughtful nature, therefore, who grapples in real earnest with this problem, however satisfied he may be with his own solution of it, however implicit may be his trust, however assured his convictions, will yet often bow down before the awful veil that shrouds the endless future, put his finger on his lips, and weep in silence."
The present work is in a sense, an epitome of the thought of mankind on the destiny of man. I have striven to add value to it by comprehensiveness of plan, not confining myself, as most of my predecessors have confined themselves, to one province or a few narrow provinces of the subject, but including the entire subject in one volume; by carefulness of arrangement, not piling the material together or presenting it in a chaos of facts and dreams, but grouping it all in its proper relations; by clearness of explanation, not leaving the curious problems presented wholly in the dark with a mere statement of them, but as far as possible tracing the phenomena to their origin and unveiling their purport; by poetic life of treatment, not handling the different topics dryly and coldly, but infusing warmth and color into them; by copiousness of information, not leaving the reader to hunt up every thing for himself, but referring him to the best sources for the facts, reasonings, and hints which he may wish; and by persevering patience of toil, not hastily skimming here and there and hurrying the task off, but searching and researching in every available direction, examining and re examining each mooted point, by the devotion of twelve years of anxious labor. How far my efforts in these particulars have been successful is submitted to the public.
To avoid the appearance of pedantry in the multiplication of foot notes, I have inserted many authorities incidentally in the text itself, and have omitted all except such as I thought would be desired by the reader. Every scholar knows how easy it is to increase the number of references almost indefinitely, and also how deceptive such an ostensible evidence of wide reading may be.
When the printing of this volume was nearly completed, and I had in some instances made more references than may now seem needful, the thought occurred to me that a full list of the books published up to the present time on the subject of a future life, arranged according to their definite topics and in chronological order, would greatly enrich the work and could not fail often to be of vast service. Accordingly, upon solicitation, a valued friend Mr. Ezra Abbot, Jr., a gentleman remarkable for his varied and accurate scholarship undertook that laborious task for me; and he has accomplished it in the most admirable manner. No reader, however learned, but may find much important information in the bibliographical appendix which I am thus enabled to add to this volume. Every student who henceforth wishes to investigate any branch of the historical or philosophical doctrine of the immortality of the soul, or of a future life in general, may thank Mr. Abbot for an invaluable aid.
As I now close this long labor and send forth the result, the oppressive sense of responsibility which fills me is relieved by the consciousness that I have herein written nothing as a bigoted partisan, nothing in a petty spirit of opinionativeness, but have intended every thought for the furtherance of truth, the honor of God, the good of man.
The majestic theme of our immortality allures yet baffles us. No fleshly implement of logic or cunning tact of brain can reach to the solution. That secret lies in a tissueless realm whereof no nerve can report beforehand. We must wait a little. Soon we shall grope and guess no more, but grasp and know. Meanwhile, shall we not be magnanimous to forgive and help, diligent to study and achieve, trustful and content to abide the invisible issue? In some happier age, when the human race shall have forgotten, in philanthropic ministries and spiritual worship, the bigotries and dissensions of sentiment and thought, they may recover, in its all embracing unity, that garment of truth which God made originally "seamless as the firmament," now for so long a time torn in shreds by hating schismatics. Oh, when shall we learn that a loving pity, a filial faith, a patient modesty, best become us and fit our state? The pedantic sciolist, prating of his clear explanations of the mysteries of life, is as far from feeling the truth of the case as an ape, seated on the starry summit of the dome of night, chattering with glee over the awful prospect of infinitude. What ordinary tongue shall dare to vociferate egotistic dogmatisms where an inspired apostle whispers, with reverential reserve, "We see through a glass darkly"? There are three things, said an old monkish chronicler, which often make me sad. First, that I know I must die; second, that I know not when; third, that I am ignorant where I shall then be.
"Est primum durum quod scio me moriturum: Secundum, timeo quia hoc nescio quando: Hine tertium, flebo quod nescio ubi manebo."
Man is the lonely and sublime Columbus of the creation, who, wandering on this cloudy strand of time, sees drifted waifs and strange portents borne far from an unknown somewhere, causing him to believe in another world. Comes not death as a means to bear him thither? Accordingly as hope rests in heaven, fear shudders at hell, or doubt faces the dark transition, the future life is a sweet reliance, a terrible certainty, or a pathetic perhaps. But living in the present in the humble and loving discharge of its duties, our souls harmonized with its conditions though aspiring beyond them, why should we ever despair or be troubled overmuch? Have we not eternity in our thought, infinitude in our view, and God for our guide?
Part First.
Part Second.
Part Third.
Part Fourth.
Part Fifth.
Part Sixth.
PAUSING, in a thoughtful hour, on that mount of observation whence the whole prospect of life is visible, what a solemn vision greets us! We see the vast procession of existence flitting across the landscape, from the shrouded ocean of birth, over the illuminated continent of experience, to the shrouded ocean of death. Who can linger there and listen, unmoved, to the sublime lament of things that die? Although the great exhibition below endures, yet it is made up of changes, and the spectators shift as often. Each rank of the host, as it advances from the mists of its commencing career, wears a smile caught from the morning light of hope, but, as it draws near to the fatal bourne, takes on a mournful cast from the shadows of the unknown realm. The places we occupy were not vacant before we came, and will not be deserted when we go, but are forever filling and emptying afresh.
"Still to every draught of vital breath Renew'd throughout the bounds of earth and ocean,
The melancholy gates of death Respond with sympathetic motion."
We appear, there is a short flutter of joys and pains, a bright glimmer of smiles and tears, and we are gone. But whence did we come? And whither do we go? Can human thought divine the answer?
It adds no little solemnity and pathos to these reflections to remember that every considerate person in the unnumbered successions that have preceded us, has, in his turn, confronted the same facts, engaged in the same inquiry, and been swept from his attempts at a theoretic solution of the problem into the real solution itself, while the constant refrain in the song of existence sounded behind him, "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever." The evanescent phenomena, the tragic plot and scenery of human birth, action, and death, conceived on the scale of reality, clothed in
"The sober coloring taken from an eye That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality,"
and viewed in a susceptible spirit, are, indeed, overwhelmingly impressive. They invoke the intellect to its most piercing thoughts. They swell the heart to its utmost capacity of emotion. They bring us upon the bended knees of wonder and prayer.
"Between two worlds life hovers, like a star' Twixt night and morn upon the horizon's verge. How little do we know that which we are! How less what we may be! The eternal surge Of time and tide rolls on, and bears afar Our bubbles: as the old burst, new emerge, Lash'd from the foam of ages: while the graves Of empires heave but like some passing waves."
Widely regarding the history of human life from the beginning, what a visionary spectacle it is! How miraculously permanent in the whole! how sorrowfully ephemeral in the parts! What pathetic sentiments it awakens! Amidst what awful mysteries it hangs! The subject of the derivation of the soul has been copiously discussed by hundreds of philosophers, physicians, and poets, from Vyasa to Des Cartes, from Galen to Ennemoser, from Orpheus to Henry More, from Aristotle to Frohschammer. German literature during the last hundred years has teemed with works treating of this question from various points of view. The present chapter will present a sketch of these various speculations concerning the commencement and fortunes of man ere his appearance on the stage of this world.
The first theory to account for the origin of souls is that of emanation. This is the analogical theory, constructed from the results of sensible observation. There is, it says, one infinite Being, and all finite spirits are portions of his substance, existing a while as separate individuals, and then reassimilated into the general soul. This form of faith, asserting the efflux of all subordinate existence out of one Supreme Being, seems sometimes to rest on an intuitive idea. It is spontaneously suggested whenever man confronts the phenomena of creation with reflective observation, and ponders the eternal round of birth and death. Accordingly, we find traces of this belief all over the world; from the ancient Hindu metaphysics whose fundamental postulate is that the necessary life of God is one constant process of radiation and resorption, "letting out and drawing in," to that modern English poetry which apostrophizes the glad and winsome child as
"A silver stream Breaking with laughter from the lake Divine Whence all things flow."
The conception that souls are emanations from God is the most obvious way of accounting for the prominent facts that salute our inquiries. It plausibly answers some natural questions, and boldly eludes others. For instance, to the early student demanding the cause of the mysterious distinctions between mind and body, it says, the one belongs to the system of passive matter, the other comes from the living Fashioner of the Universe. Again: this theory relieves us from the burden that perplexes the finite mind when it seeks to understand how the course of nature, the succession of lives, can be absolutely eternal without involving an alternating or circular movement. The doctrine of emanation has, moreover, been supported by the supposed analytic similarity of the soul to God. Its freedom, consciousness, intelligence, love, correspond with what we regard as the attributes and essence of Deity. The inference, however unsound, is immediate, that souls are consubstantial with God, dissevered fragments of Him, sent into bodies. But, in actual effect, the chief recommendation of this view has probably been the variety of analogies and images under which it admits of presentation. The annual developments of vegetable life from the bosom of the earth, drops taken from a fountain and retaining its properties in their removal, the separation of the air into distinct breaths, the soil into individual atoms, the utterance of a tone gradually dying away in reverberated echoes, the radiation of beams from a central light, the exhalation of particles of moisture from the ocean, the evolution of numbers out of an original unity, these are among the illustrations by which an exhaustless ingenuity has supported the notion of the emanation of souls from God. That "something cannot come out of nothing" is an axiom resting on the ground of our rational instincts. And seeing all things within our comprehension held in the chain of causes and effects, one thing always evolving from another, we leap to the conclusion that it is precisely the same with things beyond our comprehension, and that God is the aboriginal reservoir of being from which all the rills of finite existence are emitted.
Against this doctrine the current objections are these two. First, the analogies adduced are not applicable. The things of spirit and those of matter have two distinct sets of predicates and categories. It is, for example, wholly illogical to argue
that because the circuit of the waters is from the sea, through the clouds, over the land, back to the sea again, therefore the derivation and course of souls from God, through life, back to God, must be similar. There are mysteries in connection with the soul that baffle the most lynx eyed investigation, and on which no known facts of the physical world can throw light. Secondly, the scheme of emanation depends on a vulgar error, belonging to the infancy of philosophic thought, and inconsistent with some necessary truths. It implies that God is separable into parts, and therefore both corporeal and finite. Divisible substance is incompatible with the first predicates of Deity, namely, immateriality and infinity. Before the conception of the illimitable, spiritual unity of God, the doctrine of the emanation of souls from Him fades away, as the mere figment of a dreaming mind brooding over the suggestions of phenomena and apparent correspondences.
The second explanation of the origin of souls is that which says they come from a previous existence. This is the theory of imagination, framed in the free and seductive realm of poetic thought. It is evident that this idea does not propose any solution of the absolute origination of the soul, but only offers to account for its appearance on earth. The pre existence of souls has been most widely affirmed. Nearly the whole world of Oriental thinkers have always taught it. Many of the Greek philosophers held it. No small proportion of the early Church Fathers believed it.1 And it is not without able advocates among the scholars and thinkers
1 Keil, Opuscula; Be Pre existentia Animarum. Beausobre, Hist. du Manicheisme, lib. vii. cap. iv.
of our own age. There are two principal forms of this doctrine; one asserting an ascent of souls from a previous existence below the rank of man, the other a descent of souls from a higher sphere. Generation is the true Jacob's ladder, on which souls are ever ascending or descending. The former statement is virtually that of the modern theory of development, which argues that the souls known to us, obtaining their first organic being out of the ground life of nature, have climbed up through a graduated series of births, from the merest elementary existence, to the plane of human nature. A gifted author, Dr. Hedge, has said concerning pre existence in these two methods of conceiving it, writing in a half humorous, half serious, vein, "It is to be considered as expressing rather an exceptional than a universal fact. If here and there some pure liver, or noble doer, or prophet voice, suggests the idea of a revenant who, moved with pity for human kind, and charged with celestial ministries, has condescended to
'Soil his pure ambrosial weeds With the rank vapors of this sin worn mould,'
or if, on the other hand, the 'superfluity of naughtiness' displayed by some abnormal felon seems to warrant the supposition of a visit from the Pit, the greater portion of mankind, we submit, are much too green for any plausible assumption of a foregone training in good or evil. This planet is not their missionary station, nor their Botany Bay, but their native soil. Or, if we suppose they pre existed at all, we must rather believe they pre existed as brutes, and have travelled into humanity by the fish fowl quadruped road with a good deal of the habitudes and dust of that tramp still sticking to them." The theory of development, deriving human souls by an ascension from the lower stages of rudimentary being, considered as a fanciful hypothesis or speculative toy, is interesting, and not destitute of plausible aspects. But, when investigated as a severe thesis, it is found devoid of proof. It is enough here to say that the most authoritative voices in science reject it, declaring that, though there is a development of progress in the plan of nature, from the more general to the more specific, yet there is no advance from one type or race to another, no hint that the same individual ever crosses the guarded boundaries of genus from one rank and kingdom to another. Whatever progress there may be in the upward process of natural creation or the stages of life, yet to suppose that the life powers of insects and brutes survive the dissolution of their bodies, and, in successive crossings of the death gulf, ascend to humanity, is a bare assumption. It befits the delirious lips of Beddoes, who says,
"Had I been born a four legg'd child, methinks I might have found the steps from dog to man And crept into his nature. Are there not Those that fall down out of humanity Into the story where the four legg'd dwell?"
The doctrine that souls have descended from an anterior life on high may be exhibited in three forms, each animated by a different motive. The first is the view of some of the Manichean teachers, that spirits were embodied by a hostile violence and cunning, the force and fraud of the apostatized Devil. Adam and Eve were angels sent to observe the doings of Lucifer, the rebel king of matter. He seized these heavenly spies and encased them in fleshly prisons. And then, in order to preserve a permanent union of these celestial natures with matter, he contrived that their race should be propagated by the sexes. Whenever by the procreative act the germ body is prepared, a fiend hies from bale, or an angel stoops from bliss, or a demon darts from his hovering in the air, to inhabit and rule his growing clay house for a term of earthly life. The spasm of impregnation thrills in fatal summons to hell or heaven, and resistlessly drags a spirit into the appointed receptacle. Shakspeare, whose genius seems to have touched every shape of thought with adorning phrase, makes Juliet, distracted with the momentary fancy that Romeo is a murderous villain, cry,
"O Nature! what hadst thou to do in hell When thou didst bower the spirit of a fiend In mortal paradise of such sweet flesh?"
The second method of explaining the descent of souls into this life is by the supposition that the stable bliss, the uncontrasted peace and sameness, of the heavenly experience, at last wearies the people of Paradise, until they seek relief in a fall. The perfect sweetness of heaven cloys, the utter routine and safety tire, the salient spirits, till they long for the edge and hazard of earthly exposure, and wander down to dwell in fleshly bodies and breast the tempest of sin, strife, and sorrow, so as to give a fresh charm once more to the repose and exempted joys of the celestial realm. In this way, by
a series of recurring lives below and above, novelty and change with larger experience and more vivid contentment are secured, the tedium and satiety of fixed happiness and protection are modified by the relishing opposition of varied trials of hardship and pain, the insufferable monotony of immortality broken up and interpolated by epochs of surprise and tingling dangers of probation.
"Mortals, behold! the very angels quit Their mansions unsusceptible of change, Amid your dangerous bowers to sit And through your sharp vicissitudes to range!"
Thus round and round we run through an eternity of lives and deaths. Surfeited with the unqualified pleasures of heaven, we "straggle down to this terrene nativity:" When, amid the sour exposures and cruel storms of the world, we have renewed our appetite for the divine ambrosia of peace and sweetness, we forsake the body and ascend to heaven; this constant recurrence illustrating the great truths, that alternation is the law of destiny, and that variety is the spice of life.
But the most common derivation of the present from a previous life is that which explains the descent as a punishment for sin. In that earlier and loftier state, souls abused their freedom, and were doomed to expiate their offences by a banished, imprisoned, and burdensome life on the earth. "The soul," Plutarch writes, "has removed, not from Athens to Sardis, or from Corinth to Lemnos, but from heaven to earth; and here, ill at ease, and troubled in this new and strange place, she hangs her head like a decaying plant."
Hundreds of passages to the same purport might easily be cited from as many ancient writers. Sometimes this fall of souls from their original estate was represented as a simultaneous event: a part of the heavenly army, under an apostate leader, having rebelled, were defeated, and sentenced to a chained bodily life. Our whole race were transported at once from their native shores in the sky to the convict land of this world. Sometimes the descent was attributed to the fresh fault of each individual, and was thought to be constantly happening. A soul tainted with impure desire, drawn downwards by corrupt material gravitation, hovering over the fumes of matter, inhaling the effluvia of vice, grew infected with carnal longings and contagions, became fouled and clogged with gross vapors and steams, and finally fell into a body and pursued the life fitted to it below. A clear human child is a shining seraph from heaven sunk thus low. Men are degraded cherubim.
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The soul that rises with us, our life's star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar."
The theory of the pre existence of the soul merely removes the mystery one stage further back, and there leaves the problem of our origin as hopelessly obscure as before. It is sufficiently refuted by the open fact that it is absolutely destitute of scientific basis. The explanation of its wide prevalence as a belief is furnished by two considerations. First, there were old authoritative sages and poets who loved to speculate and dream, and who published their speculations and dreams to reign over the subject fancies of credulous mankind. Secondly, the conception was intrinsically harmonious, and bore a charm to fascinate the imagination and the heart. The fragmentary visions, broken snatches, mystic strains, incongruous thoughts, fading gleams, with which imperfectrecollection comes laden from our childish years and our nightly dreams, are referred by self pleasing fancy to some earlier and nobler existence. We solve the mysteries of experience by calling them the veiled vestiges of a bright life departed, pathetic waifs drifted to these intellectual shores over the surge of feeling from the wrecked orb of an anterior existence. It gratifies our pride to think the soul "a star travelled stranger," a disguised prince, who has passingly alighted on this globe in his eternal wanderings. The gorgeous glimpses of truth and beauty here vouchsafed to genius, the wondrous strains of feeling that haunt the soul in tender hours, are feeble reminiscences of the prerogatives we enjoyed in those eons when we trod the planets that sail around the upper world of the gods. That ennui or plaintive sadness which in all life's deep and lonesome hours seems native to our hearts, what is it but the nostalgia of the soul remembering and pining after its distant home? Vague and forlorn airs come floating into our consciousness, as from an infinitely remote clime, freighted with a luxury of depressing melancholy.
"Ah! not the nectarous poppy lovers use, Not daily labor's dull Lethean spring, Oblivion in lost angels can infuse Of the soil'd glory and the trailing wing."
How attractive all this must be to the thoughts of men, how fascinating to their retrospective and aspiring reveries, it should be needless to repeat. How baseless it is as a philosophical theory demanding sober belief, it should be equally superfluous to illustrate further.
The third answer to the question concerning the origin of the soul is that it is directly created by the voluntary power of God. This is the theory of faith, instinctively shrinking from the difficulty of the problem on its scientific ground, and evading it by a wholesale reference to Deity. Some writers have held that all souls were created by the Divine fiat at the beginning of the world, and laid up in a secret repository, whence they are drawn as occasion calls. The Talmudists say, "All souls were made during the six days of creation; and therefore generation is not by traduction, but by infusion of a soul into body." Others maintain that this production of souls was not confined to any past period, but is continued still, a new soul being freshly created for every birth. Whenever certain conditions meet,
"Then God smites his hands together, And strikes out a soul as a spark, Into the organized glory of things, From the deeps of the dark."
This is the view asserted by Vincentius Victor in opposition to the dogmatism of Tertullian on the one hand and to the doubts of Augustine on the other.2 It is called the theory of Insufflation, because it affirms that God immediately breathes a soul into each new being: even as in the case of Adam, of whom we read that "God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul." The doctrine drawn from this Mosaic text, that the soul is a divine substance, a breath of God, miraculously breathed by Him into every creature at the commencement of its existence, often reappears, and plays a prominent part in the history of psychological opinions. It corresponds with the beautiful Greek myth of Prometheus, who is fabled to have made a human image from the dust of the ground, and then, by fire stolen from heaven, to have animated it with a living soul. So man, as to his body, is made of earthly clay; but the Promethean spark that forms his soul is the fresh breath of God. There is no objection to the real ground and essence of this theory, only to its form and accompaniments. It is purely anthropomorphitic; it conceives God as working, after the manner of a man, intermittently, arbitrarily. It insulates the origination of souls from the fixed course of nature, severs it from all connection with that common process of organic life which weaves its inscrutable web through the universe, that system of laws which expresses the unchanging will of God, and which constitutes the order by whose solemn logic alone He acts. The objection to this view is, in a word, that it limits the creative action of God to human souls. We suppose that He creates our bodies as well; that He is the immediate Author of all life in the same sense in which He is the immediate Author of our souls. The opponents of the creation theory, who strenuously fought it in the seventeenth century, were accustomed to urge against it the fanciful objection that "it puts God to an invenust
2 Augustine, De Anima et ejus Origine, lib. iv.
employment scarce consistent with his verecundious holiness; for, if it be true, whenever the lascivious consent to uncleanness and are pleased to join in unlawful mixture, God is forced to stand a spectator of their vile impurities, stooping from his throne to attend their bestial practices, and raining down showers of souls to animate the emissions of their concupiscence"3
A fourth reply to the inquiry before us is furnished in Tertullian's famous doctrine of Traduction, the essential import of which is that all human souls have been transmitted, or brought over, from the soul of Adam. This is the theological theory: for it arose from an exigency in the dogmatic system generally held by the patristic Church. The universal depravity of human nature, the inherited corruption of the whole race, was a fundamental point of belief. But how reconcile this proposition with the conception, entertained by many, that each new born soul is a fresh creation from the "substance," "spirit," or "breath" of God? Augustine writes to Jerome, asking him to solve this question.4 Tertullian, whose fervid mind was thoroughly imbued with materialistic notions, unhesitatingly cut this Gordian knot by asserting that our first parent bore within him the undeveloped germ of all mankind, so that sinfulness and souls were propagated together. 5 Thus the perplexing query, "how souls are held in the chain of original sin," was answered. As Neander says, illustrating Tertullian's view, "The soul of the first man was the fountain head of all human souls: all the varieties of individual human nature are but modifications of that one spiritual substance." In the light of such a thought, we can see how Nature might, when solitary Adam lived, fulfil Lear's wild conjuration, and
"All the germens spill At once that make ingrateful man."
In the seventh chapter of the Koran it is written, "The Lord drew forth their posterity from the loins of the sons of Adam." The commentators say that God passed his hand down Adam's back, and extracted all the generations which should come into the world until the resurrection. Assembled in the presence of the angels, and endued with understanding, they confessed their dependence on God, and were then caused to return into the loins of their great ancestor. This is one of the most curious doctrines within the whole range of philosophical history. It implies the strict corporeality of the soul; and yet how infinitely fine must be its attenuation when it has been diffused into countless thousands of millions! Der Urkeim theilt sich ins Unendliche.
"What! will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?"
The whole thought is absurd. It was not reached by an induction of facts, a study of phenomena, or any fair process of reasoning, but was arbitrarily created to rescue a dogma from otherwise inevitable rejection. It was the desperate clutch of a heady theologian reeling in a vortex of hostile argument, and ready to seize any fancy, however artificial, to save
3 Edward Warren, No Pre Existence, p. 74.
4 Epistola CLXVI.
5 De Anima, cap. x. et xix.
himself from falling under the ruins of his system. Henry Woolner published in London, in 1655, a book called "Extraction of Soul: a sober and judicious inquiry to prove that souls are propagated; because, if they are created, original sin is impossible."