Reincarnation seems to seduce more and more of our contemporaries. It exerts a real force of seduction on Western mentalities. After an overview in the first article, the second article gave the Church’s judgments on this belief.
After the Church’s judgments, it remains to examine the various points of conflict between metempsychosis and Catholic dogma. This theory alone contradicts many of the articles of the faith.
Robert Laffont, director of the publishing house that bears his name, stated his belief in metempsychosis in the following terms: “Reincarnation is the possibility of having other chances. This long quest to climb towards something better seems to me philosophically the most just solution. This solution best meets my notion of the afterlife.”
“The possibility of having other chances”: this expression is an admission. It manifests one of the fundamental elements of this doctrine: the refusal of an immediate and final judgment at death, the secret desire to postpone, forever, that moment when the responsibility for our acts and the malice of our sins will appear in full light, and when God will pronounce in all justice an irreversible sentence upon us.
Now this flight from judgment contradicts revelation. St. Paul clearly states in the Letter to the Hebrews: " And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
The commentary in the Pirot and Clamer edition [of the Bible] is eloquent: “What confirms the definitive character of death is that it is followed by judgment which fixes the fate of man forever. The thought is that in death everything is over and that there is nothing left but to await judgment, the supreme sanction of life.”
Numerous documents of the magisterium confirm this doctrine. The Second Council of Lyon (1274) teaches that souls who have not sufficiently made satisfaction for their faults are purified after death, “post mortem purgari.”
The saints, for their part, are immediately welcomed into heaven, “mox in coelum recipi,” those who die in a state of mortal sin are immediately thrown into hell, “mox in infernum descendere.” Pope Benedict XII used the same expressions in his constitution Benedictus Deus of January 29, 1336, as did the Council of Florence of 1439.
The Catechism of the Council of Trent, Article VI, makes this teaching of the Church from time immemorial within the reach of all: “The first [judgment] takes place when each one of us departs this life; for then he is instantly placed before the judgment-seat of God, where all that he has ever done or spoken or thought during life shall be subjected to the most rigid scrutiny. This is called the particular judgment.”
The theory of reincarnation therefore already appears as a vain attempt by man to avoid the inevitable, a refuge to hide the truth of this inexorable judgment, the end of all human life.
“I accept this dogma of particular judgment,” will respond to a supporter of metempsychosis, “but, precisely, the penalty is this cycle of rebirths that I profess. The succession of earthly lives is only the expiation for past sins.”
In other words, if he admits the existence of the judgment at death, our man denies the sentence, namely purgatory. Catholic doctrine teaches, in fact, that at death the soul is definitively fixed, either in the good or in hatred of the good. So there is no longer time for a conversion, or for the possible variations of life here on earth.
In addition, the sufferings of purgatory are the expiation of past sins, but they are not meritorious. They do not obtain additional graces for the soul.
Now, the existence of purgatory is firmly attested by Sacred Scripture and Tradition. As early as the 2nd century BC, Judas Maccabee had a collect made in order to be able to offer sacrifices in the temple of Jerusalem for the sins of those who had died in battle.
The second book of Maccabees comments on this initiative as follows: “And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection, (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,) And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins." (2 Mac 12:43-46.)
Scripture, divinely inspired, therefore affirms that there is a sorrowful state from which one must be freed, which will be temporary since it will be followed by a “great grace” and from which one is delivered by the prayer and the sacrifices of the living.
St. Robert Bellarmine counted nine New Testament texts which prove, at least indirectly, the existence of purgatory. Moreover, the existence of expiation after death is sufficiently founded by the constant Tradition of the Church. [The two most common are Mt. 12:31-32, and 1Cor. 3:11-15.]
Clement of Alexandria distinguished, among men, the those who are open to correction from the incorrigible. The first category consists of the souls of sinners reconciled to God at the moment of their death, but who did not have time to do penance. On these souls, “the justice of God will be exercised with kindness, and His kindness shall be exercised according to His justice.” These chastisements, he tells us, are “necessary to reach placed reserved." Beatitude is therefore obtained after a period of purification.
This teaching will be developed extensively from the 4th century by St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Basil, and St. Gregory of Nazianzens.
Another source of the faith for Purgatory is the practice of prayer for the deceased. Some of the apocryphal texts from the New Testament sometimes contain interesting testimonies. The Acta Pauli and Theclae (160) tell that Queen Tryphene, in a dream, hears her dead daughter asking her to have recourse to the prayers of Thecla to obtain a place among the just. Tryphene addresses Thecla thus: “Pray for my child, so that she may live for eternity.”
The author of Acta Joannis reports that the apostle John went to the tomb of a Christian woman, three days after her death, to offer the sacrifice of the Mass.
The old Latin version of Didascalia (3rd century) is explicit: “In commemorations, gather together, read the Holy Scriptures, and offer prayers to God; also offer the royal Eucharist which is the image of the royal body of Christ, both in your collects and in the cemetery; and the pure bread which the fire has purified and which the invocation sanctifies, offer it while praying for the dead.”
These considerations do not detract from our subject. They show us that, far from being a late invention of theologians, the doctrine of purgatory is part of the immemorial treasure of the faith. It is therefore invested with the very authority of God and thus relegates the theories of metempsychosis on the hereafter to the rank of fables.
With the doctrine of purgatory, metempsychosis also challenges the doctrine of hell. Indeed, most of its versions proceed from a fundamental optimism. Human life cannot end in failure. The chain of earthly lives can only end in absolute and eternal happiness.
The existence of hell is taught with too much insistence in the Gospels to need to dwell on it. The story of the wretched rich man and poor Lazarus sums up this teaching: “And the rich man also died: and he was buried in hell.”
“And lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom: And he cried, and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame.”
And Abraham replied, “And besides all this, between us and you, there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot, nor from thence come hither.” (Lk 16:22-24, 26)
Christians sing with pride in the Creed: et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, I await the resurrection of the dead. After the vicissitudes of this life, beyond the heartbreak of death, they hope not only for the beatitude of the soul, but also that of the body. At the end of time, bodies will be called back to life, for an eternity of happiness or for an eternity of unhappiness.
God wanted to teach us this truth with particular solemnity in Sacred Scripture. St. Paul shows the link between the resurrection of men and that of Christ. “Now if Christ be preached, that he arose again from the dead, how do some among you say, that there is no resurrection of the dead?”
“But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen again. And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
For by a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead.
Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man" (1 Cor 12:14-21).
Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church repeat the same teaching.
"So the example of our Head makes us confess that there is a true resurrection of the flesh for all the dead. We do not believe that we will resuscitate in an aerial body or in some other species of body, according to the ramblings of some, but in this body with which we live, we exist, and we move. Our Lord and Savior, having provided the model of this holy resurrection, regained by His ascension the paternal throne that His divinity had never abandoned.” (11th Council of Toledo)
This dogma sheds a beautiful light on the human composition. As the body is the soul's instrument in this earthly life, it is its companion for eternity. The glory which will flood the souls of the elect will be reflected in the body. The latter having fought and suffered for the soul, will participate in his reward.
He who, on the contrary, was its accomplice in sin will follow in punishment, “For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the proper things of the body, according as he hath done, whether it be good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10).
Does this contradict metempsychosis? If, from its creation until its entry into beatitude, the soul must pass through several earthly lives, if it is successively united with several bodies, which will it find again in the resurrection? Which will be associated with the eternity of the soul, and which will be rejected? A minority of existing human bodies will be resurrected.
Such a conception radically opposes the revelation of the resurrection of all bodies, but does it not still go against the desire for immortality present in the heart of man? Do we not have not only for our soul, but also for our body, a thirst for duration? Is not death a violence done to our nature? This physical body with which I live, I think, I communicate with others, is it not a friend? Better yet, is it not a necessary part of me?
As we can see, the doctrine of reincarnation establishes a tear in the very heart of human beings. The body is separated from the soul, it is lowered to the rank of an old garment which is thrown away after wear, it will forever remain alien to the bliss of the soul.