Reincarnation seems to be seducing more and more of our contemporaries. It exerts a real seductive force over western minds. After a general presentation in the first article, the second article presented the Church’s judgements on this belief. The third and fourth articles present the points of conflict between metempsychosis and Catholic dogma.
In the third article, we considered particular judgement, purgatory, hell, and the resurrection of the body.
The Suffering of the Just
Albert Camus once was heard uttering this cry of revolt: “And I will refuse until death to love this creation where children are tortured.”
His cry expresses the scandal that the suffering of the just represents for the human spirit. They willingly accept that the guilty person should be punished, but that an innocent suffer, that is insupportable.
Man is scandalized before the mystery of evil, he appeals to tyrant gods or throws himself into a blind revolt, but finds no way out.
It is in this perspective that metempsychosis is situated. Rather than reject a universal fact, it seeks to interpret it: the wicked man atones by suffering for his present faults; the just man, on the other hand, pays the debt accumulated in his previous lives.
Origen concluded his attempt to justify reincarnation thusly: “Neither is God unjust, in giving every thing its place according to its merits; neither is the good or the evil of life randomly distributed” (De Principio, Origen).
The disastrous consequences of this mentality, especially in India, can only arouse suspicion. Such a man is sick, what is the point of healing him? It is only justice, he is paying the debt of his past sins. We must accept the course of events without changing anything. We know the fruits of this fatalism.
We also find a relevant refutation of this justification of metempsychosis by reason of justice in a 5th century author, Aeneas of Gaza (450-520). The evils of this life are the evils of the sins of our past lives? But punishment can only fulfill its role if it refers to a mistake we remember.
When I chastise my son or my servant, before I punish them, I repeat to them several times the reason why I am punishing them and I recommend that they remember it so that they do not fall into the same fault again.”
“And God, who establishes the last punishments against sins, would not instruct those whom He punishes about the grounds for which He punishes them, but would remove from them the memory of their sins at the same time that He would give them a very vivid feeling of their punishment!”
“So what would the penalty do if it ignored the fault? It would only irritate the culprit and drive him to insanity. Would he not have the right to accuse his judge, if he were punished without being aware of having committed any fault?” (Theophrastus, Aeneas of Gaza).
While it claims to solve the problem of suffering, metempsychosis, we see, makes it even more dark and unacceptable. But this false solution has a more disastrous effect: it attacks directly the mystery of redemption.
Suffering, in fact, is the fruit of original sin which every man inherits through generation. But, by an overabundance of love, God wanted to incarnate, to know suffering and death, to sanctify them, to make them instruments of salvation, to make Himself victorious. Through the work of redemption, suffering has changed its face, it has become redemptive and a place of encounter with God.
To refuse the suffering of the innocent is therefore to reject the just who suffers par excellence, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Most High, the Holy One, the Eternal Word who comes to seek us in the midst of misery and bears the sins of the world.
To prepare our hearts for this confusing event, God gave us a prefiguration in the holy man Job. This man was “simple and upright, and fearing God, and avoiding evil” (Job 1:1).
God allowed him to be afflicted with all evils by the devil. He lost his children, all his possessions, and was overwhelmed with the most disagreeable diseases. There was no lack of friends to gravely represent to him that these plagues could only be the price of hidden sins.
But Job remained serene under these new humiliations and put his trust in God who knows the depths of hearts. And God blessed Job for his steadfastness, “And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10).
Therefore, for those who have faith suffering is no longer an occasion for a fall, it is a collaboration in the work of salvation. It can be sought voluntarily to repair, out of love, offenses against God and to be united with the suffering Christ. It is not necessarily linked to the demerit of souls, but may on the contrary be a sign of God’s predilection.
An Admission of Helplessness
Allow us to ask a question of the followers of metempsychosis. What concrete and effective means do you offer humans to save themselves? What help can he wait for to correct his nature wounded by sin and perfect himself?
The different versions of this doctrine indeed elaborate various systems of earthly lives, times of trials, waiting, exercises of reminiscence, of forgetting or destruction of the body. But one point unites them: in this long road to bliss, man is on his own, he has no other energy to advance than the internal principles of his fallen nature.
It is through his own endeavor that he must raise himself to the desired perfection. Thus, not only does metempsychosis indefinitely extend the path to bliss, but it does not provide sufficient energy to travel there.
Ultimately, far from being a mercy that elevates man above himself, it abandons him to his weakness. It has this cruel powerlessness to give man a glimpse of a marvelous tomorrow and then to deny him access to it, by locking him in his fragility.
The pages of the Gospel have another flavor. How sweet it is to hear Our Lord say to us: “Misericordiam volo, I will have mercy” (Mt 9:13), “They that are whole, need not the physician: but they that are sick” (Lk 5:31), “If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink” (Jn 7:37), “Come to me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you” (Mt 11:28), “he that believeth in me, hath everlasting life” (Jn 6:47), “my grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Cor 12: 9), “But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name” (Jn 1:12).
Far from leaving us to ourselves, God comes into us, by grace, to take us to His heaven. “For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish” (Phil 2:13), St. Paul tells us. And the same apostle magnificently sums up the work of salvation carried out by God in us: “ And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me” (Gal 2:20).
The engine of Christian life is the presence of the Holy Trinity in the soul and its procession of supernatural graces, virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit. “For without me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).
Perhaps he will find himself an irreducible opponent who persists in wanting to marry these beautiful truths with reincarnation. A simple remark will suffice to answer him.
To sanctify man in a way that corresponds to his nature (corporeal and spiritual) and so that he is sure of having received grace, God instituted specific rites, composed both of a material reality (the rite proper) and of a spiritual reality (the grace conferred): these are the seven sacraments.
Now, among these, three do not content themselves with transmitting grace, but imprint on the soul a mark, an indelible “character.” The soul is transformed deep within itself for eternity, so these sacraments cannot be repeated.
If we have to admit the theory of reincarnation, we are then faced with an insoluble difficulty! What to think of this infant presented at baptism? Who was he in his supposed past lives? Was he a Catholic? In that case, it would be a sacrilege to baptize him.
And what about the priesthood? Was this little girl who plays with dolls a priest in a past life? We can guess the inextricable situations and contradictions to which reincarnation inevitably leads.
The main grievances that we have noted against metempsychosis are sufficient to highlight its radical opposition to the Catholic faith and even to any attempt to redeem man.
But the authoritative arguments we have advanced cannot convince the vast majority of the proponents of this theory, for they are not Catholics. This is why we must extend our study with a philosophical reflection. Is the transmigration of souls true, or even only possible with regard to human reason? Do the facts that are put forward to defend it have other explanations? This is the objective of the second part.
Fr. Jean-Dominique, OP
To be continued...