Opinions of the Jews, Greeks, and Latins, concerning the Dead who are left unburied

 [This is taken from Augustine Calmet's Phantom World, originally published in 1850, revised and edited by D. J. McAdam, 2010.  Copyright as such.]


The ancient Hebrews, as well as the greater number of other nations, were very careful in burying their dead. That appears from all history; we see in the Scripture how much attention the patriarchs paid in that respect to themselves and those belonging to them; we know what praises are bestowed on the holy man Tobit, whose principal devotion consisted in giving sepulture to the dead.

Josephus the historian says that the Jews refused burial only to those who committed suicide. Moses commanded them to give sepulture the same day and before sunset to any who were executed and hanged on a tree; "because," says he, "he who is hung upon the tree is accursed of God; you will take care not to pollute the land which the Lord your God has given you." That was practiced in regard to our Savior, who was taken down from the cross the same day that he had been crucified, and a few hours after his death.

Homer, speaking of the inhumanity of Achilles, who dragged the body of Hector after his car, says that he dishonored and outraged the earth by this barbarous conduct. The Rabbis write that the soul is not received into heaven until the gross body is interred, and entirely consumed. They believe, moreover, that after death the souls of the wicked are clothed with a kind of covering with which they accustom themselves to suffer the torments which are their due; and that the souls of the just are invested with a resplendent body and a luminous garment, with which they accustom themselves to the glory which awaits them.

Origen acknowledges that Plato, in his Dialogue of the Soul, advances that the images and shades of the dead appeared sometimes near their tombs. Origen concludes from that, that those shades and those images must be produced by some cause; and that cause, according to him, can only be that the soul of the dead is invested with a subtle body like that of light, on which they are borne as in a car, where they appear to the living. Celsus maintained that the apparitions of Jesus Christ after his resurrection were only the effects of an imagination smitten and prepossessed, which formed to itself the object of its illusions according to its wishes. Origen refutes this solidly by the recital of the evangelists, of the appearance of our Savior to Thomas, who would not believe it was truly our Savior until he had seen and touched his wounds; it was not, then, purely the effect of his imagination.

The same Origen, and Theophylact after him, assert that the Jews and pagans believe that the soul remained for some time near the body it had formerly animated; and that it is to destroy that futile opinion that Jesus Christ, when he would resuscitate Lazarus, cries with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth;" as if he would call from a distance the soul of this man who had been dead three days.

Tertullian places the angels in the category of extension, in which he places God himself, and maintains that the soul is corporeal. Origen believes also that the soul is material, and has a form; an opinion which he may have taken from Plato. Arnobius, Lactantius, St. Hilary, several of the ancient fathers, and some theologians, have been of the same opinion; and Grotius is displeased with those who have absolutely spiritualized the angels, demons and souls separated from the body.

The Jews of our days believe that after the body of a man is interred, his spirit goes and comes, and departs from the spot where it is destined to visit his body, and to know what passes around him; that it is wandering during a whole year after the death of the body, and that it was during that year of delay that the Pythoness of Endor evoked the soul of Samuel, after which time the evocation would have had no power over his spirit.

The pagans thought much in the same manner upon it. Lucan introduces Pompey, who consults a witch, and commands her to evoke the soul of a dead man to reveal to him what success he would meet with in his war against Caesar; the poet makes this woman say, "Shade, obey my spells, for I evoke not a soul from gloomy Tartarus, but one which hath gone down thither a little while since, and which is still at the gate of hell."

The Egyptians believed that when the spirit of an animal is separated from its body by violence, it does not go to a distance, but remains near it. It is the same with the soul of a man who has died a violent death; it remains near the body—nothing can make it go away; it is retained there by sympathy; several have been seen sighing near their bodies which were interred. The magicians abuse their power over such in their incantations; they force them to obey, when they are masters of the dead body, or even part of it. Frequent experience taught them that there is a secret virtue in the body, which draws towards it the spirit which has once inhabited it; wherefore those who wish to receive or become the receptacles of the spirits of such animals as know the future, eat the principle parts of them, as the hearts of crows, moles, or hawks. The spirit of these creatures enters into them at the moment they eat this food, and makes them give out oracles like divinities.

The Egyptians believed that when the spirit of a beast is delivered from its body, it is rational and predicts the future, gives oracles, and is capable of all that the soul of man can do when disengaged from the body—for which reason they abstained from eating the flesh of animals, and worshiped the gods in the form of beasts.

At Rome and at Metz there were colleges of priests consecrated to the service of the manes, lares, images, shades, specters, Erebus, Avernus or hell, under the protection of the god Sylvanus; which demonstrates that the Latins and the Gauls recognized the return of souls and their apparition, and considered them as divinities to whom sacrifices should be offered to appease them and prevent them from doing harm. Nicander confirms the same thing, when he says that the Celts or the Gauls watched near the tombs of their great men to derive from them knowledge concerning the future.

The ancient northern nations were fully persuaded that the specters which sometimes appear are no other than the souls of persons lately deceased, and in their country they knew no remedy so proper to put a stop to this kind of apparition as to cut off the head of the dead person, or to impale him, or pierce him through the body with a stake, or to burn it, as is now practiced at this day in Hungary and Moravia with regard to vampires.

The Greeks, who had derived their religion and theology from the Egyptians and Orientals, and the Latins, who took it from the Greeks, believed that the souls of the dead sometimes appeared to the living; that the necromancers evoked them, and thus obtained answers concerning the future, and instructions relating to the time present. Homer, the greatest theologian, and perhaps the most curious of the Grecian writers, relates several apparitions, both of gods and heroes, and of men after their death.

In the Odyssey, Ulysses goes to consult the diviner Tyresias; and this sorcerer having prepared a grave full of blood to evoke the manes, Ulysses draws his sword, and prevents them from coming to drink this blood, for which they appear to thirst, and of which they would not permit them to taste before they had replied to what was asked of them; they (the Greeks and Latins) believed also that souls were not at rest, and that they wandered around the corpses, so long as they remained unburied. When they gave burial to a body, they called that animam condere, to cover the soul, put it under the earth and shelter it. They called it with a loud voice, and offered it libations of milk and blood. They also called that ceremony, hiding the shades, sending them with their body under ground.

The sibyl, speaking to Aeneas, shows him the manes or shades wandering on the banks of the Acheron; and tells him that they are souls of persons who have not received sepulture, and who wander about for a hundred years.

The philosopher Sallust speaks of the apparitions of the dead around their tombs in dark bodies; he tries to prove thereby the dogma of the metempsychosis.

Here is a singular instance of a dead man, who refuses the rite of burial, acknowledging himself unworthy of it. Agathias relates that some pagan philosophers, not being able to relish the dogma of the unity of a God, resolved to go from Constantinople to the court of Chosroes, King of Persia, who was spoken of as a humane prince, and one who loved learning. Simplicius of Silicia, Eulamius the Phrygian, Protanus the Lydian, Hermenes and Philogenes of Phoenicia, and Isidorus of Gaza, repaired then to the court of Chosroes, and were well received there; but they soon perceived that that country was much more corrupt than Greece, and they resolved to return to Constantinople, where Justinian then reigned.

As they were on their way, they found an unburied corpse, took pity on it, and had it put in the ground by their own servants. The following night this man appeared to one of them, and told him not to inter him, who was not worthy of receiving sepulture; for the earth abhorred one who had defiled his own mother. The next day they found the same corpse cast out of the ground, and they comprehended that it was defiled by incest, which rendered it unworthy of the honor of receiving burial, although such crimes were known in Persia, and did not excite the same horror there as in other countries.

The Greeks and Latins believed that the souls of the dead came and tasted what was presented on their tombs, especially honey and wine; that the demons loved the smoke and odor of sacrifices, melody, the blood of victims, commerce with women; that they were attached for a time to certain spots or to certain edifices, which they haunted, and where they appeared; that souls separated from their terrestrial body, retained after death a subtle one, flexible, aerial, which preserved the form of that they once had animated during their life; that they haunted those who had done them wrong and whom they hated. Thus Virgil describes Dido, in a rage, threatening to haunt the perfidious Aeneas.

When the spirit of Patroclus appeared to Achilles, it had his voice, his shape, his eyes, his garments, but not his palpable body. When Ulysses went down to the infernal regions, he saw there the divine Hercules, that is to say, says Homer, his likeness; for he himself is with the immortal gods, seated at their feast. Aeneas recognized his wife Creusa, who appeared to him in her usual form, only taller and more majestic.

We might cite a quantity of passages from the ancient poets, even from the fathers of the church, who believed that spirits often appeared to the living. Tertullian believes that the soul is corporeal, and that it has a certain figure. He appeals to the experience of those to whom the ghosts of dead persons have appeared, and who have seen them sensibly, corporeally, and palpably, although of an aerial color and consistency. He defines the soul a breath sent from God, immortal, and having body and form. Speaking of the fictions of the poets, who have asserted that souls were not at rest while their bodies remain uninterred, he says all this is invented only to inspire the living with that care which they ought to take for the burial of the dead, and to take away from the relations of the dead the sight of an object which would only uselessly augment their grief, if they kept it too long in their houses; ut instantiâ funeris et honor corporum servetur et mśror affectuum temperetur.

St. Irenaeus teaches, as a doctrine received from the Lord, that souls not only subsist after the death of the body—without however passing from one body into another, as those will have it who admit the metempsychosis—but that they retain the form and remain near this body, as faithful guardians of it, and remember naught of what they have done or not done in this life. These fathers believed, then, in the return of souls, their apparition, and their attachment to their body; but we do not adopt their opinion on the corporeality of souls; we are persuaded that they can appear with God's permission, independently of all matter and of any corporeal substance which may belong to them.

As to the opinion of the soul being in a state of unrest while its body is not interred, that it remains for some time near the tomb of the body, and appears there in a bodily form; those are opinions which have no solid foundation, either in Scripture or in the traditions of the Church, which teach us that directly after death the soul is presented before the judgment-seat of God, and is there destined to the place that its good or bad actions have deserved.





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