Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Apologetic/A Treatise on the Soul/Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIII.—The Judicial Retribution of These Migrations Refuted with Raillery.
Forasmuch as this doctrine is vindicated even on the principle of judicial retribution, on the pretence that the souls of men obtain as their partners the kind of animals which are suited to their life and deserts,—as if they ought to be, according to their several characters, either slain in criminals destined to execution, or reduced to hard work in menials, or fatigued and wearied in labourers, or foully disgraced in the unclean; or, again, on the same principle, reserved for honour, and love, and care, and attentive regard in characters most eminent in rank and virtue, usefulness, and tender sensibility,—I must here also remark, that if souls undergo a transformation, they will actually not be able to accomplish and experience the destinies which they shall deserve; and the aim and purpose of judicial recompense will be brought to nought, as there will be wanting the sense and consciousness of merit and retribution. And there must be this want of consciousness, if souls lose their condition; and there must ensue this loss, if they do not continue in one stay. But even if they should have permanency enough to remain unchanged until the judgment,—a point which Mercurius Ægyptius recognised, when he said that the soul, after its separation from the body, was not dissipated back into the soul of the universe, but retained permanently its distinct individuality, “in order that it might render,” to use his own words, “an account to the Father of those things which it has done in the body;” —(even supposing all this, I say,) I still want to examine the justice, the solemnity, the majesty, and the dignity of this reputed judgment of God, and see whether human judgment has not too elevated a throne in it—exaggerated in both directions, in its office both of punishments and rewards, too severe in dealing out its vengeance, and too lavish in bestowing its favour. What do you suppose will become of the soul of the murderer? (It will animate), I suppose, some cattle destined for the slaughter-house and the shambles, that it may itself be killed, even as it has killed; and be itself flayed, since it has fleeced others; and be itself used for food, since it has cast to the wild beasts the ill-fated victims whom it once slew in woods and lonely roads. Now, if such be the judicial retribution which it is to receive, is not such a soul likely to find more of consolation than of punishment, in the fact that it receives its coup de grâce from the hands of most expert practitioners—is buried with condiments served in the most piquant styles of an Apicius or a Lurco, is introduced to the tables of your exquisite Ciceros, is brought up on the most splendid dishes of a Sylla, finds its obsequies in a banquet, is devoured by respectable (mouths) on a par with itself, rather than by kites and wolves, so that all may see how it has got a man’s body for its tomb, and has risen again after returning to its own kindred race—exulting in the face of human judgments, if it has experienced them? For these barbarous sentences of death consign to various wild beasts, which are selected and trained even against their nature for their horrible office the criminal who has committed murder, even while yet alive; nay, hindered from too easily dying, by a contrivance which retards his last moment in order to aggravate his punishment. But even if his soul should have anticipated by its departure the sword’s last stroke, his body at all events must not escape the weapon: retribution for his own crime is yet exacted by stabbing his throat and stomach, and piercing his side. After that he is flung into the fire, that his very grave may be cheated. In no other way, indeed, is a sepulture allowed him. Not that any great care, after all, is bestowed on his pyre, so that other animals light upon his remains. At any rate, no mercy is shown to his bones, no indulgence to his ashes, which must be punished with exposure and nakedness. The vengeance which is inflicted among men upon the homicide is really as great as that which is imposed by nature. Who would not prefer the justice of the world, which, as the apostle himself testifies, “beareth not the sword in vain,” and which is an institute of religion when it severely avenges in defence of human life? When we contemplate, too, the penalties awarded to other crimes—gibbets, and holocausts, and sacks, and harpoons, and precipices—who would not think it better to receive his sentence in the courts of Pythagoras and Empedocles? For even the wretches whom they will send into the bodies of asses and mules to be punished by drudgery and slavery, how will they congratulate themselves on the mild labour of the mill and the water-wheel, when they recollect the mines, and the convict-gangs, and the public works, and even the prisons and black-holes, terrible in their idle, do-nothing routine? Then, again, in the case of those who, after a course of integrity, have surrendered their life to the Judge, I likewise look for rewards, but I rather discover punishments. To be sure, it must be a handsome gain for good men to be restored to life in any animals whatsoever! Homer, so dreamt Ennius, remembered that he was once a peacock; however, I cannot for my part believe poets, even when wide awake. A peacock, no doubt, is a very pretty bird, pluming itself, at will, on its splendid feathers; but then its wings do not make amends for its voice, which is harsh and unpleasant; and there is nothing that poets like better than a good song. His transformation, therefore, into a peacock was to Homer a penalty, not an honour. The world’s remuneration will bring him a much greater joy, when it lauds him as the father of the liberal sciences; and he will prefer the ornaments of his fame to the graces of his tail! But never mind! let poets migrate into peacocks, or into swans, if you like, especially as swans have a respectable voice: in what animal will you invest that righteous hero Æacus? In what beast will you clothe the chaste and excellent Dido? What bird shall fall to the lot of Patience? what animal to the lot of Holiness? what fish to that of Innocence? Now all creatures are the servants of man; all are his subjects, all his dependants. If by and by he is to become one of these creatures, he is by such a change debased and degraded, he to whom, for his virtues, images, statues, and titles are freely awarded as public honours and distinguished privileges, he to whom the senate and the people vote even sacrifices! Oh, what judicial sentences for gods to pronounce, as men’s recompense after death! They are more mendacious than any human judgments; they are contemptible as punishments, disgusting as rewards; such as the worst of men could never fear, nor the best desire; such indeed, as criminals will aspire to, rather than saints,—the former, that they may escape more speedily the world’s stern sentence,—the latter that they may more tardily incur it. How well, (forsooth), O ye philosophers do you teach us, and how usefully do you advise us, that after death rewards and punishments fall with lighter weight! whereas, if any judgment awaits souls at all, it ought rather to be supposed that it will be heavier at the conclusion of life than in the conduct thereof, since nothing is more complete than that which comes at the very last—nothing, moreover, is more complete than that which is especially divine. Accordingly, God’s judgment will be more full and complete, because it will be pronounced at the very last, in an eternal irrevocable sentence, both of punishment and of consolation, (on men whose) souls are not to transmigrate into beasts, but are to return into their own proper bodies. And all this once for all, and on “that day, too, of which the Father only knoweth;” (only knoweth,) in order that by her trembling expectation faith may make full trial of her anxious sincerity, keeping her gaze ever fixed on that day, in her perpetual ignorance of it, daily fearing that for which she yet daily hopes.
- Or, “that he may be punished even in his sepulture.”
- Rom. xiii. 4.
- In administratione.
- Mark xiii. 32.