Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


§ I.

We are told that the Egyptians built their pyramids for no other purpose than to make tombs of them, and that their bodies, embalmed within and without, waited there for their souls to come and reanimate them at the end of a thousand years. But if these bodies were to come to life again, why did the embalmers begin the operation by piercing the skull with a gimlet, and drawing out the brain? The idea of coming to life again without brains would make one suspect that — if the expression may be used — the Egyptians had not many while alive; but let us bear in mind that most of the ancients believed the soul to be in the breast. And why should the soul be in the breast rather than elsewhere? Because, when our feelings are at all violent, we do in reality feel, about the region of the heart, a dilatation or compression, which caused it to be thought that the soul was lodged there. This soul was something aërial; it was a slight figure that went about at random until it found its body again.

The belief in resurrection is much more ancient than historical times. Athalides, son of Mercury, could die and come to life again at will; Æsculapius restored Hippolytus to life, and Hercules, Alceste. Pelops, after being cut in pieces by his father, was resuscitated by the gods. Plato relates that Heres came to life again for fifteen days only.

Among the Jews, the Pharisees did not adopt the dogma of the resurrection until long after Plato’s time.

In the Acts of the Apostles there is a very singular fact, and one well worthy of attention. St. James and several of his companions advise St. Paul to go into the temple of Jerusalem, and, Christian as he was, to observe all the ceremonies of the Old Law, in order — say they —“that all may know that those things whereof they were informed concerning thee are nothing, but that thou thyself also walkest orderly and keepest the law.” This is clearly saying: “Go and lie; go and perjure yourself; go and publicly deny the religion which you teach.”

St. Paul then went seven days into the temple; but on the seventh he was discovered. He was accused of having come into it with strangers, and of having profaned it. Let us see how he extricated himself.

“But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council —“Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” The resurrection of the dead formed no part of the question; Paul said this only to incense the Pharisees and Sadducees against each other.

“And when he had so said there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the multitude was divided.

“For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.”

It has been asserted that Job, who is very ancient, was acquainted with the doctrine of resurrection; and these words are cited: “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that one day His redemption shall rise upon me; or that I shall rise again from the dust, that my skin shall return, and that in my flesh I shall again see God.”

But many commentators understand by these words that Job hopes soon to recover from his malady, and that he shall not always remain lying on the ground, as he then was. The sequel sufficiently proves this explanation to be the true one; for he cries out the next moment to his false and hardhearted friends: “Why then do you say let us persecute Him?” Or: “For you shall say, because we persecuted Him.” Does not this evidently mean — you will repent of having ill used me, when you shall see me again in my future state of health and opulence. When a sick man says: I shall rise again, he does not say: I shall come to life again. To give forced meanings to clear passages is the sure way never to understand one another; or rather, to be regarded by honest men as wanting sincerity.

St. Jerome dates the birth of the sect of the Pharisees but a very short time before Jesus Christ. The rabbin Hillel is considered as having been the founder of the Pharisaic sect; and this Hillel was contemporary with St. Paul’s master, Gamaliel.

Many of these Pharisees believed that only the Jews were brought to life again, the rest of mankind not being worth the trouble. Others maintained that there would be no rising again but in Palestine; and that the bodies of such as were buried elsewhere would be secretly conveyed into the neighborhood of Jerusalem, there to rejoin their souls. But St. Paul, writing to the people of Thessalonica, says:

“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep.

“For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first.

“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

Does not this important passage clearly prove that the first Christians calculated on seeing the end of the world? as, indeed, it was foretold by St. Luke to take place while he himself was alive? But if they did not see this end of the world, if no one rose again in their day, that which is deferred is not lost.

St. Augustine believed that children, and even still-born infants, would rise again in a state of maturity. Origen, Jerome, Athanasius, Basil, and others, did not believe that women would rise again with the marks of their sex.

In short, there have ever been disputes about what we have been, about what we are, and about what we shall be.

§ II.

Father Malebranche proves resurrection by the caterpillars becoming butterflies. This proof, as every one may perceive, is not more weighty than the wings of the insects from which he borrows it. Calculating thinkers bring forth arithmetical objections against this truth which he has so well proved. They say that men and other animals are really fed and derive their growth from the substance of their predecessors. The body of a man, reduced to ashes, scattered in the air, and falling on the surface of the earth, becomes corn or vegetable. So Cain ate a part of Adam; Enoch fed on Cain; Irad on Enoch; Mahalaleel on Irad; Methuselah on Mahalaleel; and thus we find that there is not one among us who has not swallowed some portion of our first parent. Hence it has been said that we have all been cannibals. Nothing can be clearer than that such is the case after a battle; not only do we kill our brethren, but at the end of two or three years, when the harvests have been gathered from the field of battle, we have eaten them all; and we, in turn, shall be eaten with the greatest facility imaginable. Now, when we are to rise again, how shall we restore to each one the body that belongs to him, without losing something of our own?

So say those who trust not in resurrection; but the resurrectionists have answered them very pertinently.

A rabbin named Samaï demonstrates resurrection by this passage of Exodus: “I appeared unto Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and swore to give unto them the land of Canaan.” Now — says this great rabbin — notwithstanding this oath, God did not give them that land; therefore, they will rise again to enjoy it, in order that the oath be fulfilled.

The profound philosopher Calmet finds a much more conclusive proof in vampires. He saw vampires issuing from churchyards to go and suck the blood of good people in their sleep; it is clear that they could not suck the blood of the living if they themselves were still dead; therefore they had risen again; this is peremptory.

It is also certain that at the day of judgment all the dead will walk under ground, like moles — so says the “Talmud”— that they may appear in the valley of Jehoshaphat, which lies between the city of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. There will be a good deal of squeezing in this valley; but it will only be necessary to reduce the bodies proportionately, like Milton’s devils in the hall of Pandemonium.

This resurrection will take place to the sound of the trumpet, according to St. Paul. There must, of course, be more trumpets than one; for the thunder itself is not heard more than three or four leagues round. It is asked: How many trumpets will there be? The divines have not yet made the calculation; it will nevertheless be made.

The Jews say that Queen Cleopatra, who no doubt believed in the resurrection like all the ladies of that day, asked a Pharisee if we were to rise again quite naked? The doctor answered that we shall be very well dressed, for the same reason that the corn that has been sown and perished under ground rises again in ear with a robe and a beard. This rabbin was an excellent theologian; he reasoned like Dom Calmet.

§ III.
Resurrection of the Ancients.

It has been asserted that the dogma of resurrection was much in vogue with the Egyptians, and was the origin of their embalmings and their pyramids. This I myself formerly believed. Some said that the resurrection was to take place at the end of a thousand years; others at the end of three thousand. This difference in their theological opinions seems to prove that they were not very sure about the matter.

Besides, in the history of Egypt, we find no man raised again; but among the Greeks we find several. Among the latter, then, we must look for this invention of rising again.

But the Greeks often burned their bodies, and the Egyptians embalmed them, that when the soul, which was a small, aërial figure, returned to its habitation, it might find it quite ready. This had been good if its organs had also been ready; but the embalmer began by taking out the brain and clearing the entrails. How were men to rise again without intestines, and without the medullary part by means of which they think? Where were they to find again the blood, the lymph, and other humors?

You will tell me that it was still more difficult to rise again among the Greeks, where there was not left of you more than a pound of ashes at the utmost — mingled, too, with the ashes of wood, stuffs and spices.

Your objection is forcible, and I hold with you, that resurrection is a very extraordinary thing; but the son of Mercury did not the less die and rise again several times. The gods restored Pelops to life, although he had been served up as a ragout, and Ceres had eaten one of his shoulders. You know that Æsculapius brought Hippolytus to life again; this was a verified fact, of which even the most incredulous had no doubt; the name of “Virbius,” given to Hippolytus, was a convincing proof. Hercules had resuscitated Alceste and Pirithous. Heres did, it is true — according to Plato — come to life again for fifteen days only; still it was a resurrection; the time does not alter the fact.

Many grave schoolmen clearly see purgatory and resurrection in Virgil. As for purgatory, I am obliged to acknowledge that it is expressly in the sixth book. This may displease the Protestants, but I have no alternative:

Non tamen omne malum miseries, nec funditus omnes

Corporea excedunt pestes, . . . .

Not death itself can wholly wash their stains;

But long contracted filth even in the soul remains.

The relics of inveterate vice they wear,

And spots of sin obscene in every face appear, . . . .

But we have already quoted this passage in the article on “Purgatory,” which doctrine is here expressed clearly enough; nor could the kinsfolks of that day obtain from the pagan priests an indulgence to abridge their sufferings for ready money. The ancients were much more severe and less simoniacal than we are notwithstanding that they imputed so many foolish actions to their gods. What would you have? Their theology was made up of contradictions, as the malignant say is the case with our own.

When their purgation was finished, these souls went and drank of the waters of Lethe, and instantly asked that they might enter fresh bodies and again see daylight. But is this a resurrection? Not at all; it is taking an entirely new body, not resuming the old one; it is a metempsychosis, without any relation to the manner in which we of the true faith are to rise again.

The souls of the ancients did, I must acknowledge, make a very bad bargain in coming back to this world, for seventy years at most, to undergo once more all that we know is undergone in a life of seventy years, and then suffer another thousand years’ discipline. In my humble opinion there is no soul that would not be tired of this everlasting vicissitude of so short a life and so long a penance.

§ IV.
Resurrection of the Moderns.

Our resurrection is quite different. Every man will appear with precisely the same body which he had before; and all these bodies will be burned for all eternity, excepting only, at most, one in a hundred thousand. This is much worse than a purgatory of ten centuries, in order to live here again a few years.

When will the great day of this general resurrection arrive? This is not positively known; and the learned are much divided. Nor do they any more know how each one is to find his own members again. Hereupon they start many difficulties.

1. Our body, say they, is, during life, undergoing a continual change; at fifty years of age we have nothing of the body in which our soul was lodged at twenty.

2. A soldier from Brittany goes into Canada; there, by a very common chance, he finds himself short of food, and is forced to eat an Iroquois whom he killed the day before. This Iroquois had fed on Jesuits for two or three months; a great part of his body had become Jesuit. Here, then, the body of a soldier is composed of Iroquois, of Jesuits, and of all that he had eaten before. How is each to take again precisely what belongs to him? and which part belongs to each?

3. A child dies in its mother’s womb, just at the moment that it has received a soul. Will it rise again fœtus, or boy, or man?

4. To rise again — to be the same person as you were — you must have your memory perfectly fresh and present; it is memory that makes your identity. If your memory be lost, how will you be the same man?

5. There are only a certain number of earthly particles that can constitute an animal. Sand, stone, minerals, metals, contribute nothing. All earth is not adapted thereto; it is only the soils favorable to vegetation that are favorable to the animal species. When, after the lapse of many ages, every one is to rise again, where shall be found the earth adapted to the formation of all these bodies?

6. Suppose an island, the vegetative part of which will suffice for a thousand men, and for five or six thousand animals to feed and labor for that thousand men; at the end of a hundred thousand generations we shall have to raise again a thousand millions of men. It is clear that matter will be wanting: “Materies opus est, ut crescunt postera saecla.”

7. And lastly, when it is proved, or thought to be proved, that a miracle as great as the universal deluge, or the ten plagues of Egypt, will be necessary to work the resurrection of all mankind in the valley of Jehoshaphat, it is asked: What becomes of the souls of all these bodies while awaiting the moment of returning into their cases?

Fifty rather knotty questions might easily be put; but the divines would likewise easily find answers to them all.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01