A Treatise On The Soul by Tertullian
Chapter LVI.--Refutation of the Homeric View of the Soul's Detention from Hades Owing to the Body's Being Unburied. That Souls Prematurely Separated from the Body Had to Wait for Admission into Hades Also Refuted.
There arises the question, whether this takes place immediately after the soul's departure from the body; whether some souls are detained for special reasons in the meantime here on earth; and whether it is permitted them of their own accord, or by the intervention of authority, to be removed from Hades at some subsequent time? Even such opinions as these are not by any means lacking persons to advance them with confidence. It was believed that the unburied dead were not admitted into the infernal regions before they had received a proper sepulture; as in the case of Homer's Patroclus, who earnestly asks for a burial of Achilles in a dream, on the ground that he could not enter Hades through any other portal, since the souls of the sepulchred dead kept thrusting him away. We know that Homer exhibited more than a poetic licence here; he had in view the rights of the dead. Proportioned, indeed, to his care for the just honours of the tomb, was his censure of that delay of burial which was injurious to souls. (It was also his purpose to add a warning), that no man should, by detaining in his house the corpse of a friend, only expose himself, along with the deceased, to increased injury and trouble, by the irregularity of the consolation which he nourishes with pain and grief. He has accordingly kept a twofold object in view in picturing the complaints of an unburied soul: he wished to maintain honour to the dead by promptly attending to their funeral, as well as to moderate the feelings of grief which their memory excited. But, after all, how vain is it to suppose that the soul could bear the rites and requirements of the body, or carry any of them away to the infernal regions! And how much vainer still is it, if injury be supposed to accrue to the soul from that neglect of burial which it ought to receive rather as a favour! For surely the soul which had no willingness to die might well prefer as tardy a removal to Hades as possible. It will love the undutiful heir, by whose means it still enjoys the light. If, however, it is certain that injury accrues to the soul from a tardy interment of the body -- and the gist of the injury lies in the neglect of the burial -- it is yet in the highest degree unfair, that that should receive all the injury to which the faulty delay could not possibly be imputed, for of course all the fault rests on the nearest relations of the dead. They also say that those souls which are taken away by a premature death wander about hither and thither until they have completed the residue of the years which they would have lived through, had it not been for their untimely fate. Now either their days are appointed to all men severally, and if so appointed, I cannot suppose them capable of being shortened; or if, notwithstanding such appointment, they may be shortened by the will of God, or some other powerful influence, then (I say) such shortening is of no validity, if they still may be accomplished in some other way. If, on the other hand, they are not appointed, there cannot be any residue to be fulfilled for unappointed periods. I have another remark to make. Suppose it be an infant that dies yet hanging on the breast; or it may be an immature boy; or it may be, once more, a youth arrived at puberty: suppose, moreover, that the life in each case ought to have reached full eighty years, how is it possible that the soul of either could spend the whole of the shortened years here on earth after losing the body by death? One's age cannot be passed without one's body, it being by help of the body that the period of life has its duties and labours transacted. Let our own people, moreover, bear this in mind, that souls are to receive back at the resurrection the self-same bodies in which they died. Therefore our bodies must be expected to resume the same conditions and the same ages, for it is these particulars which impart to bodies their especial modes. By what means, then, can the soul of an infant so spend on earth its residue of years, that it should be able at the resurrection to assume the state of an octogenarian, although it had barely lived a month? Or if it shall be necessary that the appointed days of life be fulfilled here on earth, must the same course of life in all its vicissitudes, which has been itself ordained to accompany the appointed days, be also passed through by the soul along with the days? Must it employ itself in school studies in its passage from infancy to boyhood; play the soldier in the excitement and vigour of youth and earlier manhood; and encounter serious and judicial responsibilities in the graver years between ripe manhood and old age? Must it ply trade for profit, turn up the soil with hoe and plough, go to sea, bring actions at law, get married, toil and labour, undergo illnesses, and whatever casualties of weal and woe await it in the lapse of years? Well, but how are all these transactions to be managed without one's body? Life (spent) without life? But (you will tell me) the destined period in question is to be bare of all incident whatever, only to be accomplished by merely elapsing. What, then, is to prevent its being fulfilled in Hades, where there is absolutely no use to which you can apply it? We therefore maintain that every soul, whatever be its age on quitting the body, remains unchanged in the same, until the time shall come when the promised perfection shall be realized in a state duly tempered to the measure of the peerless angels. Hence those souls must be accounted as passing an exile in Hades, which people are apt to regard as carried off by violence, especially by cruel tortures, such as those of the cross, and the axe, and the sword, and the lion; but we do not account those to be violent deaths which justice awards, that avenger of violence. So then, you will say, it is all the wicked souls that are banished in Hades. (Not quite so fast, is my answer.) I must compel you to determine (what you mean by Hades), which of its two regions, the region of the good or of the bad. If you mean the bad, (all I can say is, that) even now the souls of the wicked deserve to be consigned to those abodes; if you mean the good why should you judge to be unworthy of such a resting-place the souls of infants and of virgins, and those which, by reason of their condition in life were pure and innocent?