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The nature of the soul and pre-existence


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#1 Theophrastus

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Posted 21 December 2006 - 07:16 PM

I'm not Orthodox, so please bear with me. When the "pre-existence of the soul" is denied, what do Orthodox mean by "soul"? Psyche? Nous? Feelings? Thoughts? Awareness itself?

For instance, if "soul" does not include "feelings", then one could argue that even though the "soul" did not pre-exist, the "feelings" did (in some fashion or other, thus accounting for claims of people re-membering past lives).

#2 Paul Cowan

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 04:42 AM

Dear Theophrastus:
I may be out of my league on this question, but I feel you hold to the idea of reincarnation. Orthodox do not hold to this idea. That being the case, their cannot be feelings before conception as there is no soul before conception. It is at the point of conception that life is granted. Not before though God knows us before we are in our mother's womb. Because He is outside time.

As for as people remembering past lives. I have wonderful dreams of being the main character in the movie I watched before going to bed. Sometimes the movie was years in the past. I may have forgotten it but my subconscious may have picked up on something during the day and worked it out in my sleep.

I am curious why stories I have heard about people's past lives always make themselves out to be important people like Cleopatra. They are never slaves.

Paul

#3 Theophrastus

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 05:27 AM

Dear Theophrastus:
I may be out of my league on this question, but I feel you hold to the idea of reincarnation. Orthodox do not hold to this idea. That being the case, their cannot be feelings before conception as there is no soul before conception. It is at the point of conception that life is granted. Not before though God knows us before we are in our mother's womb. Because He is outside time.


Thanks Paul. Yes, I hold to some version of reincarnation, but I'm open to my version of reincarnation being one perspective of a multi-faceted diamond, with the Christian idea of 'one-birth' being another perspective of that same diamond. If so, then there should be a way to understand both ideas as different perspectives of the same True Diamond.

#4 Paul Cowan

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 06:34 AM

My dad has always accused me of being too black or white and not enough grey. I don't understand how you hold to a combination view of both reincarnation and nonreincarnation at the same time. We either are or we are not.

Multifaceted ideas work for many of lifes opportunities, but some must be one or another. If I understand reincarnation to mean if you don't get "it" right the first time, you are given the chance to do it again and again and again until you do. There is never the need for new souls to be created as old souls are always being given another chance. The probability of an old soul remembering he screwed up in a past life and had the opportunities to correct himself seem remotely nonexistent. Especially if his future lives are in no way comparative to his previous lives where he could not get it right either. How could a Scottsman in the 20th century compare his life to an Aztec in the 1400's? If you change the rules how fair is that trying to play the game. He would have to be the same Aztec in the same century to compete with what he was challenged with the first go around.

I believe God gives us one life to get right. We are judged on the rightness or poorness of our lives. No afterlife corrections. God puts enough in front of us in this life to know he is there and understand the need to be one with Him. Jesus came to make sure of that. If we choose to not lead a pious life, we will be judged and sentenced based on the life we lead.

May God not judge me justly, but have mercy and show me His grace. Otherwise what kind of a sick god do we worship? I have seen in Orthodoxy many things are A or B but not AB. I cannot burn a potroast and call it rare. It's either rare or its burnt. It's not rare and burnt.

Can you explain your version of "the true Diamond" to me?

Paul

#5 Theophrastus

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 07:32 AM

My dad has always accused me of being too black or white and not enough grey. I don't understand how you hold to a combination view of both reincarnation and nonreincarnation at the same time. We either are or we are not.

Multifaceted ideas work for many of lifes opportunities, but some must be one or another. If I understand reincarnation to mean if you don't get "it" right the first time, you are given the chance to do it again and again and again until you do. There is never the need for new souls to be created as old souls are always being given another chance. The probability of an old soul remembering he screwed up in a past life and had the opportunities to correct himself seem remotely nonexistent. Especially if his future lives are in no way comparative to his previous lives where he could not get it right either. How could a Scottsman in the 20th century compare his life to an Aztec in the 1400's? If you change the rules how fair is that trying to play the game. He would have to be the same Aztec in the same century to compete with what he was challenged with the first go around.

I believe God gives us one life to get right. We are judged on the rightness or poorness of our lives. No afterlife corrections. God puts enough in front of us in this life to know he is there and understand the need to be one with Him. Jesus came to make sure of that. If we choose to not lead a pious life, we will be judged and sentenced based on the life we lead.

May God not judge me justly, but have mercy and show me His grace. Otherwise what kind of a sick god do we worship? I have seen in Orthodoxy many things are A or B but not AB. I cannot burn a potroast and call it rare. It's either rare or its burnt. It's not rare and burnt.

Can you explain your version of "the true Diamond" to me?

Paul


I certainly understand why you don't find reincarnation convincing. Indeed, I seek not to alter anyone's conclusions in this matter, since rejection of reincarnation is such an essential element in Orthodox Christianity. My reason for asking about Orthodox definitions of the "soul" was my interest in knowing exactly what sort of "reincarnation" Orthodox Christianity rejects.

There are many sorts of "reincarnations" that can be conceptualized. If we take "reincarnation" to mean simply "re-embodiment", then the very process of "resurrection" would be a type of "reincarnation" -- since the non-material part of the person re-unites/re-incarnates with the material part of the person. So, answering the question "What sort of "reincarnation" does Orthodox Christianity reject?" requires knowing how Orthodox Christianity defines the non-material part (e.g., the "soul") of the person.

The True Diamond would be God and God's world. Since we humans cannot encompass all of God, or "see" all of God, or experience all of God; we can only experience a part of God, a facet of God, a particular perspective of God. Perhaps, from one perspective, God and God's world appear to support reincarnation; whereas from another perspective, God and God's world appear to support non-reincarnation. If both reincarnation and non-reincarnation are two different perspectives of one Truth, then they would not correspond to "A" and "B" (where "A" and "B" are mutually exclusive), but rather "Facet A" and "Facet B" (where "Facet A" and "Facet B" are different facets, but not the same facet, of the True Diamond; thus being different, yet not radically so). Indeed, if Facet A and Facet B are actually juxtaposed, then I would want to explore that area of juxtaposition.

#6 Kevin Teo

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 08:19 AM

As far as I am aware, this notion of the pre-existence of souls has its roots in Platonism from pagan Athens which pagan philosophers advocated and believed in, and Origen himself seemed to have hinted at it or talked about it in his writings. But of course, Origen is not regarded as canonically patristic in authority and he himself has at times been deemed heretical by the Orthodox, Catholic and evangelical churches due to his somewhat uneasily heterodox assumptions at some points.

#7 Antonios

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 10:39 AM

Hello Jetavan,

Welcome to the forum! God bless you on your journey!

Christians base their beliefs directly from what God has revealed to humankind- both through the natural and supernatural. These are detailed from the life stories, teachings, and prophesies of the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament, from the teachings of the Word of God Who condescended to our fallen nature in order to guide us to true life and salvation, and from the God-bearing saints in the Church He established who have carried His Gospel and teachings.

The witness of the Church has condemned the notion of re-incarnation as a heresy. Thus, as a Christian, debating it is a moot point (that is, I understand my limitations and rely on much holier people than me in terms of doctrine). But so as not to sound like a 'victim of blind faith', but rather as a follower of a faith that gives true sight, let's take the process of wine-making. In order to make wine, a long and arduous process must be undertaken. Grapes seeds must be planted in order to sprout shouts, which eventually grow into a vine, which eventually produces fruit. The fruit of the vine is then crushed, undergoes a distilling process and then finally is put into bottles and set aside to ferment. After a certain amount of time, the solution in the bottle is called wine.

One day, a priest takes this bottle, pours this wine in a cup, offers prayers to God in liturgy with others, and the wine becomes the Blood of Christ. Tell me, was the Blood of Christ in the grape seed, or in the vine, or in the wine before the Divine Liturgy? Similarly, our life comes into existence in a certain point in time, being that we are created beings in a created universe under the created condition of time. Christians believe the beginning of our existence to be at conception (the Annunciation comes to mind). Thus, the sperm and the egg, though necessary for the process to begin, apart and in themselves do not contain our life, or our existence for that matter. But, rather, through the Grace of God, and by His will, we are created. Not as a re-incarnated fertilized egg, but as a human life, in His likeness and image.

The tragedy is that we come into a corrupted and fallen existence. Instead of true life, the life lived by Adam before he disobeyed the Lord, (the condition we were originally meant to be in), we are outside the Garden and have allowed the deceiver free access into our hearts and minds. As revealed by the Forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, and the Lord Himself, it is through baptism where we are re-born in righteousness. This is not re-incarnation, but rather, a reconstitution of our existence to where it should be. However, though we are individually reconstituted, we still have not experienced true life (albeit as close as possible here on earth). This is because creation around us is still corrupt, and the consequences of sin still abound. Thus, while we get closer to true life through baptism, we still remain outside the Garden.

It is here where the direct revelation of Jesus Christ, the Word of God-made-flesh, and His teachings guide us to true life. Through His Life, Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection, we are given the keys to the Kingdom. By following His lead, bearing our own cross, and following His obedient footsteps, He lights the path towards our salvation.

And His teachings are this: that He will come again at the end of days and there will be a General Resurrection, (not a re-incarnation, but rather the same person we are). At that time, their will be a Final Judgment, and the Book of Life will be opened, and our lives will be opened before us, all of it; and by the measure we judged, we too will be judged; and those who have done good, will pass on to a resurrection of true life, and those who have done evil and are unprepared for the Great Feast (which will be the new age to come and which will last forever), will find themselves locked out of the bridal chamber and into a resurrection of condemnation.

We believe what we do because we believe in the words of Jesus Christ. This is our faith. Not as one facet of a 'True Diamond", but as the Truth, the Way, and the Life.

#8 John Charmley

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 01:57 PM

Dear Jetavan,

Welcome to this forum, and thank you for the interesting questions you pose.

Reincarnation has been considered many times by Orthodox theologians, and since I am neither Orthodox nor a theologian, I shall trouble neither you nor others here with my thoughts on this thorny topic. But I thought a few comments by St. Cyril of Alexandria might be useful.

In the IXth chapter of his commentary on the 1st book of the Gospel according to St. John, St. Cyril offers 24 comments on the idea of reincarnation. I shan't trouble anyone with all of them here, since it would make for an unutterably large post; [ the full text is at http://www.tertullia...1_book1.htm#C9; it can be purchased from the Oriental Orthodox Library at http://www.lulu.com/orthodoxlibrary] but the introductory comments and numbers 15 and 16 seems useful extracts to post here:

But that it is most exceedingly absurd to suppose that the soul pre-exists, and to think that for elder transgressions it was sent down into bodies of earth, we shall endeavour to prove according to our ability by the subjoined considerations, knowing what is written, Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.
Thoughts or considerations of a complex kind in the way of demonstration.

1. If the soul of man have existence prior to the formation of the body, and, declining to evil according to the surmises of some, has for punishment of its transgression a descent into flesh, how, tell me, does the Evangelist say that it is lighted on coming into the world? For this I suppose is honour and the addition of fair gifts. But not by being honoured is one punished, nor yet chastised by being made recipient of the Divine good things, but by meeting with what is of the wrath of the punisher. But since man on his coming into the world is not in this condition, but on the contrary is even lighted, it is I suppose clear that he that is honoured with flesh has not his embodiment for a punishment.

2. Another. If before the body the soul were a mind yet pure, living in bliss, and by turning aside to ill fell, and therefore came to be in flesh, how is it lighted on its entry into the world? For one must needs say that it was destitute of light before it came: if so, how any longer was that pure mind which had then scarce a beginning of being lighted, when it came into the world, and not without flesh?

3. Another. If the soul of man existed before the body; and the mind therefore existed yet pure, attached more properly to the desire of good things, but from turning aside to the worser is sent into earthly body, and being therein, no longer rejects the will to transgress, how is it not wronged, not then specially entrusted with the doing of this, when it existed with a greater aptness for virtue, not as yet in bondage to the ills that proceed from the body, but when it had come into the turbid waters of sin, then out of season compelled to do this? But the Divinity will not miss of the befitting time, nor that injure to Whose Nature doing injury belongeth not. In season then and rightly do we refuse sin when in the flesh, having this season alone of being, in which with bodies we come into the world, leaving the former not being, as though a certain place, and from it passing into a beginning of being.


he adds, as I say, many more, but these two are useful examples:

15. Another. Paul teaching us that there shall be in due time an investigation before the Divine Judgment-seat of each man's life says, For we must all appear before the judgement-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he done, whether it be good or bad. But if it be only for the things done in the body that a man either receiveth punishment at the hands of the Judge, or is accounted worthy of befitting reward, and no mention is made of prior sins, nor any charge previous to his birth gone into: how had the soul any pre-existence, or how was it humbled in consequence of sin, as some say, seeing that its time with flesh is alone marked out, for that the things alone that were done in it are gone into?

16. Another. If souls were embodied on account of previous sins, how does Paul write to us saying, Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God? For if in the nature of punishment they were given to our wretched souls, how should we present then for an odour of a sweet smell to God? how will that be acceptable through which we received our sentence? or what kind of virtue at all will that admit of, whose nature is punishment, and root sin?


Of course, if one does not accept Orthodox Christianity and its Faith in the Incarnate Word and in our salvation, then St. Cyril will mean very little, since his work is designed to guide the faithful rather than to prove anything to those who think differently; but I hope it will be of interest - and perhaps take one back to St. John's Gospel.


In Christ,

John

#9 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 03:18 PM

Paul Cowan wrote:

If I understand reincarnation to mean if you don't get "it" right the first time, you are given the chance to do it again and again and again until you do. There is never the need for new souls to be created as old souls are always being given another chance. The probability of an old soul remembering he screwed up in a past life and had the opportunities to correct himself seem remotely nonexistent. Especially if his future lives are in no way comparative to his previous lives where he could not get it right either. How could a Scottsman in the 20th century compare his life to an Aztec in the 1400's? If you change the rules how fair is that trying to play the game. He would have to be the same Aztec in the same century to compete with what he was challenged with the first go around.

I believe God gives us one life to get right. We are judged on the rightness or poorness of our lives. No afterlife corrections. God puts enough in front of us in this life to know he is there and understand the need to be one with Him. Jesus came to make sure of that. If we choose to not lead a pious life, we will be judged and sentenced based on the life we lead.

May God not judge me justly, but have mercy and show me His grace. Otherwise what kind of a sick god do we worship? I have seen in Orthodoxy many things are A or B but not AB. I cannot burn a potroast and call it rare. It's either rare or its burnt. It's not rare and burnt.



Apart from the obvious question of whether reincarnation is real or fantasy the Holy Frs connected the fact of our one life with responsibility before God & man.

We also need to keep in mind however that in comparison to reincarnation's 'until we get it right' we don't have a Christian scenario of we live, then we die.

Rather the Patristic vision begins firmly with how each person once they are created exists eternally. The purpose of this eternal life is to prepare ourselves and overcome the results of death now as much as possible; and to the degree we have achieved this we take up a form of existence consistent with this in the future life.

Thus for the Frs the important thing is that once created by God we exist eternally. We don't really have two lives, one this life which then comes to an end & then one of the next, but rather one form of life that moves into the other according to how we lived that former way of life.

Now what is the real difference between this Christian vision and reincarnation? Reincarnation also has a kind of eternity to it and a focus on getting it right. And 'getting it right' and multiple personalities/life forms may seem consistent at first sight. After all the idea about multiple personalities, life forms is how one gets as much chance as is needed to amend ones life.

The Patristic point however is that getting it right and multiple personalities & life forms is really a contradiction in terms. For multiple personalities & life forms ultimately make choice irrelevant & in fact relate to a world where values of any kind are irrelevant. And in fact this is what 'getting it right' in its highest form actually means for this way of thinking- the flash of recognition, after many encounters with illusory reality, that nothing matters.

For the Frs, creation ex nihilo, and then one eternal life for us once created is the framework for a world of value and responsibility. At the heart of this is the recognition of the value of how each of us is irrepeatibly unique.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#10 Theophrastus

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 11:14 PM

Dear Jetavan,

Welcome to this forum, and thank you for the interesting questions you pose.

Reincarnation has been considered many times by Orthodox theologians...


Thanks for the St. Cyril reference; I'll study it closely.

One of Cyril's points seems to be: "The embodiment is not therefore of the nature of punishment" [#8]. Certainly, some versions of reincarnation see embodiment as 'punishment', which would negate the desirability of resurrection. I think Origen's theory of pre-existence saw embodiment as punishment for actions that took place in the divine realms.

But other versions of reincarnation do not see the body as a punishment -- in fact, embodiment as a human being is actually desirable, because it is the only form in which one can truly realize/serve God. Many of these versions of reincarnation stem from India, and differ in significant ways from the Greek speculations.

Can one adopt a pro-embodiment theory of reincarnation, and be a Christian?

#11 Paul Cowan

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Posted 23 December 2006 - 12:39 AM

I think Antonios said it best

The witness of the Church has condemned the notion of re-incarnation as a heresy. Thus, as a Christian, debating it is a moot point...


Not that talking about it is wrong perse, but trying to find a loophole where it will work is. You wrote...

Can one adopt a pro-embodiment theory of reincarnation, and be a Christian?


Many so-called Christian denominations say they believe in the same things other faiths believe in. But if you scrutinize their terminology and phrasiology, they become distinctly unchristian by Orthodox standards.

(ok ya'll, I am about to use an example just outside my knowledge so don't beat me up if I get it wrong. You will get the jist of my example.)

Muslims believe in One God. Christians believe the same thing. Muslims don't believe in the Trinity. They think the Trinity is 3 gods since they are 3 personalities, yet christians do. When Muslims are reasoned with of the personage of the Trinity, they understand it and can accept it.

Mormons do believe in 3 god personages yet still call it the Trinity. Not one God but multiple gods interacting as a single entity. Not exactly the Orthodox definition of the Trinity.

So all that said, when we die, we are under the general judgement and the soul goes to Paradise or Hades. At the Second and Great Judgement, Christ will judge us and we will be returned to our new reslpendid bodies, not to relive our lives, but to spend eternity in Heaven or Hell.

There is no purgatory to fix our wrongs and certainly no "do over". God has given us this life to live it to the fullest in serving Him and our neighbors. Our lives don't have a Back Button. Pray to God for me I get it right the first and only time.

Paul

#12 Theophrastus

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Posted 14 January 2007 - 09:26 PM

Is it possible that reincarnation happened, before Christ's sacrifice, and that because of His sacrifice, reincarnation was made no longer a reality?

#13 Scott Pierson

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Posted 15 January 2007 - 11:57 AM

The Church teaches that Christ proclaimed the Gospel to the captives in Sheol (including the OT Saints). If Adam , Moses, etc had already been reincarnated they wouldn't have been present there to be liberated by Christ. So I don't think reincarnation fits the evidence.

#14 Gregorios

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Posted 15 January 2007 - 01:23 PM

Thanks for the St. Cyril reference; I'll study it closely.

One of Cyril's points seems to be: "The embodiment is not therefore of the nature of punishment" [#8].


St. Cyril takes his clue from Scripture here. Embodiment is simply the mode of existence for human beings (Gen. 1 and 2). We are created bodily and this body is part of what it is to be me, that is the body is included in the self-positing of I as Fr. Sergius Bulgakov wrote (The Bride of the Lamb, p. 41. Even Origen (often referenced in the context of reincarnation) affirmed in no uncertain terms that only God is absolutely without a body, it is intrinsic to the nature of created beings to be embodied : ",... to exist without material substance and apart from any association with a bodily element is a thing that belongs only to the nature of God, that is of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (On First Principles. 1. 6. 4., Koetschau, 58.)."

Certainly, some versions of reincarnation see embodiment as 'punishment', which would negate the desirability of resurrection. I think Origen's theory of pre-existence saw embodiment as punishment for actions that took place in the divine realms.


As has been pointed out by Fr. John Behr (The Way to Nicea, SVS Press) and Mark Julian Edwards (Origen against Plato, Ashgate Publishing Limited) there is probably no theory of pre-existence of souls in Origen if by that term we mean a temporal pre-existence. There was certainly no cosmic fall from pre-existence into bodies. Fr. John and Mr. Edwards rule out the possibility of (ab)-using Origen's name to promote any form of reincarnation as well as pre-existence of souls and their cosmic downfall into bodies. Bodies, in Origen's thought, are a necessary element for what it is to be a creaturely being. This is so much so that even after death (which is viewed as separation of soul and body) Origen postulates a bodily envelope in which the soul remains enveloped the ochyma or vehicle of the soul because a created being cannot exist as a pure spirit (see Origen's comments on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus).

But other versions of reincarnation do not see the body as a punishment -- in fact, embodiment as a human being is actually desirable, because it is the only form in which one can truly realize/serve God. Many of these versions of reincarnation stem from India, and differ in significant ways from the Greek speculations.


But the opposition of soul and body implied by reincarnation places the body outside the I the body is not constitutive of personal identity whereas in Christian (certanly Orthodox Christian) thought the body is part of one's unique personal identity. The body is not merely desirable in order to be able to serve God, but it is an in-escapable condition of personal, created being. The one who serves God in the body is who he/she is because of (among other things) the body; and precisely this body. This is why in Christian Faith we do not expect reincarnation into a different body (and thus become different person) but the resurrection of the body and remain the person we were at our first creation. There is an unbridgeable gap between reincarnation and resurrection.

Can one adopt a pro-embodiment theory of reincarnation, and be a Christian?


Only at the cost of a Christian anthropology. Reincarnation is, as far as I can see, essentially irreconcilable with a Scriptural, Christian understanding of man.

Gregorios

#15 Aaron Wake

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Posted 11 June 2007 - 04:36 PM

I hope I am not butting in here, but I had a question concerning a verse that relates (to some) to the idea of pre-existence or pre-mortality. If this should go in another thread feel free to move it. But the Mormans often refer to Jeremiah for proof of the pre-existence of the soul. Could someone offer me the correct meaning of the verse of Jeremiah 1:5- Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

Is it that God knew OF him, being that He is outside of time?

#16 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 11 June 2007 - 10:18 PM

We cannot create from nothing like God does, but a sculptor looks at a lump of clay and "knows" that there is a figure in there. Does that mean that the figure was pre-existing in the clay?

#17 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 12 June 2007 - 08:43 AM

We cannot create from nothing like God does, but a sculptor looks at a lump of clay and "knows" that there is a figure in there. Does that mean that the figure was pre-existing in the clay?


Interestingly, as an aside, Herman's is precisely the kind of qualifier that Origen himself puts on the concept of 'pre-existance' or 'eternal creation': eternity in the mind or intention (will) of the eternal God.

INXC, Matthew

#18 Kusanagi

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Posted 13 August 2007 - 11:03 AM

We cannot create from nothing like God does, but a sculptor looks at a lump of clay and "knows" that there is a figure in there. Does that mean that the figure was pre-existing in the clay?


No that would be foreknowledge which God has and knows what it will become.
pre-existance is made common by teaching of origen which lots of Orthodox people love to read and St Augustine of Hippo.

#19 Gregorios

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 06:23 PM

No that would be foreknowledge which God has and knows what it will become.
pre-existance is made common by teaching of origen which lots of Orthodox people love to read and St Augustine of Hippo.


Actually,... I think it has been convincingly argued by Fr. John Behr, Marguerite Harl, and Mark J. Edwards that Origen's theory of pre-existence is not what it is commonly believed to be. Usually it is said that Origen combined his theory of pre-existence with the idea of a cosmic fall - which entails a nation of dis-incarnate souls that grew tired of contemplating God and fell into sin receiving bodies according to the depth of their sinfulness. Close examination of Origen's extant works has resulted in the recognition that there are no texts in Origen's extant works that speak of such a cosmic fall. The only text of this nature available is not of Origen's making but is a hypothetical reconstruction by Koetschau known as fragment 15 of the On First Principles. The correctness of Koetschau's reconstruction depends on whether or not Origen taught that doctrine. Since there are no parallels to fragment 15 in any of Origen's extant works Koetschau's hypothetical construct must be rejected on the basis of insufficient evidence.

There are places where Origen speaks of anterior causes (particularly in his On First Principles) but these refer not to pre-existence but to divine foreknowledge this is particularly clear if these texts are read in light of Origen's Treatise on Prayer where foreknowledge and God's acting upon His foreknowledge are explained. The condition of the world is intended by God to be good but he economically arranges the world in accordance with the depth to which He foreknows an individual will sin so as to make possible a return to the intended (original) state. The body is not itself sinful, but its condition is an existence in a state of sin from which it will be healed by the resurrection of the body.

The case of Jeremiah is explained by Origen by referring to a Jewish tradition where angels take on human bodies to assist in the economy of salvation (such as the story of Tobit). Such incarnate angels are not just evident in the story of Tobit, but there is also Jacob, Jeremiah, Elijah, and even John the Baptist. In his Commentary on John Origen uses this idea to support the reality and scriptural truthfulness of the Incarnation of the Word! If angels entering human life are conducive to salvation how much more the entry of God into human life! The embodiment of angels is not due to a fall, but is part of God's plan of salvation. There is no fall into bodies here. Jeremiah (and Jacob, etc.) Origen believed, were angels who incarnated to serve the economy of salvation this - Origen believes - vindicates and underscores the fact that the Incarnation of the Word is totally Scriptural (angels became incarnate thus setting a Scriptural precedent for it). For confirmation Origen looked to Scripture and at Jewish apocryphal sources (and perhaps his own Hebrew Master?) not Greek Philosophy/mythology.

Origen also taught what is known as the double creation theory. We find this teaching in St. Maximus the Confessor, Evagrius Ponticus, Sts. Gregory the Theologian, Basil the Great, Anthony the Great, Cyprian of Carthage, the Epistle to Diognetus, Philo of Alexandria, and I dare say even Scripture! Most evidently in Genesis where God first forms the bodily substrate and only then does He breathe into it the breath of life - the soul is mixed with the body from without! This, I think, is what the language of pre-existence is trying to convey. It is not speaking about an actual nation of dis-incarnate souls falling (by sin) into bodies. Rather it preserves the idea that the soul is a different substance from the body and that it alone is after the Image of God in the strictest sense of that term (and thus incorporeal like God is incorporeal). Creation (including souls) may be said to pre-exist in the 'mind of God' but they do not exist in concreto other than united to matter. Creatures simply cannot exist without being corporeal. In this way do the Fathers (including Origen) use this idea, precisely as they find it suggested to them in Scripture.

Iow pre-existence of souls in Origen is real , but the Cosmic Fall is not. Human souls pre-exist in the sense that they are mixed with the body from without (bodies recieve souls - Wisdom 8, 19 - from the 'hand of God' and are not products of any material process) in one creative act of God according to the pattern set forth in Genesis. Angels in their service to God have become incarnate and have helped the salvation of man and pre-figure the incarnation of God Himself which has happened in Jesus Christ. The idea of a cosmic fall is not popularized by Origen, but - so it seems - by his sixth century detractors in creating a straw man to condemn Origen (and also that which for their convenience they have labeled Origenism).

Gregorios

#20 Father David Moser

Father David Moser

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 07:28 PM

Origen also taught what is known as the double creation theory. We find this teaching in St. Maximus the Confessor, Evagrius Ponticus, Sts. Gregory the Theologian, Basil the Great, Anthony the Great, Cyprian of Carthage, the Epistle to Diognetus, Philo of Alexandria, and I dare say even Scripture! Most evidently in Genesis where God first forms the bodily substrate and only then does He breathe into it the breath of life - the soul is mixed with the body from without!


Actually, taken in this sense, Scripture (and other Orthodox fathes) supports the idea of a "triple creation" The use in the Genesis account of two separate words for "to create" (in Hebrew "bara" which means "created out of nothing" and "assa" which means "to make, to form, to shape out of matter") The word "bara" is used three times in the account of the creation of the world: 1. In the beginning; 2. at the creation of "living souls" (that is of the "moving creatures' or animals); and 3. at the creation of man. Thus we can see the formation of the body in the first creation, the addition of the mortal soul at the second creation (of the animals) and then the addition of the immortal soul, endowed with a spirit (the soul of man) at the third creation (the creation of man). Also the fact that the human soul was bestowed by the breath of God shows its creation in the image and likeness of God while the souls of the animals were not so specially bestowed illustrating that they belong solely to the physical creation, in contrast to mankind who uniquely belongs to both the physical and spiritual world. (see also the catechetical work, The Law of God by Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy - available both in English and in Russian)

[This, btw, is also a genuine scriptural argument against a continuous evolution of species. While it could conceivably be true that there was some kind of "bodily evolution", it is not possible to evolve a soul - thus a plant could not become an animal. Nor is it possible for a mortal animal soul to become an immortal human soul, thus an animal could not become a person.]

Fr David Moser




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