in Christian History
Christians have the misconception that the concept of reincarnation
holds that, at the time of death, people reincarnate immediately and
do not have any experiences in the spirit realms in between Earth lives. Near-death experiences prove this misconception to be untrue.
Because time does not exist in the spirit world, a person can spend an
"eternity" in the spirit realms, if they wish to do so, and
have the freedom to decide if they want to reincarnate or not. The
ultimate goal of reincarnation is to learn enough lessons from Earth lives that reincarnation is no longer necessary.
Does it make any
difference whether or not one believes in reincarnation? The
doctrine of reincarnation, like any dogmatic tenet, is not very
important when it comes to living a spiritual life. It is probably
equivalent to believing that so many angels can dance on the head of a
pin. There is probably no special spiritual advance for a person to
believe or not believe in reincarnation. Reincarnation only provides a
reasonable theory to account for the apparent absurdities in the
dispensation of divine justice.
Clare Prophet was a minister with The
Summit Lighthouse and author of several books dealing with early
Christianity and many related metaphysical books, such as:
The Missing Link in Christianity
(2) Fallen Angels and the Origins of
Lost Teachings of Jesus
Book of Enoch the Prophet
Comes the Buddha
Path to the Universal Christ
Key to Your Inner Power
to the Kingdom
Astrology of the Four Horsemen
with the Master.
Elizabeth Clare Prophet's meticulous and impressive research into the history of
reincarnation in the early Christian movement provides the seeker of truth
a valid reason to believe that the early Church officials decided to halt
the long history of reincarnation in the early Christian sects in order to
further their own political purposes. The following information comes from
my favorite book by Ms. Prophet, Reincarnation: The Missing Link in
The Mystery of God
Early in the
fourth century, while Bishop Alexander of Alexandria was expounding on the
Trinity to his flock, a theological tsunami was born.
A Libyan priest
named Arius stood up and posed the following simple question: "If the
Father begat the Son, he that was begotten had a beginning of
existence." In other words, if the Father is the parent of the Son,
then didn't the Son have a beginning?
one had put it this way before. For many bishops, Arius spoke heresy when
he said that the Son had a beginning. A debate erupted, led by Arius on
the one side and by Alexander and his deacon Athanasius on the other.
Athanasius became the Church's lead fighter in a struggle that lasted his
In 320 A.D.,
Alexander held a Council
of Alexandria to condemn the errors of Arius. But
this did not stop the controversy. The Church had nearly split over the
issue when the controversy reached the ears of the Roman emperor
Constantine. He decided to resolve it himself in a move that permanently
changed the course of Christianity.
accused the Arians of attempting to lower the Son by saying he had a
beginning. But, in fact, the Arians gave him an exalted position,
honoring him as "first among creatures." Arius described
the Son as one who became "perfect God, only begotten and
unchangeable," but also argued that he had an origin.
controversy was really about the nature of humanity and how we are saved.
It involved two pictures of Jesus Christ: Either he was a God who had
always been God or he was a human who became God's Son.
If he was a
human who became God's Son, then that implied that other humans could also
become Sons of God. This idea was unacceptable to the orthodox, hence
their insistence that Jesus had always been God and was entirely different
from all created beings. As we shall see, the Church's theological
position was, in part, dictated by its political needs. The Arian position
had the potential to erode the authority of the Church since it implied
that the soul did not need the Church to achieve salvation.
The outcome of
the Arian controversy was crucial to the Church's position on both
reincarnation and the soul's opportunity to become one with God. Earlier,
the Church decided that the human soul is not now and never has been a
part of God. Instead it belongs to the material world and is separated
from God by a great chasm.
idea that the soul is immortal and spiritual, which was a part of
Christian thought at the time of Clement
of Alexandria and Origen, the Fathers developed
the concept of "creatio ex nihilo", creation out of nothing. If
the soul were not a part of God, the orthodox theologians reasoned, it
could not have been created out of his essence.
persists to this day. By denying man's divine origin and potential, the
doctrine of creation out of nothing rules out both preexistence and
reincarnation. Once the Church adopted the doctrine, it was only a
matter of time before it rejected both Origenism and Arianism. In fact,
the Arian controversy was only one salvo in the battle to eradicate the
mystical tradition Origen represented.
Origen and his
predecessor, Clement of Alexandria, lived in a Platonist world. For them
it was a given that there is an invisible spiritual world which is
permanent and a visible material world that is changeable. The soul
belongs to the spiritual world, while the body belongs to the material
Platonists' view, the world and everything in it is not created but
emanates from God, the One. Souls come from the Divine Mind, and even when
they are encased in bodily form, they retain their link to the Source.
Clement tells us
that humanity is "of celestial birth, being a plant of heavenly
origin." Origen taught that man, having been made after the
"image and likeness of God," has "a kind of
blood-relationship with God."
and Origen were teaching in Alexandria, another group of Fathers was
developing a counter-theology. They rejected the Greek concept of
the soul in favor of a new and unheard of idea: The soul is not a part of
the spiritual world at all; but, like the body, it is part of the mutable
They based their
theology on the changeability of the soul. How could the soul be divine
and immortal, they asked, if it is capable of changing, falling and
sinning? Because it is capable of change, they reasoned, it cannot be like
God, who is unchangeable.
Origen took up
the problem of the soul's changeability but came up with a different
solution. He suggested that the soul was created immortal and that even
though it fell (for which he suggests various reasons), it still has the
power to restore itself to its original state.
For him the soul
is poised between spirit and matter and can choose union with either:
"The will of this soul is something intermediate between the flesh
and the spirit, undoubtedly serving and obeying one of the two, whichever
it has chosen to obey." If the soul chooses to join with spirit,
Origen wrote, "the spirit will become one with it."
theology, which linked the soul with the body, led to the ruling out of
preexistence. If the soul is material and not spiritual, then it cannot
have existed before the body. As Gregory of Nyssa wrote: "Neither
does the soul exist before the body, nor the body apart from the soul, but
... there is only a single origin for both of them."
When is the soul
created then? The Fathers came up with an improbable answer: at the
same time as the body - at conception. "God is daily making
souls," wrote Church Father Jerome. If souls and bodies are created
at the same time, both preexistence and reincarnation are out of the
question since they imply that souls exist before bodies and can be
attached to different bodies in succession.
The Church still
teaches the soul is created at the same time as the body and therefore the
soul and the body are a unit.
This kind of
thinking led straight to the Arian controversy. Now that the Church had
denied that the soul preexists the body and that it belongs to the
spiritual world, it also denied that souls, bodies and the created world
emanated from God.
When Arius asked
whether the Son had a beginning, he was, in effect, pointing out a
fundamental flaw in that doctrine. The doctrine did not clarify the nature
of Christ. So he was asking: If there is an abyss between Creator
and creation, where does Christ belong? Was he created out of nothing like
the rest of the creatures? Or was he part of God? If so, then how and why
did he take on human form?
The Church tells
us that the Arian controversy was a struggle against blasphemers who said
Christ was not God. But the crucial issue in the debate was: How is humanity saved - through emulating Jesus or through worshiping him?
claimed that Jesus became God's Son and thereby demonstrated a universal
principle that all created beings can follow. But the Orthodox Church said
that he had always been God's Son, was of the same essence as God (and
therefore was God) and could not be imitated by mere creatures, who lack
God's essence. Salvation could come only by accessing God's grace via the
believed that human beings could also be adopted as Sons of God by
imitating Christ. For the Arians, the incarnation of Christ was
designed to show us that we can follow Jesus and become, as Paul said,
"joint heirs with Christ."
Church, by creating a gulf between Jesus and the rest of us, denied that
we could become Sons in the same way he did. The reason why the
Church had such a hard time seeing Jesus' humanity was that they could not
understand how anyone could be human and divine at the same time. Either Jesus was human
(and therefore changeable) or he was divine (and
vision of Jesus as God is based in part on a misunderstanding of the
Gospel of John. John tells us: "In the beginning was the Word, and
the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... All things were made by
him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." Later John tells us the "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among
us." The orthodox concluded from these passages that Jesus Christ is
God, the Word, made flesh.
What they didn't
understand was that when John called Jesus "the Word," he was
referring to the Greek tradition of the Logos. When John tells us that the
Word created everything, he uses the Greek term for Word -
"Logos." In Greek thought, Logos describes the part of God that
acts in the world. Philo called the Logos "God's Likeness, by whom
the whole cosmos was fashioned." Origen called it the soul that holds
the universe together.
that great human beings like Moses could personify the Logos. Thus, when
John writes that Jesus is the Logos, he does not mean that the man Jesus
has always been God the Logos. What John is telling us is that Jesus the
man became the Logos, the Christ.
theologians believed that everyone has that opportunity. Clement tells us
that each human has the "image of the Word (Logos)" within him
and that it is for this reason that Genesis says that humanity is made
"in the image and likeness of God."
The Logos, then,
is the spark of divinity, the seed of Christ, that is within our hearts.
Apparently the orthodox either rejected or ignored this concept.
understand that Jesus became the Logos just as he became the Christ. But
that didn't mean he was the only one who could ever do it. Jesus explained
this mystery when he broke the bread at the Last Supper. He took a single
loaf, symbolizing the one Logos, the one Christ, and broke it and said,
"This is my body, which is broken for you."
He was teaching
the disciples that there is one absolute God and one Universal Christ, or
Logos, but that the body of that Universal Christ can be broken and each
piece will still retain all the qualities of the whole. He was telling
them that the seed of Christ was within them, that he had come to quicken
it and that the Christ was not diminished no matter how many times his
body was broken. The smallest fragment of God, Logos, or Christ, contains
the entire nature of Christ's divinity - which, to this day, he would make
misunderstood Jesus' teaching because they were unable to accept the
reality that each human being has both a human and a divine nature and the
potential to become wholly divine. They didn't understand the human and
the divine in Jesus and therefore they could not understand the human and
the divine within themselves. Having seen the weakness of human nature,
they thought they had to deny the divine nature that occasionally flashes
forth even in the lowliest of human beings.
The Church did
not understand (or could not admit) that Jesus came to demonstrate the
process by which the human nature is transformed into the divine. But
Origen had found it easy to explain.
He believed that
the human and divine natures can be woven together day by day. He tells us
that in Jesus "the divine and human nature began to interpenetrate in
such a way that the human nature, by its communion with the divine, would
itself become divine." Origen tells us that the option for the
transformation of humanity into divinity is available not just for Jesus
but for "all who take up in faith the life which Jesus taught."
Origen did not
hesitate to describe the relationship of human beings to the Son. He
believed that we contain the same essence as the Father and the Son:
"We, therefore, having been made according to the image, have the
Son, the original, as the truth of the noble qualities that are within us.
And what we are to the Son, such is the Son to the Father, who is the
truth." Since we have the noble qualities of the Son within us,
we can undergo the process of
(at-one-ment with God).
To the Arians,
the divinization process was essential to salvation; to the orthodox, it
was heresy. In 324 A.D., the Roman emperor Constantine, who
had embraced Christianity twelve years earlier, entered the Arian
controversy. He wrote a letter to Arius and Bishop Alexander urging them
to reconcile their differences, and he sent Bishop Hosius of Cordova to
Alexandria to deliver it. But his letter could not calm the storm that
raged over the nature of God - and man. Constantine realized that he
would have to do more if he wanted to resolve the impasse.
The Council of
In June, 325
A.D., the Council of
Nicea opened and continued for two months, with Constantine
attending. The bishops modified an existing creed to fit their purposes.
The creed, with some changes made at a later fourth century council, is
still given today in many churches. The Nicene
Creed, as it came to be
called, takes elaborate care by repeating several redundancies to identify
the Son with the Father rather than with the creation:
in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and
invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten
of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the
Father. By whom all things were made ... Who ... was incarnate and was
made human ..."
bishops, along with Arius, refused to sign the creed. Constantine banished
them from the empire, while the other bishops went on to celebrate their
unity in a great feast at the imperial palace.
The creed is
much more than an affirmation of Jesus' divinity. It is also
an affirmation of our separation from God and Christ. It takes great pains
to describe Jesus as God in order to deny that he is part of God's
creation. He is "begotten, not made," therefore totally separate
from us, the created beings. As scholar George Leonard Prestige writes,
the Nicene Creed's description of Jesus tells us "that the Son of God
bears no resemblance to the ... creatures."
of Jesus as the only Son of God is carried forward in the Apostles' Creed,
which is used in many Protestant churches today. It reads: "I believe
in God, the Father Almighty ... I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son,
our Lord." But even that language - calling Jesus God's only Son -
denies that we can ever attain the sonship that Jesus did.
be interested to know that many scholars analyzing the Bible now believe
that Jesus never claimed to be the only Son of God. This was a later
development based on a misinterpretation of the gospel of John.
There is further
evidence to suggest that Jesus believed all people could achieve the goal
of becoming Sons of God. But the churches, by retaining these creeds,
remain in bondage to Constantine and his three hundred bishops.
Some of the
bishops who attended the council were uncomfortable with the council's
definition of the Son and thought they might have gone too far. But the
emperor, in a letter sent to the bishops who were not in attendance at
Nicea, required that they accept "this truly divine
that since the council's decision had been "determined in the holy
assemblies of the bishops," the Church officials must regard it as
"indicative of the divine will."
The Roman god
Constantine had spoken. Clearly, he had concluded that the orthodox
position was more conducive to a strong and unified Church than the Arian
position and that it therefore must be upheld.
took the opportunity to inaugurate the first systematic government
persecution of dissident Christians. He issued an edict against
"heretics," calling them "haters and enemies of truth and
life, in league with destruction."
Even though he
had begun his reign with an edict of religious toleration, he now forbade
the heretics (mostly Arians) to assemble in any public or private place,
including private homes, and ordered that they be deprived of "every
gathering point for [their] superstitious meetings," including
"all the houses of prayer." These were to be given to the
teachers were forced to flee, and many of their students were coerced back
into the orthodox fold. The emperor also ordered a search for their
books, which were to be confiscated and destroyed. Hiding the works of
Arius carried a severe penalty - the death sentence.
nevertheless, marked the beginning of the end of the concepts of both
preexistence, reincarnation, and salvation through union with God in
Christian doctrine. It took another two hundred years for the ideas to be
had given the Church the tools with which to do it when he molded
Christianity in his own image and made Jesus the only Son of God. From now
on, the Church would become representative of a capricious and autocratic
God - a God who was not unlike Constantine and other Roman emperors.
stanch anti-Origenian and a father of the Church, had this to say about
those who believed in reincarnation and not the resurrection of the dead:
"What a panorama of spectacle on that day [the Resurrection]! What sight should I turn to first to laugh and applaud? ... Wise
philosophers, blushing before their students as they burn together, the
followers to whom they taught that the world is no concern of God's, whom
they assured that either they had no souls at all or that what souls they
had would never return to their former bodies? These are things of
greater delight, I believe, than a circus, both kinds of theater, and any
stadium." Tertullian was a great influence in having so-called
"heretics" put to death.
The Fifth General
Constantine and Nicea, Origen's writings had continued to be popular among
those seeking clarification about the nature of Christ, the destiny of the
soul and the manner of the resurrection. Some of the more educated monks
had taken Origen's ideas and were using them in mystical practices with
the aim of becoming one with God.
Toward the end
of the fourth century, orthodox theologians again began to attack Origen.
Their chief areas of difficulty with Origen's thought were his teachings
on the nature of God and Christ, the resurrection and the preexistence of
criticisms, which were often based on ignorance and an inadequate
understanding, found an audience in high places and led to the Church's
rejection of Origenism and reincarnation. The Church's need to
appeal to the uneducated masses prevailed over Origen's coolheaded logic.
The bishop of
Cyprus, Epiphanius, claimed that Origen denied the resurrection of the
flesh. However, as scholar Jon Dechow has demonstrated, Epiphanius neither
understood nor dealt with Origen's ideas. Nevertheless, he was able to
convince the Church that Origen's ideas were incompatible with the merging
literalist theology. On the basis of Ephiphanius' writings, Origenism
would be finally condemned a century and a half later.
that resurrection bodies would be flesh and blood, complete with genitals
- which, however, would not be used in the hereafter. But Origenists
believed the resurrection bodies would be spiritual.
controversy spread to monasteries in the Egyptian desert, especially at Nitria, home to about five thousand monks. There were two kinds of monks
in Egypt - the simple and uneducated, who composed the majority, and the
Origenists, an educated minority.
solidified around the question of whether God had a body that could be
seen and touched. The simple monks believed that he did. But the
Origenists thought that God was invisible and transcendent. The simple
monks could not fathom Origen's mystical speculations on the nature of
In 399 A.D.,
Bishop Theophilus wrote a letter defending the Origenist position. At this, the simple monks flocked to Alexandria, rioting in the streets
and even threatening to kill Theophilus.
quickly reversed himself, telling the monks that he could now see that God
did indeed have a body: "In seeing you, I behold the face of
God." Theophilus' sudden switch was the catalyst for a series
of events that led to the condemnation of Origen and the burning of the
Theodosius, Christians, who had been persecuted for so many years, now
became the persecutors. God made in man's image proved to be an intolerant
one. The orthodox Christians practiced sanctions and violence
against all heretics (including Gnostics and Origenists), pagans and Jews.
In this climate, it became dangerous to profess the ideas of innate
divinity and the pursuit of union with God.
It may have been
during the reign of Theodosius that the Gnostic Nag Hammadi manuscripts
were buried - perhaps by Origenist monks. For while the Origenist
monks were not openly Gnostic, they would have been sympathetic to the
Gnostic viewpoint and may have hidden the books after they became too hot
monks of the desert did not accept Bishop Theophilus' condemnations. They
continued to practice their beliefs in Palestine into the sixth century
until a series of events drove Origenism underground for good.
527 - 565 A.D.) was the most able emperor since Constantine
- and the most active in meddling with Christian theology. Justinian
issued edicts that he expected the Church to rubber-stamp, appointed
bishops and even imprisoned the pope.
collapse of the Roman Empire at the end of the fifth century,
Constantinople remained the capital of the Eastern, or Byzantine, Empire.
The story of how Origenism ultimately came to be rejected involves the
kind of labyrinthine power plays that the imperial court became famous
Around 543 A.D.,
Justinian seems to have taken the side of the anti-Origenists since he
issued an edict condemning ten principles of Origenism, including
preexistence. It declared "anathema to Origen ... and to whomsoever
there is who thinks thus." In other words, Origen and anyone
who believes in these propositions would be eternally damned. A
local council at Constantinople ratified the edict, which all bishops were
required to sign.
In 553 A.D.,
Justinian convoked the Fifth General Council of the Church to discuss the
controversy over the so-called "Three Chapters." These were
writings of three theologians whose views bordered on the heretical.
Justinian wanted the writings to be condemned and he expected the council
to oblige him.
He had been
trying to coerce the pope into agreeing with him since 545 A.D. He
had essentially arrested the pope in Rome and brought him to
Constantinople, where he held him for four years. When the pope escaped
and later refused to attend the council, Justinian went ahead and convened
it without him.
produced fourteen new anathemas against the authors of the Three Chapters
and other Christian theologians. The eleventh anathema included Origen's
name in a list of heretics.
anathema reads: "If anyone asserts the fabulous preexistence of
souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration which follows from it:
let him be anathema." ("Restoration" means the
return of the soul to union with God. Origenists believed that this
took place through a path of reincarnation.) It would seem that the death
blow had been struck against Origenism and reincarnation in Christianity.
council, the Origenist monks were expelled from their Palestinian
monastery, some bishops were deposed and once again Origen's writings were
destroyed. The anti-Origenist monks had won. The emperor had come
down firmly on their side.
In theory, it
would seem that the missing papal approval of the anathemas leaves a
doctrinal loophole for the belief in reincarnation among all Christians
today. But since the Church accepted the anathemas in practice, the result
of the council was to end belief in reincarnation in orthodox
In any case, the
argument is moot. Sooner or later the Church probably would have forbade
the beliefs. When the Church codified its denial of the divine
origin of the soul (at Nicea in 325 A.D.), it started a
chain reaction that led directly to the curse on Origen.
notwithstanding, mystics in the Church continued to practice divinization.
They followed Origen's ideas, still seeking union with God.
Christian mystics were continually dogged by charges of heresy. At the
same time as the Church was rejecting reincarnation, it was accepting
original sin, a doctrine that made it even more difficult for mystics to
condemnation of Origen, so much that is implied in reincarnation was
officially stigmatized as heresy that the possibility of a direct
confrontation with this belief was effectively removed from the church.
In dismissing Origen from its midst, the church only indirectly addressed
itself to the issue of reincarnation. The encounter with Origenism did,
however, draw decisive lines in the matter of preexistence, the
resurrection of the dead, and the relationship between body and soul. What
an examination of Origen and the church does achieve, however, is to show
where the reincarnationist will come into collision with the posture of
orthodoxy. The extent to which he may wish to retreat from such a
collision is of course a matter of personal conscience.
With the Council
of 553 A.D. one can just about close the book on this
entire controversy within the church. There are merely two footnotes to be
added to the story, emerging from church councils in 1274 and 1439 A.D. In
the Council of Lyons, in 1274 A.D., it was stated that after death the
soul goes promptly either to heaven or to hell. On the Day of
Judgment, all will stand before the tribunal of Christ with their bodies
to render account of what they have done. The Council of Florence of 1439
A.D. uses almost the same wording to describe the swift
passage of the soul either to heaven or to hell. Implicit in both of these
councils is the assumption that the soul does not again venture into
"Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They
replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
Copyright 2007 Near-Death Experiences & the Afterlife