Augustine on Reincarnation
October 16, 2013
I was amused by St. Augustine's reaction to reincarnation, this from The City of God, Book XII, Chapter XX:
What pious ears could bear to hear that after a life spent in so many and severe distresses (if, indeed, that should be called a life at all which is rather a death, so utter that the love of this present death makes us fear that death which delivers us from it) that after evils so disastrous, and miseries of all kinds have at length been expiated and finished by the help of true religion and wisdom, and when we have thus attained to the vision of God, and have entered into bliss by the contemplation of spiritual light and participation in His unchangeable immortality, which we burn to attain--that we must at some time lose all this, and that they who do lose it are cast down from that eternity, truth, and felicity to infernal mortality and shameful foolishness, and are involved in accursed woes, in which God is lost, truth held in destation, and happiness sought in inquitous impurities? and that this will happen endlessly again and again, recurring at fixed intervals, and in regularly returning periods? . . . Who, I say, can listen to such things? Who can accept or suffer them to be spoken? Were they true, it were not only more prudent to keep silence regarding them, but even (to express myself as best I can) it were the part of wisdom not to know them.
I do not believe in reincarnation, but I find it most fascinating that almost all the teenagers in our church do.
If it is so as you say, that almost all teenagers in your church believe in reincarnation, then the question should be asked: "What books they are reading, what they are watching and with whom they are associating?" See 1.John 2:15-16 ; Rev. 8:10-11 ; Rev. 12:3-4. This is really serious!
Posted by: Andris Karlsons | July 26, 2015 at 04:15 AM
This describes a specific kind of life; one led by religious aptitude and upright conduct, according to whatever standard Augustine had in his mind when he wrote this. I think this is a criticism of Plato in the Phaedrus, who thinks that even after we've spent 2,000 years and however many lifetimes that fit into that span building up our goodness so that we attain a glimpse of the table of the gods, we're sent back down to do it all over again. Augustine's like, "no no no, you make it to the table then you get to sit there." But if this is to apply to anyone who dies, regardless of the way a life is lived, he's sending everyone to heaven. I don't think he has an issue with reincarnation, just the notion that there are a limited number of souls and they infinitely reincarnate. He probably wanted to believe he was one of the select few who made it to heaven through his good behavior. Like a Jehovah's Witness. Also, of course teenagers believe in reincarnation, it's an awesome idea and a lot of teenagers like to imagine that the universe isn't cripplingly depressing.
Posted by: calvin | February 16, 2016 at 06:03 PM
In his Confessions, Augustine ponders the common sense viability of reincarnation: "Did my infancy succeed another age of mine that dies before it? Was it that which I spent within my mother's womb? ... And what before that life again, O God of my joy, was I anywhere or in any body?" (Confessions of St. Augustine, Edward Pusey, translator, Book I). Augustine also speculated that philosopher Plotinus was the reincarnation of Plato. St. Augustine wrote: "The message of Plato... now shines forth mainly in Plotinus, a Platonist so like his master that one would think... that Plato is born again in Plotinus." (Reference: Joseph Head and S. L. Cranston, Reincarnation, and East–West Anthology, The Theosophical Publishing House, 1961, p. 35–39.) The fact is that Augustine was a believer in reincarnation, but not the type that Plato believed in. Before Augustine converted to Catholicism at the age of 31, he was a believer in the Gnostic religion called Manichaeism which held to reincarnation as one of its doctrines. Augustine converted to Catholicism shortly after the Roman Emperor Theodosius I had issued a decree of death for all Manichaean monks in 382 AD and shortly before he declared Christianity to be the only legitimate religion for the Roman Empire in 391 AD.
Posted by: Kevin R. Williams, B.Sc. | May 31, 2017 at 04:17 AM
I don't know what Augustine thought of reincarnation, only that the speculation that he heard--that there was never an end to reincarnation and that spiritual attainment could be lost--displeased him. I understand he wrote a tract defending the torture of heretics, which would support Meister Eckhart's statement that if one chooses for an instant to give up union with God, or sanctification, it is as if one had never attained it.
Augustine aside, reincarnation is a reality. It happens exactly as all of the sages have said it happens. The attainment of complete enlightenment puts an end to death and rebirth because one has the realization that one is God, and that the ego, which played many roles and experienced just about everything in its many lifetimes, never really was. It was a fiction the whole time, but it was a fiction which didn't end with death.
One interesting aspect of reincarnation is that beings prefer birth in this particular realm because one advances much more quickly than if one is born in the higher realms, where one can remain an ego for millions of years. Some sages say that enlightenment is only possible from this realm, which may be an exaggeration, but it is a fact that because we suffer so much here, one is more likely to attain complete enlightenment from this realm than from the higher realms.
Posted by: Diana Barahona | April 14, 2020 at 09:53 PM
there is reincarnation in the Bible for sure :"For all the prophets and the law have prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who was to come." (Matthew 11:13-14)
"And the disciples asked him, saying, 'Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?' But he answered them and said, 'Elijah indeed is to come and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also shall the Son of Man suffer at their hand.' Then the disciples understood that he had spoken of John the Baptist." (Matthew 17:10-13)
Posted by: Per Nielsen | May 19, 2020 at 02:51 PM
According to Buddhism, reincarnation is avoided when one reaches Nirvana. When you reach spiritual or moral perfection then you won't need to be reborn, which is what i assume Jesus meant when he said that you will attain eternal life.
Posted by: Al | March 29, 2021 at 10:47 AM