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Reincarnation Through The Centuries

Reincarnation is the religious or philosophical concept that the soul or spirit, after biological death, begins a new life in a new body that may be human, animal or spiritual depending on the moral quality of the previous life's actions (This part I don't prefer to believe, I like to think humans come back as humans and horses as horses. I simply can't understand how one could improve their "moral quality" if in the next life they came back as a Brahma bull, rattlesnake, or a great white shark.) 

This doctrine is a central tenet of the Indian religions. It is also a common belief of other religions such as Druidism, Spiritism, Theosophy, and Eckankar, and is found in many tribal societies around the world, in places such as Siberia, West Africa, North America, and Australia.
Although the majority of sects within the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam no longer believe that individuals reincarnate, particular groups within these religions do refer to reincarnation; these groups include the mainstream historical and contemporary followers of Kabbalah, the Cathars, the Druze, and the Rosicrucians.

       Jesus, The Church, and Reincarnation
In the New Testament, Jews are depicted as expecting the reincarnation of their great prophets. Indeed, these prophets were already thought to have reincarnated in times past. For example, the Jewish sect called the Samaritans believed Adam reincarnated as Noah, then as Abraham, then Moses. 

Reincarnation of the old prophets was also on the minds of Jews at the time of Jesus. In fact, followers of Jesus thought that he was a reincarnated prophet. Let us reflect on the following passage from the Gospel of Matthew:

“When Jesus came into coasts of Cesarea Philippi, he asked disciples, saying, ‘Whom do men say I, the Son of man, am? And they said, ‘Some say that thou art John the Baptist, some, Elias; and others, Jeremiahs, or one of the prophets.’” 
(Matthew 16:13–4)

Herod, who was in command of Jerusalem under the Romans, also speculated who Jesus may have previously been. Herod also thought Jesus might have been one of the old prophets.  

In another section of the New Testament, Jesus unequivocally states that John the Baptist is the reincarnation of the prophet Elias: “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist. . . . And if ye will receive it, this is Elias. . . . He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:11–15)

(The above makes me believe Jesus never considered himself to be "God incarnated" and neither did his contemporary's.  That concept was evidently drummed up much later by the "Church" who wanted to force everyone to believe that only they "knew" the "divine" truth. If you research the history you will know they didn't.)

Evidence shows that reincarnation was part of the Church’s early doctrine and was promoted by Church Fathers, writers who established Christian doctrine prior to the eighth century and whose works were used to disseminate Christian ideas to populations of the Roman Empire.

To be considered a Church Father one had to meet the following criteria. One had to lead a holy life; one’s writings had do be free of doctrinal error; one’s interpretation of Christian doctrine was deemed to be exemplary; and one’s writings had to have approval of the Church. (Of course, that depended on who was it's leader at the time.)

If the belief in the pre-existence of souls and reincarnation was prominent in the early Christian Church, why is it not present in contemporary doctrine?

The reason is that a Roman Emperor named Justinian made arrangements for reincarnation to be removed from official Church doctrine in 553 A.D.

In the early centuries of the Christian Church, disputes over doctrine were settled by bishops of the Church, through meetings called Ecumenical Councils. These Councils were major gatherings, which occurred infrequently, sometimes once in a hundred years. To understand the story of reincarnation and the Christian Church, we must go back in time to the year 330 A.D.

In that year, Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople, a city which today is called Istanbul. As a result, two centers of the Christian Church developed; the Western Church in Rome and the Eastern Church in Constantinople. The emperors of Constantinople controlled the Eastern Church and dictated policy as they pleased.

As an example, the Constantinople Emperor Leo III prohibited images and portraits from being kept in churches, so icons, paintings of saints, which today are so admired for their beauty, had to be removed from places of worship.  On the other hand, the Western Church headquartered in Rome refused to give up icons.  Similarly, the Constantinople Emperor Justinian determined Church policy regarding reincarnation.

In the sixth century, the Church was divided over the issue of reincarnation. Western bishops in Rome believed in pre-existence of the soul while Eastern bishops were opposed to it. Emperor Justinian, who controlled the Eastern Church, was against the doctrine of reincarnation. As an example of his interference in Church matters, Justinian excommunicated the Church Father Origen, who openly supported the idea of reincarnation. (Excommunication literally means they are damning you to hell.)
Emperor Justinian
To further his agenda, Justinian convened the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553 A.D., with only six bishops of the Western Church in attendance. On the other hand, 159 bishops of the Eastern Church, which Justinian controlled, were present.

It was at this meeting that pre-existence of the soul was voted out of Church doctrine. Emperor Justinian manipulated Church doctrine by stacking the voting deck in his favor.

In summation, reincarnation has appeared in Christian church doctrine since it's inception, but has been suppressed in the contemporary Church's philosophy.  One reason is that if reincarnation is acknowledged and research demonstrates that souls can change religion from one incarnation to another, a religion's claim to exclusive truth is negated. (Typical reasoning for the "Church" who wants to control everything.)

Still, evidence of reincarnation can help fulfill one of Christianity's greatest doctrines, that we are indeed brothers and sisters, and that we should love one another as such.
The concept of Reincarnation certainly appeals to me much more than the idea of Heaven and Hell does. I wish the Abrahamic religions had kept it in their much edited dogmas as the Hindu's and Buddhist have through the centuries. I'm not certain how the Christians and Jews skirt around the issue if it is written that Jesus and Jewish prophets before Jesus believed in it.

If life after life was generally accepted, wouldn't humanity strive to keep the earth a much safer and healthier "green" nest to keep coming back to? One would think so.


Anonymous said...

Interesting information. I am aware of some of this. Is there within the reincarnation context a belief that souls originated elsewhere in the universe? In other words, not from human origins.

... Zoe ~

Anna Maria said...

Thanks Zoe. I have never seen anything written about where souls came from any different than where "we" came from...a God created us.

However, back in the days of the brilliant Pagans, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, they also debated a lot about what souls were and what happened to them at death, but I can't remember them ever guessing where they came from either. :)

Jill Paterson said...

Your posts are always so interesting, Anna.
I have always believed that I've been here before, even as a small child.
You might be interested in the book Destiny of Souls by Michael Newton. It's interesting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anna. I'm guessing there is a lot of diversity of belief within the reincarnation camp.

Anna Maria said...

Thank you Jill, happy you find my posts interesting. These are subjects that have always made me curious, as I too have sometimes felt I've been here before. I will check out Michael's book, always interested in what other's think.

Anna Maria said...

Zoe...there is an immense diversity of belief all over the world on the subject of the "divine," over 4,200 various religions with different views. I figured I might as well pick my own out and picked and chose the parts that appealed to me. :)

DMS said...

I always think I know something about a topic and then I come here and learn so much more. Thanks for such an interesting post. Lots to think about. :)

Anna Maria said...

Thank you Jess! Decades ago when I became disturbed by abusive leaders of my religion and began my research to see where their dogma's came from, I was stunned at what I found they didn't want me to know.

I think the fact that religion has become such a heated issue in our government lately got me to thinking that perhaps a lot of folks don't bother to go way back and check the origin of what they profess to believe. Faith is one thing...truth is another.

Grundy said...

Reincarnation was always my favorite afterlife option, even when I was Christian. It seems much fairer then judging 1 to 100 years of life to determine eternal punishment or reward. Steady progress between lives is a better way to go, as long as progress within each life is also encouraged.

Anna Maria said...

I agree's long been my favorite idea of an "afterlife" also. There are several views of Reincarnation and I like the one that suggests we are on a path to "enlightenment" each lifetime...and we should make an effort to rise at least a rung on that latter each life. It does make one wonder exactly how many steps are on the ladder though. :D