The False Pre-Existence


Sec. I

The history of the soul, like all temporal history, has its beginning and its ending in eternity. Not as though eternity itself were like to time, or were related to temporal history in the way of before and after in time. Eternity, indeed, is chiefly distinguished from time, in that it is something else than a temporal endless duration: it cannot be conceived without getting rid of the idea of time, although eternity is derived from cevum, ceternitas = cBviternitas, and, as a word from the language of temporal existence, indicates by time that which is timeless, as a lapse of ages (al&ve< ; r&v almveov) veiled (D^iy from ^f>V, to veil) both before and after, and thus illimitable.1 Time is a mode of existence, unfolding itself according to regular measure and in regular progress, and arbitrarily limiting the existence that dwells within it. Eternity, on the other hand, is no continuous line, but a constant point without dimensions, — an always equal centre of absolute contents,—an ever-present now, which suffers no abatement by past and future, but which, without being conditioned from without or limited in itself, is ever expanded and contracted according to the unlimited will that rules therein (Ps. xc.. 4; 2 Pet. iii. 8). Nevertheless it is possible to speak of an eternity a parte ante, and a parte post, in so far as eternity is that which was before time, and that which shall outlast time; yet not as though the time that lies between these extremes were a portion of eternity. Indivisibility is of the essence of eternity. It not only was before time was, and not only will be still when time is no more; but even in the midst of the current of time it is ever unchangeably existing.

1 Otherwise 1^n, which, reverting to the fundamental meaning, to Blide noiselessly (Syr.), or probably to the root (Talm.), to conceal, imports the imperceptibly-wasting temporal life, as such.

Time proceeded forth from eternity, and goes back into eternity again, but it also exists in eternity. The time-world is a globe coming forth from eternity, and attracted by eternity, and pervaded by eternity, and is thus entirely suspended in eternity, and enclosed by it; and its destination is to be altogether received back into eternity, whether it be the positive eternity of heaven or the negative eternity of hell.1 This is the view of Scripture from the first page to the last. For when it says that all things are from God (e'f avrov), that in God we live, and move, and have our being; that the things which are seen are temporal (irpoaKaipa), but the things which are not seen are eternal (alwvia); that eternal life {tforj alwvios) is attainable even here, and that its manifestation only belongs to the future state,—it is therein asserting that eternity underlies the source and the Being, and the future and the ultimate end of time. It would be quite impossible for us to commence a study of psychology with the everlasting postulates, if there were not within time a self-evidence of eternity. But such a selfevidence there is, and indeed a twofold one: we have it in the Scripture, and in the inmost nature of our own soul. For the word of God, which as such comes forth from the region of the Everlasting, brings to us certain information upon what everlastingly was, and is, and is to come; and eternity is the innermost core of every human heart, as the ancients declared (Eccles. iii. 11): ceternitatem* (D^jjnTlK) indidit cordibus eorwm. In the inmost being of every man is a sanctuary of everlasting being; wherein, in man's true craving for salvation, the everlasting Godhead enters to make it His dwelling-place, fiovtj (John xiv. 23).

It is, then, no over-bold beginning to take up the course of our psychological investigation from eternity. Still we must guard against too wide a grasp, such as Origen's, who regarded

1 " Eternity," says my Elberfeld critic, "is a circle; the time-world a horizontal line, which, however, is to be formed into a circle. Heaven wills it, and so does hell." Another critic, on the other hand—Noack, in his Psyche, Le. p. 336—finds " in the above apparent profundity nothing more than the simple fact, that every finite event is generally only a part of that which occurs and exists infinitely." But he who regards time as a segment of eternity, has no correct conception either of time or of eternity.

8 LXX.: "Kal yt oifvirana Top euu»a iluxer i» xapii'a airai»." Eng. version: "He hath set the world in their heart."—Tr.

the earthly history of the human soul only as one epoch in an historical series of changeful decay and restoration, extending backwards and forwards into aeons; and our temporal human body as the place of repentance and purification for our spirit exiled from a happier existence on account of committed sins. That is the false notion of pre-existence usually associated with the doctrine of the Metempsychosis, which, originating with Pythagoras and Plato, gained currency not only in the Jewish Alexandrianism and Essenism, but also in Pharisaism, in the Talmud and the Cabbala.1 This doctrine has of late been circulated even as a most sublime revelation. Before man appears on earth, it is said, he lived an immaterial life in a spiritual world, where every one stays until his turn comes to appear upon earth, and here to enter upon a life of probation indispensable to him. Cahagnet relates of a person translated in vision, that she wished to embrace in her arms a child in the other world because it was so lovely, but she could not do so; and for this very reason, as it was told her, that this child had not yet appeared upon earth, and on that account no earthly spirit could come in contact with it.

Apart from the Metempsychosis, which is absurd, because it annuls the distinction between the spirit of man and the soul of the brute, in respect of which Augustine rightly says, "Anima humana facta est ad imaginem Dei, non dabit imaginem suam cani et porco," that doctrine of pre-existence which we call the false one is not in itself repugnant to reason, as is seen from the fact that Kant, Schelling, and among theologians Jul. Muller, have availed themselves of it, in order to transfer the ultimate ground of the moral constitution of individual men into a so-called factum intelligibile prior to time, (in contrast to factum phcBriomenon,) and thence to explain the beginning and root of sin in humanity. When Tertullian wittily observes against Plato's proposition (in the Phcedo), that all fidOrjais

1 The Talmud teaches that the Messiah will not come till the souls in the cji3, i.e. the super-terrestrial abode of souls, have all together entered upon earthly existence. Manasse ben Israel, in his work D"n noE'3 (on the immortality of the soul), declares it to be perfectly orthodox Jewish faith that all souls were created within the limit of the six days' work. Upon the Cabbala in this behalf, see Joel, Religions philosophie der Sohar, pp. 107-109.

is nothing else than dvafivrjais, "Plato scilicet solus in tanta gentium silva in tanto sapientium prato idearum et oblitus et recordatus est," his remark is more witty than true; for precisely the same thought is found outside the range of the Hellenic mind, in which, moreover, it is not limited to Plato; and when a von Schubert says, in his Geschichte der Seele, " In fact, I seem often clearly to remember in my soul a presentiment which I have seen not with my present, but with some other eye," it is an experience of which assuredly others than he can speak. But generally, the great principle frequently alleged against the pre-existence in question (lately, for example, by Staudenmaier in his Dogmatics), that man must needs have a distinct consciousness of that pre-temporal condition in which he sinned with freedom of will—this is without any clear capability of proof. For it is matter of experience, that conditions of a higher kind through which the spirit of man consciously passes may be buried in total forgetfulness as far as he is concerned in his present normal state, without justifying the conclusion that they had not deeply impressed themselves on him; and in the presumed case, probably, many reasons may be suggested in the rectoral wisdom of God, why God should have sunk that existence, already lived through in a previous state, into such an unconsciousness for man.

Although, however, this doctrine of pre-existence is not in itself absolutely absurd, it is nevertheless—and this is sufficient reason for biblical psychology to reject it—absolutely contrary to canonical Scripture; only the Platonically inspired book of Wisdom refers to it in the words (viii. 19, 20), "For I was a witty child, and had a good spirit. Yea, rather, being good (just because I was good), I came into a body undefiled;" and Staudenmaier and others vainly seek to explain away,1 in the interest of their several creeds, the intimation of pre-existence in this passage. For the rest, this doctrine is not exclusively Alexandrian and Essenian (Jos. Bell. ii. 8,11): it is, moreover, talmudic and cabbalistic. The Cabbalists refer to Eccles. xii. 7, "The spirit returns to God who gave it." Origen infers a moral destination of the embryo originating in a pre-existent state (irpoiirap^i<;), from the fact that Jacob and Esau, while

1 See, on the passage, Grimm in the Handbook to the Apocrypha of the Old Testament.

yet unborn, and prior to all earthly agency, are objects respectively of divine love and hate (Rom. ix. 11-13); as well as from the fact that John, while still in the womb of Elisabeth, leaped at the salutation of Mary (Luke i. 41). "John the Baptist," he says, enlarging on the interpretation of Mal. iii. 1, "was an angel sent from God into the flesh, to bear witness of the Light." In his unrestrained allegorizing exegesis, it is certainly easy to him to discover many other proofs of a dogma which he regards a priori as established. Even the men of the parable, who stand idle in the market-place, are in his view souls not yet sent down into this present state. Only one of his Scripture proofs is really striking, namely Jer. i. 5, where Jehovah says to the youthful Jeremiah, as He calls him to the prophetic office, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou earnest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."

But the momentary surprise must at once yield to the recollection, that Scripture knows no creation of man other than that which comprises the body and the soul, which it records in Gen. i. and ii.; that it knows of no self-determination of a human soul, which could have preceded the self-determination of Adam, embracing as it did all human souls with it; that it traces back every moral appointment under which man is found, no further than to Adam, and to the connection with our fathers and forefathers, by means of that procreation which entails it. These three fundamental principles, occupying the Scripture from beginning to end, substantially exclude the false doctrine of pre-existence. But with what propriety do we speak of the false doctrine? Is there, then, also a true one? Decidedly there is. How else could Jehovah say to Jeremiah, Priusquam te formarem in utero novi te?