GREEK EVIDENCE FROM THE FOURTH CENTURY B.C.
The last story in Plato’s Republic, which the author relates to his friend Glaucon, concerns a certain hero from the wars, one Er, son of Armenius, a Pamphylian by birth. He was slain in battle, and ten days afterwards, when the bodies of the dead were taken up already in a state of corruption, his body was found unaffected by decay, and carried away home to be buried. On the twelfth day as he was lying on the funeral pile, he returned to life and told them what he had seen in the other world. His account was lengthy, and cannot all be retold here, but what concerns us most is what he saw happening to the spirits (or souls) of men BEFORE THEY CAME TO EARTH.
A certain angelic figure by the name of Lachesis, daughter of Necessity, said to them,
“Your genius will not be allotted to you, but you will choose your genius, and let him who draws the first lot have the first choice, and the life which he chooses shall be his destiny. Virtue is free, and as a man honours or dishonours her he will have more or less of her; the responsibility is with the chooser.”
The souls were encouraged to take great care how they chose their destinies, and were shown a goodly number of lives as examples of what might happen. All qualities were shown, whether wealth or poverty, disease or health, and so on, but the goal of virtue was always emphasised. Finally they were brought to the River of Forgetfulness, where they were obliged to drink, and as each one drank, so they became unmindful of their past and were “driven upwards in all manner of ways to their birth, like shooting stars.”
It was after this that Er awoke and found himself on the funeral pyre. Plato concludes,
“Wherefore my counsel is, that we hold fast ever to the heavenly way and follow after justice and virtue always, considering that the soul is immortal and able to endure every sort of good and every sort of evil. Thus shall we live dear to one another and to the gods, both while remaining here and when we receive our reward. And it shall be well with us both in this life and in the pilgrimage of a thousand years which we have been describing.”
PLATO. 427 – 347 B.C. His original name was ARISTOCLES. He was surnamed PLATO because of his broad shoulders. Greek philosopher, and disciple of SOCRATES, and teacher of ARISTOTLE. He studied under Socrates until his master’s trial, conviction, and death in 399 B.C. After much travelling, he returned to Athens and settled there permanently, founding a school of philosophy known as The Academy. In time The Academy was endowed, and became the first University in history. It flourished until closed by Justinian in 529 A.D. His voluminous writings are in the form of dialogues, with his master Socrates taking the leading role.
SOCRATES. 470 – 399 B.C. Greek philospher, born in Athens, the son of a sculptor, SOPHRONISCUS. In early life Socrates became a sculptor, but later he devoted himself wholly to philosophy. He developed a style, now known as the Socratic style, whereby his students would learn by the constant use of questioning. Each subject under discussion would be intrusively attacked, leaving no stone unturned, until rational conclusions were reached. In this manner he taught his disciples to use their own ratiocinitive powers.
Some of our readers may wonder why on earth we should have considered these ancient Greek philosophers at all, seeing that, (as evangelicals have been taught) Paul condemned them in his letters, particularly that to the Colossians. But the trouble arises from ignorance, rather than truth. The problem is identical to that mentioned in the last paper in connection with the Jewish Talmudic writings. Those who have studied Plato will at once recognise a philosophy that is clean, logical, satisfying, and for the most part TRUE. We might add that Socrates was finally condemned before a Court, and required to drink Hemlock, from which he died. Shall we not honour him, who died in the pursuit of TRUTH? Was he not, in his own way, reaching out towards the One whose name is TRUTH? Just because he had no contact with Israel, and died 430 years before the Crucifixion, doesn’t make him devoid of the ability to know the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, light and darkness. Our own personal opinion, after reading the volumes of Plato’s works, is that it would be a salutaryexercise for many a believer today. A too-narrow view of life always leads to exclusivism, and an arrogant patronising of others. God is the “God of the spirits of all flesh”, and in the days of judgment, will see all of us as we really are, and many of us will be in for a shock at the outcome, simply because of the narrowness of our vision of who God is. And with that prelude, let us investigate what Plato had to say on the subject of pre-existence.
Our first quote is from MENO, and is a discussion between Socrates and Meno, also with Meno’s slave boy. We take up the dialogue just after Socrates has questioned the slave boy about his understanding of geometry, whereby the truth of Pythagoras’s theorem is elicited.
Soc. What do you say of him, Meno? Were not all these answers given out of his own head?
Men. Yes, they were all his own.
Soc. And yet, as we were just now saying, he did not know?
Soc. And yet he had those notions in him?
Soc. Then he who does not know still has true notions of that which he does not know?
Men. He has.
Soc. And at present these notions are just wakening up in him, as in a dream; but if he were frequently asked the same questions, in different forms, he would know as well as anyone at last?
Men. I dare say.
Soc. Without anyone teaching him, he will recover his knowledge for himself, if he is only asked questions?
Soc. And this spontaneous recovery in him is recollection?
Soc. And this knowledge which he now has, must he not either have acquired or always possessed?
Soc. But if he always possessed this knowledge he would always have known; or if he has acquired the knowledge, he could not have acquired it in this life, unless he has been taught geometry; for he may be made to do the same with all geometry and every other branch of knowledge. Now, has any one ever taught him? You must know that, if as you say, he was born and bred in your house.
Men. And I am certain that no one ever did teach him.
Soc. And yet has he not the knowledge?
Men. That, Socrates, is most certain.
Soc. But if he did not acquire this knowledge in this life, then clearly he must have had and learned it at some other time?
Men. That is evident.
Soc. And that must have been the time when he was not a man?
Soc. And if there have always been true thoughts in him, both at the time when he was and was not a man, which only need to be awakened into knowledge by putting questions to him, his soul must always have possessed this knowledge, for he always either was or was not a man?
Men. That is clear.
Soc. And if the truth of all things existed in the soul, then the soul is immortal. Wherefore be of good cheer, and try to recollect what you do not know, or rather do not remember.
Men. I feel somehow, that I like what you are saying.
Soc. And I, Meno, like what I am saying. Some things I have said of which I am not altogether confident. But that we shall be better and braver and less helpless if we think that we ought to enquire, than we should have been if we indulged in the idle fancy that there was no knowing and no use in searching after what we know not; that is a theme on which I am ready to fight, in word and deed, to the utmost of my power.
Our comment:- what better way of summing up the very purpose of writing these Prophetic Telegraphs? We have always said that our papers are for those who are of a pioneering mind, and who do not shrink from the necessity to face head on, matters which are perplexing, or not well understood, or have wrongfully been made into the sacred cows of Christian religion. When we first read Betty Eadie’s fascinating account of her after-death experience, we knew AT ONCE that the subject of pre-existence had to be given adequate thought and study. But the TRUTH of it seemed to plant itself in our spirits from the word go. It was as though, to use the words of Socrates, we were “remembering” or ”recollecting” something that was too deeply implanted in our memory to recall without the assistance of a triggering mechanism. By the grace of God we can do that which Paul spoke about in 1 Cor. 2:6-7, to “speak wisdom amongst those who are more mature, and yet a wisdom not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are coming to naught, but we speak Gods wisdom in a mystery [or sacred secret], even that wisdom which has been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory.”
Our second quote comes from PHAEDO, the “beloved disciple” of Socrates, and the dialogue is the last before Socrates is condemned to death for holding to TRUTH. We enter the discussion at the point where Socrates has been asking his disciples about the discernment of EQUALITY. His present conversation is with one by the name of SIMMIAS.
Soc. Then we must have had some previous knowledge of equality before the time when we first saw equal things and realised that they were striving after equality, but fell short of if?
Sim. That is so.
Soc. And at the same time we are agreed also upon this point, that we have not and could not have acquired this notion of equality except by sight or touch or one of the other senses. I am treating them as being all the same.
Sim. They are the same, Socrates, for the purpose of our argument.
Soc. So it must be through the senses that we obtained the notion that all sensible equals are striving after absolute equality but falling short of it. Is that correct?
Sim. Yes, if is.
Soc. So before we began to see and hear and use our other senses we must somewhere have acquired the knowledge that there is such a thing as absolute equality; otherwise we could never have realised, by using ifas a standard for comparison, that all equal objects of sense are desirous of being like it, but are only imperfect copies.
Sim. That is the logical conclusion, Socrates.
Soc. Did we not begin to see and hear and possess our other senses from the moment of birth?
Soc. But we admitted that we must have obtained our knowledge of equality before we obtained them.
Soc. So we must have obtained it before birth?
Sirn. So it seems.
Soc. Then if we obtained if before our birth, and possessed it when we were born, we had knowledge, both before and at the moment of birth, not only of equality and relative magnitudes, but of all absolute standards. Our present argument applies no more to equality than it does to absolute beauty, goodness, uprightness, holiness, and I maintain, all those characteristics which we designate in our discussions by the term “absolute”. So we must have obtained knowledge of all these characteristics before our birth.
Sim. That is so.
Soc. And unless we invariably forget it after obtaining it, we must always be born KNOWING and continue to KNOW all through our lives; because “to know” means simply to retain the knowledge which one has acquired, and not to lose it. Is not what we call “forgetting” simply the loss of knowledge, Simmias?
Sim. Most certainly, Socrates.
Soc. And if it is true that we acquired our knowledge before our birth, and lost it at the moment of birth, but afterwards by the exercise of our senses upon sensible objects, recover the knowledge which we had once before, I suppose that what we call learning will be the recovery of our own knowledge; and surely we should be right in calling this recollection?
Sim. Quite so.
Soc. Yes, because we saw that it is possible for the perception of an object by sight or hearing or any of the other senses to suggest to the percipient, through association (whether there is any similarity or not), another object which he has forgotten. So, as I maintain, there are TWO ALTERNATIVES; either we are all born with knowledge of these standards, and retain it throughout our lives; or else, when we speak of people learning, they are simply recollecting what they knew before; in other words learning is recollection.
Sim. Yes, that must be so, Socrates.
Soc. Which do you choose then, Simmias? that we are born with knowledge, or that we recollect after we are born the things of which we possessed knowledge before we were born?
Sim. I don’t know which to choose on the spur of the moment, Socrates.
Soc. Well, here is another choice for you to make. What do you think about this? Can a person who knows a subject thoroughly, explain what he knows?
Sim. Most certainly he can?
Soc. Do you think that everyone can explain these questions about which we have just been talking?
Sim. I should like to think so, but I am very much afraid that by this time tomorrow there will be no one on this earth who can do it properly. [He was here alluding to his master’s imminent demise.]
Soc. So you don’t think, Simmias, that everyone has knowledge about them?
Sim. Far from it.
Soc. Then they just recollect what they once learned?
Sim. That must be the right answer.
Soc. When do our souls acquire this knowledge? It cannot be AFTER the beginning of our mortal life.
Sim. No, of course not.
Soc. Then it must be before.
Soc. Then our souls had a previous existence, Simmias, before they took on this human shape; they were independent of our human bodies; and they were possessed of intelligence.
Notice in this dialogue how the important themes of absolute beauty, goodness, uprightness, and holiness are brought into the discussion. We wonder whether, if Socrates was alive today, he might have spoken about the possibility of the Lord implanting the sense of such things into our brains, in the same manner in which information is implanted on the hard disk of the computer I am now using. That would have been Socrates’ FIRST ALTERNATIVE, which he bypassed in favour ofPRE-EXISTENCE.
From the fourth century B.C. we now come to our own 20th century, and make reference to a work of C.S.Lewis, who was a great philosopher in his own right, and who was able to read Plato and enjoy it in the original Greek. Lewis had a God-given ability to cut through the idiocy of much loose thinking, and his works remain as classics on the shelves of many Christians. We are aware of the minority who cast him on one side as “definitely not Christian” (to use the heading of a pamphlet we have in our possession) and this is based on the inclusion of “many dubious characters from Greek mythology” in his Narnia Chronicles. But such thinking only tends to uncover the poverty of their own understanding. We would like to refer to the last book in the Narnia series, “The Last Battle”, in which the Calormenes appear to be overcoming theNarnians, so that the whole fabric of Asian’s way of life is under threat. However, at the last, the enfeebled members of theNarnian company are forced to go through a doorway into what seems to be the enemy’s hut, in which the false god Tashdwells. In trepidation they enter, only to find themselves amongst a glorious company of Narnian “saints”.
Various other figures are also forced through this doorway, including a Calormene soldier by the name of EMETH, who finds himself in a very perplexing world. He sits under a tree and ponders what is happening. Aslan meets with him, and he bows to the great Lion.
Aslan then bent down and said, “Son, you are welcome.”
“Alas Lord,” said Emeth, “I am no son of thine, but the servant of Tash.”
“Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. – – if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Asian, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?”
It is impossible to read such dialogue without being moved to realise that the mercy and grace of God are everywhere upon the face of this earth, and that ultimately, in the time of judgment, we shall find that God has seen into the hidden recesses of our hearts and known our innermost thoughts, and even the motives behind those thoughts. And there will be many in His Kingdom whom no one knows or even suspects should be there, and maybe many of those who imagine they should be there, are absent. Truly “many of the first shall be last, and the last first.”
And Lewis called this man’s name EMETH, because EMETH is the Hebrew word for TRUTH throughout the Old Testament. Maybe he also used it to pay his respects to Plato, whom he admired.