Complex reactions to The City of God, Books XI & XII
Perceptive and timely words from TR

Augustine on Reincarnation

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.

Really amusing.

I do not believe in reincarnation, but I find it most fascinating that almost all the teenagers in our church do.


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Andris Karlsons

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!


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.

Kevin R. Williams, B.Sc.

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.

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