In the penultimate year of his life, William Q. Judge was preoccupied with the question of reincarnation and Christianity, penning two articles on the topic. He explored the notion of reincarnation in the Kabbalah and the case of Origen. He was a pioneer on this question, and in his various writings on the topic, presented most of the basic arguments and biblical quotations that are used today.
All this is to be had in mind in reading Jeremiah, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest out of the womb I sanctified thee"; or in Romans ix, v, 11, 13, after telling that Jacob and Esau being not yet born, "Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated"; or the ideas of the people that "Elias was yet to first come"; or that some of the prophets were there in Jesus or John; or when Jesus asked the disciples "Whom do men think that I am?" There cannot be the slightest doubt, then, that among the Jews for ages and down to the time of Jesus the ideas above outlined prevailed universally. Let us now come to the New Testament.
St. Matthew relates in the eleventh chapter the talk of Jesus on the subject of John, who is declared by him to be the greatest of all, ending in the 14th verse, thus:
And if ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come.
Here he took the doctrine for granted, and the "if" referred not to any possible doubts on that, but simply as to whether they would accept his designation of John as Elias. In the 17th chapter he once more takes up the subject thus:
10. And his disciples asked him saying, Why, then, say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them; Elias truly shall first come and restore all things. But I say unto you that Elias is come already, and they knew him not but have done to him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
The statement is repeated in Mark, chapter ix, v. 13, omitting the name of John. It is nowhere denied. It is not among any of the cases in which the different Gospels contradict each other; it is in no way doubtful. It is not only a reference to the doctrine of reincarnation, but is also a clear enunciation of it. It goes much further than the case of the man who was born blind, when Jesus heard the doctrine referred to, but did not deny it nor condemn it in any way, merely saying that the cause in that case was not for sin formerly committed, but for some extraordinary purpose, such as the case of the supposed dead man when he said that the man was not dead but was to be used to show his power over disease. In the latter one he perceived there was one so far gone to death that no ordinary person could cure him, and in the blind man's case the incident was like it. If he thought the doctrine pernicious, as it must be if untrue, he would have condemned it at the first coming up, but not only did he fail to do so, he distinctly himself brought it up in the case of John, and again when asking what were the popular notions as to himself under the prevailing doctrines as above shown. Matthew xvi, v. 13, will do as an example, as the different writers do not disagree, thus:
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, Whom do men say that I am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist, some Elias, and others Jeremias or one of the prophets.
This was a deliberate bringing-up of the old doctrine, to which the disciples replied, as all Jews would, without any dispute of the matter of reincarnation; and the reply of Jesus was not a confutation of the notion, but a distinguishing of himself from the common lot of sages and prophets by showing himself to be an incarnation of God and not a reincarnation of any saint or sage. He did not bring it up to dispute and condemn as he would and did do in other matters; but to the very contrary he evidently referred to it so as to use it for showing himself as an incarnate God. And following his example the disciples never disputed on that; they were all aware of it; St. Paul must have held it when speaking of Esau and Jacob; St. John could have meant nothing but that in Revelations, chap. iii, v. 12.
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God and he shall go no more out.
Reincarnation In Judaism And The Bible
The Path, February, 1894
The issue of Lucifer for February has valuable contributions under "Notes and Queries" on this subject, and from that I extract something. Beausobre says:
It is a very ancient and general belief that souls are pure and heavenly substances which exist before their bodies and come down from heaven to clothe and animate them. . . . I only quote it to show that his nation (Jews) believed for a long time back in the pre-existence of souls. . . . All the most learned Greek fathers held this opinion, and a considerable portion of the Latin fathers followed them herein. . . . It has been held by several Christian philosophers. It was received into the Church until the fourth century without being obnoxious to the charge of heresy.
Franck's Kabbala is referred to in these answers as saying that Origen taught transmigration as a necessary doctrine for the explaining of the vicissitudes of life and the inequalities of birth. But the next quotation throws doubt again into the question, closing, however, thus:
When the soul comes into the world it leaves the body which had been necessary to it in the mothers womb, it leaves, I repeat, the body which covered it, and puts on another body fit for the life we lead on earth. . . . But as we do not believe in metempsychosis, nor that the soul can ever be debased so as to enter into the bodies of brute animals...
There are several ways of looking at this. It may be charged that some one interpolated the italicized words; or that Origen was referring to transmigrating back to animals; or, lastly, that he and his learned friends had a theory about incarnation and reincarnation not clearly given. My opinion is that he wrote as above simply as to retrograde rebirth, and that he held the very identical doctrine as to reincarnation found in Isis Unveiled and which caused it to be charged that H.P.B. did not know or teach reincarnation in 1877. Of course I cannot produce a quotation.
But how could such a voluminous writer and deep thinker as Origen hold to the doctrines of unity with God, of the final restoration of all souls to pristine purity, and of pre-existence, without also having a reincarnation doctrine? There are many indications and statements that there was an esoteric teaching on these subjects, just as it is evident that Jesus had his private teaching for the select disciples. For that reason Origen might teach pre-existence but hold back the other. He says, according to Franck, that the question was not of metempsychosis according to Plato, "but of an entirely different theory which is of a far more elevated nature." It might have been this.
The soul, considered as spirit and not animal soul, is pure, of the essence of God, and desirous of immortality through a person; the person may fail and not be united to the soul; another and another person is selected; each one, if a failure in respect to union with the Self, passes into the sum of experience; but finally a personal birth is found wherein all former experiences are united and union gained. From thenceforward there is no more falling back, for immortality through a person has been attained. Prior to this great event the soul existed, and hence the doctrine of pre-existence. For all of the personal births the soul was the God, the Higher Self of each, the luminous one, the Augoeides; existing thus from all time, it might be the cause of rebirths but not itself be reincarnated, as it merely overshadowed each birth without being wholly in the flesh. Such a doctrine, extremely mystical and providing for each a personal God with a great possibility held out through reunion, could well be called by Origen "a different theory" from metempsychosis and "of more elevated character."
When once more the modern Christian Church admits that its founders believed in pre-existence and that Jesus did not condemn reincarnation, a long step will have been taken toward uprooting many intolerant and illogical doctrines now held.
Christian Fathers On Reincarnation
The Path, May, 1894