“As for reincarnation … it is not a western idea at all, though some confusion has been created among English-reading occultists by the American mystic Edgar Cayce….”
[From “Dion Fortune and Wicca”, a talk presented by Ronald Hutton to the 2009 Dion Fortune Seminar]
“Defenders of Plato [during the Renaissance] maintained that Plato’s belief in individual immortality and in the creation of the world by a divine Demiurge made his philosophy more easily reconciled with Christianity, but critics noted the difficulties posed by Plato’s belief in the transmigration of souls and by the fact that the creation described in the Timaeus was not a creation ex nihilo but rather from preexisting matter.”
[Natural Philosophy by Ann Blair, which is Chp. 17 of The Cambridge History of Science, Vol. 3 (2006). The quote is taken from p. 374. In this and all quotes below, emphasis in bold has been added.]
“To counter such arguments [in favor of Platonism], the Byzantine scholar and fanatical Aristotelian, George of Trebizond, in 1458 wrote A Comparison of the Philosophers Aristotle and Plato …. The rise of Platonism, in George’s view, was a greater threat to western civilization than the advance of the Turks, not least because Plato’s philosophy, in striking contrast to Aristotle’s, was completely incompatible with Christianity. Plato’s doctrine of immortality, George contended, was undermined by his belief in the pre-existence and transmigration of souls; and in the Timaeus he did not describe a creation ‘out of nothing’, as in Christian theology, since it is clear that the ‘receptacle’ was already in being.”
[The legacy of ancient philosophy by Jill Kraye, which is Chp. 12 in The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy (2003). The quote is from p. 333.]
“The most renowned of the early [pre-Socratic] Greek philosophers, however, was Pythagoras … In addition to the biography [of Pythagoras] in Diogenes Laertius, there were various works on Pythagoras by Iamblichus, which some humanists certainly read — Ficino even made a Latin translation, though it never got into print … and a Neo-Pythagorean treatise ascribed to Timaeus of Locri, the principle speaker in Plato’s Timaeus, carried sufficient weight to accompany the dialogue in the Greek editions of Plato published in Aldus in 1513 and Estienne in 1578.
“It was this close connection between Pythagoreanism and Platonism, underscored in many Neoplatonic works, which gave Pythagoras a special significance for Renaissance Platonists from Ficino to Patrizi. Pythagoras, for them, was the philosopher who bequeathed to Plato the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, among the best advertisements for Christian Platonism — though this did not prevent them from using him as a convenient fall guy for Plato’s embarrassing belief in the transmigration of souls.”
[Jill Kraye, ibid, pp. 341-342]
“Plato’s philosophy … also contained elements profoundly troubling to the larger Christian culture of the early Renaissance. It is true that Plato had (arguably) held something like a Christian doctrine of creation, and he had undoubtedly believed in the immortality of the soul. But increassing familiarity with the dialogues would disclose other doctrines less easy to reconcile with orthodoxy. Though Plato had believed in immortality, he had also apparently believed in the preexistence and transmigration of souls. A determined Christianizer could, studying the account of creation in the Timaeus, identify the demiurge with Christ and the Forms with Ideas in the mind of God. But it was difficult to know what to do with the “receptacle”, the chaotic matter which was explicitly stated (52D) to have existed from all eternity, in direct contradiction of the Christian ex nihilo.”
[Plato in the Italian Renaissance, Vol. 1 by James Hankins, pp. 10-11]
“This leads to the third group of charges against Plato: that his theological views were incompatible with Christian truth. The humanists, quoting a famous passage in Augustine’s De civitate Dei, had argued that Plato’s belief in individual immortality and creation made his theology closer to Christianity than Aristotle’s. Plato’s critics replied that, whatever his merits as a theologian, they were outweighed by his defects. They attacked his heterodox views on the pre-existence and transmigration of souls. They noted that, even if Plato had believed in creation, he had not believed in creation ex nihilo; in the Timaeus it seemed that the ‘receptacle’ (or ‘prime matter’, as it was called by Renaissance interpreters) was already in being at the moment of creation.”
[Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy, entry for “Platonism, Renaissance”, p. 442]
To the above I will just add three brief footnotes:
(1) One of the charges against John Italos that was not mentioned by Anna Comnena, was that Italos had rejected the Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo in favor of the Pagan view that the material out of which the Cosmos is fashioned has existed for all eternity.
(2) In Witches, Druids and King Arthur, Ronald Hutton actually makes several references James Hankins’ work on Platonism in the Renaissance.
(3) I apologize for the repetitive nature of these selections. The point, however, is to demonstrate that this stuff is not difficult to find, at least not so long as one actually looks for it.
Ronald Hutton & Reincarnation:
- Part One: Dion Fortune, Ronald Hutton, Wicca & Reincarnation
- Part Two: Ronald Hutton, Tertullian, John Italos, Anna Comnena & Reincarnation
- Part Three: Ronald Hutton, Reincarnation & the Renaissance
- Part Four: “Renaissance & Rebirth: Reincarnation in early modern Italian kabbalah”
- Part Five: Ronald Hutton,Vergil, Ovid & GradeSaver.Com
- Part Six: Ronald Hutton, Voltaire, and Metempsychosis
- Part Seven: Erotic Metempsychosis