The Preexistence of the Soul

  • Robert Crocker
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 185)


Until quite recently, More’s defence of the doctrine of the soul’s preexistence, along with his interest in apparitions, ghosts and witchcraft, was regarded as part of a regressive ‘spiritualism’ or mysticism, clearly at odds with his rationalism and interest in the new philosophy and Cartesianism.l However, the doctrine played a significant role in his rational theology, as a ‘most likely hypothesis’ supporting the more central orthodox doctrines of the soul’s immortality and a personal divine providence.2 More’s explicitly ‘rational’ defence of preexistence, and the derivative arguments of several younger followers,3 also formed part of a sustained polemic against the Augustinian traditions of interregnum Calvinism, and in particular its theological voluntarism. More’s aim was not to promote a revival of Origen’s theology as a doctrinal panacea to the re-established Anglican Church, but rather to counter this voluntarism, and establish a rational providentialism in Anglican theology that could emphasise the supremacy of goodness and love amongst the divine attributes over the Calvinist tendency to emphasise an absolute ‘divine dominion’.4 His open defence of such a challenging doctrine was part of a response to the deep-seated doctrinal crisis of Anglicanism at the Restoration. As Sarah Hutton has pointed out, More’s promotion of Origen’s theological contribution was only one of several voices raised in the defence of Origen in the Church of England in this period.5


Natural Theology Philosophical Theology Divine Attribute Divine Providence Divine Life 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    The main exception to this is S. Hutton, “Henry More and Anne Conway on Preexistence and Universal Salvation”, in M. Baldi (ed), “Mind Senior to the World”(Franco Angeli, Milan, 1996): 113–125; and my essay, “Henry More and the Preexistence of the Soul”, in my edited volume, Religion, Reason and Nature: 77–95. The first scholar to seriously address the doctrine in detail was D.P. Walker in his Decline of Hell (London: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1964): 122–155. See also Patrides: 19–21. The main source for the doctrine is Origen, On first Principles: II,vi,3 ff, and IV,iv,3. More seems to have been familiar with all versions of the doctrine. See CSPW (1662), Preface General: xx-xxv.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Walker, Decline: 122–155.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Chiefly More’s pupil, George Rust, Rust’s pupil, Henry Hallywell, More’s younger admirer, Joseph Glanvill, and also More’s friend and correspondent, Baron Christian Knorr von Rosenroth. See the discussion of the works below.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    This emphasis on even God’s ‘absolute’ will being ‘bound’ by the preeminent goodness of his own nature, to always do what is best for his creatures, is sometimes termed ‘necessitarianism’ or ‘theological optimism’. See M.J. Osler, “Triangulating Divine Will: Henry More, Robert Boyle, and Descartes on God’s Relationship to the Creation”, in Baldi “Mind Senior to the World”: 75–87.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See S. Hutton, “Henry More and Anne Conway on Preexistence and Universal Salvation”, in Baldi, “Mind Senior to the World”: 113–125.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See More, “The Preexistency of the Soul” in PP, and above, Chapter 2.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See John Spurr, Restoration Church.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Cudworth’s rejection of the doctrine, TIS (1678): 43–4., is discussed in greater detail in Hutton, “Henry More and Anne Conway” in Baldi, “Mind Senior to the World”: 114.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See More’s defence of the doctrine in CSPW (1662), Preface General: xx-xxv, and his vigorous attack on the ‘foul fiend’ made of the deity by Calvinist voluntarism, Annotations upon Lux Orientalis, in Two Treatises (1682): 62.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See More, IS, AI,I,10 ff.; [Glanvill], Lux (1662): 151–5; [Rust], Letter of Resolution (1661): 37 – 8.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    As is made clear in More, Preface General to his CSPW: xx-xxvGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    On Rust, see DNB, and Peile, Biographical Register: vol. 1. On the attribution of this book to Rust, see Walker, Decline of Hell: 124–6, and Richard Roach’s introduction to Jeremiah White, The Restoration of all Things (1712), sig.A3v. It is quite possible More himself had a more direct hand in its publication than he appears to admit to Anne Conway, however.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    IS, II,xii,4 ff, and GMG (1660), I,viii.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    More, Preface General, in CSPW: xx.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Ibid: xxi ff.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Two Treatises (1682): 268–9: “the virgin-Honey of these two Attick Bees”. See below.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Apology (1664): 489–90.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    The letter that makes up the work is dated 1665, although the publication date is 1667. For the attribution of this work to Hallywell, see Walker, Decline of Hell: 153–4. Walker considerered Hallywell’s ‘morally dynamic‘aerial afterlife quite different from More’s. In my view, this distinction seems to be based on stylistic differences between More’s work in the 1660s and this tract, which is closer in style to the prefaces of More’s earlier poems. Hallywell’s dependence on More’s ideas, in this and his later work, is striking. For Hallywell’s relation to More, see Elys to More, June 9, 1671, and Hallywell to More, March 17, 1672, in Christ’s College Library, Ms.21, f.18 and f.21, and below, Appendix.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Bodleian Library, Oxford, B.236.Linc, especially 74.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    DD (1713 ed.).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    C.P.’ [‘Christianus Peganius’ = Christian Knorr von Rosenroth], A Dissertation concerning the Preexistency of Souls (1684). This rare tract was published by More’s friend and Anne Conway’s physician, F.M. van Helmont from an earlier Latin version (Adumbratio Kabbalae Christianae, published by Knorr in his Kabbala Denudata (Frankfurt, 1684, vol.2), and translated by ‘DFDP’= ‘Daniel Foote Doctor of Physic’, the person to whom van Helmont dictated his manuscript autobiography now in the British Library, MS Sloane, 530. See Walker, Decline of Hell: 127, note 3.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    More, IS, Il,x0,5; [Rust], Letter: 39; [Glanvill], Lux:4–34; [Knorr], Dissertation: 11–13.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    IS, II,xiii,6; [More], Two Treatises: 62; and [Glanvill], Lux: 4 ff.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    More, IS, Il,xii,6 and GMG (1660), I,vi; [Glanvill], Lux: 25–7. Traducianism was favoured by other Platonists, for example, Richard Burthogge, T’Agathon, or the Divine Goodness Explicated and Vindicated (1672): 60, where he refutes preexistence as a ‘platonic myth’ for the Fall. This work is in other respects typical of the anti-voluntarism, anti-dogmatism and necessitarian providentialism favoured by More and his younger followers.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    IS, Il,x0,7; [Rust], Letter: 26–29; [Glanvill], Lux: 67–78; [Knorr], Dissertation: 14–18.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    IS, Il,x0,8; [Rust], Letter: 37–8; [Glanvill], Lux: 128–130; [Knorr], Dissertation: 23–25.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    IS, II,xvii,8; [Rust], Letter: 30–1; [Glanvill], Lux: 98; [Knorr], Dissertation: 26–32Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    More, IS, II,xii,l-5; [Glanvill], Lux: 59–61; [Knorr], Dissertation: 85–91.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    More, Two Treatises: 28.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    More, IS, III,xi,1.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    More, EE, III,ix,4, and the figure of Mnemon, the pilgrim soul in More’s allegorical poem, “Psychozoia” - in Psychodia (1642) discussed above.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    LS, II,xii,10–11; [Rust], Letter: 40; [Glanvill], Lux: 107–116; [Knorr], Dissertation: 34–47.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    More, Two Treatises: 93–102; [Rust], Letter: 40–45; [Glanvill], Lux: 112–114; [Knorr], Dissertation: 48–54.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Reported by More to Ann Conway, October 26, 1661, in Nicolson (1992): 194. On the attack on More and Cudworth as ‘heretics’ see above, and Nicolson, “Christ’s College and the Latitude-Men”, MP, 27 (1929–30): 35–53.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    More, Apology (1664): 489–490.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    See D. Dockrill and J.M. Lee, “Reflections on an Episode in Cambridge Latitudinarianism”, Dockrill and Tanner (eds) Tradition and Traditions: (Prudentia, Supplement Auckland, 1994 ): 207 – 223.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    John Gascoigne, Cambridge in the Age of Enlightenment (Cambridge, 1989), c.1.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Cited in C. Raven, John Ray (Cambridge, 1950). See also my Introduction to Ward: xii-xxvii.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    See especially More, Preface General in CSPW (1662); Apology (1664); DD (1668), ‘Preface’; and Praefatio in 00 (2, 1679); and see also the essay by Glanvill, ‘Bensalem’, cited in J.I. Cope, HLQ 17 (1953–4) pp.269–86.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    This stance is echoed in ‘S.P’, A Brief Account of the New Sect of Latitude-Men (1662), Glanvill, The Vanity of Dogmatizing (1661), and Logoi Threskeia (1670), Hallywell, Deus Justificatus (1668) and Discourse of the Excellency of Christianity (1670); and [Edward Fowler], Principles and Practices of Certain Moderate Divines (1670).Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    On Parker, see Wood, Athenae Oxoniensis (5 vols, ed. P. Bliss, London, 1813–20), vol.4, cols.225–235, and DNB.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    The two tracts were reprinted together in the following year. On the ‘enthusiasm’ of the Platonists, see Parker, Impartial Censure: 45, 55ff., and 72–3; cf. Meric Casaubon’s earlier, similar attack on the ‘enthusiasm’ of Platonism, Treatise of Enthusiasm (1655): 59. J.R. Jacob, Robert Boyle and the English Revolution (London, 1977): 159–64, argues implausibly that Parker’s target was the Rosicrucian circle of Sir John Heydon, and that Boyle’s Free Inquiry into the vulgarly received Notion of Nature (written c.1665) was part of the same polemic. In my view the evidence for this is slight.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Webster, Instauration (1975): 156–9 on Parker’s relations with Ralph Bathurst, John Wallis, Seth Ward and the ‘Oxford Experimental Club’. See also Oldenburg’s comments to Robert Boyle, June 8, 1666, Correspondence of Henry Oldenburg (ed. A.R. Hall and M.B. Hall, 11 vols, Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1965–77), vol.3: 155, praising Parker’s tracts.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Parker, Impartial Censure: 45 and 53 ff., and 72–3 for the charge of ‘enthusiasm’.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Ibid: 72ff.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Ibid: 53.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Ibid: 59.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Ibid: 88.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Parker, Divine Dominion: 94–5. Compare the similar argument in ‘W.E.’ [Edward Warren], No Praeexistence. Or a Brief Dissertation against the Hypothesis of Humane Souls, Living in a State Antecedent to this…(1666): 84–5.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Divine Dominion: 63–4.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Ibid: 64–5.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Ibid: 69.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Ibid: 49; and see [Warren], No Praeexistence: 102–5.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Parker, Divine Dominion: 47–9.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Ibid: 53.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Correspondence of Henry Oldenburg, vol.3: 155Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Petty’s exchange with More is discussed and reproduced in C. Webster, “Henry More and Descartes: some new sources.” BJHS, 4 (1969): 359–77; and More’s exchange with Robert Boyle is discussed in John Henry, “Henry More and Robert Boyle: the spirit of nature and the nature of providence’S, in Hutton: 55–76. See above.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    See More in Nicolson: 293–4, and Appendix, below.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    See above, and D.W. Dockrill, J.M. Lee, “Reflections of an Episode” in Tradition and Traditions: 207223.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    This is an underrated work, and was even attributed to Cudworth by some contemporaries. See Biographia Brittanica (ed. Kippis, 6 vols, London, 1747–66) under Cudworth. Hallywell’s answer is in the appendix, entitled Some Reflections on a late discourse of Mr Parker’s, concerning the Divine Dominion and Goodness.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    DeusJustificatus (1668): 253–4.Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Ibid: 254–5.Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Ibid: 255–257. See also More, EE (1667), I,xii,7; 11,11,7; and II,vi,10; and Rust, A Discourse of the Use of Reason (ed. Hallywell, 1683): 40–1.Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Deus Justificatus: 255. See also More, MI (1664), part I, II,ii,9.Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Deus Justificatus: 269. See also More, DD, dialogues II,xxii, and IV,vii.Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Parker, Divine Dominion: 103, [Warren], No Praeexistence: 96. See also the treatment of this topic in [Knorr], Dissertation (1684): 100, and More, DD: 89.ff. Parker was the official licenser who refused More permission to publish this book unless certain changes were made. See More to Ann Conway,,in Nicolson.Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Parker, Divine Dominion: 103; and G. Scholem, Kabbalah (Meridian, New York, 1974): 344–360; see also below.Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    In C.F. Mullett, “A Letter by Joseph Glanvill on the Future State”, H.L.Q., 1 (1937–8): 447–456.Google Scholar
  69. 69.
    Mullett, “A Letter by Joseph Glanvill”: 454. As both F.M van Helmont and Ann Conway also concluded; see Conway, Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy (1692): 48–70, and below.Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    Mullett, “A Letter by Joseph Glanvill”: 454; and see also More, DD: 89.Google Scholar
  71. 71.
    Two Treatises (1682): 126–30.Google Scholar
  72. 72.
    Two Treatises: 126, referring to Glanvill, Lux (1662): 159–60.Google Scholar
  73. 73.
    DD: 270–1, and More to Ann Conway [early 1652?], in Ward: 301 ff, and Appendix below. 7475, III,xvii,15–16; [Glanvill], Lux (1662): 154; [Hallywell], Letter (1667): 34–36.Google Scholar
  74. 75.
    See below, ChapterGoogle Scholar
  75. 76.
    IS, III,xvii,15–16.Google Scholar
  76. 77.
    IS, III,xi and xvii, Two Treatises: 132. See also Hallywell, Melampronoea (1681): 62–3 and 88–90 for a similar treatment.Google Scholar
  77. 78.
    In Two Treatises: 73.Google Scholar
  78. 79.
    Two Treatises: 75. Compare John Tillotson, A Sermon Preached before the Queen at Whitehall (1690) for a similar argument.Google Scholar
  79. 80.
    Roach, in Jeremiah White, Restoration of All Things (1712), sig.A.2., and More, DD: 247–54. On this see Walker, Decline of Hell (1964): 128. On Anne Conway’s and van Helmont’s belief in universal salvation, see below.Google Scholar
  80. 81.
    Roach, in White, Restoration, sig.A.2., and DD: 253–4.Google Scholar
  81. 82.
    IS, III,xviii,11–12, and Two Treatises: 146–7.Google Scholar
  82. 83.
    See More’s letter to Ann Conway, (early 1652?) in Ward: 302, where he warns her against the doctrine of universal salvation, despite its apparent harmony with his own emphasis on the power of Christ’s sacrifice to save all men.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Crocker
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AustraliaAustralia

Personalised recommendations