The idea of the pre existence of the soul has been extremely important, widespread, and persistent throughout Western history from even before the philosophy of Plato to the poetry of Robert Frost When Souls Had Wings offers the first systematic history of this little explored feature of Western cultureTerryl Givens describes the tradition of pre existence as pre heaven the place where unborn souls wait until they descend to earth to be born And typically it is seen as a descent a falling away from a happier and untroubled state into the turbulent and sinful world we know The title of the book refers to the idea put forward in antiquity that our souls begin with wings, and that only after shedding those wings do we fall to earth The book not only traces the history of the idea of pre existence, but also captures its meaning for those who have embraced it Givens describes how pre existence has been invoked to explain the better angels of our nature, including the human yearning for transcendence and the sublime Pre existence has been said to account for why we know what we should not know, whether in the form of a Greek slave s grasp of mathematics, the moral sense common to humanity, or the human ability to recognize universals The belief has explained human bonds that seem to have their own mysterious prehistory, salved the wounded sensibility of a host of thinkers who could not otherwise account for the unevenly distributed pain and suffering that are humanity s common lot, and has been posited by philosophers and theologians alike to salvage the principle of human freedom and accountability When Souls had Wings underscores how durable and controversial this idea has been throughout the history of Western thought, the theological dangers it has represented, and how prominently it has featured in poetry, literature, and art


10 thoughts on “When Souls Had Wings: Pre-Mortal Existence in Western Thought

  1. Rick Rick says:

    Terryl L Givens s WHEN ANGELS HAD WINGS PRE MORTAL EXISTENCE IN WESTERN THOUGHT is, as the subtitle indicates, a history of the idea of the pre existence from Mesopotamian myth through the present.Givens spends a lot of time discussing Plato, whose ideas on the pre existence were highly influential forthan two millennia, and the Church Fathers He discusses many other major thinkers in philosophy, religion and literature but also many relatively minor figures.A major motivation for writi Terryl L Givens s WHEN ANGELS HAD WINGS PRE MORTAL EXISTENCE IN WESTERN THOUGHT is, as the subtitle indicates, a history of the idea of the pre existence from Mesopotamian myth through the present.Givens spends a lot of time discussing Plato, whose ideas on the pre existence were highly influential forthan two millennia, and the Church Fathers He discusses many other major thinkers in philosophy, religion and literature but also many relatively minor figures.A major motivation for writing this book, I presume, is because Givens, although he never says it, is a Mormon, and Mormons believe in the pre existence He even includes a short section on Joseph Smith.ANGELS is thoroughly researched and well written and is just plain interesting, as are Givens s other books I recommend this book highly to anyone with an interest in the history of ideas


  2. Dave Dave says:

    Ah Another opportunity to rhapsodize about the brilliance and the incredible mind of Terryl Givens The breadth of this work is staggering the synthesis of 3000 years of ideas is so well done that it walks the fine line between unreadability and oversimplification.I give it four stars because of its approach Nothing incredibly wrong, but I would expect a work on Western thought to take into accountthan religious essay, philosophy, and letters Givens s acknowledges this lacuna, and give Ah Another opportunity to rhapsodize about the brilliance and the incredible mind of Terryl Givens The breadth of this work is staggering the synthesis of 3000 years of ideas is so well done that it walks the fine line between unreadability and oversimplification.I give it four stars because of its approach Nothing incredibly wrong, but I would expect a work on Western thought to take into accountthan religious essay, philosophy, and letters Givens s acknowledges this lacuna, and gives cogent reasons for leaving things like art, music, religious practice, etc out But I would have liked to have seenof that integration This is a fascinating idea Subsequent works should eschew the chronological approach that Givens takes and choose instead todeeply analyze periods, ideas, and transformations within the story of pre existence A similar volume or volumes,like summarizing other non Western intellectual traditions take on the idea and maybe another on their cultural interplay will also be crucial to continued constructive discussion Any takers


  3. Cindy Cindy says:

    This was took me some time to read because Terryl Givens is a genius and I, uh, am not This is the history of the belief that we existed in some form before we were born The history in western culture, I should say, because he doesn t go into reincarnation or other eastern traditions I personally do believe this so it was interesting to see how the idea has emerged and receded through the centuries in religion, philosophy, poetry, and even novels and film In spite of the effort of most Ch This was took me some time to read because Terryl Givens is a genius and I, uh, am not This is the history of the belief that we existed in some form before we were born The history in western culture, I should say, because he doesn t go into reincarnation or other eastern traditions I personally do believe this so it was interesting to see how the idea has emerged and receded through the centuries in religion, philosophy, poetry, and even novels and film In spite of the effort of most Christian churches to squelch this concept, it keeps raising its head because it explains so many of contradictions in the traditional beliefs about evil, original sin, inequality, and the nature of God


  4. Greg Diehl Greg Diehl says:

    This is one of Givens most academically rigorous works He guides the reader through some deep theological waters which I found to be intellectually expansive and highly enlightening particularly when I was highly caffeinated Brilliant work from a brilliant author.


  5. Willynillyster Willynillyster says:

    I ve loved all of Givens books, but this one has been a tough one to slog through my brain isn t quite up to it at the moment I decided to put it aside for now, and maybe tackle it again later when I havemental stamina.


  6. Brett Folkman Brett Folkman says:

    Incredible research across time on this important doctrine


  7. BHodges BHodges says:

    In this book Givens aims to elaborate an entire series of motivations and purposes behind an idea that has flourished well outside and beyond the early Christian contexts 5 It s been used by poets to account for feelings of resonance or familiarity with ideas, places or people they had never met in life before It s been used by philosophers to find an ultimate ground of existence or meaningful human free will It s been used by theologians to reconcile what seems like an unjust world with In this book Givens aims to elaborate an entire series of motivations and purposes behind an idea that has flourished well outside and beyond the early Christian contexts 5 It s been used by poets to account for feelings of resonance or familiarity with ideas, places or people they had never met in life before It s been used by philosophers to find an ultimate ground of existence or meaningful human free will It s been used by theologians to reconcile what seems like an unjust world with faith in a loving Creator Givens does not attempt to prove the doctrine of preexistence, but to analyze its ideological and practical significance through Western history 7 For a greater appreciation for and understanding of the idea of preexistence, this unique book is a must read


  8. Nikki Nikki says:

    Very enlightening though not entertaining This book is a history of the concept of preexistence the concept that souls were created and lived in an existence separate from their earthly existence Givens starts with Mesopotamian traditions which show the earliest evidence of this idea He traces it through the ages, citing philosophers, poetry, works of fiction, and religious scholars Even early Christian fathers believed in the concept, but as orthodoxy set in, the concept was squelched Very enlightening though not entertaining This book is a history of the concept of preexistence the concept that souls were created and lived in an existence separate from their earthly existence Givens starts with Mesopotamian traditions which show the earliest evidence of this idea He traces it through the ages, citing philosophers, poetry, works of fiction, and religious scholars Even early Christian fathers believed in the concept, but as orthodoxy set in, the concept was squelched I particularly enjoyed his last chapter which talks about inherited knowledge and all of the other unexplained phenomena, which suggest preexistence


  9. Stephen Cranney Stephen Cranney says:

    I really, really wanted to like this book I m a big Terryl Givens fan and I like what seems to be his project of seeing Mormonism in terms of the big cosmological questions that it addresses and not the cultural ephemera that it is often defined by Givens Mormonism is so much grander than the cultural affiliates Mormonism However, it was difficult for me to sit still during a history that basically covers the exact same point from slightly different perspectives over and over again, so I mu I really, really wanted to like this book I m a big Terryl Givens fan and I like what seems to be his project of seeing Mormonism in terms of the big cosmological questions that it addresses and not the cultural ephemera that it is often defined by Givens Mormonism is so much grander than the cultural affiliates Mormonism However, it was difficult for me to sit still during a history that basically covers the exact same point from slightly different perspectives over and over again, so I must admit that I did not finish the book Others might like it, depending on their taste, but it just wasn t my style


  10. Michael Michael says:

    This is certainly Givens s most academic book, so it is a little dry, but it contains a lot of fascinating information on the idea of pre mortal existence in western thought Interestingly enough, the Mormon doctrine of pre mortal life follows in this tradition, but deviates from it in many important and interesting ways This is a fine book and a meaningful addition to my library.