Do Anglicans Believe in the Pre-Existence?

I was privileged today to attend a special carol service at Christ Church Spitalfields, which is the high-church Anglican congregation right next to my office. (Actually, I believe it is the “official” church of my workplace since my firm has its own chaplain and we belong to the parish served by Spitalfields Church — I’m not sure how “jurisdiction” works between the actual rector of Christ Church Spitalfields and my firm’s chaplain though.)

The service was a great experience and the choir was pretty much like most ward choirs in Mormon congregations. The carol service program was typical of high church services of this kind where hymns, in this case Christmas carols, were interspersed with different people reading a selection of scripture aloud from the printed program while everyone read along. The church was packed with staff from my firm, which was nice to see, and helped with the Christmas spirit because our numbers swelled the carols as most people sang along.

A visiting reverend delivered the actual sermon following the carols and readings, a thought-provoking sermon leading off with zingers from Oxford’s two most famous atheists: we heard a quote from Richard Dawkins on what he describes essentially as the maniacal God of the Old Testament and from Philip Pullman on the somewhat flaky God described there. These descriptions of God, it was suggested, were mere paper lions that obscure something deeper about the nature of God.

For me as a Latter-day Saint, however, the most interesting part of the sermon was the story told by the reverend. The reverend said that the parents of a three-year-old girl had another baby. Upon bringing the baby home from the hospital, the three-year-old immediately asked if she could see the baby in its room with the door closed for a while. The parents listened in on the baby monitor to see why she was asking this. As soon as they closed the door, they heard her footsteps as she went to the cradle and admired the baby. Then they heard her say, “Tell me what God is like — I’ve almost forgotten.”

The story was touching in the context of the sermon and is certainly very compatible with LDS doctrine and teachings. The real question for me, however, was what it was supposed to mean in a high-church Anglican sermon. Do Anglicans believe in the Pre-existence? If so, what is their view of it? What do they believe about Jesus Christ during the Pre-existence, i.e. as part of the Trinity but not yet incarnated?

8 Responses to Do Anglicans Believe in the Pre-Existence?

  1. Geoff J says:

    Hehe. It’s funny how Mormon doctrines get implied in all sorts of places that officially aren’t supposed to believe them.

  2. Ronan says:

    >What do they believe about Jesus Christ during the Pre-existence, i.e. as part of the Trinity but not yet incarnated?

    Well the element of the Triune God known as the Son was fully existent before his incarnation. (There’s probably a more theologically correct way of rendering that sentence.) Beyond that, I’m not sure.

  3. john f. says:

    Yes, I was aware of that but what is the implication for everyone else in the Anglican view? Did we all live with God before being born?

  4. Jordan F. says:

    Why don’t you ask your firm’s chaplain and tell us what he says?

  5. Ronan says:

    John might get a shrug of the chaplain’s shoulders. Officially, though, I don’t think there’s a belief in human pre-existence.

  6. Justin says:

    I think the reverend has been reading Chicken Soup for the Soul.

    A bit on the heterodox doctrine of the pre-existence in 17th-century England is here.

  7. john f. says:

    Wow, you nailed it with Chicken Soup for the Soul.

    Also, the source you provided on the pre-existence in the thought of Enlightenment England was interesting to browse through and I noticed the following item which has relevance to John C.’s recent thread at BCC on theodicy and Todd W.’s recent thread on the Harper’s atheists’ negative view of God. While glancing through, I noticed that the book posits that for some of these Anglican Enlightenment thinkers of the period between 1650 and 1750 in England, the concept of the pre-existence of the soul was “the key to the vindicating of the goodness of God in the face of evil and suffering in the world” (Philip C. Almond, Heaven and Hell in Enlightenment England, Cambridge 1994, pg. 5). So far very similar to Mormon thought but the twist appears to be that these Anglican Enlightenment thinkers were attempting to fuse Platonic philosophy with post-medieval Christianity because they thought that Plato’s philosophy had come down to Plato from Moses, Noah, Enoch or even Adam based on the theory that Platonism was God’s original revelation to humankind.

    Although Latter-day Saints would likely agree that the doctrine of the pre-existence is part of the answer to questions of theodicy, they are not likely to proceed on a view of the pre-existence that arises from Platonism or agree with the notion that Platonism is God’s original revelation to humanity.

    I am definitely interested in reading this book.

  8. Bookslinger says:

    There’s also a Shirley Temple movie about the pre-mortal existance, “The Blue Bird”.

    Scroll down to the User Comments, on that page:

    “Individual scenes are striking, as for example those depicting the unborn waiting in a kind of heavenly limbo (with billowing clouds) before sailing off to their destination on earth. (You can spot Dickie Moore and Scotty Beckett among the unborn lads.) Shirley Temple and Johnny Russell are tremendously appealing as the young sister and brother searching for the elusive blue bird of happiness. A highlight is Shirley’s excursion to the Land of the Past where she visits her dead grandparents and does a charming song-and-dance to a yodel song. ”

    Rated G, and available at Netflix:

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