Lady Ann Conway and Her Questions

The most prolific of the Cambridge Platonists, Henry More, put his views on preexistence into poetry (1647). Ann Conway wrote to him several years later with the following very interesting questions which I have edited slightly for readability:

1. Did God create matter for the enjoyment of (preexisting) souls, since they fell by it? (becoming embodied was a step down)

2. Could a soul enjoy matter without being clothed [embodied] in it? If it could not, how can it be the Fall of the Soul that makes it Assume a Body?

3. Your supposition is that most of the souls fell. Why didn’t they all assume bodies together: and how can Adam be said to be the first man, and all men fall in him, since they fell before: and how the souls of beasts and plants came into bodies?

4. How can man be restored to what he fell from and why the devils who also fell, cannot? Why Christ’s death should extend more to one than the other?


Of course all this fits in the background of preexistence discussions from the time of Augustine and before. The CPs were basically “Origenists.” Origen held that souls either “fell” from their heavenly estate by sin, or chose to yield to the “temptation” of embodiment. Augustine added the possibility that they were “sent” from heaven to earthly dwelling houses (bodies). Conway’s questions were penetrating and apply in some ways to certain aspects of Mormonism. By the way, if you want to read something verging on the ridiculous, check out the wikipedia entry for preexistence.

I found Conway’s questions in Givens’ book When Souls Had Wings.

Any thoughts???

4 Responses to Lady Ann Conway and Her Questions

  1. Jacob J says:

    Those are terrific questions from Ann Conway. Mormonism obviously avoids question 1 by denying that God created matter. I think we avoid the teeth of 2 and 3 by decoupling embodiment from the fall. Question 4 is an open one in Mormonism, but I prefer the idea that devils can be restored from the fall on the same principles as anyone else.

  2. W. V. Smith says:

    I agree that question 4 is interesting especially since Mormons are on record as believing in a retroactive atonement. The sin against the Holy Ghost is outside the pale apparently so perhaps that would determine the answer most LDS would give?

  3. Jacob J says:

    I guess, but I don’t really know most people make sense of the sin against the Holy Ghost.

  4. W. V. Smith says:

    The unpardonable is a useful theoretical construct. But beyond modern revelation and comments by Joseph Smith, it seems to have fallen out of the official literature. When’s the last time it was mentioned in conference as more than just that? (Elder Cook mentioned it a few years ago, but as a kind of aside, and within a quote.) It’s an extreme value but it seems to have receded into the new shadow world of dormant gospel concepts. It’s there, but right now it’s not one of those regular things you see on the Ensign plate. I’m not saying this is wrong. But the doctrine of “eternal judgement” is perhaps not relevant in the modern church except as a kind of boundary value(?) Its opposite, “calling and election” doctrines also seem out of fashion. They are matters of private study now, it seems. Just rambling.

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