A Possible Source of the Word Telestial, Part 2

By May 2, 2017

Seven years ago when I was starting this project, I came across the three-tiered system of the Neoplatonist Hierocles, who called the first step the telestic, or purifying mystery rites. Thinking that was a remarkable similarity among many other similarities between Neoplatonism and Mormonism, I wrote this post giving an overview of those similarities and proposing Hierocles’s system as the possible source of that unusual word.

Many expressed understandable skepticism, and as I was brainstorming, I said the following in comment 17:

Purification brings up further contexts though since it’s central to DC 76….

DC 19 says that those who don?t repent must suffer as did Jesus and then Jesus says to repent lest one’s suffering be sore. Sinners will go through post-mortal cleansing. It will not last forever, just until the process is complete. The work of God (theurgy, telestai) is in Christ?s hands. Either accept Christ’s theurgy in this life or go through it the hard way in the next.

DC 76 says it is those who go the the Telestial kingdom who will undergo this post-mortal purgation. The Telestials will undergo telestai.

This was definitely shooting from the hip, and as I researched and wrote my dissertation, I didn’t find anything more on telestai as a third heaven, so I just dropped it.

However, in doing more research after the dissertation, I came across some new information. As I’ve mentioned in these posts, I’m now thinking that Smith actually looked up translations of Plato earlier than I had argued in my dissertation. Andre Dacier’s 1701 translation The Works of Plato Abridg’d contains Plato’s Phaedo, which has the following passage:

True Vertue is really and in effect a purgation from all these sorts of Passions.  Temperance, Justice, Fortitude and Prudence or Wisdom it self, are not exchanged for Passions; but cleanse us of them. And it is pretty evident, that those who instituted the Purifications, call?d by of Teletes, i.e. Perfect Expiations, were Persons of no contemptible Rank, Men of great Genius’s, who in the first Ages mean’d by such Riddles to give us to know that whoever enters the other World without being initiated and purified, shall be hurled headlong into the vast Abyss; and that whoever arrives there after due purgation and expiation, shall be lodged in the Apartment of the Gods.[1]

So those who are purified by the Teletes will be with the Gods in the afterlife and not be “hurled headlong into the vast Abyss.”

Dacier also added the following footnote: “There’s a pleasant Passage to this purpose in the second Book of his Republic. They say, That by virtue of these Purifications and Sacrifices, we are deliver’d from the Torments of Hell; but if we neglect ’em we shall be liable to all the Horrors of the same.”

Section 76 says those who go to the Telestial Kingdom “are they who are thrust down to hell” where “they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection” (84-85). Those going to the Telestial Kingdom will undergo post-mortal Teletes.

In my dissertation, I noted that section 76 is particularly similar to Jane Lead’s visions of the afterlife, but the Phaedo has some similarities as well. In it, Socrates muses that just as the earthly realm is superior to the ocean, there is perhaps a realm above the earthly realm that is better than our world here. Such is a kind of three-tiered system–ocean, land, the realm above–and Dacier’s notes refer to this better realm as the “Terrestrial paradise,” one of the words from the Vision.[2] 1 Corinthians 15 was likely the principal source for the names of the first two kingdoms, but Dacier’s Phaedo may have provided Telestial.

[1] Andre Dacier, The Works of Plato Abridg?d, 2 vols. (London: A. Bell, 1701), 2:99.

[2] Dacier, Works of Plato, 2:170.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Very cool!

    Comment by Edje Jeter — May 2, 2017 @ 4:01 pm

  2. Thanks, Edje.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 2, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

  3. One more thing: Dacier didn’t include the Republic in his abridged version. Thomas Taylor’s translation of the passage that Dacier cited in the notes says: “these are ablutions and purgations from iniquities by means of sacrifices, sports and pleasures; and this, for the benefit both of the living and the dead: these they call the mysteries which absolve us from evils there; but they assert that dreadful things await those who do not sacrifice.? 1:208.

    More significant is book 10 of the Republic. Socrates reports the near death experience of a soldier named Er, who sees the dead going either to a pleasurable place in heaven or a place of torment in the earth. Er also sees souls coming out of both the heaven and earth who then report their experiences to each other. “Those wailing and weeping they called to mind, what and how many times they suffered and saw in their journey under the earth; (for it was a journey of a thousand years)” and Er explains that they had to suffer for all their crimes against others 10 times in 100-year intervals. 1:470

    So Dacier’s translation pointed to another source (The Republic) which described suffering for sin (in hell) for a long but finite period of time.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 3, 2017 @ 9:46 am

  4. Interesting although I’m still a bit skeptical as there’s nothing in the theology of telestial that sees it as a kind of view of Hell akin to Gregory of Nyssa’s view.

    Comment by Clark — May 4, 2017 @ 10:22 am

  5. Do you mean universalism when you say” Gregory of Nyssa’s view”? Because I think it does. Telestial people are “thrust down to hell” and have to wait there until “the last resurrection.” Then they get out and go the the Telestial Kingdom. So they don’t stay in hell permanently, like Plato (and lots of Universalists) said.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 4, 2017 @ 10:45 am

  6. Yeah, Gregory’s idea that hell is transformative and that eternal or endless doesn’t mean temporal duration.

    Good point about D&C 76:106 as paralleling Gregory in some ways.

    I bought the Taylor translation of Iamblicus which is available for Kindle. (Although it’s an uncorrected OCR so is a bit of a scam) There are some interesting passages there like this one:

    “But some say that the telestic art extends as far as to the sublunary region. If, therefore, they mean that no one of the superlunary and celestial natures energizes in the sublunary region, they evidently assert what is absurd.

    But if they mean that the Telestae, or mystic operators, are not able to energize above the lunar sphere, we say, that if all the allotments of souls are sublunary, their assertion will be true; but if there are also allotments of souls above the moon, as there are (for some are the attendants of the sun, others of the moon, and others of Saturn, since the Demiurgus disseminated someof them into the earth, others into the moon, and others elsewhere), this being the case, it will be possible for the soul to energize above the moon. For what the whole order of things imparts to the soul for a very extended period of time, this the soul is also able to impart to itself for a short space of time, when assisted by the Gods through the telestic art. For the soul can never energize above its own allotment, but can energize to the extent of it. Thus, for instance, if the allotment of the soul was as far as to philosophy, the soul would be able, though it should not choose a philosophic but some other life, to energize in that life somewhat philosophically. There are also said to be certain supermundane souls. And thus we have shown how the soul energizes enthusiastically.”

    Comment by Clark — May 5, 2017 @ 11:31 am

  7. Very interesting, Clark. Thanks for sharing. Certainly a lot of similar wording.

    Trying to think of where to fit this information.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 5, 2017 @ 1:07 pm

  8. Yeah I was thinking of D&C 76:98 when reading that. “And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world;”

    I always read that as the fixed stars in the heavens but it may mean the moving stars. The moon and sun are quite important in the hermetic tradition (which Iamblichus is obviously tied to) Technically they are part of the seven stars but are given a special place.

    Comment by Clark — May 5, 2017 @ 7:23 pm


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