Early Christians Believed in Reincarnation?

I was watching a documentary, and it said that up until a Council in the 6th century, reincarnation was a “tenet of the Christian faith”. I assume he was mistaking a few heretics who the Church denounced, but seeing as how he gave no citations, I have no clue. Anyone know what he was talking about?

Members of what is commonly called the “New Age” movement often claim that early Christians believed in reincarnation. Shirley MacLaine, an avid New Age disciple, recalls being taught: “The theory of reincarnation is recorded in the Bible. But the proper interpretations were struck from it during an ecumenical council meeting of the Catholic Church in Constantinople sometime around A.D. 553, called the Council of Nicaea [sic]” (Out on a Limb, 234–35).
Historical facts provide no basis for this claim. In fact, there was no Council of Nicaea in A.D. 553. Further, the two ecumenical councils of Nicaea (A.D. 325 and A.D. 787) took place in the city of Nicaea (hence their names)—and neither dealt with reincarnation. What did take place in A.D. 553 was the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople. But records from this Council show that it, too, did not address the subject of reincarnation. None of the early councils did.
The closest the Second Council of Constantinople came to addressing reincarnation was, in one sentence, to condemn Origen, an early Church writer who believed souls exist in heaven before coming to earth to be born. New Agers confuse this belief in the preexistence of the soul with reincarnation and claim that Origen was a reincarnationist. Actually, he was one of the most prolific early writers against reincarnation! Because he is so continually misrepresented by New Agers, we have included a number of his quotes below, along with passages from other sources, all of which date from before A.D. 553, when the doctrine of reincarnation was supposedly “taken out of the Bible.”
The origin of Shirley MacLaine’s mistaken notion that Origen taught reincarnation is probably Reincarnation in Christianity, by Geddes MacGregor—a book published by the Theosophical Publishing House in 1978. The author speculates that Origen’s texts written in support of the belief in reincarnation somehow disappeared or were suppressed. Admitting he has no evidence, MacGregor nonetheless asserts: “I am convinced he taught reincarnation in some form” (58). You may judge from the passages below whether this seems likely.



Very insightful. As an aside, I noticed your location is Pittsburgh. I only live about an hour away from there!

West “by God” Virginia! Morgantown?

Reincarnation is the ‘religious or philosophical concept that the soul or spirit, after biological death, begins a new life in a new body.’

In other words: ‘Reincarnation’ into perfect beings in heaven.

So, yes.

For me as a sinner - this truly would be a reincarnation!

Ave Maria!


All of the Church Fathers that I have read (and I’m into the early 4th century) who have had anything to say about reincarnation have denounced it. Period.

I deleted my answer because I see SMOM gave a more complete and much better one.

Wheeling, but I did go to school at WVU!


You where watching a work of fiction.

The* Resurrection *was and is key - that of Jesus and that of us!

Sounds like revisionist B.S. to me.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck… :shrug:

It’s got nothing to do with “New Age” and the musings of modern-day actresses–especially since the concept of and belief in reincarnation have been around at least a thousand years before Jesus and Christianity was even born.

In fact, it would be very “Old Age” to believe in reincarnation.

Indeed, it seems several early Christian groups believed in reincarnation–namely, some of the Gnostic sects, the Sethians and the Valentinians–two of the major Gnostic Christian groups during the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
The Syriac Gnostic group, Bardaisan, also had belief in reincarnation.
Basilides, an early Christian writer and teacher, taught this belief in the early 100’s. He is said to have links with the disciple, Matthew.

Many books of these groups have been lost or destroyed, apparently.


Basilides was a Gnostic, not a Christian. His works were thoroughly quoted and refuted in works by Eusebius, St. Hippolytus of Rome, and St. Clement of Alexandria, among others. If you want to read Basilides, read those works.


This chap has a summary of these claims, and particularly their connections to some of Origen’s comments:

Purposely destroyed, of course.
After the councils a few centuries later decided the beliefs of these groups were not to be accepted, followers had to hide and destroy them out of fear.

Which is why we find these scriptures stuffed into sealed jars or coffins and buried…in hopes that future generations will find them.

Convenient, yes. You are so, so, SO right!
Convenient for those who–for whatever reason–want no bit of existing evidence left of what these early Christians believed, I guess.
It’s very sad.


Exactly. :thumbsup:

Early Christians believe what real Christians believe today. And reincarnation is and always was another facet of a different belief system that is now ‘new age’ but began in religions very much earlier than Christianity. Never-the-less, this idea never was a part of Christianity - this was and would be considered heresy to believe such a thing.

So . . . you are saying that the “lack” of historical proof is the proof of the historical fact. I see.

I have a great “history” book you should read by Dan Brown.

In fact, Basilides was not, and never could be called “Christian”. He rejected the Old Testament outright, made up his own creation myth, and generally was a fine story teller. But like you, he was just making it up. Moreover, those “evil Christians” didn’t destroy his work. In fact, what we know of him was actually preserved by Hippolytus and Irenaeus.

He taught that the god of the people of Jeshua (the Jews) was not even a god at all, but one of a group of angels. He also taught that *Kavlakav, *the name for the son of the Supreme Being that was mystically revealed to him, never died on the cross, hence NOT Christian.

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