Reincarnation in the early Church

I recently was told that many of the early Church fathers believe in reincarnation. Origen was one of those who were quoted. I would like to get some mainstream information from Catholics who are versed on this subject.

Did certain of the fathers believe in and discuss reincarnation in the early church? Who? If so what is the basis for not including these teachings in Catholic theology?

Thanks

“Many” would be a stretch. Origen is the most notable early theologian to propose reincarnation. He probably had some followers who agreed, but we don’t know who they were (or IF they were).

Origen was one of those who were quoted. I would like to get some mainstream information from Catholics who are versed on this subject.

Origen was declared a heretic, although I think his case should be re-examined. He may have been a heretic before the fact (meaning before the Church formally defined a contrary teaching). But great Saints, Fathers, and even a Pope have been heretics before the fact. St. Cyprian of Carthage (my favorite Early Church Father) denied the validity of Baptism by heretics, ironically making himself a heretic before the fact (meaning he would deny the validity of his own Baptisms!)

Did certain of the fathers believe in and discuss reincarnation in the early church? Who? If so what is the basis for not including these teachings in Catholic theology?

Nobody whom the Church recognizes as a Saint or Early Church Father believed in or taught reincarnation. That might have something to do with why it never found its way into Catholic doctrine.

None of the Early Church Fathers believed in reincarnation, and Origen did not believe in it either. Here is a Catholic Answers tract that documents what the early Christians said about reincarnation: catholic.com/tracts/reincarnation

Origen, for example, said this: “[O]thers, then, who are strangers to the doctrine of the Church, assume that souls pass from the bodies of men into the bodies of dogs, according to their varying degree of wickedness; but we…do not find this at all in the divine Scripture.” (Commentary on 11:17)

And: “In this place [when Jesus said Elijah was come and referred to John the Baptist] it does not appear to me that by Elijah the soul is spoken of, lest I fall into the doctrine of transmigration, which is foreign to the Church of God, and not handed down by the apostles, nor anywhere set forth in the scriptures.” (Commentary on John 13:1)

From those quotes, and the others quoted in the article, you can see that Origen did not believe in reincarnation, and neither did any of the Church Fathers.

The Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is enough for our one life on earth.

You’re right. It would be more accurate to say that Origen believed in a sort of preexistence of the soul in heaven than reincarnation or transmigration per se. The idea is that the soul does not come into existence only with the body; at the moment of incarnation it already has a sort of history behind it. This wasn’t something Origen pulled out of thin air of course: this idea already had a sort of antecedent in Jewish and Greek thinking. In Jewish thinking for example you have the idea of this or that thing - the Torah, Wisdom, Israel - being preexistent, even primordial in a way, already existing before the created world was even made.

Early Christians of course already had the idea of Jesus’ preexistence (which is tied to the idea of Him being divine and Wisdom / the Logos personified), and also in a way, the Church (the new Israel). Maybe Origen took a page from that (plus from Greek ideas as well): the pre-existence of Jesus - the pre-existence of Israel/the Church - the pre-existence of individual souls.

Origen apparently thought at some point in eternity God created a pre-determined number of souls. These souls who originally resided in a transcendent world then somehow sinned against God (i.e. their love towards God grew cold): those who committed minor sins became angels, those who committed grave sins became demons, while those who committed moderate sins became human beings. Only one soul remained in perfect communion with God: this soul became one with God’s Logos and was born into this world as Jesus. All humans (Jesus excluded) were prone to sin, according to Origen’s speculation, because of this primordial sin and not so much Adam’s disobedience, which according to him was simply a kind of allegory of the pre-cosmic fall. In a way this is tied in to his idea of ‘restoration’ (apokastasis): a kind of universal salvation where all rational beings - angels, humans and demons - will return to their original state as pure spirits in perfect communion with God.

It is in no way true that “many” ECFs taught reincarnation.

If this had been the case, there would have been a Church council addressing the question. There was not.

Anybody in the ECF period who proposed this would have had to explain away how it flies in the face of the Scripture.

ICXC NIKA.

Thanks everyone for the replies-- or course I will take the time to read the material myself but it is just so interesting how many people feel perfectly comfortable completely misrepresenting the teachings of the Catholic Church and Jesus and the early Church fathers.

You will, unfortunately, get used to it if you engage in apologetics long enough.

Pride is the first sin, and I personally believe the hardest to battle. People set up a belief system they believe is correct, and their pride refuses to allow the idea they may be wrong. It’s doubly hard to do so if it means those nasty, foul CATHOLICS might be right. :smiley:

And, Jesus told us to pray for our enemies, and love them.

When we allow ourselves to be sanctified by all the treasures of our Catholic faith, then others will begin to recognize Him in us.

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