REINCARNATION IN CHRISTIANITY
THIS PAGE IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. SUGGESTIONS ARE WELCOME.The New Testament and some early Christian fathers espoused reincarnation, although there are passages which appear to contradict it. Today, the majority of Christian denominations do not include it as part of their doctrine. For references from the Old Testament, please see Judaism section. The discussion below is categorized into the following:
- Bible References
- Supporting Reincarnation
- Christian authorities and authors
- St. Gregory of Nyssa
- Clement of Alexandria
- William R. Alger
- Giordano Bruno
- Henry More
- Bibliography on Reincarnation and Christianity
11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Eli′jah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Eli′jah must come?” 11 He replied, “Eli′jah does come, and he is to restore all things; 12 but I tell you that Eli′jah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
11 And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Eli′jah must come?” 12 And he said to them, “Eli′jah does come first to restore all things; and how is it written of the Son of man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Eli′jah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work.
But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.
As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so one who goes down to the grave does not return.
For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
9:27 And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment.
There were certain causes of prior existence, in consequence of which the souls, before their birth in the body, contracted a certain amount of guilt in their sensitive nature, or in their movements, on account of which they have been judged worthy by Divine Providence of being placed in this condition. (De Principiis, Bk III, Chap. 3, Sec. 5)
Every one, therefore, of the souls descending to the earth, is strictly following his merits, or according to the position which he formerly occupied, is destined to be returned to this world in a different country or among a different nation, or in a different sphere of existence on earth, or afflicted with infirmities of another kind, or mayhap to be the children of religious parents or of parents who are not religious: so that of course it may sometimes happen that a Hebrew will be born among the Syrians, or an unfortunate Egyptian may be born in Judaea. (De Principiis, Bk IV, Chap. 1, Sec. 23)
Our teaching on the subject of the resurrection is not, as Celsus imagines, derived from anything that we have heard on the doctrine of metempsychosis; but we know that the soul, which is immaterial and invisible in its nature, exists in no material place, without having a body suited to the nature of that place. Accordingly, it at one time puts off one body which was necessary before, but which is no longer adequate in its changed state, and it exchanges it for a second; and at another time it assumes another in addition to the former, which is needed as a better covering, suited to the purer ethereal regions of heaven. When it comes into the world at birth, it casts off the integuments which it needed in the womb; and before doing this, it puts on another body suited for its life upon earth. (Treatise Against Celsus, Bk VII, Chap 32)
A view which is much worse than the mythical teaching of transmigration, according to which the rational soul tumbles down from the heavenly spheres and enters into the body of brute beasts, whether tame or savage. (Treatise Against Celsus, Book I, chapter 20)
Or is it not more in conformity with reason, that every soul, for certain mysterious reasons (I speak now according to the opinion of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Empedocles, whom Celsus frequently names), is introduced into a body, and introduced according to its deserts and former actions? It is probable, therefore, that this soul also, which conferred more benefit by its residence in the flesh than that of many men (to avoid prejudice, I do not say “all”), stood in need of a body not only superior to others, but invested with all excellent qualities. (Treatise Against Celsus, Book I, chapter 32)
St. Gregory (257-337)
“It is absolutely necessary that the soul should be healed and purified, and that if it does not take place during its life on Earth, it must be accomplished in future lives.” (Trinick 1950: 38)
Alger, William R. (1822-1905, American preacher)
No other doctrine has exerted so extensive, controlling, and permanent an influence upon mankind as that of metempsychosis,—the notion that when the soul leaves the body, its rank, character, circumstances, and experiences in each successive existence [depends on] its qualities, deeds, and attainments in preceding lives…[T]he theory of the transmigration of souls is marvelously adapted to explain the seeming chaos of moral inequality, injustice, and manifold evil presented in the world of human life…Once admit the theory [of metempsychosis] to be true, and all difficulties in regard to moral justice vanish. (Alger, W.R., A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life, 10th ed., Boston: Roberts Bros., 1880, pp. 475, 481, quoted in Heinrik Hellwig, “Theories of Reincarnation in the History of Philosophy — Ancient Perspectives“)
St. Jerome (340-420)
The transmigrations (reincarnation) of souls was taught for a long time among the early Christians as an esoteric and traditional doctrine which was to be divulged to only a small number of the elect. (Letter to Demetrias)
I have held and hold souls to be immortal . . . . [Catholics teach] they do not pass from body to body, but go to Paradise, Purgatory or Hell. But I have reasoned deeply, and, speaking as a philosopher, since the soul is not found without body and yet is not body, it may be in one body or in another, and pass from body to body. This, if it be not [proved] true, seems at least likely, according to the opinion of Pythagoras. (From W. Boulting, Giordano Bruno, His Life, Thought, and Martyrdom quoted in Head and Cranston, The Phoenix Fire Mystery)
Rev. Leslie Weatherhead
The intelligent Christian asks not only that life should be just, but that it shall make sense. Does the idea of reincarnation help here? If I fail to pass those examinations in life which can only be taken while I dwell in a physical body, shall I not have to come back and take them again? If every birth in the world is the birth of a new soul, I don’t see how progress can ever be consummated. Each has to begin at scratch. Each child is born a selfish little animal, not able in character to begin where the most saintly parent left off. How can a world progress in inner things — which are the most important — if the birth of every new generation fills the world with unregenerate souls full of original sin? There can never be a perfect world unless gradually those born into it can take advantage of lessons learned in earlier lives instead of starting from scratch. (The Case for Reincarnation, quoted The Phoenix Fire Mystery, 561)
Bibliography on Reincarnation and Christianity
- Archiati, Pietro, Reincarnation in Modern Life: Toward a new Christian Awareness. ISBN 0-904693-88-0.
- Gianluca Di Muzio (2013). Reincarnation and Infinite Punishment in Hell. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 74 (2):167-180.
- Guirdham, Arthur. The Cathars and Reincarnation. C. W. Daniel, 2004.
- Head, J. and S. Cranston, Reincarnation: An East West Anthology. New York: Aeon Publishing, 2000.
- Head, Joseph and Cranston, S.L., editors, Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery, New York: Julian Press, 1977.
- Howe, Quincy. Reincarnation for the Christian. Quest Books, 1987.
- MacGregor, Geddes. Reincarnation in Christianity. Quest Books, 1990.
- Pryse, James M. Reincarnation in the New Testament.Theosophical Publishing House, 1904.
- Puryear, Herbert. Why Jesus Taught Reincarnation. New Paradigm, 1993.
- Sweeley, John. Reincarnation for Christians: Evidence from Early Christian and Jewish Mystical Traditions. Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2013.
- Weatherhead, Leslie. The Case for Reincarnation.Theosophical Press, 1961.