Historia: the Alpha Rho Papers
The Argument over
Reincarnation in Early
During the first several hundred years C.E.
there existed a heated debate over the reality of
reincarnation within Christianity. This paper contains
the main evidence provided by those arguing for and
against the idea of reincarnation. Both sides were
represented by Christian theologians living at the time.
In the end, the idea of reincarnation was rejected as a
Christian doctrine and the reasons for this rejection are
Elizabeth Jenson is
a senior at the
University of Utah
where she majors
in history and plans
graduate school in
Elizabeth is a
member of the
Alpha Rho chapter
of Phi Alpha Theta.
The Argument over Reincarnation in Early Christianity
It is believed that in 553 A.D. during the Second Council of
Constantinople the idea of reincarnation was found to have no place in
the Christian Church. Although reincarnation was not officially rejected at
this council, those early Church Fathers who were accused of teaching the
idea of reincarnation had their works banned. 553 A.D. did mark the end
of the debate on reincarnation within the Christian community.
Observing the fact that reincarnation is not a doctrine typically taught
within Christianity today one might assume that this council was called to
settle an argument about reincarnation and its supplemental ideas between
Christians and non-Christians. This was not the case.
Although the idea of reincarnation was rejected by the Christian
Church as a doctrine because it was believed to contradict the doctrine of
corporeal resurrection and undermine the need for Christ’s redemptive
sacrifices, it was a belief held by many early Christian theologians such as
Valentinus and Basilides of Alexandria. However, many Christian
theologians in the first several centuries of Christianity, such as Saint
Justin Martyr, did not believe in, or teach about reincarnation. There were
also those early Church Fathers, like Origen of Alexandria, who were
conflicted by the idea, and this internal conflict has been observed
throughout their writings. To better understand how some of the early
Church Fathers could teach reincarnation and still consider themselves
Christian, it is imperative to understand where their belief in reincarnation
Many of the early Christian theologians who believed in the idea
of reincarnation were taught their religious beliefs at, or near Alexandria,
Egypt; these are theologians including Basilides, Valentinus and Origen.
Christian and non-Christians alike that were living in or near Alexandria
were still greatly influenced by the ideas of Plato. Plato is well-known for
his writings in science and philosophy. Plato also saw himself as a spiritual
man and had many ideas on religion and theology.
First and foremost,
Plato believed in reincarnation. He taught that human souls had
previously existed in a perfect world and there enjoyed the presence of
God. Somehow these souls committed some sin and fell from God’s
presence and were placed into physical bodies on Earth as a punishment.
The purpose of life is to correct the soul’s initial mistake and to return to
Head, Joseph and Cranston, S.L.,
Reincarnation in World Thought: A Living Study of
Reincarnation in All Ages; Including Selections from the World’s Religions, Philosophies and
Science, and Great Thinkers of the Past and Present.
(New York: Julian Press, 1967)