In Christian theology, traducianism is a doctrine about the origin of the soul (or synonymously, "spirit"), in one of the biblical uses of the word to mean the immaterial aspect of human beings (Genesis 35:18, Matthew 10:28). Traducianism means that this immaterial aspect is transmitted through natural generation along with the body, the material aspect of human beings. That is, an individual's soul is derived from the souls of the individual's parents. This implies that only the soul of Adam was created directly by God (with Eve's substance, material and immaterial, being taken from out of Adam), in contrast with creationism (not to be confused with creationism as a belief about the origin of the material universe), which holds that all souls are created directly by God (with Eve's substance, material and immaterial, being taken from out of Adam).
History of the doctrine
The Church Fathers universally agreed that the soul of Adam was directly created by God. Tertullian actively advocated traducianism (that is, the parental generation of souls), while some of the later Fathers — most notably Saint Augustine, at the outbreak of Pelagianism — began to question the creation by God of individual souls and to incline to the opposite opinion, which seemed to facilitate the explanation of the transmission of original sin. Thus, writing to St. Jerome, St. Augustine said, "If that opinion of the creation of new souls is not opposed to this established article of faith let it be also mine; if it is, let it not be thine." Theodorus Abucara, Macarius, and Gregory of Nyssa also favored this view.
Amongst the Scholastics there were no defenders of traducianism. Hugh of St. Victor and Alexander of Hales alone express doubt, and characterize creationism as the more probable opinion. All the other Schoolmen hold creationism as certain and differ only in regard to the censure that should be attached to the opposite error. Accordingly, Peter Lombard asserted, "The Catholic Church teaches that souls are created at their infusion into the body." St. Thomas Aquinas is more emphatic: "It is heretical to say that the intellectual soul is transmitted by process of generation."
There was a diversity of opinions among the remaining Scholastics. Some held that the soul of a child is produced by the soul of the parent just as the body is generated by the parent-body. Others maintained that all souls are created apart and are then united with their respective bodies, either by their own volition or by the command and action of God. Others again, declared that the soul in the moment of its creation is infused into the body. Though for a time these several views were upheld, and though it was doubtful which came nearest the truth, the Church subsequently condemned the first two and approved the third. Gregory of Valencia spoke of "Generationism" as "certainly erroneous." While there are no explicit definitions authoritatively put forth by the Catholic Church that would warrant calling the doctrine of creationism de fide, nevertheless, there can be no doubt as to which view has been favored by ecclesiastical authority.
That the soul sinned in its pre-existent state, and on that account was incarcerated in the body, the Catholic Church regards as a fiction which has been repeatedly condemned. Divested of this fiction, the theory that the soul exists prior to its infusion into the organism, while not explicitly reprobated, is obviously opposed to the doctrine of the Church, according to which souls are multiplied correspondingly with the multiplication of human organisms. But whether the rational soul is infused into the organism at conception, as the modern opinion holds, or some weeks subsequently, as medieval Scholastics supposed on the basis that the body of the embryo was not human, is an open question with some theologians.
Main arguments for traducianism
Supporters of traducianism present arguments from the Bible such as the following:
- Begetting includes the image and likeness of God (Genesis 5:3), but since God is spirit, this must mean the immaterial aspect of human beings.
- God's creation is finished (Genesis 2:2), thus no new souls are created directly, but are instead transmitted by natural generation just as the body is.
- Creationism destroys the idea of the miraculous and supernatural, since it incorporates God's supernatural, miraculous creation of the soul (out of nothing or himself) into the natural process of reproduction. This is inherently contradictory, since it makes that which is against natural law a part of nature: it is against natural law that something is created out of nothing.
- God created all things "very good" (Genesis 1:31), yet many Christians understand the Bible to teach that after the fall, all are sinful at birth (Job 14:1-4; 15:14; Psalm 58:3; John 3:6) and from conception (Psalm 51:5). Since most theologians hold that God would not have created something sinful, it follows that souls are not created directly but are generated. Though God is outside of physical time and space and therefore is not constrained by physical laws. It is possible for God to create a soul that simultaneously takes on a fallen nature, much like He can create a soul that simultaneously is prevented from taking on a fallen nature, see The Immaculate Conception.
- Genesis 46:26 can be understood to teach that souls are already present in the loins, and Hebrews 7:10 ("When Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.") seems to take this view.
- In Genesis 6, some interpreters see the traducian model as the best explanation for the begetting of monstrous offspring with human bodies and demonic souls by the angels that took wives of the daughters of men. The soul-creationist's difficulty of God creating souls for such monsters may be why most later churchmen rejected the literal interpretation of Genesis 6 as referring to angels interbreeding with human women.
Traducianism was developed initially by Tertullian of Carthage and arguably propagated by Augustine of Hippo, the most influential theologian of the Latin Christian West. It has been endorsed by Church Fathers such as Sts. Gregory of Nyssa, Anastasius Sinaita, Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose of Milan, and other theological figures in the early centuries of the Orthodox Catholic Church. Protestant advocates include various Lutheran churches as well as some modern theologians such as Augustus H. Strong (Baptist), W. G. T. Shedd and Gordon Clark (Presbyterian), Lewis Sperry Chafer, Millard Erickson, Norman L. Geisler, Robert Culver, and Robert L. Reymond.
Opponents of human traducianism are sometimes found in the pro-life movement, because many among those who hold to pro-life views are of the opinion that embryos have a soul and are to be fully recognized as persons. The key support for this position comes from science and the discovery of DNA. DNA guides the development of an embryo into a mature adult as well as the physiological changes of old age. Science now understands that every adult human being was once an embryo with genetic traits determined at the moment of conception. Given the continuity of physiological developments, there is no reason to deny that embryos have human souls and that the very old also have the same souls that they had at conception.
Other reasons for opposing the traducianism of human beings include the metaphysical argument that since humans cannot control their own existence, their existence cannot be caused by themselves; it must rather be caused by a necessary being otherwise known as God. Creation, in other words, includes God's on-going causation of human existence. This causation is through the human soul because, as St. Thomas Aquinas argues, the human soul has activities beyond the capacity of matter and the existence of these activities shows that the human soul is both immaterial and immortal---but not independent of God's causality.
Yet another argument for opposing traducianism is from the Genesis accounts of creation. If it took divine action to create human beings in the beginning, it takes divine action now because neither in the beginning nor in the present is it possible for mortal beings to make immortal souls.
Some Reformed Protestants oppose traducianism by contending that it means that if the parents of the child are regenerate, then the soul of the child must also be regenerate, which obscures the doctrine of original sin as articulated by Augustinian theologians of the Calvinist tradition.
The Charismatic Movement also generally supports the idea that the Holy Spirit is creator of every individual soul, citing the traditional hymn Veni Creator Spiritus as evidence that Christians have long invoked the divine soul-making properties of the Spirit. In opposition, the creator might simply refer to God as the earliest creator of Universe as a whole.
John 5:17 states:
But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, so I am working, too.”
indicating that God is still at work giving life at the time Jesus' words are spoken. But working can simply have the meaning that God is simply working for the salvation of mankind. In its origin it was an allusion to the Jewish belief that God remained actively working in the Universe even after its creation and does not necessarily mean soul creation.
- Christian anthropology
- Christian mortalism
- Creationism (soul)
- Dualism (philosophy of mind)
- Emergent evolution
- See, for instance, "Traducianism". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-06-18.
- Dogma "ACCORDING to the ruling opinion of Catholic theologians the human soul is not received by parental propagation (traducianism), but by immediate divine creation (creationism). It is also generally held that the soul's creation coincides with its infusion into the human organism."
- The contingency of existence is the basis arguments for God's existence; for instance, see Aquinas's Summa Theologica, first volumen question two
- Summa Theologica first volume question 76.
- Traducianism by Gordon Clark, from the website of the Trinity Foundation
- Entry on Traducianism from an online version of the 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia