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§ 1. Theory of Preëxistence.
Three theories have been advanced as to the origin of the soul First, that of the Preëxistence of the soul; secondly, that o Traduction, or the doctrine that the soul of the child is derived from the soul of the parent; thirdly, that of immediate Creation, or the doctrine that the soul is not derived as the body is, but owes its existence to the creative power of God.
The doctrine of the preëxistence of the soul has been presented in two forms. Plato held that ideas are eternal in the divine mind; that these ideas are not mere thoughts, but living entities; that they constitute the essence and life of all external things; the universe and all it contains are these ideas realized, clothed in matter, and developed in history. There was thus an ideal, or intelligible world, anterior to the world as actually existing in time. What Plato called ideas, Aristotle called forms. He denied that the ideal was anterior to the actual. Matter is eternal, and all things consist of matter and form — by form being meant that which gives character, or determines the nature of individual things. As in other respects, so also in this, the Platonic, or Aristo-Platonic philosophy, had much influence on Christian Theology. And some of the fathers and of the schoolmen approached more or less nearly to this doctrine of the preëxistence, not only of the soul, but of all things in this ideal world. St. Bernard, in his strenuous opposition to nominalism, adopted the Platonic doctrine of ideas, which he identified with genera and species. These ideas, he taught, were eternal, although posterior to God, as an effect is in the order of nature after its cause. Providence applies the idea to matter, which becomes animated and takes form, and thus (“du monde intelligible est sorti le monde sensible”) “ex mundo intelligibili mundus sensibilis perfectus natus est ex perfecto.”9494Cousin, Fragments Philosophiques, pp. 172 176. Among modern writers, Delitzsch comes nearest to this Platonic doctrine. He says, “Es giebt nach der Schrift eine Präexistenz des Menschen und zwar eine ideale; . . . . eine Präexistenz . . . . vermöge welcher Mensch und Menschheit nicht blos ein fernzukünftiges Object göttlicher Voraussicht, sondern ein gegenwärtiges Object göttlicher Anschauung sind im Spiegel der Weisheit. . . . . Nicht bloss Philosophie und falchberühmte Gnosis, sondern auch die Schrift weiss und spricht von einer göttlichen Idealwelt, zu welcher sich die Zeitwelt wie die geschichtliche Verwirklichung eines ewigen Grundrisses verhält.9595Biblische Psychologie, p. 23. That is, “There is according to the Scriptures, an ideal preëxistence of man; a preëxistence in virtue of which man and humanity are contemplated by the divine omniscience not merely as objects lying far off in the future, but as present in the mirror of his wisdom. Not only philosophy and the so called Gnosis, but also the Scriptures recognize and avow a divine ideal world to which the actual world stands related as the historical development of an eternal conception.” It is doubtful, however, whether Delitzsch meant much more by this than that the omniscience of God embraces from eternity the knowledge of all things possible, and that his purpose determined from eternity the futurition of all actual events, so that his decree or plan as existing in the divine mind is realized in the external world and its history. The mechanist has in his mind a clear conception of the machine which he is about to make. But it is only by a figure of speech that the machine can be said to preëxist in the artist's mind. This is very different from the Platonic and Realistic theory of preëxistence.
Preëxistence, as taught by Origen, and as adopted here and there by some few philosophers and theologians, is not the Platonic doctrine of an ideal-world. It supposes that the souls of men had a separate, conscious, personal existence in a previous state; that having sinned in that preëxistent state, they are condemned to be born into this world in a state of sin and in connection with a material body. This doctrine was connected by Origen with his theory of an eternal creation. The present state of being is only one epoch in the existence of the human soul. It has passed through innumerable other epochs and forms of existence in the past, and is to go through other innumerable such epochs in the future. He held to a metempsychosis very similar to that taught by Orientals both ancient and modern. But even without the encumbrance of this idea of the endless transmutation of the soul, the doctrine itself has never been adopted in the Church. It 67may be said to have begun and ended with Origen, as it was rejected both by the Greeks and Latins, and has only been advocated by individual writers from that day to this. It does not pretend to be a Scriptural doctrine, and therefore cannot be an object of faith. The Bible never speaks of a creation of men before Adam, or of any apostasy anterior to his fall, and it never refers the sinfulness of our present condition to any higher source than the sin of our first parent. The assumption that all human souls were created at the same time that the soul of Adam was created, and remain in a dormant, unconscious state until united to the bodies for which they were designed, has been adopted by so few as hardly to merit a place in the history of theological opinion.
It is a far more important question, whether the soul of each man is immediately created, or, whether it is generated by the parents. The former is known, in theology, as “Creationism,” the latter as “Traducianism.” The Greek Church from the first took ground in favour of creationism as alone consistent with the true nature of the soul. Tertullian in the Latin Church was almost a materialist, at least he used the language of materialism, and held that the soul was as much begotten as the body. Jerome opposed that doctrine. Augustine was also very adverse to it; but in his controversy with Pelagius on the propagation of sin, he was tempted to favour the theory of traduction as affording an easier explanation of the fact that we derive a corrupt nature from Adam. He never, however, could bring himself fully to adopt it. Creationism became subsequently the almost universally received doctrine of the Latin, as it had always been of the Greek, Church. At the time of the Reformation the Protestants as a body adhered to the same view. Even the Form of Concord, the authoritative symbol of the Lutheran Church, favours creationism. The body of the Lutheran theologians of the seventeenth century, however, adopted the theory of traduction. Among the Reformed the reverse was true. Calvin, Beza, Turrettin, and the great majority of the Reformed theologians were creationists, only here and there one adopted the ex traduce theory. In modern times discussion on this point has been renewed. Many of the recent German theologians, and such as are inclined to realism in any form, have become more or less zealously the advocates of traducianism. This, however, is far from being the universal opinion of the Germans. Perhaps the majority of the German philosophers agree with Günther:9696Vorschule der speculativen Theologie, 2d edit. Vienna. 1846, 1848, 2d part, p. 181. “Traducianism has its functions in respect to the 68animal life of man; on the other hand, the province of Creationism is with the soul; and it would travel out of its province if it extended the immediate creative action of God to that animal life, which is the principle of his body's existence.”
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