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Denison Journal of Religion

Abstract

Nelson examines Church Fathers’ positions on origin of the soul and relates their arguments to today’s debates over abortion and when the murder of a soul should be punishable by state law. The essay begins chronologically, starting with Origen, a third century theologian, and his idea of pre-existence of souls. Origen draws from Paul’s letter to the Romans and the Book of Jeremiah to explain that souls were not created by God, but rather had existed on an equal plane with God. This argument sets the stage for the two primary alternative beliefs: creationism and traducianism. Creationism is here defined as “the belief that God creates a soul for each body that is created.” Church Father St. Jerome advocated this belief while his correspondent, St. Augustine, seemed to have had questions regarding the souls of miscarried fetuses, questions which eventually led to Augustine’s acceptance of his ignorance on the workings of God. As traducianism began to dominate thought in the Western church, St. Thomas Aquinas reaffirmed the Catholic church’s position on creationism: at conception the sperm, which contains sensitive and and intellectual matter (a soul) into the ovum, which was the nutritive matter that makes up the fetus. Intellectual souls then, as Aquinas states, are created simultaneously with the body. Tertullian, on the other hand, promoted traducianism. Traducianism, is the belief that all humans stem from Adam, and as such, all humans inherit not only the flesh of the original man, but the soul and sin of the original man as well. Traducianism affirms that when God created everything, God also created souls and the ability of man to procreate and thus insert souls at conception. Martin Luther follows in the 1500’s and falls on the side of traducianism, affirming that the soul comes from one’s father. The essay concludes by explaining the pro-life tendency towards traducianism and the pro-choice uncertainty which relates better with creationism.

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