Soul, Origin of
Soul, Origin Of.
Respecting the manner of the propagation of the soul among the posterity of Adam, the sacred writers say nothing. The text. (Ec 12:7) gives us, indeed, clearly to understand that the soul comes from God in a different manner from the body, but what this manner is it does not inform us. The texts (Isa 41:5; Job 12:10).which are frequently cited in this connection merely teach that God gave to man breath and life, and so do not relate to this subject. Nor can anything respecting the manner of the propagation of the soul be determined from the appellation Father of spirits, which was commonly given to God among the Jews, and which occurs in Heb 12:9 (see Wettstein, ad loc.). This appellation implies nothing more than that as man is the father of an offspring of the same nature with himself, so God, who is a Spirit, produces spirits. It is doubtless founded upon the description of God (Nu 16:22) as "the God of the spirits of all flesh." The whole inquiry, therefore, with regard to the origin of human souls is exclusively philosophical, and scriptural authority can be adduced neither for nor against any theory which we may choose to adopt. But notwithstanding the philosophical nature of this subject, it cannot be wholly passed by in systematic theology, considering the influence which it has upon the statement of the doctrine of original sin. It is on account of its connection with this single doctrine (for it is not immediately connected with any other) that it has been so much agitated by theologians, especially since the time of Augustine. They have usually adopted that theory respecting the origin of the soul which was most favorable to the views which they entertained respecting the native character of man. Hence the followers of Augustine and of Pelagius, the advocates and opponents of the doctrine of native depravity, are uniformly ranged on opposite sides of the question concerning the origin of the soul. There have been three principal hypotheses on this subject, which will now be stated.
1. The Hypothesis of the Pre-existence of Souls. Those who support this hypothesis, called Proeexistiani, affirm that God at the beginning of the world, created the souls of all men, which, however, are not united with the body before man is begotten or born into the world. This was the opinion of Pythagoras; Plato, and his followers, and of the, Cabalists among the Jews. Among these, however, there is a difference of opinion, some believing that the soul was originally destined for the body, and unites with it of its own accord; others, with Plato, that it pertained originally to the divine nature, and is incarcerated in the body as a punishment for the sins which it committed in its heavenly state. This hypothesis found advocates in the ancient Christian Church. Some Christians adopted the entire system of the Platonists, and held that the soul was a part of the divine nature, etc. Priscillianus and his followers either held these views or were accused of holding them by Augustine (De Hoeres. c. 70). All who professed to believe in the pre-existence of the soul cannot be proved to have believed that it was a part of the divine nature. This is true of Origen, who agreed with the Platonists in saying that souls sinned before they were united with a body, in which they were imprisoned as a punishment for their sins (see Huetius, in his Oriqenianae, lib. 2, c. 2, quaest. 6). The pre-existence oi the soul was early taught by Justin Martyr (Dial. cum Tryphone Jud.). This has been the common opinion of Christian mystics of ancient and modern times. They usually adhere to the Platonic theory, and regard the soul as a part of the divine nature; from which it proceeds and to which it will again return. This doctrine of the pre-existence of the soul is, however, almost entirely abandoned, because it is supposed irreconcilable with the doctrine of original sin. If the mystics be excepted, it has been left almost without an advocate ever since the time of Augustine.
2. The Hypothesis of the Creation of the Soul. — The advocates of this theory, called Creatiani, believe that the soul is immediately created by God whenever the body is begotten. A passage in Aristotle (De Gener. 2, 3) was supposed to contain this doctrine — at least, it was so understood by the schoolmen; and in truth, Aristotle appears not to be far removed from the opinion ascribed to him. Cyril of Alexandria and Theodoret, among the fathers in the Greek Church, were of this opinion, anid Ambrose, Hilary, and Jerome in the Latin Church. The schoolmen almost universally professed this doctrine, and generally the followers of Pelagius, with whom the schoolmen, for the most part, agreed in their views with regard to the native character of man; for these views derived a very plausible vindication from the hypothesis that the soul was immediately created by God when it was connected with the body. The argument was this: If God created the souls of men, he must have made them either pure and holy or impure and sinful. The latter supposition is inconsistent with the holiness of God, and consequently the doctrine of the native depravity of the heart must be rejected. To affirm that God made the heart depraved would. be to avow the blasphemous doctrine that God is the author of sin. The theory of the Creatiani was at first favored by Augustine, but he rejected it as soon as he saw how it was employed by the Pelagians. It has continued, however, to the present time to be the common doctrine of the theologians of the Romish Church, who in this follow after the schoolmen, like them making little of native depravity, and much of the freedom .of man in spiritual things. Among the Protestant teachers, Melancthon was inclined to the hypothesis of the Creatiani, although, after the time of Luther, another hypothesis, which will shortly be noticed, was received with much approbation by Protestants. Still many distinguished Lutheran teachers of the 17th century followed Melancthon in his views concerning this doctrine — e.g. G. Calixtus. In the Reformed Church, the hypothesis which we are now considering has had far more advocates than any other, though even they have not agreed in the manner of exhibiting it. Luther would have this subject left without being determined, and many of his contemporaries were of the same opinion.
3. The Hypothesis of the Propagation of the Soul. According to this theory, the souls of children, as well as their bodies, are propagated from their parents. These two suppositions may be made: Either the souls of children exist in their parents as real beings (entia)-like the seed in plants, and so have been propagated from Adam through successive generations, which is the opinion of Leibnitz, in his Theodicee, 1, 91 or they exist in their parents merely potentially, and come from them per propaginem or traducem. Hence those who hold this opinion are called Traduciani. This opinion agrees with what Epicurus says of human seed, that it is σώματος τὲ καὶ ψυχῆς ἀπόσπασμα. This hypothesis formerly prevailed in the ancient Western Church. According to Jerome, both Tertullian and Apollinaris were advocates of this opinion, and even: "maxima pars Occidentalium" (see Epist. ad Marcellin.). Tertullian entered very minutely into the discussion of this subject in his work De Anima, c. 25 sq., where he often uses the word tradux; but he is very obscure in what he has said. This is the hypothesis to which the opponents of the Pelagians have been most generally inclined (see No. 2), though many who were rigorously orthodox would have nothing definitely settled upon this subject. Even Augustine, who in some passages favored the Creatiani, affirmed in his book De Origine Animoe "nullum (sententiam) temere affirmare oportebit." Since the Reformation this theory has been more approved than any other, not only by philosophers and naturalists, but also by the Lutheran Church. Luther himself appeared much inclined towards it, although he did not declare himself distinctly in its favor. But in the Formula Concordioe it was distinctly taught that the soul, as well as the body, was propagated by parents in ordinary generation. The reason why this theory is so much preferred by theologians is that it affords the easiest solution of the doctrine of native depravity. If in the souls of our first progenitors the souls of all their posterity existed potentially, and the souls of the former were polluted and sinful, those of the latter must be so too. This hypothesis is not, however, free from objections, and it is very difficult to reconcile it with some philosophical opinions which are universally received. We cannot, for example, easily conceive how generation and propagation can take place without extension, but we cannot predicate extension of the soul without making it a material substance. Tertullian and other of the fathers affirm, indeed, that the soul of man, and that spirit in general, is not perfectly pure and simple, but of a refined material nature, of which, consequently, extension may be predicated. With these opinions the theory of the propagation of the soul agrees perfectly well, certainly far better than with the opinions which we entertain respecting the nature of spirit, although even with these opinions we cannot be sure that a spiritual generation and propagation are impossible; for we do not understand the true nature of spirit, and cannot therefore determine with certainty what is or is not possible respecting it.
There are some psychological phenomena which seem to favor the theory now under consideration; and hence it has always been the favorite theory of psychologists and physicians. The natural disposition of children not unfrequently resembles that of their parents, and the mental excellences and imperfections of parents are inherited nearly as often by their children as any bodily attributes. Again, the powers of the soul, like those of the body, are at first weak, and attain their full development and perfection only by slow degrees. Many more phenomena of the same sort might be mentioned. But after all that may be said, we must remain in uncertainty with regard to the origin of the human soul. Important objections can be urged against these arguments and any others that might be offered. If the metaphysical theory of the entire simplicity of the human soul be admitted, the whole subject remains involved in total darkness.