Terminology Tuesday: Metempsychosis

The doctrine that souls migrate from one body into another until complete purification has been achieved. The belief is widespread, esp. in India, where it forms an integral part of Hinduism and Buddhism; but it is also found in the later Jewish teaching of the *kabbala and among many savage races. In pre-Christian Europe its most outstanding advocates were *Plato and Pythagoras, both of whom were probably influenced by Orphism, and the doctrine was generally accepted among the later Platonists, by whom the word μετεμψύχωσις was in current use. In the Christian era *Origen’s doctrine of the pre-existence of souls often approached actual metempsy-chosis. It was frequently attacked, e.g. by St *Augustine and by *Aeneas of Gaza, and it was implicitly condemned by the Councils of *Lyons (1274) and *Florence (1439), which affirmed that souls go immediately to heaven, purgatory, or hell. In modern times belief in metempsychosis was revived by Giordano *Bruno, G. E. *Lessing, Charles Fourier, and others, and recently it has come to the fore through the spread of *Spiritualism and *Theosophy. Its attraction lies partly in its claim to provide a morally satisfying explanation of the inequalities of fortune and character among mankind, which it ascribes to deeds done in former lives. Belief in metempsychosis is fundamentally at variance with the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body.

Cross, F. L., & Livingstone, E. A. (Eds.). (2005). In The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev., p. 1084). Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press.

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