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Origen taught about the pre-existence of our souls, which, among many other of his teachings, was later condemned as heresy. Did any other early church fathers teach this doctrine?

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1 Answer 1

Yes, with caveats. The challenge here is what constitutes "teaching" the pre-existence of souls. Proponents of the doctrine will naturally find more instances of this than others, as will be seen shortly. However, even a "mainstream" treatment (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church) mentions others as holding views similar to Origen:

Even Gregory of Nyssa, although, like Nemesius and Cyril of Alexandria, he supposed the soul to be created before the body, compares Origen's theory to the heathen myths and fables. (Vol. III., page 831)

Schaff also mentions on the same page that Augustine spoke at least relatively favorably of the doctrine in De libero arbitrio, though he later emphatically rejected it.

Louis Berkhof, no friend of the doctrine, says that the doctrine was limited to the Alexandrian school and that Origen was its chief representative—but not its only adherent (Systematic Theology, 2.1.2.B).

Two proponents in particular find specific examples of support from the church fathers. First, Henry More (1614–1687) wrote a number of works on the subject, and tracks the history of the doctrine in the preface to his Collection of Several Philosophical Writings. Starting on page xx, he cites Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, Books I and III, and a letter to Julius Cassianus), Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, Synesius, Arnobius, Prudentius, and Augustine (though he cites only De libero arbitrio, and not Augustine's later works). Unfortunately, most of More's specific examples are in Latin or Greek, making it difficult for non-scholars to judge the original intent of the quoted authors. Those who want to examine the quality of his interpretations can review them in the linked work.

A second proponent, I. M. Oderberg, identifies several specific examples in his essay, Reincarnation as Taught by Early Christians:

After the original generations of Christians, we find the early Church Fathers, such as Justin Martyr (AD 100–l65), St. Clement of Alexandria (AD 150–220), and Origen (AD 185–254) teaching the pre-existence of souls, taking up reincarnation or one or another aspect of reimbodiment. Examples are scattered through Origen's works, especially Contra Celsum (1, xxxii), where he asks: "Is it not rational that souls should be introduced into bodies, in accordance with their merits and previous deeds . . . ?" And in De Principiis he says that "the soul has neither beginning nor end." St. Jerome (AD 340–420), translator of the Latin version of the Bible known as the Vulgate, in his Letter to Demetrias (a Roman matron), states that some Christian sects in his day taught a form of reincarnation as an esoteric doctrine, imparting it to a few "as a traditional truth which was not to be divulged."

Synesius (AD 370–480), Bishop of Ptolemais, also taught the concept, and in a prayer that has survived, he says: "Father, grant that my soul may merge into the light, and be no more thrust back into the illusion of earth." Others of his Hymns, such as number III, contain lines clearly stating his views, and also pleas that he may be so purified that rebirth on earth will no longer be necessary. In a thesis on dreams, Synesius writes: "It is possible by labor and time, and a transition into other lives, for the imaginative soul to emerge from this dark abode." This passage reminds us of verses in the Revelation of John (3:12), with its symbolic, initiatory language leading into: "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out."

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Did you find any evidence that Origen himself didn't believe in Origenism, like the other answer – Peter Turner Jun 25 at 19:00
No. All the secondary sources I examined associate the view with Origen himself; in addition to Schaff and Berkhof above, Gregg R. Allison (Historical Theology, p. 325) also attributes it to him. It's not surprising, since the pre-existence of the soul was believed by Platonists, and Origen was influenced by them. – Nathaniel Jun 25 at 19:08
I've answered the question on Origen and reincarnation as well. I've found no source for Oderberg's second quote of Origen above, but the first is valid, and additionally Jerome quotes Origen as saying things in support of reincarnation. – Nathaniel Jun 25 at 22:44

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