Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Return of Traducianism?

In the doctrine of the soul [Origen] was faced by a choice between three possible doctrines: (a) the Creationist view that God creates each soul for each individual as conceived and born; (b) the Traducianist view that the soul is derived, like the body, from the parents; (c) the Platonic Pre-existence theory, according to which immortal and pre-existent souls temporarily reside in the body. Creationism seemed to involve God in endless fuss; Traducianism seemed to endanger the transcendence of the soul in relation to the body by making it something corporeal. Pre-existence had the merit of making a theodicy possible which answered the Gnostics' complaint against the justice and goodness of the Creator. But the final result was a mythological theory of the creation which bore at least a superficial resemblance to the theory it was intended to refute; and orthodox churchmen were disturbed by a doctrine apparently more Platonic than biblical and strongly suggesting the corollary of transmigration. On several occasions Origen disclaims the myth of transmigration as false. Yet his own system presupposes a picture of the soul's course which is strikingly similar.

Interesting that in a sense the challenge of (b.) is now presented by evolution, and that at least since Darwin the Catholic Church has felt pressured into a stronger embrace of (a.). But the 'endless fuss' Origen referred to remains a problem, I think. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Medieval Dinner Conversation

I have amused myself while writing this book by trying to identify which, if any, late antique or early medieval writers (that is, those whose personality we can recapture, at any rate in part, with least mediation) I could imagine meeting with any real pleasure. It comes down to remarkably few: Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Gregory the Great, Einhard, maybe Braulio of Zaragoza -- and, with less enthusiasm, Augustine, for his remarkable intelligence and self-awareness however, not for his tolerance. But for all its distance from us, and in large part because of it, the early Middle Ages -- the many different early medieval realities -- are interesting.

Chris Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, p. 553.