Traducianism is a theory about the creation of the soul when a new human life is created; this article applies specifically to the use of the concept in Christian theology. Traducianism is the belief that the new child's soul emanates in some way from the soul of one or both parents; the Bible appears to indicate that God created a soul in Adam, but just as all our bodies are descended from Adam and Eve, so too are all our souls derived from the souls of Adam and Eve.
If you imagine what happens when a baby is conceived, at one point in time, you have two parents, each with a soul. Later in time, you have two parents still with bodies and souls (hopefully) and a child with a third body and a third soul. We have some idea where the extra body came from, but from where did the extra soul arise?
The doctrine is considered heretical by the Roman Catholic church, being condemned by Anastasius II, Pius IX, and Benedict XII. Nonetheless it was held by many distinguished figures, such as Tertullian, while St. Augustine of Hippo could not rule it out (Epist. Class. iii. 166). It is also common among Protestants and in the Eastern Orthodox church.
Although Webster 1913 doesn't give an etymology, the American Heritage Dictionary states that it comes from the Late Latin traducianus, meaning a believer in traducianism. This derives in turn from the Latin tradux, a horticultural term for a shoot or sprout, which is related to the Latin verb traducere, to bring across.
In the Western philosophical and theological tradition, deriving largely from Roman Catholic Christianity, the conventional concept of the soul is a non-physical, mental or spiritual essence, which is the seat of thought and reason and which may survive after death. Being essentially different from material objects in its mental powers and perhaps spiritual apprehension, a number of theories for the soul's origin have been advanced.
The simplest idea is creationism, the claim that each soul is created by God inside a body; this is the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Related to this is emanationism, which holds that souls flow out of God rather than being created from nothing (this is a theory about the nature of creation, rather than specifically the origin of the soul).
Alternatively, you may suggest the pre-existence of all souls (held by Plato, Origen, Mormons). Reincarnation, the idea that souls travel from body to body eternally is another relevant idea. Finally, there is the idea of evolutionism, that the soul arose from physical matter.
Forms of traducianism
The concept of traducianism can be divided up into a number of related ideas, differentiated by the exact way the child's soul comes from the soul of the parent.
Generationism is a name given to the theory that the is formed from the spiritual substance of the parents' souls, for instance as some emanation or flow from the parents' souls that unites in the infant.
Corporeal traducianism (sometimes called simply traducianism) is the belief that the soul is transmitted in a materialist way, such as through semen.
Alternatively, as the body arises from a physical seed, so might the soul come from a spiritual seed (suggested by Timothy Bright).
Or the old soul may create a new soul like a light which kindles another light; this is the version held by Bathasar Meisner and most Lutherans.
One class of arguments in favour of traducianism is based around the idea that we believe parent
s create their children. If parents are not responsible for the existence and nature of their children, this would potentially alter the role of the parents considerably. Traducianism supports this intuition about parents.
It also avoids a problem with creationism: if souls are created by God rather than by people, then people are lesser than animals, since animals can create their offspring in entirety.
One of the important arguments for traducianism is that it provides a mechanism for the transmission of Original Sin. If each soul is created anew by God, there is the question of how we are marked with the sin of Adam and Eve. In contrast traducianism suggests that the parents' souls are tainted and pass that taint onto the children. Pelagius, who did not believe in Original Sin, accused his opponents of traducianism.
Thomas Aquinas and others have proposed more complex philosophical problems with creationism regarding the nature of matter and the relationship between the spiritual and the physical; these arise from the metaphysics and ontology of medieval philosophy. I shall not go into them in detail because of the background knowledge required.
There is also some Biblical evidence for the transmission of souls from parents to children, firstly in the notion that God's creation ceased after six days: "And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." (Genesis 2:2-3).
There are also a few references to the creation of souls which seems to support the idea that they were made out of reproductive act. In Genesis 1 the creation of humans mirrors the creation of other animals all of which are given the power to reproduce: "the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind." (Genesis 1:12) In Genesis 46:26 the descendents of Jacob are described as "souls ... which came out of his loins". With reference to the transmission of Original Sin, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." (Romans 5:12)
There are a number of metaphysical ideas about the nature of the soul that seem to argue against traducianism. The soul is viewed as incorporeal
, and indivisible
; unlike physical objects which have extension
souls cannot be manipulated, divided, or created, except by an act of God.
If sexual intercourse is a physical act, involving physical fluids, how can it create a spiritual soul? (You might reply that such an argument seems to preclude any non-physical soul, but the idea of creation ex nihilo by God helps avoid such logical problems.)
If you accept the corporeal form of traducianism, holding that the soul is transmitted in semen, that makes the soul dependent on matter and allows that it might become damaged. In general the soul is considered independent to matter and certainly is not in a lower class, which contradicts corporeal transmission. Corporeal transmission, with the risk of corruption, appears to deny the non-material and eternal nature of the soul.
Difficulties are not limited to corporeal traducianism, but affect all forms of generationism. Say the soul is immaterial and indivisible. The soul must come either from both parents or one only. However, it is impossible for two souls to be conjoined and mingled, so it cannot come from both parents. And how can it come from one parent but not the other? Then consider what is transmitted: either the whole soul or a part of the soul must be passed to the offspring. If the whole, the parent will die, if the latter, how can it be divided? There are many metaphysical problems revolving around the notion of an incorporeal soul.
Similar arguments to the above pose a threat to the idea of the soul arising from a seed (since a seed must be an emanation from the soul of a parent). Next, consider the other theory, that the soul is engendered by communication, like light kindled by light. Though appealing, this analogy is not exact and does not apply to the creation of a non-corporeal soul from corporeal flesh: flame and kindling are both corporeal whereas the soul is not. Thus, however we try to conceive the process of transmission, there are serious problems. In contrast, the notion of creation by God is a central part of most varieties of Christian doctrine, and that of other religions.
Another criticism is that creation is the property of God not human parents. This argument would require a more careful formulation, since some forms of creation are done by humans. However, the creation of a soul is fundamentally different from most human creation (which is not from nothing, but by reshaping existing substances).
Thomas Aquinas argued from the Bible, "'God created man to His own image.' (Genesis 1:27) But man is like to God in his soul. Therefore the soul was created." (Summa Theologica I:90:2) Aquinas also argued that because the soul is part material and part spiritual, it could not be formed out of either corporeal or spiritual substances, and therefore must have been created out of nothingness (however, this depends on St. Thomas's view of the nature of the soul as impure and part-material).
There are also a number of scriptural arguments for creationism. It might be logical to accept that our souls come from the same source as Adam's; his body was formed from dust and then life breathed in (Genesis 2:7); however the origin of Eve's soul is not described, and nor is any further creation so it is uncertain whether this is typical or unique, especially as Adam's creation from dust was unique.
But there are other Bible passages pointing to souls having a divine rather than human origin. "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." (Ecclesiastes 12:7). "The word of the Lord, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him" (Zechariah 12:1). "The father of the spirits of all flesh". (Numbers 16:22)
- "Traducianism". Catholic Encyclopedia. 1914. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15014a.htm (December 23, 2003).
- St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province
1920. (December 23, 2003).
- Francis Turretin. "A Puritan's Mind". http://www.apuritansmind.com/FrancisTurretin/francisturretincrerationismtraducianism.htm (December 23, 2003).
- H D McDonald. "Doctrine of Man in the Old Testament". Elwell Evangelical Dictionary, reprinted on BELIEVE Project website. http://mb-soft.com/believe/txn/manot.htm (December 23, 2003).
- American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Houghton Mifflin. 2000. Online at Dictionary.Com. http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=traducianism (December 23, 2003).