Reincarnation December 25, 2022

One of the most unique and prevalent beliefs among the world’s religions is the belief in reincarnation. While the belief in reincarnation exists predominantly in eastern religions and philosophies, belief in it has also branched into the modern secular world.

In this paper, I will endeavor to provide an overview of reincarnation and conclude by articulating what Catholicism has to say about this ancient belief.

On Reincarnation

The earliest recorded teachings on reincarnation appear in the Hindu scriptures circa 800 B.C. in present-day India. While belief in or acceptance of reincarnation is most prevalent in the so-called eastern religions, the concept of reincarnation existed in ancient Greece, specifically within Orphism. Reincarnation was also known in the ancient middle east with the religions and philosophies of Manichaeism and Gnosticism.

Today, reincarnation is a widely accepted teaching in Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, and Sikhism. Notably, there is some acceptance of reincarnation within Judaism, particularly in the Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah. 

So, what exactly is reincarnation? While the forms it takes depend on the belief system out of which it comes, reincarnation (to be made flesh again) is the belief that the essence of a living creature – generally, the soul – is reborn into another after the death of the body. Since the soul is immortal, this dying and enfleshment can occur multiple times.

In a sense, reincarnation extends the cyclical nature of the natural world to creatures, including human beings. Day becomes night and then day again, and the summer becomes winter before returning to summer. Crops die and grow again. And, if one accepts reincarnation, bodies die, and the souls that occupied those bodies take up residence in another body. 

The transference of souls from one body to another is not random. Rather, it is a result of karma. Without delving too deeply into the specifics, karma is the result of one’s free will actions. How one acts ethically and morally in one manifestation determines in what form one will be reincarnated.

The above exposition is obviously only a basic introduction to an ancient and complicated belief system. Having thus tried to set the ground as it were, I proceed to address how Catholicism deals with the subject of reincarnation.

Catholic Teaching On Reincarnation

In a time where various “new age” teachings permeate a secular society, it is not much of a surprise that some thirty-six percent of Catholics believe in reincarnation (2018 Pew Research Study).

Such a high number of Catholic believers in reincarnation is somewhat disheartening in light of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the subject. In general, the Church denies the possibility of reincarnation and condemns belief in it by Catholics. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section Two, Chapter Three, Article Eleven).

In order to understand the basis for the Church’s rejection of reincarnation, it is beneficial to understand what Catholicism means by a soul. The soul is that substance that is life actually (as opposed to potentially). Understood differently, the soul is an immaterial (not composed of matter) substance that animates a specific body. With regard to reincarnation, Catholicism asserts that God creates each soul for a particular type of body. Moreover, the soul of a human being differs from the soul of, say, a cat; therefore, the souls are not interchangeable.

Accepting this view of the souls of creatures as a point of departure, we are in a position to examine why the Catholic Church rejects reincarnation. There are several arguments that the Church utilizes in refuting reincarnation. I will examine three.

The first is the authority of the Bible. In Hebrews 9:27, we are told that “It is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment.” In adhering to the teachings of Scripture, Catholicism asserts that there are two distinct judgments. The first judgment, known as the particular judgment, occurs at the time of death. 

Of this judgment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts, “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of Heaven—through a purification or immediately—or immediate and everlasting damnation. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1022).

It is this judgment that refutes the possibility of reincarnation directly. If we are judged immediately upon death, it renders the need for reincarnation moot. The reason for this lies in the belief that individuals are reincarnated until they achieve what is necessary for their salvation. If we are judged at death, we are either saved and allowed entrance into Heaven (or purgatory if additional purification is necessary) or damned to Hell. 

The second argument militating against reincarnation involves sin and salvation. An important aspect of reincarnation involves a type of auto-salvation. The individual is reincarnated as many times as is necessary to “get it right.” Such a view appears to be in direct contradiction to the Bible and to the Crucifixion of Christ. This is so because it is the individual, through his many lives in his many reincarnations, that addresses the problems of sin. God is not needed to save mankind from his sins. This view makes Christ’s Crucifixion unnecessary or even a mistake. 

The third Catholic argument against reincarnation involves the belief in a general resurrection. The general resurrection is a resurrection of the body (an immortal soul cannot die; therefore, it can not be said to be resurrected). If reincarnation is true and souls are constantly being recycled, there is no need for or even possibility of resurrection.

For the above reasons, the Holy See’s International Theological Commission states, “The doctrine of reincarnation denies both the possibility of eternal damnation and the idea of the resurrection of the body. But the fundamental error is in the rejection of the Christian doctrine of salvation. For the reincarnationist, the soul is its own savior by its own efforts.” 


While the belief in reincarnation is ancient, it remains prevalent in both eastern religions and within the new age movement. It has also found some support among Catholics. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church stands in opposition to the belief in reincarnation. In this paper, I have sought to explain why this is the case.

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