Reincarnation is a popular concept in movies and TV series. But what exactly is reincarnation and is there any truth to it? Moreover, as Catholics, should we even believe in it? Let me clear up this matter in this article.
Catholics do not believe in reincarnation. This is because the idea that when a person dies, his/her soul moves to a new and different body and lives in another life form contradicts Scripture. It also goes against the central Christian doctrine of the resurrection and the salvation Christ offers.
So how exactly does reincarnation contradict Scripture and the Church’s teachings? What even is reincarnation? Continue reading to know more.
What is Reincarnation?
Reincarnation is the concept that your soul can move to another body and return to life after you die. For some religions, your soul can either take on a “higher” or “lower” life form, depending on how you lived and the deeds from your past life. For instance, if you’ve done good, then you might become a king in your next life. But if you were evil, you might end up being a caterpillar. This is said to go on and on until your soul is fully “purified” and worthy to be freed from a life of moving bodies, which many consider as a prison.
Such an understanding goes far beyond religion. It’s also present in many philosophies, especially those that originated from Plato. Those who follow dualism, for instance, believe that “human beings are made up of two substances: body and soul.” Most dualists agree that the soul is identical to the mind, yet different from the brain. So for them, specifically those who believe in “substance dualism”, the mind is a separate substance from the body. Therefore, it may survive the death of the body. (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
So to wrap it all up, reincarnation is also a belief that one’s soul never dies or perishes. It only passes through a succession of bodily forms. Now, let’s proceed to what the Catholic Church says about all these.
What is the Catholic Belief in Reincarnation?
As mentioned, Catholics do not believe in reincarnation as its whole concept is against the teachings of the Catholic Church. To help you understand better, here’s what Catholics believe in about human beings, death, and resurrection.
Catholic Belief in Human Beings and Death
Reincarnation doesn’t go with what the Bible says about human beings and death. If you look at Genesis 2:7, God made man through clay and breathed into the body. From there, He gave man life, which includes both body and soul existing together. So the idea that the “soul” was somehow taken from another body and put into a new body while remaining the same person is completely foreign to Scripture.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1013, also quotes Scripture (particularly Hebrews 9:27) and explains to us that reincarnation is not possible. It states: “When the single course of our earthly life is completed, we shall not return to other earthly lives: ‘It is appointed for men to die once.’ There is no reincarnation after death.”
Catholic Belief in Body and Soul
Many of those who believe in reincarnation consider the body as a mere “container” or “prison”, from which they’ll eventually be freed from once they die. But in the Catholic faith, the human body “shares in the dignity of the image of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 364) So it’s not a shell that simply holds one’s soul. Both are necessary to form a person – just as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 365, teaches us: “It is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”
Catholic Belief in Resurrection
Reincarnation is against the central Christian belief in the resurrection. For us, we believe that our souls will be separated from our bodies after death. We will then be judged depending on how we lived our human lives and appointed either in heaven, hell, or purgatory. There’s no option for our souls to move into another life form.
Souls that enter purgatory will be purged and purified from their sins until they are ready to go to heaven. Meanwhile, those in heaven and hell will have to wait for the Last Judgment. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1038: “This will be the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear the Son of man’s voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”
And so, our souls will ultimately be reunited with our bodies – the exact same bodies that we lived with on earth. Our bodies and souls will then remain united either in heaven or in hell. This is affirmed every time we recite the Apostles’ Creed where we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting…”
Catholics or, better yet, Christians as a whole believe in the bodily resurrection because Christ himself was raised from the dead. He didn’t leave his body and moved on to another. His resurrection involved his whole person, both body and soul. As the New Testament tells us, this is a preview of our destiny and it is through following Christ, including in his death and resurrection, that we can receive salvation.
Population VS Reincarnation
Aside from faith, another reason why Catholics and even many non-Catholics don’t believe in reincarnation is because it doesn’t make sense if you consider population. In the concept of reincarnation, souls simply move from one body to another. Since no new souls are created, the number of souls should stay the same, right? Or, it could go down since some souls would be free of moving bodies once they’re fully purified. Now, if this is the case, then why does the number of bodies and human beings keep increasing through the years?