The Errors of Reincarnation: Reincarnation versus a Glorious Bodily Resurrection
Catholic Apologetics #14
As we celebrate Our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead throughout the 50 days of Pascaltide, we should consider how the Catholic belief in a resurrected body is fundamentally contrary to the false principle of reincarnation.
Scripture Condemns Reincarnation
According to reincarnation, all people receive a new body after death; thus, the body that a person has now is not the body that he will have in the future. Believers in reincarnation directly contradict the Creed which professes a resurrection of the same body that a person currently possesses. Our Lord’s triumph over death on Easter Sunday shows forth to us a model since we are to follow Him in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection (of the same body!) since He Himself has foretold it (cf. John 13:36).
Christ did not inherit a new body. Christ’s body in Heaven still bears the same wounds from the Cross. It is for that reason that St. Thomas was told by Christ to put his hand into the Sacred Side of Our Lord so that Thomas would believe in the Resurrection (cf. John 20:24-29). Christ rose from the dead in the same Body!
It is appointed that all men are to die only once (cf. Hebrews 9:27). This teaching was expressed with great clarity in the Catechism of the Council of Trent: “Man is, therefore, to rise again in the same body with which he served God, or was a slave to the devil; that in the same body he may experience rewards and a crown of victory, or endure the severest punishments and torments.”
Reason Condemns Reincarnation
But for reasons aside from our Creed, reincarnation is unacceptable for purely philosophical reasons.
As stated in the Catholic Encyclopedia: “Substance, the first of Aristotle’s categories, signifies being as existing in and by itself, and serving as a subject or basis for accidents and accidental changes.”
Succinctly put, the substance of something is what that thing properly is. Let’s take a chair, for instance. There are leather chairs, wooden chairs, three-legged chairs, four-legged chairs, recliners, et cetera. What makes all of these a chair? A chair is a substance and all of these manifestations share in the quality of “chair-ness”. In this sense, we see that something is not defined by its accidents (i.e. “any contingent, or nonessential attribute” – Catholic Encyclopedia). Even if I took a dining room chair and broke its legs, painted it, and threw it outside in the dumpster, it would still be a chair (albeit a poor quality one!).
A human being is a union of body and soul. The substance of a person is not merely his soul which can travel from body to body and occupy them at whim. A human person’s substance is a union of body and soul. We never talk about a particular person without referring to the wholeness of that person. St. Thomas Aquinas addresses this same point in Question 75, Article 4 of his Summa:
I answer that, the assertion “the soul is man,” can be taken in two senses.
First, that man is a soul; though this particular man, Socrates, for instance, is not a soul, but composed of soul and body. I say this, forasmuch as some held that the form alone belongs to the species; while matter is part of the individual, and not the species. This cannot be true; for to the nature of the species belongs what the definition signifies; and in natural things the definition does not signify the form only, but the form and the matter. Hence in natural things the matter is part of the species; not, indeed, signate matter, which is the principle of individuality; but the common matter. For as it belongs to the notion of this particular man to be composed of this soul, of this flesh, and of these bones; so it belongs to the notion of man to be composed of soul, flesh, and bones; for whatever belongs in common to the substance of all the individuals contained under a given species, must belong to the substance of the species.
It may also be understood in this sense, that this soul is this man; and this could be held if it were supposed that the operation of the sensitive soul were proper to it, apart from the body; because in that case all the operations which are attributed to man would belong to the soul only; and whatever performs the operations proper to a thing, is that thing; wherefore that which performs the operations of a man is man. But it has been shown above (Article 3) that sensation is not the operation of the soul only. Since, then, sensation is an operation of man, but not proper to him, it is clear that man is not a soul only, but something composed of soul and body. Plato, through supposing that sensation was proper to the soul, could maintain man to be a soul making use of the body.
Thus, on both purely religious and purely philosophical grounds, valid arguments are raised against reincarnation. For those of us faithful to the Traditions of the Church, it behooves us to learn the future of our own bodies as this is not merely a philosophical exercise. This is something that we will experience one day.
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