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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > T > Traducianism

Traducianism

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Traducianism (tradux, a shoot or sprout, and more specifically a vine branch made to take root so as to propagate the vine), in general the doctrine that, in the process of generation, the human spiritual soul is transmitted to the offspring by the parents. When a distinction is made between the terms Traducianism and Generationism, the former denotes the materialistic doctrine of the transmission of the soul by the organic process of generation, while the latter applies to the doctrine according to which the soul of the offspring originates from the parental soul in some mysterious way analogous to that in which the organism originates from the parent's organism. Traducianism is opposed to Creationism or the doctrine that every soul is created by God. Both, however, against Emanationism and Evolutionism (q.v.) admit that the first human soul originated by creation. They differ only as to the mode of origin of subsequent souls.

In the early centuries of the Christian Church, the Fathers who touch upon this question defend the immediate creation of the soul. Tertullian, Apollinaris, and a few other heretics advocate Traducianism, but the testimony of Saint Jerome (Epist. cxxvi, 1) that "the majority of Oriental writers think that, as the body is born of the body, so the soul is born of the soul" seems exaggerated, as no other writer of prominence is found to advocate Generationism as certain. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Macarius, Rufinus, Nemesius, although their views on this point are not always clear, seem to prefer Generationism. After the rise of Pelagianism, some Fathers hesitate between Generationism and Creationism, thinking that the former offers a better, if not the only, explanation of the transmission of original sin. Among them Saint Augustine is the most important. Creationism is held as certain by the Scholastics, with the exception of Hugh of Saint Victor and Alexander of Hales, who propose it merely as more probable. In recent times Generationism has been rejected by all Catholic theologians. Exceptions are Froschammer who defends Generationism and gives to the generation of the soul from the parents the name of secondary creation; Klee and Ubaghs who leave the question undecided; Hermes who favours Generationism; Gravina who advocates it — and Rosmini who asserts that the sensitive soul is generated by the parents, and becomes spiritual when God illuminates it and manifests to it the idea of being which is the foundation of the whole intellectual life.

From the philosophical point of view, the reasons alleged in favour of Generationism have little or no value. The parents are really generators of their offspring even if the soul comes from God, for the generative process is the condition of the union of body and soul which constitutes the human being. A murderer really kills a man, although he does not destroy his soul. Nor is man inferior to animals because they generate complete living organisms, since the difference between man and animals comes from the superiority of the human soul and from its spiritual nature which requires that it should be created by God. On the other hand the reasons against Generationism are cogent. The organic process of generation cannot give rise to a spiritual substance, and to. say that the soul is transmitted in the corporeal semen is to make it intrinsically dependent on matter. The process of spiritual generation is impossible. since the soul is immaterial and indivisible, no spiritual germ can be detached from the Parental soul (cf. St. Thomas, "Contra gent." II, c 86; "Sum. theol." I:90:2, I:98:2, etc.). As to the power of creation, it is the prerogative of God alone (see CREATION, VI).

Theologically, corporeal Traducianism is heretical because it goes directly against the spirituality of the soul. As to Generationism, it is certainly opposed to the general attitude of the Church. Froschammer's book, "Ueber den Ursprung der menschlichen Seelen", was condemned in 1857, and Ubaghs's opinion expressed in his "Anthropologiae philosophicae elementa" was reproved in a letter of Cardinal Patrizi written by authority of Pius IX to the Archbishop of Mechlin (2 March, 1866). Moreover, Anastasius II in a letter to the bishops of Gaul (498) condemns Generationism (Thiel, "Epistolae Romanorum Pontificum", 634 sqq.). In the Symbol to be subscribed to by Bishop Peter of Antioch (1053), Leo IX declares the soul to be "not a part of God, but created from nothing" (Denzinger, 348). Among the errors which the Armenians must reject, Benedict XII mentions the doctrine that the soul originates from the soul of the father (Denzinger, 533). Hence, although there are no strict definitions condemning Generationism as heretical, it is certainly opposed to the doctrine of the Church, and could not be held without temerity.


About this page

APA citation. Dubray, C. (1912). Traducianism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15014a.htm

MLA citation. Dubray, Charles. "Traducianism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15014a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Tomas Hancil and Joseph P.Thomas.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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