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(Latin creatio).

(1) In the widest sense, the doctrine that the material of the universe was created by God out of no pre-existing subject. It is thus opposed to all forms of Pantheism.

(2) Less widely, the doctrine that the various species of living beings were immediately and directly created or produced by God, and are not therefore the product of an evolutionary process. It is thus opposed to Transformism.

(3) In a restricted but more usual sense, the doctrine that the individual human soul is the immediate effect of God's creative act. It is thus opposed to Traducianism. The first two acceptations of the term are treated in the article CREATION; the third alone is here considered. The proposition that the human soul is immediately created by God is a corollary of the soul's spirituality. Certain psychical phenomena, viz. intellectual and volitional — especially when they regard immaterial objects — indicate that their radical principle subsists essentially and intrinsically independent of the purely corporeal organism. This transmaterial subsistence supposes a corresponding mode of origin; for that the soul must have had a beginning follows obviously from its finitude and contingency. That origin cannot be:

The only other intelligible source of the soul's existence is God; and since the characteristic and exclusive act of the Divine Cause is creation, the soul must owe its origin to that operation.

As regards the time when the individual soul is created, philosophical speculation varies. The ancient Platonic doctrine of the pre-natal existence of souls and their subsequent incarceration in bodies may be passed over as poetic fiction and not scientific theory. The same may be said of the ancient hypothesis of transmigration, which, however, still survives in Buddhism and is revived by recent Theosophy. Besides being entirely gratuitous, metempsychosis rests on a false view which conceives of body and soul as only accidentally, not essentially, combined in the unity of the human person. The traditional philosophy of the Church holds that the rational soul is created at the moment when it is infused into the new organism. St. Thomas, following Aristotle's embryology, taught that the human foetus passes through progressive stages of formation wherein it is successively animated by the vegetative, sensitive, and rational principles, each succeeding form summing up virtually the potencies of its predecessor. Accordingly, the rational soul is created when the antecedent principles of life have rendered the foetus an appropriate organism for rational life, though some time is required after birth before the sensory organs are sufficiently developed to assist in the functions of intelligence. In this view the embryonic history of man is an epitome of the stages through which the upward march of life on our globe is now held by palæontologists to have passed. On the other hand, most neo-Scholastics hold that the rational soul is created and infused into the incipient human being at the moment of conception. It should be noted that the doctrine of Creationism is not an appeal to the supernatural or the "miraculous" to account for a natural effect. The creation of the soul by the First Cause, when second causes have posited the pertinent conditions, falls within the order of nature; it is a so-called "law of nature", not an interference therewith, as is the case in a miracle.

So much for the philosophical or purely rational aspect of Creationism; as regards the theological, it should be noted that while none of the Fathers maintained Traducianism — the parental generation of the soul — as a certainty, some of them, notably St. Augustine, at the outbreak of Pelagianism, began to doubt the creation by god of the individual soul (there was never any doubt as to the created origin of the souls of Adam and Eve), and to incline to the opposite opinion, which seemed to facilitate the explanation of the transmission of original sin. Thus, writing to St. Jerome, St. Augustine says: "If that opinion of the creation of new souls is not opposed to this established article of faith [sc. original sin] let it be also mine; if it is, let it not be thine" (Ep. clxvi, n.25). Theodorus Abucara (Opusc. xxxv), Macarius (Hom. xxx), and St. Gregory of Nyssa (De Opif., Hom., c. xxix) favoured this view. Amongst the Scholastics there were no defenders of Traducianism. Hugh of St. Victor (De Sacr., VII, c. xii) and Alexander of Hales (Summa, I, Q. lx, mem. 2, a. 3) alone characterize Creationism as the more probable opinion; all the other Schoolmen hold it as certain and differ only in regard to the censure that should be attached to the opposite error. Thus Peter Lombard simply says: "The Catholic Church teaches that souls are created at their infusion into the body" (Sent. II, d. xviii); while St. Thomas is more emphatic: "It is heretical to say that the intellectual soul is transmitted by process of generation" (I, Q. cxviii, a. 2). For the rest, the following citation from the Angelic Doctor sums up the diverse opinions: "Regarding this question various opinions were expressed in antiquity. Some held that the soul of a child is produced by the soul of the parent just as the body is generated by the parent-body. Others maintained that all souls are created apart, moreover that they are united with their respective bodies, either by their own volition or by the command and action of God. Others again, declared that the soul in the moment of its creation is infused into the body. Though for a time these several views were upheld, and though it was doubtful which came nearest the truth (as appears from Augustine's commentary on Genesis 10, and from his books on the origin of the soul), the Church subsequently condemned the first two and approved the third" (De Potentiâ, Q. iii, a. 9). Others (e.g. Gregory of Valencia) speak of Generationism as "certainly erroneous", or (e.g. Estius) as maxime temerarius. It should, however, be noted that while there are no such explicit definitions authoritatively put forth by the Church as would warrant our calling the doctrine of Creationism de fide, nevertheless, as a recent eminent theologian observes, "there can be no doubt as to which view is favoured by ecclesiastical authority" (Pesch, Præl. Dogm., V, 3, p. 66). Leo IX (1050), in the symbol presented to the Bishop Peter for subscription, lays down: "I believe and profess that the soul is not a part of God, but is created out of nothing, and that, without baptism, it is in original sin" (Denzinger, Enchir., n. 296). That the soul sinned in its pre-existent state, and on that account was incarcerated in the body, is a fiction which has been repeatedly condemned by the Church. Divested of this fiction, the theory that the soul exists prior to its infusion into the organism, while not explicitly reprobated, is obviously opposed to the doctrine of the Church, according to which souls are multiplied correspondingly with the multiplication of human organisms (Conc. Lat. V, in Denzinger, op. cit., 621). But whether the rational soul is infused into the organism at conception, as the modern opinion holds, or some weeks subsequently, as the Scholastics suppose (St. Thomas, Q. i a. 2, ad 2), is an open question with theologians (Kleutgen, Phil. d. Vorzeit, II, 657). (See also MAN; METEMPSYCHOSIS; SOUL; TRADUCIANISM.)


MAHER, Psychology (New York, 1903); MIVART, Origin of Human Reason (London, 1889); DRISCOLL, The Soul (New York, 1898); MERCIER, La Psychologie (Louvain, 1905); GUTBERLET, Psychologie (Munich, 1896).

About this page

APA citation. Siegfried, F. (1908). Creationism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Siegfried, Francis. "Creationism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Christopher Nantista.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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