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The supposed inhabitants of the earth prior to Adam. Strictly speaking, the expression ought to be limited to denote men who had perished before the creation of Adam; but commonly even Coadamites are called Preadamites, provided they spring from a stock older than Adam. The question whether we can admit the existence of Preadamites in the strict sense of the word, i.e. the existence of a human race (or human races) extinct before the time of Adam or before the Divine action described in Genesis 1:2 sqq., is as little connected with the truth of our revealed dogmas as the question whether one or more of the stars are inhabited by rational beings resembling man. Palmieri ("De Creatione", Prato, 1910, p. 281, thes. xxx) does not place any theological censure on the opinion maintaining the past existence of such Preadamites, and Fabre d'Envieu ("Les Origines de la terre et de l'homme", Paris, 1873, lib. XI, prop. 1) defends the theory as probable. But the case is quite different with regard to the view upholding the existence of Preadamites taken in the common acceptation of the term. It maintains that the men existing before Adam continued to coexist with Adam, and his progeny, thus destroying the unity of the human race. Palmieri (loc. cit.) brands it as heretical, and Father Pesch ("De Deo creante et elevante", Freiburg, 1909, n. 154) endorses this censure; Esser (Kirchenlex., s.v. Prüadamiten) considers it as only theologically certain that there were no Coadamites who were not the progeny of Adam and Eve. According to the nature of the arguments advanced in favour of the heretical Preadamite theory, we may divide it into scientific and Scriptural Preadamism.

Scientific preadamism

There are no scientific arguments which prove directly that the progeny of a Preadamite race coexisted with the descendants of Adam. The direct conclusion from scientific premises is either the great antiquity of the human race or its multiplicity. In either case, or even in the combination of both, the existence of Preadamites depends on a new non-scientific premise, which is at best only an assumption. From the great number of men, from their racial varieties, from the difference of languages, we cannot even infer that all men cannot spring from a common stock, while the ancient national traditions of the Oriental nations, and the palæontological finds do not even show that the human race existed before our Biblical times; much less do these premises furnish any solid basis for the Preadamite theory. (For the unity of the human race and its antiquity see HUMAN RACE.)

Scriptural preadamism

Pesch (loc. cit.) considers it doubtful whether Origen adhered to the Preadamite theory, but leaves no room for doubt as to Julian the Apostate. But these opinions are only a matter of historical interest. In 1555, however, Isaac de La Peyrère, a Calvinist of a noble family of Bordeaux and a follower of the Prince of Condé, published in close succession two works: "Præadamitæ, seu Exercitationes super versibus 12, 13, et 14 ep. Pauli ad Romanos", and "Systema theologicum ex Præadamitarum hypothesi. Pars prima". He maintained that Adam is not the father of the whole human race, but only of the Chosen People. The Jews spring from Adam and Eve, while the Gentiles are the descendants of ancestors created before Adam. The creation of these latter took place on the sixth day, and is related in Genesis 1:26 sqq., while Adam was formed after the rest on the seventh day as narrated in Genesis 2:7. Adam and his progeny were to live and develop in Paradise, but they were to observe the law of Paradise. The sin of Adam was more grievous than the sins of the Gentiles; for he sinned against the law, while the Gentiles sinned only against nature. This distinction the writer bases on St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, v. 12-14: "Until the law [given to Adam]", so La Peyrère explains the passage, "sin [committed by the Gentiles] was in the world; but sin [of the Gentiles] was not imputed, when the law was not [given to Adam]". Again, those "who have not sinned after the similitude of the transgression of Adam" are the Preadamite Gentiles. La Peyrère confimed his hypothesis by an appeal to other Scriptural passages: Cain's fear of being killed (Genesis 4:14), his flight, his marriage, his building of a city (Genesis 4:15, 16), are pointed out as so many indications of the existence of other men than Adam and Eve. The author also claims that ancient Jewish and Mohammedan tradition favours his Preadamite theory.

But La Peyrère's proofs are not solid. (1) Scripture itself points out that the creation of man in Genesis 1:26 sqq., is identical with that mentioned in Genesis 2:7, for according to Genesis 2:5, "there was not a man to till the earth"; according to Genesis 2:20, "for Adam there was not found a helper like himself"; according to 3:20, "Adam called the name of his wife Eve: because she was the mother of all the living". Scripture, therefore, knows of no men created before Adam. (2) The appeal to the incidents in the history of Cain loses its force, if we remember that they happened about 120 years after Adam had been driven from Paradise: at that time, the progeny of Adam must have amounted to several thousand souls, so that Cain's fear and flight and his building of a primitive city are easily explained. (3) The difficulty arising from Cain's marriage was satisfactorily explained by St. Augustine (City of God XV.16; cf. Epiphanius, "Hær.", xxxix, 6), who points out that necessity compelled the immediate offspring of Adam and Eve to marry even their sisters. (4) The context renders La Peyrère's explanation of Rom., v, 12-14, impossible. If the law mentioned in the passage refers to the law given to Adam in Paradise, and not to the Mosaic Law, the phrase "but death reigned from Adam unto Moses" is meaningless, and the whole force of the Apostle's argument is destroyed. (5) Finally, La Peyrère's appeal to the traditions of the Kabbalists, Chaldeans etc., has been investigated and found wanting by R. Simon ("Lettres choisies", II, Amsterdam, 1730, ii, xxvii). It is, therefore, not astonishing that La Peyrère's Preadamism proved to be a nine days' wonder and did not survive its author. The theory was strongly opposed from the beginning by such scholars as Maresius, Hoornbeek, and Voetius on the part of the Reformed Church, and by the Lutheran theologians Calovius, Quenstedt, and Hollarius. The author himself renounced his error, and became a Catholic, and a member of the Oratory. In more recent times a political or social Preadamism has been introduced by Dominic M’Causland ("Adam and the Adamite, or the Harmony of Scripture and Ethnology", London, 164) and Reginald Stuart Poole ("The Genesis of the Earth and of Man", London, 1860), who follow the ethnological views of such authorities as Morton, Nott, Gliddon, and Agassiz. They maintain that Adam is the progenitor of the Caucasian race, while the other races descend from Preadamite ancestry, having either a common or various parentage. The pro-slavery sentiment prevalent in certain parts of America indirectly supported such Preadamite theories. But their truth must be judged in the light of what has been said about scientific and Scriptural Preadamism.


     NATALIS ALEXANDER, Hist. eccles., I (Bingen, 1785), 103 sqq., diss. iii, De Adam et Eva. As to Scriptural Preadamism, see the various dogmatic treatises on Creation (PESCH, PALMIERI, PERRONE etc.), where they treat of the unity of the human race. For scientific Preadamism see GLA, Repertorium der kathol. theol. Literatur, I, i (Paderborn, 1895), 218 sqq.; for Preadamism in the strict sense: REUSCH, Bibel u. Natur (4th ed., Bonn, 1876), 437; RAUCH, Einheit der Menschengeschlectes (Augsburg, 1873); HETTINGER, Apologie, II, i (4th ed., Freiburg, 1872), 221-304; WINCHELL, Preadamites, or a Demonstration of Evidence of Men before Adam (Chicago, 1880).

About this page

APA citation. Maas, A. (1911). Preadamites. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Maas, Anthony. "Preadamites." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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