(115-181AD) The doctrine of metempsychosis is dealt with most directly by Theophilus in his third book to Autolycus. Here he comments on Plato’s version of the theory, a theory he considers contradictory to several of Plato’s other tenets. Theophilus judges this theory a “dreadful and monstrous” theory considering its devaluation of humanity to the level of “irrational animals”.
While the thrust of his argument focuses on the concept of transmigrations occurring from humans to animals, it would be difficult to maintain that Theophilus could have agreed with the theory in any form – even if its proposed transmigrations were limited to those occurring between humans. Several factors make this clear:
First, when Theophilus speaks of the doctrine, he mentions both transmigrations from human to human, and transmigrations from human to animal. Although he does not directly condemn the doctrine when it is said to occur in like species only, neither does he give it his support. When he does attack Plato’s theory, he attacks its obvious deficiencies as an example of the caliber of the conflicting doctrines of heathen philosophers. It would not be unnatural to infer from his argument that since both forms are mentioned together, both are rejected.
Second, in his first two books, Theophilus clearly demonstrates that he believes that both the righteous and the wicked will be judged at the resurrection. Autolycus will not be given further chances in some other life to come; he must either accept God’s truth or face the fires of hell. This proclamation is extended to include all unbelievers; all who follow heresies and err from the truth will be “totally ruined by their error”. They will not be given a chance to turn to the truth in another life since they have been given sufficient proofs in this life. Although one might allow the possibility that Theophilus could have considered a theory of human to human reincarnation that would allow those who have never heard the message of truth a chance to hear it in another life, the possibility of this occurring is extremely remote. Theophilus’ analogy of the sea leaves little room for any who would follow falsehoods, nor does he seem to consider it possible for any to be left without a witness to the truth (as is evident from his comments in Chapter 14 of Book 1).
While some may consider the testimony of Theophilus to be less than conclusive against human to human reincarnations, his position against human to animal reincarnations is undeniable. As one of the earliest of the Church fathers who’s writings are still available, Theophilus leaves little room for the theory of reincarnation, if he leaves any at all.