A view has been widely circulated that the early Christians, including Church Fathers, believed in reincarnation. I have read claims to the effect that Origen taught reincarnation, and even that Jerome upheld the doctrine. Often these claims (on the internet) are not sourced at all. Sometimes they are indirectly sourced by reference to various secondary sources. In all too few cases, a specific reference is given to one or more letters of the Church Fathers; but upon examining the primary document more closely, the claim of a pro-reincarnation position appears to have been overstated. Here is an interesting discussion from http://ning.it/dRU081:
"It is true that Jerome, a leading church father in the early fifth century, argued that Origen held to reincarnation. Writing in a letter to Avitus about 409 or 410, Jerome accused Origen of holding to the "transmigration of souls," including the idea that both angelic and human spirits "may in punishment for great negligence or folly be transformed into brutes," that is, be reincarnated as animals.(Jerome, Letter CXXIV, To Avitus, 4, 15.) However, in this same letter Jerome admits that Origen qualified his statements on the subject:
'Then, lest he should be held guilty of maintaining with Pythagoras the transmigration of souls, he winds up the wicked reasoning with which he has wounded his reader by saying: "I must not be taken to make dogmas of these things; they are only thrown out as conjectures to show that they are not altogether overlooked.' (Ibid. 4.)
Since Jerome's criticism of Origen is based on Origen's earlier writings (particularly "On First Principles," written between 212 and 215), and in his later writings Origen explicitly rejected transmigration of souls, and since even Jerome admits that Origen wished to stop short of maintaining that doctrine, we may safely conclude that Origen did not teach reincarnation." [My emphasis.]
The point about Origen stopping short of embracing reincarnation during his early career can be verified here: http://ning.it/eHIYkK
The point about the later Origen definitely rejecting reincarnation can be backed up here: http://ning.it/e9l1
Moreover, the sources provided at the latter can be checked. For example, in Origen's own words:
"Nay, if we should cure those who have fallen into the folly of believing in the transmigration of souls through the teaching of physicians, who will have it that the rational nature descends sometimes into all kinds of irrational animals, and sometimes into that state of being which is incapable of using the imagination, why should we not improve the souls of our subjects by means of a doctrine which does not teach that a state of insensibility or irrationalism is produced in the wicked instead of punishment, but which shows that the labours and chastisements inflicted upon the wicked by God are a kind of medicines leading to conversion?" [My emphasis.] (Against Celsus, 3.75) http://ning.it/hkkxAP
Thus far, then, it does not appear to be true that Origen positively promulgated reincarnation. At best it may be said that early in his life he ENTERTAINED it, yet without accepting it, and then went on to explicitly REJECT it later on.
I find my research into this topic to be somewhat disillusioning. It reminds me of the rumor/claim that Einstein kept a copy of the Secret Doctrine by his bedside. Joe Fulton looked into this matter and could not verify it. Wouldn't it be better for proponents of reincarnation to cite well-grounded evidence instead of hearsay? Unless there is solid, primary source evidence that early Christians, or in particular, Church Fathers, really did believe in reincarnation, wouldn't it be better to avoid spreading the rumor (or "urban myth") that they did?