The NT inherits, rather than develops for itself, a theology of creation. By introducing the agency of the Son, it does, however, reinterpret the OT view of created existence. Let us see the details. The Exodus experience and God's self-manifestation at Mount Sinai had shaped the history and self-identity of God's chosen people. In understanding the way in which God had prepared a people for himself, the Israelites looked back to the stories of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), their wives (Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel), and their families (Gen. 12-50). The Lord who led his people out of Egypt was the God who had guided Abram out of Ur and made him 'Ab-raham', the 'Father of a people'.
Around the time of King David, the 'Yahwist' theological tradition (the one that named God 'YHWH') looked even further back and expressed its belief that God's paternal guidance spanned all time and history (Gen. 2-3). Just as David ruled over God's chosen people, so YHWH was the sovereign of the whole universe. At the time of the Babylonian captivity in the sixth century BC, the 'Priestly' tradition explored more deeply God's creative relation with things. When creating, God calls things into being and redeems them from 'primordial chaos'.99 God's creative work can be only good—so concludes the first page of the Bible (Gen. 1: 3-2: 4a). Existence results from the very first word that comes from God, a word he addresses to his creatures before any other. It is the word that sustains all the other words that God subsequently directs toward his creation.
Through their encounter with Greek thought in the third and second century BC, OT authors reconstrued creation from an original chaos as God's making things 'out of nothing (2 Macc. 7: 28) and not merely, like a world architect, rearranging things that pre-exist. By means of his deliberate command—free from any internal necessity or external pressure—
99 Hebrew had no equivalent for 'nothing' and 'nothingness', concepts that come from Greek classical culture. Although the biblical authors had to make do with the idea of 'primordial chaos', they knew that God's creative action belongs to God and God alone. No creature can ever 'make' something the way God does—a conviction reflected by the fact that bara , a word for the effortless (creative and salvific) work of God is used, in its forty-seven occurrences in the OT, almost exclusively for divine actions. On creation see K. Ward, Religion and Creation (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996).
God brings into existence and sustains everything: 'Whenever you hide your face, they are dismayed; whenever you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust' (Ps. 104: 29). Were God to 'hide his face', his creation would revert to the 'pit', that is, to non-existence (Ps. 143: 7). Creation, therefore, includes that relatedness between God and creatures, whereby the latter continually depend on the former for their existence. Thus the whole world belongs to God and reveals God's glory. The Psalms respond with praise and admiration: 'The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork' (Ps. 19: 1).
Irenaeus grasped the fact that defining existence as creation implies faith in God as Pantocrator, the all-powerful and utterly free creator and the one source of everything that exists. By insisting on God's utter transcendence ('nothing above him') and complete liberty in creating the world 'of his own free will', Irenaeus opposed Stoic pantheism and, even more, Gnostic views of divine emanations. Stoic philosophy did not hold God to be a personal being; it saw the universe permeated by reason, a divine fire that kept everything in existence. For such a philosophical outlook there could be no foundational relationship between creatures and the transcendent creator, such as Irenaeus taught. Gnostic schemes of thought varied, but they usually included speculations about 'aeons', a series of emanations from the supreme being. The lowest one of these, a 'demiurge' (Greek 'craftsman'), fashioned the world, a dismal place in which darkness imprisons the divine light and redemption means escaping from that darkness through special knowledge. Against such speculations, Irenaeus insisted on 'the only God' (and hence no divine aeons or emanations) and 'the only creator' (and hence no lower demiurge) who freely made all things and made them good. As well as upholding the goodness of God's entire creation, both spiritual and material, Irenaeus also acknowledged the christological dimension of creation: Christ is the one and only mediator between God and creation.100
As we saw in Ch. 4, NT writers recognized the role of the Son in God's creative work (e.g. John 1: 3; 1 Cor. 8: 6). All things were created 'through' the Son and 'for' the Son (Col. 1: 16). The 'only Father' has, in Irenaeus' image, 'two hands', his Son and his Spirit through whom he creates (Adversus Haereses, 4. 40. 1). Here Irenaeus prepared the way for the Nicene confession of the eternal, uncreated Son as being the one 'through whom
100 Gnostic thought continues to return in various guises. Modern information technology and its cyberspace, for instance, take people into a notional environment of 'virtual reality and can diminish their sense of physical objects being embodied in real places.
all things were made' (DH 125-6; ND 7-8), and for the trinitarian teaching developed by the Cappadocians and Augustine: all divine activity 'ad extra' (on the outside), starting from creation, is shared in common by the three persons of the Trinity.
Justin, an older contemporary of Irenaeus, had already drawn some important consequences for a theology of creation that involved the Son: above all, the notion of the 'seeds of the Word' or semina Verbi that have been implanted everywhere (see Ch. 1). No place and, even more importantly, no human person is 'outside' the presence of the creative Word and his 'seeds'. Many centuries later, the Second Vatican Council drew on Justin for the theme of the 'seeds of the Word' in its 1965 decree on missionary activity, Ad Gentes. The key second footnote of that decree quoted Irenaeus about the Word/Son, through whom all things were made, who is always present to the entire human race and to all creation, and who reveals the Father to all in accordance with the divine plan.
Thus Justin and Irenaeus established some enduring lines for distinctively Catholic teaching about creation. Against recurring attempts to explain the cosmos in terms either of pantheism or of necessary emanations from God, that teaching was to uphold the sovereign divine freedom which through creation brought about a reality different from God and yet in a constant relationship of dependence upon God.101 God has freely and directly created all that exists; creation radically differs from God (who necessarily exists) and yet totally depends on God. God is intrinsically present in the entire created world (divine immanence), while being radically 'beyond' and 'above' it (divine transcendence). The products of creation are in God (Acts 17: 28), participate in being that belongs pre-eminently to God, but are not parts of God. Furthermore, created reality—in particular, material reality—is good and not something defective or evil. The incarnation made this clear: the Word through whom 'all things were made' became 'flesh' (John 1: 14), a text repeatedly cited by Irenaeus against the Gnostics and in support of the visible goodness of creation.
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