Creatio ex nihilo

The 4th Lateran Council in 1215 established the dogma of creatio ex nihilo, that God created all things from nothing. It is an undeniable fact of Catholic teaching, and to deny as much is to cease to become Catholic. In light of this information, many modern theologians and clerics in the Church Herself have ipso facto excommunicated themselves through their rejection of creatio ex nihilo and their acceptance of the “eternal universe” proposed by evolutionist cosmology. I would like to express some reflections and thoughts on creation, God’s creative act, and the metaphysical absurdity of theistic evolution.

The dogma of creatio ex nihilo is supported in Sacred Scripture in the 2nd book of Maccabees, as follows;

I beseech thee, my son, look upon heaven and earth, and all that is in them: and consider that God made them out of nothing, and mankind also:

Douay-Rheims Bible. 2 Maccabees, 7:28.

While Genesis never explicitly states that God created from nothing, it is implicit in the reality that all creatures are nothing insofar as they derive their existence from God. Remove God from the act of existence, and all things cease to exist.

Now that this has been established, there is one cosmological perspective that I’ve come across in my reading of Meister Eckhart and Wolfgang Smith: that of creatio ex Deo, or ‘creation from God.’ This stance is rooted in emanationism, which is a neo-Platonic view which proposes that all things are emanated directly from the divine substance. I will get into the error of the neo-Platonic interpretation of emanation shortly, but first I would like to refer to the usage of the term in light of Catholic philosophy. In the context of God’s creative act, creatio ex Deo would entail that all things emanate from the very Being of God, who, according to St Thomas Aquinas, is being. Therefore, anything which has being must derive their being from that which has being, namely the Godhead. And this is a two-fold reality, as to lack being is nothingness, and since that which has no being cannot obtain being from its own nothingness, it must receive being from that which possesses being. And as God is the Source of all being, only He bestows being upon all creatures, bringing them forth from nothingness. Hence, the tenet of creatio ex nihilo.

But, I argue, this can also allow for creatio ex Deo, as the act of Being comes from God Himself. And since, to reiterate, all non-beings must derive being from that which has being, then all things must also have been created from God’s own act of Being (ex Deo). And this can open up an interpretation of emanation from a purely Catholic viewpoint. Meister Eckhart, who could be identified as the Plotinus to St Augustine’s Plato in Christian philosophy, utilized the idea of creatio ex Deo in his works to state the presence of divine emanation from the Godhead. In neo-Platonic terms, emanation is an impersonal act of creation; the view of Eckhart is that it is really just a term for the personal creative act of God’s Will. He illustrates this idea by borrowing from Pseudo-Dionysius, referencing God’s Goodness: as the sun shines indiscriminately its illumination upon all things of the earth, so too does God emanate His Goodness upon all things without reserve. And as God’s Goodness is identical to His Being, then all things which derive their being must be created through the emanation of God’s Goodness.

Meister Eckhart

God showers upon all things His Goodness, i.e. creative act of Being, upon all things, then for them to simply be is an essentially good act regardless of whatever imperfections may arise from the created object. Therefore, provided that I am understanding this correctly myself, Meister Eckhart would be correct in proposing that there is emanation from God as His creative act of Being are these aforementioned emanations.

I should pause here to clarify that this by no means accepts the heretical view that all things derived through emanation are of the divine substance of God, as this is only held by those Persons in the blessed Trinity. Rather, I affirm creatio ex nihilo theology as identifying creatio ex Deo as associated with God’s creative act of Being. As to take the stance of pure emanationism, where things are derived from the divine substance, is to say that God is His creation and that the creation is God, which is explicit pantheism. Whereas the perspective that God emanates His Goodness upon all things as images of Himself, is licit because it establishes that while all things are found in God, these things in and of themselves are not God.

Interpreting Genesis

It is difficult to take a purely literal interpretation of Genesis, at least in the sense of Protestant fundamentalism. As I’ve been reading St Augustine’s works on Genesis, as well as Fr. Seraphim Rose’s work on the Patristic view of Genesis, there arises a dilemma in how we are to read the seven days of creation. St Augustine proposes that these days are a sequential representation of God’s work of creation due to the limitations of man’s finite nature. As we are limited creatures, we cannot truly conceive of the act of God’s creation as it truly occurred. Rather, we must interpret it as a sequence of acts so that it is palatable to the human mind. The sequence offered by the days in Genesis allow man to conceive of God’s single creative act from eternity.

The closest understanding that I can get to God’s perception of knowing is to liken it to the human act of knowing. Whereas a human soul can come to know a single object in an instantaneous act in one moment of time, God is capable of coming to know all things and all time in one single act of knowing. Therefore, His creative act operates in the same manner: He created all things in one single act of creation. He said it to be, and it was. Men are incapable of processing all things in this manner, therefore the sequential illustration of creation in Genesis allows us to come to some understanding of this divine act.

God allowed Moses to record His creation as a sequence of events, which unfortunately has lead to some perceived contradictions in the account (such as light and dark before day and night or the sun and stars), as well as an altered sequence in the second record of creation in Genesis. These contradictions are no such thing once we realize that all of these things came to be in one single act. And herein lies the difficulty St Augustine had in his attempt to take a purely literal interpretation of the creation account as well as the many faults found in the fundamentalist Protestant rejection of the concrete findings of the natural sciences. These difficulties have lead to two extremes when it comes to interpretation of Genesis: on one side, the literalists who deny any empirical data of science which they perceive to oppose Scripture; and on the other end those who decide that Scripture is in error when faced with scientific data, therefore deciding that it must be rejected as myth or fundamentally reinterpreted as wholly allegorical. The writings of the Church Fathers and theologians tend to take a more balanced view between literalism and allegory, staying true to the Catholic doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture in the light of reason. The perspective I tend to take regarding these varied, heterodox interpretations is that any perceived error in Scripture is not on behalf of Holy Scripture itself but on the interpreter and their own misconceptions. As the words of Scripture are the divinely revealed Word of God, and therefore are immutable truths, our own limited human understanding may see error where there is none.

Regarding the seven days again: to say that creation came about over seven, 24-hour periods while reason states something completely different, then to take the literal interpretation would be incorrect but not the text itself. Our failure to understand is not God’s failure to express truth.

The problem of theistic evolution

Given what I’ve expressed of the theology of God’s nature and action within and above the world, we know that He spoke once and begot the Word, with all things proceeding from the Father, through the Son, to reside in the Holy Ghost. Due to God’s simplicity, this was definitively one single act, therefore creation had to have been a single act. For to have something go from non-being to being is a single, instantaneous act. Whereas the position of theistic evolution is the gradual rise of things from non-being to being would imply incremental being, which is nonsense. Either something has existence or it does not, there cannot be a middle-ground between these two extremes. And the same can be inferred from the creative act of God: as God called it into being and it was made, not: God called it into being, and then things gradually came to be through a cycle of becoming over time, and then it was, but continued in the act of becoming ad infinitum.

This is the absurdity of the position of theistic evolutionists, where God maintains all things in a constant state of becoming. It outright denies form, therefore the soul, and denies the creative act ex nihilo. If a thing does not possess a form, then it cannot take on existence at all because there is nothing to direct it toward quiddity. If a thing is constantly shifting from one mode of being to another, i.e.flux, then it has no definite beginning nor end, the thing in itself is purported to be eternal as it is locking in an eternal state of becoming. And since it lacks a form, there is no build-up of perfection in that thing, rather, we end up with a chaotic perception of being which contradicts observation on a basic level.

Clearly, if a thing is, it has an identifiable essence, and to have an identifiable essence means that there is some standard of perfectibility in its nature. To remove an identifiable essence, and then to propose that it is in a constant state of flux, is to say that not a single observable thing is in fact identifiable. Which completely undermines reason and the conclusions of empirical science, as these depend on concrete observation for their conclusions.

The assertion that all things at all times are in a perpetual state of becoming is a completely un-scientific and irrational conclusion. A much more logical conclusion would be to accept that all things have form, that they are perfectible, and that they exist as they are observed. This view is much more palatable to the Revealed Truth of God’s creation ex nihilo in a single act, establishing concrete being; as opposed to the fantasy that all things have always existed in a state of flux and are always becoming something else. Yes, things corrupt and possess imperfections over time, but they do not change their essence as a result of this. Which is why I think both a strictly literal interpretation of the creation account is untenable, as is the rejection of God’s revealed truth in the position of theistic evolution. As both disregard either the ontology of creation or the very nature of God.

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