Wednesday, March 12, 2008

CREATIO EX NIHILO

The following is a reproduction of something that I posted to a yahoogroup forum.
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Dear list-members,

A couple of years ago--I do not remember the exact
year--Rob Bowman and I engaged in a dialogue
concerning CREATIO EX NIHILO. Since then I have given
the subject a lot of thought and engaged in extensive
research on this topic. The present author has
subsequently concluded that the expression CREATIO EX
NIHILO is permissible as long as we qualify what we
mean by such language. This point is forcefully
brought out by Richard Creel, who argues that
something can never come from an absolute void (i.e.
nothing) as Athanasius argued. Such a process is ruled
out by the basic principle of logical necessity [EX
NIHILO NIHIL FIT].

On the other hand, if one interprets CREATIO EX NIHILO
as creating from nothing except God's "omnipotent
resources" then I find no personal objection to the
terminology. (See Creel's _Divine impassibility: an
essay in philosophical theology_, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1986. The one downside to this work
is Creel's unnecessary postulation of a "plenum" of
uncreated possibilities to explain how God creates TA
PANTA without doing so EX NIHILO or EX DEO.)

Now Rob argued that Jehovah's Witnesses may
(unwittingly) teach that the cosmos is a product of
God's very being since JWs say that God created the
universe by means of His own dynamic energy (i.e. His
omnipotent resources). Rob finds the idea of God using
His personal emanative energies to create the cosmos,
seemingly unorthodox and problematic. The Witnesses
obviously [seem to] disagree.

While I do not plan on resolving this issue now, I
wonder what Rob thinks of the words from Tertullian's
treatise Against Hermogenes (section 45.1ff). Does he
think that Tertullian is also some type of pantheist
or panentheist since he writes:

"Do not be willing so to cover God with flattery, as
to contend that He produced by His mere appearance and
simple approach so many vast substances, instead of
rather forming them by His own energies. For this is
proved by Jeremiah when he says, 'God hath made the
earth by His power, He hath established the world by
His wisdom, and hath stretched out the heaven by His
understanding.' These are the energies by the stress
of which He made this universe. His glory is greater
if He laboured. At length on the seventh day He rested
from His works. Both one and the other were after His
manner. If, on the contrary, He made this world simply
by appearing and approaching it, did He, on the
completion of His work, cease to appear and approach
it any more. Nay rather, God began to appear more
conspicuously and to be everywhere accessible from the
time when the world was made."

Tertullian adds that God also made the world by
"applying the almighty efforts of His mind, His
wisdom, His power, His understanding, His word, His
Spirit, His might. Now these things were not necessary
to Him, if He had been perfect by simply appearing and
approaching."

Yet Tertullian can still affirm the truthfulness of
CREATIO EX NIHILO in the sense that God did not employ
any primordial matter to bring forth all things:

"Now what clearer truth do these words indicate, than
that all things were made out of nothing? They are
incapable of being found out or investigated, except
by God alone."

Regards,
Edgar

1 comment:

vasileios78 said...

As far as I understand, the patristic ex nihilo doctrine is based on two positions:

1) According to the Bible, created cosmos has a beginning.
2) According to the Platonic via negativa, created cosmos is totally different in essence than the uncreated ousia of God (the famous difference between ktiston and aktiston, which is based on the Platonic concept of gegonos-on)

Thus, if the essence of cosmos has nothing to do with God's essence, then the essence of cosmos came out in existence out of nothing, or ex nihilo.

As we can understand, in this regard, ex nihilo is a mixture of Biblical and Platonic thought.

Regards,
Vasileios Tsialas