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Creation (theology)

Creation is the theological doctrine that all material in the universe was created by a divine agency, such as God, out of nothingness (ex nihilo ). In its most specific theological context, creation refers to the belief that the human soul is created by a divine agency, and in this sense, creation is opposed to traducianism, which holds that a child's soul is inherited from his or her parents.


The genesis of souls

In Catholic theology, the proposition that the human soul is immediately created by God is a corollary of the soul's spirituality. Certain psychical phenomena, such as intellectual and volitional phenomena regarding immaterial objects, indicates that their essence is intrinsically independent of the purely corporeal organism. This transmaterial subsistence supposes a corresponding mode of origin. For this to be true, Catholic creationists assert that the soul must have had a beginning follows from its finitude and contingency. According to Catholic creationists, that origin cannot be by way of emanation from God, as pantheists believe, since the Divine substance, cannot be subject to any emissional process, nor can it be by spiritual generation from the souls of parents, as the German theologian Frohschammer (1821-1893) maintained, because human souls, being essentially and integrally simple and indivisible, can give forth no spiritual germs or reproductive elements.

According to Catholic creationists, the physical generation of souls (as proposed by corporeal Traducianists) conflicts with the essential simplicity and the spirituality of the soul, and the only intelligible source of the soul's existence is God. Since the characteristic and exclusive act of the Divine Cause is creation, the soul must owe its origin to that operation. As regards the time when the individual soul is created, philosophical speculation varies. The ancient Platonic doctrine asserts the pre-natal existence of souls and their subsequent incarceration in bodies whereas the ancient hypothesis of transmigration predominates in Buddhism and Theosophy.

Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle's embryology, taught that the human fetus passes through progressive stages of formation wherein it is successively animated by the vegetative, sensitive, and rational principles, each succeeding form summing up virtually the potencies of its predecessor. Accordingly, the rational soul is created when the antecedent principles of life have rendered the fetus an appropriate organism for rational life, though some time is required after birth before the sensory organs are sufficiently developed to assist in the functions of intelligence. In this view the embryonic history of man is a recapitulation of the progressive stages of biological evolution through which human life evolved.

On the other hand, most Neo-Scholastics hold that the rational soul is created and infused into the incipient human being at the moment of conception. It should be noted that the doctrine of creationism is not an appeal to the supernatural or the miraculous to account for a natural effect. The creation of the soul by the "First Cause," when second causes have posited the pertinent conditions, falls within the order of nature, and is therefore posited as a law of nature, not an interference therewith, as is the case in a miracle.

While none of the Church fathers actively advocated Traducianism (i.e, the parental generation of souls), some of them -- most notably St. Augustine, at the outbreak of Pelagianism -- began to doubt the creation by god of individual souls. There was never any doubt among the Church fathers as to the created origin of the souls of Adam and Eve, and to incline to the opposite opinion, which seemed to facilitate the explanation of the transmission of original sin. Thus, writing to St. Jerome, St. Augustine said, "If that opinion of the creation of new souls is not opposed to this established article of faith let it be also mine; if it is, let it not be thine." Theodorus Abucara , Macarius, and Gregory of Nyssa favored this view.

Amongst the Scholastics there were no defenders of Traducianism. Hugh of St. Victor and Alexander of Hales alone characterize Creationism as the more probable opinion. All the other Schoolmen hold it as certain and differ only in regard to the censure that should be attached to the opposite error. Accordingly, Peter Lombard asserted, "The Catholic Church teaches that souls are created at their infusion into the body." St. Thomas is more emphatic: "It is heretical to say that the intellectual soul is transmitted by process of generation."

There was a diversity of opinions among the remaining Scholastics. Some held that the soul of a child is produced by the soul of the parent just as the body is generated by the parent-body. Others maintained that all souls are created apart and are then united with their respective bodies, either by their own volition or by the command and action of God. Others again, declared that the soul in the moment of its creation is infused into the body. Though for a time these several views were upheld, and though it was doubtful which came nearest the truth, the Church subsequently condemned the first two and approved the third. Gregory of Valencia spoke of "Generationism" as "certainly erroneous." While there are no explicit definitions authoritatively put forth by the Catholic Church that would warrant calling the doctrine of creationism de fide, nevertheless, there can be no doubt as to which view has been favored by ecclesiastical authority.

That the soul sinned in its pre-existent state, and on that account was incarcerated in the body, the Catholic Church regards as a fiction which has been repeatedly condemned. Divested of this fiction, the theory that the soul exists prior to its infusion into the organism, while not explicitly reprobated, is obviously opposed to the doctrine of the Church, according to which souls are multiplied correspondingly with the multiplication of human organisms. But whether the rational soul is infused into the organism at conception, as the modern opinion holds, or some weeks subsequently, as the Scholastics suppose, is an open question with theologians.

Traducian criticisms of creationism (of individual souls)

Traducians claim that creationism violates:

  • God’s creation having finished (Genesis 2:2). Thus no new souls are created directly, but are instead transmitted by natural generation just as the body is.
  • God created all things "very good" (Gen. 1:31), yet the Bible teaches that after the fall, all are sinful at birth (Job 14:1–4, 15:14, Psalm 58:3, John 3:6) and indeed from conception (Psalm 51:5). Since God would not have created something sinful, it follows that souls are not created directly but are generated.

God as absolute origin

Creationists in the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church assert that God is the origin, out of nothing (Latin: ex nihilo), of all things that exist apart from God, who exists eternally. The Church holds as an unchangeable tenet of Christian faith, that:

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth": three things are affirmed in these first words of Scripture: the eternal God gave a beginning to all that exists outside of himself; he alone is Creator (the verb "create" - Hebrew bara - always has God for its subject). The totality of what exists (expressed by the formula "the heavens and the earth") depends on the One who gives it being. — (Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Creation - Work of the Holy Trinity"

Here, clearly, creation is described as an absolute beginning, which includes the assertion that the very existence of the universe is contingent upon a necessary, uncreated being, a God who is not himself created. Therefore the doctrine of creation places the knowledge of God central in the pursuit of the knowledge of anything, for everything comes from God. The "supernatural" refers ultimately to God alone. Nature is denied to have divinity.

Although phrased differently, this doctrine of creation is common in many branches of other religions, such as Judaism, Islam, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the many branches of Protestantism, as well as the Roman Catholic Church. The strictness to which adherents are required to accept these views, and the sense in which these definitions are official, vary widely.

Implied is the invitation to intrude upon any territory of knowledge subject to scrutiny in order to seek truthful understanding of facts, out of the conviction that God has given being to all things that exist, and has given to mankind this task of mastery. Hypothetically for example, such a doctrine has already embraced the theory of evolution in principle, provided only that the facts compel its acceptance, and will not cling to it if the facts finally prove otherwise. Its ultimate investment is to move forward in the knowledge of the Creator, and it has no permanent commitment to anything else called knowledge, once it has been rejected in favor of more complete knowledge. Therefore, it is not creationism that is rejected should evolution be proven, as long as creationism is the doctrine of creation. This, more than anything that science may succeed in proving, shows the vast difference between the doctrine of creation, and what is now called creationism.

In his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim), Saint Augustine (354-430), embarrassed by Christians who would not accept this implication of the Doctrine of Creation, wrote against them. This translation is by J. H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41.

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion." [1 Timothy 1.7]

The doctrine of creation expects, and even requires, that forward movement must occur. St. Vincent of Lerens wrote more generally concerning the progress of religion, in 434:

"Shall there be no progress of religion in the Church of Christ? By all means the greatest progress. Who could be so jealous against men, so spiteful against God that he try to prohibit this? However, the progress must be one which can be called the progress of our faith and not a change." "The decisions of the Christian religion shall follow rightly these laws of how to make progress." Patrologia Latina, 50, 667 (Migne)

In philosophy derived from the Bible, the doctrines of creation are the centripetal force, by which the centrifugal force of science is welded to the center, which is God. That is to say, the doctrine of creation is always in tension against science, preventing its movement away from God. The same doctrine pushes against science, to keep it from collapsing into magic and superstition, crashing in upon the center where God is alone. This analogy to the physics of a hub and spokes is inadequate, because in reality the struggle between science and God, with theology connecting the two, takes place where all of the complications of human nature are involved, and the progress of understanding bears no resemblance to the fluid motions of a wheel.

Definition of the term creation

In a theological and philosophical context, the term creation expresses the act whereby God brings the entire substance of a thing into existence from a state of non-existence — productio totius substantiâ ex nihilo sui et subjecti. In every kind of production the specific effect had as such no previous existence, and may therefore be said to have been educed ex nihilo sui — from a state of non-existence — so far as its specific character is concerned (e.g., a statue out of crude marble). What is peculiar to the theological doctrine of creation is the entire absence of any prior subject-matter — ex nihilo subjecti. It is therefore likewise the production totius substantiæ — of the entire substance. The preposition ex, "out of," in the above definition does not, of course, imply that nihil, "nothing," is to be conceived as the material out of which a thing is made — materia ex quâ — a misconception which has given rise to the objection against the possibility of creation conveyed by the phrase, ex nihilo nihil fit — "nothing comes of nothing." Rather, ex means the negation of prejacent material, out of which the product might otherwise be conceived to proceed, and the order of succession; that is, existence after non-existence. It follows, therefore, that creation is not a change or transformation, since the latter process includes an actual underlying pre-existent subject that passes from one real state to another real state, which subject creation positively excludes. It also follows that creation is not a procession within the Deity, like the inward emission of the Divine Persons, since its term is extrinsic to God.

Creation is not an emanation from the Divine Substance, since the latter is utterly indivisible. It is an act which, while it abides within its cause (God), has its term or effect distinct therefrom. Formally immanent, it is virtually transitive. Including, as it does, no motion, and hence no successiveness, it is an instantaneous operation. Its immediate term is the substance of the effect, the "accidents" (q. v.) being "con-created." Since the word creation in its passive sense expresses the term or object of the creative act, or, more strictly, the object in its entitative dependence on the Creator, it follows that, as this dependence is essential, and hence inamissible, the creative act once placed is coextensive in duration with the creature's existence. However, as thus continuous, it is called conservation, an act, therefore, which is nothing else than the unceasing influx of the creative cause upon the existence of the creature. Inasmuch as that influx is felt immediately on the creature's activity, it is called concurrence. Creation, conservation, and concurrence are, therefore, really identical and only notionally distinguished.

History of the idea of creation

Given a personal First Cause possessing infinite power and wisdom, creative productivity would a priori be necessarily one of His[sic] perfections, i.e. absolute independence of the external limitations imposed by a material subject whereon to exert His efficiency. Besides, the fecundity which organic creatures possess, and which, in the present supposition, would be derived from that First Cause, must be found typically and eminently in its source. But creative productivity is just the transcendent exemplar of organic fecundity. Therefore, a priori, one should look for it in the First Cause.

How the creature is produced, how something comes from nothing, is of course quite unimaginable by us, and extremely difficult to conceive. But this is scarcely less true of any other mode of production. The intimate nexus between cause and effect is in every case hard to understand. The fact, however, of such a connection is not denied except by a few theorists. Even they continually admit it in practice. Consequently, the indistinctness of the notion of creation is no valid reason for doubting its inner coherence. Moreover, though the idea of creation is not based upon immediate experience, it is the product of the mind's endeavour, aided by the principle of sufficient reason, to interpret experience. Some theologians contend that creation is the only consistent solution that has ever been given to the problem of the world's origin.

On the other hand, though the idea of creation is self-consistent and naturally attainable by the mind interpreting the world in the light of the principle of causality, nevertheless such is not its actual source. The conception has a distinctly theological origin. The early Christian writers, proceeding from revelation that the world was produced from nothing and the necessity of having a term to designate such an act chose the word creare, which theretofore had been used to express any form of production, e. g. creare consulem (Cicero). The theological usage afterwards passed into modern language.

Though some pagan philosophers ascribed a relatively high conception of God as the supreme ruler of the world, they never assumed a logical inference of God as the absolute cause of all finite existence. While not a mystery — not supernatural in its very nature (quoad essentiam) — creation is supernatural in the mode of its manifestation (quoud modum). Implicitly natural, it is explicitly revealed. The distinct conception of a created origin of humanity as described in Genesis was gradually obscured and was substituted with various agencies conjured up by polytheism, dualism, and pantheism. The overarching sky was conceived of as divine, and the heavenly bodies and natural phenomena as its children.

In Eastern theology, God was identified with nature. To wit, whatever exists is but the manifestation of the One — i.e. Brahma. In the West, the forces of the universe were separately deified, and a more or less esoteric conception of the Supreme Being as the father of the gods and of man was held by some of the Egyptians and probably by the Greek and Roman sages and priests. The apocryphal descendants of Sem and Abraham, of Isaac and Jacob, are purported to have preserved the idea of creation clear and pure, and from the opening verse of Genesis to the closing book of the Old Testament, the doctrine of creation is believed to run unmistakably outlined, free of any extraneous element. Throughout the New Testament, wherein God's creative activity is seen to merge with the redemptive, the same idea is continuous.

The extra-canonical books of Judaism, notably the Book of Henoch and the Fourth Book of Esdras, repeat and expand the teaching of the Old Testament on creation. The Fathers and Doctors of the early Church in the East and West everywhere proclaim the same doctrine, confirming it by philosophical arguments in their controversies with Paganism, Gnosticism and Manichæism, while the early Roman symbols, that of Nicæa and those of Constantinople repeat, in practically unvarying phrase, the universal Christian belief "in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible."

The revival of Manichæism by the Cathari and the Albigenses called for a more explicit expression of the contents of the Church's belief regarding creation. This was formulated by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 [Denzinger, "Enchiridion", 428 (355)]. The council teaches the unicity of the creative principle — unus solus Deus; the fact of creation out of nothing (the nature of creation is here for the first time, doubtless through the influence of the schools, designated by the formula, condidit ex nihilo); its object (the visible and invisible, the spiritual and material world, and man); its temporal character (ab initio temporis); the origin of evil from the fact of free will.

The conflict with the false dualism and the emanationism introduced into the schools by the Arabian philosophers, especially Avicenna (1036) and Averroes (1198), brought out the more philosophically elaborated doctrine of creation found in the works of the greater Scholastics, such as Blessed Albert, St. Thomas, and St. Bonaventure. The Aristotelean theory of causes is here made use of as a defining instrument in the synthesis which is suggested by the well-known distich: — Efficiens causa Deus est, formalis idea, Finalis bonitas, materialis hyle (Albert. Magn., Summa, I, Tr. xiii; Q. liv, Vol. XXXI, p. 551 of Bosquet ed., Paris, 1895). On these lines the Schoolmen built their system, embracing the relation of the world to God as its efficient cause, the continuance of creation in God's conservation thereof and His concurrence with every phase of the creature's activity; the conception of the Divine idea as the archetypal cause of creation; the doctrine that God is moved to create (speaking by analogy with the finite will) by His own goodness, to which He gives expression in creation in order that the rational creature recognizing it may be led to love it and, by a corresponding mental and moral adjustment thereto in the present life, may attain to its complete fruition in the life to come; in other words that the Divine goodness and love is the source and final cause of creation both active and passive. Thus the application, by a constantly sustained analogy of the three causes — efficient, final, and formal (archetypal) — results in the Scholastic philosophy of creation. There being no previously existing material cause (hyle) of creation, the application of the fourth cause appears in the Scholastic theory on potency and materia prima, the radical and undifferentiated constituent of nature.

The idea of creation developed by the Scholastics passed without substantial change along that current of modem thought which preserved the essential elements of the Theistic-Christian world-view — that of Descartes, Nicolas Malebranche, Leibniz — and of course along the continuous stream of traditional teaching within the Catholic Church. In the opposing current it disappears with Spinoza, and gives way to realistic Pantheism; with Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, its place is taken by some phase of varying idealistic Pantheism; while in more modern times Agnosticism (Spencer), materialistic Monism (Hackel ), and spiritualistic Monism (Neo-Hegelianism and the New Theology) have been put forward as substitutes. Amongst recent Catholic theologians there is a practically uniform tendency to interpret the traditional and Scriptural data as postulating the creative act to account for the origin of unembodied spirits (the angels), of the primordial matter of the universe, and of the human soul. The development of the universe, the introduction of plant and animal life, the formation of the first human bodies can be explained by the administrative or formative activity of God, an activity which is sometimes called second creation (secunda creatio), and does not demand the creative act as such. Catholic philosophers develop the purely rational arguments for these same positions, except for the origin of the angelic world, which of course lies beyond the sphere of philosophy.

Arguments for creation

That the material of which the universe is composed was created out of nothing is the implicit, rather than specifically explicit, statement of the Bible. The Scriptural teaching on God and the relation of the universe to Him unmistakably affirms creation. God alone is declared to be underived, self-existent (Ex., iii, 14), and in comparison with Him all things else are as nothing (Wisdom, xi, 23; Is., xl, 17). God is said to be the beginning and end of all things (Is., xlviii, 12; Apoc., i, 8); all things else are from Him, and by Him, and in Him (Rom., xi, 36; I Cor., viii, 6; Coloss., i, 16). God is the absolute and independent sovereign (Ps. xlix, 12, and Is., xliv, 24; Heb., i, 10).

The most explicit Scriptural statement respecting the created origin of the universe is found in the first verse of Genesis: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The objects here designated evidently comprise the material universe; whether the originative act is to be understood as specifically creative, depends upon the meaning of the Hebrew verb bara. On this point the following interpretations by unimpeachable authority may be adduced. Gesenius says: "The use of this verb [bara] in Kal, the conjugation here employed, is entirely different from its primary signification (to cut, shape, fashion); it signifies rather the new production of a thing than the shaping or elaborating of the pre-existing material. That the first verse of Genesis teaches that the original creation of the world in its rude and chaotic state was from nothing while the remaining part of the chapter teaches the elaboration and distribution of the matter thus created, the connection of the whole section shows sufficiently clearly" (Thesaurus, p. 357 b).

Mühlan and Volck in the new edition of Gesenius' "Handwörterbuch" say: "Bara is used only of Divine creation and never with an accusative of the material." Dillmann (Gen., c. i) notes: "The Hebrews use only the conjugation Piel (intensative) in speaking of human 'forming' or 'shaping', while on the other hand they use only Kal in speaking of creation of God." Delitzsch says: (Gen., p. 91) "The word bara in its etymology does not exclude a previous material. lilt has, as the use of Kal shows, the fundamental idea of cutting or hewing. But as In other languages words which define creation by God have the same etymological idea at their root, so bara has acquired the idiomatic meaning of a divine creating, which, whether in the kingdom of nature, or of history, or of the spirit, calls into being that which hitherto had no existence. Bara never appears as the word for human creation, differing in this from the synonyms asah, yatzar, yalad, which are used both of men and of God; it is never used with an accusative of the material, and even from this it follows that it defines the divine creative act as one without any limitations, and its result, as to its proper material, as entirely new; and, as to its first cause, entirely the creation of divine power." Again Kalisch observes (Gen., p. 1): "God called the universe into being out of nothing; not out of formless matter coeval with Himself" (Geikie, Hours with the Bible, I, 16).

The patristic teaching as to the created origin of the world is too explicit and well known to require citation here. The few ambiguous expressions occurring in the works of Origen and Tertullian are more than counterbalanced by other unmistakable declarations of these same writers, while their at most exceptional divergencies are as nothing in comparison with the unanimous and continuous teaching of the other Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

Approaching the problem of origin from the purely rational side, we find the field preoccupied almost from the beginning of the history of philosophy by two directly opposite solutions: one maintaining that the world-matter is self-existent, underived from any extraneous source, and hence eternal; the world has therefore attained its present complex condition by a gradual evolutionary process from an original, simple, undifferentiated state (materialistic Monism); the other asserting that the world is derived from an extraneous cause, either by emanation from or evolution of the Divine being (Pantheism) or by creation (Creationism). Creationism, though an essentially philosophical solution, is never found divorced from Revelation. Materialistic Monism includes a varying number of philosophies; but all agree in maintaining that the world-matter is eternal, unproduced, and absolutely indestructible. They differ in that some attribute the formation of the universe to chance (the ancient Atomists), others to a sort of ubiquitous cosmical life or world-soul (Anaxagoras, Plato, Panpsychists, Fechner, Lotze, Paulsen), others to forces essentially inherent in matter (Feuerbach, Büchner, Häckel).

Against materialistic Monism Catholic philosophers (Creationists) argue thus: The world-matter is not self-existent; for what is self-existent is essentially necessary, immutable, absolute, infinite. But the world-matter is not necessary; its essence as such furnishes no reason why it should exist rather than not exist, nor why it is definitely determined as to number, extension, and space. It is not immutable, for it undergoes incessant change; not absolute, since it depends upon the natural forces which condition its states; not infinite as to extent, since, being extended, it is numerable, and hence finite; nor infinite in active power, since it is inert and essentially limited by external stimulation. The aggregate of natural forces must also be finite, otherwise there could be no change, no laws of inertia, no constancy and equivalence of energy. The world-substance is not eternal. For that substance must be conceived either as possessing eternal motion or not. If eternally active it would have passed through an infinite number of changes, which is self-contradictory. Moreover, the supposed evolutionary process would not have begun so late as geology teaches that it did, and would long since have come to an end, i. e. to a static equilibrium of forces according to the law of entropy.

If the primal matter was not endowed with an eternal activity, evolution could not have begun — not from within, the law of inertia forbidding; nor from without, since the materialistic hypothesis admits no extraneous cause. Moreover, since chance is no cause, but the negation thereof, some reason must be assigned for the differentiation of the original material into the various chemical elements and compounds. That reason may be supposed. either intrinsic or extrinsic to the primary matter. If intrinsic, it does not explain why just these elements (or compounds) in kind and number become differentiated; if extrinsic, the supposition contradicts the very basis of materialism which negates transmaterial agency.

A similar line of argument may be used to prove the impossibility of explaining, on the materialistic hypothesis, the order prevailing everywhere throughout the universe. To the counter argument that, given an infinite series of atomic arrangements, the present order must needs result, it may be answered:

  • the origin of both atoms and motion still remains unexplained;
  • an infinite series of combinations would demand infinite time, while geology indicates a limited time for the earth's formation;
  • some sort of order might result from a chance concurrence of atoms, but no constant and universal order;
  • the present order presupposes some disposition of the elements for this rather than another order.

Now the question still remains: Whence came precisely this disposition, and why did not the atoms concur in a way unfavourable to a continuous evolution, since the number of possible arrangements of an infinite number of atoms must be infinite?

The hypothesis of a world-soul exhibits another coup of inconsistencies. If the universe were "informed" by a principle of life, there would not be that essential difference between inanimate and animate bodies which both science and philosophy establish; inanimate bodies would manifest signs of life, such as spontaneous and immanent activity, organs, etc. The materialistic principle, "No matter without force, no force without matter" (Büchner), though, with some obvious qualification, true as to its first part, is untrue as to its second. Force is the proximate principle of action, and may be or not be, but it is not of necessity conjoined with matter. The principle of action in man is not intrinsically dependent on matter. — For the development of these and more serious arguments against materialistic Monism see "Institutiones Philosophiæ Naturalis," by Willems or Pesch.

Pantheistic differs from materialistic Monism in asserting a being, in some sense unitary, which unfolds itself in the material universe and in human consciousness. That such a being is called "God" is an obvious misuse of language. Moreover, God is indivisible, spiritual, eternal, necessary, immutable, omnipresent, absolute, and cannot, therefore, "evolve" into a universe of matter which possesses just the contrary attributes. For a like reason bodies cannot be modes, either real (Spinoza) or logical (Hegel), of the divine substance. Since, then, the world-material is not self-existent, but produced, and that not from some antecedent material (for such a supposition would only defer and not solve the problem); since, moreover, the world-substance has not emanated from the divine nature, it follows that it must have been produced by some extraneous cause, from no pre-existing materia, i. e. it must have been created. That that extraneous cause is God, the self-existent, necessary, absolute, infinite, and consequently personal Deity, is proved from the finality and order manifest in the cosmos that has developed from the original material, which order demands an efficient and a directive cause of supreme if not infinite intelligence; and from the further fact that the creative act can proceed only from a truly infinite and therefore personal agent, as will be shown towards the end of this article.

To the question: In what condition was the world-matter created, whether homogeneous or differentiated into various specific substances? neither Revelation nor science gives answer. Until lately the practically universal opinion of Catholic philosophers favoured an original essential differentiation of the elements. Since, however, the tendency of physico-chemical experimentation and inference now points with some probability to a radical homogeneity of matter, and since philosophy is bound to reduce the world to its fewest and simplest principles, the opinion seems justified that the original matter was created actually undifferentiated, but with inherent potency toward elemental and, subsequently, compound diversification through the action, reaction, and grouping of the ultimate particles.

When — probably through some such processes as are suggested by the well-known nebular hypothesis (Kant, Laplace) and by the inductions of geology — the material universe was disposed for the simplest forms of life, then God said: "Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as may seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, which may have seed in itself upon the earth. And it was so done" (Gen., i, 11) — the work of the third creative day. At a subsequent, "God created the great whales and every living and moving creature, which the waters brought forth, according to their kinds, and every winged fowl according to its kind" (ib., 21) — the work of the fifth day. And again, "God said: Let the earth bring forth the living creature in its kind, cattle and creeping things, and beasts of the earth, according to their kinds. And it was so done. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds, and cattle, and every thing that creepeth on the earth after its kind" (ib., 24, 25) — part of the work of the sixth day. In these simple words the inspired author of Genesis describes the advent of life, plant and animal, on our earth. It does not fall within the scope of the present article to discuss the various meanings that have been assigned to "the days of creation". Suffice it to say that Catholic exegetes are allowed the widest liberty of interpretation compatible with the obvious substance and purport of the sacred narrative, that God is "the creator of heaven and earth." Accordingly, we find some theologians following St. Augustine (In Gen. ad litt., I), that the six days signify only a logical (not a real) succession, i. e. in the order in which the creative works were manifested to the angels. Others interpret the days as indefinite cosmical periods. Others, though these are at present a vanishing number, still follow the literal interpretation. An immense amount of time, patient research, and ingenuity has been spent in the task of harmonizing the successive stages of terrestrial evolution, as deciphered by geologists from the records of the rocks, with the Mosaic narrative; but the highest tribute to the success of these efforts is that they more or less graphically corroborate what must be already a priori certain and evident, at least to the believer, that between the truth of Revelation and the truth of science there is, and can be, no discord. But whatever may be thought of the effort to vindicate in detail the parallelism claimed to exist between the geological succession of living forms and the order described in the Bible, it is certain that some general parallelism exists; that the testimony of the strata corroborates the story of the Book, according to which the lowliest forms of plant life, "the green herb," appeared first, then the higher, "the seed-bearing tree," followed in turn by the simpler animal types, the water creature and the winged fowl, and finally by the highest organisms, "the beasts of the earth and the cattle." (if you are interested in this kind of discussion, more can be found at this source:

Creation and evolution

If now, from the general interpretation of the Biblical account of creation, we turn to the biologico-philosophical problems which it suggests, and which revert to it for what solution it may have to offer, we find Catholic thinkers exercising an equally large liberty of speculation. "Considered in connection with the entire account of creation," says a recent eminent Jesuit exegete, "the words of Genesis cited above proximately maintain nothing else than that the earth with all that it contains and bears, together with the plant and animal kingdoms, has not produced itself nor is the work of chance; but owes its existence to the power of God. However, in what particular manner the plant and animal kingdoms received their existence: whether all species were created simultaneously or only a few which were destined to give life to others: whether only one fruitful seed was placed on mother earth, which under the influence of natural causes developed into the first plants, and another infused into the waters gave birth to the first animals — all this the Book of Genesis leaves to our own investigation and to the revelations of science, if indeed science is able at all to give a final and unquestionable decision. In other words, the article of faith contained in Genesis remains firm and intact even if one explains the manner in which the different species originated according to the principle of the theory of evolution" (Knabenbauer, "Stimmen aus Maria-Laach", XIII, 74; cf. Muckermann, "Attitude of Catholics towards Darwinism and Evolution", 78.)

The two general biological problems connected with the Biblical cosmogony are the origin of life and the succession of organisms. Concerning both these problems all that Catholic Faith teaches is that the beginnings of plant and animal life are due in some way to the productive power of God. Whether, with St. Augustine and St. Thomas, one hold that only the primordial elements, endowed with dispositions and powers (rationes seminales) for development, were created in the strict sense of the term, and the rest of nature — plant and animal life — was gradually evolved according to a fixed order of natural operation under the supreme guidance of the Divine Administration (Harper, "Metaphysics of the School", II, 746); or whether, with other Fathers and Doctors of the School, one hold that life and the classes of living beings — orders, families, genera, species — were each and all, or only some few, strictly and immediately created by God — whichever of these extreme views he may deem more rational and better motived, the Catholic thinker is left perfectly free by his faith to select. It is well known that the theory of spontaneous generation of certain animalculæ, worms, insects, etc. was held by theologians and philosophers alike until comparatively recent times, until, indeed, experimental evidence demonstrated the opposite thesis.

The establishment of the universal truth of biogenesis (q. v.), omne vivum ex vivo, was then seen to corroborate the teaching of the Bible, that life, plant and animal, is due to the Divine productive agency. Since the characteristics of living substance are contrary to those of the non-living substance, the characteristics of life being spontaneity and immanent activity, those of inanimate matter being inertia and transitive activity, the Divine efficiency, to which the origin and differentiation of life are ascribed, has received the distinctive name of administration. The idea conveyed by the latter term is thus explained by a philosopher who has drawn it out from the suggestion supplied by St. Thomas. (De Potentiâ, Q. iv.) Though God can operate as He does in the creative act, without the cooperation of the creature, it is absolutely impossible for the creature to elicit even the smallest act without the co-operation of the Creator. Now the Divine Administration includes this and more, two things, namely, as regards the present subject. The one is the constant order, the natural laws, of the universe. Thus, e.g., that all living things should be ordinately propagated by seed belongs to the Divine Administration. The second, which may be called exceptional, relates to the initial organisms, the first plant, fish, bird, and beast, upon which hereditary propagation must have subsequently succeeded.

That these original pairs should have been evolved out of the potency of matter without parentage — that the matter, otherwise incapable of the task, should have been proximately disposed for such evolution — belongs to a special Divine Administration. In other words, God must have been the sole efficient cause — utilizing, of course, the material cause — of the organization requisite, and hence may strictly be said to have formed such pairs, and in particular the human body, out of the pre-existent matter (Harper, op. cit., 743). It need hardly be said that the distinctions between creation and co-operation, administration and formation, are not to be considered as subjectively realized in God. They are only so many aspects which the analytical mind must take note of in the fundamental and essential relation of dependence — contingency — in which the creature stands to the First Cause. For a sympathetic account of the relation of Evolutionism to Creationism, the reader may be referred to Muckermann (who has popularized Wasmann's technical illustrations of specific transformations among the ant-guests), Harper, Mivart, Guibert, Didiot, Farges, etc., mentioned in the bibliography below. A more vigorous criticism of Evolutionism is to be found in the works of Gerard, Gutberlet, Pesch, Willems, Hunter, Thein, and Hughes. (if you are interested in this kind of discussion, more can be found at this source:

Final cause of creation

Since the production of something from nothing, the bridging of the chasm between non-existence and existence demands infinite power, and since the reason for the action of an infinite being must lie within that being Himself, the primary subjective motive of creation must be the Creator's love of His own intrinsic goodness. The love of that absolute good is conceived by us as "inducing" the Creator to give it an extrinsic embodiment (creation in its passive sense, the universe). The type-idea according to which this embodiment is constructed must exist within the Creator's intelligence and as such is called the "exemplary" or archetypal cause of creation (passive). The objective realization hereof is the absolute final objective end, or final cause, of creation. In the material universe this realization, exhibited in the purposiveness of each individual part conspiring to the purposiveness of the whole, remains imperfect and is but a vestige of the original design. In the rational creature it reaches a certain completeness, inasmuch as man's personality, with its intellectual and volitional endowments, is a sort of (analogous) "image" of the Creator, and, as such, a more perfect realization of the creative plan. Moreover, in man's consciousness the creative purpose comes to explicit manifestation and reflective recognition. His intelligent reaction thereon by reverential attitude and orderly conduct realizes the absolutely final purpose of creation, the actual "formal glorifying" of the Creator, so far as that is possible in the present life. But even as the orderly or normal activity of the individual organisms and subordinate parts of the universe develop and complete those organisms and parts, so man's rational conduct perfects him and, as a consequence, results in a state of happiness, the full complement whereof is attainable, however, only in a life beyond the present. This completion and happiness of man are said to be the relatively ultimate end of creation, and thereby the creative plan is absolutely completed, the Creator finally explicitly formally glorified by the return of the creation, carried up by and in man to conscious inter-communion with the Source and End of the creative act. Lactantius thus sums up the hierarchy of finality in creation: "The world was made that we might be born. We were born that we might know God. We know Him that we may worship Him. We worship Him that we may earn immortality. We are rewarded with immortality that, being like unto the angels, we may serve Our Father and Lord forever, and be the eternal kingdom of God" (Instit., VII, vi). When man is said to be the (relatively) ultimate end of creation, this obviously does not exclude other coexistent and subordinate purposes.

Creation the prerogative of God alone

The Fourth Lateran Council defined that "God is the sole principle of all things visible and invisible, the creator of all" [Denzinger, op. cit., 428 (355)]; and the Bible throughout ascribes the creative act to Him alone: "I am the Lord, that make all things . . . and there is none with me" (Is., xliv, 24; cf. xl, 25; Ps cxxxv, 4). As to the question, whether it is intrinsically possible for a creature to be endowed with creative power, theologians answer with a distinction.

No creature can possibly be a principal cause of creation. This is the unanimous teaching of the Fathers. The philosophical reasons are:

  • the creative act, being absolutely independent of material and instrument, supposes an absolutely independent subject (agent);
  • the term of the creative act is the complete substance of the effect (spiritual or material), and the act can extend indefinitely to whatever is intrinsically possible, while the act of the created agent reaches only to the accidents, or partial constituents, of bodies, and is definitely limited in range;
  • the creative act produces its effects by will alone;
  • it is immanent, while its term is extraneous;
  • it is as unlimited as is the extent of will power;
  • it is instantaneous.

No finite cause can thus operate.

Some theologians (Peter the Lombard and Suarez) have thought that a creature might be used by God as an instrumental cause of creation. The general opinion, however, is to the contrary, on the ground that since creation excludes materia ex quâ there is no subject whereon the dispositive influence of an instrument could be exerted.

God was absolutely free to create or not to create, and to create the present or any possible world. This is an article of Catholic Faith defined by the Vatican Council (Can., De Deo Creante, v). It is the explicit teaching of Scripture, God "worketh all things according to the counsel of his will" (Eph., i, 11), and of the Fathers generally. It is an obvious rational deduction from the infinitude and absolute self-sufficiency of God. The creative act, as a subjective aspect of the Divine Will, is necessary, but the external positing of a term is free. This doctrine of creative freedom excludes the exaggerated optimism of Leibniz and others, who held that God was bound to create the best possible world. The Divine act must be perfect, but the effect need not, and indeed cannot, be absolutely perfect; the creature being necessarily finite, a more perfect creature is always possible and creatable by infinite power. The world is the very best possible for the Creator's purpose; it is relatively, not absolutely, perfect. (See OPTIMISM.)

The world was created in time, not from eternity

The Vatican Council defined that God created ab initio temporis. The opening words of Genesis, "In the beginning God created," are re-echoed in similar phrases throughout the Bible. The Fathers reiterate the same teaching. As to the question, whether eternal creation is intrinsically possible, St. Thomas, in his solicitude that infidels might have no ground to cavil with the arguments which believers assign for the temporal origin of creation (passive), says: "That the world has not always existed is held by faith alone, and cannot be demonstrated" (Summa, I, Q. xlvi, a. 2). St. Bonaventure and many others maintain that the inherent impossibility of eternal creation is demonstrable. Arguments too subtle for discussion here are adduced by both sides of the controversy.

Speculative and practical position of the doctrine of creation

From what has been said it follows that belief "in God the Creator of heaven and earth" is the theoretical basis of all religious and theological truth, the real foundation underlying all other truths concerning God, and the objective principle whence all other truths proceed. The Incarnation completes in the supernatural order the creative purpose and plan by the Divine Personal Idea, the Word, assuming to Himself man's nature, wherein the natural order of creation is synthesized, and thus carrying back completely the whole creation to its origin and end. The Redemption, the Church, and the sacramental system are obviously the extension of the Incarnation, and so, through the medium of the latter mystery, follow from creation. The proposition that the Infinite is the absolutely primary source of all other reality is also the first philosophical truth, not of course in our order of attainment but in itself. All created being, truth, goodness, beauty, perfection are eminently contained in the Creator's essence, conceptually in His creative intelligence, potentially in His creative omnipotence, and are determined to their measure of actual objective existence by the creative will. The real distinction of the finite from the Infinite opposes every form of exaggerated monism, while the entitative contingency and dependence of the creature on the Creator refutes an exaggerated dualism. A rational mediating dualistic monism is based on the truth of creation. Lastly, the end and purpose of creation sets before man the first ideal and norm of life; and thus the final reason of the distinction between right and wrong conduct is found in the conformity of the one and the difformity of the other with the original exemplar in the Creator's mind. Acting up to his complete nature, man is at once self-consistent and accordant proximately with the created copy and hence mediately accordant with the original pattern in the eternal design of his Creator.


The word creation comes from the Latin word, creatio.

See also

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Last updated: 06-02-2005 05:03:41
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