Doctrine of creation
‘What do we mean by creation? How helpful are making, emanation and/or artistic work as analogies? Is it a doctrine about the world’s beginnings or origin, or about its present or future existence, or what?
Creation is often referred to as a ‘mystery’ and this is due to its perhaps ambiguous nature. Christian theology defines creation in many different ways, which differ greatly as viewpoints on the same theme. John Macquarrie tries to make the mystery clearer by using two analogies to try to describe what creation actually is.
The first of these is that of ‘making’. This is best understood alongside the literal understanding of creation, which can be found in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament (Genesis). The analogy is that of a craftsman producing an article that is to be used. It stresses the superiority of God; there is both differences and distance between the craftsman and his product – as there is transcendence between God and God’s creatures. It treats creation as an act of free will on the part of God, not as a process that is simply part of the Natural Law, which is more a view expressed by the second analogy.
One problem with the ‘making’ analogy is that it doesn’t embrace the traditional ‘creatio ex nihilo’ (creation out of nothing) view; if God has made the cosmos in the way in which a carpenter or a blacksmith would, out of what has he actually created it?
The second analogy is that of ’emanation’. To understand this analogy it would be best to imagine God, the creator, as the sun, with the created, Gods creatures, as the rays emanating from it. This view stresses more affinity between the source (God) and what has sprung from it, thus making this the opposite of the ‘making’ analogy, with a
much stronger emphasis on immanence rather than transcendence.
As already mentioned, this theory of creation treats it more as a natural process that a spontaneous act, which is considered by some to be moving too far along the scale; a happy mean between nature and free will is the ideal view. Emanation is not a very biblical, traditionalist view of creation, and as such is often seen as opposed
to the view of making. However, Macquarrie would not wish this, and
‘It should not be regarded as a rival idea to the biblical one…It should indeed be regarded as secondary to the biblical idea, but as such it provides certain correctives and gives expression to insights which are not clearly presented in the image of making.’
A suggested ‘middle position between these two opposing images is sometimes put forward, that of the ‘work of art’ analogy. At first glance this seems to be a good balance between transcendence and immanence; in creating a work, an artist does put something of himself into it, while at the same time remaining external to the actual thing itself.
But does this do justice to the extent of the immanence of God in the creation of the cosmos? The artist analogy now looks to be too external; again there is the wrong balance. A way of creating the right balance would be to hold ‘side by side in their tension with one another the models of making and emanation’.
All of these images do have something valuable in the search for the correct view of God and creation, however they all need to be given equal weight in the mind as they all have bad points and all have good. How you see the balance of transcendence and immanence in the creation mystery is a matter largely for the individual, however most Christian disciplines view God as both transcendent and immanent at the
same time in the creation of the cosmos.
Karl Barth claims that as we can not know empirically about creation, the whole doctrine of creation is in fact a doctrine of faith; the factual account of a world coming into being could be regarded as a creed of sorts, an expression of belief in God. Christian doctrine of creation is split into three sections; creatio originalis (the single act of creation in the beginning), creatio continua ( continuous involvement of creation) and creatio nova, the new creation still to come.
The obvious teaching in the doctrine of creation is the literal Old Testament view stated in the Bible; ‘In the beginning…’
But this creatio originalis view cannot be all there is to say about creation; if God is one who creates immanently, he must be there for us in the present- we can only know of the creation through the present after all.
E. Mascall defends the creatio continua view by putting a philosophical slant on things; he puts creation not only as the act of bringing the world into existence but also as something that ‘ would still have application to finite beings even if they had always existed and therefore had no beginning at all’ . A supporter of this view was St. Thomas Aquinas, though much earlier. He likened creation to the upkeep as well as the making; returning to our earlier analogy of the craftsman, God keeps us ‘well-oiled’. St. Thomas claimed that ‘if He God withdrew his action from them things God has brought into being they would return to non-existence’
Creation is therefore involved with both bringing things into being and maintaining them; it is a continual act, hence creatio continua.
Karl Barth provides us with a further inference regarding creatio continua when he says, drawing on Gods benevolence as a proof of creations continual state,
‘It would be a strange love that was satisfied with the mere existence and nature of the other, then withdrawing, leaving it to its own devices’
The three fold view of creation is and has been a popular one in the doctrine of creation, however it and the eschatological teaching of creation have been somewhat neglected with the advent of Darwinism and evolutionary theories. But surely we can dismiss the problem of evolution when we think of creation as a continual act;
‘…the act of creation gathers into one single divine moment the whole of existence, even though…extended in time…’
There is therefore no conflict between evolution and archaeological findings, and the traditional doctrine of creation provided that we think of the two as existing simultaneously in two separate realities. One way to look at it is an analogy, which is sometimes used in order to try and understand God’s omnipresence, a difficult concept to grasp for human beings.
Imagine a book that contains the world’s story from beginning to end, with the timescale in that book being that of Earth. God is the reader/writer/editor, and he is external to the book, both in terms of being able to edit it and in terms of time (if He is immutable and infinite so must He be outside the framework of our time).
So God can edit the book; he is something external (transcendence) but also involved as a reader, writer or editor (immanence). This present involvement we can see is creatio continua.
A story with a beginning and a middle usually has an end; we come now to the eschatological teachings of creation, creatio nova, the future involvement of God. Our destiny as human beings can be seen to be written in the book; the completion and end destination of creation, still to be fulfilled.
The three fold view of creation is one adopted by mot scholars; it is a sensible, balanced view of the doctrine as a teaching on more than just one act in time, i.e. creatio originalis.
Study pack, Doctrine of creation
Barth, K: The Openness of Being
Bonhoeffer: Creation and Temptation
Mascall, E : The Openness of Being
St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica
Barth, K: Church Dogmatics