Doctrine of Creation
summarized by Sheila E. Mc Ginn, Ph.D.
Historical Development of
The doctrine of creation was unique in Judaeo-Christian tradition [in the ANE
and at the time of Christ]; it is of fundamental importance to understanding
God, nature, humanity in general and oneself in particular.
the Doctrine of Creation
Israelite Belief in God as Creator
The earliest view of Yahweh is as Savior (Deuteronomy 26:5-10), and especially
in reference to Exodus and the gift of the land. The God of the covenant (Exodus)
brings salvation by His power. Yahweh has power over all nations and elements
of the world--both nations and nature. Thus, Yahweh is the God of Creation and
the Creating God (Gen1-2)
- Creation is the basis for God's sovereignty.
- God the Creator is at work in nature and directs history (historical perspective
is primary; cosmic is secondary); the cosmic power of God is invoked to guarantee
the efficacy of the historical manifestation.
- Therefore creation appears "as a projection toward the past of the power
of God already at work in history, and thus as the first act in the history
Belief in creation was an extension of faith in Yahweh as the God of
the covenant, of history and of the promises. God's act of creation was
viewed as analogous to the covenant: "creation is also considered as a
force dominating history . . . a promise ordained to fulfilment. It is
entirely caught up in the relationship between God and [humanity], of which
eventful history salvation is the goal. Hence the one word [bara]
can indicate the original creation, God's actions in history and his final
God as Lord over all
God's work is seen in nature, and God's power over it; thus, God is the cause
of creation [Ps. 19:1; 104].
God as creator of the universe
- Isa. 40-55
concentrates on the creation of humans
assumes the existence of heavens and earth
humans are the center of creation
ha 'adam names the rest of creation (i.e. assigns each creature
its place in the order of things)
woman is of the same nature as man, both are differentiated from generic
"humanity" (ha 'adam)
affirms the goodness of marriage
shows primitive world view
literary form uses 7 days
humans are created in God's image and likeness (v. 24f), not `according
to their kind' like the other creatures (v. 11f)
after God's special deliberation; thus,
they are the high point of creation.
underlines divine institution of the week, and Sabbath rest
uses verb "bara." This shows God as the origin of all things.
God creates by word, a personal action. (This is a type of demythologization
of the ANE myth
- II Macc 7:23-29
God created us and can re-create us (resurrection of the just)
creation ex nihilo
- Development in the NT
Early Christian tradition
discussion with Greek philosophy brought:
- Distinction between God and creation
- Affirmation of goodness of creation against pantheism and dualistic systems,
respectively (cf. Irenaeus, adv. Haer.)
- Distinction between uncreated and created, rather than between intelligible
Systematic Summary of
Definition: "Creation" is "the way in which the world and everything pertaining
to the world have their origin, ground, and final goal in God."(3)
In the active sense, the term refers to the creative action of God. In the passive
sense, it includes the totality of the world.
Christian Doctrine of Creation
The Biblical terms for this idea are:
- (Greek), "to make habitable," "to found" (a colony, a city)
- creare (Latin), "to beget"
- bara´ (Hebrew), a term reserved for divine action which designates
God's action on the world, on Israel and in the establishment of eschatological
salvation. This consistent usage is characteristic of the biblical doctrine
Cosmology & Protology v. History of Salvation Approaches
Throughout history, there have been two primary approaches to discussion of the
doctrine of creation, either in terms of cosmology/protology (e.g. the Priestly
author), or in terms of the history of salvation (e.g. Irenaeus).
Augustine of Hippo (late 4th-early 5th century AD) linked these two approaches
in his discussion on the nature of time; there he demonstrated the unity
of creation and of conservation, thus, his doctrine of creation was not
a totally protological concept.
The Scholastics emphasized causality, thus, their main emphasis was protology.
However, the great Scholastic theologians (e.g. Thomas Aquinas & Bonaventure)
correlated and enriched this by the notion of "participation." Including
the notion of participation in their doctrine of creation allowed for the
same link between protology and conservation (God's continuing, sustaining
presence in the world through each creature) as did Augustine. It also
created the link between the strictly cosmological/protological approach
and the contributions of the salvation history approach to the doctrine
Modern theologians, in reflecting on the doctrine of creation, learn from
Augustine and the great Scholastic theologians when they suggest that "creation
implies a comprehensive action of God on the world and a total
relationship of the world to God ...."(4)
"Creation is an act of the present instant, and remains true to itself
till the hour of eschatological salvation. . . . It is part of the magnalia
dei and a salvific act, since it founds and sustains the whole history
of salvation."(5) See the association of
creation, conception and resurrection in 2 Macc 7:22-29 and Rom 4:17.
Christ is the efficient, exemplary, and final cause of creation
"In the man Jesus Christ, God's creative word is fully uttered, and his plan
of creation definitively accomplished in his saving acts. . . . Here the ultimate
truth of the ancient theological proposition, that [humanity] is the goal of
creation, is displayed to the full. Here it can also be seen that creation is
obedience, partnership in a covenant. This mystery also affirms the unthinkable
proximity of the creature to the creator: the Son who is in the bosom of the
Father is a [human]. Creation is oriented to this mystery.
Creation is history, because it makes [humans] and [their] whole world
responsible to the creative will of God and thus involves all creation
in the drama of refusal and forgiveness (Rom 8:19-21). All things are from
God, and look for his Lordship, when he will be all in all (1 Cor 15:28)."
Creation as a type of divine manifestation, a word of God
"The knowledge of God through the contemplation of the created world is revelation
in a certain sense; for it is a gift of God and a manifestation of God which
calls for religious homage on the part of [humanity]." (See Rom. 1:19f,
Acts 14, Ps. 19:1-2.)
- It is first of all a gift of God.
- In this knowledge everything is free gift: God is the Author of the world,
the Author of human nature, the Author of the light which allows us to interpret
- It is not our mind that rises up towards God; it is God who, through creation,
descends toward us.
- The initiative in this manifestation comes from God, as Saint Paul remarks:
`God manifests himself to humans so that they can know Him' (Rom. 1:19).
- The demonstration is ours, but the sign which invites and permits the demonstration,
the light which authorizes it, all come from God. God makes the sign.
- What is more, this forward step of reason is normally accompanied by actual
graces which help to undo the mystery and make God's presence seen.
Creation is a certain manifestation of an unknown God.
- The universe, actually, is not only a thing, but a creature. It is
a sign that points towards its Author: not an artificial sign, set up as an
after-thought, by convention, but rather a natural, necessary sign, based
on the objective relationship between Creator and creature.
- It is no arbitrary decree on God's part when He invites [humanity] to discover
His invisible perfections in the visible works of creation, but rather the
ontological bonds that join Him with the world. If God is the Creator of all
things, it is impossible that there should be no resemblance between creature
and Creator, for the creature owes [its] whole existence and [its] being to
the First Cause which brought [it] into being.
- If God is the fullness of being and perfection, every creature must have
received something of this fullness and this perfection. In material creation,
the spiritual God shines through, although only obscurely. By its power, immensity,
order, and beauty, the universe points to its Author, clearly demonstrating
His presence and letting us see some of the attributes of His person, source
of all perfection.
- [Humans] primarily, mind and will, far more than the physical world, [reflect]
the perfection of [their] Author: [they bear] the traits of God in [themselves],
[they are] in God's image. What is more, since God has created this image
of Himself according to a determined nature, and according to a determined
relationship with God, in the very fact of creation He reveals His will regarding
- And [humanity], a spiritual and conscious being, must discern, in the particular
character of [its] being, the expression of God's will for this rational creature
composed of body and soul. The will of God, expressed in the physical laws
of the inanimate world, is expressed for [humanity] in the natural law.
- [Humanity], like the whole universe . . . is a revelation of God in
action. But, in the interior of this revelation in action, which
is an implicit language, God addresses humanity with an explicit and personal
word, to sanction, explain, and complete this first form of divine manifestation.
Finally, the manifestation of God through creation implies, for [humanity],
the obligation of rendering the
religious homage which is due to
God through glorification and thanksgiving. `Inexcusable' are those who
have not recognized God and have not given him this homage (Rom. 1:20;
2:14-16; Wis. 13:1, 8)."(6)
In the last analysis, what distinguishes the two forms of revelation
is the fact that in the revelation of pure grace [especially, in Jesus
Christ], the notions of word and testimony are verified in the strict sense.
". . . Creation betrays the presence of God, manifests His perfections.
It speaks of God, but God Himself does not speak; God does not enter into
a dialogue. He is like a person present but silent. And thus the encounter
between [person] and universe does not terminate in the assent of faith,
but in an existential attitude: that of homage and adoration. . . . Natural
revelation does not have this characteristic of word and testimony [personal
call to covenant in faith]."(7)
Doctrine & Interpretation
- Summary of the doctrine:
- There is One God, Creator of heaven and earth (i.e. of all), things seen
(material) and unseen (immaterial).
- God creates in freedom. Thus, there is no foundation for dualism, thus,
the body is not evil but good.
- The human person is comprised of both body and spirit. Each individual
has a spiritual destiny to be lived in a concrete human life. Both body
and soul are necessary, and they are united in working toward this destiny/call.
- Each human being is called to responsibility toward world and society.
Thus, work, culture, history, & society are all essential elements in
God's process of bringing the work of creation to completion (that is, of
- Primary and secondary causality.
- The phrase "productio rei ex nihilo sui et subiecti" does
not deny secondary causality on the level of created beings [e.g. Occasionalism,
as Malebranche, successor to Liebniz, Descartes](8)
but affirms that God is the primary cause of all existence and
continuation in existence (i.e. Divine conservation and concursus)
- thus, God is acting in human activity, but on a different level than
- Creatures are not co-eternal with the Creator
- The affirmation of "§creation in time" means that creation had
a beginning -- though, in the strict sense, time did not exist before
creation. (God's eternity is not infinite duration but a reality
which surpasses duration.)
- Thomas Aquinas separated the idea of creation from the idea of the
eternity of the world. He affirmed that philosophy could prove the createdness
of the world, but that it could not demonstrate that the world had a beginning
(since the world could be dependent upon God, who is above time, and still
be eternally existing in dependence upon Him). Therefore, that the world
had a beginning must be believed by faith alone.
- Question: Is creation "in time" strictly de fide (absolutely
essential to the faith) or only proximum fide (close to the essential
doctrine)? This question is still open for discussion; it has yet to be
decided by the magisterium. Yet, it seems that the notion of creation
"in time" could only be considered proximum fide rather than strictly
de fide, especially given Thomas' suggestion of the creation's
causal dependency upon God even if this is not linked with God's temporal
priority. However, the question itself stretches the limits of human language
and logic, since time cannot exist before change. Hence, unless God is
to be considered subject to change (a notion which tradition denies),
then time did not exist before creation, yet, God alone is "eternal" in
the strict sense of the term. The "Big bang" theory and the laws of entropy
would seem likewise to militate for a temporal beginning of the universe.
The Christian conception of salvation history would seem to point to this
Creation of Humanity & the Theory of Evolution
A non-literal interpretation of Gen 1-3 prevailed in the first Christian centuries
(up to at least 500 CE). These stories show humans as the highpoint of the created
world, with the authority to care for the creation (stewardship). Modern theologians
need to re-evaluate and re-word teaching on creation to take the possibility of
evolution into account.
- Humani Generis (Pius XII, 1950) points out that the theory of the
evolutionary origin of the species is not incompatible with the Christian
doctrine of creation. However, if evolution is seen as the true way in which
human beings came to be the way they are, and the manner in which the rest
of creation develops and progresses, then God must be seen as directing and
sustaining this process along every step of the way. When something qualitatively
higher than the previously existing cause is produced, this "+" is correctly
understood as a creative act or provision by God.
- Creation has to do with the lasting relationship between God and
reality, especially God and human creatures. It is an act of divine self-giving
and is a continuous process of movement from lower to higher levels of being.
God actualizes the immanent experience of God in us beyond its own status
into a new dimension of existence and into a new religious state of consciousness
called sanctification. We can accept or reject this self-communication
of God. God's self-revelation to the human spirit creates a change in the
human consciousness ("inner illumination") and, through grace, opens a new
horizon of understanding of being and of self, a new perspective (an "Ahah!"
- In dialogue with evolutionary theory, this fact about creation can be seen
not only on the level of individual growth, but also on the level of the species
as a whole developing into the fullness of what God calls each aspect of creation
to be. A static notion of creation (i.e. one which neither allows for evolutionary
theory nor participationist metaphysics nor divine concursus) gives
birth to an idea of `pure nature'--i.e. what we are apart from our call to
divinization, apart from our capacity to hear and respond to God's call to
us (the potentia obedientialis). "But pure human nature does not exist.
We are, from the beginning, open to divine grace."(9)
- In an analogous sense, this can be applied to all aspects of the created
order (though in a less complete sense than to humanity). Thus, a modern
can say with the ancient Israelites, that history itself exists due to God's
primordial and continuing activity of creation; for, in fact, "history"
(in the sense of salvation history) and "creation" are merely two ways of
speaking of the same reality of God's penetrating and persuasive call to
what is higher, deeper, more real, more true, more beautiful--that is, to
Himself. Our words and actions are our self-expression, our `coming to appearance'--
even when we are not speaking of ourselves--our going out of ourselves to
the other. The result of God's creative activity is an analogous realization
of Himself.(10) Therefore humans, being
made in the divine image, are sketches of God's likeness. The image of God
in us is dynamic, and becomes fully actualized when turn to God in
believing and loving.(11)
- the peculiaris creatio hominis
- The question for people today is how to relate the creation of the
soul (directly by God) and the evolution of the body. The peculiaris
creatio hominis (the special/unique creation of humans) is not restricted
to the spiritual soul but also extends, in some way, to the human body.
- One way of discussing this would be to recognize that God-consciousness
and world-/other-consciousness go together. God-consciousness is element
of human self-consciousness (which, in reality, comes to us only through
our bodily senses). Transcendence toward others/world mediates our encounter
with God, the Divine Thou. The inherent relation to God (which is a concommitant
of our humanity as image) is the point of correspondence which is the
point of departure for the divine self-communication. Individuals are
"led beyond [the] natural experience of God because of the character of
transcendence which renders [them] open to God."
- Our human origin gives us the capacity for the supernatural, the ability
to be led beyond all ordinary experience, beyond our own immanent possibilities,
and to transcend ourselves in our inner depths. Therefore, God's revelation/mystery
inevitably "becomes the very inner self" of the human person. And, this
process of God becoming the heart of human reality requires both the personal
development of each human soul (a sort of personal `evolution') as well
as the physical evolution of the human body to a point where it is able
to mediate and encourage this process of spiritual development.(12)
- Ontogeny and creation
- What is the role of human procreation (ontogeny) in creation of the
individual--or, what is the role of God in human procreation? This question
is open for discussion.
- Phylogeny and creation
- An even more difficult duality to reconcile is the "natural" and
"divine" aspects of phylogeny. This question is likewise open for discussion.
- Monogenism or polygenism? The doctrine of creation cannot make a
distinction between monogenism and polygenism, therefore, faith cannot
impose monogenism. An argument from convenience/conservation may support
monogenism. But, what is "convenient" is not always what happens in
fact. From both a theological and a scientific point of view, the issue
is still open (but most scientists tend to support the idea of polygenism).(13)
1. Rene Latourelle, S.J. Theology of Revelation,
2. Pieter Smulders, Sacramentum Mundi, "Creation,"
3. Pieter Smulders, Sacramentum Mundi, "Creation,"
4. Michael Schmaus, Dogma 1: God and Revelation,
6. Latourelle, 337f.
7. Latourelle, 339.
8. Descartes' dualism saw man as bodily substance + spiritual
substance, connected by the pineal gland in the back of the brain.
9. Mc Brien, Catholicism, 225.
10. Schmaus, Dogma I, 21.
11. Schmaus, 22.
12. Schmaus, 23.
13. For discussion of whether the doctrine of "original
sin" requires monogenism, see "Original Sin."