Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics and About God

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2. The transferal of the terms “essence”, “energy” and “person” into Theology. (The problem of freedom)

F. The Dogma on Creation


a. The problem of Gnosticism

We mentioned -from our very first lessons- that we would be tracking the Symbol of Faith (Creed) in the structuring of Dogmatics.  Up to now, we have covered the first few words of the Creed: I believe in one God, the Father…”  Continuing on, we encounter the words the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”.  And this is where we find the problem regarding Creation - the dogma on creation.

God is not only the Father of His Son; He is not only Triadic; He does not have existence only unto Himself; we do not simply confess that He exists eternally. We confess that this God embarked on an act, an energy outside of Himself, which brought into existence something else, other than Himself.  And this, precisely, is the dogma on Creation. We need to point out from the very start that this act of God, of creating something else outside of Himself, did not constitute a necessity for God.  When we say “necessity”, we do not imply any form of psychological necessity (as many contemporary dogmaticians do), such as “loneliness”, or “the desire to have someone else, other than Himself”, etc.  We must never apply the concept of “psychology” when referring to the existence of God, even though the Holy Bible and our Theology may sometimes resort to referring to God with the aid of psychological terms (e.g.,  ‘God is angry’, or ‘the wrath of God’, etc.; even the fact that He ‘loves’ us is often perceived from a psychological point of view).  All such terms –when they do not have an ontological basis- are anthropomorphic and should not be applied to God’s being.  We cannot apply psychology to God.  Augustine (as we saw) did apply it, and eventually created the problems that we pointed out.

Consequently, when we say that ‘God created the world’ (i.e., a thing outside of Himself) out of ‘love’, or ‘motivated by love’, we should not attribute any sentimental meaning to this word ‘love’.

This is where the problem arises, as to how we should perceive God’s motives in the creation of the world. At this point, in accordance with the principle that we follow in our lessons, we should firstly take a look at the history of the dogma on Creation, to see under what historical prerequisites it appeared, and afterwards see what this could entail for us.  This way, we will also be able to give a reply to the question posed before, regarding the motives of Creation; in other words: Why was the world created by God?

During this stage of  “…the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth and all things visible and invisible…” the Creed has -as a prerequisite- certain concepts regarding ‘the creation of the world’, or ‘the world’; notions, which the Fathers and the Church deemed heretic and unacceptable.  At first, the Creed was simply a confession of faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The addition of these phrases was the result of a historical necessity.  We need to therefore examine what sorts of ideas regarding Creation are exempt from the Creed first of all. Then, we shall examine what sorts of ideas are hidden behind these expressions.

Historically, the first thing that brought about this extension to the Creed was the idea that Gnosticism had, regarding Creation.  Gnosticism put great emphasis on the transcendental status of God, in order to resolve the problem of theodicy, in other words, the problem of why there is so much evil in the world and how we can explain the existence of evil in the world; that is, how it originated.  Naturally, if we say that God is responsible for evil, we immediately endanger the concept of God.  God must not be held responsible for evil.  Then what should we do, to ensure that God is not held responsible for the evil that exists in the world?

Gnosticism’s reply to this question was its theory that this world was not created by God - this ‘God the Father’.  ‘God the Father’ is apparently so transcendental and unapproachable, so foreign to what is going on in the world, that He can even be considered altogether alien to the world. This is the “stranger-God” of Marcion.  Thus, by alienating God from the world, they have acquitted Him of the responsibility for the existence of evil; however, they then needed to explain why and how this world exists.  The answer that Gnosticism gave to this question was that this world was the creation of another, inferior being whom they called ‘Creator’, thus distinguishing between ‘Father’ and ‘Creator’.  ‘God the Father’ was one thing, and a ‘god-Creator’ was another.  This Creator’ of theirs is found among the series of “aeons” - beings that link the world to God. There, towards the end, near the world, is the place of this Creator’ who created the world and who is therefore also responsible for the evil that exists in the world.  Because, a prerequisite of Gnosticism is that this world is by definition evil. In other words, evil resides within matter, within the structure of matter, within all of creation, within everything that exists in this world.  Subsequently, this world cannot even be repaired.  To be saved, you must therefore get out of this world. And a Gnostic is supposedly the one who is asked to abandon space and time, through the knowledge that he possesses.

The Patristic responseand chiefly Saint Ireneos, who confronted Gnosticism with his significant treatise “Against Heresies” was comprised of the following points, which are also the prerequisites in the Symbol of Faith (Creed) :

THE FIRST POSITION maintained by Saint Ireneos is that ‘God the Father’ and ‘God the Creator’ is one and the same person.  We do not make any distinction between the Father and the Creator. This is why in the Creed, these words are so close to each other, that many interpret the notion of ‘Father’ as pertaining to Creation and not to His eternal state of existence. And indeed, in the 2nd century, this anti-Gnostic position of relating the ‘Father’ with the ‘Creator’ was so intensely stressed, that the impression was given –when reading the Patristic texts of that period– that the words I believe in one God, the Father..” implied the Creator more than it did the eternal God, that is, the Father of the Son.

This was clarified at a later stage, mainly during the 4th century following Arianism, when the problem became more pressing and acute and the answer was given, that God is indeed the Father - not as a Creator, but as the Father of one Son, Who always existed, Who pre-existed, Who always existed, within the Essence of God. This, therefore, was the first position.

THE SECOND POSITION is that this God/Father/Creator is directly involved in the act of Creation: He is not a Creator through any intermediaries.  The theory of ‘aeons’ - of all those intermediaries between God and the world according to Gnosticism – is rejected, and is replaced by the insertion of the idea of the immediacy of God’s involvement in the act of Creation. This is a direct relating of God to the world.

Here of course, is where the other point is brought up, which appears later on in the other clause of the Creed  (“…through Whom everything came into being….”) –but we shall discuss this in the future– and states that it was through the Logos, the Son, that God created the world.

And this is where an impasse appeared somehow, on the issue of God’s transcendental status. This was such a delicate and difficult point, that it created much confusion, both in the 2nd and the 3rd and even the 4th century. 

This role of the Son in Creation (as the One through Whom God created the world) was responsible for the notion that the Father is so transcendental, that God as the Father was not the One who directly created the world, but Who used the Son to do it; thus, the Father remained the One that we could say nothing about; (we see here, how Gnosticism even took on a Christian form) He remained the Complete Stranger. The Son was the One who effected the work of Creation, but, because this had not been clarified (during the 2nd and 3rd centuries), whether the Son belonged within the sphere of the Uncreated God, or if  the Logos of God had somehow appeared for the first time when God the Father was effecting the work of Creation; in other words, it was because of the prevailing confusion on this point, that we arrived at Arianism, which had posed the question as to whether the Logos belonged within the sphere of the created, or of the Uncreated.

Naturally, the Church -through its 1st Ecumenical Council- decided that the Logos belonged in the sphere of the Uncreated, even though it espoused Ireneos’ position in this case, whereby, albeit the Father uses the Son in Creation, He is nevertheless acting in a direct manner.  In other words, by saying that God created the world through His Son, we should not imply that the Father remains so transcendental that He has no direct involvement Himself in Creation. The creation of the world is a work of the Father’s love.  It is executed by the Son, but the Father is also ever-present in the work of Creation, and, as elucidated in the 4th century, the Father and the Son are inseparable.

At any rate, it is imperative that we stress, chiefly with the theology of Saint Ireneos, this immediacy of the Father’s involvement, even though He uses the Son in the work of Creation. We therefore have an ‘immediacy’ and a ‘coincidence’, between the terms ‘Creator’ and ‘Father’.  The Son does not become Creator, just because the world is created through the Son. The Father is the Creator, according to the 4th century’s theology.  This changes slightly during the Patristic period; however, I would like to remind you at this point, that we should not perceive the Patristic period as a monolithic period.  Unfortunately, during recent years, a very unscholarly perception of patristic theology has become prevalent in orthodox theology. Patristic theology has a history of its own; we cannot say “Fathers” in one breath, and in this word include everyone, from Saint Ireneos through to Saint Gregory Palamas, as though no ‘fermentations’ whatsoever had occurred during this entire historical period.  That which ensures the unity of Patristic thought, is that in basic issues (such as this one, of ‘immediacy’), all of Patristic theology is consistently in agreement.  Thus, even if the Son does appear later on as the Creator, this does not negate the immediacy of the Father’s involvement.

This is why the Creed insists:  «….in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth…».


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Transcript by N. M.

Translation by A. N.

Article published in English on: 12-6-2006.

Last update: 24-8-2006.