Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics and About God

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No dogma has ever been formulated without there being certain prior causes.  The cause for formulating the dogma on Creation from nil was chiefly the Platonics’ influence with their concept of Creation; a concept that the Church did not accept. Subsequently, the Church’s dogma on Creation differs in its essence from the Platonic perceptions on Creation.  Platonism and Christianity parted ways very opportunely on the issue of Creation, and it is very important that we remember that this took place as early as the first two centuries, although it did become even clearer in the 3rd century with the Fathers. So, let us see what the term “from nil” implies:

The first thing that it signifies is that the world is not eternal, because, if it was not created “from nil”, then the opposite would be implied; i.e., that the world was created from “something” that already existed before it.  Thus, if that “something” already existed (from which the world originated), then, logically, it must have pre-existed, and in fact must have existed prior to the creation of the world.  Consequently, that “something” cannot be within the limits of Time; it cannot have anything to do with Time or Creation, unless that “something” is “from nil”; instead, it would have to be an eternal creation -as Origen asserted- and the world would necessarily be eternal also, the way that the ancient Hellenes had perceived it.

These ideas are all rejected.  The world is not eternal.  "Ēķ šļōŻ üōå ļõź ēķ", (=there was a time that it was not).  The worldwas not”.  Then what was there There was God There was nothing else but God, because everything outside of God is a creation.  Therefore, we must infer that “there was a time” that God was on His own, without anything else co-existing. 

This is the first consequence of the term “from nil”.

The second consequence is that if the world was created from nil, it would be subject to a “return to nil”.  Why is this necessary? Well, it is necessary, simply because if something is not eternal, then it cannot remain eternal.  The characteristic of the world is not eternicity, but its continuous dependence on “nil”.  Consequently, the world can return to “nil”, and furthermore, it is in the nature of Creation to be constantly threatened by the “return to nil”.

Athanasios the Great wrote in his work “On Incarnation” that Creation has “nil” and “death” within its nature. Therefore, “death”, in the sense of “elimination of Creation” is something that is embedded in Creation.  When we say “creation” we definitely imply something mortal, as nothing immortal can be created. 

This is the second consequence offrom nil.”

Now the third consequence The following question arises:  If the world is “from nil” and is threatened by “nil”, i.e., the world is destined to return to nil, then how can it possess a true existence, and how can it avoid its “return to nil”?  Because, if God created a world from nil so that it would return to nil, then that world is condemned – not only by nature, but also on account of God’s intention for it to die.

But God did not make the world so that it should die; He made it so that it should live.  We have already eliminated the nature of the world as its means of survival.  In other words, when God made the world so that it could live, so that it would be able to transcend “nil”, He did not implant in its nature any kind of force that would ensure its immortality, because that would have automatically rendered the world eternal, and it would no longer be a creation; it would have become an immortal god.  If God had placed such laws within the nature of Creation, which would have -once and for all- ensured the survival of the world, then that world – albeit with a beginning “from nil”, as something non-eternal – would have ended up eternal “by nature”. This means that God would have created another, eternal, god.  Therefore, this would not have been the way for the world to transcend “nil” and continue to live, and be in a perpetual relationship with God.

We have God on the one hand, Who is eternal, Who lives eternally within His nature, and on the other hand, we have a world that began from nil and within its nature cannot live eternally.  This world cannot live eternally and not die, since it doesn’t have anything inside it – inside its nature – that can draw from any powers for its eternal survival.  All the laws of life, of nature, are simultaneously laws of death, and that is why we die.  We begin to die, from the moment of our birth.  Death begins from the very first moment of life. Death is not the last moment of life. Consequently, the laws that bring us into life are the same laws that bring us into death.  The only way that something created can transcend death and deterioration is to remain in constant communion with the eternal God.  God and the world should be in communion with each other.  This communion was given to Creation as a mission to be accomplished by mankind.  Thus, we have here a different kind of cosmology than the one we saw in Origen.  Take note of these significant differences.

Man was created at the end of all Creation, precisely so that he might unite the created with the Uncreated God and bring them into a permanent relationship, so that this created world – by having a relationship only with the Uncreated, eternal God – will not die, but live on.  This is the only way that Creation can transcend “nil”.

Therefore, the purpose of creating man was this precise communion with God.  Why did God use man and not any other beings, such as angels for example?  It is because man by nature has a natural bond with the rest of nature, and because of nature’s bond with man, all of nature, all of the created world, by means of man’s body, can enter into a communion with God and live.  If God had chosen angels, i.e. the incorporeal powers, whichever ones and as many as they might be, the material world would never have been able to live on.  In other words, an angel would not have been able to offer the material world the things necessary for it to live, which is the union with God; the union of created and Uncreated.

The creation of man was a necessary element that would give the term “Creation” its full meaning, because without man, Creation would have been condemned to die.  This was precisely the train of thought followed by Athanasios the Great in his “On the incarnation of the Logos”; he showed that it was not by chance that God chose this form of incarnation for the Logos in His plan to save the world, because what the world needed to be saved was –no less- the transcending of “nil” and the ability to live on.  And for the material world this would have been impossible, if the union with God was not arranged in such a way as to also include the material world.  No other being in nature has this potential to transcend the material world and become joined to God, except mankind.  Angels may be superior in quality and more spiritual, but they have a disadvantage: they do not possess a material body; they have no ties with matter, whereas we humans even partake of creation’s death.  We die, because birds and trees die; because all animals die.  Consequently, we know, we carry in our flesh the death of the created world.  An angel does not partake of it. An angel does not share the fate of material death.  Thus, the material part of creation cannot commune with God through angelic beings.

When man was created, he was created precisely for that destination: to unite all of nature with God, thus enabling the transcendence of “nil” and death.  And since this was man’s supreme destiny, one would naturally have expected God to do things the way He did, so that this destiny would eventually be fulfilled.  However, this destiny, this plan of God’s, encountered a stumbling-block, i.e., man’s refusal to go along with the plan.   Man said to himself: “I don’t want to follow this plan; I have my own plan – I myself will become a god”, and he fooled himself.  Adam believed that by his becoming God, the world would be able to transcend “nil”, it would live on, and he too would live on.  That is how he became entangled in the adventure we know as “the Fall”.   Adam’s option to say “no” is attributed to the fact that God had given him the potential to say “no” – in other words, Adam was bestowed with “freedom”.

Thus, with regard to the dogma on Creation, the question is posed:  Why does freedom exist in man?  Why didn’t God make things in such a way, that His plan wouldn’t have stumbled over man’s freedom?  Of course we cannot ask God why He did things this way and not that way... But, we need to be aware of what would have happened, if God had done things in another way.  What is evident is that if man had been created without the freedom to choose -or not choose- to follow that plan, then any union of God with the world and of the world with God would have been a compulsory union.  The world would not have been able to escape –so to speak- from this union, and that is precisely what God did not want, when He made the world “from nil”.  He made it into something outside Himself, which, however, would not merely function like a machine that was joined to Him, but would function in the same manner that God functions, i.e., of his own free will.

God did not want a world that did not want to exist. Can you create someone out of love, who would not want to exist?  God preferred to make a world that would want to exist, and this is precisely why he bestowed on man the freedom to say “yes” or “no” to His plan.  The fact that man chose the negative reply – and man did choose it, and continues to choose it, even when he is fully aware of the fact that it will lead him to certain death and “nil” – is indicative of the fact that God, when creating the world, did not want a world that existed without wanting to.  In other words, the world had the God-given potential, during creation, to choose self-destruction.  By the looks of things, Adam’s choice –existentially- was indeed the choice for self-destruction.

It was thus, that the world was “let be”, without any further intervention by God.  Take special note of this, because this point completes the dogma on creation:  If Creation had been abandoned free, the way that Adam had chosen to direct it, it is certain that it would have already reached the point of self-destruction - the point of annihilating itself.  This choice was indeed respected by God; nevertheless, He never ceased His efforts to help the world to live.  And this is where Providence enters the picture; the history of “salvation”, which is the means through which God tries to mend Adam’s choice, so that it will not harm the world.

The idea behind “salvation” was for the world to survive, and to transcend death.


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Transcript by N. M.

Translation by A. N.

Article published in English on: 18-9-2006.

Last update: 7-12-2006.