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«Creatio ex nihilo» and the Theology of St. Augustine

The Anti-Manichaean Polemic and Beyond


N. Joseph Torchia

This study proceeds from an investigation of the significance of the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo in some of the key components of St. Augustine's extended anti-Manichaean polemic. To a great extent, his devastating critique of the Manichaeans' world view, their conception of evil, and their most fundamental theological presuppositions relied heavily upon the affirmation that God ultimately created everything that exists from nothing. In broader terms, the study demonstrates how the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo provided Augustine with an effective means of defining the character of created being as finite and mutable, and drawing a crucial ontological distinction between the Divine Nature and that which God creates. Such teachings were operative in some of the key themes of Augustine's theology.


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Preface IX


Preface Despite the seeming inexhaustiveness of investigations into the life and work of St. Augustine of Hippo, his theology of creation remains a relatively neglected area of his thought. This void in scholarship is surprising, when one considers the importance which the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo assumes in Augustine's writings. In a very real sense, this seminal Christian teaching constitutes a crucial, if not the pivotal, element in his theological deliberations on a wide variety of topics. For this reason, it might serve as a useful point of departure for as- sessing the mainlines of Augustine's theology as a whole. But it is interesting to observe that Augustine's theology "as a whole" is rarely, if ever, addressed. Why is this the case? A somewhat facile, yet thoroughly apt response immediately suggests itself: Augustine himself was a rather non-systematic theologian. This is not to say that his theology developed in a haphazard or poorly organized fashion. But in actuality, Augustine's writings reveal a continually evolving in- quiry concerning a wide range of perennially compelling theological problems. This is borne out, I think, by the fact that no single area of his theology can be treated in complete isolation from the others. For the most part, Augustine dealt with theological problems in the context of the controversies that prompted them. In this respect, the very nature of his thought dictates the method that should be em- ployed in its investigation and analysis. As Eugene TeSelle has ob- served, the most appropriate...

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