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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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Introduction: The Scriptural, Patristic, and Philosophical Background of St. Augustine's Doctrine of Creatio ex nihilo 1


Introduction The Scriptural, Patristic, and Philosophical Background of Saint Augustine's Doctrine of Creatio ex nihilo By the fourth century, A.D., the doctrine of creatio ex nihi/o had received an explicit formulation by a number of prominent Church Fathers. One of its most technical and detailed expositions is found in the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo. But Augustine's understand- ing of this doctrine can be viewed as the outgrowth of a long series of developments which span the first four centuries of the Christian in- tellectual tradition. Accordingly, Augustine's approach to creatio ex nihilo must be viewed within the larger Patristic context in which it emerged. But the very Fathers upon whom Augustine might have drawn for inspiration and guidance were themselves influenced by two major traditions: on the one hand, that of Sacred Scripture; on the other hand, that of the Graeco-Roman speculation on cosmological origins. An introduction to the present study, then, demands an investigation of the process whereby Christian thinkers refined and clarified the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. This investigation will further isolate some of the basic presuppositions that underlie this fundamental Chris- tian teaching, and assess its possible philosophical sources. Such an investigation will provide a means of determining (at least on a tenta- tive basis) the influences that might have been operative in Augustine's treatment of the doctrine of creation in his commentaries upon Gen- esis, in his extended polemic against the Manichaeans, and in a broad range of theological deliberations. Let us begin...

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