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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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Chapter 1: The Manichaean Cosmogony: A Point of Reference 65


Chapter 1 The Manichaean Cosmogony: A Point of Reference The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo provided a key component in St. Augustine's refutation of various aspects of Manichaeism. In this semi- nal Christian teaching, he found the origin of the intimate causal rela- tionship between God and the rest of reality. In effect, the doctrine establishes the utter dependence of all things upon God for any per- fections they possess, and ultimately, for their very existence. In this connection, the doctrine underscores a basic presupposition that is rooted in the teaching of Genesis: if God is the supreme Creator of all things, then everything which God creates is fundamentally good. Accordingly, the affirmation of creatio ex nihi/o carries with it an extremely positive vision of reality. This must be borne in mind when approaching Augustine's attempts to refute Manichaean teaching. In keeping with his grounding in the Scriptural tradition, Augustine proceeded from a world-view that differed radically from what we find in Manichaeism. At the outset, then, let us assess the conception of reality espoused by his opponents, specifically as it pertains to its cosmogony. In general terms, a cosmogony constitutes a mythical ac- count of the origin of the universe. In this regard, cosmogony must be distinguished from cosmology, a more sophisticated attempt to ex- plain and understand the universe as a unified whole by means of an integration of such disciplines as natural science, philosophy, and theology.' In a manner consistent with its mythical contours, Mani's account of...

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