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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 2: Saint Augustine's Exegesis of Genesis 97


Chapter 2 Saint Augustine's Exegesis of Genesis An extremely important aspect of Saint Augustine's extended polemic against the Manichaeans was his defense of Scripture against their "ignorant and impious attacks." 1 More specifically, this defense as- sumed the form of a series of commentaries on the beginning of the book of Genesis. 2 The motivation for this prolonged exegesis was rooted in Augustine's own experience. His first serious encounter with the Bible was the outgrowth of his reading of Cicero's Hortensius at the age of nineteen and its profound impact upon his intellectual and spiritual outlook. 3 On the heels of this conversion to the life of phi- losophy, Augustine delved into what he viewed as the genuine source of wisdom: Catholic doctrine grounded upon Sacred Scripture. What he found in the Bible, however, not only failed to satisfy him, but aroused his contempt as well. In comparison to Cicero, the humble style of Augustine's Old Latin translation was a deep disappointment. 4 But Augustine's difficulties with the Bible were not merely of a liter- ary nature. He was also repelled by what he took to be its anthropo- morphic depictions of God, and the immorality of the Old Testament Patriarchs. 5 As he would later acknowledge, such interpretations were the result of reading the text exactly as stated, without any attempt to penetrate its inner meaning. 6 This negative attitude toward the Bible was only reinforced by the extreme conservatism and anti-intellectual- ism of the North African Christianity with...

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