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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 3: Augustine's Refutation of the Manichaean Cosmogony 135


Chapter 3 Augustine's Refutation of the Manichaean Cosmogony Augustine's most thoroughgoing rejection of the Manichaean cos- mogony is found in his Contra epistulam Manichaei quam vocant fundamenti liber unus, written around the year A.D. 397, shortly after his consecration as Bishop of Hippo. 1 The Fundamental Epistle (or Foundation Letter) to which the title refers seems to have consti- tuted a compendium of basic Manichaean teachings that might have served as an introductory manual or catechism for the use of initiates into the sect. 2 By means of extensive quotations, Augustine provides a valuable source regarding the contents of this important document. His own familiarity with the Fundamental Epistle was probably the result of his early experience as an auditor in Mani's religion. At the outset, Augustine prays to God for that state of mind which will enable him to secure the Manichaeans' recovery. 3 Accordingly, he seeks to correct their errors by kindly consolation, friendly exhorta- tion, and quiet discussion, rather than contention, strife, and persecu- tions. 4 This is clearly the attitude of one with a intimate acquaintance with Manichaeism and an awareness of its power to attract even the most intellectually astute individuals as devoted followers. 5 But while Augustine exhibits compassion toward his former associates, he is not reluctant to proclaim the truth he has found in the Catholic Church. This truth, he stresses, was not acquired on the basis of any elaborate myth, but by Divine assistance and the testimony of Sacred Scripture. 6 Nonetheless,...

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