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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 5: A Defense of Monotheism 193


Chapter 5 A Defense of Monotheism The dualism and materialism inherent in Mani's cosmogony sowed the seeds for his response to the problem of evil. This response relied upon a theory of evil as a substantial reality in its own right. The Manichaeans ultimately rooted evil on any level in the principle of Darkness, the principle of Evil which stands in radical opposition to God. The vision of reality which shaped this outlook had two impor- tant theological implications. First, the Manichaeans seriously chal- lenged monotheism, by virtue of their belief in two coeternal and com- peting principles. Secondly, their notion of a primordial conflict between Light and Darkness undermined the integrity and inviolabil- ity of God. In broader terms, these teachings decisively shaped the Manichaeans' understanding of creation. For them, the origin of the visible universe was the direct outgrowth of the struggle between Good and Evil. At the consummation of that struggle, the celestial and ter- restrial regions were crafted from the skins of the defeated Archons, the Sons of Darkness. In this fanciful account, we find the mythical underpinning of a fundamental tenet of Manichaean belief: matter and bodily existence were depicted in wholly negative terms. At best, the universe provided a remedial measure which would abet the eventual release of the lumi- nous particles entrapped in corporeal substance. In this context, how- ever, God was not viewed as Creator of the universe. Rather, the uni- verse (along with plant and animal life, and subsequently, humans) proceeded...

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