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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 6: Creatio ex nihilo in Augustine's Anti-Manichaean Polemic: A Brief Recapitulation 217


Chapter 6 Creatio ex nihilo in Augustine's Anti-Manichaean Polemic: A Brief Recapitulation In its most general terms, Augustine's interpretation of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo presupposes two key teachings: first, the omnipo- tence of God as the ultimate Cause of everything which exists, but not in the fullest sense as does God; secondly, the complete dependence of everything upon God for its very being. 1 In contrast to human artists or craftsmen, God relies upon nothing in creating. Accord- ingly, it can be said that God creates from nothing whatsoever. 2 Since God is wholly omnipotent, He neither creates under constraint or com- pulsion from any external source; nor in response to the dictates of his own nature (as does the Godhead depicted in Neoplatonic sys- tems). Rather, God creates simply because He loves what He freely wills to create. 3 For Augustine, this fact provides the final word in discussions regarding God's motive as Creator: any attempt to deter- mine what prompted Divine love to create would lead to an infinite regress of preceding motives which would seriously call into question God's absolute self-sufficiency. The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was operative in Augustine's refu- tation of the fundamental tenets of Manichaeism. On a metaphysical and epistemological level, it was operative in his critique of the mate- rialism inherent in the Manichaeans' cosmogony and exegesis of Scrip- ture. The very affirmation of God's creation of all things from nothing indicates that not all reality is material and that...

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