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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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Epilogue: Creation, Contingency, and Augustine's Theology 257


Epilogue Creation, Contingency, and Augustine's Theology In the final analysis, what does Augustine's use of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo tell us about him as a theologian? On the one hand, his writing continually conveys a spirit of humility in the face of his own finitude and the awesome majesty of his Creator. In comparison to God, everything that Augustine encountered in this world was char- acterized by a transitory and fleeting nature. But while he might have perceived the world as a spiritually and ontologically impoverished realm, he could never view it as evil in itself. This fact points to a second trait: Augustine was imbued was an unshakeable belief in the inherent goodness of the totality of creation. He was not, of course, oblivious to the presence of evil in the world and its apparent perva- siveness in human existence. But on the basis of his reading of Gen- esis (1:31), he could confidently proclaim that everything made by God was very good. This fundamental conviction (coupled with a metaphysics which recognized the existence of spiritual reality) pro- vided the very core of Augustine's theodicy and his rejection of the substantiality of evil. Both characteristics of Augustine the theologian (and by implica- tion, of his theology) presuppose a deep and abiding sense of contin- gency. 1 On a personal level, Augustine could find ready confirmation for the contingency of creation on the basis of his own inner journey and its accompanying struggles. The Confessiones, in fact,...

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