Creatio ex nihilo: Matter, creation, and the body in classical and Christian philosophy through Aquinas

James Noel Hubler, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

Creatio ex nihilo marked a major redefinition of the material cosmos by the Christian apologists of the late second century, Tatian and Theophilus of Antioch. Other scholars have properly assigned the origin of creatio ex nihilo to these thinkers, notably Gerhard May and David Winston, but the reasons for the teaching' s appearance remained unexplained. By examining the Classical philosophical views of matter, the challenge that Greek views of matter raised for the Christian message become evident. For Stoic, Platonist, and Peripatetic alike matter imposed the natural necessity of corruption upon the body. The moral limitations imposed by matter made a bodily resurrection seem offensive. Christian hopes for a resurrection seemed misguided both intellectually and morally. The Christian apologists of the late second century struck back by redefining matter as a creature of God, which he directed to his purpose. The religious claims of the Christian apologists signalled a major philosophical change. Within a century, Plotinus developed a rigorous monistic system of emanation within the Greek philosophical tradition. In his system, even matter was derived from the One. Nevertheless, because it was wholly indefinite, matter remained evil and the sage eschewed it. Augustine gave creatio ex nihilo its first careful philosophical consideration in the Christian tradition. Turning the valences of the Classical world on their heads, he argued that as something capable of being formed into good things, matter itself was good and a creature of the good God. The next major philosophical consideration of creatio ex nihilo in the Christian tradition came at the hands of Aquinas, who taught that creatio ex nihilo meant that nothing was presupposed to God's creative act, not matter, forms, natures, essences, ideas, laws of nature, or a hierarchy of being. The creature depended entirely on God's creative act. Despite the great dependence of the creature upon God, Aquinas taught that the creature still bore a genuine likeness to God, in his highly developed teaching of participation.

Subject Area

Religion|Philosophy|Religious history|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Hubler, James Noel, "Creatio ex nihilo: Matter, creation, and the body in classical and Christian philosophy through Aquinas" (1995). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9532205.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI9532205

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