Creation & Existence
The Historical Development of the Doctrine:
Church Father Quotes:
“For as Adam was told that in the day he ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years [Gen. 5:5]. We have perceived, moreover, that the expression ‘The day of the Lord is a thousand years’ [Ps. 90:4] is connected with this subject” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 81 [A.D. 155]).
“And there are some, again, who relegate the death of Adam to the thousandth year; for since ‘a day of the Lord is a thousand years,’ he did not overstep the thousand years, but died within them, thus bearing out the sentence of his sin” (Against Heresies 5:23:2 [A.D. 189]).
Clement of Alexandria
“And how could creation take place in time, seeing time was born along with things which exist? . . . That, then, we may be taught that the world was originated and not suppose that God made it in time, prophecy adds: ‘This is the book of the generation, also of the things in them, when they were created in the day that God made heaven and earth’ [Gen. 2:4]. For the expression ‘when they were created’ intimates an indefinite and dateless production” (Miscellanies 6:16 [A.D. 208]).
“For who that has understanding will suppose that the first and second and third day existed without a sun and moon and stars and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? . . . I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally” (The Fundamental Doctrines 4:1:16 [A.D. 225]).
“The text said that ‘there was evening and there was morning’; it did not say ‘the first day,’ but said ‘one day.’ It is because there was not yet time before the world existed. But time begins to exist with the following days” (Homilies on Genesis [A.D. 234]).
“And with regard to the creation of the light upon the first day . . . and of the [great] lights and stars upon the fourth . . . we have treated to the best of our ability in our notes upon Genesis, as well as in the foregoing pages, when we found fault with those who, taking the words in their apparent signification, said that the time of six days was occupied in the creation of the world” (Against Celsus 6:60 [A.D. 248]).
“The first seven days in the divine arrangement contain seven thousand years” (Treatises 11:11 [A.D. 250]).u
“Therefore let the philosophers, who enumerate thousands of ages from the beginning of the world, know that the six-thousandth year is not yet complete. . . . Therefore, since all the works of God were completed in six days, the world must continue in its present state through six ages, that is, six thousand years. For the great day of God is limited by a circle of a thousand years, as the prophet shows, who says, ‘In thy sight, O Lord, a thousand years are as one day [Ps. 90:4]’” (Divine Institutes 7:14 [A.D. 307]).
Basil The Great
“‘And there was evening and morning, one day.’ Why did he say ‘one’ and not ‘first’? . . . He said ‘one’ because he was defining the measure of day and night . . . since twenty-four hours fill up the interval of one day” (The Six Days Work 1:1–2 [A.D. 370]).
Ambrose of Milan
“Scripture established a law that twenty-four hours, including both day and night, should be given the name of day only, as if one were to say the length of one day is twenty-four hours in extent. . . . The nights in this reckoning are considered to be component parts of the days that are counted. Therefore, just as there is a single revolution of time, so there is but one day. There are many who call even a week one day, because it returns to itself, just as one day does, and one might say seven times revolves back on itself” (Hexaemeron [A.D. 393]).
“It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation” (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20 [A.D. 408]).
“With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation” (ibid., 2:9).
“Seven days by our reckoning, after the model of the days of creation, make up a week. By the passage of such weeks time rolls on, and in these weeks one day is constituted by the course of the sun from its rising to its setting; but we must bear in mind that these days indeed recall the days of creation, but without in any way being really similar to them” (ibid., 4:27).
“[A]t least we know that it [the Genesis creation day] is different from the ordinary day with which we are familiar” (ibid., 5:2).
“For in these days [of creation] the morning and evening are counted until, on the sixth day, all things which God then made were finished, and on the seventh the rest of God was mysteriously and sublimely signalized. What kind of days these were is extremely difficult or perhaps impossible for us to conceive, and how much more to say!” (The City of God 11:6 [A.D. 419]).
“We see that our ordinary days have no evening but by the setting [of the sun] and no morning but by the rising of the sun, but the first three days of all were passed without sun, since it is reported to have been made on the fourth day. And first of all, indeed, light was made by the word of God, and God, we read, separated it from the darkness and called the light ‘day’ and the darkness ‘night’; but what kind of light that was, and by what periodic movement it made evening and morning, is beyond the reach of our senses; neither can we understand how it was and yet must unhesitatingly believe it” (ibid., 11:7).
“They [pagans] are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of [man as] many thousands of years, though reckoning by the sacred writings we find that not 6,000 years have yet passed” (ibid., 12:10).
“And as I prayed, the heavens were opened, and I saw the woman whom I had desired saluting me from the sky, and saying, ‘Hail, Hermas!’ And looking up to her, I said, ‘Lady, what are you doing here?’ And she answered me, ‘I have been taken up here to accuse you of your sins before the Lord.’ ‘Lady,’ said I, ‘are you to be the subject of my accusation?’ ‘No,’ said she, ‘but hear the words which I am going to speak to you. God, who dwells in the heavens, and made out of nothing the things that exist, and multiplied and increased them on account of his holy Church, is angry with you for having sinned against me.’” (The Shepherd 1:1:1 [A.D. 80]).
“Believe first of all that God is one, that he created all things and set them in order and brought out of nonexistence into existence everything that is, and that he contains all things while he himself is uncontained” (ibid., 2:1:1).
“Let us proceed, then, O king, to the elements themselves, so that we may demonstrate concerning them that they are not gods, but corruptible and changeable things, produced out of the nonexistent by him that is truly God, who is incorruptible and unchangeable and invisible, but who sees all things and changes them and alters them as he wills” (Apology 4 [A.D. 140]).
Theophilus of Antioch
“Furthermore, inasmuch as God is uncreated, he is also unchangeable; so also, if matter were uncreated, it would be unchangeable and equal to God. That which is created is alterable and changeable, while that which is uncreated is unalterable and unchangeable. What great thing were it, if God made the world out of existing matter? Even a human artist, when he obtains material from someone, makes of it whatever he pleases. But the power of God is made evident in this, that he makes whatever he pleases out of what does not exist, and the giving of life and movement belongs to none other but to God alone” (To Autolycus 2:4 [A.D. 181]).
“And first, they [the prophets of God] taught us with one consent that God made all things out of nothing; for nothing was co-eternal with God: but he being his own place, and wanting nothing, and existing before the ages, willed to make man by whom he might be known; for him [man], therefore, he prepared the world. For he that is created is also needy; but he that is uncreated stands in need of nothing” (ibid., 2:10).
“Men, indeed, are not able to make something from nothing, but only from existing material. God, however, is greater than men first of all in this: that when nothing existed beforehand, he called into existence the very material for his creation” (Against Heresies 2:10:4 [A.D. 189]).
“The object of our worship is the one God, who, by the Word of his command, by the reason of his plan, and by the strength of his power, has brought forth from nothing for the glory of his majesty this whole construction of elements, bodies, and spirits; whence also the Greeks have bestowed upon the world the name Cosmos” (Apology 17:1 [A.D. 197]).
“There is, however, a rule of faith; and so that we may acknowledge at this point what it is we defend, it is this precisely that we believe: There is one only God and none other besides him, the creator of the world who brought forth all things out of nothing through his Word, first of all sent forth” (The Demurrer Against the Heretics 13:1 [A.D. 200]).
“He is the unique God for this reason alone, that he is the sole God, and he is the sole God for this reason alone, that nothing existed along with him. So too he must be the first, because all else is after him. All else is after him because all else is from him and from him because they are created out of nothing” (Against Hermogenes 17:1 [A.D. 203]).
“Then shall the righteous answer . . . You are the ever-living One. You are without beginning, like the Father, and co-eternal with the Spirit. You are he who made all things out of nothing’” (Discourse on the End of the World 43 [A.D. 217]).
“On the first day God made what he made out of nothing. But on the other days he did not make out of nothing, but out of what he had made on the first day, by molding it according to his pleasure” (Fragment from The Six Days Work [A.D. 217]).
“The specific points which are clearly handed down through the apostolic preaching are these: First, that there is one God who created and arranged all things and who, when nothing existed, called all things into existence” (The Fundamental Doctrines 1:0:4 [A.D. 225]).
Cyprian of Carthage
“[The mother of the seven Maccabean martyrs said:] ‘O son, pity me that bore you [nine] months in the womb, and gave you milk for three years, and nourished you and brought you up to this age; I pray you, O son, look upon the heaven and the earth; and having considered all the things which are in them, understand that out of nothing God made these things and the human race. Therefore, O son, do not fear that executioner; but being made worthy of your brethren, receive death, that in the same mercy I may receive you with your brethren’” (Exhortation to Martyrdom 11 [A.D. 253]).
“[I]n fact out of nothing, man is brought into being, [so] how much rather shall man spring again into being out of a previously existing man? For it is not so difficult to make anything anew after it has once existed and fallen into decay, as to produce out of nothing that which has never existed” (Discourse on the Resurrection 1:14 [A.D. 300]).
“[A]ll things are placed under you [God] as their cause and author, as he who brought all things into being out of nothing, and gave to what was unstable a firm coherence; as the connecting band and preserver of that which has been brought into being; as the framer of things by nature different; as he who, with wise and steady hand, holds the helm of the universe; as the very principle of all good order; as the unchallengeable bond of concord and peace” (Oration on Simeon and Anna 6 [A.D. 305])
“[One is foolish to think] the one God, who had power to create the universe, is also unable to govern that which he has created. But if he conceives in his mind how great is the immensity of that divine work, when before it was nothing, yet that by the power and wisdom of God it was made out of nothing—a work which could only be commenced and accomplished by one—he will now understand that that which has been established by one is much more easily governed by one” (Divine Institutes 1:3 [A.D. 307]).
“Let no one inquire of what materials God made those so great and wonderful works, for he made all things out of nothing. Without wood, a carpenter will build nothing, because the wood itself he is not able to make. Not to be able is a quality of weak humanity. But God himself makes his own material, because he is able. To be able is a quality of God, and, were he not able, neither would he be God. Man makes things out of what already exists, because he is . . . of limited and moderate power. God makes things from what does not exist, because he is strong; because of his strength, his power is immeasurable, having neither end nor limitation, like the life itself of the maker” (ibid., 2:8:8).
Alexander of Alexandria
“[T]he Word by which the Father formed all things out of nothing, was begotten of the true Father himself” (Letters on the Arian Heresy 1:11 [A.D. 326]).
The Apostolic Constitutions
“He raises all men up by his will, as not wanting any assistance. For it is the work of the same power to create the world and to raise the dead. And then he made man, who was not a man before, of different parts, giving to him a soul made out of nothing. But now he will restore the bodies, which have been dissolved, to the souls that are still in being: for the rising again belongs to things laid down, not to things which have no being. He therefore that made the original bodies out of nothing, and fashioned various forms of them, will also again revive and raise up those that are dead” (Apostolic Constitutions 5:1:7 [A.D. 400]).
“For you [Father] are eternal knowledge, everlasting sight, unbegotten hearing, untaught wisdom, the first by nature, and the measure of being, and beyond all number; who brought all things out of nothing into being by your only begotten Son, but begot him before all ages by your will, your power, and your goodness, without any instrument, the only begotten Son, God the Word” (ibid., 8:2:12).
“O Lord, who are not one thing in one place, and otherwise in another, but the selfsame, and the selfsame, and the selfsame? Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty, did in the beginning, which is of you, in your wisdom, which was born of your substance, create something, and that out of nothing. For you did create heaven and earth, not out of thyself, for then they would be equal to your only-begotten [Son], and thereby even to you; and in no wise would it be right that anything should be equal to you which was not of you. And nothing else except you there was not whence you might create these things, O God, one Trinity, and triune unity; and, therefore, out of nothing did you create heaven and earth” (Confessions 12:7 [A.D. 400]).
“[T]hough God formed man of the dust of the earth, yet the earth itself, and every earthly material, is absolutely created out of nothing; and man’s soul, too, God created out of nothing, and joined to the body, when he made man” (The City of God 14:11 [A.D. 419]).