5

The Wikipedia article on creatio ex nihilo indicates that this theology is part of Christianity, but it is unclear whether it is universally accepted or not.

Reading the questions on this site about creatio ex nihilo, I get the impression that mainstream Christians accept the doctrine, while some non-mainstream Christian denominations reject it.

The purpose of this question is to explicitly confirm whether my impression is accurate.

Do all mainstream Christian denominations (Protestant sects, Catholicism, etc) accept the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo?

0

3 Answers 3

12

There are only a few alternatives to a universe that was created by God from nothing:

  1. The universe spontaneously came into existence completely aside from God. While this may be the position of some people, it is of course not compatible with Christian teaching, which says that God deliberately created the universe.

  2. The universe is eternal in its own right, and independent from God. Like the first option this would mean that the universe was not the plan and will of God, as it does not originate from him.

  3. The universe is in some way part of God, which could be considered pantheism or panentheism. This position also has deep theological issues with Christianity, which teaches that God is at a distance from his creation, that some of the creation is God's "enemies", and that the creation needs to be purified, transformed, and renewed. If the creation was an extension of God then either these ideas or the immutability of God would have to be rejected.

The first two deny that God is actually the universe's creator, while the third denies a division between God and universe. Only a universe created by God can properly uphold the creator-creation distinction as taught by Classical Theism.

While there may be some extremely tiny pockets of Christianity that teach one of those positions, creation from nothing is the accepted position and taught across the board.

3
  • 2
    A third alternative is discussed here Jan 30, 2023 at 1:05
  • 1
    @curiousdannii your 1st alternative is that the universe is eternal. Distinct from this idea is the view that the universe is made of things that are eternal, but the universe is not itself eternal. (by way of analogy, the wood in my house is a lot older than my house) Jan 30, 2023 at 1:58
  • @HoldToTheRod You're not using a sense of the word "universe" that makes any sense to me. In any case, I don't think it makes a difference to my answer: either the things of the universe are in some way part of God, or they're uncreated and equally eternal, or they're created.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 30, 2023 at 2:41
3

Is creatio ex nihilo accepted theology for all mainstream Christian denominations?

Most Christians accept this theological viewpoint, but there will always be a small number of Christians who may deny it.

The curricula of several Christian groups teach creation from nothing. Roman Catholic and Episcopal catechisms mention creatio ex nihilo, so does the Westminster Confession. Curricula from other Christian groups may not explicitly promote the theory, but many of their teachers likely taught it. Whatever the reason, what we were taught continues to function as the reason many accept creation from nothing.

Many Theologians Affirm Creation from Nothing

Christians who study the creation from nothing theory find that many Christian theologians in the last 1,700 years affirm it. Creatio ex nihilo is not explicitly stated in the major Christian creeds. And many Christian denominations don’t mention it in their articles of faith. But some of the smartest theologians in history accept the idea that God created the universe from absolutely nothing. - (Unconvincing) Reasons Some Affirm Creatio Ex Nihilo

Even the Jews of our day, like most Christians, tend to believe in creation ex nihilo, although some Jewish scholars recognise that Genesis 1:1 recognises the pre-existence of matter to which God gives form. Encyclopedia of Judaism (Karesh & Hurvitz 2005), p. 103-104

Even most scholars of Islam share with Christianity and Judaism the concept that God is First Cause and absolute Creator; He did not create the world from pre-existing matter. However, some scholars, adhering to a strict literal interpretation of the Quran such as Ibn Taimiyya whose sources became the fundament of Wahhabism and contemporary teachings, hold that God fashioned the world out of primordial matter, based on Quranic verses. (See: Husam Muhi Eldin al- Alousi The Problem of Creation in Islamic Thought, Qur'an, Hadith, Commentaries, and KalamNational Printing and Publishing, Bagdad, 1968 p. 53)

See: Creatio ex nihilo (Wikipedia) for more details.

0
3

The doctrine of creation ex nihilo is one of those ideas that is generally accepted in Western churches but is not considered essential to salvation. Among the Eastern churches, alternative views are more prevalent.

A widely accepted Orthodox idea is that of St. Gregory Palamas which that there is such a thing as "uncreated light," a real existence that can be perceived through certain mystical practices. This led to controversy because it implies that this light was certainly not created ex nihilo; indeed it was not created at all, yet it really exists in the world. While Western theology generally does not accept this idea, it has not been officially condemned as heretical.

Fr. Sergei Bulgakov

More recently, the Russian theologian Sergei_Bulgakov wrote that the idea that God is "all in all" extends to what western thinkers call "nothing." In other words, "nothing" cannot "exist" apart from God. Accordingly, Bulgakov was willing to say such things as:

Divine being is limitless. 'Nothing' is by no means like an ocean that flows around this being. God created the world out of Himself.

Another Russian Orthodox theologian Nicholas Berdyaev, spoke of "uncreated freedom," as an aspect of God that is essential to human nature. This too exists as a reality in our world, but was not created ex nihilo.

The above notions conform to the view that the universe or certain aspects of it were not created "ex nihilo." Orthodox thinking on this issue is diverse. For our purposes it will suffice to say that the traditional western idea of creation ex nihilo is not universally accepted per se in Greek and Russian Orthodox traditions.

Other traditions

Also, the LDS Church (Mormons) basically rejects the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. It is a large denomination, though not necessarily considered mainstream.

Another non-mainstream tradition, the Unification Church, holds that God created the universe out of Universal Prime Energy, an aspect of God that is the "origin of all energies and forces that allow created beings to exist."

Finally, see Theologies of Creation by Thomas Jay Oord and Mary-Jane Rubenstein for various alternatives creation ex nihilo, based both on ancient and contemporary approaches.

4
  • 2
    "it has not been officially condemned as heretical." Something doesn't need to be officially condemned if it is heresy by definition. That said, while I don't fully understand the argument of Palamas, it seems somewhat parallel to the idea of universals, as they too are thought to be uncreated yet distinct from the divine existence. While creatio ex nihilo doesn't normally have universals in mind, I could see this being another argument against realism and for conceptualism instead. This light also seems unnecessary if God's transcendence isn't seen as prohibiting him from revealing himself.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 31, 2023 at 2:41
  • 2
    Even if this "uncreated light" is accepted, that doesn't mean that the universe was not created ex nihilo. Is it really part of the universe? If it's excluded from Colossians 1:16 then I and probably most other Christians and theologians would be happy to say that it's out of scope for creatio ex nihilo. It can sit in its own special metaphysical box where neither theology nor scripture can touch it ;)
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 31, 2023 at 2:50
  • Uncreated light ~= Quantum fields ? :-) :-( Jan 31, 2023 at 9:48
  • 2 Maccabees 7:28, taken as scripture by the Eastern Orthodox, says that the world was not made out of existing things. Feb 1, 2023 at 5:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .