Christians are starting to accept natural theology as a way of God using the observable world in order to create the universe. In the deuterocanonical books, it says that God formed the universe out of formless matter or matter without form (Wisdom of Solomon 11:17), but did any of the church fathers believe that God created the universe through formless matter?

Wisdom of Solomon 11:17

For thy all-powerful hand, which created the world out of formless matter, did not lack the means to send upon them a multitude of bears, or bold lions,

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I would also recommend reading the Help Center's sections on asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Commented Jan 27 at 5:03
  • When was this question changed from "out of nothing" to "out of formless matter"? Those are two entirely different things! I answered the original question as to whether the early church fathers believed God created the universe out of nothing = ex nihilo. Please explain what's going on here.
    – Anne
    Commented Jan 30 at 17:12
  • @KenGraham I'm still waiting for an answer to my question in the comment above. As I don't expect a new user to have the answer, I hope a Moderator might. christianity.stackexchange.com/users/25495/ken-graham
    – Anne
    Commented Feb 3 at 16:56

2 Answers 2



Justin Martyr (lived ~AD 100-165), argued for creatio ex materia:

God, having altered matter which was shapeless, made the world, hear the very words spoken through Moses, who, as above shown, was the first prophet, and of greater antiquity than the Greek writers; and through whom the Spirit of prophecy, signifying how and from what materials God at first formed the world, spoke thus: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was invisible and unfurnished, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and it was so. So that both Plato and they who agree with him, and we ourselves, have learned, and you also can be convinced, that by the word of God the whole world was made out of the substance spoken of before by Moses (1st Apology ch. 59).

Clement of Alexandria (lived ~AD 150-215) argued for creatio ex-materia:

O King, great Giver of good gifts to men, Lord of the good, Father, of all the Maker, Who heaven and heaven's adornment, by Thy word Divine fitly disposed, alone didst make; Who broughtest forth the sunshine and the day; Who didst appoint their courses to the stars, And how the earth and sea their place should keep; And when the seasons, in their circling course, Winter and summer, spring and autumn, each

Should come, according to well-ordered plan; Out of a confused heap who didst create This ordered sphere, and from the shapeless mass Of matter didst the universe adorn (The Instructor 3.12)

The earliest surviving Christian source to clearly describe creatio ex nihilo is Tatian, writing in the 2nd half of the 2nd century:

And as the Logos, begotten in the beginning, begat in turn our world, having first created for Himself the necessary matter, so also I, in imitation of the Logos, being begotten again, and having become possessed of the truth, am trying to reduce to order the confused matter which is kindred with myself. For matter is not, like God, without beginning (Oratio ad Greacos ch. 5)

Irenaeus of Lyons, writing a few years after Tatian, may be described as the first major/mainstream Christian writer to argue explicitly for creatio ex nihilo (Tatian was rejected by contemporaries, including Irenaeus, as a heretic--see Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.28.1).

Creatio ex nihilo is not found in the extant writings of the Apostolic Fathers (2nd generation Christians, writing ~AD 70-120), nor in the writings of Tatian's teacher Justin (see above).

In the generation prior to Tatian the extant Christian sources all favor creatio ex materia. In the generation following Tatian there are Christian writers arguing for creatio ex nihilo (e.g. Irenaues, Origen of Alexandria) and there are Christian writers arguing for creatio ex materia (e.g. Hermogenes, Clement of Alexandria). Creatio ex nihilo became a more dominant viewpoint by the end of the 3rd century.

Further reading on the relevant history and the technical philosophical terminology employed by these writers can be found here.

  • 4
    God created the Earth and when he created it it was formless and void. Then through the word he shaped that formless and void material into the Earth as it is. I think that's what Justin Martyr is getting at... Not that God created out of already existing and formless material but that he first created the material and then formed it. +1 Commented Jan 27 at 22:15

This answer is gleaned entirely from a highly accredited Catholic source, and consists purely of pertinent quotations from its section headed "Creation":

"Efforts have constantly been made to discover creatio ex nihilo (as it is formulated in 2 Macc 7:28) in Gen. 1...

The dogma of creation had no very chequered history. Faith in creation had its place in the liturgy. The oldest creeds confess the Pater omnipotens, with omnipotens designating not abstract omnipotence but God's sovereign rule. and Pater probably expressing his role as first cause and creator.

From the 4th century on, this confession is enlarged by the words factorem caeli et terrae etc. But creatio ex nihilo was emphasized as early as the middle of the 2nd century, as in the confession of faith in Hermas (Mand., I, I; Vis., 1:6), which is often cited. It was done polemically against Gnostic dualism, and in apologetics to counter the philosophical view that matter was eternal. In the anti-Arian struggle, creation from nothing was often contrasted with the generation of the Son by the Father in unity of being.

The opposition to dualism and to the eternal matter of Greek philosophy soon made cosmology and protology the chiefs in the Church's doctrine of creation, an attitude which has persisted down to recent times. The view of Irenaeus, centred on the history of salvation, found little echo. The documents of the Church are directed against the dualism or the Priscillianists (DS 191, 199, 285f.) or the Catharists (ibid., 800) or against the pantheistic tendencies of 19th century idealism (ibid. 3001f.; 3021-5)...

The reflections of Augustine, however, on the nature of time were important. They maintained on principle the unity of creation and conservation and thus avoided a purely protological concept. The contribution of Scholasticism was a strong emphasis on causality... so that to a great extent a purely protological approach prevailed. with emphasis on efficient causality...

Protology is a term formed on the analogy of eschatology to designate the dogmatic doctrine on the creation of the world and man, paradise and the fall, hence the doctrine of the origins." Encyclopedia of Theology, article by Pieter Smulders, pp. 315, 317-318, 319, Ed. Karl Rahner, Burns & Oates, 1981

This article on Creation continues to page 328 but I could find no direct quotes from any of the early church fathers.

You must log in to answer this question.