Held in existence

On the nature of creation as a revealed truth

Patrick Henry Reardon is a Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity

In our regular recitation of the Creed, we first declare our faith 'in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things, visible and invisible.' The Church has always understood this declaration to refer to two aspects of God, God in eternity and God in time. From all eternity he is the Father; in the realm of time he is the Creator. What does it mean that God is creator?

This is a revealed truth. Creation refers to a specific act that cannot be reached by the power of reason. Creation, as the Christian faith understands that term, means the passage from non-being to being. I do not know, nor can I know, by the ability of reason, that all things, visible and invisible, have passed from non-being to being.

The limits of reason

My reason tells me, of course, that myself and the world around me have a rational source. The intelligent design that my reason beholds cannot have come from a series of undirected accidents; my mind cries out that it is irrational to imagine otherwise. Only a fool would affirm it. (In fact, the Bible uses the word 'fool' when it mentions this possibility.)

Still, the intelligent design that I see in the world does not tell me that all things, visible and invisible, come from nothing. Science and philosophy have never breathed a word of it. Creation is a truth divinely revealed, which is why it is contained in the Creed.

How, then, do I know that all things have been created from nothing? To borrow a phrase, 'This I know for the Bible tells me so.' Typical of the Christian conviction, one may cite St Hilary of Poitiers: 'For all things, as the prophet says, were made out of nothing; it was no transformation of existing things, but the creation of non-being into a perfect form' [De Trinitate 4.16].

Who was this 'prophet' cited by St Hilary? In fact, it was a prophetess, the mother of the Maccabean martyrs, who said to one of her tortured sons, I beseech thee, my son, look upon heaven and earth, and all that is in them: and consider that God made them out of nothing, and mankind also' [2 Mace. 7:28].

Who is the wise man?

First, it is important to reflect that we have no access to this truth except through divine revelation. Creation is a unique act of the biblical God. Philosophy and science know nothing of it.

Second, we affirm that 'all things' were created by God. Not just earth but heaven too. Not just the material world that we see, but also the invisible world that we cannot see. Not just things, but also the physical laws that give them coherence. Everything that is not God has been created from nothingness. Apart from God, there is nothing that was not made from nothing.

Third, God's creating act is the only thing that separates all things from nothing. Creatures do not have their being of themselves. They are held in existence only because a continuing act of love holds them in existence. All things that endure, endure because the Creator's hand sustains them in being.

Each of us is held in existence by this same act of unspeakable love. We depend utterly on the sustained activity of the Creator, in whom we live and move and have our being. Under this consideration, who is the wise man? The wise man is the one that knows this truth and lives on the basis of it. He does not pretend that he has an independent existence. The wise man does not pretend that he is anything in himself. His very existence is a created existence, and the holy Scriptures give him the wisdom to know this.

This, then, is the first declaration contained in our Creed, and it is a declaration of dependence. This is the wisdom handed down in the holy Scriptures and affirmed in our faith. |~~

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