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In Creation God Calls the World into Existence from Nothingness

General Audience — January 29, 1986

The truth that states that God has created—that he has drawn forth from nothingness all that exists outside himself, both the world and man—is already expressed on the first page of Sacred Scripture, even though its full exposition is found only in the later development of revelation.

The beginning of the Book of Genesis has two accounts of creation. Biblical scholars judge that the second account is more ancient. It has a more figurative and concrete character; it addresses God by the name of "Yahweh," and for this reason it is known as the "Yahwistic source."

The first account, later in time of composition, is more systematic and theological. It uses the term Elohim to designate God. It distributes the work of creation over a series of six days. Scholars have concluded that this text had its origin in the priestly and cultic circles, since the seventh day is presented as the day on which God rests. It proposes to man the worker the example of God the Creator. The author of the first chapter of Genesis wished to confirm the teaching contained in the Decalogue by inculcating the obligation to keep holy the seventh day.

The account of the work of creation deserves to be read and meditated upon frequently in the liturgy and outside of it. As regards the individual days, one detects between one account and the other a strict continuity and a clear analogy. The account begins with the words: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," that is, the entire visible world. Then, in the description of the individual days, the expression recurs: "God said: Let there be...." Through the power of this word of the Creator—"fiat, let there be," the visible world gradually arises. In the beginning the earth is "without form and void." Later, under the action of God's creative word, it becomes suitable for life and is filled with living beings, with plants and animals, in the midst of which God finally created man "in his own image" (Gen 1:27).

Above all, this text has a religious and theological importance. It doesn't contain significant elements from the point of view of the natural sciences. Research on the origin and development of the individual species in nature does not find in this description any definitive norm or positive contributions of substantial interest. Indeed, the theory of natural evolution, understood in a sense that does not exclude divine causality, is not in principle opposed to the truth about the creation of the visible world, as presented in the Book of Genesis.

Taken as a whole, the image of the world is delineated by the pen of the inspired author with the characteristics of the cosmogonies of the time. In them, he inserts with absolute originality the truth about the creation of everything by the one God—this is the revealed truth. The biblical text affirms the total dependence of the visible world on God, who as Creator has full power over every creature (the so-called dominium altum). It sets out in relief the value of all creatures in God's eyes. At the end of each day the phrase recurs: "God saw that it was good." On the sixth day, after the creation of man, the center of the cosmos, we read: "God saw everything that he had made and behold, it was very good" (Gen 1:31).

The biblical description of creation has an ontological character, that is, it speaks of being. At the same time it has an axiological character because it bears witness to value. By creating the world as the manifestation of his infinite goodness, God created it good. Such is the essential teaching we draw from the biblical cosmogony, and in particular from the introductory description of the Book of Genesis.

Together with all that Sacred Scripture says in different places about the work of creation and about God the Creator, this description enables us to set out certain elements in relief:

1) God created the world by himself. The creative power is not transmissible—incommunicabilis.

2) God freely created the world, without any exterior compulsion or interior obligation. He could create or not create; he could create this world or another one.

3) The world was created by God in time, therefore, it is not eternal. It has a beginning in time.

4) The world created by God is constantly maintained in existence by the Creator. This "maintenance" is, in a certain sense, a continual creation (conservatio est continua creatio).

For almost two thousand years the Church has consistently professed and proclaimed the truth that the creation of the visible and invisible world is the work of God. It has done this in continuity with the faith professed and proclaimed by Israel, the People of God of the old covenant. The Church explains and thoroughly examines this truth by making use of the philosophy of being, and she defends it from the distortions that arise from time to time in the history of human thought. In the First Vatican Council, in reply to the trends of the pantheistic and materialistic thought of the time, the Church's Magisterium has confirmed with particular solemnity and force the truth that the creation of the world is the work of God. Those same tendencies are present also in our century in certain developments of the exact sciences and of the atheistic ideologies.

In the Constitution Dei Filius of the First Vatican Council we read: "This one true God, in his goodness and 'omnipotent power,' not to increase his own happiness, nor to acquire, but to manifest his perfection through the gifts he distributes to creatures, by a supremely free decision, 'simultaneously from the beginning of time drew forth from nothingness both the one creature and the other, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angelic and the material, and then the human creature, who as it were shares in both orders, being composed of spirit and body' [1] " (DS 3002).

According to the "canons" added to this doctrinal text, the First Vatican Council confirmed the following truths:

1) The one, true God is Creator and Lord "of visible and invisible things" (DS 3021).

2) It is contrary to faith to affirm that only matter exists (materialism) (DS 3022).

3) It is contrary to faith to assert that God is essentially identified with the world (pantheism) (DS 3023).

4) It is contrary to faith to maintain that creatures, even spiritual ones, are an emanation of the divine substance, or to affirm that the divine Being by its manifestation or evolution becomes everything (DS 3024).

5) Also contrary to faith is the idea that God is the universal or indefinite being which in becoming determinate constitutes the universe divided into genera, species and individuals (DS 3024).

6) It is likewise contrary to faith to deny that the world and all things contained in it, whether spiritual or material, in their entire substance have been created by God out of nothing (DS 3025).

It will be necessary to treat separately of the finality of the work of creation. This aspect takes up much space in revelation, in the Magisterium of the Church and in theology.

For the present, to conclude our reflection let it suffice to refer to a beautiful text of the Book of Wisdom which sings the praises of God for the love with which he created the universe and keeps it in being:

"For you love all things that exist,

and loathe none of the things

which you have made,

for you would not have made anything

if you had hated it.

How would anything have endured

if you had not willed it?

Or how would anything not called forth

by you have been preserved?

You spare all things, for they are yours,

O Lord who loves the living"

(Wis 11:24-26).

[1]   Conc. Lat. IV