A sermon from October 16, 2011
Theophilus next commences with a long discussion of the Creation. It is interesting that he takes Creation as the great distinction between the pagan and Christian worldviews. Interestingly, Peter Jones makes exactly the same distinction as the “bedrock” for the difference between Christianity and other positions:
In either case, here we reach rock bottom. Either the transcendent Creator— one God in the unending interpersonal life and love of the Trinity— is at the origin of everything created and sustains it all, or the universe itself, in all its seeming variety, is all there is. And in either case, whether we worship nature or the Maker of nature, we are dealing with a statement of faith and an expression of worship. We cannot step out of the universe to find an objective point of view. We must make a faith decision between these two alternatives— and there are only two. If God and nature make up reality, then all is two, and everything is either Creator or creature. On the other hand, if the universe is all there is, then all is one.
This choice is exemplified in the stark separation between two points of perspective: that of the Bible, and that of Camille Paglia, a contemporary philosopher. The Bible begins by saying: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth [i.e., nature]” (Gen 1: 1). Paglia begins her book Sexual Personae very differently: “In the beginning was Nature.” [footnote] These two views of reality have always existed, but because we have lived for centuries in a Christian environment, the reemerging conflict startles us. Paglia wrote what she did in conscious opposition to the perspective on the world put forth in Genesis. Christian thinking starts not with Paglia’s view of existence but with that of the Bible.
Robert Sokolowski, a professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America, puts it this way:
Christian theology is differentiated from pagan religious and philosophical reflections primarily by the introduction of a new distinction, the distinction between the world, understood as possibly not having existed, and God, understood as possibly being all that there is, with no diminution of goodness or greatness.
Jones, Peter (2015-06-24). The Other Worldview: Exposing Christianity’s Greatest Threat (Kindle Locations 252-267). Kirkdale Press. Kindle Edition.
In making this argument, Theophilus relies heavily upon the text of Scripture, quoting out long sections of Genesis as argument. A few observations about Theophilus’ rendition of the creation account. First, he gives the rationale for the creation of human beings:
And first, they taught us with one consent that God made all things out of nothing; for nothing was coeval 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, therefore, He prepared the world. For he that is created is also needy; but he that is uncreated stands in need of nothing.
Theophilus of Antioch, “Theophilus to Autolycus,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Marcus Dods, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 97–98.
Second, he does engage in some allegorizing of the text. This is not in contrast to the “literal” meaning, which he takes as a given, but as an additional layer of meaning. For example:
And we say that the world resembles the sea. For as the sea, if it had not had the influx and supply of the rivers and fountains to nourish it, would long since have been parched by reason of its saltness; so also the world, if it had not had the law of God and the prophets flowing and welling up sweetness, and compassion, and righteousness, and the doctrine of the holy commandments of God, would long ere now have come to ruin, by reason of the wickedness and sin which abound in it. And as in the sea there are islands, some of them habitable, and well-watered, and fruitful, with havens and harbours in which the storm-tossed may find refuge,—so God has given to the world which is driven and tempest-tossed by sins, assemblies6—we mean holy churches7—in which survive the doctrines of the truth, as in the island-harbours of good anchorage; and into these run those who desire to be saved, being lovers of the truth, and wishing to escape the wrath and judgment of God. And as, again, there are other islands, rocky and without water, and barren, and infested by wild beasts, and uninhabitable, and serving only to injure navigators and the storm-tossed, on which ships are wrecked, and those driven among them perish,—so there are doctrines of error—I mean heresies8word of truth; but as pirates, when they have filled their vessels,9 drive them on the fore-mentioned places, that they may spoil them: so also it happens in the case of those who err from the truth, that they are all totally ruined by their error.
Theophilus of Antioch, 100. He also sees the period of testing in Paradise as analogous to a Father raising a child:
The tree of knowledge itself was good, and its fruit was good. For it was not the tree, as some think, but the disobedience, which had death in it. For there was nothing else in the fruit than only knowledge; but knowledge is good when one uses it discreetly. But Adam, being yet an infant in age, was on this account as yet unable to receive knowledge worthily. For now, also, when a child is born it is not at once able to eat bread, but is nourished first with milk, and then, with the increment of years, it advances to solid food. Thus, too, would it have been with Adam; for not as one who grudged him, as some suppose, did God command him not to eat of knowledge. But He wished also to make proof of him, whether he was submissive to His commandment. And at the same time He wished man, infant as he was,4 to remain for some time longer simple and sincere. For this is holy, not only with God, but also with men, that in simplicity and guilelessness subjection be yielded to parents. But if it is right that children be subject to parents, how much more to the God and Father of all things? Besides, it is unseemly that children in infancy be wise beyond their years; for as in stature one increases in an orderly progress, so also in wisdom. But as when a law has commanded abstinence from anything, and some one has not obeyed, it is obviously not the law which causes punishment, but the disobedience and transgression;—for a father sometimes enjoins on his own child abstinence from certain things, and when he does not obey the paternal order, he is flogged and punished on account of the disobedience; and in this case the actions themselves are not the [cause of] stripes, but the disobedience procures punishment for him who disobeys;—so also for the first man, disobedience procured his expulsion from Paradise. Not, therefore, as if there were any evil in the tree of knowledge; but from his disobedience did man draw, as from a fountain, labour, pain, grief, and at last fall a prey to death.
Theophilus of Antioch, 104. This probationary period could have resulted in immortality from the beginning, had Adam kept the law of God:
But some one will say to us, Was man made by nature mortal? Certainly not. Was he, then, immortal? Neither do we affirm this. But one will say, Was he, then, nothing? Not even this hits the mark. He was by nature neither mortal nor immortal. For if He had made him immortal from the beginning, He would have made him God. Again, if He had made him mortal, God would seem to be the cause of his death. Neither, then, immortal nor yet mortal did He make him, but, as we have said above, capable of both; so that if he should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality, and should become God; but if, on the other hand, he should turn to the things of death, disobeying God, he should himself be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free, and with power over himself.1 That, then, which man brought upon himself through carelessness and disobedience, this God now vouchsafes to him as a gift through His own philanthropy and pity, when men obey Him.2 For as man, disobeying, drew death upon himself; so, obeying the will of God, he who desires is able to procure for himself life everlasting. For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and every one who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption.
Theophilus of Antioch, 105.
Ralph Venning, 1650
VIII. Concerning Creation
67. He believes that God wrought six days, and yet he believes that God kept an everlasting Sabbath.
68. He believes that God created all things in time, and yet he believes that all which God does is done in eternity.
69. He believes that nothing has no good in it; and yet believes that God make all things of nothing and behold they were very good.
70. He believes that God never spake a word, and yet he believes that all things were created by the word of his mouth.
71. He believes that the creation was ended in six days, and yet he believes that creation is continued in providence every day.
More on meditation: Thomas Manton, in a sermon on Ephesians 2:10, explains that one means to help us abound in good works is to meditate on the fact that God has created us and redeemed us. As Paul writes, “you are not your own”. See here again: we meditate so that our affections are changed, which leads us to action.
“Keep your hearts under a sense of God’s authority, that you may feel something in your own bosoms that may tell you you are bound to obey him, and may plead God’s right with you. This is, done by a frequent meditation upon your creation and redemption: your creation giveth God a full right to you, and redemption maketh it comfortable; by both you see you are his: Acts 27:23, ‘There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve.’”
Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 2 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1871), 407.
How would you do such thing? Stop and think. Read through Psalm 139, carefully considering each word: The Psalmists knows that God knows him and made him. Look how the Psalmist’s meditation ends: search me, know me, lead me. Read through Ephesians 2:1-10. Consider the gracious rescue of God, “but God”; consider the utter grace of salvation; look how God created and redeemed you for good works. Do not leave off pondering these things until you begin to feel created and purchased. Pray before and after. Do not rush. Ask, What hinders you from knowing yourself to be created and bought? What provokes you to right thoughts? Consider songs you know which speak about being created or redeemed. Redeemed how I love to proclaim it. And can it be that I should gain, an interest in the savior’s blood. Sing, pray, think, read, and then act.
Btw, meditating upon our belonging to God does not only provoke us to good works, but as the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us, it is our “comfort”:
Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
There is a useless dogma not worth contending for: the world was established like a city in anarchy: without ruler, arbitrator, or judge by whom all things are rightly administered and regulated.
Greek Text & Notes: Continue reading