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.
From Stephen Charnock’s The Knowledge of God in Christ
First, creation evidences the power of God, “in bringing forth a fair world out of nothing, which manifests an infinite strength”. Before you run past that point, consider that all things from no-thing does require an infinite addition of power.
Second, creation evidences wisdom: “in the order, variety, and beauty; in the great resemblances or reason in some little creatures, as in ants and bees ….”
Third, creation evidences the goodness of God: the life of so many animals and plants, so much beauty — even joy. That the universe should lack any of these things is no surprise; that we should have things is the mystery.
Fourth, the immutability of God: creatures show their imperfection in their mutuality; the Creator lacks all imperfection.
Fifth, “eternity, which is inseparable from infinite power.”
Sixth, omniscience as the Creator who sustains all things.
Seventh, sovereignty, the creatures are obedient in that they each keep to their places and orders, “moving in the spheres wherein he set them.”
Eighth, the spirituality of God.
Ninth, “the sufficiency of God for himself. Since all creatures had a beginning, God no need creating them.”
Tenth, majesty: particularly as set forth in the celestial bodies.
While Charnock treats these matters briefly here, he discusses them at length in The Existence and Attributes of God.