After the doctrines regarding God Himself, come those regarding His works. The first of these in the order of time is the creation of the world. It is also the first mentioned in the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth". We shall treat, 1. Of the creation of the world, 2. Of the Angels, 3. Of man.
149. By the "world", or "universe" we mean the heavens and the earth with all they contain. To create is to make out of nothing, to give existence to a substance without using for its production any pre-existing substance. Creatures can only modify what exists; and none of the ancient philosophers had conceived any other mode of origination. Aristotle supposed that the world itself is a necessary being, and therefore without beginning. Plato thought its matter was necessary, but a wise God had put it in order. The Holy Scripture, in its very first lines, lays down the solemn truth: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth. And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said, 'Be light made'; and light was made."
Notice the details. "In the beginning" no event had happened before it; there existed only the eternal, unchangeable God, infinitely happy in His possession of all-perfect life. Christ said that He had glory with His Father before the world was (Jo. XVII, 5). There was no time; for time is the measure of succession in things that change, and before the creation nothing changed: the beginning of the world was the beginning of time. 2. The Hebrew word used here for "created" expresses an action which the Scriptures never ascribe to any one but God, and they never use it with the mention of preexisting matter. 3. After God's act of creating, the earth was "void and empty", mere matter, chaos. It is remarkable that the latest speculations of scientists agree here strikingly with the letter of the Scripture; their Nebular theory traces all the material universe back to a chaotic mass of matter. 4. The words "Be light made; and light was made" point to the influence of God's will alone in creating.
150. The doctrine of the Church on the creation is clear. In the Apostles' Creed we declare that God is the "Creator of heaven and earth", in opposition to the Gnostics, who pretended to have higher knowledoe than that of faith (gnôsis, knowledge); they taught the existence of certain beings more or less independent of God. In condemning that error, the Nicene Council defined that God is the Maker of all things "visible and invisible". Later on, the Manichean doctrine of two coequal, eternal principles was held by many; but these sectaries were not Christians. When a modification of their system began to get a hold upon some professing Christians, the Fourth Council of Lateran in 1215, declared that there is one Principle of all, Creator of all things visible and invisible, spiritual and material, who by His omnipotent power, at once, from the beginning of time, framed of nothing the two kinds of creatures, spiritual and material, the Angels and the world, and then man, who shared in both kinds, being made up of spirit and matter. To oppose modern errors of a Pantheistic tendency, the Vatican Council, in 1870, added that the one true God "acted of His bounty and by His omnipotent power, not in order to increase His own happiness, not to acquire perfection, but to manifest it by the good which He imparts to His creatures, and this in accordance with His absolutely free decree." The Council adds that God produced things out of nothing "as to the whole of their substance".
The Fathers teach our doctrine explicitly: Tatian says that when the world was as yet uncreated, the Lord of the universe was alone; Origen, that God, when nothing existed, caused all things to exist; Tertullian, that He produced all things out of nothing.
151. Since it is the part of wisdom to direct all things to a proper end, we naturally ask: What is the end or purpose for which God made the world? 1. If the question means, what impelled God to create? -- we must answer, nothing impelled Him; He created because He freely chose to do so: "Whatsoever the Lord pleased, He hath done" (Ps. 134); and St. Irenaeus writes that God freely and of His own power disposed and perfected all things. It is, therefore, incorrect to say that God's own goodness impelled Him to create. 2. But if the question means, what good is the world intended to accomplish? -- we answer: The immediate good is the happiness of the intelligent creatures, for whom all the others are made; the ultimate end is the glory of God: "Every one that calleth upon My name I have made him for My glory", says the Lord (Is. XLIII, 7); "The Lord hath made all things for His glory, the wicked also for the evil day" (Prov. XVI, 4). The wicked are so by their own choice; they were created to give glory to God by knowing and loving Him: if they refuse to do so willingly and with happiness to themselves, the justice of God requires that they shall do it unwillingly by their punishment.
152. We should not imagine that, once the world had been created, it could maintain its existence unsupported by its Maker. The reason why any article of furniture lasts after its maker has put it together, is the durability of the material, be it wood, iron, or any thing else. But the world was not made of any material; its whole being is immediately dependent on the will and power of God, so that, if He ceased for a moment to conserve it in existence, it would cease to exist. Reason teaches this; and this truth gives a deep meaning to the saying of St. Paul before the Areopagus, "In Him we live, and move, and are" (Acts XVII, 28).
Besides this conservation of the world by the Creator, there is also His concurrence with every act of every creature. As the bird in its flight is not only supported by the air, but cannot move itself up or down, to right or to left, except by means of the air; so we depend in every act on the concurrence of God.
153. As to the meaning of the six days of the creation, little is known for certain. While the Scripture is the Word of God, the world around us is His work, and one is a commentary on the other: the more we get to understand the world, the better we may understand the Book. What in one stage of natural knowledge was by most readers accepted unquestioningly as its meaning, is found, in this particular, not to be its meaning. Ecclesiastes had warned us, saying: "God hath made all things good in their time, and hath delivered the world to the consideration of man, so that man cannot find out the work which God hath made from the beginning to the end" (III, 11).
The main purpose of Moses in the first chapter of Genesis was to insist on the supreme sovereignty of God over all things, so that none of them should be adored; and also to urge the observance of the Sabbath day (Ex. XX, 11.).
Various systems of interpretation have been proposed for the chapter.
1. Some non-Catholics reject the whole chapter except the first verse, as mere fanciful amplification. They should be consistent: if they admit the first verse as God's word, they should admit all as such.
2. St. Augustine assigns to the narrative allegorical, not historical truth: the six days he takes to be six successive revelations, made to the Angels concerning the works of God. This system is now generally rejected, as having no foundation in Scripture, and being less in harmony with the apparent meaning of the text.
3. The literal meaning was until recent times generally accepted, and was supported by an immense amount of authority; but there need be no hesitation in departing from it if good reason can be shown for so doing, as is taught by Pope Leo XIII, in his Encyclical on the Scripture (n. 56). Geology and Palaeontology now appear to show such reason. Most modern writers believe that they have deciphered portions of nature's commentary on the Scriptures. They also observe, with St. Augustine, that the word "day" is used in Scripture in several senses; in the second chapter of Genesis it stands for the period of the six days together. Still we should not say that the literal interpretation is absurd: God could have created all things as they are found to-day, if He had willed it.
4. Others suppose that the period of which Geology explores the remains occurred between the first creation and the beginning of the first day, and they take all six to be natural days. This theory has little to recommend it, and it raises new difficulties.
5. The theory which attributes all geological phenomena to Noe's flood is called the Diluvial theory; it appears to be untenable.
6. The periodic theory makes the six days so many indefinite periods of time. While it is admissible, and even to a degree plausible, attempts to apply it in detail are still premature.
7. Some modern writers hold the "days" to be so many visions successively granted to Moses, and representing the several stages in the formation of the earth. But Moses narrates all as facts, not as visions.
It is plain that the matter is involved in much obscurIty. The Church was not instituted to lecture on science. On the other hand, the pretensions of theorists to find contradictions between the Holy Scriptures and the records of nature, have ceased to attract the attention of the acknowledged leaders of scientific thought. As we come to know more of God's works, we shall see more ground to praise His wisdom and the riches of His bounty.
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