Month: July 2013

Does man create ex nihilo?

In the course of my summer reading in the Church Fathers, I came across this passage in St. Methodius of Olympus’s treatise “Concerning Free Will” and have not stopped thinking about it since:

Art is in the class of accidents, and is one of the things that have an existence only when they are employed about some substance. For man will exist even without the art of building, but it will have no existence unless man be previously in being. Whence we must say that it is in the nature of things for arts to be produced in men out of what has no existence.

What St. Methodius seems to be saying here is that man’s creations (an idea, an architectural design, a piece of art, etc.) are creations ex nihilo. What is further interesting here is that he is using such creations on the part of man as a way of demonstrating God’s creative power against those who assert, in line with Plato, that God merely acted upon pre-existent materials in his creative act rather than being the cause behind the existence of those materials. In other words, St. Methodius seems here to assert that man creates in the same way that God creates: from nothing. I find this idea compelling and fascinating because of the dynamic it adds to Christian anthropology, particularly in the idea of man as a co-creator with God.

Is anyone familiar with any statements by other saints on the same subject?

Man’s gifts and ingratitude

Whence, then, come pleasure and desire? For these are the principal evils that they talk of and hate. Nor does matter appear to be anything else. That these things, indeed, only belong to animals which are endowed with sense, and that nothing else but that which has sense perceives desire and pleasure, is manifest. For what perception of pleasure and pain is there in a plant? What in the earth, water, or air? And the demons, if indeed they are living beings endowed with sense, for this reason, perhaps, are delighted with what has been instituted in regard to sacrifices, and take it ill when these are wanting to them; but nothing of this sort can be imagined with respect to God. Therefore those who say, “Why are animals affected by pleasure and pain?” should first make the complaint, “Why are these animals endowed with sense, or why do they stand in need of food?” For if animals were immortal, they would have been set free from corruption and increase; such as the sun and moon and stars, although they are endowed with sense. They are, however, beyond the power of these, and of such a complaint. But man, being able to perceive and to judge, and being potentially wise,—for he has the power to become so,—when he has received what is peculiar to himself, treads it under foot.

St. Alexander of Lycopolis (ca. 300), Of the Manichaeans, ch. 15