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?

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3 comments

  1. I don't know any works by saints, but this subject of creating ex nihilo has been fascinating me for some time. For one, man does create things like art ex nihilo (together with God, not by himself). However, the greatest ex nihilo creation is man himself who creates himself as god with the help of God. Truly, God has given man the ability to become a god unto himself and this is man's greatest creative task.

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