Creation and Contingency in Early Patristic Thought: The Beginning of All Things explores the interface between philosophy and theology in the development of the seminal Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo. While its main focus lies in an analysis of first to third century patristic accounts of creation, it is likewise attuned to their parallelism with Middle Platonic commentaries on Plato’s theory of cosmological origins in the Timaeus. Just as Christian thinkers sounded out the theological implications of Gn 1:1-2, the successors to Plato’s Academy debated the significance of his teaching (Tim. 28b) that the world “came to be.” The fact that both Genesis and the Timaeus address the “beginning of all things” served as a means of bridging the conceptual gap between the Greek philosophical tradition and a Christian perspective rooted in scriptural teaching. Plato’s Timaeus and the doxographies it inspired thus provided early Fathers of the Church with the dialectical resources for explicating their distinctive understanding of creation as a bringing into being from nothing.
Part I: In the Beginning: Scriptural and Platonic
Chapter 1: A Scriptural Point of Departure
Chapter 2: Plato on Cosmological Origins
Chapter 3: Middle Platonic Responses
Part II: The Shape of Things to Come
Chapter 4: The Creation Account of Philo
Chapter 5: Creation and Cosmos in the Apostolic Fathers
Part III: Forging the Doctrine
Chapter 6: The Christian Platonism of Justin
Chapter 7: The Christian Philosophy of Athenagoras of
Chapter 8: Tatian of Syria: The ‘Stages’ of
Chapter 9: Theophilus of Antioch: At the
Chapter 10: The Alexandrian School
Epilogue: Creation as ‘Beginning’
About the Author
Joseph Torchia has given us a careful and
thought-provoking study of the development of the Christian
doctrine of creation ex
nihilo. Beginning with an examination of the doctrine
of creation in Scripture, where a metaphysical dimension of
creation from non-being is
discernable only inchoately, Torchia traces the emergence of an
explicitly metaphysical doctrine within the early Church. Through
dialogue with and assimilation of the Greek philosophical
traditions (viz. Plato and the
Middle Platonists) patristic thinkers ultimately articulated the
idea that God’s role as Creator involves fundamentally an
existential creation from non-being.
Such a development paved the way for new and more sophisticated
theological and metaphysical questions to be asked within the
Fr. Torchia’s study will be helpful and particularly illuminating for graduate students and anyone who is interested in questions regarding the development of doctrine, the relationship between Hellenistic philosophy and Christian thought, faith and reason in the Christian Tradition, and patristic metaphysics of creation (protology).
What do the earliest Greek patristic readings of the opening verses of Genesis have to do with Plato's Timaeus? For the answer, I highly recommend Torchia's excellent account.
This superbly-written work fills a void when examining the cosmogonies of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Instead of tracing the rarely-used expression 'ex nihilo,' Torchia's focusing in on the metaphysical concept of 'contingency' is brilliant, showing how Athens and Jerusalem stressed the unquestioned omnipotence of the divine and the obvious mutability of matter in different ways.
Joseph Torchia, O.P. is professor of philosophy at Providence College.