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Creation

Date: 
2002
DOI: 
10.17421/2037-2329-2002-GT-3

I. Notion of Creation. 1. Different Meanings of the Term . 2. The Use of the Term "Creation" in Some Scientific Contexts. - II. The Biblical Doctrine on Creation. 1. A Proper Hermeneutics of the Biblical Message on Creation . 2. Creation according to the Book of Genesis and the "Narration of the Beginning" . 3. New Elements on Creation from Other Books of Sacred Scripture . 4. Theological Reflections . - III. The Philosophical-Theological Characteristics of Creation and the Natural Sciences. 1. The Philosophical-Theological Import of the Concept of "Creatio ex Nihilo" . 2. Creation "ab Initio Temporis" . 3. Creation Out of Nothing and the Question on the Beginning of Time in the Context of the Natural Sciences . 4. Rationality, Freedom, Finality and Goodness of Creation . - IV. The Relationships between God and the Created World. 1. Immanence and Transcendence of God. 2. God as Absolute and the Autonomy of Creatures . 3. Creation and Providence . - V. Creation and Evolution. 1. The Terms of the Debate . 2. The Presence of an Historical-Evolutionary Dimension in the Theological Comprehension of Creation . 3. The Proper Theological Coordinates of the Relationship between Creation and Evolution. 4. Philosophical Attempts for a Synthesis - VI. The Biblical Concept of "New Creation" and the Future of the Universe. 1. History of the Cosmos and History of Salvation. 2. Key-Points of the Confrontation between Cosmology and Theology .

I. Notion of Creation

The notion of "creation" belongs above all to the language of biblical Revelation. Its originality within the context of religion, philosophy, and the sciences is understood by making explicit the specification ex nihilo , creation from nothing. Such a specification is not present in the use of other verbs which could seem to be analogous to the verb "to create" such as to make, to form, to found, to institute, to realize, etc. Christian theology, based upon the biblical message and upon the understanding of it brought forth by Patristic exegesis, identifies the action of creation with an action proper to God, who calls into existence those things which were not (cf. Gn 1:1; Rom 4:17).

1. Different Meanings of the Term: A first way of understanding the term creation corresponds to its "active" meaning. It is an action having God alone as its subject; a powerful and radical action, which indicates bringing into existence from nothing that which does not yet exist or, in more general terms, giving origin to an "essentially new thing." Such an action is expressed in Hebrew by the verb bara' and in Greek generally with the verb ktízein , and rarely with poieîn (to make, to produce, which indicates divine or human action in general). It is the action, by which God in the beginning creates the heavens and the earth ( Gn 1,1), man and woman as male and female (Gn 1:27), all the things which He made ( Gn 2,3-4; Is 45,8); but also the action with which He accomplishes His salvific works on behalf of His people ( Ex 34,10) and with which He renews the innermost part of the human heart (Ps 51:12; Jer 31:22); finally, it is the work of the creation of a new heaven and a new earth at the end of time (Is 65:17). It is a matter, therefore, of a divine action with effects in the cosmic as well as in the salvific order. In the realization of this action neither intermediaries nor subordinate causes are required: only God can accomplish it.

Creation can also be understood in its "passive" meaning, as the effect of the creative action, that is, as the whole of created things, or even simply "creation." It is within this context that one uses expressions such as "creation praises the Lord" or "responsibility for creation." Scripture speaks of a creation which groans in labor pains (cf. Rom 8:22) or of the priesthood of the risen Christ, which doesn't belong to this creation (cf. Heb 9:11). If in its active meaning creation speaks of a divine action, radical and extraordinarily powerful, in its passive meaning, in reference to created things, it indicates almost the opposite, an earthly reality, finite and contingent, subject to corruptibility and death. The first is a transcendent and eternal action; the second is its temporal and worldly effect.

A third way of speaking about creation also needs to be pointed out, whose meaning-understanding bears a great importance regarding the relationship between theology, philosophy, and the sciences: creation can also be understood as a "relation," i.e., as a continuous and founding dependence of that which is created upon the Creator. It is thanks to Christian philosophy that this aspect has been developed, and above all thanks to the "philosophy of the act of being" developed by Thomas Aquinas: "Creation places something in the thing created according to relation only; because what is created is not made by movement, or by change. [...] Creation in the creature is only a certain relation to the Creator as to the principle of its being" (Summa Theologiae, I. q. 45, a . 3; cf. also Summa Contra Gentiles, book II, ch. 18; De Potentia, q. 3, a. 3). Strictly speaking, God did not create the world, but rather He creates it. The great import of such a perspective will be taken up again in the following sections. It is thanks to this meaning of creation that theology and philosophy are able to correctly expound the concepts of continuous creation, of conservation in being, and that of divine Providence, which are relevant to understanding the relationship between God and nature.

The understanding of creation as a relation allows one to settle and compose the opposite polarity, between activity and passivity, expressed in the two previous meanings. Biblical Revelation offers enough grounds for recognizing that the notion of creation understood as relation is capable of establishing a true, and not merely apparent connection between the finite character of the creature and the infinity of the Creator, between the temporality of the world and the eternity of God, without dissolving the transcendence of the Creator nor making the creature divine. The philosophical expression of this connection can be convincingly expressed by the metaphysical notion of the "act of being" upon which depends the actual existence of the creature (the fact that it now exists) and its specific essence (the fact that it is exactly that which it is). By means of such an act, which is that which makes the creature to be itself, the Creator can be present in the creature in an intimate way by not removing but rather establishing its autonomy (cf. Thomas Aquinas, De veritate , q. 8, a. 16, ad 16um; Summa Theologiae, I, q. 105, a. 5).

2. The Use of the term "Creation" in Some Scientific Contexts. Nowadays, one comes across the term creation not only in interdisciplinary literature, but also in that which is proper to the sciences. Its widest use belongs to the contribution of physical cosmology. The book of George Gamow, The Creation of the Universe (New York, 1952), is the first in a series of texts of scientific popularization to present this term already in the title. Cosmology generally speaks about creation in the context of the problem of the origins, more precisely in the discussion of the physical-mathematical models which allow the extrapolations on the initial state of the universe as a whole. Regarding the effective meaning of the term creation in a similar context, we shall come back to later on (see below, II). It must be pointed out right away that it appears in the presentation of many cosmological models, some which allow a classical space-time singularity and some which do not. One thus comes across the entry "creation of the universe" when one speaks of the Big Bang , an expression which indicates the primordial expansion by which the whole physical universe rapidly passed from a state of high density and temperature, where the fundamental forces of interaction were not yet differentiated and radiation was not yet transformed into matter, towards a state of differentiation by a great decrease of the density and temperature, that progressively allowed the formation of elementary particles, of nuclei, of atoms, of the stars, and of galaxies. The cosmologies of the Big Bang are those elaborated from the solutions found by Friedmann (1922) and by Lemaître (1927) to the Einstein equations of the gravitational field, which describe the global behavior of the universe, in a physical-mathematical framework ruled by the principles of general relativity, and in a space-time geometry ruled by the metrics of Robertson-Walker. All of these models, usually indicated by the acronym FLRW models, necessarily allow an initial singularity. This "beginning" cannot be described by the field equations because at that point the equations are not defined.

In the cosmological models, such as the Steady State models, elaborated toward the mid 1950's, we also find the term "creation." Originally suggested by Bondi, Gold, and Hoyle (1948), and further developed by Hoyle and Narlikar (1963), the Steady State models were re-proposed more recently with some variations, as models of a Quasi-Steady State. However, these models disagree with experimental observations, because today we know many astrophysical effects which are able to be interpreted only by admitting a universe with an initial state of most high density and temperature. They do not envisage any Big Bang but rather a "spontaneous and continuous creation of matter" which allows the universe to remain, in fact, in a "steady state," where the great part of the volume owed to the expansion is compensated by the new quantity of matter produced. This new quantity of matter, whose flux can be considered almost negligible on the cosmic scale, would have its origin from active nuclei of specific galaxies, by quasars or other collapsed objects. Instead, the cosmological model developed by Hartle and Hawking (1983) seeks to overcome the idea of creation. This model, made known to the public by means of Hawking's popular book, A Brief History of Time (1988), avoids the request of an initial singularity by simply removing, by means of an opportune mathematical transformation, the dependence of equations from the time variable when they draw near to the border of the origin of space and time. Exactly on account of this removal the model presents a self-contained universe, and the author asks whether there is still any room in such a case for a Creator.

For its part, relativistic quantum physics makes use of the notion of creation in a two-fold context. The first context is that in which it indicates the transformation of energy into mass such as takes place for example in the so-called "creation of pairs." It refers to the appearance of pairs of particles (a particle and its anti-particle) originating from a high energy radiation field, as it takes place, for example, in the creation of electrons and positrons (positive electrons) from a photonic field of gamma rays. The second concerns the creation of mass-energy by means of the extraction of energy from the space-time geometry, i.e., from the energy present in the curvature of space-time. This is possible because the "vacuum" associated to the quantum-relativistic space, different from what would happen to space in classical physics, possesses a certain minimal energy ever capable of giving origin to pairs of particles and anti-particles. In ordinary conditions, where the space-time has a negligible curvature, these pairs can be considered "virtual" because their eventual formation is immediately followed by their annihilation. However, when the curvature is non-negligible, as in the initial stages of the expansion of the universe, the conditions of a rapid annihilation are no longer present, and from being virtual, the particles' pairs become real.

Still within the quantum relativistic context, similar considerations can be applied to the universe as a whole. In this case, it is the whole mass-energy of the universe that can be extracted from the curvature of space-time. In principle, in order for that to be able to happen, it is sufficient that the total energy of the universe has a value equal to zero, thus balancing the positive energy present under the form of matter and radiation, with the negative energy present under the form of the gravitational field. Similarly, when the whole universe is described as a specific state of a quantum wave function, it is no longer the single pairs of virtual particles that are able to emerge from the geometric vacuum, but it is also the very appearance of the universe, that is, its "creation," that can be described as a fluctuation of the quantum vacuum. Several authors understood such models as models of "creation from nothing" (E. Tryon, A. Vilenkin, H. Pagels, P. Atkatz, and J. Gott). For a short account of the physical-cosmological aspects of these models, see Isham (1988); in regards to the philosophical aspects, see Sanguineti (1995) and Zycinski (1996).

Another scientific field where one speaks at times of creation is that of the thermodynamics of non-equilibrium. In this case, the appearance of "order out of chaos" is presented as the creation of new and unprecedented structures (cf. I. Prigogine, I. Stengers, Order out of Chaos , London 1984). Whereas the global development of any system is that of a growth of entropy, towards a thermal equilibrium and a progressive deterioration, fluctuations far from equilibrium bring it about that, locally, rich and complex structures may arise, structures which are not foreseeable because they cannot be described in terms of linear dynamics. Several authors place the emerging of organized structures, and therefore also of life, within this phenomenology.

Finally, it is biology, which speaks at times of the "creation of life in the lab" or the "creation of life from inanimate matter" in the context of its attempt, so far unsuccessful, to artificially reproduce the phenomenology of a living cell by means of the synthesis of its biochemical constitutive elements and the reproduction of its basic functional processes (cf. C. De Duve, Blueprint for a Cell. The Nature and the Origin of Life , Burlington, NC, 1991). Popular science has spoken at length of the experiments engaged in to reproduce the atmospheric conditions initially present on the earth, with the scope of synthesizing organic molecules, amino acids, and proteins starting from simple chemical elements and from the presence of UV energy (A. Oparin, J. Haldane, S. Miller, H. Hurey).

II. The Biblical Doctrine on Creation

1. A Proper Hermeneutics of the Biblical Message on Creation. In the encounter between the Christian faith and the natural sciences, the debate on creation has been frequently centered around the biblical exegesis of the Book of Genesis , particularly, the "work of the six days" (Hexaemeron). Even though the religious and cultural importance of this "narration of the origins" (cf. Gn 1:1-2,4a) merits a great attention, an approach to creation that solely considers this text would end up being reductive. Regarding creation there are also rather meaningful pages in the Book of the Psalms, and in that of Job, in the Book of Wisdom and in that of Proverbs, in the prophetical books such as Isaiah and Jeremiah and in many pages of the New Testament, especially in the Johannine and Pauline writings. An exaggerated attention to the exegesis of the initial chapters of Genesis can lead to an attempt to extract from them greater theological insights than that which they contain, thus running the twofold risk of fundamentalism and of concordism. In the first case, a misplaced fidelity to the text, disconnected from the rest of Scripture, can lead to the refusal of the results of the natural sciences when such results are held to be not in conformity to the reading which one makes of it; in the second case, the preoccupation to trace back these results to the content of the verses of Genesis, when unnecessarily held to be the key to the whole biblical message, ends up by forcing them or even distorting their true meaning.

To correctly evaluate the biblical teaching on creation, beyond recognizing the three meanings of the term mentioned previously, it is also necessary to make use of an essential hermeneutic rule. While the Sacred Scripture speaks of creation with the scope of revealing the image of the Creator and the nature of the relationships between God and the human being (and only secondarily those between the human being and the world), the experimental sciences speak of creation by focusing upon the world in itself. Even when Scripture makes use of a cosmic language, having recourse to some elements taken from the observation of nature, the message which it transmits is theological and anthropological. It is above all a discourse about who God is and about who the human being is. If the cosmos enters in such a dialogue in a meaningful way, it is not to teach that which it is in itself, but rather to reveal its role in relationship to God and to man. However, some particular readings of this state of affairs has led to a misleading oblivion of the theology of creation: since it would be up to the sciences today to reveal to us that which the world is, then the theological discourse concerning creation would be re-dimensioned, instead favoring other fields of theology in greater tune with the existential, salvific, religious, and ethical aspects. In reality, faith in creation and in God the Creator represents an irreplaceable foundation of the Christian creed and in some ways of every true faith in the one God "because if God does not have a real relationship with the world, if this is not woven together by the project of God, faith then loses its foundations and dissolves into the sphere of feelings" (J. Ratzinger, in "Avvenire" [Italian Newspaper], December 28, 1993). Faith in God the Creator and the unity between God who creates and God from whom one invokes salvation, are the marks which distinguish true religion from superstition and credulity.

2. Creation according to the Book of Genesis and the "Narration of the Beginning." Many exegetical works have been written on the first pages of the Book of Genesis (see for example: Danielou, 1965; Westermann, 1988; and for an interdisciplinary viewpoint: Jaki, 1992). For our purposes, it will be enough to recall a few fundamental ideas. There are two narrations which have been placed side by side: the first one (Gn 1:1-2,4a, known as the "P" account, from Priestercodex , the priestly codex, where God is indicated with the name of Elohim ) was put into writing during the period of the second exile of the people of Israel (6th Century B.C.) and had as its purpose the strengthening of faith in God the Creator, always capable of mercy and salvation; the second one (Gn 2:4b-25, known as the "J" or Yahwhistic tradition, from the name by which God is called, Yahweh) is instead a text of a more ancient writing (11th - 10th Century B.C.). The language of the priestly tradition shows an affinity with the poems of the origins known in the Babylonian world (for example the poem Enuma Elish ), from which it takes up the antagonism between light and darkness, the narrative rhythm, and the symbolism of the royal garden, or that of the rib from which the woman originates from the man. At the same time original, this account presents a number or original characteristics which are even more noteworthy. The chaos or darkness do not have a proper and divine activity, but are solely the context in which the one God, Who made them, gives order to the things which He creates; the sun and moon are not named, nor assimilated to the divinity, but are creatures of God, wanted for their function as the "greater light" and the "lesser light" (cf. Gn 1:16); man and woman do not appear on the scene as servants or instruments of the gods, but rather at the high point of a climax of the highest solemnity, which underlines their role as free persons, custodians of the earth, as representatives of God in creation.

In the well-known verse which inaugurates the narration, "in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth" ( Gn 1,1), the term "in the beginning" excludes any type of pre-existent reality other than God; the terms "the heavens and the earth" take the role of the concept of "universe," which the Hebrew language does not use as a single word. The words may also indicate both the spiritual and material realities, that which is visible and that which is invisible. The angels therefore also belong to creation. The term "day" (heb. jôm ), which arises from the narration, does not indicate a temporal interval of 24 "hours," but serves to give to the narration a dynamic development, which tends towards the creation of the first man and woman and, on the seventh day, to the rest of God in the glory of His creation and in the joy of His creatures (for the rich symbolism of the seventh day, cf. John Paul II, Dies Domini, nn. 1-18).

The theological and anthropological message associated with the two narrations seeks to show that all that exists depends upon the one God. Creation is the effect of His word; it is not an emanation of Himself. Creation is distinct from God; it expresses a free project which develops out in time orderly and gradually, allowing all things to participate in His Goodness and divine perfections. Man and woman resemble God much more than the rest of the visible world, and their creation stands as a new divine act, whose solemnity and transcendence is manifest in the threefold use of the verb bara' (Gn 1:27). Even more, God engages Himself in the creation of the human being with an action which indicates the gift of His Spirit (cf. Gn 2,7). Man and woman are called to a life of intimacy with God and to wisely lead creation in which they are placed being free and responsible for their proper actions, as the account of their temptation and disobedience was to show (cf. Gn ch. 3). The creation of the universe does not arise from a context of conflict between opposite forces, but from the creative will of the one God: even when evil, in its diverse contexts and personifications, will make its entrance into the world, it presents itself with a creatural character (cf. Gn 3:1; and also in Jb 1,6), as something which cannot flee from the divine omnipotence, always able to be led back to the action of God's providence (in the context of the New Testament, cf. Rom 5,20).

In a similar way to that which we said regarding the creation of the material universe, as for the creation of man and woman, the information contained in the two narrations of the Book of Genesis, even though offering essential elements of great importance, is to be completed with the teachings contained in other biblical pages. This is especially necessary so as to fully understand that relational dimension -the dependence of the human creature upon God - which is contained in the very concept of creation. Such an understanding, in fact, will see its definitive characteristics only in the New Testament, because it is Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, who reveals the true meaning of the relationships between God and the human being, and role of the created world in the plan of God . The anthropological message contained in the Book of Genesis can however be considered, in a certain way, as an unsurpassed reference, for even Jesus refers to it as to a truth established by God "in the beginning" (cf. Mt 19:4-8). The creation of the human being "in the image and likeness of God" (Gn 1:26) belongs to this original truth. It seems to imply a new, reflexive and original decision, on the part of God, and not a mere deterministic or spontaneous development of facts having already taken place. The Creator orders that "the earth bring forth vegetation" and "the waters teem with an abundance of living creatures" (Gn 1:11 and 1:20), but it would not be any created reality to generate man and woman. It is God Himself, working in a direct way and without intermediaries, however making use of pre-existent matter (Gn 2:7 and 2:21-22), who is responsible for human beings being "human." Scripture presents the original goodness of human earthly work, the goodness of the created world with respect to human beings (cf. Gn 2:8-15), and above all the existence of a state of proximity to God and a state of harmony with creation, which accompanied the placing of the first man and woman "in the intimacy of their Creator."

Included in the truth of the founding events is a trial undergone by the progenitors and their disobedience to the Creator (cf. Gn 2:16-17 and 3:1-6). This disobedience comes from having wished to cast into suspicion the goodness of God and from having wanted to substitute Him in the determination of that which is good and that which is evil. It is a matter of a moral fall which has consequences for the whole human race: it undermines the relationship between man and woman, overturns the relationship of the human being with himself, introducing a disorder in the world, which from then on was to change its harmonious relationship to the progenitors (cf. Gn 3:16-19). This last aspect, i.e. the fact that a wound is also inflicted upon the material universe and not only on the moral life of man and woman, represents one of the most difficult aspects for us to understand, and yet it is necessary if we are to carry out a correct "theology of nature," avoiding any simplistic form of "naturalistic optimism." A restoring of the relationships between humanity and nature will be possible only within the economy of the New Testament, in the light of Christian redemption (cf. Rom 8:19-23), whose task historically involves the re-ordering of the material universe and its being led back to God (cf. Gaudium et spes, nn. 37-39).

Regarding the orientation followed by Catholic exegesis, it was clarified already several years ago that the teachings transmitted in the pages of Genesis are to be considered historical. This is not however to be understood in the sense of always and scrupulously looking at the events told by the Bible in searching for a direct correspondence with scientific facts (cf. DH 3518-3519), but in the sense that the meaning of the transmitted contents rests, in the ultimate analysis, upon real events and does not stop at the level of the symbolism which the language uses (cf. DH 3513). Scripture is not bound to the language of a specific history of creation, but reveals that creation belongs to history. The great biblical encyclicals (Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, 1893; Pius XI, Spiritus Paraclitus, 1920; Pius XII, Divino afflante Spiritu, 1943) offer to exegetes a progressive reflection in this regard. For that which concerns the creation of the first man and woman and of their original relationship with the Creator, beyond recalling the historical nature of the biblical account (cf. DH 3514, 3898), the Catholic Magisterium has underlined two main teachings. They are the non-mediated dependence upon God of every human person which comes to life --a dependence which theological language has traditionally indicated as "the direct creation of the soul"-- and the necessity of maintaining the creation of a first human couple (monogenism). This last request is made necessary because a hypothesis of polygenism "does not appear to be reconcilable" with the existence of normative characteristics for the whole human race, as they were established by the original relationship that the first couple of progenitors had with the Creator, and by the consequences brought about by their Original sin (cf. Humani generis , DH 3896-3897). Reflections upon the anthropology underlying the creation of the first human couple can be found in a series of speeches delivered by John Paul II during the General Audiences in the 1980s (John Paul II, Theology of the Body, 1997).

3. New Elements on Creation from Other Books of Sacred Scripture. The teachings contained in the Wisdom literature enrich and deepen that which was presented in the Book of Genesis . Here we recall some of them: the firmament, the sun and the stars are not gods but creatures which obey the true God and are called to give Him glory (cf. Jb 9:7-9; Ps 19:6-7); the created world exercises a religious and aesthetical appeal capable of guiding human beings to recognize their Creator (cf. Sir 43:2-12; Wis 13:1-5); the Wisdom with which God creates and orders everything is not a creature, but belongs from all eternity to the mystery of God (Prv 8:22-31); in a created world, everything embodies order, measure, and harmony (cf. Sir 42:23-24; Wis 11:20); the stability of the natural laws is understood as a manifestation of the fidelity and irrevocability of divine love (Ps 119:189; Sir 16:24-30). Also, the moral law written in the heart of human beings and the cosmic law which the celestial bodies obey, both participate in the one canticle of praise of God (cf. Psalms 19 and 33). From the point of view of the relationship with the natural sciences, it is worth while pointing out that, according to Scripture, the greatness of creation far surpasses that which human beings are able to see or can possibly know of it: "How beautiful are all his works! Even to the spark of fleeting vision" (Sir 42:23); "Beyond these, many things lie hid; only a few of his works have we seen" (Sir 43:34); "Lo, these are but the outlines of his ways, and how faint is the word we hear!" (Jb 26:14; cf. also Wis 9:14-16; Eccl 3:11). Finally, in the Wisdom literature, the problem of the meaning of suffering in a world created good by God (Book of Job ) and that of the meaning of life in the finite horizon of a fallen and corruptible creation (Book of Ecclesiastes ) appear in a more explicit way. However, humanity is invited to look to the created world again, precisely when, due to the weight of suffering and the scandal of evil (cf. Jb 38:1-40:5), one may cast into doubt the existence of God.

In the Prophetic books, particularly in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah during the era of the second exile, the great themes of creation exposed in the Book of Genesis are re-proposed with decisive tones, now connecting them to the hope of salvation (cf. Is 40:22-28 and 44:24-28; Jer 32:17 and 33:25-26). The relationship between creation and covenant or between creation and salvation deserves some careful attention. First of all, it is to be acknowledged that the first and fundamental religious experience of the people of Israel was not that of faith in God the Creator, but that of the salvation which Yahweh worked at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Such an experience of liberation was the privileged place of the revelation of the moral law and of the religious bounds which tie humanity with God. When the people of Israel put into writing the narrations of creation, in the various eras of its history, it would do so in the light of its faith in God the Savior. Following this perspective, which is certainly grounded, various theologians have brought to light that creation constitutes the first step to salvation and premise of the covenant (G. von Rad), and affirmed that the covenant itself would be the inner foundation of creation (K. Barth). However, such a view ought not be radicalized, that is, it shall not diminish the intrinsic value of faith in creation. Actually, faith in a Creator God has its own proper status, one bound to the religiosity of humanity as a whole, of which the sacred writings of Israel seek to reveal the primordial history, even before the constitution of the chosen people. This faith should be considered as somewhat independent from the experiences of captivity and liberation that Israel knew later, in a specific moment of its history. The faith in God the Creator, as opportunely underlined by other authors (C. Westermann) can even precede that of God the Savior. If the faith in a Creator God was less developed in terms of biblical writings, it was because it belonged to a vision peacefully shared by Israel, as a content eventually acquired by other sources, but fully recognized as part of its religious cultural specificity.

The New Testament does not dedicate particular attention to the doctrine on creation because faith in creation is in some way "presupposed" within the religious world of Israel. The expression "foundation of the world" ( gr . katabolé kósmou ) is frequently used in reference to creation (cf. Mt 25:34; Lk 11:50; Jn 17:24; Eph 1:4; 1Pt 1:20). Instead, in the New Testament we find a great development of the relationship between the mystery of the incarnate Word and creation. It is the incarnate Word, in fact, who is the definitive revelation of the meaning that the whole of creation has in the plans of God, and who also reveals the true image of the human creature. The principal themes of the doctrine of creation, particularly the dignity and duty of the human being, are now read in the light of a Christological restoration, brought about by the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ. The New Testament is not interested so much in the nature of the creative act or in the nature of the created world as it is in the relationships between God, the human being, and the world. The original meaning of those relationships are to be found in the exemplary causality of Christ the incarnate Word, Who also plays the role of a final causality which aims at the recapitulation of all of creation towards the Father in the Holy Spirit. Regarding the centrality of the incarnate Word in the mystery of creation and of its links to the doctrine of the Logos, we refer the readers to another entry of this Encyclopedia.

In the opening of the Letter to the Hebrews the author underlines the centrality of the incarnate Word not only in creating, but also in the continuous sustaining of the world made by means of the very same Word (cf. Heb 1,1-3). In a chapter dedicated entirely to the faith of Israel, he presents the faith in the creation of the world as the foundation of all those things believed, including all the salvific works of God throughout the history: "By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible" (Heb 11:3).

Finally, it is worth noting a point of great importance. In the evangelization of the Greek-Roman world, there was a clear appeal to the "Sovereign Lord, maker of heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them" (cf. Acts 4:24; 14:15 and 17:24). While the preaching addressed to the Hebrews was mainly aimed at showing that in Jesus of Nazareth the Scriptures, which they knew, were fulfilled, the preaching to the pagans usually started from a cosmological reference to the common understanding of a Creator God. This was, for instance, the method used by the Fathers of the Church. Faith in a "God who made the heavens and the earth" runs as a refrain through most of the Old Testament, and in epochs which precede the priestly narration "P" of Genesis chapter one. The covenant with Noah, after the flood, is established in a cosmic context where the image of God can be only that of an omnipotent Creator (cf. Gn 9:8-17). After God asked Abraham to abandon his polytheistic country to go to a new land, and to thus form his descendants in a strictly monotheistic cult, the priest Melchisedek makes known to Abraham that he too worships the same God, the Most High, by calling Him the Creator of the heavens and the earth (cf. Gn 14:19).

4. Theological Reflections. The Christian faith in God the Creator is the monotheistic faith in the one God in three Persons. It is the undivided divine nature, not the individual Persons, which calls creation into being, outside of itself ( ad extra ), (cf. DH 800, 1331). Nonetheless, God the Creator is a Trinitarian God and in the work of creation each divine Person works according to the role and logic that it possesses within the communion of the divine life: the Father as unbegotten origin, the Son as He who receives all from the Father and to whom He desires to continuously refer, the Spirit as He who receives everything from the Father and the Son, and desires to reproduce their bond of love in everything. The Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed (381 A .D.) professes the faith: "in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth," but also speaks of "one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God [...]. Through him all things were made" and of "the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life" (DH 150). Although with diverse nuances in the Western and Eastern traditions, theology has always seen in creation the exemplary traces of the Trinitarian processions, both in the aspect of the origin ( exitus ) from God, and in that of its return ( reditus ) to the Trinitarian life (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 45, aa. 6-7). "We can affirm that the creation of the world finds its model in the eternal generation of the Word, of the Son, who is of the same substance with the Father. Creation finds its source in the Love which is the Holy Spirit. This 'Love-Person,' consubstantial with the Father and the Son, together with the Father and the Son, is the source of the creation of the world from nothing, that is, of the gift of existence to every being. The whole multiplicity of beings participate in this gratuitous gift -the 'visible and the invisible,' so varied as to appear almost unlimited, and all that the language of cosmology indicates as the 'macrocosm' and 'microcosm'" (John Paul II, General Audience , March 12, 1986).

Natural knowledge of God through the created world cannot reach the image of a Trinitarian God. Nonetheless, once the richness of the true personal image of the Creator is known through Revelation, the logic underlying the message of creation can be gathered with greater profundity. In the light of Trinitarian personalism one can understand creation not only as ex nihilo , but also as ex amore Creatoris (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 2). References to the Persons help to understand the concept of the world as a sign, a sacrament, and a gift of God, the aesthetic appeal which nature is capable of producing, and even the idea that creation is a work of art. It is because they are traces of the Holy Trinity that "sensible creatures signify something holy, viz. Divine wisdom and goodness" (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, III, q. 60, a. 2, ad 1um ), and the human being is called to take responsible care of them. The existence of a divine Trinitarian life based on free, reciprocal and inter-personal self-giving guarantees that the world is not a necessary emanation of God, thus avoiding the error of pantheism. The presence of the marks of filiation and of a communion of love in the created world, which originate from the reproduction outside of God of the Trinitarian relationships existing in the inner life of God, guarantees the existence of a providence and avoids the error of deism.

III. The Philosophical-Theological Characteristics of Creation and the Natural Sciences

Besides pointing out that we deal with a creation "from nothing," the philosophical-theological outline of the doctrine on creation associates here five classical notes: temporality, rationality, freedom, finality, and perfection (or goodness) of creation). The Magisterium of the Church has offered its own concise summary in the First Vatican Council, taking up that which had already been affirmed by the IVth Lateran Council in 1215: "By His goodness and omnipotent power, not to increase His own beatitude, and not to add to, but to manifest His perfection by the blessings which He bestows on creatures, with most free volition, immediately from the beginning of time, God fashioned each creature out of nothing, spiritual and corporeal, namely angelic and mundane; and then the human creature, common as it were, composed of both spirit and body" (DH 3002). Because of their relevance for the scientific thought, here I offer a more detailed discussion of the ex nihilo characteristic and the temporality of creation (nn. 1-3), and then, in a more synthetic way, I shall deal with the remaining four characteristics (n. 4).

1. The Philosophical-Theological Import of the Concept of "Creatio ex Nihilo." The affirmation that God creates out of nothing is equivalent to affirming the omnipotent freedom of God. One is thus affirming that, to create, God has no need of anything outside of Himself, and that His action is not limited or conditioned by anything whatsoever, pre-existing or co-eternal to Him. Although the biblical passages which use such expression in a formal way are limited ( 2Mc 7,28; Rom 4,17), the character ex nihilo of creation can be deduced with sufficient certitude from various biblical contexts. Already the first Centuries of the Christian era, the fathers of the Church taught it as a characteristic element of the faith (cf. May, 1994). In Genesis 1, for example, the darkness and the chaos do not present any proper ontological consistency, nor do they offer any resistance to the action of God. These elements seem to solely represent a narrative background associated with the particular literary context chosen by the sacred author. The biblical image of God handed on by the Old Testament is that of an omnipotent Creator, Lord of history and of nature; to this image corresponds a monotheism which does not allow any compromises (cf. Ex 20:2-6; Is 43:11-13; Mk 12:29-30). The New Testament presents the Headship of the incarnate Word over creation having the character of a strong universality: God the Father has placed absolutely everything in the hands of His Son, whose task of recapitulating all of the restored creation leaves no room for any interference by agents other than Him (cf. Jn 1:1-3; Eph 1:10.22; Col 1:15-20). The uniqueness and omnipotence of God require, as a necessary deduction, that nothing is before Him. When we speak of "nothing," we do not refer to any reality capable of generating some differentiation, since the notion of nothing arises together with that of creation. Its consistency is solely logical and not ontological. Creation is not a working of God upon nothing, but a working of God by Himself. A God who does not create out of nothing would not be the unique, omnipotent God.

Such a view of creation excludes every form of dualism. Here lies one of the principal elements of the originality of the "biblical narration of the beginnings," especially if compared to the narrations belonging to other extra-biblical philosophical or religious traditions. The biblical view overcomes the Platonic dualism between spirit and matter (or that between body and soul) since both spirit and matter depend upon God as creatures. The world is not an emanation or a part of God, nor is matter something that opposes Him as evil does. Here we also overcome the Aristotelian dualism between heavenly incorruptible and earthly corruptible substances --an overcoming that was clear enough in the Patristic theology, but partially obscured in the Middle Ages-- since eternity and incorruptibility belong to God alone. Finally, Manichean and Gnostic dualism between good and evil is overcome as well, a teaching re-proposed many times by Christianity (cf. DH 286, 457, 874). Evil does not have its own consistency, but is to be interpreted as a privation of good. It must be understood above all within the horizon of human freedom, not in that of fate or of blind determinism (Lat. fatum). In the biblical account of creation there is one differentiation only: that between Creator and creature; thus, all that which is not God depends upon God in a radical way.

The removal of any dualism between good and evil as co-principles in creating the cosmos implies an important responsibility: once evil is no longer understood as a "principle," the Judaeo-Christian Revelation has to "explain the problem of evil." The Gnostic and Manichean doctrines, whose dualism was common to that of other Eastern and even more ancient philosophical traditions, made a good attempt at explaining the presence of evil and its action in the world, since they indicated it as an active principle which worked for its own pleasure. The Creator of good was therefore dispensed from giving an explanation of the existence of evil, as evil was "there" since the very beginning... In the biblical tradition it is not so: evil is neither a principle, nor a god, and therefore it is necessary to explain why it is present in a created world that the unique Creator God wanted as good. Moral evil is thus traced back to the sphere of personal liberty, while physical evil reconducted to the mystery of limit and incompleteness. Christian theology understands limit and incompleteness as characteristics proper to being a creature, seeking at the same time for a connection with that rupture of the harmony between humanity and creation due to Original sin. It was God himself who was "to explain evil" by taking upon Himself the consequence of sin, of limitation and of death, with the Incarnation and the Paschal mystery of the Son of God made man.

2. Creation "ab Initio Temporis." The biblical message on creation and the image of God conveyed by Revelation also require that time be considered as a creatural reality. The creation of the world must be understood within the category of a temporal beginning (cf. Gn 1:1; Prv 8:22). "Before the mountains were born, the earth and the world brought forth, from eternity to eternity you are God" (Ps 90:2). The intimate and eternal life of God is not marked by time, nor was there a time before creation. Time, as St. Augustine recalls in the polemics against the Manicheans, is born with the creation of the world: "Thy years are one day; and Thy day is not daily, but To-day, seeing Thy To-day gives not place unto to-morrow, for neither doth it replace yesterday. Thy To-day, is Eternity; therefore didst Thou beget The Co-eternal, to whom Thou saidst, This day have I begotten thee. Thou hast made all things, and before all times Thou art; neither in any time was time not" (Confessions, XI, 13,16). Similarly, St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out that, even from a philosophical point of view, time cannot be considered as a measure for creation: "Things are said to be created in the beginning of time, not as if the beginning of time were a measure of creation, but because together with time heaven and earth were created. [...] And creation is neither movement nor the term of movement" (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 46, a. 3, ad 1um and ad 2um ).

However, an important clarification is required. In a philosophical context where creation is understood as the continuous and founding relationship by which the Creator keeps the creature in existence, creation from nothing does not necessarily imply an absolute beginning of time. This is exactly because, as we have just seen, time cannot be a "measure" of creation. That which God created from nothing could depend forever upon God. In this regard, the reflection of St. Thomas Aquinas is well known. After having clarified that also a world existing from an infinite time would still nonetheless be a created world (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 46, a. 2; especially ad 1um and ad 2um ), he pointed out that the reason is incapable of demonstrating the existence of the beginning of time (developments of that were already present in the Summa Contra Gentiles , book II, chps. 31-38). Creation ab initio temporis would therefore be considered as a conclusion revealed to us by Sacred Scripture, something inaccessible by itself to philosophical thought: "By faith alone do we hold, and by no demonstration can it be proved, that the world did not always exist, as was said above of the mystery of the Trinity. The reason of this is that the newness of the world cannot be demonstrated on the part of the world itself" (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 46, a. 2, resp.). It is necessary therefore to clarify that even if the world had existed from an infinite time, it would not be equivalent to the eternity of God: existing from an infinite time means the infinite succession of events of a created time; God's eternity, instead, does not belong to time, but to the eternal present of His immanent life (cf. ibidem, ad 5um ). Although Aquinas' handling of Sacred Scripture is far from what contemporary exegesis can provide today, it is nevertheless a common opinion of theologians that the absolute beginning of time is implied by the scriptural passages regarding creation, once they are understood in the light of the whole biblical content, as it was taught since the first centuries of the Christian era, and later emphasized by the Church's Magisterium (cf. DH 800, 3002, 3890).

As for creation from nothing, so also the concept of a beginning of time and its understanding in a creatural context which implies a beginning and manifests a tension towards an end, thus including the idea of some intentionality, is a statement original to Judaeo-Christian Revelation when compared to extra-biblical traditions, ancient or contemporary as well. A universe dominated by a law of eternal return, where no essential novelty is ever generated, or an eternal universe which a priori tends to flee from the interrogative about the beginning, will end, sooner or later, by associating to nature those attributes proper to God the Absolute. But in so doing it leaves unsolved what philosophy calls "the problem of contingency."

3. Creation Out of Nothing and the Question of the Beginning of Time in the Context of the Natural Sciences. In science popularization books, references to creation are often present in one of the contexts in which the notion of God appears, that of the "problem of the origins". A classical position, which has for a long time been a kind of commonplace, associated the physical equivalent of idea of "creation" to those cosmological models showing a "gravitational singularity" as time tends back to zero (t —> 0). If the universe had had its origin with a Big Bang and has a known, limited age, that would mean an origin of time, a "zero point" beyond which there would be no matter, no time or space. To many, this would call to mind the theological notion of a creation out of nothing, at the beginning of time. A cultural climate favorable to this concordance even led Pope Pius XII to make an allusion in similar terms, causing the disappointment of Georges Lemaître. For just the same reason, many also think that other cosmological models, which succeeded in denying the uniqueness a Big Bang, or set it aside at all (cyclical universe, steady state model of universe, self-contained universe, etc.) maintained to be able to remove the necessity of a Creator. There are a number of works, which have handed down to us historical testimonies regarding the supposed "religious" value of such an alternative (cf. W. Bonnor, The Mystery of the Expanding Universe, New York 1963, pp. 117-119; U. Giacomini, "Nuovi aspetti della Cosmologia," in Storia del pensiero filosofico e scientifico, ed. by L. Geymonat, Milano 1972, vol. VI, pp. 781 and 793; S. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, pp. 116, 140-141). Within the context of a unified theory which may also contemplate the possibility of a quantization of gravity, there are authors which see the plausibility of the idea of a "creation out of nothing" looking at the more recent models of a universe having arisen from a quantum fluctuation from the geometrical vacuum (cf. A.H. Guth, P.J. Steinhardt, "The Inflationary Universe," Scientific American, 250 [1984], n. 5, p. 102); while, for others, this would be the demonstration that there is no need of a creation (cf. E. Tryon, "Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?," Nature 246 [1973], pp. 216-219). It is a debate, such as that between the "theist" William Craig and the "atheist" Quentin Smith, capable of generating ponderous works with eloquent titles (Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology, Oxford 1993). Therefore some clarifications are necessary.

The speed with which time flows is determined by the intensity of the gravitational field, that is by the density of mass. In proximity of a gravitational singularity, the temporal categories we commonly use are no longer capable of expressing the state of facts. Around a singularity there is a space-time horizon whose threshold generates a discontinuity in the time-scale. All of this means that ideal approaching a singularity could last an infinite time, thus making the very idea of a beginning of time problematic. As an example, a counter which measures the time using the oscillations of a function y = sin (1/x), would describe the approach to a finite origin (x = y = 0) by means of an infinite number of oscillations. Not withstanding the widespread use we make of it in our common language, when we say that the age of the universe, starting from the Big Bang, is about 15 billion years we are not giving a real measure of duration. The situation is not comparable to when we say, for example, that a fossil is about 100 million years old. The whole range of the age of the fossil lies within an homogenous scale of time, whereas for the entire universe it is not the same. In this case there is a horizon which separates the two extremes of the time range, that is the beginning and the present epoch. By analogy, when we speak of the "age of the universe" we are indicating something similar to the age of a human being, but with an important difference: while the period of time between conception and birth is around nine months, in the case of the birth of the universe, we cannot know how long its "gestation" was. If the notion of an absolute beginning is not strictly viable in a Big Bang cosmology (and in cosmology in general), then this type of model cannot be used as a demonstration of the origin of the universe, and therefore, even less, as the confirmation of an act of creation.

Once the theological notion of creation is understood as a causal dependence, and not primarily as a dependence in time, one can easily observe that even the models which avoid the introduction of gravitational singularities are fully compatible with a "created" universe. In order to do physics, we need quantities, physical properties, laws, the "being" of a nature having specific "formalities," all things which science does not create but receives. The metaphysical nothing which is the background for the intelligibility of the notion of creation ex nihilo is not comparable to the quantum vacuum, nor with the metric which describes the curvature of space-time and the energy contained therein. All these physical or mathematical specifications presuppose laws, determinations, and formulations in quantitative terms, all things that the classic language of metaphysics usually indicates as "beings in potential." The nothing, on the contrary, is not a "creation in potential" Potency is always passive, while the notion of "active potency" is reserved to the Absolute, and in theology, solely to the nature of God. From an epistemological point of view, those cosmological models that wish to offer some "theories of the whole" (TOE, Theory of Everything ), capable of explaining the ultimate whys of the physical-mathematical laws which would justify the existence of the universe, or even why it was called into being, undergo major problems. They would necessarily run into paradoxes of incompleteness, or would be obliged to mask the introduction of logical "operators of existence" or some other mathematical functions having similar finalities. In the end, one could say that the theological conception of creation ex nihilo and ab initio temporis is certainly consonant with a Big Bang cosmology, but the truth of the first does not depend upon the truth of the second. Every cosmological model which preserves a sufficient link with reality and recognizes at the foundation of the activity of the sciences the necessity of presupposing the existence and the specific nature of material things, remains open to the philosophical and theological notion of creation, and therefore remains compatible with it.

What we have just seen holds a fortiori for those notions of "creation" utilized by the natural sciences which make explicit reference to something pre-existing. These are, for instance, the transformations on energy into matter, the creation of real or virtual pairs, the emergence of complex structures in thermodynamical systems, or, in the biochemical domain, phenomena such as the spontaneous polymerization of macromolecules. Even the possible production of a self-replicating living molecule in a laboratory will then make reference not only to the pre-existence of its biochemical components, but also to the intentional plan of the scientist who carries out the experiment according to what he or she knows. In the universe, all that we can truly call "creative" belongs in the end to the transcendence of the personal being over the being sic et simpliciter . And all that is creative is always susceptible to be led back, in some way, to the only subject who can truly be creative, i.e., God.

4. Rationality, Freedom, Finality and Goodness of Creation. The rationality of the world comes from the intelligence of its Creator and from the full liberty by which He created the world as He wanted it to be. The "rational" character of creation, furthermore, depends directly upon the role of mediation played by the Christian Logos both in the origin and in the conservation of the created world. God created all things through the Word. "Anyone who realizes something with the intellect does it according to that rationality which he has of things: a house made of materials is realized by he who builds it according to that rational project of house which he has in his mind. God made all things not because of necessity, but rather, in a certain way, as one who acts with intellect and will. God made everything by means of His Word, which is the reason of the things which He created" (Summa Contra Gentiles, book IV, ch. 13). In strict relationship with the theological characteristic of "finality," a world created by means of the Word and for the Word made flesh, is an intelligible world, capable of embodying a meaning and of revealing a plan. It manifests itself with a strong unity, one discernible through the identity of its elementary properties all over the cosmos and through the capacity to extrapolate laws of universal validity starting with the validity they have on a local scale. The bond that the Christian Logos exhibits with nature and history suggests that the rationality of creation must correspond to a knowing and interpretative framework of a realistic type.

The freedom of creation comes from the personal nature of its Creator and from His unicity. The ultimate reason of why the world is as it is, depends solely upon the free will of the One who brought it into existence. A universe created in freedom is not a necessary emanation of the divinity, as suggested by Platonic and neo-Platonic thought, but neither is it a kosmos closed within itself, with a self-sufficient logic, as proposed by Aristotelian physics . Although governed by stable and necessary laws, a created universe is always contingent, because the ultimate reasons of its existence and properties are not automatically deducible from within itself, nor are they necessary in regards to God. The freedom of creation requires us to see the universe as a philosophically open system. I do nor refer here to a particular kind of geometry or to the value of the curvature of space-time which ought to rule a similar model of the universe. I simply want to cast light upon the fact that the knowledge which we have of it cannot be completely deduced starting with a priori principles, but must continually be alimented by its interactions with the real world, which behaves precisely as an open system. The understanding of the universe cannot rely upon the foundations of a self-referential logic, neither on the axiomatic level, nor on the physical level. Summing up, the "ultimate whys" of physical reality cannot be obtained from a cosmic meta-law: in a universe which arose from the free will of the Creator, it would make no sense to define an "empirical theory of the whole," and once this would be known, it would not represent, in the least, the last way of access to the mind of God (cf. S. Hawking, A Brief History of Time , p. 175). To the liberty of God who creates corresponds, in the end, the freedom of the human creature, called to receive a created word and to answer to the message it contains.

There are many ways of approaching the characteristic of the finality of creation. In a first approach, finality means that the created world, the effect of an intelligent Creator, free and personal, bears a positive quantity of information and therefore embodies a meaning. This consideration is connected to the reflections already referred to with regards to the intelligibility and rationality of creation, but here adds the incompatibility with those visions of the cosmos which consider its coming into existence (or even its "creation") as a chance event, or the appearance of life and of the human person as an epiphenomenon. Scripture does not provide explicit indications if, and to what extent, life might be present all over in the universe, since its narrative horizon is centered upon the relationship which binds the human being to God. Nonetheless, the appearance of life, and of intelligent life, represents a first term of the creative tension, both in the narration of the Book of Genesis and in other books of Scripture: "the Lord, the creator of the heavens, who is God, the designer and maker of the earth who established it, not creating it to be a waste, but designing it to be lived in" (Is 45,18). If the creative action of God has as its akin the divine Processions belonging to the Trinitarian life (generation and spiration), and these terminate in a divine Person (the Son and the Spirit respectively) it must not come as a surprise that even the creation has the personal being as its final term: God does not want the universe simply for the purpose of the gift of existence, but rather in order to let it rest on the personal being, that is for the sake of intelligent and free observers. It was in contemplating this profound certitude that an author such as Newman loved to repeat in the profundity of his own conscience: "Myself and my Creator." The centrality of the incarnate Word in the plan of creation (cf. Col 1,16) represents the Christological resonance of a similar personalism. The theological finalism, however, operates at a much higher level than that which an empirical analysis, or even a metaphysical analysis might reveal about the finality present in nature: philosophical finalism or even empirical teleonomy are nothing but an image of theological purposiveness, without exhausting the very reason of it. That which on the level of empirical analysis appears as the coherence existing between quantitative values, or as some process teleonomically oriented towards an immanent activity, and that which on the level of philosophy may appear as pointing to a design or to an intelligent cause, on the theological level it assumes a further, deeper meaning. It is the meaning of a calling into existence, the sense of a vocation, the intention of bestowing a gratuitous gift.

A further understanding regarding the characteristic of the finality of creation ought to explain why God, perfect and satisfied in His life of personal communion, wanted to call into existence the world so that other personal beings may be in the presence of their Creator. To the consideration that God creates not out of necessity, but for love, one must add that God creates also for His glory. Within a Trinitarian logic, the Father desires the world for Love of His Son and the Son desires it for the Love which He has for the Father. Through the human person, who gratuitously received the seal of such filiation, the whole of creation can give glory to the Father, in the Son and with the communion of the Holy Spirit. In response to the Kantian objection regarding a supposed "egoism of God," one can answer in underlining that the glory of God and the good of the creature coincide, in as much as there is no other good for the human person than that of participating in the communion of Trinitarian relationships as sons in the Son. "The root reason for human dignity lies in man's call to communion with God. From the very circumstance of his origin man is already invited to converse with God. For man would not exist were he not created by God's love and constantly preserved by it; and he cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to His Creator" (Gaudium et spes, n. 19). In a history of freedom marked by the fall of an original sin, this call develops into a history of virtues and faults, implies the acceptance of finitude and death, and has to undergo the logic of a "new creation" (see below, VI).

As a consequence of the negation of dualism, Christian faith in the goodness of creation states the conviction that omnipotence belongs solely to good and not to evil. God created everything good (cf. DH 1350): it is not the world or matter which are opposed to God, but sin. The relationships between the Creator and the creature are marked by providence, because the radical distinction that God has from the world does not prevent Him from taking care of it. Goodness and perfection of creation indicate that the world is also, in its specific order, perfect and complete. This does not mean that God could not have created things in a different way. To clarify this serves to guarantee the full liberty of the Creator, because a universe possessing an absolute, not a relative perfection, might limit the power of the divine action, binding it to a unique and necessary creative project. Affirming a relative, not absolute perfection of the world ultimately strengthens the distinction between God and the world, because a most perfect and necessary universe would finish by assuming the philosophical attributes of the Absolute (cf. DH 1044; on this question, see also Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 25, a. 6). Only in a "relatively perfect" creation God can freely give Himself to the creature and love creation gratuitously. In relation to physical cosmology, the possibility that the universe had its origin in the rapid and inflationary expansion of many independent space-time domains, a multi-universe in which ours would be only one out of many, would not invalidate either the relative perfection of creation, or the unity of the creation. Although in a more complex logic and still to be clarified, all these possible domains, whatever their individual cosmic evolution may be, would belong to the same creative plan and would depend upon the same action with which God creates everything from nothing.

IV. The Relationships between God and the Created World

1. Immanence and Transcendence of God. To the God Creator of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, invoked as our Father who are in Heaven , one can associate a "familiar" and a "cosmic" dimension, the idea of nearness and that of holiness, the character of being transcendent and that of having an immanent presence in all things (cf. Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (1968), San Francisco 1990). Both these dimensions ought in the end to subsist in every image of God capable of nourishing an authentic religious relationship. A God totally unable to be reached from us would lose any meaning, whereas a merely immanent God would not satisfy our longings for eternity and salvation, which motivate us to look beyond our own anthropological horizon. In biblical Revelation, the image of a Holy God, Someone who is Other-than-world, coexists with that of a God near humanity and its history, to the point of becoming one of us. Revelation suggests to the philosophical thought that the categories of transcendence and immanence can be composed in a non-conflictive way. The God who revealed Himself in Jesus Christ is "one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph 4:6; Acts 17:28): transcendence and immanence cease being alternatives and become correlative concepts.

The most important source for understanding such newness is once again the doctrine of creation ex nihilo , and the image of a God who is simultaneously uncreated (and therefore transcendent) and Creator (and thus immanent as a cause in its effect). Greek philosophy did not grasp the possibility of holding these two properties together. Of Being, Platonic philosophy predicated the eternity, immutability and being without beginning, whereas the relationships with creatures and in the creatures were entrusted to a Demiurge. One of the strongest points of Patristic teachings was exactly to show the difference between the Christian God and the pagan gods, who did not have the condition of being at the same time both uncreated and creators. Only a God who transcends the world as the uncreated Creator can be, in the words of St. Augustine, "more inward to me than my most inner part; and higher than my highest - interior intimo meo et superior summo meo" (Confessions, III, 6, 11).

The difficulty in combining these two poles derives from the fact that transcendence and immanence are often understood in their "cosmic" aspect only, i.e., in a space-time dimension. In this way of looking at things, transcendence would express detachment, separation, while immanence would express the presence which sustains from within; the first would be more in tune with something to be overcome and the second more in tune with something to be established. The two concepts manifest therefore a certain alternative. The same notion of "transcendence" would thus become distorted because, understanding it solely as the distance between God and the creatures, one ends up with placing the two terms - God and his creation- on the same plane, a space-time plane. In Sacred Scripture, however, the transcendence of God has a much richer meaning. It does not have the idea of separation only, nor does transcendence mainly designate the incommensurability of God. It expresses, rather, His moral sanctity, how inscrutable His ways are. The divine transcendence is not a sign of a fleeing ineffability, but rather the witness of the unfathomableness of His designs, which remain a true abyss compared to any human prediction (cf. Is 55:8). It is an "essential superiority" of God over creation, not a simply spatial transcendence. On the other hand, divine immanence is not limited to the metaphysical sustaining of all that exists, but involves the intimate knowledge of things, of the hidden intentions of human beings; it entails God's providence towards that which is small and apparently void of meaning; it is not dimensional immanence, but the fact that every creature is in God's loving and watchful care (cf. Ps 139).

2. God as Absolute and the Autonomy of Creatures. The simultaneous and non-contradictory immanence-transcendence of God presented to us by Revelation overcomes the risk of pantheism, in which God, confused with the world, becomes materialized or the creature becomes divine, but also that of deism, which sooner or later ends up by conceiving a world without God. Only a God who is at the same time transcendent and immanent can guarantee the autonomy of created reality and trace back the logic of this autonomy to a creative plan which transcends the creature.

Thomistic philosophy, which elaborated with originality Aristotelian metaphysics in the light of Revelation, suggested to solve the correlation between transcendence and immanence of God in relation to the creature thanks to the composition between the "act of being" and the "essence." The act of being, which is the proper effect of God in each creature, is at the same time the most intimate element of every entity. While the essence expresses the specificity and autonomous nature of every entity, the composition of essence with the act of being makes it such that God can operate in all things. A guarantee of this autonomy is found in the fact that every being receives by creation a specific "nature" as principle of its own operations. The metaphysical nature that every being has received form God, a kind of "point of contact" between the Creator and creatures, is part of God's global plan over all of creation. To such a plan every creature contributes autonomously, by being and operating "according to that which it is" (for a philosophical development, cf. Tanzella-Nitti, 1997).

A further cue towards a greater understanding of autonomy of creation is offered by the notion of "participation," which Christian thought has re-elaborated from Platonism. The supreme causality of God allows every created effect to participate in His being and in His transcendental perfections "taking part therein, without being a part therein." Only God can share being in a non-fragmented way because, being He a cause detached from the world, He is capable of creating ex nihilo , from nothing. The notion of participation resolves in a definitive way the pantheistic temptation by clarifying that God is the being of every thing, not as if He were a constitutive part of their essence, but because He is their only cause.

On the anthropological level, the essence and the nature of a personal being are basically expressed by his or her freedom. Considerations similar to those explained above can favor the understanding of the relationship between the causality of God and the causality of human freedom. The self-transcendence of the human being, witnessed by the cultural and spiritual history of humankind, does not have as its end a kind of alienation, nor an annihilation of one's own being. It is rather the transcending towards Him who founds the individuality and freedom of every human being. In recognizing oneself as dependent upon God, the human person does not lose his or her own autonomy, but again finds him or herself, and finds God again too, as immanent to his or her own "Self." "It is good then for me to hold fast unto God," Augustine says, "for if I remain not in Him, I cannot in myself" (Confessions, VII, 11).

3. Creation and Providence. We have already observed that the correct way of understanding the origin of all things from God is not that of looking to creation as a special, privileged instant, but as a continuous causal relationship. In a world thus conceived, to recognize that the Creator is the first and final cause of all that He created, leads to the idea of "governance" and "providence." Divine Providence, conservation in being, and continuous creation, are interrelated concepts also in the Sacred Scripture: "For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls" ( Wis 11:24-26).

Scripture speaks of a providential paternity of God over all things (cf. Wis 11:20 and 12:13), over nature and over living beings (cf. Ps 145:15-16; Mt 6,26-29), over the human person (cf. Ps 130:2; Ps 104:14-15; Mt 6:31-33), and in a special way over the weak and the small (Ps 146:9; Mt 18:10). The centrality and Headship of Christ over creation mean that the whole of divine providence is in the end an action of Christ Himself on creation, action which by means of His Spirit continues to be a creative action. But also the human person, in conforming him or herself to Christ, can participate in this action, thus becoming part of divine providence. The "Christian" character of this dynamic will however lead to an encounter with the Cross, an obligatory step for converting evil into good, and to show that even evil can be accepted in order to obtain a higher good: "indeed, all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28). For the believer, faith in providence represents "a religious horizon of understanding reality," within which, lifting oneself over and beyond the natural causes which determine the diverse events, every thing can be recognized as a gift of God, an invitation of the Creator, an opportunity to respond to His call. The privileged place of trust in providence and of its recognition is, therefore, prayer.

With regards to the history of the world, Christianity certainly has an "optimistic" viewpoint. At the same time, because of the logic of the cross and the reality of sin, it may be also qualified as "realistic," thus distancing itself from the idealistic vision of the myth of eternal progress or of social utopia. Christianity equally distances itself from a fatalistic, materialistic, or historical determinism, where human freedom would be cancelled in the impersonal nature of a cosmic law: "the truth about the existence of God, and in particular about divine Providence, constitutes the fundamental and definitive guarantee of man and of his liberty in the cosmos" (John Paul II, General Audience, May 7, 1986). Also within Greek thought, the gods occupied themselves with humanity, but everything advanced according to a law which they could not completely control, because of the necessities of matter or fate. Providence acting in the Christian cosmos, on the contrary, depends upon one sole God who also created matter and who desired a universe whose history is also written by human liberty. Christian providence does not limit itself to guarantee the existence of a law in which every part has a place within the whole, nor does it tend to solely make it such that every part resigns itself to accept the place which it is to hold in function of the good of the whole. It is above all a providence which wants the good of the parts, in as much as they are parts, and takes care to value their role, assuring that the part entrusted to each one is the best possible (cf. Sanguineti, 1987).

The human person, elevated to the dignity of cooperating with divine providence, must therefore bring to fulfillment a creation not yet concluded: "When man develops the earth by the work of his hands or with the aid of technology, in order that it might bear fruit and become a dwelling worthy of the whole human family and when he consciously takes part in the life of social groups, he carries out the design of God manifested at the beginning of time, that he should subdue the earth, perfect creation and develop himself. At the same time he obeys the commandment of Christ that he place himself at the service of his brethren. Furthermore, when man gives himself to the various disciplines of philosophy, history, and of mathematical and natural science, and when he cultivates the arts, he can do very much to elevate the human family to a more sublime understanding of truth, goodness, and beauty, and to the formation of considered opinions which have universal value. Thus mankind may be more clearly enlightened by that marvellous Wisdom which was with God from all eternity, composing all things with him, rejoicing in the earth, delighting in the sons of men (cf. Prv 8,22-31)" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 57).

V. Creation and Evolution

1. The Terms of the Debate. The relationship between creation and evolution has become one of the major points of confrontation between the scientific vision of the world and biblical Revelation. In the Modern Age, the problem raised initially in the first half of the 19th century with the hypotheses of J.B. Lamarck (1744-1829) regarding the morphological variations which characterized living beings throughout the course of time ( Zoological Philosophy , 1809), to then be put forward crucially through the works of Darwin (1809-1882) about the origin of the species and natural selection ( On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection , 1859; The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex , 1871). For its part geology had already suggested that the history of the planet involved a temporal range rather longer than what the biblical accounts on the origins appears to propose. In the 20th century it was above all the observation of the cosmos which greatly extended the space-time coordinates of our "distance from the origins," showing with unsuspected radicality how long have been the physical-chemical transformations undergone by the universe before reaching its present condition. The contemporary scientific vision of the universe is undeniably that of an evolving cosmos.

Since a literal interpretation of the Bible concerning both the origins of the earth and living creatures, and the history of the first human beings (basically the narrations reported by the Book of Genesis ), would make one think at first glance of a rather small interval of time and of the immediate and complete creation of the species of living beings, above all that of the first man and woman, strong acclamations of its incompatibility with scientific thought arose quite soon. At the end of the 1800's, two positions began to crystallize, principally in the Anglo-Saxon world, known as "creationism" and "evolutionism," positions not void of ideological resonances. The first was dangerously close to a literal understanding of the text of Genesis , showing little or no interest at all for the results of science, whereas the second fully embraced the historical-evolutionary horizon offered by the natural sciences, showing no interest in deepening those elements of compatibility suggested by a sound theology of creation. The echo of these positions remains today in several strands of public opinion, especially in those with a scarce access to a correct theological documentation. In the last decades of the 20th century, in several states of the United States there were examples of legal disputes between diverse social groups on account of programs and of text books to be used for teaching in the schools (the first example of caustic public debate was that occurred in Kansas). By the term "evolutionism," nowadays widely in use, it is more precise to indicate a philosophical vision of the world which makes of the whole of nature a great historical process in continuous mutation, in which it would not be possible to recognize the existence of any purpose. The biological theory (or theories) of evolution, or simply stating that the universe shows an evolutionary history, does not necessarily endorse such a philosophical view.

2. The Presence of an Historical-Evolutionary Dimension in the Theological Comprehension of Creation. Even before a comparison with biblical exegesis, it should be observed that the taking up of an historical outlook does not enter into conflict with a correct theology of creation. As already pointed out, only in a universe which had a beginning in time and tends towards an end does history acquire a true meaning. When seen from the part of the created world, the relationship between the Creator and the creature originated by the creative act presents itself as a continuous action ( creatio continua ), and therefore immersed into history. If in the first place one attributes to the term "evolution" the meaning of growth, development, extension in time of that which is implied in the premise, there would be no difficulty in affirming that evolution is in a certain way the "method" by which God creates: cosmic, biological and cultural evolution, in the end, are parts of a unique creative process.

With a terminology consonant with their own era, several Fathers of the Church, such as Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and above all Augustine, spoke of creation as a divine act which unfolds itself out in time, but possesses within itself, ex parte Creatoris , the whole project of the world. In a context certainly far from the debate over evolution, it is interesting to discover some traces of this perspective even in the verses of Dante Alighieri: "In its depth I saw ingathered, bound by love in one single volume, that which is dispersed in leaves throughout the universe - In Dio s'interna, legato con amore, in un volume, ciò che per l'universo si squaderna" (Paradise , XXXIII, 85-87). It is exactly in the field of his exegesis of creation that St. Augustine suggested the existence of rationes seminales contained in the natural world (cf. for example, De Genesi ad litteram, V, 4, and VI, 6; De Trinitate, III, 9, 16). The same issue was taken up again during the Middle Ages by St. Bonaventure (1217-1274) in his commentary on the narration of the six days (Collationes in Hexaemeron, 1273). Before evolution was proposed in Darwinian terms, Neils Steenses (1638-1686) had already identified fossils as remains of living species now extinct. The Anglicans Joseph Butler (The Analogy of Religion, 1736) and John Wesley (A survey of the Wisdom of God in Creation, 1763) had registered in a non-conflictive way the long historical times involved in creation, and the similarities between the morphology of the primates and that of the humans. J.H. Newman (1801-1890) mentions the hypothesis of Darwin in some of his letters, adding that he found in them nothing contrary to religion (cf. Letter to J. Walker of Scarborough, in The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, edited by C.S. Dessain and T. Gornall, vol. XXIV [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973], pp. 77-78; cf. also Letter to rev. Pusey, in ibidem, vol. XXV, p. 137).

3. The Proper Theological Coordinates of the Relationship between Creation and Evolution. Christian theology of creation does not oppose an evolutionary vision of the world and of life, as long as certain teachings contained in the biblical message are recognized. They are teachings which must be kept in order to maintain the coherence of the whole philosophical-theological doctrine on creation, as it has been confessed since the early professions of faith. These can be succinctly summarized as follows. God is absolutely distinct from the world and His personal life is not the object of any evolutionary process. The freedom of God and of His creative project are the origin and the cause of evolution in the universe, and they direct the created world towards its end. Nothing of that which happens in the evolution of the universe is foreign or unknown to the creative plan of God or independent from His will. The fundamental and ultimate reason of evolution is not the materiality of the universe, its properties and potentialities, but that which transcends them, i.e., the creative action of God, even though this action works through, and by means of the elements of the material universe. The universe was desired in order to have life, intelligent life in the first place: its appearance is the fruit of the explicit and free divine will and not the result either of chance events or of a deterministic law. At the moment of their creation, the first man and woman depend upon God in a way different from how the rest of creation depends upon Him: they were made in His image and likeness. In the creation of the human person, the action of God is immediate, i.e., not mediated by other secondary causes. Our progenitors experienced an original moral trial whose outcome partially modified their relationship with God and with the created world and, through them, the relationship between the world and God. Every human being who comes into existence, throughout all of history, is chosen in a personal way by God the Creator. Lastly, the ultimate meaning of every evolutionary process, of every history of the cosmos and of humanity, can only be fully understood in the light of the mystery of the incarnate Word. He expresses, reveals, and realizes the "mystery of creation" as "mystery of the will of the Father" especially by means of his death and resurrection, from which arise many important consequences for the future of the cosmos and of humanity. As far as we know, it is not possible to say much more on creation, nor to say any less.

There exists, therefore, space for a theological reflection which may take into account the data of the sciences about evolution. As John Paul II thus pointed it out: "A faith in creation rightly understood and a teaching about evolution rightly grasped do not set up any obstacles: evolution, in fact, presupposes creation; creation is seen in light of evolution as an event which extends itself in time - as a creatio continua - in which God becomes visible to the eyes of the believer as the 'Creator of Heaven and earth'" (John Paul II, Address to the Meeting "Christian Faith and Theory of Evolution," Rome, April 26, 1985, in Insegnamenti, VIII,1 [1985], p. 1132). Such a compatibility is possible if we think "that the human body, following the order impressed by the Creator on the energies of life, could have been gradually prepared in the forms of antecedent living beings. The human soul, however, on which man's humanity definitively depends, cannot emerge from matter, since the soul is of a spiritual nature" (John Paul II, General Audience, April 16, 1986). In a speech given to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences on October 22, 1996, the same Pontiff did indeed clarify that it was not necessary to continue to refer to biological evolution in terms of a simple hypothesis, but one could consider it as an interpretative theory, now well established thanks to the convergence of many independent results (cf. Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, "Magisterium is concerned with questions of evolution, for it involves the conception of man," October 22, 1996, ORWE, October 30, 1996, pp. 3 and 7).

As in the other contexts of the debate between a scientific reading of the world and Christian Revelation, also in the relationship between evolution and creation many of the supposed points of contention depend upon a priori assumptions of a philosophical, at times ideological type. As pointed out by Maldamé (1996), often enough the philosophical premises which sustain several presentations of evolution are not explicitly clarified. Such a premise, for example, is that of attributing to chance the role of a "cause" in cosmic or in biological evolution. Also, that of presenting some affirmations of which it is not possible to have a factual knowledge, such as the existence of an original polygenism, as if they were a scientific result; or to present as scientific "evolution" that which is in reality more of a philosophical "evolutionism." Finally, it needs to be pointed out that the natural sciences are progressively setting aside the notion of "evolution by chance." Both in cosmology and in the studies on the origin of life, approaches which emphasize the coordination of causes, the action of teleonomy, the presence of morphogenesis and holistic phenomena, are gradually drawing more attention (see Finalism).

4. Philosophical Attempts for a Synthesis. Contemporary thought has explored diverse paths for a synthesis of the notion of creation with that of evolution, generally within a more ample philosophical field which has for its object the study of "the action of God in nature." One of these --about which I have already made reference-- seeks to develop the neo-Thomistic vision, paying close attention to the notion of the act of being and of the strict relationship existing between formal causality (closer to the field of empirical analysis) and final causality (which on the other hand transcends such a field). God does not create pure effects, but causes. In relation to divine causality, the causality of creatures is a "secondary cause," not an "instrumental cause." For a further development in these regards, the reader is asked to refer to the bibliography (cf. M.J. Nicolas, 1973; J.H. Nicolas,1993; Tanzella-Nitti, 1997).

Following a phenomenological approach, Bergson introduced the concept of "creative evolution" (L'évolution créatrice, 1906) with which he proposed to overcome both mechanical and finalistic evolution, because both were held to be closed to the newness of real processes, whose logic would be that of a "vital impulse" (Fr. élan vital ), always open to unforeseen riches of the Spirit. Teilhard de Chardin shared the concept of creative evolution, but he chose to highlight its strongly finalistic aspect (Le Phénomène Humain, 1955), that of an universe where matter is for life, life for the human person, the human person for Christ, Christ for God. A recent attempt to harmonize the doctrine of creation with the historical-evolutionary phenomenology of the cosmic becoming, starts from the "philosophy of process" of Whitehead (Process and Reality, 1929), whose influence is today quite alive, especially in the Anglo-Saxon theology belonging to the reformed Churches.

Although the spiritualistic philosophy of Bergson and Teilhard and the process philosophy of Whitehead are intended to establish a framework which is metaphysical in character, in several aspects of their thought they differ from that understanding of the relationships between God and the world offered by a "metaphysics of being," and this not without consequences on the theological level. So as to be compatible with a metaphysics of being, the vital impulse of the Spirit, recognized as the subject of creative evolution (Bergson), should always correspond to a true creative project, whose fulfillment, however, cannot depend entirely nor automatically upon the potentialities of matter (Teilhard). In the case of process philosophy, it might end up "historicizing" the image of God, because His creative action is almost immersed in the cosmic becoming, with implications also for His knowledge of the future.

VI. The Biblical Concept of "New Creation" and the Future of the Universe.

Biblical doctrine on creation also embraces the idea of a "new creation" (Is 65:17; cf. Rom 8:22-23), the promise of a "new heaven and a new earth" (Rv 21:1; 2Pt 3:13). Without nullifying that which today characterizes the material universe, such a renewal will represent its spiritual transfiguration (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 48 and Gaudium et spes, n. 39). The logic of this transfiguration, especially the relationships between the first and the new creation, and the newness which the resurrection of Jesus Christ has already brought about in the world, have already been expounded upon in another entry in this Encyclopedia. Here, I shall limit myself to complete with a few supplementary observations what has already been said.

In discussing the future of the universe, the comparison between the theological perspective and the natural sciences seems to encounter a serious difficulty. If regarding time already passed, theology and science could meet starting from a "discussion about the origins"; as regards to the future of time it must be observed that the possible or foreseeable extension of the history of the material universe does not necessarily coincide with the fraction of historical time which will accompany the history of salvation until the "end of time." The biblical notion of the "end of time" (cfr. Mt 24:3; Rv 10:5-7; cf. also 1Cor 10:11; Jude 1:18) does not coincide with that of a "termination of the conditions which make life on earth possible," nor does it correspond to an end of the physical universe globally understood; furthermore, in a strict physical sense, once the universe has been called into existence, it will not have an end (cf. in this regard Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 104, a. 4).

1. History of the Cosmos and History of Salvation. Even if up until now we have used the term "history" in a general way, it is to be observed that the universe does not have a history, but a temporal development. Only rational creatures are subjects of history, a history they build by means of their freedom, in the good as in the evil circumstances. It is this history of freedom which comes to fulfillment at the "end of time," a fulfillment where human longings for justice, good, and salvation, denied by sin, shall be satisfied, thanks to the merits that Christ earned once for all upon the Cross. The temporal duration of the physical scenarios of the future universe -the fact for example that this might have an unlimited or instead a finite expansion- does not determine the conditions that make the definitive fulfillment of history possible, nor the context in which the final moral judgment will take place.

The physical universe will be transfigured according to modalities which are unknown to us. It will probably involve a certain destruction, but also the conservation of that which in it belongs to the creative plan of God. The physical conditions of a transfigured universe cannot be known simply by drawing from the knowledge which we now possess. The properties of the risen body of Christ, first fruits of the new transfigured creation, cannot be deduced directly from the physical or biological properties of His true human nature, as it was historically known. God can make a new heaven and a new earth both from a universe destined (with measures made here and now) to be temporally and spatially unlimited, and from one that would even end with a great cosmic implosion. Similar considerations are to be made when one passes from the future scenario of the cosmos as a whole to that of our solar system in particular. Statements such as "end of the world," "universal judgment" or "return of Christ" cannot be put in direct relation to the time which the sun will spend to exhaust the hydrogen burning in its core, or with the time we humans have at our disposal to migrate towards more hospitable planets.

2. Key-Points of the Confrontation between Cosmology and Theology. Bearing in mind what we have discussed so far, there are at least two points that are to be clarified, which probably will never be completely understood. Looking back at the past, the first point deals with the relationship between human sin and the history of the universe which preceded it; the second, looking towards the future, concerns what value to attribute to that cosmic teleonomy which appears to be at work from the origin of the universe until the appearance of the human being on the earth (or even up until the Paschal mystery of Christ) when such a historical process becomes projected upon future cosmological scenarios.

Concerning the first point, a theological perspective which looks at the Incarnation of the Word as the fulfillment of the history of the cosmos, also attributing to the salvation of Christ a cosmic dimension, should ask itself whether cosmological evolution, as we know it, already had in itself some trace of corruption and of sin. However, cosmology does not recognize any essential change in the physical or biological processes after the appearance of the human being (and therefore after Original sin), if compared to how physics and biology worked during all the time preceding that extraordinary appearance. In regards to the problem of death, the dissolution of living beings in the biological order would seem to precede the sin of the progenitors. This involves the "historical" dimension of Original sin, and perhaps the very sin of the angels, who with the universe of human beings share many things, above all the condition of being a creature.

Dealing with the second point, one notes that a teleonomical reading of cosmology, i.e., the idea that the evolving universe would find its perfection in the appearance of the human being (anthropological fulfillment), or even in the Incarnation of the Word of God (Christological fulfillment), appears, in the end, to be always unfulfilled if referred to future cosmological scenarios. The environmental conditions which made possible the appearance of life and of human beings on the earth can subsist for a rather limited time, if compared with cosmic time-scales. If a Christocentric understanding of the history of the cosmos favors the idea of "continuity" between the first and new creation, the fact that the entire universe will continue to exist and develop also when the conditions which make life on the earth possible will come to an end, would place the accent on "the discontinuity" between the world as we know it and the future transfigured world. In other words, the physical history of the universe and the history of salvation would appear to better agree from the origin of the universe until Easter, much more than they seem to do from Easter onwards.

In order to provide elements for a solution of the previous questions, we must remember the meta-historical importance of the resurrection of Jesus. His resurrection is capable of exercising a normative headship also on the future of the cosmos, although in a way certainly for us mysterious. What could appear to be contradictory to human eyes -I mean the possible existence of an anthropocentric finalism which involves the entire cosmos, but destined to last a rather limited time- one could not exclude that it may contain a divine sense: the universe, like the human race, could be called to "its paschal mystery"; the new creation could reach the entire physical universe only at the end of a very long evolution, through a stage of decline, of decay, and of cosmic death over a rather long time, completely unknown to us. Considerations which cannot but make both the theologian and the scientist to perceive the abyssal profundity of the common object of their thought -the real universe, and also He Who has it in His hands- before which the worshipping silence is often better than the word which tries to interpret and understand: We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity, nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away; but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 39).

Documents of the Catholic Church related to the subject: 

Abbreviations and complete titles of the documents

Council of Nicea, DH 125; Council of Costantinople, DH 150; Synod I of Toledo, DH 188; Lateran Council IV, DH 800; Council of Florence, DH 1330-1333; Vatican Council I, DH 3001-3003, 3021-3025; DH 3512-3519; Gaudium et spes, 14, 34, 36, 39, 57John Paul II, General Audiences, from 8.1.1986 to 6.8.1986.

Bibliography: 

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