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God the Creator of Heaven and Earth

1986, January 15

General Audience

The truth about creation is the object and content of the Christian faith. This truth is present in an explicit manner only in revelation. It is only vaguely found in the mythological cosmogonies outside the Bible. It is absent from the speculations of the ancient philosophers, even the greatest, such as Plato and Aristotle, although they had reached a rather elevated concept of God as a totally perfect Being, the Absolute. Unaided human intelligence can arrive at the formulation of the truth that the world and contingent beings (i.e., those not existing of necessity) depend on the Absolute. However, the formulation of this dependence as "creation"-therefore on the basis of the truth about creation-pertains originally to divine revelation and in this sense it is a truth of faith.

It is proclaimed at the beginning of the professions of faith, beginning with those most ancient, such as the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God...Creator of heaven and earth." Likewise the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed states: "I believe in God...Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible." Finally, the Credo of the People of God proclaimed by Pope Paul VI declares: "We believe in one only God...Creator of things visible such as this world in which our transient life passes, of things invisible such as the pure spirits which are also called angels, and creator in each man of his spiritual and immortal soul" (L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, July 11, 1968, p. 4).

Because of the richness of its content, the truth about the creation of the world and of man by God occupies a fundamental place in the Christian creed. It not only refers to the origin of the world as the result of God's creative act, but it also reveals God as the Creator. God has spoken by the prophets, and in these last days by the Son (cf. Heb 1:1). He has made known to all those who accept his revelation not merely that it is precisely he who created the world, but above all, what it means to be Creator.

Sacred Scripture (Old and New Testament) is full of the truth about creation and about God the Creator. The first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, begins by asserting this truth: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1). Many other biblical passages repeat this truth, showing how deeply it had penetrated the faith of Israel. Let us recall at least a few. We read in the Psalms: "The earth is the Lord's and its fullness, the world and those who dwell in it; for he has founded it upon the seas" (24:1-2). "The heavens are yours, the earth is also yours; the world and all that is in it, for you have founded them" (89:11). "The sea is his, for he made it; for his hands formed the dry land" (95:5).

"The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made...for he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded and it stood forth" (33:5-6, 9). "May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth" (114:15). The same truth is professed by the author of the Book of Wisdom: "O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who has made all things by your word..." (9:1). The prophet Isaiah, speaking in the first person, quotes the word of God the Creator: "I am the Lord who made all things" (44:24).

The testimonies in the New Testament are no less clear. For example, the Prologue of John's Gospel states: "In the beginning was the Word...all things were made through him, and without him nothing was made" (1:1, 3). The Letter to the Hebrews states: "By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear" (11:3).

The truth of creation expresses the thought that everything existing outside of God has been called into existence by him. In Sacred Scripture we find texts which speak clearly of this.

The Book of Maccabees records the case of the mother of the seven sons. In the presence of the threat of death, she encouraged the youngest of them to profess the faith of Israel, saying to him: "Look at the heavens and the earth...God did not make them out of things that existed. So also mankind came into being" (2 Macc 7:28). We read in the Letter to the Romans: "Abraham believed in God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist" (4:17).

"Creation" therefore means: to make from nothing, to call into existence, that is, to form a being from nothing. Biblical language gives us a glimpse of this significance in the opening words of the Book of Genesis: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The word "created" is a translation of the Hebrew bara, which describes an action of extraordinary power whose subject is God alone. Reflection after the exile resulted in a better understanding of the significance of the initial divine intervention. The Second Book of Maccabees finally presents it as a production "not out of things that existed" (7:28). The Fathers of the Church and theologians further clarified the meaning of the divine action by speaking of creation "from nothing" (Creatio ex nihilo; more precisely ex nihilo sui et subjecti).

In the act of creation, God is the exclusive and direct principle of the new being, to the exclusion of any pre-existing matter.

As Creator, God is in a certain sense "outside" of created being and what is created is "outside" of God. At the same time the creature fully and completely owes to God its own existence (its being what it is), because the creature has its origin fully and completely from the power of God.

Through this creative power (omnipotence) God is in the creature and the creature is in him. However, this divine immanence in no way diminishes God's transcendence in regard to everything to which he gives existence.

When the Apostle Paul set foot in the Areopagus of Athens he spoke as follows to those assembled there: "As I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'To an unknown God.' What you worship as unknown, I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth..." (Acts 17:23-24).

It is interesting that the Athenians, who recognized many gods (pagan polytheism), should have heard these words about the one God, the Creator, without raising objections. This seems to confirm that the truth about creation constitutes a meeting-point between those who profess different religions. Perhaps the truth about creation is rooted in an innate and fundamental way in diverse religions, even if they do not have sufficiently clear concepts, such as those contained in Sacred Scripture.