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The Mystery of Creation

1986, January 8

General Audience

In the inevitable and necessary reflection which people of every age have made about their lives, two questions forcefully emerge, almost as an echo of the voice of God: "Where do we come from? Where are we going?" If the second question regards the final end, the definitive goal, the first refers to the origin of the world and of the human race, and is equally fundamental. For this reason we are rightly impressed by the extraordinary interest devoted to the problem of origins. It is not merely a question of knowing when and how the cosmos began and man appeared. It involves discovering the meaning of such an origin, and whether it was presided over by chance, by blind destiny, or by a transcendent Being, intelligent and good, called God. In fact, evil exists in the world and those who experience it are drawn to ask what its origin is and who is responsible for it, and whether there is any hope of deliverance from it. "What is man that you are mindful of him?" asked the Psalmist, lost in admiration before the event of creation (Ps 8:5).

The question about creation surfaces in everyone's mind, the simple and learned alike. The roots of modern science are closely linked to the biblical truth about creation, even though the relationship between the two has not always been harmonious. In our own day the mutual relationship between scientific and religious truth is better understood. Many scientists have assumed an attitude of increasing respect for the Christian view of creation, while legitimately raising serious problems. These problems concern the evolution of living forms, and of human beings in particular, as well as the immanent finality of the cosmos itself in coming into being. This field allows for the possibility of fruitful dialogue concerning the different ways of approaching the reality of the world and of the human person. These ways are sincerely recognized as different, though they converge at the deepest level in favor of man who is unique. Man was created in the "image of God" and therefore as the intelligent and wise master of the world, as the first page of the Bible states (cf. Gen 1:27-28).

We Christians recognize with deep amazement, though with due critical approach, that all religions, from the most ancient which have now disappeared to those existing today, seek an "answer to the unsolved riddles of the human condition.... What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve?... Whence do we come, and where are we going?" (NA 1). Following the Second Vatican Council in its Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, we reaffirm that "the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions," for "they often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men" (NA 2). But the Biblical-Christian view of the origins of the cosmos and of history, and of humanity in particular has had an important influence on the spiritual, moral and cultural formation of entire peoples for more than twenty centuries. This view is so undeniably outstanding, inspiring and original, that to speak of it explicitly, even if synthetically, is a duty which no pastor or catechist can omit.

The Christian revelation manifests an extraordinary richness concerning the mystery of creation. This is a moving and by no means indifferent sign of the affection of God. This revelation provides a continuous and consistent explanation of the knotty problems of human existence, such as man's origin and his future destiny, though it does so in accordance with the variety of cultural expressions.

Thus the Bible begins absolutely with a first, and then with a second account of creation. The origin of everything from God, of things, of life, of man (Gen 1-2), is interwoven with the other sad chapter about the origin of man, not without the temptation of the devil, of sin and of evil (Gen 3). But God does not abandon his creatures. So a tiny flame of hope is lit toward a future of a new creation freed from evil[1]. These three threads - God's creative and positive action, man's rebellion, and, already from the beginning, God's promise of a new world - form the texture of the history of salvation. They determine the global content of the Christian faith in creation.

While in the forthcoming catecheses on creation due place will be given to Scripture as an essential source, it will be my task to recall the great tradition of the Church. This will be done first with texts of the Councils and of the ordinary Magisterium, and also in the interesting and penetrating reflections of so many theologians and Christian thinkers.

As a journey comprising many stages, the catechesis on creation will deal especially with this marvelous fact as we profess it at the beginning of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God, Creator of heaven and earth." We shall reflect on the calling forth from nothingness of all created reality. At the same time we shall admire God's omnipotence and the joyous surprise of a contingent world which exists by virtue of such omnipotence. We shall recognize that creation is the loving work of the Blessed Trinity, and it reveals its glory. This does not deny but rather affirms the legitimate autonomy of created things. We shall focus a profound attention on man, as the center of the cosmos, in his reality as the "image of God," of a spiritual and corporeal being, subject of knowledge and freedom. Other themes will help us later on to explore this formidable creative event, especially God's government of the world, his omniscience and providence, and how in the light of God's faithful love the enigma of evil and suffering finds its satisfactory solution.

After God spoke about his divine creative power to Job, (Job 38-41), Job replied to the Lord and said: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.... I had heard of you by the ear, but now my eyes see you" (Job 42:2-5). May our reflection on creation lead us to the discovery that, in the act of creating the world and man, God has provided the first universal testimony of his powerful love, the first prophecy of the history of our salvation.

1 The so-called proto-evangelium, Gen 3:15; cf. 9:13