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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
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Creation, in religion, refers to a special way of relating
physical things, plants, animals, and persons to God.
All believers in God hold that whatever exists depends
upon the nature of God, and that the worship of God
is essential to supreme well-being. However, believers
who use the word “creation” wish to defend both the
supremacy of God, and the autonomy of persons.

The words in the Declaration of Independence
(1776): “... that all men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable
Rights,” involve the conviction that men, free before
God, are responsible ultimately to Him. Believers in
“creation” do not themselves agree about what exactly
it means, although they intend the term to express their
conviction that God is never identical with his creation,
and with persons in particular. The most explicit ex-
pression of this view takes the form of creatio ex nihilo
(“creation out of nothing,” hereafter referred to as
creatio) and this intention differentiates theists from
religious monists or pantheists. Thus theists emphasize
that God both transcends, and is immanent in, His
creation. Their view is best understood in the context
of other religious, moral, and intellectual concerns to
be considered below.


1. To the ancient Indian and Greek thinker the
notion of creatio is unthinkable. Yet what captured the
imagination of the dominant theistic strand in Jewish,
Muslim, and Christian thought was expressed in the
first two chapters of Genesis. “In the beginning God
created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was
waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of
the deep: and the spirit of God moved upon the face
of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and
there was light. And God saw the light, that it was
good” (Genesis 1:1-4). The picture that unfolds in this
first chapter is that of a Creator-God responsible for
every created being.

What is further distinctive in this vision is the pas-
sage: “And God created man in his own image, in the
image of God created he him; male and female created
he them.... And God saw everything that he had
made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:27,
31. See also Genesis 2; Jeremiah 27:5, 31:35; and Isaiah
40:12-31). The phrase creatio ex nihilo is not a biblical
phrase (though it does occur in Maccabees II:vii, 28).

The dominant if not exclusive image in the biblical
account stands clear. God and the world are not iden-
tical; nor are the world and man “modes” of God's
being. Furthermore, in creating man in his own image,
God makes man free in a world ultimately governed
by God's purpose. When man freely chooses to abide
by God's purpose for him, he will realize the best in
himself and in Nature.

Thus in postulating creatio, Judeo-Christian-Muslim
theism protects both God's unlimited freedom to create
and man's limited freedom to be creative (or destruc-
tive). This postulate is also directed against the view
that the human soul has existed in some form before
its present existence. This view also leaves the door
open to annihilation for, since man comes “from noth-
ing,” he may return to “nothing.” Most theists, how-
ever, hold that God will grant personal immortality.

Furthermore, early Christian apologists, like Saint
Augustine (De civitate Dei XI:24; XIV II) used creatio
in order to stress that creation is God's own “free act,”
born of his goodness. They hold that the “stuff of his
own being” is never involved in creating either the
world or man. Or the stress, as in Philo, is on the fact
that no inner “fate” governed God's creating this
world. God could have created a different one, and
he can override the laws of this present world if he
sees fit.

2. In the Timaeus Plato seeks an account of the
generation of the space-time world that is “inferior to
none in likelihood” (Timaeus 29d). A good but not
omnipotent Demiurge desired that all should be “so
far as possible, like unto himself” (29d). He was limited
by the fact that he must deal with two other kinds
of being: the Receptacle and the Forms. The Recepta-
cle is the “mother” of all becoming, a kind of “mould-
ing-stuff” of everything “invisible and unshaped, all
receptive.” It could never be a cosmos unless “in some
most baffling way” (51b), it could partake of Forms
or Ideas. Plato's Demiurge, keeping his gaze fixed on
“these co-eternal Forms” (29a), “persuades” the in-
choate Receptacle to take on as much form as possible
(48a). The world thus generated is “planned” as “a
movable image” (37d) of the perfect Forms.

In postulating three co-eternal Beings, Plato departs
from his contention in the Republic that the Good is
the source of everything's being and being known. The
imperfect world is there likened to the manifold radia-
tions of the Sun (the Good). The theory in the Timaeus,
of a Demiurge persuading a somewhat recalcitrant
Receptacle to take on form, seems better able to ex-
plain imperfections in the world.

But a good Demiurge offends the religious conscious-
ness of most theists. God, to be God, must be perfect,
limited by nothing but his own will and reason. At
the same time, Plato's view, even as a “likely” account,
faces theoretical difficulties. For if God, the Forms, and
the Receptacle are co-eternally independent of each
other, why can God know the Forms? Or why should


the Receptacle be such that it could be persuaded to
take on the Forms?

To avoid such religious and theoretical difficulties
the traditional theist substitutes creatio ex nihilo. He
concedes that creatio too is baffling, that the how of
creation is unknowable. But three co-eternal Beings,
interacting and yielding a cosmos like ours, compounds
mystery. Mysterious as the how of creatio may be, it
offends no theoretical norm, and protects the absolute-
ness and perfection of God.

3. The words creatio ex nihilo are intended, then,
to deny the existence of any other Being co-eternal
with God, or any world identical with God.

For example, the theist cannot with Spinoza say
Rdeus sive natura (“God or Nature”). Spinoza held that
a God who created the world must have been imperfect
before its creation. If God is perfect the world must
follow from his nature “as the nature of a triangle that
its two angles should be equal to two right angles”
(Ethics, I, Prop. 17 Scholium).

In similar vein, the emanationist argues that the
mystery of ex nihilo can be avoided by thinking of the
world as “radiating” the unchanged One in different
degrees. For Plotinus, influenced by Plato's image of
the Sun, the world is the efflux of the ineffable, tran-
scendent, “creative” One. Such emanation should not
be confused with the “creative” or “emergent” evolu-
tion in which real novelty is produced “in time.” For
the emanationist the temporal order of “descent” is
not real; the One and the many stages of “evolution”
are in fact one. Hence, emanation hardly escapes
monism in its attempt to avoid the ex nihilo that defies
imagination and intellect.

The monist and emanationist usually urge that the
One cannot be described in terms that reflect, as human
thinking must, only a part of the world. The One is
super-personal. The human at best is part of the world
and can provide no adequate analogy to the nature
of the One. Hence Spinoza declared that to conceive
of the one Substance as a person is like comparing the
constellation The Dog to a barking dog. Similarly, the
most noble ideal of human goodness, or will, or reason,
cannot serve to characterize the One.

The theist agrees with the monist and emanationist
that God cannot be One among equals, or co-eternal
with any other being or beings. But he counters that
mystery is not decreased by considering an imperfect
world, manifesting the One, ultimately good. Nor does
he see how human freedom is consistent with emana-
tionism or monism. Creatio allows him to think of the
Unity as the ultimate Agent who in creating is self-
guided by his ideals of goodness and of reason. God
is not even, as Aristotle seems to have held, the Thinker
whose perfection is the unifying lure of all finite beings.
God is the Creator who thinks and acts in accordance
with goals intrinsic to his being. In creating the order
of Nature which supports human effort without anni-
hilating man's freedom, God expresses his loving pur-
pose—a mutually respecting and responsible commu-
nity of persons. Hence, this world, as Leibniz put it,
is the best possible world once it is seen as the arena
for the development of persons who cannot escape the
responsibility for their own actions.

In the theistic view, the natural world may be con-
ceived as the order of interacting nonmental entities
(in Thomistic realism) or as part of the mental nature
of God (as in Berkeley), or as a world of psychic unities
of different grades (as in Leibniz' panpsychism).

The conception of man's interaction with Nature and
with God varies in each of these theistic views. But
the religious and moral relation of men to each other
and to God is not significantly affected by viewing the
natural world as mental or nonmental. Yet man's con-
fidence that the natural world expresses God's reason
and goodness, supports the scientific conviction that
man's disciplined observation and reflection is not alien
to the order of Nature.

In sum, then, the classical theistic model of the uni-
verse is of a self-existent God who, in accordance with
his rational and loving nature, relates himself con-
stantly to a world contingent on his creative activity.
His general providence for free persons is expressed in
the natural structure of things and persons. His individ-
ual providence depends on the fellowship each person
freely seeks with God in prayer, worship, and action.
Even when theists, like Calvinists, denied human free-
dom, the ethical effect seemed to be strenuous effort
by individuals who used their worldly accomplishment
as an index to their divinely ordained destiny.

This emphasis on responsible fellowship, as the ideal
of worship and of human community, influences the
theist's interpretation of the religious and mystical
experience. Many mystics hold that in their experience
of God the finite self is literally lost in God or the One,
and they argue that this “union” favors monism. The
theist objects: religious “union” is also frequently ex-
perienced, and interpreted, as interaction with, and not
absorption in, God. In any case, the experience of love
and worship is meaningless if the lover and the beloved
are in fact one. Furthermore, to say that man is, and
is not, identical with God is more mysterious than
creatio and self-contradictory. How can the perfect
God “somehow” include all the imperfection in man
and in the world? Must not responsibility for all human
error and for evils in Nature be God's? Indeed, if
whatever happens in Nature and in man is ultimately
good, there is neither final distinction between good
and evil nor any standard for human progress.


4. Such reasoning in support of the doctrine of crea-
helps to clarify what it is intended to mean: God
creates what was not in existence and could not exist
unless God created. Nothing less than a radically new
model of coming-to-be and passing-away is advocated.
A finite being is a no-being, a no-being, until it is
created; it cannot come into existence or continue to
exist on its own initiative.

This model, the creationist argues, is mysterious only
in the sense that any ultimate state or quality of being
is mysterious. Given this model of ultimate Being and
coming-to-be, problems such as those indicated above
can reasonably be resolved. Creatio itself cannot be
understood by reference to any event within the world.
The theist often refers to the creative activity of an
artist as providing only a faint analogy, because the
artist perforce uses materials not of his own making.

Indeed, the creationist is at pains to suggest that
unfortunate picture-thinking leads to misunderstanding
of creatio. Picture-thinking leads to the question: How
can any being, however powerful, make something out
of nothing, or, to put it crudely, how can he make
something out of little bits of nothing? As Anselm said,
ex nihilo does not mean de nihilo ipso (Monologium,

Incomplete understanding underlies the objection
that “from nothing, nothing comes.” Lucretius, for
example, argues (I, 154), “if things came from nothing,
any kind might be born of anything, nothing would
require seed” (Oates, 1957). The creationist grants this.
But creation, he argues, is the activity of the self-
existent God, not of nothing. This God creates what
was not existent. Hence, no beings come “from noth-
ing”; the Creator-God creates, and this means that
what was not, is now because of his act.

This model of creatio is intended to replace all
others. But theists have nevertheless moved toward
deism, emanationism, and pantheism as they dealt with
such questions as: Having created, is God then indiffer-
ent to his creation? Does God need the world? Are
the world and God thinkable without each other? How
can the unchanging God remain unchanging if he is
immanent in his changing world? The thought of sev-
eral great thinkers makes such theoretical tensions
within theism clearer.


1. Saint Augustine's God is self-identical, immutable,
not in any way changed by the created world. The
Ideas are God's ideas; they constitute eternal perfection
imperfectly mirrored in all individuals and species. God
did not have to create. He did so, in order that crea-
tures might share in his goodness.

The material world, therefore, is not intrinsically
bad. God endowed it with seminal principles (rationes
) which can be brought to fruition under
appropriate conditions by created agents. The creating
of the seminal principles is always the work of God.
A mother and father, for example, do not create the
child, but their “creative” action brings the form of
the child as created by God into fruition.

In this view, God allows persons to make a difference
in the actual history of the world. Yet, at every point,
Augustine protects the insuperable glory, goodness, and
creativity of God against any alternative that might
even seem to limit his power. Thus, the doctrine of
seminal principles enables Augustine to deny that any-
thing kept God from creating the world and all it could
become “from the beginning.” Nor is God limited by
time since he created time with the world.

Yet tension exists in this view. Augustine attributes
free will to man. Man is responsible for whatever
changes for good or evil depend upon his use of free-
dom. The goodness in the world and in man are not,
therefore, a reflection of God only. But if God does
create human freedom, must it not be possible for
persons to contravene God's purpose? Augustine, intent
on preserving God's sovereignty, holds that the outcome
of human existence is predestined. He even adds that
men cannot believe in God except as God in his grace
moves them to do so, with no regard for their present
and future merit. Thus Augustine's emphasis on both
freedom and predestination, on both the immutability
of God and his immanence in the changing world,
raises difficulties which such theism must confront.

2. All the more fascinating, then, is Scotus Erigena's
attempt to clarify both the Unity of God and the
interrelated orders of existence (ca. ninth century). God
is the Being who creates but is not created. To Him
no categories of existence, even self-comprehension,
apply. He is Nothing, that is, nothing like anything
else. From this Nothing comes all else. Nevertheless,
the essence of this intrinsically invisible God is manifest
in creation. God without any world would be only a
possible Creator, hence this world is not accidental to
God's being. Just as the sun must shine, so the creative
eternal Goodness must create; there can be no chasm
between God's will, his thought, and his being. Yet God
and the world are not one.

The stress is clear: creation must not be a divine
fiat that is arbitrary, or unrelated to God's essential na-
ture. Hence God is not one being alongside of other be-
ings. As James Ward suggests (1935), words like “super-
essential, super-rational, super-personal, nay, super-
absolute unity” are intended to express the fullness
of “inexhaustible positivity” (p. 35). God does not know
himself (if to know is to know what some other is).

Erigena's problem is to link his full Nothing with


the realms of immaterial and material beings and their
composites. The Logos, created and creating, is the
first manifestation of the Nothing of God. The Logos
lures the created and uncreated realms “below” it, thus
unifying the manyness of being with the One.

The traditional creationist will insist that such at-
tempts do nothing ultimately to bridge “the ugly broad
ditch” between the One and the many. Nor is the
distance between the Unity of God and the manyness
of the world decreased by introducing many grades
of being that are lured by the immaterial Logos (or
“Ideas”) without which they would be nonexistent.
Such juxtaposing of emanationism with creationism is
not in fact helpful. For if it helps to argue that man's
knowledge of Nature is possible because his mind
“participates” in the mediating primal Ideas, it does
not help us understand the existence of human freedom
and natural evil. For the many, including man, still
exist in the Absolute, Self-Determining, God. Nothing
that appears to be evil, including man's misuse of his
freedom, has reality apart from God. Thus, a high price
is to be paid for unifying all Being and Goodness, for
holding that evil is ultimate Harmony misunderstood.

3. In Thomas Aquinas the temptation to emanation-
ism is overcome, and creationism is more clear-cut.
Aquinas' God is changeless, transcendent in being and
in self-knowledge. He is, nevertheless, immanent in the
world without its changing Him in any respect. Noth-
ing but God's own being and free decision determine
the “moment” of creation or the duration and quantity
of the created world. For Aquinas the question whether
God can be God without the world is not answerable
with logical necessity.

Aquinas concentrates on understanding how the one
eternally perfect God can maintain his Unity and Per-
fection in creating both the many individuals and their
forms of being. The controlling analogy here is that
of an artist whose quality is expressed not in one work
alone but in a variety that express his quality, and
together display the many aspects of his perfection.

Aquinas' God, accordingly, creates individuals within
species, but the individuals are concrete, graded ways
that bring out the richness possible in each species.
For example, eyes are eyes; they perform their limited
function in all beings. But they, with other limited parts
of the body, go to make up the harmony of the body.
Similarly no species can express the perfection of God,
for each species is limited. But the hierarchy of limited
species, each with its imperfect but definite members
are—all taken together—concrete manifestations of the
perfection of God. God, in freely creating, perforce
creates finite forms of his perfection; but their rich
variety and hierarchical gradations together express the
perfection of his handiwork.

There is a certain power in this argument once it
is seen that the Creator and the created cannot be of
the same quality in every respect. In Gilson's words:
“No creature receives the whole fulness of divine
goodness because perfections come from God to crea-
tures by a kind of descent” (p. 155). But must the
Perfection, expressed in limited creatures, also include
their imperfections? Must the eyes be imperfect eyes?
Granting that evil has no independent power but is
the absence of good as defined for a given kind of
creature, does the actual distribution of natural good
and evil add up to perfection?

But Aquinas' main metaphysical model is clear. A
self-sufficient God expresses his perfection in creating.
The creative activity changes the Creator no more,
presumably, than the knowing process changes what
is known. God is not a member of any genus but he
is the principle and cause of every genus. Were He
incapable of creating in accordance with his will and
reason, he would not be perfect. Only this kind of
being, never Himself nonbeing, can create ex nihilo.
Yet to create is to create some limited order of being
as distinct from every other. This entails at best the
creation of mutually supporting beings and of mutually
supporting parts within them. These beings come into
being and go out of being, within the limits of the
divine plan. Their ultimate nature is not theirs to
constitute or reconstitute; they affect and are affected
in accordance with their particular created consti-
tutions. Persons, however, have limited freedom, which
can be strengthened by God's grace, which is respected
by God even when it is abused.

4. This Thomistic theism has an outstanding coun-
terpart in F. R. Tennant's Philosophical Theology
(1930). Tennant argues that there is no denying the
finite self, but that as regards all other philosophical
questions, probability is the guide of life. He concludes
that a cosmic Person is the most reasonable hypothesis
for interpreting man's cognitive, aesthetic, moral, and
religious experience as a whole.

Tennant struggles with the problem of the divine
immanence in Nature. God, in creating, delegated
spontaneous activity to unities (“substance-causes”) in
the subhuman world. A gradation, as biological evolu-
tion shows, eventuates in human self-consciousness,
desire, reason, and free will. The facts of moral and
natural evil are most intelligible if we hypothesize both
the delegating of limited spontaneity to subhuman
orders and the “planting out” and “positing” of per-
sons. With such metaphorical expressions, Tennant
stresses the fact that things and persons are no part
of God.

More specifically, God is the Creator of the primary
collocations of the world. He is transcendent insofar


as the constitutive elements in Nature exhibit some
spontaneity and persons enjoy limited moral freedom.
Is God, then, a deistic spectator of the created world?
Is he immanent as a painter is immanent in his paint-
ings? Or does God, as in the Augustinian and Cartesian
view, create from moment to moment and thus provide
continuity in his creation?

Tennant answers each of these questions negatively.
The Augustinian view does not take seriously enough
the “planting out” of beings-for-themselves. Tennant
thinks that evils in Nature, like cyclones and cancer,
may be seen as an inherent, but not predetermined
consequence of the delegated spontaneity at the sub-
human level. Such evils and disorder, however, must
be seen within the context of prevailing order and the
possibilities for goodness in things. At the same time,
Tennant urges, “through God's immanence all things
consist” (II, 212). Purpose-foiling tendencies in the
subhuman realm are not allowed to disrupt the pur-
pose-realizing cosmos because of God's appropriate
directive and creative activity in keeping “the world
with all its differentiated detail and its ever emergent
products” one whole (II, 216). Tennant reasons, ac-
cordingly, that “divine action upon the world-
elements,” be it occasional or continuous, is coherent
with the intricate adaptations required for our under-
standing of cosmic evolution, including man (II, 215).
The how of this direction, like the original act of
creation, is not open to human analogy; but it contra-
dicts nothing we know. Tennant leaves it as an empiri-
cal question whether interference with such law as we
know in Nature has actually taken place when God
acts to preserve the dependable unity of Nature. In
any case, Tennant's God is no spectator; he is no artist;
he is no continual creator (Augustine). God delegates
autonomy, but does not remain helpless as he directs
and creates in order to maintain and enrich the created

Tennant distinguishes between God's action upon
subhuman beings and his action on persons capable
of reasonable, moral, and religious response. He rejects
any theory of God's action upon man that suggests
indwelling possession; no quasi-physical, impersonal
coercion by God—even if it be called God's grace—is
acceptable in a universe intended to support man's
moral development.

Tennant also differs from other theists in holding that
it is unempirical, and therefore unreasonable, to speak
of God as creating the best possible world from an
infinite number of contemplated possibilities. “God
without a world is a superfluous abstraction, and a God
who might have 'chosen' a different seminal world from
this, or different 'primary collocations' would be a
different God” (II, 183). Since this world is the only
world we know, for us to talk of God's entertaining
other eternal ideas is to talk as if we had some other
evidence for thinking about God's nature other than
this world with man in it. For Tennant, God has “no
empty capacity which somehow hits upon definite
modes of activity” (II, 184). “The world is what it is
because God is what he is” (II, 184). It is this particular
evolutionary world, not a “static perfection,” which
calls for a World-Ground.

In Tennant, the relation of the unchanging eternal
God of classical theism to the temporal world is stated
very cautiously. On the one hand, he does not wish
to restrict God to the conceptual time of scientific
description; on the other, he wishes to keep God func-
tionally related to the created changing world. So he
finally says, somewhat enigmatically, “We have no
right to regard God as not supra-temporal. I admit that
He cannot be regarded as supra-temporal” (P. A.
Bertocci, The Empirical Argument, p. 255).

5. Theists who have less faith in such reasonable
theorizing, and who hold to creation as an article of
nonrational faith, tend to reinterpret creatio by em-
phasizing man's commitment to his own freedom. They
are suspicious of any doctrine of transcendence that
makes God one being alongside of others, or that con-
ceives man as a thing and not creative in God's image.
Hence they see creatio not as in any way separating
man, world, and God, but as symbolizing both man's
freedom and his dependence on unconditioned Being.
John MacQuarrie's Principles of Christian Theology
(1966) gives expression to this existential-ontological

MacQuarrie's conclusion is that the term “letting be”
best expresses the meaning of creativity. The specula-
tive questions about whether time had a beginning give
way to the existential meaning of time. A creative,
loving Being “lets be... only at the risk to itself, only
by giving itself and going out into openness” (p. 200).

In this view man can understand himself as that
being among dependent beings who, most open to
fulfillment, is also most responsible for his development
as part of the risk of being itself. What this view
emphasizes is expressed in MacQuarrie's belief that
creatio overstresses the difference between God and
his creation, thus tending to make creation an arbitrary
act. Hence MacQuarrie moves toward the image of
emanation which “stresses affinity” and suggests “that
God does really put himself into the creation so that
the risk of creation really matters to him” (p. 202).

Clearly MacQuarrie uses emanation to avoid what
could be arbitrary chasms between beings and Being.
Like Paul Tillich he stresses the participation of con-
ditioned beings in the unconditioned Being. At the
same time, he has God “going out of himself” and


“risking” the creation of the evolutionary order of
subhuman and human beings who uniquely share in
being and nonbeing. The stress remains on man's con-
tinuity with the subhuman world, and on the “leap”
that differentiates man as rational, as responsible for
his own development, and as capable of participation
in Nature and in cooperative intimacy with God.

The contrast between Tennant and MacQuarrie is
significant. Both stress human autonomy in particular,
but Tennant would be suspicious of images like “par-
ticipation” as inconsistent with creation, despite
MacQuarrie's insistence that participation must never
mean “absorption.” MacQuarrie does say that creation
means “the coming out or emergence of particular
things” (p. 214). With what Tennant would approve
MacQuarrie continues: “The more multiple the created
beings, the richer is the unity, or at least the potential
unity [of God], and all this richness would be shattered
and destroyed by the collapse of everything into the
stillness of an inert monolithic Being” (p. 214). There
may seem to be only a verbal difference between
Tennant's speaking of “planting out” and “positing”
or “delegating” autonomy, and MacQuarrie's “creation
where being confers itself, gives itself to the beings
who have been called out of nothing” (p. 214). But
MacQuarrie's concern for inner kinship inspires other
images which for Tennant weaken both transcendence
and mutual responsibility. Still both Tennant and
MacQuarrie are not far apart when MacQuarrie says:
“time is in Being rather than Being in time,” and
“Being must remain at once stable and dynamic”
(p. 320).

6. It is clear that classical, absolutistic theism has
produced uneasiness even in its more refined attempts
to reconcile the transcendent, unchanging God with
the God immanent in a changing world and presuma-
bly affected by the moral growth and sin of persons.
When struggling with this problem classical theism has
veered toward monism and emanationism: God's na-
ture can be expressed in, but not affected by, change
and suffering in all its finite centers.

Indeed, the classical God who creates ex nihilo sug-
gests an omnipotent, sovereign King, the benefactor
of his obedient creatures. But this image does not
cohere with the image of God as cosmic Lover sensitive
to all sentient creatures, and to overcoming sin and
suffering in man. For some thinkers, such as S. Alex-
ander, H. Bergson, C. Hartshorne, A. N. Whitehead
and H. N. Wieman, this seems to mean the bankruptcy
of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. They therefore
supplant creatio with an ultimate creativity, congenial
with the emergence of novelty in biological evolution
and moral worth in man. The dominant model now
is creative emergence within a temporalistic, teleo-
logical reality guided and directed in different degrees
by a God whose very being is involved with that of
the world.

But all such views, despite their protestations to the
contrary, are faced with the problem of protecting the
nature of the individuality of both God and man. Their
stress on human autonomy and independence of the
world tends to be lost in a polarity between God and
his creation. Such is the critique that underlies tempo-
ralistic personalism. E. S. Brightman, in particular,
resists any blurring of creatio, individuality, and free-
dom, even as he takes both time and the problem of
nondisciplinary suffering seriously (1958). The sugges-
tion is that the working out of the purpose of the
Creator-God is affected by changes in the world and
by the free choices of persons. This suggestion may
be expressed in four theses that at once summarize and
develop the basic themes in this essay.

First, God in his metaphysical structure is a Person,
aware of his own being and purposes. In creating, God
brings into being what could not be apart from his
willing it into being. Created beings are “posited”
with their own quality and degree of activity-passivity
(or, at the subhuman level, they may be identical with

Second, in creating free persons especially, God is
both limiting his own power and the particular way
in which he will affect them. Persons, with limited
freedom, operating within the collocated structures
that make the world a cosmos, cannot change these
structures; but they can select among possible alterna-
tives allowed by these structures. In so doing they
influence the quality of their own experience and
God's. The contrast with this classical theism is ex-
pressed in the next three contentions.

Third, God is not the stern cosmic Potentate, impas-
sive to the suffering and enjoyments of men; nor is he
the beneficent Overseer. He is indeed the Creator who
in creating expresses his own being. The created world
is indeed one in which co-creators arrive, survive, and
are basically responsible for the quality of the respon-
sive-responsible community involving God and man.
God indeed continues to create without infringing the
dependable order of being and in cooperation with
human choice. And God can never become less than
real, being a self-caused Person. But his creative acts
in the evolution of world history, including man, make
him a participant in, but not victim of, all that occurs.
He responds creatively and mercifully to what is
effected in the realm of delegated agency at all levels.
This cosmic Creator is the redeeming Lover who is
concerned that nothing valuable be lost as shared crea-
tion continues.

Fourth, God does not create the world and time
together, for the Creator himself is temporal insofar
as he creates and responds to his co-creators. The


historic process is integral to the very being of the
Creator, who, in creating any specific beings, expresses
the nature of His own being in that specific way. Thus,
the model of an unchanging Creator is supplanted by
the model of a unified Creator who is self-continuous
in creating and knows the agony and ectasy of all
creativity and destruction.

Fifth, in this perspective, the notion that there is
no model for creatio ex nihilo in the finite world is
challenged. Man is indeed usually an artificer in a
material given to him and in him. But the counter-
suggestion is that man does create ex nihilo when, given
his created nature, he does bring into being what was
not. This is so when he creates in the realms of knowl-
edge, ethics, art, and religion. Obviously this creation
is within limits, but what comes to be would not be
to the extent, and in the way that, a person wills it.
There is an experiential person-model for creatio ex

Accordingly, temporalistic personalists reject deism,
emanation, monism, and a dialectical polarity. They
seek to harmonize transcendence and immanence in
a cosmological model of a Unified Person, who creates
without being transformed, who maintains his unity
and continuity as he creates and undergoes the conse-
quences, good and bad, of his creations. This creationist
model must be seen teleologically. A loving Person
purposes a cosmic community of mutually responsible
co-creators—the present and continuing goal of all
creative activity. This view of God underlies the ethics
and social philosophy not of authoritarian fascism or
communism, but of communitarian personalism.


Peter A. Bertocci, The Empirical Argument for God in Late
British Thought
(Cambridge, Mass., 1938); idem, “Toward
a Metaphysics of Creation,” Review of Metaphysics, 17
(1964), 493-510. Henry Bett, Johannes Scotus Erigena (New
York, 1964). Edgar S. Brightman, Person and Reality (New
York, 1958). Étienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of
Thomas Aquinas
(New York, 1956). Charles Hartshorne, The
Divine Relativity
(New Haven, 1948). Lucretius, On the
Nature of Things,
I, 154, in The Stoic and Epicurean Philoso-
ed. Whitney J. Oates (New York, 1940). John Mac-
Quarrie, Principles of Christian Theology (New York, 1966).
Robert C. Neville, God and Creator (Chicago, 1968). Fred-
erick R. Tennant, Philosophical Theology, 2 vols. (Cam-
bridge, 1930). James Ward, Realms of Ends (London, 1935).
Harry A. Wolfson, Religious Philosophy... (Cambridge,
Mass., 1961).


[See also Creativity in Art; Death and Immortality; Deism;
Evil; Existentialism; Free Will in Theology; God; Hierar-
chy; Nature; Right and Good; Time.]