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De Moor VIII:13: The Material Cause of Creation, Part 1a

But when we contemplate Creation more passively, it indicates an Apt Production of Things, flowing from that Command of Will; so that the Creation might be made of Nothing. Our AUTHOR understands, that the First Creation had absolutely No pre-existing Matter; but that the World through that passed from Nothing, or from non-being, to being. That is, that the World was created ex Nihilo, with respect to the terms is not an expression of Scripture, but of Theology: however, it is inanely disputed concerning its legitimate use; seeing that in the sense understood by Theologians it completely agrees with the teaching of Scripture, and emphatically signifies it, especially directed toward the refutation of those that think that the World was created out of some pre-existing Matter. Of course, 1. Ex, out of, does indeed sometimes indicate the Efficient, in which sense all things are ex, that is, from, God, Romans 11:36:[1] in this sense the World is not able to be said to be made out of Nothing, because it would have been created by no one, but would have existed by chance or of itself. 2. Ex, out of, also sometimes indicates Matter, and this is indeed the more common signification of it. thus God formed man dust מִן־הָאֲדָמָה, out of the ground, Genesis 2:7; but this sense does not square here, because thus Nothing would be out of Nothing. But, 3. Ex, out of, also indicates the Terminus à quo,[2] as, for example, when Moses is said to have been drawn out of the waters, מִן־הַמַּיִם, Exodus 2:10, and when Christ is said to have descended ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, out of heaven, John 3:13: and thus in this manner of speaking is it taken, when we conceive of Nothing as the Terminus, from which a thing by Creation to being, as the Terminus ad quem:[3] and thus the World was created out of Nothing signifies the same thing as after nothing, since there had been nothing previously, with nothing presupposed or pre-existing. But if, when Theologians say that Nothing was the Material of Creation, this has regard only to the scholastic manner of discussion, and they verily understand the Terminus à quo.


And so, 1. should you verily wish to consider Nothing after the likeness of prime Matter, and hence to deny that prime Matter was created, because Nothing is not an object of Creation, and Mere Nothing is not able to be held as an effect of the action of the Omnipotent God; this would be λογομαχεῖν, to dispute over words, inanely. Neither, 2. do we care more here for the brawlings of the Aristotelians, who says that prime Matter is the first subject of substantial mutations, that is, of generation and corruption, which mutations necessarily had to be made in some subject; but, this subject they maintain to be substance distinct from all form, in which is nothing of its own proper form, and say that the same was not created, but concreated and increated with that Mosaic Terraqueous mass; which Mosaic Mass they think not to be able to be called prime Matter, because Earth and Water have their own matter and form, and are not without their own form; as it is in MACCOVIUS,[4]Metaphysica, book I, chapter XV, pages 156, 157. We happily leave the Aristotelians to delight themselves in the abstract consideration of this sort of subject, which they call prime matter, and which nevertheless nowhere exists abstractly in the nature of things, but only in its composition, as they admit, as an essential part of this. However, 3. let those that know how to philosophize with such minute accuracy consider without begrudging, that Theologians, according to their greater rudeness in the selection of terms, by prime Matter in the explication of Creation sometimes understand that rude and disordered Mass produced in the first moment of time, as over against whatever individual Bodies thence brought forth on the remaining days of Creation; although they do not deny to this Terraqueous Mass a sort of form of its own, yet they call the same indeterminate for the reception of individual forms by a Second Creation, and successively capacious of all: compare HEINRICH ALTING,[5]Scriptorum Heidelbergensium, tome 2, part I, problem XIX, pages 79-84.

But, that this prime Matter of the inferior World, together with the Highest Heaven, by the First Creation was brought forth out of Nothing at all, we affirm; not only out of Nothing relatively, or of that thing produced, but out of Nothing absolutely and simply so called.

We prove this, α. From the mention of the universal Beginning in Moses, in which the Heaven and Earth were made, Genesis 1:1. More specifically, Moses mentions, 1. Heaven, not the lower, which was thereafter produced in the division of the Terraqueous Globe, but the Supreme; and the very Earth itself, which in verse 2 is described as תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ, without form and void, and from which afterwards were brought forth by a Second Creation all the other Bodies. Now, these greater parts of the World and the very primordial elements of all things Moses says to have been created by God, not from any other matter, as thereafter herbs, animals, and body of man are read to have proceeded from the Earth, and fish from the Water; but the very Earth itself, together with the Supreme Heaven, God created previously, produced through His omnipotent command alone without any pre-existing material. And that, 2. בְּרֵאשִׁית, which with the Jerusalem Targum[6] is not to be translated בְּחוּכְמָא, in Wisdom, or by Wisdom; still less is this specifically to be referred to Personal Wisdom, or the Son of God, which of old has pleased not a few, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Basil, Ambrose, and Augustine: see JEROME’S Questiones Hebraicas in Genesin, opera, tome 3, page 201; and WALCH’S[7]Miscellanea Sacra, book III, Exercitation II, chapter III, section II, § 4, pages 552, 553. For, although the thing thus signified, whether you understand attributive Wisdom or personal, is true in either respect; the Hebrew expression does not admit this interpretation, neither is it able to be suitably explained in any other way than concerning the absolute and first Beginning of all successive duration, which is immediately connected with the first production of things by Creation: since a creature is not able to be conceived of without time, nor time without a creature, just as bodily magnitude is not able to be without extension, nor a mode of subsistence without a subsisting subject: but now Time is the duration of creatures, or a mode of their subsistence, which is successive, mutable, passing by moment-by-moment, etc. Thus in John 1:1 that בְּרֵאשִׁית is exhibited as ἐν ἀρχῇ, in the beginning; in Hebrews 1:10, as κατ᾽ ἀρχάς, in the beginning, as ONKELOS[8] also renders it בְּקַדְמִין, in the beginning. Therefore, when God is said to have created the Heaven and the Earth in the Beginning, a Beginning not pre-existing, but co-existing and truly concreated, from which the times of the ages began to run; all anterior existence of any finite and material thing is flatly denied, since it is not able to subsist without successive duration to be measure by time. 3. For, force is not to be applied to the text through contorted exposition, so that in the Mosaic beginning Matter might be established as anterior, with GROTIUS,[9] who translate and explain: in the beginning God created, that is, before God created or formed the Heaven and the Earth, the Earth was without form, etc. For, a. he will not prove that the בְּרֵאשִׁית, in the beginning, ever is used for בְּטֶרֶם/before. b. Moses would then have been obliged to say, not בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא, in the beginning He created, butבְּרֵאשִׁית בְּרֺא, in the beginning of the creation. c. Then the ו/and at the beginning of verse 2 would be superfluous and ought to be removed, וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה וגו״, and the earth, etc.: compare VRIEMOET’S Adnotationes ad Dicta classica Veteris Testamenti, tome I, chapter V, pages 221, 222; MEYER’S Orationem de Origine Universi, pages 63, 67-69, 71-74, and his Fundamentum Theologiæ, part I, book III, chapter III, § 6, 8; our AUTHOR’S Exercitationes Textuales I, Part V, § 4.

β. That no Matter existed from eternity, from which God produced this World in the Mosaic Beginning, is also evident from this, that it is said that God existed, that the Son of God was begotten, and the Decrees were made by God, before the earth, the deeps and the whole world, with no restriction added to its present form, Psalm 90:2; Proverbs 8:24-26; Ephesians 1:4. What is eternal has nothing before itself; therefore, since various things are said to have been before the World, it is evinced that it was not from eternity, and hence at some point it had a beginning to its existence, while nothing was yet existing except God.

γ. Thus without any limitation either of things or of a special mode and form of existence of the same, the Apostle affirms of τοῖς μὴ οὖσι, things which be not, that God calls them as if they were, Romans 4:17; which, asserted by Limborch in his Commentario on the passage and Theologia Christiana, book II, chapter XIX, § 5, as rashly solicited, you are not able to explain more truly and fully, than concerning the most well-known and celebrated example of divine Omnipotence, displayed in the production, by mere Commandment, and thus as if by Calling, of all things not existing with respect to both matter and form. Add Hebrews 11:3, where thus the ages or World are said to have been prepared by the Word of God, εἰς τὸ μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων τὰ βλεπόμενα γεγονέναι, so that things wich are seen were not made of things which do appear. Where various do indeed think of the refining of the World through the Second Creation, believing the Apostle to have regard to the Septuagint Version of Genesis 1:2, ἡ δὲ γῆ ἦν ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος καὶ σκότος ἐπάνω τῆς ἀβύσσου, but the earth was not visible and unformed, and darkness was upon the deep; such that Paul teaches that all that we see proceeded from Chaos, invisible in its own way before the Light, and disorganized before the further refinement: thus not only do Crellius[10] and Schlichting,[11] Socinians, together deny that the Mosaic Genesis was made out of Nothing; and Limborch, denying that Creation out of Nothing is here signified by Paul, see our AUTHOR’S Exercitationes Textuales XLVIII, Part VI, § 13; but also Estius among the Papists, Exercitationem laudatem, § 8: moreover, yet somewhat differently, these words are referred to the Second Creation by the Most Distinguished NIEUWENTYT in his Cosmotheoria, chapter XXVI, § 35, 36, pages 747-749, supposing Paul to signify that all visible things were composed and drew their rise from particles so small that they flee the sight; so that Paul indeed does not wish to indicate the rise of the World in the first Creation from Nothing; but the incredible smallness of the particles constituting and composing all particular things produced through the Second Creation, which particles Physicists even today admit that they are not even able to follow with the Microscope. Yet we prefer with our AUTHOR, in Exercitationibus Textualibus XLVIII, Part VI, to find here a description of the First Creation, a passive consideration of which is found in these last words, just as in the former, where the ages are said to have been prepared by the Word of God, an active consideration, so that τὰ βλεπόμενα, the things seen, and τὰ φαινόμενα, the things appearing, is here simply a description of τῶν ὄντων, the things existing. 1. Paul, being about to review examples of the Faith of the Fathers from history of the greatest antiquity, in this verse sets down first the Faith of the adaptation of the World in its manner, as the most ancient thing and at the same time an object altogether worthy of Faith: in which it is far more likely that Paul desired to set forth concerning the Creation those things that it is given to know with certainty by Faith alone, which things are at the same time rejected and opposed by an unbelieving World, and by the Faith of which believers are hence distinguished especially from unbelievers; than such things that either were wont to be admitted as everywhere known by the Light of Nature, or concerning which there was hardly even any consideration and so no controversy; of which sort are the Creation accomplished by the Word of God alone, and from no pre-existing Matter; more than the Second Creation from the unformed Mass, or the composition of visible things from the most minute particles fleeing even the keenest sight. 2. Τὰ βλεπόμενα, the things seen, more frequently denotes, not more specifically things visible, but in general what things are, extant things. Thus in verse 1, οὐ βλεπόμενα, things not seen, and ἐλπιζόμενα, things hoped for, are referred to each other, to indicate those things that in hope we expect to obtain in the future, but which now do not yet exist, in comparison with Romans 8:24, 25.[12] So also, in 2 Corinthians 4:18, where τὰ βλεπόμενα, the things seen, is referred to things of this present age, τὰ μὴ βλεπόμενα, things not seen, to the coming eternity. Similarly φαίνεσθαι, to be seen, to appear, also denotes to be or to happen, Matthew 9:33.[13] The sense will be the same here also, that the Word of God was sufficient all by itself for the founding of the World, so that those things that do appear, that is, all things that are and with respect to the great part of them offer themselves on every side to the eyes to be seen, were not made from things that do appear, that is, that in the nature of things were being found by the Creator God to be at hand. 3. To this is also able to be referred the mention of the World under the name of τῶν αἰώνων, the ages, which compels us to ascend to the first Creation of Matter; seeing that this, as it existed at first, was not without successive duration, and so at the same time with the existence of this the αἰῶνες/ages began to run, the Producing of which Paul here makes mention. Concerning this use of the term τῶν αἰώνων, the ages, see GEORGE BULL, Judicio Ecclesiæ catholicæ, etc., chapter V, § 8, page 42. 4. No things are able to be said more emphatically to be not appearing, than those that do not exist: for such do not appear in any way, at any time, or to any; while those that do exist, although some do not appear so clearly of themselves or through their effects, are able to appear in one or another way, and thus are called visible. 5. Paul himself appears to take careful precautions, lest anyone should here consider φαινόμενα, things appearing, as a material cause, of which τὰ βλεπόμενα, the things seen, might be made, since he does not say ἐκ μὴ φαινομένων, from things not appearing, but μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων, not from things appearing, which you might rashly assert to have been done by euphonic trajection; while this far more solid account of this Pauline expression is offered, that the Apostles banishes all thought of a pre-existing material Cause from the first formation of the World. To this same prudence of the Pauline speech is perhaps to be referred, that he makes us of two different words, by τὰ βλεπόμενα, the things seen, willing more expression to indicate things visible, but by τὰ φαινόμενα, the things appearing, as by a term of more general signification, indicating more generally things existing, things that have existence.

δ. But, as the Most Distinguished NIEUWENTYT was considering particles most minute as the composing matter of each individual thing produced by the Second Creation; so, that all these particles of matter, even the most minute, owe their origin to the Creator God, is taught by Consummate Wisdom, Proverbs 8:26, while as yet He had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor even the beginning of the dust of the habitable world.[14] Indeed, that absolutely nothing but God is able or ought to be conceived as eternal, and as not receiving Essence from Him by Creation, is taught by the universal term, πάντα, all things, of which Paul makes use in Colossians 1:16, 17, where he asserts that Christ was πρὸ πάντων, before all things, and that ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα, τὰ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς—τὰ πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται, by Him were created all things, thing that are in the heavens, and those that are in earth…all things were created by Him and for Him.

ε. If we should consider the Omnipotence of God, both as it ought also to be infinite on account of His infinite Essence, and as that is magnified in Sacred Scripture, we will readily perceive, that no pre-existing Matter was necessary for the Creator God: just see Ephesians 3:20.

ϛ. It is not so difficult to conceive, that Matter is not able to be Eternal, except it be another Independent Being: on the other hand, concerning prime Matter, in the same manner as it was done concerning the entire World in § 4, it is easily demonstrated that the same is able to be neither Independent nor Eternal; and so ought at some point to have been produced by the Omnipotent Power of God, since there is no third thing.

ζ. Limborch himself, who writes in his Theologia Christiana, book II, chapter XIX, § 4, 5, that Creation appears to denote, not simple production, but production from unsuitable Matter; that Scripture nowhere expressly says, that Creation was made out of nothing; and that this is able solidly to be concluded neither from Romans 4:17 nor from Hebrews 11:3: goes on to furnish for us arguments from Reason, which confirm the production of prime Matter out of Nothing: The custom, says he, in the place cited, § 6, has obtained among Theologians, that Creation denotes production out of Nothing; which we willingly support, with the nature of the thing requiring this, that we affirm that Formless prime Matter to have been created out of Nothing. Which in that place he proves, not only, 1. From this, that nothing is co-eternal with God: but he adds, 2. that, if that Matter had been uncreated and co-eternal with God, God of Himself would have had no right over that, to change it according to His will, as over His own thing; but the whole right of God over that would have been as of the first occupant. 3. Moreover, God would not have the power to change it; because it is eternal, immutable, and independent. But if you believe that the very nature of the thing requires the Creation of prime Matter out of Nothing, it is not seemly violently to assail the passages of Scripture placing this matter beyond doubt; since Reason does not supply apodictically what things concerning this matter are to be held, and stirs up difficulties that must be overcome principally by Faith.

At the same time, in a similar manner STAPFER[15] also argues, and that not incorrectly, from the nature of the thing, that no uncreated Matter was able to exist before this World created by God, Theologicæ polemicæ, tome 1, chapter III, section VII, § 669-672. The material World, says he, consists of Matter disposed in a certain order: but, although the World was brought forth into act by God, it is necessary that the Matter of the World either already previously existed, or did not exist. If it be assumed that the Matter already existed beforehand, it is necessary that it was structurally determined in this or that figure: but it is necessary that the determination of that figure or structure be either necessary or contingent. If it is necessary, it is also immutable; for whatever is necessary is not able to be otherwise: but, if it is immutable, not even God Himself is able to change anything in the matter, to transform it, to reduce it to this order or this system of the World. Therefore, it is necessary that the determination of that figure or structure be contingent: but, if it be contingent, neither is it able to have in itself a sufficient reason of this determination of Existence: Therefore, it has it in another Being, which is God. And in a similar manner one may argue against the Eternity of the Elements, if one should urge that God formed that Matter of the World from pre-existing Elements into this manner of existence.

[1] Romans 11:36: “For of him (ἐξ αὐτοῦ), and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” [2] That is, the border/limit from which. [3] That is, the border/limit to which. [4] Johannes Maccovius (1588-1644) was a Polish Reformed theologian. He served as Professor of Theology at Franeker (1615-1644). Maccovius’ supralapsarianism, use of scholastic terminology in metaphysics, and loose living, brought him into conflict with his colleague, Sibrandus Lubbertus. Lubbertus drew up fifty charges against Maccovius, and those charges were taken up at the Synod of Dordt, at which Maccovius was acquitted of heresy, by admonished to be more cautious and peaceable. [5] Heinrich Alting (1583-1644) was a German Reformed divine, specializing in Ecclesiastical History and Historical Theology. He served as Professor of Theology at Heidelberg (1613-1622), and then Professor of Historical Theology at Groningen (1627-1644). [6] Targum Jerusalem is also known as Targum Pseudo-Jonathan. It is a medieval Aramaic rendering of the Hebrew Torah. It is more than a translation, including additional narrative and interpretative material. [7] Johann Georg Walch (1693-1775) was a German Lutheran theologian, serving as Professor of Rhetoric and Poetry (1719-1724), and then as Professor of Theology (1724-1775), at Jena. [8] According to Jewish tradition, Onkelos, a first century Roman nobleman, was a convert to Judaism. His translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch into Aramaic is, on the whole, quite literal; however, Onkelos does depart from the literal sense of the text in poetry and in places of theological difficulty. [9] Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) distinguished himself in the field of international law, but he was interested in many fields of learning, including Christian apologetics, theology, and Biblical criticism and exegesis. He was a strict practitioner of the historical-contextual method of exegesis, and both his methods and conclusions are on display in his influential Annotationes in Vetus et Novum Testamentum. He is also remembered for his role in the Arminian controversy, siding with the Remonstrants, and for his governmental theory of atonement. [10] Johannes Crellius (1590-1633) was a one of the Polish Brethren and an influential Socinian theologian. His son and grandson were also proponents of Socinian views. [11] Jonas Schlichting (1592-1661) was a theologian of the Socinian Polish Brethren. He wrote commentaries on most of the books of the New Testament. [12] Romans 8:24, 25: “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope (ἐλπὶς δὲ βλεπομένη οὐκ ἔστιν ἐλπίς): for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for (ὃ γὰρ βλέπει τις, τί καὶ ἐλπίζει)? But if we hope for that we see not (εἰ δὲ ὃ οὐ βλέπομεν ἐλπίζομεν), then do we with patience wait for it.” [13] Matthew 9:33: “And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen (οὐδέποτε ἐφάνη οὕτως) in Israel.” [14] Proverbs 8:26: “While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world (וְ֜רֹ֗אשׁ עָפְר֥וֹת תֵּבֵֽל׃, nor the head of the dusts of the world).” [15] John Frederick Stapfer (1708-1775) was a Swiss Reformed divine of the first order. He served as a Pastor in the canton in Berne. His Institutiones theologicæ, polemicæ, universæ, ordine scientifico dispositæ ranks among the best elenctic theologies.

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Dr. Dilday
Dr. Dilday
02 nov 2023

Westminster Confession of Faith 4:1: "It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good."

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Dr. Dilday
Dr. Dilday
02 nov 2023
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