Creation and Cosmology in the Early Church

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols.   -              Edited By: Alexander Roberts      The early church fathers and apologists spent much time debating and debunking the prevalent pagan cosmologies of their day.  Most of the cosmologies back then essentially denied that God made the world out of nothing.  Of course, this debate is still going on; modern Christian theologians and philosophers are still pointing out the weaknesses and inconsistencies in creation accounts that deny Scripture’s explanation of ex nihilo.

In the early 4th century in Gaul a Christian teacher and rhetorician named Lactantius (who taught Constantine’s son Crispus) was engaged in polemics against pagan philosophies and cosmologies.  Among other things, Lactantius wrote “The Divine Institutes,” and “On the Workmanship of God.”  In these treatises and books Lactantius often pointed out the absurdity of Greco-Roman creation theories and stories.  Here’s Lactantius refuting one view that reminds me of today’s “Big Bang” theory:

“They who do not admit that the world was made by divine providence, either say that it is composed of first principles coming together at random, or that it suddenly came into existence by nature, but hold, as Stranton does, that nature has in itself the power of production and of diminution, but that it has neither sensibility nor figure, so that we may understand that all things were produced spontaneously, without any artificer or author.  But this happens to those who are ignorant of the truth, that they devise anything, rather than perceive that which the nature of the subject requires.”

“…But Nature, which they suppose to be, as it were, the mother of all things, if it has not a mind, will effect nothing, will contrive nothing; for where there is no reflection there is neither motion nor efficacy.”

What should we believe about creation? Lactantius said this:

“[We must] perceive with the mind that there is but one Supreme God, whose power and providence made the world from the beginning, and afterwards continues to govern it.

To be sure, things were different back then; there isn’t a specific 1:1 comparison to those debates and the ones happening today.  But generally speaking, Christians in the early church defended a biblical view of creation against pagan views – and this is something Christians are still doing and need to keep doing today.  Even though people suppress the truth and hate it, our goal should be to stand on biblical, creational truth with our forefathers.

The above quotes are found in Lactantius’ essay “On the Anger of God,” found in volume 7 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.

shane lems

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