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Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:
The Confessions: Chapter XXII

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXII.—He Discusses Whether Matter Was from Eternity, or Was Made by God. 1140

31. For, should any one endeavour to contend against these last two opinions, thus,—“If you will not admit that this formlessness of matter appears to be called by the name of heaven and earth, then there was something which God had not made out of which He could make heaven and earth; for Scripture hath not told us that God made this matter, unless we understand it to be implied in the term of heaven and earth, or of earth only, when it is said, ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth,’ as that which follows, but the earth was invisible and formless, although it was pleasing to him so to call the formless matter, we may not yet understand any but that which God made in that text which hath been already written, ‘God made heaven and earth.’” The maintainers of either one or the other of these two opinions which we have put last will, when they have heard these things, answer and say, “We deny not indeed that this formless matter was created by God, the God of whom are all things, very good; for, as we say that that is a greater good which is created and formed, so we acknowledge that that is a minor good which is capable of creation and form, but yet good. But yet the Scripture hath not declared that God made this formlessness, any more than it hath declared many other things; as the ‘Cherubim,’ and ‘Seraphim,’ 1141 and those of which the apostle distinctly speaks, ‘Thrones,’ ‘Dominions,’ ‘Principalities,’ ‘Powers,’ 1142 all of which it is manifest God made. Or if in that which is said, ‘He made heaven and earth,’ all things are comprehended, what do we say of the waters upon which the Spirit of God moved? For if they are understood as incorporated in the word earth, how then can formless matter be meant in the term earth when we see the waters so beautiful? Or if it be so meant, why then is it written that out of the same formlessness the firmament was made and called heaven, and yet it is not written that the waters were made? For those waters, which we perceive flowing in so beautiful a manner, remain not formless and invisible. But if, then, they received that beauty when God said, Let the water which is under the firmament be gathered together, 1143 so that the gathering be the very formation, what will be answered concerning the waters which are above the firmament, because if formless they would not have deserved to receive a seat so honourable, nor is it written by what word they were formed? If, then, Genesis is silent as to anything that God has made, which, however, neither sound faith nor unerring understanding doubteth that God hath made, 1144 let not any sober teaching dare to say that these waters were co-eternal with God because we find them mentioned in the book of Genesis; but when they were created, we find not. Why—truth instructing us—may we not understand that that formless matter, which the Scripture calls the earth invisible and without form, and the darksome deep, 1145 have been made p. 185 by God out of nothing, and therefore that they are not co-eternal with Him, although that narrative hath failed to tell when they were made?”



See xi. sec. 7, and note, above; and xii. sec. 33, and note, below. See also the subtle reasoning of Dean Mansel (Bampton Lectures, lect. ii.), on the inconsequence of receiving the idea of the creation out of nothing on other than Christian principles. And compare Coleridge, The Friend, iii. 213.


Isa. 6:2, Isa. 37:16.


Col. 1.16.


Gen. 1.9.


See p. 165, note 4, above.


See p. 176, note 5, above.

Next: Chapter XXIII