The late Professor L. Berkhof, writing on the doctrine of creation in history, writes the following in his Reformed Dogmatics, page 126-127: “While Greek philosophy sought the explanation of the world in a dualism, which involves the eternity of matter, or in a process of emanation, which makes the world the outward manifestation of God, the Christian Church from the very beginning taught the doctrine of creationex nihilo and as a free act of God. This doctrine was accepted with singular unanimity from the start. It is found in Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others. Theophilus was the first Church Father to stress the fact that the days of creation were literal days. This seems to have been the view in the Church. Clement and Origen thought of creation as having been accomplished in a single indivisible moment, and conceived of its description as the work of several days merely as a literary device to describe the origin of things in the order of their worth or of their logical connection, The idea of an eternal creation, as taught by Origen, was commonly rejected. At the same time some of the Church Fathers expressed the idea that God was always Creator, though the created universe began in time. During the Trinitarian controversy some of them emphasized the fact that, in distinction from the generation of the Son, which was a necessary act of the Father, the creation of the world was a free act of the triune God. Augustine dealt with the work of creation more in detail than others did. He argues that creation was eternally in the will of God, and therefore brought no change in Him. There was no time before creation, since the world was brought into being with time rather than in time. The question what God did in the many ages before creation is based on a misconception of eternity. While the Church in general still seems to have held that the world was created in six ordinary days, Augustine suggested a somewhat different view. He strongly defended the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, but distinguished two moments of creation: the production of matter and spirits out of nothing, and the organization of the material universe. He found it difficult to say what kind of days the days of Genesis were, but was evidently inclined to think that God created all things in a moment of time, and that the thought of days was simply introduced to aid the finite intelligence. The Scholastics debated a great deal about the possibility of eternal creation; some, as Alexander of Hales, Bonaventura, Albertus Magnus, Henry of Ghent, and the great majority of the Scholastics denying this; and others such as Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Durandus, Biel, and others affirming it; Yet the doctrine of creation with or in time carried the day. Erigena and Eckhart were exceptional in teaching that the world originated by emanation. Seemingly the days of creation were regarded as ordinary days, though Anselm suggested that it might be necessary to conceive of them as different from our present days. The Reformers held firmly to the doctrine of creation out of nothing by a free act of God in or with time; and regarded the days of creation as six literal days. This view is also generally maintained in the Post-Reformation literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though a few theologians (as Maresius) occasionally speak of continuous creation. In the eighteenth century, however, under the dominating influence of Pantheism and Materialism, science launched an attack on the Church’s doctrine of creation. It substituted the idea of evolution or development for that of absolute origination by a divine fiat. The world was often represented as a necessary manifestation of the Absolute. Its origin was pushed back thousands and even millions of years into an unknown past. And soon theologians were engaged in various attempts to harmonize the doctrine of creation with the teachings of science and philosophy. Some suggested that the first chapters of Genesis should be interpreted allegorically or mythically; others, that a long period elapsed between the primary creation ofGen. 1:1, 2 and the secondary creation of the following verses; and still others, that the days of creation were in fact long periods of time.”
We have quoted this lengthy paragraph from Prof. Berkhof’s Reformed Dogmatics, because we think it of importance to note that the late professor, in his setting forth of the history of the doctrine of creation, establishes the truth that the Church has maintained from the very beginning of the New Dispensation the Scriptural account of creation as set forth in the book of Genesis. It is surely worthy of note that the doctrine of creation as out of nothing was accepted with singular unanimity from the start. We will have opportunity, the Lord willing, to quote from the Church Fathers in substantiation of this. And it is also worthy of note that the Reformers regarded the days of creation as six literal days. In fact, it was under the dominating influence of Pantheism and Materialism that science launched an attack upon the Church’s doctrine of creation. Then the idea of evolution was substituted for the Church’s doctrine of creation. And soon theologians were engaged in various attempts to harmonize the doctrine of creation with the teachings of science and philosophy. It was suggested that the first chapters of Genesis must be interpreted allegorically or mythically, or that a long period of time elapsed between the primary creation of Gen. 1:1, 2 and the secondary creation in the following verses, or that the days of creation were in fact long periods of time. And we know that these same distortions of the Word of God are being generally taught today, also in so-called orthodox circles.
Writing on God and the Creation, Philip Schaff, in hisHistory of the Christian Church, in Volume II, pages 538-540, writes as follows (he is writing here of the period A.D. 100-311): “Almost all the creeds of the first centuries, especially the Apostles’ and the Nicene, begin with confession of faith in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, of the visible and the invisible. With the defense of this fundamental doctrine laid down in the very first chapter of the Bible, Irenaeus opens his refutation of the Gnostic heresies. He would not have believed the Lord himself, if he had announced any other God than the Creator. He repudiates everything like an a priori construction of the idea of God, and bases his knowledge wholly on revelation and Christian experience.
“We begin with the general idea of God, which lies at the bottom of all religion. This is refined, spiritualized, and invigorated by the manifestation in Christ. We perceive the advance particularly in Tertullian’s view of the irresistible leaning of the human soul towards God, and towards the only true God. ‘God will never be hidden,’ says he, ‘God will never fail mankind; he will always be recognized, always perceived, and seen, when man wishes. God has made all that we are, and all in which we are, a witness of himself. Thus he proves himself God, and the one God, by his being known to all; since another must first be proved. The sense of God is the original dowry of the soul; the same, and no other, in Egypt, in Syria, and in Pontus; for the God of the Jews all souls call their God.’ But nature also testifies of God. It is the work of his hand, and in itself good; not as the Gnostics taught, a product of matter, or of the devil, and intrinsically bad. Except as he reveals himself, God is, according to Irenaeus, absolutely hidden and incomprehensible. But in creation and redemption he has communicated himself, and can, therefore, not remain entirely concealed from any man.
“Of the various arguments for the existence of God, we find in this period the beginnings of the cosmological and physico-theological methods. In the mode of conceiving the divine nature we observe this difference; while the Alexandrians try to avoid all anthropomorphic and anthropopathic notions, and insist on the immateriality and spirituality of God almost to abstraction, Tertullian ascribes to him even corporeality; though probably, as he considers the non-existent alone absolutely incorporeal, he intends by corporeality only to denote the substantiality and concrete personality of the Supreme Being.
“The doctrine of the unity of God, as the eternal, almighty, omnipresent, just, and holy creator and upholder of all things, the Christian Church inherited from Judaism, and vindicated against the absurd polytheism of the pagans, and particularly against the dualism of the Gnostics, which supposed matter coeternal with God, and attributed the creation of the world to the intermediate Demiurge. This dualism was only another form of polytheism, which excludes absoluteness, and with it all proper idea of God.
“As to creation: Irenaeus and Tertullian most firmly rejected the hylozoic and demiurgic views of paganism and Gnosticism, and taught, according to the book of Genesis, that God made the world, including matter, not, of course, out of any material, but out of nothing, or, to express it positively, out of his free, almighty will, by his word. This free will of God, a will of love, is the supreme, absolutely unconditioned, and all-conditioning cause and final reason of all existence, precluding every idea of physical force or of emanation. Every creature, since it proceeds from the good and holy God, is in itself, as to its essence, good. Evil, therefore, is not an original and substantial entity, but a corruption of nature, and hence, can be destroyed by the power of redemption. Without a correct doctrine of creation there can be no true doctrine of redemption, as all the Gnostic systems show.”
In treating the Scriptural doctrine of creation, as it develops and is taught in the Church through the ages, let us call upon the early Church Fathers. First, we will quote Irenaeus, A.D. 120-202. Irenaeus introduces us to the Church in its Western outposts. Polycarp, minister of the church of Smyrna, had sent a certain Pothinus into Celtic Gaul at an early date as its evangelist. He had fixed his see at Lyons, when Irenaeus joined him as a presbyter, having been his fellow-pupil under Polycarp. There arose the terrible persecution which made the martyrs of Lyons and Vienne so memorable. It was during this persecution that Irenaeus was sent to Rome with letters of remonstrance against the rising pestilence of heresy; and he was probably the author of the account of the sufferings of the martyrs. Returning to Lyons, Irenaeus found that the venerable Pothinus had closed his holy career by a martyr’s death, and naturally Irenaeus became his successor. When the emissaries of heresy followed him, and began to disseminate their licentious practices and foolish doctrines by the aid of “silly women,” the great work of his life began. He condescended to study these diseases like a wise physician. The works he has left us are monuments of his fidelity to Christ, and to the charges of St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. Jude, whose solemn warnings now proved to be prophecies. It is no wonder that the great apostle, “night and day with tears,” had forewarned the churches of the “grievous wolves” which were to make havoc of the fold. So, concerning this Irenaeus, whose brief history we have set forth here, as held before us in the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, we wish to show what he taught concerning the doctrine of creation. But this must wait until our following article.