Calling attention to the history of the doctrine of creation, we are quoting from the Fathers of the early history of the Church of God as in the New Dispensation, during the First Period, 80 to 250 A.D. In our preceding article we quoted from Irenaeus. We now call attention to the writings of Theophilus.
Theophilus occupies an interesting position, after Ignatius, in the succession of faithful men who represented Barnabas and other prophets and teachers of Antioch, in that ancient seat, from which comes our name as Christians. In his writings, he opposes a certain Autolycus who is known as an idolater and scorner of Christians. Little is known of the personal history of Theophilus of Antioch. It appears that he was born a pagan, and that he owed his conversion to Christianity to the careful study of the Holy Scriptures. Eusebius declares that he was the sixth bishop of Antioch in Syria from the apostles, the names of his supposed predecessors being Eros, Cornelius, Hero, Ignatius, and Euodius. We also learn that Theophilus succeeded to the bishopric of Antioch in the eighth year of the reign of Marcus’ Aurelius, that is, in A.D. 168. He is related to have died either in A.D. 181, or in A.D. 188, some assigning him an episcopate of thirteen, and others of twenty-one years. He, too, is somewhat fond of fanciful interpretations of Scripture; but he evidently had a profound acquaintance with the inspired writings, and he powerfully exhibits their immense superiority in every respect over the heathen poetry and philosophy.
In his chapter on “The World Created By God Through The Word,” he writes the following (in his writing to Autolycus): “And first, they taught us with one consent that God made all things out of nothing; for nothing was coeval with God: but He being His own place, and wanting nothing, and existing before the ages, willed to make man by whom He might be known; for him, therefore, He prepared the world. For he that is created is also needy; but he that is untreated stands in need of nothing. God, then, having His own Word internal within His own bowels (Theophilus here refers to the Word, the Logos, the eternal Son—H.V.), begat Him, emitting Him along with His own wisdom before all things . . . . . He, then, being Spirit of God, and governing principle, and wisdom, and power of the highest, came down upon the prophets, and through them spake of the creation of the world and of all other things. For the prophets were not when the world came into existence, but the wisdom of God which was in Him, and His holy Word which was always present with Him. Wherefore He speaks thus by the prophet Solomon: ‘When He prepared the heavens I was there, and when He appointed the foundations of the earth I was by Him as one brought up with Him.’ (Theophilus here quotes Prov. 8:27; the Logos here is the Wisdom as with the Father.—H.V.). And Moses, who lived many years before Solomon, or, rather, the Word of God by him as by an instrument (notice his emphasis here upon Divine Inspiration—H.V.), says, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ First he named the ‘beginning,’ and ‘creation,’ then he thus introduced God; for not lightly and on slight occasion is it right to name God. For the divine wisdom foreknew that some would trifle and name a multitude of gods that do not exist. In order, therefore, that the living God might be known by His works, and that it might b known that by His Word God created the heavens and the earth, and all that is therein, he said, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ Then having spoken of their creation, he explains to us: ‘And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved upon the water.’ This, sacred Scripture teaches at the outset, to show that matter, from: which God made and fashioned the world, was in some manner created, being produced by God.” In this quotation Theophilus clearly stated that the Lord is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and that all matter owes its existence alone to the living God.
Then, after describing, very briefly, the work of creation during the six days of creation, Theophilus has a chapter entitled: “The Glory Of The Six Days’ Work,” and we quote: “Of this six days’ work no man can give a worthy explanation and description of all its parts, not though he has ten thousand tongues and. ten thousand mouths; nay, though he were to live ten thousand years, sojourning in this life, not even so could he utter anything worthy of these things, on account of the exceeding greatness and riches of the wisdom of God which there is in the six days’ work above narrated. Many writers indeed have imitated the narration, and essayed to give an explanation of these things; yet, though they thence derived some suggestions, both concerning the creation of the world and the nature of man, they have emitted no slightest spark of truth. And the utterances of the philosophers, and writers, and poets have an appearance of trustworthiness, on account of the beauty of their diction; but their discourse is proved to be foolish and idle, because the multitude of their nonsensical frivolities is very great; and not a stray morsel of truth is found in them. For even if any truth seems to have been uttered by them, it has a mixture of error. And as a deleterious drug, when mixed with honey or wine, or some other thing, makes the whole mixture hurtful and profitless; so also eloquence is in their case found to be labour in vain; yea, rather an injurious thing to those who credit it.” In this passage Theophilus rather forcefully exposes the lie of heathen philosophers and writers.
Speaking of the fourth day, Theophilus writes as follows, and we quote: “On the fourth day the luminaries were made; because God, who possesses foreknowledge, knew the follies of the vain philosophers, that they were going to say, that the things which grow on the earth are produced from the heavenly bodies, so as to exclude God. In order, therefore, that the truth might be obvious, the plants and seeds were produced prior to the heavenly bodies, for what is posterior cannot produce that which is prior. And these contain the pattern and type of a great mystery. For the sun is a type of God, and the moon of man. And as the sun far surpasses the moon in power and glory, so far does God surpass man. And as the sun remains ever full, never becoming less, so does God always abide perfect, being full of all power, and understanding, and wisdom, and immortality, and all good. But the moon wanes monthly, and in a manner dies, being a type of man; then it is born again, and is crescent, for a pattern of the future resurrection. In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom. And the fourth is the type of man, who needs light, that so there may be God, the Word, wisdom, man. Wherefore also on the fourth day the lights were made. The disposition of the stars, too, contains a type of the arrangement and order of the righteous and pious, and of those who keep the law and commandments of God. For the brilliant and bright stars are an imitation of the prophets, and therefore they remain fixed, not declining, nor passing from place to place. And those which hold the second place in brightness, are types of the people of the righteous. And those, again, which change their position, and flee from place to place, which also are called planets, they too are a type of the men who have wandered from God, abandoning His law and commandments.”
In this quotation we have a rather vivid example of the type of Scripture interpretation by the Church Fathers during the early days of the New Dispensation. They were fond of allegorizing. Theophilus declares in this quotation, for example, that the sun is a type of God and the moon is a type of man. We believe that the sun is a type of Christ, the moon, which has no light in itself, is a type of the Church of God, and the stars represent the Church from the aspect of its many and countless individual members. But, be this as it may, it is striking to read what he writes concerning the creation of the plant world prior to the creation of the heavenly luminaries: the sun, moon, and stars. Because the Lord knew (we would say: sovereignly knew) of the follies of the vain philosophers, who teach that the things that grow on the earth are produced from the heavenly bodies so as to exclude God, He created first the world of plants and then the sun and moon and stars, in order that vain man might never be able to say that the heavenly bodies brought the world and the things that are therein into being. Theophilus certainly maintains that God is the sole Creator of the heavens and the earth, and all the things contained in them.
Concluding our quotations from the early Church Fathers, we wish to quote from the New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia, Vol. III, 301-302, and we quote: “In contrast with the systems already discussed, which emphasize the cosmogonic (of the world) element at the expense of the monotheistic (one God), these latter dwell exclusively on God’s action in creation, to the neglect of what may be accomplished by the powers and laws set in motion by him. 1. In Judaism Proper: Here not only is the creation of heaven and earth out of nothing strongly emphasized, but special stress is laid on the relative nothingness or weakness of the creature in comparison with God (Wisd. XI. 23; Ps. 23:6; Is. 48:13; Judith 16:18; Ps. 97:5; Mic. 1:4;Rev. 6:13). In harmony with the unconditional supernaturalism, nay, acosmism of such a view, it is not surprising to find the six creative days of Genesis taken in the strict literal sense, or even minimized into mere points of time in a definite prearranged sequence. The last is the case especially with Philo, who, in spite of his Platonic acceptance of the eternity of matter, regards its formation into an orderly cosmos as a work which God could, if necessary, have accomplished in a moment, and which he divided into six days merely for the sake of orderly procedure. 2. In the Patristic Period: Here the absolute nothingness out of which God created the world is sharply emphasized, as by Tertullian in opposition to the dualism of the Gnostic Hermogenes, and by later representatives of the ecclesiastical creationism, such as Ambrose, Jerome, and the scholastics from Peter Lombard. Here again occurs the assertion that God needed no more than an instant for the creation of the world. The Alexandrian school especially followed Philo’s view on this point; Clement even denies that the world was created in time, since time came into existence with created things. Origen, asserting the same thing, places over against it an eternally creative activity of God, which, indeed, he confines to the production of the spiritual world. Athanasius, Basil, and Gregory of Nyssa assert the same practically instantaneous and extra temporal creation; and so also Ambrose and Augustine in the West. The underlying thought of a creation not gradual but at once concluded, and the accompanying proposition that the world was made ‘not in time, but with time,’ descended from Augustine and the schoolmen, and so to the common orthodox teaching.”
The Lord willing, we will call attention in subsequent articles to the views as set forth in the period of the Christian Church, after 250 A.D. But it is clear that in the period, 80 to 250 A.D., the view of creation was set forth that the creation of the heavens and the earth was the work of the living God, and that the days of creation are not to be understood as periods.