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Creation: The Archetypal Action of God

Francis Etheredge

"In beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gn 1: 1);
and "he did not create it a chaos" (Is 45: 18

1.1 Introduction

In the thesis of this dissertation it is asserted that God creates the person at the first instant of fertilization.  He does this by both creating the soul and, simultaneously, the union of soul and body.  The aspect of this thesis to be investigated in this chapter is that of God as Creator.  In order to determine the characteristics of the action of God as Creator, this chapter examines the action of God at the beginning of creation.  We will see that the action of God is instantaneously ordered from the first instant; and that from that first instant there is an orderly development of it, because what is begun is also ordered to an end.  We will also see that the identity of man is inseparable from the identity of God; and that this is biblically expressed in terms of the relationship of origin to kind of creature.  In order to root these characteristics of God as Creator in a legitimate exegesis, it is necessary to go into the first chapter of Genesis in some detail.

The following is an introduction to a translation from the Hebrew of the first five lines of Genesis, comments on a few problems arising from this and a discussion which argues that creation is ordered from beginning to end.  Within the limits of one's knowledge and experience, one intends to keep this translation as close to the Hebrew as possible.  This is in order to 'model' the thought of the author and, in so doing, to try to grasp a nuance beyond the convention of an English which does not appear to reflect the variety of language in the original Hebrew.

1.1a General considerations from which to proceed

Although this attempt is inspired by a number of things, a certain prominence is given to an insight from a dissertation by Fr. Richard Conrad OP.  For while it is rooted in his own work, it expresses the conclusion to which so many questions tend: the Blessed Trinity is 'the transcendent Exemplar of unity-in-diversity'2.

The existence of a variety of translations indicates that the task of entering into the thought of the author is an ongoing task: a task that is to some extent open anew to each translator.  One has a growing awareness that the first chapter of Genesis is replete with philosophical insight; and Pope John Paul II says of the Scripture as a whole: 'What is distinctive in the biblical text is the ... profound and indissoluble unity between the knowledge of reason and the knowledge of faith'3.  Dei Verbum, of the Second Vatican Council, says: 'it was as true human authors that they consigned to writing whatever he [God] wanted written, and no more'4; and Pope John Paul II observes, in another context, that 'None of the human aspects of language can be neglected'5.  Thus there is the constant challenge to determine the exact meaning embodied in the literary characteristics of this text: of trying to identify the literal sense of Scripture.  The literal sense is the meaning which the human author accomplished, as a 'true author' , under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit6.  For not only is it Christian belief that the Scripture is inspired, but there is also the tradition that Hebrew is the original language of that inspiration.  Furthermore, because the unity of the Scripture is derived from the authorship of the Holy Spirit, it follows that 'Scripture interprets Scripture'7.  Thus one word of God is read and re-read8 in the light of another9.

This exegesis is of the type called canonical criticism10 in that there is always the question: Why is the Scripture the way it is?  This does not exclude the possibility that at any given point in the discussion another approach may indeed be more fruitful; however, in general, the tendency here is to see the literary work of Scripture as an entity with its own characteristics and not simply as a kind of patchwork of influences or excerpts from other "sources".  Thus the question of authorship is seen in the light of a single author, not by way of excluding more than one human author, but by way of recognizing the reality of the authorship of the Holy Spirit: an authorship which is absolutely attentive to everything in such a way that the integrity of the text is what, again and again, addresses the reader in a way which transcends the capabilites of individual writers.  But the Holy Spirit's transcendence of the powers of individual authors, is not a transcendence which contradicts human authorship, but a transcendence which takes up every detail of their work into a whole as seamless as the proverbial shroud of Christ.  There is, therefore, always and everywhere, the most profound interrelationship between the divine and the human word: at once human and divine and 'the first step towards the incarnation'11; and at once susceptible to investigation precisely as human and precisely as salvific truth12.  So we will see the wisdom of God at work in both the form and the content of sacred Scripture: an inspiration of God as evident in the human author's choice of language, word and literary construction, as it is in the literal sense that this vehicle communicates.

Both to avoid a naive reading of Scripture and to identify the author's intention, it is necessary to discuss certain points of grammar in the footnotes; however, this is in order for Genesis to disclose 'that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures'13.  For many truths, while forming a living architecture of creation14, are not equally necessary for our salvation.  On the one hand creation is a unity-in-diversity of instantiated divine ideas15; and on the other hand, the reality of the slavery of sin determines a need to know if God can create the universe from nothing.  Because if God can create everything from nothing, then God can order a disordered life; indeed, if God can create from nothing then He can resurrect the dead (2 Mac 7: 28-29).  Therefore if God creates from nothing, and that His thought in human words is for our benefit16, then it follows that this truth will have an appropriate literary form. &nabp;The appropriate literary form is, as we shall see, one which entails showing that man cannot know himself unless he knows Who made him.

1.1b The literary form is analogical

The literary form of Genesis 1 is analogical: a concrete feature of reality is pregnant with metaphysical meaning.  The truth that the sky, along with the earth and the sea, are all inseparable parts of the created "earth" is necessary to demonstrating that the integrity of creation follows on the divine "act" of creation.  But it doesn't follow from this that the literary method of demonstrating the integrity of the visible universe is an actual account of how it came to be created.  In other words the truth concerning the sky is, as St. Augustine says, relevant in so far as it pertains to teaching men what would 'be of use to them for their salvation'17.  There is, therefore, the constant danger that the literal meaning of a concrete feature of reality will be confused for the metaphysical point it is making.  So instead of the days of the week signifying the Revelation of the plan of God in successive 'moments' of divine action, it is confused with the concrete reality of the days of the week.  This leads to the question of how there can be a day of the week before the sun is created18; and this contradiction of one part of the account by another tends to two outcomes.  Either the author is discredited or there is a search to determine a coherent reading of the text.  And either the text is found to be coherent by 'juxtaposing' parts of different origin to account for textual discrepancies or, as it is contended here, there is a unity which derives from the philosophical genre.  In other words, it is necessary to recognize the metaphysical meaning of the analogy of the days of the week in order to recognize that the language is an analogical account of the relationship between the development of time and the unfolding of the plan of God.  This reading of the sacred text does not deprive it of its power to instruct us to rest on the day of rest (cf. Ex 31: 12-17); rather, it is seen more clearly to be advocating a day of rest when one realizes that this pattern of divine action is the model of human action, while remaining an archetypal pattern, encompassing the whole of time.

1 All biblical references outside Gn 1: 1-5 are to the RSV, Catholic Edition, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1966.    Back
2 Richard Conrad, "Is one human person, or a community such as the family, the better image or model of the Holy Trinity?" Diss. Pontifical University of St. Thomas, Rome, May 1997, p. 3.    Back
3 Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter on Faith and Reason, Fides et Ratio, London: Catholic Truth Society (CTS), 1998, art 16.    Back
4 Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum (1965), art 11. Vatican Council II: Vol. I: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Document, Dublin: Dominican Publications, new revised edition 1992.    Back
5 Pope John Paul II, Address on the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (1993), art 8.  This is found in The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church: Address of Pope John Paul II and Document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, Sherbrooke, Quebec: Editions Paulines, Vatican translation, 1994.  In particular one can note the prevalence of gender, particularly that of male and female nouns, pronouns and the occurence of masculine and feminine forms of the second, sometimes the third person verb conjugations.    Back
6 Dei Verbum, art. 11.    Back
7 This clause is taken out of context because it appears to identity an activity common to any interpretation of Scripture.  It was used by Cardinal J. Ratzinger in his Introduction (p. 13 of a single volume, also including a commentary by Hans Urs von Balthasar) to describe the Pope's methodology in Mother of the Redeemer, Mary: God's Yes to Man, Redemptoris Mater (1987), (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988).    Back
8 Cf. Document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission on The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, pp. 86-90: Pt. III, A, 1-2.    Back
9 Document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission on The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, p.115: Pt. IV, A, 2.    Back
10 Document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission on The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, pp. 50-53: Pt. I, C, 1.    Back
11 Address by Pope John Paul II, introducing the text of the Biblical Commission, given on 23/ 04/ 93, p. 12 (art 6).    Back
12 Dei Verbum, art. 11: 'the books of Scripture ... teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures'.    Back
13 Dei Verbum, art 11.    Back
14 Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation, edited by Timothy McDermott. London: Methuen, 1989, I, 44, 3; and cf. Vatican Council I, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Dei Filius (1870), art. 134: 'nor can truth ever contradict truth'., p. 46 of The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, edited by J. Neuner and J. Dupuis, New York: Alba House, revised edition 1982.    Back
15 Cf. I, 45, 6-7.    Back
16 Dei Verbum, art. 13.    Back
17 Cf. St. Augustine, The Literal Interpretation of Genesis (2, 9, 20), p. 83 of The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol 3, selected and translated by W.A. Jurgens, Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1979.    Back
18 Cf. p. 22 of Gordon Wenham's Genesis 1-15 (Waco, Texas: Word Biblical Commentary, Vol I, 1987).    Back

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