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"Each One of Us is an Icon of the Beginning"

'formless matter' (Wis 11: 17)

The expression that God 'created the world from formless matter' (NJB, Ws 11: 17) has an undeniably Greek ring about it460.

This confirms the general impression of the opening lines of the first account of creation which was analysed earlier and which led to the view that the sacred author was positing a state of what existed at the beginning, but which existed as undeveloped.  Furthermore, this was a state which applied to the earth: 'The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters' (Gn 1: 2); and the concrete expression of this state which most expressed the author's intention was that of the 'waters.'  For water will take any shape which is given to it in so far as it will take the shape of anything into which it is put; and, what is more, this type of state of matter is naturally responsive to the Divine wind which moves over it (Gn 1: 2).

Two questions arise out of these considerations.  Firstly, if one accepts the influence of Greek philosophy on the formulation of the concept of 'formless matter,' which mirrors conceptually the description of the state of the earth in the very beginning, then this raises the question of what kind of existence a state of formless matter is?  For clearly 'formless' cannot mean that this type of matter does not express the Creator's intention461 (cf Wis 11: 24); therefore, this 'formless matter' is already the concrete embodiment of an intelligible plan of the Creator.  The second possibility is that this first matter is matter that has neither received nor been given, either the shape of objects nor the form of living beings.  It is, therefore, the existence of a matter which, while it cannot be pure potentiality or it would not exist, yet exists more as the craftman's material than as the finished artifact that He proposes to make.  This 'material' of the earth would be what God first created of the earth, when He first created 'heaven and earth' (Gn 1: 1).

The second question is whether or not this first matter is what the Lord God used to make Adam - and this has to be first asked of the account of man's creation itself - or whether man is made out of a material called the dry land (Gn 1: 10) which has already been shaped in the sense it is what emerges from the further action of God: "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear" (Gn 1: 9).

Now when the author comes to describe the second account of the creation of man, which on its own terms is the first462 descriptive account of the creation of man, the writer seems to refer back to that state of matter which existed either on the first or on the third day.  From when 'God created the heavens and the earth' (Gn 1: 1) to when 'God called the dry land Earth' (Gn 1: 10).  In other words, the state of the matter which the Lord God used to form man, was a state of matter which at the least was 'without form' (Gn 1: 2), or at most had been differentiated from the seas (ibid).

The second account of creation however, seems to have its own version of time: it seems as if there is a day of life (cf. 2: 4f), in which God gives life in its various forms and ways, and a day of death (Gn 2: 17), which will follow only on the eating of what is forbidden by God for man to eat.  In the perspective of the day of life, man is made after the absolute beginning of the 'heavens and the earth' (Gn 2: 4), when the earth was capable of plant life but had none in it (Gn 2: 5), and 'no herb of the field had yet sprung up' (ibid), and at the time that 'a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground' (Gn 2: 6).  In other words, creation is here portrayed as a beginning in the sense of a day without end: a day that is intended to be endless.  This could be said to be paralleled in the first account of creation with respect to the cycle of the week and the day of rest which is without end463; however, the day of life has its own particular insight in that this is what a true conception is: a beginning without an end.

Therefore, just as both accounts do not place man at the absolute beginning of things, nor, significantly, do the Fathers of The First Vatican Council, who say that God created 'at once' the 'spiritual and the corporeal' orders of creatures, 'and then (deinde) the human creature'464, so it seems plausible to conclude that the matter from which God makes man, is 'matter' at a stage subsequent to the absolute beginning of creation.  This would also allow for the presence in man of things which are themselves the product of time, and which therefore would have legitimately pre-existed him as the ground out of which he was made.  And so while one could not deny the possibility that God made the first man in a way which was natural to Him as the Creator but miraculous to us the creature, still the suggestion of Revelation is that the Creator worked through the time He at the same time created465.

The answer to the objection that the Mother of seven martyrs raises, namely that God made man as he made the heavens and the earth, that is not out of 'things that existed' (cf 2 Mac 7: 28), could be that man as man does not come into existence until he comes into existence one in body and soul, and he does not come into existence as one in body and soul until the moment the soul is created one with the body.  Thus in that sense man as essentially man is not made out of anything and this is a characteristic shared by all 'mankind' (ibid).

But even if it is granted that the mystery of the making of the first man and the first woman is one which was without any existing and prior material466, just as the creation of heaven and earth was not out of any pre-existing matter, still one has to acknowledge that from the point of view of all human conception subsequent to that beginning, that there is the antecedent, if not the actually prior flesh of the contribution of the human parents.  This applies even to Christ to the extent that His flesh is human flesh and of Mary, even if it is not the flesh which arises out of an ordinary human conception; and, as was argued earlier, if Christ is the 'prototype'467 of all humanity, then this does seem to be a theological argument for the making of Adam to reflect in some way the making of Christ in whose image Adam was made.

Finally, given the expression that man without the Life of God in him will return to the 'ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return' (Gn 3: 19), it seems likely that the biblical authors understood that in some sense, the 'dust' to which man returns is not exactly the same dust from which he came.  For this dust to which he returns is a dust without the moistening of the water from the mist (cf. Sir 24: 3) which was present in the dust out of which he was made (cf Gn 2: 6).  In other words, and through many concrete expressions, the biblical authors seem to express some awareness of what elsewhere was begetting the beginnings of philosophy and science.

In conclusion, the type of matter to which the soul and the spiritual life of the human being are united, would appear to be that type of matter which, while not necessarily as completely undeveloped as that in the absolute beginning, is yet not that either which has been used for any other purpose save that of making dry land.

Secondly, whatever is the type of matter out of which man is made, and I note here that elsewhere in Scripture it is called 'clay' (cf. Job 10: 9; Is 64: 8; Jer 18: 1-6) and thus Scripture itself tends to the view that it is subsequent to the first and 'formless matter' of the earth-this and all matter exists in the presence of the Divine wind which animates it.  For while all matter subsequent to this first moment of formless matter is then given to exist in diverse shapes and forms, it does not follow that it ceases to exist in the presence of the animating and Divine wind; indeed, on the basis of the second account of man it would seem that man is made in such a way that his nature is perfectly ordered to the reception of that Divine wind as to the very breath of his life.  'For the Semites, it is not the soul but God who by His Spirit is the source of life: "God breathed in his nostrils a breath (nesamah) of life, and man became a living soul (nephes)'468.

In answer to the difficulty with which this particular aspect of the question began, one can say that the anthropomorphic approach of the second account of man's creation has the particular merit of allowing for a reasonable comparison between the creation of man as envisaged by the sacred author and the creation of man as we understand it now.  For both the creation account and the reality of our human conception concur on a process of the formation of man which at least presupposes a pre-existent material, and one which has not passed through any other process of development469 other than one characteristic of inanimate matter, and culminates with the instantaneous beginning of human life which is true to the essential nature of man's conception as one in body and soul.

Furthermore, if God made things in such a way that they are an expression of His goodness: the expression of which requires diversity470, presupposes unity (cf Gn 1: 31), and is written through with a trace of the Blessed Trinity471 - then it seems to follow that there is at least the possibility that the unity and the diversity of creation472 is a created expression of the being of the Living God who is the Blessed Trinity.  And the creation of man is in a way the exemplary example of this mystery.  For man is a unity of both 'spirit' and 'body'473.  This makes clear that Revelation contains a manifestation of being that constitutes a definition of being.  For the being of creation, if it is an 'image' of the Blessed Trinity, is manifestly a unity-in-diversity.  Therefore creation as a whole and man in particular is as it were a living474 Icon of the Blessed Trinity.

A note on language

If writing naturally475 involves a range of meaning, rather like the production of a musical note from the oscillations of a wire, then the task of interpretation is at once the task of recovering that legitimate range of meaning in addition to the more specific task of determining the precise sense of a particular word.  This is especially difficult in a period of time, and indeed a cultural place, in which so many things that would subtly shape the meaning of words have to be reconstituted as it were from a variety of sources.  However, just as a musical note is ordered to its existence in the context of the piece of music of which it is a part, so is the meaning of a word ordered to its existence in the context of the piece of writing in which it occurs.  Thus the literary context could be said to be the primary instrument in determining the objective of thought of which a particular word is expressive.  But this primary instrument for determining the meaning of a word is not to be severed from its living relationship to the secondary factors which contribute to its elucidation, just as the timbre of a particular note is directly related to the musical instrument which produces it as well as to its place in the score as a whole.  Finally, just as a musical note can be analysed into a fundamental and its corresponding harmonics, and this analysis is not the reality of the musical note476, which is the totality of all these things, so it is necessary to preserve a realism concerning the definition of terms: a realism that is on the one hand open to the totality of parts which go to make a particular whole, and on the other hand a realism which includes as integral to that whole, the fact that language is the fundamental of our answering response to what exists (cf. Gn 2: 19-20).

460 Cf. NJB, footnote m, page 1061    Back
461 Cf. Causality, by G. F. Kreyche, page 344 of Vol III, NCE.    Back
462 I just recall to the reader that my intention is to work with the chronological order of things as established by the canon of the Scripture.    Back
463 Creation Account, by H. J. Sorensen, page 427 of Vol IV, NCE.    Back
464 Dei Filius, (art 3002), art 412, page 124 of TCF.    Back
465 Cf. ST, Pt I, Qu 46, art 3, page 89.    Back
466 Cf. ST, Pt I, Qu 91, art 2, page 142.    Back
467 ST, Pt I, Qu 44, art 4, page 85.    Back
468 Xavier Leon-Dufour, Soul, translated by John J. Kilgallen, page 567 of DOBT.    Back
469 Cf. J. E. Royce, Soul, Human, Origin Of, page 471 of Vol XIII, NCE.    Back
470 Cf. ST, Pt I, Qu 46, art 3, page 89.    Back
471 ST, Pt I, Qu 45, art 7, page 87.    Back
472 Cf. Marc-Francois Lacan, Unity, translated by Donald F. Brezine, page 624 of DOBT.    Back
473 Cf. Dei Filius, (art 3002), art 412, page 124 of TCF.    Back
474 Cf. DOB, page 508: Life.    Back
475 Cf. TC, Vol III, The Meaning of "Spirit" in the Old Testament, General audience of January 3, 1990, page 153-154.    Back
476 Cf. R. E. McCall, Substance, page 770 of Vol XIII, NCE.    Back

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