Sunday, November 11, 2012

St. Cyril the Great On the Creation

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." So he denies that matter shared with God the time before the beginning, eternity; or that it was uncreated, as some say.  He doesn't present something that didn't exist at one time as coinciding with and co-existant with the eternal; he doesn't confuse the temporary, something which was brought into existence ... with that which is from time immemorial; something that changes to something which is always itself; nor something which is corruptible with that which is incorruptible! 

On the contrary, he makes creation happen in a moment, ..., because starting from nothing it was brought to be what it is according to the divine will. What he certainly does not say, is that matter existed already, had already been invented, and that God limited himself to being its director and workman, giving form to what was amorphous, and only imposing on matter different qualities, dimensions and volumes.  On the contrary he says that, thanks to a secret and unutterable power, in the beginning God brought into being what was not and did not exist in any way whatever!

As for the way in which he made creation happen, we do not have the means to say.  I affirm that it is beyond any way of expression known to us: how indeed could what exceeds understanding be explained?  In my opinion, the approach imagined by the supreme Being and the way that leads to an understanding of his enterprise will be always as inaccessible to our human condition as we are by nature lower than this Being himself. When Moses said, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth", understand that he condenses and summarizes in some way all the details in a single word, when he describes the genesis of all creation. Then, he attempts to say somehow how this creation was put in order and how all the things created were assigned the role in life which they have.

Moses also states that that God created through the all-powerful Word: in fact his creator-Word of the universe is God himself and proceeds from God by nature. "God said," Moses continues, "Let there be a firmament!" and this firmament  instantaneously becomes real by the operation of the Word, and God gives it the name of 'heaven'. "God said: Let the dry land appear!" and the waters gather in a single body. God said moreover: 'Let the sun be!' and it was; and so for the moon, the stars, the day, the terrestrial and aquatic animals, and the birds.  But by nature the elements themselves cannot draw from their own resources the possibility of escaping corruption, on the contrary, they need the hand of He that maintains them in good condition: this is the sense of the words of Moses: "the breath of God was moving over the waters." Indeed the breath of God vivifies anything, because He is life also by nature, as He proceeds from the life of the Father; everything needs Him, and there is no other means for anything to obtain existence in order to be what it is.

So contemplate, as I have just said, the firmament firmly established by the Word and the firm ground emerging after the gathering of the waters in a single body; contemplate the green earth full of grass and trees, and the vital forces included in them which makes possible for them to conceal their transitory nature with the virtue of eternity, to last and remain; see the luminaries of the firmament, created by God only for the purpose of lighting what is on earth, to mark the moments of time, the days, the years! Moses adds that the earth accepted the order to give rise to the brute animals, the Creator on his side distributing to each its form, size and conditions of existence.

And when everything in the world had finally been created, when nothing was lacking to supply the needs of man, then, and only then, did the Creator begin to think of the way in which He was going to realise man himself. Because the creation of man, unlike the other creative acts, could not be improvised. ... He decided to form the animal in His own image, as much as could be made. Also, having every reason to ensure that this, which must be in His image and resemblance, namely man, did not appear weak, contemptible or different enough from the other animals, He chose to create him only after serious reflection.

However, it will be said without inaccuracy, that nothing could escape the divine spirit, since He knows everything indeed before it is born; why then did God reflect, even though He knew in advance the nature of man?  The incomparable Moses, as I said, affirms that it was in conformity with the divine economy that man was to some extent honoured by the deliberation of the Creator; he shows that his creation was not done quite simply, might one say, not just like any other: everything happens as if God had taken a particular care of this action. The expression is undoubtedly forced --- but I grant that it appears quite sensible; we affirm that the man is most important of the animals, and was made to resemble He that created him.

God spoke thus to us:

    "I said: You are gods, and you are all the sons of the Almighty." 

In fact, when the Creator of the world had made the thinking and reasonable creature, according to His own image and His own semblance, in His great kindness He honoured it with the name of 'god': and there was nothing wrong with this, since we also are accustomed to giving, say for example to a portrait of a man, this same name of 'man'!

Therefore the thinking and reasonable creature, because God holds it in greater regard than those lacking reason and thought, seems to have received in part a higher glory since the denomination of 'god' haloed it with gold; in any case, absolutely no other creature was named 'god'. In fact, like the universe, the sky is not a living being in the true sense of the expression, it is not even endowed with a soul. ....

That He demands that we honour Him, that He requires obedience and understands that human nature is like his in every kind of virtue, it would be the easiest thing in the world for me to bring a thousand veracious testimonies drawn from the inspired Scripture. God wants us to honour him, and that by the holiness of our life, we will conform ourselves to him on the spiritual level, by engraving his beauty in our souls. 

Cyril of Alexandria, Against Julian: Address of the blessed Cyril, Archbishop of Alexandria, to the very pious emperor Theodosius, devoted to Christ.

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