Symbolic Metaphysics: Creatio Ex Nihilo and the Begetting of the Son in Genesis One

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” — Genesis 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” — John 1:1

“And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” — Revelation 21:6

It is a common refrain to say that, in context, the book of Genesis does not speak of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. It is said that it speaks of creation from pre-existing matter and perhaps the assignment of function rather than existence[1]. Now, it is true that the genesis story does often speak in such terms, even in the first chapter, but I say this dismissal of creatio ex nihilo is based on a misunderstanding, and a tendency to ignore the metaphysical reading of scripture, which must condition the “literal” and has indeed been conditioning the literal for as long as scripture has existed[2]. So, for this post, I would like to explain what “creatio ex nihilo” means metaphysically, and then use that to link it first to ancient Hebrew theology and then to the three scriptures above. To pre-empt my argument, I will say that the last quote interprets the second, and the second interprets the first. To understand how this can be, we need to explain creation ex nihilo.

Creation and Nothing

The simple idea behind Creatio ex nihilo, or creation of nothing, is that God is self suffucient in his creation of all that exists. God does not require anything “outside” Godself to create, because indeed there is no “outside” of God in any true sense. We need to note what this does not mean. It does not mean God creates from a “thing” or “substance” named “nothing”, otherwise we would not be really speaking about “Creatio ex nihilo” but “creatio ex materia”. Everything is from God’s power, not something outside God’s power in addition to God’s power. Now, we can speak of what this does mean.

Firstly, if creation is from “anywhere”, it is “God’s power”, which is not a “thing”, meaning, it is “no-thing”. Secondly, God’s power is simply God in act, meaning, creation is “made from” God. I do not mean this in a material sense, like God’s uncreated person is some sort of material that is divided into bits to make the world. I mean this in the sense of “emanation”. Creation is the manifestation of God, through Godself, to Godself. As we can see, “creatio ex nihilo” implies “creatio ex Deo”, “Creation from God”, which is indistinguishable from Neoplatonic “emanation”[3], where all things manifest from the One.

The First and the Last

However, there is a second, inner explanation within this one. This is where Neoplatonism agrees with ancient Jewish theology, as well as the Genesis story. Many traditional cosmologies subscribe to a hierarchy of being, and the beginning of this hierarchy is always special. It is the “beginning” (Greek, “Arche”, translated “Origin” by DB Hart[4]). All others flow from that beginning. It is the “first creation”, from which the rest flows. In Platonism it is the “living creature”, which Neoplatonism calls “Nous”[5]. In ancient “non-deuteronomist” Jewish mythologies, he is YHWH proper, the son of El, who manifests as the “Angel of the Lord” bearing the name[6]. In medieval Kabbalah, He is also “YHWH”, the first manifestation of Ein Soph[7]. In early Christian theology, based on the ancient understandings of YHWH, he is the “Word”, the “first born of creation”, the subject of the Old Testament theophanies. As the “Arche”, it is within Him that creation, heaven and earth, were begotten. I use the word “begotten” deliberately, because it is the language of “generation” Genesis 2 uses to describe the creation. It says “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens” (Gen 2:4). Creation is described as a birth, and it was done in a “day”, contradicting the earlier narrative on the surface, but, to me, revealing the nature of “days” described here. That is a subject for another post perhaps, but here it is a detour. The point is simple: The first creation is infact the most important creation, and he is the true subject of “creatio ex nihilo”:

…we will show another sense of the term ‘creation’, namely in the sense of the actual first creation, which is that of the Ideas, or Forms, or Reasons, or Prototypes, or Archetypes of all things in the first Divine (intelligible) emanation, which is the Word, or Wisdom, or Light, of God.

This is the real Creation, by which we mean that this is the only action of God which brings something out of nothing. What is usually termed ‘creation’ is in reality only the procession of physical things from their Archetypes into this world, which is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, or the Divine Love. This is also the meaning of the Son sending the Spirit, for from the Word descend all things into generation by the Spirit.[8]

This is true in that it is only that which happens “in the origin”, that same “eternal” origin, that satisfies the metaphysical definition of “creatio ex nihilo”. All else that exists pre-exists in the first born of creation, and all else flows from the “natures” present in the eternal word. Such “emanation” is not “ex nihilo” since it comes from something already established. For clarification, this is the eternal creation. It is perfect, and it is a God, the eternal body of the Logos, full of everything we are and will be, the assurance of our eternal destinies as the body of Christ, and if you are not a Christian, the assurance for whatever deliverance your religion offers, for all true myths have their version of this story, often hidden in esoteric interpretations, but also present in the central rituals and doctrines.

Another clarification concerns what it means to be “created”. To be created is to be “limited”. It is to have “boundaries” that define what you are in nature or essence. Because of this, there are two ways the creation of something is described in myth. The first is by naming. Naming “separates” things by description. A cat is not a dog. The second is by “active” dividing, whereby the God or sage takes something and divides it, the process by which one thing becomes two or more. Both are present in Genesis. To add to this, one of the Chief uses of “Logos”, translated “word”, was to separate, as Paul implied when he called it a “Sword”. The process in Genesis of dividing and naming are acts of separation by the Logos. Like it is often said, these do not describe creatio ex nihilo, but whatever is “divided” was already brought forth “in the beginning” ex nihilo. The subsequent days describe how these beings were given manifestation in the lower metaphysical cosmos (earth). It is “earth” that is formless and void. “Heaven”, the eternal body of the logos, is assumed not to need such “creation”, the “living creature” is eternal. However, that is besides the point I want to make here.

Begotten, and yet Created.

As mentioned earlier, creatio ex nihilo is hidden in the very first statement of Genesis, where the “beginning” is the place of eternal creatio ex nihilo, or creatio ex deo, or emanation. From the explanation above, it should be clear that the doctrine Christians love so dearly is not a “Greek” innovation against some ancient literalist ANE culture. But, I am not the first to write about this. I want to go a step further. I want to show the unity of Scriptural metaphysics and Christian doctrine, and how it resolves disagreements concerning the nature of the Logos that characterizes Christian discourse with its Abrahamic cousins.

We start with the last scripture that begins this post. Christ is the “Beginning”. This beginning names not a nature, but a role, a “disposition”. “Arche”, the word for beginning, also means “Principle”. The first principle in Neoplatonism is “The One”. The One is the infinite Arche, the true “beginning”. The importance of this becomes clear when we realize that in both the first and second scriptures quoted above, Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1, “beginning” is distinguished from whatever is “in” it. In the former, “heaven and earth” is “in” the beginning, in the latter it is “Logos”. “Logos” and “Heaven and Earth” occupy the same place in the two passages. Both name “natures”, and both are principles of duality and division. It is safe to say both refer to the same thing, hence why “Nous”, the “living creature” in Neoplatonism can also be called “Logos”[9]. John 1:1, in talking about the “Logos”, is talking about a person, but not just any person, a person with a nature. Persons cannot be known apart from natures they manifest through, even if they transcend natures as such[10]. What nature does this person manifest through? The Logos nature ofcourse, the principle of duality, of which another appropriate name would be “heaven and earth”, the first duality of “active” and “passive”, “Purusha” and “Prakriti”[11]. This also explains why Genesis 2 can talk about the “Generations of heaven and earth”, the person “generated” or “born” or “begotten” here is simply the person of the Logos, who is the first creation. My proposal for those still reading is that we consider that “Logos” names the created nature of Christ, rather than the Uncreated nature. My reasoning is thus: If the “Logos” names the uncreated nature, the nature the Father and Spirit share, why do we not also call these other hypostases “Logos”? It seems to me that the pagan Neoplatonists, the Jews, and the Muslims have this one correct, although I do not think we had it wrong either. It is because of the nature of Logos as contingent and created that Christ can become man, otherwise there is no sufficient reason why this is possible, and there is no sufficient reason why creation can be the eschatological body of Christ, as St Paul implied and sages such as St Maximus revived in their theologies. As the highest created principle, the Logos births the temporal worlds without ceasing to be itself. This is straightforward emanation. However, this is not fully incarnation. If incarnation is the Logos losing the Logos nature and becoming man, then there is no incarnation, because this is not what happened. The “light of the world” was “in heaven” as well as on earth (John 3:13), and here Islam agrees[12]. One might call it an “incarnation”, perhaps, just to tease, but not of God as such becoming man, but the principle of man himself becoming a historical man, which is not really an incarnation anyway. The Incarnation concerns God becoming man without ceasing to be God. Since the Logos is the principle of Man, and indeed the eternal man, the “one as the Son of Man”, it should be that the incarnation proper begins at the very beginning, where the “heaven and earth” were made in Him, as Him. “In the beginning was the Logos” is therefore the proper beginning of the statement of the Incarnation in John, and the statement “In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth” concerns not just creation in the abstract, but the incarnation and begetting of the Son, whose natures are inseparable, even if distinct. The “beginning”, the “arche”, the infinite divinity in its disposition as principle of “limit” — and indeed, “beginning” and “end” names God as “limit”, the Proclean principle of Being that is beyond being and the duality of Logos, and whose role is analogous to that of the Trinitarian Son — is inseparable from the same Logos, the same eternal man, who was then revealed in Bethlehem when the eternal man became a temporal man, while indeed he has been temporal in all of us, as us; a truth that keeps being revealed in every religion in their own symbolic economy.

Therefore we can say this, the nature of the Logos, as Logos, is created, in agreement with our sister religions. On the other hand, we hold to an uncreated nature of the person of the Logos, consubstantial with the Father in the Spirit, a consubstantiality revealed in his name as “Arche” and “Telos”, and perhaps also hinted in the fact that he has the God’s “personal” name, a truth in both Kabbalah and Esoteric Islam. The implications of having God’s name are immense, not least because it means you share in the God’s identity, and hence nature, although ofcourse not in the manner of created natures with their forms. However, this discussion goes both ways. The absolute Trinitarianism some modern Christians cherish will have to be let go, not least because it is against the spirit of Scripture’s words on the matter, and pretty much all of the early church. In Schuon’s words:

For extreme trinitarianism, God is certainly One, but He is so only in being Three, and there is no God-as-One except within and through the Trinity; the God who is One without the Trinity, or independently of any question of hypostatic deployment, is not the true God, Unity being meaningless without this deployment. Now this is where the full gravity of trinitarianism becomes manifest: there are Christians — though, as a matter of fact, in disagreement with the impression of most theologians — who are incapable of seeing any value whatsoever in Islam; from their point of view, Islam and atheism are equivalent; if they do not level the same reproach at Judaism, it is for the sole reason that they project onto it their trinitarianism as an axiomatic implication. Because of this, the Muslim reproach of “tritheism” is justified; he who is unable, on the strength of his trinitarianism, to see that the Koran speaks of the God of Abraham — even supposing that it does so imperfectly — and that Muslims worship God and not something else, truly deserves such a reproach. Christ, in speaking of the supreme Commandment or in teaching the Lord’s Prayer, did not speak of the Trinity, any more than did the God of the Sinai, who deemed it sufficient to define Himself in these words: “ Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord”.[13]

It is God’s Unity that unites the monotheisms. It is God’s unity that grounds Trinitarianism. It grounds creation, and therefore theosis, and it all begins with the first verse “In the Origin, God created…”

[1] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, The Lost World Series, 2009.

[2] Margaret Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Which God Gave to Him to Show to His Servants What Must Soon Take Place (Revelation 1.1) (T&T Clark, 2000).

[3] David Bentley Hart, ‘God, Creation, and Evil: The Moral Meaning of Creatio Ex Nihilo’, Radical Orthodoxy, 3.September (2015), 1–17.

[4] David Bentley Hart, The New Testament: A Translation (Yale University Press, 2017).

[5] Lloyd P. Gerson, Plotinus (The Arguments of the Philosophers), 1999.

[6] Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God, Names, 1992.

[7] ‘Kabbalistic Mirrors of the Trinity — Sensus Catholicus’ <https://sensuscatholicus.substack.com/p/kabbalistic-mirrors-of-the-trinity> [accessed 16 May 2021].

[8] ‘On the Ideas Created in the Divine Word — On Tradition’ <https://esoterictraditionalism.wordpress.com/2019/07/13/on-the-ideas-created-in-the-divine-word/> [accessed 17 April 2021].

[9] Algis Uzdavinys and Jay Bregman, The Heart of Plotinus: The Essential Enneads (The Perennial Philosophy), ed. by Algis Uzdavinys (World Wisdom, 2009).

[10] Jordan Daniel Wood, ‘That Creation Is Incarnation in Maximus Confessor’ (Boston College, 2018) <http://dlib.bc.edu/islandora/object/bc-ir:108259> [accessed 25 May 2021].

[11] Rene Guenon, The Multiple States of the Being (Sophia Perennis, 2004).

[12] ‘“Isma’ili Muslim Perspectives on Jesus” by Khalil Andani (Ismailism & Ismailis) — YouTube’ <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2Hy1j7-zCE> [accessed 25 September 2021].

[13] Frithjof Schuon, Form and Substance in the Religions.

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Jedi Scribe

I'm just a fiction loving theology amateur with a background in Physics, who loves to integrate the fragmented parts of his life into a Christocentric whole