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Creation and the Medieval Church

What happened at Creation?

How do things pan out as we move into the Medieval Church? In our historical overview, the next key Christian thinker on our journey was Thomas Aquinas, the most important and influential Christian philosopher of the Middle Ages. What did the "dumb ox" think about the Six Days of Creation?

Now Thomas was very much a Christian philosopher, with a great inclination towards the thinking of Aristotle. So the idea of a literal Six Day Creation was not going to go by unnoticed, particularly for someone very interested in the interface between reason and faith. His take is to offer the suggestion that, in a sense, all things were created at the same time, in a potential sense. He said, in Summa Theologica:

On the day on which God created the heaven and the earth" He created also every plant of the field, not, indeed, actually, but "before it sprung up in the earth," that is, potentially.

He adds to this by suggesting that God created the substance of everything at the moment of Creation, even if they didn't actually appear at the same time. This is all pure Aristotle and is a good example of how theologians of every age have dipped their toes, if not their whole foot, into the murky waters of Greek philosophy. In fact, by dressing up his thoughts with such vague flowery language Thomas made it very unclear if he did actually believe in a literal Six Days of Creation.

Following Aquinas, the general position of the medieval Church on this issue was the position held by Augustine and the other Platonists, with an instantaneous Creation and the Six Days being allegorised, viewed more as poetic literature than literal commentary. Then came the Reformation and everything changed.

For a start their rallying cry was Sola Scriptura, scripture alone! Martin Luther, the prime mover, had this to say about the allegorical methods of Augustine:

"Augustine trifles with the six days in a strange way, making them days of hidden meaning, according to the knowledge of angels, and does not let them be six natural days." (Commentary on Genesis, 2 vols., 4.)

The Reformers had wrenched the Bible from its self-appointed guardians, brushed off the dust from its cover and encouraged the ordinary Christian to read it. Bearing in mind that the ordinary Christian had no idea how to read Holy Scripture, being so culturally and historically divorced from the Hebrew authors of the book, Luther and his chums provided tools that would extract spiritual truths from the book. These were the Grammatical Historic method mentioned in an earlier article, the idea of putting oneself in the role of someone who would have heard the words in the original setting and how they would have understood the words in context. They insisted that, in the first instance, one should look at the plain meaning sense of the Bible text, a very Hebraic idea.

So whereas the Catholics of their day had provided fanciful explanations for the meaning of the Six Days of Creation, the Reformers took God's word for it. If He said that He created everything in six actual days, then that would be good enough for them. In modern-day jargon, they were Six Day Young Earth Creationists. "We assert that Moses spoke in the literal sense, not allegorically or figuratively, i.e., that the world, with all its creatures, was created within six days, as the words read", said Luther (Lectures in Genesis: chapters 1-5). 

Then came the Enlightenment and it all changed, again. Human reason held sway and advances in science made great inroads into how Christians began to see God and His Creation. Many Christians were torn, pulled apart by conflicting voices. On the one hand there was Archbishop Usher declaring that, as a result of his Biblical research, the Earth was created on October 26th, 4004 BC at 9am. On the other hand the uniformitarians had arrived. These were not Nazis that liked to dress up (bad joke) but rather a scientific concept that assumed that the universe's natural laws had never changed and that "the present is the key to the past". It all sounds quite innocuous until you realise that any literal Six Days of Creation wouldn't fit in as this would have been a one-off event, confounding the "natural laws of the universe" and in no way corresponds with the way the World works today.

So what happened next? You'll have to wait until next week ...

Steve Maltz
February 2014

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Outcast Nation)

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