What is creation?

The works of God are of nature and grace.

I. Thus far we have treated the immanent acts of God ad extra, commonly called the decrees. We intend now to speak of the transient and external acts (called the works of God) by which he executes his decrees outside of himself. However, because some are carried out by a general and common operation in nature, others by a particular and proper action in the church, they are usually distinguished into works of nature and grace. The former are so called not because God works them by nature (since indeed he acts externally, not by necessity of nature, but by the liberty of his own will, Ps. 115:3; Eph. 1:11), but because they pertain to all creatures and their natural ends. The works of grace refer only to men and their supernatural ends.

The works of nature are creation and conservation.

II. Again, the works of nature are twofold: of creation, which God produced by the first creation; and of conservation and providence, by which created things are conserved in their being and governed and directed in their operation.

III. The first work of nature is creation, by which he formed out of nothing as to its whole being this entire universe and all that is in it. Hence it is called “the beginning of the ways of God” (Prov. 8:22) because having come forth from the secret sanctuary of his eternal majesty, he willed to communicate himself ad extra by it and manifest himself unto men.

Creation is used either broadly or strictly and means “a production out of nothing.”

IV. However creation here is not taken broadly and improperly. In this sense, it is used in the Scriptures for any production of things whatsoever, even by generation: “Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:30); “I make peace, and create evil” (Is. 45:7); or for the ordination of certain extraordinary events—“The Lord hath created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass a man” (Jer. 31:22); or for regeneration which is (as it were) a second creation, both in grace—“Create in me a clean heart” (Ps. 51:10) and in glory—“for, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth” (Is. 65:17; Rev. 21:1). Rather creation is taken here strictly for the production of things out of nothing, which is the proper and primary signification of the Hebrew word br’, the Greek ktizein and the Latin creandi (which is maintained in the theological schools).

V. It means “the production of all things out of nothing” (ex nihilo). Since all things were created, they must necessarily have been brought forth from nothing because whatever might be supposed to have preexisted ought to have been contained in the universality of all things. Therefore God is said “to call those things which be not as though they were” (ta mē onta hōs onta, Rom. 4:17) because by calling he gives being. Elsewhere he is said “to have commanded the light to shine out of darkness” (2 Cor. 4:6), not as if out of matter, but as if out of the bounds (ex termino). Therefore, when all things are said to be “out of nothing” (ex nihilo), the preposition ex (“out of”) does not indicate a relation (schesin) to matter or to the efficient. Rather it indicates a relation to a terminus, so that no subject existing before the creation is denoted, but only the terminus a quo from which all things were produced or the order of creation (which was made not so much out of nothing [ex nihilo], as after nothing [post nihilum]).

VI. Creation may be either first and immediate (which is simply ex nihilo) or secondary and mediate (which is made indeed from some matter). The former is unfit and out of order, not set in order by any force of second causes (if we may so speak) to the production of the terminus and in which there resides only an obediential or non-repugnant potency (with respect to the first cause acting by an infinite power). So “nothing” is used either absolutely and simply (with respect to itself as well as to the subject; materially as well as formally) from which the first creation was made; or relatively and formally such with respect to itself (if not with respect to the subject from which it is said to be second).

VII. Nothing can come from nothing: (1) not naturally through a finite and created power; (2) not from a subject as the principle and intrinsically constitutive material; (3) not by way of generations. On the contrary, all things are properly said to be from nothing supernaturally through infinite power (as from the terminus a quo and by the way of creation).

VIII. It is one thing for visible things to be made from things not appearing positively (i.e., from certain invisible things); another, however, to be made from things not appearing negatively (i.e., from no preexisting things). The apostle does not speak of the former, but only of the latter (Heb. 11:3). Therefore he does not say eis to ek mē phainomenōn ta blepomena gegonenai (as if those nonappearances were some preexistent subject), but eis to mē ek phainomenōn ta blepomena gegonenai (“were seen to be made not out of the things which do appear”), thus denying that anything existed before the production of matter. Thus it is the same as when God is said to have made all things ouk ex ontōn (“not from things which exist,” 2 Mac. 7:28).

IX. A thing is said to be the same in origin as in its destruction, not with respect to the terminus of creation, but with respect to the beginnings of generation. Hence the inference would be improper: no thing is resolved into nothing, therefore no thing was produced from nothing.

X. Although creation is sometimes called a “generation” (as in Gen. 2:4 and thence the book of Genesis took its name), this must be understood not physically, but metaphysically for the origin of things. Creation differs most widely from generation. The latter demands and always supposes a subject and terminus a quo (viz., the negation of form in a fit subject, a corporeal thing [as the terminus ad quem]—motion, time and place, and is made successively by a particular cause). But creation (at least the first) makes (does not suppose) its own object, is extended to immaterial things and is made by a universal cause (and it alone in an instant). Hence, properly speaking, no subject is supplied to creation (although the terminus of creation can, in a certain sense, be called also its subject because the action is terminated upon it and in a measure finds in it its subject).

Active and passive creation, which is the foundation of the relation between God and creatures. It is properly called “real.”

XI. Creation can be considered in two ways: either actively (inasmuch as it belongs to God and so it is not indeed a practical volition of God formally because arising from it as its immediate principle; but is a transient act of God by which he confers being upon created things); or passively (inasmuch as it belongs to the creature passing from a state of nonexistence to existence, not by a change properly so called, the transit of a preexisting subject from one term to another, but a common and general change, implying any inception whatever of a thing). Thus arises the relation existing between God and his creatures, which although adding nothing new to God (and indicating only an extrinsic habitude to the creature) is yet properly called real, both because it stands between real extremes and because the reason of founding it on both sides occurs on the part of the thing (even no one thinking). The creature being made, God always holds the relation (schesin) of Creator to it, and it in turn depends upon and is related to him as the creature (even if no one would think of him).

And yet it implies no change in God.

XII. Now although creation is not formally a divine volition, still on that account there is no change made in God by it. Nor is any new perfection added to him because it is an external and transient act which is from God, but not in him. It is made without any motion and new determination. No new will enters into him, but only a new external work proceeds from his eternal efficacious and omnipotent will. Nor ought any perfection to be added to him on that account because the internal acts (which perfect the operator) must be distinguished from the external (which perfect the work, to which class creation belongs). Hence whatever change was made by the creation was made in the creatures passing from nonexistence to being and not in God himself creating. By the same practical volition which he had from eternity, he created the world in time—produced it actually in the beginning of time.

Turretin, F. (1992–1997). Institutes of Elenctic Theology. (J. T. Dennison Jr., Ed., G. M. Giger, Trans.) (Vol. 1–3). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

Return to Index of Concepts and Definitions

Return to CRTA