Saturday, 22 April 2006

Creation as a trinitarian act

“In the free self-distinction of the Son from the Father, the independent existence of a creation distinct from God has its basis, and in this sense we may view creation as a free act not only of the Father, but of the trinitarian God.”

—Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, 2:30.

7 Comments:

Terry said...

I'm presenting a paper at St Andrew's in July that deals with Pannenberg here. I like his idea that the Son's self-distinction from the Father forms the basis for there also to exist something other than God, but I don't like the way he then goes about explicating it in terms of continual creation. To me, this denies to creation its own perseverance through time, being something that is continually granted to it by God. There is, I think, a real difference between saying that God preserves creation by sustaining it and that God preserves creation by creating it afresh moment by moment - even if God uses the 'same' creative action as Pannenberg goes on to suggest.

kim fabricius said...

Hi Terry.

Robert Jenson (in Systematic Theology II, p. 9, including note 42) observes that you have a theological ally in Karl Barth, for whom "it is vital to distinguish creation and providence as metaphysically different relations."

However Jenson himself aligns himself with Pannenberg: "A distinction between creation and 'preservation' or between initial and 'continuing' creation has been rightly used to warrant that there was a first existence of creatures at a zero point of time. But such distinctions can have no other metaphysical or religious significance. The world is no less dependent on God's creating word in any moment of its existence than it was at the beginning."

And Jenson adds "that the Franciscans were even more radical at this point; for Duns Scotus the distinction between creation and preservation is only conceptual."

Although this seems to me to be an adiaphora issue, I tend to with you and Barth on it - though I'd want to round it off in good trinitarian fashion and add the world's "perfection" (Jonathan Edwards called the Holy Spirit "the Beautifier") to its creation and preservation.

Do you know David Bentley Hart's magisterial The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (2004)? (The sweep of thought, the depth of the thinking - not to mention the density of the prose! - make Milbank himself seem almost elementary!) I myself am just about to start on Hart's doctrine of creation (pp. 249-318). I can't wait!

Knock 'em dead with your presentation!

Terry said...

Pannenberg seems to say that yes, there is an initial moment of creation, but this same creative action 'preserves' creation by making it anew each instance. For Pannenberg, creation and preservation are different ways of perceiving God's action from the view of the creature.

So if Pannenberg and, from your quote, Jenson believe that God's creating word means that God creates the world ex nihilo each moment but in such a way that it *appears* that t1 has moved into t2 and on the basis of that *appearance* affirm creaturely causal connectivity, then I have to wonder precisely what is 'preserved'. Conversely, if God's creating word here is *not* ex nihilo, then I'm unsure as to why they need to deny the idea of preservation so conceived.

I appreciate what Pannenberg's essential equation of creation with preservation is trying to do, but I think he restricts creaturely causal connectivity to the level of a mere positing. And so whilst in many respects this is an issue of adiaphora, in other respects it also reveals much about the way we conceive the world God has created.

Gaunilo said...

The strength of Pannenberg's notion of creatio continua, it seems to me, is that is a means of articulating creation as an eschatological claim - that creation truly speaking cannot be called such until the completion of its 'project' in the eschaton. There's even a sense (if I'm remembering correctly, it's been a few years since I read Pannenberg) that creation as such can only be called God's in the eschaton. This is a very nicely articulated way of handling the doctrine of creation in a modern idiom.

The vaguely Hegelian conceptualization with which Pannenberg interprets the intratrinitarian relation of Son/Logos and Father has always made me a bit uncomfortable. The notion of the Son's self-distinction as the principle of creation's differentiation from God, while very interesting, doesn't at all seem to mesh with the Logos theology Pannenberg wants to draw on from the tradition.

Terry said...

And how does the notion of [i]creatio continua[/i] itself articulate creation as an eschatological claim? 'Only in the light of the eschatological consummation can we of the world understand the meaning of its beginning' (ST 2.146) - fair enough. But doesn't the problem of continuous creation, that it jeopardises creaturely causal connectivity, remain? If creation is to be perfected or completed, there still needs to be the preservation of that which needs completing or perfecting, even if this can be fully understood only from the viewpoint of its completion or perfection, i.e., at the eschaton.

Gaunilo said...

True enough - the eschatological completion of creation (which I think for Pannenberg is close to tautologous) doesn't in itself demand a creatio continua; a conventional view of preservation will do the trick, but with less force. The strength of this claim, as I see it, is that if creatio ex nihilo is as well an eschatological claim - to be consistent - it cannot be located at the "beginning" but at every moment. It's probably worth saying that a good deal of the Western tradition would side with Pannenberg on the notion of creatio continua - certainly anyone reading Augustine. Which doesn't settle the question, of course.

I appreciate the force of your concern for creaturely causality, but I'm not sure I see how the two claims (viz. continual creation and creaturely causality) are mutually exclusive, if I'm understanding your objection correctly. It seems to presuppose that divine and human action stand in some kind of competitive relation - viz. that creaturely action cannot at the same time be divine action.

Terry said...

If the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us, then as far as I see it, that act of incarnation both confirms and affirms the structures given to the world - the way that it works, the way that it is - by God. To me, the incarnation is the supreme instance showing that God is always pleased to be involved in the world and thus preserves it from dissolution. The objection I have to creatio continua is therefore christological - does it make sense to speak of creatio continua in a world that is christologically affirmed, in a world where the presence of God himself therein is evidence of divine preservation?

I think when Pannenberg adopts the conceptuality of creatio continua, he finds it difficult to assign to christology a proper place in the act of preservation. He speaks of the Son's self-distinction from the Father allowing for the possibility of something other than God to exist but seems then, to me, to jump from this to saying that in the Son, God 'sustains' the universe without actually explaining what this means - it's no more than an affirmation that the Son sustains.

I'm not sure I presuppose divine and human action are in a competitive action. If anything, I want to try to lose the framework of causality that makes this potential conflation/opposition possible. But it's hard work!

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