The Purpose of Creation | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Ignatius Insight | May 14, 2011
"God made the world so that there could be a space where he might communicate his love and from which the response of love might come back to him."
— Pope Benedict XVI, "The Day of the New Creation" (Homily at the Easter Vigil, 23 April 2011, L'Osservatore Romano, English, April 27, 2011)
"It is not the case that in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it."
— Pope Benedict XVI, "The Day of the New Creation."
After the blessing of the new fire at the Easter Vigil, we heard the reading of the creation from Genesis. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Leo Strauss pointed out that this account has its own internal order according to the nature of the motion of the creatures on each day of creation. The account of Genesis is not, as it sometimes seems, "irrational." The heavens and the earth were not God. He is before they were; they came to be from nothing. God is not part of the universe; He is complete in His inner being without the universe. It was not created to supply a deficiency in God, as some of the ancient writers thought.
In other words, before the cosmos was, God is. The tense of the latter verb is correct, not "was" but "is."
In his homily for the Easter Vigil, Benedict XVI asked whether, as some say, it would not be better to omit this supposedly outmoded cosmological reading: just proceed immediately to things more pertinent to us. The fathers of the Church, Benedict told us, never understood the days of creation cosmologically. But they did understand that the Genesis account provided the foundation for thinking of what this creation means in its very essence. Why did God not leave the void alone? Why did He cause what is to be?
"The Church wishes to offer us a panoramic view of whole trajectory of salvation history, starting with creation, passing through the election and liberation of Israel to the testimony of the prophets by which this entire history is directed ever more clearly towards Jesus Christ." The Scriptures do not offer a "scientific" description of sidereal events. They do present an overall understanding of why these events happened. The overall understanding of the cosmos is shot through with intelligence, from beginning to end.
In other words, revelation gives intelligibility to history. History is the accurate explanation of what happened, including divine events in the world. We can eventually find out the scientific details of cosmic events by ourselves. Revelation was not needed for what men could eventually discover by themselves. In fact, the general principles of the scriptural account of creation and the scientific knowledge of what happened are becoming in our time more and more in agreement. If we look at what Scripture intends and what we can judge to have happened, we find remarkable agreement. Revelation and science are not as opposed as was once claimed.
The cosmos seems to be about 13.7 billion years old. It has a structure of inner constants that indicates it began in an instant, before which there was nothing. Within its working-out an orientation to the possibility of human, rational life is found. The cosmos seems to be intelligible in the sense that its order can be understood as being already present within it. It is something that the human mind can grasp with considerable effort and insight. This order cannot be the result of randomness or chance or projection of human ideas. The whole order implies that at its origin we find a first cause that is outside the universe itself and is responsible for its manifest order.
"They (the Prophets) show us the inner foundation and orientation of history. They cause creation and history to become transparent to what is essential." The creation account is also cast in a liturgical format. That is, it is intended as an act of praise. "This is the liturgy's way of telling us the creation story is itself a prophecy. It is not information about the external process by which the cosmos and man himself came into being."
The Fathers of the Church saw the creation story "as a pointer towards the essential, toward the true beginning and end of our being." The beginning and end of our being have to do with why the cosmos exists in the first place. If we omit these creation passages, we would miss "the very history of God with men." God did interact with men through creation. We would lose sight of its "order of greatness" if we neglected to consider the meaning of creation, of the fact that it could not and did not cause itself.
The Holy Father recalled the beginning of the Creed. Our first affirmation is that "We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth." In other words, nothing in the universe stands outside of God's salvific plan. The Church is not concerned just with man's "religious" needs. Rather, and this is a point that Benedict makes again and again about what revelation and Scripture are about, "the Church brings into contact with God and thus with the source of all things." We do not just "speculate." The Church is not a series of beliefs or doctrines, though these are important; she is the point wherein we actually meet God. That is the point of the Eucharist. This is what holiness is about. Catholicism is directed to intelligence. But intelligence, because of what it discovers, in turn is directed to worship.
We have responsibility for creation because we can understand. Moreover, "because God created everything, he can give us life and direct our lives." Already here we see the fact that the intelligibility of the universe is related to our own end which we need to understand. The "central message of the creation" is found by reading together the beginning of Genesis and the beginning of the Prologue of John's Gospel. The world, the heavens and the earth, find their origin in the Logos within the Godhead. This Logos is not just abstract reason but "Reason that both is and creates sense. The creation account tells us, then, that the world is a product of creative Reason." When we examine creation and all in it, we find order already there.
If we are told that no reason exists in things, no order, we know that this view is contrary to evidence, logic, and revelation. What we ultimately find behind all creation is freedom, reason, and love, not necessity and chance. That is to say, such realities are already found within the Godhead and are placed within the world in due order. "In the beginning is freedom. Hence it is good to be a human person." These sentences mean that God did not have to create anything. He does not "change" if the world exists or does not exist. But if something does exist, as it does, it flows from God's own inner life. Creation will be marked by intelligence and love once we come to see its overall scope. Deus Caritas Est. Deus Logos Est.
We are not accidents thrown up by chance in some obscure corner of the cosmos. Rather, the cosmos exists that we might exist. We exist to carry out the purpose for which we are created. The cosmos is a consequence, in the divine intention, of our eventual creation. In the plan of God, we are intended before the cosmos it intended. The universe is the arena of our freely achieving (or rejecting) the purpose of our creation. God's original intention was to associate other free and intelligent being within His inner life after the manner of their freedom and intelligence in response to His. "Reason is there at the beginning." We also can refuse to accept what we are offered. "And because it is Reason, it is also created freedom; and because freedom can be abused, there also exist forces harmful to creation." That is the history of the Fall in Genesis.
God, in creating free beings who could reject Him, understood that some would reject Him. Thus, He had to respond to their freedom to reject Him with His offer of mercy and forgiveness. Basically, this is what the Incarnation as we know it is about. But we ourselves must "place ourselves on the side of reason, freedom, and love—on the side of God who loves us, so much that he suffered for us, that from his death there might emerge a new definitive and healed life." The one thing that God never does is to make a free being not to be free. This is why history is filled with those also who freely reject the efforts and examples of God to lead us back to the original purpose of creation.
The Old Testament presents "an order of realities." Benedict then shows that the rest on the last day of creation was itself ordered to a transformation whereby the new day of creation began with the Resurrection. But this divine response was not merely an afterthought. "The Covenant is the inner ground of creation, just as creation is the external presupposition of the Covenant." This inner ground of creation indicates the drama that was intended to occur within history. For this to happen, a world had to exist and be prepared to receive human lives that could sustain themselves in the world. The "anthropological principle" that we hear scientists refer to in cosmology is the counterpart of the initial divine intention.
What then is it all about? In a brilliant sentence, Benedict carefully explained the broad sweep of our being to us: "God made the world so that there could be a space where he might communicate his love, and from which the response of love might come back to him." This passage emphasizes the central purpose of creation. For God to communicate His love, some beings capable of loving in return had to exist. Since such beings could not themselves be gods, they needed a place in which they could live. There, they were invited to "respond." They could choose not to do respond, otherwise there could be no true and free love. What Augustine called the City of God and the City of Man are involved in this drama.
Benedict added a further astounding fact. From God's perspective, the heart of the man who responds to him is greater and more important than the whole immense material cosmos." Such a sentence puts things in proper perspective from considerations of abortion, to sinners, to the evils we experience in history. Each person is thus made in the "image" of God, with intelligence, will, and a space in which to decide what he will be. The parable of the lost sheep in the Gospels comes to mind. God searches for what is lost, but He cannot "force" men to choose Him. They have to love him because He is loveable. The playing out of these human responses is, as Benedict stated in Spe Salvi, what constitutes the judgment of the living and the dead, as we see also in the Creed
The Resurrection is the beginning of the new age. "It sets out from the first day as the day of encounter with the Risen Lord." We are in this age of redemption in which the Savior has already dwelt amongst us. The Church exists to keep among us the living presence of the actual fact that the Logos did exist among us. This fact changes everything. We sometimes do everything we can not to see this truth.
"The revolutionary development that occurred at the very beginning of the Church's history can be explained only by the fact that something utterly new happened on that (Resurrection) day." But this new event was not outside of God's original intention in creating the cosmos and finite men in it. "In truth, this encounter (of the apostles with the risen Lord) had something unsettling about it."
We still experience this unsettlement because of what it implies about the meaning of our own lives. We are created to achieve the end of creation. We can, in our place, in our living, still reject the love with which we and the cosmos were created. "We celebrate this day as the origin and goal of our existence. We celebrate it because now, thanks to the Risen Lord, it is definitively established that reason is stronger than unreason, truth stronger than lies, love stronger than death."
The purpose of creation is nothing less than in our choosing, in the arena of our own lives in whatever time or place we find ourselves, to understand and love these things whereby we reach the inner Trinitarian life of the Godhead as our own end also. Aside from this, all else is what? A distraction, perhaps, that prevents us from embracing what we are created to be.
Biography of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
Jesus of Nazareth (Part 2) available March 10, 2011
Other Recent Books by Pope Benedict XVI
All books by or about Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
Excerpts from books by Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
Articles about Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Excerpts:
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Creation, Salvation, and the Mass | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
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On Being Amazed In The Cosmos: Christoph Cardinal Schönborn and "The Purpose of the Path" | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Gift of God | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Creed and the Trinity | Henri de Lubac
What's the Point of Creeds? | Peter Kreeft
Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning, The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006), The Sum Total of Human Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays (CUA, 2008). His most recent book from Ignatius Press is The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Modern Age, is available from St. Augustine's Press. Read more of his essays on his website.
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