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Early patristic concepts of the origin of evil

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A Thesis
Presented to
the Faculty of the School of Religion
The University of Southern California
In Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Theology
Edward McNair
June 1940
UMI Number: EP65107
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This thesis, written by
......... EDWARD.,J1GNAIR........
u n d e r the d i r e c t io n o f
AjLs. F a c u l t y
Com m ittee,
a n d a p p r o v e d by a l l it s m e m b e r s , has been
presented to a nd accepted by the F a c u l t y o f the
S c h o o l o f R e l i g i o n in p a r t i a l f u l f i l l m e n t o f the
req ui re m en ts f o r the degree o f
D a te
F a c u lty Com m ittee
INTRODUCTION. Statement of Purpose and Background
The Old Testament..........................
Genesis narrative.. .........
Later prophetic concepts.......
The New Testament..........................
Greek Philosophy......
General Gnostic Theories................
Cerinthus, Valentinus, Marcion...........
Shepherd of Hermas...........
Justin Martyr
...........*..... •
Tatian. ................
Athenagoras ..........................
IV. OLD CATHOLIC AGE.............................
Irenaeus ........
BIBLIOGRAPHY...... ..........................
The purpose of this study is to consider the problem
of the origin of evil as presented in the patristic period*
The Catholic theory of creation which emerged with definite­
ness in the time of Augustine is that Cod created the world
ex nihilo. Since man has been endowed with freedom of the
will, evil is the result of rebellion.
Such forms of apparent
evil as are not directly attributable to rebellion or to
man’s interference are in the realm of things not fully under­
ftWe are never entitled to forget the warning of
Bishop Butler--that from the point of view of our present
experience the world presents to us, at the best, !a scheme
imperfectly comprehended* •
The early church arrived at this conviction somewhat
Inasmuch as the Fathers must be studied against the
background of the Old Testament, the teaching of Jesus,
and Hellenistic philosophy, I shall attempt to outline the
theory of the origin of evil in the Old Testament and the
New Testament and relate it to the teaching of the early
Since it is also manifestly impossible to under­
stand the patristic point of view without some knowledge of
the Creek and Cnostic theories which in some instances in­
spired the Fathers to discuss the question of creation and
the beginning of evil, I shall outline the Greek conception
1922), p. 160.
Charles Core, Belief in God (New York; Scribners,
of creation and the Gnostic approach.
There is no attempt
on my part to discuss in detail the Christian doctrines of
the fall of man and original sin.
Both of these are pre­
dicated on the assumption of some pre-existent evil or
rebellion^ particularly the "fall of angels".
It is rather
patristic conceptions of the primary evil or revolt with
which I am concerned.
It is necessary to take as a starting point the general
acceptance of the creation of the world by God which was
firmly established among the Hebrews, centuries before
Christ and which was common, though by no means universal,
among the Greeks and Romans.
In the earliest Christian
period it is not emphasized however.
There is little evidence that the belief in
divine creation responded to any particular need,
religious or otherwise, on the part of the earliest is only in the works of the theo­
logians of the second and following centuries that
we find the matter discussed at length and argued
about as if it were of importance.^
The primary importance of the creation story, McGiffert believed, lay in the idea that Christ had a part
in creation.
For example Theophilus spoke of "the Logos as
a helper in the things that were created" or "He had this
Word as a helper in the things that were created by Him,
and by Him He made all things,"^
possibly, on John 1:3*
statements based,
But McGiffert himself pointed out
Arthur Cushman McGiffert, The God of the Early
Christians (New York, Scribners, 1924) p. 148
3. To Autolycus II, 10.
vi \
that the problem of the origin of evil, as a source of
speculation, caught the imagination of the Fathers especial­
ly after the problem was forced to their attention by the
dualism of the Gnostics*
The inclusion of patristic conceptions of the
creation in this study is justified on two grounds:
(1 ) most of them involve the idea of evil and (2 ) where
this is not the case, the very absence of any reference to
evil suggests that the writers had no solution to offer*
I am especially indebted to the chapter on MCreation,
Providence, and Judgment11 in McGiffert*s ”God of the Early
Christians” for my general approach to the whole subject*
I have been unable to discover any work based on a thorough
search of the Fathers which summarizes the Patristic ideas
on this subject.
The writers from whom I have quoted have been cited
without reference to their usual classification as !fGreek11
or ftLatin” Fathers.
In the Genesis narrative there is reference to a
pre-existent dark chaos*
heaven and the earth.
"in the beginning God created the
And tho earth was without form* and
void: and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And the
And God
said, Let there be light: and there was light." (Genesis 1:
Adam and Eve are represented as living in a state of
innocence in a garden where sin had not entered.
of one tree was forbidden them.
The fruit
The serpent seduced the
woman and persuaded her to eat of this tree: she in turn
tempted her husband to his fall.
As a result sin entered
into the consciousness of the pair and through them to the
whole human race.
Later theology did not accept this as an
explanation of the origin of evil itself and the fall of
man seems to have been attributed to the fall of the angels.
"And the angels which kept not their first estate but left
their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains
under darkness unto the judgment of the great day". (Jude
The Genesis story implies the existence of an evil spirit
quite distinct from man.
The invitation to sin came from
the serpent in the garden and it took the f o m of a suggest­
ed violation of a command known to be divine.
Sin is not
an indigenous product but it is brought in ab extra, some­
what as it has been suggested that life was first brought
to the earth in a meteoric stone*
According to the Bible
the origin of evil is to be sought outside human nature*
nThe man was in a state of innocence and purity and the
suggestion to sin came as a matter of fact, in the first in­
stance from a personal agency of evil outside the domain of
his own will.
There was also belief in the existence of
demons in early Jud&ism.
fIAmong the Hebrews, both in pre-
exilic and post-exilic times down to a comparatively late
period of the Christian era, both moral and physical evil
were attributed to personal agencies. 11
It is more than possible that the original tradition
regarded the tempting agency as one of testing.
!Devil1 as a proper noun is not found in the Old
*Satan1 is there but as a somewhat shadowy
figure. But he is not there as in the New Testament
the enemy of God and the enemy of Manfs soul. He
is rather an agent of God, perhaps to be classed as
one of the Tsons of God 1 (Job 1:6). He acts as
accuser, not to get men convicted of sin, but rather
to have them tested....The testing by the serpent
(a simple literary device to provide the necessary
agent) results in disobedience to the divine command.
Inasmuch as in the writer1s own experience the inner
struggle sometimes resulted in the wrong choice and
he recognized himself as a sinner, the tester
gradually acquired the function of tempter. So the
tester, originally an agent of God, gradually became
the tempter, and that on his own initiative. 3
The Old Testament view is obviously a changing and
developing one.
p. 590.
The explicit affirmation of an absolute
Bernard, J. H., !tPalltf, Dictionary of the Bible,
Vol. I, p. 843 f.
Whitehouse, 0. C., 11Demon11, Hastings, D.B., Vol. 1,
Claude C. Douglas, Evil, (Unpublished Manuscript).
creation is not t o be found in the Old Testament,
classical passages of Genesis suggest the idea of a pre­
existing chaos into which the Divine Spirit brings order*
This dualistic notion is not, however, the final or the
highest development of Hebrew thought on the subjeot*
the later prophetic writings there are frequent examples
of modes of expression which exclude any possibility of
any kind of existence which is not the product of the crea­
tive activity of God.
"I am Jehovah and there is none else.
I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and
create evil; I am Jehovah that doeth all these things."
(Isaiah 45:6,7).
"Yet even here the conception of an ab­
solute creation is implicit.
It has not reached the stage
of clear definition."^
The later Old Testament prophetic view like the
Genesis story seems to regard physical evil as something
inflicted directly by God*
One emphasis made it primarily
In those days they shall say no more, the fathers
have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth
are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own
iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape,
his teeth shall be set on edge. (Jeremiah 31:29-30).
Later it was regarded as corrective.
An authoritative
Jewish writer summarizes as follows:
The implication of this is that good and evil,
light and darkness emanate alike from the creator.
Mankind therefore needs the help of the living God—
4 Matthews, W. R., Studies in Christian Philosophy.
Boyle Lectures of 1920, (London, Macmillan, 1921) p . 194
only through him can evil be transformed into good.
nThe soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall
not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall
the ■ father bear the iniquity of the son: the right­
eousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the•
Y/ickedness of the Y/icked shall be upon him.11
(Ezekiel, 18:20).
It should be pointed out that Job is an apparent
exception to the traditional vievif.
fortune Job was righteous.
charged God foolishly” .
In the midst of mis­
all this Job sinned not nor
(Job 1:22).
There is a widespread opinion that later Judaism
was profoundly influenced by contact with Persian beliefs.
If this is so the demonology of later Judaism may have
been definitely affected.
Zoroastrian dualism would un­
doubtedly have made an appeal to the Jews.
ever, seems to be somewhat in doubt.
The matter how-
Moulton states
It is obvious that if Judaism owed any of its
eschatalogy or its doctrines of angels and demons
to this former influence, Zorastrianism must have
been firmly established in Babylonia or Media before
the book of Daniel was written and presumably gen­
erations before.
(Harris, Diet, of the Bible.
Vol. IV, p. 988).
Later he continues,
The Semites had demons enough of their ov/n and
the Satan doctrines in Parsism and in Judaism de­
veloped in very different ways. We may still be­
lieve that the ranking of demons and the elevation
of one spirit to their head may have been stimulat­
ed by Parsism....The very corruptions of later
Parsism must have helped recommend it to the
popular Jewish mind, which was equally in bondage
5 Kohler, K, Jewish Theology (New York, Macmillan,
1925), PP. 177-178.
to the fear of evil spirits and the foolish ritual that
pretended to control them. (Ibid., P. 991-992)
The implication of Moulton’s article is that there is a de­
cided Persian element in the demonology of the New Testament.
"The doctrine of the New Testament might be broadly enun­
ciated in terms which would accurately describe Zoroaster’s
own teaching11. (Ibid., p. 992)
In the New Testament physical evil is mainly the
work of the devil.
God tolerates, permits, and over-rules, rather
than directly inflicts it. Pain and disease and
death belong to the Devil’s kingdom, not God’s:
and their universal prevelance is a sign of the unsurped authority over the human race of the .’prince
of this world’. 6 it came to pass when the devil
was gone out, the dumb spake. XLuke 11:14)
There is an acceptance of the older demonology
stripped of its creaser elements.
Evil demons hover about
the world under the direction of Satan.
"But the Pharisees
said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the
devils.” (Matt. 9:34).
"And the scribes which came down
from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince
of the devils casteth he out devils".
(Mark 3:32)
some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub
the chief of the devils." (Luke 11:15).
There are numerous accounts of demonic possession in the
Gospel narrative.
"And, lo, a spirit taketh him, and he
suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth
6 Harris,
Vol. I, p. 551.
Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels.
again, and bruising him hardly departeth from him.1*
(Luke 9:39).
"When Jesus saw that the people came running
together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou
dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him and
enter no more into him11. (Mark 9:25).
Jesus in his healing miracles seemed to assume the
existence of demons whose activity was subject to his
power and person.
"By whom do your children cast them
out?" (Matt. 12:27, also Mark 9:25).
Observation had revealed the truth of the book of
Job that misfortune is not alv/ays the result of sin.
Jesus, "Those eighteen upon whom the tower in Silom fell
and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all
that dwelt in Jerusalem?
I tell you, Nay:" (Luke 13:4).
"He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and
sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. 5:45)*
Jesus accordingly attributed the origin of evil
not to the will of God, but to the perversity of
God*s creatures. Mankind, according to Him, is in
rebellion against God; but the whole guilt of rebellion
is not his. Before man existed, there were myriads of
finite spirits, higher in the order of creation,than
he, and of these some fell from their original in­
nocence and became devils.'
Man has a responsibility for his choices,
"it is that
Y/hich cometh out of a man that defileth a man". (Mark 7:20).
"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God". (Luke 12:31).
With the
crucifixion of Jesus came a final refutation of the theory
7 Harris,
Vol. 1, p. 552.
Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels.
that suffering is a proof of sin*
The spectacle of the ideally good man brought to
an ideally bad end, as a consequence of his selfdevotion to moral and religious reform, raises the
problem of evil in its acutest form* The career of
Jesus is a test case. Indeed, for all who ask the
meaning of the Universe it is the test case. The
Cross of Christ must be, either the darkest spot of
all in the mystery of existence, or a searchlight
by the aid of which we may penetrate the surrounding
St. Paul taught that all men sin and must be saved
from (1) wicked Demons, (1 Cor* 10:20), (2) curse of the
law, (Rom. 4:15), (3) enslavement of sin, (Rom.
:6 ),
(4) weakness of the flesh, (Rom* 8:3), (5) wages of sin—
death. (Rom. 6:23).
To Paul, not only is the flesh weak,
but it is the source of passions and impulses which result
in sinful choices and actions.
Hence his dualism of flesh
and spirit, which is quite different, however, from Creek
Paul was a Jewish dualist whose dualism was rendered
thoroughly ethical by his intense sense and experience
of sin. His dualism was not based upon the idea of
the inherent evil of matter, but upon the fact of ex­
perience that out of man’s sensuous nature arise potent
enticements to sin and that, in actual sinful humanity,
the flesh is a powerful ally of evil.-^
The dualism of Paul was not concerned with the be­
ginnings of evil.
Sin is a perversion of the human will
and originates primarily in the will*
Nevertheless as
8 Burnett Hillman Streeter, Reality (New York, Macmillan,
1927), p. 63
9 J. G. Hill, Unpublished Lecture delivered April
10 George Barker Stevens, The Theology of the New
Testament (New York, Scribners, 1936) p . 342.
, 1940.
Hill points out there is on Faul!s part, an acceptance of
the idea of demons who are presumably fallen angels.
The epistle of James speaks of the fire of the tongue
as kindled from hell or ‘devilish* (James 3:6).
Here he is
probably reflecting the common belief of later Judaism
which, as defined by Gore is that the source and home of
evil is to be found beyond the circle of human nature in an
unseen world of free spirits. 11
11 Charles Gore, Belief in God (Hew York, Scribners,
1922) p. 125.
The Greek conceptions of creation were (1) monistic,
or (2) dualistic*
The monistic theory conceived of both
reason and force as inherent in matter*
and force are external to matter*
through all Greek philosophy****
In dualism reason
These two theories run
Stoicism was the chief
philosophical expression of monism*
Stoics believed that
the world consisted of a single substance*
Platonism was the
chief philosophical expression of dualism*
Plato followed
Anaxagoras in believing that mind is separate from matter
and acts upon it, and went further by predicating a'-dis­
tinction between God and the world.
ing outside the world*
God was regarded as be­
Matthews^quoting Sindleband,says,
“the notion of absolute creation is unknown to Plato as it
is to all Grecian and Roman antiquity.t!
The point at which these two theories seem to approach
each other is in the concept of variety.
In Stoicism was
the theory of the one law, or Logos, expressing itself in
an infinite variety of material forms.
In Platonism there
was the theory of the one God shaping matter according to
an infinite variety of patterns.0
The important fact to
1~ Edv/in Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages
Upon the Christian Ghurch (London, Williams and Norgate,
1890), P. 175.
2 I* R* Matthews, Studies in Christian Philosophy
(Boyle Lectures of 1920),(London,, Macmillan, 1921) p. 195*
3 Hatch, Op* cit* p. 180.
remember- in connection with the Greek background is that
the idea of absolute creation or creation ex nihilo does
not exist in Greek philosophy.
The dualistic character of Platonism appears most
clearly in its view of evil* To a much greater degree
than in Hebrew thought, evil is to the Greek a cos­
mological conception. It has its origin in matter,
the resisting raw material of things, which, as the
essentially non-rational and non-spiritual, the Logos
is not able perfectly to control....
This realistic conception of evil has exercised a
profound influence upon Christian theology. Here is
the root of the asceticism which is so marked a
feature of early Christian ethics, and which lives on
today both in the theory and practice of Catholicism
....The idea of sin as corruption rather than guilt
is traceable to the same source. ^
But it should be pointed out that Greek monism also passed
over into Ohristian tradition in the assumption that evil
is not a positive but.a negative conception.
Evil is pri­
marily ignorance, delusion, and the true remedy for it is
Gnosticism has been called "the boldest and grandest
syncretism the world has ever beheld"*
It was especially
concerned with the origin of the world and of evil.
borrowed its theory of the worldTs origin from paganism and
the idea of redemption from Christianity.
In nearly all
of the Gnostic systems there lies the dualism of God and
4''Wm• Adams Brown, Christian Theology in Outline,
(He?/ York, Scribners, 1906) pp. 175, 176.
5 Professor Kurtz, Church History (New York, Punk and
Wagnalls, 1889) Vol. I, p. 99.
Ibid, p. 100.
God was derived from a long series of aeons who are
intermediaries in the creation, development and redemption
of the world*
There was a first aeon, the First Father,
together with Thought, Silence, Mind, Truth, the Word, Life
and others including the Demiurge;apparently identified with
the God of the Old Testament*
The Demiurge was the
creator: “Having formed the world he created also the earth­
ly man***.and into this earthly man as they carefully distinguish, he breathed the animal man” .
step towards redemption*
aeon appears as redeemer*
This is the first
Then in the fulness of God a higher
His appearance is only illusory,
“Seeing that matter is derived from the Evil, he
appears in a seeming body or at baptism identified himself
with the messiah sent by the Demiurge” .^
“This was he who
passed through many as water passes through a pipe”
The essential fact for our purpose is that the Gnostics
were dualists.
The dualism of the Gnostics was not a side issue
with them but a fundamental tenet of their philosophy*
Interpreting the Platonic contrast between matter and
spirit, the visible and the invisible, in the light
of the radical Oriental dualism of the good and the
bad, they regarded spirit and matter not simply as
higher and lower orders of existence but as always
and necessarily enemies. The whole material universe
they condemned as essentially and irremedially b a d. H
7 Ireneus, Against Heresies, I, 1:1.
Ibid., I, V:5.
9, op ,cit *, Vp 1”;11 j-p. 100.
10 Ireneaus, op,cit., I, VII:2.
1 1 A. C. McGiffert, God of the Early Christians (New
York, Scribners, 1924), p. 107.
Gnosticism was the result of the attempt to blend
with Christianity the religious notions of pagan mythology,
theosophy, and philosophy*
It was especially concerned
with the origin of the world and of evil.
It borrowed
largely from paganism its theory of the world*3 origin#
nearly all of the Gnostic systems there is taught a dualism
of God and matter*
Matter is sometimes regarded in the
Platonic sense as non-essential and non-substantial and
hence not opposed to God and sometimes in the Parsee sense
as inspired and dominated by an evil principle and hence in
violent opposition to the good God.
Some Gnostics thought the world created by an evil
Their proof of it was that the world was evil.
the Old Testament was rejected because it v/as inspired by
Jehovah who must have been evil since the work of his hands
was evil*
Christ was the son, not of Jehovah, but of the
supreme God.
Jehovah was the Demiurge.
The great difficulty that faced believers in a good
and perfect God was the fact of the failures and imperfec­
tions of the present world.
To those who held the mon­
istic theory of creation the natural explanation was the
hypothesis of a lapse.
The *fall from original righteousness1 was carried
back from the earthly paradise to the sphere of
divinity itself. The theory was shaped in various
ways, some of which are expressed by almost unin12 Kurtz, op.cit., Vol. I, pp. 98-100.
telligible symbols. That of the widely-spread school
of Valentinus was that the Divine wisdom herself had
become subject to passion, and that having both
ambition and desire, she had produced from herself
a shapeless mass, in ignorance that the Unbegotten
One alone, can, without the aid of another produce
what is perfect* Out of this shapeless mass, and the
passions that come forth from her, arose the material
world and the Dcmiurgu3 who fashioned it* Another
theory was that of revolt and insurrection among the
supernal powers. ™
It was undoubtedly second century Gnosticism that
forced the Church to face the question of evil and creation*
One of the first of the Gnostics was Cerinthus a younger
contemporary of the Apostle John in Asia minor.
There is a
tradition that the apostle meeting Cerinthus in a bath
hastened out of the building lest it should fall upon the
enemy of truth. 14 Irenaeus describes him as follows:
And a certain Cerinthus too in Asia taught that
the world was not made by the First God, but by a
certain power far separated and distant from the
Royalty which is above all, and which knows not the
God who is over all* 15
For the most part the Gnostics fell into the error
of supposing that all evil in the world was caused by an
inferior God who created the world, while the supreme God
was a remote spiritual being who was the author of all
spiritual life.
According to Valentinus the Demiurge
13 Hatch, op* cit., p* 193
14 Kurtz, op*cit♦, Vol. I, p. 104.
15 Irenaeus, op *cit *, I, XXVI, 1.
16 Leighton Pullan, The Church of the Fathers
(London, Rivingtons, 1912), p* 46.
made the world.
The creation of the world is thus accounted
for by the fall of divine being who first becomes emptied
of her divine nature by bringing forth Christ.
If as is
probable Valentinus considered the aeons merely to be
thoughts of God, the fall from original righteousness began
in God*s own mind itself.
About 140 A.D. lived Marcion
who tried to find a metaphysical explanation for these
antagonisms and found it in the Gnostic theory of a supreme
God and an inferior God.
!rHe held that it wou3.d be blas­
phemy to suppose that the supreme God created the world,
Hermogenes, a painter of North Africa who lived about
200 A.D., opposed the Catholic doctrine of creation as well
as the Gnostic theory of emanation because it made God the
author of evil.
He assumed an eternal chaos from whose
striving against the creative and formative influence of God
he explained the origin of everything evil and vile.
There is no extant writing of Hermogenes but his
position that God in creation used pre-existent matter re­
sulted In Tertullian^ discussion on the subject of creation
ex nihilo.
Hermogenes begins, so Tertullian says,
with laying down the premiss (sic), that the Lord
made all things either out of Himself, or out of
17 Ibid., P. 54.
18 Ibid., p. 59.
19 Kurtz, op.cit., Vol. I, p. 119.
nothing, or out of something; in order that, after
he has shown that it was impossible for Him to have
made them either out of Himself or out of nothing, he
might thence affirm the residuary proposition that
He made them out of something, and therefore that that
something was Matter. He could not have made all
things, he says, of Himself; because whatever things
the Lord made of Himself would have been parts of
Himself; but He is not dissoluble into parts, be­
cause, being the Lord, He is indivisible, and unchange­
able, and always the same....he contends that He could
not have made all things out of nothing— thus: He de­
fines the Lord as a being who is good, nay, very good,
who must will to make things as good and excellent
as He is Himself; indeed it were impossible for Him
either to will or to make anything which was not
good, nay, very good itself. Therefore, all things
ought to have been made good and excellent by Him,
after His own condition. Experience shows, however,
that things which are even evil were made by Him:
not, of course, of His own will and pleasure; be­
cause, if it had been of His own will and pleasure,
He would be sure to have made nothing unfitting or
unworthy of Himself. That, therefore, which He made
not of His own will must be understood to have been
made from the fault of something, and that is from
Matter, without a doubt.
The large following gained by Gnosticism explains in
part the large volume of literature that grew up to oppose
Gnosticism attracted the crowd by its mysterious rites
ceremonies* It took possession of the whole pagan
world by the mystic charms and by its claim to satisfy at
once the mind and the heart; while at the same time in
most Gnostic systems, it emphasized a stern and uncompromising morality. 21
20 Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, II.
21 Rudolf Sohm, Outlines of Church History (London,
Macmillan, 1921) P. 30.
It may be said that the very early church was not
primarily interested in the idea of evil.
That fact ex­
plains the lack of any definite early form of the Atonement,
During the formation (that is, during the patristic
period) of *orthodox* Christian theology, the eluci­
dation and definition of the first two of the funda­
mental doctrines, namely, those of the Trinity and
Incarnation, absorbed most of the time and energy of
Christian thinkers, and comparatively little effort
was made to impose a clear cut philosophic form on
the idea of the Atonement.
By the second century the early fathers were greatly con­
cerned with the relation of evil to creation.
For a time
there v/as a difference of opinion as to whether God created
the world ex nihi1o or out of pre-existent materials.
was the later prophetic suggestion of creation out of
nothing and an apparent common Jewish belief that God
created it from nothing.
"Look up into the heavens and the
earth and see all things that are therein, and know that
God made them out of things that were not . 11 (II Maccabbees,
This view found its way into early Christian liter­
The earliest expression of this is found in a
document of the early second century, the "Shepherd of Hennas”
"First of all believe that God is one: who made all things
and perfected them and made all things to be out of that
tt P
which was not”
1 K. E. Kirk, Study of Theology (New York, Harpers,
1939) p. 53.
2 Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate ,1.
There was little New Testament evidence to support
this theory.
In Hebrews 11:3 appear the words !,by faith
we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of
God, so that things which are seen were not made of things
whiGh do appear,K but as . .. Hall points out* "things which
do not appear are not by the very meaning of terms necessarily equivalent to nothing".
There, seems
to be amongsome
the early fathers a general acceptance of the theory that
the world was created out of pre-existent matter of one
sort or another*
The creation story suggests a dark and
watery chaos existing before God began to create.
Martyr clearly accepts the view of pre-existing matter.
We are taught, and most firmly believe and know,
that they only are the accepted worshippers and
believers of God who form their minds by the mind
eternal, and express it in temperance, justice,
humanity, and such other virtues as are the
essential excellences of the divine nature, of the
more proper utmost perfection of him who is a God
unnameable: And this almighty being, so good in
Himself, made all things in the beginning for the
good ofunan out of the chaos of rude, illfavored
It should be pointed out that there is a possibility that
the thought of Justin Martyr was that the chaos
of rude
ill-favored matter was the earth which was without form and
void after the beginning.
If, however, it means what it
appears to mean, it has a Greek background.
3 P. J. Hall, Creation and Man (New York, Longmans
Green Inc. 1912), p. 51
4 I Apology, 1:10.
. McGiffert has said that ffThis was a common
Greek idea, the notion that something could be made out
of nothing being regarded as wholly irrational:
and it is
very likely under Greek influence that it was shared by
certain Jews and Christians.11^
And according to Pullan,
tfThe Apologists were too sure of the spiritual being of
God to confuse Him with nature*
They were, therefore, in­
clined to present Christianity to their readers in a Pla­
tonic form .
As more fully representing the view of Justin Martyr
I have chosen the following passage:
We are also taught, that He in His goodness
created all things in the beginning from shapeless
matter, for the sake of men, ?/ho, if by their works
they approve themselves worthy of His design, shall,
we believe, be thought worthy of a dwelling with
Him, there to reign with Him free henceforth from
corruption and suffering* For as He created us
at first when we were not, so also we believe that
He will hold those who choose what is pleasing to
Him worthy, because of their choice, of immortality
and of dwelling with Himself* For though our birth
was not originally our own doing, yet in order
that we may choose to follow what is pleasing to
Him, He, by the reasonable faculties which He has
bestowed on us, both persuades us, and leads us,
to faith; and we think that it is to the benefit
of all men that they are not prohibited from the
knowledge of these things, but are even urged to
turn their attention to them; for what human laws
were incapable of doing, that the Word, which is
Divine, would effect, were it not that the evil
demons, aided by the wicked and varied inclination
to evil, which is in the nature of every man, have
5 A. C* McGiffert, God of the Early Christians.
York, Scribners, 1924) p. 157
6 Leighton Pullan, The Church of the Fathers (London,
Rivingtons, 1912) p* 82
scattered about so many false and godless accusations,
of which none apply to us*1?
The Pastor of Hermas was one of the most popular
books, if not the most popular book, in the Christian
Church during the second, third, and fourth centuries*
is isaid to have been written by Hermas of Rome about 160
The more common title tfShepherd of Hermasn, derives
from an incident in the book where an angel appears in the
form of a shepherd instructing Hermas.
The book, written
in Greek, was recognized by Irenaeus as Scripture and by
Clemens Alexandrinus and Origen, as divinely inspired.
is especially important as reflecting the tone and style
of books which interested and instructed the Christians of
the second and third centuries.
0 Pool, senseless and doubting, do you not perceive
how great is the glory of God, and how strong and
marvelous, in that He created the world for the sake
of man, and subjected all creation to him, and gave
him power to rule over everything under heaven?”
God, who dwells in the heavens, and made out of
nothing the things that e x i s t ^
Tatian, an Assyrian Greek, was converted to Christ­
ianity in Rome by Justin Martyr about 150 A*D*
In his
later years by reason of his exaggeration of the Pauline
antithesis of flesh and spirit he was led to propound a
theory of dualistic opposition between the God of the law,
7 I Apology,10.
8 Hermas, Comxnandments, II, 12, 4.
9 Hermas, Vis * I, 1.
the demiurge, and the God of the Gospel.
The only extant
work of Tatian is his !lAddress to the Greeks” although
several other works are said to have "been composed by him;
of these, a Diatessaron, or Harmony of the Pour Gospels, is
specially mentioned.
”And as the Logos, begotten in the beginning,
begat in turn our world, having first created for Him­
self the necessary matter....
”For matter is not, like God, without beginning, nor,
as having no beginning, is of equal power with God; it is
begotten, and not produced by any other being, but brought
into existence by the Framer of all things alone.”
For the heavenly Logos, a spirit emanating from
the Father and a Logos from the Logos-power, in
imitation of the Father who begat Him made man an
image of immortality, so that, as incorruption is
with God, in like manner, man, sharing in a part
of God, might have the immortal principle also*
The Logos, too, before the creation of men, was
the Framer of angels. And each of these two orders
of creatures was made free to act as it pleased,
not having the nature of good, which again is with
God alone, but is brought to perfection in men
through their freedom of choice, in order that the
bad man may be justly punished, having become
depraved through his own fault, but the just man
be deservedly praised for his virtuous deeds, since
in the exercise of his free choice he refrained from
transgressing the will of God*12
We were not created to die, but we die by our
own fault. Our free-will has destroyed us; we who
were free have become slaves; we have been sold
10 Tatian to the Greeks, IV.
11 Ibid, IV.
12 Ibid, VII.
through sin* Nothing evil has "been created "by
God; we ourselves have manifested wickedness; hut
we, who have manifested it, are able again to re­
ject it *13
Athenagoras was an Athenian philsopher who em­
braced Christianity and presented his Apology to the
Emperors Aurelius and Commodus about 177 A.D*
nHe is
by far the most elegant, and certainly at the same time
one of the ablest, of the,early Christian Apologists11
When a tender and susceptible soul, which has
no knowledge or experience of sounder doctrines,
and is unaccustomed to contemplate truth, and
to consider thoughtfully the Father and Maker of
all things, gets impressed with false opinions
respecting itself, then the demons who hover about
matter, greedy of sacrificial odours and the blood
of victims, and ever ready to lead men into error,
av&il themselves of these delusive movements of
the souls of the multitude; and, taking possession
of their thoughts, cause to flow into the mind
empty visions as if coming from the idols and the
statues; and when, too, a soul of itself, as being
immortal, moves conformably to reason, either pre­
dicting the future or healing the present, the
demons claim the glory for themselves*15
For as is the potter and the clay (matter being
the clay, and the artist the potter), so is God,
the Framer of the world, and matter, which is
subservient to Him for the purposes of His art*
But as the clay cannot become vessels of itself
without art, so neither did matter, which is
capable of taking,all forms, receive, apart from
13 Tatian to the Greeks, X I .
14 A* Roberts and J* Donaldsen, Editors, The Ante
Mc e n e Fathers, (Buffalo, C.L.P*C., 1885) II P. 127
15 Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians,
God the Framer, distinction and shape and order*
But to us, who distinguish God from matter,
and teach that matter in one thing and God another,
and that they are separated by a wide interval
(for that the Deity is uncreated and eternal, to
be beheld by the understanding and reason alone,
while matter is created and perishable), is it
not absurd to apply the name of atheism?!’?
Theophilus, born a pagan, was converted to
Christianity about the middle of the second century.
owed his conversion to a careful study of the Holy Scrip­
He was bishop of Antioch from 168 until his death
in 181 or 186 A.D.
The three books addressed to Autolycus
are the only remaining specimens of his writings.
is closely allied in spirit with Justin and Irenaeus. 18
Theophilus reiterates time and again the principle
of creation ex nihilo.
11And he is called God on account
of His having placed all things on security afforded by
„ 19 ,,
"He is Lord, because He rules over the uni­
verse; Father, because he is before all things; Fashioner
and Maker, because He is creator and maker of the universe; u
nAnd all things God has made out of things that were not
into things that are, in order that through His works His
greatness may be known and understood.11
Ibid* XV
Ibid., IV
A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, Editors, op.cit., II,p.87
To Autolycus I, IV.
Ibid.,I, IV
Ibid.,I, IV
“And the earth was without form, and void, and
darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the
Spirit of God moved upon the water11. This, sacred
Scripture teaches at the outset, to show that
matter, from which God made and fashioned the
world, was in some manner created, being produced
by God.22
Theophilus, therefore, understands that when in the first
verse it is said that God created the earth, it is meant
that He created the matter of which the earth is formed*
“But the power of God is shown in this, that, first of
all, He creates out of nothing, according to His will,
the things that are made.
n 23
But when a law has commanded abstinence from
anything, and someone has not obeyed, it is obvious­
ly not the law which causes punishment, but the
disobedience and transgression;....Not, therefore,
as if there were any evil in the tree of knowledge;
but from his disobedience did man draw, as from a
fountain, labour, pain, grief, and at last fall a
prey to death.24
“For God made man free, and with power over
22 IbicLjII, X.
23 To Autolycus, II, XIII.
24 To Autolycus, II, XXV.
25 To Autolycus.II. XXVII.
Irenaeus, a pupil of Polycarp, was a. native of Asia
He is said to have lived in Rome, at the time of
Polycarp*s death, as a teacher.
Later he settled in Gaul
and held the office of presbyter in Lyons and became Bishop
of Lyons in 178.
In his writing he was a determined and
successful opponent of heretical Gnosticism*
controversialist but a restrained one.
He was a
Kurtz speaks of
His tfgentleness and moderation, combined with earnestness
and decision, as well as the most lively interest in the
catholicity of the Church and the purity of its Doctrine. « 1
Pour quotations will serve to present his view of creation
and his treatment of Gnosticism.
The main position of
Irenaeus was that God created matter, and that he molded
it into form by his Logos.
God is creator and all things are formed through the
All things moreover which were made, He made by
His unweariable Word. For this is proper to the
transcendent excellency of God, not to need other
instruments for the creation of the things which are
made; and His.own Word is meet and able to form all
things: as John also the Lordfs Disciple saith of
Him; All things were made by Him, and without Him
was nothing made.
Ditheism is not to be endured:
For who that hath understanding, and that touches
1. Kurtz, Church History (Funk and Wagnalls, N.Y.,
1889) Vol. I, 31:2.
£ Against Heresies, II, 2,4-5.
the truth ever so littie, will endure them saying,
that there is another Father above God the Framer
of the world: and that there is both another
Only Begotten, and another Word of God, whom also
they affirm to have been produced in inferiority;
and another Ghrist, who they say was made, with the
Holy Ghost, later than the other aeons; and another
Saviour who is not even of the Father of all, but
is contributed to and put together by those Aeons
who were made in inferiority, and was produced by
a kind of fatality, because of their low estate; so
that had the Aeons not been in ignorance and in­
feriority, by their account neither would Christ
have emanated, nor the Holy Ghost, nor the Power
of Order, nor the Saviour, nor the Angels, nor
their Mother, nor her seed, nor the rest of the
framing of the world, but all had been deserted and
destitute of so many blessings*3
Ditheism defeats its own purposes:
And all this suits equally well for a reply to
Marcionfs sect also* For his two Gods also will be
comprehended and circumscribed by an indefinite in­
terval, separating them one from another: And in this
way we must needs imagine in every direction many
Gods parted by an indefinite interval, having as
towards each other both beginnings and terminations;
and by the argument by which they try to shew that
there is some Pleroma or God above the Framer of
Heaven and Earth, by use of that same argument one
may make out, that above the Pleroma there is another
Pleroma, and above that again another, and above
the Deep another ocean of Godhead, and that the same
exist on the several sides of them in like manner:
and so their view will lose itself in infinity, i*e*,
they will be forced continually to be imagining
other Pleromata and other Deeps, and nowhere at any
time to stay themselves, ever seeking fresh ones be­
sides those which have been mentioned* And it will
be uncertain, whether these parts, whereabouts we are,
are below, or whether the same be the higher regions,
the parts which they call Above, whether they be
above or below: so will there be nothing stationary
nor fixed to limit our conception, but it will be
forced to go forth among immense worlds and in­
definite Gods*4
3 Against Heresies, II, 19:9
4 Ibid*, II, 1:4*
The assertion of creation by inferior gods is sin:
But they who say that the world was framed by
Angels, or by some other fabricator thereof contrary
to His mind Who is Father above all: sin first in
the mere circumstance of affirming such and so
great a creation to have been wrought by Angels,
contrary to the will of the First God, As though
Angels were more powerful than God, or again as
though He were negligent, or defective, or without
care of what is done in His own dominions, whether
it be done ill or well, to scatter and restrain
the one, the other to approve with joy: now this
no one would attribute even to a man of any skill:
how much less to God I ®
Titus Flavius Clement, born about the middle of
the second century, was originally a pagan philosopher
but later became the illustrious head of the Catechetical
School at Alexandria.
Among his pupils were Origen and
Forced to retire from Alexandria in 202 A.D.
he spent his remaining days teaching in Jerusalem and
He died about 220 A.D.
The Stromata, originally in eight volumes, is a work
the aim of which, in opposition to Gnosticism, is to fur­
nish the materials for the construction of a true gnosis,
a Christian philosophy, on the basis of faith,
and to
lead on to this higher knowledge those who, by the discipline of the paedagogus, had been trained for it.
fIWhat is voluntary is either what is by desire, or
what is by choice, or what is of intention.
For neither did the Lord suffer by the will1 of. the
5 Against Herasies, II, 2:1.
6 Roberts and Donaldson, Editor^ The Ante-Nicene
Fathers, (Buffalo, C.I.P.C., 1885) I I P . T 6 8
7 Stromata. II, xv
Father, nor are those who are persecuted persecuted
by the will of God;...*But nothing is without the
will of the Lord of the universe. It remains to
say that such things happen without the prevention
of God; for this alone saves both the providence
and the goodness of God. 8
Assuredly sin is an activity, not an existence:
and therefore is not a work of God. Now sinners
are called enemies of God--enemies that is, of
the commands which they do not obey, as those who
obey become friends, the one names so from their
fellowship, the others from their estrangement,
which is the result of free choice. 9
So in no respect is God the author of evil.
But since free choice and inclination originate
sins, and a mistaken judgment sometimes prevails,
from which, since it is ignorance and stupidity, we
do not take pains to recede, punishments are right­
ly inflicted. For to take fever Is involuntary;
but when one takes fever through his own fault,
from excess, we blame him. 10
The followers of Basilides say that faith as well
as choice is proper according to every interval;
and that in consequence of the supremundance se­
lection mundane faith accompanies all nature, and
that the free gift of faith is comformable to the
hope of each. Faith, then, is no longer the direct
result of free choice, if it is a natural advan­
Hippolytus (170-235), a presbyter and afterwards
schismatical bishop at Rome, was a great advocate of the
Logos Christology.
He was the most learned Christian
writer then in the city, and the last considerable
theologian there to use Greek rather than Latin as his
8 Stromata, IV, XII
9 Stromata, IV, XIII
10 BinomaJia, I, XVII
11 Stromata, II, III
vehicle of expression*
As a commentator, chronicler,
calculator of Easter dates, Apologist, and opponent of
heretics, he was held in such high repute that his
follov/ers erected after his death the earliest Christian
portrait statue knownm ip He taught that the Logos was
the Perfect Son from eternity*
He was a disciple of
Irenaeus, and the spirit of his life-work reflects that of
his master* 13
The first and only (one God), both creator and
Lord of all, had nothing coeval with Himself, not
infinite chaos, nor measureless water, nor solid
earth, nor dense air, not warm fire, nor refined spirit,
nor the azure canopy of the stupendous firmament* But
He was one, alone in Himself* By an exercise of His
will He created things that are, which antecedently _
had no existence, except that He willed to make them. ^
Cerinthus, however, himself having been trained
in Egypt, determined that the world was not made
by the first God, but by a certain angelic power*
And this power was far separated and distant from
that sovereignty which is above the entire circle
of existence, and it knows not the God (that is)
above all things* And he says that Jesus was not
born of a virgin, but that He sprang from Joseph
and Mary as their son, similar to the rest of men;
and that He excelled in justice, and prudence* and
understanding above all the rest of mankind.
Tertullian was the son of a heathen centurion of
Carthage converted to Christianity somewhat late in life*
about 190 A*D.
In his works we find full discussions
12 W. Walker, A History of the Christian Church
(Hew York, Scribners, 1937) p* 74*
13 Roberts and Donaldson, op.cit♦, V, p. 3.
14 Refutation of all Heresies,X , 28.
15 Ibid*,X, 17.
of creation with the assumption that G-od is creator ex
nihilo and the implication of a pre-creation fall of
All things formed by God are good*
Man is
°the author of all crimes0 . Tertullian was a zealous
opponent of Gnosticism*
The following quotations may be
considered as representative of his general point of view:
But besides there is not a man who putteth not
forth this pretence likewise: ’that all things were
formed by God and given unto man, (as we teach), and
so are good, as coming all from a good Author: that
among such are to be reckoned all those by which the
public shows are furnished, the horse for instance,
and the lion, and the powers of the body, and the
sweet music of the voice’: that therefore nothing
can be deemed foreign from nor hateful to God, which
is a part of His own creation, and that that must
not be reckoned as a sin, which is not hateful to
God, because not foreign from Him. °
Ho one denieth, because no one is ignorant of
that which nature of herself teacheth, that God is
the Maker of the whole world, and that that world
is both good, and placed under the dominion of man*
We must therefore consider not only by Whom all
things were made, but from what they are turned
away; for ,so will it be seen to what use they Y/ere,
if it be seen to what they were not, made. 18
What is there that offendeth God which is not of
God? but when it offendeth, it hath ceased to be
of God, and Y/hen it hath ceased, it offendeth.
Man himself, the author of all crimes, is not only
the work, but also the image of God, and yet both
in body, and spirit, he hath fallen away from his
Maker. 19
We therefore who, knowing God, have seen also
16* Of Public Shows, II
• koc*
18. hoc.cit.
19. hoc, cit.
His ..adversary, who having found out the Maker have
found at the same time the corrupter likewise,
ought not to wonder nor doubt in this matter. When
the power of that corrupting and adverse angel in
the beginning cast down from his irmocency man
himself, the ?/ork and the image of God, the Lord
of the whole world, he changed like himself, into
perverseness against his Maker, the whole substance
of man, made, like himself, for innocency: so that
in that very thing, which it had grieved him should
be granted to man and not to himself, he might
make man guilty before God, and establish his own
Origen, born of Christian parents of Alexandria
about 185 A#D., was considered a miracle of scholarship*
By posterity he has been honored as the actual founder
of an ecclesiastical and scientific theology and re­
proached, as the originator of many heresies*
He believed
in timeless creation and ante-temporal fall of human souls,
their imprisonment in earthly bodies, and in the restora­
tion of all spirits to their original ante-temporal bless­
edness and holiness*
Origen placed the beginning of sin both in demons
and men before the creation of the world*
As far as the
sins of individuals were concerned he distinguishes be­
tween those that, could be accounted for by the instigation
of demons and others that were due to man’s natural de­
sires innocent in themselves but running to excess*21
evils relatively few and unimportant have resulted from
20 Of Public Shows, II*
— ■— —
21 De Principes, II, 9,6 and III 2.
His principle works?1
n8ome porphorio or external evils
were sent by God for discipline# «23
Before the middle of the third century Origen
teaches that creation ex nihilo is a part of the teaching
of the apostles and the creed of the church*
The particular points clearly delivered in the
teaching of the apostles are as follov/:- First,
that there is one God, who created and arranged
all things, and who, when nothing existed, called
all things into being*... ^
Among the spiritual beings created in eternity, there
were some who fell from their high estate into sin*
For the
sake of their redemption the world was created that it might
be a place of discipline for them.
The will is free and man has the power of choice.
This also is clearly defined in the teaching
of the Church,, that every rational soul is possess­
ed of free will and volition; that it has a
struggle to maintain with the devil and his
angels, and opposing influences, because they
strive to burden it with sins. 25
His theory of the origin of the devil is vague but
consistent with the contemporary opinion.
Regarding the devil and his angels, and the
opposing influences, the teaching of the Church
has laid down that these beings exist indeed;
but What they are, or how they exist, it has not
been explained with sufficient clearness. This
22 Against Celsus,6, 55.
23 Ibid., 6, 56.
24 De Principes, Fref. 4.
25 De Princioes, Preface 5.
opinion, however, is held, by most, that the devil
was an angel, and that, having become an apostate,
he induced as many of the angels as possible to
fall away with himself, and these up to the present
time are called his angels.26
It is almost impossible to say precisely who of
three or four hamed Theodotus (all ’’heretics”), may have
compiled ’’Excerpts of Theodotus1’.
The work is valuable
chiefly as illustrating certain heresies of the second
It is also of considerable importance as con­
firming the orthodox writers in those books and doctrines
to which it bears witness in coincidence with them.^
’’Wherefore God has endowed the world with free choice,
that He may show it its duty, and that it choosing, may rei
t! ^ 8
ceive and retain.
Bardesan, or Bardesanes, was born at Edessa in
154 A.D. and died sometime between 224 and 230.
Christian with some Zoroastrian ideas.
He was a
He at first be­
longed to the Gnostic sect of the Valentinians but abandon­
ing it, he seemed to come nearer the orthodox beliefs*
’’The Book of the Laws of Divers Countries” astrology and
fatalism are combated from a Christian standpoint.
It will therefore be manifest to you, that the
goodness of God is great toward man, and that freedom
has been given to him in greater measure than to
any of those elemental bodies of which we have
Preface^ 6
27 Roberts and Donaldson, Op,cit., VII>p. 41.
28 Excerpts of Theodotus, xxii.
spoken, in order that by this freedom he may justify
himself, and order his conduct in a godlike manner,
and be copartner with angels, who are likewise
possessed of personal freedom* For we are sure
that, if the angels likewise had not been possessed
of personal freedom, they would not have consorted
with the daughters of men, and sinned, and fallen
from their places. In like manner, too, those
other angels, who did the will of their Lord, were,
by reason of their self-control, raised to higher
rank, and sanctified, and received noble gifts. ^9
Archelaus, Bishop of Charra or Haran in Mesopotamia,
is said to have written his disputation in 277 A.D. after
a discussion with Manes who had fled into Mesopotamia.
For all the creatures that God made, He made
very good; and He gave to every individual the sense
of free-will, in accordance with which standard
He also instituted the law of judgment. To sin is
ours, and that we sin not is God!s gift, as our
will is constituted to choose either to sin or not
to s i n . 3 0
Hence also certain of the angels, refusing to sub­
mit themselves to the commandment of God, resisted
His will; and one of them indeed fell like a flash
of lightning upon the earth, while others, harassed
by the dragon, sought their felicity in intercourse
with the daughters of men, and thus brought on them­
selves the merited award of the punishment of eternal
fire. And that angel who v/as cast down to earth,
finding no further admittance into any of the re­
gions of heaven, now flaunts about among men, de­
ceiving them, and luring them to become transgressors
like himself, and even to this day he is an adversary
to the commandments of God.31
Arnobius was traditionally a teacher of rhetoric
at Sicca, in Africa, about 300 A.D.
He is supposed to
29 Bardesan, The Book of the Laws of Divers Countries.
30 Archelaus, The Acts of the Disputation with
the Heresiarch Manes, 32.
31 Loc. cit.
have published hh seven books against the heathen in
order to convince the bishop of Sicca of his sincerity to
ward Christianity.
He was the teacher of Lactantius who
was appointed tutor of Constantine1s son Crispus and who
achieved eminence among the Fathers by his writings.
••.nothing proceeds from God Supreme which is
hurtful and pernicious. This we are assured of,
this we know, on this one truth of knowledge and
science we take our stand,--that nothing is made
by Him except that which is for the well-being
of all, which is agreeable, which is very full of
love and joy and gladness, which has unbounded
and imperishable pleasures, which every one may
ask in all his prayers to befall him, and think
that otherwise life is pernicious and fatal*32
Lactantius (260-330) was converted to Christianity
about 301 A.D*
The purity of his style and eloquence of
composition have won for him the name Hthe Christian
His principal work is nThe Christian Institu-
tionsff, in seven books, designed to supplement the less
complete treatises of Minucius Felix, Tertullian, and Cy­
His claims as a theologian are open to question;
for he holds peculiar opinions on many points, and he
appears more successful as an opponent of error than as a
maintainer of the truth.
I have already in a former place explained,
that God at the same time set before him good and
evil, and that He loves the good, and hates the
evil which is contrary to this; but that He per­
mitted the evil on account, that the good also
might shine forth, since, as I have often taught,
32 Arnobius against the Heathen, II, 55*
we understand that the one cannot exist without
the other; in short, that the world itself is
made up of two elements opposing and connected
with one another, of fire and moisture, and that
light could not have been made unless there has
also been darkness*33
Athanasius (296-373) while apparently not concerned
with the origin of evil emphasized the Stoic principle of
the D ivine immane nc e *
For' the world itself may be thought of as one
great body in which God indwells; and if He is
in the whole, He is also in the parts. It is no
more unworthy of God that He should incarnate Him­
self in one man, than it is that He should dwell
in the world. Since He abides in humanity, which
is a part of the universe, it is not unreasonable
that He should take up His abode in a man who
should thus become the organ by which God acts on
the universal life.34
He also asserts creation ex nihilo#
uFor God creates,
in that He calls what is not into being, needing nothing
33 Lactantius treatise on the anger of God Addressed
to Donatus, XV .
34 Athanasius, De Incar.,c.41. cited by Alexander
V.G.Allen, The continuity of Chr* Thought. (Boston, Houghton,
Mifflin, & Co., 18871 p. S3
35 Epistle of A* Athanasius, In Defence of the
Nicene Definition, III, 9.
Of the Latin fathers Augustine is chosen as typical
because in him the theories of the early fathers pertaining
to creation and froe-will found their fuller expression*
Augustine was born in 354 at Tagaste in Numidia.
As a
youth he gave himself to the pursuit of worldly pleasures
and sensuality.
At about the age of 20 he became a cate­
chumen of the Manichaens.
Disillusioned he went to Milan
and became a teacher of rhetoric.
Under the influence
of Ambrose and a Christian mother he began to study the
scriptures and at Easter in 387 A.D. he was baptized by
In 396 he was made Bishop of Hippo and from that
date he became the center of all ecclesiastical and theo­
logical life throughout the whole western world.
McGiffert contrasts Augustine*s interpretation
of creation with that of Origen.
eternal process.
Origen made creation an
ffAs a spirit God is necessarily active
therefore creative and there can never therefore hahe
been a time when He was not creating.
Had there been such
a time, He therefore would have never been a God.”
Augustine, however, creation implies change and change
implies time.
!,Creation therefore took place not in time
but with time”.2
Augustine as well as Origen taught that
1 A. C. McGiffert, God of the Early Christians,
(New York, Scribners, 1924) p. 174
2 Loc.cit.
creation is continuous and not instantaneous.
nGod creat­
ed at the beginning of time and continues to create out
of nothing.11
It is worthy of note that this theory has
come down from Augustine through the middle ages to the
Hall, who may be considered typical of orthodox
Anglican theologians, says
Yet, if the universe of creatures began to be in
the beginning of time, it is everlasting* There
never was a time when it was not. The Divine act
of creation, being eternal never began; but its
substantial effect having a temporal nature, did
begin to be, and is everlasting only in the sense
of coinciding in duration with the duration of time.4
This was a reversal of the earlier Patristic theory.
Martyr and Irenaeus seemed to assume that after six days
work creation came to an end*
Augustine!s philosophy of evil is clearly set forth
in his tfGonf ess ionsw •
11And I sought, *whence is evilf, and
sought in an evil way; and saw not the evil in my very
Where is evil then, and whence, and how crept
it in hither? What is its root, and what its seed?
Or hath it no being? Why then fear we and avoid
what is not? Or if we fear it idly, then is that
very fear evil, whereby the soul is thus idly
goaded and racked. Yea, and so much a greater
3 De G-enesia ad Litteran, IV, 12.
4 P. J. Hall, Being and Attributes of God (New York,
Longmans Green IncT, 1912) pp 273-274*
5 McGiffert, op.cit., p. 174 loc.cit.
6 Confessions, VII, V.
evil, as we have nothing to fear, and yet do fear.
Therefore either is that evil which we fear, or
else evil is', that we fear. Whence is it then?
Seeing God, the Good, hath created all these things
I sought anxiously rwhence was evil?* What were
the pangs of my teeming heart, what groans, 0 my
God 1 yet even there were Thine ears open, and I
knew it not: and when in silence I vehemently sought,
those"silent contritions of my soul were strong
cries unto Thy mercy. Thou knewest what I suffered,
and no m a n . S
And it was manifested unto me, that those things
be good, which yet are corrupted; which neither were
they sovereignly good, nor unless they were good,
could be corrupted; for if sovereignly good, they
were incorruptible, if not good at all, there were
nothing in them to be corrupted. For corruption
injures, but unless it diminished goodness, it could
not injure. Either then corruption injures not,
which cannot be; or which-is most certain, all
which is corrupted is deprived of good. But if they
be deprived of all good, they shall cease to be. For
if they shall be, and can now no longer be corrupted,
they shall be better than before, because they shall
abide incorruptibly. And what more monstrous, than
to affirm things to become better by losing all
their good? Therefore, if they shall be deprived
of all good, they shall no longer be. So long
therefore as they are, they are good: therefore what­
soever is, is good. That evil then which I sought,
whence it is, is not any substance: for were it a
substance, it should be good. For either it should
be an incorruptible substance, and so a chief good:
or a corruptible substance; which unless it were
good, could not be corrupted. I perceived therefore,
and it was manifested to me, that Thou madest all
things good, nor is there any substance at all,
which Thou madest not; and for that Thou madest not
all things equal, therefore are all things; be­
cause each is good, and altogether very good, be­
cause God made all things very good.9
7 Loc.cit.
8 Ibid., VII, VII.
9 Ibid., VII, XII.
The search for the source of evil became an ab­
sorbing question to Augustine but it is apparent that he
was conscious of the difficulty of coming to grips with
its ultimate cause.
And to Thee is nothing whatsoever evil: yes, not
only to Thee, but also to Thy creation as a whole,
because there is nothing without, which may break
in, and corrupt that order which Thou hast appointed
it. But in'the parts thereof some things, because
unharmonizing with other some, are accounted evil:
whereas those very things harmonize with others,
and are good; and in themselves are good.l°
It seems strange that Augustine, so near to the
of the ultimate origin, does not grapple with it
at its base.
And I enquired what iniquity was, and found it to
be no substance, but the perversion of the will,
turned aside from Thee, 0 God, the Supreme, toy/ards
these lov/er things, and casting out its bowels, and
puffed up
But he will not answer why and how the will is perverted*
Creation ex-nihilo is definitely and fully insisted upon.
For certain have endeavored to persuade that
GOD THE FATHER IS MOT ALMIGHTY; not that they have
dared to assert this, but in their own traditions
are convicted of thus holding and believing. For
wherein they assert that there is a nature which
God Almighty created not, out of which nature
however He framed this world, which they grant hath
been beautifully set in order; they so deny God to
be Almighty, as not to believe that He could have
created the world, unless for the framing of it He
should make use of another nature, which was al­
ready in existence, and which Himself had not
created; forsooth from their carnal use of seeing
10 Ibid., VII, XIII.
11 Ibid., VII, XVI.
smiths, and house-builders, and workmen of all kinds,
who, unless they be aided by materials already pre­
pared, are unable to arrive at the effect of their
own art. For in this way they understand the
Framer of the world not to be Almighty, if He
were unable to frame the world, unless these should
aid Him, after the manner of materials, some na­
ture not framed by Him. Or if they allow that God
the Framer of the world is Almighty, they must of
necessity confess that He made of nothing those
things which He made. For there cannot exist any­
thing, whereof He were not Creator, being Almighty.12
God is all good and incapable of corruption.
There are also they who extend their defence of
self unto an accusation of God, wretched by the
divine judgment, but blasphemers by their own mad­
ness. For against Him they bring in from a con­
trary principle a substance of evil rebelling,
which He could not have resisted, had He not
blended with that same that was rebelling a portion
of His own Substance and Nature, for it to con­
taminate and corrupt; and they say that they then
sin when the nature of evil prevails over the
nature of God. This is that most unclean madness
of the Manichaeans, whose devilish devices the un­
doubted truth most easily overthrows; which con­
fesses that the nature of God is incapable of con­
tamination and corruption. But what wicked con­
tamination and corruption do they not deserve to
have believed of them, by whom God, Who is good in
the very highest degree, and in a way that admits
not of comparison, is believed to be capable of con­
tamination and corruption?-*-*^
The responsibility for the first wrong choice is
fixed on angels.
For He Who gave to men freedom of choice, that
they might serve God, not, as slaves, of compulsion,
but, as free men,, voluntarily, gave it also to
Angels, and therefore neither did that Angel, who
with other spirits his followers in his pride,
deserted the service of God, and became a devil,
12 Of Faith, and of the Greeds, 2.
13 Of Continence, 14.
in any sort harm God, but himself. For God knew
how to correct the souls which deserted Him, and
out of their just misery to furnish the inferior
parts of His creation with most fitting and
suitable laws in His marvellous dispensation.
Therefore neither did the devil in any sort harm
God, either in that he fell himself, or in that
he seduced man to his death; nor did man himself
in any sort take away from the truth, or power,
or blessedness of his Creator, in that, when his
wife had been seduced by the devil, he of his own
will consented unto her to do that which God had
forbidden* For by the most just laws of God all
were condemned, God shewing Himself glorious in the
justice of His retribution, they being put to shame
by the disgrace of their punishment, that so both
man turning away from his Creator might be subdued
and made subject to the devil, and the devil might
be set forth for man hereafter returning to his
Creator to overcome; in order that whosoever should
continue with the devil even to the end, might
with him go into eternal punishment and, on the
other hand, whosoever should humble themselves be­
fore God, and. by His grace overcome the devil, might
merit eternal rewards.
Certain angels therefore through impious pride
deserting God, and being cast down from their high
heavenly habitation into the lowest darkness of
this air, that number of angels which was left con­
tinued in eternal blessedness with God, and in
holiness* For the rest of the angels were not
descended from one who fell and was condemned, that
so original evil should bind them, as in the case
of man, with the chains of succession subject to
it, and draw down all to deserved punishments; but
when he, who became the devil, had become lifted
up together with the partners in his impiety, and,
by being thus lifted up, with them overthrown, the
rest with pious obedience clove to the Lord, re­
ceiving also, what the others had not, a certain
knowledge, to assure them of their eternal and un­
failing stedfastness• It therefore pleased God,....*
that, seeing that not the whole multitude of angels
had perished by deserting God, the part which had
perished should remain in eternal perdition; whilst
the part which had continued firm with God, when
14 Of the Catechizing of the Unlearned, 30.
tlie other forsook Him, should rejoice in the full
and certain knowledge of the eternity of its
future happiness: tout that, in that the other
rational creature which was in man, had perished
entire through sins and punishments tooth original
and actual, our of the renewal of a part of it should
toe supplied whatever loss that fall of the devil drought on the fellowship of the A n g e l s ,15
•♦•(the cause) of things evil is the will of a
toeing mutatoly good falling away from immutable good,
first that of an angel, then of man# This is the
first evil of a rational creature, that is, the
first withdrawing of good; then after this there
found way, now even against their will, ignorance
of things necessary to toe done, and desire of things
hurt£;ul; in company with which are drought in error
and pain: which two evils when they are perceived
to be hanging over us, the emotion of the mind en­
deavoring to flee from them is called fe a r ,
The Augustinian point of view may toe regarded as the
crystallization and elaboration of the earlier fathers,
God is good.
He has created all things from nothing#
is a perversion of the will and rebellion against the
purpose of God which rebellion v/as primarily the act of
an angel and later that of man.
15 Enchirdion to Laurentius on Faith, Hope and
Charity, 9.
16 Ibid,, 8,
There can be no question that the modern Catholic
doctrine of evil derives directly from St. Aughstine. Evil
is a perversion of will*
tlThe Evil is not any substance;
for were it a substance, it would be good....Thou madest
all things good, nor is there any substance at all which
thou madest not.”
!fI enquired what iniquity was and found
it to be no substance but the perversion of the will, turned
aside from thee 0 God*tf^
Evil is the result of the misuse
of free will in beings who were originally created good*
A typical and traditional Catholic interpretation of
the Anglican school puts it thus:
In creating the universe, God might, had it please.d him, have refrained from giving existence to
responsible creatures. He might have made nothing
higher in the scale of created life than the animals
now subject to man, giving the whole universe a
*law that which shall/not be broken1. But God de­
sired something greater than such a constrained
servel as this. He desired a free obedience and a
willing love, which nothing thus made could have
given Him. In His desire to secure such an un­
forced obedience and generous love, He created
angels and men endowing them with a gift which He
bestowed upon no other of his creatures. This gift
is that of moral freedom or free will. But if the
will is to be really free, it must be capable of
choosing evil as well as good*...The possession of
a free will implies the possible choice of evil as
well as good* Hence as far as we can see, the
possibility of doing evil is an unavoidable con­
dition of our trial here on earth. 3
1 Augustine, Confessions, VII, XII.
2 Ibid., VII, XVI.
3 Staley, The Catholic Religion (London, Mobray,
1908) p. 164.
Traditional theology is not willing to leave it
at that however*
Staley continues:
In the case of man, the temptation to do wrong
came from without* Man was tempted by the devil
the chief of the fallen angels. Thus as far as
our earth is concerned evil came from the devil.
Bishop Forbes, in summing up the question we are
considering says, fThe Catholic Christian enlighten­
ed by the Spirit, and overcome by a sense of his own
feebleness of intellect, traces the origin of evil
to the fall of the angels, and leaves it there.1
He believes evil to be no part of God*s original
creation, which was pronounced by God himself to be
very good."*
Thus the Augustinian point of view prevails even to
the theory of fallen angels which, incidentally, fails to
The existence of a devil who is chief of
the fallen angels is predicated only on the choice of the
Nevertheless by the sixth century sin was con­
ceived as something which could be resolved into cate­
gories of acts that were inherently evil.
The sins listed
by the fathers became npenitentials” for guidance of the
clergy and were very real.
Fastoral theology has subsequent­
ly developed a complete catalogue and classification of
acts against God.
It is to be noted that modern theology places a
high moral significance in the doctrine of creation.
the Fathers it was more peculiarly philosophical.
through, the philosophical character of.the patristic
doctrine of creation is abundantly manifest.
4 Ibid., p. 164-165.
There is little
evidence that it had religious or ethical value to those
•who accepted it, such as it has had to many modern theologians. ff5 Nevertheless, it may be said that the develop­
ment of study of the problem of evil affords a study of
man’s progress from a dualistic to a monistic point of view#
The early philosophies and extra-Christian theol­
ogies generally explained the problem of evil by the
doctrine of a good and an evil principle in cease­
less conflict* In accordance with the moral and
rational instincts of the soul, the good principle
was always viewed as sure of ultimate triumph; but
thus far, the evil principle has opposed a success­
ful resistance to its universal sway* But in
general, Christian monotheism has overturned this
view, except so far as a rebellious will in a creat­
ed being is a dualism.
The record of patristic opinion on the origin of
evil is the record of man’s desire to answer the question
as to how a beneficent God could create a world that con­
tains imperfections and evils.
Gnosticism posited as its
answer to the question the idea of two Gods— ditheism*
Christianity rejected this.
It pointed out that by divid­
ing God in two it put an end to God.
It chose
to believe
that evil is necessary for the production of moral virtue,
that where there is no choice there is no virtue.
chose the doctrine of free will*
As far as moral evil can
be explained it is the result of wrong choices.
The devil
5 A. C. McGiffert, God of the Early Christians (New
York, Scribners, 1924) p. 176.
6 Borden P. Bowne, Studies in Theism, (New York,
Phillips and Hunt, 1879) p. 356.
and his angels are those whose resistence to good is
The dilemma of modern orthodox theology is in
knowing what to do with the Devil.
Augustinianism makes
evil that which is not a substance and yet the positing of
a Devil and fallen angels implies a way of life that is in
eternal opposition to the will of God.
The only answer
is to admit that the theory of fallen angels gets us no­
where in the search for the primary evil.
Man must admit
the responsibility that inheres in the freedom of the will.
He is capable of producing good or its opposite and God
11cannot prevent evil so long as there are free moral agents
who have even limited power of control and manipulation of
For the modern man the Devil becomes the re­
bellious will.
However, since it is not the scope of this paper to
discuss the whole question of original sin as such, no
attempt is made to continue the discussion to include
questions of moral theology.
What has been shown is the
growth of the opinion of the Fathers regarding the beliefs
(1) that God created the world ex nihilo, (2) that “angels”
disobeyed God and “fell”, (3) that “fallen angels” and Satan
were sources of temptation, (4) that God gave to man the
gift of free-will (5) that man can therefore choose the
antithesis of good and can yield to temptation and (6‘) that
7 Claude C. Douglas, Evil, Unpublished manuscript.
he can foe redeemed.
It will foe seen that the Fathers were particularly;
interested in the problem of evil on purely speculative or
philosophical grounds*
Their treatment of the question was
forced by apologetic considerations and the necessity of
establishing the unity of God*
The metaphysical difficulties
involved were not squarely faced by them*
Even Augustine
who saw the problem more clearly than his predecessors,
failed to develop answers to such inevitable questions as
to why free agents choose evil: or why and how angels sinned
and fell*
The answer that angels were created all good
and chose to do wrong is too easy an answer.
What then may
be said as to the Fathers apparent satisfaction with this
Did any of them suspect that they had reached
a cul-de-sac and could go no farther?
Probably not, since
their ultimate aim was to relieve God >of the responsibility
of evil*
Although they might believe that some external
evils were sent by God as punishment, the extreme blasphemy
was to think of Him as the author of evil itself.
Belief in
God*s control of the world became a fundamental tenet of
orthodoxy as expressed in the Nicene symbol MI believe in
God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of
all things visible and invisible15.
Allen, A, V. G., C o n t i n u i t y of Christian Thought.
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1887*
Bowne, Borden P*, Studies in Theism. New York; Phillips
and Hunt, 1887•
Brown, Wm. Adams, Christian Theology in Outline.
Scribners, 1906*
New York:
Douglas, Claude C., Evil. Unpublished Manuscript.
Gore, Charles, Belief in Christ.
Gore, Charles, Belief in God.
New York: Scribners, 1922.
New York: Scribners,' 1922.
Hall, F. J., Being and Attributes 0f God.
Longmans Green IncV, 1912.
Hall, F. J., Creation and Man*
Inc., 1912.
New York:
New York: Longmans Green
Hall, F. J*, Theological Outlines.
Milwaukee: Morehouse, 1933.
Hastings, James, Dictionary of the Bible.
Scribners, 1904.
New York:
Hastings, James, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels.
New York: Scribners, 1907.
Hatch, Edwin, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages Upon
the Christian Church. London: Williams and
Norgate, 1890.
Hill, J. G., Unpublished lecture, delivered April 8, 1940.
Illingworth, J. R., Divine Transcendence.
millan, 1901.
Kirk, K. E., Study of Theology.
Kohler, K., Jewish Theology.
New York: Harper, 1939.
New York: Macmillan, 1923.
Kurtz, Professor, Church History.
W agna11s, 1889.
Library of the Fathers.
London: Mac­
New York: Funk and
London: Parker, 1872.
Matthews, W. R., Studies in Christian Philosophy. Boyle
Lectures of 1920. London: Macmillan, 1921.
McGiffert, A. D., God of the Early Christians.
Scribners, 1924.
New York:
Pullan, Leighton, The Church of the Fathers.
Rivingtons, 1912,
Roberts, A., and Donaldson, J#, Editors, The Ante-Nicene
(11 Vols.) Buffalo: C. L* P# G*, 18857
Sohm, Rudolf, Outlines of Church History.
Macmillan, 1921#
Staley, Vernon, The Gathdlic Religion*
London: Mowbray, 1908.
Stevens, George Barker, The Theology of the Hew Testament.
New York, Scribners, 1922.
Streeter, B. H., Reality.
New York: Macmillan, 1927.
Walker, Williston, A History of the Christian Church.
New York: Scribners, 1937.
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