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Cosmology, Christian

Christianity inherited the Jewish cosmology, but almost from the beginning of the religion, as early as Paul's letters; the adherents associated Christ with the creative work of the Father. He is "the one Lord through whom all things exist and by whom we are" (1 Corinthians 8:6). He is the Wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24), the image of the invisible God and the first-born of all creatures; in whom all things were made and now exist (Colossians 1:15). Furthermore, creation now has its end and purpose in him, Christ. Therefore, and not surprisingly so, Christian interest in cosmology and creation has changed from being concerned with matter or technique to one of relationship, that is, a dependency on the creator not only for his creation but also for its subsistence. The General Thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer encourages Christians to give thanks for our creation, preservation, and all blessings of this life; but creation and preservation are the same thing. The creativity of God is continuous: if God as the creator withdrew his creative presence from an entity, it would cease to exist. Therefore, according to this theological thinking God is not just the cause of all things, past, present, and future, but he is the essence of their being.

It became obvious, at least as early as the time of Aquinas, that the Greek argument, to the effect that the created world need not necessarily have had a beginning, was correct, but that this did not militate against a theistic understanding of creation; it would still be in relation (although an unending relation) of createdness to the creator, which is a point lucidly argued by Leibniz in On the Ultimate Origination of Things (1697). Even though it is agreed the created world does not necessarily have to have a beginning, it is also agreed that if revelation discloses such a beginning, this would be accepted. But, following such an agreement the issue has subsequently arisen as to whether revelation has ever disclosed such a quasi-scientific fact. The Biblical assumption that God created everything from nothing is confusing. Many do not accept the fact that God created the world from nothing, meaning from out of an absolute void. Such a claim, taken in a completely literal sense, could be interpreted as meaning God was in or was this void. Actually this could very well be the meaning when the usual theological interpretation is assumed. However, this latter interpretation emphatically implies the very opposite: that everything owes its existence to God, and that the creator and the created are ontologically distinct. This has generated the most prominent, if not the only, western theological concept of cosmology, the existence of everything depends on God.

For millennia the basic Christian cosmological concept has remained a three-status universe: heaven above, earth in the middle, and hell below. Even though alternative cosmologies have been suggested to reflex changes produced from scientific knowledge, the main theological concept still remains. However, such suggestions have caused a distinction to be made between God, the first cause above, who produces and sustains creation in which both natural and free causes, secondary causes, operate, and those effective and efficient causes which are real and not normal. A.G.H.


Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 239