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The Christian Distinction

September 12, 2006

Over at the message boards on Steve Ray’s website, someone asked the question: “How do you know for certain that the Christian god is not in fact the demiurge?” The greater implications of the question include whether or not the God of Christianity is identitical to the deity or divinity of the ancient Greeks, paticularly that of Plato and Aristotle.

One of our readers, Anxietas, has some good points on the topic.

Here is the response I wrote on the message boards:

The demiurge in Platonic thought (which is a foundation of Gnosticism) is not the most powerful divinity. It’s activity is described in the Platonic work Timaeus. The demiurge fashions the cosmos out of choas and pre-existing matter (no pagan ever had a notion of creation ex nihilo). Also, the demiurge is not the Good/One–the supreme principle and formal cause of reality. Rather, the demiurge is an imperfect mediator between the Supreme First Principle and the cosmos. Because the demiurge fashions the world out of pre-existing matter, its freedom in creation is limited by the elements of this initial matter. Moreover, the demiurge is eternally connected to both the Supreme Principle and the world, which means that creation is eternal and necessary. There is no “choice” to create.

The Creator of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, on the other hand, is not tied eternally to the world. Rather, God created the universe ex nihilo out of complete freedom. There is no mediator in creation between God and the world, so God is independent from, and can exist without, His creation.

The God of Christianity is actually closer to the Platonic notion of the Supreme Principle than He is to the demiurge. The difference, of course, is that the Supreme Principle of Plato and Gnosticism is not conscious, personal or free. Rather, it is eternally indifferent to anything that the demiurge does and is not independent from creation. Our God, on the other hand, is conscious, personal, free and complete with or without creation.

This discussion reminds me of the novel theological approach of Msgr. Robert Sokolowski, philosopher at Catholic University of America. In his The God of Faith and Reason and Eucharistic Presence, Sokolowski employs the methods of phenomenology to bring out the difference between the God of Christianity and the divinities of the Greeks. This difference is dubbed the “Christian Distinction.” Our God is not chained to the universe as a first cause is tied to all its proceeding effects, nor is our God oblivious to the fact that there even is a universe. Rather, our God is complete and eternally blessed in Himself, and has no need for the universe. With or without creation, God is complete. God creates our of sheer goodness and love–not in order to glorify Himself or fulfill some divine longing for love, but in order to share His glory, blessedness and divine life with us. Thus, as the great Henri de Lubac beautifully stated, our existence is a two-fold gift that is totally free. Not only are we created out of the goodness and love of God, but through this creation we are implanted with a desire for his love, which He fulfills gratuitously by grace.

Catholics understand creation and salvation in terms of grace alone: we are brought into existence by grace and our destiny is supernatually fulfilled by grace. Thanks be to God!

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