Angelic Creation in the Patristic Era

From the earliest days of their encounter with pagan philosophy and religion, the question of angelic “creation” has been a subject of interest to Christian theologians. As David Keck explains in his study on Angels and Angelology in the Middle Ages:

The question of the creation of the angels was problematic for Philo and the church Fathers primarily because several schools of pagan philosophy advocated doctrines concerning uncreated spirits that somehow mediated between God and the corporeal creation. Aristotle’s spirits were eternal and uncreated (as was the universe itself). The Neoplatonists’ scheme of emanations from the divine as the source of eternally uncreated spiritual beings provided these philosophers with angellike spirits who were the real creators of the universe. In addition to the philosophers, the Gnostics of the patristic era also saw the angels and their own peculiar beings, the aeons, as participating in the creation. Their God was quite removed from the created, material universe, which the Gnostics regarded as evil.[1]

In response to the pagan representation of the world as having been created by spirits or “gods,” early Christian thinkers defended the inherent goodness of creation and the one true God’s identity as the sole “maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible,” as the Nicene Creed of 325 had stated.[2] Thus, whereas in the first- and second-century Jewish and Christian commentators were still able to read the us in the “Let us make man” of Genesis as referring to the Lord God’s angelic assistants, later theologians such as the Cappodocians in the East and Augustine in the West were led to argue that this was in fact a reference to the persons of the Trinity.[3] In the City of God, moreover, the Bishop of Hippo denied that the angels were creators, though he confessed ignorance as to “what kind of service the angels, who were made first, afforded to the Creator in the rest of his creation.”[4]

[1] Keck, Angels and Angelology in the Middle Ages, 17.

[2] Ibid., 17-18.

[3] Ibid., 20. See also Pelikan, What has Athens to Do with Jerusalem? “Timaeus” and “Genesis” in Counterpoint, 105-6.

[4] Augustine, City of God 12.26, trans. Bettenson.

[5] Keck, Angels and Angelology in the Middle Ages, 18-21. On late medieval angelology, see also Colish, “Early Scholastic Angelology.” On the medieval reception of Plato, see Gersh, ed., Platonic Tradition in the Middle Ages: A Doxographic Approach.

1 thought on “Angelic Creation in the Patristic Era

  1. Pingback: Angelic Creation in the High Middle Ages | The Flame Imperishable

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