Tuesday, 5 May 2015

God, Matter, and Justin Martyr

I’m currently reading Ian A. McFarland’s From Nothing: A Theology of Creation (Louisville, KY: WJK Press, 2014), and I’ve come across something very early on I’m just not getting my head around. Any thoughts from my dearly beloved readers would be appreciated!

In short, and in connection specifically with Justin Martyr, McFarland speaks about how holding to a belief in ‘the ontological independence of matter’ means (certainly for Justin) that ‘God is unable to act directly on or be immediately present to creation: God is and remains outside of the phenomenal world’ (p. 11). The footnote accompanying this statement refers to Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho 60 and 127, from which McFarland quotes. However:

1.    I haven’t yet found any indication as to what McFarland means by ‘the ontological independence of matter’ other than the eternity of uncreated matter – but surely the phrase ‘the ontological independence of matter’ could imply matter’s ontological distinction from God, and so needn’t imply just matter’s eternity and uncreatedness;
2.    even though it seems fair to say here that God is outside the phenomenal world, I don’t see why this precludes God from acting directly on creation (unless, of course, being eternal entails immutability, in which case not even God could shape eternal, uncreated matter), or being immediately present to creation; and
3.    McFarland doesn’t seem to recognise the thrust of Justin’s comments in Trypho 60 and 127 – that while the eternal Father remains outside the world, the Son, who is God, does act within the world.

So what am I missing here?


  1. A bit bizarre when you consider the mystery of the incarnation

    1. Yes. It's an attitude I've never really understood. If God becomes incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, then surely divine action can and does take place in the world. And surely anyone affirming a genuine incarnation is obliged to affirm divine action in the world.