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TitleHow St. Basil and Origen Interpret Genesis 1 in the Light of Philosophical Cosmology
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Page 109


another” (ibid., II, 3).

I am not certain exactly what he means by this, though surely the

question is hypothetical and implies that the union of divine power and formless matter is

inexplicable. At this point in their critical edition Rudberg and Amand de Mendieta refer to two

passages that argue against matter being uncreated: Philo’s De opificio mundi (2.8-9) and an

extract from St. Dionysius, the third-century bishop of Alexandria and disciple of Origen,

preserved in Eusebius’s Praeparatio euangelica (VII, 19.1-8). In the former passage, Philo uses

terminology similar to Basil’s: “active cause” (δραστήριον αἴτιον) and “the passive” (τὸ παθητόν),

versus Basil’s “active power” (ἡ δραστικὴ δύναμις) and “passive nature” (ἡ παθητικὴ φύσις) (De

op. mundi, 2.8).

He also accuses those who say that matter is uncreated of being impious, but

his argument (that if God did not make matter himself, then he would not care for it) is not one

used by Basil (ibid., 2.10-11). I do not think that their common use of the concepts “active” and

“passive” is enough to prove direct dependence of Basil upon this passage. The latter passage,

from Dionysius, seems to me closer to Basil’s argument: “For let them tell us the cause for

which, though both be uncreated (ἀγενήτων), God on the one hand is impassible, unchangeable,

immovable, actively operative, while the other is on the contrary passive (παθητή), changeable,

unstable, transformable. How then could they harmonize and agree in their course?” (ap.

Eusebius, Praep. eu., VII, 19.5-6).

He says that there must be some cause for the two different


ἐπεὶ ἀποκρινάσθωσαν ἡμῖν πῶς ἀλλήλοις συνέτυχον ἥ τε δραστικὴ τοῦ θεοῦ δύναμις καὶ ἡ παθητικὴ φύσις
τῆς ὕλης.

Philo, Opera quae supersunt, edited by Leopold Cohn et al., 7 vols. (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1896).

εἰπάτωσαν γὰρ τὴν αἰτίαν, δι’ ἥν, ἀμφοτέρων ὄντων ἀγενήτων, ὁ μὲν θεὸς ἀπαθής, ἄτρεπτος, ἀκίνητος,

ἐργαστικός, ἡ δὲ τὰ ἐναντία παθητή, τρεπτή, ἄστατος, μεταποιουμένη. καὶ πῶς ἕρμοσαν καὶ συνέδραμον;

Gifford translates παθητή as “passible.”

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substances both being uncreated, but such a cause would itself be “higher than each of them”

(ἑκατέρου κρείττονα58), which is blasphemy (ibid., VII, 19.2).59 Still, there does not seem to be

any particular reason to think that Basil is drawing on Dionysius. I also think that Basil’s

argument could be a very simplified version of Origen’s argument from providence, though,

once again, there is no verbal correspondence. In other words, Basil asks whether the union of

God’s power with the matter he needed was just luck. Did they just happen to come together? If

not, who arranged their meeting? Basil does not develop this argument at all, nor does he say

anything, as Origen does, about how God found exactly as much matter, and of such a kind, as

he needed. Thus it is impossible to say whether his statement has any direct connection to the

argument of Origen. Nevertheless, I am confident that Basil’s argument stems from the general,

Alexandrian strain of thought exemplified by Philo, Origen, and Dionysius. However, since he

does not develop it, nothing more specific can be said about it. Whatever the exact sense of his

words, as with his other two short arguments, Basil does not dwell on this argument. It is enough

for him simply to deploy each of his arguments in a few words and then move on, adopting a

kind of “shotgun” approach. This is a homily for his congregation and not the place for a careful

philosophical discussion.

Each of these three arguments occupies only about six lines of text, yet Basil devotes a

whole paragraph (22 lines) to developing Origen’s argument that the notion of uncreated matter


Strutwolf glosses this as “ontologisch höherstehend” (“Philosophia,” 362).

Interestingly, Dionysius also argues that matter cannot be uncreated because “uncreatedness is, so to

speak, his [God’s] substance” (οὐσία ἐστὶν αὐτοῦ, ὡς ἂν εἴποι τις, ἡ ἀγενησία, ibid., VII, 19.3, my translation), the
very idea Basil attacks in Contra Eunomium. Of course, this does not mean that Basil could not draw upon other

elements of Dionysius’s argument.

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