Warning: Speculations ahead! Dwayne and I have been going back and forth over the question of the interpretation of Paul’s view of Christ as the “firstborn of creation” and the related question of Paul’s possible awareness of Philo’s use of the same term in describing God’s Logos as a created, non-divine means or archetype of creation.
Very briefly, Philo (25 BCE to 50 CE), an educated Alexandrian Jewish philosopher, sought to express his Jewish (biblically informed) faith in Hellenistic-philosophical terms. One might argue that he sought more than to faithfully express his Jewish faith in Hellenistic terms, but that he aimed at integrating the two. In any case, our discussion the past few days has focused just on his view of the Logos, its relation to creation, and in turn the possibility of Paul’s awareness of this. Philo believed God’s Logos is “the man of God,” God’s “image,” his “firstborn son” and the first of all God’s creations. The Logos for Philo is a kind of shadow or archetype of God in his creative intentions used to bring the world into existence. As such, the Logos is the intelligible form of things and thus the ground of universal intelligibility, the principle of unity within creation. While Philo rejected Aristotle’s crude version of an eternal creation, he nevertheless held God to create eternally, not at some point in time.
All this bears a resemblance to NT ideas (esp. Paul) of Christ as the Logos, the means by which God creates, of Christ as the “image of God,” the “heavenly man,” in whom all things hold together. These terms and their function in expressing a doctrine of divine creation are not made up on the spot by John or Paul in the NT. They’re writing within a tradition—some of it Hebrew and some of it unquestionably Hellenistic. Forget the question of the Greek influence of the post-apostolic church and councils. This is older, in the biblical texts themselves. And apart from this influence, we wouldn’t even have a New Testament. And never mind the Greek and pagan influence upon Judaism and its beliefs during the second Temple period (the Septuagint being a case in point). Purge Christianity of its pagan, Hellenistic, Zoroastrian influences? Good luck.
Anyhow, how are we to understand Paul’s use of this tradition? Dwayne (he can explain more on his own if he’d like) favors a Pauline doctrine of creation that takes Paul’s use of Philo and the Alexandrian tradition pretty seriously. In other words, Dwayne follows those who argue that when Paul describes Christ in Colossians 1 as the “firstborn of creation,” he has that tradition in mind which holds God to have created via his Logos/Image in its function as the archetype of creation, the ‘heavenly man’, the (later) ‘Adam Kadmon’ (if you want to explore Kabbalah thought). Dwayne wouldn’t agree with Philo that the Logos is ‘created’ of course. However, he does agree with this wider tradition that there has to be a created reality (Oversoul, Consciousness, Plenum, whatever you wanna call it) which belongs to the Logos but which is a kind of first-step in creating which makes creation in its diverse fullness possible.
What’s incarnation God to do with it? We argued (with many others) for an Incarnation-anyway view of the universe. God creates because he wants to unite creation to himself incarnationally. But it’s Incarnation that is the primary end of creation. We get implicated (and so perfected and brought into union with God) in the Incarnation. Incarnation isn’t just (or even primarily) about fixing what’s wrong with the world on account of sin. Incarnation was always God’s plan and means of bringing creation to fulfillment.
That said, this primal ‘first-act’ of creation, this diffusing of divine energies (I’m grabbing what terms I can), this collective soul or archetype of creation, this ‘Adam Kadmon’ (the original Adam) or as Philo described it, this “[immaterial] man of God,” is the first and foremost act by which creation is made a suitable context for Incarnation. Christ is the “firstborn of creation” not only in the commonly held sense of his having “preeminence” within the created order, as true as that is. In addition to preeminence, as “firstborn of creation” Christ is the archetype of creation through whom all things are created and in whom they have their being and find their final fulfillment (cf. Rom 8.19-21). Creation from its beginning is a kind of Incarnation in as much as it is a step toward eventual Incarnation, an act of incarnational intention and preparation. It starts out by being that which is a suitable context for Incarnation.
I’ve balked at Dwayne’s idea here because Paul would never have agreed with Philo that the Logos is created. So there’s no need for a “created” principle of unity within the created order. What would it even be? I still don’t know. But let me offer two reasons for thinking something like this is the case.
The first question has to do with creations’s unity. The “principle of unity” in creation is that which makes the universe ‘one’ as opposed to a collection of self-contained realities each of which is a kind of universe to itself. What accounts for this unity? Just the truth that all things have their source in the Logos?
Can the uncreated Logos itself be the principle of unity? Or must we posit a created archetype or principle of unity? True, everything is in the Logos, was created by him and is sustained by him, and that provides a unity “of source” or “origin.” But I’m inclined to think (with Bulgakov actually) that creation itself has to be ‘one’ in its createdness. Otherwise what you have is not God related to a single creation but to an innumerable number of creations each of which is a stand-alone world (so to speak) that just happens to be related to God as its creator. There would be a “vertical” unity of all things (by virtue of their having God as their source), but no “horizontal” unity that constitutes that about created being per se which accounts for its integrity as a single creation. How is such unity to be gotten? My feeling is that it’s found in some created context (whatever it is — Oversoul, Plenum [cf. Richard Creel], Adam Kadmon, a universal consciousness, perhaps Bulgakov’s ‘World Soul’|Created Sophia — words fail).
The second question asks what the above unity of creation has to do with Incarnation and theosis (the perfection and consummation of creation via Incarnation). If the kind of unity within creation described above isn’t the case and creation is in fact an innumerable number of discrete universes related only in the mind of God (i.e., their unity is JUST an abstraction deriving from the shared source which all things have in God), then God incarnate is just one of these innumerable universes/worlds alongside others and there’s no ground within creation upon which the Incarnation redeems all created worlds by implication. Christ would have to be incarnate in every discrete reality to redeem it. It’s because the Incarnation (God’s becoming “a” human being) redeems all creation that I’m inclined to argue for a horizontal unity of the created order. This unity is how the one, finite human being can have universal implications for all things by virtue of also being the Logos. In other words, redemption via incarnation is efficacious not only vertically by virtue of Christ’s being the Logos, though that’s got to be true. It also has to be efficacious horizontally within creation. But if creation isn’t one in its concrete being as created, then there’s no concrete reality, no “way the world is,” that mediates the saving effects of Christ incarnate to all things.
I think I can get with a lot of this. I’m still processing it. But I have annoying questions about the notion of an ‘Oversoul’ as a “field of consciousness” or Kabbalah’s “Adam Kadmon” that aren’t going away. And I find it very easy to hold positions in a sort of suspended animation without feeling the need to render a final verdict. Dwayne is more a final verdict kind a guy.