Christian cosmology can be broken down into two camps. No, we’re not talking about literalism or allegory. We’re talking about creatio ex Gloria Dei and creatio ex amore Dei. This division in cosmology can generally be seen in two defining epochs of Christian theological thought: the Patristic and Reformation eras.
The patristic era tended—at least among the holy fathers—to emphasize creation out of the goodness of God or, explicitly, out of the love of God. The reformation era tended—though not exclusively so—to emphasize creation for the glory of God. John Calvin and his heirs were among the most ardent proponents of the creatio ex Gloria Dei outlook.
One might think that this dichotomy is irrelevant. Why doth it matter, one might ask? While it is true that there is, at start, only a minor distinction at play here, the logical continuity and outcome of this division is widespread and engulfing. A slight alteration, even if minimal, at the onset of something, will inevitably yield to a huge chasm between the two paths as they continue outward. This is pertinently clear to anyone who has extensively studied Christian theology, especially in its patristic and reformation (and post-reformation) epochs.
Genesis 1 is, at face value, vague on the question of creation from the love of God or creation for the glory of God. What was generally accepted was creatio ex nihilo, something that most Christians are familiar with—“creation from nothing” or “creation out of nothing.” It is the latter Biblical books that begin to reveal the finer details of creation. In Proverbs 8 (v. 22-31), Wisdom, that is Christ, talks about how He was present at the beginning and God made all things through Him, and that at the end Wisdom delighted in being with the human race.
The earliest patristic commentators reflect on creation as an aspect of God’s goodness. St. Irenaeus, in Against Heresies, writes, “Creation is an aspect of the goodness of God” (A.H., 4.39.2). St. Athanasius, in his famous treatise On the Incarnation, spells it out more succinctly—namely, that creation was for the incarnation of the Word so that the Love of God would dwell among men, “For speaking of the manifestation of the Savior to us, it is necessary also to speak of the origin of human beings, in order that you might know that our own cause was the occasion of this descent [incarnation] and that our own transgression evoked the Word’s love for human beings, so that the Lord both came to us and appeared among human beings” (O.T.I., § 4). St. Augustine, in his Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love, writes that all creation flows from the love of the triune Godhead, “[T]here is nothing which either He Himself is not or which does not stem from Him–from Him, the Trinity, the Father, the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the same Father, but being the one and the same Spirit of Father and Son” (F.H.L., 9).
By the time we enter the medieval era of theology, which is principally building on, and expanding upon, patristic sources, St. Thomas Aquinas explains the essential grounding of love in creation. In the Summa Theologiae, Aquinas responds to the critical student by saying, “The fact of saying that God made all things by His Word excludes the error of those who say that God produced things by necessity. When we say that in Him there is a procession of love, we show that God produced creatures not because He needed them, nor because of any other extrinsic reason, but on account of the love of His own goodness. So Moses, when he had said, ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth,’ subjoined, ‘God said, Let there be light,’ to manifest the divine Word; and then said, ‘God saw the light that it was good,’ to show proof of the divine love” (S.T., 1.32.A1). Thus we see by the medieval era Christian cosmology had come to focus on the thesis creatio ex amore Dei with an explicit Christological center to it: The Word’s love for the world, for humans, necessitated His incarnation and dwelling with us.
We can summarize this position as such: God is Love (1 Jn. 4:8) and creates out of love. Therefore, humans were created in love for love. The manifestation of the love of God and the love which humans are called to was in the incarnation of Christ, when Love took human form and dwelled among men. Christ Himself teaches that the whole of the Law is sourced in the love of God and love of others (“as I have loved you”). Therefore, the triune nature of Christian cosmology is: creatio ex nihilo, creatio ex amore Dei, imago Dei. Creation from nothing is only possible because of creation from love, creation from love fills the meaning of being made in the image of God—that we are made in love and for love. The whole cosmos is, as Aquinas says, united by the power and force of love (cf. S.T. 1.20.A1).
The thesis of creation out of the love of God was challenged beginning in the Reformation which begins to abandon the Christocentric theology of the patristic era and Catholicism in particular in favor of what many call a theocentric theology concentrating on God the Father and the Father’s glory and sovereignty (this is especially true in Reformed theology but less so in Anglican and Lutheran theologies). It is not that the patristic sources undermined glory or sovereignty, and it is equally true that the Reformers did not exclude love in creation. However, this is a metaphysical disputation over first principles. What is the guiding cornerstone of cosmology? Love or glory (i.e. sovereignty)? The fathers of the church opted for love. The reformers—namely of the Reformed/Calvinist stripe—opted for glory.
In his magnum opus The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin emphasis the glory of God at nearly every turn. There are over 400 references to God’s glory in the Institutes alone, and in refuting the Manichean heresies, Calvin explicitly links creation to God’s glory. In rhetorically arguing against Manichean dualism, Calvin argues that “God would be denied his glory in the creation of the world” if humans opted to accept the dualistic heresy of all good things belong to God and all bad things (including fallen things) belong to the Devil (Inst. 1.14.3). Jonathan Edwards, the great American theological-psychologist and pastor, also wrote that the purpose of creation was to glorify God first and foremost. In his treatise The End for Which God Created the World, Edwards writes, “[Creation] is a thing infinitely good in itself, that God’s glory should be known by a glorious society of created beings” (1.2.2). For Edwards, as it was with Calvin, creation primarily serves not to show or reveal the love of God, but to show the glory and power of God, “God’s glory is the object of this knowledge, or the thing known” (1.3).
The Calvinist theology of glory, as it relates to creation, and in its rejection of any form of dualism, the inevitable logic becomes unavoidable. All evil, all sin, is a demonstration of the glory and power of God (a now common point made in Reformed theological apologetics and dogmatics); and since evil and sin exist, they exist and come from God. John Piper, one of the most popular and visible charismatic Neo-Calvinists, has said that, “Everything exists, including evil, by God’s design, in order to serve the glorification of Jesus Christ.”
To return to Calvin, all bad things also belong to God because anything bad conferred onto the Devil robs God of His glory. Thus it is unsurprising that hyper-Calvinism runs the road to double-predestination and that sin serves to glorify God (namely in his Election of the predestined saints to heaven). Rather than creation out of love and to prepare for the in-dwelling of Love as a human, the Reformed disposition of creatio ex Gloria Dei is that all creation is about the demonstrated manifestation of the attribute of God’s glory above all things. As Edwards said, “God’s glory is the object of this knowledge” instead of, as St. Athanasius said, “[creation] was the occasion of this descent [incarnation] and that our own transgression evoked the Word’s love for human beings.” The Calvinist doctrine of God turns God into a narcissist. The Catholic and orthodox doctrine of creatio ex amore Dei reveals God’s self-giving love to man.
In fact, the difference is so stark that Calvin uses the word/term love only half as much as glory in The Institutes. Likewise, Edwards only uses love a third as many times as he uses glory (over 350 times) in The End for Which God Created the World. Glory, rather than love, becomes the central axiom in Reformed theology. And, above all else, the glory of the Father must be preserved under all circumstances.
First principles have serious consequences. The common language in Calvinist discourses, as a result of their cosmological first principle of glory, is glory. After all, Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone) is now one of the five solae of the Reformation. None of the five solae of the Reformation even deal with love.
The common language of Catholic discourse, as a result of the love principle to cosmology, is love. It is the love of God which dominates Catholic theology rather than the glory of God. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church dogmatically affirms, “God has no other reason for creating than his love and goodness” (CCC. 293). In fact, when explaining the origins of creation for the glory of God (which originated in medieval Catholic theology), Catholic theology associates glory with love, “Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: ‘The world was made for the glory of God.’ St. Bonaventure explains that God created all things ‘not to increase his glory, but to show it forth and to communicate it,’ for God has no other reason for creating than his love and goodness: ‘Creatures came into existence when the key of love opened his hand’” (CCC. 293).
What binds the world together, man together, and God and man together? According to the fathers and the Catholic Church it is love. According to Calvin, Edwards, Piper, and other Calvinists, it is glory. As Edwards famously said, God could withdraw his hand of sustenance at any time and all would fall into the abyss of hellfire but it is unbefitting of his glory to do so—the Elect serve as a remnant reminder of God’s glory.
One cosmological account focuses on God’s love and God’s entry into the cosmos through love. The other account focuses on God’s power, his “glory,” and the demonstration thereof. It is not that the patristic fathers are oblivious to God’s glory and sovereignty—even here we see that it is St. Bonaventure who first cements the notion of creation by and from glory. Nor is it the case that the reformers totally negated love from the cosmological picture. However, the first principle: love or glory, does have serious theological ramifications. Return to Piper for a moment. Sin and redemption demonstrate and magnifies the glory of Christ for him precisely because glory is the first principle of his theology which begins with creation. For St. Athanasius, as it is for the early fathers and the Catholic Church, sin and redemption demonstrate the love of God precisely because love is the first principle of theology which begins with creation.
Scripture reveals, however, the true end of all things—love (cf. Rm. 13:8; 1 Tm. 1:5). As St. Augustine wrote in his apologetic and catechetical treatise, De Doctrina Christiana, “So what all has been said amounts to, while we have been dealing with things, is that the fulfillment and the end of the law and all the divine scriptures is love” (1.35.39). That includes creation which emanated from Love, is moved by Love, and is directed to Love. The end of the law and divine scriptures is love, not glory.
As creatures, Imitatio Dei, the imitation of God, is only possible through and in love. It is impossible for creatures to imitate glory. The participation with the love that moves all things and created all things is the imitation of, and participation with, God by which one is sanctified and becomes happy—entering into the realm of inexhaustible love, abundance, and felicity as a result. Anyone who has read Dante also knows the extent to which Love governs the whole cosmos, the sun, the moon, and the stars.