In God's Image

The Mystery of Creation

Course Description

Created by Dr. John Cavadini, a Notre Dame Theology Professor, the purpose of this course is to provide a theological introduction to one of the core doctrines of the Christian faith, the doctrine of creation. The course:

  • provides students with knowledge of the basic elements of the doctrine of creation as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church;
  • introduces students to theological reflection on this doctrine, both ancient and contemporary, in order to acquire a better sense of the meaning and significance of this doctrine; and
  • provides a sense of the richness of the tradition as a resource for catechists in their work of instructing others in the faith.

Course Content

Week 1: The Doctrine of Creation in the Creed, Catechism and in Scripture

  1. The Importance of the Doctrine of Creation
  2. Genesis Chapter 1 and Scientific Accounts
  3. Genesis Chapter 1 as Mystery-filled Prose
  4. Genesis Chapter 1 in Ancient Traditions of Interpretation (Origen of Alexandria and St. Augustine)
  5. The Creator in the Bible
  6. Conclusion

Week 2: Challenges to the Doctrine of Creation: The Problem of Evil

  1. The Power of God: A Mystery
  2. Creation as an Act of Divine Self-Limitation
  3. God's Apparent Powerlessness
  4. Creation in a "State of Journeying"
  5. Against "Deism"
  6. Against "Deism" Continued: Creation as a Work of the Holy Trinity

Week 3: Creation in Ancient Eastern Christian Tradition: St. Irenaeus

  1. An Ancient Critique: Gnosticism
  2. The Gnostic Myth
  3. Elements of a Reply
  4. St. Irenaeus
  5. St. Irenaeus on the True Knowledge of God
  6. Created Freedom
  7. Discipline and Healing
  8. Becoming Accustomed to Living with God
  9. Summary

Week 4: Creation in Ancient Western Christian Tradition: St. Augustine

  1. Manichaeism and St. Augustine
  2. Basic Features of Augustine's Doctrine of Creation
  3. Before the Fall: The Original Created State of Humankind
  4. More on the Original Created State of Humankind
  5. The Fall: An "Inner" History
  6. The Consequences of Original Sin (Pride)
  7. God's Judgment on the Fallen
  8. Two Theologies of Creation: Which is Better?

Week 5: The Significance of the Doctrine of Creation in the Contemporary World

  1. Introduction
  2. What is "Reductionism?"
  3. Reductionism and Abstraction
  4. Reductionism and Mystery
  5. The Doctrine of Creation as the Grounds for the Mystery and Dignity of Creatures
  6. The Doctrine of Creation as Grounds for the Obligation to Preserve the Natural World
  7. God's Beloved Creation
  8. Is There any Empirical Evidence for the Doctrine of Creation?

Course Format

  • Created by Notre Dame Theology Professor.
  • Six weeks in duration, with one week for orientation.
  • Typically 15-20 students in each course.
  • Material delivered by video lecture (via webstreaming).
  • All lecture text available online in course.
  • Supplemental readings are provided to encourage further exploration of topic, internet links provided for all readings.
  • Weekly written assignments (150-200 words) required.
  • Weekly facilitator moderated chat sessions with students in course.
  • Facilitated by STEP staff.

Required Texts

  • All course materials are available in the course.

Participation Requirements

  • Weekly reading or viewing of lecture text.
  • Participation in class discussion using discussion area (minimum 2 comments, questions or responses weekly.)
  • Weekly written assignment (150-200 words.)
  • Weekly chat session with other students in course (3 required throughout course.)
  • Course evaluation.

Time Expectations

4 to 6 hours a week (time varies from student to student depending on your learning style and schedule.)

Course Certificate

A Certificate of Completion awarding 30 Contact Hours will be sent upon completion of all course requirements.

Meet the Developer

Dr. John Cavadini

Dr. John Cavadini

Dr. Cavadini is a scholar of patristic and early medieval theology, with special interests in the theology of Augustine and in the history of biblical exegesis, both Eastern and Western, as well as in the reception and interpretation of patristic thought in the West from the sixth through the ninth centuries. His publications include three books, Miracles in Christian and Jewish Antiquity: Imagining the Truth, (University of Notre Dame Press, 1999); Gregory the Great: A Symposium, (University of Notre Dame Press, 1996); and The Last Christology of the West: Adoptionism in Spain and Gaul, 785-820, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993). His articles have appeared in such journals as Theological StudiesReligious Studies Review,TraditioAugustinian Studies, and American Benedictine Review.

In November, 2009, he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to a five-year term on the International Theological Commission and was also created a member of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great, classis civilis, by Pope Benedict. He has served as a consultant to the USCCB Committee on Doctrine since 2006.

B.A., 1975, Wesleyan University; M.A., 1979, Marquette University; M.A., 1981, M.Phil., 1983 and Ph.D., 1988, Yale University