Creatio ex nihilo and the Divine Ideas in Aquinas: How fair is Bulgakov's critique?



In this article I engage with Sergei Bulgakov's “sophiological” critique of Aquinas's account of creatio ex nihilo and the divine ideas. Bulgakov claims that Aquinas's account is insufficiently Trinitarian, too influenced by pagan philosophy, and as such separates the divine will and intellect in such a way as to introduce arbitrariness and instrumentality into the relationship between the divine ideas and creation. I argue that it is inaccurate to characterise Aquinas's account of creation and the divine ideas as pagan or non-Trinitarian; instead, following Augustine, Aquinas understands the divine ideas as essential to a thoroughly Trinitarian understanding of creation which is necessary to avoid reducing creation to impersonal necessary emanation on the one hand, or an arbitrary act of will on the other. However, I concede that, at times, Aquinas's account of the ideas of things which are never created may have opened the door to later more voluntarist and possibilist views.