- Drama of the Divine Economy: Creator and Creation in Early Christian Theology and Piety by Paul M. Blowers
It is always a privilege to read and review a magisterial work of scholarship, especially one that contributes significantly to the advancement of knowledge in an underrepresented area of inquiry. Paul Blowers’s Drama of the Divine Economy is such work. In just over 400 pages, Blowers offers readers a comprehensive assessment of early Christian approaches to creation within, as the title suggests, the broad perspective of that ancient and thick Christian idea called “the divine economy.”
Such a study is long overdue and most welcome. Those students of the church fathers who have lifted their heads out of the past long enough to notice that the modern world is currently in the midst of a deep environmental crisis will, perhaps, have also noticed that according to many accounts this contemporary crisis can be traced to a single ancient source: the Christian religion. Studies abound in which authors with only passing knowledge of early Christian theology—and its texts and authors—offer authoritative pronouncements about how, say, Augustine and Origen and their descendants corrupted the future by entering [End Page 478] into a world-denying covenant with Platonism and by only pretending to reject cosmic dualism. These ancient alliances and patterns, so the argument goes, have cascaded down the ages to us in the form of ecocidal modern humanity.
Blowers himself is well aware of this critique of the tradition, and he devotes some pages at the end of his study to a reflection on how what he has argued throughout the book might assist in the development of a response both to Christianity’s eco-critics and, more positively, to the development of a more ecological Christian theology. These pages, however, are few, intentionally so. Drama of the Divine Economy is not a work of ecological apologetics. It is, rather, a comprehensive study of both the emergence of a mature patristic theology of creation and of the insertion of that theology into the lived experience of ancient Christian practice.
Blowers has written a very ambitious book. The first chapters of the study offer careful assessments of the ways in which the cosmologies embedded in ancient Greco-Roman philosophical discourse and in Jewish scripture both challenged and stimulated early Christianity’s theological synthesis about the nature, meaning, and purpose of the creation. The patristic fascination with logos and archai makes sense only within this context, as does the notion of a double creation, which emerged as way to unite biblical narrative with Platonic distinctions between the intelligible and material worlds. Blowers devotes significant time to explaining how the Christian story of the world’s beginning and eventual ending gave rise to the mature theology of creation from nothing and, over a longer time, to a mature eschatology of creation transformed and renewed.
Certainly, one would expect a book on early Christian thinking about creation to deal comprehensively with themes like the impact of Platonic cosmology on Christian theology and creatio ex nihilo, and Blowers does this. However, this is not what makes the book unique. Throughout, Blowers argues that these traditional themes, which garner the majority of scholarly attention, do not add up to the story of the creation that the Fathers wanted to tell. To understand that story one needs to remember that, deep down, the patristic vision of the creation makes sense only if understood in the context of the meta-narrative called the divine economy. The creation is the setting for the unfolding of divine purpose in and through the incarnation of Christ. Blowers argues that the only way to gain a true perspective on how the Fathers understood creation is to spend time wrestling through their long reflections on biblical narrative, especially, but not exclusively, the book of Genesis. These texts placed early Christian theological reflection on creation into tension with prevailing philosophical idioms, and out of that tension emerges the great...