A great swath of Christendom has, from as early as Augustinus Hipponensis, held that God created the universe ex nihilo, "from/ out of nothing." One of the motivations behind this has been to refute or avoid the ex materia conclusion, which would presuppose that God had to have pre-existent matter out of which to fashion the universe as we now know it.

Another motivation is to avoid a blurring of the distinction between God and his creation which creatio ex deo may suggest, based on certain philosophical starting-points. There are, however, portions of the Bible (such as Colossians 1.16) which explicitly say that the cosmos was made "in God" and whose motion takes place as though a journey "through God" (see Acts 17.28).

It is in this sense that I ask how, in Latin, to express those prepositional relationships between God and the universe. In other words, which of the following would be the correct way to say, in formulations similar to creatio ex nihilo & creatio ex deo:

  1. "creation [with]in God" or "creation in[side] God"
  2. "creation through God"

Would they be, respectively:

  1. creatio intra deo or creatio introrsum deo?
  2. creatio per deo or creatio per deum,
    or perhaps, rather,
    creatio trans deo or creation trans deum?

(The above are the results of my GoogleTranslations of the afore-listed expressions but my grammar is nowhere good enough for me to tell if any of these is correct and if so by how much.)


2 Answers 2


Here are the Vulgate versions of the two verses you mention:

Colossians 1.16:

quoniam in ipso condita sunt universa in cælis, et in terra, visibilia, et invisibilia, sive throni, sive dominationes, sive principatus, sive potestates: omnia per ipsum et in ipso creata sunt

Acts 17.28:

In ipso enim vivimus, et movemur, et sumus: sicut et quidam vestrorum poëtarum dixerunt: Ipsius enim et genus sumus

Both verses use in + ablative to mean "in", and the first also uses per + accusative to mean "through". Based on this, the phrases you're looking for would be in deo and per deum.

"Across God" would be trans deum, and "within God" would be intra deum. (Both forms sound strange to me, though, especially the latter, because intra generally refers to enclosed spaces or regions.)

  • Thanks so much for your answer, TKR (+1). If you don't mind, do you know what intra/introrsum deo & trans deo/deum would translate to? (Are all these combinations even correct?) Would they be "within/inside God" and "across God" respectively? Or not really anything like that? [Hopefully it's appropriate for me to ask this in a comment like this.]
    – Adinkra
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 19:26
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    @Adinkra, the correct forms would be trans deum and intra deum, which would mean "across God" and "within God". They both sound strange to me, though, especially the latter, because intra generally refers to enclosed spaces or regions.
    – TKR
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 21:05
  • These are precisely the senses of the respective expressions that I'm looking for. If you incorporate your Comment items into your Answer, then this here'll certainly be my Answer to the Question.
    – Adinkra
    Commented Mar 11, 2017 at 12:15

If I may supplement TKR's answer:

Colossians 1:16 is decidedly ambiguous. The Greek original has:

ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτίσθη τὰ πάντα, τὰ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς καὶ τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, τὰ ὁρατὰ καὶ τὰ ἀόρατα, εἴτε θρόνοι εἴτε κυριότητες εἴτε ἀρχαὶ εἴτε ἐξουσίαι τὰ πάντα δι᾽αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν ἔκτισται

which the Vulgate renders as:

quoniam in ipso condita sunt universa in cælis, et in terra, visibilia, et invisibilia, sive throni, sive dominationes, sive principatus, sive potestates: omnia per ipsum, et in ipso creata sunt.

ἐν αὐτῷ is correctly rendered as “in ipso”, though it could be debated whether this means “in himself” or “in themselves” (with the singular αὐτῷ referring to the neuter plural subject of ἐκτίσθη). δι᾽αὐτοῦ means “per ipsum”, but εἰς αὐτὸν cannot really mean “in ipso”, but must mean “for him” (or literally: “towards him”).

For reference: the English KJV has:

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.

I would think that the Biblical authority for the doctrine that God created the universe "in himself" is quite shaky.

  • 2
    Neuter plural words take singular verbs in Greek, but I have never seen an example of a singular pronoun (αὐτῷ) referring to it antecedently... Do you know of any reputable source that disputes the most obvious interpretation?
    – brianpck
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 13:58
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    @brianpck. I do not have an exact parallel, but even in classical authors the neuter sing. of αὐτός can be used with reference to nouns of all genders, e.g. Plato Prt. 360e: τί ποτ' ἐστὶν αὐτὸ ἡ ἀρετή. Anyway, I mentioned this only a remote grammatical possibility. If you read the verse in Colossians in its context it does become clear that αὐτός actually refers to Jesus, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” (εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως), as he is called in the immediately preceding verse. It is “in him” that “all things were created”.
    – fdb
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 15:58
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    thanks for the clarification. Given that, don't you think your "it could be debated..." point is unnecessary noise? (+1 for everything else, btw)
    – brianpck
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 18:43
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    I agree with @brianpck (both on the +1 and) on αὐτῷ -- if referring to τὰ πάντα it would have to be not only plural, but reflexive, ἐν ἑαυτοῖς/αὑτοῖς.
    – TKR
    Commented Jul 7, 2016 at 1:02
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    I really appreciate the response, fdb, & it gets my +1 because I genuinely enjoy all the thoughts [including the stuff about what's apparently debatable regarding 1 of the Bible quotes] that you've offered regarding the question, even though I notice that it doesn't really answer the question. Even in light of your misgivings about Biblical authority, I would still be interested in how you would translate the main query (which the Bible refs were merely for the sake of framing in a certain context, & had been placed there more so because it was originally a Christianity.SE question).
    – Adinkra
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 20:41

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