Tag Archives: Ecclesiastical Latin

Essential Latin for Reformed Christians: “Ex nihilo”

Reader’s Digest used to have a feature called “It Pays To Enrich Your Word Power.”  Readers could quiz themselves on the meanings of English words.  In the old days, RD motivated readers with the notion that having an advanced vocabulary would benefit you socially and work-wise.  True or not, for Reformed Christians it is beneficial to know some key terms, not only in English, but in Latin too.  Through the years, some terms have become part of our theological vocabulary and sometimes authors and preachers will use them assuming everyone knows what they mean.  And what if you don’t?  That’s where this series comes to your rescue.

Today we’re looking at ex nihilo.  It means “from nothing.”  In theology, it’s used in relation to creation, so the full expression is creatio ex nihilo — “creation from nothing.”  This speaks of God creating the entire universe by the power of his Word, without using any pre-existent matter.

We believe that God created ex nihilo on the basis of biblical teaching.  Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  At the beginning, God created the universe.  Hebrews 11:3 elaborates:  “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”  The material universe came into existence by God’s Word, not by God working with material (visible things) that had been there before.  Romans 4:17 speaks in a similar way.  It speaks of the God in whom Abraham believed, “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”  Prior to God’s call through his Word, there was nothing — then with his call, things sprung into existence.  Summarizing the Bible’s teaching, the Belgic Confession says, “We believe that the Father through the Word, that is, through his Son, has created out of nothing heaven and earth and all creatures…” (BC 12).

As a child, weird as it may sound, I used to ponder the idea of “nothing.”  I found it curious that almost everything we call “nothing” is actually something.  You might have an empty box and say there’s nothing in the box.  But that’s not really true.  There would be air, composed of various gasses, and probably a few microscopic dust particles.  There’s still something.  Even if you were to seal the box tightly, attach a vacuum pump, and suck out everything, there would still be something — there would be a vacuum.  So is “nothing” real?  Deep question, right?  From a Christian perspective, the answer goes back to before creation.  Before creation, there was truly nothing besides God, and certainly nothing material.  The Triune God was all there was.  Think about that.  There wasn’t even time.  Only God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Because he wanted to, not because he had to, he decided to create the material universe by simply calling it into existence.  Through his Son, God the Father just spoke and it all came to be.  Something — in fact, everything — came from nothing.  When you pause to think about it, creatio ex nihilo leaves you in awe of our God and his almighty power.

Essential Latin for Reformed Christians: “D.V.”


For centuries the Church conducted most of its affairs in Latin.  While Latin started off as the vernacular of the Western Church, eventually it became a static, dead language.  Used in the mass, in the Latin Bible (the Vulgate) in the academy and assemblies, common people were in time excluded from knowledgeable participation in church life because they had no knowledge of Latin.  With the Reformation, all that changed.  The Church again began to use the common language of the people in most areas.  Nevertheless, certain Latin terms and expressions continued to be used in sermons and popular books.

In this series, I want to explain some of the most common Latin terms and expressions our Reformed churches continue to use.  I’ll assume everyone is already familiar with the five Latin “solas” of the Reformation, and we’ll move on to some others.  These are terms and expressions you may still hear from the pulpit or in books.  Sometimes they might be explained (I always endeavour to do so), but sometimes not.  They’re all worth knowing.

Today we’re looking at “D.V.”  We’re commonly told this means, “the Lord willing.”  Growing up in a church of Dutch immigrants, I thought “D.V.” must be short for “DeLord Villing.”  But no, it’s actually Latin:  Deo volente.

Deo volente does not actually literally translate to “the Lord willing.”  It literally means, “God willing.”  It’s commonly said to mean “the Lord willing” because of its roots in James 4:15, “…you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'”  Older writers used to be a little more elaborate and say “sub conditione Jacobi” (under the condition of James).   Seeing how the expression comes from James, to be more precise “D.V.” ought to be understood as Domino volente (the Lord willing).  However, at the end of the day it all means the same thing, so I for one will not quibble too much about it.

“D.V.” is often attached to plans and announced events in our Reformed churches.  By it, we recognize that we may make our plans, but sometimes God decides otherwise.  As the Holy Spirit says in James 4:14, “yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.”  But is it necessary to always attach a “D.V.” to every plan and event?  I don’t think it is.  I don’t think James 4:15 requires us to literally say “D.V.” every time we look to something in the future.  James 4 is addressing a heart issue.  In our hearts, we ought to recognize God’s sovereignty over our plans.  And from there, it ought to somehow find expression in the words we speak too.  But I believe it sufficient to say, “We plan to hold this or that event” or “We hope to…” or “A consistory meeting is scheduled for Monday evening.”  Saying things in that manner displays the humility envisioned in James 4.  While certainly not wrong to use “D.V.” it can become pious jargon you’re supposed to use, but about which you don’t even really think anymore.  Since it involves God’s Name, that can become dangerous.  Whether you use “D.V.” or not, the attitude is what really matters.