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The mode of creation and the truth of Scripture. Augustine explores the relation of the visible and formed matter of heaven and earth to the prior matrix from which it was formed. This leads to an intricate analysis of “unformed matter” and the primal “possibility” from which God created, itself created de nihilo. He finds a reference to this in the misconstrued Scriptural phrase “the heaven of heavens.” Realizing that his interpretation of Gen. 1:1, 2, is not self-evidently the only possibility, Augustine turns to an elaborate discussion of the multiplicity of perspectives in hermeneutics and, in the course of this, reviews the various possibilities of true interpretation of his Scripture text. He emphasizes the importance of tolerance where there are plural options, and confidence where basic Christian faith is concerned.
1. My heart is deeply stirred, O Lord, when in this poor life of mine the words of thy Holy Scripture strike upon it. This is why the poverty of the human intellect expresses itself in an abundance of language. Inquiry is more loquacious than discovery. Demanding takes longer than obtaining; and the hand that knocks is more active than the hand that receives. But we have the promise, and who shall break it? “If God be for us, who can be against us?”455455 Rom. 8:31. “Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for everyone that asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him that knocks, it shall be opened.”456456 Matt. 7:7, 8. These are thy own promises, and who need fear to be deceived when truth promises?
2. In lowliness my tongue confesses to thy exaltation, for thou madest heaven and earth. This heaven which I see, and this earth on which I walk--from which came this “earth” that I carry about me--thou didst make.
But where is that heaven of heavens, O Lord, of which we hear in the words of the psalm, “The heaven of heavens is the Lord’s, but the earth he hath given to the children of men”?457457 Vulgate, Ps. 113:16 (cf. Ps. 115:16, K.J.; see also Ps. 148:4, both Vulgate and K.J.): Caelum caeli domino, etc. Augustine finds a distinction here for which the Hebrew text gives no warrant. The Hebrew is a typical nominal sentence and means simply "The heavens are the heavens of Yahweh"; cf. the Soncino edition of The Psalms, edited by A. Cohen; cf. also R.S.V., Ps. 115:16. The LXX reading (ο ουρανοζ του ουρανου) seems to rest on a variant Hebrew text. This idiomatic construction does not mean "the heavens of the heavens" (as it is too literally translated in the LXX), but rather "highest heaven." This is a familiar way, in Hebrew, of emphasizing a superlative (e.g., "King of kings," "Song of songs"). The singular thing can be described superlatively only in terms of itself! Where is the heaven that we cannot see, in relation to which all that we can see is earth? For this whole corporeal creation has been beautifully formed--though not everywhere in its entirety--and our earth is the lowest of these levels. Still, compared with that heaven of heavens, even the heaven of our own earth is only earth. Indeed, it is not absurd to call each of those two great bodies458458 Earth and sky. “earth” in comparison with that ineffable heaven which is the Lord’s, and not for the sons of men.
3. And truly this earth was invisible and unformed,459459 It is interesting that Augustine should have preferred the invisibiliset incomposita of the Old Latin version of Gen. 1:2 over the inaniset vacua of the Vulgate, which was surely accessible to him. Since this is to be a key phrase in the succeeding exegesis this reading can hardly have been the casual citation of the old and familiar version. Is it possible that Augustine may have had the sensibilities and associations of his readers in mind--for many of them may have not known Jerome's version or, at least, not very well? and there was an inexpressibly profound abyss460460 Abyssus, literally, the unplumbed depths of the sea, and as a constant meaning here, "the depths beyond measure." above which there was no light since it had no form. Thou didst command it written that “darkness was on the face of the deep.”461461 Gen. 1:2. What else is darkness except the absence of light? For if there had been light, where would it have been except by being over all, showing itself rising aloft and giving light? Therefore, where there was no light as yet, why was it that darkness was present, unless it was that light was absent? Darkness, then, was heavy upon it, because the light from above was absent; just as there is silence where there is no sound. And what is it to have silence anywhere but simply not to have sound? Hast thou not, O Lord, taught this soul which confesses to thee? Hast thou not thus taught me, O Lord, that before thou didst form and separate this formless matter there was nothing: neither color, nor figure, nor body, nor spirit? Yet it was not absolutely nothing; it was a certain formlessness without any shape.
4. What, then, should that formlessness be called so that somehow it might be indicated to those of sluggish mind, unless we use some word in common speech? But what can be found anywhere in the world nearer to a total formlessness than the earth and the abyss? Because of their being on the lowest level, they are less beautiful than are the other and higher parts, all translucent and shining. Therefore, why may I not consider the formlessness of matter--which thou didst create without shapely form, from which to make this shapely world--as fittingly indicated to men by the phrase, “The earth invisible and unformed”?
5. When our thought seeks something for our sense to fasten to [in this concept of unformed matter], and when it says to itself, “It is not an intelligible form, such as life or justice, since it is the material for bodies; and it is not a former perception, for there is nothing in the invisible and unformed which can be seen and felt”--while human thought says such things to itself, it may be attempting either to know by being ignorant or by knowing how not to know.
6. But if, O Lord, I am to confess to thee, by my mouth and my pen, the whole of what thou hast taught me concerning this unformed matter, I must say first of all that when I first heard of such matter and did not understand it--and those who told me of it could not understand it either--I conceived of it as having countless and varied forms. Thus, I did not think about it rightly. My mind in its agitation used to turn up all sorts of foul and horrible “forms”; but still they were “forms.” And still I called it formless, not because it was unformed, but because it had what seemed to me a kind of form that my mind turned away from, as bizarre and incongruous, before which my human weakness was confused. And even what I did conceive of as unformed was so, not because it was deprived of all form, but only as it compared with more beautiful forms. Right reason, then, persuaded me that I ought to remove altogether all vestiges of form whatever if I wished to conceive matter that was wholly unformed; and this I could not do. For I could more readily imagine that what was deprived of all form simply did not exist than I could conceive of anything between form and nothing--something which was neither formed nor nothing, something that was unformed and nearly nothing.
Thus my mind ceased to question my spirit--filled as it was with the images of formed bodies, changing and varying them according to its will. And so I applied myself to the bodies themselves and looked more deeply into their mutability, by which they cease to be what they had been and begin to be what they were not. This transition from form to form I had regarded as involving something like a formless condition, though not actual nothingness.462462 Augustine may not have known the Platonic doctrine of nonbeing (cf. Sophist, 236C-237B), but he clearly is deeply influenced here by Plotinus; cf. Enneads, II, 4:8f., where matter is analyzed as a substratum without quantity or quality; and 4:15: "Matter, then, must be described as το απειρον (the indefinite). . . . Matter is indeterminateness and nothing else." In short, materiainformis is sheer possibility; not anything and not nothing!
But I desired to know, not to guess. And, if my voice and my pen were to confess to thee all the various knots thou hast untied for me about this question, who among my readers could endure to grasp the whole of the account? Still, despite this, my heart will not cease to give honor to thee or to sing thy praises concerning those things which it is not able to express.463463 Dictare: was Augustine dictating his Confessions? It is very probable.
For the mutability of mutable things carries with it the possibility of all those forms into which mutable things can be changed. But this mutability--what is it? Is it soul? Is it body? Is it the external appearance of soul or body? Could it be said, “Nothing was something,” and “That which is, is not”? If this were possible, I would say that this was it, and in some such manner it must have been in order to receive these visible and composite forms.464464 Visibiles et compositas, the opposite of "invisible and unformed."
7. Whence and how was this, unless it came from thee, from whom all things are, in so far as they are? But the farther something is from thee, the more unlike thee it is--and this is not a matter of distance or place.
Thus it was that thou, O Lord, who art not one thing in one place and another thing in another place but the Selfsame, and the Selfsame, and the Selfsame--“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty”465465 Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8.--thus it was that in the beginning, and through thy Wisdom which is from thee and born of thy substance, thou didst create something and that out of nothing.466466 De nihilo. For thou didst create the heaven and the earth--not out of thyself, for then they would be equal to thy only Son and thereby to thee. And there is no sense in which it would be right that anything should be equal to thee that was not of thee. But what else besides thee was there out of which thou mightest create these things, O God, one Trinity, and trine Unity?467467 Trina unitas. And, therefore, it was out of nothing at all that thou didst create the heaven and earth--something great and something small--for thou art Almighty and Good, and able to make all things good: even the great heaven and the small earth. Thou wast, and there was nothing else from which thou didst create heaven and earth: these two things, one near thee, the other near to nothing; the one to which only thou art superior, the other to which nothing else is inferior.
8. That heaven of heavens was thine, O Lord, but the earth which thou didst give to the sons of men to be seen and touched was not then in the same form as that in which we now see it and touch it. For then it was invisible and unformed and there was an abyss over which there was no light. The darkness was truly over the abyss, that is, more than just in the abyss. For this abyss of waters which now is visible has even in its depths a certain light appropriate to its nature, perceptible in some fashion to fishes and the things that creep about on the bottom of it. But then the entire abyss was almost nothing, since it was still altogether unformed. Yet even there, there was something that had the possibility of being formed. For thou, O Lord, hadst made the world out of unformed matter, and this thou didst make out of nothing and didst make it into almost nothing. From it thou hast then made these great things which we, the sons of men, marvel at. For this corporeal heaven is truly marvelous, this firmament between the water and the waters which thou didst make on the second day after the creation of light, saying, “Let it be done,” and it was done.468468 Cf. Gen. 1:6. This firmament thou didst call heaven, that is, the heaven of this earth and sea which thou madest on the third day, giving a visible shape to the unformed matter which thou hadst made before all the days. For even before any day thou hadst already made a heaven, but that was the heaven of this heaven: for in the beginning thou hadst made heaven and earth.
But this earth itself which thou hadst made was unformed matter; it was invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the abyss. Out of this invisible and unformed earth, out of this formlessness which is almost nothing, thou didst then make all these things of which the changeable world consists--and yet does not fully consist in itself469469 Constat et non constat, the created earth really exists but never is self-sufficient.--for its very changeableness appears in this, that its times and seasons can be observed and numbered. The periods of time are measured by the changes of things, while the forms, whose matter is the invisible earth of which we have spoken, are varied and altered.
9. And therefore the Spirit, the Teacher of thy servant,470470 Moses. when he mentions that “in the beginning thou madest heaven and earth,” says nothing about times and is silent as to the days. For, clearly, that heaven of heavens which thou didst create in the beginning is in some way an intellectual creature, although in no way coeternal with thee, O Trinity. Yet it is nonetheless a partaker in thy eternity. Because of the sweetness of its most happy contemplation of thee, it is greatly restrained in its own mutability and cleaves to thee without any lapse from the time in which it was created, surpassing all the rolling change of time. But this shapelessness--this earth invisible and unformed--was not numbered among the days itself. For where there is no shape or order there is nothing that either comes or goes, and where this does not occur there certainly are no days, nor any vicissitude of duration.
10. O Truth, O Light of my heart, let not my own darkness speak to me! I had fallen into that darkness and was darkened thereby. But in it, even in its depths, I came to love thee. I went astray and still I remembered thee. I heard thy voice behind me, bidding me return, though I could scarcely hear it for the tumults of my boisterous passions. And now, behold, I am returning, burning and thirsting after thy fountain. Let no one hinder me; here will I drink and so have life. Let me not be my own life; for of myself I have lived badly. I was death to myself; in thee I have revived. Speak to me; converse with me. I have believed thy books, and their words are very deep.
11. Thou hast told me already, O Lord, with a strong voice in my inner ear, that thou art eternal and alone hast immortality. Thou art not changed by any shape or motion, and thy will is not altered by temporal process, because no will that changes is immortal. This is clear to me, in thy sight; let it become clearer and clearer, I beseech thee. In that light let me abide soberly under thy wings.
Thou hast also told me, O Lord, with a strong voice in my inner ear, that thou hast created all natures and all substances, which are not what thou art thyself; and yet they do exist. Only that which is nothing at all is not from thee, and that motion of the will away from thee, who art, toward something that exists only in a lesser degree--such a motion is an offense and a sin. No one’s sin either hurts thee or disturbs the order of thy rule, either first or last. All this, in thy sight, is clear to me. Let it become clearer and clearer, I beseech thee, and in that light let me abide soberly under thy wings.
12. Likewise, thou hast told me, with a strong voice in my inner ear, that this creation--whose delight thou alone art--is not coeternal with thee. With a most persevering purity it draws its support from thee and nowhere and never betrays its own mutability, for thou art ever present with it; and it cleaves to thee with its entire affection, having no future to expect and no past that it remembers; it is varied by no change and is extended by no time.
O blessed one--if such there be--clinging to thy blessedness! It is blest in thee, its everlasting Inhabitant and its Light. I cannot find a term that I would judge more fitting for “the heaven of the heavens of the Lord” than “Thy house”--which contemplates thy delights without any declination toward anything else and which, with a pure mind in most harmonious stability, joins all together in the peace of those saintly spirits who are citizens of thy city in those heavens that are above this visible heaven.
13. From this let the soul that has wandered far away from thee understand--if now it thirsts for thee; if now its tears have become its bread, while daily they say to it, “Where is your God?”471471 Ps. 42:3, 10.; if now it requests of thee just one thing and seeks after this: that it may dwell in thy house all the days of its life (and what is its life but thee? And what are thy days but thy eternity, like thy years which do not fail, since thou art the Selfsame?)--from this, I say, let the soul understand (as far as it can) how far above all times thou art in thy eternity; and how thy house has never wandered away from thee; and, although it is not coeternal with thee, it continually and unfailingly clings to thee and suffers no vicissitudes of time. This, in thy sight, is clear to me; may it become clearer and clearer to me, I beseech thee, and in this light may I abide soberly under thy wings.
14. Now I do not know what kind of formlessness there is in these mutations of these last and lowest creatures. Yet who will tell me, unless it is someone who, in the emptiness of his own heart, wanders about and begins to be dizzy in his own fancies? Who except such a one would tell me whether, if all form were diminished and consumed, formlessness alone would remain, through which a thing was changed and turned from one species into another, so that sheer formlessness would then be characterized by temporal change? And surely this could not be, because without motion there is no time, and where there is no form there is no change.
15. These things I have considered as thou hast given me ability, O my God, as thou hast excited me to knock, and as thou hast opened to me when I knock. Two things I find which thou hast made, not within intervals of time, although neither is coeternal with thee. One of them is so formed that, without any wavering in its contemplation, without any interval of change--mutable but not changed--it may fully enjoy thy eternity and immutability. The other is so formless that it could not change from one form to another (either of motion or of rest), and so time has no hold upon it. But thou didst not leave this formless, for, before any “day” in the beginning, thou didst create heaven and earth--these are the two things of which I spoke.
But “the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the abyss.” By these words its formlessness is indicated to us--so that by degrees they may be led forward who cannot wholly conceive of the privation of all form without arriving at nothing. From this formlessness a second heaven might be created and a second earth--visible and well formed, with the ordered beauty of the waters, and whatever else is recorded as created (though not without days) in the formation of this world. And all this because such things are so ordered that in them the changes of time may take place through the ordered processes of motion and form.
16. Meanwhile this is what I understand, O my God, when I hear thy Scripture saying, “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth, but the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the abyss.” It does not say on what day thou didst create these things. Thus, for the time being I understand that “heaven of heavens” to mean the intelligible heaven, where to understand is to know all at once--not “in part,” not “darkly,” not “through a glass”--but as a simultaneous whole, in full sight, “face to face.”472472 Cor. 13:12. It is not this thing now and then another thing, but (as we said) knowledge all at once without any temporal change. And by the invisible and unformed earth, I understand that which suffers no temporal vicissitude. Temporal change customarily means having one thing now and another later; but where there is no form there can be no distinction between this or that. It is, then, by means of these two--one thing well formed in the beginning and another thing wholly unformed, the one heaven (that is, the heaven of heavens) and the other one earth (but the earth invisible and unformed)--it is by means of these two notions that I am able to understand why thy Scripture said, without mention of days, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” For it immediately indicated which earth it was speaking about. When, on the second day, the firmament is recorded as having been created and called heaven, this suggests to us which heaven it was that he was speaking about earlier, without specifying a day.
17. Marvelous is the depth of thy oracles. Their surface is before us, inviting the little ones; and yet wonderful is their depth, O my God, marvelous is their depth! It is a fearful thing to look into them: an awe of honor and a tremor of love. Their enemies I hate vehemently. Oh, if thou wouldst slay them with thy two-edged sword, so that they should not be enemies! For I would prefer that they should be slain to themselves, that they might live to thee. But see, there are others who are not critics but praisers of the book of Genesis; they say: “The Spirit of God who wrote these things by his servant Moses did not wish these words to be understood like this. He did not wish to have it understood as you say, but as we say.” To them, O God of us all, thyself being the judge, I give answer.
18. “Will you say that these things are false which Truth tells me, with a loud voice in my inner ear, about the very eternity of the Creator: that his essence is changed in no respect by time and that his will is not distinct from his essence? Thus, he doth not will one thing now and another thing later, but he willeth once and for all everything that he willeth--not again and again; and not now this and now that. Nor does he will afterward what he did not will before, nor does he cease to will what he had willed before. Such a will would be mutable and no mutable thing is eternal. But our God is eternal.
“Again, he tells me in my inner ear that the expectation of future things is turned to sight when they have come to pass. And this same sight is turned into memory when they have passed. Moreover, all thought that varies thus is mutable, and nothing mutable is eternal. But our God is eternal.” These things I sum up and put together, and I conclude that my God, the eternal God, hath not made any creature by any new will, and his knowledge does not admit anything transitory.
19. “What, then, will you say to this, you objectors? Are these things false?” “No,” they say. “What then? Is it false that every entity already formed and all matter capable of receiving form is from him alone who is supremely good, because he is supreme?” “We do not deny this, either,” they say. “What then? Do you deny this: that there is a certain sublime created order which cleaves with such a chaste love to the true and truly eternal God that, although it is not coeternal with him, yet it does not separate itself from him, and does not flow away into any mutation of change or process but abides in true contemplation of him alone?” If thou, O God, dost show thyself to him who loves thee as thou hast commanded--and art sufficient for him--then, such a one will neither turn himself away from thee nor turn away toward himself. This is “the house of God.” It is not an earthly house and it is not made from any celestial matter; but it is a spiritual house, and it partakes in thy eternity because it is without blemish forever. For thou hast made it steadfast forever and ever; thou hast given it a law which will not be removed. Still, it is not coeternal with thee, O God, since it is not without beginning--it was created.
20. For, although we can find no time before it (for wisdom was created before all things),473473 Cf. Ecclus. 1:4. this is certainly not that Wisdom which is absolutely coeternal and equal with thee, our God, its Father, the Wisdom through whom all things were created and in whom, in the beginning, thou didst create the heaven and earth. This is truly the created Wisdom, namely, the intelligible nature which, in its contemplation of light, is light. For this is also called wisdom, even if it is a created wisdom. But the difference between the Light that lightens and that which is enlightened is as great as is the difference between the Wisdom that creates and that which is created. So also is the difference between the Righteousness that justifies and the righteousness that is made by justification. For we also are called thy righteousness, for a certain servant of thine says, “That we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”474474 2 Cor. 5:21. Therefore, there is a certain created wisdom that was created before all things: the rational and intelligible mind of that chaste city of thine. It is our mother which is above and is free475475 Cf. Gal. 4:26. and “eternal in the heavens”476476 2 Cor. 5:1.--but in what heavens except those which praise thee, the “heaven of heavens”? This also is the “heaven of heavens” which is the Lord’s--although we find no time before it, since what has been created before all things also precedes the creation of time. Still, the eternity of the Creator himself is before it, from whom it took its beginning as created, though not in time (since time as yet was not), even though time belongs to its created nature.
21. Thus it is that the intelligible heaven came to be from thee, our God, but in such a way that it is quite another being than thou art; it is not the Selfsame. Yet we find that time is not only not before it, but not even in it, thus making it able to behold thy face forever and not ever be turned aside. Thus, it is varied by no change at all. But there is still in it that mutability in virtue of which it could become dark and cold, if it did not, by cleaving to thee with a supernal love, shine and glow from thee like a perpetual noon. O house full of light and splendor! “I have loved your beauty and the place of the habitation of the glory of my Lord,”477477 Cf. Ps. 26:8. your builder and possessor. In my wandering let me sigh for you; this I ask of him who made you, that he should also possess me in you, seeing that he hath also made me. “I have gone astray like a lost sheep478478 Ps. 119:176.; yet upon the shoulders of my Shepherd, who is your builder, I have hoped that I may be brought back to you.”479479 To "the house of God."
22. “What will you say to me now, you objectors to whom I spoke, who still believe that Moses was the holy servant of God, and that his books were the oracles of the Holy Spirit? Is it not in this ‘house of God’--not coeternal with God, yet in its own mode ‘eternal in the heavens’--that you vainly seek for temporal change? You will not find it there. It rises above all extension and every revolving temporal period, and it rises to what is forever good and cleaves fast to God.”
“It is so,” they reply. “What, then, about those things which my heart cried out to my God, when it heard, within, the voice of his praise? What, then, do you contend is false in them? Is it because matter was unformed, and since there was no form there was no order? But where there was no order there could have been no temporal change. Yet even this ‘almost nothing,’ since it was not altogether nothing, was truly from him from whom everything that exists is in whatever state it is.” “This also,” they say, “we do not deny.”
23. Now, I would like to discuss a little further, in thy presence, O my God, with those who admit that all these things are true that thy Truth has indicated to my mind. Let those who deny these things bark and drown their own voices with as much clamor as they please. I will endeavor to persuade them to be quiet and to permit thy word to reach them. But if they are unwilling, and if they repel me, I ask of thee, O my God, that thou shouldst not be silent to me.480480 Cf. Ps. 28:1. Speak truly in my heart; if only thou wouldst speak thus, I would send them away, blowing up the dust and raising it in their own eyes. As for myself I will enter into my closet481481 Cubile, i.e., the heart. and there sing to thee the songs of love, groaning with groanings that are unutterable now in my pilgrimage,482482 Cf. Rom. 8:26. and remembering Jerusalem with my heart uplifted to Jerusalem my country, Jerusalem my mother483483 The heavenly Jerusalem of Gal. 4:26, which had become a favorite Christian symbol of the peace and blessedness of heaven; cf. the various versions of the hymn "Jerusalem, My Happy Home" in Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology, pp. 580-583. The original text is found in the Liber meditationum, erroneously ascribed to Augustine himself.; and to thee thyself, the Ruler of the source of Light, its Father, Guardian, Husband; its chaste and strong delight, its solid joy and all its goods ineffable--and all of this at the same time, since thou art the one supreme and true Good! And I will not be turned away until thou hast brought back together all that I am from this dispersion and deformity to the peace of that dearest mother, where the first fruits of my spirit are to be found and from which all these things are promised me which thou dost conform and confirm forever, O my God, my Mercy. But as for those who do not say that all these things which are true are false, who still honor thy Scripture set before us by the holy Moses, who join us in placing it on the summit of authority for us to follow, and yet who oppose us in some particulars, I say this: “Be thou, O God, the judge between my confessions and their gainsaying.”
24. For they say: “Even if these things are true, still Moses did not refer to these two things when he said, by divine revelation, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ By the term ‘heaven’ he did not mean that spiritual or intelligible created order which always beholds the face of God. And by the term ‘earth’ he was not referring to unformed matter.”
“What then do these terms mean?”
They reply, “That man [Moses] meant what we mean; this is what he was saying in those terms.” “What is that?”
“By the terms of heaven and earth,” they say, “he wished first to indicate universally and briefly this whole visible world; then after this, by an enumeration of the days, he could point out, one by one, all the things that it has pleased the Holy Spirit to reveal in this way. For the people to whom he spoke were rude and carnal, so that he judged it prudent that only those works of God which were visible should be mentioned to them.”
But they do agree that the phrases, “The earth was invisible and unformed,” and “The darkened abyss,” may not inappropriately be understood to refer to this unformed matter--and that out of this, as it is subsequently related, all the visible things which are known to all were made and set in order during those specified “days.”
25. But now, what if another one should say, “This same formlessness and chaos of matter was first mentioned by the name of heaven and earth because, out of it, this visible world--with all its entities which clearly appear in it and which we are accustomed to be called by the name of heaven and earth--was created and perfected”? And what if still another should say: “The invisible and visible nature is quite fittingly called heaven and earth. Thus, the whole creation which God has made in his wisdom--that is, in the beginning--was included under these two terms. Yet, since all things have been made, not from the essence of God, but from nothing; and because they are not the same reality that God is; and because there is in them all a certain mutability, whether they abide as the eternal house of God abides or whether they are changed as the soul and body of man are changed--then the common matter of all things invisible and visible (still formless but capable of receiving form) from which heaven and earth were to be created (that is, the creature already fashioned, invisible as well as visible)--all this was spoken of in the same terms by which the invisible and unformed earth and the darkness over the abyss would be called. There was this difference, however: that the invisible and unformed earth is to be understood as having corporeal matter before it had any manner of form; but the darkness over the abyss was spiritual matter, before its unlimited fluidity was harnessed, and before it was enlightened by Wisdom.”
26. And if anyone wished, he might also say, “The entities already perfected and formed, invisible and visible, are not signified by the terms ‘heaven and earth,’ when it reads, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’; instead, the unformed beginning of things, the matter capable of receiving form and being made was called by these terms--because the chaos was contained in it and was not yet distinguished by qualities and forms, which have now been arranged in their own orders and are called heaven and earth: the former a spiritual creation, the latter a physical creation.”
27. When all these things have been said and considered, I am unwilling to contend about words, for such contention is profitable for nothing but the subverting of the hearer.484484 Cf. 2 Tim. 2:14. But the law is profitable for edification if a man use it lawfully: for the end of the law “is love out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned.”485485 1 Tim. 1:5. And our Master knew it well, for it was on these two commandments that he hung all the Law and the Prophets. And how would it harm me, O my God, thou Light of my eyes in secret, if while I am ardently confessing these things--since many different things may be understood from these words, all of which may be true--what harm would be done if I should interpret the meaning of the sacred writer differently from the way some other man interprets? Indeed, all of us who read are trying to trace out and understand what our author wished to convey; and since we believe that he speaks truly we dare not suppose that he has spoken anything that we either know or suppose to be false. Therefore, since every person tries to understand in the Holy Scripture what the writer understood, what harm is done if a man understands what thou, the Light of all truth-speaking minds, showest him to be true, although the author he reads did not understand this aspect of the truth even though he did understand the truth in a different meaning?486486 This is the basis of Augustine's defense of allegory as both legitimate and profitable in the interpretation of Scripture. He did not mean that there is a plurality of literal truths in Scripture but a multiplicity of perspectives on truth which amounted to different levels and interpretations of truth. This gave Augustine the basis for a positive tolerance of varying interpretations which did hold fast to the essential common premises about God's primacy as Creator; cf. M. Pontet, L'Exégèsede Saint Augustin prédicateur (Lyons, 1944), chs. II and III.
28. For it is certainly true, O Lord, that thou didst create the heaven and the earth. It is also true that “the beginning” is thy wisdom in which thou didst create all things. It is likewise true that this visible world has its own great division (the heaven and the earth) and these two terms include all entities that have been made and created. It is further true that everything mutable confronts our minds with a certain lack of form, whereby it receives form, or whereby it is capable of taking form. It is true, yet again, that what cleaves to the changeless form so closely that even though it is mutable it is not changed is not subject to temporal process. It is true that the formlessness which is almost nothing cannot have temporal change in it. It is true that that from which something is made can, in a manner of speaking, be called by the same name as the thing that is made from it. Thus that formlessness of which heaven and earth were made might be called “heaven and earth.” It is true that of all things having form nothing is nearer to the unformed than the earth and the abyss. It is true that not only every created and formed thing but also everything capable of creation and of form were created by Thee, from whom all things are.488488 Cf. 1 Cor. 8:6. It is true, finally, that everything that is formed from what is formless was formless before it was formed.
29. From all these truths, which are not doubted by those to whom thou hast granted insight in such things in their inner eye and who believe unshakably that thy servant Moses spoke in the spirit of truth--from all these truths, then, one man takes the sense of “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” to mean, “In his Word, coeternal with himself, God made both the intelligible and the tangible, the spiritual and the corporeal creation.” Another takes it in a different sense, that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” means, “In his Word, coeternal with himself, God made the universal mass of this corporeal world, with all the observable and known entities that it contains.” Still another finds a different meaning, that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” means, “In his Word, coeternal with himself, God made the unformed matter of the spiritual and corporeal creation.” Another can take the sense that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” means, “In his Word, coeternal with himself, God made the unformed matter of the physical creation, in which heaven and earth were as yet indistinguished; but now that they have come to be separated and formed, we can now perceive them both in the mighty mass of this world.”489489 Mole mundi. Another takes still a further meaning, that “In the beginning God created heaven and earth” means, “In the very beginning of creating and working, God made that unformed matter which contained, undifferentiated, heaven and earth, from which both of them were formed, and both now stand out and are observable with all the things that are in them.”
30. Again, regarding the interpretation of the following words, one man selects for himself, from all the various truths, the interpretation that “the earth was invisible and unformed and darkness was over the abyss” means, “That corporeal entity which God made was as yet the formless matter of physical things without order and without light.” Another takes it in a different sense, that “But the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the abyss” means, “This totality called heaven and earth was as yet unformed and lightless matter, out of which the corporeal heaven and the corporeal earth were to be made, with all the things in them that are known to our physical senses.” Another takes it still differently and says that “But the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the abyss” means, “This totality called heaven and earth was as yet an unformed and lightless matter, from which were to be made that intelligible heaven (which is also called ‘the heaven of heavens’) and the earth (which refers to the whole physical entity, under which term may be included this corporeal heaven)--that is, He made the intelligible heaven from which every invisible and visible creature would be created.” He takes it in yet another sense who says that “But the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the abyss” means, “The Scripture does not refer to that formlessness by the term ‘heaven and earth’; that formlessness itself already existed. This it called the invisible ‘earth’ and the unformed and lightless ‘abyss,’ from which--as it had said before--God made the heaven and the earth (namely, the spiritual and the corporeal creation).” Still another says that “But the earth was invisible and formless, and darkness was over the abyss” means, “There was already an unformed matter from which, as the Scripture had already said, God made heaven and earth, namely, the entire corporeal mass of the world, divided into two very great parts, one superior, the other inferior, with all those familiar and known creatures that are in them.”
31. Now suppose that someone tried to argue against these last two opinions as follows: “If you will not admit that this formlessness of matter appears to be called by the term ‘heaven and earth,’ then there was something that God had not made out of which he did make heaven and earth. And Scripture has not told us that God made this matter, unless we understand that it is implied in the term ‘heaven and earth’ (or the term ‘earth’ alone) when it is said, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and earth.’ Thus, in what follows--’the earth was invisible and unformed’--even though it pleased Moses thus to refer to unformed matter, yet we can only understand by it that which God himself hath made, as it stands written in the previous verse, ‘God made heaven and earth.’” Those who maintain either one or the other of these two opinions which we have set out above will answer to such objections: “We do not deny at all that this unformed matter was created by God, from whom all things are, and are very good--because we hold that what is created and endowed with form is a higher good; and we also hold that what is made capable of being created and endowed with form, though it is a lesser good, is still a good. But the Scripture has not said specifically that God made this formlessness--any more than it has said it specifically of many other things, such as the orders of ‘cherubim’ and ‘seraphim’ and those others of which the apostle distinctly speaks: ‘thrones,’ ‘dominions,’ ‘principalities,’ ‘powers’490490 Cf. Col. 1:16.--yet it is clear that God made all of these. If in the phrase ‘He made heaven and earth’ all things are included, what are we to say about the waters upon which the Spirit of God moved? For if they are understood as included in the term ‘earth,’ then how can unformed matter be meant by the term ‘earth’ when we see the waters so beautifully formed? Or, if it be taken thus, why, then, is it written that out of the same formlessness the firmament was made and called heaven, and yet is it not specifically written that the waters were made? For these waters, which we perceive flowing in so beautiful a fashion, are not formless and invisible. But if they received that beauty at the time God said of them, ‘Let the waters which are under the firmament be gathered together,’491491 Gen. 1:9. thus indicating that their gathering together was the same thing as their reception of form, what, then, is to be said about the waters that are above the firmament? Because if they are unformed, they do not deserve to have a seat so honorable, and yet it is not written by what specific word they were formed. If, then, Genesis is silent about anything that God hath made, which neither sound faith nor unerring understanding doubts that God hath made, let not any sober teaching dare to say that these waters were coeternal with God because we find them mentioned in the book of Genesis and do not find it mentioned when they were created. If Truth instructs us, why may we not interpret that unformed matter which the Scripture calls the earth--invisible and unformed--and the lightless abyss as having been made by God from nothing; and thus understand that they are not coeternal with him, although the narrative fails to tell us precisely when they were made?”
32. I have heard and considered these theories as well as my weak apprehension allows, and I confess my weakness to Thee, O Lord, though already thou knowest it. Thus I see that two sorts of disagreements may arise when anything is related by signs, even by trustworthy reporters. There is one disagreement about the truth of the things involved; the other concerns the meaning of the one who reports them. It is one thing to inquire as to what is true about the formation of the Creation. It is another thing, however, to ask what that excellent servant of thy faith, Moses, would have wished for the reader and hearer to understand from these words. As for the first question, let all those depart from me who imagine that Moses spoke things that are false. But let me be united with them in thee, O Lord, and delight myself in thee with those who feed on thy truth in the bond of love. Let us approach together the words of thy book and make diligent inquiry in them for thy meaning through the meaning of thy servant by whose pen thou hast given them to us.
33. But in the midst of so many truths which occur to the interpreters of these words (understood as they can be in different ways), which one of us can discover that single interpretation which warrants our saying confidently that Moses thought thus and that in this narrative he wishes this to be understood, as confidently as he would say that this is true, whether Moses thought the one or the other. For see, O my God, I am thy servant, and I have vowed in this book an offering of confession to thee,492492 Note how this reiterates a constant theme in the Confessions as a whole; a further indication that Bk. XII is an integral part of the single whole. and I beseech thee that by thy mercy I may pay my vow to thee. Now, see, could I assert that Moses meant nothing else than this [i.e., my interpretation] when he wrote, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” as confidently as I can assert that thou in thy immutable Word hast created all things, invisible and visible? No, I cannot do this because it is not as clear to me that this was in his mind when he wrote these things, as I see it to be certain in thy truth. For his thoughts might be set upon the very beginning of the creation when he said, “In the beginning”; and he might have wished it understood that, in this passage, “heaven and earth” refers to no formed and perfect entity, whether spiritual or corporeal, but each of them only newly begun and still formless. Whichever of these possibilities has been mentioned I can see that it might have been said truly. But which of them he did actually intend to express in these words I do not clearly see. However, whether it was one of these or some other meaning which I have not mentioned that this great man saw in his mind when he used these words I have no doubt whatever that he saw it truly and expressed it suitably.
34. Let no man fret me now by saying, “Moses did not mean what you say, but what I say.” Now if he asks me, “How do you know that Moses meant what you deduce from his words?”, I ought to respond calmly and reply as I have already done, or even more fully if he happens to be untrained. But when he says, “Moses did not mean what you say, but what I say,” and then does not deny what either of us says but allows that both are true--then, O my God, life of the poor, in whose breast there is no contradiction, pour thy soothing balm into my heart that I may patiently bear with people who talk like this! It is not because they are godly men and have seen in the heart of thy servant what they say, but rather they are proud men and have not considered Moses’ meaning, but only love their own--not because it is true but because it is their own. Otherwise they could equally love another true opinion, as I love what they say when what they speak is true--not because it is theirs but because it is true, and therefore not theirs but true. And if they love an opinion because it is true, it becomes both theirs and mine, since it is the common property of all lovers of the truth.493493 Cf. De libero arbitrio, II, 8:20, 10:28. But I neither accept nor approve of it when they contend that Moses did not mean what I say but what they say--and this because, even if it were so, such rashness is born not of knowledge, but of impudence. It comes not from vision but from vanity.
And therefore, O Lord, thy judgments should be held in awe, because thy truth is neither mine nor his nor anyone else’s; but it belongs to all of us whom thou hast openly called to have it in common; and thou hast warned us not to hold on to it as our own special property, for if we do we lose it. For if anyone arrogates to himself what thou hast bestowed on all to enjoy, and if he desires something for his own that belongs to all, he is forced away from what is common to all to what is, indeed, his very own--that is, from truth to falsehood. For he who tells a lie speaks of his own thought.494494 Cf. John 8:44.
35. Hear, O God, best judge of all! O Truth itself, hear what I say to this disputant. Hear it, because I say it in thy presence and before my brethren who use the law rightly to the end of love. Hear and give heed to what I shall say to him, if it pleases thee.
For I would return this brotherly and peaceful word to him: “If we both see that what you say is true, and if we both say that what I say is true, where is it, I ask you, that we see this? Certainly, I do not see it in you, and you do not see it in me, but both of us see it in the unchangeable truth itself, which is above our minds.”495495 The essential thesis of the De Magistro; it has important implications both for Augustine's epistemology and for his theory of Christian nurture; cf. the De catechizandis rudibus. If, then, we do not disagree about the true light of the Lord our God, why do we disagree about the thoughts of our neighbor, which we cannot see as clearly as the immutable Truth is seen? If Moses himself had appeared to us and said, “This is what I meant,” it would not be in order that we should see it but that we should believe him. Let us not, then, “go beyond what is written and be puffed up for the one against the other.”496496 1 Cor. 4:6. Let us, instead, “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and our neighbor as ourself.”497497 Cf. Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18; see also Matt. 22:37, 39. Unless we believe that whatever Moses meant in these books he meant to be ordered by these two precepts of love, we shall make God a liar, if we judge of the soul of his servant in any other way than as he has taught us. See now, how foolish it is, in the face of so great an abundance of true opinions which can be elicited from these words, rashly to affirm that Moses especially intended only one of these interpretations; and then, with destructive contention, to violate love itself, on behalf of which he had said all the things we are endeavoring to explain!
36. And yet, O my God, thou exaltation of my humility and rest of my toil, who hearest my confessions and forgivest my sins, since thou commandest me to love my neighbor as myself, I cannot believe that thou gavest thy most faithful servant Moses a lesser gift than I should wish and desire for myself from thee, if I had been born in his time, and if thou hadst placed me in the position where, by the use of my heart and my tongue, those books might be produced which so long after were to profit all nations throughout the whole world--from such a great pinnacle of authority--and were to surmount the words of all false and proud teachings. If I had been Moses--and we all come from the same mass,498498 Cf. Rom. 9:21. and what is man that thou art mindful of him?499499 Cf. Ps. 8:4.--if I had been Moses at the time that he was, and if I had been ordered by thee to write the book of Genesis, I would surely have wished for such a power of expression and such an art of arrangement to be given me, that those who cannot as yet understand how God createth would still not reject my words as surpassing their powers of understanding. And I would have wished that those who are already able to do this would find fully contained in the laconic speech of thy servant whatever truths they had arrived at in their own thought; and if, in the light of the Truth, some other man saw some further meaning, that too would be found congruent to my words.
37. For just as a spring dammed up is more plentiful and affords a larger supply of water for more streams over wider fields than any single stream led off from the same spring over a long course--so also is the narration of thy minister: it is intended to benefit many who are likely to discourse about it and, with an economy of language, it overflows into various streams of clear truth, from which each one may draw out for himself that particular truth which he can about these topics--this one that truth, that one another truth, by the broader survey of various interpretations. For some people, when they read or hear these words,500500 "In the beginning God created," etc. think that God, like some sort of man or like some sort of huge body, by some new and sudden decision, produced outside himself and at a certain distance two great bodies: one above, the other below, within which all created things were to be contained. And when they hear, “God said, ‘Let such and such be done,’ and it was done,” they think of words begun and ended, sounding in time and then passing away, followed by the coming into being of what was commanded. They think of other things of the same sort which their familiarity with the world suggests to them.
In these people, who are still little children and whose weakness is borne up by this humble language as if on a mother’s breast, their faith is built up healthfully and they come to possess and to hold as certain the conviction that God made all entities that their senses perceive all around them in such marvelous variety. And if one despises these words as if they were trivial, and with proud weakness stretches himself beyond his fostering cradle, he will, alas, fall away wretchedly. Have pity, O Lord God, lest those who pass by trample on the unfledged bird,501501 An echo of Job 39:13-16. and send thy angel who may restore it to its nest, that it may live until it can fly.
38. But others, to whom these words are no longer a nest but, rather, a shady thicket, spy the fruits concealed in them and fly around rejoicing and search among them and pluck them with cheerful chirpings: For when they read or hear these words, O God, they see that all times past and times future are transcended by thy eternal and stable permanence, and they see also that there is no temporal creature that is not of thy making. By thy will, since it is the same as thy being, thou hast created all things, not by any mutation of will and not by any will that previously was nonexistent--and not out of thyself, but in thy own likeness, thou didst make from nothing the form of all things. This was an unlikeness which was capable of being formed by thy likeness through its relation to thee, the One, as each thing has been given form appropriate to its kind according to its preordained capacity. Thus, all things were made very good, whether they remain around thee or whether, removed in time and place by various degrees, they cause or undergo the beautiful changes of natural process.
They see these things and they rejoice in the light of thy truth to whatever degree they can.
39. Again, one of these men502502 The thicket denizens mentioned above. directs his attention to the verse, “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth,” and he beholds Wisdom as the true “beginning,” because it also speaks to us. Another man directs his attention to the same words, and by “beginning” he understands simply the commencement of creation, and interprets it thus: “In the beginning he made,” as if it were the same thing as to say, “At the first moment, God made . . .” And among those who interpret “In the beginning” to mean that in thy wisdom thou hast created the heaven and earth, one believes that the matter out of which heaven and earth were to be created is what is referred to by the phrase “heaven and earth.” But another believes that these entities were already formed and distinct. Still another will understand it to refer to one formed entity--a spiritual one, designated by the term “heaven”--and to another unformed entity of corporeal matter, designated by the term “earth.” But those who understand the phrase “heaven and earth” to mean the yet unformed matter from which the heaven and the earth were to be formed do not take it in a simple sense: one man regards it as that from which the intelligible and tangible creations are both produced; and another only as that from which the tangible, corporeal world is produced, containing in its vast bosom these visible and observable entities. Nor are they in simple accord who believe that “heaven and earth” refers to the created things already set in order and arranged. One believes that it refers to the invisible and visible world; another, only to the visible world, in which we admire the luminous heavens and the darkened earth and all the things that they contain.
40. But he who understands “In the beginning he made” as if it meant, “At first he made,” can truly interpret the phrase “heaven and earth” as referring only to the “matter” of heaven and earth, namely, of the prior universal, which is the intelligible and corporeal creation. For if he would try to interpret the phrase as applying to the universe already formed, it then might rightly be asked of him, “If God first made this, what then did he do afterward?” And, after the universe, he will find nothing. But then he must, however unwillingly, face the question, How is this the first if there is nothing afterward? But when he said that God made matter first formless and then formed, he is not being absurd if he is able to discern what precedes by eternity, and what proceeds in time; what comes from choice, and what comes from origin. In eternity, God is before all things; in the temporal process, the flower is before the fruit; in the act of choice, the fruit is before the flower; in the case of origin, sound is before the tune. Of these four relations, the first and last that I have referred to are understood with much difficulty. The second and third are very easily understood. For it is an uncommon and lofty vision, O Lord, to behold thy eternity immutably making mutable things, and thereby standing always before them. Whose mind is acute enough to be able, without great labor, to discover how the sound comes before the tune? For a tune is a formed sound; and an unformed thing may exist, but a thing that does not exist cannot be formed. In the same way, matter is prior to what is made from it. It is not prior because it makes its product, for it is itself made; and its priority is not that of a time interval. For in time we do not first utter formless sounds without singing and then adapt or fashion them into the form of a song, as wood or silver from which a chest or vessel is made. Such materials precede in time the forms of the things which are made from them. But in singing this is not so. For when a song is sung, its sound is heard at the same time. There is not first a formless sound, which afterward is formed into a song; but just as soon as it has sounded it passes away, and you cannot find anything of it which you could gather up and shape. Therefore, the song is absorbed in its own sound and the “sound” of the song is its “matter.” But the sound is formed in order that it may be a tune. This is why, as I was saying, the matter of the sound is prior to the form of the tune. It is not “before” in the sense that it has any power of making a sound or tune. Nor is the sound itself the composer of the tune; rather, the sound is sent forth from the body and is ordered by the soul of the singer, so that from it he may form a tune. Nor is the sound first in time, for it is given forth together with the tune. Nor is it first in choice, because a sound is no better than a tune, since a tune is not merely a sound but a beautiful sound. But it is first in origin, because the tune is not formed in order that it may become a sound, but the sound is formed in order that it may become a tune.
From this example, let him who is able to understand see that the matter of things was first made and was called “heaven and earth” because out of it the heaven and earth were made. This primal formlessness was not made first in time, because the form of things gives rise to time; but now, in time, it is intuited together with its form. And yet nothing can be related of this unformed matter unless it is regarded as if it were the first in the time series though the last in value--because things formed are certainly superior to things unformed--and it is preceded by the eternity of the Creator, so that from nothing there might be made that from which something might be made.
41. In this discord of true opinions let Truth itself bring concord, and may our God have mercy on us all, that we may use the law rightly to the end of the commandment which is pure love. Thus, if anyone asks me which of these opinions was the meaning of thy servant Moses, these would not be my confessions did I not confess to thee that I do not know. Yet I do know that those opinions are true--with the exception of the carnal ones--about which I have said what I thought was proper. Yet those little ones of good hope are not frightened by these words of thy Book, for they speak of high things in a lowly way and of a few basic things in many varied ways. But let all of us, whom I acknowledge to see and speak the truth in these words, love one another and also love thee, our God, O Fountain of Truth--as we will if we thirst not after vanity but for the Fountain of Truth. Indeed, let us so honor this servant of thine, the dispenser of this Scripture, full of thy Spirit, so that we will believe that when thou didst reveal thyself to him, and he wrote these things down, he intended through them what will chiefly minister both for the light of truth and to the increase of our fruitfulness.
42. Thus, when one man says, “Moses meant what I mean,” and another says, “No, he meant what I do,” I think that I speak more faithfully when I say, “Why could he not have meant both if both opinions are true?” And if there should be still a third truth or a fourth one, and if anyone should seek a truth quite different in those words, why would it not be right to believe that Moses saw all these different truths, since through him the one God has tempered the Holy Scriptures to the understanding of many different people, who should see truths in it even if they are different? Certainly--and I say this fearlessly and from my heart--if I were to write anything on such a supreme authority, I would prefer to write it so that, whatever of truth anyone might apprehend from the matter under discussion, my words should re-echo in the several minds rather than that they should set down one true opinion so clearly on one point that I should exclude the rest, even though they contained no falsehood that offended me. Therefore, I am unwilling, O my God, to be so headstrong as not to believe that this man [Moses] has received at least this much from thee. Surely when he was writing these words, he saw fully and understood all the truth we have been able to find in them, and also much besides that we have not been able to discern, or are not yet able to find out, though it is there in them still to be found.
43. Finally, O Lord--who art God and not flesh and blood--if any man sees anything less, can anything lie hid from “thy good Spirit” who shall “lead me into the land of uprightness,”503503 Cf. Ps. 143:10. which thou thyself, through those words, wast revealing to future readers, even though he through whom they were spoken fixed on only one among the many interpretations that might have been found? And if this is so, let it be agreed that the meaning he saw is more exalted than the others. But to us, O Lord, either point out the same meaning or any other true one, as it pleases thee. Thus, whether thou makest known to us what thou madest known to that man of thine, or some other meaning by the agency of the same words, still do thou feed us and let error not deceive us. Behold, O Lord, my God, how much we have written concerning these few words--how much, indeed! What strength of mind, what length of time, would suffice for all thy books to be interpreted in this fashion?504504 Something of an understatement! It is interesting to note that Augustine devotes more time and space to these opening verses of Genesis than to any other passage in the entire Bible--and he never commented on the full text of Genesis. Cf. Karl Barth's 274 pages devoted to Gen., chs. 1;2, in the Kirchliche Dogmatik, III, I, pp. 103-377. Allow me, therefore, in these concluding words to confess more briefly to thee and select some one, true, certain, and good sense that thou shalt inspire, although many meanings offer themselves and many indeed are possible.505505 Transition, in preparation for the concluding book (XIII), which undertakes a constructive resolution to the problem of the analysis of the mode of creation made here in Bk. XII. This is the faith of my confession, that if I could say what thy servant meant, that is truest and best, and for that I must strive. Yet if I do not succeed, may it be that I shall say at least what thy Truth wished to say to me through its words, just as it said what it wished to Moses.
The mysteries and allegories of the days of creation. Augustine undertakes to interpret Gen. 1:2-31 in a mystical and allegorical fashion so as to exhibit the profundities of God’s power and wisdom and love. He is also interested in developing his theories of hermeneutics on his favorite topic: creation. He finds the Trinity in the account of creation and he ponders the work of the Spirit moving over the waters. In the firmament he finds the allegory of Holy Scripture and in the dry land and bitter sea he finds the division between the people of God and the conspiracy of the unfaithful. He develops the theme of man’s being made in the image and likeness of God. He brings his survey to a climax and his confessions to an end with a meditation on the goodness of all creation and the promised rest and blessedness of the eternal Sabbath, on which God, who is eternal rest, “rested.”
1. I call on thee, my God, my Mercy, who madest me and didst not forget me, though I was forgetful of thee. I call thee into my soul, which thou didst prepare for thy reception by the desire which thou inspirest in it. Do not forsake me when I call on thee, who didst anticipate me before I called and who didst repeatedly urge with manifold calling that I should hear thee afar off and be turned and call upon thee, who callest me. For thou, O Lord, hast blotted out all my evil deserts, not punishing me for what my hands have done; and thou hast anticipated all my good deserts so as to recompense me for what thy hands have done--the hands which made me. Before I was, thou wast, and I was not anything at all that thou shouldst grant me being. Yet, see how I exist by reason of thy goodness, which made provision for all that thou madest me to be and all that thou madest me from. For thou didst not stand in need of me, nor am I the kind of good entity which could be a help to thee, my Lord and my God. It is not that I may serve thee as if thou wert fatigued in working, or as if thy power would be the less if it lacked my assistance. Nor is the service I pay thee like the cultivation of a field, so that thou wouldst go untended if I did not tend thee.506506 This is a compound--and untranslatable--Latin pun: nequeut sic te colam quasi terram, ut sis uncultus si non te colam. Instead, it is that I may serve and worship thee to the end that I may have my well-being from thee, from whom comes my capacity for well-being.
2. Indeed, it is from the fullness of thy goodness that thy creation exists at all: to the end that the created good might not fail to be, even though it can profit thee nothing, and is nothing of thee nor equal to thee--since its created existence comes from thee.
For what did the heaven and earth, which thou didst make in the beginning, ever deserve from thee? Let them declare--these spiritual and corporeal entities, which thou madest in thy wisdom--let them declare what they merited at thy hands, so that the inchoate and the formless, whether spiritual or corporeal, would deserve to be held in being in spite of the fact that they tend toward disorder and extreme unlikeness to thee? An unformed spiritual entity is more excellent than a formed corporeal entity; and the corporeal, even when unformed, is more excellent than if it were simply nothing at all. Still, these formless entities are held in their state of being by thee, until they are recalled to thy unity and receive form and being from thee, the one sovereign Good. What have they deserved of thee, since they would not even be unformed entities except from thee?
3. What has corporeal matter deserved of thee--even in its invisible and unformed state--since it would not exist even in this state if thou hadst not made it? And, if it did not exist, it could not merit its existence from thee.
Or, what has that formless spiritual creation deserved of thee--that it should flow lightlessly like the abyss--since it is so unlike thee and would not exist at all if it had not been turned by the Word which made it that same Word, and, illumined by that Word, had been “made light”507507 Cf. Enneads, I, 2:4: "What the soul now sees, it certainly always possessed, but as lying in the darkness. . . . To dispel the darkness and thus come to knowledge of its inner content, it must thrust toward the light." Compare the notions of the initiative of such movements in the soul in Plotinus and Augustine. although not as thy equal but only as an image of that Form [of Light] which is equal to thee? For, in the case of a body, its being is not the same thing as its being beautiful; else it could not then be a deformed body. Likewise, in the case of a created spirit, living is not the same state as living wisely; else it could then be immutably wise. But the true good of every created thing is always to cleave fast to thee, lest, in turning away from thee, it lose the light it had received in being turned by thee, and so relapse into a life like that of the dark abyss.
As for ourselves, who are a spiritual creation by virtue of our souls, when we turned away from thee, O Light, we were in that former life of darkness; and we toil amid the shadows of our darkness until--through thy only Son--we become thy righteousness,508508 Cf. 2 Cor. 5:21. like the mountains of God. For we, like the great abyss,509509 Cf. Ps. 36:6 and see also Augustine's Exposition on the Psalms, XXXVI, 8, where he says that "the great preachers [receivers of God's illumination] are the mountains of God," for they first catch the light on their summits. The abyss he called "the depth of sin" into which the evil and unfaithful fall. have been the objects of thy judgments.
4. Now what thou saidst in the beginning of the creation--“Let there be light: and there was light”--I interpret, not unfitly, as referring to the spiritual creation, because it already had a kind of life which thou couldst illuminate. But, since it had not merited from thee that it should be a life capable of enlightenment, so neither, when it already began to exist, did it merit from thee that it should be enlightened. For neither could its formlessness please thee until it became light--and it became light, not from the bare fact of existing, but by the act of turning its face to the light which enlightened it, and by cleaving to it. Thus it owed the fact that it lived, and lived happily, to nothing whatsoever but thy grace, since it had been turned, by a change for the better, toward that which cannot be changed for either better or worse. Thou alone art, because thou alone art without complication. For thee it is not one thing to live and another thing to live in blessedness; for thou art thyself thy own blessedness.
5. What, therefore, would there have been lacking in thy good, which thou thyself art, even if these things had never been made or had remained unformed? Thou didst not create them out of any lack but out of the plenitude of thy goodness, ordering them and turning them toward form,510510 Cf. Timaeus, 29D-30A, "He [the Demiurge-Creator] was good: and in the good no jealousy . . . can ever arise. So, being without jealousy, he desired that all things should come as near as possible to being like himself. . . . He took over all that is visible . . . and brought it from order to order, since he judged that order was in every way better" (F. M. Cornford, Plato's Cosmology, New York, 1937, p. 33). Cf. Enneads, V, 4:1, and Athanasius, On the Incarnation, III, 3. but not because thy joy had to be perfected by them. For thou art perfect, and their imperfection is displeasing. Therefore were they perfected by thee and became pleasing to thee--but not as if thou wert before that imperfect and had to be perfected in their perfection. For thy good Spirit which moved over the face of the waters511511 Cf. Gen. 1:2. was not borne up by them as if he rested on them. For those in whom thy good Spirit is said to rest he actually causes to rest in himself. But thy incorruptible and immutable will--in itself all-sufficient for itself--moved over that life which thou hadst made: in which living is not at all the same thing as living happily, since that life still lives even as it flows in its own darkness. But it remains to be turned to him by whom it was made and to live more and more like “the fountain of life,” and in his light “to see light,”512512 Cf. Ps. 36:9. and to be perfected, and enlightened, and made blessed.
6. See now,513513 In this passage in Genesis on the creation. how the Trinity appears to me in an enigma. And thou art the Trinity, O my God, since thou, O Father--in the beginning of our wisdom, that is, in thy wisdom born of thee, equal and coeternal with thee, that is, thy Son--created the heaven and the earth. Many things we have said about the heaven of heavens, and about the earth invisible and unformed, and about the shadowy abyss--speaking of the aimless flux of its being spiritually deformed unless it is turned to him from whom it has its life (such as it is) and by his Light comes to be a life suffused with beauty. Thus it would be a [lower] heaven of that [higher] heaven, which afterward was made between water and water.514514 Cf. Gen. 1:6.
And now I came to recognize, in the name of God, the Father who made all these things, and in the term “the Beginning” to recognize the Son, through whom he made all these things; and since I did believe that my God was the Trinity, I sought still further in his holy Word, and, behold, “Thy Spirit moved over the waters.” Thus, see the Trinity, O my God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Creator of all creation!
7. But why, O truth-speaking Light? To thee I lift up my heart--let it not teach me vain notions. Disperse its shadows and tell me, I beseech thee, by that Love which is our mother; tell me, I beseech thee, the reason why--after the reference to heaven and to the invisible and unformed earth, and darkness over the abyss--thy Scripture should then at long last refer to thy Spirit? Was it because it was appropriate that he should first be shown to us as “moving over”; and this could not have been said unless something had already been mentioned over which thy Spirit could be understood as “moving”? For he did not “move over” the Father and the Son, and he could not properly be said to be “moving over” if he were “moving over” nothing. Thus, what it was he was “moving over” had to be mentioned first and he whom it was not proper to mention otherwise than as “moving over” could then be mentioned. But why was it not fitting that he should have been introduced in some other way than in this context of “moving over’’?
8. Now let him who is able follow thy apostle with his understanding when he says, “Thy love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given to us”515515 Rom. 5:5. and who teacheth us about spiritual gifts516516 1 Cor. 12:1. and showeth us a more excellent way of love; and who bows his knee unto thee for us, that we may come to the surpassing knowledge of the love of Christ.517517 Cf. Eph. 3:14, 19. Thus, from the beginning, he who is above all was “moving over” the waters.
To whom shall I tell this? How can I speak of the weight of concupiscence which drags us downward into the deep abyss, and of the love which lifts us up by thy Spirit who moved over the waters? To whom shall I tell this? How shall I tell it? For concupiscence and love are not certain “places” into which we are plunged and out of which we are lifted again. What could be more like, and yet what more unlike? They are both feelings; they are both loves. The uncleanness of our own spirit flows downward with the love of worldly care; and the sanctity of thy Spirit raises us upward by the love of release from anxiety--that we may lift our hearts to thee where thy Spirit is “moving over the waters.” Thus, we shall have come to that supreme rest where our souls shall have passed through the waters which give no standing ground.518518 Cf. the Old Latin version of Ps. 123:5.
9. The angels fell, and the soul of man fell; thus they indicate to us the deep darkness of the abyss, which would have still contained the whole spiritual creation if thou hadst not said, in the beginning, “Let there be light: and there was light”--and if every obedient mind in thy heavenly city had not adhered to thee and had not reposed in thy Spirit, which moved immutable over all things mutable. Otherwise, even the heaven of heavens itself would have been a dark shadow, instead of being, as it is now, light in the Lord.519519 Cf. Eph. 5:8. For even in the restless misery of the fallen spirits, who exhibit their own darkness when they are stripped of the garments of thy light, thou showest clearly how noble thou didst make the rational creation, for whose rest and beatitude nothing suffices save thee thyself. And certainly it is not itself sufficient for its beatitude. For it is thou, O our God, who wilt enlighten our darkness; from thee shall come our garments of light; and then our darkness shall be as the noonday. Give thyself to me, O my God, restore thyself to me! See, I love thee; and if it be too little, let me love thee still more strongly. I cannot measure my love so that I may come to know how much there is still lacking in me before my life can run to thy embrace and not be turned away until it is hidden in “the covert of thy presence.”520520 Cf. Ps. 31:20. Only this I know, that my existence is my woe except in thee--not only in my outward life, but also within my inmost self--and all abundance I have which is not my God is poverty.
10. But was neither the Father nor the Son “moving over the waters”? If we understand this as a motion in space, as a body moves, then not even the Holy Spirit “moved.” But if we understand the changeless supereminence of the divine Being above every changeable thing, then Father, Son, and Holy Spirit “moved over the waters.”
Why, then, is this said of thy Spirit alone? Why is it said of him only--as if he had been in a “place” that is not a place--about whom alone it is written, “He is thy gift”? It is in thy gift that we rest. It is there that we enjoy thee. Our rest is our “place.” Love lifts us up toward that place, and thy good Spirit lifts our lowliness from the gates of death.521521 Cf. Ps. 9:13. Our peace rests in the goodness of will. The body tends toward its own place by its own gravity. A weight does not tend downward only, but moves to its own place. Fire tends upward; a stone tends downward. They are propelled by their own mass; they seek their own places. Oil poured under the water rises above the water; water poured on oil sinks under the oil. They are moved by their own mass; they seek their own places. If they are out of order, they are restless; when their order is restored, they are at rest. My weight is my love. By it I am carried wherever I am carried. By thy gift,522522 The Holy Spirit. we are enkindled and are carried upward. We burn inwardly and move forward. We ascend thy ladder which is in our heart, and we sing a canticle of degrees523523 Canticumgraduum. Psalms 119 to 133 as numbered in the Vulgate were regarded as a single series of ascending steps by which the soul moves up toward heaven; cf. The Exposition on the Psalms, loc. cit.; we glow inwardly with thy fire--with thy good fire524524 Tongues of fire, symbol of the descent of the Holy Spirit; cf. Acts 2:3, 4.--and we go forward because we go up to the peace of Jerusalem525525 Cf. Ps. 122:6.; for I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.”526526 Ps. 122:1. There thy good pleasure will settle us so that we will desire nothing more than to dwell there forever.527527 Cf. Ps. 23:6.
11. Happy would be that creature who, though it was in itself other than thou, still had known no other state than this from the time it was made, so that it was never without thy gift which moves over everything mutable--who had been borne up by the call in which thou saidst, “Let there be light: and there was light.”528528 Gen. 1:3. For in us there is a distinction between the time when we were darkness and the time when we were made light. But we are not told what would have been the case with that creature if the light had not been made. It is spoken of as though there had been something of flux and darkness in it beforehand so that the cause by which it was made to be otherwise might be evident. This is to say, by being turned to the unfailing Light it might become light. Let him who is able understand this; and let him who is not ask of thee. Why trouble me, as if I could “enlighten every man that comes into the world”529529 John 1:9.?
12. Who can understand the omnipotent Trinity? And yet who does not speak about it, if indeed it is of it that he speaks? Rare is the soul who, when he speaks of it, also knows of what he speaks. And men contend and strive, but no man sees the vision of it without peace.
I could wish that men would consider three things which are within themselves. These three things are quite different from the Trinity, but I mention them in order that men may exercise their minds and test themselves and come to realize how different from it they are.530530 Cf. the detailed analogy from self to Trinity in De Trinitate, IX-XII.
The three things I speak of are: to be, to know, and to will. For I am, and I know, and I will. I am a knowing and a willing being; I know that I am and that I will; and I will to be and to know. In these three functions, therefore, let him who can see how integral a life is; for there is one life, one mind, one essence. Finally, the distinction does not separate the things, and yet it is a distinction. Surely a man has this distinction before his mind; let him look into himself and see, and tell me. But when he discovers and can say anything about any one of these, let him not think that he has thereby discovered what is immutable above them all, which is immutably and knows immutably and wills immutably. But whether there is a Trinity there because these three functions exist in the one God, or whether all three are in each Person so that they are each threefold, or whether both these notions are true and, in some mysterious manner, the Infinite is in itself its own Selfsame object--at once one and many, so that by itself it is and knows itself and suffices to itself without change, so that the Selfsame is the abundant magnitude of its Unity--who can readily conceive? Who can in any fashion express it plainly? Who can in any way rashly make a pronouncement about it?
13. Go forward in your confession, O my faith; say to the Lord your God, “Holy, holy, holy, O Lord my God, in thy name we have been baptized, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” In thy name we baptize, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For among us also God in his Christ made “heaven and earth,” namely, the spiritual and carnal members of his Church. And true it is that before it received “the form of doctrine,” our “earth”531531 I.e., the Church. was “invisible and unformed,” and we were covered with the darkness of our ignorance; for thou dost correct man for his iniquity,532532 Cf. Ps. 39:11. and “thy judgments are a great abyss.”533533 Ps. 36:6. But because thy Spirit was moving over these waters, thy mercy did not forsake our wretchedness, and thou saidst, “Let there be light; repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”534534 Gen. 1:3 and Matt. 4:17; 3:2. Repent, and let there be light. Because our soul was troubled within us, we remembered thee, O Lord, from the land of Jordan, and from the mountain535535 Cf. Ps. 42:5, 6.--and as we became displeased with our darkness we turned to thee, “and there was light.” And behold, we were heretofore in darkness, but now we are light in the Lord.536536 Cf. Eph. 5:8.
14. But even so, we still live by faith and not by sight, for we are saved by hope; but hope that is seen is not hope. Thus far deep calls unto deep, but now in “the noise of thy waterfalls.”537537 Ps. 42:7. And thus far he who said, “I could not speak to you as if you were spiritual ones, but only as if you were carnal”538538 Cf. 1 Cor. 3:1.--thus far even he does not count himself to have apprehended, but forgetting the things that are behind and reaching forth to the things that are before, he presses on to those things that are ahead,539539 Cf. Phil. 3:13. and he groans under his burden and his soul thirsts after the living God as the stag pants for the water brooks,540540 Cf. Ps. 42:1. and says, “When shall I come?”541541 Ps. 42:2.--“desiring to be further clothed by his house which is from heaven.”542542 Cf. 2 Cor. 5:1-4. And he called to this lower deep, saying, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”543543 Rom. 12:2. And “be not children in understanding, although in malice be children,” in order that “in understanding you may become perfect.”544544 1 Cor. 14:20. “O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?”545545 Gal. 3:1. But this is not now only in his own voice but in thy voice, who sent thy Spirit from above through Him who both “ascended up on high”546546 Eph. 4:8, 9. and opened up the floodgates of his gifts, that the force of his streams might make glad the city of God.547547 Cf. Ps. 46:4.
For that city and for him sighs the Bridegroom’s friend,548548 Cf. John 3:29. who has now the first fruits of the Spirit laid up with him, but who is still groaning within himself and waiting for adoption, that is, the redemption of his body.549549 Cf. Rom. 8:23. To Him he sighs, for he is a member of the Bride550550 I.e., the Body of Christ.; for him he is jealous, not for himself, but because not in his own voice but in the voice of thy waterfalls he calls on that other deep, of which he is jealous and in fear; for he fears lest, as the serpent seduced Eve by his subtlety, his mind should be corrupted from the purity which is in our Bridegroom, thy only Son. What a light of beauty that will be when “we shall see him as he is”551551 1 John 3:2.!--and when these tears shall pass away which “have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, ‘Where is your God?’”552552 Ps. 42:3.
15. And I myself say: “O my God, where art thou? See now, where art thou?” In thee I take my breath for a little while, when I pour out my soul beyond myself in the voice of joy and praise, in the voice of him that keeps holyday.553553 Cf. Ps. 42:4. And still it is cast down because it relapses and becomes an abyss, or rather it feels that it still is an abyss. My faith speaks to my soul--the faith that thou dost kindle to light my path in the night: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted in me? Hope in God.”554554 Ps. 43:5. For his word is a lamp to your feet.555555 Cf. Ps. 119:105. Hope and persevere until the night passes--that mother of the wicked; until the Lord’s wrath subsides--that wrath whose children once we were, of whom we were beforehand in darkness, whose residue we still bear about us in our bodies, dead because of sin.556556 Cf. Rom. 8:10. Hope and endure until the day breaks and the shadows flee away.557557 Cf. S. of Sol. 2:17. Hope in the Lord: in the morning I shall stand in his presence and keep watch558558 Cf. Ps. 5:3.; I shall forever give praise to him. In the morning I shall stand and shall see my God, who is the health of my countenance,559559 Ps. 43:5. who also will quicken our mortal bodies by the Spirit that dwells in us,560560 Cf. Rom. 8:11. because in mercy he was moving over our lightless and restless inner deep. From this we have received an earnest, even now in this pilgrimage, that we are now in the light, since already we are saved by hope and are children of the light and children of the day--not children of the night, nor of the darkness,561561 1 Thess. 5:5. which we have been hitherto. Between those children of the night and ourselves, in this still uncertain state of human knowledge, only thou canst rightly distinguish--thou who dost test the heart and who dost call the light day, and the darkness night.562562 Cf. Gen. 1:5. For who can see us clearly but thee? What do we have that we have not received from thee, who madest from the same lump some vessels to noble, and others to ignoble, use563563 Cf. Rom. 9:21.?
16. Now who but thee, our God, didst make for us that firmament of the authority of thy divine Scripture to be over us? For “the heaven shall be folded up like a scroll”564564 Isa. 34:4.; but now it is stretched over us like a skin. Thy divine Scripture is of more sublime authority now that those mortal men through whom thou didst dispense it to us have departed this life. And thou knowest, O Lord, thou knowest how thou didst clothe men with skins when they became mortal because of sin.565565 Cf. Gen. 3:21. In something of the same way, thou hast stretched out the firmament of thy Book as a skin--that is to say, thou hast spread thy harmonious words over us through the ministry of mortal men. For by their very death that solid firmament of authority in thy sayings, spoken forth by them, stretches high over all that now drift under it; whereas while they lived on earth their authority was not so widely extended. Then thou hadst not yet spread out the heaven like a skin; thou hadst not yet spread abroad everywhere the fame of their death.
17. Let us see, O Lord, “the heavens, the work of thy fingers,”566566 Ps. 8:3. and clear away from our eyes the fog with which thou hast covered them. In them567567 "The heavens," i.e. the Scriptures. is that testimony of thine which gives wisdom even to the little ones. O my God, out of the mouth of babes and sucklings, perfect thy praise.568568 Cf. Ps. 8:2. For we know no other books that so destroy man’s pride, that so break down the adversary and the self-defender who resists thy reconciliation by an effort to justify his own sins. I do not know, O Lord, I do not know any other such pure words that so persuade me to confession and make my neck submissive to thy yoke, and invite me to serve thee for nothing else than thy own sake. Let me understand these things, O good Father. Grant this to me, since I am placed under them; for thou hast established these things for those placed under them.
18. There are other waters that are above this firmament, and I believe that they are immortal and removed from earthly corruption. Let them praise thy name--this super-celestial society, thy angels, who have no need to look up at this firmament or to gain a knowledge of thy Word by reading it--let them praise thee. For they always behold thy face and read therein, without any syllables in time, what thy eternal will intends. They read, they choose, they love.569569 Legunt, eligunt, diligunt. They are always reading, and what they read never passes away. For by choosing and by loving they read the very immutability of thy counsel. Their book is never closed, nor is the scroll folded up, because thou thyself art this to them, and art this to them eternally; because thou didst range them above this firmament which thou madest firm over the infirmities of the people below the heavens, where they might look up and learn thy mercy, which proclaims in time thee who madest all times. “For thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens, and thy faithfulness reaches to the clouds.”570570 Ps. 36:5. The clouds pass away, but the heavens remain. The preachers of thy Word pass away from this life into another; but thy Scripture is spread abroad over the people, even to the end of the world. Indeed, both heaven and earth shall pass away, but thy words shall never pass away.571571 Cf. Matt. 24:35. The scroll shall be rolled together, and the “grass” over which it was spread shall, with all its goodliness, pass away; but thy Word remains forever572572 Cf. Isa. 40:6-8.--thy Word which now appears to us in the dark image of the clouds and through the glass of heaven, and not as it really is. And even if we are the well-beloved of thy Son, it has not yet appeared what we shall be.573573 Cf. 1 John 3:2. He hath seen us through the entanglement574574 Retia, literally "a net"; such as those used by retiarii, the gladiators who used nets to entangle their opponents. of our flesh, and he is fair-speaking, and he hath enkindled us, and we run after his fragrance.575575 Cf. S. of Sol. 1:3, 4. But “when he shall appear, then we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.’’576576 1 John 3:2. As he is, O Lord, we shall see him--although that time is not yet.
19. For just as thou art the utterly Real, thou alone dost fully know, since thou art immutably, and thou knowest immutably, and thou willest immutably. And thy Essence knows and wills immutably. Thy Knowledge is and wills immutably. Thy Will is and knows immutably. And it does not seem right to thee that the immutable Light should be known by the enlightened but mutable creature in the same way as it knows itself. Therefore, to thee my soul is as a land where no water is577577 Cf. Ps. 63:1.; for, just as it cannot enlighten itself by itself, so it cannot satisfy itself by itself. Thus the fountain of life is with thee, and “in thy light shall we see light.”578578 Ps. 36:9.
20. Who has gathered the “embittered ones”579579 Amaricantes, a figure which Augustine develops both in the Exposition of the Psalms and TheCity of God. Commenting on Ps. 65, Augustine says: "For the sea, by a figure, is used to indicate this world, with its bitter saltiness and troubled storms, where men with perverse and depraved appetites have become like fishes devouring one another." In The City of God, he speaks of the bitterness of life in the civitas terrena; cf. XIX, 5. into a single society? For they all have the same end, which is temporal and earthly happiness. This is their motive for doing everything, although they may fluctuate within an innumerable diversity of concerns. Who but thee, O Lord, gathered them together, thou who saidst, “Let the waters be gathered together into one place and let the dry land appear”--athirst for thee? For the sea also is thine, and thou madest it, and thy hands formed the dry land.580580 Cf. Ps. 95:5. For it is not the bitterness of men’s wills but the gathering together of the waters which is called “the sea”; yet thou dost curb the wicked lusts of men’s souls and fix their bounds: how far they are allowed to advance, and where their waves will be broken against each other--and thus thou makest it “a sea,” by the providence of thy governance of all things.
21. But as for the souls that thirst after thee and who appear before thee--separated from “the society of the [bitter] sea” by reason of their different ends--thou waterest them by a secret and sweet spring, so that “the earth” may bring forth her fruit and--thou, O Lord, commanding it--our souls may bud forth in works of mercy after their kind.581581 Cf. Gen. 1:10f. Thus we shall love our neighbor in ministering to his bodily needs, for in this way the soul has seed in itself after its kind when in our own infirmity our compassion reaches out to the relief of the needy, helping them even as we would desire to be helped ourselves if we were in similar need. Thus we help, not only in easy problems (as is signified by “the herb yielding its seed”) but also in the offering of our best strength in affording them the aid of protection (such as “the tree bearing its fruit”). This is to say, we seek to rescue him who is suffering injury from the hands of the powerful--furnishing him with the sheltering protection which comes from the strong arm of a righteous judgment.582582 In this way, Augustine sees an analogy between the good earth bearing its fruits and the ethical "fruit-bearing" of the Christian love of neighbor.
22. Thus, O Lord, thus I beseech thee: let it happen as thou hast prepared it, as thou givest joy and the capacity for joy. Let truth spring up out of the earth, and let righteousness look down from heaven,583583 Cf. Ps. 85:11. and let there be lights in the firmament.584584 Cf. Gen. 1:14.
Let us break our bread with the hungry, let us bring the shelterless poor to our house; let us clothe the naked, and never despise those of our own flesh.585585 Cf. Isa. 58:7. See from the fruits which spring forth from the earth how good it is. Thus let our temporal light break forth, and let us from even this lower level of fruitful action come to the joy of contemplation and hold on high the Word of Life. And let us at length appear like “lights in the world,”586586 Cf. Phil. 2:15. cleaving to the firmament of thy Scripture.
For in it thou makest it plain to us how we may distinguish between things intelligible and things tangible, as if between the day and the night--and to distinguish between souls who give themselves to things of the mind and others absorbed in things of sense. Thus it is that now thou art not alone in the secret of thy judgment as thou wast before the firmament was made, and before thou didst divide between the light and the darkness. But now also thy spiritual children, placed and ranked in this same firmament--thy grace being thus manifest throughout the world--may shed light upon the earth, and may divide between the day and night, and may be for the signs of the times587587 Cf. Gen. 1:19.; because old things have passed away, and, lo, all things are become new588588 Cf. 2 Cor. 5:17.; and because our salvation is nearer than when we believed; and because “the night is far spent and the day is at hand”589589 Cf. Rom. 13:11, 12.; and because “thou crownest the year with blessing,”590590 Ps. 65:11. sending the laborers into thy harvest, in which others have labored in the sowing and sending laborers also to make new sowings whose harvest shall not be until the end of time. Thus thou dost grant the prayers of him who seeks, and thou dost bless the years of the righteous man. But thou art always the Selfsame, and in thy years which fail not thou preparest a granary for our transient years. For by an eternal design thou spreadest the heavenly blessings on the earth in their proper seasons.
23. For “to one there is given by thy Spirit the word of wisdom”591591 For this whole passage, cf. the parallel developed here with 1 Cor. 12:7-11. (which resembles the greater light--which is for those whose delight is in the clear light of truth--as the light which is given for the ruling of the day592592 In principio diei, an obvious echo to the Vulgate ut praesset diei of Gen. 1:16. Cf. Gibb and Montgomery, p. 424 (see Bibl.), for a comment on in principio diei and in principio noctis, below.). But to another the word of knowledge is given by the same Spirit (as it were, the “lesser light”); to another, faith; to another, the gift of healing; to another, the power of working miracles; to another, the gift of prophecy; to another, the discerning of spirits; to another, other kinds of tongues--and all these gifts may be compared to “the stars.” For in them all the one and selfsame Spirit is at work, dividing to every man his own portion, as He wills, and making stars to appear in their bright splendor for the profit of souls. But the word of knowledge, scientia, in which is contained all the mysteries593593 Sacramenta; but cf. Augustine's discussion of sacramenta in the Old Testament in the Exposition of the Psalms, LXXIV, 2: "The sacraments of the Old Testament promised a Saviour; the sacraments of the New Testament give salvation." which change in their seasons like the moon; and all the other promises of gifts, which when counted are like the stars--all of these fall short of that splendor of Wisdom in which the day rejoices and are only for the ruling of the night. Yet they are necessary for those to whom thy most prudent servant could not speak as to the spiritually mature, but only as if to carnal men--even though he could speak wisdom among the perfect.594594 Cf. 1 Cor. 3:1; 2:6. Still the natural man--as a babe in Christ, and a drinker of milk, until he is strong enough for solid meat, and his eye is able to look into the sun--do not leave him in a lightless night. Instead, let him be satisfied with the light of the moon and the stars. In thy book thou dost discuss these things with us wisely, our God--in thy book, which is thy “firmament”--in order that we may be able to view all things in admiring contemplation, although thus far we must do so through signs and seasons and in days and years.
24. But, first, “wash yourselves and make you clean; put away iniquity from your souls and from before my eyes”595595 Isa. 1:16.--so that “the dry land” may appear. “Learn to do well, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow,”596596 Isa. 1:17. that the earth may bring forth the green herb for food and fruit-bearing trees. “And come, let us reason together, saith the Lord”597597 Isa. 1:18.--that there may be lights in the firmament of heaven and that they may shine upon the earth.
There was that rich man who asked of the good Teacher what he should do to attain eternal life. Let the good Teacher (whom the rich man thought a man and nothing more) give him an answer--he is good for he is God. Let him answer him that, if he would enter into life, he must keep the commandments: let him put away from himself the bitterness of malice and wickedness; let him not kill, nor commit adultery, nor steal, nor bear false witness598598 Cf. for this syntaxis, Matt. 19:16-22 and Ex. 20:13-16.--that “the dry land” may appear and bring forth the honoring of fathers and mothers and the love of neighbor. “All these,” he replied, “I have kept.” Where do so many thorns come from, if the earth is really fruitful? uproot the brier patch of avarice; “sell what you have, and be filled with fruit by giving to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and follow” the Lord if you would be perfect and joined with those in whose midst he speaketh wisdom--who know how to give rightly to the day and to the night--and you will also understand, so that for you also there may be lights in the firmament of heaven--which will not be there, however, unless your heart is there also. And your heart will not be there unless your treasure is there,599599 Cf. Matt. 6:21. as you have heard from the good Teacher. But “the barren earth”600600 I.e., the rich young ruler. was grieved, and the briers choked the word.601601 Cf. Matt. 13:7.
25. But you, O elect people, set in the firmament of the world,602602 Cf. Matt. 97 Reading here, with Knöll and the Sessorianus, in firmamento mundi. who have forsaken all that you may follow the Lord: follow him now, and confound the mighty! Follow him, O beautiful feet,603603 Cf. Isa. 52:7. and shine in the firmament, that the heavens may declare his glory, dividing the light of the perfect ones604604 Perfectorum. Is this a conscious use, in a Christian context, of the distinction he had known so well among the Manicheans--between the perfecti and the auditores?--though not yet so perfect as the angels--from the darkness of the little ones--who are nevertheless not utterly despised. Shine over all the earth, and let the day be lighted by the sun, utter the Word of wisdom to the day (“day unto day utters speech”605605 Ps. 19:2.) and let the night, lighted by the moon, display the Word of knowledge to the night. The moon and the stars give light for the night; the night does not put them out, and they illumine in its proper mode. For lo, it is as if God were saying, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven”: and suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as if it were a rushing mighty wind, and there appeared cloven tongues of fire, and they sat on each of them.606606 Cf. Acts 2:2, 3. And then they were made to be lights in the firmament of heaven, having the Word of life. Run to and fro everywhere, you holy fires, you lovely fires, for you are the light of the world and you are not to be hid under a peck measure.607607 Cf. Matt. 5:14, 15. He to whom you cleave is raised on high, and he hath raised you on high. Run to and fro; make yourselves known among all the nations!
26. Also let the sea conceive and bring forth your works, and let the waters bear the moving creatures that have life.608608 Cf. Gen. 1:20. For by separating the precious from the vile you are made the mouth of God609609 Cf. Jer. 15:19. by whom he said, “Let the waters bring forth.” This does not refer to the living creatures which the earth brings forth, but to the creeping creatures that have life and the fowls that fly over the earth. For, by the ministry of thy holy ones, thy mysteries have made their way amid the buffeting billows of the world, to instruct the nations in thy name, in thy Baptism. And among these things many great and marvelous works have been wrought, which are analogous to the huge whales. The words of thy messengers have gone flying over the earth, high in the firmament of thy Book which is spread over them as the authority beneath which they are to fly wheresoever they go. For “there is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard,” because “their sound has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world”610610 Ps. 19:4.--and this because thou, O Lord, hast multiplied these things by thy blessing.
27. Am I speaking falsely? Am I mingling and confounding and not rightly distinguishing between the knowledge of these things in the firmament of heaven and those corporeal works in the swelling sea and beneath the firmament of heaven? For there are those things, the knowledge of which is solid and defined. It does not increase from generation to generation and thus they stand, as it were, as lights of wisdom and knowledge. But there are many and varied physical processes that manifest these selfsame principles. And thus one thing growing from another is multiplied by thy blessing, O God, who dost so refresh our easily wearied mortal senses that in our mental cognition a single thing may be figured and signified in many different ways by different bodily motions.
“The waters” have brought forth these mysteries, but only at thy word. The needs of the people who were alien to the eternity of thy truth have called them forth, but only in thy gospel, since it was these “waters” which cast them up--the waters whose stagnant bitterness was the reason why they came forth through thy Word.
28. Now all the things that thou hast made are fair, and yet, lo, thou who didst make all things art inexpressibly fairer. And if Adam had not fallen away from thee, that brackish sea--the human race--so deeply prying, so boisterously swelling, so restlessly moving, would never have flowed forth from his belly. Thus, there would have been no need for thy ministers to use corporeal and tangible signs in the midst of many “waters” in order to show forth their mystical deeds and words. For this is the way I interpret the phrases “creeping creatures” and “flying fowl.” Still, men who have been instructed and initiated and made dependent on thy corporeal mysteries would not be able to profit from them if it were not that their soul has a higher life and unless, after the word of its admission, it did not look beyond toward its perfection.
29. And thus, in thy Word, it was not the depth of the sea but “the earth,”611611 That is, the Church. separated from the brackishness of the water, that brought forth, not “the creeping and the flying creature that has life,” but “the living soul” itself!612612 An allegorical ideal type of the perfecti in the Church.
And now this soul no longer has need of baptism, as the heathen had, or as it did when it was covered with the waters--and there can be no other entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, since thou hast appointed that baptism should be the entrance. Nor does it seek great, miraculous works by which to buttress faith. For such a soul does not refuse to believe unless it sees signs and marvels, now that “the faithful earth” is separated from “the waters” of the sea, which have been made bitter by infidelity. Thus, for them, “tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to those who do not believe.”613613 1 Cor. 14:22.
And the earth which thou hast founded above the waters does not stand in need of those flying creatures which the waters brought forth at thy word. Send forth thy word into it by the agency of thy messengers. For we only tell of their works, but it is thou who dost the works in them, so that they may bring forth “a living soul” in the earth.
The earth brings forth “the living soul” because “the earth” is the cause of such things being done by thy messengers, just as the sea was the cause of the production of the creeping creatures having life and the flying fowl under the firmament of heaven. “The earth” no longer needs them, although it feeds on the Fish which was taken out of the deep,614614 The fish was an early Christian rebus for "Jesus Christ." The Greek word for fish, ιχθυζ, was arranged acrostically to make the phrase Ιησουζ Χριστοσ, Θεου Υιοζ, Σωτηρ; cf. Smith and Cheetham, Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, pp. 673f.; see also Cabrol, Dictionnaired'archéologie chrétienne, Vol. 14, cols. 1246-1252, for a full account of the symbolism and pictures of early examples. set out on that table which thou preparest in the presence of those who believe. To this end he was raised from the deep: that he might feed “the dry land.” And “the fowl,” even though they were bred in the sea, will yet be multiplied on the earth. The preaching of the first evangelists was called forth by reason of man’s infidelity, but the faithful also are exhorted and blessed by them in manifold ways, day by day. “The living soul” has its origin from “the earth,” because only to the faithful is there any profit in restraining themselves from the love of this world, so that their soul may live to thee. This soul was dead while it was living in pleasures--in pleasures that bear death in them--whereas thou, O Lord, art the living delight of the pure heart.
30. Now, therefore, let thy ministers do their work on “the earth”--not as they did formerly in “the waters” of infidelity, when they had to preach and speak by miracles and mysteries and mystical expressions, in which ignorance--the mother of wonder--gives them an attentive ear because of its fear of occult and strange things. For this is the entry into faith for the sons of Adam who are forgetful of thee, who hide themselves from thy face, and who have become a darkened abyss. Instead, let thy ministers work even as on “the dry land,” safe from the whirlpools of the abyss. Let them be an example unto the faithful by living before them and stirring them up to imitation.
For in such a setting, men will heed, not with the mere intent to hear, but also to act. Seek the Lord and your soul shall live615615 Cf. Ps. 69:32. and “the earth” may bring forth “the living soul.” Be not conformed to this world;616616 Cf. Rom. 12:2. separate yourselves from it. The soul lives by avoiding those things which bring death if they are loved. Restrain yourselves from the unbridled wildness of pride, from the indolent passions of luxury, and from what is falsely called knowledge.617617 Cf. 1 Tim. 6:20. Thus may the wild beast be tamed, the cattle subdued, and the serpent made harmless. For, in allegory, these figures are the motions of our mind: that is to say, the haughtiness of pride, the delight of lust, and the poison of curiosity are motions of the dead soul--not so dead that it has lost all motion, but dead because it has deserted the fountain of life, and so has been taken up by this transitory world and conformed to it.
31. But thy Word, O God, is a fountain of life eternal, and it does not pass away. Therefore, this desertion is restrained by thy Word when it says to us, “Be not conformed to this world,” to the end that “the earth” may bring forth a “living soul” in the fountain of life--a soul disciplined by thy Word, by thy evangelists, by the following of the followers of thy Christ. For this is the meaning of “after his kind.” A man tends to follow the example of his friend. Thus, he [Paul] says, “Become as I am, because I have become as you are.”618618 Gal. 4:12.
Thus, in this “living soul” there shall be good beasts, acting meekly. For thou hast commanded this, saying: “Do your work in meekness and you shall be loved by all men.”619619 Cf. Ecclus. 3:19. And the cattle will be good, for if they eat much they shall not suffer from satiety; and if they do not eat at all they will suffer no lack. And the serpents will be good, not poisonous to do harm, but only cunning in their watchfulness--exploring only as much of this temporal nature as is necessary in order that the eternal nature may “be clearly seen, understood through the things that have been made.”620620 Rom. 1:20. For all these animals will obey reason when, having been restrained from their death-dealing ways, they live and become good.
32. Thus, O Lord, our God, our Creator, when our affections have been turned from the love of the world, in which we died by living ill; and when we began to be “a living soul” by living well; and when the word, “Be not conformed to this world,” which thou didst speak through thy apostle, has been fulfilled in us, then will follow what thou didst immediately add when thou saidst, “But be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”621621 Rom. 12:2. This will not now be “after their kind,” as if we were following the neighbor who went before us, or as if we were living after the example of a better man--for thou didst not say, “Let man be made after his kind,” but rather, “Let us make man in our own image and our own likeness,”622622 Gen. 1:26. so that then we may be able to prove what thy will is.
This is why thy minister--begetting children by the gospel so that he might not always have them babes whom he would have to feed with milk and nurse as children--this is why he said, “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”623623 Rom. 12:2 (mixed text). Therefore thou didst not say, “Let man be made,” but rather, “Let us make man.” And thou didst not say, “After his kind,” but after “our image” and “likeness.” Indeed, it is only when man has been renewed in his mind, and comes to behold and apprehend thy truth, that he does not need another man as his director, to show him how to imitate human examples. Instead, by thy guidance, he proves what is thy good and acceptable and perfect will. And thou dost teach him, now that he is able to understand, to see the trinity of the Unity and the unity of the Trinity.
This is why the statement in the plural, “Let us make man,” is also connected with the statement in the singular, “And God made man.” Thus it is said in the plural, “After our likeness,” and then in the singular, “After the image of God.” Man is thus transformed in the knowledge of God, according to the image of Him who created him. And now, having been made spiritual, he judges all things--that is, all things that are appropriate to be judged--and he himself is judged of no man.624624 Cf. 1 Cor. 2:15.
33. Now this phrase, “he judges all things,” means that man has dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over all cattle and wild beasts, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. And he does this by the power of reason in his mind by which he perceives “the things of the Spirit of God.”625625 1 Cor. 2:14. But, when man was put in this high office, he did not understand what was involved and thus was reduced to the level of the brute beasts, and made like them.626626 Cf. Ps. 49:20.
Therefore in thy Church, O our God, by the grace thou hast given us--since we are thy workmanship, created in good works (not only those who are in spiritual authority but also those who are spiritually subject to them)--thou madest man male and female. Here all are equal in thy spiritual grace where, as far as sex is concerned, there is neither male nor female, just as there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor bond nor free. Spiritual men, therefore, whether those who are in authority or those who are subject to authority, judge spiritually. They do not judge by the light of that spiritual knowledge which shines in the firmament, for it is inappropriate for them to judge by so sublime an authority. Nor does it behoove them to judge concerning thy Book itself, although there are some things in it which are not clear. Instead, we submit our understanding to it and believe with certainty that what is hidden from our sight is still rightly and truly spoken. In this way, even though a man is now spiritual and renewed by the knowledge of God according to the image of him who created him, he must be a doer of the law rather than its judge.627627 Cf. James 4:11. Neither does the spiritual man judge concerning that division between spiritual and carnal men which is known to thy eyes, O God, and which may not, as yet, be made manifest to us by their external works, so that we may know them by their fruits; yet thou, O God, knowest them already and thou hast divided and called them secretly, before the firmament was made. Nor does a man, even though he is spiritual, judge the disordered state of society in this world. For what business of his is it to judge those who are without, since he cannot know which of them may later on come into the sweetness of thy grace, and which of them may continue in the perpetual bitterness of their impiety?
34. Man, then, even if he was made after thy own image, did not receive the power of dominion over the lights of heaven, nor over the secret heaven, nor over the day and the night which thou calledst forth before the creation of the heaven, nor over the gathering together of the waters which is the sea. Instead, he received dominion over the fish of the sea, and the fowls of the air; and over all cattle, and all the earth; and over all creeping things which creep on the earth.
Indeed, he judges and approves what he finds right and disapproves what he finds amiss, whether in the celebration of those mysteries by which are initiated those whom thy mercy hast sought out in the midst of many waters; or in that sacrament in which is exhibited the Fish itself628628 See above, Ch. XXI, 30. which, being raised from the depths, the pious “earth”629629 I.e., the Church. feeds upon; or, in the signs and symbols of words, which are subject to the authority of thy Book--such signs as burst forth and sound from the mouth, as if it were “flying” under the firmament, interpreting, expounding, discoursing, disputing, blessing, invoking thee, so that the people may answer, “Amen.”630630 Cf. 1 Cor. 14:16. The reason that all these words have to be pronounced vocally is because of the abyss of this world and the blindness of our flesh in which thoughts cannot be seen directly,631631 Another reminder that, ideally, knowledge is immediate and direct. but have to be spoken aloud in our ears. Thus, although the flying fowl are multiplied on the earth, they still take their origins from the waters.
The spiritual man also judges by approving what is right and reproving what he finds amiss in the works and morals of the faithful, such as in their almsgiving, which is signified by the phrase, “The earth bringing forth its fruit.” And he judges of the “living soul,” which is then made to live by the disciplining of her affections in chastity, in fasting, and in holy meditation. And he also judges concerning all those things which are perceived by the bodily senses. For it can be said that he should judge in all matters about which he also has the power of correction.
35. But what is this; what kind of mystery is this? Behold, O Lord, thou dost bless men in order that they may be “fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.” In this art thou not making a sign to us that we may understand something [allegorically]? Why didst thou not also bless the light, which thou calledst “the day,” nor the firmament of heaven, nor the lights, nor the stars, nor the earth, nor the sea? I might reply, O our God, that thou in creating us after thy own image--I might reply that thou didst will to bestow this gift of blessing upon man alone, if thou hadst not similarly blessed the fishes and the whales, so that they too should be fruitful and multiply and replenish the waters of the sea; and also the fowls, so that they should be multiplied on the earth. In like fashion, I might say that this blessing properly belonged only to such creatures as are propagated from their own kind, if I could find it given also as a blessing to trees, and plants, and the beasts of the earth. But this “increase and multiply” was not said to plants or trees or beasts or serpents--although all of these, along with fishes and birds and men, do actually increase by propagation and so preserve their species.
36. What, then, shall I say, O Truth, O my Life: that it was idly and vainly said? Surely not this, O Father of piety; far be it from a servant of thy Word to say anything like this! But if I do not understand what thou meanest by that phrase, let those who are better than I--that is, those more intelligent than I--interpret it better, in the degree that thou hast given each of us the ability to understand.
But let also my confession be pleasing in thy eyes, for I confess to thee that I believe, O Lord, that thou hast not spoken thus in vain. Nor will I be silent as to what my reading has suggested to me. For it is valid, and I do not see anything to prevent me from thus interpreting the figurative sayings in thy books. For I know that a thing that is understood in only one way in the mind may be expressed in many different ways by the body; and I know that a thing that has only one manner of expression through the body may be understood in the mind in many different ways. For consider this single example--the love of God and of our neighbor--by how many different mysteries and countless languages, and, in each language, by how many different ways of speaking, this is signified corporeally! In similar fashion, the “young fish” in “the waters” increase and multiply. On the other hand, whoever you are who reads this, observe and behold what Scripture declares, and how the voice pronounces it in only one way, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.”632632 Here, again, as in a coda, Augustine restates his central theme and motif in the whole of his "confessions": the primacy of God, His constant creativity, his mysterious, unwearied, unfrustrated redemptive love. All are summed up in this mystery of creation in which the purposes of God are announced and from which all Christian hope takes its premise. Is this not understood in many different ways by different kinds of true interpretations which do not involve the deceit of error? Thus the offspring of men are fruitful and do multiply.633633 That is, from basic and essentially simple ideas, they proliferate multiple--and valid--implications and corollaries.
37. If, then, we consider the nature of things, in their strictly literal sense, and not allegorically, the phrase, “Be fruitful and multiply,” applies to all things that are begotten by seed. But if we treat these words figuratively, as I judge that the Scripture intended them to be--since it cannot be for nothing that this blessing is attributed only to the offspring of marine life and man--then we discover that the characteristic of fecundity belongs also to the spiritual and physical creations (which are signified by “heaven and earth”), and also in righteous and unrighteous souls (which are signified by “light and darkness”) and in the sacred writers through whom the law is uttered (who are signified by “the firmament established between the waters and the waters”); and in the earthly commonwealth still steeped in their bitterness (which is signified by “the sea”); and in the zeal of holy souls (signified by “the dry land”); and the works of mercy done in this present life (signified by “the seed-bearing herbs and fruit-bearing trees”); and in spiritual gifts which shine out for our edification (signified by “the lights of heaven”); and to human affections ruled by temperance (signified by “the living soul”). In all these instances we meet with multiplicity and fertility and increase; but the particular way in which “Be fruitful and multiply” can be exemplified differs widely. Thus a single category may include many things, and we cannot discover them except through their signs displayed corporeally and by the things being excogitated by the mind.
We thus interpret the phrase, “The generation of the waters,” as referring to the corporeally expressed signs [of fecundity], since they are made necessary by the degree of our involvement in the flesh. But the power of human generation refers to the process of mental conception; this we see in the fruitfulness of reason. Therefore, we believe that to both of these two kinds it has been said by thee, O Lord, “Be fruitful and multiply.” In this blessing, I recognize that thou hast granted us the faculty and power not only to express what we understand by a single idea in many different ways but also to understand in many ways what we find expressed obscurely in a single statement. Thus the waters of the sea are replenished, and their waves are symbols of diverse meanings. And thus also the earth is also replenished with human offspring. Its dryness is the symbol of its thirst for truth, and of the fact that reason rules over it.
38. I also desire to say, O my Lord God, what the following Scripture suggests to me. Indeed, I will speak without fear, for I will speak the truth, as thou inspirest me to know what thou dost will that I should say concerning these words. For I do not believe I can speak the truth by any other inspiration than thine, since thou art the Truth, and every man a liar.634634 Cf. Rom. 3:4. Hence, he that speaks a lie, speaks out of himself. Therefore, if I am to speak the truth, I must speak of thy truth.
Behold, thou hast given us for our food every seed-bearing herb on the face of the earth, and all trees that bear in themselves seed of their own kind; and not to us only, but to all the fowls of the air and the beasts of the field and all creeping things.635635 Cf. Gen. 1:29, 30. Still, thou hast not given these things to the fishes and great whales. We have said that by these fruits of the earth the works of mercy were signified and figured forth in an allegory: thus, from the fruitful earth, things are provided for the necessities of life. Such an “earth” was the godly Onesiphorus, to whose house thou gavest mercy because he often refreshed Paul and was not ashamed of his bonds.636636 Cf. 2 Tim. 1:16. This was also the way of the brethren from Macedonia, who bore such fruit and supplied to him what he lacked. But notice how he grieves for certain “trees,” which did not give him the fruit that was due, when he said, “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God, that it be not laid up to their charge.”637637 2 Tim. 4:16. For we owe “fruits” to those who minister spiritual doctrine to us through their understanding of the divine mysteries. We owe these to them as men. We owe these fruits, also, to “the living souls” since they offer themselves as examples for us in their own continence. And, finally, we owe them likewise to “the flying creatures” because of their blessings which are multiplied on the earth, for “their sound has gone forth into all the earth.”638638 Cf. Ps. 19:4.
39. Those who find their joy in it are fed by these “fruits”; but those whose god is their belly find no joy in them. For in those who offer these fruits, it is not the fruit itself that matters, but the spirit in which they give them. Therefore, he who serves God and not his own belly may rejoice in them, and I plainly see why. I see it, and I rejoice with him greatly. For he [Paul] had received from the Philippians the things they had sent by Epaphroditus; yet I see why he rejoiced. He was fed by what he found his joy in; for, speaking truly, he says, “I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me has flourished again, in which you were once so careful, but it had become a weariness to you.639639 Phil. 4:10 (mixed text). These Philippians, in their extended period of weariness in well-doing, had become weak and were, so to say, dried up; they were no longer bringing forth the fruits of good works. And now Paul rejoices in them--and not just for himself alone--because they were flourishing again in ministering to his needs. Therefore he adds: “I do not speak in respect of my want, for I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased and how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.”640640 Phil. 4:11-13.
40. Where do you find joy in all things, O great Paul? What is the cause of your joy? On what do you feed, O man, renewed now in the knowledge of God after the image of him who created you, O living soul of such great continence--O tongue like a winged bird, speaking mysteries? What food is owed such creatures; what is it that feeds you? It is joy! For hear what follows: “Nevertheless, you have done well in that you have shared with me in my affliction.”641641 Phil. 4:14. This is what he finds his joy in; this is what he feeds on. They have done well, not merely because his need had been relieved--for he says to them, “You have opened my heart when I was in distress”--but because he knew both how to abound and how to suffer need, in thee who didst strengthen him. And so he said, “You [Philippians] know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me in regard to giving and receiving, except you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent time and time again, according to my need.”642642 Phil. 4:15-17. He now finds his joy in the fact that they have returned once again to these good works, and he is made glad that they are flourishing again, as a fruitful field when it recovers its fertility.
41. Was it on account of his own needs alone that he said, “You have sent me gifts according to my needs?” Does he find joy in that? Certainly not for that alone. But how do we know this? We know it because he himself adds, “Not because I desire a gift, but because I desire fruit.”643643 Phil. 4:17.,
Now I have learned from thee, O my God, how to distinguish between the terms “gift” and “fruit.” A “gift” is the thing itself, given by one who bestows life’s necessities on another--such as money, food, drink, clothing, shelter, and aid. But “the fruit” is the good and right will of the giver. For the good Teacher not only said, “He that receives a prophet,” but he added, “In the name of a prophet.” And he did not say only, “He who receives a righteous man,” but added, “In the name of a righteous man.”644644 Cf. Matt. 10:41, 42. Thus, surely, the former shall receive the reward of a prophet; the latter, that of a righteous man. Nor did he say only, “Whoever shall give a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink,” but added, “In the name of a disciple”; and concluded, “Truly I tell you he shall not lose his reward.” The “gift” involves receiving a prophet, receiving a righteous man, handing a cup of cold water to a disciple: but the “fruit” is to do all this in the name of a prophet, in the name of a righteous man, in the name of a disciple. Elijah was fed by the widow with “fruit,” for she knew that she was feeding a man of God and this is why she fed him. But he was fed by the raven with a “gift.” The inner man of Elijah was not fed by this “gift,” but only the outer man, which otherwise might have perished from the lack of such food.
42. Therefore I will speak before thee, O Lord, what is true, in order that the uninstructed645645 Idiotae: there is some evidence that this term was used to designate pagans who had a nominal connection with the Christian community but had not formally enrolled as catechumens. See Th. Zahn in Neue kirkliche Zeitschrift (1899), pp. 42-43. and the infidels, who require the mysteries of initiation and great works of miracles--which we believe are signified by the phrase, “Fishes and great whales”--may be helped in being gained [for the Church] when they endeavor to provide that thy servants are refreshed in body, or otherwise aided in this present life. For they do not really know why this should be done, and to what end. Thus the former do not feed the latter, and the latter do not feed the former; for neither do the former offer their “gifts” through a holy and right intent, nor do the others rejoice in the gifts of those who do not as yet see the “fruit.” For it is on the “fruit” that the mind is fed, and by which it is gladdened. And, therefore, fishes and whales are not fed on such food as the earth alone brings forth when they have been separated and divided from the bitterness of “the waters” of the sea.
43. And thou, O God, didst see everything that thou hadst made and, behold, it was very good.646646 Gen. 1:31. We also see the whole creation and, behold, it is all very good. In each separate kind of thy work, when thou didst say, “Let them be made,” and they were made, thou didst see that it was good. I have counted seven times where it is written that thou didst see what thou hadst made was “good.” And there is the eighth time when thou didst see all things that thou hadst made and, behold, they were not only good but also very good; for they were now seen as a totality. Individually they were only good; but taken as a totality they were both good and very good. Beautiful bodies express this truth; for a body which consists of several parts, each of which is beautiful, is itself far more beautiful than any of its individual parts separately, by whose well-ordered union the whole is completed even though these parts are separately beautiful.
44. And I looked attentively to find whether it was seven or eight times that thou didst see thy works were good, when they were pleasing to thee, but I found that there was no “time” in thy seeing which would help me to understand in what sense thou hadst looked so many “times” at what thou hadst made. And I said: “O Lord, is not this thy Scripture true, since thou art true, and thy truth doth set it forth? Why, then, dost thou say to me that in thy seeing there are no times, while this Scripture tells me that what thou madest each day thou didst see to be good; and when I counted them I found how many ‘times’?” To these things, thou didst reply to me, for thou art my God, and thou dost speak to thy servant with a strong voice in his inner ear, my deafness, and crying: “O man, what my Scripture says, I say. But it speaks in terms of time, whereas time does not affect my Word--my Word which exists coeternally with myself. Thus the things you see through my Spirit, I see; just as what you say through my Spirit, I say. But while you see those things in time, I do not see them in time; and when you speak those things in time, I do not speak them in time.”
45. And I heard this, O Lord my God, and drank up a drop of sweetness from thy truth, and understood that there are some men to whom thy works are displeasing, who say that many of them thou didst make under the compulsion of necessity--such as the pattern of the heavens and the courses of the stars--and that thou didst not make them out of what was thine, but that they were already created elsewhere and from other sources. It was thus [they say] that thou didst collect and fashion and weave them together, as if from thy conquered enemies thou didst raise up the walls of the universe; so that, built into the ramparts of the building, they might not be able a second time to rebel against thee. And, even of other things, they say that thou didst neither make them nor arrange them--for example, all flesh and all the very small living creatures, and all things fastened to the earth by their roots. But [they say] a hostile mind and an alien nature--not created by thee and in every way contrary to thee--begot and framed all these things in the nether parts of the world.647647 A reference to the Manichean cosmogony and similar dualistic doctrines of "creation." They who speak thus are mad [insani], since they do not see thy works through thy Spirit, nor recognize thee in them.
46. But for those who see these things through thy Spirit, it is thou who seest them in them. When, therefore, they see that these things are good, it is thou who seest that they are good; and whatsoever things are pleasing because of thee, it is thou who dost give us pleasure in those things. Those things which please us through thy Spirit are pleasing to thee in us. “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of a man which is in him? Even so, no man knows the things of God, but the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us from God.”648648 1 Cor. 2:11, 12. And I am admonished to say: “Yes, truly. No man knows the things of God, but the Spirit of God: but how, then, do we also know what things are given us by God?” The answer is given me: “Because we know these things by his Spirit; for no one knows but the Spirit of God.” But just as it is truly said to those who were to speak through the Spirit of God, “It is not you who speak,” so it is also truly said to them who know through the Spirit of God, “It is not you yourselves who know,” and just as rightly it may be said to those who perceive through the Spirit of God that a thing is good; it is not they who see, but God who seeth that it is good.
It is, therefore, one thing to think like the men who judge something to be bad when it is good, as do those whom we have already mentioned. It is quite another thing that a man should see as good what is good--as is the case with many whom thy creation pleases because it is good, yet what pleases them in it is not thee, and so they would prefer to find their joy in thy creatures rather than to find their joy in thee. It is still another thing that when a man sees a thing to be good, God should see in him that it is good--that truly he may be loved in what he hath made, he who cannot be loved except through the Holy Spirit which he hath given us: “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us.”649649 Rom. 5:5. It is by him that we see whatever we see to be good in any degree, since it is from him, who doth not exist in any particular degree but who simply is what he is.650650 Sed quod est, est. Note the variant text in Skutella, op. cit.: sed est, est. This is obviously an echo of the Vulgate Ex. 3:14: ego sum qui sum.
47. Thanks be to thee, O Lord! We see the heaven and the earth, either the corporeal part--higher and lower--or the spiritual and physical creation. And we see the light made and divided from the darkness for the adornment of these parts, from which the universal mass of the world or the universal creation is constituted. We see the firmament of heaven, either the original “body” of the world between the spiritual (higher) waters and the corporeal (lower) waters651651 Augustine himself had misgivings about this passage. In the Retractations, he says that this statement was made "without due consideration." But he then adds, with great justice: "However, the point in question is very obscure" (res autem in abdito est valde); cf. Retract., 2:6. or the expanse of air--which is also called “heaven”--through which the fowls of heaven wander, between the waters which move in clouds above them and which drop down in dew on clear nights, and those waters which are heavy and flow along the earth. We see the waters gathered together in the vast plains of the sea; and the dry land, first bare and then formed, so as to be visible and well-ordered; and the soil of herbs and trees. We see the light shining from above--the sun to serve the day, the moon and the stars to give cheer in the night; and we see by all these that the intervals of time are marked and noted. We see on every side the watery elements, fruitful with fishes, beasts, and birds--and we notice that the density of the atmosphere which supports the flights of birds is increased by the evaporation of the waters. We see the face of the earth, replete with earthly creatures; and man, created in thy image and likeness, in the very image and likeness of thee--that is, having the power of reason and understanding--by virtue of which he has been set over all irrational creatures. And just as there is in his soul one element which controls by its power of reflection and another which has been made subject so that it should obey, so also, physically, the woman was made for the man; for, although she had a like nature of rational intelligence in the mind, still in the sex of her body she should be similarly subject to the sex of her husband, as the appetite of action is subjected to the deliberation of the mind in order to conceive the rules of right action. These things we see, and each of them is good; and the whole is very good!
48. Let thy works praise thee, that we may love thee; and let us love thee that thy works may praise thee--those works which have a beginning and an end in time--a rising and a setting, a growth and a decay, a form and a privation. Thus, they have their successions of morning and evening, partly hidden, partly plain. For they were made from nothing by thee, and not from thyself, and not from any matter that is not thine, or that was created beforehand. They were created from concreated matter--that is, matter that was created by thee at the same time that thou didst form its formlessness, without any interval of time. Yet, since the matter of heaven and earth is one thing and the form of heaven and earth is another thing, thou didst create matter out of absolutely nothing (de omnino nihilo), but the form of the world thou didst form from formless matter (de informi materia). But both were done at the same time, so that form followed matter with no delaying interval.
49. We have also explored the question of what thou didst desire to figure forth, both in the creation and in the description of things in this particular order. And we have seen that things taken separately are good, and all things taken together are very good, both in heaven and earth. And we have seen that this was wrought through thy Word, thy only Son, the head and the body of the Church, and it signifies thy predestination before all times, without morning and evening. But when, in time, thou didst begin to unfold the things destined before time, so that thou mightest make hidden things manifest and mightest reorder our disorders--since our sins were over us and we had sunk into profound darkness away from thee, and thy good Spirit was moving over us to help us in due season--thou didst justify the ungodly and also didst divide them from the wicked; and thou madest the authority of thy Book a firmament between those above who would be amenable to thee and those beneath who would be subject to them. And thou didst gather the society of unbelievers652652 See above, amaricantes, Ch. XVII, 20. into a conspiracy, in order that the zeal of the faithful might become manifest and that they might bring forth works of mercy unto thee, giving their earthly riches to the poor to obtain heavenly riches. Then thou didst kindle the lights in the firmament, which are thy holy ones, who have the Word of Life and who shine with an exalted authority, warranted to them by their spiritual gifts. And then, for the instruction of the unbelieving nations, thou didst out of physical matter produce the mysteries and the visible miracles and the sounds of words in harmony with the firmament of thy Book, through which the faithful should be blessed. After this thou didst form “the living soul” of the faithful, through the ordering of their passions by the strength of continence. And then thou didst renew, after thy image and likeness, the mind which is faithful to thee alone, which needs to imitate no human authority. Thus, thou didst subordinate rational action to the higher excellence of intelligence, as the woman is subordinate to the man. Finally, in all thy ministries which were needed to perfect the faithful in this life, thou didst will that these same faithful ones should themselves bring forth good things, profitable for their temporal use and fruitful for the life to come. We see all these things, and they are very good, because thou seest them thus in us--thou who hast given us thy Spirit, by which we may see them so and love thee in them.
50. O Lord God, grant us thy peace--for thou hast given us all things. Grant us the peace of quietness, the peace of the Sabbath, the peace without an evening. All this most beautiful array of things, all so very good, will pass away when all their courses are finished--for in them there is both morning and evening.
51. But the seventh day is without an evening, and it has no setting, for thou hast sanctified it with an everlasting duration. After all thy works of creation, which were very good, thou didst rest on the seventh day, although thou hadst created them all in unbroken rest--and this so that the voice of thy Book might speak to us with the prior assurance that after our works--and they also are very good because thou hast given them to us--we may find our rest in thee in the Sabbath of life eternal.653653 Cf. this requiescamus in te with the requiescat in te in Bk. I, Ch. I.
52. For then also thou shalt so rest in us as now thou workest in us; and, thus, that will be thy rest through us, as these are thy works through us. But thou, O Lord, workest evermore and art always at rest. Thou seest not in time, thou movest not in time, thou restest not in time. And yet thou makest all those things which are seen in time--indeed, the very times themselves--and everything that proceeds in and from time.
53. We can see all those things which thou hast made because they are--but they are because thou seest them.654654 Cf. The City of God, XI, 10, on Augustine's notion that the world exists as a thought in the mind of God. And we see with our eyes that they are, and we see with our minds that they are good. But thou sawest them as made when thou sawest that they would be made.
And now, in this present time, we have been moved to do well, now that our heart has been quickened by thy Spirit; but in the former time, having forsaken thee, we were moved to do evil.655655 Another conscious connection between Bk. XIII and Bks. I-X. But thou, O the one good God, hast never ceased to do good! And we have accomplished certain good works by thy good gifts, and even though they are not eternal, still we hope, after these things here, to find our rest in thy great sanctification. But thou art the Good, and needest no rest, and art always at rest, because thou thyself art thy own rest.
What man will teach men to understand this? And what angel will teach the angels? Or what angels will teach men? We must ask it of thee; we must seek it in thee; we must knock for it at thy door. Only thus shall we receive; only thus shall we find; only thus shall thy door be opened.656656 This final ending is an antiphon to Bk. XII, Ch. I, 1 above.
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