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1. And God said “Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping things, and beast of the earth after his kind; and it was so.”16401640 Gen. i. 24. The command of God advanced step by step and earth thus received her adornment. 95Yesterday it was said, “Let the waters produce moving things,” and to-day “let the earth bring forth the living creature.” Is the earth then alive? And are the mad-minded Manichæans right in giving it a soul? At these words “Let the earth bring forth,” it did not produce a germ contained in it, but He who gave the order at the same time gifted it with the grace and power to bring forth. When the earth had heard this command “Let the earth bring forth grass and the tree yielding fruit,” it was not grass that it had hidden in it that it caused to spring forth, it did not bring to the surface a palm tree, an oak, a cypress, hitherto kept back in its depths. It is the word of God which forms the nature of things created. “Let the earth bring forth;” that is to say not that she may bring forth that which she has but that she may acquire that which she lacks, when God gives her the power. Even so now, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature,” not the living creature that is contained in herself, but that which the command of God gives her. Further, the Manichæans contradict themselves, because if the earth has brought forth the life, she has left herself despoiled of life. Their execrable doctrine needs no demonstration.
But why did the waters receive the command to bring forth the moving creature that hath life and the earth to bring forth the living creature? We conclude that, by their nature, swimming creatures appear only to have an imperfect life, because they live in the thick element of water. They are hard of hearing, and their sight is dull because they see through the water; they have no memory, no imagination, no idea of social intercourse. Thus divine language appears to indicate that, in aquatic animals, the carnal life originates their psychic movements, whilst in terrestrial animals, gifted with a more perfect life,16411641 ζωή. the soul16421642 ψυχή. enjoys supreme authority. In fact the greater part of quadrupeds have more power of penetration in their senses; their apprehension of present objects is keen, and they keep all exact remembrance of the past. It seems therefore, that God, after the command given to the waters to bring forth moving creatures that have life, created simply living bodies for aquatic animals, whilst for terrestrial animals He commanded the soul to exist and to direct the body, showing thus that the inhabitants of the earth are gifted with greater vital force. Without doubt terrestrial animals are devoid of reason. At the same time how many affections of the soul each one of them expresses by the voice of nature! They express by cries their joy and sadness, recognition of what is familiar to them, the need of food, regret at being separated from their companions, and numberless emotions. Aquatic animals, on the contrary, are not only dumb; it is impossible to tame them, to teach them, to train them for man’s society.16431643 See note on p. 90. “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib.”16441644 Isa. i. 3. But the fish does not know who feeds him. The ass knows a familiar voice, he knows the road which he has often trodden, and even, if man loses his way, he sometimes serves him as a guide. His hearing is more acute than that of any other terrestrial animal. What animal of the sea can show so much rancour and resentment as the camel? The camel conceals its resentment for a long time after it has been struck, until it finds an opportunity, and then repays the wrong. Listen, you whose heart does not pardon, you who practise vengeance as a virtue; see what you resemble when you keep your anger for so long against your neighbour like a spark, hidden in the ashes, and only waiting for fuel to set your heart ablaze!
2. “Let the earth bring forth a
living soul.” Why did the earth produce a living soul?
so that you may make a difference between the soul of cattle and that
of man. You will soon learn how the human soul was formed; hear
now about the soul of creatures devoid of reason. Since,
according to Scripture, “the life of every creature is in the
11. as the blood when
thickened changes into flesh, and flesh when corrupted decomposes into
earth, so the soul of beasts is naturally an earthy substance.
“Let the earth bring forth a living soul.” See the
affinity of the soul with blood, of blood with flesh, of flesh with
earth; and remounting in an inverse sense from the earth to the flesh,
from the flesh to the blood, from the blood to the soul, you will find
that the soul of beasts is earth. Do not suppose that it is older
than the essence16461646 ὑπόστασις. of their body, nor
that it survives the dissolution of the flesh;16471647 It may be
supposed “that the souls of brutes, being but so many
eradiations or effuxes from that source of life above, are, as soon
as ever those organized bodies of theirs, by reason of their
indisposition, become uncapable of being further acted upon by them,
then to be resumed again and retracted back to their original head
and fountain. Since it cannot be doubted but what creates
anything out of nothing, or sends it forth from itself, by free and
voluntary emanation, may be able either to retract the same back
again to its original source, or else to annihilate it at
pleasure. And I find that there have not wanted some among the
Gentile philosophers themselves who have entertained this opinion,
whereof Porphyry is one, λύεται
i. 35. avoid the non96sense of those arrogant philosophers
who do not blush to liken their soul to that of a dog; who say that
they have been formerly themselves women, shrubs, fish.16481648 Empedocles is
named as author of the lines:
ἤδη γὰρ ποτ᾽ ἐγὼ γενόμην κούρητε κόρος τε,
Θάμνος τ᾽ οἰωνός τε καὶ εἰν ἁλὶ ἔλλοπος ἰχθύς
cf. Diog. Laert. viii. 78, and Plutarch, D Solert. An. ii. 964. Whether the “faba Pythagoræ cognata” of Hor., Sat. ii. 6, 63, implies the transmigration of the soul into it is doubtful. cf. Juv., Sat. xv. 153. Anaximander thought that human beings were originally generated from fish. Plut., Symp. viii. 8. Have they ever been fish? I do not know; but I do not fear to affirm that in their writings they show less sense than fish. “Let the earth bring forth the living creature.” Perhaps many of you ask why there is such a long silence in the middle of the rapid rush of my discourse. The more studious among my auditors will not be ignorant of the reason why words fail me. What! Have I not seen them look at each other, and make signs to make me look at them, and to remind me of what I have passed over? I have forgotten a part of the creation, and that one of the most considerable, and my discourse was almost finished without touching upon it. “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament, of heaven.”16491649 Gen. i. 20. I spoke of fish as long as eventide allowed: to-day we have passed to the examination of terrestrial animals; between the two, birds have escaped us. We are forgetful like travellers who unmindful of some important object, are obliged, although they be far on their road, to retrace their steps, punished for their negligence by the weariness of the journey. So we have to turn back. That which we have omitted is not to be despised. It is the third part of the animal creation, if indeed there are three kinds of animals, land, winged and water.
“Let the waters” it is said
“bring forth abundantly moving creature that hath life and
fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of
heaven.” Why do the waters give birth also to
birds? Because there is, so to say, a family link between the
creatures that fly and those that swim. In the same way that fish
cut the waters, using their fins to carry them forward and their tails
to direct their movements round and round and straightforward, so we
see birds float in the air by the help of their wings. Both
endowed with the property of swimming, their common derivation from the
waters has made them of one family.16501650 Fialon quotes
Bossuet, 1st Elev. 5th week: “Qui a
donné aux oiseaux et aux poissons ces rames naturelles, qui
leur font fendre les eaux et les airs? Ce qui peut être
a donné lieu à leur Créateur de les produire
ensemble, comme animaux d’un dessin à peu près
semblable: le vol des oiseaux semblant, etre une espèce
de faculté de nager dans une liqueur plus subtile, comme la
faculté de nager dans les poissons est une espèce de vol
dans une liqueur plus épaisse.”
The theory of evolutionists is, as is well known, that birds developed out of reptiles and reptiles from fish. Vide E. Haeckel’s monophyletic pedigree in his History of Creation. At the same time no bird is without feet, because finding all its food upon the earth it cannot do without their service. Rapacious birds have pointed claws to enable them to close on their prey; to the rest has been given the indispensable ministry of feet to seek their food and to provide for the other needs of life. There are a few who walk badly, whose feet are neither suitable for walking nor for preying. Among this number are swallows, incapable of walking and seeking their prey, and the birds called swifts16511651 δρεπανίς, i.e. sickle-bird. who live on little insects carried about by the air. As to the swallow, its flight, which grazes the earth, fulfils the function of feet.
3. There are also innumerable kinds of birds. If we review them all, as we have partly done the fish, we shall find that under one name, the creatures which fly differ infinitely in size, form and colour; that in their life, their actions and their manners, they present a variety equally beyond the power of description. Thus some have tried to imagine names for them of which the singularity and the strangeness might, like brands, mark the distinctive character of each kind known. Some, as eagles, have been called Schizoptera, others Dermoptera, as the bats, others Ptilota, as wasps, others Coleoptera, as beetles and all those insects which brought forth in cases and coverings, break their prison to fly away in liberty.16521652 These are the terms of Aristotle, Hist. An. i. 5. But we have enough words of common usage to characterise each species and to mark the distinction which Scripture sets up between clean and unclean birds. Thus the species of carnivora is of one sort and of one constitution which suits their manner of living, sharp talons, curved beak, swift wings, allowing them to swoop easily upon their prey and to tear it up after having seized it.16531653 cf. Arist., Hist. An. viii. 3. The constitution of those who pick up seeds is different, and again that of those who live on all they come across. What a variety in all these creatures! Some are gregarious, except the birds of prey who know no other society than conjugal union; but innumerable kinds, doves, cranes, starlings, jackdaws, like a common life.16541654 Whence the proverb κολοιὸς ποτὶ κολοιόν. Arist., Eth. Nic. I. viii. 6. Among them some live without a chief and in a sort of independence; others, as cranes, do not refuse to submit themselves to a leader. And a fresh difference between 97them is that some are stationary and non-migratory; others undertake long voyages and the greater part of them migrate at the approach of winter. Nearly all birds can be tamed and are capable of training, except the weakest, who through fear and timidity cannot bear the constant and annoying contact of the hand. Some like the society of man and inhabit our dwellings; others delight in mountains and in desert places. There is a great difference too in their peculiar notes. Some twitter and chatter, others are silent, some have a melodious and sonorous voice, some are wholly inharmonious and incapable of song; some imitate the voice of man, taught their mimicry either by nature or training;16551655 “Super omnia humanas voces reddunt, posittaci quidem sermocinantes.” Plin. x. 53. others always give forth the same monotonous cry. The cock is proud; the peacock is vain of his beauty; doves and fowls are amorous, always seeking each other’s society. The partridge is deceitful and jealous, lending perfidious help to the huntsmen to seize their prey.16561656 Arist., Hist. An. ix. 10.
4. What a variety, I have said, in the
actions and lives of flying creatures. Some of these unreasoning
creatures even have a government, if the feature of government is to
make the activity of all the individuals centre in one common
end. This may be observed in bees. They have a common
dwelling place; they fly in the air together, they work at the same
work together; and what is still more extraordinary is that they give
themselves to these labours under the guidance of a king and
superintendent, and that they do not allow themselves to fly to the
meadows without seeing if the king is flying at their head. As to
this king, it is not election that gives him this authority; ignorance
on the part of the people often puts the worst man in power; it is not
fate; the blind decisions of fate often give authority to the most
unworthy. It is not heredity that places him on the throne; it is
only too common to see the children of kings, corrupted by luxury and
flattery, living in ignorance of all virtue. It is nature which
makes the king of the bees, for nature gives him superior size, beauty,
and sweetness of character. He has a sting like the others, but
he does not use it to revenge himself.16571657 Arist.,
Hist. An. v. 21, and Plin. xi. 17. “Ecce in re
parva, villisque nostra annexa, cujus assidua copia est, non constat
inter auctores, rex nullumne solus habeat aculeum, majestate tantum
armatus: an dederit eum quidem natura, sed usum ejus illi
tantum negaverit. Illud constat imperatorem aculeo non
uti.” It is a principle of natural and
unwritten law, that those who are raised to high office, ought to be
lenient in punishing. Even bees who do not follow the example of
their king, repent without delay of their imprudence, since they lose
their lives with their sting. Listen, Christians, you to whom it
is forbidden to “recompense evil for evil” and commanded
“to overcome evil with good.”16581658
Rom. xii. 17,
21. Take the bee for your model, which
constructs its cells without injuring any one and without interfering
with the goods of others. It gathers openly wax from the flowers
with its mouth, drawing in the honey scattered over them like dew, and
injects it into the hollow of its cells. Thus at first honey is
liquid; time thickens it and gives it its sweetness.16591659 The ancient
belief was that honey fell from heaven, in the shape of dew, and
the bee only gathered it from leaves. So Verg., Ec.
iv. 30, “roscida mella,” and
Georg. iv. 1, “aerii mellis cœlestia
dona.” cf. Arist., H. A. v.
δὲ τὸ πίπτον
ἐκ τοῦ ἀ&
ἶρις, and Plin. xi. 12.
“Sive ille est cœli sudor, sive quædam siderum
saliva, sine purgantis se aeris succus,… magnam tamen
cœlestis naturæ voluptatem affert.” So
Coleridge (Kubla Khan):
“For he on honey dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise.” The book of Proverbs has given the bee the most honourable and the best praise by calling her wise and industrious.16601660 Prov. vi. 8, lxx. The reference to the bee is not in the Hebrew. How much activity she exerts in gathering this precious nourishment, by which both kings and men of low degree are brought to health! How great is the art and cunning she displays in the construction of the store houses which are destined to receive the honey! After having spread the wax like a thin membrane, she distributes it in contiguous compartments which, weak though they are, by their number and by their mass, sustain the whole edifice. Each cell in fact holds to the one next to it, and is separated by a thin partition; we thus see two or three galleries of cells built one upon the other. The bee takes care not to make one vast cavity, for fear it might break under the weight of the liquid, and allow it to escape. See how the discoveries of geometry are mere by-works to the wise bee!16611661 cf. Ælian. v. 13. γεωμετρίαν δὲ καὶ κάλλη σχημάτων καὶ ὡραίας πλάσεις αὐτῶν ἄνευ τέχνης τε καὶ κανόνων καὶ τοῦ καλουμένου ὑπὸ τῶν σοφῶν διαβήτου, τὸ κάλλιστον σχημάτων ἑξαγωνόν τε καὶ ἑξάπλευρον καὶ ἰσογώνιον ἀποδείκνυνται αἱ μέλιτται.
The rows of honey-comb are all hexagonal with equal sides. They do not bear on each other in straight lines, lest the supports should press on empty spaces between and give way; but the angles of the lower hexagons serve as foundations and bases to those which rise above, so as to furnish a sure support to the lower mass, and so that each cell may securely keep the liquid honey.16621662 The mathematical exactness of the bee is described by Darwin in terms which make it even more marvellous than it appeared to Basil. “The most wonderful of all known instincts, that of the hive bee, may be explained by natural selection having taken advantage of numerous slight modifications of simpler instincts; natural selection having by slow degrees more and more perfectly led the bees to sweep equal spheres at a given distance from each other in a double layer, and to build up and excavate the wax along the planes of intersection.” Origin of Species, ii. 255, ed. 1861. According to this view the beings from whom hive bees, as we know them, are descended were gifted with certain simple instincts capable of a kind of hereditary unconscious education, resulting in a complex instinct which constructs with exact precision the hexagonal chamber best fitted for the purpose it is designed to fulfil, and then packs it. And it is interesting to note how the great apostle of abstract selection personifies it as a “taker” of “advantage,” and a “leader.”
985. How shall we make an exact review of all the peculiarities of the life of birds? During the night cranes keep watch in turn; some sleep, others make the rounds and procure a quiet slumber for their companions. After having finished his duty, the sentry utters a cry, and goes to sleep, and the one who awakes, in his turn, repays the security which he has enjoyed.16631663 Arist., Hist. An. ix. 10. You will see the same order reign in their flight. One leads the way, and when it has guided the flight of the flock for a certain time, it passes to the rear, leaving to the one who comes after the care of directing the march.
The conduct of storks comes very near intelligent reason. In these regions the same season sees them all migrate. They all start at one given signal. And it seems to me that our crows, serving them as escort, go to bring them back, and to help them against the attacks of hostile birds. The proof is that in this season not a single crow appears, and that they return with wounds, evident marks of the help and of the assistance that they have lent. Who has explained to them the laws of hospitality? Who has threatened them with the penalties of desertion? For not one is missing from the company. Listen, all inhospitable hearts, ye who shut your doors, whose house is never open either in the winter or in the night to travellers. The solicitude of storks for their old would be sufficient, if our children would reflect upon it, to make them love their parents; because there is no one so failing in good sense, as not to deem it a shame to be surpassed in virtue by birds devoid of reason. The storks surround their father, when old age makes his feathers drop off, warm him with their wings, and provide abundantly for his support, and even in their flight they help him as much as they are able, raising him gently on each side upon their wings, a conduct so notorious that it has given to gratitude the name of “antipelargosis.”16641664 From πελαργός. On the pious affection of the stork, cf. Plato, Alc. i. 135 (§ 61), Arist., H.A. ix. 13, 20, Ælian, H.A. iii. 23 and x. 16, and Plin. x. 32. From πελαργὸς was supposed to be derived the Pythagorean word πελαργᾶν (Diog. Laert. viii. 20), but this is now regarded as a corruption of πεδαρτᾶν. Let no one lament poverty; let not the man whose house is bare despair of his life, when he considers the industry of the swallow. To build her nest, she brings bits of straw in her beak; and, as she cannot raise the mud in her claws, she moistens the end of her wings in water and then rolls in very fine dust and thus procures mud.16651665 “Hirundines luto construunt, stramine roborant: si quando inopia est luti, madefactæ multa aqua pennis pulverem spargunt.” Plin. x. 49. cf. Arist., Hist. An. ix. 10. After having united, little by little, the bits of straw with this mud, as with glue, she feeds her young; and if any one of them has its eyes injured, she has a natural remedy to heal the sight of her little ones.16661666 “Chelidoniam visui saluberriman hirundines monstravere, vexatis pullorum oculis illa medentes.” Plin. viii. 41. cf. Ælian, H.A. iii. 25. Chelidonia is swallowwort or celandine.
This sight ought to warn you not to take to evil ways on account of poverty; and, even if you are reduced to the last extremity, not to lose all hope; not to abandon yourself to inaction and idleness, but to have recourse to God. If He is so bountiful to the swallow, what will He not do for those who call upon Him with all their heart?
The halcyon is a sea bird, which lays its eggs
along the shore, or deposits them in the sand. And it lays in the
middle of winter, when the violence of the winds dashes the sea against
the land. Yet all winds are hushed, and the wave of the sea grows
calm, during the seven days that the halcyon sits.16671667
“Fœtificant bruma, qui dies halcyonides vocantur,
placido mari per eos et navigabili, Siculo maxime.
Plin. x. 47. cf. Arist., H.A. v. 8, 9, and
Ælian, H. N. i. 36. So Theoc. vii.
Χ᾽ ἁλκυόνες στορεσεῦντι τὰ κύματα, τάν τε θάλασσαν
Τόν τε νότον τόντ᾽ εὖρον ὃς ἔσχατα φυκία κινεῖ
Sir Thomas Browne (Vulgar Errors) denies the use of a kingfisher as a weather-gauge, but says nothing as to the “halcyon days.” Kingfishers are rarely seen in the open sea, but haunt estuaries which are calm without any special miracle. Possibly the halcyon was a tern or sea-swallow, which resembles a kingfisher, but they brood on land.
For it only takes seven days to hatch the young. Then, as they are in need of food so that they may grow, God, in His munificence, grants another seven days to this tiny animal. All sailors know this, and call these days halcyon days. If divine Providence has established these marvellous laws in favour of creatures devoid of reason, it is to induce you to ask for your salvation from God. Is there a wonder which He will not perform for you—you have been made in His image, when for so little a bird, the great, the fearful sea is held in check and is commanded in the midst of winter to be calm.
6. It is said that the turtle-dove, once separated from her mate, does not contract a new union, but remains in widowhood, in remembrance of her first alliance.16681668 Arist., H.A. ix. 7. Listen, O women! What veneration for widowhood, even in these creatures devoid of reason, how they prefer it to an unbecoming multiplicity of marriages. The eagle shows the greatest injustice in the edu99cation which she gives to her young. When she has hatched two little ones, she throws one on the ground, thrusting it out with blows from her wings, and only acknowledges the remaining one. It is the difficulty of finding food which has made her repulse the offspring she has brought forth. But the osprey, it is said, will not allow it to perish, she carries it away and brings it up with her young ones.16691669 Ar. vi. 6 and ix. 34. “Melanaetos…sola aquilarum fœtus suos alit; ceteræ…fugant.” Plin. x. 3. “Pariunt ova terna: excludunt pullos binos: visi sunt et tres aliquando.” id. 4, following Musæus (apud Plutarch, In Mario, p. 426). ὡς τρία μὲν τίκτει, δύο δ᾽ ἔκλεπει, ἓν δ᾽ ἀλεγίζει. On the osprey, see Arist., H.A. ix. 44 and Pliny loc. “Sed ejectos ab his cognatum genus ossifragi excipiunt, et educant cum suis.” Such are parents who, under the plea of poverty, expose their children; such are again those who, in the distribution of their inheritance, make unequal divisions. Since they have given existence equally to each of their children, it is just that they should equally and without preference furnish them with the means of livelihood. Beware of imitating the cruelty of birds with hooked talons. When they see their young are from henceforth capable of encountering the air in their flight, they throw them out of the nest, striking them and pushing them with their wings, and do not take the least care of them. The love of the crow for its young is laudable! When they begin to fly, she follows them, gives them food, and for a very long time provides for their nourishment. Many birds have no need of union with males to conceive. But their eggs are unfruitful, except those of vultures, who more often, it is said, bring forth without coupling:16701670 Arist., Hist. An. vi. 6 and ix. 15. So Pliny x. vii. “Nidos nemo attigit: ideo etiam fuere qui putarent illos ex adverso orbe advolare, nidificant enim in excelsissimis rupibus.” cf. also Ælian, ii. 46: γῦπα δὲ ἄρρενα οὔ φασι γίγνεσθαί ποτε ἀλλὰ θηλείας ἁπάσας. and this although they have a very long life, which often reaches its hundredth year. Note and retain, I pray you, this point in the history of birds; and if ever you see any one laugh at our mystery, as if it were impossible and contrary to nature that a virgin should become a mother without losing the purity of her virginity, bethink you that He who would save the faithful by the foolishness of preaching, has given us beforehand in nature a thousand reasons for believing in the marvellous.16711671 This analogy is repeated almost in identical words in Basil’s Hom. xxii. De Providentia. cf. also his Com. on Isaiah. St. Ambrose repeats the illustration (Hex. v. 20). The analogy, even if the facts were true, would be false and misleading. But it is curious to note that were any modern divine desirous of here following in Basil’s track, he might find the alleged facts in the latest modern science,—e.g. in the so-called Parthenogenesis, or virginal reproduction, among insects, as said to be demonstrated by Siebold. Haeckel (Hist. of Creation, Lankester’s ed. ii. p. 198) represents sexual reproduction as quite a recent development of non-sexual reproduction.
7. “Let the waters bring forth the moving creatures that have life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” They received the command to fly above the earth because earth provides them with nourishment. “In the firmament of heaven,” that is to say, as we have said before, in that part of the air called οὐρανός, heaven,16721672 cf. note on p. 70. from the word ὁρᾶν, which means to see;16731673 The Greek word στερέωμα, from στερεός, strong, is traceable to the root star, to spread out, and so indirectly associated with the connotation of the Hebrew rakia. called firmament, because the air which extends over our heads, compared to the æther, has greater density, and is thickened by the vapours which exhale from the earth. You have then heaven adorned, earth beautified, the sea peopled with its own creatures, the air filled with birds which scour it in every direction. Studious listener, think of all these creations which God has drawn out of nothing, think of all those which my speech has left out, to avoid tediousness, and not to exceed my limits; recognise everywhere the wisdom of God; never cease to wonder, and, through every creature, to glorify the Creator.
There are some kinds of birds which live by night in the midst of darkness; others which fly by day in full light. Bats, owls, night-ravens are birds of night: if by chance you cannot sleep, reflect on these nocturnal birds and their peculiarities and glorify their Maker. How is it that the nightingale is always awake when sitting on her eggs, passing the night in a continual melody?16741674 Arist., H.A. viii. 75. Pliny x. 43. “Luscinus diebus ac noctibus continuis quindecim garrulus sine intermissu cantus, densante se frondium germine, non in novissimum digna miratu ave.” How is it that one animal, the bat, is at the same time quadruped and fowl? That it is the only one of the birds to have teeth? That it is viviparous like quadrupeds, and traverses the air, raising itself not upon wings, but upon a kind of membrane?16751675 So also Basil in Hom. on Isaiah iii. 447. cf. Pliny x. 81, “cui et membranaceæ pinnæ uni.” What natural love bats have for each other! How they interlace like a chain and hang the one upon the other! A very rare spectacle among men, who for the greater part prefer individual and private life to the union of common life. Have not those who give themselves up to vain science the eyes of owls? The sight of the owl, piercing during the night time, is dazzled by the splendour of the sun; thus the intelligence of these men, so keen to contemplate vanities, is blind in presence of the true light.
During the day, also, how easy it is for you to admire
the Creator everywhere! See how 100the domestic cock calls you to work with
his shrill cry, and how, forerunner of the sun, and early as the
traveller, he sends forth labourers to the harvest! What
vigilance in geese! With what sagacity they divine secret
dangers! Did they not once upon a time save the imperial
city? When enemies were advancing by subterranean passages to
possess themselves of the capitol of Rome, did not geese announce the
Livy v. 47 and Plutarch, Camillus, or Verg. viii. 655. The
alternative tradition of the mine is preserved by Servius. Is there any
kind of bird whose nature offers nothing for our admiration? Who
announces to the vultures that there will be carnage when men march in
battle array against one another? You may see flocks of vultures
following armies and calculating the result of warlike
Ælian, H.A. ii. 46. καὶ
cf. Pliny x. 88: “vultures sagacius odorantur.” a calculation very nearly approaching to human reasoning. How can I describe to you the fearful invasions of locusts, which rise everywhere at a given signal, and pitch their camps all over a country? They do not attack crops until they have received the divine command. Or shall I describe how the remedy for this curse, the thrush, follows them with its insatiable appetite, and the devouring nature that the loving God has given it in His kindness for men?16781678 cf. Galen. vi. 3. How does the grasshopper modulate its song?16791679 Fialon, quoting the well known ode of Anakreon, “μακαρίζομέν σε τέττιξ,” and Plato’s theory of the affection of grasshoppers and the muses in the Phædrus, contrasts the “cantu querulæ rumpent arbusta cicadæ” of Vergil (George. iii. 328) and points out that the Romans did not share the Greek admiration for the grasshopper’s song. Why is it more melodious at midday owing to the air that it breathes in dilating its chest?
But it appears to me that in wishing to describe the marvels of winged creatures, I remain further behind than I should if my feet had tried to match the rapidity of their flight. When you see bees, wasps, in short all those flying creatures called insects, because they have an incision all around, reflect that they have neither respiration nor lungs, and that they are supported by air through all parts of their bodies.16801680 “Insecta multi negarunt spirare, idque ratione persuadentes, quoniam in viscera interiora nexus spirabilis non inesset. Itaque vivere ut fruges, arboresque: sed plurimum interesse spiret aliquid an vivat. Eadem de causa nec sanguinem iis esse qui sit nullis carentibus corde atque jecore. Sic nec spirare ea quibus pulmo desit unde numerosa series quæstionum exoritur. Iidem enim et vocem esse his negant, in tanto murmure apium, cicadarum sono…nec video cur magis possint non trahere animam talia, et vivere, quam spirare sine visceribus.” Plin. xi. 2. Thus they perish, if they are covered with oil, because it stops up their pores. Wash them with vinegar, the pores reopen and the animal returns to life. Our God has created nothing unnecessarily and has omitted nothing that is necessary. If now you cast your eyes upon aquatic creatures, you will find that their organization is quite different. Their feet are not split like those of the crow, nor hooked like those of the carnivora, but large and membraneous; therefore they can easily swim, pushing the water with the membranes of their feet as with oars. Notice how the swan plunges his neck into the depths of the water to draw his food from it, and you will understand the wisdom of the Creator in giving this creature a neck longer than his feet, so that he may throw it like a line, and take the food hidden at the bottom of the water.16811681 Arist., De Part. An. iv. 12.
8. If we simply read the words of Scripture we find only a few short syllables. “Let the waters bring forth fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven,” but if we enquire into the meaning of these words, then the great wonder of the wisdom of the Creator appears. What a difference He has foreseen among winged creatures! How He has divided them by kinds! How He has characterized each one of them by distinct qualities! But the day will not suffice me to recount the wonders of the air. Earth is calling me to describe wild beasts, reptiles and cattle, ready to show us in her turn sights rivalling those of plants, fish, and birds. “Let the earth bring forth the living soul” of domestic animals, of wild beasts, and of reptiles after their kind. What have you to say, you who do not believe in the change that Paul promises you in the resurrection, when you see so many metamorphoses among creatures of the air? What are we not told of the horned worm of India! First it changes into a caterpillar,16821682 This word is curiously rendered by Eustathius verucæ, and by Ambrose caulis. Garnier (Præf. in Bas. 28) thinks that the latter perhaps found in some corrupt ms. κράμβην for κάμπην. then becomes a buzzing insect, and not content with this form, it clothes itself, instead of wings, with loose, broad plates. Thus, O women, when you are seated busy with your weaving, I mean of the silk which is sent you by the Chinese to make your delicate dresses,16831683 Arist., H.A. v. 19. remember the metamorphoses of this creature, conceive a clear idea of the resurrection, and do not refuse to believe in the change that Paul announces for all men.
But I am ashamed to see that my discourse oversteps the
accustomed limits; if I consider the abundance of matters on which I
have just discoursed to you, I feel that I am being borne beyond
bounds; but when I reflect upon the inexhaustible wisdom which
101is displayed in the works of
creation, I seem to be but at the beginning of my story.
Nevertheless, I have not detained you so long without profit. For
what would you have done until the evening? You are not pressed
by guests, nor expected at banquets. Let me then employ this
bodily fast to rejoice your souls. You have often served the
flesh for pleasure, to-day persevere in the ministry of the soul.
“Delight thyself also in the Lord and he shall give thee the
desire of thine heart.”16841684
you love riches? Here are spiritual riches. “The
judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More
to be desired are they than gold and precious
Ps. xix. 9 and 10, LXX. Do you
love enjoyment and pleasures? Behold the oracles of the Lord,
which, for a healthy soul, are “sweeter than honey and the
Ps. xix. 10. If I let
you go, and if I dismiss this assembly, some will run to the dice,
where they will find bad language, sad quarrels and the pangs of
avarice. There stands the devil, inflaming the fury of the
players with the dotted bones,16871687 The
κύβοι were marked on all
six sides, the ἂστράγαλοι
on only four, the ends being rounded.
transporting the same sums of money from one side of the table to
the other, now exalting one with victory and throwing the other into
despair, now swelling the first with boasting and covering his rival
with confusion.16881688 With
Basil’s description of the gaming tables, presumably of
Cæsarea, cf. Ovid’s of those of Rome:
“Ira subit, deforme malum, lucrique cupido;
Jurgiaque et rixæ, sollicitusque dolor.
Crimina dicuntur, resonat clamoribus æther,
Invocat iratos et sibi quisque deos,
Nulla fides: tabulæque novæ per vota petuntur,
Et lacrymis vidi sæpe madere genis.
De A.A.iii. 373 seqq. Of what use is bodily fasting and filling the soul with innumerable evils? He who does not play spends his leisure elsewhere. What frivolities come from his mouth! What follies strike his ears! Leisure without the fear of the Lord is, for those who do not know the value of time, a school of vice.16891689 “Cernis ut ignavum corrumpant otia corpus.” Ovid, I. Pont. 6. “Facito aliquid operis ut semper Diabolus inveniat te occupatum. Jerome, In R. Monach. I hope that my words will be profitable; at least by occupying you here they have prevented you from sinning. Thus the longer I keep you, the longer you are out of the way of evil.
An equitable judge will deem that I have said enough, not if he considers the riches of creation, but if he thinks of our weakness and of the measure one ought to keep in that which tends to pleasure. Earth has welcomed you with its own plants, water with its fish, air with its birds; the continent in its turn is ready to offer you as rich treasures. But let us put an end to this morning banquet, for fear satiety may blunt your taste for the evening one. May He who has filled all with the works of His creation and has left everywhere visible memorials of His wonders, fill your hearts with all spiritual joys in Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom belong glory and power, world without end. Amen.
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