1. The two lines of descent of the human race, advancing from the start towards different ends
CONCERNING the happiness of paradise and paradise itself, and concerning the life there of the first human beings and their sin, with its punishment, many opinions have been held by different people, many notions have been expressed in speech, or committed to writing. I myself have had a good deal to say on those subjects in previous books,1 basing my statements on holy Scripture; what I said there was either what I found stated in Scripture or what I could infer from scriptural statements, always keeping in conformity with the authority of the Bible. A more searching discussion of the subject would produce a great number and a great variety of arguments which would require for their deployment a greater number of volumes than the present work demands and my time permits. The time at my disposal does not allow me to linger on all the questions that may be raised by men with time on their hands and with a curiosity for finer points – the kind of people who are more ready to ask questions than capable of understanding the answers.
All the same, I think that I have already discharged my obligation to the important and knotty problems about the beginning of the world, and of the soul, and of the human race itself. I classify the human race into two branches: the one consists of those who live by human standards, the other of those who live according to God’s will. I also call these two classes the two cities, speaking allegorically. By two cities I mean two societies of human beings, one of which is predestined to reign with God for all eternity, the other doomed to undergo eternal punishment with the Devil. But this is their final destiny, and I shall have to speak of that later on.2 At present, since I have said enough about the origins of these societies, whether in the angels, whose number is unknown to us, or in the two first human beings, it seems to me that I should undertake to describe their development from the time when that first pair began to produce offspring up to the time when mankind will cease to reproduce itself. For the development of these two societies which form my subject lasts throughout this whole stretch of time, or era, in which the dying yield place to the newly-born who succeed them.
Now Cain was the first son born to those two parents of mankind, and he belonged to the city of man; the later son, Abel, belonged to the City of God.3 It is our own experience that in the individual man, to use the words of the Apostle, ‘it is not the spiritual element which comes first, but the animal; and afterwards comes the spiritual’,4 and so it is that everyone, since he takes his origin from a condemned stock, is inevitably evil and carnal to begin with, by derivation from Adam; but if he is reborn into Christ, and makes progress, he will afterwards be good and spiritual. The same holds true of the whole human race. When those two cities started on their course through the succession of birth and death, the first to be born was a citizen of this world, and later appeared one who was a pilgrim and stranger in the world, belonging as he did to the City of God. He was predestined by grace, and chosen by grace, by grace a pilgrim below, and by grace a citizen above. As far as he himself is concerned he has his origin from the same lump which was condemned, as a whole lump, at the beginning. But God like a potter (the analogy introduced by the Apostle is not impertinent but very pertinent) made ‘out of the same lump one vessel destined for honour, and another for dishonour’.5 But the first one made was the vessel for dishonour, and afterwards came the vessel for honour. For in the individual man, as I have said, the base condition comes first, and we have to start with that; but we are not bound to stop at that, and later comes the noble state towards which we may make progress, and in which we may abide, when we have arrived at it. Hence it is not the case that every bad man will become good, but no one will be good who was not bad originally. Yet the sooner a man changes for the better the more quickly will he secure for himself the title belonging to his attainment and will hide his earlier appellation under the later name.
Scripture tells us that Cain founded a city,6 whereas Abel, as a pilgrim, did not found one. For the City of the saints is up above, although it produces citizens here below, and in their persons the City is on pilgrimage until the time of its kingdom comes. At that time it will assemble all those citizens as they rise again in their bodies; and then they will be given the promised kingdom, where with their Prince, ‘the king of ages’,7 they will reign, world without end.
2. The children of the flesh and the children of the promise
There was certainly a kind of shadow and prophetic image of this City which served rather to point towards it than to reproduce it on earth at the time when it was due to be displayed. This image was also called the holy city, in virtue of its pointing to that other City, not as being the express likeness of the reality which is yet to be. Concerning this image, in its status as a servant, and that free City to which it points, the Apostle says, when writing to the Galatians,
Now tell me, you who want to be under law; have you not listened to what the Law says? We are told in Scripture that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave-woman, one by his free-born wife. The slave-woman’s son was born in the course of nature, the free woman’s as a result of a promise. These facts are allegorical. For the two women stand for two covenants. The one bearing children for slavery is the covenant from Mount Sinai; this is Hagar. Now Sinai is a mountain in Arabia and it stands for the present Jerusalem; for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; and she is our mother. For Scripture says: ‘Rejoice, you barren woman who bear no child: break into a cry of joy, you who are not in labour; for the deserted woman has many sons, more than the woman who has a husband’.8 Now we, my brothers, are sons of the promise, as Isaac was. But just as at that time the son who was born in the course of nature persecuted the son who was spiritually born, so it is now. But what does Scripture say? ‘Send away the slave woman and her son; for the son of the slave shall not be joint-heir with the son of the free woman’.9 Thus you see, brothers, that we are not the sons of a slave-woman, but of the free woman, by reason of the freedom brought us by Christ’s liberation.10
This manner of interpretation, which comes down to us with apostolic authority, reveals to us how we are to understand the Scriptures of the two covenants, the old and the new. One part of the earthly city has been made into an image of the Heavenly City, by symbolizing something other than itself, namely that other City; and for that reason it is a servant. For it was established not for its own sake but in order to symbolize another City; and since it was signified by an antecedent symbol, the foreshadowing symbol was itself foreshadowed.11 Hagar, the servant of Sarah, represented, with her son, the image of this image. But the shadows were to pass away with the coming of the light, and Sarah, the free woman, stood for the free city which the shadow, Hagar, for her part served to point to in another way. And that is why Sarah said, ‘Send away the slave-woman and her son; for the son of the slave shall not be joint-heir with my son Isaac.’ or as the Apostle puts it, ‘with the son of the free woman’.
Thus we find in the earthly city a double significance: in one respect it displays its own presence, and in the other it serves by its presence to signify the Heavenly City. But the citizens of the earthly city are produced by a nature which is vitiated by sin, while the citizens of the Heavenly City are brought forth by grace, which sets nature free from sin. That is why the former are called ‘vessels of wrath’, the latter ‘vessels of mercy’.12 This difference is also symbolized in Abraham’s two sons: the one, Ishmael, son of the slave named Hagar, was born in the course of nature, whereas the other, Isaac, son of Sarah, the free woman, was born in fulfilment of a promise. Both sons, it is true, were born of Abraham’s seed; but one was begotten by the normal procedure, a demonstration of nature’s way, while the other was given by a promise, a symbol of God’s grace. In one case we are shown man’s customary behaviour, in the other we are given a revelation of the goodness of God.
3. The barrenness of Sarah, made fertile by the grace of God
Sarah, as we know, was barren, and, despairing of her chances of children, she was eager at least to have from her slave-girl what she realized she could not have from herself; and so she gave her slave to her husband to be made pregnant by him.13 She had wished to have children by him, but it had proved impossible. Thus she exacted her due from her husband even so, by availing herself of her rights in respect of another’s womb. Thus Ishmael was born, as men in general are born, as a result of sexual intercourse, following the established laws of nature. Hence the expression, ‘according to the flesh’ for ‘in the course of nature’. It does not mean that such bounties do not come from God, or that those operations are not part of God’s activity, whose craftsman, Wisdom, ‘reaches’, according to Scripture, ‘from one end to another in its power, and orders all things delightfully.’14 But when there was a need to point out that a gift was being bestowed by God of his free grace, and not as a matter of obligation, then a son had to be given in a way that was independent of the ordinary processes of nature. For nature denies children to the kind of sexual intercourse that was possible to Abraham and Sarah at the age they had reached. And, apart from that, Sarah had hitherto been barren, and unable to produce a child even when she was the right age. Even then she failed in fertility, and by now she was the wrong age.
The fact that a nature in this condition had no right to any fruit of posterity signifies that human nature corrupted by sin, and therefore rightly condemned, did not deserve any true happiness for the future. Isaac therefore, who was born as a result of a promise, is rightly interpreted as symbolizing the children of grace, the citizens of the free city, the sharers in eternal peace, who form a community where there is no love of a will that is personal and, as we may say, private, but a love that rejoices in a good that is at once shared by all and unchanging – a love that makes ‘one heart’ out of many,15 a love that is the whole-hearted and harmonious obedience of mutual affection.
4. Conflict and peace in the earthly city
The earthly city will not be everlasting; for when it is condemned to the final punishment it will no longer be a city. It has its good in this world, and rejoices to participate in it with such gladness as can be derived from things of such a kind. And since this is not the kind of good that causes no frustrations to those enamoured of it, the earthly city is generally divided against itself by litigation, by wars, by battles, by the pursuit of victories that bring death with them or at best are doomed to death. For if any section of that city has risen up in war against another part, it seeks to be victorious over other nations, though it is itself the slave of base passions; and if, when victorious, it is exalted in its arrogance, that victory brings death in its train. Whereas if it considers the human condition and the changes and chances common to mankind, and is more tormented by possible misfortunes than puffed up by its present success, then its victory is only doomed to death. For it will not be able to lord it permanently over those whom it has been able to subdue victoriously.
However, it would be incorrect to say that the goods which this city desires are not goods, since even that city is better, in its own human way, by their possession. For example, that city desires an earthly peace, for the sake of the lowest goods; and it is that peace which it longs to attain by making war. For if it wins the war and no one survives to resist, then there will be peace, which the warring sections did not enjoy when they contended in their unhappy poverty for the things which they could not both possess at the same time. This peace is the aim of wars, with all their hardships; it is this peace that glorious victory (so called) achieves.
Now when the victory goes to those who were fighting for the juster cause, can anyone doubt that the victory is a matter for rejoicing and the resulting peace is something’to be desired? These things are goods and undoubtedly they are gifts of God. But if the higher goods are neglected, which belong to the City on high, where victory will be serene in the enjoyment of eternal and perfect peace16 – if these goods are neglected and those other goods are so desired as to be considered the only goods, or are loved more than the goods which are believed to be higher, the inevitable consequence is fresh misery, and an increase of the wretchedness already there.
5. Of the first founder of the earthly city, whose fratricide was reproduced by the founder of Rome
The first founder of the earthly city was, as we have seen, a fratricide; for, overcome by envy, he slew his own brother, a citizen of the Eternal City, on pilgrimage in this world. Hence it is no wonder that long afterwards this first precedent – what the Greeks call an archetype was answered by a kind of reflection, by an event of the same kind at the founding of the city which was to be the capital of the earthly city of which we are speaking, and was to rule over so many peoples. For there also, as one of their poets says when he mentions the crime,
Those walls were dripping with a brother’s blood.17
For this is how Rome was founded, when Remus, as Roman history witnesses, was slain by his brother Romulus. The difference from the primal crime was that both brothers were citizens of the earthly city. Both sought the glory of establishing the Roman state, but a joint foundation would not bring to each the glory that a single founder would enjoy. Anyone whose aim was to glory in the exercise of power would obviously enjoy less power if his sovereignty was diminished by a living partner. Therefore, in order that the sole power should be wielded by one person, the partner was eliminated; and what would have been kept smaller and better by innocence grew through crime into something bigger and worse.
In contrast, the earlier brothers, Cain and Abel, did not both entertain the same ambition for earthly gains; and the one who slew his brother was not jealous of him because his power would be more restricted if both wielded the sovereignty; for Abel did not aim at power in the city which his brother was founding. But Cain’s was the diabolical envy that the wicked feel for the good simply because they are good, while they themselves are evil. A man’s possession of goodness is in no way diminished by the arrival, or the continuance, of a sharer in it; indeed, goodness is a possession enjoyed more widely by the united affection of partners in that possession in proportion to the harmony that exists among them. In fact, anyone who refuses to enjoy this possession in partnership will not enjoy it at all; and he will find that he possesses it in ampler measure in proportion to his ability to love his partner in it.
Thus the quarrel that arose between Remus and Romulus demonstrated the division of the earthly city against itself; while the conflict between Cain and Abel displayed the hostility between the two cities themselves, the City of God and the city of men. Thus the wicked fight among themselves; and likewise the wicked fight against the good and the good against the wicked. But the good, if they have reached perfect goodness, cannot fight among themselves. However, while they are on their way towards the perfection they have not yet attained, there may be fighting among them inasmuch as any good man may fight against another as a result of that part of him which makes him also fight against himself. And in the individual it is true that ‘the flesh has desires which resist the spirit, and the spirit has desires which resist the flesh’.18 Accordingly, spiritual desire can fight against the carnal desire of another person, or carnal desire against another’s spiritual desire, just as the good and the wicked fight against one another. Or even the carnal desires of two good men (who have obviously not yet attained perfection) may fight, just as the wicked fight among themselves, until those who are on the way to recovery are finally brought to triumphant health.
6. On the weaknesses from which even the citizens of the City of God suffer as punishment for sin during their life’s pilgrimage, and for which they are cured by God’s healing
Now this kind of weakness, the disobedience, that is, which we discussed in the fourteenth book,19 is, of course, the punishment for the primal disobedience. Consequently, it is not part of nature, but a defect in nature. Hence the admonition given to the good who are making progress and who are living by faith during this pilgrimage: ‘Carry each other’s loads, and in this way you will fulfil the Law of Christ.’20 And in another place, ‘Correct the unruly, encourage the faint-hearted, support the feeble, be patient with all men. Take care that none of you returns evil for evil.’21 And in yet another place, ‘If a man has been caught in any offence, you who are spiritual must instruct such a person in a kindly spirit. Keep an eye on yourself, in case you may be tempted.’22 And elsewhere, ‘Do not let the sun set on your anger.’23 And in the Gospel, ‘If your brother sins against you correct him, just between the two of you.’24 Similarly, on the subject of sins, as a precaution against the bad effect on others, the Apostle says, ‘As for sinners, rebuke them publicly, so as to instil fear in the rest.’25
This is why so many precepts are given about mutual forgiveness and the great care needed for the maintenance of peace, without which no one will be able to see God.26 Hence the terrifying sentence on the slave when he was ordered to repay a debt of ten thousand talents, which had been forgiven, because he did not forgive his fellow slave a debt of a hundred denarii. And when the Lord Jesus had told this parable, he added, ‘This is what your Heavenly Father will do to you, if you do not, every one of you, forgive your brother from your heart.’27 This is how the citizens of the City of God are restored to health while on pilgrimage on this earth, as they sigh for their Heavenly Country. At the same time the Holy Spirit is at work internally to make effective the medicine which is externally applied. Otherwise, even if God makes use of a creature subject to him to speak to human senses in some human form, whether to the bodily senses or those closely resembling them that we possess when we are asleep, and does not rule and guide our minds with his inward grace, no preaching of the truth is of any help to man.
In fact, this is what God does, distinguishing the vessels of wrath from the vessels of mercy, by the deeply hidden yet just dispensation, known only to himself.28 He certainly helps in wonderful and secret ways; and when the sin (or rather the punishment of sin) which dwells in our members no longer, to use the words of the Apostle’s precept, ‘reigns in our mortal bodies inducing obedience to the body’s desires’, and when we no longer ‘place our bodily parts at sin’s disposal, to be instruments of wickedness’,29 there is a change in us, so that man’s mind, under the rule of God, does not conspire with man to do evil, but man finds in this changed mind a ruler that brings a greater tranquillity, here and now; and hereafter, when he has attained perfect health and achieved immortality, man will reign, without sin, in eternal peace.
7. The cause of Cam’s crime, and his headstrong resolution
But in this matter of God’s speech with man, which I have described above, to the best of my power, what good was it to Cain when God spoke to him in the way in which he conversed with the first human beings, through the medium of a creature subject to him, taking on an appropriate form, as if he were a fellow-creature? Did he not carry out the planned crime in killing his brother, even after God had spoken a word of warning? God, we remember, had distinguished between the sacrifice of the two brothers, showing approval of the offering of the one, and disapproval of that of the other; and we must suppose that this distinction could be recognized by the evidence of some visible sign. The reason for God’s action must have been that Cain’s activities were evil, and his brother’s were good. But the result was that Cain turned sullen, and his face fell. For Scripture says, ‘And the Lord said to Cain: “Why have you become sullen? Why has your face fallen? If your sacrifice is rightly offered, but not rightly divided, have you not sinned? Calm yourself; for there is to be a return of it to you, and you will have the mastery over it.”’30
In this admonition or warning which God offered to Cain, it is not clear what is the reason or ground for the saying, ‘If your sacrifice is rightly offered, but not rightly divided, have you not sinned?’ And the obscurity of it has produced a number of interpretations, in which each commentator on the holy Scriptures tries to explain the words in accordance with the Rule of Faith.31 A sacrifice, to be sure, is rightly offered when it is offered to the true God, to whom alone sacrifice is due. But it is not ‘rightly divided’ when there is not a right distinction of the places or times of sacrifice, or the material of the sacrifice or its recipient, or those to whom the victim is distributed for eating. This is to interpret ‘division’ as here meaning ‘distinction’. An offering may be at the wrong place, or the object offered may be inadmissible there, though appropriate elsewhere; it may be at the wrong time, inadmissible on that occasion, but appropriate at another time; or it may be an offering that is utterly improper at any time or place. Or it may be that a man keeps back for himself the choicer portions of the kind of things which he offers to God; or else the sacrifice is shared by a profane person, or anyone else who may not lawfully partake of it.
Now it is not easy to find out in which of these respects Cain displeased God. The apostle John, when speaking of those brothers, said, ‘Do not be like Cain, who was on the side of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason? Because his deeds were of evil intention, and his brother’s were righteous.’32 This gives us to understand that God did not approve his gift, because it was wrongly ‘divided’ in this point, that he gave to God something belonging to him, but gave himself to himself. This is what is done by all those who follow their own will, and not the will of God; that is, those who live with a perverted instead of an upright heart, and yet offer a gift to God. They suppose that with this gift God is being bought over to help them, not in curing their depraved desires, but in fulfilling them. And this is the characteristic of the earthly city – to worship a god or gods so that with their assistance it may reign in the enjoyment of victories and an earthly peace, not with a loving concern for others, but with lust for domination over them. For the good make use of this world in order to enjoy God, whereas the evil want to make use of God in order to enjoy the world – those of them, that is, who still believe in the existence of God, or in his concern for human affairs; those who do not believe even this are in a much worse case. And so when Cain discovered that God had approved his brother’s sacrifice but not his own, he ought surely to have changed his ways and imitated his good brother, instead of showing pride and jealousy. In fact, Cain turned sullen, and his face fell. This is a sin which God particularly rebukes, namely, sulkiness about another’s goodness, and a brother’s goodness at that. And it was this that God was rebuking when he asked, ‘Why have you turned sullen? Why has your face fallen?’ Because God saw that Cain envied his brother, and that was what God rebuked.
Now from the point of view of human beings, from whom the heart of another person is hidden, it might be doubtful, in fact completely uncertain, whether Cain’s sullenness was due to remorse for his own evil intent, which, as he had learned, made him displeasing to God, or to annoyance at his brother’s goodness, which pleased God, as was shown when God approved Abel’s sacrifice. But God gave the reason why he refused to accept Cain’s sacrifice, so that he should be rightly displeased with himself, instead of being wrongly displeased with his brother. Thus God showed that although Cain was unrighteous in not ‘dividing’ rightly, that is in not living rightly, and so did not deserve to have his offering approved, he was much more unrighteous in hating his righteous brother without a cause. However, God did not send Cain away without giving him a command which was holy, righteous and good. For he said, ‘Calm yourself; for there is to be a return of it to you, and you will have the mastery over it.’ Did it mean ‘over him’, that is, his brother? Heaven forbid! Over what, then? It can only be ‘over sin’. For God had said, ‘You have sinned’; and he went on, ‘Calm yourself; for there is to be a return of it to you, and you will have the mastery over it.’ The saying that there is bound to be a return of sin to the man himself can certainly be interpreted as meaning that he should know that his sin should be ascribed to his own fault and not blamed on another.
For this is a health-giving medicine of repentance and a petition for pardon which is suitable to the case. Thus, when God says, ‘For (there is to be) a return of it to you’, the verb to be understood is ‘should be’ rather than ‘will be’; it is said by way of prescription rather than prediction. For a man will have the mastery over his sin if he does not put it in command of himself by defending it, but subjects it to himself by repenting of it. Otherwise, he will also be its slave, and it will have the mastery, if he affords it encouragement when it occurs.
But sin can also be taken to mean carnal desire itself. Thus the Apostle says, ‘The desires of the flesh oppose the spirit’,33 and among the ‘fruits of the flesh’ he includes envy; and it was certainly envy which goaded and inflamed Cain to his brother’s destruction. On that interpretation the verb to be understood is ‘will be’, and the passage will run thus: ‘There will be a return of it to you, and you will have the mastery over it.’ This is what may happen after the carnal element of man has been aroused. The Apostle gives this element the name of ‘sin’, in the passage where he says, ‘It is not my own action, but the action of sin which dwells in me.’34 (There are also philosophers who say that this element in the soul is perverted, and that it ought not to drag the mind after it, but should be under orders from the mind, and restrained by reason from unlawful acts.) Thus, when this element has been aroused to commit some wrongful act, if we then calm ourselves and obey the Apostle’s instructions not to ‘place your bodily parts at sin’s disposal, to be the instruments of wickedness’,35 then that element ‘returns’, subdued and conquered, to the mind and accepts the mastery of reason.
This was God’s instruction to Cain, who was inflamed with the fires of jealousy against his brother, and longed to have him destroyed, when he ought to have imitated his example. ‘Calm yourself’, God said, ‘restrain your hands from crime, and do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires,36 and do not place your bodily parts at sin’s disposal, as the instruments of wickedness. “For there will be a return of it to you” provided that you do not encourage it by slackening your control but bridle it by keeping calm “and you will have the mastery over it”. Thus, so long as it is not allowed to be active outwardly, it will become accustomed to remain quiet inwardly as well, under the control of the mind’s benevolent sovereignty.’
Something of this sort was said in the same inspired book about the woman also, when God asked questions and gave judgement after the sin. The sinners received the sentences of condemnation, the Devil in the person of the serpent, the woman and her husband in their own persons. God said to the woman, ‘I shall many times multiply your sorrows and your groaning, and in sorrows you will produce children;’ and then he added, ‘And your turning will be to your husband, and he will have the mastery over you.’37 What was said to Cain about sin, or the perverted desire of the flesh, is said in this passage about the sinful woman, and here is to be taken as meaning that man, in ruling his wife, should resemble the mind which rules the flesh. For that reason the Apostle says, ‘A man who loves his wife is loving himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh.’38
We should then look for a cure of those sins, as being our own, instead of condemning them as if they did not belong to us. But Cain received that instruction from God like a lawbreaker. For the fault of jealousy grew stronger, and he planned and carried out his brother’s murder. Such was the man who founded the earthly city. He also symbolizes the Jews by whom Christ was slain, the shepherd of the flock of men, who was prefigured in Abel, the shepherd of the flock of sheep. But this is a matter of prophetic allegory, and so I shall refrain from explaining it here. Besides, I recall having said something on this point in my book Against Faustus the Manichean.39
8. The reason why Cain founded a city among the first beginnings of the human race
My present duty, as it seems to me, is to defend the historical truth of the scriptural account, in case it may seem incredible that a city should have been built by one man at a time when there were apparently only four men in existence on the earth – or rather three men, after Cain had killed his brother. These three were the first man, the father of all, Cain himself, and Cain’s son Enoch, after whose name the city itself was called. But those who are worried by this have given too little consideration to the fact that the writer of this sacred history had no need to mention by name all the people who may then have existed. He only needed to give the names of those who were demanded by the plan of the work he had undertaken. For the intention of the writer, through whom the Holy Spirit was achieving his purpose, was to arrive at Abraham through the clearly denned succession of generations descended from one man; and then to pass from the line of Abraham to the people of God, which was kept distinct from all other nations and in which were prefigured and foretold all things which were foreseen, by inspiration of the Spirit, as destined to come, the things, that is, relating to the City whose kingdom will be eternal, and to Christ, its king and founder. And in this account the other society of men was not ignored, the society which we call the earthly city. It was mentioned as far as was necessary to enable the City of God to shine out in contrast with its opposite.
Now when holy Scripture mentions the number of years which those early men lived it concludes the account by saying of the man spoken about, ‘And he begat sons and daughters, and all the days’ that this or that man lived Were’ so many years ‘and he died.’40 But the omission of the names of those sons and daughters, does not forbid the inference that during all those years that people lived in that first age of the world, large numbers of men could have been born and large numbers of cities also could have been founded by their association. But those narratives were written under the inspiration of God; and God’s purpose was to direct and distinguish, from the start, those two societies in their different lines of descent. And so on one side the generations of men, that is, of those who live by human standards, and on the other side the generations of the sons of God, that is, of those who live by God’s standards, were interwoven down to the Flood, where the discrimination and the combination of the two societies is described. The discrimination is described in that the genealogies of the two societies are recorded separately, one deriving from Cain the fratricide, the other from the brother called Seth (for he was another son of Adam, taking the place of the one murdered by his brother). At the same time, their combination is described in that, as the good deteriorated, they all became bad enough to be wiped out by the Flood, except for one righteous man named Noah, his wife, his three sons and three daughters-in-law. These eight human beings deserved to escape in the ark from that destruction of all mortal beings.
About the first city the Scripture says, ‘And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived, and gave birth to Enoch: and Cain built a city in the name of Enoch, his son.’41 But it does not follow that we are to suppose Enoch to have been his first son. For this is not to be inferred from the fact that he is said to have known his wife, as if that meant that this was the first sexual intercourse he had with her. For the same expression is used of Adam himself, the father of all, not only at the time of Cain’s conception (and Cain appears to have been his first-born) but also later on, where the same Scripture says, ‘Adam knew Eve, his wife, and she conceived and gave birth to a son, and called his name Seth.’42 From this we see that this is the normal, though not the invariable, usage of Scripture, when we are told of the conception of men; but the expression is not confined to the first act of intercourse. And the fact that the city was called after Enoch’s name is not cogent proof that Enoch was his father’s first-born. It is not impossible that his father, although he had other sons, loved Enoch more than the rest for some reason. Judah, for example, was not a first-born son, and yet Judaea and the Jews get their names from him.
But even if Enoch was in fact the first-born of the founder of that city, we are not therefore to assume that it was founded by Cain and given Enoch’s name at the time of his birth. For a city, which is nothing but a number of people bound together by some tie of fellowship, could not have been established at that time by one man. However, when that man’s household grew to such a number as to reach the size of a population, then it was certainly possible for him to establish a city and give the name of his first-born to the city thus established. It must be remembered that the lives of men in that period were so long that of those mentioned in the narrative whose years are disclosed, the shortest-lived, before the Flood, attained the total of 753 years.43 In fact, several passed the 900 years mark, although no one reached a thousand.
Then can one doubt that it was possible for the human race to multiply to such an extent during one man’s lifetime that there would be material for the founding of not one but many cities? We can very easily draw this conclusion from the case of Abraham. For from that one man the Hebrew people reproduced itself in such numbers in little more than 400 years44 that there were, according to the account, 600,000 young warriors in the exodus of that people from Egypt.45 And this is to leave out the nation of the Idumaeans, which does not belong to the people of Israel, being descended from Israel’s brother Esau, Abraham’s grandson,46 and the other nations derived from the seed of Abraham himself, but not through his wife Sarah.47
9. The long life and the great stature of antediluvian man
For this reason no intelligent student of history could doubt that Cain could have founded not only some sort of a city but even a large one, at a time when the lives of mortals were prolonged to so great an age. But it may be that some unbeliever or other will start a dispute with us about the immense number of years which, in the record of our authorities, the men of that period lived; he may assert that this tradition is incredible. Similarly, as we know, some people do not believe that human bodies were then of much greater size than they are now. Now the most distinguished pagan poet, Virgil, has something on this point. He is describing a huge stone set as a boundary mark on the land; a mighty warrior snatches it up in battle, runs on, then swings it round and hurls it. And Virgil says,
That stone twice six picked men could scarce upheave
With bodies such as the earth now produces.48
He means it to be understood that in those days the earth normally produced larger bodies than now. How much more then in the days when the world was newer, before that renowned and far-famed Flood!
Now in the matter of the size of bodies the incredulous are usually convinced by the tombs uncovered by the action of time, or by the violence of storms or various other accidents. Bones of incredible size have come to light in them, or have fallen out of them.49 On the shore at Utica I myself saw – and I was not alone but in the company of several others – a human molar so immense that if it had been cut up into pieces the size of our teeth it would, as it seemed to us, have made a hundred. But that tooth I should imagine, belonged to some giant. For not only were the bodies of men in general much larger at that time than ours are now, but the giants far exceeded all the rest, just as thereafter, and in our own times, there have been bodies which have far surpassed the size of the others. They have indeed been rare, but scarcely any period has been without them. Pliny the Elder, a man of profound learning, testifies that as the centuries pass and the world gets older and older, the bodies produced by nature become smaller and smaller.50 He mentions that Homer often lamented this fact in his poems,51 and Pliny does not laugh at these complaints as being poetic fictions; in his capacity as a recorder of the marvels of nature, he takes them as reliable statements of historical fact. However, as I have said, the magnitude of bodies of antiquity is witnessed even to much later ages by the frequent discovery of bones, since bones are very durable.
On the other hand, the longevity of individuals in that period cannot be put to the proof of such material evidence. Nevertheless we should not for that reason call in question the reliability of the sacred narrative. Our impudence in doubting the scriptural record is measured by the certainty of the fulfilment of its prophecies, which we see before our eyes. Apart from this, Pliny also states that there is to this day a nation where men live for two hundred years.52 And so, if it is believed that places unknown to us provide examples, at the present time, of a longevity which is outside our experience, why should we not believe the same of the unknown past? Are we to say that it is credible that something which does not happen here does happen somewhere, but incredible that something which does not happen now did happen at some other time?
10. The apparent discrepancy between the Hebrew version of the Scriptures and our own translation, on the precise ages of men of old
On this point, it is true, we observe a considerable discrepancy between the Hebrew text and our version53 in regard to the precise number of years. I do not know the reason for this; but in any case the difference is not enough to cause any disagreement about the fact of the great longevity of the men of that period. For instance, we find in our texts that Adam, the first man, was 230 years old before he begot the son called Seth, whereas in the Hebrew he is said to have been 130. On the other hand, we read in our version that Adam lived another 700 years after the birth of Seth, while the Hebrew gives 800 years.54 Thus both texts agree about the total.
Thereafter, in subsequent generations, we find the age of the father at the birth of those whose birth is mentioned, given in the Hebrew as a hundred years less than in our version; but the rest of his life, after the birth of the son, is a hundred years less in our text than in the Hebrew. Thus the sum of the two numbers agrees, in both versions. In the sixth generation, however, there is no discrepancy at all in the two texts. But in the seventh (in which the narrative records that Enoch was born and, instead of dying, was translated, because he pleased God55) there is the same discrepancy of a hundred years before the birth of the son there mentioned, and the same agreement in the total. For he was 365 years old before translation, according to both texts.
The eighth generation certainly shows a certain discrepancy, but it is smaller than the others and of a different kind. For according to the Hebrew text, Methuselah, son of Enoch, was twenty years older than in our version, before he begot the son who comes next in the list, instead of a hundred years younger,56 but, once again, these years are found added in our text after the birth of his son, and so the total coincides in both versions. The only discrepancy in the total sum appears in the ninth generation, in the age of Lamech, son of Methuselah and father of Noah; but the difference is not very large.57 For we find that in the Hebrew version he lived twenty-four years longer than in our text. Before the birth of his son named Noah he is six years younger in the Hebrew than in our version; but after Noah’s birth he lived thirty years longer in the Hebrew text than in ours. Thus, with the subtraction of those six years the remainder, as I said, is twenty-four.
11. The age of Methuselah, whose life apparently extends fourteen years beyond the Flood
From this discrepancy between the Hebrew text and ours arises that notorious problem about the fourteen years that Methuselah, by our reckoning, lived after the Flood. Now according to the scriptural account only eight persons, of all those who were then on earth, escaped destruction by the Flood in the ark, and Methuselah was not one of them. According to our text, Methuselah was 167 years old before the birth of the son whom he named Lamech;58 and then Lamech was 188 years old before Noah was born to him.59 These two figures together make 355. Add to these the 600 years of Noah, which was his age at the time of the Flood,60 and the total is 955,61 and this is the period from the birth of Methuselah down to the year of the Flood.
But all the years of Methuselah’s life are reckoned as 969; for he was 167 years old at the time of the birth of his son called Lamech, and he lived on for 802 years after that,62 which gives, as I said, the total of 969. If we subtract the 955 years from Methuselah’s birth to the Flood it leaves fourteen years; so we assume that he lived for fourteen years after the Flood. For this reason there are some who think that he was alive, though not on the earth, where, it is agreed, all flesh which nature does not allow to live in water was destroyed. They suppose that he was for some time with his father, who had been translated, and that he lived there until the Flood had passed. For they refuse to question the reliability of the text which is accepted by the Church and is thus given a wider authority; and they believe that it is the version of the Jews and not the other text which contains inaccuracies.
These people will not allow that it is more likely that we have here a mistake on the part of the translators, than that there should be a false statement in the language from which the Scriptures themselves were translated, through the Greek version, into our tongue. They assert that it is unbelievable that seventy translators who made their translation at one and the same time and produced one and the same meaning, could have made a mistake, or should have deliberately uttered a falsehood on a point of no importance to them. But they maintain that the Jews, in their jealousy at the transference to us, through translation, of the Law and the prophets, altered some passages in their own texts to diminish the authority of our version.
Anyone may accept this idea, or suspicion, as he thinks fit. One thing remains certain: Methuselah did not live on after the Flood; he ended his life in the same year, if the information is true which is found in the Hebrew text about the number of his years. As for the seventy translators, I must insert a more detailed statement of my opinions about them in the appropriate place, when, with God’s assistance, I come to deal with that period as far as the subject of this work demands.63 For the present discussion it is enough that according to both versions the longevity of human beings at that period was such that it was possible for the human race to multiply sufficiently even to establish a city in the lifetime of one man, who was the first child born to the parents who were then the sole inhabitants of the earth.
12. Concerning the opinion of those who refuse to believe in the longevity of the human beings in the early ages, as recorded in Scripture
Not the slightest attention should be given to those who fancy that years were differently reckoned in those times, that is, that they were of such short duration that one of our years should be assumed to include ten of theirs. Therefore, they maintain, when anyone hears or reads that someone lived for 900 years he should interpret this as ninety, since ten of their years equal one of ours, and ten of ours make a hundred of theirs. According to this reckoning, Adam was twenty-three when he became the father of Seth, and Seth for his part was twenty years and six months old when Enos was born to him. Scripture, to be sure, ascribes to Seth 205 years; but on the speculative theory we are examining one year such as we now have was then divided into ten, and each of those divisions was called a year. Each of those parts contains the square of six, because God completed his works in six days so that he might rest on the seventh day (I have discussed this topic, to the best of my ability, in Book XI).64 Six times six, the square of six, is thirty-six days; and that multiplied by ten comes to 365 days, that is, twelve lunar months. That leaves five days to be supplied to complete the solar year, plus a quarter of a day (hence the introduction, every fourth year, of one day, called bissextus);65 and that is the reason why, in antiquity, days were later added to make the number of years tally. These are the days called by the Romans ‘intercalary’.
On this assumption Enos, the son of Seth, was nineteen years old when his son Cainan was born, though Scripture gives his age as a hundred and ninety.66 And after that through all the generations, among the men whose ages are mentioned before the Flood, no case is found in our version of a man’s having a son when he was a hundred years old or less, or even 120 or a little more. In fact the earliest age of any father is recorded as 160 or more. For no one can beget children (as those who hold this theory maintain) at the age of ten, or, as those people would call it, a hundred. Puberty is fully developed and capable of procreating children by the age of sixteen, which in antiquity was called 160.
To reduce the incredibility of the supposition that the year was differently reckoned in those days, those theorists adduce evidence from a number of historians that the Egyptians had a year of four months,67 the Acarnianians of six, and the Lavinians of thirteen. Pliny the Elder mentions reports in written documents that one man lived 152 years, another for ten years more than that, others for 300 years, while some attained the age of 500, 600, or even 800 years.68 But he decides that these reports were based on ignorance of chronology. ‘For some people’, he says, ‘used to treat summer as a complete year, and winter as another, while others treated each of the four seasons as a whole year, like the Arcadians, who had years of three months.’ He adds that the Egyptians (whose short year of four months I have mentioned above) sometimes ended the year with the final phase of each moon; ‘and so’, he says, ‘we have reports among the Egyptians of people who lived a thousand years.’
Some people advance these as being plausible arguments, seeking not to undermine the credibility of this sacred narrative but doing their best to support it, and to reduce the difficulty of believing the tradition of the longevity of men in antiquity. Thus they have persuaded themselves, and consider that they need not be ashamed to try to persuade others, that what was then called a year was so short a time that ten of those years were equal to one of ours, and ten of ours the same as a hundred of theirs. That this theory is utterly erroneous can be proved by the clearest evidence.69But before I do so, I think that I should not pass over a suggestion which may be more worthy of credence.
We could certainly have refuted and overthrown this contention by the evidence of the Hebrew text, where Adam is found to have been 130, instead of 230 years of age at the time when he became the father of his third son.70 If this means thirteen of our years, he was undoubtedly little more than eleven years, at most, when his first son was begotten. But can anyone become a father at that age, according to the established laws of nature with which we are so familiar?
But let us pass over Adam. It may well be that he could have procreated children at the time of his creation, for we cannot suppose that when he was made he was as small as our infants are. His son Seth was not 205, as we find in our version, but 105 when he became the father of Enos.71 This means that he was not yet eleven, on the theory we are examining. And what of his son Cainan? Although he appears as 170 in our version, the reading of the Hebrew is that he was seventy when he became the father of Mahalaleel.72 But – if we assume that ‘seventy years’ meant at that time ‘seven years’ – who can become a father at the age of seven?
13. Whether we should follow the authority of the Hebrew text rather than that of the Septuagint, in the reckoning of the years
But when I have said this, the response will be that this is a falsehood of the Jews – a point which I have sufficiently dealt with above.73 The assertion is that the seventy translators, men of well deserved renown, could not have lied. Now let us suppose these two possibilities: either the Jewish people, scattered so far and wide, were able to unite in a planned conspiracy to write this false account and thus deprive themselves of the truth because they grudged others a share in the authority of their Scriptures, or else it was the seventy men who grudged foreign nations a share in this scriptural truth and carried out their purpose by following an agreed plan. Now these seventy (who were themselves Jews) had been assembled in one place, because Ptolemy, king of Egypt, had appointed them to this task.74 If I should ask which is the more credible alternative, could anyone fail to see which can more easily and readily be believed?
But in fact it is unthinkable that any sensible person should suppose either that the Jews, whatever their perversity and malice, could have achieved such a feat in so many texts, so widely dispersed; or that those seventy men of renown should have united in a common plan to deprive the Gentiles of the truth, because of jealousy. It would be more plausible, therefore, to suggest that when the text began to be transcribed for the first time from the copy in Ptolemy’s library, some inaccuracy of this sort might have happened in one copy. Now if that was the original transcription it might have been the source of widespread error, starting with a simple mistake on the part of a scribe. There is no implausibility in this supposition in respect of the problem raised by Methuselah’s life, or in the other instance75 where the totals do not agree, and show an excess of twenty-four years. But in some places the identical error is displayed time after time, with a hundred extra years appearing in the one version, before the birth of a son who is included in the list, while after the birth the same number of years is subtracted in that version, to make the total agree with the other text. This happens in the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh generations. Here the error seems to have, if I may so put it, a certain consistency which smacks of design rather than accident.
In these instances, then, we find that a century subtracted is balanced by the subsequent addition of a hundred years, and the procedure occurs in a number of successive generations. In the other cases, the divergence of the numbers given in the Latin and Greek versions from those appearing in the Hebrew, should not be ascribed either to Jewish malice or to a carefully thought-out plan on the part of the seventy translators. It should be put down to the mistake of the scribe who first received the text from the library of the aforesaid King Ptolemy to transcribe. For even in these days, numbers are carelessly copied and even more carelessly checked when they do not direct the reader’s attention to something which can be easily understood, or which is evidently useful to learn. Would anyone consider that he ought to learn how many thousand men each of the Israelite tribes might have had? It is not thought that such knowledge offers any advantage, and few people see in it any practical importance or deep significance.
But we have a different problem when in successive generations one text gives a hundred years which are missing in the other version, and then after the birth of the son next to be mentioned we find the missing hundred years added in the one, and the excess subtracted from the other, so that the totals agree. No doubt the discrepancy is due to someone who wanted to establish the point that the reputed longevity of men in antiquity was based on the extreme brevity of ‘years’. He also sought to support this theory with regard to the development of puberty necessary for procreation; that was why he thought that the incredulous should be informed that ten of our years equalled a hundred of the ancient years, so that they should be willing to believe those reports of great longevity. Thus he added a hundred years where he did not find the age suitable for begetting children, and subtracted the same number after the birth of the sons, to make the totals agree. For his purpose was to make the ages credible and appropriate for procreation, without defrauding the individuals of the total number of years of their lives.
The fact that he did not do this in the sixth generation is in itself a further indication that he did it when it was demanded by the situation I have suggested, since he did not do it when it was not so demanded. For he found in that generation, according to the Hebrew,76 that Jared was a hundred and sixty-two when he became the father of Enoch; and this age, on this short-year theory, becomes sixteen and something under two months. Now that age is already suitable for procreation, and therefore there was no need to add a hundred short years, to make his age twenty-six in our years, or to subtract them after the birth of Enoch, since he had not added them before his birth. So it came about that there was no divergence here in the two texts.
But to return to the problem of the eighth generation. What is puzzling is that before Lamech was born, his father Methuselah was 182 years old, according to the reading of the Hebrew text;77 whereas in our version, instead of the usual addition of a hundred years, we find twenty years less.78These are put back after Lamech’s birth to complete the total, which is the same in both texts. Now if our short-year advocate intended us to interpret 170 years as meaning seventeen, to give the necessary sexual development, there was no need for any addition or subtraction, because he was presented with an age suitable for procreation, which was the reason for his addition of a hundred years in places where he did not find the age suitable. To be sure, we might be justified in supposing that the twenty years were the result of an accidental mistake, if it were not that he took pains to restore the subtraction afterwards, so that the total sum should agree with the other version. But should we perhaps think that there was a more cunning purpose here? He may have intended to conceal his practice of first adding and then subtracting a hundred years by following the same procedure in a case where it was not necessary. It is true that in this case it was not a matter of a hundred years; but still a number of years, however small, was first subtracted and then restored.
However, it matters little what line of interpretation is adopted. The main point is that whether my explanation is believed or not, whether, in fact, this is the truth of the matter or not, I should certainly not be justified in doubting that when some difference occurs in the two versions, where it is impossible for both to be a true record of historical fact, then greater reliance should be placed on the original language from which a version was made by translators into another tongue. There are, in point of fact, three Greek texts, one Latin, and one Syriac, which agree in showing Methuselah as having departed this life six years before the Hood.79
14. The years in the early periods were of the same length as they are now
Let us now observe how it can be conclusively demonstrated that the years reckoned in the immensely long lives of those men of antiquity were not so short that one of our years would be equal to ten of them, but that they were in fact of the same length as those we now have, which are, as we know, completed by the revolution of the sun. Now Scripture records that the Flood happened in the six hundredth year of Noah’s life. And we are told, ‘The water of the Flood came on the earth in the 600th year of the life of Noah, in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month.’80Now why are we told this, if that tiny year, one tenth of our year, had only thirty-six days? Surely so small a year (if it was given that name in the usage of antiquity) either has no months, or – if it is to have twelve of them – has three-day months. So how could it be said here, ‘In the six hundredth year, in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month’, unless the months were even then such as they are now? How could it be said otherwise that the Flood started on the twenty-seventh day of the second month? And then later on, at the end of the Flood, we read, ‘In the seventh month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the ark grounded on the mountains of Ararat. And the water subsided until the eleventh month. And in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains came into sight.’81
If then the months were like ours, we may assume that the years were the same as we now have. Certainly those three-day months could not have had twenty-seven days. Or if we are to reduce everything in proportion, and a thirtieth part of three days was then called a day, the great Flood which is reported to have taken forty days and nights81 did not take a whole four days, in our calendar. But who could endure such empty nonsense? Let us sweep away this error which seeks to support the reliability of Scripture by false conjecture, at the expense of overthrowing it elsewhere. The day was even then precisely as long as it is now, completed by twenty-four hours in the course of a day and a night. The month was as long as it is now, being the period defined by the waxing and waning of the moon. The year was as long as it is now, being made up of twelve lunar months, with the addition of five and a quarter days to bring it in line with the sun’s course. And this was the length of the 600th year of Noah’s life in the second month of which, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the Flood began. In this Flood immense falls of rains are recorded for forty days without remission; and these days consisted not of a little over two hours but twenty-four hours, comprising a day and a night. It follows that the years of the men of antiquity who lived lives in excess of 900, were as long as those of Abraham who lived to the age of 17082 and after him of his son Isaac, who reached 18083 and of Isaac’s son Jacob, who lived to nearly 150,84 and, after a considerable interval, of Moses, who attained 120,85 and of people at this day who live to seventy or eighty, or not much more – and it is said of these ages that ‘more than these years is toil and sorrow.’86
Indeed, the difference in numbers found in the Hebrew text and our own does not entail a disagreement about the longevity of the men of ancient times; and if the divergence is such as to preclude the possibility that both versions are true, the historical truth must be looked for in the language from which our version was translated. Although this opportunity is open to any who wish to take it, anywhere in the world, it is not without significance that no one has ventured to amend, from the Hebrew text, the very many places where the seventy translators seem to say something different. In fact, this divergence was not regarded as corruption of the text, and for my part I do not think it should be so regarded. Instead, where it is not a question of an error of transcription, and where the sense would be in harmony with the truth and would proclaim the truth, we should believe that under the influence of the divine Spirit the seventy chose to express the meaning differently, not in fulfilment of their task as translators but in the exercise of their liberty as prophets
Hence it is found that apostolic authority, when adducing evidence from Scripture, makes use of the Septuagint as well as the Hebrew text. But I have promised,87 with God’s help, to discuss this point in greater detail at a more appropriate place.88 At the moment I shall confine my discussion to the present question. The point I am making is that it is not to be doubted that at a time when men were so long-lived it was possible for a city to be established by the man who was the first son of the first man I am speaking, of course, of an earthly city, not of that City which is called the City of God It was in order to write about that City that I took in hand the labour involved in this immense work.
15. Whether it is credible that men of the first era abstained from intercourse until the age at which they are recorded as having begotten sons
Now someone is going to ask, ‘Are we then to believe that a man who intended to have children, and had not formed a resolution of continence, abstained from sexual intercourse for a hundred years and more, or (if we follow the Hebrew text) not much less, that is, for eighty, seventy or sixty years; or if he did not abstain, was quite incapable of procreation?’ This problem can be solved in two ways. Either sexual development was then later, in proportion to the greater length of the whole life, or (and this, in my view, is more probable) it is not the first-born children who are mentioned here, but those needed for the order of succession to arrive at Noah. Then, as we see, the line of descent stretches from Noah on to Abraham, and from Abraham down to a fixed point of time, as far as was necessary to indicate, by the record of generations, the course of the most glorious City which is on pilgrimage in this world and looks for a native land on high.
Now it cannot be denied that Cain was the first to be born from the union of man and woman. For Adam is recorded to have said at Cain’s birth, ‘I have acquired a man, through God’s help’;89 and he would not have said this, if Cain had not been the first one added by birth to the original pair. Abel followed Cain, and he was killed by his elder brother, thus being the first to display a kind of foreshadowing of the pilgrim City of God; showing that it was to suffer unjust persecution at the hands of wicked and, in a sense, earth-born men, that is, men who delight in their earthly origin and rejoice in the earthly felicity of the earthly city. But it is not made clear at what age Adam became the father of these sons.
After that, the generations divide into the line of Cain and the line of descent from the son whom Adam begot to take the place of the one slain by his brother. Adam called him Seth, saying, according to Scripture, ‘For God has raised up for me another seed, in place of Abel whom Cain murdered.’90 Thus there are two lines of descent, one from Seth and the other from Cain; and their separate lists convey the notion of the two cities, the Heavenly City on pilgrimage in this world, and the earthly city, which longs for earthly joys, or clings to them, as though they were the only joys. However, although Cain’s progeny is enumerated in detail, starting from Adam, down to the eighth generation, there is nowhere any statement of the precise age at which anyone became the father of the person next mentioned. For the Spirit of God preferred not to mark the chronology before the Flood by the generations of the earthly city, but instead by those of the Heavenly City, as being, by implication, more worthy of record.
Further, when Seth was born, his father’s age was not indeed omitted,91 but Adam had already had other children, and who would be so bold as to say for certain whether Cain and Abel were the only ones or not? We are not justified in taking for granted that they were the only children of Adam at that time, just because they are the only children named in order to preserve the genealogies which had to be recorded. For we are told that Adam had had sons and daughters born to him, although the names of all the others are veiled in silence. Would anyone take upon himself to state (assuming that he wants to avoid the charge of presumption) the number of children here referred to?
It is certainly possible that Adam was moved by divine inspiration to say, after the birth of Seth, ‘For God has raised up for me another seed, in place of Abel’, because Seth was to prove to be the son to carry on his brother’s holiness, and not because he was the first in point of time to be born after Abel. And when Scripture says afterwards, ‘Now Seth lived 205 years (105 years in the Hebrew text) and became the father of Enos.’92 only an unthinking reader could assert that Enos must have been the first-born. This assumption gives rise to astonishment, and we are justified in asking how it could be that he eschewed intercourse for so many years without any intention of permanent continence, or if he did have sexual relations, why he did not have children, for we are also told about him that ‘he had sons and daughters, and all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died.’93
The same applies to all those whose ages are recorded thereafter, with the additional information that they had sons and daughters. The conclusion is that it is by no means clear whether the child mentioned by name is in fact the first-born. Indeed it is beyond credibility that those fathers were immature for so long a period of their life, or that they were without wives or offspring; and so it is incredible that those sons were their first-born. It was in fact the intention of the writer of the sacred history to mark the chronology through successive generations until he reached the birth and life of Noah, in whose time the Flood happened. Thus the children he mentioned were clearly those which came in the line of descent, rather than those first born to their parents.
I will give an example, to make my point clearer, which will put it beyond doubt that what I am suggesting may well have happened. The evangelist Matthew wished to put on record the descent of the Lord, according to the flesh, through a series of ancestors. He begins with father Abraham and, with the intention of arriving first at David, he says, ‘Abraham was the father of Isaac’ Why did he not say ‘of Ishmael’, who was his first-born? He goes on, ‘Isaac was the father of Jacob.’ Why did he not say ‘of Esau’, who was Isaac’s first son? The reason is, of course, that he could not arrive at David by way of those other sons. Matthew proceeds, ‘Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.’ Does that mean that Judah was his first-born? Then he says, ‘Judah was the father of Phares and Zara.’ But neither of these twin brothers was Judah’s first-born; he had already had three children before them. Thus Matthew kept in the genealogical tree only those which would bring him down to David, and eventually to his destination. We can infer from this that those early men before the Flood were not mentioned as being the first-born, but as those through whom the line of descent could be traced through successive generations down to Noah, the patriarch. So we do not have to weary ourselves with the obscure and unnecessary problem of the retarded development of the men of antiquity.
16. The early law of marriage differed from that of later times
After the first sexual union between the man, created from dust, and his wife, created from the man’s side, the human race needed, for its reproduction and increase, the conjunction of males and females, and the only human beings in existence were those who had been born from those two parents. Therefore, men took their sisters as wives. This was, of course, a completely decent procedure under the pressure of necessity; it became as completely reprehensible in later times, when it was forbidden by religion. For affection was given its right importance so that men, for whom social harmony would be advantageous and honourable, should be bound together by ties of various relationships. The aim was that one man should not combine many relationships in his one self, but that those connections should be separated and spread among individuals, and that in this way they should help to bind social life more effectively by involving in their plurality a plurality of persons. ‘Father’and ‘father-in-law’, for instance, are names denoting two different relationships. Thus affection stretches over a greater number when each person has one man for father and another for father-in-law. Adam was compelled to be, in his one self, both father and father-in-law to his sons and daughters, since brothers and sisters were joined in marriage. In the same way, his wife Eve was both mother-in-law and mother to her children of both sexes. If two women had been involved, one as mother and the other as mother-in-law, social sympathy would have been a binding force over a wider area. Finally, a sister also, because she became a wife as well, united in herself two relationships, whereas if these had been separated, and each had involved a different woman, one being a sister, and the other a wife, the number of people bound by intimate ties would have been increased.
But there was no way in which this could happen at a time when the only human beings were brothers and sisters, the children of the first human pair. The necessary change had to be made when it became possible; and so, as soon as there came to be a supply of possible wives, who were not already their sisters, men had to choose their spouses from their number. Not only was there no necessity for unions between brother and sister; such unions henceforth were banned. For if the grandchildren also of the first human beings, who by then could have taken their cousins as wives, were joined in marriage to their sisters, then there would no longer be two but three relationships comprised in one person; and those relationships ought to have been separated and distributed among different individuals so as to link together a greater number in the affection of kinship. For marriage of brothers with sisters would at this stage mean that one man would be father, father-in-law and uncle to his own children. Similarly, his wife would be mother, aunt and mother-in-law to the children she shared with her husband. And the children of the couple would be to each other not only brothers and sisters and spouses, but also cousins, as being the children of brothers and sisters.
On the other hand, if those relationships were distributed singly to different persons they would have connected nine people, instead of three, to each of these persons. For then one man would have one person as his sister, another as his wife, another as hisxousin, another as his father, another as his uncle, another as his father-in-law, another as his mother, another as his aunt, another as his mother-in-law. Thus the social tie would not be confined to a small group but would extend more widely to connect a large number with the multiplying links of kinship.
With the growth and multiplication of the human race this rule is observed, we notice, even among the impious worshippers of many false gods, in that their corrupt laws may permit the marriage of brother and sister, but their actual practice is better than their laws, and they tend to abhor this licence. It was indeed generally allowed that brothers and sisters should marry in the earliest ages of the human race; but the practice is now so utterly repudiated that it might seem that it could never have been permitted. For custom is the most effective agent in soothing or shocking human sensibilities. And in this case custom acts as a deterrent to unbridled lust, and therefore men are right in judging it criminal to cancel or transgress the custom. For if it is wicked to go beyond the boundary of one’s lands in the greed for increasing possession, how much more wicked is it to remove a moral boundary in the lust for sexual pleasure! It has also been our experience that even in our own days marriages between cousins were of rare occurrence because of moral scruples, although they were permitted by law; and that was because of the degree of kinship involved, only one step removed from that of brother and sister. Yet such unions were not prohibited by divine Law, and they had not yet been forbidden by the law of man.94 Nevertheless, an aversion was felt from an act which, though lawful, bordered on illegality, and union with a cousin was felt to be almost the same as union with a sister – for even among themselves cousins are called brothers and sisters because of their close relationship, and they are in fact the next thing to full brothers and sisters.
The ancient fathers, for their part, were concerned that the ties of kinship itself should not be loosened as generation succeeded generation, should not diverge too far, so that they finally ceased to be ties at all. And so for them it was a matter of religion to restore the bond of kinship by means of the marriage tie before kinship became too remote – to call kinship back, as it were, as it disappeared into the distance. That is why, when the world was already full of people, they did not indeed like to marry half-sisters or full sisters, but they certainly liked to marry wives from their own family. Yet no one doubts that the modern prohibition of marriage between cousins is an advance in civilized standards. And this not only because of the point I have already made, namely that the ties of kinship are thereby multiplied, in that one person cannot stand in a double relationship, when this can be divided between two persons, and so the scope of kinship may be enlarged. There is another reason. There is in human conscience a certain mysterious and inherent sense of decency, which is natural and also admirable, which ensures that if kinship gives a woman a claim to honour and respect, she is shielded from the lust (and lust it is, although it results in procreation) which, as we know, brings blushes even to the chastity of marriage.
Now the intercourse of male and female is the seedbed, as it were, of a city, as far as the race of mortals is concerned. But the earthly city needs only generation, whereas the Heavenly City needs regeneration also, to escape the guilt connected with generation. As for the question whether there was any bodily and visible sign of regeneration before the Flood, like the circumcision which was afterwards demanded of Abraham,95 and if there was, what form it took, on this the sacred narrative is silent. The account does tell us, however, that those human beings of the earliest times offered sacrifices to God, as is made clear by the story of the first two brothers;96 and we read that Noah offered victims to God after the Flood, when he had emerged from the ark.97 I have already dealt with this subject in previous books, where I pointed out that the demons, who arrogate divinity to themselves and desire to be regarded as gods, claim sacrifices for themselves and rejoice in such honours simply because they know that true sacrifice is due only to the true God.98
17. The two fathers and leaders both begotten by the same parent
Adam was therefore the father of both lines of descent, that is, of the line whose successive members belong to the earthly city, and of the line whose members are attached to the City in heaven. But after the murder of Abel (with the wonderful hidden meaning his killing conveyed99) there were two fathers appointed, one for each of those lines of descent. Those fathers were Cain and Seth; and in their sons, whose names had to be recorded, indications of these two cities began to appear with increasing clarity in the race of mortals.
Cain, we know, became the father of Enoch, and founded a city in his name. This was the earthly city, of course, the city which is not just a pilgrim in this world, but rests satisfied with its temporal peace and felicity. Now the name Cain is translated ‘possession’,100 which is why either his father or his mother said at his birth, I have acquired a man, through God’s help.’101 Enoch, on the other hand, means ‘dedication’;102 for the earthly city is dedicated here, where it is founded, since it has here the end of its purpose and aspiration. Moreover, the name Seth means ‘resurrection’,103 and the name of his son, Enos, means ‘man’104 but not in the same sense as Adam. For although Adam means ‘man’, we are told that in Hebrew it is common to male and female; thus Scripture says, ‘He created them male and female, and blessed them, and named them Adam.’105 This makes it clear that although the woman was called Eve, and that was her personal name, the name Adam, which means ‘man’, belonged to them both. Enos, on the other hand, means ‘man’ in the sense which makes it imppossible for it to be used as a woman’s name, or so Hebrew scholars assure us. The name Enos, then, suggests ‘son of the resurrection’, and in the resurrection ‘they will neither be given in marriage nor will they marry.’106 For in the resurrection there will be no generation, when regeneration has brought them to that state.
In this connection it is not irrelevant, I think, to point out that among the generations derived from the man called Seth, although the birth of sons and daughters is recorded, no woman is expressly mentioned by name in that line. In contrast, among those descended from Cain, at the very end of the whole list, the last woman to be born is named. For we read,
Methusael was the father of Lamech. And Lamech took two wives, one called Adah, the other called Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents, keepers of cattle. His brother’s name was Jubal; it was he who introduced men to the harp and the lyre. Zillah for her part, gave birth to Tubal: he was a metal-worker, a forger of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal was Naamah.107
This is the final extent of the generations descended from Cain. Starting from Adam they come to eight in all (including Adam); that is, there are seven generations down to Lamech, who was the husband of two wives, and the eighth generation consists of his children, among whom a woman is recorded. This is a neat way of suggesting that the earthly city, right up to its end, will have carnal births, resulting from the union of male and female. That is why the wives of this man (who is the last father to be named in the passage) are expressly mentioned under their personal names, which is not found in any other case (except for Eve) in the narrative before the Flood. Now Cain (whose name means ‘possession’) is the founder of the earthly city, and Enoch (‘dedication’) is the son in whose name the city was founded. This indicates that this city has its beginning and end on this earth, where there is no hope of anything beyond what can be seen in this world. In contrast with him is Seth, whose name means ‘resurrection’. He is the father of generations which are separately listed; and we must now examine what this sacred narrative says about his son.
18. The symbolism of Abel, Seth, and Enos, with reference to Christ and the Church
The Scripture says, ‘A son was born to Seth, and he called his name Enos. This son hoped to call on the name of the Lord God.’108 Here certainly we have a testimony which shouts the truth aloud. It is in hope, therefore, that a man lives, as the ‘son of the resurrection’; it is in hope that the City of God lives, during its pilgrimage on earth, that City which is brought into being by faith in Christ’s resurrection. For Abel’s name means ‘lamentation’,109 and the name of Seth, his brother, means ‘resurrection’. And so in those two men the death of Christ and his life from among the dead, are prefigured. As a result of this faith the City of God comes into being here on earth in the person of a man who ‘hoped to call on the name of the Lord God’.
‘For it is in hope that we have been saved’, says the Apostle. ‘Now hope that is seen is no longer hope. For how can a man hope for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, then we wait for it with patience.’110 Could anyone fail to see that we have here a symbolism full of profound significance? For did not Abel hope to call upon the name of the Lord God, to whom, as Scripture records, his sacrifice was so acceptable? Did not Seth also hope to call on the name of the Lord God? And the Bible says, referring to Seth, ‘God has raised up for me another seed, in place of Abel.’111
Then why should something which is taken to be true of all devout men alike be ascribed to Enos in particular? It can only be because he is recorded as the first offspring of the father who started the line which is marked out for a better destiny, that is for participation in the Heavenly City. And it was appropriate that in him should be prefigured the man, that is, the society of men, that lives not by the standards of men, in the present enjoyment of earthly happiness, but by God’s standards, in the hope of eternal felicity. Notice that Scripture does not say, ‘He hoped in the Lord God’, or, ‘He called on the name of the Lord God’, but ‘He hoped to call on the name of the Lord God.’ The meaning of the hoped to call’ can only be prophetic. It indicates that a people would arise which being ‘chosen by grace’112 would call on the name of the Lord God. There is a message conveyed by another prophet which is taken by the Apostle as referring to this people, the community which belongs to God’s grace. The prophet says, ‘And it will come about that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’113
Now the words in our present passage, ‘and he called his name Enos (‘man’)’ and the next statement, ‘he hoped to call on the name of the Lord God’, indicate quite clearly that man is not to rest his hope on himself. For we read in another place: ‘Cursed is everyone who rests his hope in man’;114 and accordingly a man must not hope in himself in order that he may become a citizen of that other City, which is not dedicated in this present age, after the fashion of Cain’s son, not, that is, in the transient course of this mortal world, but in that immortality of everlasting bliss.
19. The symbolic meaning of Enoch’s translation
The line of descent that begins with Seth has the name that means ‘dedication’, as well as the other. It appears in the generation which is seventh from Adam, if we include Adam himself; for Enoch means ‘dedication’, and that was the name of the seventh in descent from Adam. Now Enoch is the man who was ‘translated because he won God’s approval’;115 and his number in the order of descent, the seventh from Adam, is the significant number which made the Sabbath a consecrated day. He is also the sixth from Seth, the father of the line which is distinguished from the descendants of Cain; and it was on the sixth day that man was created and God brought his works to completion. The translation of Enoch thus prefigures the deferment of our own dedication.
This dedication is an accomplished fact in the person of Christ, our head, who rose again, never to the thereafter, being himself translated. The other dedication yet remains to be accomplished, the dedication of the whole house of which Christ himself is the foundation.116 This dedication is deferred until the end, when there will be the resurrection of those who are to the no more. Whether we call it the ‘House of God’ or the ‘Temple of God’, or the ‘City of God’, it is the same thing, and all those titles conform to Latin usage. Virgil, for example, uses the name ‘the house of Assaracus’ for the great city of the Empire, meaning the Romans, who trace their origin, through the Trojans, from Assaracus. He also calls the Romans ‘the house of Aeneas’ because Rome was founded by Trojans who had come to Italy under the leadership of Aeneas.117 In this idiom the famous poet followed the example of holy Scripture, in which the Hebrew people, even when it had increased to immense size, is called ‘the house of Jacob’.
20. Why Cain’s line ends at the eighth generation, while Noah belongs to the tenth
Now someone is going to say, ‘Let us suppose that the purpose of the writer of this narrative, in recording the line of Adam through his son Seth, was to arrive at Noah, in whose time the Flood happened, and thereafter to give a connected account of the line of descent as far as Abraham, with whom the evangelist Matthew starts his list of the generations which ends in Christ, the eternal king of the City of God. But, granted that, what was his intention in recording the line of descent from Cain? To what termination did he want to bring this genealogy?’ The answer will be, ‘To the time of the Flood, in which the whole race of the earthly city was annihilated; though it was afterwards restored from Noah’s descendants.’ In fact, this earthly city, this society of men who live by man’s standards, cannot vanish until the end of this world, about which the Lord says, ‘The children of this world generate and are generated.’118 The City of God, in contrast, is on pilgrimage in this world, and it is by regeneration that it is brought to another world, whose children neither generate nor are generated.
Thus in this world generation is common to both communities alike, although the City of God has even in this world many thousands of citizens who abstain from the act of procreation. And the other city also has those who imitate their abstinence, although they are in error. For there are among those who belong to this earthly city people who have strayed from the faith of the other City and have founded various heresies; they live of course by man’s standards, not by God’s. The Indian ‘gymnosophists’119 also, who are said to wear no clothes as they pursue their philosophy in remote places of India, are citizens of the earthly city; and yet they refrain from procreation. This abstinence is only good when it is connected with faith in the Highest Good, which is God. Nevertheless we find no one who practised it before the Flood; in fact even Enoch himself, the seventh in descent from Adam, who is reported to have been translated instead of dying, was the father of sons and daughters before his translation. Among those children was Methuselah, through whom passed the line of descent which was to be recorded.
Why then do we find so few generations recorded in the descent from Cain, assuming that the line had to be brought down as far as the Flood, and that the men in this line were not such a long time in reaching puberty that they were without offspring for a hundred years or more? Now in respect of the line of descent from the seed of Seth the author of Genesis aimed at reaching Noah, and then he was to resume the list in the necessary sequence. But if he had no such aim in respect of the descent of Cain, no person to whom he had to bring down the line, what need had he to pass over the first-born sons in order to reach Lamech, with whose children the end of the connected series is reached, that is, in the eighth generation from Adam, and the seventh from Cain? It looks as if there were going to be a connection added after that to bring the list down either to the people of Israel, in whom the earthly Jerusalem also displayed a prophetic foreshadowing of the Heavenly City,120 or to Christ ‘according to the flesh, who is over all things, God blessed for ever’,121 the builder and ruler of the Jerusalem on high. But this could not be, since the whole of Cain’s progeny was wiped out by the Flood.
This being so, we may suppose that first-born sons were recorded in this line of descent. Then why are they so few? There could not have been, in fact, so small a number of first-born down to the time of the Flood, for the fathers were not exempt from the duty of procreation until they reached maturity at the age of a hundred – if we assume that puberty was not at that period late in developing, to correspond with the longevity of the time. Supposing that they were on average thirty years of age when they began to have children, then if we multiply thirty by eight (there being eight generations if we include Adam and Lamech’s children) we have 240 years. Are we to imagine that they had no children during the whole interval from that time to the time of the Flood?
What possible reason could the writer have had for refusing to record the subsequent generations? For according to our version 2,262 years are reckoned from Adam down to the Flood, while the Hebrew text gives 1,656. If we take the lower number to be more correct, let us subtract 240 years from 1,656. Is it really credible that for 1,400 years or so – the interval down to the Flood – Cain’s offspring could have failed to produce children?
Now if anyone is puzzled about this, he should remember that when I was discussing how we could believe that the men of antiquity could have refrained from begetting children for all those years, I put forward two ways of solving the problem: either they were late in coming to puberty, to correspond with their longevity, or else the sons recorded in the lineage were not the first-born, but those through whom the author of Genesis could arrive at the person whom he intended to reach, as in the line from Seth the goal was Noah. Accordingly, if no one presents himself in the line of Cain as the one on whom the author had fixed as the necessary goal to be reached through the persons recorded, the only alternative is the theory of delayed puberty. And if the descent was traced through the first-born and accounts for so large a number of years to reach the time of the Flood, we must assume that men took rather more than a hundred years to attain puberty and to become capable of procreation.
All the same, it is possible that, for some more obscure reason which escapes me, this city which we call the earthly city was described until the genealogy reached Lamech and his children, and the author of Genesis then ceased to record the other generations that may have existed down to the Flood. It is possible, however, that there was another reason why the line of descent was not traced through the first-born sons, and this would obviate the need to suppose that puberty was so long delayed in the men of that time. It may be that the city founded by Cain and named after Enoch, his son, extended its sway far and wide, and yet did not have a number of kings ruling simultaneously, but only one king in each period, and that each king was succeeded by one of his sons. The first of those kings may have been Cain; the second, his son Enoch, in whose name the city was founded as the royal capital; the third, Gaidad, son of Enoch; the fourth Mevia, son of Gaidad; the fifth, Mathusael, son of Mevia, the sixth Lamech, son of Mathusael, the seventh in descent from Adam through Cain. Now it would not follow that fathers were succeeded in the kingship by their first-born sons; the successor may have been chosen in virtue of qualities useful to an earthly city which qualified him for the throne, or by some kind of lot. Alternatively, the succession might have fallen to the son who was singled out from the rest as the particular object of his father’s affection, who thus gained a kind of right of inheritance.
Thus the Flood may have happened while Lamech was still alive and on the throne, and so the Flood may have found him there to be destroyed along with all the rest of mankind, except for those who were in the ark. And really there is nothing remarkable in the fact that the two lines of descent do not show an equal number of generations, considering the variation in length of life in the long period that elapsed between the time of Adam and the Flood. In fact, the line of Cain had seven generations, and Seth’s line had ten, for Lamech, as I have already remarked, was the seventh from Adam, while Noah was the tenth. And the reason why Lamech has a number of sons recorded122 (instead of only one, as in the case of all those before him) is that it was uncertain which of them would have succeeded him on his death if there had remained time for another reign between Lamech and the Flood.
However this may be, whether the line from Cain passes through the first-born or through the kings, I do not think it would be at all right for me to pass over in silence the fact that when Lamech had been shown to be the seventh from Adam, so many of his sons were listed as to bring the number to eleven, which signifies sin. For three sons and one daughter are added. (The wives, for their part, may have some other significance, but not the meaning which, as it seems to me, now calls for remark – for I am now discussing descent, and we are told nothing about the origin of these wives.)
Now the Law is clearly indicated by the number ten (hence the never-to-be-forgotten ‘decalogue’) and therefore the number eleven undoubtedly symbolizes the transgression of the Law, since it oversteps ten; and so it is the symbol of sin. Hence the instruction for the making of eleven curtains of goats’ hair for the tabernacle of the testimony,123 which was a kind of portable temple for the people of God while they were on their journey. (In the goats’ hair there was a reminder of sin, because goats are destined to be placed on the left;124 and when we confess our sins we prostrate ourselves in cloth of goats’ hair as if we were saying, in the words of the psalmist, ‘My sin is always before me.’125)
The line of descent then from Adam through Cain the criminal ends with the number eleven, symbolizing sin. And it is a woman who makes up this number, because the female sex began the sin which is responsible for the death of us all. More than this, another result of the sin is physical pleasure with its resistance to the spirit,126 and Lamech’s daughter was called Naamah, which means ‘pleasure’.127’ In contrast, the line from Adam to Noah through Seth gives us the significant number ten, the number of the Law. To this the three sons of Noah are added; but one of these fell into sin, and two received their father’s blessing, so that with the removal of the rejected son, and the addition of the sons who were approved, we are presented with the number twelve. This number is significant as being the number of the patriarchs and of the apostles, because it is the product of the two parts of seven – that is, three multiplied by four, or four multiplied by three, makes twelve.
This being so, it is clear to me that I must proceed to examine and record how those two posterities, which by their distinct lines of descent suggest the two cities, one the community of the earth-born, the other the community of the reborn, became afterwards so mingled and confused that the entire human race, except for eight persons, deserved to be destroyed by the Flood.
21. Why, after the mention of Cain’s son, Enoch, the whole line is recorded continuously as far as the Flood, while after the mention of Enos, son of Seth, there is a return to man’s first creation
The first question that needs examination is the different treatment of the two genealogies. For when the generations from Cain are listed, the one in whose name the city was founded, that is, Enoch, is mentioned before the other descendants, and after that we have a catalogue of the rest until we reach the end of which I have spoken, namely the extinction of that line, and the whole of Cain’s posterity, in the Flood. In the other line, however, we have the mention of one son of Seth, namely Enos, and then the interposition of the following section, ‘This is the book of the birth of mankind. On the day that God made Adam, he made him in the image of God. He made them male and female; and he blessed them and gave them the name Adam on the day that he made them.’128
It seems to me that this was inserted in order at this point to make another beginning of the chronological account, starting with Adam himself. The writer did not wish to do this in respect of the earthly city, to give the impression that God included it in the record but not in the reckoning. But why does he go back to the recapitulation at this point, after the mention of the son of Seth, the man who ‘hoped to call on the name of the Lord God’?129 It can only be that this gave an appropriate picture of the two cities, one represented by a line starting with a murderer and ending with a murderer (for Lamech also confesses to his two wives that he has committed homicide130), the other represented by a man who hoped to call upon the name of the Lord God. For this calling upon God is the supreme business, the whole business in this mortal life, of the City of God while on pilgrimage in this world; and this had to be emphasized in the person of one man who was certainly the son of the ‘resurrection’ of a murdered man. This one man, in fact, stands for the unity of the whole City on High, which indeed is not yet accomplished; but it is to be fulfilled, and it is anticipated in this prophetic foreshadowing
And so the son of Cain, the son, that is, of ‘possession’ (and it must mean ‘earthly possession’) must have a name in the earthly city, because it was founded in his name. For it is of people like this that the psalmist sings, ‘They will call upon their names in their own lands’:131 and that is why they are overtaken by the fate described in another psalm, ‘Lord, in your city you will bring their image to nothing.’132 As for the son of Seth, that is, the ‘son of the resurrection’, let him hope to call upon the name of the Lord God. He in fact prefigures that society of men which says, ‘I for my part have hoped in the mercy of God.’ like a fruitful olive tree in the House of God.’133 But let him not look for the empty glory of a famous name on earth, for ‘Blessed is the man whose hope is the name of the Lord, the man who has no regard for vanities and crazy lies.’134
Here then the two cities are presented, one existing in actuality, in this world, the other existing in hope which rests on God. They come out, we may say, from the same door of mortality, a door which was opened in Adam, so that they may go forward and onward along their courses to their own distinct and appropriate ends. Then begins the chronological account, in which, after a recapitulation from Adam, other generations are added; and from this origin in Adam, this condemned beginning, God makes both ‘vessels of wrath destined for dishonour’, and also ‘vessels of mercy designed for honour’,135 as if out of a single lump consigned to well-merited condemnation. To the former he gives their due, by way of punishment; on the latter he bestows the undeserved gift of grace. And this he does so that the Celestial City, on pilgrimage in this world, may learn, through this very comparison with the vessels of wrath, that it should not trust in its own free will, but should ‘hope to call upon the name of the Lord God’.136 For man’s nature was created good by God, who is good; but it was made changeable by him who is changeless, since it was created from nothing. And so the will in that nature can turn away from good to do evil – and this through its own free choice; and it can also turn from evil to do good – but this can only be with the divine assistance.
22. The fall of the sons of God and the consequent destruction by the Flood
It was this free choice of the will that produced the mingling of the two cities, as the human race progressed and increased. These cities became associated in wickedness, and the result was a kind of amalgam of the two communities. This evil owed its origin, once again, to the female sex, but not in the same way as the evil at the beginning of the world, for these women were not seduced by cunning so as to persuade their husbands to sin. What happened was that the women who had been depraved in morals in the earthly city, that is, in the community of the earth-born, were loved for their physical beauty by the sons of God,137 that is, the citizens of the other City, on pilgrimage in this world. Such beauty is certainly a good, a gift of God; but he bestows it on the evil as well as on the good for this reason, for fear that the good may consider it an important good.
Hence the abandonment of a greater good, one that is confined to good people, led to a fall towards a good of little importance, one that is not confined to good people, but common to good and bad alike. Thus the sons of God were captivated by love for the daughters of men, and in order to enjoy them as wives, they abandoned the godly behaviour they had maintained in the holy community and lapsed into the morality of the earth-born society. Now physical beauty, to be sure, is a good created by God, but it is a temporal, carnal good, very low in the scale of goods; and if it is loved in preference to God, the eternal, internal and sempiternal Good, that love is as wrong as the miser’s love of gold, with the abandonment of justice, though the fault is in the man, not in the gold. This is true of everything created; though it is good, it can be loved in the right way or in the wrong way – in the right way, that is, when the proper order is kept, in the wrong way when that order is upset. This is how I put the same thought in some verses in praise of the paschal candle:138
These are thy gifts; they are good, for thou in thy
goodness has made them.
Nothing in them is from us, save for sin when,
neglectful of order,
We fix our love on the creature, instead of on thee,
But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if he himself is loved, and not something else in his stead, then he cannot be wrongly loved. We must, in fact, observe the right order even in our love for the very love with which we love what is deserving of love, so that there may be in us the virtue which is the condition of the good life. Hence, as it seems to me, a brief and true definition of virtue is ‘rightly ordered love’. That is why in the holy Song of Songs Christ’s bride, the City of God, sings, ‘Set love in order in me.’140 Thus it was because the order of love (that is of attachment and affection) was disturbed, that the sons of God defected from God in their affection for the daughters of men.
These two descriptions are sufficient to show the difference between the two cities. It is not that ‘the sons of God’ were not sons of men by nature; but they began to have another name by virtue of grace. Indeed, in the same scriptural passage, where the sons of God are said to have fallen in love with the daughters of men, they are also called ‘angels of God’.141 For this reason many people suppose that they were not men but angels.
23. Are we to believe that angels mated with women, and that the giants resulted from these unions?
In the third book of this work we mentioned in passing the question whether angels, being spirits, could have physical connection with women, and we left the problem unresolved.142 Now Scripture says, ‘He makes spirits his angels.’143 that is, those who are by nature spirits he makes into his angels, by imposing on them the duty of carrying messages. For the Greek angelos, which becomes angelus in the Latin derivative, means nuntius, a ‘messenger’, in the Latin language. But it is uncertain whether the writer refers to their bodies when he goes on to say, ‘and he makes a flaming fire his ministers’, or whether he means that his ministers ought to burn with love as with a spiritual fire.
Nevertheless it is the testimony of Scripture (which tells us nothing but the truth) that angels appeared to men in bodies of such a kind that they could not only be seen but also touched.144 Besides this, it is widely reported that Silvani and Pans,145 commonly called incubi, have often behaved improperly towards women, lusting after them and achieving intercourse with them. These reports are confirmed by many people, either from their own experience or from the accounts of the experience of others, whose reliability there is no occasion to doubt. Then there is the story that certain demons, whom the Gauls call Dusii, constantly and successfully attempt this indecency. This is asserted by so many witnesses of such a character that it would seem an impertinence to deny it. Hence I would not venture a conclusive statement on the question whether some spirits with bodies of air (an element which even when set in motion by a fan is felt by the bodily sense of touch) can also experience this lust and so can mate, in whatever way they can, with women, who feel their embraces.
In spite of this, I cannot possibly believe that the holy angels of God could thus have fallen at that time, or that it is to them that the apostle Peter refers when he says, ‘For if God did not spare the sinful angels, but thrust them into the dungeons of the darkness of hell, and handed them over to be kept for punishment at the judgement.’146 I should rather suppose that he is speaking of those who revolted from God and fell with the devil, their leader, who in envy brought the first man to his fall by the deceit of the serpent. Now the holy Scripture gives abundant witness that men of God were often entitled ‘angels’. For example, Scripture says of John, ‘Behold, I am sending my angel ahead of you, and he will prepare your way’147 and the prophet Malachi is called an ‘angel’ in virtue of a particular grace, that is, a grace particularly imparted to him.148
Some people, however, are worried by the statement in the Bible that the mating of those who are called ‘sons of God’ with the women they loved resulted in offspring who were not like men of our own kind; they were giants. These critics seem to ignore the fact that even in our own time men have been born whose bodies far exceed the normal stature of men today; a fact that I have already mentioned.149 Was there not in Rome a few years ago, when the destruction of the city by the Goths was drawing near, a woman, living with her father and mother, who towered far above all other inhabitants with a stature which could be called gigantic? An amazing crowd rushed to see her, wherever she went. And what excited special wonder was the fact that both her parents were not even as tall as the tallest people that we see in our everyday experience.
Thus it is possible that giants were born even before the sons of God (also called ‘angels of God’) mated with the daughters of men, which means daughters of those who live by man’s standards – that is to say, before the sons of Seth married the daughters of Cain. In fact, this is what the canonical Scripture says in the book which gives this account. The passage runs as follows,
And it happened that after human beings had begun to multiply on the earth, and daughters were born to them, that angels of God saw that the daughters of men were good, and so they took wives for themselves from all those whom they chose. And the Lord said: ‘My spirit will not stay in those men for ever, because they are flesh; however, their days will be a hundred and twenty years.’ Now the giants were on the earth in those days, and afterwards, when the sons of God mated with the daughters of men and begot children for themselves. Those were the giants in the days of old, men of renown.150
Those words of the inspired book are sufficient indication that there had been giants on the earth when the sons of God took as wives the daughters of men, since they loved them because they were ‘good’, that is, beautiful; for it is customary in Scripture to apply the term ‘good’ also to those who are physically attractive. It is true that giants were also born after this happened; for the Scripture says, ‘Now the giants were on the earth in those days, and afterwards, when the sons of God mated with the daughters of men.’ Thus there were giants both before and after that time.
Then when Scripture says, ‘And they begot children for themselves’, it shows quite clearly that previously, before the sons of God fell in this way, they begot children for God, not for themselves; that means that lust for coition was not their master, but it was a servant, subordinate to duty of procreation. They did not procreate children to found a family to minister to their pride but to produce citizens for the City of God, so that they, as angels of God, could give their children this message: that they must put their hope in God, like the son of Seth, the ‘son of the resurrection’, who ‘hoped to call on the name of the Lord God’. And in virtue of this hope they, with their posterity, would be co-heirs of eternal blessings, and brothers of their sons, under God the Father.
Now these sons of God were not angels of God in such a way that they were not also human beings as some people suppose. Scripture itself declares without any ambiguity that they were human; there can be no doubt about this. For after the statement that ‘the angels of God saw that the daughters of men were good, and they took wives for themselves from all those whom they chose’, it goes on immediately to say, ‘Then the Lord God said: “My spirit will not stay in those men for ever, because they are flesh.”’ It was indeed through God’s spirit that they had been made angels of God and sons of God, but in sinking to a lower level they are called ‘men’, a name denoting their nature, not God’s grace. They are also called ‘flesh’, because they deserted the spirit, and, in deserting, were themselves deserted.
In the Septuagint also they are certainly called ‘angels of God’ and ‘sons of God’ though it is true that this reading is not offered in all the texts, for some of them read only ‘sons of God’. While Aquila,151 whose translation the Jews prefer to all the others, gives neither ‘angels of God’ nor ‘sons of God’ his version gives ‘sons of gods’. In fact both renderings are correct. For they were sons of God, under whose fatherhood they were also brothers of their own fathers; they were sons of gods as being the offspring of gods, and together with them they themselves were gods, according to the passage in the psalm where it says ‘I said: “You are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High.” ’152 We are justified in supposing that the seventy’ translators received the spirit of prophecy; and so, if they altered anything by its authority and used expressions in their translation different from those of the original, we should not doubt that these expressions also were inspired by God.153 Although in fact it is said that the expression is ambiguous in the Hebrew, and admits of either ‘sons of God’ or ‘sons of gods’ as a translation.
We may then pass over the tales contained in the scriptures which are called ‘Apocrypha’ because their origin is obscure and was not clear to the fathers, from whom the authority of the true Scriptures has come down to us by a well-defined and well-known line of succession. There is indeed some truth to be found in these Apocrypha; but they have no canonical authority on account of the many falsehoods they contain. Certainly, we cannot deny that Enoch (the seventh in descent from Adam) wrote a number of things by divine inspiration, since the apostle Jude says as much in a canonical epistle.154 But there was good reason for the exclusion of these writings from the canon of the Scriptures, which was preserved in the temple of the Hebrew people by the careful custody of the priestly succession. The reason was that these books were judged of doubtful reliability because of their antiquity; and it was impossible to discover whether they were what Enoch had written, since those who put them forward are not found to have preserved them with the due formality, that is, through an appointed succession. That is why responsible judges have decided that we should reject the attribution to Enoch of the documents put forward under his name, containing stories about giants who are said not to have had human fathers. Many other writings are similarly put forward under the names of other prophets, and more recent productions under the names of apostles. All these have been excluded from canonical authority as a result of careful examination, and are classed as Apocrypha.
Thus according to the canonical Scriptures, Hebrew and Christian, there is no doubt that many giants existed before the Flood, and that these were citizens of the earth-born society of men, whereas the sons of God, who by physical descent belonged to Seth’s lineage, sank down into this society, after abandoning righteousness. And it is not to be wondered at that their children also could be giants – not that all of them were in fact giants, but there were certainly more giants at that time than in all succeeding periods since the Flood. The Creator decided to create them for a specific purpose: to demonstrate in this way, as in others, that the wise man should not attach much importance either to physical beauty or to physical size and strength; for the wise man is blessed with the possession of goods far better and more lasting than these, spiritual and immortal goods, which are not the common property of the good and the bad alike, but the exclusive property of the good. This fact is underlined by another prophet when he says, ‘There were those renowned giants, who from the beginning were men of great stature, experts in war. It was not those whom the Lord chose, nor did he give them the way of knowledge, in fact they perished because they had no wisdom; they disappeared through their lack of thought’155
24. The meaning of the Lord’s saying, ‘their days will be a hundred and twenty years’
To pass to God’s saying that ‘their days will be a hundred and twenty years’156 this is not to be taken as foretelling that after this men would not exceed 120 years, since we find that after the Flood, as well as before, men surpassed even 500 years. We must realize that God Said this when Noah had nearly completed 500 years, that is, he was in his 480th year, which is called the 500th year in Scripture, in accordance with its general practice of using round numbers for a total only slightly less. Now we know the Flood happened in the 600th year of Noah’s life,157 in the second month, and thus the prediction meant that men who were going to perish would live a hundred and twenty years more, and at the end of that period they would be wiped out by the Flood.
It is a well-founded belief that the Flood happened at a time when there were no longer to be found on earth any beings who did not deserve such a death as served to punish the wicked. Not that a death of this kind can affect good men – who are destined to the at some time – in any way that could harm them after death; nevertheless none of those who, according to the scriptural account, were descended from the seed of Seth, did in fact perish in the Flood. For the divinely inspired narrative gives the cause of the Flood as follows:
The Lord God saw that the wickedness of mankind had multiplied on the earth, and that everyone was carefully planning evil in his heart throughout his life. And God considered his creation of man on the earth: and he reconsidered, and said: ‘I will wipe off man, whom I created, from the face of the earth, and all creatures, from man to beast, from creeping things to birds of the air; because I am angry at having created them.’158
25. God’s anger does not disturb his changeless tranquillity
Now God’s anger is not an agitation of his mind; it is a judgement by which punishment is inflicted on sin. And his consideration and reconsideration are his unchanging plan applied to things subject to change. For God does not repent of any action of his,159 as man does, and his decision on any matter whatsoever is as fixed as his foreknowledge is sure. But if Scripture did not employ such words, it would not strike home so closely, as it were, to all mankind. For Scripture is concerned for man, and it uses such language to terrify the proud, to arouse the careless, to exercise the inquirer, and to nourish the intelligent; and it would not have this effect if it did not first bend down and, as we may say, descend to the level of those on the ground. When it goes on to announce the annihilation of all living creatures on earth and in the air, it is proclaiming the magnitude of the coming disaster. It is not threatening the destruction of creatures bereft of reason, as if they too had sinned.
26. Noah’s ark as a symbol of Christ and the Church
We now pass on to Noah. He was a righteous man and, according to the truthful witness of Scripture, he was ‘perfect in his generation’.160 That is, he was perfect, not as the citizens of the City of God are to be made perfect in the immortal condition in which they will become equal to the angels of God, but as they can be perfect during their pilgrimage on earth. It was to Noah that God gave instructions to make an ark in which he was to be rescued from the devastation of the Flood, together with his family, that is, his wife, his sons and daughters-in-law, and also the animals that went into the ark in accordance with God’s directions. Without doubt this is a symbol of the City of God on pilgrimage in this world, of the Church which is saved through the wood on which was suspended ‘the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’.161
The actual measurements of the ark, its length, height and breadth, symbolize the human body, in the reality of which Christ was to come, and did come, to mankind. For the length of the human body from the top of the head to the sole of the foot is six times its breadth from side to side, and ten times its depth, measured on the side from back to belly. I mean that if you have a man lying on his back or on his face, and measure him, his length from head to foot is six times his breadth from right to left, or from left to right, and ten times his alti tude from the ground. That is why the ark was made 300 cubits in length, fifty cubits in breadth, and thirty in height. And the door which it was given in its side surely represents the wound made when the side of the crucified was pierced with the spear.162 This, as we know, is the way of entrance for those who come to him, because from that wound flowed the sacraments with which believers are initiated. And the order for squared beams in the ark’s construction refers symbolically to the life of the saints which is stable on every side; for in whatever direction you turn a squared object, it will remain stable. All the other details mentioned in the construction of the ark are symbols of realities found in the Church.
But it would be tedious to work all this out in detail; and, in any case, I have done this aheatly in my work Against Faustus the Mani-chea,163 who denied that anything was prophesied about Christ in the books of the Hebrews. Besides, there is certainly a possibility that someone may explain these points more adequately than I can, or one man than another. That does not matter, provided that all that is said has reference to the City of God, which is our subject, the City which is on pilgrimage in this wicked world as though in a flood. This reference must be observed, if the commentator does not wish to stray widely from the sense intended by the writer of this narrative.
It may be, for example, that someone will prefer a different interpretation to the one that I have given in the above-mentioned work of this passage, ‘You will make it with lower, second, and third storeys.’164 I suggested165 that the Church is said to have two storeys because it is assembled from all nations, having two classes of men, the circumcised and the uncircumcised, or, as the Apostle puts it in another way, Jews and Greeks;166 and that it is called three-storeyed because all nations were re-established after the Flood from the three sons of Noah. But my critic must suggest some other interpretation which is not at variance with the Rule of Faith.167 For instance, God wanted the ark to have living-quarters not only on the lowest level but on the higher level (which he called the second storey) and on the level above that (the third storey) so that a dwelling-place should rise up, the third from the bottom upwards. Now this could be interpreted as illustrating the three virtues extolled by the Apostle: faith, hope, and charity.168 Again, three storeys could be much more appropriately explained as standing for the three abundant harvests in the Gospel, ‘thirty fold, sixty fold, and a hundred fold’.169 Married chastity, on this interpretation, would inhabit the lowest level, widowed chastity the floor above, and virginal purity the top storey. And there may be other explanations and better ones, that could be advanced, which would be in harmony with the faith of this City. I would be prepared to say the same about all the other interpretations which can be put forward on this topic. Different suggestions may be made; but they must be checked by the standard of the harmonious unity of the Catholic faith.
27. The account of the Flood is neither merely historical nor purely allegorical
No one ought to imagine, however, that this account was written for no purpose, or that we are to look here solely for a reliable historical record without any allegorical meaning, or, conversely, that those events are entirely unhistorical, and the language purely symbolical, or that, whatever may be the nature of the story it has no connection with prophecy about the Church. Surely it is only a twisted mind that would maintain that books which have been so scrupulously preserved for thousands of years, which have been safeguarded by such a concern for so well-ordered a transmission, that such books were written without serious purpose, or that we should consult them simply for historical facts? For, to take one point only, if it was the large number of animals that compelled the building of an ark of such great size, why was it necessary to embark two of each unclean species, and seven of each clean kind? Both clean and unclean could have been preserved by the same number. Or are we really to suppose that God, who ordered their preservation so as to renew their species, had not the power to re-create them in the same way as he had first created them?
Now there are those who maintain that the account of the Flood is not historical, but is simply a collection of symbols and allegories. They maintain, in the first place, that it is impossible for so vast a flood to have happened that the water rose to the level of fifteen cubits above the highest mountains, their evidence being the alleged fact that clouds cannot gather above the top of Mount Olympus, because the atmosphere there is already so high that the denser air is lacking, in which winds, clouds, and rains originate. It escapes their notice that earth, the densest of all elements, could exist there. Or are they going to deny that the summit of a mountain is formed of earth? If not, why do they admit that earth is allowed to reach such high levels in the atmosphere, and yet maintain that the same possibility is not open to the waters? And yet those who measure and weigh the elements inform us that water rises higher and weighs less than earth. What rational argument then do they put forward to explain why earth, a heavier and lower element, should have intruded into the region of the serener atmosphere during the revolutions of so many years, if water, a lighter and higher element, has not been permitted to do so even for an inconsiderable time?
It is also said that an ark of the dimensions described could not have contained so many species of animals of both sexes, two of each species of the unclean, and seven of each of the clean. They appear to reckon only 300 cubits in length, and fifty in width, without taking into account that there is an equal amount of space on the higher and on the highest level, so that the measurements are multiplied by three, making 900 cubits by 150. We may also bear in mind the clever suggestion contributed by Origen. He points out170 that Moses, ‘the man of God’, was, according to the Scriptures, ‘versed in all the learning of the Egyptians’,171 who were addicted to geometry, and therefore Moses may have meant geometrical cubits, one of which is alleged to equal six of ours. If that suggestion were adopted it would be clear to anyone that an ark of such size would have an immense capacity.
As for the argument that an ark of such enormous size could not have been constructed, this is a misrepresentation, and a most unconvincing one. For they know that immense cities have been built, and they fail to notice the hundred years that were spent in the fabrication of that ark. Now if it is possible for stones to adhere together, cemented merely by lime, to make an encircling wall so many miles long, are we to suppose it impossible that timbers should be joined together by pegs, bolts, nails and bituminous glue, to frame an ark extending in length and breadth in straight, not curved lines? This ark would not require launching into the sea by human effort, but would be raised by the water, when it arrived, owing to the natural difference in specific gravity; and it would be steered by divine providence when it was afloat, instead of by human vigilance, to keep it from shipwreck wherever it went.
Then there is a problem constantly suggested by excessively minute criticism. It concerns the tiniest creatures, not only such creatures as mice and newts, but also such as locusts, beetles, and even flies and fleas; and the question raised is whether they could not have been present in the ark in greater numbers than the limit set when God gave the command. We must begin by pointing out to those who are puzzled on this point that the words, ‘the things which crawl on the earth’172 are to be taken as meaning that it was not necessary to preserve in the ark the creatures able to live in the waters; and this would include besides the fishes and other submerged creatures, those that swim on the surface, for instance, many of the birds. Again, the words, ‘they shall be male and female’173 are surely to be understood as referring to the need to renew the species, and so it was not necessary to have in the ark those creatures which can be produced without sexual intercourse from various substances, or from the decomposition of substances. Or if they were there in the ark, as they are generally present in houses, they could have been there without the fixing of a definite number. On the other hand, a mystery of the highest solemnity was being enacted here, a symbolic presentation of a reality of the greatest importance; and it may be that it could not be adequately conveyed by the historical event unless all the creatures which were unable, through natural limitations, to maintain life in the waters, were there in the ark in that fixed number. If so, this was not the responsibility of any particular man or men, but of God. In fact, Noah did not catch the animals and then put them in, he let them in as they came and entered. That is the force of the words ‘they will come in to you’;174not, to be sure, through man’s driving, but at God’s bidding. But there is this exception: we are surely not to suppose that sexless creatures were included, since it was definitely laid down that ‘they shall be male and female.’
There are, we know, some animals which are produced from various substances without sexual intercourse, but afterwards reproduce by intercourse; flies are an example of this. There are others, such as bees, which have no distinction of male and female. Then again, there are animals which show sexual characteristics without producing offspring, such as male and female mules. It would be surprising if they were in the ark. Instead, it would be enough to have their parents there, that is, the species of horse and ass. And the same is true of any other animals which produce some different kind of creature by interbreeding. But if such hybrids had anything to contribute to the allegorical meaning of the ark, then they were included, for such a species also has male and female.
Some people are puzzled about the kinds of food that would have been available in the ark for animals which are supposed to be purely carnivorous. They speculate whether there were animals taken on in excess of the prescribed number, without transgressing the command, since their inclusion would have been compelled by the need to feed the others, or whether (and this is the more plausible solution) there could have been some foodstuffs other than meat which were suitable for all animals. We know, in fact, that many carnivorous animals feed on vegetables and fruit, especially figs and chestnuts. Thus it would not be surprising if that wise and righteous man was also instructed by God about the appropriate food for each species and prepared a store of meatless food adapted for the various animals.
Is there anything which we would refuse to eat under the compulsion of hunger? Is there anything that God could not render agreeable and wholesome? He could indeed have endowed these creatures with the ability to live without food – this would have been easy for his divine power – had it not been that their eating played its part in completing the allegorical representation of so great a mystery. In fact, only a love of disputation would allow anyone to contend that the elaborate details of the historical narrative are not symbols designed to give a prophetic picture of the Church. For nations have already filled the Church, and the clean and the unclean are contained as it were in the framework of the Church’s unity, until the appointed end is reached. The meaning is so abundantly clear on this particular point, that we must never think of doubting that the other details have their own meanings, although the language is rather more obscure and the references less easy to recognize.
This being so, no one, however stubborn, will venture to imagine that this narrative was written without an ulterior purpose; and it could not plausibly be said that the events, though historical, have no symbolic meaning, or that the account is not factual, but merely symbolical, or that the symbolism has nothing to do with the Church. No; we must believe that the writing of this historical record had a wise purpose, that the events are historical, that they have a symbolic meaning, and that this meaning gives a prophetic picture of the Church.
Now that this book has arrived at this point, I must bring it to a close. My next task will be to examine the development of both cities, that is, of the earthly city, which lives by man’s standards, and of the Heavenly City, which lives according to God’s will, in the period following the Flood, and thereafter in the following periods of history.