i (1) I call upon you, my God, my mercy (Ps. 58: 18). You made me and, when I forgot you, you did not forget me. I call you into my soul which you are preparing to receive you through the longing which you have inspired in it. Do not desert me now that I am calling on you. Before I called to you, you were there before me.1 With mounting frequency by voices of many kinds you put pressure on me, so that from far off I heard and was converted and called upon you as you were calling to me. Moreover, Lord, you wiped out all the evils which merited punishment, so as not to bring the due reward upon my hands (Ps. 17: 21), by which I fell away from you. In any good actions of mine you were there before me; in my merits you were rewarding ‘the work of your own hands by which you made me’ (Ps. 118: 73). Before I existed you were, and I had no being to which you could grant existence. Nevertheless here I am as a result of your goodness, which goes before all that you made me to be and all out of which you made me. You had no need of me. I do not possess such goodness as to give you help, my Lord and my God. It is not as if I could so serve you as to prevent you becoming weary in your work, or that your power is diminished if it lacks my homage. Nor do I cultivate you like land, in the sense that you would have no one to worship you if I were not doing so. But I serve and worship you so that from you good may come to me. To you I owe my being and the goodness of my being.
ii (2) Your creation has its being from the fullness of your goodness. In consequence a good which confers no benefit on you, and which not being from you yourself is not on your level, can nevertheless have its existence caused by you and so will not lack being. Before you what merit have heaven and earth, which you made in the beginning? Let the spiritual and physical creation, which you made in your wisdom, tell us what merit they have before you. On your wisdom dependent even embryonic and formless things, all of which in their own spiritual or physical category move towards the chaos where there is no control, and to a far off dissimilarity to you. Formless spiritual being is superior to formed body. Formless physical entities are better than no existence at all. So formless things are dependent on your Word. It is only by that same Word that they are recalled to your Oneness and receive form. From you, the One, the supreme Good, they have being and are all ‘very good’ (Gen. 1: 31). What merit had these things before you even to receive a formless existence when, but for vou, they would not exist at all?
(3) What merit before you had physical matter even to be merely ‘invisible and unorganized’ (Gen. 1: 2)? It would not exist at all unless you had made it. That it had no existence is the reason why it had no claim on you to be given existence. What claim upon you had the inchoate spiritual creation even to be merely in a dark fluid state like the ocean abyss? It would have been dissimilar2 to you unless by your Word it had been converted to the same Word by whom it was made, so that, illuminated by him, it became light and, though not in an equal measure, became conformed to a form equal to you (Rom. 8: 29; Phil. 2: 6). Just as in the case of a physical body, to be is not the same as to be beautiful, since otherwise it would be impossible for it to be ugly, so also for a created spirit to live is not the same as to live wisely; otherwise it would be immutably wise. But ‘it is good for it always to cleave to you’ (Ps. 72: 28) lest, by turning away from you and by slipping back into a life like the dark abyss, it lose the light it obtained by turning to you. For we also, we are a spiritual creation in our souls, and have turned away from you our light. In that life we were ‘at one time darkness’ (Eph. 5: 8). We toil on in the remains of our obscurity3 until, in your unique Son, we are your ‘righteousness’ (2 Cor. 5:21) like ‘the mountains of God’, for we were ‘your judgements like the deep abyss’ (Ps. 35: 7).
iii (4) Among the first acts of creation you said ‘Let there be light, and light was created’ (Gen. 1: 3). I do not think it out of harmony with the sense if we take this to mean the spiritual creation, since there already was a kind of life for you to illuminate. But just as it had no claim on you to be the sort of life which could be illuminated, so also now that it existed, it had no claim to receive light. Its formlessness could not be pleasing to you unless it were made light not by merely existing but by contemplating the source of light and adhering to it. Both the fact of its life and the fact of its living in a blessed state it owed only to your grace. By a change for the better it has become converted to that which cannot change either for the better or for the worse. That is what you alone are. You alone are in absolute simplicity.4 To you it is not one thing to live, another to live in blessed happiness, because you are your own blessedness.
iv (5) Even if the creation had either never come into existence or remained formless, nothing could be lacking to the good which you are to yourself. You made it not because you needed it, but from the fullness of your goodness,5 imposing control and converting it to receive form—but not as if the result brought you fulfilment of delight. The corollary of your perfection is that the imperfection of created things is displeasing. So they seek perfection from you that they may please you, yet it is not that otherwise you would be imperfect and need to be perfected by their perfection. ‘Your good Spirit’ (Ps. 142: 10) ‘was borne above the waters’ (Gen. 1: 2), but not borne up by them as if resting weight on them. When scripture says your Spirit rests on people (Isa. 11: 2), it means that the Spirit makes them rest on himself. But your incorruptible and immutable will, sufficient to itself and in itself, was ‘borne above’ the life which you had made, a life for which to live is not the same as living in perfect happiness, because even while in a fluid state in darkness it had life. It remains for it to be converted to him by whom it was made, more and more to live by the fount of life, to see light in his light (Ps. 35: 10), and to become perfect, radiant with light,6 and in complete happiness.
v (6) Here in an enigmatic image (1 Cor. 13: 12) I discern the Trinity, which you are, my God. For in the beginning of our wisdom which is your wisdom, Father, begotten of your self, equal to you and coeternal, that is in your Son, you ‘made heaven and earth’ (Gen. 1: 1). We have said a lot about ‘the heaven of heaven’ (Ps. 113: 24), about ‘the earth invisible and unorganized’, and about the ‘dark abyss’. It is dark because of the disordered flux of spiritual formlessness; but it became converted to him from whom it derived the humble quality of life it had, and from that illumination became a life of beauty. So it was the heaven of that heaven which was subsequently made to take its place between water and water (Gen. 1:7). And now where the name of God occurs, I have come to see the Father who made these things; where the ‘Beginning’ is mentioned, I see the Son by whom he made these things. Believing that my God is Trinity, in accordance with my belief I searched in God’s holy oracles and found your Spirit to be borne above the waters. There is the Trinity, my God—Father and Son and Holy Spirit, Creator of the entire creation.7
vi (7) I bring my heart to you, Light that teaches truth. Let not my heart tell me vain fantasies. Disperse its darkness, and tell me—I beg you by love, our mother,8I beg you tell me: what was the reason why your scripture mentioned your Spirit only after it had mentioned heaven and earth ‘invisible and unorganized’ and ‘darkness above the abyss’? Was it necessary for him to be brought in at this point so that he could be described as being ‘borne above’? This could not be said unless first there was a reference to that above which your Spirit could be understood to be borne. For he was not borne above the Father and the Son, and he could not properly be said to be borne above anything if there was nothing above which he could be borne. First, therefore, it was necessary to say what it was that he was borne above, and then to speak of the Spirit, who could not have been described other than as being ‘borne above’. Why, therefore, was it inappropriate to introduce the Spirit except with the words that he was ‘borne above’?
vii (8) Against this background the able reader can grasp your apostle’s meaning when he is saying that ‘love is diffused in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us’ (Rom. 5: 5). Teaching us concerning the things of the Spirit he demonstrates that the way of charity is ‘supereminent’ (1 Cor. 12: 1). Moreover, he bows the knee for us to you that we may know ‘the supereminent knowledge of the love of Christ’ (Eph. 3. 14, 19). And so the Spirit, super-eminent from the beginning, was ‘borne above the waters.’ To whom can I expound, and with what words can I express, the weight of cupidity pulling us downwards into the precipitous abyss and the lifting up of love given by your Spirit who was ‘borne above the waters‘? To whom can I communicate this? How can I speak about it? For it is not about literal places where we sink down and rise up. This symbolic language contains a resemblance, but also a difference. It means our feelings and our loves. The impurity of our spirit flows downwards because of our love of anxieties, and the holiness which is yours draws us upwards in a love of freedom from anxiety. So we may lift up our heart9 and hold it to you, where your Spirit is ‘borne above the waters’, and we come to the supereminent resting-place when our soul has passed over ‘the waters that are without substance’ (Ps. 123: 5).10
viii (9) The angel fell, the human soul fell, and thereby showed that the abyss would have held the entire spiritual creation in deep darkness unless from the beginning you had said ‘Let there be light, and light was created’ (Gen. 1: 3). Every intellectual being in your heavenly city obediently adhered to you, and rested in your Spirit which is immutably borne above all that is mutable. Other-wise the very ‘heaven of heaven’ would have been a dark abyss in itself. But now it is ‘light in the Lord (Eph. 5: 8). By the wretched restlessness of fallen spirits, manifesting their darkness as they are stripped naked of the garment of your light, you show how great a thing is the rational creature you have made. Whatever is less than you can never be sufficient to provide itself with the rest of contentment, and for this reason it is not even a source of contentment to itself. For you, our God ‘will lighten our darkness’ (Ps. 17: 29). From you comes our clothing (Isa. 61: 10), and our darkness will become as midday (Isa. 58: 10).
My God, give me yourself, restore yourself to me. See, I love you, and if it is too little, let me love you more strongly. I can conceive no measure by which to know how far my love falls short of that which is enough to make my life run to your embraces, and not to turn away until it lies hidden ‘in the secret place of your presence’ (Ps. 30: 21). This alone I know: without you it is evil for me, not only in external things but within my being, and all my abundance which is other than my God is mere indigence.
ix (10) Surely no one supposes that either the Father or the Son was borne above the waters. Indeed if one understands this of a body in space, neither was the Holy Spirit. But if it means the transcendence of immutable divinity above all that is mutable, then Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were borne above the waters. Why then is this said only of the Holy Spirit? Why is it said exclusively of him as if there were a place where he then was, though it is not a place? Of him alone is it said that he is your ‘gift’ (Acts 2: 38).
In your gift we find our rest. There are you our joy. Our rest is our peace.
Love lifts us there, and ‘your good Spirit’ (Ps. 142: 10) exalts ‘our humble estate from the gates of death’ (Ps. 9, 15). In a good will is our peace.11 A body by its weight tends to move towards its proper place. The weight’s movement is not necessarily downwards, but to its appropriate position: fire tends to move upwards, a stone downwards.12 They are acted on by their respective weights; they seek their own place. Oil poured under water is drawn up to the surface on top of the water. Water poured on top of oil sinks below the oil. They are acted on by their respective densities, they seek their own place. Things which are not in their intended position are restless. Once they are in their ordered position, they are at rest.
My weight is my love. Wherever I am carried,13 my love is carrying me. By your gift we are set on fire and carried upwards: we grow red hot and ascend. We climb ‘the ascents in our heart’ (Ps. 83: 6), and sing ‘the song of steps’ (Ps. 119: 1). Lit by your fire, your good fire, we grow red-hot and ascend, as we move upwards ‘to the peace of Jerusalem’ (Ps. 121: 6). ‘For I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord’ (Ps. 121: 1). There we will be brought to our place by a good will, so that we want nothing but to stay there for ever.
x (11) Happy is that created realm which has known nothing other than bliss. Yet the story would have been different unless, by your gift which is ‘borne above’ all that is mutable, immediately upon its creation it was elevated with no interval of time by that call ‘Let there be light,’ and it became light. For in us there are distinct moments of time since at one stage we were darkness and then were made light (Eph. 5: 8). But concerning the higher creation, scripture only says what it would have been had it not received light; and the wording of the text speaks as if at an earlier stage it had been in flux and darkness, to emphasize the cause by which it was made to become different. That is, it became light by being turned towards the light that can never fail. Let him who can, understand this. Let him seek help from you and not ‘trouble me’ (Gal. 6: 17) as if it were in my power ‘to light any man coming into this world’ (John 1: 9).
xi (12) Who can understand the omnipotent Trinity? Yet everyone speaks about the subject, if indeed it can be the matter of discourse. It is a rare soul who knows what he is talking about when he is speaking of it. People debate and quarrel, and without peace no one sees that vision. I wish that human disputants would reflect upon the triad within their own selves. These three aspects of the self are very different from the Trinity, but I may make the observation that on this triad they could well exercise their minds and examine the problem, thereby becoming aware how far distant they are from it. The three aspects I mean are being, knowing, willing. For I am and I know and I will. Knowing and willing I am. I know that I am and I will. I will to be and to know.14
In these three, therefore, let him who is capable of so doing contemplate how inseparable in life they are: one life, one mind, and one essence, yet ultimately there is distinction, for they are inseparable, yet distinct. The fact is certain to anyone by introspection. Let him consider himself and reflect and tell me what is there. When, however, through his investigation of these three, he has found something out and has made his report on that, he should not suppose that he discovered the immutable that transcends them—that which immutably is, immutably knows, and immutably wills. It baffles thought to inquire whether these three functions are the ground which constitutes the divine Trinity, or whether the three components are present in each Person, so that each Person has all three, or whether both these alternatives are true, in the sense that, in ways beyond finite understanding, the ultimate Being exists in both simplicity and multiplicity, the Persons being defined by relation to each other, yet infinite in themselves. So the divine being is and knows itself and is immutably sufficient to itself, because of the overflowing greatness of the unity.15 Who can find a way to give expression to that? Who would venture in any way whatever to make a rash pronouncement on the subject?
xii (13) Proceed with your confession, my faith. Say to the Lord your God: ‘Holy, holy, holy’, Lord my God (Isa. 6: 3; Rev. 4: 8). In your name we are baptized, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28: 19); in your name we baptize, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Among us also in his Christ God has made a heaven and an earth, meaning the spiritual and carnal members of his Church. Moreover, before our earth received form, imparted by doctrine, it was ‘invisible and unorganized’ (Gen. 1: 2), and we were covered by the darkness (Ps. 54: 6) of ignorance. For you ‘corrected man for his iniquity’, and ‘your judgements are like the great abyss’ (Ps. 38: 12; 35: 7). But because your ‘Spirit was borne above the waters’, your mercy did not abandon our misery, and you said: ‘Let there be light’ (Gen. 1: 3). ‘Do penitence, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near’ (Matt. 3: 2; 4: 17). Because our soul was ‘disturbed’ within ourselves, we ‘remembered you, Lord from the land of Jordan and from the mountain’, which is equal to you (Phil. 2, 6) but for our sakes became ‘little’ (cf. Ps. 41: 7). Our darknesses displeased us. We were converted to you (Ps. 50: 15), light was created, and suddenly we ‘who were once darkness are now light in the Lord’ (Eph. 5. 8).
xiii (14) Nevertheless wc still act on faith, not yet on sight, ‘For by hope we have been saved’ (2 Cor. 5: 7). ‘Hope which is seen is not hope’ (Rom. 8: 24). ‘Deep’ still ‘calls to deep’, but now ‘with the voice of your cataracts’ (Ps. 41: 8). In this life even he who says ‘I could not speak to you as spiritual but as carnal’ (1 Cor. 3: 1) does not think that he himself has comprehended. He ‘forgets the things behind and stretches out to those things which lie ahead’ (Phil. 3: 13). Weighed down he groans (2 Cor. 5: 4); ‘his soul thirsts for the living God, like a hart for the springs of waters’, and says ‘when shall I come?’ (Ps. 41: 2–3). He wishes to ‘put on his habitation from heaven’ (2 Cor. 5: 2). To the lower abyss he calls in the words ‘Be not conformed to this world, but be reformed in the newness of your mind’ (Rom. 12: 2), and ‘Be not children in mind but be infants in malice that you may be fully adult in mind’ (1 Cor. 14: 20), and ‘O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?’ (Gal. 3: 1). But now he is speaking not with his own voice but with yours. ‘You sent your Spirit from on high’ (Wisd. 9: 17) through him who ‘ascended on high’ (Ps. 67: 19), and opened the ‘cataracts’ of his gifts (Mai. 3: 10), so that ‘the flood waters of the river made glad your city’ (Ps. 45: 5). For that city the bridegroom’s friend (John 3: 29) sighs, having already the firstfruits of the spirit within him; but he still groans within himself ‘waiting for the adoption, the redemption of his body’ (Rom. 8: 23). For that city he sighs, for he is a member of the bride. For her he is jealous, for he is the bridegroom’s friend; for her he is jealous, not for himself. ‘By the sound of your cataracts’ (Ps. 41: 8), not by his own voice, he calls to the other deep. In his jealousy for it he fears lest ‘as the serpent deceived Eve by his subtlety, so also their mind may be corrupted to lose chastity’ (2 Cor. 11:2) which is in our bridegroom, your unique Son. What a beautiful light that will be when ‘we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3: 2), and there ‘shall pass away the tears which have become my bread day and night, while it is daily said to me, Where is your God?’ (Ps. 41:4).
xiv (15) I also say: My God, where are you? I see you are there, but I sigh for you a little (Job 32: 20) when I ‘pour out my soul upon myself in the voice of exultation and confession, the sound of one celebrating a festival’ (Ps. 41: 6). Yet still my soul is sad because it slips back and becomes a ‘deep’, or rather feels itself still to be a deep. My faith, which you have kindled to be a light before my feet (Ps. 118: 105) in the night, says to it: ‘Why are you sad, soul, and why do you disturb me? Hope in the Lord’ (Ps. 41: 6). ‘His word is a light to your feet’ (Ps. 118: 105). Hope and persevere until the night passes which is the mother of the wicked, until the Lord’s wrath passes, whose sons we also once were (Eph. 2: 3). We were ‘once darkness’ (Eph. 5: 8), the remnants16 of which we bear in the body which ‘is dead because of sin’ (Rom. 8: 10), ‘until the day breathes and the shadows are removed’ (Cant. 2: 17). ‘Hope in the Lord. In the morning I will stand up and will contemplate you. I will ever confess to him. In the morning I will stand and I will see the salvation of my face’ (Ps. 41: 6–12), my God ‘who shall vivify even our mortal bodies through the Spirit who dwells in us’ (Rom. 8: 11). For in mercy he was ‘borne above’ the dark and fluid state, which was our inward condition. From him during this wandering pilgrimage, we have received an assurance that we are already light (Eph. 5: 8). While still in this life, we are ‘saved by hope’ (Rom. 8: 24) and are ‘sons of light’ and sons of God, ‘not sons of the night and of darkness’ (1 Thess. 5: 5) which we once were. In this still uncertain state of human knowledge, you alone mark the difference between them and us. You test our hearts (Ps. 16: 3) and call light day and darkness night (Gen. 1: 5). Who can distinguish between us except you? But ‘what do we possess which we have not received’ from you? (1 Cor. 4: 7). From the same stuff some vessels are made for honourable functions and others are made for dishonourable uses (Rom. 9: 21).
xv (16) Who but you, O God, has made for us a solid firmament of authority over us in your divine scripture? For ‘the heaven will fold up like a book’ (Isa. 34: 4), and now ‘like a skin it is stretched out’ above us (Ps. 103: 2). Your divine scripture has more sublime authority since the death of the mortal authors through whom you provided it for us. You know, Lord, you know how you clothed human beings with skins when by sin they became mortal (Gen. 3: 21). So you have stretched out the firmament of your book ‘like a skin’, that is your words which are not mutually discordant, and which you have placed over us by the ministry of mortal men. Indeed, by the very fact of their death the solid authority of your utterances published by them is in a sublime way ‘stretched out’ over everything inferior. While they were alive on earth, it was not stretched out to express this supreme authority. You had not ‘stretched out the heaven like a skin’, you had not diffused everywhere the renown of their death.‘17
(17) Lord, let us look at ‘the heavens, the work of your fingers’ (Ps. 8: 4). Dispel from our eyes the cloud with which you have covered them (Ps. 18: 8). There is a testimony to you, ‘giving wisdom to infants’. My God, make perfect your ‘praise out of the mouths of babes and sucklings’ (Ps. 8: 3). We have not come across any other books so destructive of pride, so destructive of‘the enemy and the defender’ who resists your reconciliation by defending his sins. I have not known, Lord, I have not met with other utterances so pure, which so persuasively move me to confession, make my neck bow to your yoke, and bring me to offer a free worship. May I understand them, good Father; as I submit to you, grant this to me, since for those who submit you have firmly established the scriptures’ authority.
(18) There are, I believe, other waters above this firmament, immortal and kept from earthly corruption. Let them praise your name (Ps. 148: 2–5). Let the peoples above the heavens, your angels, praise you. They have no need to look up to this firmament and to read so as to know your word. They ever ‘see your face’ (Matt. 18: 10) and there, without syllables requiring time to pronounce, they read what your eternal will intends. They read, they choose, they love. They ever read, and what they read never passes away. By choosing and loving they read the immutability of your design. Their codex is never closed, nor is their book ever folded shut.18 For you yourself are a book to them and you are ‘for eternity’ (Ps. 47: 15). You have set them in order above this firmament which you established to be above the weak who are on a lower level so that they could look up and know your mercy, announcing in time you who made time. For ‘in heaven, Lord, is your mercy and your truth reaches the clouds’ (Ps. 35: 6). ‘The clouds pass’ (Ps. 17: 13) but the heaven remains. Preachers of your word pass from this life to another life, but your scripture is ‘stretched out’ over the peoples to the end of the age. ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but your words will not pass away’ (Matt. 24: 35). For ‘the skin will be folded up’, and the grass above which it was stretched out will pass away with its beauty; but your word abides for ever (Isa. 40: 6–8). Now your word appears to us in the ‘enigmatic obscurity’ of clouds and through the ‘mirror’ of heaven (1 Cor. 13: 12), not as it really is. For although we are beloved by your Son, ‘it does not yet appear what we shall be’ (1 John 3: 2). ‘He looked through the lattice’ of our flesh and caressed us and set us on fire; and we run after his perfume (Cant. 2: 9; 1: 3, 11). ‘But when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3: 2). ‘As he is’ Lord will be ours to see; but it is not yet given to us.
xvi (19) To know you as you are in an absolute sense is for you alone. You are immutably, you know immutably, you will immutably. Your essence knows and wills immutably. Your knowledge is and knows immutably. Your will is and knows immutably. In your sight it does not seem right that the kind of self-knowledge possessed by unchangeable light should also be possessed by changeable existence which receives light.19 And so my soul is ‘like waterless land before you’ (Ps. 142: 6). Just as it has no power to illuminate itself, so it cannot satisfy itself. For ‘with you is the fountain of life’, and so also it is ‘in your light’ that ‘we shall see light’ (Ps. 35: 10).
xvii (20) Who has ‘gathered the bitter’ into one society? (Gen. 1: 9). For they pursue the same end of temporal and earthly felicity. This purpose dominates everything they do, even though the innumerable variety of their anxieties makes them fluctuate from one thing to another. Who, Lord, but you told the waters to gather into one assembly, and caused to appear the dry land, ‘which thirsts after you’ (Ps. 62: 2–3). For ‘the sea is yours and you made it, and the dry land your hands have formed’ (Ps. 94: 5). In this text ‘sea’ means not the bitterness of conflicting wills but the gathering together of waters. You restrain the evil desires of souls, and fix limits to prevent the waters advancing further (Job 38: 10 f.), so that their waves break upon themselves and thus, by the order of your ruling authority which is superior to all things, you make it a sea.
(21) But souls which ‘thirst after you and appear before you’ (Ps. 62: 2–3), souls separated out from the society of ‘the sea’, you water with your hidden and sweet spring, ‘so that the earth also may produce her fruit’ (Gen. 1: 12). As the earth produces her fruit, so at your command, the command of its Lord God, our soul yields works of mercy ‘according to its kind’ (Gen. 1: 12), loving our neighbour in the relief of physical necessities, ‘having in itself seed according to its likeness’. Aware of our own infirmity we are moved to compassion to help the indigent, assisting them in the same way as we would wish to be helped if we were in the same distress—and not only in easy ways, like ‘the grass bearing seed’, but with the protection and aid given with a resolute determination like ‘the tree bearing fruit’ (Gen. 1: 11). This means such kindness as rescuing a person suffering injustice from the hand of the powerful and providing the shelter of protection by the mighty force of just judgement.20
xviii (22) So, Lord, I pray you, as you are the maker, as you are the giver of cheerfulness and of power, let ‘truth arise from the earth and justice look down from heaven’ (Ps. 84: 12) and let there be ‘lights in the firmament’ (Gen. 1: 14). Let us ‘break our bread to the hungry’, and take into our house the homeless destitute; let us clothe the naked and not despise the domestic servants who share our human stock (Isa. 58: 7–8). As these fruits come up in the earth, see that it is good. Let our light which lasts but a short time ‘break forth’. Passing from the lower good works of the active life to the delights of contemplation, may we ‘hold the word of life’ which is above and ‘appear as lights in the world’ (Phil. 2: 15) by adhering to the solid firmament of your scripture. For there you hold conversation with us to teach us to distinguish between intelligible and sensible things as between day and night, or between souls dedicated to the intelligible realm and souls dedicated to the material world of the senses. Then it is not only you in the secret place of your judgement who divide between light and darkness as you did before the making of the firmament; it is also your spiritual people established in the same solid firmament and distinguished by your grace manifested throughout the world. May they ‘give light over the earth and divide day and night and be signs of the times’ (Gen. 1: 14). For ‘old things have passed away and new things are created’ (2 Cor. 5: 17). ‘Our salvation is nearer than when we believed: the night is advanced, the day is near’ (Rom. 13: 11 f.). ‘You bless the crown of your year’ (Ps. 64: 12). ‘You send out workmen into your harvest’ (Matt. 9: 38) in sowing which ‘others have laboured’ (John 4: 38). You also send them into another sowing, whose harvest is at the end (Matt. 13: 39). So you answer the prayers of the person who petitions you (Ps. 55: 12), and you bless the years of the just (Ps. 64: 12). But ‘you are the same’ and in your ‘years which never cease’ (Ps. 101: 28) you prepare a granary for the passing years. By an eternal design at the appropriate times you give heavenly blessings to the earth.
(23) ‘To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom’, like ‘a greater light’ (Gen. 1: 16) for the sake of those who delight in the light of truth as for ‘the rule of the day’. ‘To another is given the •word of knowledge by the same Spirit’ like ‘a lesser light’; ‘to another faith, to another the gift of healings, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of authentic spirits, to another a diversity of tongues’. All these are like the stars. For ‘all these are the work of one and the same Spirit, dividing appropriate gifts to each person as he wills’ (1 Cor. 12: 7–11). He causes stars to appear manifestly for the advantage of all. But the word of knowledge, containing all mysteries21 (1 Cor. 13: 2) which vary at different times, is like the moon, and the other gifts recorded in the list which are mentioned last are like stars; in principle they belong to the night, inasmuch as they are inferior in brightness to the wisdom in which the ‘day’ previously mentioned rejoices. They are necessary for those to whom your most judicious servant could not speak as if to spiritual persons but as if to carnal. He speaks wisdom among the perfect. The natural man is as an ‘infant in Christ’ and a drinker of milk, until he is strengthened for ‘solid food’ (1 Cor. 3: 1–2; 2: 14; Heb. 5: 12–14), and acquires eyesight strong enough to face the sun. Let him not suppose his night to be destitute of all light, but be content with the light of the moon and stars. These matters you set out most wisely with us, my God, through your book, your solid firmament, so that we may discern everything by a wonderful contemplation, even though for the present only by signs and times and days and years.
xix (24) But first, ‘wash, be clean, remove malice from your souls and from the sight of my eyes’ that the dry land may appear. ‘Learn to do good; judge in favour of the orphan and vindicate the widow’ that the land may produce pasture and fruitful trees. ‘And come, says the Lord, let us reason together’ (Isa. 1: 16–18), so that lights may be made in the firmament of heaven and give light over the earth. The rich man inquired of the good Master what he should do to obtain eternal life (Matt. 19: 16–22). The good Master (whom he thought to be man and nothing more, whereas he is good because he is God) would tell him that if he wished to enter into life, he should keep the commandments; he must separate himself from the bitterness of ‘malice and wickedness’ (1 Cor. 5: 8); he must not kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness. So the dry land may appear and be productive of honour to his mother and father and of love to his neighbour. ‘I have done all these things’, he replies. Then if the earth is fruitful, whence come so many thorns? Go, destroy the thorny jungle of avarice: ‘Sell what you possess’, and be filled with fruits by giving to the poor to win treasure in heaven. Follow the Lord ‘if you wish to be perfect.‘Join the society of those among whom he ‘speaks wisdom (1 Cor. 2: 9), for he knows what belongs to the day and what to the night; then you too may know that. For you lights in the firmament are created. This will not happen unless your heart is in it, and that will not occur unless your treasure is there (Matt. 6: 21), as you have heard from the good Master. Sadly that earth was sterile, and thorns choked the word (Matt. 13:7).
(25) But you, the ‘elect race’ (1 Pet. 2: 9), ‘the weak of the world’ (1 Cor. 1: 27), who have abandoned everything to follow the Lord (Matt. 19: 27), go after him and ‘confound the mighty’ (1 Cor. 1: 27). Go after him, ‘beautiful feet’ (Isa. 52: 7). Shine in the firmament so that the heavens may declare his glory (Ps. 18: 2 f). Mark a division between the light of those who are perfect but not yet like angels, and the darkness of those who are infants but not without hope. Give light over all the earth. Let day brilliant with sunlight tell unto day the word of wisdom, and in the moonlight let night tell unto night the word of knowledge (Ps. 18: 3; 1 Cor. 12: 8). For the moon and the stars give light to the night, and night does not obscure them. To the measure of their power, they are its source of illumination.
It is as if God says ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven’, and ‘suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as if a vehement wind blew, and tongues were seen split, like fire which sat on each of them’ (Acts 2: 2–3). And the lights, made in the firmament of heaven, have the word of life (Phil. 2: 15–16). Run everywhere, holy fires, fires of beauty. Do not be under a bushel (Matt. 5: 14–15). He to whom you have adhered is exalted, and he has exalted you. Run and make it known to all nations (Ps. 78: 10).
xx (26) Let the sea also conceive and bring forth your works. ‘Let the waters produce reptiles of living souls’ (Gen. 1: 20). As you separate the precious from the vile, you become the mouth of God (Jer. 15: 19) saying: ‘Let the waters produce not the living soul which the earth will produce, but reptiles of living souls and flying creatures flying over the earth.’ Through the works of your holy people, God, your mysteries have crept through the midst of the waters of the world’s temptations to imbue the nations with your name through your baptism. And in the meanwhile great and wonderful things (Ps. 105: 21–2) have been made like vast sea monsters, and the voices of your messengers flying above the earth close to the firmament of your book; for this is the authority under which they have to fly, wherever they may go. For there are neither languages nor discourses in which their voices are not heard. Their sound is gone out into all the world, and their words to the ends of the earth because you, Lord, have blessed and multiplied these things (Ps. 18: 4f.).
(27) Surely I do not mislead my readers?22 Surely I am not confusing things and failing to distinguish between the clear know-ledge of these truths in the firmament of heaven and the bodily works done below in the waves of the sea and under the firmament of heaven? There are things of which the knowledge is fixed and determined without evolving with the generations, such as the lights of wisdom and knowledge. But while the truths of these things remain the same, their embodiments in the physical realm are both many and varied. One thing grows out of another, and so, by your blessing, God, things are multiplied. You have relieved the tedium for mortal senses by the fact that what is one thing for our understanding can be symbolized and expressed in many ways by physical movements. ‘The waters have produced’ (Gen. 1: 20) these signs, but only through your word.23 These physical things have been produced to meet the needs of peoples estranged from your eternal truth, but only in your gospel; for they were the product of the very waters whose morbid bitterness was the reason why, through your word, those signs emerged.24
(28) All things are beautiful because you made them, but you who made everything are inexpressibly more beautiful. If Adam had not fallen from you,25 there would not have flowed from his loins that salty sea-water the human race—deeply inquisitive, like a sea in a stormy swell, restlessly unstable. Then there would have been no need for your ministers at work ‘in many waters’ (Cant. 8: 7) to resort to mystic actions and words in the realm of the bodily senses. That is the interpretation I now give to reptiles and birds; for human beings after instruction, initiation, and subjection to corporeal sacraments do not make further progress unless in the spiritual realm their soul comes to live on another level and, subsequent to the words of initiation, looks towards their perfection (Heb. 6: 1).
xxi (29) Moreover, it was not the deep sea but the land separated out from the bitter waters which produced, not the ‘reptiles of living souls and birds’, but ‘a living soul’ (Gen. 1: 24). This now has no need of baptism which the heathen need, in the way it did when it was covered by waters; for there is no entrance to the kingdom of heaven otherwise than by the way you appointed (John 3: 5). It does not ask for great miracles to bring faith into being. Nor does it refuse to believe unless it sees signs and wonders (John 4: 48). For now the earth is believing and baptized, separated out from the sea-water bitter with faithlessness. Moreover ‘tongues are a sign not to believers but to unbelievers’ (1 Cor. 14: 2). The earth which you have established ‘Above the waters’ (Ps. 135: 6; 147: 15) has therefore no need for that kind of ‘flying creature’ which by your word ‘the waters produced’ (Gen. 1: 20). Send the earth your word by your messengers. We tell of their works, but it is you who work by them, so that they bring about ‘a living soul’. The earth produces that, because it has this causative effect upon the soul, just as the sea was the cause of them producing ‘reptiles of living souls and flying birds under the firmament of heaven’ (Gen. 1: 20). These the earth does not need, though it eats the Fish raised from the deep at that table which you have ‘prepared in the sight’ of believers (Ps. 22: 5).26
He is raised from the deep to nourish the dry land. Birds also are a product of the sea, yet are multiplied on the earth. Human unbelief was the cause which made the first voices proclaim the gospel. But the faithful are encouraged and blessed frequently ‘from day to day’ (Ps. 60: 9). By contrast ‘the living soul’ takes its rise from the ‘earth’. It is profitable only for already baptized believers to keep them from love of this world (Jas. 1: 27) that their soul may live to you (2 Cor. 5: 15). It was dead when it was living in pleasures (1 Tim. 5: 6), pleasures, Lord, which bring death. For you are the lifegiving pleasure of a pure heart.
(30) May your ministers now do their work on ‘earth’, not as they did on the waters of unbelief when their preaching and proclamation used miracles and sacred rites and mystical prayers to attract the attention of ignorance, the mother of wonder, inducing the awe aroused by secret symbols.27 That is the entrance to faith for the sons of Adam who forget you, who hide from your face (Gen. 3: 8) and become an ‘abyss’. May they now do their work as on dry land separated from the whirlpools of the abyss. May they be an example to the faithful by the life they live before them and by arousing them to imitation (1 Thess. 1: 7). Thereby hearing them is no mere hearing but leads to doing. ‘Seek God and your soul shall live’ (Ps. 68: 33), so that the earth may ‘produce a living soul’. ‘Be not conformed to this world’ (Rom. 12: 2). Restrain yourselves from it. By avoiding this world the soul lives; by seeking it the soul dies. Restrain yourselves from the savage cruelty of arrogance, from the indolent pleasure of self-indulgence, and from ‘knowledge falsely so called’ (1 Tim. 6: 20). Then the wild animals are quiet and the beasts are tamed and the serpents are rendered harmless: in allegory they signify the affections of the soul.
The haughtiness of pride, the pleasure of lust, and the poison of curiosity (1 John 2: 16) are the passions of a dead soul. The soul’s death does not end all movement. Its ‘death’ comes about as it departs from the fount of life, so that it is absorbed by the transitory world and conformed to it.
(31) But the Word, 0 God, is fount of eternal life (John 4: 14) and does not pass away. A departure from God is checked by your Word, when it is said to us ‘Be not conformed to this world’ (Rom. 12: 2) so that the ‘earth may produce a living soul’ through the fount of life. By your word through your evangelists the soul achieves self-control by modelling itself on the imitators of your Christ. That is the meaning of ‘after its kind’. For a man is aroused to rivalry (Eccles. 4: 4) if a friend says ‘Be as I am, since I also am as you are’ (Gal. 4: 12). So in the ‘living soul’ there will be beasts that have become good by the gentleness of their behaviour. You have given command, saying ‘In gentleness do your works and you will be loved by everyone’ (Ecclus. 3: 19). There will be good ‘catde’, experiencing neither excess if they eat nor want if they do not eat. There will be ‘serpents’ that are good, not harmful and dangerous but astute in their caution (Matt. 10: 16) and exploring temporal nature only to the extent sufficient to contemplate eternity ‘understood through the things which are made’ (Rom. 1: 20). For these animals serve reason when they are restrained from their deathly ways. Then they live and are good.
xxii (32) See, Lord our God, our Creator: when our affections were restrained from loving the world by which we were dying through living an evil life, then there began to come into being a ‘living soul’. There was fulfilled the word which you spoke through your apostle: ‘Be not conformed to this world’. Then followed that which you immediately went on to say ‘But be renewed in the newness of your mind’ (Rom. 12: 2). That is not a making‘according to kind’, as if renewal were achieved by imitating a neighbour’s example or by living under the authority of a human superior. For you did not say ‘Let man be made according to his kind’, but ‘Let us make man according to our image and likeness’ (Gen. 1: 26). So we may prove what your ‘will is’ (Rom. 12: 2).
With this intention your minister, who generates sons by the gospel (1 Cor. 4: 15) and does not wish to have permanently immature believers fed on milk (1 Cor. 3: 1–2) and cherished as if by a nurse (1 Thess. 2: 7), says ‘Be renewed in the newness of your mind to prove what is God’s will, which is a thing good and well-pleasing and perfect’. That is why you do not say ‘Let man be made’ but ‘Let us make’, and you do not say ‘according to his kind’ but ‘after our image and likeness’. The person whose renewal is in the mind and who contemplates and understands your truth, needs no human to ‘prove’ it, imitating the example of humankind but, as you show, he ‘proves what your will is, which is a thing good and well-pleasing and perfect’. Because such a person now has the capacity, you teach him to see the Trinity of the Unity and the Unity of the Trinity. Hence the plural is used ‘Let us make man,’ and then the singular follows ‘and God made man’. The plural occurs for the first phrase ‘in our image’, but the singular is used for ‘in the image of God’. So man ‘is renewed in the knowledge of God after the image of him who created him’ (Col. 3: 10). Being made spiritual, ‘he judges all things’ (that is, of course, things which need to be judged), ‘but he himself is judged by no one’ (1 Cor. 2: 15).
xxiii (33) The saying ‘he judges all things’ is the meaning of the text that man has power over the fish of the sea and the birds of heaven and all cattle and wild beasts over all the earth, and all creeping things which creep upon the earth (Gen. 1: 26). He judges by an act of intelligence, by which he perceives ‘what things are of the Spirit of God’ (1 Cor. 2: 14; 3: 10). Contrariwise, ‘a man in a position of honour has lacked understanding: he is compared to the mindless beasts, and has become like them’ (Ps. 48: 13). Therefore in your Church, our God, according to your grace which you have given to it, since we are your ‘workmanship made in good works’ (Eph. 2: 10), spiritual judgement is exercised not only by those who spiritually preside, but also by those subject to their presiding authority.28 For ‘you made man male and female’ in your spiritual grace to be equal, so that physical gender makes no distinction of male and female, just as there is ‘neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free person’ (Gal. 3: 28). So spiritual persons, whether they preside or are subject to authority, exercise spiritual judgement (1 Cor. 2: 15). They do not judge those spiritual intelligences which are ‘lights in the firmament’; it would be inappropriate to judge such sublime authority. Nor do they sit in judgement on your book, even if there is obscurity there. We submit our intellect to it, and hold it for certain that even language closed to our comprehension is right and true. Even a person who is spiritual and is ‘renewed in the knowledge of God according to the image of him who created him’ (Col. 3:10) has to be ‘a doer of the law’ (Jas. 4: 11), not its critic. Nor does he judge which persons are spiritual and which carnal. They are known to your eyes, our God. To us no works have as yet appeared so that we can know them by their fruits. Yet you, Lord, already know them and have made a division. You called them in secret before the firmament was made. The spiritual person does not judge the storm-tossed peoples of this world. How can he .‘judge of those outside’ (1 Cor. 5: 12) when he does not know who will come out of the world into the sweetness of your grace, and who will remain in the permanent bitterness of godlessness?29
(34) That is why man, though made by you in your image, has not received authority over the lights of heaven nor over the heaven beyond our sight nor over day and night, which you called into being before establishing the heaven, nor over the gathering of the waters which is the sea. But he received power over the fish of the sea and the birds of heaven and all cattle and all the earth and all creeping things which creep on the earth. He judges and approves what is right and disapproves what is wrong, whether in the solemn rite of the sacraments at the initiation of those whom your mercy searches out ‘in many waters’, or in that rite celebrated when there is offered the Fish, which was raised from the deep to be the food of the devout ‘earth’, or when considering the verbal signs and expressions which are subject to the authority of your book,30 like birds flying beneath the firmament. He must assess interpretations, expositions, discourses, controversies, the forms of blessing and prayer to you. These signs come from the mouth and sound forth so that the people may respond Amen. The reason why all these utterances have to be physically spoken is the abyss of the world and the blindness of the flesh which cannot discern thoughts, so that it is necessary to make audible sounds. So, although birds are multiplied on the earth, they derive their origin from water. The spiritual person also judges by approving what is right and disapproving what he finds wrong in the works and behaviour of the faithful in their charitable giving—like the fruitful earth. He judges the ‘living soul’ in its affections made gentle by chastity, by fasting, by devout reflection on things perceived by the bodily senses. And lastly he is said to exercise judgement on questions where he possesses a power of correction.31
xxiv (35) But what is this next text about, and what kind of a mystery is it? Lord you bless human beings so that they may increase and multiply and fill the earth. By this surely you are suggesting that we should perceive some further meaning here. Why did you not likewise bless the light which you called day, or the firmament of heaven or the heavenly lights or the stars or land or sea? I might say that you, our God, who created us in your image—I might say you intended to bestow this gift of blessing particularly on humanity, were it not that you have also in this way blessed fishes and whales to grow and multiply and fill the waters of the sea, and birds to multiply over the earth. I might further say that this blessing, had I found it bestowed on trees and plants and land animals, belongs to those kinds which are propagated by reproduction; but for plants and trees and beasts and serpents, there is no mention of ‘Increase and multiply’, even though all these, like fish and birds and humankind, are increased and preserve their species by generation.
(36) What then shall I say, truth my light? That there is no special significance in this, and the text is empty of meaning? No indeed, Father of piety, be it far from a servant of your word to say this. And if I fail to understand what you intend by this utterance, let better interpreters, that is more intelligent than I, offer a better exegesis, according as you have given to each a gift of understanding. But let my confession also be pleasing before your eyes. I confess myself to believe, Lord, that you have not so spoken without a special intention, and I will not suppress what this passage happens to suggest to me. For it is true, and I do not see what objection there is to my thus interpreting the figurative words of your book. I know that at the bodily level one can give a plurality of expressions to something which in the mind is understood as a single thing, and that the mind can give a multiplicity of meanings to something which, at the physical level, is a single thing. How simple is the love of God and one’s neighbour! At the bodily level it is expressed by numerous sacraments and in innumerable languages and in innumerable phrases of any particular language. An instance is that the offspring of the waters ‘increase and multiply’. Again, consider what scripture offers and what its language expresses in a single phrase: ‘In the beginning God made heaven and earth’ (Gen. 1: 1). Cannot this bear many interpretations, not including misleading errors, but true interpretations of different kinds? In the same way the offspring of human beings ‘increase and multiply’.
(37) If, therefore, we think of the natures of things not allegorically but literally, the word ‘Increase and multiply’ applies to all creatures generated by seeds. But if we treat the text as figurative (which I prefer to think scripture intended since it cannot be pointless that it confines this blessing to aquatic creatures and human beings), then we find multitudes in the spiritual and physical creations (to which ‘heaven and earth’ refer); in both just and unjust souls (called ‘light and darkness‘); in the holy authors through whom the law is ministered (called ‘the firmament’ established solidly between water and water); in the association of people filled with bitterness (‘the sea‘); in the zeal of devoted souls (‘the dry land‘); in works of mercy during ‘this present life’ (1 Tim. 4: 8) (‘the herbs bearing seed and the trees bearing fruit‘); in spiritual gifts which manifest themselves for edification (the ‘heavenly lights‘); in affections disciplined through self-control (‘the living soul‘).
In all these things we find multitudes and abundances and increases. But only in signs given corporeal expression and in intellectual concepts do we find an increasing and a multiplying which illustrate how one thing can be expressed in several ways and how one formulation can bear many meanings. Signs given corporeal expression are the creatures generated from the waters, necessary because of our deep involvement in the flesh. But because of the fertility of reason, I interpret the generation of humanity to mean concepts in the intelligible realm. That is why we believe that you, Lord addressed both categories in the words ‘Increase and multiply’. By this blessing I understand you to grant us the capacity and ability to articulate in many ways what we hold to be a single concept, and to give a plurality of meanings to a single obscure expression in a text we have read. It is said ‘the waters of the sea are filled’, because their movement means the variety of significations. Likewise the earth is filled with human offspring: its dryness shows itself in human energy and the mastery of it by reason.
xxv (38) Lord, my God, I also want to declare what the following text of your scripture suggests to me, and I will say it without fear. With you inspiring me I shall be affirming true things, which by your will I draw out of those words. For I do not believe I give a true exposition if anyone other than you is inspiring me. You are the truth but every man is a liar (Ps. 115: 11; Rom. 3: 4). That is why ‘he who speaks a lie speaks from himself (John 8: 44). Therefore I depend on you to enable me to speak the truth. See, you have given us for food ‘every sown plant producing seed which is on the surface of the earth, and every tree which has in itself the fruit of sown seed’ (Gen. 1: 29). You gave it not to us alone, but also to all the birds of heaven and beasts of the earth and serpents. But you did not give them to fish and whales. We were saying that these fruits of the earth are to be allegorically interpreted as meaning works of mercy, which are offered for the necessities of life from the fruit-bearing earth. Such an earth was the devoted Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 1: 16), to whose house ‘you granted mercy because he often refreshed’ your Paul and ‘was not ashamed of his chain’. This was also done by the brethren, and they produced similar fruit when ‘they supplied from Macedonia what he had lacked’ (2 Cor. 11: 9). But how Paul grieved over some trees which did not render the fruit they owed him! He says ‘At my first defence no one stood by me, but all forsook me; may it not be imputed to their charge’ (2 Tim. 4: 16). These fruits are owed to those who minister spiritual teaching through their interpretations of the divine mysteries, and the debt is owed to them as men. But the debt is also owed to them as ‘the living soul’. For they offer themselves as a model for imitation in ascetic restraint of all kinds. Moreover, it is owed to them as ‘flying birds’ because of the blessings pronounced upon them which are multiplied upon the earth; for ‘their sound is gone out into every land’ (Ps. 18: 5).
xxvi (39) Those who enjoy these foods are fed by them; but those ‘whose god is their belly’ (Phil. 3:19) derive no pleasure from them. But in those who provide the food, the fruit lies not in what they give but the spirit with which they give it. So I readily see why Paul rejoiced; he served God, not his belly, and I heartily join in his joy. He received from the Philippians what they had sent by Epaphroditus. Yet I see the ground for his joy: the source of his joy was the source of his nourishment because he declares its true origin in the words ‘I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last for a time you have revived your sympathy for my welfare, for which you had been concerned, but you had become weary’ (Phil, 4: 10). The Philippians had suffered a long period of weariness. They had as it were dried up in producing the fruit of good work. He rejoiced for them that they had revived, not for himself because they came to the help of his wants. So he goes on ‘I do not say that anything is lacking. I have learnt in whatever state I am to be content. I know both how to possess little, and I know also how to have abundance. In all things and in every way I am instructed how to be thirsty and hungry and to abound and to suffer penury. I can do all things in him who strengthens me’ (Phil. 4. 11–13).
(40) What then is the reason for your rejoicing, great Paul? Why your joy? Where do you find your nourishment? You are a man ‘renewed in the knowledge of God after the image of him who created you’ (Col. 3: 10), a ‘living soul’ of great continence, a tongue which flies like the birds as it proclaims mysteries. It is indeed to such living souls that this food is due. What then is it which gives you nourishment? Joy. Let me hear what follows: ‘Nevertheless’, he says, ‘you did well in taking a share in my tribulations’ (Phil. 4: 14). The ground for his joy and for his nourishment is that the Philippians had acted well, not that his trouble was relieved. He says to you ‘In tribulation you gave me a large room’ (Ps. 7: 21), for in you who strengthen him he ‘knew how to abound and how to suffer penury’. He says: ‘You Philippians know how at the first preaching of the gospel when I came from Macedonia, no Church except you shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, for not once but twice you sent support for my needs to Thessalonica’ (Phil. 4. 14–16). He now rejoices at their return to these good works and is glad at their revival, like a field that is recovering its fertility.
(41) It was not Paul’s own necessities which led him to say: ‘You sent support for my needs’ (Phil. 4: 17). That was surely not his reason for rejoicing. We can be sure of this, because he goes on to say: ‘Not that I seek a gift but I look for fruit’. From you, my God, I have learnt to distinguish between gift and fruit. A gift is the object given by the person who is sharing in these necessaries such as money, food, drink, clothing, a roof, assistance generally. Fruit, however, is the good and right will of the giver.32 The good Master has said not only ‘he who receives a prophet’ but also adds ‘in the name of a prophet’. He does not speak only of him who ‘receives a righteous person’, but adds ‘in the name of a righteous person’. The former receives a prophet’s reward, the latter a righteous person’s reward. Again, he does not merely say ‘He who gives a cup of cold water to drink to one of my least’, but also adds ‘only in the name of a disciple’, and then continues ‘Amen, I say to you, he will not lose his reward’. (Matt. 10: 41–2). So the gift is to receive a prophet, to receive a righteous person, to offer a cup of cold water to a disciple. But the fruit is the intention to do this ‘in the name of a prophet, in the name of a righteous person, in the name of a disciple’. It was fruit when Elijah was fed by a widow because she knew she was feeding a man of God, and fed him with that intention. But when he was fed by a raven that was only a gift. For the inward Elijah was not being fed but the outward man who, though a man of God, could starve for lack of food (1 Kgs. 17: 4–18).
xxvii (42) On this ground Lord, I will make an affirmation which is true before you. We believe that ‘fish and whales’ symbolize the sacraments of initiation and miraculous wonders necessary to initiate and convert ‘uninstructed and unbelieving people’ (1 Cor. 14: 23). When such people receive your children to refresh them physically or to help them in some need of this present life, they do not know why they should do this, or what object they should have in mind. They are not really feeding your children, nor are your people actually being fed by them, because they are not doing it with a holy and correct intention; nor do your children find joy in their gifts where they do not yet see any fruit. Hence the mind is fed by the source of joy. That is why ‘fish and whales’ do not feed on food which the earth produces only after it becomes separate and distinct from the bitter waves of the sea.
xxviii (43) And you, God, ‘saw all that you had made, and it was very good’ (Gen. 1: 31). To us also who see them, they are all very good indeed. In each category of your works, when you had said they should be made and they were made, you saw that every particular instance is good. Seven times I have counted scripture saying you saw that what you made is good. But on the eighth occasion when you saw all that you had made, it says they were not merely good but ‘very good’—as if taking everything at once into account. For individual items were only ‘good’, but everything taken together was both ‘good’ and ‘very good’. This truth is also declared by the beauty of bodies. A body composed of its constituent parts, all of which are beautiful, is far more beautiful as a whole than those parts taken separately; the whole is made of their well-ordered harmony, though individually the constituent parts are also beautiful.33
xxix (44) I carefully set out to discover whether it is seven times or eight times that you saw your works were good and that they pleased you. In your seeing I found no occasions to help me understand the meaning of the number of times that you saw what you had made. I said: Lord, surely your scripture is true, for you, being truthful and Truth itself, have produced it. Why then do you tell me that in your seeing there is no element of time, yet your scripture tells me that on each successive day you saw what you had made that it was good? I counted them, and ascertained how many times you did this. To this you replied to me, since you are my God and speak with a loud voice in the inner ear to your servant, and broke through my deafness with the cry: ‘O man, what my scripture says, I say. Yet scripture speaks in time-conditioned language, and time does not touch my Word, existing with me in an equal eternity. So I see those things which through my Spirit you see, just as I also say the things which through my Spirit you say. Accordingly, while your vision of them is temporally determined, my seeing is not temporal, just as you speak of these things in temporal terms but I do not speak in the successiveness of time.‘
xxx (45) I listened, Lord, my God; I sucked a drop of sweetness from your truth, and I understood. There are people [Manichees] who are displeased at your works. They say you made many of them, such as the fabric of the heavens and the constellations of the stars, under the compulsion of necessity. They say you did not produce the creation from your own matter, but that its elements were already created elsewhere by another power, and that you gathered them together and assembled and organized them when, after defeating your enemies, you built the ramparts of the world so that they would be held in check by that construction and unable to fight against you again. Other things they deny you to have made or even to have assembled, such as all bodies and every tiny insect and all plants rooted in the earth. They claim that in the lower places of the world those things are generated and formed by a hostile mind and an alien nature, not created by you but opposed to you. This is the utterance of madmen. They do not see your works with the help of your Spirit and do not recognize you in them.
xxxi (46) When people see these things with the help of your Spirit, it is you who are seeing in them. When, therefore, they see that things are good, you are seeing that they are good. Whatever pleases them for your sake is pleasing you in them. The things which by the help of your Spirit delight us are delighting you in us. ‘For what man knows the being of man except the spirit of man which is in him? So also no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. But we (he says) have not received the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which is of God, so that we may know the gifts given us by God’ (1 Cor. 2: 11–12). I am moved to declare: certainly no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Then how do we ourselves know the gifts which God has given? The answer comes to me that the statement ‘No one knows except the Spirit of God’ also applies to the things we know by the help of his Spirit. Just as ‘it is not you that speak’ (Matt. 10: 20) is rightly said to those who are speaking by the Spirit of God, so also the words ‘it is not you that know’ may rightly be said to those whose knowing is by the Spirit of God. Therefore it is no less correct that ‘it is not you that see’ is spoken to those who see by the Spirit of God. Whatever, therefore, they see to be good by the Spirit of God, it is not they but God who is seeing that it is good.
It is one thing to think that what is good is evil, like those Manichees I mentioned above. It is another thing to say that what man sees to be good is good, just as your creation pleases many because it is good; nevertheless they are displeased with you in it. These latter people wish to find their enjoyment in the creation rather than in you.
It is a yet further matter to say that when a man sees something which is good, God in him sees that it is good. That is, God is loved in that which he has made, and he is not loved except through the Spirit which he has given. For ‘the love of God is diffused in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us’ (Rom. 5: 5). By the Spirit we see that everything which in some degree has existence is good;34 for it derives from him who does not exist merely in some degree since he is Existence.
xxxii (47) Thanks be to you, Lord! We see heaven and earth, that is either the higher and lower material part or the spiritual and physical creation; and for the adornment of these parts, in which consists the entire mass of the world or the entire created order absolutely, we see light made and divided from the darkness. We see the firmament of heaven, either placed between the higher spiritual waters and the lower physical waters (the earliest physical entity in the world) or the space occupied by air, which is also called the sky.35 Through this the birds of heaven wander between those waters, which are borne over it as vapour and on clear nights drop as dew, and the heavy waters flowing on earth. We see the beauty of the waters gathered in the expanses of the sea, and the dry land, whether bare of vegetation, or given form so as to be ‘visible and ordered’, the mother of plants and trees. We see the lights shining from above, the sun sufficing for the day, the moon and stars to cheer the night, and all of these to provide an indication and sign of passing time. We see wet nature on all sides, a rich source of food for fish and sea monsters and birds. For the flight of birds is supported by the density of the air, which is increased by the evaporation of water. We see the face of the earth adorned with earthly creatures and humanity, in your image and likeness, put in authority over all irrational animals by your image and likeness, that is by the power of reason and intelligence. And as in his soul there is one element which deliberates and aspires to domination, and another element which is submissive and obedient, so in the bodily realm woman is made for man. In mental power she has an equal capacity of rational intelligence, but by the sex of her body she is submissive to the masculine sex. This is analogous to the way in which the impulse for action is subordinate to the rational mind’s prudent concern that the act is right. So we see that each particular point and the whole taken all together are very good.
xxxiii (48) Your works praise you that we may love you, and we love you that your works may praise you. They have a beginning and an end in time, a rise and a fall, a start and a finish, beauty and the loss of it. They have in succession a morning and an evening, in part hidden, in part evident. They are made out of nothing by you, not from you, not from some matter not of your making or previously existing, but from matter created by you together with its form— that is simultaneously. For you gave form to its formlessness with no interval of time between. The matter of heaven and earth is one thing, the beauty of heaven and earth is another. You made the matter from absolutely nothing, but the beauty of the world from formless matter—and both simultaneously so that the form followed the matter without any pause or delay.36
xxxiv (49) We have also considered the reasons for the symbolism in the fact that you willed created things to be made in a particular order or to be recorded in a particular order. And because particular things are good and all of them together very good, we have seen in your Word, in your unique Son, ‘heaven and earth’, the head and body of the Church (Col. 1: 18),37 in a predestination which is before all time and has no morning and evening. But then you began to carry out your predestined plan in time so as to reveal hidden secrets and to bring order to our disordered chaos. For our sins were over us, and we had abandoned you to sink into a dark depth. Your good Spirit was ‘borne over’ it to help us ‘in due season’ (Ps. 142: 10). You justified the ungodly (Rom. 4: 5), you separated them from the wicked, and you established the authority of your book between those in higher authority who were submissive to you and those below who were subject to it. You gathered a society of unbelievers to share a single common aspiration, so that the zeal of the faithful should ‘appear’ and so bring forth for you works of mercy, distributing to the poor their earthly possessions so as to acquire celestial reward.
Hence you kindled lights in the firmament, your saints ‘having the word of life’ (Phil. 2: 16), shining with a sublime authority made manifest by spiritual gifts. And then to instruct the unbelieving peoples, you produced from physical matter sacraments and visible miracles and the sounds of the words of your book, symbolized by the ‘firmament’. Believers also are blessed by them. Then you formed ‘the living soul’ of the faithful with their affections disciplined by a strong continence. Then you renewed the mind (Rom. 12: 2) after your image and likeness (Col. 3: 10) to be subject to you alone and in need of no human authority as a model to imitate. You made its rational action subject to the superiority of the intellect, as if symbolized by a woman’s submissive role with her husband. To all the ministerial officers necessary to bring the faithful to perfection in this life, you willed that the same faithful should provide for their temporal needs good works which could be fruitful for them hereafter. All these things we see, and they are very good, because you see them in us, having given us the Spirit by which we see them and love you in them.
xxxv (50) ‘Lord God, grant us peace; for you have given us all things’ (Isa. 26: 12), the peace of quietness, the peace of the sabbath, a peace with no evening (2 Thess. 3: 16). This entire most beautiful order of very good things will complete its course and then pass away; for in them by creation there is both morning and evening.
xxxvi (51) The seventh day has no evening and has no ending. You sanctified it to abide everlastingly. After your ‘very good’ works, which you made while remaining yourself in repose, you ‘rested the seventh day’ (Gen. 2: 2–3). This utterance in your book foretells for us that after our works which, because they are your gift to us, are very good, we also may rest in you for the sabbath of eternal life.
xxxvii (52) There also you will rest in us, just as now you work in us. Your rest will be through us, just as now your works are done through us. But you, Lord are always working and always at rest. Your seeing is not in time, your movement is not in time, and your rest is not in time. Yet your acting causes us to see things in time, time itself, and the repose which is outside time.
xxxviii (53) As for ourselves, we see the things you have made because they are. But they are because you see them.38 We see outwardly that they are, and inwardly that they are good. But you saw them made when you saw that it was right to make them. At one time we were moved to do what is good, after our heart conceived through your Spirit. But at an earlier time we were moved to do wrong and to forsake you. But you God, one and good, have never ceased to do good. Of your gift we have some good works, though not everlasting. After them we hope to rest in your great sanctification. But you, the Good, in need of no other good, are ever at rest since you yourself are your own rest.
What man can enable the human mind to understand this? Which angel can interpret it to an angel? What angel can help a human being to grasp it? Only you can be asked, only you can be begged, only on your door can we knock (Matt. 7: 7–8). Yes indeed, that is how it is received, how it is found, how the door is opened.39
1 The theme of I. ii (2) is resumed.
2 Echo of Plato, Statesman 273d; Plotinus 1. 8. 13. 17. Above VII. x (16).
3 Plotinus 2. 4. 10. 16: When all light has been taken from the soul, the remaining darkness is indefinable.
4 Plotinus 5. 3. 16 says that the higher the grade in the continuum of the hierarchy of being, the greater the ‘simplicity’, and that at the summit utter simplicity is wholly self-sufficient. Similarly 5. 4. 1. The concept ‘simplicity’ for Augustine and the Neoplatonists means freedom from any element of distinction between substance and accidents or attributes, and has overtones of being without need. Goodness is therefore no attribute of Plotinus’ One, but is inseparable from the One; cf. Plotinus 2. 9. 1.
5 Plato, Timaeus 20J; Plotinus 5. 4. 1.
6 Plotinus 5. 3. 17. 28 ff., on the mystical vision, is emphatic that the light by which the soul sees God is not other than the light of God: ‘This is the soul’s true end, to touch that light and see it by itself, not by another light, but by the light which is also its means of seeing.’ (tr. Armstrong).
7 Ambrose (Hexameron 1.8. 29) gives a similar exegesis of Genesis 1.
8 Mother Charity’ is a phrase liked by Augustine, also used by him elsewhere.
9 The African eucharistic liturgy, echoed here, had ‘Lift up your heart’ (singular).
10 Augustine’s homily on this psalm explains that these waters are sins. Mis Old Latin version differs from the Vulgate.
11 Echoed in Dante, Paradiso 3. 85.
12 Similar analogy for the soul finding its proper habitat in Plotinus 2. 1. 3. On ‘good will’ cf. Plotinus 6. 8. 6. 32 ff.; 6. 8. 13. 12 ff.
13 Plotinus (6. 8. 1. 26) also speaks of the will being ‘carried away’.
14 Augustine announces the theme of his large work On the Trinity, begun a year or two after the completion of the Confessions, but requiring many years to complete. Some of the terminology has affinities with Plotinus (e.g. 6. 4. 14).
15 Plotinus 6. 8. 17. 25: The one is wholly self-related. 6. 5. 9. 35: It possesses multiplicity ‘by itself and from itself.
16 Above XIII. ii (3).
17 The ‘coats of skins’ adopted by Adam and Eve at the Fall symbolize human mortality. The inspired writings of the mortal biblical authors, being stretched above us like ‘skin’, bring a remedy for our mortality.
18 This passage inspired one of John Donne‘s Devotions.
19 In Plotinus 5. 3. 1–2 the self-knowledge possessed by Soul is inferior to that of Intellect (Nous).
20 Many of Augustine’s letters and sermons concern help to destitute persons and protection to people suffering oppression; these activities were a substantial part of a bishop’s duties.
21 Augustine’s Latin word is sacramenta, which he defines as ‘sacred signs’; he says they ‘vary’ because the Old Testament signs such as circumcision and passover have been succeeded for Christians by baptism and eucharist.
22 The paragraph, among the most opaque in the Confessions, replies to criticism of his allegorical exegesis of Genesis I. For Augustine the method is justified by its edifying results, and is in principle a working out of the correspondence or analogy between the physical and ‘intelligible’ worlds. The multiplicity of symbols answers to the restlessness of the human heart and mind, continually desiring change. But these symbols, in which scripture is so rich, point to eternal truths. Allegorical exegesis is the sacramental principle applied to scripture.
23 The sentence is akin to Augustine’s famous dictum about baptism: ‘The word is added to the element (water) and it becomes a sacrament, itself a sort of visible word’ (Sermon on John, 80. 3).
24 Visible signs and sacraments are a necessity because of the fallen nature of humanity. Signs are required by sinful people, but truly spiritual Christians look higher, beyond material means.
25 At the time of writing the Confessions Augustine had not yet come to hold that Adam and Eve had conjugal intercourse and offspring even before the Fall. Cf. above II. ii (3).
26 That is in the Eucharist. The fish symbol for Christ was familiar to Ambrose and Augustine, as to ail early Christians: City of God 18. 23.
27 Augustine held that mathematical order and reason are primary marks of divine creation, but that it can be within the divine will for his world if special providences occur, that is miracles ‘contrary not to nature but to what we know of nature’. The infant Church of the apostolic age was granted this special help, especially healings. In his own time Augustine stressed the sacraments as God’s present means of special grace, and saw in conversion the greatest of miracles. Like miracles, however, the sacraments are a visible ladder to reach spiritual and invisible things.
28 Augustine holds that the perception of God’s will for his Church does not belong only to the ordained, but is shared by all spiritual members, including of course women (recalling his own debt to Monica).
29 Though the full development of Augustine’s doctrine of predestination comes in the last decade of his life under the stress of the Pelagian controversy, the essentials were already established at the time of his writing the Confessions, 25 years earlier, with the crucial exception that he has not yet decided on his final distinction between divine foreknowledge, which is not causative, and predestination, which is.
30 i.e. baptism, eucharist (as in XIII. xxi (29)), and preaching.
31 In counselling and absolution. ‘The living soul’ is the spiritually active members of the Church, the body in which the Holy Spirit is the soul. XIII. xxxiv (49), below, shows that they are characterized by strong ascetic discipline.
32 Augustine’s ethic is marked by strong emphasis on intention as determining the moral value of an act. Cf. Plotinus 1. 5. 9.
33 Close parallel in Plotinus I. 6. I. 25 ff.
34 A Platonic axiom is here given the authority of the Holy Spirit. It is for Augustine a self-evident deduction from the doctrine of divine Creation. Cf. above, VII. xii. (18).
35 Augustine later in his Revisions censured this sentence as ‘written without sufficient thought‘ (Relr. 2. 6. 2).
36 Plotinus (4. 3. 9. 16) holds that there was never a time when matter was not given form and order.
37 The shortcomings of the empirical life of the churches are frequently deplored by Augustine. But the Church remained for him, on the ground of the Pauline doctrine of the body and head, the indispensable instrument of salvation in which Christ dwells by his Spirit. ‘The whole Christ’ is the Lord, head and members together.
38 This theme is developed in City of God 11. 10.
39 The allusion to Matt: 7–8 picks up the theme of I. i (1) and xil. i (1)