HOMILY I: In the Beginning God made the Heaven and the Earth.

1. IT is right that any one beginning to narrate the formation of the
world should begin with the good order which reigns in visible things. I am
about to speak of the creation of heaven and earth, which was not
spontaneous, as some have imagined, but drew its origin from God. What ear
is worthy to hear such a tale? How earnestly the soul should prepare itself
to receive such high lessons! How pure it should be from carnal affections,
how unclouded by worldly disquietudes, how active and ardent in its
researches, how eager to find in its surroundings an idea of God which may
be worthy of Him!

But before weighing the justice of these remarks, before examining all
the sense contained in these few words, let us see who addresses them to
us. Because, if the weakness of our intelligence does not allow us to
penetrate the depth of the thoughts of the writer, yet we shall be
involuntarily drawn to give faith to his words by the force of his
authority. Now it is Moses who has composed this history; Moses, who, when
still at the breast, is described as exceeding fair;(2) Moses, whom the
daughter of Pharaoh adopted; who received from her a royal education, and
who had for his teachers the wise men of Egypt;(3) Moses, who disdained the
pomp of royalty, and, to share the humble condition of his compatriots,
preferred to be persecuted with the people of God rather than to enjoy the
fleeting delights of sin; Moses, who received from nature such a love of
justice that, even before the leadership of the people of God was committed
to him, be was impelled, by a natural horror of evil, to pursue malefactors
even to the point of punishing them by death; Moses, who, banished by those
whose benefactor he had been, hastened to escape from the tumults of Egypt
and took refuge in Ethiopia, living there far from former pursuits, and
passing forty years in the contemplation of nature; Moses, finally, who, at
the age of eighty, saw God, as far as it is possible for man to see Him; or
rather as it had not previously been granted to man to see Him, according
to the testimony of God Himself, “If there be a prophet among you, I the
Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him
in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house,
with him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently and not in dark
speeches.”(4) It is this man, whom God judged worthy to behold Him, face to
face, like the angels, who imparts to us what he has learnt from God. Let
us listen then to these words of truth written without the help of the
“enticing words of man’s wisdom”(5) by the dictation of the Holy Spirit;
words destined to produce not the applause of those who hear them, but the
salvation of those who are instructed by them.

2. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”(1) I stop
struck with admiration at this thought. What shall I first say? Where shall
I begin my story? Shall I show forth the vanity of the Gentiles? Shall I
exalt the truth of our faith? The philosophers of Greece have made much ado
to explain nature, and not one of their systems has remained firm anti
unshaken, each being overturned by its successor. It is vain to refute
them; they are sufficient in themselves to destroy one another. Those who
were too ignorant to rise to a knowledge of a God, could not allow that an
intelligent cause presided at the birth of the Universe; a primary error
that involved them in sad consequences. Some had recourse to material
principles and attributed the origin of the Universe(2) to the elements of
the world. Others imagined that atoms,(3) and indivisible bodies, molecules
and ducts, form, by their union, the nature of the visible world. Atoms
reuniting or separating, produce births and deaths and the most durable
bodies only owe their consistency to the strength of their mutual adhesion:
a true spider’s web woven by these writers who give to heaven, to earth,
and to sea so weak an origin and so little consistency! It is because they
knew not how to say “In the beginning God created the heaven and the
earth.” Deceived by their inherent atheism it appeared to them that nothing
governed or ruled the universe, and that was all was given up to chance.(4)
To guard us against this error the writer on the creation, from the very
first words, enlightens our understanding with the name of God; “In the
beginning God created.” What a glorious order! He first establishes a
beginning, so that it might not be supposed that the world never had a
beginning. Then be adds “Created” to show that which was made was a very
small part of the power of the Creator. In the same way that the potter,
after having made with equal pains a great number of vessels, has not
exhausted either his art or his talent; thus the Maker of the Universe,
whose creative power, far from being bounded by one world, could extend to
the infinite, needed only the impulse of His will to bring the immensities
of the visible world into being. If then the world has a beginning, and if
it has been created, enquire who gave it this beginning, and who was the
Creator: or rather, in the fear that human reasonings may make you wander
from the truth, Moses has anticipated enquiry by engraving in our hearts,
as a seal and a safeguard, the awful name of God: “In the beginning God
created”–It is He, beneficent Nature, Goodness without measure, a worthy
object of love for all beings endowed with reason, the beauty the most to
be desired, the origin of all that exists, the source of life, intellectual
light, impenetrable wisdom, it is He who “in the beginning created heaven
and earth.”

3. Do not then imagine, O man!  that the visible world is without a
beginning; and because the celestial bodies move in a circular course, and
it is difficult for our senses to define the point where the circle begins,
do not believe that bodies impelled by a circular movement are, from their
nature, without a beginning. Without doubt the circle (I mean the plane
figure described by a single line) is beyond our perception, and it is
impossible for us to find out where it begins or where it ends; but we
ought not on this account to believe it to be without a beginning. Although
we are not sensible of it, it really begins at some point where the
draughtsman has begun to draw it at a certain radius from the centre.(1)
Thus seeing that figures which move in a circle always return upon
themselves, without for a single instant interrupting the regularity of
their course, do not vainly imagine to yourselves that the world has
neither beginning nor end. “For the fashion of this world passeth away”(2)
and “Heaven and earth shall pass away.”(3)  The dogmas of the end, and of
the renewing of the world, are announced beforehand in these short words
put at the head of the inspired history. “In the beginning God made.” That
which was begun in time is condemned to come to an end in time. If there
has been a beginning do not doubt of the end.(4) Of what use men are
geometry–the calculations of arithmetic–the study of solids and far-famed
astronomy, this laborious vanity, if those who pursue them imagine that
this visible world is co-eternal with the Creator of all things, with God
Himself; if they attribute to this limited world, which has a material
body, the same glory as to the incomprehensible and invisible nature; if
they cannot conceive that a whole, of which the parts are subject to
corruption and change, must of necessity end by itself submitting to the
fate of its parts? But they have become “vain in their imaginations and
their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they
became fools.”(1) Some have affirmed that heaven co-exists with God from
all eternity;(2) others that it is God Himself without beginning or end,
and the cause of the particular arrangement of all things.(3)

4. One day, doubtless, their terrible condemnation will be the greater
for all this worldly wisdom, since, seeing so clearly into yam sciences,
they have wilfully shut their eyes to the knowledge of the truth. These men
who measure the distances of the stare and describe them, both those of the
North, always shining brilliantly in our view, and those of the southern
pole visible to the inhabitants of the South, but unknown to us; who divide
the Northern zone and the circle of the Zodiac into an infinity of parts,
who observe with exactitude the course of the stars, their fixed places,
their declensions, their return and the time that each takes to make its
revolution; these men, I say, have discovered all except one tiring: the
fact that God is the Creator of the universe, and the just Judge who
rewards all the actions of life according to their merit. They have not
known how to raise themselves to the idea of the consummation of all
things, the consequence of the doctrine of judgment, and to see that the
world must change if souls pass from this life to a new life. In reality,
as the nature of the present life presents an affinity to this world, so in
the future life our souls will enjoy a lot conformable to their new
condition. But they are so far from applying these truths, that they do but
laugh when we announce to them the end of all things and the regeneration
of the age. Since the beginning naturally precedes that which is derived
from it, the writer, of necessity, when speaking to us of things which had
their origin in time, puts at the head of his narrative these words–“In
the beginning God created.”

5. It appears, indeed, that even before this world an order of
things(1) existed of which our mind can form an idea, but of which we can
say nothing, because it is too lofty a subject for men who are but
beginners and are still babes in knowledge. The birth of the world was
preceded by a condition of things suitable for the exercise of supernatural
powers, outstripping the limits of time, eternal and infinite. The Creator
and Demiurge of the universe perfected His works in it, spiritual light for
the happiness of all who love the Lord, intellectual and invisible natures,
all the orderly arrangement(2) of pure intelligences who are beyond the
reach of our mind and of whom we cannot even discover the names. They fill
the essence of this invisible world, as Paul teaches us. “For by him were
all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and
invisible whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or
powers”(3) or virtues or hosts of angels or the dignities of archangels. To
this world at last it was necessary to add a new world, both a school and
training place where the souls of men should be taught and a home for
beings destined to be born and to die. Thus was created, of a nature
analogous to that of this world and the animals and plants which live
thereon, the succession of time, for ever pressing on and passing away and
never stopping in its course. Is not this the nature of time, where the
past is no more, the future does not exist, and the present escapes before
being recognised? And such also is the nature of the creature which lives
in time,–condemned to grow or to perish without rest and without certain
stability. It is therefore fit that the bodies of animals and plants,
obliged to follow a sort of current, and carried away by the motion which
leads them to birth or to death, should live in the midst of surroundings
whose nature is in accord with beings subject to change.(4) Thus the writer
who wisely tells us of the birth of the Universe does not fail to put these
words at the head of the narrative. “In the beginning God created;” that is
to say, in the beginning of time. Therefore, if he makes the world appear
in the beginning, it is not a proof that its birth has preceded that of all
other things that were made. He only wishes to tell us that, after the
invisible and intellectual world, the visible world, the world of the
senses, began to exist.

The first movement is called beginning. “To do right is the beginning
of the good way.”(1) Just actions are truly the first steps towards a happy
life. Again, we call “beginning” the essential and first part from which a
thing proceeds, such as the foundation of a house, the keel of a vessel; it
is in this sense that it is said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of
wisdom,”(2) that is to say that piety is, as it were, the groundwork and
foundation of perfection. Art is also tile beginning of the works of
artists, the skill of Bezaleel began the adornment of the tabernacle.(2)
Often even the good which is the final cause is the beginning of actions.
Thus the approbation of God is the beginning of almsgiving, and the end
laid up for us in the promises the beginning of all virtuous efforts.

6. Such being the different senses of the word beginning, see if we
have not all the meanings here. You may know the epoch when the formation
of this world began, it, ascending into the past, you endeavour to discover
the first day. You will thus find what was the first movement of time; then
that the creation of the heavens and of the earth were like the foundation
and the groundwork, and afterwards that an intelligent reason, as the word
beginning indicates, presided in the order of visible things.(4) You will
finally discover that the world was not conceived by chance and without
reason, but for an useful end and for the great advantage of all beings,
since it is really the school where reasonable souls exercise themselves,
the training ground where they learn to know God; since by the sight of
visible and sensible things the mind is led, as by a hand, to the
contemplation of invisible things. “For,” as the Apostle says, “the
invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen,
being understood by the things that are made.”(1) Perhaps these words “In
the beginning God created” signify the rapid and imperceptible moment of
creation. The beginning, in effect, is indivisible and instantaneous. The
beginning of the road is not yet the road, and that of the house is not yet
the house; so the beginning of time is not yet time and not even the least
par-title of it. If some objector tell us that the beginning is a time, he
ought then, as he knows well, to submit it to the division of time–a
beginning, a middle and an end. Now it is ridiculous to imagine a beginning
of a beginning. Further, if we divide the beginning into two, we make two
instead of one, or rather make several, we really make an infinity, for all
that which is divided is divisible to the infinite.(3) Thus then, if it is
said, “In the beginning God created,” it is to teach us that at the will of
God the world arose in less than an instant, and it is to convey this
meaning more clearly that other interpreters have said: “God made
summarily” that is to say all at once and in a moment.(3) But enough
concerning the beginning, if only to put a few points out of many.

7. Among arts, some have in view production, some practice, others
theory.(4) The object of the last is the exercise of thought, that of the
second, the motion of the body. Should it cease, all stops; nothing more is
to be seen. Thus dancing and music have nothing behind; they have no object
but themselves. In creative arts on the contrary the work lasts after the
operation. Such is architecture–such are the arts which work in wood and
brass and weaving, all those indeed which, even when the artisan has
disappeared, serve to show an industrious intelligence and to cause the
architect, the worker in brass or the weaver, to be admired on account of
his work. Thus, then, to show that the world is a work of art displayed for
the beholding of all people; to make them know Him who created it, Moses
does not use another word. “In the beginning,” he says “God created.” He
does not say “God worked,” “God formed,” but” God created.” Among those who
have imagined that the world co-existed with God from all eternity, many
have denied that it was created by God, but say that it exists
spontaneously, as the shadow of this power. God, they say, is the cause of
it, but an involuntary cause, as the body is the cause of the shadow and
the flame is the cause of the brightness.(1) It is to correct this error
that the prophet states, with so much precision, “In the beginning God
created.” He did not make the thing itself the cause of its existence.(2)
Being good, He made it an useful work. Being wise, He made it everything
that was most beautiful. Being powerful He made it very great.(3) Moses
almost shows us the finger of the supreme artisan taking possession of the
substance of the universe, forming the different parts in one perfect
accord, and making a harmonious symphony result from the whole.(4)

“In the beginning God made heaven and earth.” By naming the two
extremes, he suggests the substance of the whole world, according to heaven
the privilege of seniority, and putting earth in the second rank. All
intermediate beings were created at the same time as the extremities. Thus,
although there is no mention of the elements, fire, water and air,(5)
imagine that they were all compounded together, and you will find water,
air and fire, in the earth. For fire leaps out from stones; iron which is
dug from the earth produces under friction fire in plentiful measure. A
marvellous fact! Fire shut up in bodies lurks there hidden without harming
them, but no sooner is it released than it consumes that which has hitherto
preserved it. The earth contains water, as diggers of wells teach us. It
contains air too, as is shown by the vapours that it exhales under the
sun’s warmth(1) when it is damp. Now, as according to their nature, heaven
occupies the higher and earth the lower position in space, (one sees, in
fact, that all which is light ascends towards heaven, and heavy substances
fall to the ground); as therefore height and depth are the points the most
opposed to each other it is enough to mention the most distant parts to
signify the inclusion of all which fills up intervening Space. Do not ask,
then, for an enumeration of all the elements; guess, from what Holy
Scripture indicates, all that is passed over in silence.

8. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” If we were
to wish to discover the essence of each of the beings which are offered for
our contemplation, or come under our senses, we should be drawn away into
long digressions, and the solution of the problem would require more words
than I possess, to examine fully the matter. To spend time on such points
would not prove to be to the edification of the Church. Upon the essence of
the heavens we are contented with what Isaiah says, for, in simple
language, he gives us sufficient idea of their nature, “The heaven was made
like smoke,”(2) that is to say, He created a subtle substance, without
solidity or density, from which to form the heavens. As to the form of them
we also content ourselves with the language of the same prophet, when
praising God “that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain and spreadeth
them out as a tent to dwell in.”(3) In the same way, as concerns the earth,
let us resolve not to torment ourselves by trying to find out its essence,
not to tire our reason by seeking for the substance which it conceals. Do
not let us seek for any nature devoid of qualities by the conditions of its
existence, but let us know that all the phenomena with which we see it
clothed regard the conditions of its existence and complete its essence.
Try to take away by reason each of the qualities it possesses, and you will
arrive at nothing. Take away black, cold, weight, density, the qualities
which concern taste, in one word all these which we see in it, and the
substance vanishes.(4)

If I ask you to leave these vain questions, I will not expect you to try
and find out the earth’s point of support. The mind would reel on beholding
its reasonings losing themselves without end. Do you say that the earth
reposes on a bed of air?(1) How, then, can this soft substance, without
consistency, resist the enormous weight which presses upon it? How is it
that it does not slip away in all directions, to avoid the sinking weight,
and to spread itself over the mass which overwhelms it? Do you suppose that
water is the foundation of the earth?(2) You will then always have to ask
yourself how it is that so heavy and opaque a body does not pass through
the water; how a mass of such a weight is held up by a nature weaker than
itself. Then you must seek a base for the waters, and you will be in much
difficulty to say upon what the water itself rests.

9. Do you suppose that a heavier body prevents the earth from failing
into the abyss? Then you must consider that this support needs itself a
support to prevent it from failing. Can we imagine one? Our reason again
demands vet another support, and thus we shall fall into the infinite,
always imagining a base for the base which we have already found.(3) And
the further we advance in this reasoning the greater force we are obliged
to give to this base, so that it may be able to support all the mass
weighing upon it. Put then a limit to your thought, so that your curiosity
in investigating the incomprehensible may not incur the reproaches of Job,
and you be not asked by him, “Whereupon are the foundations thereof
fastened?”(4) If ever you hear in the Psalms, “I bear up the pillars of
it;”(5) see in these pillars the power which sustains it. Because what
means this other passage, “He hath founded it upon the sea,”(6) if not that
the water is spread all around the earth? How then can water, the fluid
element which flows down every declivity, remain suspended without ever
flowing? You do not reflect that the idea of the earth suspended by itself
throws your reason into a like but even greater difficulty, since from its
nature it is

heavier. But let us admit that the earth rests upon itself, or let us say
that it rides the waters, we must still remain faithful to thought of true
religion and recognise that all is sustained by the Creator’s power. Let us
then reply to ourselves, and let us reply to those who ask us upon what
support this enormous mass rests, “In His hands are the ends of the
earth.”(1) It is a doctrine as infallible for our own information as
profitable for our hearers.

10. There are inquirers into nature(2) who with a great display of
words give reasons for the immobility of the earth. Placed, they say, in
the middle of the universe and not being able to incline more to one side
than the other because its centre is everywhere the same distance from the
surface, it necessarily rests upon itself; since a weight which is
everywhere equal cannot lean to either side. It is not, they go on, without
reason or by chance that the earth occupies the centre of the universe. It
is its natural and necessary position. As the celestial body occupies the
higher extremity of space all heavy bodies, they argue, that we may suppose
to have fallen from these high regions, will be carried from all directions
to the centre, and the point towards which the parts are tending will
evidently be the one to which the whole mass will be thrust together. If
stones, wood, all terrestrial bodies, fall from above downwards, this must
be the proper and natural place of the whole earth. If, on the contrary, a
light body is separated from the centre, it is evident that it will ascend
towards the higher regions. Thus heavy bodies move from the top to the
bottom, and following this reasoning, the bottom is none other than the
centre of the world. Do not then be surprised that the world never falls:
it occupies the centre of the universe, its natural place. By necessity it
is obliged to remain in its place, unless a movement contrary to nature
should displace it.(3) If there is anything in this system which might
appear probable to you, keep your admiration for the source of such perfect
order, for the wisdom of God. Grand phenomena do not strike us the less
when we have discovered something of their wonderful mechanism. Is it
otherwise here? At all events let us prefer the simplicity of faith to the
demonstrations of reason.

11. We might say the same thing of the heavens. With what a noise of
words the sages of this world have discussed their nature! Some have said
that heaven is composed of four elements as being tangible and visible, and
is made up of earth on account of its power of resistance, with fire
because it is striking to the eye, with air and water on account of the
mixture.(1) Others have rejected this system as improbable, and introduced
into the world, to form the heavens, a fifth element after their own
fashioning. There exists. they say, an aethereal body which is neither
fire, air, earth, nor water, nor in one word any simple body. These simple
bodies have their own natural motion in a straight line, light bodies
upwards and heavy bodies downwards; now this motion upwards and downwards
is not the same as circular motion; there is the greatest possible
difference between straight and circular motion. It therefore follows that
bodies whose motion is so various must vary also in their essence. But, it
is not even possible to suppose that the heavens should be formed of
primitive bodies which we call elements, because the reunion of contrary
forces could not produce an even and spontaneous motion, when each of the
simple bodies is receiving a different impulse from nature. Thus it is a
labour to maintain composite bodies in continual movement, because it is
impossible to put even a single one of their movements in accord and
harmony with all those that are in discord; since what is proper to the
light particle, is in warfare with that of a heavier one. If we attempt to
rise we are stopped by the weight of the terrestrial element; if we throw
ourselves down we violate the igneous part of our being in dragging it down
contrary to its nature. Now this struggle of the elements effects their
dissolution. A body to which violence is done and which is placed in
opposition to nature, after a short but energetic resistance, is soon
dissolved into as many parts as it had elements, each of the constituent
parts returning to its natural place. It is the force of these reasons, say
the inventors of the fifth kind of body for the genesis of heaven and the
stars, which constrained them to reject the system of their predecessors
and to have recourse to their own hypothesis.(2) But yet another fine
speaker arises and disperses and destroys this theory to give predominance
to an idea of his own invention.

Do not let us undertake to follow them for fear of falling into like
frivolities; let them refute each other, and, without disquieting ourselves
about essence, let us say with Moses “God created the heavens and the
earth.” Let us glorify the supreme Artificer for all that was wisely and
skillfully made; by the beauty of visible things let us raise ourselves to
Him who is above all beauty; by the grandeur of bodies, sensible and
limited in their nature, let us conceive of the infinite Being whose
immensity and omnipotence surpass all the efforts of the imagination.
Because, although we ignore the nature of created things, the objects which
on all sides attract our notice are so marvellous, that the most
penetrating mind cannot attain to the knowledge of the least of the
phenomena of the world, either to give a suitable explanation of it or to
render due praise to the Creator, to Whom belong all glory, all honour and
all power world without end. Amen.

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