HOMILY III: On the Firmament.

1. WE have now recounted the works of the first day, or rather of one
day. Far be it from me indeed, to take from it the privilege it enjoys of
having been for the Creator a day apart, a day which is not counted in the
same order as the others. Our discussion yesterday treated of the works of
this day, and divided the narrative so as to give you food for your souls
in the morning, and joy in the evening. To-day we pass on to the wonders of
the second day. And here I do not wish to speak of the narrator’s talent,
but of the grace of Scripture, for the narrative is so naturally told that
it pleases and delights all the friends of truth. It is this charm of truth
which the Psalmist expresses so emphatically when he says, “How sweet are
thy words unto my taste. yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth.”(1) Yesterday
then, as far as we were able, we delighted our souls by conversing about
the oracles of God, and now to-day we are met together again on the second
day to contemplate the wonders of the second day.

I know that many artisans, belonging to mechanical trades, are crowding
around me. A day’s labour hardly suffices to maintain them; therefore I am
compelled to abridge my discourse, so as not to keep them too long from
their work. What shall I say to  them? The time which you lend to God is
not lost: he will return it to you with large interest. Whatever
difficulties may trouble you the Lord will disperse them. To those who have
preferred spiritual welfare, He will give health of body, keenness of mind,
success in business, and unbroken prosperity. And, even if in this life our
efforts should not realise our hopes, the teachings of the Holy Spirit are
none the less a rich treasure for the ages to come Deliver your heart,
then, from the cares of this life and give close heed to my words. Of what
avail will it be to you if you are here in the body, and your heart is
anxious about your earthly treasure?

2. And God said “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters,
and let it divide the waters from the waters.”(2) Yesterday we heard God’s
decree, “Let there be light.” To-day it is, “Let there be a firmament.”
There appears to be something more in this. The word is not limited to a
simple command. It lays down the reason necessitating the structure of the
firmament: it is, it is said, to separate the waters from the waters. And
first let us ask how God speaks? Is it in our manner? Does His intelligence
receive an impression from objects, and, after having conceived them,
make them known by particular signs appropriate to each of them? Has He
consequently recourse to the organs of voice to convey His thoughts? Is He
obliged to strike the air by the articulate movements of the voice, to
unveil the thought hidden in His heart? Would it not seem like an idle
fable to say that God should need such a circuitous method to manifest His
thoughts? And is it not more conformable with true religion   to say, that
the divine will and the first impetus of divine intelligence are the Word
of God? It is He whom Scripture vaguely represents, to show us that God has
not only wished to create the world, but to create it with the help of a
co-operator. Scripture might continue the history as it is begun: In the
beginning God created the heaven and the earth; afterwards He created
light, then He created the firmament. But, by making God command and speak,
the Scripture tacitly shows us Him to Whom this order and these words are
addressed.(1) It is not that it grudges us the knowledge of the truth, but
that it may kindle our desire by showing us some trace and indication of
the mystery. We seize with delight, and carefully keep, the fruit of
laborious efforts, whilst a possession easily attained is despised.(2) Such
is the road and the course which Scripture follows to lead us to the idea
of the Only begotten. And certainly, God’s immaterial nature had no need of
the material language of voice, since His very thoughts could be
transmitted to His fellow-worker. What need then of speech, for those Who
by thought alone could communicate their counsels to each other? Voice was
made for hearing, and hearing for voice. Where there is neither air, nor
tongue, nor ear, nor that winding canal which carries sounds to the seat of
sensation in the head, there is no need for words thoughts of the soul are
sufficient to transmit the will. As I said then, this language is only a
wise and ingenious contrivance to set our minds seeking the Person to whom
the words are addressed.

3. In the second place, does the firmament that is called heaven differ
from the firmament that God made in the beginning? Are there two heavens?
The philosophers, who discuss heaven, would rather lose their tongues than
grant this. There is only one heaven,(3) they pretend; and it is of a
nature neither to admit of a second, nor of a third, nor of several others.
The essence of the celestial body quite complete constitutes its vast
unity. Because, they say, every body which has a circular motion is one and
finite. And if this body is used in the construction of the first heaven,
there will be nothing left for the creation of a second or a third. Here we
see what those imagine who put under the Creator’s hand uncreated matter; a
lie that follows from the first fable. But we ask the Greek sages not to
mock us before they are agreed among themselves. Because there are among
them some who say there are infinite heavens and worlds.(1) When grave
demonstrations shall have upset their foolish system, when the laws of
geometry shall have established that, according to the nature of heaven, it
is impossible that there should be two, we shall only laugh the more at
this elaborate scientific trifling. These learned men see not merely one
bubble but several bubbles formed by the same cause, and they doubt the
power of creative wisdom to bring several heavens into being! We find,
however, if we raise our eyes towards the omnipotence of God, that the
strength and grandeur of the heavens differ from the drops of water
bubbling on the surface of a fountain. How ridiculous, then, is their
argument of impossibility! As for myself, far from not believing in a
second, I seek for the third whereon the blessed Paul was found  worthy to
gaze.(2) And does not the Psalmist in saying “heaven of heavens”(3) give us
an idea of their plurality? Is the plurality of heaven stranger than the
seven circles through which nearly all the philosophers agree that the
seven planets pass,–circles which they represent to us as placed in
connection with each other like casks fitting the one into the other? These
circles, they say, carried away in a direction contrary to that of the
world, and striking the rather, make sweet and harmonious sounds,
unequalled by the sweetest melody.(4) And if we ask them for the witness of
the senses, what do they say? That we, accustomed to this noise from our
birth, on account of hearing it always, have lost the sense of it; like
then in smithies with their ears incessantly dinned. If I refuted this
ingenious frivolity, the untruth of which is evident from the first word,
it would seem as though I did not know the value of time. and mistrusted
the intelligence of such an audience.

But let me leave the vanity of outsiders to those who are without, and
return to the theme proper to the Church. If we believe some of those who
have preceded us, we have not here the creation of a new heaven, but a new
account of the first. The reason they give is, that the earlier narrative
briefly described the creation of heaven and earth; while here scripture
relates in greater detail the manner in which each was created. I, however,
since Scripture gives to this second heaven another name and its own
function, maintain that it is different from the heaven which was made at
the beginning; that it is of a stronger nature and of an especial use to
the universe.

4. “And God said, let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters,
and let it divide the waters front the waters. And God made the firmament,
and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which
were above the firmament.” (1) Before laying hold of the meaning of
Scripture let us try to meet objections from other quarters. We are asked
how, if the firmament is a spherical body, as it appears to the eye, its
convex circumference can contain the water which flows and circulates in
higher regions? What shall we answer? One thing only: because the interior
of a body presents a perfect concavity it does not necessarily follow that
its exterior surface is spherical and smoothly rounded. Look at the stone
vaults of baths, and the structure of buildings of cave form; the dome,
which forms the interior, does not prevent the roof from having ordinarily
a flat surface. Let these unfortunate men cease, then, from tormenting us
and themselves about the impossibility of our retaining water in the higher
regions.

Now we must say something about the nature of the firmament, and why it
received I the order to hold the middle place between the  waters.
Scripture constantly makes use of the word firmament to express
extraordinary strength. “The Lord in firmament and refuge”(2)”I have
strengthened the pillars of it”(3) “Praise him in the firmament of his
power.”(1) The heathen writers thus call a strong body one which is compact
and full,(2) to distinguish it from the mathematical body. A mathematical
body is a body which exists only in the three dimensions, breadths depth,
and height. A firm body, on the contrary, adds resistance to the
dimensions. It is the custom of Scripture to call firmament all that is
strong and unyielding. It even uses the word to denote the condensation of
the air: He, it says, who strengthens the thunder.(3) Scripture means by
the strengthening of the thunder, the strength and resistance of the wind,
which, enclosed in the hollows of the clouds, produces the noise of thunder
when it breaks through with violence.(4) Here then, according to me, is a
firm substance, capable of retaining the fluid and unstable element water;
and as, according to the common acceptation, it appears that the firmament
owes its origin to water, we must not believe that it resembles frozen
water or any other matter produced by the filtration of water; as, for
example, rock crystal, which is said to owe its metamorphosis to excessive
congelation,(5) or the transparent stone(6) which forms in mines.(7) This
pellucid stone, if one finds it in its natural perfection, without cracks
inside, or the least spot of corruption, almost rivals the air in
clearness. We cannot compare the firmament to one of these substances. To
hold such an opinion about celestial bodies would be childish and foolish;
and although everything may be in everything, fire in earth, air in water,
anti of the other elements the one in the other; although none of those
which come under our senses are pure and without mixture, either with the
element which serves as a medium for it, or with that which is contrary to
it; I, nevertheless, dare not affirm that the firmament was formed of one
of these simple substances, or of a mixture of them, for I am taught by
Scripture not to allow my imagination to wander too far afield. But do not
let us forget to remark that, after these divine words “let there be a
firmament,” it is not said “and the firmament was reader” but, “and God
made the firmament, and divided the waters.”(1) Hear, O ye deaf! See, O ye
blind!–who, then, is deaf? He who does not hear this startling voice of
the Holy Spirit. Who is blind? He who does not see such clear proofs of the
Only begotten.(2) “Let there be a firmament.” It is the voice of the
primary and principal Cause. “And God made the firmament.” Here is a
witness to the active and creative power of God.

5. But let us continue our explanation: “Let it divide the waters froth
the waters.”(3) The mass of waters, which from all directions flowed over
the earth, and was suspended in the air, was infinite, so that there was no
proportion between it and the other elements. Thus, as it has been already
said, the abyss covered the earth. We give the reason for this abundance of
water. None of you assuredly will attack our opinion; not even those who
have the most cultivated minds, and whose piercing eye can penetrate this
perishable and fleeting nature; you will not accuse me of advancing
impossible or imaginary theories, nor will you ask me upon what foundation
the fluid clement rests. By the same reason which makes them attract the
earth, heavier than water, from the extremities of the world to suspend it
in the centre, they will grant us without doubt that it is due both to its
natural attraction downwards and its general equilibrium, that this immense
quantity of water rests motionless upon the earth.(4) Therefore the
prodigious mass of waters was spread around the earth; not in proportion
with it and infinitely larger, thanks to the foresight of the supreme
Artificer, Who, from the beginning, foresaw what was to come, and at the
first provided all for the future needs of the world. But what need was
there for this superabundance of water? The essence of fire is necessary
for the world, not only in the economy of earthly produce, but for the
completion of the universe; for it would be imperfect(5) if the most
powerful and the most vital of its elements were lacking.(1) Now fire and
water are hostile to and destructive of each other. Fire, if it is the
stronger, destroys water, and water, if in greater abundance, destroys
fire. As, therefore, it was necessary to avoid an open struggle between
these elements, so as not to bring about the dissolution of the universe by
the total disappearance of one or the other, the sovereign Disposer created
such a quantity of water that in spite of constant diminution from the
effects of fire, it could last until the time fixed for the destruction of
the world. He who planned all with weight and measure, He who, according to
the word of Job, knows the number of the drops of rain,(2) knew how long
His work would last, and for how much consumption of fire He ought to
allow. This is the reason of the abundance of water at the creation.
Further, there is no one so strange to life as to need to learn the reason
why fire is essential to the world. Not only all the arts which support
life, the art of weaving, that of shoemaking, of architecture, of
agriculture, have need of the help of fire, but the vegetation of trees,
the ripening of fruits, the breeding of land and water animals, and their
nourishment, all existed from heat from the beginning, and have been since
maintained by the action of heat. The creation of heat was then
indispensable for the formation and the preservation of beings, and the
abundance of waters was no less so in the presence of the constant and
inevitable consumption by fire.

6. Survey creation; you will see the power of heat reigning over all
that is born and perishes. On account of it comes all the water spread over
the earth, as well as that which is beyond our sight and is dispersed  in
the depths of the earth. On account of it are abundance of fountains,
springs or wells, courses of rivers, both mountain torrents and ever
flowing streams, for the storing of moisture in many and various
reservoirs. From the East, from the winter solstice flows the Indus, the
greatest river of the earth, according to geographers. From the middle of
the East proceed the Bactrus,(3) the Choaspes,(4) and the Araxes,(5) from
which the Tanais(6) detaches itself to fall into the Palus-Maeotis.(7) Add
to these the Phasis(8) which descends from Mount Caucasus, and countless
other rivers, which, from northern regions, flow into the Euxine Sea. From
the warm countries of the West, from the foot of the Pyrenees, arise the
Tartessus(1) and the Ister,(2) of which the one discharges itself into the
sea beyond the Pillars and the other, after flowing through Europe, fails
into Euxine Sea. Is there any need to enumerate those which the Ripaean
mountains(3) pour forth in the heart of Scythia, the Rhone,(4) and so many
other rivers, all navigable, which after having watered the countries of
the western Gauls and of Celts and of the neighbouring barbarians, flow
into the Western sea? And others from the higher regions of the South flow
through Ethiopia. to discharge themselves some into our sea, others into
inaccessible seas, the Aegon(5) the Nyses, the Chremetes,(6) and above all
the Nile, which is not of the character of a river when, like a sea, it
inundates Egypt. Thus the habitable part of our earth is surrounded by
water, linked together by vast seas and irrigated by countless perennial
rivers, thanks to the ineffable wisdom of Him Who ordered all to prevent
this rival clement to fire from being entirely destroyed.

However, a time will come, when all shall be consumed by fire; as
Isaiah says of the God of the universe in these words, “That saith to the
deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers.”(7) Reject then the foolish
wisdom of this world,(8) and receive with me the more simple but infallible
doctrine of truth.

7. Therefore we read: “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the
waters, and let it divide life waters front the waters.” have said what the
word firmament in Scripture means. It is not in reality a firm and solid
substance which has weight and resistance; this name would otherwise have
better suited the earth. But, as the substance of superincumbent bodies is
light, without consistency, and cannot be grasped by any one of our senses,
it is in comparison with these pure and imperceptible substances that the
firmament has received its name. Imagine a place fit to divide the
moisture, sending it, if pure and filtered, into higher regions, and making
it fall, if it is dense and earthy; to the end that by the gradual
withdrawal of the moist particles the same temperature may be preserved
from the beginning to the end. You do not believe in this prodigious
quantity of water; but you do not take into account the prodigious quantity
of heat, less considerable no doubt in bulk, but exceedingly powerful
nevertheless, if you consider it as destructive of moisture. It attracts
surrounding moisture, as the melon shows us, and consumes it as quickly
when attracted, as the flame of the lamp draws to it the fuel supplied by
the wick and burns it up. Who doubts that the rather is an ardent fire?(1)
If an impassable limit had not been assigned to it by the Creator, what
would prevent it from setting on fire and consuming all that is near it,
and absorbing sit the moisture from existing things? The aerial waters
which veil the heavens with vapours that are sent forth by rivers,
fountains, marshes, lakes, and seas, prevent the aether from invading and
burning up the universe. Thus we see even this sun, in the summer season,
dry up in a moment a damp and marshy country, and make it perfectly arid.
What has become of all the water? Let these masters of omniscience tell us.
Is it not plain to every one that it has risen in vapour, and has been
consumed by the heat of the sun? They say, none the less, that even the sun
is without heat. What time they lose in words! And see what proof they Jean
upon to resist what is perfectly plain. Its colour is white, and neither
reddish nor yellow. It is not then fiery by nature, and its heat results,
they say, from the velocity of its rotation.(2) What do they gain? That the
sun does not seem to absorb moisture? I do not, however, reject this
statement, although it is false, because it helps my argument. I said that
the consumption of heat required this prodigious quantity of water. That
the sun owes its heat to its nature, or that heat results from its action,
makes no difference, provided that it produces the same effects upon the
same matter. If you kindle fire by rubbing two pieces of wood together, or
if you light them by holding them to a flame, you will have absolutely the
same effect. Besides, we see that the great wisdom of Him who governs all,
makes the sun travel from one region to another, for fear that, if it
remained always in the same place, its excessive heat would destroy the
order of the universe. Now it passes into southern regions about the time
of the winter solstice, now it returns to the sign of the equinox; from
thence it betakes itself to northern regions during the summer solstice,
and keeps up by this imperceptible passage a pleasant temperature
throughout all the world.

Let the learned people see if they do not disagree among themselves.
The water which the sun consumes is, they say, what prevents the sea from
rising and flooding the rivers; the warmth of the sun leaves behind the
salts and the bitterness of the waters, and absorbs from them the pure and
drinkable particles,(1) thanks to the singular virtue of this planet in
attracting all that is light and in allowing to fall, like mud and
sediment, all which is thick and earthy. From thence come the bitterness,
the salt taste and the power of withering and drying up which are
characteristic of the sea. While as is notorious, they hold these views,
they shift their ground and say that moisture cannot be lessened by the
sun.(2)

8. “And God called the firmament heaven.”(3) The nature of right
belongs to another, and the firmament only shares it on account of its
resemblance to heaven. We often find the visible region called heaven, on
account of the density and continuity of the air within our ken, and
deriving its name “heaven” from the word which means to see.(4) It is of it
that Scripture says, “The fowl of the air,”(5) “Fowl that may fly . . . in
the open firmament of heave;”(6) and, elsewhere, “They mount up to
heaven.”(7) Moses, blessing the tribe of Joseph, desires for it the fruits
and the dews of heaven, of the suns of summer and the conjunctions of the
moon, and blessings from the tops of the mountains and from the everlasting
hills,”(8) in one word, from all which fertilises the earth. In the curses
on Israel it is said, “And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be
brass.”(1) What does this mean? It threatens him with a complete drought,
with an absence of the aerial waters which cause the fruits of the earth to
be brought forth and to grow.

Since, then, Scripture says that the dew or the rain fails from heaven,
we understand that it is from those waters which have been ordered to
occupy the higher regions. When the exhalations from the earth, gathered
together in the heights of the air, are condensed under the pressure of the
wind, this aerial moisture diffuses itself in vaporous and light clouds;
then mingling again, it forms drops which fall, dragged down by their own
weight; and this is the origin of rain. When water beaten by the violence
of the wind, changes into foam, and passing through excessive cold quite
freezes, it breaks the cloud, and falls as snow.(2) Yon can thus account
for all the moist substances that the air suspends over our heads.

And do not let any one compare with the inquisitive discussions of
philosophers upon the heavens, the simple and inartificial character of the
utterances of the Spirit; as the beauty of chaste women surpasses that of a
harlot,(3) so our arguments are superior to those of our opponents. They
only seek to persuade by forced reasoning. With us truth presents itself
naked anti without artifice. But why torment ourselves to refute the errors
of philosophers, when it is sufficient to produce their mutually
contradictory books, and, as quiet spectators, to watch the war?(4) For
those thinkers are not less numerous, nor less celebrated, nor more sober
in speech in fighting their adversaries, who say that the universe is being
consumed by fire, and that from the seeds which remain in the ashes of the
burnt world all is being brought to life again. Hence in the world there is
destruction and palingenesis to infinity.(5) All, equally far from the
truth, find each on their side by-ways which lead them to error.

9. But as far as concerns the separation of the waters I am obliged to
contest the opinion of certain writers in the Church(1) who, under the
shadow of high and sublime conceptions, have launched out into metaphor,
and have only seen in the waters a figure to denote spiritual and
incorporeal powers. In the higher regions, above the firmament, dwell the
better; in the lower regions, earth and matter are the dwelling place of
the malignant. So, say they, God is praised by the waters that are above
the heaven, that is to say, by the good powers, the purity of whose soul
makes them worthy to sing the praises of God. And the waters which are
under the heaven represent the wicked spirits, who from their natural
height have fallen into the abyss of evil. Turbulent, seditious, agitated
by the tumultuous waves of passion, they have received the name of sea,
because of the instability and the inconstancy of their movements.(2) Let
us reject these theories as dreams and old women’s tales. Let us understand
that by water water is meant; for the dividing of the waters by the
firmament let us accept the reason which has been given us. Although,
however, waters above the heaven are invited to give glory to the Lord of
the Universe, do not let us think of them as intelligent beings; the
heavens are not alive because they “declare the glory of God,” nor the
firmament a sensible being because it “sheweth His handiwork.”(3) And if
they tell you that the heavens mean contemplative powers, anti the
firmament active powers which produce good, we admire the theory as
ingenious without being able to  acknowledge the truth of it. For thus dew,
the frost, cold and heat, which in Daniel are ordered to praise the Creator
of all things,(4) will be intelligent and invisible natures. But this is
only a figure, accepted as such by enlightened minds, to complete the glory
of the Creator. Besides, the waters above the heavens, these waters
privileged by the virtue which they possess in themselves, are not the only
waters to celebrate the praises of God. “Praise the Lord from the earth, ye
dragons and all deeps.”(5) s Thus the singer of the Psalms does not reject
the deeps which our inventors of allegories rank in the divisions of evil;
he admits them to the universal choir of creation, and the deeps sing in
their language a harmonious hymn to the glory of the Creator.

10. “And God saw that it was good.”  God does not judge of the beauty
of His work  by the charm of the eyes, and He does not form the same idea
of beauty that we do. What He esteems beautiful is that which presents in
its perfection all the fitness(1) of art, and that which tends to the
usefulness of its end. He, then, who proposed to Himself a manifest design
in His works, approved each one of them, as fulfilling its end in
accordance with His creative purpose. A hand, an eye, or any portion of a
statue lying  apart from the rest, would look beautiful to no one. But if
each be restored to its own place, the beauty of proportion, until now
almost unperceived, would strike even the most uncultivated. But the
artist, before uniting the parts of his work, distinguishes and recognises
the beauty of each of them, thinking of the object that he has in view. It
is thus that Scripture depicts to us the Supreme Artist, praising each one
of His works; soon. when His work is complete, He will accord well deserved
praise to the whole together. Let me here end my discourse on the second
day, to allow my industrious hearers to examine what they have just heard.
May their memory retain it for the profit of their soul; may they by
careful meditation inwardly digest and benefit by what I say. As for those
who live by their work, let me allow them to attend all day to their
business, so that they may come, with a soul free from anxiety, to the
banquet of my discourse in the evening. May God who, after having made such
great things, put such weak words in my mouth, grant you the intelligence
of His truth, so that you may raise yourselves from visible things to the
invisible Being, and that the grandeur and beauty of creatures may give you
a just idea of the Creator. For the visible things of Him from the creation
of the world are clearly seen, and His power and divinity are eternal.(2)
Thus earth, air, sky, water, day, night, all visible things, remind us of
who is our Benefactor. We shall not therefore give occasion to sin, we
shall not give place to the enemy within us, if by unbroken recollection we
keep God ever dwelling in our hearts, to Whom be all glory and all
adoration, now and for ever, world without end. Amen.

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