HOMILY V: The Germination of the Earth.

1. “And God said Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding
seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in
itself.”(1) It was deep wisdom that commanded the earth, when it rested
after discharging the weight of the waters, first to bring forth grass,
then wood as we see it doing still at this time. For the voice that was
then heard and this command were as a natural and permanent law for it; it
gave fertility and the power to produce fruit for all ages to come; “Let
the earth bring forth.” The production of vegetables shows first
germination. When the germs begin to sprout they form grass; this develops
and becomes a plant, which insensibly receives its different articulations,
and reaches its  maturity in the seed. Thus all things which sprout and are
green are developed. “Let the earth bring forth green grass.” Let the earth
bring forth by itself without having any need of help from without. Some
consider the sun as the source of all productiveness on the earth. It is,
they say, the action of the sun’s heat which attracts the vital force from
the centre of the earth to the surface. The reason why the adornment of the
earth was before the sun is the following; that those who worship the sun,
as the source of life, may renounce their error. If they be well persuaded
that the earth was adorned before the genesis of the sun, they will retract
their unbounded admiration for it, because they see grass and plants
vegetate before it rose.(2) If then the food for the flocks was prepared,
did our race appear less worthy of a like solicitude? He, who provided
pasture for horses and cattle, thought before all of your riches and
pleasures. If he fed your cattle, it was to provide for all the needs of
your life. And what object was there in the bringing forth of grain, if not
for your subsistence? Moreover, many grasses and vegetables serve for the
food of man.

2. “Let the earth bring forth grass yielding seed after his kind.” So
that although some kind of grass is of service to animals, even their gain
is our gain too, and seeds are especially designed for our use. Such is the
true meaning of the words that I have i quoted. “Let the earth bring forth
grass, the herb yielding seed after his kind.” this manner we can re-
establish the order of the words, of which the construction seems faulty in
the actual version, and the economy of nature will be rigorously observed.
In fact, first comes germination, then verdure, then the growth of the
plant, which alter having attained its full growth arrives at perfection in
seed.

How then, they say, can Scripture describe all the plants of the earth
as seed-bearing, when the reed, couch-grass,(1) mint, crocus, garlic, and
the flowering rush and countless other species, produce no seed? To this we
reply that many vegetables have their seminal virtue in the lower part and
in the roots. The need, for example, after its annual growth sends forth a
protuberance from its roots, which takes the place of seed for future
trees. Numbers of other vegetables are the same and all over the earth
reproduce by the roots. Nothing then is truer than that each plant produces
its seed or contains some seminal virtue; this is what is meant by “after
its kind.” So that the shoot of a reed does not produce an olive tree, but
from a reed grows another reed, and from one sort of seed a plant of the
same sort always germinates. Thus, all which sprang from the earth, in its
first bringing forth, is kept the same to our time, thanks to the constant
reproduction of kind.(2)

“Let the earth bring forth.” See how, at this short word, at this brief
command, the cold and sterile earth travailed and hastened to bring forth
its fruit, as it east away its sad and dismal covering to clothe itself in
a more brilliant robe, proud of its proper adornment and displaying the
infinite variety of plants.

I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that
everywhere, wherever you may be, the least plant may bring to yon the clear
remembrance of the Creator. If you see the grass of the fields, think of
human nature, and remember the comparison of the wise Isaiah. “All flesh is
grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field.” Truly
the rapid flow of life, the short gratification and pleasure that an
instant of happiness gives a man, all wonderfully suit the comparison of
the prophet. To-day he is vigorous in body, fattened by luxury, and in the
prime of life, with complexion fair like the flowers, strong and powerful
and of irresistible energy; tomorrow and he will be an object of pity,
withered by age or exhausted by sickness. Another shines in all the
splendour of a brilliant fortune. and around him are a multitude of
flatterers, an escort of false friends on the track of his good graces; a
crowd of kinsfolk, but of no true kin; a swarm Of servants who crowd after
him to provide for his food and for all his needs; and in his comings and
goings this innumerable suite, which he drags after him, excites the envy
of all whom he meets. To fortune may be added power in the State, honours
bestowed by the imperial throne, the government of a province, or the
command of armies; a herald who precedes him is crying in a loud voice;
lictors right and left also fill his subjects with awe, blows,
confiscations, banishments, imprisonments, and all the means by which he
strikes intolerable terror into all whom he has to rule. And what then? One
night, a fever, a pleurisy, or an inflammation of the lungs, snatches away
this man from the midst of men, stripped in a moment of all his stage
accessories, and all this, his glory, is proved a mere dream. Therefore the
Prophet has compared human glory to the weakest flower.

3. Up to this point, the order in which plants shoot bears witness to
their first arrangement. Every herb, every plant proceeds from a germ. If,
like the couch-grass and the crocus, it throws out a shoot from its root
and from this lower protuberance, it must always germinate and start
outwards. If it proceeds from a seed, there is still, by necessity, first a
germ, then the sprout, theft green foliage, and finally the fruit which
ripens upon a stalk hitherto dry and thick. “Let the earth bring forth
grass.” When the seed falls into the earth, which contains the right
combination of heat and moisture, it swells and becomes porous, and,
grasping the surrounding earth, attracts to itself all that is  suitable
for it and that has affinity to it. These particles of earth, however small
they may be, as they fall and insinuate themselves into all the pores of
the seed, broaden its bulk and make it send forth roots below, and shoot
upwards, sending forth stalks no less numerous than the roots. As the germ
is always growing warm, the moisture, pumped up through the roots, and
helped by the attraction of heat, draws a proper amount of nourishment from
the soil, and distributes it to the stem, to the bark, to the husk, to the
steel itself and to the beards with which it is armed. It is owing to these
successive accretions that each plant attains its natural development, as
well corn as vegetables, herbs or brushwood. A single plant, a blade of
grass is sufficient to occupy all your intelligence in the contemplation of
the skill which produced it.(1) Why is the wheat stalk better with
joints?(2) Are they not like fastenings, which help it to bear easily the
weight of the ear, when it is swollen with fruit and bends towards the
earth? Thus, whilst oats, which have no weight to bear at the top, are
without these supports, nature has provided them for wheat. It has hidden
the grain in a case, so that it may not be exposed to birds’ pillage, and
has furnished it with a rampart of barbs, which, like darts, protect it
against the attacks of tiny creatures.

4. What shall I say? What shall I leave unsaid? In the rich treasures
of creation it is difficult to select what is most precious; the loss of
what is omitted is too severe. “Let the earth bring forth grass;” and
instantly, with useful plants, appear noxious plants; with corn, hemlock;
with the other nutritious plants, hellebore, monkshood, mandrake and the
juice of the poppy. What then? Shall we show no gratitude for so many
beneficial gifts, and reproach the Creator for those which may be harmful
to our life? And shall we not reflect that all has not been created in view
of the wants of our bellies? The nourishing plants, which are destined for
our use, are close at hand, and known by all the world. But in creation
nothing exists without a reason. The blood of the bull is a poison:(3)
ought this animal then, whose strength is so serviceable to man, not to
have been created, or, if created, to have been bloodless? But you have
sense enough in yourself to keep you free froth deadly things. What! Sheep
and goats know how to turn away from what threatens their life, discerning
danger by instinct alone: and you, who have reason and the art of medicine
to supply what you need, and the experience of your forebears to tell you
to avoid all that is dangerous, you tell me that you find it difficult to
keep yourself from poisons! But not a single thing has been created without
reason, not a single thing is useless. One serves as food to some animal;
medicine has found in another a relief for  one of our maladies. Thus the
starling eats hemlock, its constitution rendering it insusceptible to the
action of the poison. Thanks to the tenuity of the pores of its heart, the
malignant juice is on sooner swallowed than it is digested, before its
chill can attack the vital parts.(1) The quail, thanks to its peculiar
temperament, whereby it escapes the dangerous effects, feeds on hellebore.
There are even circumstances where poisons are useful to men; with
mandrake(2) doctors give us sleep; with opium they lull violent pain.
Hemlock has ere now been used to appease the rage of unruly diseases; (3)
and many times hellebore has taken away long standing disease.(4) These
plants, then, instead of making you accuse the Creator, give you a new
subject for gratitude.

5. “Let the earth bring forth grass.” What spontaneous provision is
included in these words,–that which is present in the root, in the plant
itself, and in the fruit, as well as that which our labour and husbandry
add! God did not command the earth immediately to give forth seed and
fruit, but to produce germs, to grow green, and to arrive at maturity in
the seed; so that this first command teaches nature what she has to do in
the course of ages. But, they ask, is it true that the earth produces seed
after his kind, when often, after having sown wheat, we gather black grain?
This is not a change of kind, but an alteration, a disease of the grain. It
has not ceased to be wheat; it is on account of having been burnt that it
is black, as one can learn from its name.(5) If a severe frost had burnt
it,(6) it would have had another colour and a different flavour. They even
pretend that, if it could find suitable earth and moderate temperature, it
might return to its first form. Thus, you find nothing in nature contrary
to the divine command. As to the darnel and all those bastard grains which
mix themselves with the harvest, the tares of Scripture, far from being a
variety of corn, have their own origin and their own kind; image of those
who alter the doctrine of the Lord and, not being rightly instructed in the
word, but, corrupted by the teaching of the evil one, mix themselves with
the sound body of the Church to spread their pernicious errors secretly
among purer souls. The Lord thus compares the perfection of those who
believe in Him to the growth of seed, “as if a man should cast seed into
the ground; and should sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed should
spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit
of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the
ear.”(1) “Let the earth bring forth grass.” In a moment earth began by
germination to obey the laws of the Creator, completed every stage of
growth, and brought germs to perfection. The meadows were covered with deep
grass, the fertile plains quivered(2) with harvests, and the movement of
the corn was like the waving of the sea. Every plant, every herb, the
smallest shrub, the least vegetable, arose from the earth in all its
luxuriance. There was no failure in this first vegetation: no husbandman’s
inexperience, no inclemency of the weather, nothing could injure it; then
the sentence of condemnation was not fettering the earth’s fertility. All
this was before the sin which condemned us to eat our bread by the sweat of
our brow.

6. “Let the earth,” the Creator adds, “bring forth the fruit tree
yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself.”(3)

At this command every copse was thickly planted; all the trees, fir,
cedar, cypress, pine, rose to their greatest height, the shrubs were
straightway clothed with thick foliage.(4) The plants called crown-plants,
roses, myrtles, laurels, did not exist; in one moment they came into being,
each one with its distinctive peculiarities. Most marked differences
separated them from other plants, and each one was distinguished by a
character of its own. But then the rose was without thorns; since then the
thorn has been added to its beauty, to make us feel that sorrow is very
near to pleasure, and to remind us of our sin, which condemned the earth to
produce thorns(5) and caltrops. But, they say, the earth has received the
command to produce trees “yielding fruit whose seed was in itself,” and we
see many trees which have neither fruit, nor seed. What shall we reply?
First, that only the more important trees are mentioned; and then, that a
careful examination will show us that every tree has seed, or some property
which takes the place of it. The black poplar, the willow, the elm, the
white poplar, all the trees of this family, do not produce any apparent
fruit; however, an attentive observer finds seed in each of them. This
grain which is at the base of the leaf, and which those who busy themselves
with inventing words call mischos, has the property of seed. And there are
trees which reproduce by their branches, throwing out roots from them.
Perhaps we ought even to consider as seeds the saplings which spring from
the roots of a tree: for cultivators tear them out to multiply the species.
But, we have already said, it is chiefly a question of the trees which
contribute most to out life; which offer their various fruits to man and
provide him with plentiful nourishment. Such is the vine, which produces
wine to make glad the heart of man; such is the olive tree, whose fruit
brightens his face with oil. How many things in nature are combined in the
same plant! In a vine, roots, green and flexible branches, which spread
themselves far over the earth, buds, tendrils, bunches of sour grapes and
ripe grapes. The sight of a vine, when observed by an intelligent eye,
serves to remind you of your nature. Without doubt you remember the parable
where the Lord calls Himself a vine and His Father the husbandman, and
every one of us who are grafted by faith into the Church the branches. He
invites us to produce fruits in abundance, for fear lest our sterility
should condemn us to the fire.(1) He constantly compares our souls to
vines. “My well beloved,” says He, “hath a vineyard in a very fruitfull
hill,”(2) and elsewhere, I have “planted a vineyard and hedged it round
about.”(3) Evidently He calls human souls His vine, those souls whom He has
surrounded with the authority of His precepts and a guard of angels. “The
angel of the Lord encampeth round shout them that fear him.”(4) And
further: He has planted for us, so to say, props, in establishing in His
Church apostles, prophets, teachers;(5) and raising our thoughts by the
example of the blessed  in olden times, He has not allowed them to drag on
the earth and be crushed under foot. He wishes that the claspings of love,
like the tendrils of the vine, should attach us to our neighbours and make
us rest on them, so that, in our continual aspirations towards heaven, we
may imitate these vines, which raise themselves to the tops of the tallest
trees. He also asks us to allow ourselves to be dug about; and that is what
the soul does when it disembarrasses itself from the cares of the world,
which are a weight on our hearts. He, then, who is freed from carnal
affections and from the love of riches, and, far from being dazzled by
them, disdains and despises this miserable vain glory, is, so to say, dug
about and at length breathes, free from the useless weight of earthly
thoughts. Nor must we, in the spirit of the parable, put forth too much
wood, that is to say, live with ostentation, and gain the applause of the
world; we must bring forth fruits, keeping the proof of our works for the
husbandman. Be “like a green olive tree in the house of God,”(1) never
destitute of hope, but decked through faith with the bloom of salvation.
Thus you will resemble the eternal verdure of this plant and will rival it
in fruitfulness, if each clay sees you giving abundantly in alms.

7. But let us return to the examination of the ingenious contrivances
of creation. How many trees then arose, some to give us their fruits,
others to roof our houses, others to build our ships, others to feed our
fires! What a variety in the disposition of their several parts! And yet,
how difficult is it to find the distinctive property of each of them, and
to grasp the difference which separates them from other species. Some
strike deep roots, others do not; some shoot straight up and have only one
stem, others appear to love the earth and, from their root upwards, divide
into several shoots. Those whose long branches stretch up afar into the
air, have also deep roots which spread within a large circumference, a true
foundation placed by nature to support the weight of the tree. What variety
there is in bark! Some plants have smooth bark, others rough, some have
only one layer, others several. What a marvellous thing! You may find in
the youth and age of plants resemblances to those of man. Young and
vigorous, their bark is distended; when they grow old, it is rough and
wrinkled. Cut one, it sends forth new buds; the other remains henceforward
sterile and as if struck with a mortal wound. But further, it has been
observed that pines, cut down, or even submitted to the action of fire, are
changed into a forest of oaks.(3) We know besides that the industry of
agriculturists remedies the natural defects of certain trees. Thus the
sharp pomegranate and bitter almonds, if the trunk of the tree is pierced
near the root to introduce into the middle of the pith a fat plug of pine,
lose the acidity of their juice, and become delicious fruits.(1) Let not
the sinner then despair of himself, when he thinks, if agriculture can
change the juices of plants, the efforts of the soul to arrive at virtue,
can certainly triumph over all infirmities.

Now there is such a variety of fruits in fruit trees that it is beyond
all expression; a variety not only in the fruits of trees of different
families, but even in those of the same species, if it be true, as
gardeners say, that the sex of a tree influences the character of its
fruits. They distinguish male from female in palms; sometimes we see those
which they call female lower their branches, as though with passionate
desire. and invite the embraces of the male. Then, those who take care of
these plants shake over these palms the fertilizing dust from the male
palm-tree, the psen as they call it: the tree appears to share the
pleasures of enjoyment; then it raises its branches, and its foliage
resumes its usual form. The same is said of the fig tree. Some plant wild
fig trees near cultivated fig trees, and there are others who, to remedy
the weakness of the productive fig tree of our gardens, attach to the
branches unripe figs and so retain the fruit which had already begun to
drop and to be lost. What lesson does nature here give us? That we must
often borrow, even from those who are strangers to the faith, a certain
vigour to show forth good works. If you see outside the Church, in pagan
life, or in the midst of a pernicious heresy, the example of virtue and
fidelity to moral laws, redouble your efforts to resemble the productive
fig tree, who by the side of the wild fig tree, gains strength, prevents
the fruit from being shed, and nourishes it with more care.

8. Plants reproduce themselves in so many different ways, that we can
only touch upon the chief among them. As to fruits themselves, who could
review their varieties, their forms, their colours, the peculiar flavour,
and the use of each of them? Why do some fruits ripen when exposed bare to
the rays of the sun, while others fill out while encased in shells? Trees
of which the fruit is tender have, like the fig tree, a thick shade of
leaves; those, on the contrary, of which the fruits are stouter, like the
nut, are only covered by a light shade. The delicacy of the first requires
more care; if the latter had a thicker case, the shade of the leaves would
be harmful. Why is the vine leaf serrated, if not that the bunches of
grapes may at the same time resist the injuries of the air and receive
through the openings all the rays of the sun? Nothing has been done without
motive, nothing by chance. All shows ineffable wisdom.(1)

What discourse can touch all? Can the human mind make an exact review,
remark every distinctive property, exhibit all the differences, unveil with
certainty so many mysterious causes? The same water, pumped up through the
root, nourishes in a different way the root itself, the bark of the trunk,
the wood and the pith. It becomes leaf, it distributes itself among the
branches and twigs and makes the fruits swell — it gives to the plant its
gum and its sap. Who will explain to us the difference between all these?
There is a difference between the gum of the mastich and the juice of the
balsam, a difference between that which distils in Egypt arid Libya from
the fennel. Amber is, they say, the crystallized sap of plants. And for a
proof, see the bits of straws and little insects which have been caught in
the sap while still liquid and imprisoned there. In one word, no one
without long experience could find terms to express the virtue of it. How,
again, does this water become wine in the vine, and oil in the olive tree?
Yet what is marvellous is, not to see it become sweet in one fruit, fat and
unctuous in another, but to see in sweet fruits an inexpressible variety of
flavour. There is one sweetness of the grape, another of the apple, another
of the fig, another of the date. I shall willingly give you the
gratification of continuing this research. How is it that this same water
has sometimes a sweet taste, softened by its remaining in certain plants,
and at other times stings the palate because it has become acid by passing
through others? How is it, again, that it attains extreme bitterness, and
makes the mouth rough when it is found in wormwood and in scammony? That it
has in acorns and dogwood a sharp and rough flavour? That in the turpentine
tree and the walnut tree it is changed into a soft and oily matter?

9. But what need is there to continue. when in the same fig tree we
have the most opposite flavours, as bitter in the sap as it is sweet in the
fruit? And in the vine, is it not as sweet in the grapes as it is
astringent in the branches? And what a variety of colour! Look how in a
meadow this same water becomes red in one flower, purple in another, blue
in this one, white in that. And this diversity of colours, is it to be
compared to that of scents? But I perceive that an insatiable curiosity is
drawing out my discourse beyond its limits. If I do not stop and recall it
to the law of creation, day will fail me whilst making you see great wisdom
in small things.

“Let the earth bring forth the fruit tree yielding fruit.” Immediately
the tops of the mountains were covered with foliage: paradises were
artfully laid out, and an infinitude of plants embellished the banks of the
rivers. Some were for the adornment of man’s table; some to nourish animals
with their fruits and their leaves; some to provide medicinal help by
giving us their sap, their juice, their chips, their bark or their fruit.
In a word, the experience of ages, profiting from every chance, has not
been able to discover anything useful, which the penetrating foresight of
the Creator did not first perceive and call into existence. Therefore, when
you see the trees in our gardens, or those of the forest, those which love
the water or the land, those which bear flowers, or those which do not
flower, I should like to see you recognising grandeur even in small
objects, adding incessantly to your admiration of, and redoubling your love
for the Creator. Ask yourself why He has made some trees evergreen and
others deciduous; why, among the first, some lose their leaves, and others
always keep them. Thus the olive and the pine shed their leaves, although
they renew them insensibly and never appear to be despoiled of their
verdure. The palm tree, on the contrary, from its birth to its death, is
always adorned with the same foliage. Think again of the double life of the
tamarisk; it is an aquatic plant, and yet it covers the desert. Thus,
Jeremiah compares it to the worst of characters — the double character.(1)

10. “Let the earth bring forth.” This short command was in a moment a
vast nature, an elaborate system. Swifter than thought it produced the
countless qualities of plants. It is this command which, still at this day,
is imposed on the earth, and in the course of each year displays all the
strength of its power to produce herbs, seeds and trees. Like tops, which
after the first impulse, continue their evolutions, turning upon themselves
when once fixed in their centre; thus nature, receiving the impulse of this
first command, follows without interruption the course of ages, until the
consummation of all things.(1) Let us all hasten to attain to it, full of
fruit and of good works; and thus, planted in the house of the Lord we
shall flourish in the court of our God,(2) in our Lord Jesus Christ, to
whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

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