HOMILY IV: Upon the gathering together of the waters.

1. THERE are towns where the inhabitants, from dawn to eve, feast their
eyes on the tricks of innumerable conjurors. They are never tired of
hearing dissolute songs which cause much impurity to spring up in their
souls, and they are often called happy, because they neglect the cares of
business and trades useful to life, and pass the time, which is assigned to
them on this earth, in idleness and pleasure. They do not know that a
theatre full of impure sights is, for those who sit there, a common school
of vice; that these melodious and meretricious songs insinuate themselves
into men’s souls, and all who hear them, eager to imitate the notes(1) of
harpers and pipers, are filled with  filthiness.(2) Some others, who are
wild after horses, think they are backing their horses in their dreams;
they harness their chariots change their drivers, and even in sleep are not
free from the folly of the day.(3) And shall we, whom the Lord, the great
worker of marvels, calls to the contemplation of His own works, tire of
looking at them, or be slow to hear the words of the Holy Spirit? Shall we
not rather stand around the vast and varied workshop of divine creation
and, carried back in mind to the times of old, shall we not view all the
order of creation? Heaven, poised like a dome, to quote the words of the
prophet;(4) earth, this immense mass which rests upon itself; the air
around it, of a soft and fluid nature, a true and continual nourishment for
all who breathe it, of such tenuity that it yields and opens at the least
movement of the body, opposing no resistance to our motions, while, in a
moment, it streams back to its place, behind those who cleave it; water,
finally, that supplies drink for man, or may be designed for our other
needs, and the marvellous gathering together of it into definite places
which have been assigned to it: such is the spectacle which the words which
I have just read will show you.

2. “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together
unto one place, and let the dry land appear, and it was so.” And the water
which was under the heaven gathered together unto one place; ” And God
called the dry land earth and the gathering together of the waters called
He seas.”(1) What trouble you have given me in my previous discourses by
asking me why the earth was invisible, why all bodies are naturally endued
with colour, and why all colour comes under the sense of sight. And,
perhaps, my reason did not appear sufficient to you, when I said that the
earth, without being naturally invisible, was so to us, because of the mass
of water that entirely covered it. Hear then how Scripture explains itself.
“Let the waters be gathered together, and let the dry land appear.” The
veil is lifted and allows the earth, hitherto invisible, to be seen.
Perhaps you will ask me new questions. And first, is it not a law of nature
that water flows downwards?  Why, then, does Scripture refer this to the
fiat of the Creator? As long as water is spread over a level surface, it
does not flow; it is immovable. But when it finds any slope, immediately
the foremost portion falls, then the one that follows takes its place, and
that one is itself replaced by a third. Thus incessantly they flow,
pressing the one on the other, and the rapidity of their course is in
proportion to the mass of water that is being carried, and the declivity
down which it is borne. If such is the nature of water, it was
supererogatory to command it to gather into one place. It was bound, on
account of its natural instability, to fall into the most hollow part of
the earth and not to stop until the levelling of its surface. We see how
there is nothing so level as the surface of water. Besides, they add, how
did the waters receive an order to gather into one place, when we see
several seas, separated from each other by the greatest distances? To the
first question I reply: Since God’s command, you know perfectly well the
motion of water; you know that it is unsteady and unstable and fails
naturally  over declivities and into hollow places. But what was its nature
before this command made it take its course? You do not know yourself, an I
you have heard from no eye-witness. Think, in reality, that a word of God
makes the nature, and that this order is for the creature a direction for
its future course. There was only one creation of day and night, and since
that moment they have incessantly succeeded each other and divided time
into equal parts.

3. “Let the waters be gathered together.” It was ordered that it should be
the natural property of water to flow, and in obedience to this order, the
waters are never weary in their course. In speaking thus, I have only in
view the flowing property of waters. Some flow of their own accord like
springs and rivers, others are collected and stationary. But I speak now of
flowing waters. “Let the waters be gathered together unto one place.” Have
you never thought, when standing nears spring which is sending forth water
abundantly, Who makes this water spring from the bowels of the earth? Who
forced it up? Where are the store-houses which send it forth? To what place
is it hastening? How is it that it is never exhausted here, and never
overflows there? All this comes from that first command; it was for the
waters a signal for their course.

In all the story of the waters remember this first order, “let the
waters be gathered together.” To take their assigned places they were
obliged to flow, and, once arrived there, to remain in their place and not
to go farther. Thus in the language of Ecclesiastes, “All the waters run
into the sea; yet the sea is notful.”(1) Waters flow in virtue of God’s
order, and the sea is enclosed in limits according to this first law, “Let
the waters be gathered together unto one place.” For fear the water should
spread beyond its bed, and in its successive invasions cover one by one all
countries, and end by flooding the whole earth, it received the order to
gather unto one place. Thus we often see the furious sea raising mighty
waves to the heaven, and, when once it has touched the shore, break its
impetuosity in foam and retire. “Fear ye not me, saith the Lord. … which
have placed the sand for the bound of the sea.”(2) A grain of sand, the
weakest tiring possible, curbs the violence of the ocean. For what would
prevent the Red Sea from invading the whole of Egypt, which lies lower, and
uniting itself to the other sea which bathes its shores, were it not
lettered by the fiat of the Creator? And if I say that Egypt is lower than
the Red Sea, it is because experience has convinced us of it every time
that an attempt  has been made to join the sea of Egypt(3) to the Indian
Ocean, of which the Red Sea is a part.(4) Thus we have renounced this
enterprise, as also have the Egyptian Sesostris, who conceived the idea,
and Darius the Mede who afterwards wished to carry it out.(5)

I report this fact to make you understand the full force of the
command, “Let the waters be gathered unto one place”; that is to say, let
there be no other gathering, and, once gathered, let them not disperse.

4. To say that the waters were gathered in one place indicates that
previously they were scattered in many places. The mountains, intersected
by deep ravines, accumulated water in their valleys, when from every
direction the waters betook themselves to the one gathering place. What
vast plains, in their extent resembling wide seas, what valleys, what
cavities hollowed in many different ways, at that time full of water, must
have been emptied by the command of God! But we must not therefore say,
that if the water covered the face of the earth, all the basins which have
since received the sea were originally full. Where can the gathering of the
waters have come from if the basins were already full? These basins, we
reply, were only prepared at the moment when the water had to unite in a
single mass. At that time the sea which is beyond Gadeira(1) and the vast
ocean, so dreaded by navigators, which surrounds the isle of Britain and
western Spain, did not exist. But, all of a sudden, God created this vast
space, and the mass of waters flowed in.

Now if our explanation of the creation of the world may appear contrary
to experience, (because it is evident that all the waters did not flow
together in one place,) many answers may be made, all obvious as soon as
they are stated. Perhaps it is even ridiculous to reply to such objections.
Ought they to bring forward in opposition ponds and accumulations of rain
water, and think that this is enough to upset our reasonings? Evidently the
chief and most complete affluence of the waters was what received the name
of gathering unto one place. For wells are also gathering places for water,
made by the hand of man to receive the moisture diffused in the hollow of
the earth. This name of gathering does not mean any chance massing of
water, but the greatest and most important one, wherein the element is
shewn collected together. In the same way that fire, in spite of its being
divided into minute particles which are sufficient for our needs here, is
spread in a mass in the rather; in the same way that air, in spite of a
like minute division, has occupied the region round the earth; so also
water, in spite of the small amount spread abroad everywhere, only forms
one gathering together, that which separates the whole element from the
rest. Without doubt the lakes as well those of the northern regions and
those that are to be found in Greece, in Macedonia, in Bithynia and in
Palestine, are gatherings together of waters; but here it means the
greatest of all, that gathering the extent of which equals that of the
earth. The first contain a great quantity of water; no one will deny this.
Nevertheless no one could reasonably give them the name of seas not even if
they are like the great sea, charged with salt and sand. They instance for
example, the Lacus Asphaltitis in Judaea, and the Serbonian lake which
extends between Egypt and Palestine in the Arabian desert. These are lakes,
and there is only one sea, as those affirm who have travelled round the
earth. Although some authorities think the Hyrcanian and Caspian Seas are
enclosed in their own boundaries, if we are to believe the geographers,
they communicate with each other and together discharge themselves into the
Great Sea.(1) It is thus that, according to their account, the Red Sea and
that beyond Gadeira only form one. Then why did God call the different
masses of water seas? This is the reason; the waters flowed into one place,
and their different accumulations, that is to say, the gulfs that the earth
embraced in her folds, received from the Lord the name of seas: North Sea,
South Sea, Eastern Sea, and Western Sea. The seas have even their own
names, the Euxine, the Propontis, the Hellespont, the AEgean, the Ionian,
the Sardinian, the Sicilian, the Tyrrhene, and many other names of which an
exact enumeration would now be too long, and quite out of place. See why
God calls the gathering together of waters seas. But let us return to the
point from which the course of my argument has diverted me.

5. And God said: “Let the waters be gathered together unto one place
and let the dry land appear.” He did not say let the earth appear, so as
not to show itself again without form, mud-like, and in combination with
the water, nor yet endued with proper form and virtue. At the same time,
lest we should attribute the drying of the earth to the sun, the Creator
shows it to us dried before the creation of the sun. Let us follow the
thought Scripture gives us. Not only the water which was covering the earth
flowed off from it, but all that which had filtered into its depths
withdrew in obedience to the irresistible order of the sovereign Master.
And it was so. This is quite  enough to show that the Creator’s voice had
effect: however, in several editions, there is added “And the water which
was under   the heavens gathered itself unto one place and the dry land was
seen;” words that other interpreters have not given, and which do not
appear conformable to Hebrew usage. In fact, after the assertion, “and it
was so,” it is superfluous to repeat exactly the same thing. In accurate
copies these words are marked with an obelus,(1) which is the sign of
rejection.

“And God called the dry land earth; and the gathering together of the
waters called He seas.”(2) Why does Scripture say above that the waters
were gathered together unto one place, and that the dry earth appeared? Why
does it add here the dry land appeared, and God gave it the name of earth?
It is that dryness is the property which appears to characterize the nature
of the subject, whilst the word earth is only its simple name. Just as
reason is the distinctive faculty of man, and the word man serves to
designate the being gifted with this faculty, so dryness is the special and
peculiar quality of the earth. The element essentially dry receives
therefore the name of earth, as the animal who has a neigh for a
characteristic cry is called a horse. The other elements, like the earth,
have received some peculiar property which distinguishes them from the
rest, and makes them known for what they are. Thus water has cold for its
distinguishing property; air, moisture; fire, heat. But this theory really
applies only to the primitive elements of the world. The elements which
contribute to the formation of bodies, and come under our senses, show us
these qualities in combination, and in the whole of nature our eyes and
senses can find nothing which is completely singular, simple and pure.
Earth is at the same time dry and cold; water, cold and moist; air, moist
and warm; fire, warm and dry. It is by the combination of their qualities
that the different elements can mingle. Thanks to a common quality each of
them mixes with a neighbouring element, and this natural alliance attaches
it to the contrary element. For example, earth, which is at the same time
dry and cold, finds in cold a relationship which unites it to water, and by
the means of water unites itself to air. Water placed between the two,
appears to give each a hand, and, on account of its double quality, allies
itself to earth by cold and to air by moisture. Air, in its turn, takes the
middle place and plays the part of a mediator between the inimical natures
of water and fire, united to the first by moisture, and to the second by
heat. Finally tire, of a nature at the same time warm and dry, is linked to
air by warmth, and by its dryness reunites itself to the earth. And from
this accord and from this mutual mixture of elements, results a circle and
an harmonious choir whence each of the elements deserves its name. I have
said this in order to explain why God has given to the dry land the name of
earth, without however calling the earth dry. It is because dryness is not
one of those qualities which the earth acquired afterwards, but one of
those which constituted its essence from the beginning. Now that which
causes a body to exist, is naturally antecedent to its posterior qualities
and has a pre-eminence over them. It is then with reason that God chose the
most ancient characteristic of the earth whereby to designate it.

6. “And God saw that it was good.”(1) Scripture does not merely wish to
say that a pleasing aspect of the sea presented itself to God. It is not
with eyes that the Creator views the beauty of His works. He contemplates
them in His ineffable wisdom. A fair sight is the sea all bright in a
settled calm; fair too, when, ruffled by a light breeze of wind, its
surface shows tints of purple and azure,–when, instead of lashing with
violence the neighbouring shores, it seems to kiss them with peaceful
caresses. However, it is not in this that Scripture makes God find the
goodness and charm of the sea. Here it is the purpose of the work which
makes the goodness.

In the first place sea water is the source of all the moisture of the
earth. It filters through imperceptible conduits, as is proved by the
subterranean openings and caves whither its waves penetrate; it is received
in oblique and sinuous canals; then, driven out by the wind, it rises to
the surface of the earth, and breaks it, having become drinkable and free
from its bitterness by this long percolation. Often, moved by the same
cause, it springs even from mines that it has crossed, deriving warmth from
them, and rises boiling, and bursts forth of a burning heat, as may be seen
in islands and on the sea coast; even inland in certain places, in the
neighbourhood of rivers, to compare little things with great, almost the
same phenomena occur. To what do these words tend? To prove that the earth
is all undermined with invisible conduits, where the water travels
everywhere underground from the sources of the sea.

7. Thus, in the eyes of God, the sea is good, because it makes the
under current of moisture in the depths of the earth. It is good again,
because from all sides it receives the rivers without exceeding its limits.
It is good, because it is the origin and source of the waters in the air.
Warmed by the rays of the sun, it escapes in vapour, is attracted into the
high regions of the air, and is there cooled on account of its rising high
above the refraction of the rays from the ground, and, the shade of the
clouds adding to this refrigeration, it is changed into rain and fattens
the earth. If people are incredulous, let them look at caldrons on the
fire, which, though full of water, are often left empty because all the
water is boiled and resolved into vapour. Sailors, too, boil even sea
water, collecting the vapour in sponges, to quench their thirst in pressing
need.

Finally the sea is good in the eyes of God, because it girdles the
isles, of which it forms at the same time the rampart and the beauty,
because it brings together the most distant parts of the earth, and
facilitates the inter-communication of mariners. By this means it gives us
the boon of general information, supplies the merchant with his wealth, and
easily provides for the necessities of life, allowing the rich to export
their superfluities, and blessing the poor with the supply of what they
lack.

But whence do I perceive the goodness of the Ocean, as it appeared in
the eyes of the Creator? If the Ocean is good and worthy of praise before
God, how much more beautiful is the assembly of a Church like this, where
the voices of men, of children, and of women, arise in our prayers to God
mingling and resounding like the waves which beat upon the shore. This
Church also enjoys a profound calm, and malicious spirits cannot trouble it
with the breath of heresy. Deserve, then, the approbation of the Lord by
remaining faithful to such good guidance, in our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom
be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

Advertisements