(Augustine, Confessions. part 20)

made the world out of unformed matter, and this thou didst make
out of nothing and didst make it into almost nothing.  From it
thou hast then made these great things which we, the sons of men,
marvel at.  For this corporeal heaven is truly marvelous, this
firmament between the water and the waters which thou didst make
on the second day after the creation of light, saying, "Let it be
done," and it was done.[468]  This firmament thou didst call
heaven, that is, the heaven of this earth and sea which thou
madest on the third day, giving a visible shape to the unformed
matter which thou hadst made before all the days.  For even before
any day thou hadst already made a heaven, but that was the heaven
of this heaven: for in the beginning thou hadst made heaven and
     But this earth itself which thou hadst made was unformed
matter; it was invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the
abyss.  Out of this invisible and unformed earth, out of this
formlessness which is almost nothing, thou didst then make all
these things of which the changeable world consists -- and yet
does not fully consist in itself[469] -- for its very
changeableness appears in this, that its times and seasons can be
observed and numbered.  The periods of time are measured by the
changes of things, while the forms, whose matter is the invisible
earth of which we have spoken, are varied and altered.

                          CHAPTER IX

     9.  And therefore the Spirit, the Teacher of thy
servant,[470] when he mentions that "in the beginning thou madest
heaven and earth," says nothing about times and is silent as to
the days.  For, clearly, that heaven of heavens which thou didst
create in the beginning is in some way an intellectual creature,
although in no way coeternal with thee, O Trinity.  Yet it is
nonetheless a partaker in thy eternity.  Because of the sweetness
of its most happy contemplation of thee, it is greatly restrained
in its own mutability and cleaves to thee without any lapse from
the time in which it was created, surpassing all the rolling
change of time.  But this shapelessness -- this earth invisible
and unformed -- was not numbered among the days itself.  For where
there is no shape or order there is nothing that either comes or
goes, and where this does not occur there certainly are no days,
nor any vicissitude of duration.

                           CHAPTER X

     10.  O Truth, O Light of my heart, let not my own darkness
speak to me!  I had fallen into that darkness and was darkened
thereby.  But in it, even in its depths, I came to love thee.  I
went astray and still I remembered thee.  I heard thy voice behind
me, bidding me return, though I could scarcely hear it for the
tumults of my boisterous passions.  And now, behold, I am
returning, burning and thirsting after thy fountain.  Let no one
hinder me; here will I drink and so have life.  Let me not be my
own life; for of myself I have lived badly.  I was death to
myself; in thee I have revived.  Speak to me; converse with me.  I
have believed thy books, and their words are very deep.

                          CHAPTER XI

     11.  Thou hast told me already, O Lord, with a strong voice
in my inner ear, that thou art eternal and alone hast immortality.
Thou art not changed by any shape or motion, and thy will is not
altered by temporal process, because no will that changes is
immortal.  This is clear to me, in thy sight; let it become
clearer and clearer, I beseech thee.  In that light let me abide
soberly under thy wings.
     Thou hast also told me, O Lord, with a strong voice in my
inner ear, that thou hast created all natures and all substances,
which are not what thou art thyself; and yet they do exist.  Only
that which is nothing at all is not from thee, and that motion of
the will away from thee, who art, toward something that exists
only in a lesser degree -- such a motion is an offense and a sin.
No one's  sin either hurts thee or disturbs the order of thy rule,
either first or last.  All this, in thy sight, is clear to me.
Let it become clearer and clearer, I beseech thee, and in that
light let me abide soberly under thy wings.
     12.  Likewise, thou hast told me, with a strong voice in my
inner ear, that this creation -- whose delight thou alone art --
is not coeternal with thee.  With a most persevering purity it
draws its support from thee and nowhere and never betrays its own
mutability, for thou art ever present with it; and it cleaves to
thee with its entire affection, having no future to expect and no
past that it remembers; it is varied by no change and is extended
by no time.
     O blessed one -- if such there be -- clinging to thy
blessedness!  It is blest in thee, its everlasting Inhabitant and
its Light.  I cannot find a term that I would judge more fitting
for "the heaven of the heavens of the Lord" than "Thy house" --
which contemplates thy delights without any declination toward
anything else and which, with a pure mind in most harmonious
stability, joins all together in the peace of those saintly
spirits who are citizens of thy city in those heavens that are
above this visible heaven.
     13.  From this let the soul that has wandered far away from
thee understand -- if now it thirsts for thee; if now its tears
have become its bread, while daily they say to it, "Where is your
God?"[471]; if now it requests of thee just one thing and seeks
after this: that it may dwell in thy house all the days of its
life (and what is its life but thee?  And what are thy days but
thy eternity, like thy years which do not fail, since thou art the
Selfsame?) -- from this, I say, let the soul understand (as far as
it can) how far above all times thou art in thy eternity; and how
thy house has never wandered away from thee; and, although it is
not coeternal with thee, it continually and unfailingly clings to
thee and suffers no vicissitudes of time.  This, in thy sight, is
clear to me; may it become clearer and clearer to me, I beseech
thee, and in this light may I abide soberly under thy wings.
     14.  Now I do not know what kind of formlessness there is in
these mutations of these last and lowest creatures.  Yet who will
tell me, unless it is someone who, in the emptiness of his own
heart, wanders about and begins to be dizzy in his own fancies?
Who except such a one would tell me whether, if all form were
diminished and consumed, formlessness alone would remain, through
which a thing was changed and turned from one species into
another, so that sheer formlessness would then be characterized by
temporal change?  And surely this could not be, because without
motion there is no time, and where there is no form there is no

                          CHAPTER XII

     15.  These things I have considered as thou hast given me
ability, O my God, as thou hast excited me to knock, and as thou
hast opened to me when I knock.  Two things I find which thou hast
made, not within intervals of time, although neither is coeternal
with thee.  One of them is so formed that, without any wavering in
its contemplation, without any interval of change -- mutable but
not changed -- it may fully enjoy thy eternity and immutability.
The other is so formless that it could not change from one form to
another (either of motion or of rest), and so time has no hold
upon it.  But thou didst not leave this formless, for, before any
"day" in the beginning, thou didst create heaven and earth --
these are the two things of which I spoke.
     But "the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness was
over the abyss." By these words its formlessness is indicated to
us -- so that by degrees they may be led forward who cannot wholly
conceive of the privation of all form without arriving at nothing.
>From this formlessness a second heaven might be created and a
second earth -- visible and well formed, with the ordered beauty
of the waters, and whatever else is recorded as created (though
not without days) in the formation of this world.  And all this
because such things are so ordered that in them the changes of
time may take place through the ordered processes of motion and

                         CHAPTER XIII

     16.  Meanwhile this is what I understand, O my God, when I
hear thy Scripture saying, "In the beginning God made the heaven
and the earth, but the earth was invisible and unformed, and
darkness was over the abyss." It does not say on what day thou
didst create these things.  Thus, for the time being I understand
that "heaven of heavens" to mean the intelligible heaven, where to
understand is to know all at once -- not "in part," not "darkly,"
not "through a glass" -- but as a simultaneous whole, in full
sight, "face to face."[472]  It is not this thing now and then
another thing, but (as we said) knowledge all at once without any
temporal change.  And by the invisible and unformed earth, I
understand that which suffers no temporal vicissitude.  Temporal
change customarily means having one thing now and another later;
but where there is no form there can be no distinction between
this or that.  It is, then, by means of these two -- one thing
well formed in the beginning and another thing wholly unformed,
the one heaven (that is, the heaven of heavens) and the other one
earth (but the earth invisible and unformed) -- it is by means of
these two notions that I am able to understand why thy Scripture
said, without mention of days, "In the beginning God created the
heaven and the earth." For it immediately indicated which earth it
was speaking about.  When, on the second day, the firmament is
recorded as having been created and called heaven, this suggests
to us which heaven it was that he was speaking about earlier,
without specifying a day.

                           CHAPTER XIV

     17.  Marvelous is the depth of thy oracles.  Their surface is
before us, inviting the little ones; and yet wonderful is their
depth, O my God, marvelous is their depth!  It is a fearful thing
to look into them: an awe of honor and a tremor of love.  Their
enemies I hate vehemently.  Oh, if thou wouldst slay them with thy
two-edged sword, so that they should not be enemies!  For I would
prefer that they should be slain to themselves, that they might
live to thee.  But see, there are others who are not critics but
praisers of the book of Genesis; they say: "The Spirit of God who
wrote these things by his servant Moses did not wish these words
to be understood like this.  He did not wish to have it understood
as you say, but as we say." To them, O God of us all, thyself
being the judge, I give answer.

                           CHAPTER XV

     18.  "Will you say that these things are false which Truth
tells me, with a loud voice in my inner ear, about the very
eternity of the Creator: that his essence is changed in no respect
by time and that his will is not distinct from his essence?  Thus,
he doth not will one thing now and another thing later, but he
willeth once and for all everything that he willeth -- not again
and again; and not now this and now that.  Nor does he will
afterward what he did not will before, nor does he cease to will
what he had willed before.  Such a will would be mutable and no
mutable thing is eternal.  But our God is eternal.
     "Again, he tells me in my inner ear that the expectation of
future things is turned to sight when they have come to pass.  And
this same sight is turned into memory when they have passed.
Moreover, all thought that varies thus is mutable, and nothing
mutable is eternal.  But our God is eternal." These things I sum
up and put together, and I conclude that my God, the eternal God,
hath not made any creature by any new will, and his knowledge does
not admit anything transitory.
     19.  "What, then, will you say to this, you objectors?  Are
these things false?"  "No," they say.  "What then?  Is it false
that every entity already formed and all matter capable of
receiving form is from him alone who is supremely good, because he
is supreme?"  "We do not deny this, either," they say.  "What
then?  Do you deny this: that there is a certain sublime created
order which cleaves with such a chaste love to the true and truly
eternal God that, although it is not coeternal with him, yet it
does not separate itself from him, and does not flow away into any
mutation of change or process but abides in true contemplation of
him alone?"  If thou, O God, dost show thyself to him who loves
thee as thou hast commanded -- and art sufficient for him -- then,
such a one will neither turn himself away from thee nor turn away
toward himself.  This is "the house of God." It is not an earthly
house and it is not made from any celestial matter; but it is a
spiritual house, and it partakes in thy eternity because it is
without blemish forever.  For thou hast made it steadfast forever
and ever; thou hast given it a law which will not be removed.
Still, it is not coeternal with thee, O God, since it is not
without beginning -- it was created.
     20.  For, although we can find no time before it (for wisdom
was created before all things),[473] this is certainly not that
Wisdom which is absolutely coeternal and equal with thee, our God,
its Father, the Wisdom through whom all things were created and in
whom, in the beginning, thou didst create the heaven and earth.
This is truly the created Wisdom, namely, the intelligible nature
which, in its contemplation of light, is light.  For this is also
called wisdom, even if it is a created wisdom.  But the difference
between the Light that lightens and that which is enlightened is
as great as is the difference between the Wisdom that creates and
that which is created.  So also is the difference between the
Righteousness that justifies and the righteousness that is made by
justification.  For we also are called thy righteousness, for a
certain servant of thine says, "That we might be made the
righteousness of God in him."[474]  Therefore, there is a certain
created wisdom that was created before all things: the rational
and intelligible mind of that chaste city of thine.  It is our
mother which is above and is free[475] and "eternal in the
heavens"[476] -- but in what heavens except those which praise
thee, the "heaven of heavens"?  This also is the "heaven of
heavens" which is the Lord's -- although we find no time before
it, since what has been created before all things also precedes
the creation of time.  Still, the eternity of the Creator himself
is before it, from whom it took its beginning as created, though
not in time (since time as yet was not), even though time belongs
to its created nature.
     21.  Thus it is that the intelligible heaven came to be from
thee, our God, but in such a way that it is quite another being
than thou art; it is not the Selfsame.  Yet we find that time is
not only not _before_ it, but not even _in_ it, thus making it
able to behold thy face forever and not ever be turned aside.
Thus, it is varied by no change at all.  But there is still in it
that mutability in virtue of which it could become dark and cold,
if it did not, by cleaving to thee with a supernal love, shine and
glow from thee like a perpetual noon.  O house full of light and
splendor!  "I have loved your beauty and the place of the
habitation of the glory of my Lord,"[477] your builder and
possessor.  In my wandering let me sigh for you; this I ask of him
who made you, that he should also possess me in you, seeing that
he hath also made me.  "I have gone astray like a lost sheep[478];
yet upon the shoulders of my Shepherd, who is your builder, I have
hoped that I may be brought back to you."[479]
     22.  "What will you say to me now, you objectors to whom I
spoke, who still believe that Moses was the holy servant of God,
and that his books were the oracles of the Holy Spirit?  Is it not
in this 'house of God' -- not coeternal with God, yet in its own
mode 'eternal in the heavens' -- that you vainly seek for temporal
change?  You will not find it there.  It rises above all extension
and every revolving temporal period, and it rises to what is
forever good and cleaves fast to God."
     "It is so," they reply.  "What, then, about those things
which my heart cried out to my God, when it heard, within, the
voice of his praise?  What, then, do you contend is false in them?
Is it because matter was unformed, and since there was no form
there was no order?  But where there was no order there could have
been no temporal change.  Yet even this 'almost nothing,' since it
was not altogether nothing, was truly from him from whom
everything that exists is in whatever state it is." "This also,"
they say, "we do not deny."

                          CHAPTER XVI

     23.  Now, I would like to discuss a little further, in thy
presence, O my God, with those who admit that all these things are
true that thy Truth has indicated to my mind.  Let those who deny
these things bark and drown their own voices with as much clamor
as they please.  I will endeavor to persuade them to be quiet and
to permit thy word to reach them.  But if they are unwilling, and
if they repel me, I ask of thee, O my God, that thou shouldst not
be silent to me.[480]  Speak truly in my heart; if only thou
wouldst speak thus, I would send them away, blowing up the dust
and raising it in their own eyes.  As for myself I will enter into
my closet[481] and there sing to thee the songs of love, groaning
with groanings that are unutterable now in my pilgrimage,[482] and
remembering Jerusalem with my heart uplifted to Jerusalem my
country, Jerusalem my mother[483]; and to thee thyself, the Ruler
of the source of Light, its Father, Guardian, Husband; its chaste
and strong delight, its solid joy and all its goods ineffable --
and all of this at the same time, since thou art the one supreme
and true Good!  And I will not be turned away until thou hast
brought back together all that I am from this dispersion and
deformity to the peace of that dearest mother, where the first
fruits of my spirit are to be found and from which all these
things are promised me which thou dost conform and confirm
forever, O my God, my Mercy.  But as for those who do not say that
all these things which are true are false, who still honor thy
Scripture set before us by the holy Moses, who join us in placing
it on the summit of authority for us to follow, and yet who oppose
us in some particulars, I say this: "Be thou, O God, the judge
between my confessions and their gainsaying."

                         CHAPTER XVII

     24.  For they say: "Even if these things are true, still
Moses did not refer to these two things when he said, by divine
revelation, 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the
earth.' By the term 'heaven' he did not mean that spiritual or
intelligible created order which always beholds the face of God.
And by the term 'earth' he was not referring to unformed matter."
     "What then do these terms mean?"
     They reply, "That man [Moses] meant what we mean; this is
what he was saying in those terms." "What is that?"
     "By the terms of heaven and earth," they say, "he wished
first to indicate universally and briefly this whole visible
world; then after this, by an enumeration of the days, he could
point out, one by one, all the things that it has pleased the Holy
Spirit to reveal in this way.  For the people to whom he spoke
were rude and carnal, so that he judged it prudent that only those
works of God which were visible should be mentioned to them."
     But they do agree that the phrases, "The earth was invisible
and unformed," and "The darkened abyss," may not inappropriately
be understood to refer to this unformed matter -- and that out of
this, as it is subsequently related, all the visible things which
are known to all were made and set in order during those specified
     25.  But now, what if another one should say, "This same
formlessness and chaos of matter was first mentioned by the name
of heaven and earth because, out of it, this visible world -- with
all its entities which clearly appear in it and which we are
accustomed to be called by the name of heaven and earth -- was
created and perfected"?  And what if still another should say:
"The invisible and visible nature is quite fittingly called heaven
and earth.  Thus, the whole creation which God has made in his
wisdom -- that is, in the beginning -- was included under these
two terms.  Yet, since all things have been made, not from the
essence of God, but from nothing; and because they are not the
same reality that God is; and because there is in them all a
certain mutability, whether they abide as the eternal house of God
abides or whether they are changed as the soul and body of man are
changed -- then the common matter of all things invisible and
visible (still formless but capable of receiving form) from which
heaven and earth were to be created (that is, the creature already
fashioned, invisible as well as visible) -- all this was spoken of
in the same terms by which the invisible and unformed earth and
the darkness over the abyss would be called.  There was this
difference, however: that the invisible and unformed earth is to
be understood as having corporeal matter before it had any manner
of form; but the darkness over the abyss was _spiritual_ matter,
before its unlimited fluidity was harnessed, and before it was
enlightened by Wisdom."
     26.  And if anyone wished, he might also say, "The entities
already perfected and formed, invisible and visible, are not
signified by the terms 'heaven and earth,' when it reads, 'In the
beginning God created the heaven and the earth'; instead, the
unformed beginning of things, the matter capable of receiving form
and being made was called by these terms -- because the chaos was
contained in it and was not yet distinguished by qualities and
forms, which have now been arranged in their own orders and are
called heaven and earth: the former a spiritual creation, the
latter a physical creation."

                         CHAPTER XVIII

     27.  When all these things have been said and considered, I
am unwilling to contend about words, for such contention is
profitable for nothing but the subverting of the hearer.[484]  But
the law is profitable for edification if a man use it lawfully:
for the end of the law "is love out of a pure heart, and a good
conscience, and faith unfeigned."[485]  And our Master knew it
well, for it was on these two commandments that he hung all the
Law and the Prophets.  And how would it harm me, O my God, thou
Light of my eyes in secret, if while I am ardently confessing
these things -- since many different things may be understood from
these words, all of which may be true -- what harm would be done
if I should interpret the meaning of the sacred writer differently
from the way some other man interprets?  Indeed, all of us who
read are trying to trace out and understand what our author wished
to convey; and since we believe that he speaks truly we dare not
suppose that he has spoken anything that we either know or suppose
to be false.  Therefore, since every person tries to understand in
the Holy Scripture what the writer understood, what harm is done
if a man understands what thou, the Light of all truth-speaking
minds, showest him to be true, although the author he reads did
not understand this aspect of the truth even though he did
understand the truth in a different meaning?[486]

                       CHAPTER XIX[487]

     28.  For it is certainly true, O Lord, that thou didst create
the heaven and the earth.  It is also true that "the beginning" is
thy wisdom in which thou didst create all things.  It is likewise
true that this visible world has its own great division (the
heaven and the earth) and these two terms include all entities
that have been made and created.  It is further true that
everything mutable confronts our minds with a certain lack of
form, whereby it receives form, or whereby it is capable of taking
form.  It is true, yet again, that what cleaves to the changeless
form so closely that even though it is mutable it is not changed
is not subject to temporal process.  It is true that the
formlessness which is almost nothing cannot have temporal change
in it.  It is true that that from which something is made can, in
a manner of speaking, be called by the same name as the thing that
is made from it.  Thus that formlessness of which heaven and earth
were made might be called "heaven and earth." It is true that of
all things having form nothing is nearer to the unformed than the
earth and the abyss.  It is true that not only every created and
formed thing but also everything capable of creation and of form
were created by Thee, from whom all things are.[488]  It is true,
finally, that everything that is formed from what is formless was
formless before it was formed.

                          CHAPTER XX

     29.  From all these truths, which are not doubted by those to
whom thou hast granted insight in such things in their inner eye
and who believe unshakably that thy servant Moses spoke in the
spirit of truth -- from all these truths, then, one man takes the
sense of "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth"
to mean, "In his Word, coeternal with himself, God made both the
intelligible and the tangible, the spiritual and the corporeal
creation." Another takes it in a different sense, that "In the
beginning God created the heaven and the earth" means, "In his
Word, coeternal with himself, God made the universal mass of this
corporeal world, with all the observable and known entities that
it contains." Still another finds a different meaning, that "In
the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" means, "In his
Word, coeternal with himself, God made the unformed matter of the
spiritual and corporeal creation." Another can take the sense that
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" means, "In
his Word, coeternal with himself, God made the unformed matter of
the physical creation, in which heaven and earth were as yet
indistinguished; but now that they have come to be separated and
formed, we can now perceive them both in the mighty mass of this
world."[489]  Another takes still a further meaning, that "In the
beginning God created heaven and earth" means, "In the very
beginning of creating and working, God made that unformed matter
which contained, undifferentiated, heaven and earth, from which
both of them were formed, and both now stand out and are
observable with all the things that are in them."

                          CHAPTER XXI

     30.  Again, regarding the interpretation of the following
words, one man selects for himself, from all the various truths,
the interpretation that "the earth was invisible and unformed and
darkness was over the abyss" means, "That corporeal entity which
God made was as yet the formless matter of physical things without
order and without light." Another takes it in a different sense,
that "But the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness was
over the abyss" means, "This totality called heaven and earth was
as yet unformed and lightless matter, out of which the corporeal
heaven and the corporeal earth were to be made, with all the
things in them that are known to our physical senses." Another
takes it still differently and says that "But the earth was
invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the abyss" means,
"This totality called heaven and earth was as yet an unformed and
lightless matter, from which were to be made that intelligible
heaven (which is also called 'the heaven of heavens') and the
earth (which refers to the whole physical entity, under which term
may be included this corporeal heaven) -- that is, He made the
intelligible heaven from which every invisible and visible
creature would be created." He takes it in yet another sense who
says that "But the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness
was over the abyss" means, "The Scripture does not refer to that
formlessness by the term 'heaven and earth'; that formlessness
itself already existed.  This it called the invisible 'earth' and
the unformed and lightless 'abyss,' from which -- as it had said
before -- God made the heaven and the earth (namely, the spiritual
and the corporeal creation)." Still another says that "But the
earth was invisible and formless, and darkness was over the abyss"
means, "There was already an unformed matter from which, as the
Scripture had already said, God made heaven and earth, namely, the
entire corporeal mass of the world, divided into two very great
parts, one superior, the other inferior, with all those familiar
and known creatures that are in them."

                         CHAPTER XXII

     31.  Now suppose that someone tried to argue against these
last two opinions as follows: "If you will not admit that this
formlessness of matter appears to be called by the term 'heaven
and earth,' then there was something that God had not made out of
which he did make heaven and earth.  And Scripture has not told us
that God made _this_ matter, unless we understand that it is
implied in the term 'heaven and earth' (or the term 'earth' alone)
when it is said, 'In the beginning God created the heaven and
earth.' Thus, in what follows -- 'the earth was invisible and
unformed' -- even though it pleased Moses thus to refer to
unformed matter, yet we can only understand by it that which God
himself hath made, as it stands written in the previous verse,
'God made heaven and earth.'" Those who maintain either one or the
other of these two opinions which we have set out above will
answer to such objections: "We do not deny at all that this
unformed matter was created by God, from whom all things are, and
are very good -- because we hold that what is created and endowed
with form is a higher good; and we also hold that what is made
capable of being created and endowed with form, though it is a
lesser good, is still a good.  But the Scripture has not said
specifically that God made this formlessness -- any more than it
has said it specifically of many other things, such as the orders
of 'cherubim' and 'seraphim' and those others of which the apostle
distinctly speaks: 'thrones,' 'dominions,' 'principalities,'
'powers'[490] -- yet it is clear that God made all of these.  If
in the phrase 'He made heaven and earth' all things are included,
what are we to say about the waters upon which the Spirit of God
moved?  For if they are understood as included in the term
'earth,' then how can unformed matter be meant by the term 'earth'
when we see the waters so beautifully formed?  Or, if it be taken

(continued in part 21...)

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