(Augustine, Confessions. part 21)

thus, why, then, is it written that out of the same formlessness
the firmament was made and called heaven, and yet is it not
specifically written that the waters were made?  For these waters,
which we perceive flowing in so beautiful a fashion, are not
formless and invisible.  But if they received that beauty at the
time God said of them, 'Let the waters which are under the
firmament be gathered together,'[491] thus indicating that their
gathering together was the same thing as their reception of form,
what, then, is to be said about the waters that are _above_ the
firmament?  Because if they are unformed, they do not deserve to
have a seat so honorable, and yet it is not written by what
specific word they were formed.  If, then, Genesis is silent about
anything that God hath made, which neither sound faith nor
unerring understanding doubts that God hath made, let not any
sober teaching dare to say that these waters were coeternal with
God because we find them mentioned in the book of Genesis and do
not find it mentioned when they were created.  If Truth instructs
us, why may we not interpret that unformed matter which the
Scripture calls the earth -- invisible and unformed -- and the
lightless abyss as having been made by God from nothing; and thus
understand that they are not coeternal with him, although the
narrative fails to tell us precisely when they were made?"

                         CHAPTER XXIII

     32.  I have heard and considered these theories as well as my
weak apprehension allows, and I confess my weakness to Thee, O
Lord, though already thou knowest it.  Thus I see that two sorts
of disagreements may arise when anything is related by signs, even
by trustworthy reporters.  There is one disagreement about the
truth of the things involved; the other concerns the meaning of
the one who reports them.  It is one thing to inquire as to what
is true about the formation of the Creation.  It is another thing,
however, to ask what that excellent servant of thy faith, Moses,
would have wished for the reader and hearer to understand from
these words.  As for the first question, let all those depart from
me who imagine that Moses spoke things that are false.  But let me
be united with them in thee, O Lord, and delight myself in thee
with those who feed on thy truth in the bond of love.  Let us
approach together the words of thy book and make diligent inquiry
in them for thy meaning through the meaning of thy servant by
whose pen thou hast given them to us.

                         CHAPTER XXIV

     33.  But in the midst of so many truths which occur to the
interpreters of these words (understood as they can be in
different ways), which one of us can discover that single
interpretation which warrants our saying confidently that Moses
thought _thus_ and that in this narrative he wishes _this_ to be
understood, as confidently as he would say that _this_ is true,
whether Moses thought the one or the other.  For see, O my God, I
am thy servant, and I have vowed in this book an offering of
confession to thee,[492] and I beseech thee that by thy mercy I
may pay my vow to thee.  Now, see, could I assert that Moses meant
nothing else than _this_ [i.e., my interpretation] when he wrote,
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," as
confidently as I can assert that thou in thy immutable Word hast
created all things, invisible and visible?  No, I cannot do this
because it is not as clear to me that _this_ was in his mind when
he wrote these things, as I see it to be certain in thy truth.
For his thoughts might be set upon the very beginning of the
creation when he said, "In the beginning"; and he might have
wished it understood that, in this passage, "heaven and earth"
refers to no formed and perfect entity, whether spiritual or
corporeal, but each of them only newly begun and still formless.
Whichever of these possibilities has been mentioned I can see that
it might have been said truly.  But which of them he did actually
intend to express in these words I do not clearly see.  However,
whether it was one of these or some other meaning which I have not
mentioned that this great man saw in his mind when he used these
words I have no doubt whatever that he saw it truly and expressed
it suitably.

                          CHAPTER XXV

     34.  Let no man fret me now by saying, "Moses did not mean
what _you_ say, but what _I_ say." Now if he asks me, "How do you
know that Moses meant what you deduce from his words?", I ought to
respond calmly and reply as I have already done, or even more
fully if he happens to be untrained.  But when he says, "Moses did
not mean what _you_ say, but what _I_ say," and then does not deny
what either of us says but allows that _both_ are true -- then, O
my God, life of the poor, in whose breast there is no
contradiction, pour thy soothing balm into my heart that I may
patiently bear with people who talk like this!  It is not because
they are godly men and have seen in the heart of thy servant what
they say, but rather they are proud men and have not considered
Moses' meaning, but only love their own -- not because it is true
but because it is their own.  Otherwise they could equally love
another true opinion, as I love what they say when what they speak
is true -- not because it is theirs but because it is true, and
therefore not theirs but true.  And if they love an opinion
because it is true, it becomes both theirs and mine, since it is
the common property of all lovers of the truth.[493]  But I
neither accept nor approve of it when they contend that Moses did
not mean what I say but what they say -- and this because, even if
it were so, such rashness is born not of knowledge, but of
impudence.  It comes not from vision but from vanity.
     And therefore, O Lord, thy judgments should be held in awe,
because thy truth is neither mine nor his nor anyone else's; but
it belongs to all of us whom thou hast openly called to have it in
common; and thou hast warned us not to hold on to it as our own
special property, for if we do we lose it.  For if anyone
arrogates to himself what thou hast bestowed on all to enjoy, and
if he desires something for his own that belongs to all, he is
forced away from what is common to all to what is, indeed, his
very own -- that is, from truth to falsehood.  For he who tells a
lie speaks of his own thought.[494]
     35.  Hear, O God, best judge of all!  O Truth itself, hear
what I say to this disputant.  Hear it, because I say it in thy
presence and before my brethren who use the law rightly to the end
of love.  Hear and give heed to what I shall say to him, if it
pleases thee.
     For I would return this brotherly and peaceful word to him:
"If we both see that what you say is true, and if we both say that
what I say is true, where is it, I ask you, that we see this?
Certainly, I do not see it in you, and you do not see it in me,
but both of us see it in the unchangeable truth itself, which is
above our minds."[495]  If, then, we do not disagree about the
true light of the Lord our God, why do we disagree about the
thoughts of our neighbor, which we cannot see as clearly as the
immutable Truth is seen?  If Moses himself had appeared to us and
said, "This is what I meant," it would not be in order that we
should see it but that we should believe him.  Let us not, then,
"go beyond what is written and be puffed up for the one against
the other."[496]  Let us, instead, "love the Lord our God with all
our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and our
neighbor as ourself."[497]  Unless we believe that whatever Moses
meant in these books he meant to be ordered by these two precepts
of love, we shall make God a liar, if we judge of the soul of his
servant in any other way than as he has taught us.  See now, how
foolish it is, in the face of so great an abundance of true
opinions which can be elicited from these words, rashly to affirm
that Moses especially intended only one of these interpretations;
and then, with destructive contention, to violate love itself, on
behalf of which he had said all the things we are endeavoring to

                         CHAPTER XXVI

     36.  And yet, O my God, thou exaltation of my humility and
rest of my toil, who hearest my confessions and forgivest my sins,
since thou commandest me to love my neighbor as myself, I cannot
believe that thou gavest thy most faithful servant Moses a lesser
gift than I should wish and desire for myself from thee, if I had
been born in his time, and if thou hadst placed me in the position
where, by the use of my heart and my tongue, those books might be
produced which so long after were to profit all nations throughout
the whole world -- from such a great pinnacle of authority -- and
were to surmount the words of all false and proud teachings.  If I
had been Moses -- and we all come from the same mass,[498] and
what is man that thou art mindful of him?[499] -- if I had been
Moses at the time that he was, and if I had been ordered by thee
to write the book of Genesis, I would surely have wished for such
a power of expression and such an art of arrangement to be given
me, that those who cannot as yet understand _how_ God createth
would still not reject my words as surpassing their powers of
understanding.  And I would have wished that those who are already
able to do this would find fully contained in the laconic speech
of thy servant whatever truths they had arrived at in their own
thought; and if, in the light of the Truth, some other man saw
some further meaning, that too would be found congruent to my

                         CHAPTER XXVII

     37.  For just as a spring dammed up is more plentiful and
affords a larger supply of water for more streams over wider
fields than any single stream led off from the same spring over a
long course -- so also is the narration of thy minister: it is
intended to benefit many who are likely to discourse about it and,
with an economy of language, it overflows into various streams of
clear truth, from which each one may draw out for himself that
particular truth which he can about these topics -- this one that
truth, that one another truth, by the broader survey of various
interpretations.  For some people, when they read or hear these
words,[500] think that God, like some sort of man or like some
sort of huge body, by some new and sudden decision, produced
outside himself and at a certain distance two great bodies: one
above, the other below, within which all created things were to be
contained.  And when they hear, "God said, 'Let such and such be
done,' and it was done," they think of words begun and ended,
sounding in time and then passing away, followed by the coming
into being of what was commanded.  They think of other things of
the same sort which their familiarity with the world suggests to
     In these people, who are still little children and whose
weakness is borne up by this humble language as if on a mother's
breast, their faith is built up healthfully and they come to
possess and to hold as certain the conviction that God made all
entities that their senses perceive all around them in such
marvelous variety.  And if one despises these words as if they
were trivial, and with proud weakness stretches himself beyond his
fostering cradle, he will, alas, fall away wretchedly.  Have pity,
O Lord God, lest those who pass by trample on the unfledged
bird,[501] and send thy angel who may restore it to its nest, that
it may live until it can fly.

                        CHAPTER XXVIII

     38.  But others, to whom these words are no longer a nest
but, rather, a shady thicket, spy the fruits concealed in them and
fly around rejoicing and search among them and pluck them with
cheerful chirpings: For when they read or hear these words, O God,
they see that all times past and times future are transcended by
thy eternal and stable permanence, and they see also that there is
no temporal creature that is not of thy making.  By thy will,
since it is the same as thy being, thou hast created all things,
not by any mutation of will and not by any will that previously
was nonexistent -- and not out of thyself, but in thy own
likeness, thou didst make from nothing the form of all things.
This was an unlikeness which was capable of being formed by thy
likeness through its relation to thee, the One, as each thing has
been given form appropriate to its kind according to its
preordained capacity.  Thus, all things were made very good,
whether they remain around thee or whether, removed in time and
place by various degrees, they cause or undergo the beautiful
changes of natural process.
     They see these things and they rejoice in the light of thy
truth to whatever degree they can.
     39.  Again, one of these men[502] directs his attention to
the verse, "In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth,"
and he beholds Wisdom as the true "beginning," because it also
speaks to us.  Another man directs his attention to the same
words, and by "beginning" he understands simply the commencement
of creation, and interprets it thus: "In the beginning he made,"
as if it were the same thing as to say, "At the first moment, God
made . . ."  And among those who interpret "In the beginning" to
mean that in thy wisdom thou hast created the heaven and earth,
one believes that the matter out of which heaven and earth were to
be created is what is referred to by the phrase "heaven and
earth." But another believes that these entities were already
formed and distinct.  Still another will understand it to refer to
one formed entity -- a spiritual one, designated by the term
"heaven" -- and to another unformed entity of corporeal matter,
designated by the term "earth." But those who understand the
phrase "heaven and earth" to mean the yet unformed matter from
which the heaven and the earth were to be formed do not take it in
a simple sense: one man regards it as that from which the
intelligible and tangible creations are both produced; and another
only as that from which the tangible, corporeal world is produced,
containing in its vast bosom these visible and observable
entities.  Nor are they in simple accord who believe that "heaven
and earth" refers to the created things already set in order and
arranged.  One believes that it refers to the invisible and
visible world; another, only to the visible world, in which we
admire the luminous heavens and the darkened earth and all the
things that they contain.

                         CHAPTER XXIX

     40.  But he who understands "In the beginning he made" as if
it meant, "At first he made," can truly interpret the phrase
"heaven and earth" as referring only to the "matter" of heaven and
earth, namely, of the prior universal, which is the intelligible
and corporeal creation.  For if he would try to interpret the
phrase as applying to the universe already formed, it then might
rightly be asked of him, "If God first made this, what then did he
do afterward?"  And, after the universe, he will find nothing.
But then he must, however unwillingly, face the question, How is
this the first if there is nothing afterward?  But when he said
that God made matter first formless and then formed, he is not
being absurd if he is able to discern what precedes by eternity,
and what proceeds in time; what comes from choice, and what comes
from origin.  In eternity, God is before all things; in the
temporal process, the flower is before the fruit; in the act of
choice, the fruit is before the flower; in the case of origin,
sound is before the tune.  Of these four relations, the first and
last that I have referred to are understood with much difficulty.
The second and third are very easily understood.  For it is an
uncommon and lofty vision, O Lord, to behold thy eternity
immutably making mutable things, and thereby standing always
before them.  Whose mind is acute enough to be able, without great
labor, to discover how the sound comes before the tune?  For a
tune is a formed sound; and an unformed thing may exist, but a
thing that does not exist cannot be formed.  In the same way,
matter is prior to what is made from it.  It is not prior because
it makes its product, for it is itself made; and its priority is
not that of a time interval.  For in time we do not first utter
formless sounds without singing and then adapt or fashion them
into the form of a song, as wood or silver from which a chest or
vessel is made.  Such materials precede in time the forms of the
things which are made from them.  But in singing this is not so.
For when a song is sung, its sound is heard at the same time.
There is not first a formless sound, which afterward is formed
into a song; but just as soon as it has sounded it passes away,
and you cannot find anything of it which you could gather up and
shape.  Therefore, the song is absorbed in its own sound and the
"sound" of the song is its "matter." But the sound is formed in
order that it may be a tune.  This is why, as I was saying, the
matter of the sound is prior to the form of the tune.  It is not
"before" in the sense that it has any power of making a sound or
tune.  Nor is the sound itself the composer of the tune; rather,
the sound is sent forth from the body and is ordered by the soul
of the singer, so that from it he may form a tune.  Nor is the
sound first in time, for it is given forth together with the tune.
Nor is it first in choice, because a sound is no better than a
tune, since a tune is not merely a sound but a beautiful sound.
But it is first in origin, because the tune is not formed in order
that it may become a sound, but the sound is formed in order that
it may become a tune.
     From this example, let him who is able to understand see that
the matter of things was first made and was called "heaven and
earth" because out of it the heaven and earth were made.  This
primal formlessness was not made first in time, because the form
of things gives rise to time; but now, in time, it is intuited
together with its form.  And yet nothing can be related of this
unformed matter unless it is regarded as if it were the first in
the time series though the last in value -- because things formed
are certainly superior to things unformed -- and it is preceded by
the eternity of the Creator, so that from nothing there might be
made that from which something might be made.

                          CHAPTER XXX

     41.  In this discord of true opinions let Truth itself bring
concord, and may our God have mercy on us all, that we may use the
law rightly to the end of the commandment which is pure love.
Thus, if anyone asks me which of these opinions was the meaning of
thy servant Moses, these would not be my confessions did I not
confess to thee that I do not know.  Yet I do know that those
opinions are true -- with the exception of the carnal ones --
about which I have said what I thought was proper.  Yet those
little ones of good hope are not frightened by these words of thy
Book, for they speak of high things in a lowly way and of a few
basic things in many varied ways.  But let all of us, whom I
acknowledge to see and speak the truth in these words, love one
another and also love thee, our God, O Fountain of Truth -- as we
will if we thirst not after vanity but for the Fountain of Truth.
Indeed, let us so honor this servant of thine, the dispenser of
this Scripture, full of thy Spirit, so that we will believe that
when thou didst reveal thyself to him, and he wrote these things
down, he intended through them what will chiefly minister both for
the light of truth and to the increase of our fruitfulness.

                         CHAPTER XXXI

     42.  Thus, when one man says, "Moses meant what I mean," and
another says, "No, he meant what I do," I think that I speak more
faithfully when I say, "Why could he not have meant both if both
opinions are true?"  And if there should be still a third truth or
a fourth one, and if anyone should seek a truth quite different in
those words, why would it not be right to believe that Moses saw
all these different truths, since through him the one God has
tempered the Holy Scriptures to the understanding of many
different people, who should see truths in it even if they are
different?  Certainly -- and I say this fearlessly and from my
heart -- if I were to write anything on such a supreme authority,
I would prefer to write it so that, whatever of truth anyone might
apprehend from the matter under discussion, my words should re-
echo in the several minds rather than that they should set down
one true opinion so clearly on one point that I should exclude the
rest, even though they contained no falsehood that offended me.
Therefore, I am unwilling, O my God, to be so headstrong as not to
believe that this man [Moses] has received at least this much from
thee.  Surely when he was writing these words, he saw fully and
understood all the truth we have been able to find in them, and
also much besides that we have not been able to discern, or are
not yet able to find out, though it is there in them still to be

                         CHAPTER XXXII

     43.  Finally, O Lord -- who art God and not flesh and blood
-- if any man sees anything less, can anything lie hid from "thy
good Spirit" who shall "lead me into the land of
uprightness,"[503] which thou thyself, through those words, wast
revealing to future readers, even though he through whom they were
spoken fixed on only one among the many interpretations that might
have been found?  And if this is so, let it be agreed that the
meaning he saw is more exalted than the others.  But to us, O
Lord, either point out the same meaning or any other true one, as
it pleases thee.  Thus, whether thou makest known to us what thou
madest known to that man of thine, or some other meaning by the
agency of the same words, still do thou feed us and let error not
deceive us.  Behold, O Lord, my God, how much we have written
concerning these few words -- how much, indeed!  What strength of
mind, what length of time, would suffice for all thy books to be
interpreted in this fashion?[504]  Allow me, therefore, in these
concluding words to confess more briefly to thee and select some
one, true, certain, and good sense that thou shalt inspire,
although many meanings offer themselves and many indeed are
possible.[505]  This is the faith of my confession, that if I
could say what thy servant meant, that is truest and best, and for
that I must strive.  Yet if I do not succeed, may it be that I
shall say at least what thy Truth wished to say to me through its
words, just as it said what it wished to Moses.

                        BOOK THIRTEEN

     The mysteries and allegories of the days of creation.
Augustine undertakes to interpret Gen. 1:2-31 in a mystical and
allegorical fashion so as to exhibit the profundities of God's
power and wisdom and love.  He is also interested in developing
his theories of hermeneutics on his favorite topic: creation.  He
finds the Trinity in the account of creation and he ponders the
work of the Spirit moving over the waters.  In the firmament he
finds the allegory of Holy Scripture and in the dry land and
bitter sea he finds the division between the people of God and the
conspiracy of the unfaithful.  He develops the theme of man's
being made in the image and likeness of God.  He brings his survey
to a climax and his confessions to an end with a meditation on the
goodness of all creation and the promised rest and blessedness of
the eternal Sabbath, on which God, who is eternal rest, "rested."

                           CHAPTER I

     1.  I call on thee, my God, my Mercy, who madest me and didst
not forget me, though I was forgetful of thee.  I call thee into
my soul, which thou didst prepare for thy reception by the desire
which thou inspirest in it.  Do not forsake me when I call on
thee, who didst anticipate me before I called and who didst
repeatedly urge with manifold calling that I should hear thee afar
off and be turned and call upon thee, who callest me.  For thou, O
Lord, hast blotted out all my evil deserts, not punishing me for
what my hands have done; and thou hast anticipated all my good
deserts so as to recompense me for what thy hands have done -- the
hands which made me.  Before I was, thou wast, and I was not
anything at all that thou shouldst grant me being.  Yet, see how I
exist by reason of thy goodness, which made provision for all that
thou madest me to be and all that thou madest me from.  For thou
didst not stand in need of me, nor am I the kind of good entity
which could be a help to thee, my Lord and my God.  It is not that
I may serve thee as if thou wert fatigued in working, or as if thy
power would be the less if it lacked my assistance.  Nor is the
service I pay thee like the cultivation of a field, so that thou
wouldst go untended if I did not tend thee.[506]  Instead, it is
that I may serve and worship thee to the end that I may have my
well-being from thee, from whom comes my capacity for well-being.

                          CHAPTER II

     2.  Indeed, it is from the fullness of thy goodness that thy
creation exists at all: to the end that the created good might not
fail to be, even though it can profit thee nothing, and is nothing
of thee nor equal to thee -- since its created existence comes
from thee.
     For what did the heaven and earth, which thou didst make in
the beginning, ever deserve from thee?  Let them declare -- these
spiritual and corporeal entities, which thou madest in thy wisdom
-- let them declare what they merited at thy hands, so that the
inchoate and the formless, whether spiritual or corporeal, would
deserve to be held in being in spite of the fact that they tend
toward disorder and extreme unlikeness to thee?  An unformed
spiritual entity is more excellent than a formed corporeal entity;
and the corporeal, even when unformed, is more excellent than if
it were simply nothing at all.  Still, these formless entities are
held in their state of being by thee, until they are recalled to
thy unity and receive form and being from thee, the one sovereign
Good.  What have they deserved of thee, since they would not even
be unformed entities except from thee?
     3.  What has corporeal matter deserved of thee -- even in its
invisible and unformed state -- since it would not exist even in
this state if thou hadst not made it?  And, if it did not exist,
it could not merit its existence from thee.
     Or, what has that formless spiritual creation deserved of
thee -- that it should flow lightlessly like the abyss -- since it
is so unlike thee and would not exist at all if it had not been
turned by the Word which made it that same Word, and, illumined by
that Word, had been "made light"[507] although not as thy equal
but only as an image of that Form [of Light] which is equal to
thee?  For, in the case of a body, its being is not the same thing
as its being beautiful; else it could not then be a deformed body.
Likewise, in the case of a created spirit, living is not the same
state as living wisely; else it could then be immutably wise.  But
the true good of every created thing is always to cleave fast to
thee, lest, in turning away from thee, it lose the light it had
received in being turned by thee, and so relapse into a life like
that of the dark abyss.
     As for ourselves, who are a spiritual creation by virtue of
our souls, when we turned away from thee, O Light, we were in that
former life of darkness; and we toil amid the shadows of our
darkness until -- through thy only Son -- we become thy
righteousness,[508] like the mountains of God.  For we, like the
great abyss,[509] have been the objects of thy judgments.

                          CHAPTER III

     4.  Now what thou saidst in the beginning of the creation --
"Let there be light: and there was light" -- I interpret, not
unfitly, as referring to the spiritual creation, because it
already had a kind of life which thou couldst illuminate.  But,
since it had not merited from thee that it should be a life
capable of enlightenment, so neither, when it already began to
exist, did it merit from thee that it should be enlightened.  For
neither could its formlessness please thee until it became light
-- and it became light, not from the bare fact of existing, but by
the act of turning its face to the light which enlightened it, and
by cleaving to it.  Thus it owed the fact that it lived, and lived
happily, to nothing whatsoever but thy grace, since it had been
turned, by a change for the better, toward that which cannot be
changed for either better or worse.  Thou alone art, because thou
alone art without complication.  For thee it is not one thing to
live and another thing to live in blessedness; for thou art
thyself thy own blessedness.

                          CHAPTER IV

     5.  What, therefore, would there have been lacking in thy
good, which thou thyself art, even if these things had never been
made or had remained unformed?  Thou didst not create them out of
any lack but out of the plenitude of thy goodness, ordering them
and turning them toward form,[510] but not because thy joy had to
be perfected by them.  For thou art perfect, and their
imperfection is displeasing.  Therefore were they perfected by
thee and became pleasing to thee -- but not as if thou wert before
that imperfect and had to be perfected in their perfection.  For
thy good Spirit which moved over the face of the waters[511] was
not borne up by them as if he rested on them.  For those in whom
thy good Spirit is said to rest he actually causes to rest in
himself.  But thy incorruptible and immutable will -- in itself
all-sufficient for itself -- moved over that life which thou hadst
made: in which living is not at all the same thing as living
happily, since that life still lives even as it flows in its own
darkness.  But it remains to be turned to him by whom it was made
and to live more and more like "the fountain of life," and in his
light "to see light,"[512] and to be perfected, and enlightened,
and made blessed.

(continued in part 22...)

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