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Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:
The Confessions: Chapter XVII

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XVII.—He Mentions Five Explanations of the Words of Genesis I. I.

24. For they say, “Although these things be true, yet Moses regarded not those two things, when by divine revelation he said, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ 1130 Under the name of heaven he did not indicate that spiritual or intellectual creature which always beholds the face of God; nor under the name of earth, that shapeless matter.” “What then?” “That man,” say they, “meant as we say; this it is that he declared by those words.” “What is that?” “By the name of heaven and earth,” say they, “did he first wish to set forth, universally and briefly, all this visible world, that afterwards by the enumeration of the days he might distribute, as if in detail, all those things which it pleased the Holy Spirit thus to reveal. For such men were that rude and carnal people to which he spoke, that he judged it prudent that only those works of God as were visible should be entrusted to them.” They agree, however, that the earth invisible and formless, and the darksome deep (out of which it is subsequently pointed out that all these visible things, which are known to all, were made and set in order during those “days”), may not unsuitably be understood of this formless matter.

25. What, now, if another should say “That this same formlessness and confusion of matter was first introduced under the name of heaven and earth, because out of it this visible world, with all those natures which most manifestly appear in it, and which is wont to be called by the name of heaven and earth, was created and perfected”? But what if another should say, that “That invisible and visible nature is not inaptly called heaven and earth; and that consequently the universal creation, which God in His wisdom hath made,—that is, ‘in the begining,’—was comprehended under these two words. Yet, since all things have been made, not of the substance of God, but out of nothing 1131 (because they are not that same thing that God is, and there is in them all a certain mutability, whether they remain, as doth the eternal house of God, or be changed, as are the soul and body of man), therefore, that the common matter of all things invisible and visible,—as yet shapeless, but still capable of form,—out of which was to be created heaven and earth (that is, the invisible and visible creature already formed), was spoken of by the same names by which the earth invisible and formless and the darkness upon the deep would be called; with this difference, however, that the earth invisible and formless is understood as corporeal matter, before it had any manner of form, but the darkness upon the deep as spiritual matter, before it was restrained at all of its unlimited fluidity, and before the enlightening of wisdom.”

26. Should any man wish, he may still say, “That the already perfected and formed natures, invisible and visible, are not signified under the name of heaven and earth when it is read, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth;’ but that the yet same formless beginning of things, the matter capable of being formed and made, was called by these names, because contained in it there were these confused things not as yet distinguished by their qualities and forms, the which now being digested in their own orders, are called heaven and earth, the former being the spiritual, the latter the corporeal creature.”



Gen. 1.1.


See p. 165, note 4, above.

Next: Chapter XVIII

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