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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IX:
John of Damascus: Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.: Concerning earth and its products.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter X.—Concerning earth and its products.

The earth is one of the four elements, dry, cold, heavy, motionless, brought into being by God, out of nothing on the first day. For in the beginning, he said, God created the heaven and the earth 1757 : but the seat and foundation of the earth no man has been able to declare. Some, indeed, hold that its seat is the waters: thus the divine David says, To Him Who established the earth on the waters 1758 . Others place it in the air. Again some other says, He Who hangeth the earth on nothing 1759 . And, again, David, the singer of God, says, as though the representative of God, I bear up the pillars of it 1760 , meaning by “pillars” the force that sustains it. Further, the expression, He hath founded it upon the seas 1761 , shews clearly that the earth is on all hands surrounded with water. But whether we grant that it is established on itself, or on air or on water, or on nothing, we must not turn aside from reverent thought, but must admit that all things are sustained and preserved by the power of the Creator.

In the beginning, then, as the Holy Scripture says 1762 , it was hidden beneath the waters, and was unwrought, that is to say, not beautified. But at God’s bidding, places to hold the waters appeared, and then the mountains came into existence, and at the divine command the earth received its own proper adornment, and was dressed in all manner of herbs and plants, and on these, by the divine decree, was bestowed the power of growth and nourishment, and of producing seed to generate their like. Moreover, at the bidding of the Creator it produced also all manner of kinds of living creatures, creeping things, and wild beasts, and cattle. All, indeed, are for the seasonable use of man: but of them some are for food, such as stags, sheep, deer, and such like: others for service such as camels, oxen, horses, asses, and such like: and others for enjoyment, such as apes, and among birds, jays and parrots, and such like. Again, amongst plants and herbs some are fruit bearing, others edible, others fragrant and flowery, given to us for our enjoyment, for example, the rose and such like, and others for the healing of disease. For there is not a single animal or plant in which the Creator has not implanted some form of energy capable of being used to satisfy man’s needs. For He Who knew all things before they were, saw that in the future man would go forward in the strength of his own will, and would be subject to corruption, and, therefore, He created all things for his seasonable use, alike those in the firmament, and those on the earth, and those in the waters.

Indeed, before the transgression all things were under his power. For God set him as ruler over all things on the earth and in the waters. Even the serpent 1763 was accustomed to man, and approached him more readily than it did other living creatures, and held intercourse with him with delightful motions 1764 . And hence it was through it that the devil, the prince of evil, made his most wicked suggestion to our first parents 1765 . Moreover, the earth of its own accord used to yield fruits, for the benefit of the animals that were obedient to man, and there was neither rain nor tempest on the earth. But after the transgression, when he was compared with the unintelligent cattle and became like to them 1766 , after he had contrived that in him irrational desire should have rule over reasoning mind and had become disobedient to the Master’s command, the subject creation rose up against him whom the Creator had appointed to be ruler: and it was appointed for him that he should till with sweat the earth from which he had been taken.

But even now wild beasts are not without their uses, for, by the terror they cause, they bring man to the knowledge of his Creator and lead him to call upon His name. And, further, at the transgression the thorn sprung out of the earth in accordance with the Lord’s express declaration and was conjoined with the pleasures of the rose, that it might lead us to remember the transgression on account of which the earth was condemned to bring forth for us thorns and prickles 1767 .

That this is the case is made worthy of belief from the fact that their endurance is secured by the word of the Lord, saying, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth 1768 .

Further, some hold that the earth is in the form of a sphere, others that it is in that of a cone. At all events it is much smaller p. 29b than the heaven, and suspended almost like a point in its midst. And it will pass away and be changed. But blessed is the man who inherits the earth promised to the meek 1769 .

For the earth that is to be the possession of the holy is immortal. Who, then, can fitly marvel at the boundless and incomprehensible wisdom of the Creator? Or who can render sufficient thanks to the Giver of so many blessings 1770 ?

[There are also provinces, or prefectures, of the earth which we recognise: Europe embraces thirty four, and the huge continent of Asia has forty-eight of these provinces, and twelve canons as they are called 1771 .]


Footnotes

28b:1757

Gen. i. 1.

28b:1758

Ps. cxxxvi. 6.

28b:1759

Job xxvi. 7.

28b:1760

Ps. lxxv. 3.

28b:1761

Psa. 24.2.

28b:1762

Gen. i. 2.

28b:1763

In this John does not follow Basil in his De Paradiso.

28b:1764

Basil, Hom. de Parad.

28b:1765

Gen. iii. 1.

28b:1766

Ps. xlix. 12.

28b:1767

Basil, Hom. de Parad.

28b:1768

Gen. i. 22.

29b:1769

St. Matt. v. 5.

29b:1770

Method, Cont. Orig. apud Epiph. Hæres. 64.

29b:1771

Only Cod. Reg. 3451 has this paragraph.


Next: Concerning Paradise.

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