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

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XXIX.—Concerning the Opinion of Those Who Explain It “At First He Made.”

40. But he who does not otherwise understand, “In the beginning He made,” than if it were said, “At first He made,” can only truly understand heaven and earth of the matter of heaven and earth, namely, of the universal, that is, intelligible and corporeal creation. For if he would have it of the universe. as already formed, it might rightly be asked of him: “If at first God made this, what made He afterwards?” And after the universe he will find nothing; thereupon must he, though unwilling, hear, “How is this first, if there is nothing afterwards?” But when he says that God made matter first formless, then formed, he is not absurd if he be but able to discern what precedes by eternity, what by time, what by choice, what by origin. By eternity, as God is before all things; by time, as the flower is before the fruit; by choice, as the fruit is before the flower; by origin, as sound is before the tune. Of these four, the first and last which I have referred to are with much difficulty understood; the two middle very easily. For an uncommon and too lofty vision it is to behold, O Lord, Thy Eternity, immutably making things mutable, and thereby before them. Who is so acute of mind as to be able without great labour to discover how the sound is prior to the tune, because a tune is a formed sound; and a thing not formed may exist, but that which existeth not cannot be formed? 1160 So is the matter prior to that which is made from it; not prior because it maketh it, since itself is rather made, nor is it prior by an interval of time. For we do not as to time first utter formless sounds without singing, and then adapt or fashion them into the form of a song, just as wood or silver from which a chest or vessel is made. Because such materials do by p. 188 time also precede the forms of the things which are made from them; but in singing this is not so. For when it is sung, its sound is heard at the same time; seeing there is not first a formless sound, which is afterwards formed into a song. For as soon as it shall have first sounded it passeth away; nor canst thou find anything of it, which being recalled thou canst by art compose. And, therefore, the song is absorbed in its own sound, which sound of it is its matter. Because this same is formed that it may be a tune; and therefore, as I was saying, the matter of the sound is prior to the form of the tune, not before through any power of making it a tune; for neither is a sound the composer of the tune, but is sent forth from the body and is subjected to the soul of the singer, that from it he may form a tune. Nor is it first in time, for it is given forth together with the tune; nor first in choice, for a sound is not 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 that it may become a sound, but the sound is formed that it may become a tune. By this example, let him who is able understand that the matter of things was first made, and called heaven and earth, because out of it heaven and earth were made. Not that it was made first in time, because the forms of things give rise to time, 1161 but that was formless; but now, in time, it is perceived together with its form. Nor yet can anything be related concerning that matter, unless as if it were prior in time, while it is considered last (because things formed are assuredly superior to things formless), and is preceded by the Eternity of the Creator, so that there might be out of nothing that from which something might be made.



See a similar argument in his Con. adv. Leg. et Proph. i. 9; and sec. 29, and note, above.


See xi. sec. 29, above, and Gillies’ note thereon; and compare with it Augustin’s De. Gen. ad Lit. v. 5: “In vain we inquire after time before the creation as though we could find time before time, for if there were no motion of the spiritual or corporeal creatures whereby through the present the future might succeed the past, there would be no time at all. But the creature could not have motion unless it were. Time, therefore, begins rather from the creation, than creation from time, but both are from God.”

Next: Chapter XXX