Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. IX:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
John of Damascus: Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.: Concerning the Heaven.
Chapter VI.—Concerning the Heaven.
The heaven is the circumference of things created, both visible and invisible. For within its boundary are included and marked off both the mental faculties of the angels and all the world of sense. But the Deity alone is uncircumscribed, filling all things, and surrounding all things, and bounding all things, for He is above all things, and has created all things.
Since 1683 , therefore, the Scripture speaks of heaven, and heaven of heaven 1684 , and heavens of heavens 1685 , and the blessed Paul says that he was snatched away to the third heaven 1686 , we say that in the cosmogony of the universe we accept the creation of a heaven which the foreign philosophers, appropriating the views of Moses, call a starless sphere. But further, God called the firmament also heaven 1687 , which He commanded to be in the midst of the waters, setting it to divide the waters that are above the firmament from the waters that are below the firmament. And its nature, according to the divine Basilius 1688 , who is versed in the mysteries of divine Scripture, is delicate as smoke. Others, however, hold that it is watery in nature, since it is set in the midst of the waters: others say it is composed of the four elements: and lastly, others speak of it as a fifth body, distinct from the four elements 1689 .
Further, some have thought that the heaven encircles the universe and has the form of a sphere, and that everywhere it is the highest point, and that the centre of the space enclosed by it is the lowest part: and, further, that those bodies that are light and airy are allotted by the Creator the upper region: while those that are heavy and tend to descend occupy the lower region, which is the middle. The element, then, that is lightest and most inclined to soar upwards is fire, and hence they hold that its position is immediately after the heaven, and they call it ether, and after it comes the lower air. But earth and water, which are heavier and have more of a downward tendency, are suspended in the centre. Therefore, taking them in the reverse order, we have in the lowest situation earth and water: but water is lighter than earth, and hence is more easily set in motion: above these on all hands, like a covering, is the circle of air, and all round the air is the circle of ether, and outside air is the circle of the heaven.
Further, they say that the heaven moves in a circle and so compresses all that is within it, that they remain firm and not liable to fall asunder.
They say also that there are seven zones of the heaven 1690 , one higher than the other. And its nature, they say, is of extreme fineness, like that of smoke, and each zone contains one of the planets. For there are said to be seven planets: Sol, Luna, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, Venus and Saturn. But sometimes Venus is called Lucifer and sometimes Vesper. These are called planets because their movements are the reverse of those of the heaven. For while the heaven and all other stars move from east to west, these alone move from west to east. And this can easily be seen in the case of the moon, which moves each evening a little backwards.
All, therefore, who hold that the heaven is in the form of a sphere, say that it is equally removed and distant from the earth at all points, whether above, or sideways, or below. And by below and sideways I mean all that comes within the range of our senses. For it follows from what has been said, that the heaven occupies the whole of the upper region and the earth the whole of the lower. They say, besides, that the heaven encircles the earth in the manner of a sphere, and bears along with it in its most rapid revolutions sun, moon and stars, and that when the sun is over the earth it becomes day there, and when it is under the earth it is p. 22b night. And, again, when the sun goes under the earth it is night here, but day yonder.
Others have pictured the heaven as a hemisphere. This idea is suggested by these words of David, the singer of God, Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain 1691 , by which word he clearly means a tent: and by these from the blessed Isaiah, Who hath established the heavens like a vault 1692 : and also because when the sun, moon, and stars set they make a circuit round the earth from west to north, and so reach once more the east 1693 . Still, whether it is this way or that, all things have been made and established by the divine command, and have the divine will and counsel for a foundation that cannot be moved. For He Himself spoke and they were made: He Himself commanded and they were created. He hath also established them for ever and ever: He hath made a decree which will not pass 1694 .
The heaven of heaven, then, is the first heaven which is above the firmament 1695 . So here we have two heavens, for God called the firmament also Heaven 1696 . And it is customary in the divine Scripture to speak of the air also as heavens, because we see it above us. Bless Him, it says, all ye birds of the heaven, meaning of the air. For it is the air and not the heaven that is the region in which birds fly. So here we have three heavens, as the divine Apostle said 1697 . But if you should wish to look upon the seven zones as seven heavens there is no injury done to the word of truth. For it is usual in the Hebrew tongue to speak of heaven in the plural, that is, as heavens, and when a Hebrew wishes to say heaven of heaven, he usually says heavens of heavens, and this clearly means heaven of heaven 1698 , which is above the firmament, and the waters which are above the heavens, whether it is the air and the firmament, or the seven zones of the firmament, or the firmament itself which are spoken of in the plural as heavens according to the Hebrew custom.
All things, then, which are brought into existence are subject to corruption according to the law of their nature 1699 , and so even the heavens themselves are corruptible. But by the grace of God they are maintained and preserved 1700 . Only the Deity, however, is by nature without beginning and without end 1701 . Wherefore it has been said, They will perish, but Thou dost endure 1702 : nevertheless, the heavens will not be utterly destroyed. For they will wax old and be wound round as a covering, and will be changed, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth 1703 .
For the great part the heaven is greater than the earth, but we need not investigate the essence of the heaven, for it is quite beyond our knowledge.
It must not be supposed that the heavens or the luminaries are endowed with life 1704 . For they are inanimate and insensible 1705 . So that when the divine Scripture saith, Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad 1706 , it is the angels in heaven and the men on earth that are invited to rejoice. For the Scripture is familiar with the figure of personification, and is wont to speak of inanimate things as though they were animate: for example 1707 , The sea saw it and fled: Jordan was driven back 1708 . And again, What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? thou, O Jordan, that thou was driven back 1709 ? Mountains, too, and hills are asked the reason of their leaping in the same way as we are wont to say, the city was gathered together, when we do not mean the buildings, but the inhabitants of the city: again, the heavens declare the glory of God 1710 , does not mean that they send forth a voice that can be heard by bodily ears, but that from their own greatness they bring before our minds the power of the Creator: and when we contemplate their beauty we praise the Maker as the Master-Craftsman 1711 .
Cf. Chrysost., In Genes., hom. 4; Basil, Hex. hom. 3, &c.21b:1684
Ps. cxv. 16.21b:1685
2 Cor. xii. 2.21b:1687
Gen. i. 8.21b:1688
Basil, Hom. 1 in Hexaëmeron.21b:1689
The Peripatetics. See Nemes., ch. 5.21b:1690
Basil, Hom. 3, in Hexaëmeron.22b:1691
Ps. civ. 2.22b:1692
Is. xl. 22.22b:1693
Chrysost., Hom. 14 and 17, ad Hebr.22b:1694
Ps. 48:5, 6.22b:1695
Greg. Nyss. de opif. Hom.22b:1696
Gen. i. 8.22b:1697
2 Cor. xii. 2.22b:1698
Ps. cxlviii. 4.22b:1699
Basil, Hom. 1 and 3, in Hexaëmeron.22b:1701
Just., quæst. 93.22b:1702
Ps. cii. 26.22b:1703
Cf. August., Retract. ii. 2.22b:1705
Basil, Hom. 13, in Hexaëmeron.22b:1706
Ps. xcvi. 11.22b:1707
Text, ὡς τό. N. καὶ τὸ ἀνάπαλιν.22b:1708
Ps. cxiv. 3.22b:1709
Basil, Hom. 1 and 3, in Hexaëmeron.
Next: Concerning light, fire, the luminaries, sun, moon and stars.
Like & share St-Takla.org
© Saint Takla Haymanout Website: Coptic Orthodox Church - Alexandria, Egypt / URL: https://st-takla.org / Contact us at