Living Tradition
Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.Distributed several times a year to interested members.
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No 48 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program September 1993


by Msgr. John F. McCarthy

        In Part III of this essay I have set forth how St. Augustine understood the six days of creation in Genesis 1 to mean the one day by which the blessed angels see themselves and all of creation in the light of the Beatific Vision. 1 Augustine held this view as the stronger opinion, without, however, excluding a chronological interpretation of the days of creation, if answers could be provided to problems that he saw in positing a sequence of time, especially the problem of how light could have been created on the first day, if the sun, the moon, and the stars, the sources of material light, were created only on the fourth day. 2

        In a consistent interpretation of the account of creation in Genesis 1, Augustine understood evening in the angelic minds to mean the angelic knowledge of created things in themselves, and morning to mean the same angelic knowledge elevated to the praise and love of God. In the created things themselves, Augustine again saw evening in the limits of one created nature and morning in the beginning of the next created nature, as the angelic mind passed from one nature to another. But Augustine repeatedly declared that he was not excluding the possibility of a chronological explanation of the days of creation, and he even invited his readers "to seek and with the help of God to find" a better and more complete interpretation of the chapter. 3

        The neo-Patristic method can provide clues to a more complete explanation, while preserving intact the deep insights offered by St. Augustine. The method begins by placing the text of Genesis under the framework of the four senses of Sacred Scripture, in the light of which the "days" of Genesis 1 according to St. Augustine appear as an anagogical explanation of the text. We may consider two basic aspects or levels of the anagogical sense: the "four last things" of death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the imprint of the Trinity of divine Persons upon the text. St. Augustine touches upon both of these levels of the anagogical sense. He interprets the days of Genesis 1 as the illumination of the angelic minds in the Beatific Vision, which comes under the category of Heaven, and he sees in the account references to the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. 4

        THE ANAGOGICAL MEANING.   There should be no doubt that Genesis 1 has an anagogical meaning. We know from other places in Sacred Scripture that the angels were created by God and that the good angels were afterwards raised to the bliss of the Beatific Vision. 5 Since the inner life of the angels stands outside of physical time, it does not appear reasonable to locate the psychological changes of the angels anywhere else except in the first instant of physical time, even though the angels do have a certain relationship to later events of physical time. There should be no doubt, then, that the blessed angels witnessed the work of creation from the vantage point of the Beatific Vision and that even now they continue to read the text of Genesis 1 in this light. Nor should there be any doubt that those of the human race who have or will have beatific vision in Heaven read or will read the text of Genesis 1 along the lines suggested by St. Augustine. Thus, his uncovering of this anagogical meaning is an important discovery, which applies, not only to the first chapter of Genesis, but to the rest of the canonical Scriptures as well. The inspired word of God in the Bible is intended to be read, not only by those in this earthly life, but also and principally by those in Heaven now and forever. As neo-Patristic researchers, we on earth see from the insight of St. Augustine an anagogical meaning beginning from the first words of Genesis and extending with greater or lesser clarity throughout the rest of the Bible. St. Augustine's explanation according to the knowledge that the angels have through the Beatific Vision may even be the principal interpretation that will abide forever among the saints in Heaven after human life on this earth has ended.

        Since an author leaves the imprint of his personality upon what he writes, we should not be surprised to find the imprint of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity upon the inspired account of creation. Following the lead of St. Augustine and of other Fathers of the Church, neo-Patristic exegesis seeks to discover in the sacred writings a pattern expressing or symbolizing the Three divine Persons, sometimes directly in the literal sense of the words, but more often in an anagogical sense set within the literal sense. It is a task of neo-Patristic exegesis to distinguish the literal sense from the anagogical sense as it examines successive passages of Sacred Scripture. In his Letter of Genesis, Unfinished Book, St. Augustine speaks of four legitimate senses according to which the inspired text of Genesis may be interpreted, namely "according to history, according to allegory, according to analogy, and according to aetiology." He defines these senses as follows: "It is history when a divine or human event (res gesta) is recorded; it is allegory when the things stated are figuratively understood; it is analogy when the harmony of the Old and the New Testaments is shown; it is aetiology when the causes of statements and deeds are assigned." 6 This fourfold division of meanings does not coincide with the four senses of the neo-Patristic framework, inasmuch as Augustine adds the senses of analogy and aetiology and he omits the senses of tropology and anagogy. St. Thomas Aquinas, in examining the four senses proposed by St. Augustine, notes that the historical, the aetiological, and the analogical senses of St. Augustine all come under the literal sense of neo-Patristic exegesis, while Augustine's allegorical sense covers the three spiritual senses of our approach. 7 Aquinas also points out that what Augustine understands by the "analogical sense" is that the truth of one statement of Scripture is shown not to be in conflict with the truth of another statement of Scripture.

        However, in the case of physical versus intellectual light, we are dealing with the analogy of being, and this kind of analogy can be used to form a distinction between the literal and the spiritual sense of a verse of Sacred Scripture. On the basis of the analogy of being, it is reasonable to suppose that in Genesis 1 the physical meaning of light pertains to the literal sense, while the intellectual meaning of light pertains to the anagogical sense.

        Regarding the command of God, "Be light made," Augustine maintains that it is intellectual light which has preeminence in creation over physical light. 8 Neo-Patristic analysis grants this fact, but it also allows for both a literal sense in which physical light is fundamental and a spiritual sense in which intellectual light is preeminent. We should keep this difference of framework in mind in pondering St. Augustine's insistence that his theory of angelic illumination as constituting the days of creation is understood to be the "proper" sense of the words and not merely a "figurative or allegorical" meaning. 9 Since what I am here calling the anagogical sense of Genesis 1 is not figurative or allegorical, it fits within what Augustine calls the "proper" meaning of the words. But it also leaves room for a more immediate literal meaning of the words.

        THE LITERAL AND HISTORICAL MEANING.   There are many reasons for believing that the literal sense of the first chapter of Genesis is in the genre of history, as has been the conclusion of most of the Fathers and great exegetes of the Church, who have seen this account as a chronological account and not a merely narrative description. St. Augustine himself does not deny that the creation of the world and the creation of each of the things mentioned in Genesis 1 are historical facts; it is his contention that these things, although they were created, were not created in the chronological succession seemingly suggested by the division of the work into six days. But, as noted above, 10 while emergence from nothing through God's act of creation is an event of a special kind, and while creation, in any case, does constitute the beginning of history, the absence of a temporal relationship to one another of the things created would not put Genesis 1 into the literary genre of history. St. Augustine's idea of a simultaneous and instantaneous six "days" of creation does not, therefore, in itself make room for an historical reading of these six days, but his reference to a "causal order" among the things made in the original creation 11 leaves an opening for a neo-Patristic expansion of his interpretation in the direction of an historical sense as well.

        The plain reading of Genesis 1 suggests immediately that it is presenting a chronological succession. Not only are the acts of creation divided into six days, but the days are also numbered in serial succession. The division of the days into evenings followed by mornings is also indicative of a chronology. In my neo-Patristic reading of the chapter, I accept St. Augustine's opinion as the anagogical meaning, while I hypothesize that, not only the plain literal reading, but also the subtle literal reading of the text pertains to the genre of real history.

        Augustine holds that in the first instant of time God created all that is described in the first six days of Genesis 1. His view allows for no succession of time during these days, and, in fact, he affirms that time began to run only with the rising of water in Gen 2:6: "But a spring rose out of the earth, watering all the surface of the earth." There are certain problems connected with this view.

        In the first place, the angels, who are thought by Augustine to have been created in the first instant of time as the heaven (cf. Isa 14:12; Apoc 12:7-9) in the statement, In the beginning God created heaven and earth, are regarded by Augustine as being a kind of "formless spiritual matter" 12 in the sense that, although they were instantaneously made complete in their natural being, they were like flowing water in their vocation to the supernatural Heaven, 13 and there thus transpired a period of "some duration" before the angels arrived at their eternal destiny. 14

        In the second place, although the universe is thought by Augustine to have been created in a single instant of time, yet he sees the physical universe presented first as matter without form in verse 2 and then formed during succeeding verses. Augustine's explanation of this fact is that matter cannot actually exist without its form. As a neo-Patristic exegete, I certainly admit that metaphysical prime matter cannot exist apart from some form, but the physical primal matter of the universe could well have existed with the minimum of physical form. Augustine thought that the most elementary physical forms possible were those of earth, water, air, and fire. Neo-Patristic analysis examines this supposition from the viewpoint also of modern physics and finds that there are forms much more elemental than those of earth, water, and air, while fire is removed altogether from the category of elemental forms.

        In the third place, the actual appearance of many of the things described in Genesis 1 as created by God is, nevertheless, postponed by Augustine to the temporal period following Genesis 2:6. Thus, he notes, the Lord God made heaven and earth and every plant of the field before it sprang up in the earth (Gen 2:4-5), when not even the seeds of the plants yet existed. 15 To explain Gen 2:5 in keeping with his theory of simultaneous creation, Augustine brings in the notion of a potency to produce plants that was instilled by God into the earth, that is, in the "roots of the ages." Augustine conjectures that the natures, or species, of biological forms of life were created in the first instant of time, but that the individual living beings coming under those natures would appear later in the course of time, as they were subsequently "planted" by God and then governed over the course of time by His ordinary providence. 16 Thus, according to Augustine's reading, plants and animals were made "causally" but not actually in the original creation in that an order of causal relationship was instilled into the earth and the water by God, so that the species of living things were already contained in their "numbers" which would afterwards be unfolded over time.

        This theory of primordial packages of forms later to emerge (often referred to by commentators as "seminal reasons") is certainly developmental, but does not correspond with Darwinian evolution. Essential to Augustine's theory is the idea that the order later to emerge was instilled by God in the beginning. Augustine also requires subsequent interventions by God to "plant" the forms whose "numbers" had already been instilled. Thus, as St. Thomas points out, 17 the ability of the earth to produce living forms was visualized by Augustine as a passive potency which disposed the matter to receive the forms but did not create the forms themselves. Augustine's theory of primordial packages deserves more ample meditation and analysis in another place, especially with reference to theories of the development of living things, but the present essay is directly concerned only with the creation of non-living things.

        THE FIRMAMENT OF HEAVEN.   St. Augustine accepted as beyond question from the sheer authority of the inspired text that God did create a firmament of heaven dividing the waters above from the waters below (Gen 1:7). But he also admitted free discussion regarding the nature of the firmament and of the waters it divided. While he was somewhat puzzled by the question, he came to favor the conclusion that the firmament of heaven is located in the space stretching upward from the bottom of the thin, dry air above the clouds to the top of the fiery spheres, and the waters which it separates are, at the lower end, the common water (H2O) on the earth and in the moisture of the heavier air and the clouds, and, at the upper end, some kind of material "water" above the fiery spheres which is not necessarily the common water we know on earth. 18

        A big problem that St. Augustine had to face in his interpretation of the word firmament (raqîa) is how the thin upper air and the expanses of the fiery spheres could be considered firm and supportive enough to be called a "firmament" dividing the waters. For an answer he resorted to an intellectual rather than a physical explanation, averring that it is called a firmament because in its tranquility it resembles the serenity of truth, and "nothing is more firm and sure than the truth." By what may seem a mere coincidence, he was able to cite for this explanation Ps 35:6 and 56:11: "thy truth reaches even to the clouds." 19

        Neo-Patristic analysis of St. Augustine's explanation of the firmament takes into consideration modern theories of physics and astronomy. Without according absolute truth to modern theories that are always subject to change and revision, it considers the account of creation in terms of models that differ from that of the Four Elements and of a universe having the disk or globe of the earth at the bottom and the fiery spheres at the top. It asks whether the words firmament and waters cannot, in keeping with true physical science, be given a somewhat different interpretation than that worked out by St. Augustine and by other ancient and medieval writers.

        Form-critical interpretations characteristically do not provide answers to problems of this kind. Thus, for instance, Bruce Vawter, beginning from the assumption that in the mental environment (Sitz-im-Leben) from which this account of creation was written there was only a mythological idea of the structure of the physical heavens, concludes that the statement, God made a firmament, is mythological. Vawter explains: "The 'firmament' is the vault of heaven, the sky, which the ancients conceived as a great hollow bowl inverted over the earth. The Hebrew word raqîa means something hammered out, like shiny metal (cf. Job 37:18). This primitive idea of the sky as a firmament supporting the waters 'above the earth' is found also in the NT (2 Pt 3:10; Apoc 6:14)." 20 Richard Clifford, following the same assumption/conclusion method of reasoning, shows how God performed this mythological act of creation: "God inserts an immense conclave plate in the midst of the all-encompassing waters, creating a vast hollow between the upper and the lower waters. The Vulgate firmament, 'support,' translates the Septuagint literally; both the Septuagint and the Vulgate miss the Hebrew nuance. The Hebrew word is 'something hammered out flat,' e.g., gold leaf on a wooden statue." 21

        Taking the word waters (mayim) in Gen 1:6-7 in its most common meaning, Patrick G. O'Connell follows the older method in seeing the work of the second day of creation as "a work of dividing all the water now on our earth ... into two parts: the part that remained on the earth, and the part that ascended and formed the clouds." It is his observation that "modern science and the Bible agree in stating that all the waters in the oceans and the clouds were once united, that is, that they were once in the form of a mighty pall of vapor that hung over the surface of the earth." He understands the word firmament according to the definition given in Challoner's note to Gen 1:6: "By this name is here understood the whole space between the earth and the highest stars, the lower part of which divideth the waters that are upon the earth from those that are above the clouds." O'Connell rejects the idea of some modern writers that by the firmament is intended "a solid structure over the earth supported at the extremities by pillars" for the reason that this idea "is based on the false assumption that the Mosaic account of creation does not correspond with reality but merely embodies the crude notion of the time." In O'Connell's estimation, "the notions of the time were not so crude as some modern writers represent them." 22

        POPE PIUS XII.   In an address delivered to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 22 November 1951, Pope Pius XII, in referring to the account of the creation of the universe, commented as follows:

        The examination of numerous spiral nebulae, especially as carried out by Edwin E. Hubble at the Mount Wilson Observatory, led to the significant conclusion, presented with considerable reservations, that these distant systems of galaxies tend to move away from one another with such velocity that in about 1300 million years the distance between two such spiral nebulae is doubled. If one looks backward over the time of this process of the "Expanding Universe," it turns out that from one to ten thousand million years ago the matter of all the spiral nebulae was compressed into a relatively restricted space, at the time when the cosmic processes had their beginning. 23

        Having cited some other figures as well to indicate the immense number of years intervening since what appeared to be "the dawn of the universe" according to data considered to be reliable at the time, Pius XII drew this conclusion with regard to Christian faith:

        If these figures can cause astonishment, they, nevertheless, bring even to the simplest of believers no concept new or different from that learned from the first words of Genesis, In the beginning, that is to say, the beginning of things in time. These figures give concrete and quasi-mathematical expression to those words, while from them springs forth an additional consolation for those who share with the Apostle an esteem for that divinely inspired Scripture which is always profitable "to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice" (2 Tim 3:16). 24

        How this observation of an expanding universe relates to the fact of creation in general and to the creation of light in particular, as recorded in Gen 1:3, the Pope described as follows:

        It is undeniable that a mind which is enlightened and enriched by modern scientific knowledge and which calmly considers this problem is led to break the circle of a matter totally independent and autochthonous - as being either uncreated or having created itself - and to rise up to a Creator Spirit. With the same clear and critical gaze with which it examines and judges facts, it discerns and recognizes there the work of creative omnipotence, whose strength, stirred by the powerful fiat uttered thousands of millions of years ago by the Creator Spirit, spread itself out into the universe, calling into existence, in a gesture of generous love, matter overflowing with energy. It really seems that modern science, leaping back over millions of centuries, has succeeded in witnessing that primordial Fiat lux, when out of nothing erupted together with matter a sea of light and radiation, while particles of chemical elements split and reunited into millions of galaxies. 25

        Pius XII recognized the law of entropy, discovered by Rudolf Clausius, by which "spontaneous natural processes are always joined to a decrease of free and usable energy: a fact which, in a closed material system, must lead in the end to the cessation of processes on the macroscopic level." He reasoned that this "fatal destiny" of the visible universe, "eloquently postulates the existence of a necessary Being." Looking back into the past with the eyes of modern physical science, he saw a powerful beginning of the universe:

        In the measure that one goes back, matter presents itself to be ever richer in free energy and the scene of great cosmic upheavals. Thus, everything seems to indicate that the material universe has had, from finite times, a powerful beginning, charged as it was with an unimaginably large abundance of energy reserves, by virtue of which, at first rapidly, then with growing slowness, it has evolved to the present state. 26

        DR. HENRY MORRIS.   In a book published in 1984, Henry Morris, following the method of creation-science, affirms that "there seem to be ninety-six naturally occurring elements" and that "these basic elements were originally created (Gen 1:1) as the fundamental components of matter in the space-matter-time cosmos (heavens-earth-beginning) called into existence by the omnipotent Word of God (John 1:1-3)." He observes that "this basic 'unformed' earth material (Gen 1:2) was then 'made' or 'formed' by God into complex systems." He sees Gen 1:2 (and 2 Peter 3:5) as saying also that all other elements were "originally suspended and dispersed in a vast matrix of water," and afterwards "were built up into a vast array of terrestrial and celestial bodies (I Cor 15:40) and, on earth, both inorganic and living systems. The gases of the atmosphere were made on the second day of creation (Gen 1:6-7) from these elements, and the solids of the earth planet on the third day (Gen 1:9-10)." 27 Morris understands the word firmament to mean "the expanse, corresponding probably to our present troposphere" (the layer of the atmosphere nearest to the earth, in which clouds form and weather conditions occur), and he reads Gen 1:7 to mean that "a portion of the waters was designed to serve as a great protective canopy for the earth, elevated and sustained 'above the firmament,' also by the Word of God." Morris conjectures: "In order for these upper waters to be maintained aloft by the gases of the lower atmosphere and also for it to be transparent to the light of the sun, moon, and stars (Gen 1:14-16), the canopy must have been in the form of a vast blanket of water vapor, extending far out into space, invisible and yet exerting a profound influence on terrestrial climates and living conditions." But he also admits: "This postulated vapor canopy should, of course, be considered only as a model. It is not taught dogmatically in Scripture, though it does seem to be the most natural and logical inference from the Biblical references to 'waters above the firmament' and other related passages." 28

        In his book, Morris expresses powerful arguments against atheistic evolutionary cosmogonies, with reference especially to the need and the fact of creation and guidance by God, as supported by "the two great laws of thermodynamics, the most secure generalizations about the universe that exist in science." Morris rightly points out: "Evolutionism purports to describe a cosmos in which all things come into existence and build themselves up into higher, more complex levels of existence by purely natural processes in a universe that is self-contained and self-sufficient." Against such an evolutionary image, Morris submits: "The first law states, in effect, that the universe could not have created itself. The second law states, in effect, that it must have been created or else it would have already completely disintegrated." 29

        Morris holds that "astrophysicists are beginning to have their doubts about the Big Bang Theory" of an expanding universe. He challenges the "main evidence for the Big Bang," namely, "the so-called 3°K background radiation, supposed to be the uniform low-energy remnant of the primeval cosmic explosion," with the contention that "this radiation can be explained in various other ways as well as by the hypothetical explosion." And he lists four other "serious problems" of a technical nature regarding the theory of the Expanding Universe in addition to the "most serious objection" of the second law of thermodynamics to the atheistic view of the origin of the world. But he gives little space to theistic notions of a gradually developed universe, not discussing arguments such as those of Pius XII quoted above, but simply dismissing them by way of corollary: "Naturally, theistic evolutionists and progressive creationists have likewise incorporated the Big Bang into their own compromising interpretations of Genesis, proposing that the declaration of Genesis 1:1 refers to this explosive eruption of energy and matter into the universe at the beginning." 30

        It is my contention that theistic interpretations of the theory of the Expanding Universe merit at least a detailed refutation. Morris and others of the creation-science school are doing a service in pointing out weaknesses and inconsistencies in the theory of the Big Bang, but a methodological distinction should also be maintained between the gigantic errors of those who do not recognize the creative role of God, against which Morris has marshalled most of the arguments in his highly informative book, and the pros and cons of the Big Bang theory as the way in which God chose to bring the universe to its present state of existence.

        In this essay, I do not feel qualified to weigh these arguments so as to arrive at a judgment of the validity of the theory of the Big Bang. I think that the neo-Patristic method provides for better solutions to the basic problems with its use of a distinction between the plain and the subtle literal senses. On the one hand, it is clear in the teaching and in the exegetical tradition of the Church (as I have quoted from St. Augustine) that the plain meaning of the words is intended by God for those who seek no further, and this plain meaning is true, even if imprecise. On the other hand, there can be a precise meaning that fits the data of physical science.

        But what are the true data of physical science? Morris does not hesitate to use the framework of the ninety-six or more natural elements of modern times in interpreting Genesis 1:2. How sure is he that this framework may not some day be radically changed? In neo-Patristic exegesis, we take for granted neither the elements of the periodic table, nor the proton-electron theory of the atom, nor the Big Bang theory of the beginning. What we rather do is test these as hypotheses that seem to represent what physical science has discovered in order to see if they can help us to understand the text of Sacred Scripture in keeping with the spirit and thrust of Sacred Scripture itself.

        Regarding the substantive words of Genesis 1, Morris maintains that the popular meaning is the only meaning. It is his position that "the straightforward Biblical record of cosmic creation can be accepted in its most natural and literal sense, in full confidence that all the speculations of evolutionary cosmogony are unproved and unprovable," 31 and he warns against "a subconscious insistence on interpreting the events of creation in terms of our modern scientific concepts and processes." 32 But Dr. Morris does not seem to follow his own advice very consistently. Where in the biblical record of cosmic creation, taken in "its most natural and literal sense," is it stated that ninety-six "basic elements were originally created as the fundamental components of matter" and that "this basic 'unformed' earth material was then 'made' or 'formed' by God into complex systems"? 33 The biblical record, in its plain literal sense, speaks only of earth and water as the basic elements from which complex systems were formed by God. Where, again, in the biblical record does it say that "the gases of the atmosphere were made on the second day of creation from these elements, and the solids of the earth planet on the third day"? What the biblical record says, in its most natural and literal sense, is that on the second day God made a firmament; it says nothing about gases. It is true that there was no Hebrew word for 'gas,' since 'gas' is a modern scientific word and concept, but there was a Hebrew word for vapor (ed), and so, to understand the firmament (raqîa) as an expanse filled with gases is to interpret the word in terms of our modern scientific concepts.

        A NEO-PATRISTIC VIEW.   Actually, there is a tendency, encouraged by the seemingly deliberate obscurity of the text, to interpret the events of creation in terms of our modern scientific concepts and processes. In my use of the neo-Patristic method, I see the popular wording of the text of Genesis 1 (earth-waters-firmament) as a kind of historical portrait of creation, intended to be looked at in a certain perspective and from a certain distance. When a reader asks technical scientific questions of the text (such as "How long was a day?" or "What was the firmament?"), he is bringing his eyes too close to the portrait to see it as a portrait, and then he must use a scientific framework to find the answers. The miracle of the Bible is that, under the close scrutiny of physical and historical science, the account retains its physical and historical truth, even though the picture that comes forth is a technically clarified one. This is what we mean by the subtle literal sense of the text. For instance, if we read the waters of Genesis 1 as technically meaning 'fluids,' then the waters of Gen 1:2 could technically mean 'an electromagnetic field," while the waters of Gen 1:9 could technically mean either the 'gases,' or the 'magma' or the 'H2O'. This is what scientific analysis tries to figure out. Dr. Morris reads the earth in Gen 1:2 as representing the elements of the periodic table, but it is more than legitimate to ask whether the 'unformed' matter of this verse was not simpler and less formed than these relatively formed units. We try to see the text of Genesis in harmony with what we believe natural science has established (but which we accept only as theories or hypotheses) in order to answer the objections that reason tends to raise, and to refute the arguments that non-believers construct against the historical truth of the text. Such research is both a tribute to the miracle of the Bible and a service to our fellow men.

        Regarding the meaning of the word day in Genesis 1 and Gen 2:4, Morris avers: "The meaning of yom in the context is specifically defined the first time it is used (Gen 1:5). 'God called the light Day.' In the cyclical succession of light and darkness that began on the first creative day and has continued regularly ever since, the period of light - when God was working - was defined as 'day.' The light was followed by 'evening,' then the darkness by 'morning,' and this cyclic sequence was identified as 'Day One,' 'Day Two,' etc." As regards the use of day in Gen 2:4, Morris adds: "The Lord did not, however, make the earth and the heavens throughout the six days. He made them on the first day, and Genesis 2:4 obviously is a reference to Genesis 1:1 (no other verse in Genesis 1 mentions either 'the heavens and the earth' or 'the earth and the heavens')." 34

        Now, the whole truth seems to be, as St. Augustine was well aware, that Gen 2:4-5 is one sentence, and within the whole sentence it is stated "on the day that the Lord God made heaven and earth and every plant of the field before it sprang up in the earth ..." Therefore, the word day in Gen 2:4 means more than just the first of the six days in Genesis 1. Furthermore, in Gen 1:5 we read that (God) called the light day and the darkness night, and there was evening and morning one day. In this verse we can see that day can mean either the light part of the cyclic day or the whole cyclic day, including its darkness. It is my contention that the word day in the enumerated days of creation has a specific meaning defined by the inspired writer himself in the words evening and morning, which mean in context a period of darkness followed by a period of light. In carefully examining on a technical level the different ways in which light appears during the work of the six days, we find that for each of the six days there is subtlely insinuated some kind of period of darkness followed by a period of light. These "days" are chronological days, but they are not necessarily 24-hour periods, because the writer tells us that the 24-hour day was not fixed by God until the fourth 'day' of creation. I think that by somewhat casually telling us this, the divine Author is challenging us to look more deeply into the historical level of the text.

        Following the lead of St. Augustine, neo-Patristic exegesis does not feel constrained by the text of Gen 1:1-7 and related passages to read the Hebrew haarets always to mean the globe of the earth and mayim always to mean H2O. St. Augustine read haarets in Gen 1:1 to mean "the ground" of all material beings, the unformed matter of what became the universe. 35 While the word "ground" in this sense emphasizes the elemental character of its state of being, the word "waters" of Gen 1:6-7 emphasizes the fluidity, the lack of structure and of solidity of the primal matter. 36 In this way two popular words are used by Moses, writing under the guidance of divine inspiration, to include a more technical meaning for those capable of seeking it. Again, the naming of the earth does not come until the third day (verse 10). While this naming applies directly to the "land" as opposed to the seas, it nevertheless gives an indirect reason for questioning whether the locus of the acts of God on the first two days was limited to the space occupied by the globe of the earth and its troposphere. For this and other reasons, one may consider a model different from that of the Four Elements used by St. Augustine and more in keeping with what sound contemporary physics and astronomy seem to present, such as that of the Expanding Universe, keeping in mind that a technical model can never be more than an ambiguous answer to the technical questions we ask and is, moreover, always subject to revision or even to rejection by stronger evidence to the contrary.

        Using the Expanding Universe model we may conjecture that light arose from the initial explosion itself, somewhere in what is now the universe, but not necessarily where the earth is today. The light arose from a creative intervention of God in the primal matter, which may have been in the beginning no more structured or differentiated than is a mere electromagnetic field or some similar undifferentiated abyss. Light was a step upwards, perhaps implying a concomitant structuring of atomic particles and of atoms themselves, since light is emitted by atoms. A second creative intervention involves the throwing of the mass of swirling incandescent gases outward to form the universe as we know it today. In this majestic stroke of God's hand by which the structure of the universe was fashioned there are probably involved both the creation of molecules and other solid substances and also the creation of the laws of gravity, momentum, and inertia. The hot swirling gases are the waters above and below the firmament, where "below" is the biblical focus on the region of the earth, and the firmament is the structure of the universe, as held in place by the laws of gravity, momentum, and inertia.

        Here, then, we might go back to the word raqîa (firmament), which, Fr. Vawter and Fr. Clifford tell us, means "something hammered out, like shiny metal," or "something hammered out flat, e.g. gold leaf on a wooden statue." Cornelius a Lapide remarked about four centuries ago that, according to St. Jerome and some learned Jewish scholars, the word raqîa comes from the root raqa and means "to expand, to distend, and, while distending, to support and solidify something which before was fluid and rarified." Therefore, he said, "just as liquid metal, when poured out, spreads and hardens, so here the water hardened into the heavens is called in Greek, firmamentum in Latin: for the firmament is like a wall in the midst of the waters, that is, between the two waters, having been inserted between the waters above and the waters below, separating and forcing them apart." 37 If a Lapide is correct regarding the word firmament, then this word represents a hot fluid that hardened as it spread or flattened out, not a cold metal hammered out, as Vawter and Clifford claim. Vawter, in referring to Job 37:18, does not advert to the fact that this verse speaks of molten brass: Thou perhaps hast made the heavens with him, which are most strong, as if they were of molten brass - or, as the Revised Standard Version renders it: Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a molten mirror? Clothed in the terminology of the Expanding Universe theory, the image of the creation of the firmament becomes the image of the Big Bang spreading out the hot particles and gases of the first stages of matter into the present structure of the universe, which "solidified" as a structure in the sense that the laws of physics were brought into effect and galaxies were formed. This image in itself is sufficient to illustrate the historically factual truth of Gen 1:7, And God made a firmament. The waters which were divided by the firmament are all the flaming gases and other fluids of the spreading matter of the universe, and the globe of the earth is now made the focal point as the laws of physics give the earth its protected place in the universe. The waters below the firmament are the flaming and swirling gases of the globe of the earth, while the waters above the firmament are all the gases and other still fluid substances in outer space. The word raqîa seems to mean at least something which hardened as it spread out, but also, perhaps, as it "flattened out." The universe is not shaped like a flat sheet of metal, but if it is composed, as we are told today, of vast "ribbons of galaxies," then the use by Moses of the word raqîa is truly astounding. It is worth adding that the galaxy of the Milky Way looks from the side like a hot spinning disk whose core remains spherical but whose surface has otherwise flattened out.

        In terms of the theory of the Expanding Universe, St. Augustine's problem regarding the creation of the sun on the fourth day is resolved, since the light created on the first day is seen to be the initial creation of the light of the universe, not specifically related to the earth and the solar system. Augustine's invitation to his readers "to seek and with the help of God to find" 38 a more complete and exact interpretation of the account of creation in Genesis 1 is an example of good exegetical method. Augustine left freedom of inquiry to researchers, as long as they retained what Christian faith requires, 39 but he cautioned against subjective interpretations which look bizarre to science or common sense and thus hold up the inspired Scriptures to the ridicule of unbelievers. 40

        Speaking, then, of the obscurity surrounding some of the things in this inspired chapter, St. Augustine declares that what is judged to be the meaning of an obscure passage "should either be confirmed by the testimony of obvious facts or be asserted in other and less ambiguous texts." 41 He says also that, in dealing with deep passages of Scripture, "we should have greater diligence in studying than rashness in affirming" what the meaning truly is. 42 "When we are dealing with obscure aspects of natural things created by Almighty God, it is more a matter of asking questions than of providing answers, especially in the divinely inspired books, where the rash assertion of an uncertain and questionable opinion hardly avoids the offense of sacrilege." 43 With this warning to himself as well as to others, St. Augustine set out to probe the first chapter of Genesis with many misgivings and hesitations, "not knowing how much God was going to help us as we desired to tell it rightly, but being aware that to the extent that He did not give assistance, we were not going to get it right." 44

        Augustine summarized his conclusions as follows: "God from the beginning of time first created all things together, some already made in their natures, others precreated in their causes, as, being omnipotent, He made, not only what was present, but also what was future, and He rested from creating them, so that from then on by his rule and administration He might also create the orders of times and temporal things, because He had both completed them with reference to the limits of their kinds and begun them with reference to their propagation over the ages. Thus, He rested on account of their being finished, and He works even until now on account of their having been begun. But, if these things can be better understood, not only do I not resist, I favor it." 45

        The comments that I have been making concerning St. Augustine's interpretation of Genesis 1 are not intended as definitive judgments of any sort but only as my use of the neo-Patristic framework and method to suggest ideas that should be worked on and perfected by those who are more specifically equipped to do so. Regarding the neo-Patristic framework, I am in this essay attempting to illustrate how the use of the classic four senses of Sacred Scripture can set the meanings of Genesis 1 in a perspective that is scientific in the full sense of the word. Regarding the neo-Patristic method, I am attempting to illustrate how the hypothesis of a plain versus a subtle historical sense can bring understanding to many of the historic problems in the interpretation of Genesis 1 and, at the same time, can turn some false interpretations of our time into a truly historical reading of the text. In particular, in Part IV of this essay, I am aiming to fit St. Augustine's brilliant speculations regarding Genesis 1 into a picture that is both loyal to his insights and adjusted or adjustable to the discoveries of modern physical science.

        A FEW CONCLUSIONS.   Some conclusions of this neo-Patristic analysis of St. Augustine's speculations on Genesis 1 may be listed as follows:

        1. St. Augustine utilizes the concept that some of the substantive words in Genesis 1 have not only a vague popular meaning but also a subtle and precise technical meaning. Among these words are earth, waters, light, and day. For neo-Patristic exegesis, this double level of meaning suggests two patterns of meaning in the literal sense of the text: a plain meaning which is true in its own right, even if vague and imprecise, and a subtle meaning which, not being the plain meaning, remains ambiguous and hypothetical, but, if properly used, answers technical difficulties of a scientific and historical nature.

        2. St. Augustine sees the word light in Genesis 1 literally to mean the light of beatific vision in the blessed angels. In the neo-Patristic framework, I see light in Genesis 1 to mean: a) literally and historically: physical light; b) allegorically: the light of Christ; c) tropologically: the light of faith and of natural human intelligence; d) anagogically: the light of beatific vision. Although he used a different framework of senses, in the ultimate analysis St. Augustine presented the anagogical sense as the literal sense for the reason that he could not see consistent historical truth in an historical literal sense, especially as regards the creation of light on the fourth day. He was, however, quite ready to admit an historical literal sense if the problems of chronology could be solved. I think that neo-Patristic exegesis is equipped to solve those problems.

        3. St. Augustine's exposition of the anagogical sense of Genesis 1 opens the door to an implied anagogical meaning running through the entire Bible all the way to the Apocalypse, where the anagogical sense becomes the primary sense. Thus, for example, in the benediction expressed in Apoc. 1:3: "Blessed is he who reads and hears the words of this prophecy, and keeps those things that are written in it, for the time is at hand," they especially are blessed who, from the viewpoint of eternity and in the clarity of the Beatific Vision, will forever read the words of this prophecy as in its fulfilment eternally present to them. And blessed are those resurrected persons of the future who, in the light of the Beatific Vision, will read the words of Genesis 1 for all eternity and will praise their Creator for his work of creation.

        4. In my reading, Gen 1:3 means literally that God created physical light on the first day as a divine intervention into history. From the original "formless" matter God created the form of light. It is not my purpose in this essay to attempt to give the exact information available today from physical and astronomical science; I leave that to those who have the expertise to do so. But, in a general way, I speculate (subject to correction by those who are better informed) that the form of light is a higher form added to some of the primal minimally formed matter, or it is a set of waves in the primal matter which do not have a substantial form of their own.

        5. In my own reading of Gen 1:7, on the second day God fashioned the physical universe from the original primal matter, placing the globe of the earth at the center of attention in the sense that the waters under the firmament are the hot swirling gases of the young earth and the waters above the firmament are the hot swirling gases of the rest of the young universe. In my reading, the account says literally that God took the primal matter and from it He fashioned the universe as a gradual process whose length of time is unspecified except as being a period of darkness followed by a period of light. The first day consisted of a period of absolute darkness and a period in which physical light existed. The second day consisted of a period in which virtually all of the space now occupied by the universe was dark up to a time when much or all of that space was inhabited by luminous bodies.

        In this reading, Gen 1:6-8 witnesses in several ways to the creative action of God. As the divine Fashioner of the universe, God guided the energies that He had invested in the primal matter by his creative intervention on the first day to bring the cosmos to its structured state. This is the unfolding of the active potency contained in St. Augustine's "primordial packages." But there is also implied in these verses an upward progress in the order of inorganic being which seems to have required additional creative divine interventions. I leave it to more qualified thinkers to sort this out, but, in the ontologically upward path, there would seem to have been included the formation of atoms with their properties, the formation of material bodies, beginning with the ninety-six elements of the periodic table, together with their properties and laws, the creation of the laws of gravity, momentum and inertia (which the primal matter may not have possessed), and the cooling of gases into solids. It is an interesting question pertaining to this process whether bodiliness is a property essential to all matter or is rather a form given to a certain minimum of atoms or atomic particles organized on a higher level of material being. Asked in another way, it is an interesting question whether material bodies could ever have appeared in the cosmos without a special creative intervention on the part of God to provide the form of corporality. I leave the reader to ponder this problem related to St. Augustine's general principle that matter cannot exist without its form.

(to be continued)

1. See Living Tradition 47, pp. 4-5.

2. De civ. Dei, XI, 33.

3. De Gen. ad litt., IV, 28. Cf. Living Tradition 47, p.5.

4. See Living Tradition 47, pp. 1-2.

5. Cf., e.g., Job 38:7.

6. Imperf. lib., 2. Cf. Aug., De utilitate credendi, III, 5 (in ML 42, p.68).

7. Aquinas, S.Th., I, q. 1, art. 10 ad 2.

8. De Gen. ad litt., I, 9. Cf. Living Tradition 47 p. 3.

9. De Gen. ad litt., IV, 28. Cf. Living Tradition 47, p. 5.

10. In the Introduction (Living Tradition 45, p. 3.)

11. De Gen. ad litt., V, 5. Cf. Living Tradition 47, p. 5.

12. De Gen. ad litt., IV, 22.

13. De Gen. ad litt., I, 5; V, 5.

14. De civ. Dei, XI, 13.

15. De Gen. ad litt., V, 4. Cf. Living Tradition 47, p. 7.

16. Ibid.

17. Aquinas, S.Th., I, q. 71, art. 1, ad 1.

18. De Gen. ad litt., II, 5. Cf. Living Tradition 47, p. 6.

19. Imperf. lib., 14. Cf. Living Tradition 47, p. 6.

20. B. Vawter, in A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, p. 175.

21. R. Clifford, in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 11.

22. P. O'Connell, Science of Today and the Problems of Genesis (Hawthorne, Calif.: Christian Book Club of America, 2nd ed., 1969), pp. 11-14.

23. Pius XII, AAS 19 (1952), p. 39.

24. Pius XII, ibid., p. 40.

25. Pius XII, ibid.

26. Pius XII, ibid., pp. 37-38.

27. H.M. Morris, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), p. 217.

28. Morris, op. cit., pp. 277-278.

29. Morris, op. cit., pp. 146-149.

30. Morris, op. cit., pp. 149-151.

31. Morris, op. cit., p. 154.

32. Morris, op. cit., p. 277.

33. Morris, op. cit., p. 217.

34. Morris, op. cit., p. 126.

35. De Gen. ad litt., II, 11. Cf. Living Tradition 47, p. 2.

36. Imperf. lib., 3-4. Cf. Living Tradition 47, p. 2.

37. A. Lapide, Commentary on Genesis, 1:6.

38. De Gen ad litt., IV, 28.

39. De civ. Dei, XI, 32.

40. De Gen. ad litt., I, 19.

41. De civ. Dei, XI, 19.

42. De Gen ad litt., VI, 9.

43. Imperf. lib., 1.

44. De Gen. ad litt., VII, 1.

45. De Gen ad litt., VII, 28.

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