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No. 49 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program November 1993


by Msgr. John F. McCarthy


        St. Thomas Aquinas composed two lengthy commentaries on the account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis. His early treatment appears in "distinctions" (sections) 12 to 15 of his commentary on the second book of the Sentences of Peter the Lombard, written during the years 1252-1256. 1 His later and more mature composition is found in the first part of the Summa Theologiae, questions 65 to 74, written during the period 1266 to 1268 A.D. 2 These two treatises are the principal sources of the present essay, along with some explanatory material from other works of St. Thomas. The reader should keep in mind that the teaching in the Summa Theologiae represents the more mature thinking of the Angelic Doctor, especially as regards his more neutral position regarding the two traditions of exegesis of Genesis 1 that preceded him, but it is also important to realize that he left intact virtually the whole of the teaching about this chapter that he had given in his commentary on the Sentences.

        The method of exegesis followed by St. Thomas is to compare and contrast the opinions of the Fathers of the Church, as well as those of outstanding philosophers, offering also his own explanations as he goes along through the text of Genesis 1. One of the two great schools of exegesis is represented by St. Augustine, the other by the rest of the Fathers, including especially Saints Basil, Ambrose, and John Chrysostom. St. Thomas bases his method of comparison upon a fundamental distinction between those things which belong of their very nature (per se) to the substance of the Faith and other things which only in the circumstances (per accidens) pertain to the Faith. His exact words are as follows:

For certain things are per se the substance of the Faith, as that God is three and one, and other things of this kind, in which no one is authorized to think otherwise. Thus the Apostle says in Galatians 1 that if an angel of God preached diversely from what he had taught, let him be anathema. But certain things (pertain to the faith) only incidentally (per accidens), inasmuch, that is, as they are handed down in Scripture, which faith supposes to have been promulgated under the dictation of the Holy Spirit. And these things can without danger remain unknown by those who are not held to be knowledgeable about the Scriptures, for example, many items of history. In these things even the Fathers have thought differently and have explained the Scriptures in different ways. So, therefore, with regard to the beginning of the world, there is something which pertains to the substance of the Faith, namely, that the world was created to begin with. And this all the Fathers agree in saying. But how and in what order it was made does not pertain to the Faith except per accidens, inasmuch as it is presented in Scripture, the truth of which the Fathers retained in their varying explanations as they arrived at different conclusions.

For Augustine maintains that at the very beginning of creation certain things were separated out by species in their own proper nature, such as the elements, the celestial bodies, and the spiritual substances, while other things were distinguished in seminal reasons only, such as animals, plants, and men, and that all of these latter things were later produced in their own natures in the activity by which after those six days God governs nature created beforehand. Concerning this activity in Jn 5:17 it is stated: "My Father works even until now, and I work." (For Augustine) in the distinguishing of things the focus is not on an order of time, but of nature and of teaching. Of nature, just as sound precedes song by nature but not in time, thus things that are prior in nature are recorded earlier, as the earth is mentioned before the animals and water before the fish, and so with the other things. And of teaching order, as is evident in the teaching of geometry, for although the parts of a figure make up the figure without any order of time, nevertheless, geometry teaches that the construction is made by extending line after line. And this was the example of Plato, as it is said at the beginning of the De caelo et mundo. Thus also Moses, in instructing an unlettered people regarding the creation of the world, divided into parts the things that were made at the same time. 3

Ambrose, on the other hand, and other Fathers claim that an order of time was observed in the cutting out of things, and this position is both more common and seemingly more in keeping with the surface of the literal sense (littera). But the former opinion (that of Augustine) is more reasonable and defends Sacred Scripture more from the derision of non-believers, a factor which Augustine, in his Letter of Genesis (bk. I, ch. 19) teaches us is to be kept well in mind, so that the Scriptures may be expounded in such a way that they not be mocked by nonbelievers. This opinion pleases me more. Nevertheless, replies in support of both positions will be given to all of the objections. 4

        In this citation we see the basic approach of St. Thomas, which is, while accepting the wording of Genesis to be unquestionably true in some sense, nevertheless, to distinguish what must be believed from historical items that are true in some sense but debatable as to the exact meaning of their truth.

        In the beginning God created heaven and earth (Gen 1:1). St. Thomas follows an ancient tradition traceable to St. Augustine and other Fathers of the Church in dividing his analysis into three parts: the work of creation, the work of separation, and the work of adornment. This division of treatment is rooted in the text of Genesis itself, which says that God created heaven and earth (Gen 1:1), divided the light from the darkness (Gen 1:4), divided the waters that were above the firmament from those that were under (Gen 1:7), and gathered the waters that were under the firmament from the dry land (Gen 1:9), so that, finally, the heavens and the earth were finished and all the furniture of them (Gen 2:1). Aquinas notes that "in the account of creation, three things are mentioned, heaven, water, and earth, and these three things are also fashioned through the work of separation on three days: on the first day, the highest body of the heavens; on the second day the waters are separated; on the third day a separation is made on earth between the sea and the dry land." 5

        St. Thomas notes that four things are generally held to have been created together at the very beginning, namely, the empyrean Heaven (prepared as a material dwelling place for the saints in their glorified bodies), the angels, unformed matter, and time. 6 He defends the interpretation of "Strabo" that the word heaven in Gen 1:1 "does not refer to the visible firmament, but to the empyrean, that is, the fiery region." 7 Bede 8 and Basil 9 agree that the word refers to the Heaven of the saints. Thomas points out that the Platonist (neo-Platonist) Porphyry (died about 304 A.D.) called the starry heaven "empyrean" (from the Greek word pyr, meaning "fire"), because Plato had taught that it is composed of fire, 10 but Aristotle held that the sidereal heaven is made of a fifth element over and above the Four Elements of Empedocles. 11 Aquinas says that the Heaven of the blessed is called "empyrean," not from the factor of heat but rather from its brilliance, and he constructs the following argument for its existence from the beginning: "Spiritual glory began from the very beginning of the world with the blessedness of the angels, equality with whom is promised to the saints. From this it was fitting that even from the beginning a corporeal glory should begin to be found in some body which even from the beginning was unsubjected to corruption and changeableness and totally filled with light, as all bodily creation is expected to be after the resurrection to come." 12 St. Thomas explains the use of the term. Heaven (caelum) is used in the Scriptures in three ways. In the proper and natural sense it means "a particular elevated body, actually or potentially shining and by nature incorruptible." "And according to this usage there are three heavens, the first completely luminous, which is called 'empyrean,' the second completely transparent, which is called the 'watery' or 'crystalline' heaven, and the third, in part transparent and in part actually shining, which is called the 'starry' heaven." 13

        Chrysostom understands the first verse of Genesis to be a summary of what follows in chapter one, so that the heaven of this verse is the same as the firmament which was made on the second day and called heaven by God. 14 Augustine understands the creation of heaven in Gen 1:1 to mean the creation of spiritual nature, that is, of the angels, as yet unformed, whether in grace or in glory, and the creation of earth to mean the unformed matter of corporeal creatures. 15 The creation of the angels is not mentioned expressly in the account of Genesis 1, but, as Denis says, Holy Scripture presents spiritual things to us under the likeness of bodily things, and, therefore, it was not fitting that it should have described expressly the creation of the angels. However, it has given this to be understood from the production of physical light. 16 The other Fathers saw heaven in Gen 1:1 to mean the unformed matter of outer space, and its formation took place on the first day with the creation of light. St. Thomas adds that, since "time is the measure of movement of the highest body, by this formation there would have been effected the separation of time into night and day." According to the same line of thinking, by the forming of the firmament the water of the deep was fashioned into something having a certain division and order. 17

        That the world had a beginning is, says St. Thomas, an article of Christian faith. Gregory teaches 18 that Moses prophetically proclaimed this when he wrote that in the beginning God created heaven and earth. This fact is known through divine revelation and cannot be proved from reason alone. "And it is worth keeping this in mind lest someone presume to use inept arguments to prove what is of faith, thus giving to nonbelievers an occasion to laugh at us for basing our belief on reasons like that." 19 Augustine teaches that corporeal prime matter and angelic nature were created when time was not yet. 20 Hence, for him time was not co-created with unformed matter. However, Augustine's position is based on the idea that angelic nature and unformed matter preceded time in origin, that is, in nature. But the other Fathers maintain that matter was lacking in form for some period before it possessed it, and thus there had to be some sort of time in that interval, since time is the measure of duration. So, for the other Fathers, time was at first in some way unformed and then was formed and divided into night and day. 21

        The phrase In the beginning means that time had a beginning, that the world is not eternal. It means also that God the Father created all things in his eternal Son (Ps. 103:24) as their exemplary cause. And it means before all things, that is, when there were as yet not even any spiritual creatures. 22

        St. Thomas follows Aristotle in defining time as "the measure of movement considered as before and after." 23 But time is also considered to be "the measure of the movement of the firmament," and the firmament was not made until the second day. How, then, did time exist from the beginning? St. Thomas answers: "If the movement of the firmament did not start from the beginning, then the time that preceded was not the measure of the movement of the firmament, but of some other first movement, ... and time would be the measure of that movement, because all things are measured by what is first in their class. It is, moreover, behooving to say that right from the beginning there was some movement, at least according to the succession of thoughts and affections in the minds of the angels. But movement cannot be understood without time, since time is nothing else than the measure of what was before and what was after in a movement." 24

        And the earth was void and empty ... (Gen 1:2). According to St. Thomas, the idea of St. Augustine that the matter referred to in Gen 1:1 is presented as having been created totally without form does not involve a contradiction, because Augustine holds that the informing of this matter described in subsequent verses was actually simultaneous. But, says St. Thomas, it could not have been, as the ancient Greek naturalists proposed, that the original matter had a common form which was afterwards diversified into a variety of forms. This would mean, he continues, that the original matter would be the existing substance and the supervenient forms would only be accidents of that substance. 25 However, St. Thomas allows that new and higher bodily forms arise: "In the first creation of things, however, the active principle was the Word of God, producing animals from elemental matter, either in act, according to some Fathers [e.g., Basil and Ambrose], or in potency (virtute) according to St. Augustine. Not that water or earth has in itself the power of producing all the animals, as Avicenna proposed, but the fact that animals can be produced from elemental matter by the power of seed or of the stars comes from the power originally given to the elements." 26

        Is God the cause of corporeal forms? St. Thomas refers to Aristotle to the effect that what, properly speaking, becomes is the composite of matter and form. Forms do not independently come into being. Plato had thought that bodily forms come from forms already subsisting by means of some kind of participation, such as in the universal type of man, horse, etc. Thus, the separated substance of 'horse' would be the cause of all horses. But, for Aristotle, corporeal forms are caused by matter converted from potency to act by some agent itself composed of matter and form. When a body exchanges one form for another, it is moved to this, as Augustine says, by some created spiritual substance. 27 It follows that even bodily forms are derived from spiritual substances, not, however, as infusing forms, but rather as moving bodies to forms. Moreover, even the species in the minds of angels, which serve in a sense as seminal reasons of corporeal forms, go back a step further to God, as to their First Cause. But, says St. Thomas, in the first production of corporeal creatures there was no transformation from potency to act, and so these first corporeal forms were produced immediately by God. 28 St. Thomas reasons that the forms existing in matter come from angels by moving bodily agents to act, 29 and that celestial bodies in their turn cause the forms in lower bodies, again as movers of bodily agents but not as instillers. 30 "New species as well, if they do appear, pre-existed in certain active powers; just as animals generated from putrefying matter are produced from powers of the stars and of the elements received from the beginning, so also new species of such animals, if they are generated." 31

        St. Thomas uses Aristotelian philosophy to argue that there cannot be a common material substance from which all other material things are formed. "Since matter in itself is in potency to all forms but cannot be under more than one form at the same time, it follows that inasmuch as it is under one form it is found to be in potency to the others. But there is in nature no passive potency to which there does not correspond an active power able to bring it into act; otherwise, such a potency would be futile." 32 This prime matter is one in all of the elements as a part of their essence and, when considered in itself, is entirely without form, but this is not a substance, and could not, therefore, have preceded the elements in time. 33 Avicenna, seeing that there is one notion (ratio) of corporeity, claims that there must be one matter common to all bodies. To this argument St. Thomas responds that there is one logical concept of corporeity which covers all material things, but in actual being the corruptible things of the earth cannot have the same corporeity as the incorruptible things of the physical heavens. 34

        In systematically comparing the opinion of St. Augustine with that of other holy writers, St. Thomas points out that the non-Augustinian Fathers see an order of time in these works such that the formlessness of the primal matter did not mean no form at all, but rather a lack of proper differentiation and finished beauty. Heaven's lack of form is indicated by darkness, water's lack of form is indicated by the deep, and the earth "was invisible or empty in that it was covered with water". 35 The non-Augustinian Fathers understand the earth's having been created "void and empty" (Vulgate), or "invisible and unfurnished"(Septuagint) also to mean devoid of compounds over and above the elements. 36 St. Thomas reads Gen 1:2, in the chronological interpretation of the non-Augustinian Fathers, to mean that the material substance of the universe, all of which was created by God from nothing, was created as the Five Elements, all of which were given substantial existence, but were not immediately endowed with their secondary qualities. No additional matter was created after the first instant. 37 Thus, the "formless matter" called "earth" in Gen 1:1 is already a subsisting (second) matter composed of matter and form. 38 This original matter could not have been something on the way to becoming the Four Elements, because, as Aristotle says, the first aptitude in matter is for the form of an element, and Avicenna shows that whatever comes upon a body already in act remains an accident.

        St. Thomas follows Aristotle in accepting the Four Elements of Empedocles as being the ultimate constituents of all sub-lunar bodies, 39 as well as in adding a Fifth Element (quintessence) as being the ultimate constituents of the heavenly bodies. 40 With Aristotle, Thomas rejects the opinion of Democritus and Leucippus, who said that all sensible bodies are made from indivisible elements infinite in number and shape, but all the same in make-up (nature and species). One sensible body, they said, differs from another according to the differing position and arrangement of these elements. 41 For all of these philosophers, matter is the only principle of all physical things; it is an actual being which is the substratum (substantia) of everything that emerges. So for them there is no simple generation or decay, but only alteration. 42 But Aristotle argues that no one simple substance is the substratum of other material things. When the Four Elements enter into the composition of a compound, they exchange their own simple forms for the form of the compound. Real compounds cannot be divided beyond a certain degree without losing their form and decomposing into something else. Thus, there is a minimum amount of flesh and a minimum amount of water, beyond which they are no longer flesh or water. The smallest possible particles are under the form of fire. 43

        St. Thomas contends that whoever holds the chronological interpretation of the days of Genesis 1 must also hold that from the beginning and before the production of light on the first day the matter of the universe already existed under the substantial forms of the Four Elements and the Fifth (quintessential) Element of which the heavenly spheres and other heavenly bodies are made. These five elements are considered to have been created as substantial composites of matter and form lacking all of their secondary powers, with the result that the Four Elements were spatially mixed together, not having the heaviness or lightness to assume their natural levels. St. Thomas also maintains, following Aristotle, that matter could not have been created under one universal form that was afterwards distinguished into the Four Elements here below, because, he says, this would produce no substantial changes, since the substantial being of all the emergent bodies would always remain that of the original form. And so he teaches that the primal matter was created, neither entirely without form nor under one common form, but rather under separate forms. 44 The nature of the physical heaven is entirely different from that of the Four Elements and their mixtures. We can know this from the kind of movement that it has, since the nature of a thing is the principle of its movement. Now, because the movement of the heavens is the first movement, it is necessarily circular. But the movement of none of the lower bodies is by nature circular. Therefore, it follows that the bodily heaven is different in nature from that of the lower bodies. 45

        In the Aristotelian framework used by St. Thomas, all of the material things in the world below the moon are either the Four Elements of earth, water, air, and fire, or bodies containing compounds of them, which are not mere aggregates. The universe is spherical in shape, and the heavenly bodies are more noble in being than are the bodies around us; in fact, the higher above the center of the earth that a (non-living) body naturally exists, the more noble is its being. In the spheres of the universe, the containing bodies are to the bodies contained within their sphere as form is to matter and as act is to potency. 46 Matter and form are the principles of all sensible substances. Matter is not any substance in actual being; it is substance in potency, that is, it is the potentiality of a given substance to become some other substance, or of a given accident to become its contrary. 47 There are no more than five elemental bodily substances, as is shown from the natural movement that they have. The heavenly Fifth Element is not in potency to any change except local movement, as is shown from its natural circular motion. The motion of the other Four Elements is naturally rectilinear, either downward toward the center of the universe or upward away from the center. 48 The physical heaven is always moving and always being moved, while the mover of the physical heaven is always moving (acting) but is immovable. 49 The higher bodies in the heavens are not made of the same changeable matter as are the lower ones, and so they could not have been spatially mixed with the lower bodies, even before the divine work of separation began. 50 The matter of the heavenly bodies differs from that of the lower bodies in that it has no potency toward the forms of the Four Elements. 51 As Aristotle says in the eighth book of the Metaphysics, the species of things are like numbers that vary according to addition and subtraction. Air, for instance, is more perfect in being than earth. 52 But corruptible and incorruptible things are not in the same physical genus by reason of the different kind of potency that they have. 53

        And God said: Be light made. And light was made. (Gen 1:3). By the act of creation in the beginning, all of the elements in the world received their matter and their substantial form. During the work of the six days, their active and passive powers were conferred upon them. The divine work of distinction instilled in the created elements the active and passive powers common to all species of material things, such as being hot or cold. The divine work of ornamentation of the world instilled those powers that move things toward determined species. In the process of generation and corruption, the physical heaven effects change without itself being changed, the intermediate elements, namely, fire, air, and water, effect change while themselves being changed, and the last element, earth, has the least power of producing change. Therefore, in the account of creation, it was fitting first to distinguish the highest from the lowest through the production of light, which exists formally in heaven and is shared to a greater or lesser degree by the intermediate elements, while earth lacks it entirely or has it only in a minimal way. Then the highest element had to be distinguished from the middle elements, and this was accomplished on the second day by making the firmament and with it separating the waters below from the waters above. Finally, the middle elements were separated from the lowest one on the third day with the gathering of the waters into one place and the appearance of dry land. 54

        Augustine says 55 that heaven in verse 1 means spiritual nature yet unformed. The forming of the spiritual nature as indicated in the production of light is, he says, to be understood as spiritual light, because a spiritual nature receives form by being so illuminated as to adhere to the Word of God. 56 The objection could be raised that, if the production of light in Gen 1:3 means the formation in grace of the angels, then Gen 1:1 must mean that they were not created in grace. But Augustine himself claims 57 that the angels were created in the state of grace, and this is the truth. St. Thomas answers that the unformed nature of the angels in Gen 1:1 can be compared either with their formation in grace or with their formation in glory. If the production of light in Gen 1:3 means their formation in grace, then the text of Genesis 1:3 is not presenting an order of time, but only of nature, as Augustine says holds also for the production of material things. But, if the production of light means their formation in glory, then their creation in grace did precede in time their glorification. 58

        The other Fathers read And light was made to mean the production of physical light. St. Thomas points out the reasonability of the making of light on the first day, also because without light there would not have been a first day. 59 If the word light is taken in its broad sense to mean whatever provides illumination for any type of perception, then it exists in intellectual beings even in the proper sense. But if light is taken in its original sense of what makes things manifest to the sense of sight, then it exists only metaphorically in intellectual beings. 60 Light is not a body and could not possibly be a body. 61 "Just as heat is an active quality deriving from the substantial form of fire, so is light an active quality deriving from the substantial form of the sun or of some other self-illuminating body, if there be any. And the fact that the rays of various stars have different effects on different kinds of bodies is a sign that some other self-illuminating bodies may exist." 62

        According to St. Thomas, the work within each of the six days was instantaneously completed, 63 but it was in order to illustrate the way created nature acts in moving from the incomplete to the complete that God spread the work over six days. 64 There are two kinds of movement in the physical heaven. One is common to the whole heaven and produces day and night. This seems to have been initiated on the first day. 65

        Let there be a firmament made amidst the waters (Gen 1:6). Regarding the nature of the firmament, St. Thomas offers no opinion of his own. He bases his approach to the question on the teaching of St. Augustine that on the one hand "the truth of Scripture must be kept intact" and on the other, where the text of Scripture admits of more than one explanation, "no one should adhere to some explanation so rigidly that if by conclusive reasoning it should have been shown to be false, he would rashly continue affirming it as the meaning of the text, lest the Scriptures on this account be laughed at by nonbelievers and thus the way to believing be closed to them." 66 With this note of caution he comments on various opinions that have been expressed.

        Many say that by the firmament is meant the sphere in which the stars are located. Empedocles and others say that the firmament is fashioned from the Four Elements. In that case it could have been constructed on the second day. Plato said that it is made of the element fire, in which case it had to have been created in the beginning, because "the forms of the elements are what first come to matter." Aristotle says that the firmament is made of the Fifth Element incorruptible in its nature, and here also it would have to have been created in the beginning, although it could have undergone in any case some sort of accidental fashioning. But, in the way in which Augustine interprets the days of creation, the firmament could have been substantially formed on the second day in keeping with any of these above-mentioned opinions. Finally, Basil understands the firmament to be that part of the air in which the clouds are condensed, and Augustine 67 not only sees nothing in this interpretation which is contrary to faith but also thinks that it easily fits the text. 68 Thus, St. Thomas does not attempt to decide what the firmament is made of, but he has no doubt that God did make a firmament and did divide the waters that were above it from the waters that were below, 69 for, as St. Augustine says: 70 "The authority of Scripture is greater than the capacity of any human theorizing, and so, however and whatever the waters there may be, we have no doubt at all that they are there." St. Thomas maintains that the waters above the firmament are material. If the firmament is understood as the starry heaven itself composed of the Four Elements, then the waters above the heavens might consist of the water that we know. If the firmament is the sidereal heaven understood to consist of a Fifth Element, the "waters" above it would not be the water that we know, and they would be called aqueous only because of the transparency that exists above the sidereal heaven. Augustine takes the "waters" in this verse (Gen 1:7) to mean the unformed matter of bodies. Finally, if the firmament is the lower atmosphere, then the waters above the firmament are those that are in the clouds. 71

        This open position of St. Thomas is a mellowing of the more decisive position he had taken earlier in his commentary on the Sentences, which may be summarized as follows. Ambrose seems to say that the waters above the heavens are the Holy Spirit, but whether they are identified with the angels or with the Holy Spirit, this pertains more to the analogical than to the literal interpretation of the text. Others say that they are composed of ordinary water held up there by divine power. But, as Augustine tells us, in the work of the six days in which nature was created, we don't expect to find what God can do by His divine power but rather what nature is capable of. Augustine suggests that the firmament may be the air around us and that the waters above are the steam that goes up, but this does not seem to fit Sacred Scripture, which says that the stars were placed in the firmament of heaven, unless, perhaps, the word "firmament" is used equivocally in the chapter. The firmament is better understood as the starry heaven, above which there are waters of the fifth essence, having a likeness to the water here by reason of which Sacred Scripture gives them the name "water," in this way presenting hidden things through things known to the senses. The two are similar especially in that both are transparent. Thus we are not constrained to locate the element water above the heavens. 72

        Let the waters that are under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear. (Gen 1:9). For St. Augustine this verse means that God commanded the substantial form of water to be impressed upon some of the unformed matter that was under the firmament and the substantial form of earth to be impressed upon other prime matter. This was all done in the first instant of time, with no temporal interval in between. According to the other Fathers, there was a temporal sequence in this formation. For them the substance of heaven and earth and water was created in the beginning, but these bodies lacked form in some way. The formlessness of heaven indicated by the word darkness, was remedied by the formation of light; the formlessness of water, indicated by the word deep, was remedied by the interposition of the firmament, which gave it some kind of differentiation and order; and the formlessness of earth, meaning its lack of finished beauty, was remedied by drawing off the water and covering it with vegetation. 73

        St. Thomas understands the work of differentiation of the first three days to mean that the powers (virtutes) which move to general natural effects were conferred upon the Five Elements of the world. Among these powers are the properties of heaviness (gravitas) and lightness (levitas). With the conferring of these latter powers upon the mixture of earth and water on the third day, the waters were gathered together into their natural place and the dry land appeared. 74 In Aristotelian terms, the primum esse, or substantial being, of the elements created in the beginning, was afterwards successively given its secundum esse, or accidental properties that go with it. 75 Water by nature tends to be in a place higher than earth, but the influence, or pressure, of the physical heaven moving the elements towards mixture, can cause water to go down under the earth in order that it may be in a position to generate minerals, plants, and animals. 76 There was no need in the account of creation to make special mention of the formation of minerals, not only because they are hidden in the bowels of the earth, but also because they do not share a degree of dignity above that of the elements, since they are devoid of life. And Moses, in speaking to an ignorant people, presented in his account only those things that are immediately obvious to the senses. 77

        ... Let the earth bring forth the green herb ... (Gen 1:11). In the interpretation of St. Augustine, vegetation was produced on the third day, not in actual being, but causally in the earth. 78 But other writers understand that the first founding of species pertains to the work of the six days, while the propagation of other individuals of each species belongs to the subsequent work of governance. Thus, the finished species of plants were produced on the third day, and from these came forth the seeds of others. 79

        How could the creation of the plants have taken place on the third day, if the production of the sun took place only on the fourth day? St. Thomas points out that, since plants do not have locomotion or feeling, they are not so obviously living as are animals, and, as Augustine argues, because they are fixed in the earth, their production could be included as part of the formation of the earth. 80 While, as Chrysostom observes, 81 the heavenly bodies do cooperate in the growth of plants, as also human farmers do, Basil suggests 82 that the production of vegetation is described in the account before the production of the heavenly lights in order to prevent idolatry of the latter. 83

        Let there be lights made in the firmament of heaven ... (Gen 1:14). In the exposition of St. Thomas, the creation of the elements was done in the beginning, the distinction, or differentiation, of the elements from one another was done on the first three days, while the adornment and finishing of the elements in terms of distinct species of things was in general accomplished by God during the last three days. On the fourth day the heavenly element was adorned with the luminous celestial bodies. Augustine agrees with the other Fathers in saying 84 that these shining bodies were made in actual being and not just in the potency of the matter, because, he says, the heavenly element does not have the potency to produce celestial bodies in the way that earth has the power to produce plants. 85

        With Augustine's opinion no difficulty arises, since he does not posit a time interval between the creation of the matter and the forming of the heavenly bodies. Nor is there any special difficulty in the position of those who say that the celestial bodies came from the Four Elements, because they could have been formed from pre-existing matter, just as animals and plants are formed. But according to the opinion that the heavenly bodies are made of another element and are incorruptible by nature, it follows that the substance of those lights was created in the beginning in an "unformed" condition, that is, without a certain power that was conferred on them on the fourth day. 86 If, as the Fathers other than Augustine say, the light created on the first day was physical, then this came forth from heavenly bodies in a general way common to the nature of light, while on the fourth day these bodies were given the power to produce particular effects, as, for instance, we see the difference between the rays of the sun and the rays of the moon. Thus, as Denis points out, 87 the luminous body of the sun was unshaped until the fourth day. 88 According to this position, light was separated from darkness on the first day, first, in the sense that the cause of light was already in the sun, while the cause of darkness was in the opacity of the earth, secondly, inasmuch as light was in one hemisphere of the heavens while darkness was in the other, and, thirdly, for the reason that each respective hemisphere had a period of light and a period of darkness. 89 There is a movement common to the entire heaven which brings about day and night and which seems to have been begun on the first day. Then there is a movement variegated according to different bodies which distinguishes days, months, and years from one another. It is this latter diversified movement that is mentioned on the fourth day. 90

        Aristotle teaches that the heavenly lights are fixed immovably in their respective moving spheres, and Gen 1:17 does say And he set them in the firmament of heaven to shine upon the earth. Why, then, as in the case of plants on the third day, was not the production of the heavenly lights added to the formation of the firmament on the second day? St. Thomas replies that the movement of the spheres is not perceptible to the senses, and Moses, as already noted, wrote according to what is obvious on a sense level. But Ptolemy says that the luminous bodies move independently from the movement of the spheres, and, according to his model, Chrysostom 91 observes that Genesis does not say that God fixed these bodies into the spheres, but rather that he placed them there as within certain boundaries. Finally, if the firmament mentioned by Moses on the second day is the lower part of the sky, namely, the part in which the clouds are formed, and the firmament of the heavenly bodies mentioned on the fourth day is something different in nature, there is no inconsistency, because in that case Moses is understood to have treated the two as a single whole in keeping with the way in which they appear to the eye. 92

        Hence, as Denis says, the light of the first three days is the light of the sun, but it was an unformed light in the sense that it did not have the completeness of its powers. 93 An objection arises from the fact that it is the revolution of the firmament that makes the sun revolve each day, and yet the firmament was not fashioned until the second day. But it is not unreasonable to suppose that the substances of the spheres could have revolved the light from the beginning of creation, even when they had not yet received all of their powers, or, if their figures were not yet determined, that the bodily light itself, being of the fifth essence, moved naturally around in a circle. 94 This first luminous body in its reduced light resembled a shining cloud, not in its substance, but in its visual effects. 95

        As the source of all light (with the possible exception of some of the stars 96), the sun illuminates not only all the bodies below it but also all of the bodies above it. 97 There is heat also in the sun, not in the sense that the sun is hot itself, but inasmuch as it has the power to produce heat in other bodies. 98 As Avicenna says, there is no effect of the higher bodies upon the lower except through the medium of light, just as fire acts only through the medium of heat. And because the physical heaven is the first mover producing change, it follows that every change, whether natural or visual, in lower bodies is accomplished by the power of light. So light confers generation upon all bodies, as Dionysius says. 99 Since substantial forms are brought into actuality by the power of the physical heaven, it follows that the light coming down from the corporeal heaven effects generation in the things below, moving them to substantial forms by virtue of the forms of the heavens, just as heat moves things to the substantial form of fire by virtue of the substantial form from which it flows. 100

        St. Thomas agrees that, since the Fifth Element is higher and more noble than the Four Elements, the conferring of specific powers upon the heavenly bodies is fittingly assigned to the fourth day, before the specific empowering of the lower bodies on the fifth and sixth days. Also, the powers given to the lower bodies of producing determinate species are traceable to respective determinate powers in the heavenly bodies, because the interaction of lower bodies upon each other goes back to the universal active power of the heavens. In fact, as Aristotle says, in the eleventh book of the Metaphysics, the heavenly bodies, by their various appearances and conjunctions, impress the forms upon particular things in such a way that the interaction of the lower powers is like their instrument. 101 The celestial bodies cause generation and corruption in the lower bodies inasmuch as their movement is the cause of all the lower movements. However, they themselves are moved by a spiritual substance, whatever it may be, and from it they receive the power to move to substantial forms, while the power to produce any new species comes from God. In this way all natural forms descend from forms that are without matter. 102 It seems that the movement of the heavens comes from some mind and will, but not immediately from God Himself. Gregory also says that corporeal creatures are governed by spiritual creatures, and thus it seems probable that some lower angels are the proximate movers of the heavenly spheres, while higher angels (such as the Cherubim and Seraphim) are the remote movers of these same spheres. 103

        Again, since astronomers say that many stars are larger than the moon, should the sun and the moon be called two great lights (Gen 1:16)? Yes, because, as Chrysostom notes, the moon is called "large," not so much for its size as for its power and effects, seeing that the influence of the moon is felt more here below than is the influence of the stars. And the moon also appears to us to be bigger than the stars. 104

        But how are the heavenly bodies set in the firmament for signs and for seasons and for days and years? The luminous heavenly bodies provide signs of bodily changes, but they do not predict things that issue from free will, 105 and the particular differences between days and seasons and years according to which some days are warmer than others, some seasons are warmer than others, and some years are warmer than others are brought about by the special movements of the heavenly bodies. 106

1. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 12-15. This work has never been translated into English. The Latin text used for this essay is the first American reprinting (New York, 1948) of the Parma edition, as reproduced in the Index Thomisticus (Stuttgart, 1980).

2. Aquinas, S. Th., I, qq. 65-74. Convenient English translations are to be found in the Summa Theologica, literally translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province (imprimatur, 1920), first complete American edition (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1947); and in the Summa Theologiae, more freely translated (with facing Latin text) by Dominicans from English-speaking provinces of the Order, vol. 10, Cosmogony (Blackfriars, in conjunction with Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, and McGraw-Hill: New York, 1967). This volume gives the English translation with notes and appendices of William A. Wallace, O.P.

3. A more detailed exposition of the opinion of St. Augustine is given above in Part III (Living Tradition 47, July 1993).

4. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 12, q. 1, art. 2, corp.

5. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 70, art. 1, corp.

6. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 66, art. 4, corp.

7. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 66, art. 3, sed contra. Wallace (op. cit. supra, note 2), points out on page 40 that the "ordinary gloss" (super Gen 1:1) that Thomas cites here was not as a whole the work of Walafrid Strabo (a monk of Fulda who died in 849), but rather of Anselm of Laon (died in 1117) and his school, "although parts are traceable to Strabo."

8. Bede, In Hexaëmeron, I, super Gen 1:2 (PL 91, col. 13).

9. Basil, In Hexaëmeron, homil. 2 (PG 29, col.41).

10. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 66, art. 3, corp.

11. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 68, art. 1, corp.

12. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 66, art. 3, corp.

13. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 68, art. 4, corp.

14. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 68, art. 1, ad 1.

15. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 67, art. 4, corp.

16. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. XIII, q. 1, art. 2, ad 3.

17. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 69, art. 1, corp.

18. Gregory the Great, In Ezechiam, hom. 1:1 (PL 76, col. 786).

19. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 46, art. 2, sed contra et corp.

20. Augustine, Confessions, XII, 12 (PL 32, col. 831).

21. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 66, art. 4.

22. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 46, art. 3, corp.

23. Aquinas, De generatione et corruptione, I, lect. 5, no. 5.

24. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 66, art. 4, ad 3. Cf. II Sent., dist. 12, q. 1, art. 5 ad 2 and ad 3.

25. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 66, art. 1, corp.

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

27. Augustine, De Trinitate, III, 4 (PL 42, col. 873).

28. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 65, art. 4, corp.

29. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 65, art. 4, ad 1.

30. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 65, art. 4, ad 3.

31. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 73, art. 1, ad 3.

32. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 12, q. 1, art. 1, corp.

33. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 12, q. 1, art. 4, ad 1. A well-written brief summary of the Aristotelian theory of matter and form (hylomorphism), as a conceptual framework used by St. Thomas in his explanation of the work of creation, is given by W.A. Wallace in his Appendix 4 to vol. 10 of the Blackfriars edition of the Summa Theologiae.

34. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 12, q. 1, art. 1, ad 1.

35. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 69, art. 1, corp.

36. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 12, q. 1, art. 1, excursus.

37. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 12, q. 1, art. 2, ad 2.

38. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 45, art. 4, sed contra.

39. Aquinas, De caelo et mundo, III, lect. 8, no. 9.

40. Aquinas, De caelo et mundo, I, lect. 4, no. 18.

41. Aquinas, De generatione ed corruptione, I, lect. 1, no. 7.

42. Aquinas, De generatione ed corruptione, I, lect. 2, no. 2.

43. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 14, q. 1, art. 1, ad 4.

44. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 66, art. 1, corp; q. 67, art. 4, ad 1.

45. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 14, q. 1, art. 2, sed contra 2.

46. Aquinas, De caelo et mundo, I, lect. 4, no. 18; II Sent., dist. 14, q. 1, art. 5, excursus.

47. Aquinas, Metaphys., VIII, lect. 1, no. 6 and no. 9.

48. Aquinas, De caelo et mundo, III, lect. 8, no. 9.

49. Aquinas, De generatione et corruptione, I, lect. 7, no. 2. For a brief and well-expressed summary of the Aristotelian notion of the physical universe, see W.A. Wallace, Appendix 3 to vol. 10 of the Blackfriars edition of the Summa Theologiae.

50. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 13, q. 1, art. 1, ad 3.

51. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 66, art. 2, ad 4.

52. Aquinas, De generatione et corruptione, I, lect. 8, no. 5.

53. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 66, art. 2, ad 2.

54. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 13, q. 1, art. 1, corp.

55. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., bk. II, ch. 8.

56. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 67, art. 4, corp.

57. Augustine, De civ. Dei, bk. 12, ch. 9.

58. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 62, art. 3, ad 1.

59. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 67, art. 4, corp.

60. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 67, art. 1, corp.

61. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 67, art. 2, corp.

62. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 67, art. 3, corp.

63. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 12, q. 1, art. 2, ad 5.

64. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 12, q. 1, art. 2, ad 8.

65. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 67, art. 4, ad 3.

66. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 68, art. 1, corp. Cf. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., I, 18-21.

67. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., II, 4.

68. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 68, art. 1, corp.

69. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 68, art. 1, sed contra and art. 2, sed contra.

70. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., II, 5.

71. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 68, art. 2, corp.

72. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 14, q. 1, art. 1, corp.

73. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 69, art. 1, corp.; art. 2, corp.

74. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 14, q. 1, art. 5, corp.

75. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 14, q. 1, art. 5, ad 2.

76. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 14, q. 1, art. 5, ad 4.

77. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 14, q. 1, art. 5, ad 8.

78. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., V, 4.

79. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 69, art. 2, corp.

80. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 69, art. 2, ad 1.

81. Chrysostom, In Gen., hom. 6 (PG 53, col. 58).

82. Basil, In Hexaëmeron, hom. 5, (PG 29, col. 96).

83. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 70, art. 1, ad 4. Cf. Deut 4:19.

84. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., IV, 34; V, 5.

85. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 70, art. 1, corp.

86. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 70, art. 1, ad 1.

87. (Pseudo) Dionysius, De divinis nominibus, IV, 4 (PG 3, col. 700).

88. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 70, art. 1, ad 2.

89. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 67, art. 4, ad 2.

90. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 67, art. 4, ad 3.

91. Chrysostom, In Genesim, hom. 6 (PG 53, col. 58).

92. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 70, art. 1, ad 3.

93. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 13, q. 1, art. 4, corp.

94. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 13, q. 1, art. 4, ad 3.

95. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 13, q. 1, art. 4, ad 5.

96. See note 62 above.

97. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 13, q. 1, art. 4, ad 2.

98. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 14, q. 1, art. 2, ad 3.

99. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 13, q. 1, art. 3, corp.

100. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 13, q. 1, art. 3, ad 7.

101. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 15, q. 1, art. 1, corp.

102. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 15, q. 1, art. 2, corp.

103. Aquinas, II Sent., dist. 14, q. 1, art. 3, corp.

104. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 70, art. 1, ad 5; II Sent., dist. 15, art. 1, ad 3.

105. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 70, art. 2, ad 1.

106. Aquinas, S. Th., I, q. 70, art. 2, ad 3; q. 67, art. 4, ad 3.

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